By In Baseball

No. 50: Al Kaline

Let’s begin with an ending: Al Kaline never hit 30 home runs in a season. He only had 100 RBIs in a season three times, only scored 100 runs in a season twice. He never stole 20 bases in a season, never led the league batting or hits after he turned 21, did not hit .300 for his career and did not manage 400 career home runs.

Baseball numbers mean … what exactly?

* * *

When I was young, the thing that I admired most in the world was talent. That, I suspect, is because I wanted talent more than anything else. The baseball players who filled my imagination were like the kids in school who seemed to make A’s without studying and dominated the playgrounds without sweating. What mesmerized me about baseball was Ellis Valentine’s arm, Bob Horner’s impossibly short stroke (like a perfectly thrown short right cross), Willie Wilson’s blazing speed, J.R. Richard’s fastball, Darryl Strawberry’s gorgeous swing. Nothing on earth seemed more awesome than talent, pure and unlimited, and nothing seemed more important.

When I grew a little bit older, I changed, and the thing I admired most in the world was skill. That, I suspect, is because I started to see how rarely talent evolved into greatness. At first, I thought of this as talent being wasted … but like everything else it’s so much more complicated than that. Sometimes talent is wasted, sure. And sometimes, talent isn’t really talent. The Royals once has a player named Alexis Gomez who seemed impossibly talented. He was breathtakingly fast (6.5 in the 60-yard dash), had a fantastic arm, great hand-eye coordination (he was a volleyball star in the Dominican), lots of bat speed, and he hit massive home runs in batting practice. On top of that, though, he had a good attitude and was a hard worker and desperately wanted to improve.

But you know what? He kicked around i the minor leagues for the better part of 15 years (playing in only 89 big league games) and it wasn’t because he wasted his talent. It was because, for all his obvious gifts, he didn’t have THE talent. He didn’t have the skill to hit baseballs consistently. It wasn’t his fault; the things we think of as talent are often simply the limits of our own vision and imagination. Lots of people can jump high; that doesn’t mean they can play basketball. Lots of people can run fast; that doesn’t mean they can play wide receiver. Skill — the ability to do something well — now that was what mattered. The artistry of Maddux, the laser focus of Pujols, the the way Andruw Jones played the outfield, this was at the heart of it all.

And now? Now, as I close in on 50, I think something else still.

Persistence. I think it comes down to persistence.

And persistence, more than his youthful talent, more than his developed skill, is why Al Kaline matters.

* * *

Nicholas Kaline wanted his son to be a ballplayer. How many of these stories start that way? Al Kaline was born in Baltimore during the Depression. Nicholas was a broom maker, but he thought himself as a ballplayer; he had been good on the sandlots. He started teaching Al to throw a curveball at 8 years old. The kid had a hell of an arm. That was the first sign.

When Al Kaline got to high school, his coach Bill Anderson had his share of pitchers so he moved Kaline to center field. The kid immediately hit. More than that, he immediately UNDERSTOOD hitting. Anderson would talk to him just before a game about hitting a pitch where it is thrown and then watch in amazement as Kaline in his first at-bat rifled an outside pitch to the right field. That was the second sign.

You probably know that Kaline, like his contemporary Sandy Koufax, never spent a single day in the minor leagues. Kaline was a bonus baby — this was the rather astonishing rule that stated any player who signed for more than $6,000 had to spend two calendar years on the big league roster. Could you imagine anything more destructive for young players? Kaline signed with Detroit for $15,000. He spent most of his first year as a pinch-runner. The young Kaline could fly — he was called “The Baltimore Greyhound” for a while.

But Kaline, unlike most bonus babies, became a regular in his second year. He was 19 years old. He finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting behind a pitcher named Bob Grim (who won 20 games for the Yankees and won just 41 for the rest of his career) and a third baseman named Jim Finigan (who hit .302 that year and .247 for the rest of his career). Everyone buzzed about the kid’s talent.

At age 20, Kaline had the best season of his career … and what was probably the best season for any 20-year-old player before Alex Rodriguez and Mike Trout. Kaline hit .340/.421/.546. He led the league in hitting, hits and total bases. He scored 121 runs, drove in 102. He played defense in right field that left opponents mesmerized.

“He’s made some catches I still don’t believe,” Yankees manager Casey Stengel said.

“He’s just one of those naturals,” his teammate Ned Garvin said. “Nobody expects a kid to step right out of high school in the big leagues.”

“The kid can’t miss,” Joe DiMaggio said.

“He’s the greatest right-handed hitter in the league,” Ted Williams said.

Yes, first it was talent that marked Kaline. And then it was skill. As a hitter, Ted Williams had a huge effect on the young Kaline — a short conversation with Williams had clarified the core of hitting. “Wait for your pitch and then hit it,” Kaline would tell young hitters for the rest of his career and beyond, and while the advice probably sounded almost insultingly simple to cocky young hitters, it was in this simplicity that Kaline (and Williams) found their strength. If you avoid pitches you can’t handle and make good contact on pitches you can, that’s all it really takes. The constant temptation is to complicate things. Only the most skilled hitters can see past the complications.

Kaline’s skill was evident in every part of his game. He lost much of his speed as he grew older but he was always a good base runner. He did not have great natural power but he always hit 15 or 20 or 25 home runs, even when the game started tiling wildly toward the pitchers. When they started giving out Gold Gloves in 1957, it seemed mainly for Kaline and Willie Mays. Kaline won a Gold Glove 10 of the first 11 years they gave one out; Mays won a Gold Glove each of the first 12 years. Kaline never won an MVP award but he was Top 10 nine times and runner-up twice. He was perhaps the most widely admired player in the American League because of the way he cared about his craft, and the kindness with which he treated other people as he matured.

“Fans don’t want much,” he once said. “All you have to do is smile and say “hi!” And shake their hands. They’re happy.”

* * *

And so, I always loved Kaline for these things — for being so talented, for being so skilled, for putting together a career with 3,000 hits and almost 5,000 total bases and more than 1,800 runs created and for being such a decent person.

But being older now, there’s something else about Kaline’s career that stands out. He kept on going through all sorts of pain and disappointment. He kept finding ways, small and big, to get a little bit better, a little bit wiser, a little bit more attuned to what really matters. Persistence.

Kaline’s temperament — unlike the man he was often compared with, Stan Musial — often ran hot. He beat himself up after bad at-bats (“I just never thought I should make an out,” he said). The pressure after his amazing 20-year-old season wore him down. He was particularly leery around reporters — Joe Falls, the legendary Detroit sportswriter, wrote: “There was a time when Al Kaline was not a very pleasant person to be around.”

Persistence. By the end of his career, no one was more respected or beloved by sportswriters.There’s a wonderful little story in Jim Hawkins’ book Al Kaline: The Biography of a Tigers Icon. After he got his 2,000th hit, Kaline rudely shrugged off reporters; he just didn’t think it was a story. Only then, he realized that whether or not HE thought it was a story, those reporters had to write about it anyway. He walked up to Joe Falls and said quietly: “I should have understood what they wanted. Would you please apologize to them for me?”

Not many people remember this, but Kaline was thought to be selfish as a young player because he felt like he deserved a better contract after his excellent 1955 and 1956 seasons. He was getting paid $15,000 and he thought that he deserved a pretty good raise — an entirely reasonable viewpoint. For instance, Mickey Mantle was making $60,000 or so at the time. The Tigers, however, had the power and when Kaline did not sign the first contract sent, Tigers president Spike Briggs took to the public forum.

“Al thinks he’s as good as Mickey Mantle and wants more money than Mantle,” Briggs told a banquet audience. “I don’t agree with him and he isn’t going to get it. … I sent Kaline a contract over the holidays with a $3,000 bonus for last year. I got the contract back unsigned. I didn’t get thanks for the bonus or even a holiday greeting.”

Kaline was outraged — “I definitely didn’t ask for Mantle’s pay,” he angrily told a reporter. He had not — he only wanted a fair raise. But people then (and people now) were not especially interested in taking the player’s side when it came to money. And Kaline was hit pretty hard by the negative reaction. He was always shy; after this argument, he grew almost insular.

Persistence. Fifteen years later, Kaline again made the papers for a contract dispute This time he Tigers offered Kaline the team’s first ever $100,000 deal. He wouldn’t take it. He didn’t think he earned it because he had hit just .278. “I don’t deserve such a salary,” he said. “I didn’t have a good enough season last year.”

Persistence. In 1960, as a 25-year old, Kaline was thrown out of a game for arguing with an umpire. He would say that he knew on the way back to the dugout that he had been wrong … and so after the game he found the umpire to apologize and to say he was wrong and he was sorry. In later years, umpires would talk often about the class and graciousness of Al Kaline.

Persistence. Kaline had a severe problem with his left foot that bothered him more or less his entire career. In addition to that, he was generally unlucky. He was knocked out running into a wall once. He broke his collarbone diving for a ball. He suffered a nasty knee injury from day-to-day play, and he broke his hand slamming his bat after a strikeout. And that left foot was always hurting. In all he missed almost 600 games in his career, But he still played in 2,834 games … more, for instance, than Derek Jeter will play.

It wasn’t always fun. In truth, it wasn’t fun most of the time. Pain. Slumps. Salary fights every year. And the pressure; that smothering pressure, it was everywhere. Everyone just kept waiting for Kaline to have another season like he did at age 20. He had some that were close. But he never quite matched it, and the pressure was overbearing. No, it wasn’t always fun. Kaline when he retired in order to spend a year with his son before he went off to college, he was not sad about leaving. He had given everything he had to baseball, there were no regrets, and it was time to live real life. “On the Fourth of July,” he said, “I’d love to be at a lake instead of at the ballpark for two.”

Few men have given so much of themselves to the game. That, I think now, is what made him special, what made him Mr. Tiger, what made him so iconic in Detroit and in the Midwest. In 18 different season, Kaline contributed 2.5 or more wins above replacement — only Bonds, Cobb, Aaron, Mays and Speaker did that in more seasons. Some of those were great seasons. Some were good seasons. And some were just solid, injury shortened seasons — that was all he had to give. That was the point. Al Kaline gave whatever he had.

* * *

Funny thing about baseball numbers — they sometime clash against the memory of a ballplayer; they sometimes magnify and amplify that memory. When the numbers clash, the chemical reaction can be violent. Jim Rice’s career numbers simply didn’t match the image of the fearsome hitter who made pitchers break out in a cold sweat. So Jim Rice inspired more arguments than almost any other player. On the other hand, Lou Whitaker’s career numbers tower over the general reaction to his career. Dwight Evans, by the numbers was a better baseball player than Tony Perez — he had 30 points of on-base percentage, a higher slugging percentage, won eight more Gold Gloves. But it is Perez in the Hall of Fame.

What do baseball numbers mean? They mean what you want them to mean. Kaline’s numbers are what you make them. At the beginning, I listed off Kaline’s numbers as cynically as I could. At the end, I can easily go another way — Kaline is 17th all-time in games played, 24th in total bases, 27th in hits and 39th in RBIs. Only Mays and Kaline’s great contemporary Roberto Clemente won more Gold Gloves, and by Total Zone runs the only right fielder to contribute more defensively over a career was Clemente.

This is how it is for a career as long and diverse and haunted and beautiful as Kaline’s. We love baseball numbers because they help tell a story. We loathe baseball numbers because they can crash a story. I once sat down with Kaline before a game in Detroit and what I remember most was his answer to how he looked back on his career. “I can honestly tell you I gave my best,” he said. I was 30 or so when he told me that. It means even more to me now.

206 Responses to No. 50: Al Kaline

  1. Which Hunt? says:

    I missed on the first one, because I thought he had already been taken. Am I bitter? No. That was too beautifully written.

    • Alan Feldman says:

      Kaline hit 29 homers in only 100 games in 1962. He broke his collar bone. Had 94 RBI’s that years. Any doubt that Al would have hit another homer that year. Kaline bad feet and a broken cheekbone, broken hand, broken arm–obviously these injuries cost his batting record to seem a little. He was the greatest fielder repeat greatest fielder I ever saw with a way of making his skills to look effortless. He threw with total accuracy! My dad who knew said he was like Joe DiMaggio in the field. Any doubts. John Wyatt former relief pitcher for several teams including the Tigers said it best–there ain’t no one like the LINE!

  2. DM says:

    And, we’re off on the top 50! Glad I resisted going with the duo of Kaline/Clemente as the tie that Joe indicated is coming at some point (although I admit I was tempted)

    I missed Kaline by 1 spot. Feelin’ good 🙂 We’ll see how long that lasts…..

  3. beearl says:

    Kaline played in 2,846 games, including the post-season. Jeter has played in 2,760 games, including the post-season. I know you meant regular-season games, but Jeter surely has a chance to pass Kaline in overall games played if he stays healthy this season.

    More to the point of the article, Kaline was an incredible player. Wish that I could have seen him play.

    • KHAZAD says:

      The post season doesn’t count, and shouldn’t count. Especially with the plethora of teams making it now and the number of post season games possible when you do make it. Jeter has played 158 post season games, which is, interestingly enough, the exact amount of post season games in which any AL team participated in during Kaline’s career. So if Kaline’s Tigers had made the World Series 22 consecutive years, and Kaline played every game, he then could have matched Jeter in the post season.

    • Tom says:

      Even counting those post-season games, Jeter will have to play 86 more this season to tie Kaline. Don’t be so sure about that.

  4. Chad says:

    Thought for sure Kaline and Clemente would be the tie. Missed by 8 spots … not good, but also not awful. I hope.

  5. George says:

    I haad Kaline at 49, so this one doesn’t hurt me much. Had Pete Rose at 50, but I’m really starting to doubt whether Rose can crack this list.

    • DM says:

      George…..My guess is that you should rest easy. I can’t see any way that Joe would leave off Rose. I would be shocked if he doesn’t appear.

  6. NevadaMark says:

    What? Where are the Clemente vs Kaline arguments?

    • Elfego Slaughter says:

      Arguments? what’s to argue about? The Baseball Think Factory(the Tea Party of Sabr beverages) has Kaline saying : Clemente was the greatest right fielder ever. Search: #2145381 at their website. That makes Al the most knowledgeable right fielder ever! How many of Joe’s pied piper contingent here actually think anyone in the history of baseball would be more valuable than Roberto if there were NO outfield walls….HINT: no one hit the ball harder more frequently than The GREAT ONE (esp. vs. hof pitching) and how deep could he play with the ARM of Zeus! Ah that artificial device the outfield wall remains so that nerds like me have to edyoukate yous. Actually, it probably has nothing to do with baseball it’s just that Clemente was too damn handsome for us common caucasians.! Don’t you agree Mr. Cowherd?

  7. Brett Lahde says:

    Hey Joe, I just read that terrific piece to a friend on our ride up to Tahoe. A few weeks ago I read him one of your bits from the Olympics on the return leg of another ride. Two things: 1) you make Tahoe trips more enjoyable than they already are, which is a huge feat (thanks), and 2) you read a lot like Halberstam, who’s one of my heroes. Thought you’d like to know.

  8. jdennis says:

    Crap I missed by 1, I had Koufax at 50

  9. Geoff says:

    Clemente/Kaline always seemed too obvious to me. With the tie, I’m hoping this means we get another of the deserving catchers (Carter/Piazza) on the list. It also opens up the door for Pop Lloyd if Joe chooses to go that route.

  10. BobDD says:

    It’s the oddest thing – now that I’ve put in my predictions I’m gonna notice that Joe has got this darn list in the wrong order. 🙂

  11. JD says:

    Did anyone notice that Jeff Garlin commented on that post from the other day? Pretty funny if that was actually him.

  12. In 1968, Al Kaline broke his arm and missed two months of the season, but returned in time for the stretch run as the Tigers won the pennant. It was Kaline’s one shot at the World Series and he came up big against the St.Louis Cardinals, with a line of .379/.400/.655. Al hit 2 homers—including one off Steve Carlton—and even managed 2 doubles off of Bob Gibson, who in 1968 had one of the most dominant seasons of all time, and was death to right handed batters.

    The Tigers won the Series after being down 3 games to 1. They were trailing 3-2 in the seventh inning of Game 5, when Al hit a bases loaded single to drive in two and the Tigers never looked back. He had his moment and he made it count.

    • Geoff says:

      I love the way people create their own narratives…Al hit a bases loaded single to drive in two and the Tigers never looked back. Really, they never looked back? Game 7 was scoreless after six, and they Tigers had 2 out, none on after Al grounded out to third, lowering the Tigers series-winning probability from 46% to 44%. Three batters later Jim Northrup tripled to CF, scoring two runs and giving the Tigers all the runs they would need. Are you saying that if Northrup had gotten under the ball and flied out and Gibson closed the game out 1-0 (on a series winning walk-off bomb by Mike Shannon), Kaline would have had his moment and not made it count? Speaking of which, why doesn’t 1972 count as a “moment” for Al? In the ALCS against Oakland, Kaline hit .263/.333/.421, including an 0-4 in the series-deciding fifth game?

      Kaline was a fantastic player, arguably one of the greatest 50 in baseball history. He’s not Jim Rice or Jack Morris, so there’s no need to cherry-pick tiny moments in his career to make that case.

      • You get the game winning hit with your team 8 outs away from elimination, a hit that turns the Series around, yeah, I’d say that was a pretty big moment that deserves to be mentioned. Kaline didn’t win the Series all by himself, of course. As you said, Northrup had the big blow in Game 7, and Lolich pitched brilliantly, but Kaline had a great Series, including going 3-4 with 4 RBIs and 3 runs scored in Game 6. But the key blow was his single in game 5. Without his hit in game 5, there is no game 7.

        I believe how one performs in the post-season is an important part of a player’s career, considering that the ultimate goal in sports is to win a championship. It may not seem fair, but it’s as true in baseball as much as it’s true in football or basketball. Rings matter. You don’t have to come through every time, that’s impossible, but at some point in your career, you have to have come through in October to complete the resume. Al Kaline made it to one World Series, and was excellent. There are other names on this list who can’t say that.

      • NevadaMark says:

        Hey Geoff, how much credit (or blame) does Kaline get for the Tigers 1967 season, where they finished a game back of the pennant winning Red Sox? Kaline broke his hand by slamming his bat in the rack. On the one hand, he missed 26 games. On the other hand, the Tigers went 15-11 while he was out. As far as I could find out, he received no criticism for this. Today, of course, fans and media would go ballistic.

        Thanks to the SABR biography project for the information.

        • Geoff says:

          I didn’t know about this until you brought it up, but it just highlights the absurdity of assigning a great deal of weight to any small sample of at-bats or single moment in a fantastic 22-year career. Is Kaline breaking his hand a black mark against him? I guess so (imagine the media/fan reaction if, say, Manny Ramirez had done something similar), but considering Kaline was probably the second-best player in the league that season, it’s tough to assign him too much of the blame for the Tigers not winning the pennant.

  13. Herb Smith says:

    Beautifully written story

    I’m glad that Geoff reminded me to use my 51st pick; when Poz revealed that there would only be one tie, I’d omitted Kaline, but then thought better of it, and added him back. So, in actuality, he was my #51st…not too far off, I suppose.

    I was thinking just today about the final 50 players, and about the fact that all of them had tremendous natural talent. Joe’s fascinating point of view, about how certain men make — USE of that talent made for an excellent read.

  14. tombando says:

    Missing another equally deserving Al, Al Simmons. Will he show up? He’s as good as Kaline. Joe, you can stop whining about Jim Rice making the Hall, ok? Its been 5 yrs. As they say in Frozen, let it go.

    Or as Noted_Sage Buscemi saithe in Armaggedon, and I quothe: Makes you feel good, doesn’t it?!

    • Jaunty Rockefeller says:

      Al Simmons might belong on this list, but he’s not as good as Kaline.

      And, geez man—you realize that by constantly accusing Joe of “whining” about Jim Rice, you are now whining about whining about Jim Rice? As Adele Dazeem sang, “Let it go.”

    • Geoff says:

      Man, you are such a clown.

      Al Simmons belongs in the top-50? Okay, fine…who is he better than?

  15. DM says:

    By the way, Travolta would pronounce Al Kaline’s name as Ava Keezy, according to the widget….

  16. DM says:

    And Joe Posnanski would be Jake Parkinsmack……

  17. George says:

    By my count, 21/105 entrants (21%) had Kaline as one of the players involved in the tie. I was one of them.

    I’m now thinking it will be Bob Gibson and Pedro – two guys who didn’t have the most longevity, but whose respective peaks were arguably higher than anyone’s.

  18. George says:

    Sure, and Pedro pitched parts of 18 years. You don’t even get in the conversation for this list if you didn’t hang around a reasonably long time. But both guys are known for their insanely, absurdly, ridiculously-high peak seasons. Neither guy was able to maintain their dominance into their late-30s and 40s the way a Clemens or Big Unit did.

    • Geoff says:

      I agree…Pedro and Gibson have fairly similar career profiles. Certainly much more similar to the commonly-paired Pedro and Koufax, who are about as similar as Terrell Davis and Emmitt Smith.

      • DM says:

        I knew there was a reason I liked Terrell Davis 🙂

      • DM says:

        Actually, Geoff…..Davis is an interesting comp for Koufax. I have always thought of Gale Sayers as the football equivalent to Koufax, but, with Davis being a big part of 2 champions, that might be the better comparison. You’ve convinced me.

        • Geoff says:

          I had honestly never given it much thought, but Davis:Koufax makes much more sense than Sayers:Koufax, not only because of the championships, but because Sayers’ five-year run as a great RB is probably equivalent to an 8-10 year run for a great pitcher. Here’s how I’d compare some of the top RB’s to recent pitchers:


          • DM says:

            Don’t forget Ricky Williams / Doc Ellis (if you know what I mean) 🙂

            I couldn’t come up with a good RB equivalent for Jack Morris. I decided to go QB instead and came up with Eli Manning. Played on a couple of championship teams, but otherwise a good but not great player.

          • Geoff says:

            The Morris comp is Namath, no? Big clutch reputation, but overall performance was nothing special…

          • DM says:

            Namath? Maybe…….but Eli and Morris at least had winning percentages (or, more accurately, their teams had winning percentages) of around 57% or so, and Namath had a losing record in his career. Plus, Eli’s got the 2 championship teams to trump Joe’s one, which would be more in line with Morris. But I hear what you’re saying…..

          • Geoff says:

            Yeah, you’re right…Morris/Eli is probably a better comp.

  19. George says:

    By the way, 21/105 is 20%. Stupid typo.

  20. gosport474 says:

    I thought Al Kaline would be tied with A Cidity. (sorry)

    • Dave says:

      Good one….Roger Angell made a similar comment in one of his anthologies (Five Seasons perhaps?)

      • Will3pin says:

        I think it is Five Seasons that has the lovely passage where Mr. Angell describes the daily ritual of one his Detroit buddies, a longtime Tiger fan would manually (long division) calculate Kaline’s career batting average after every game – hoping that Al would stay above .300 before retiring. I thought of this when reading Joe’s description of AK.

        In the late 80s, I managed to complete my set of Topps Al Kaline cards. Had to save a bit to nail that ’55 rookie card.

        And kudos to Norm Cash for suggesting that Mickey Stanley play shortstop late in ’68 when Kaline was trying to return to the outfield lineup after the broken arm, but there was nowhere to put him.

        • NevadaMark says:

          I remember that story Will, but wasn’t it Mickey Mantle’s average he kept calculating? He also kept calculating the percentage remaining of Nixon’s term. Great story.

  21. otistaylor89 says:

    The problem with Al Kaline was that he started so young, played a lot of years, but the last several were pretty mediocre compared to his peak. Those are the years that I remember. Did he hang around just for his 3,000 hit? Probably not, but he was definitely struggling at the end, not Willie Mays 1973 WS struggling, but not exactly pretty to watch. He DHed all of his last year and even before that I only remember him playing 1st.

    • invitro says:

      1974 was his last year. In 1973 he played 64 games in OF, 36 at 1B. In 1972, 84 in OF, 11 at 1B. In 1971, 129 in OF, 5 at 1B. In 1970, 91 in OF, 52 at 1B. And so on.

    • Geoff says:

      Kaline was a consistent 3-4 win player from 33-37, before having a couple of pretty bad years at 38 and 39 and retiring. When exactly did you want him to retire, in the middle of the 1973 season? Most great players are pretty mediocre in the their last season or two. If they weren’t they probably wouldn’t have retired.

  22. Andrew says:

    I wonder just how much better Kaline would have been playing on two good feet. The injuries are a factor for everyone, but few guys achieve so much with a congenital issue like that.

    Here is a video I urge everyone to see:

    Kaline as a 21-year-old defending batting champ. Mantle on the way to a triple crown. A snapshot of youthful perfection, frozen in time before mortality set in.

  23. Carl says:

    I must be one of the few who wouldn’t bother to put Kaline in the top 100, much less 50. He didn’t hit for power (never hit 30 HR in a season), wasn’t a great average hitter (less than .300 for his career and led the league once) didn’t walk a lot (OBP of .376 is very good but not great). His career OPS+ of 134 is very good, tied for the 120th best with Fred Dunlap and Joe Kelly.

    As for his supposedly great defense? His career range factor per game in RF was 1.98, exactly the same as the league average range factor per game. His career DWar is 2.5.

    One of the very good’s, but top 50? I just don’t see it.

    • Jake Bucsko says:

      Carl, I get what you’re saying about his defense, but as much as I’m skeptical now about defensive metrics, I basically don’t pay any attention to them from players of Kaline’s era. How can it possibly be calculated? It’s not like someone went back and watched all 162 Tigers games in 1957 to accurately rate Kaline. If people who watched baseball in the 50s and 60s say he was a fantastic defensive outfielder, that’s going to have to be good enough for me.

      I had Kaline 48th, so good start for me in the contest. This is fun!

      Also, has anyone else noticed the tiny smiley face at the very bottom of the page? I’ve just now seen it.

    • Ross Holden says:

      I haven’t heard Kaline called a “compiler” (I know, I don’t like the term either), but maybe it should apply. How else is he 120th in OPS+ but 39th in oWAR? Because as Joe says, he’s 17th in games played. I agree, I don’t think that makes someone a top 50.

      • invitro says:

        Or because OPS+ is not a good way to measure offense :).

        • Ross says:

          That’s fair that OPS doesn’t show the whole picture, but it’s not immediately clear to me what Kaline did well that does not show up in OPS.

          • Geoff says:

            Um, play defense?

          • Ross says:

            Of course, though we were just talking offense (I was replying to Invitro’s comment about OPS+ not being a good measure of offense.).

          • Geoff says:

            Fair enough.

            OPS+ also doesn’t capture baserunning, playing time, or the relative importance of OBP and SLG. It’s certainly a useful metric, but it doesn’t come close to capturing everything Kaline did on offense.

  24. Chad Meisgeier says:

    No. 50 on my list is Yogi Berra.

  25. DM says:

    Carl….I hear you, and if I were ranking them, I’d probably have Kaline a little lower than this, but not a whole lot. Among RF, I would probably have him at #6 behind Ruth, Aaron, F. Robinson, Ott, and Clemente. I think he’s better than the next cluster of top RF’ers like Jackson, Waner, Gwynn, Heilmann, Crawford, etc. I know not everyone thinks of the rankings in the same way, but a quick and dirty estimate for me is that top 6 at a field position would probably put him somewhere between 60-75 for me.

    • Carl says:

      HI DM, I can understand placing him @ #6 as a RFer. Heilman had a higher BA, OBP, Slg, OPS and OPS+, but was not a good defender, and he did play before integration. Gwynn had a higher BA and OBP, and more SB, but less power, worse glove. Reggie had only a slightly higher OPS+ (139 v 134) but was a much worse defender. # 50 just seems too high to me.

  26. invitro says:

    I predict that 17 of the entries will have all 50 of their picks in Joe’s top 51 (or 50). That is quite a bit more agreement with the James/ESPN method than I expected! Here is the list of those: Invitro, DickAllen, TomGilbert, EJM, DM, Simon, AlexP, Geoff, AndyL, George, Patrick Hogue, Sam C., MarkR, ThaddeusMcMonster, Mike Battoglia, Johnny, BobBurpee.

    The entries have some mispellings (“Charlston”, “Mathweson”)… I guess some people didn’t use the selectbox?

    There are a LOT of entries with duplicate names. I see 23 pairs of duplicates. Bob McNamara has three pairs! I think Geoff already emailed about his duplicate. I suppose those folks will get a chance to fix their picks?

    This will be fun…

    • DB says:

      I am going to try to bribe Joe with splitting the winnings with him. So be careful about your second set of predictions.

  27. Uncle Willy says:

    I had Kaline at #47 (Yaz at #50). Not too bad of a start…

  28. invitro says:

    The most common picks that I think will not make it are: Anson, Niekro, Piazza, Hubbell, Jenkins, Fisk, Palmer, Carter, Plank, and Molitor.

    The most common names that I think will be on Joe’s list, but that people didn’t list, are: Lloyd, Feller, Berra, Kaline, Koufax, Charleston, Mathews, PMartinez, JRobinson, ECollins, and Paige.

    Thirty people did not pick Kaline and so are down 50 points already (or will be eventually).

    • Joshua says:

      To me, the wrench is the fictional guys, Ibanez, Kuiper, and to a lesser extent, the pre-integration guys and the dead ball guys.

      Nobody really knows if Joe is serious about putting Ibanez and Kuiper in. I doubt he will, but its his list. Nobody knows if the Mighty Casey will be in or not, but Roy Hobbs already made it, so you can’t count Casey out, or some other fictional guy.

      In Dead Ball there is Eddie Plank and home run baker, in pre-integration there is Mule Suttles, Oscar Charleston, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, etc…and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if his hero Buck O’Neil gets in somewhere.

      As far as the list of tangible players whose stats and skills are widely known and comparable to the modern game, I think we could get a very close agreement on the top 50, but with Joe’s personal idiosyncrasies added in, and his penchant for including ties, adding Trammel later, but not in a specific number, his HoF agenda for Pete Rose, etc… I just don’t know how well any of us will be able to predict it.

      • Ty Sellers says:

        Roy Hobbs didn’t make it in the top 100. He was listed as #57 on his little blurb Joe wrote but was replaced by the actual #57 a few days later, Derek Jeter. Click the link at the top of the page titled “Baseball 100” for the up-to-date list.

        • Geoff says:

          Um, what Ty said.

          Btw, Kuiper and Ibanez won’t make it, either. With the exception of Mariano Rivera, all of Joe’s sections have a been a serious, good-faith attempt to rank the top-100 players.

          (Ducking lightning bolts.)

      • Geoff says:

        Joe will not pick any of the fictional guys, at least not in a way that impacts the overall rankings. Hobbs didn’t really make the list…he was ranked #57, same as Jeter.

  29. DM says:

    Invitro…..I think that’s a good list you put together of common picks that won’t make the top 50. Just goes to show how strong you have to be to make the cut at this level, because those are some awfully good players you named!

  30. George says:

    Agree with invitro’s comments. The one other guy I could see slide in is Mule Suttles instead of either Feller, Rose or Koufax. From what little I know about Suttles, he is pretty comparable to Turkey Stearnes, so I think he has a chance. Most rate Stearnes higher though, so I expect Suttles to miss the list entirely.

    • invitro says:

      James has Suttles at #43, and Joe is ranking the Negro Leaguers about 1.5 times James’ rank (exception: Monte Irvin). So Suttles had a chance at the top 100, but not the top 50.

      Stearnes is #25 on James’ list. Well, I guess I’ve posted enough on the Negro Leaguers so I won’t say any more :).

  31. Joe P. says:

    Alan Trammell was WAY better than Al Kaline!

  32. Brendan says:

    I was a little surprised that I was the only one who picked Omar Linares. Granted, he’s a bit of a hail mary pick, but there have to be some curveballs coming from JoePoz at some point right? I figure that Cuban baseball was so great internationally for a generation, and he was so dominant, that his story must get told sometime. Mainly, I really want to hear what stories Poz has to tell about him. If I was doing a real top 100 for myself, he’d be below Oh, probably, but would be in the top 100…

    I can’t believe I completely forgot Joe Morgan. I’m such a doofus.

    • Geoff says:

      I liked the Linares pick, at least for the creativity it displayed, and there’s probably a decent case to be made for the top-100. However, Linares played in Japan in his mid-30’s, and was basically terrible. As great as he might have been before that, it’s hard to rank him that high based on the info we have. I mean, guys like Chipper, Boggs, etc. were still excellent in their mid-30’s…it feels like a stretch to argue that Linares was way better than any of those guys when he was younger.

  33. Joe Meyer says:

    I didn’t submit a ballet but I thought it was obvious that clemens and bonds were the tie

    • DM says:

      Well, many thought that Clemente/Kaline was obvious too, but that didn’t pan out either. Sure, there’s some logic to Clemens/Bonds, but there are many other ways to go too. If Joe had announced before he started the countdown from 100 that there would be 2 ties, how many would have predicted Thomas/Bagwell as one of them? Sure, it makes sense after the fact, but who would have connected them before that, even if you were aware about their common birthday?

      So, I agree that Bonds/Clemens has some logic, but there are so many others that would make sense. In the file that Geoff sent out to all the participants, we can see that some have opted for Paige/Gibson, and some have gone Schmidt/Brett. We’re seeing Bench/Berra, Mantle/Mays, Maddux/Clemens. They all have some logic to them. My personal favorite I’ve seen so far (not my own, by the way) is Pop Lloyd/Honus Wagner by “MikeD”. Not that I necessarily think it’s going to be that one, but it’s an intriguing choice because you virtually never hear Pop Lloyd discussed without the famous reference/comparison to Wagner. It’s an inspired choice. Nice going, MikeD!

      • BobDD says:

        Or how about an unlikely pairing?

        Jackie Robinson-Pete Rose

        • DM says:

          Speaking of that…..whenever I think of great pairings, I always think back to when I read “The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book” by Brendan C. Boyd and Fred C. Harris. Anyone else ever read that? One of my favorite passages was when they described players that they always had trouble telling apart. For example:

          Mike de la Hoz vs. Bobby Del Greco
          Gerry Staley vs. Jerry Priddy
          Joe Pignatano vs. Joey Amalfitano
          Howie Pollet vs. Erv Palica
          Billy Hunter vs. Billy Gardner

          They always thought that each pair was really referring to the same player.

          Those would have made for great pairings for a tie in Joe’s list, if you ignore that whole pesky “greatest players in history” criteria.

  34. Herb Smith says:

    I enjoyed reading all the other people’s ballots; you guys thought of some interesting pairings. For some reason, the Clemens/Bonds pairing never occurred to me, even though it makes a ton of sense. And I agree that the Pop Lloyd/Honus pair is an inspired one.

    One that I had mentioned in the comments a few weeks ago was Pedro/Koufax. I thought the pairing would accomplish a lot of things: for one, those two personify what we talk about when we use the baseball term “peak.” Also, it was a way to somehow sneak Koufax (one of the most famous, beloved, lightning bolt type players of all-time) onto the Top 100 list. And you could certainly make the case that both pitchers could be considered Top-50 guys.

    Anyway, this is fun. I was surprised by the semi-uniformity of the 100-ish picks. I’d have thought there’d be at least a few ballots with, say, Pete Rose in the top-5, or some scattered votes for Steve Garvey/Jack Morris/Catfish Hunter, etc., but it’s obviously a well-read/informed audience.

    • invitro says:

      Here are the counts of picks for players to be in the top 10:

      110: Babe Ruth
      108: Willie Mays
      100: Ty Cobb
      97: Ted Williams
      97: Barry Bonds
      91: Hank Aaron
      83: Walter Johnson
      75: Honus Wagner
      59: Stan Musial
      45: Roger Clemens
      39: Oscar Charleston
      32: Cy Young
      27: Josh Gibson
      26: Lou Gehrig
      17: Mickey Mantle
      17: Satchel Paige
      16: Greg Maddux
      12: Rogers Hornsby
      10: Tris Speaker
      9: Lefty Grove
      6: Joe DiMaggio
      4: Tom Seaver
      3: Christy Mathewson
      2: Jackie Robinson
      2: Pete Alexander
      1: Pedro Martinez
      1: Sandy Koufax
      1: Pete Rose
      1: Randy Johnson
      1: Bob Gibson
      1: Casey
      1: Duane Kuiper
      1: Alex Rodriguez
      1: Joe Morgan
      1: Mike Schmidt
      1: Rickey Henderson

    • Geoff says:

      Unfortunately Tombando and Rick declined to submit ballots, so the the non-well-read/uninformed portion of Joe’s readership is a bit underrepresented.

      • Maybe I just declined to give a crap. You can have your fun, but I don’t really care where other people rank Rogers Hornsby. I’m hear to read wonderful stories by Joe, and to argue over his picks.

        But obviously, if you insist on my participation, the number one player on Joe’s list will be the immortal Guy Hecker, who went 52-20 with a league leading 1.80 ERA in 1884 (which included 72 complete games and 385 strikeouts), and led the league with a .341 batting average in 1886. Hecker is the only man to lead the league in both ERA and batting average, and as such is the clear choice for the finest player who ever lived.

  35. DM says:

    Since we’re having fun with data,…..

    Here is a list of the players named, using a simple point system to rank them. A “1” earns 50 points, a “50” earns 1 point.

    I cleaned up the names because there were some inconsistencies in how they were entered, despite Geoff’s best attempt to get everyone to use the drop-down lists for consistency. Alas, there are some names that appeared more than once on some ballots (so you’ll see some names with a count of more than 105), but I wasn’t sure how to address those, so I just left them alone, figuring they wouldn’t distort the results too much.

    Here are the results. I realize these may not format very cleanly, but I’m not sure how to alter that. Hopefully you can read it OK.

    Overall Name Count Total Points
    1 Babe Ruth 105 5,235
    2 Willie Mays 105 5,075
    3 Barry Bonds 104 4,827
    4 Ted Williams 105 4,665
    5 Ty Cobb 104 4,636
    6 Walter Johnson 105 4,562
    7 Hank Aaron 104 4,551
    8 Honus Wagner 105 4,433
    9 Stan Musial 106 4,245
    10 Lou Gehrig 105 3,906
    11 Roger Clemens 104 3,855
    12 Mickey Mantle 103 3,614
    13 Rogers Hornsby 103 3,506
    14 Greg Maddux 106 3,452
    15 Cy Young 104 3,391
    16 Josh Gibson 99 3,373
    17 Tris Speaker 105 3,309
    18 Oscar Charleston 88 2,978
    19 Rickey Henderson 102 2,932
    20 Satchel Paige 97 2,868
    21 Tom Seaver 105 2,796
    22 Mike Schmidt 104 2,775
    23 Lefty Grove 104 2,628
    24 Joe Morgan 104 2,625
    25 Frank Robinson 104 2,541
    26 Alex Rodriguez 101 2,530
    27 Joe DiMaggio 104 2,503
    28 Pete Alexander 97 2,405
    29 Christy Mathewson 104 2,277
    30 Randy Johnson 103 2,255
    31 Eddie Collins 93 2,108
    32 Jimmie Foxx 100 2,022
    33 Johnny Bench 106 1,944
    34 Albert Pujols 98 1,790
    35 Mel Ott 97 1,656
    36 Pedro Martinez 93 1,570
    37 George Brett 105 1,456
    38 Nap Lajoie 95 1,445
    39 Cal Ripken 103 1,436
    40 Jackie Robinson 95 1,429
    41 Warren Spahn 97 1,353
    42 Bob Gibson 95 1,344
    43 Roberto Clemente 104 1,244
    44 Carl Yastrzemski 99 1,068
    45 Eddie Mathews 89 965
    46 Yogi Berra 78 951
    47 Pete Rose 99 935
    48 Sandy Koufax 80 847
    49 Bob Feller 63 676
    50 Al Kaline 76 515
    51 Pop Lloyd 35 497
    52 Cap Anson 44 318
    53 Mike Piazza 20 145
    54 Phil Niekro 19 98
    55 Juan Marichal 8 83
    56 Duane Kuiper 3 82
    57 Jim Palmer 10 79
    58 Martin Dihigo 4 68
    59 Carl Hubbell 14 67
    60 Cristobal Torriente 4 61
    61 Casey 2 59
    62 Fergie Jenkins 11 57
    63 Carlton Fisk 11 56
    64 Lou Brock 7 52
    65 Paul Molitor 8 46
    66 Mordecai Brown 5 45
    67 Gary Carter 10 43
    68 Ivan Rodriguez 5 36
    68 Pie Traynor 2 36
    70 George Sisler 4 30
    70 Manny Ramirez 7 30
    72 Mule Suttles 3 25
    72 Harry Heilmann 3 25
    74 Larry Doby 2 23
    75 Eddie Plank 6 21
    76 Dave Winfield 5 20
    77 Carlos Beltran 2 18
    77 Sammy Sosa 1 18
    79 Frank Baker 2 17
    80 Ray Dandridge 1 16
    81 Ed Walsh 1 15
    81 Pud Galvin 3 15
    83 Al Simmons 5 13
    83 Mickey Cochrane 2 13
    83 Dan Brouthers 1 13
    83 Roy Halladay 1 13
    87 Omar Linares 1 11
    87 Kid Nichols 1 11
    87 Mike Trout 1 11
    90 Tim Keefe 2 10
    91 Whitey Ford 1 9
    91 Luke Appling 3 9
    93 Jim Thome 1 8
    93 John Clarkson 2 8
    95 Luis Aparicio 1 7
    96 Bill Dickey 2 6
    97 Torii Hunter 1 5
    98 Edgar Martinez 1 4
    98 Vlad Guerrerro 1 4
    98 Rich Gossage 1 4
    101 Roger Connor 1 3
    101 Jeff Kent 1 3
    103 Ralph Kiner 1 2
    103 Dizzy Dean 1 2
    103 Hank Greenberg 1 2
    106 Raul Ibanez 1 1

  36. DM says:

    OK….I just posted the list above, and it looks even worse than I thought, because it took out the spaces. I’m trying again with a dash to act as a separator….bear with me….we’ll see if that looks any better:

    Overall Name Count Total Points
    1 – Babe Ruth – 105 – 5,235
    2 – Willie Mays – 105 – 5,075
    3 – Barry Bonds – 104 – 4,827
    4 – Ted Williams – 105 – 4,665
    5 – Ty Cobb – 104 – 4,636
    6 – Walter Johnson – 105 – 4,562
    7 – Hank Aaron – 104 – 4,551
    8 – Honus Wagner – 105 – 4,433
    9 – Stan Musial – 106 – 4,245
    10 – Lou Gehrig – 105 – 3,906
    11 – Roger Clemens – 104 – 3,855
    12 – Mickey Mantle – 103 – 3,614
    13 – Rogers Hornsby – 103 – 3,506
    14 – Greg Maddux – 106 – 3,452
    15 – Cy Young – 104 – 3,391
    16 – Josh Gibson – 99 – 3,373
    17 – Tris Speaker – 105 – 3,309
    18 – Oscar Charleston – 88 – 2,978
    19 – Rickey Henderson – 102 – 2,932
    20 – Satchel Paige – 97 – 2,868
    21 – Tom Seaver – 105 – 2,796
    22 – Mike Schmidt – 104 – 2,775
    23 – Lefty Grove – 104 – 2,628
    24 – Joe Morgan – 104 – 2,625
    25 – Frank Robinson – 104 – 2,541
    26 – Alex Rodriguez – 101 – 2,530
    27 – Joe DiMaggio – 104 – 2,503
    28 – Pete Alexander – 97 – 2,405
    29 – Christy Mathewson – 104 – 2,277
    30 – Randy Johnson – 103 – 2,255
    31 – Eddie Collins – 93 – 2,108
    32 – Jimmie Foxx – 100 – 2,022
    33 – Johnny Bench – 106 – 1,944
    34 – Albert Pujols – 98 – 1,790
    35 – Mel Ott – 97 – 1,656
    36 – Pedro Martinez – 93 – 1,570
    37 – George Brett – 105 – 1,456
    38 – Nap Lajoie – 95 – 1,445
    39 – Cal Ripken – 103 – 1,436
    40 – Jackie Robinson – 95 – 1,429
    41 – Warren Spahn – 97 – 1,353
    42 – Bob Gibson – 95 – 1,344
    43 – Roberto Clemente – 104 – 1,244
    44 – Carl Yastrzemski – 99 – 1,068
    45 – Eddie Mathews – 89 – 965
    46 – Yogi Berra – 78 – 951
    47 – Pete Rose – 99 – 935
    48 – Sandy Koufax – 80 – 847
    49 – Bob Feller – 63 – 676
    50 – Al Kaline – 76 – 515
    51 – Pop Lloyd – 35 – 497
    52 – Cap Anson – 44 – 318
    53 – Mike Piazza – 20 – 145
    54 – Phil Niekro – 19 – 98
    55 – Juan Marichal – 8 – 83
    56 – Duane Kuiper – 3 – 82
    57 – Jim Palmer – 10 – 79
    58 – Martin Dihigo – 4 – 68
    59 – Carl Hubbell – 14 – 67
    60 – Cristobal Torriente – 4 – 61
    61 – Casey – 2 – 59
    62 – Fergie Jenkins – 11 – 57
    63 – Carlton Fisk – 11 – 56
    64 – Lou Brock – 7 – 52
    65 – Paul Molitor – 8 – 46
    66 – Mordecai Brown – 5 – 45
    67 – Gary Carter – 10 – 43
    68 – Ivan Rodriguez – 5 – 36
    68 – Pie Traynor – 2 – 36
    70 – George Sisler – 4 – 30
    70 – Manny Ramirez – 7 – 30
    72 – Mule Suttles – 3 – 25
    72 – Harry Heilmann – 3 – 25
    74 – Larry Doby – 2 – 23
    75 – Eddie Plank – 6 – 21
    76 – Dave Winfield – 5 – 20
    77 – Carlos Beltran – 2 – 18
    77 – Sammy Sosa – 1 – 18
    79 – Frank Baker – 2 – 17
    80 – Ray Dandridge – 1 – 16
    81 – Ed Walsh – 1 – 15
    81 – Pud Galvin – 3 – 15
    83 – Al Simmons – 5 – 13
    83 – Mickey Cochrane – 2 – 13
    83 – Dan Brouthers – 1 – 13
    83 – Roy Halladay – 1 – 13
    87 – Omar Linares – 1 – 11
    87 – Kid Nichols – 1 – 11
    87 – Mike Trout – 1 – 11
    90 – Tim Keefe – 2 – 10
    91 – Whitey Ford – 1 – 9
    91 – Luke Appling – 3 – 9
    93 – Jim Thome – 1 – 8
    93 – John Clarkson – 2 – 8
    95 – Luis Aparicio – 1 – 7
    96 – Bill Dickey – 2 – 6
    97 – Torii Hunter – 1 – 5
    98 – Edgar Martinez – 1 – 4
    98 – Vlad Guerrerro – 1 – 4
    98 – Rich Gossage – 1 – 4
    101 – Roger Connor – 1 – 3
    101 – Jeff Kent – 1 – 3
    103 – Ralph Kiner – 1 – 2
    103 – Dizzy Dean – 1 – 2
    103 – Hank Greenberg – 1 – 2
    106 – Raul Ibanez – 1 – 1

  37. DM says:

    As a follow-up to the list above, it’s interesting that the 50th ranked player in this point system based on the 105 ballots submitted was indeed the same as Joe’s 50th player, Al Kaline. It will be interesting to see how close the consensus matches Joe’s actual list as we go along.

  38. D-Mann says:

    Even if cream and clear need to be A & B, Barry Bonds needs to be in the top 5. The hitting accomplishments attached to his name and whatever appendages you wish to attach to him were the best things baseball lovers had seen in their lifetimes if they were younger than 50.

  39. the Clemens and Bonds tie is a good one. I decided against it because
    everything Ive read from poz tells me that Maddux has to be higher than Clemens, and Bonds has to be higher than Maddux… It occurred to me just now that the answer is Clemens and Clemente because they share a baseball-reference ID,



    I could see them both being low 30s (I had clemens at 30 and clemente at 35 although in vitro shows clemens much higher)…

  40. George says:

    Wow, huge thanks for invitro and DM for the calculations. I wanted to do something similar but I lack the Excel savvy to do it efficiently.

  41. Azure Ray says:

    Al Kaline over Ken Grifey Jr? Wow. Griffey was better in just about every facet of the game. And yet ranks behind him? Perhaps Griffey needs a few years to be appreciated for his greatness…

    • DM says:

      Azure Ray,

      I can’t say that I disagree with you. When I sat down to do my own list, I had Griffey Jr. higher. I had him around 40, while I didn’t have Kaline top 50. It was only after reading some of Joe’s other posts (on different subjects) that it became clearer that Kaline would likely end up being listed somewhere around this point.

      I understand Joe’s logic, especially if you put a fair amount of weight on WAR, which he clearly does. Kaline has a 9 point edge in WAR, which certainly doesn’t prove anything, but I’m sure that factored in to his decision. Griffey has a 2-point edge in OPS+, which doesn’t mean a whole lot. Kaline has the better average/OBP, Griffey more pop. There’s been a lot of debate on this site about just how good either of them was defensively. Kaline was still playing when I started paying attention to baseball as a youth, and he always had that reputation as a stellar defender with textbook technique and with a superb arm, and of course Griffey had a very good reputation as well (at least early in his career), although I’ve seen many people take the stance that they were both overrated defensively.

      So, I’m a little surprised as well, but I can’t say I’m shocked, and I can see where Joe’s coming from. As I said under Griffey’s post, it’s amazing to me that you can hit 630 HR’s and all anyone can talk about is “what might have been”.

      • Azure Ray says:

        DM – you know who Griffey really reminds me of? Mickey Mantle. Both came into the league with enormous (unfair?) expectations and both for whatever reasons seem to fall short in the minds of many people. Mantle is probably the 3rd best CF of all-time behind Mays and Cobb, though Speaker and Dimaggio have their cases, too. But it just seems like people look at Mantle’s near-.300 BA, 536 HRs, 3 MVPs, a Triple Crown, and being the face of the Yankees for 20 years and still are somehow disappointed. What else did the guy need to do to meet or exceed the expectations?

        Well, I feel the same way about Griffey. Yes, he had an amazing start to his career and was headed towards being one of the Top-10 greatest players in history. But injuries and ineffectiveness curbed that projection a bit and instead he wound up “only” hitting 630 HRs, winning a slew of other awards, and compiling a simply astounding array of numbers. He also had the charisma that people tend to love, a flair for the dramatic, and was easily the most popular player in baseball for almost a decade.

        And yet Griffey, like Mantle, still seems to somehow fall short of the expectations that were placed on him.

        I think instead of re-evaluating Mantle’s and Griffey’s careers, maybe we need to re-evaluate our expectations of them instead. These guys were true superstars and, in my mind, should probably be ranked just behind Mays and Cobb as the best CFs in the history of MLB. Mantle has to be a Top-20 talent and I think Griffey does, too.

        • DM says:

          Hi Azure Ray (or can I just call you Ray for short?)

          I do understand the comparison you’re making, and I have agreement with a fair amount of it. Griffey and Mantle both debuted in the majors at 19 with pretty fair initial seasons, each took a pretty good step up around 23, had tremendous success through 30, and then each really trailed off, injuries and age taking their tolls. I also agree that both are in that category that, despite their accomplishments, many people felt like they could have been that much greater if not for the injuries.

          You indicated that you consider Mantle to be a top 20 talent. If you saw the results of our prediction contest, Mantle is the consensus #12 ranked player, and the #3 consensus CF, and I think that’s a fair representation of where he’s likely to end up. I had him in my personal top 10.

          So, I’m with you on that level. In comparing the results, though, and as good as Griffey was, I have Mantle as a much superior player, especially on offense. Offensively, the 50-point advantage in OBP that Mantle has over Griffey is huge. A quick glance at their records indicate that Mantle was among the best ever at leading the league (and being in the top 10) in an offensive category, while Griffey was not nearly so successful (I know, Griffey played in an era with more teams to compete with, but still…..)

          I think, looking at the record, Mantle was a much more devastating offensive force. Defensively, I’m not sure. I suspect most people would give an edge to Griffey.

          Before we got to the top 50, I personally had Mantle top 10 and Griffey around 40. Among CF’ers, I went, in order, Mays, Cobb, Mantle, Charleston, DiMaggio, Speaker, and then Griffey. CF is certainly one of the “glamour” positions. So, I personally can’t promote him to top 20 status. I personally think 40-50 is the best I can do.

          Absent the injuries, who knows? I mentioned something under Griffey’s post about how, throughout his whole career, Griffey was always among the top players of his age in career-to-date HR’s. In other words, at age 23, 24, 25, etc., if you look at who had the most career HR’s through that age, he was always in the top 10 (the same is generally true of Mantle as well, because they both got off to a strong, early start). Through age 30, he had 438 HR’s, more than anyone else in history by that age at the time (later on, A-Rod surpassed that figure), 72 ahead of Aaron at the same age. He seemed to at least have a fighting chance to be the guy to break the HR record, although he was more than 300 away. Still, it seemed he had a chance.

          Of course, we know that Aaron had that great finishing kick in his 30’s. By the way, anyone ever see the list of top HR hitters from age 31 and after? An interesting list:

          Player – HR
          Barry Bonds – 470
          Babe Ruth – 405
          Hank Aaron – 389
          Rafael Palmeiro – 375
          Mark McGwire – 345
          Willie Mays – 341
          Jim Thome – 330
          Andres Galarraga – 293
          Reggie Jackson – 282
          Hank Sauer – 281

          I almost didn’t post that because, given some of the names on there, I’m sure there will be some kind of commentary about you-know-what 🙂 Anyway, Aaron had that tremendous run after age 30, combined with 366 up until 30. So, Griffey ultimately couldn’t do it, and 125 HR’s (755 minus 630) is a lot of missing HR’s. Would he have been able to do it absent injuries? I don’t know. The fact that he had a fighting chance, though, is still awfully impressive.

          • Geoff says:

            This just proves that Ruth and Aaron were using PEDs.

          • DM says:

            Yep….I suspect the hot dogs that Babe ate for breakfast were loaded with them 🙂

          • Azure Ray says:

            DM – absolutely great post! I like reading your replies as they tend to give me more to think about. The sticking point I have, though, is how does Mantle rank so much higher than Griffey overall? I get the significance of OBP, I really do. But does it really trump the near-100 more HRs that Griffey put up? I’m not so sure. To me it just about balances out.

            Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Mantle and he would be in my Top-10, too. And I do think that overal Mantle was a touch better than Griffey. I just don’t see that large of a disparity between them.

            And yeah, you can just call me Ray ;o)

          • DM says:

            Hi Ray,

            Regarding your comment above, where you ask:

            “the sticking point I have, though, is how does Mantle rank so much higher than Griffey overall? I get the significance of OBP, I really do. But does it really trump the near-100 more HRs that Griffey put up? I’m not so sure. To me it just about balances out.”

            I think the best way to compare them is to look at several key metrics.

            1. Let’s start with WAR (let’s use bWAR). We know it’s not perfect, and the discussion surrounding it is pretty heated at times. Still, when you look at it at face value, you have:

            Mantle 109.7
            Griffey 83.7

            That’s a 26 point gap. Again, not conclusive, but it’s a pretty good margin in Mantle’s favor (by the way, fWAR is an even bigger gap – about 35 points in Mantle’s favor). So, we’ll have to see if Griffey has other things in his favor to counteract that.

            2. WAR during 7 peak years (one of the JAWS variable).

            Mantle 64.8 (or a little over 9 per season)
            Griffey 53.9 (or a little under 8 per season).

            I’d say not huge….but again, for what it’s worth….it favors Mantle.

            3. Home Runs
            As you mentioned, Griffey hit almost 100 more HR over the course of his career. If you look at them in the context of plate appearances, Griffey homered in 5.6% of his opportunities, and Mantle in 5.4% of his (incidentally, those are the top 2 figures I could find for all CF’ers, even ahead of Mays).

            So, it’s close. Griffey hit a few more home runs in his home parks than on the road, while Mantle was almost exactly 50/50. Griffey’s edge in the raw total is primarily due to coming to the plate an extra 1,300 times, as he managed to play 4 more seasons than Mantle. So, it’s close. You could give Griffey a slight edge in ability to hit HR’s.

            4. Rate stats (Batting Average/OBP/Slugging/OPS/OPS+)

            Griffey .284/.370/.538/.907/136
            Mantle .298/.421/557/.977/172

            This is probably why most people would go with Mantle when comparing the two. Every single one of those favor Mantle. The OBP is the biggest difference, but everything else favors Mantle as well. Again, as many have discussed in other posts, none of these are perfect, and OPS+ doesn’t capture everything, and you can argue whether about the wisdom of adding OBP and Slugging in the first place, but it’s one thing to be 36% better than the league average (adjusted for ballpark)….it’s quite another to be 72% better.

            For what it’s worth, Mantle’s 172 OPS+ is the 6th highest in history, behind Ruth, Williams, Bonds, Gehrig, and Hornsby, and is the highest for any CF.

            Of course, there are many other things to explore….Griffey stole about 30 more bases, but also was caught about 30 more times, so Mantle was more successful (80% vs. 73%). Again, not really sure what to make of them defensively. I think Griffey had the better reputation, but the injuries took a lot out of both of them.

            I guess if you wanted to, you could put more weight on some of the counting stats, and give Griffey a little more credit for lasting longer than Mantle, but ultimately most fans I know don’t judge them that way. Griffey was a great player, and I think he’s definitely top 50, maybe even top 40. I just think the evidence points to Mantle as that much greater.


    • Geoff says:

      Kaline was significantly better at getting on base than Griffey, especially when you consider context. That counts for something.

  42. invitro says:

    I like the article, I love Al Kaline, but this:

    “What do baseball numbers mean? They mean what you want them to mean.”

    is utter bullshit. Joe should be ashamed of writing this… it is exactly the main argument of the anti-saber, anti-facts, anti-math/science people. If statistics meant only what a person wants them to mean, they have no meaning at all. Hopefully this is not a frequently-held position in these parts.

    “We love baseball numbers because they help tell a story. We loathe baseball numbers because they can crash a story.”

    This is almost as bad. I love baseball statistics for many reasons, but one is that they can tell the truth when used correctly, and I love, not loathe, when the truth crashes a story. And you should, too. Facts > opinions, always.

    • invitro says:

      To double down with an example: Jack Morris’s fans WANT his baseball numbers to mean that he is an easy HoFer. By Joe’s sentence, then his baseball numbers REALLY DO mean that he is a HoFer.

      • Herb Smith says:

        I think the implication is that one has to choose the more meaningful numbers when evaluating ballplayers. Jack Morris fans will bellow “Most wins in the ’80’s!” as if decade marks (or pitcher wins, for that matter) were superior in importance to career WAR. Another one would be “Jack was Top 5 in the Cy Young vote in 5 seasons,” (indicating they consider that to be a worthwhile “stat,” and that it is more worthwhile than Jack’s ERA.

        Surely you’re not advocating using nothing but raw numbers to evaluate players, correct?

    • Shattenjager says:

      This is a great comment.

      I hate when people say things like, “numbers can mean whatever you want them to mean.” It’s Creationist logic.

      • largebill says:

        I think it is another way of paraphrasing the old quote “There are lies, there are damn lies and then there are statistics.” You can play with numbers or statistics and selectively pick which ones to mention to give an impression that someone was better or worse than they actually were.

    • Lies, damn lies and statistics. Just because there is a number next to it doesn’t mean it is unbiased. WAR, for examples, gives specific numerical weight to all sorts of abstract concepts, and judges them against a prototypical “Average” player, who no more exists in reality than an Economist’s Rational Consumer does. When you compare one person’s WAR to another, you are taking one person’s opinion about what constitutes value as an absolute truth and treating it like it was a number on the periodic table. While I find WAR interesting, I disagree with many of its assessments (I happen to believe that Slugging is more important than OBP, and value the walk less than most sabermetricians), but what really depresses me is that it absolutely stops people from thinking on their own. Player A had a WAR of 58, Player B had a WAR of 57, therefore Player A is better than Player B, case closed.

      I suppose in one respect it’s right—58 is higher than 57, I’ve got to agree with you there. Clever bit of analysis, that.

      But when you create a metric that purportedly can measure the value of Honus Wagner playing base-ball in 1904 in an all-white league where baseball was the only professional team sport, playing only day games without lights in stadiums with hand operated scoreboards and no sound system whose outfield dimensions could vary by 150 feet with solid walls or metal fences, where one ball was kept in play all game and the spitball was legal and guys swung 40 ounce clubs and players left their gloves on the field—gloves that looked like fat leather fingers—and teams traveled by train to a handful of cities East of the Mississippi like Pittsburgh where the air was toxic, and slept in the same beds in rooms without air-conditioning, and the players made no money and took winter jobs.

      And then you use this same metric to measure Derek Jeter playing baseball in 2004 in an integrated league full of blacks and Latinos and Asians, where baseball competes with many other sports, ranking well behind several of them in popularity, playing mostly night games under the lights in modern stadiums with electronic scoreboards and huge sound systems offering non-stop accompaniment, in more uniform outfields with padded walls, in games that are televised and analyzed by the 24-hour news media, where fresh baseballs are used the whole game and the spitball us illegal and steroids are available and guys swing 33 ounce maple bats with thin handles and players bring their gloves in from the field—gloves that are as big as jai-alai cestas—and afterwards players watched videotape and consulted computer databases, and teams traveled by plane to twice as many cities cross-country, and slept in separate beds in hotel suites with air-conditioning, where even the scrubs were millionaires who could afford to train year round.

      And then you take these numerical values and compare them straight up between the two players a hundred years apart, like they’re measuring the same thing?

      Interesting, like I said. But hardly a fact. Nor is it something that automatically negates other viewpoints, based on other criteria. Because human beings are social creatures who live within an environment to which they respond and influence in a million ways that are not found on any metric. Milton Bradley led the league in OPS+ one year and the Rangers couldn’t get rid of him fast enough. So while many of us respect and use statistics, we respect statistics too much not to rely on them completely. We rely on a discerning eye and our own judgment.

      • NevadaMark says:

        Well of course, because as Bill James said, there is no statistic that is pure information; everyone has biases.

      • Geoff says:


        This comment is idiotic on so many levels that I’m angry just thinking about it.

        Earth to Rick: No one is confused about what WAR represents, and I will bet you $100 that you can’t find a single instance in this forum in which someone has argued for the superiority of one player over another based on a single win over the course of a career, as measured by WAR.

        WAR compares players to their peers, obviously, so blabbering on about all the differences between baseball now vs. baseball 100 years ago is a useless endeavor. What is your point, exactly? Is it not acceptable to ever compare any two players that were not exact contemporaries?

        If you want to argue that SLG is more important than OBP, have at it. Unfortunately for you, this is NOT a matter of opinion; all you’re doing is demonstrating a lack of mathematical (and reading) comprehension. If two players are identical in every respect, except that one gets on base more (via walk) and the other get’s more extra base hits, resulting in identical OPS+’s, the player who walks more will contribute more runs to his teams offense than the player who hits for more power. There are any number of studies that support this conclusion, and arguing otherwise is simply willful ignorance.

        • DM says:

          Just to add on…..

          Even if someone does occasionally try to attribute greater precision to WAR than it merits, most of us certainly realize that it’s an approximation. It has its uses in making comparisons. I’m with Geoff….I don’t see most people using a “case closed” type of argument when the difference in WAR is close. I think very few people that use it that way. On those occasions when people do use it in that way, I think it’s our responsibility to remind them that it’s not a precision instrument.

          Certainly the creators of WAR caution against using it in that manner. By its nature, it’s an approximation. There is no such thing as a player “win”, and as such players don’t accumulate “wins” in the same way that they accumulate home runs or stolen bases. As explained on bb-ref, the “basic currency of WAR is runs”, in all of its different forms (generating runs, saving runs), meant to approximate “wins”.

          WAR is just the latest attempt to try and summarize multiple measurements, skills, results, and dimensions on a single scale. Bill James has gone down this road with Win Shares, and, for those of us old farts that remember the early Abstracts, the good old “Value Approximation” method (remember that one?). I deal with multi-dimensional types of techniques in my own work. They have their pros and cons. Yes, there are challenges in baseball when comparing different eras. We conclude that the disparity in talent and skills were greater in Wagner’s day than there is today, and that is reflected in the statistics that they were able to generate. But, we are better off having MORE information and tools at our disposal, not less. WAR is a terrific tool for beginning a discussion. Someone having a WAR of, let’s say, 20 “wins” higher over the course of a career is not conclusive proof of anything in and of itself. But, it’s a starting point, and if you are arguing in favor of the player with the lower figure, it does put the onus on you to explain what you think it’s not capturing. Did the lower-figure player have a better peak? Did the player do some things that perhaps WAR doesn’t reflect very well? Is the difference in eras driving the gap in the metric? As such, I think WAR is an excellent discussion starter, but it’s not the exclamation point.

          Speaking of statistics, though, Rick….since you’re giving us this cautionary tale about relying too heavily on statistics….weren’t you the one a few posts ago that came to the brilliant conclusion that Ted Williams was a selfish, non-clutch loser because he didn’t hit well in a couple of key situations but came through in a big way when hitting .400 was on the line? When you’re lecturing on over-reliance of statistics, why would you use such a small set of results to arrive at a moral conclusion about a player? I think that’s a far greater mis-use of statistics than anything I’ve witnessed anyone use with WAR.

          • I find an awful lot of people on this blog who want to turn the Hall of Fame into the Hall of WAR. Unlike other statistics, which by their very nature are relative, dealing with isolated aspects of the game, WAR is dangerous because it purports to give a definitive answer of who is a better player, A or B, and thus offers the opportunity for certain stat-fascists to close all discussion about a players merits, and use all sorts of invective to those who choose to disagree with WAR’s conclusions. So I use WAR very, very carefully.

            For instance, I have a problem with people who fetishize walks. I understand OBP is important, and for some players like Joe Morgan and Rickey Henderson, working a walk is a vital part of their game, because of the havoc they could create once they got to first base.

            But in my view, the heart and soul of the game is getting a hit, while for those who love OBP, the most important thing is not making an out. It is a basic philosophical difference that I have with the sabermetric crowd, and I not only believe that being aggressive in the batter’s box is more entertaining, it leads to more winning baseball. I think a lineup of 9 JD Drew’s would lose 120 games, but have a terrific OPS while doing it.

            Singles and walks are not created equal. Singles not only generate bases, they provide for opportunities on the basepaths and for miscues in the outfield. More importantly, hits energize the team at bat, and the crowd, and rattle the pitcher in ways walks do not. They lead to wins in all sorts of ways that are hard to measure statistically.

            Which gets me back to DiMaggio and Williams, and DiMaggio’s 9 rings to Williams one. I will grant you that DiMaggio’s teams of the 30’s and the Yankees of the 1950’s were clearly superior to the Red Sox. But from the time Joe and Ted returned from World War II to Joe’s retirement in1951, the Sox and Yankees had comparable teams, and Williams teams always fell short, though Williams at that point was clearly the superior of the two. Part of the reason, I believe, is in their approach to hitting.

            Think of their two iconic records—Joe’s 56 game hitting streak, and Ted’s .406 average.

            To hit in 56 straight games means just that—one is pressured into hitting the ball safely, even when pitchers are pitching you carefully. You had to be an aggressive hitter. Now, if you look at Joe’s stroke, he had extraordinary plate coverage, so it was hard to throw him a ball he couldn’t reach. Yankee stadium in those days had a ridiculously deep power alley for a right handed hitter, so pulling the ball every time up was not a wise thing to do, and Joe would hit the ball to all fields.

            Now think of Ted Williams otherworldly .406 average and .553 OBP. Williams famously divided the strike zone into segments, and would only swing at pitches middle in that he could pull in the air. The Williams shift was possible because he was such a dead pull hitter. Even though Fenway had the Green Monster which was tailor made for a lefty to hit doubles off of, Williams never varied. He would never look for anything outside, he would never go with the pitch, no matter what the game situation. He would rather walk than offer at something that wasn’t where he liked it. And he walked a lot.

            In games where the season was on the line Williams took his walks, and DiMaggio put the ball in play. And I believe Joe’s aggression set a tone, just as Ted’s selectivity set a tone. And the Yankees won, and the Red Sox didn’t, even though Teddy Ballgame had the superior stats.

            Now you may disagree, and call me names, and cite WAR all you want, but one superstar won 9 World Series, and the other superstar won 0, and everyone who saw them play at the time credited DiMaggio with a winning attitude, and with Ted as being selfish and caring only about his own hitting stats. Something else was going on, and I don’t think WAR captures it.

          • DM says:

            Wow, Rick….so much ground to cover.

            First, let’s address this. You basically lose any credibility you might have when you make a statement like this:

            “But in my view, the heart and soul of the game is getting a hit, while for those who love OBP, the most important thing is not making an out. It is a basic philosophical difference that I have with the sabermetric crowd, and I not only believe that being aggressive in the batter’s box is more entertaining, it leads to more winning baseball. I think a lineup of 9 JD Drew’s would lose 120 games, but have a terrific OPS while doing it.”

            Seriously? a lineup of 9 JD Drews would lose 120 games? So, if I’m given a choice between 9 JD Drews and the 1962 Mets, you’re telling me I might as well take my chances with Chris Cannizzaro, Marv Throneberry, Elio Chacon, and the rest of that bunch? Wow. Of course, maybe you meant that the 9 J.D. Drews had to do everything…that is, I had to have J.D. Drew at all 9 positions, including catcher, pitcher, and the infield. If that’s the case, I might take the ’62 Mets.

            OK…maybe you were engaging in just a bit of hyperbole. Let’s try it another way. Let’s not even take a good J.D. Drew year….let’s just take his career. J.D. Drew, per 162 games, hit 25 HR’s, 5 triples, 28 doubles, and drew 89 walks. He averaged .278/.384/.489. In other words, my starting lineup would hit 225 HR’s, hit .278 as a team, and get on base 38% of the time? Sign me up for that team! In other words, with all of the walking that a J.D. Drew type did, for all the pitch-taking he must have done, he still managed to hit 25 HR’s per 162 games. Is that enough “action” for you?

            Last year’s best HR-hitting team was Baltimore, with 217. 9 J.D. Drews would have bested that. Still think they would have lost 120 games, hitting 225 home runs? Boston led the AL in runs by a whopping 57 runs last year. They were 2nd in walks, and first in OBP. Think that might have had a part in their success?

            See, you’re taking the premise that players that draw a lot of walks are passive, that they’re not making things “happen”. You couldn’t be more wrong (well, maybe you could be more wrong). You should have listened to the recent interview Joe Morgan did with Bill James. Yes, it’s hard to imagine these two having a discussion, as Joe is decidedly anti-sabermetric, but it was actually kind of interesting to listen to their conversation, and to realize that there’s quite a bit of common ground. When it came to something like OBP, they agreed on how important it is, but not for the reason you may think. You alluded to how working a walk maybe has more value to someone like Morgan who, in your words, can “create havoc” on the basepaths. See, it’s not that. It’s not that at all. What they essentially saw eye to eye on was this…..that baseball typically comes down to who can control the strike zone. That’s the value, on both the offensive and defensive side.

            You made a statement that “the heart of the game is getting a hit”. Once again, you are totally and completely wrong. Those who really play the game, those who really KNOW the game, will tell you that the heart of the game is who can best control the strike zone. THAT’S what the game revolves around. You see, the guys that walk a lot aren’t primarily doing it just to avoid an out. That’s not really it at all. They’re doing it to control the strike zone. Swinging at pitches outside the strike zone is generally stupid, unless you’re Vladimir Guerrero or Manny Sanguillen and you’re really good at it. The best hitters make the pitchers pitch to them so that they can crush it when they get a good one. Refusing to swing at a pitcher’s pitch takes discipline. You study the issue over time, and you will find that the teams that get people on base are the teams that are successful, and that has always been true. You sound like some of these yahoos out there that get after Joey Votto because “he’s taking too many walks”, and “he’s not driving in the runs”. Joey Votto is hearing the exact same crap that Ted Williams must have heard.

            Look at other people who drew tons of walks, besides Williams. Ruth. Bonds. Mantle. Frank Thomas. Morgan. Henderson. Killebrew. Gehrig. Ott. Schmidt. Foxx. Thome. These people all drew walks in 15% or more of their plate appearances. Were they all selfish losers too? Outside of Morgan and Henderson (whom you did identify), none of those guys was causing much “havoc” on the basepaths.

            And, once again, you make a big deal of DiMaggio “winning” 9 championships to Williams’ zero. You really don’t seem to get the concept of baseball as a team sport, do you? DiMaggio, as great as he was, could only come to bat 4 or 5 times a game, and catch the ball when it was hit in his general direction. This ain’t basketball. One player does not control the flow of the whole game. The rest of the time that DiMaggio wasn’t hitting or catching the ball, the Yankees had to rely on 7 other position players and an entire pitching staff in order to win their championships. Seee, DiMaggio was part of a great TEAM. Talk to the people in the game. They understand that baseball is the ultimate TEAM game, much more so than basketball, and even more than football. In basketball, you can funnel practically every play through a great player, like Miami does with Lebron. In football, if you have a great quarterback, he can make a key decision on every offensive play. In baseball, everyone has to take their turn in the batting order, and everyone has to function as a team on defense. The people involved in the game get this. I don’t know why you can’t see it. Stop reading what the reporters say….they’re looking for a story, for an angle, for a personality conflict. Look at it for yourself and listen to the people that know the game. It’s a TEAM game. Championships are won by great teams.

          • Carl says:

            The problem w a team of 9 JD Drews is that the team would forfeit 50 games a year as they’d be too “hurt” to take the field 162 tiems in one season.

          • Azure Ray says:

            DM – do you REALLY think that baseball is more of a team game than football? Because that’s absolutely laughable. How many rings did Elway have before he got Terrell Davis, a great o-line, and All-Pro weapons all around him? And saying:

            “In football, if you have a great quarterback, he can make a key decision on every offensive play.”

            TRENT DILFER and BRAD JOHNSON WON SUPERBOWLS. Heck, Rex stinking Grossman was the starting QB for the Bears when they went to the Superbowl against Peyton Manning awhile back. Cmon now, that’s a silly argument to make, my friend.

            I think, in regards to be sabremetrics, that it just boils down to (usually) one fundamental debate: is drawing a walk or getting a hit more difficult to do? Or are they about equal? I go back and forth on that.

          • You don’t want to hack at everything, but aggressive hitters over the years have included not only DiMaggio but guys like Berra, Clemente, Rose, Brett, Puckett and Jeter. All of whom set the tone for championship teams.

          • Geoff says:

            Good point. I’ve always said that guys like Ruth and Mantle were lousy tone-setters.

          • DM says:


            First of all, thanks for letting me just call you “plain old” Ray! That feels a whole lot better.

            I respect your opinion on the whole baseball vs. football as a team game, and it’s a fair challenge. Well, I didn’t especially like having it characterized as “silly”, but you can choose that word if you wish. That was your honest reaction. 

            However, I’ll admit, when I wrote it, I thought there might be some pushback on that concept, and I almost didn’t put it down because I didn’t want to distract from the main message I was trying to convey, which was that, in baseball, it’s misguided to attribute too much of a team’s success to the performance of a SINGLE superstar vs. another (as Rick was doing with DiMaggio vs. Williams) when the nature of baseball is such that one superstar player does not have the same impact in other sports. For example, you can’t just decide to keep sending Ted Williams up to the plate if you desire. The fact that there is a batting order means that the impact that a single player has is automatically limited. The fact that you don’t have a single starting pitcher, but rather a rotation of starters, limits the impact of one superstar pitcher. No matter what, until you reach the postseason, you’re basically not going to pitch him more than every 4th or 5th game. The number of games in a season means that you have to develop some depth, and occasionally rely on everyone to make contributions. Impact of a single superstar is diffused. Those are the types of things I had in mind when referencing it as the “ultimate“ team sport. I probably would have been better served to avoid the football comparison.

            However….looking at it deeper… Basketball, there is no such restriction on how many times a player gets an opportunity to make something happen. Teams can change defenses to stop a superstar, but if Miami wants to run play after play through LeBron, or if they decide it’s in their best interest to have him take 10 shots in a row to leverage his superstar talents, they can do so. If Denver want to have Manning chuck it 40 times a game to leverage his talents, they can do so. You can’t do that with a great offensive talent in baseball, other than perhaps deciding where in the batting order he’ll hit. Everyone in the lineup has to take his turn at bat.

            In basketball, I believe it’s much easier to bring in superstar and have greater impact on team success. There’s only 5 players on the court at a time, and one superstar player can have a huge influence. Look at the champions over the years, and they almost always have a superstar. Cleveland was a contender with LeBron. He leaves and they’re horrible, and Miami immediately goes to the Finals 3 years in a row and wins two. ,Kobe, Jordan, Duncan, O’Neal, Olajuwan….it’s very difficult to win in the NBA without a superstar. I think Detroit is the only recent exception.

            In football, look at what happened to the Colts when Manning went down with injury. They fell apart. They replace him with Luck and they come right back. And Manning goes to Denver and they immediately transform into one of the great offenses ever, and go 13-3 two straight years. Your examples of Johnson and Dilfer winning Super Bowls is interesting, of course, but those were exceptional, historic defenses. There are exceptions. It doesn’t change the fact that in football, at least offensively, if you have a superstar talent, you can keep feeding him the ball as often as you like.

            Sure, there are counter-examples, but the point is that in the other team sports besides baseball, you can leverage a superstar’s talents and essentially decide how much and how often you want that player to try and make something happen. Of course you need talent around them. Of course.

            However, in baseball, you’ll see things all the time like Pujols leaving the Cardinals, and the Cardinals carry on as if it’s no big deal. In Pujols’ last 3 years with St. Louis, they scored 730 runs, 736 runs, and 762 runs. The first year without him, they scored 765, and then last year 783, and the team continues to be successful after his departure. It’s not that Pujols wasn’t great…he was. But teams can carry on. Superstars get added to and removed from baseball rosters all the time without the team getting adversely affected. The design of the game itself provides some degree of insulation against superstar domination.

            So, I’ll take responsibility for not making the point as I intended. That’s fair. I have no true way to conclusively state that one sport is more of a team sport than another. However, what I was really trying to convey is that, especially in baseball, I feel it’s wrong to give a single player more than his fair share of the credit for a team’s success. That’s really the point.


          • DM says:

            Hi Carl,

            Regarding “The problem w a team of 9 JD Drews is that the team would forfeit 50 games a year as they’d be too “hurt” to take the field 162 tiems in one season.”

            Well, I agree with your point….but I’m sure that’s not where Rick was going with that. He was talking about Drew’s approach to hitting, not his relative health 🙂

          • DM says:


            “You don’t want to hack at everything, but aggressive hitters over the years have included not only DiMaggio but guys like Berra, Clemente, Rose, Brett, Puckett and Jeter. All of whom set the tone for championship teams.”

            Actually, Rick, that’s a common misconception about Rose. In his 2 championships with the Reds, in ’75 and ’76, he drew 89 walks and 86 walks, respectively, allowing him to get on base over 40% of the time. Probably fair to say that he was more aggressive in his younger years, but he knew how to work a walk, especially by the time the Reds had their greatest success.

            And, Brett drew a career high 103 walks in KC’s lone championship in ’85, allowing him to have a .436 OBP (his 2nd highest ever).

            So, maybe at least Rose and Brett learned the value of a little patience, and their teams perhaps reaped some benefit?

          • otistaylor89 says:

            Actually, William’s Red Sox teams generally scored enough runs and offen lead the lead, however they generally had very little pitching and gave up a similar number of runs whereas the great Yankee teams usually had very good pitching.
            To paraphrase Tom Brady’s wife, Ted couldn’t both knock in runs and stop the other team from scoring runs.

          • Since we are discussing Al Kaline and his performance in 1968 World Series, consider the career of his opponent, Lou Brock, traded to the Cardinals in 1964. Between 1964 and 1968, the Cardinals went to the World Series 3 times, back in the days before divisional play began, when you had to win the pennant cold. Lou Brock’s Cardinals played in 3 World Series, winning two, as Brock hit a combined .393 with a 1.079 OPS against the best pitching in the American League, stealing 14 bases along the way.

            Playing in a pitcher’s era, Brock had 3,023 hits to go with a then-record 938 steals, and was a first ballot Hall of Famer, yet he won’t even sniff Joe’s top 100 list. Because Lou Brock didn’t walk.

            But if walks were cholesterol, then Brock’s walks were the good kind. It meant that Brock hit the ball when they pitched to him, and caused havoc on the bases when they didn’t.

            One reason I don’t worship OBP as much as some folks is that not all walks are created equal. Here are some walks that are neither entertaining nor conducive to winning baseball.
            1). The Scared Shitless walk. See Bonds, Barry. To achieve the ultimate respect as a hitter means never getting a chance to hit in a meaningful situation.
            2) The Anyone But Him Walk—Maybe not a superstar, but the best hitter on the team, the guy managers don’t want to get beat by, the guy who gets a 3-2 breaking ball in a tight spot.
            3) The Look Behind You Walk—Hitting in front of the pitcher turns any batter into the second coming of Barry Bonds.
            4) The Freebie BB—The automatic pass with a man on second and first base open is the hitting equivalent of defensive indifference on the base paths.
            5) The Washed Up Walk—The sign of fading sluggers trying to hang on by guile alone after their bats have grown limp. Rickey Henderson spent the last years of his career as likely to swing as Venus de Milo.
            6) The Pray for a Walk—At the opposite spectrum from the slugger who can no longer hit is the scrubber who never could. They get fewer walks than they want to because pitchers don’t fear them, but it’s not for lack of trying.
            7) The Walk on the Wild Side—When facing a pitcher with a wild streak, self-preservation dictates that you duck, not swing.

            All these add to your OBP, but not necessarily to your win total. Walks need to be approached judiciously, and OBP judged on a case by case basis.

            Walks, that once were underrated, are now overrated.

          • DM says:


            Regarding your comments on Lou Brock.

            “Playing in a pitcher’s era, Brock had 3,023 hits to go with a then-record 938 steals, and was a first ballot Hall of Famer, yet he won’t even sniff Joe’s top 100 list. Because Lou Brock didn’t walk.”

            Brock also couldn’t field or throw. I know you hate the emphasis on OBP, but with a .343 career figure, that means he made a ton of outs. The inverse of OBP is “Not on base percentage”. Nearly two-thirds of his plate appearances resulted in outs. For a leadoff man, that is inadequate.

            He hit for a decent average, and showed some ability to hit with some power early in his career, although he lost that ability in his early 30’s. He basically had a decent batting average and was a very good base stealer. That’s about the sum of his skills. That might have something to do with not being able to make the top 100.

            Look, I’m happy Brock’s in the Hall of Fame. As you pointed out, he did great in his World Series opportunities. However, since your commentary focuses on his lack of walks and the supposed bias against him because of this, let me ask a simple question. Since Brock was a leadoff man, whose primary job is to get on base and set the table for the rest of the lineup…..don’t you think it might have been a good idea to be better at, oh, I don’t know, ACTUALLY GETTING ON BASE? I mean, if your job is to score runs, and your primary strength is stealing bases, then I would think it’s a really good idea to get on base. I’m paraphrasing Joe Morgan here, but his mantra was that, especially if you’re setting the table for someone else, your job is to get on base BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. Beg, borrow, get a hit, take a walk, get hit by a pitch…..but by all means, please, get on base.

            For all your railing against OBP, wouldn’t you agree that a leadoff man, in particular, would benefit most by being good at that particular skill, and give himself a chance to, as you say, “create havoc”? Excelling at stealing bases is a poor tradeoff for not being very good at actually getting on base in the first place.

          • BobDD says:

            The most common outcome of an Plate Appearance is an out, next is a hit, next is a walk. A walk is much better than an out, and I am hearing you reply to that: Wait a minute, a hit is better than a walk. An OB% proponent (like me) is saying that if a higher rate of walks cuts down on the outs, then how can it possibly be bad?

            There have been three players that in the modern era who have multiple full-time years of over a .500 OB% – Babe Ruth (5), Barry Bonds (4), and Ted Williams (3). If they could have hit .500 with no walks, then great, but since that appears to be impossible, then a heapin’ helpin’ mess of walks increases a batters success against the pitcher, making that batter in the process, better than someone with the same batting average but 50-80 fewer walks.

            Maybe you have heard people overrate walks, but they do have so much value over an out that I think you are underrating them in your comments here.

      • The bottom line on Brock—if he was the leadoff man and offensive centerpiece for the best team in baseball who set a tone with his aggression that terrorized opponents, and who performed best when it mattered most, what more do you want? Would the Cardinals have had more success with Bobby Abreu leading off and lulling the crowd to sleep with his agonizing at-bats, even if they resulted in a walk? This isn’t Strat-o-Matic baseball.

        • Geoff says:

          Yes. The Cardinals would have been better with Abreu than Brock. Just like the mid-80’s Cardinals would have been better if they had Tim Raines instead of Vince Coleman.

        • Chad says:

          Abreu was no slouch on the bases either. 399 steals at a slightly better success rate than Brock.

        • This would be the same Bobby Abreu whose teams never even played in a World Series (though the Phils won the World Series in 2008 after he left them in 2006 and the Yanks won the World Series in 2009 after he left them in 2008)? Do you know how many times the Cardinals run of 3 World Series in 5 years (winning at least 2) has been done by teams not named the New York Yankees? 10 times since 1903 (the 72-76 Reds, 72-74 A’s, 66-70 Orioles, 64-68 Cardinals, 63-66 Dodgers, 42-46 Cardinals, 28-31 Athletics, 15-18 Red Sox, 10-14 Athletics, 06-10 Cubs). Lou Brock’s Cardinals are in a pretty select group of teams, so it would be hard pressed to do better.

          But if the multiverse theory is true, in which there is a universe for every possible outcome, then in all the universes in all of time and space, there may be one in which Bobby Abreu’s teams would win 3 World Series in 5 years. But it would take an awful lot of universes.

          • DM says:

            Hey guys….I think Rick’s on to something here. Clearly the reason the Yankees won the World Series in 2009 was getting rid of Abreu. Surely that was the key. I bet having Mussina retire helped as well.

            Oh, and adding Teixeira and Sabathia and Burnett? And getting Posada back after having to play Jose Molina the year before? Nah…those had nothing to do with it. It was getting rid of that damn Bobby Abreu and his passive ways.

            And by the way….the guy that took Abreu’s spot was Nick Swisher, who drew even more walks than Abreu did the year before.

          • DM says:

            Oh, and Rick, one more thing…..

            In 2006, Abreu’s last year with the Phillies, the team scored 865 runs, which led the league, and had an ERA of 4.60, 10th in the league.

            When the won the World Series in 2008, the team was down to 799 runs (2nd in the league), but had cut their ERA to 3.88 (4th in the league).

            Guess getting rid of Abreu was the key to that too, huh?

          • DM-I don’t answer if it seems like you don’t understand my overall point, but you wrote such a lengthy rebuttal that it deserves comment. I’m not saying you’re not allowed to walk, or that you have to swing at everything. I’m saying you need to be aggressive. Rose and Brett were aggressive hitters. In some of their best years they were probably pitched more carefully to, so they walked more. But if you threw them a fastball down the middle on 2-0 they were going to hit it. They weren’t going to take a strike in hopes of a walk. You had to work to walk them.

            For instance, two aggressive hitters who walked a lot were Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle. These guys took their cuts, and they struck out a lot. Not on an Adam Dunn level, but each led the league in strikeouts a bunch of times. I remember an interview with a pitcher from the 20’s who said that he would rather pitch to Ruth than Gehrig, because Ruth took such a big swing, you could fool him, but Gehrig was much more balanced. Of course, pitchers were careful with these guys—they were Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle after all—so they led the league in walks too, but because they were so aggressive, they got pitched to a lot more than a guy like Ted Williams, who could never be tempted by anything out of his zone. You could throw pitches low and away to Williams, and he’d take his walk—it wasn’t like he was going to dive out over the plate to go get it. It was easier to remove him from the game if you wanted to. Ruth and Mantle were like Reggie Jackson (only better). You could get Reggie out—he was up there to swing—so you were more likely to challenge him in big moments. Like Ruth and Mantle, Reggie had some awesome post-seasons, partially because pitchers had an incentive to go after him.

            Swisher was an interesting guy. He was no more aggressive at the plate than Abreu was, and his post-season record was miserable—he really got exposed by good pitching. But otherwise, he was a hyper-energetic personality, a real dynamo on the field and in the clubhouse. So he was easy to root for, but he wasn’t someone you wanted at the plate in October.

            As for Brock, he really did change the game when he got on base. Only a handful of players can say that. For instance, Jackie Robinson never had any big steal seasons—baseball of his era wasn’t played that way—but everyone from the time talked about how unnerving it was to have Robinson on the basepaths.

            I think one of the reasons some people seem to come up big in big moments is that other people come up small. Some players really seize up (Nick Swisher being one of them). If it was important to keep Brock off the bases in the regular season, it was REALLY important to keep Brock off the bases in the post-season, and conversely, that made pitchers who were tight going into the game even tighter when they faced Brock.

            I’d be more OK with Brock being left off Joe’s list if Ron Santo weren’t on it. Santo is on the list because he walked, plain and simple. Unlike Brock’s Cardinals, Santo’s Cubs never won anything, and he was famous for swooning in September along with them, whether due to all those day games at Wrigley or complications from diabetes or whatever. Santo’s walks didn’t help the Cubs all that much, as he wasn’t doing any running, and his other numbers are pretty modest for a Hall of Famer, let alone a top 100 player. Santo was a solid third baseman, nothing more, kind of like Ron Cey, although I’d take Cey over Santo. You could count on Cey late in the season.

            Sure, Jeter’s Yankee teams had talent other than Jeter, including some high OBP guys like Boggs, Raines and Knoblauch. But it was always Jeter’s team. Because baseball is played by human beings, and human beings are emotional creatures, there are guys who make an impact on their teams beyond the counting stats. Joe DiMaggio. Jackie Robinson. Stan Musial. Yogi Berra. Roberto Clemente. Pete Rose. Willie Stargell. Derek Jeter. David Ortiz. Keith Hernandez changed the attitude of the Mets when he joined them. Kirk Gibson changed the attitude of the Dodgers when he joined them. The Angels exchanged Torii Hunter for Josh Hamilton and sunk into the abyss.

            My criteria for greatness is less about stats—though stats are important—and more about, do I want him on my team? There are some great players who I wouldn’t want on my team. Musial yes, Williams no. And part of the equation is who they are as players, and part is who they are as people, and part is whether or not they won championships, because that is the bottom line.

            Anyway, I hope I addressed some of your points, even if you don’t agree with them.

          • Chad says:

            Of all your odd ramblings, saying you wouldn’t want Ted Williams, one of the top 2 hours of all-time, on your team is easily the dumbest.

          • Chad-I’ll double down. I wouldn’t want Bonds or Cobb or Hornsby or A-Rod on my team either.
            Here’s my team:
            1B Gehrig
            2nd Morgan
            SS Jeter
            3b Schmidt
            LF Musial
            CF Griffey Jr.
            RF Aaron
            LHP Spahn
            LHP Koufax
            RHP Johnson
            RHP Seaver
            RP RIvera

            They’re all good players and good guys, and I can root for them unabashedly. You can keep the jerks.

          • DM says:


            I think what is most disturbing about your posts is your complete reluctance to fact check, or to even consider the facts that others have presented to you. Not one. People take your wild, subjective statements and counter them with facts, and you just let them slide right by you, as if your opinion and sweeping statements carry more weight than factual information. Most people on this blog site take the time to fact check. They don’t just talk off the top of their heads.

            You make general statements like “you could count on Ron Cey late in the season”. Anyone can say things like that. Prove it. What’s your evidence? Or is it just part of your fond memories?

            As for Ron Santo, you can reasonably argue whether or not he was a top 100 player. He might not make mine. I think it would be close. But, he’s not just on here for his walks, and I think you probably know that. He had good power, and was a terrific defensive third baseman. I’d probably rank him somewhere between 6th and 9th among 3B all-time. I feel Schmidt, Brett, Mathews, Boggs, and Chipper were better. I feel the next tier should include Brooks Robinson, Santo, Beltre, and Rolen. So, to me Santo has a legitimate argument among the top 10 third basement and the top 100 all-time. But it’s not just the walks.

            “The Yankees were always Jeter’s team.” Really? So, in Jeter’s first full season, when the Yankees won the World Series, Their leader was this 22 year old rookie/savior? Are you kidding me? Everyone else in the lineup was 27 or older. Actually, everyone on the whole roster was older than Jeter. They had veterans like Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, Wade Boggs, Tino Martinez, Cone, Gooden, Key, Wetteland, and on and on. You like to make the point that baseball is played by people who are emotional beings. You really think this 22-year old rookie came into that veteran clubhouse and led the way? You can’t really believe that. Sure, later, after he had been there several years, they named him as captain, in 2003. But don’t tell me this was always Jeter’s team. He didn’t turn it a great franchise. He was PART OF a great franchise. That’s a big difference.

            And, they didn’t just have a few guys like “Boggs, Raines and Knoblauch” with high OBP’s. The Yankees of the last 20 years have consistently had rosters full of guys that know how to work a pitch. Did you ever watch their games?

            Your statement in reference to Rose and Brett of “They weren’t going to take a strike in hopes of a walk. You had to work to walk them.” Wow. That’s a complete misinterpretation of how baseball works. Players that end up drawing a lot of walks don’t go up to the plate with the “hope” of getting a walk, unless that player is a pitcher. That’s not how it works. Players that have plate discipline accept the walk because they don’t want to chase bad pitches. What, you prefer that players DO chase bad pitches? Because that’s what the pitchers hope they do. This ain’t little league, where kids go up who are praying for a walk because that’s their only hope. These are professional hitters. They’re looking for a pitch they can drive, but will accept the walk if the pitcher refuses to give them anything they can hit. If you don’t have some level of patience as a hitter, the pitcher will have his way with you. So, once again, you’re applying a false premise and showing lack of understanding about how baseball really works.

            See, in reading your posts, I think it’s clear that you have disdain for the walk because it’s boring to watch. You’ve alluded to that more than once. That’s the only thing I can conclude from your thoughts. We’re sorry it doesn’t meet your excitement requirements.

            Regarding….”My criteria for greatness is less about stats—though stats are important—and more about, do I want him on my team”
            Gee, that’s swell. Based on what, exactly? What someone said in an interview? What you read in a book? What a teammate said? Since you’re so fond of the human element, you do realize that those types of things are filled with all kinds of biases and subjectivity, don’t you?

            See, your problem is that, instead of using stats to learn something or to analyze what’s happening, your using them to make moral conclusions about players. Ted Williams went 1-4 at a key moment? Selfish. Can’t come through in the clutch. Lou Brock did well in a few World Series games? Wow, he’s got intestinal fortitude, a real clutchy player, a can-do kind of guy. I can only assume you’re a big Jack Morris fan.

            See, most of us that leverage stats to enhance our enjoyment and our understanding of the game try very hard to stay away from moral judgment of players. We try to understand their skills, we try to understand how things work, we try to put it all in perspective. We don’t make conclusions about their motivations or their inner-selves. You seem to enjoy making these conclusions based on a few results. You talk about the danger of certain stats, like WAR. I think it’s far more dangerous to use stats the way you’re using them, to make moral judgments.

            Oh, and regarding Ted Williams being “selfish” and obsessed with his stats? You could say the same things about Rose and Reggie Jackson too. Rose was obsessed with his batting average, and was always aware of exactly what it was, and loved to talk about it. Of course, in your mind, they played on championship teams, so all is forgiven, and they must have been great guys after all, right?

            Would you have Ernie Banks on your team? Great guy. Positive attitude. Great skills. Had to be a terrific guy to have in the clubhouse. Zero postseasons. Does he make your cut, or is he just a loveable loser? If someone never had the good fortune to play on a champion, you wouldn’t have him on your team?

            Let’s play a little game. Don’t know if you’re a basketball fan, but would Robert Horry make your all-time basketball team? I mean, 7 rings with 3 different franchises, made a ton of big-time shots. The guy must be an all-time great….right? You would take him over, let’s say, Elgin Baylor, right?

          • DM says:


            Regarding your all time team……really? Griffey Jr. in CF? With 0 championships? He virtually never even made the playoffs. How can he possibly make your team without that ring? Aren’t you worried he’ll ruin your clubhouse with all that negative, non-championship karma?

          • Geoff says:

            Griffey’s backward hat had great leadership skills.

          • As a baseball fan, I use stats all the time—you can check my posts—but I don’t like WAR (for reasons I have already touched on) and I’m not particularly fond of the defensive metrics. But used judiciously, stats are great. This being a response to a blog post, I don’t know that I’m going to do a lot of research into Ron Cey’s career OPS in September, but I do remember the guy being named co-MVP of the 1981 World Series after taking a hellacious beaning by Goose Gossage. That’s worth big money in my book.

            That’s one of the reasons I like sports, because of the unscripted human drama. How someone reacts under intense pressure, how someone handles adversity. Ron Cey gets hit in the head by one of the hardest throwers of all time in a World Series game. He looks dead. But he comes back the next day to help lead the Dodgers to a World Series win over their hated rivals the Yankees, and gets named co-MVP.

            I don’t know how you’d turn a performance like that into a stat, or why you’d even bother. Ron Cey proved himself in October by stepping back into the box and delivering big time after a near death experience. You call this making moral judgments, but that’s part of the fun of being a sports fan. The stories. The narrative. The very thing that make Joe’s posts so entertaining.

            As for my team, I am more inclined to pick players who I saw play versus players I heard about, and that’s why I picked Griffey over DiMaggio. He was the best I ever saw, and I absolutely loved watching him play. As for championships, yes, he’s the weak link on my team, but he had a monster post-season in 1995 so I cut him some slack. The only two position players I never saw play were Musial and Gehrig, but I really wanted them on my good-guy team for obvious reasons.

            Rose was a jerk, so I didn’t want him, but he was also one of the most ferocious competitors of all time. Like his idol Ty Cobb, you had to admire him for that. Like Ty Cobb, he also bet on baseball, which gets us back to the jerk part. I’m not saying baseball’s greatest jerks weren’t also great baseball players—Cobb, Williams, Bonds, Rose, A-Rod are some of the best who ever lived—but when you play them, you take the whole package, the good with the bad. I think people who only look at their numbers tend to whitewash that other side. I often wonder who would win in a showdown, a team full of baseball’s greatest jerks or baseball’s greatest good guys. I think the good guys would make the better team, so I picked them. The relative paucity of titles from the jerks versus the good guys tends to support my point.

            Not to say that all nice guys win titles, as you point out with Ernie Banks, although I think his years planted at first base were one reason the Cubs didn’t win. Charles Barkley talks about “the List” of greatest athletes who never won a title, a list he absolutely loathes being on. You can be great and get shut out of a championship for all sorts of reasons, including luck and timing and teammates, but that’s one of the dangers of being a professional athlete—ending up on “the List.” Winners and Losers. Heroes and Goats. That’s what sports is all about. Championships. It’s not just a numbers game. Nobody pays to see an accountant making a spreadsheet. The SImpsons gave Bill James the line “I made baseball as fun as doing your taxes!” James didn’t—he’s a great storyteller—but plenty of his disciples did. And you wonder why baseball’s popularity is plummeting?

            So getting back to personalities, don’t underestimate the impact Jeter had as a rookie. There are plenty of tales of rookies coming into camp and making a splash. The excitement of seeing a hyped prospect making his first tour of the bigs. I can remember his first game as a starter clearly, wondering what to make of this touted rookie who struggled so in spring training, having seen so many phenoms fail. On his first day, he hits a home run and makes a fantastic over-the-shoulder catch. I can still see them both. He caught your attention from day one.

            So you and I, we enjoy baseball for different reasons. I like the stories, the personalities, the drama, leavened by statistical information. I tend to believe what I see over all else. You’re more interested in baseball as a forum for debating certain metrics. You believe in the absolute truth of numbers. It’s the old art vs science debate, which is how Joe began his article on Al Kaline. So we’re right back where we started.

          • Geoff says:

            If Joe Morgan and Harold Reynolds had a baby, and that baby was dropped on it’s head dozens of times, it would still grow up to know more about baseball than you do.

            I literally have never seen anyone spout such utter nonsense in a non-ironic way. Every time I read your posts, I feel like I’m about to have an aneurism.

          • Carl says:


            The Joe Morgan – Harold Reynolds having a baby line was extremely funny.

            That said, let’s not be too dismissive and belligerent against Rick or any other person leaving a post.

            1) While I believe Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle were both better ballplayers than Jr. and each won more championships than Griffey Jr and Senior combined, wanting Griffey Jr as your CFer is fine.

            2) Let’s also consider that, at an extreme, Rick’s consideration is correct that he wants an extremely good hitter to swing out of the strike zone when certain situations call for it. For example, I would be frustrated that Barry Bonds wold refuse to swing at balls half an inch out of the strike zone and pass the responsibility to Benito Santiago. Doing so increased the team’s WPA, but almost never worked out because on his best day Benito Santiago wasn’t as good as Barry Bonds, even if Barry had to “expand the zone”.

            This actually gets us near (or even at) a point raised by Joe in other articles, namely a new rule that wold allow hitters to decline a walk, or decline an intentional walk, or allow a hitter on a walk to advance 2 bases rather than to first. While extreme idea’s, they’re there because in certain circumstances, walking a good hitter helps the defense, and not the hitting team.

            It’s great you doubt WAR and any other advanced stat, but please argue against the weakness of the stat w other stat(s).

            PS. In 3 mouse clicks on BR, found that Ron Cey had his highest OPS w 2 outs and RISP – .856 and he hit better in high leveage (.813 OPS) than medium leverage (.804) and low leverage (.785). and his combined career regular season OPS in September was .770, lower than his career OPS of .799

          • DM says:

            Uh, Rick,

            How about some factual accuracy. Jeter played debuted and started 13 games in May/June of ’95, and hit .250 without a HR before being sent down. Now, maybe you meant to say his first game as a starter in his true rookie year of ’96, when he opened the season with the team instead of as a injury replacement. Guess we can cut you some slack on that, because I’m sure, after all these years, ’96 seems like his true beginning. But, it takes a little of the romance out of your story of him hitting a home run and catching your attention from “day one”, doesn’t it?

            If you cut Griffey some slack for being a “hero” in the ’95 post-season, do you also hold it against him as a “goat” for hitting 2-15 (.133) two years later? I mean, that’s worse than than the dreaded “Ted Williams post-season line”. See the problems with putting too much emphasis on a limited # of at bats to draw conclusions about a man’s character? One season’s hero is another season’s goat. Same player, different results.

            You claimed you could “count on Cey late in the season” as a reason for preferring him over Santo, because Santo “faded” late in the season. Now you elaborate by saying you were REALLY referring to his being able to come back from being hit by Gossage to help win a World Series. Ohhh…….so THAT’S what you meant by “late in the season”? Well, gee, I guess that is pretty late.

            It seems like you’re making this up as you go along…..

          • DM says:

            Oh, Rick, one more thing….

            Don’t presume to tell me that that I or anyone else here is more interested in baseball as a forum for debating metrics or that anyone believes that numbers represent absolute truths. That’s utter B.S. Your enjoyment of baseball, whatever level you decide to enjoy it at, is no greater and certainly no more noble than ours. No one here has made the claim that numbers represent absolute truths. Don’t put words in our mouths

            To the contrary, we bend over backwards to avoid reaching too hasty of a conclusion about anything. No, the one reading too much into numbers is you, when you reach conclusions about character based on a few isolated at bats. When you reach a brilliant conclusion that Ted Williams is a non-clutch player because he went 1-4 with a pennant on the line and that he’s a selfish jerk for going 6-8 with .400 on the line….tell me again…who’s using numbers as an “absolute truth” in that case? You, or us? We would tend to say that it’s inconclusive. You insist on branding a label on someone based on the smallest of evidence.

            And by the way, I think you’ll find that both jerks and nice guys win championships in all sports in about equal amounts. In the meantime, I hope you don’t mind if we continue discussion of who the “greatest” players were. That is, after, all, the topic of Joe’s project. Not the nicest, not the jerk-iest. The greatest.

          • DM-Yes, I was referring to Jeters debut in his “2nd” season. Good catch there, Sherlock.

            On Ron Cey—I want a guy who can come back from being beaned by Goose Gossage to win the World Series MVP on my team. You can have Ron Santo.

            Geoffrey, take a chill pill. We’re only talking about baseball here. I wouldn’t want you to have an aneurism on my account. How could I handle the guilt?

          • DM says:

            Greetings, Rick. I see you’re resorting to name-calling. That’s OK…I’ve been called worse than “Sherlock” 🙂

            Sorry for pursuing clarification on Jeter, but you were the one that said he hit hit a home run on his first day and that he caught your attention from “day one.” I just wanted to be sure when “day one” occurred for you, and if it was same as it was for the rest of us. Don’t blame me if you can’t be clear. I didn’t express the thought or the memory, you did. All I can do is be sure I understand where you’re coming from. We wouldn’t want to spoil a good narrative.

            On Cey vs. Santo, where you say that “I want a guy who can come back from being beaned by Goose Gossage to win the World Series MVP on my team. You can have Ron Santo.”. How about we revisit your own ORIGINAL words? Not my words….yours. You said:

            “I’d be more OK with Brock being left off Joe’s list if Ron Santo weren’t on it. Santo is on the list because he walked, plain and simple. Unlike Brock’s Cardinals, Santo’s Cubs never won anything, and he was famous for swooning in September along with them, whether due to all those day games at Wrigley or complications from diabetes or whatever. Santo’s walks didn’t help the Cubs all that much, as he wasn’t doing any running, and his other numbers are pretty modest for a Hall of Famer, let alone a top 100 player. Santo was a solid third baseman, nothing more, kind of like Ron Cey, although I’d take Cey over Santo. You could count on Cey late in the season.”

            That’s quite a rant. This was your first mention of Cey. Where’s the reference to his coming back after getting hit by Gossage? Where’s any kind of reasonable connection to that? Maybe if you had said in your original mention something like “you can count on Cey because he was tougher”, or something like that, maybe you’d be able to later throw in the HBP recovery reference. But, you didn’t. You threw that incident in a later reply after I pressed you for some kind of support for making a claim of Cey’s supposed late-season superiority. You see, when I read replies from most of Joe’s readers, they tend to back up such claims with facts rather than just making an unsupported statement off the top of their head.

            Here you stated a preference for Cey over Santo specifically because you could “count on him late in the season.” In other words, in your opinion, Santo faded along with his fellow Cubs in September due to day games, diabetes, and “whatever”, but Cey was more reliable late in the season. You weren’t referring to playoffs or World Series, and you know it. Face it, you had to come up with something when pressed on how you would support such a claim, so you came up with the whole “bravery from coming back from a near-death experience” incident. Are you seriously telling me that coming back from being hit in the helmet by a pitch in the World Series meant the same thing to you as counting on someone late in the season? Sure, give me Cey any day… case he ever gets hit in the head, he’s sure to come back right away! Sorry, that’s pure B.S.

            Also….”Santo’s walks didn’t help the Cubs all that much, as he wasn’t doing any running”. Are you saying walks only have real value if you can run? Seriously? Congratulations….you’ve made a new major discovery in the analysis of baseball. Slow guys getting on base have little or no value. We’ll call it Rick’s Rule #1.

            Look, my goal here is not to rag on Ron Cey. I think in the scope of history, he’s probably underrated. I consider him a top-20 3B. I think he was a valuable player. Of course, Ron Santo is consensus top 10. You scratched the surface of the truth by implying that they’re similar players. They are similar TYPES, yes, but Santo is distinctly better. Don’t blame me, it’s not just my opinion. Look around at various sources outside of your own mind. You’ll find Santo consistently top 10, Ron Cey consistently top 20-25 (of course, if more of these sources would stop and think about how brave he was, maybe Cey would rate a little higher). If you’re at least top 10 at one of the 8 non-pitching positions, I think you’re at least a reasonable candidate for top 100 all time. Santo is a reasonable top 100 candidate. Again, don’t blame me. You’re the one bucking conventional wisdom.

            You see, that’s why all of these posts take so much time to reply to. You make such broad, sweeping statements that aren’t rooted in facts. They’re just rooted in your head. There’s a lot there for us to comment on, to call your bluff on. You seem to hold very venomous, negative opinions on so many players that you see as selfish, or jerks, or representative of a style of baseball that you can’t stand. You seem to have a very black and white view, and seem to have no interest in actually learning anything new or considering another way to look at things other than your narrow scope of good vs. bad, exciting vs. boring, champions vs. non-champions. In your view, it seems like if someone wins a championship, he’s great. If makes the World Series but loses or doesn’t perform well while he’s there, he’s a “loser”. And that’s fine, you don’t have to like players that you don’t like, you don’t have to value them the way others do, you don’t have to have them on your fictional or real teams. But we have ways of understanding value too. We actually enjoy the process of opening our minds to new information and new ways of looking at things. It’s called growth. Check it out sometime.

        • DM says:

          Hey Rick,

          I see Geoff and Chad beat me to it, but I’ll answer your questions, even if you don’t see fit to answer ours.

          But first, some unfinished business. You commented earlier about players that “set the tone” on championship teams by being aggressive rather than relying on walks. You called out DiMaggio, Berra, Puckett, Rose, Brett, and Jeter. I pointed out that Rose and Brett actually walked quite a bit during the championship years. Of course, you didn’t acknowledge that, because it doesn’t fit your narrative, but that’s OK.

          But let’s talk a second about Jeter some more. On more than one occasion, you’ve alluded to Derek Jeter being such a great leader, how the championships and great playoff run coincide with his arrival, about how “it’s funny how good teams follow him around”, and on and on. And now you’re claiming that he “set the tone” with his aggressive approach at the plate.

          Well….as another great Yankee, Casey Stengel, said…..”You can look it up”.
          The defining offensive characteristic of the Yankees during Jeter’s era has actually been their ability to get on base. At the risk of wasting a perfectly good chart, here’s how many times the Yankees ranked in the top 3 of various categories from Jeter’s era of 1996-2012 (17 years). I left out 1995 and 2013 because he didn’t play much either of those years

          The first # is the times they ranked first, the second is the times they ranked second, and the third is the time the ranked 3rd (and then the total times they ranked in the top 3) in those 17 years

          Category 1st-2nd-3rd-Total

          Runs per game: 6-5-2 Total 13
          Home Runs 5-3-2 Total 10
          Triples 0-0-1 Total 1
          Doubles 0-1-1 Total 2
          Stolen Bases 0-3-1 Total 4
          Batting Average 1-6-2 Total 9
          Slugging 4-1-3 Total 8

          Are you ready for these?
          Walks 7-3-3 Total 13
          OBP 8-5-2 Total 13

          So, follow me through this. They were more often than not among the top offensive teams (in terms of runs scored) in the league (13 times). The offensive categories that they ranked the highest in were OBP and walks, then home runs. That’s always been a very powerful combination. You might recall that the great Orioles teams under Earl Weaver from ’69-’71 had very similar characteristics.

          So….tell me again how Jeter’s aggressive approach at the plate set the tone? Even if you ignore the record book….surely you’ve heard commentary about those great Yankee teams, about how patient they were, about how the worked the count, about how they wore down the pitcher. Did you actually pay attention to those games? Or do you just prefer a good narrative about Jeter “leading the way”.

          Regarding Brock:

          What more do I want? I want someone with a sparkling resume. The top 100 is about picking the best from all-time. I’m not sure of the exact figure of how many players have ever played in the majors… implies the answer seems to be around 18,000, although that’s probably low for our purposes because it excludes Negro League players and all the others that Joe has as eligible, but let’s just go with 18,000. Let’s assume that’s true. The top 100 is the roughly the top one-half of 1 percent. It’s an extremely high standard.

          It’s kind of like a job interview. Show me what they’ve done. Show me their accomplishments. Show me how they’re better than other players. Don’t give me your flowery interpretations that he “terrorized” opponents. Terrorized? Really? “Watch out….he might steal second. Whatever will we do? I’m scared out of my boots.”

          World Series performance. Fine. Give it some weight. Give it its proper due. But keep in mind those were great Cardinals teams. In ’64, ’67, and ’68, the 3 pennant winners, they also had 3 MVP’s:

          ’64 – Ken Boyer
          ’67 – Orlando Cepeda
          ’68 – Bob Gibson

          So, don’t call these teams “Brock’s Cardinals”. They weren’t “his team”. In those years (’64-’67), they had probably the #2 or #3 catcher in the league (McCarver), two of the better 1B (Bill White, then Cepeda), one of the all-time great fielding CF in Curt Flood (who also contributed offensively), and one of the best-ever defensive 3B in Boyer. McCarver, White, Flood, Boyer, Dal Maxvill, Julian Javier….it was a very good defensive team. A fellow by the name of Steve Carlton came along and was a big part of the ’67 and ’68 teams.

          So, fine, give Brock his share of the credit for those teams. But those were GOOD teams. He can’t make the top 100 on the coattails of his teammates.

          And, I’ve always wanted to ask people like you this question. When it comes to players that perform exceptionally well in post-season play, at a level way above what they do the rest of their career…..why don’t they do that ALL THE TIME? Is it some magical ability they summon on demand? Do they “rise to the occasion”. How come he didn’t rise to the occasion more often during his career? I’m sure his teammates would have appreciated that.

          No, when it comes to the top 100 of all time, I’m afraid Brock just doesn’t have the resume. We have better candidates. He doesn’t get the job. If ever expand to consideration of the top 200….well, we’ll keep his resume on file. We might be able to use him then.

          Thank you.

          • DM says:

            Sorry…typo in my Yankee chart. OBP should have been 8-5-2 Total 15 times in the top 3, not 13 times. I apologize.

          • Carl says:

            To help poor Rick out:

            I gave you Cey’s “clutch stats above”

            Ron Santo had a career OPS of .826. However, his career September/October regular season OPS was .756, the lowest monthly OPS that he had. In particular, he had a .710 in September/Oct of 1969, which I’m sure the Miracle Mets liked.

            You can also argue that he was made a HoFer by Wrigley Field.. His home OPS was .905 and his road OPS was .747. The difference between his home and away splits are greater than Jim Rice’s who had a .920 home and .789 road.

            PS. 3 mouse clicks for Cey’s stats, 3 for Santo and 5 for Rice.

          • Geoff says:

            It’s a valiant effort, but I think poor Rick is beyond help.

            Reading Rick’s rants reminds me of this Far Side cartoon:

            One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten was that you should only ever argue with people you fundamentally agree with. In my case, this means people who exist within the reality-based community, and are capable of adapting and learning new things based on new information. I obviously don’t know Rick, but I can see the way his brain works, and am fairly certain that trying to explain things like the value of on-base percentage to him is a complete waste of time.

            Sometimes it’s fun to indulge nonsense like this, as it obviously leaves the door open for some easy shots against someone who has the intellectual capacity of a mentally-disabled goldfish (dammit!), but people like Rick, who view the world through such a narrow, fixed lens aren’t especially interesting, and engaging them only leads to frustration.

          • DM says:

            Hi Carl,

            Thanks for the replies on Cey and Santo. I think you bring up a key point about Santo, and that is how much he was helped by his home park. As you mentioned, he had a 158 “point” gap (.905 vs. .747) in his home/road OPS. I don’t know where that rates among players with the biggest home road splits. I remember Wade Boggs, who was discussed a few selections ago, also had a huge one as well .934 vs. .781, or 153 “points”. In fact, looking at purely Fenway (as opposed to all of his “home” parks in his career), it’s even wider, as he had a .991 at Fenway. Santo certainly hit a lot more home runs at home than on the road in his career.

            I agree with you that if someone wanted to make a case against Santo, that’s the logical place to start, to see whether or not he benefitted so much from Wrigley that it trumps other considerations. It sounds like you’re not necessarily taking that position, just that you’re bringing it up for consideration, which is certainly fair.

            I think, taking everything into consideration, that having Santo as a consensus top 10 third basement is still justified. I know we’ve been having tons of discussion over WAR, but it does at least make an attempt to consider as many factors as possible, offensive/defensive/baserunning, park effects, era effects, etc., and try to at least put everyone on a common scale. While not perfect, Santo does rate well by this metric.

            Ranked by total WAR, Santo is 9th among 3rd basemen, 8th if you exclude Molitor who was really more DH than anything else.

            In 7-year peak WAR (part of the JAWS formula), he’s 4th, and not that far behind Schmidt, Boggs, and Mathews. In fact, I think his peak years (really ’63-69) is probably his best argument, as he averaged 30 HR and over 100 RBI per 162 games in that stretch, with a 144 OPS+.

            Looking at career OPS+, which adjusts for time and place, he’s a little further down the list. Since this essentially a rate stat, I looked at players with 5000 or more PA’s, which pulled in 113 players. I figured that was a fair cutoff. Santo is 13th on that list with an OPS+ of 125. However, the names ahead of him include:

            * Pre-1900 players (Deacon White, Denny Lyons)

            * Active players (David Wright and Miguel Cabrera, who has more games at 3B than anywhere else for the moment, although that might be temporary)

            * Players who ended up playing more games at other positions besides 3B (Dick Allen (1B), Edgar Martinez (DH)

            So, basically, this is what you get when you look at the true third basemen that have played a full career:

            1 – Mike Schmidt – 147
            2 – Eddie Mathews – 143
            3 – Chipper Jones – 141
            4 – George Brett – 135
            5 – Home Run Baker – 135
            6 – Wade Boggs – 131
            7 – Ron Santo – 125

            Behind Santo, you get guys like Bob Elliott, Bill Madlock, Scott Rolen, and Ron Cey in the 121-124 range.

            In addition, I think the consensus is that Santo was a very good defensive player. I know defensive metrics can be hard to get consensus on, but most of the ones I’ve seen, along with the multiple Gold Glove awards he won (which I know can be flawed) at least point to some agreement that he was a good defender. He’s also top 10 in defensive games at 3B. I think he wasn’t as stellar as others like Robinson, Nettles, Bell, the Boyer boys, and others, but I think he was pretty good.

            Ultimately, I think what helps his case as much as anything as a worthy Hall of Famer and a candidate for top 100 consideration is his place relative to others at his position. Unlike most of the other positions, the consensus top players at 3B are dominated by fairly recent (in the scope of history) players like Mathews, Schmidt, Brett, Boggs, Chipper, and Brooks Robinson. Mathews, who debuted in the 50’s, goes back the farthest. So, the cream of the crop is relatively recent vintage, in baseball terms. You can include Beltre too. Prior to Mathews, the top 3B were considered to be guys like Home Run Baker, Pie Traynor, Stan Hack, Jimmy Collins, and George Kell (guess you could include John McGraw too, if you see fit). Good players, but they pale to the players who have been representing the position over the past few decades. Santo fits right in there among that elite group. The fact that he managed very good offensive stats during an era (the ’60’s) when there weren’t a lot of runs being scored certainly helps give him a boost. Even adjusting for everything, I think he’s comfortably top 10 at the position.

            I’m also not entirely sure what to make of the data showing dropoffs in OPS in Sep/Oct vs. other months. I’m not dismissing it, but I would be curious to find out what the norm is for all ballplayers. For example, is it normal to experience a dropoff late in the season? I seem to recall Bill James doing some studies around hitting performance relative to temperature (that is offense is highest in the warmest weather), but I don’t know the specifics. Santo’s performance sounds bad, but how does it compare? That would be interesting to find out.


  43. Kermit says:

    “Facts > opinions, always.”

    Which, of course, is an opinion.

  44. DM says:

    More fun with data from the ballot submissions…..

    Although predicting who/where Joe will select in a top 50 is not at all the same as selecting who YOU would vote for if you were doing your own list, and conceding the fact that some really good players were already mentioned in 51-100 and were not eligible to be included at this point, here’s what the ballot results would imply as far as “All Time Teams” (i.e., 1st Team, 2nd Team, etc.). I figured, for these purposes, we would use 8 positions and 4 pitchers to comprise each “team”.

    OK…I admit….I used some creative license to put Pete Rose as the 4th team 3rd baseman, because he had more games in LF and 1B, but basically if I didn’t use him there, I’d have to go guys that didn’t receive very many votes, like Paul Molitor, who’s more DH than anything, or Pie Traynor, who’s apparently really good at teaching people how to bake. We all know that Pete wouldn’t really be the 4th team third baseman….that would probably be Chipper or Boggs or Brooks Robinson or Santo or someone like that that’s already been named….but for these purposes, he’ll fill a hole. Maybe we can call it 3B/Utility….

    Anyway, here they are:

    First Team:
    C – Josh Gibson
    1B – Lou Gehrig
    2B – Rogers Hornsby
    3B – Mike Schmidt
    SS – Honus Wagner
    LF – Barry Bonds
    CF – Willie Mays
    RF – Babe Ruth
    P – Walter Johnson
    P – Roger Clemens
    P – Greg Maddux
    P – Cy Young

    Second Team:
    C – Johnny Bench
    1B – Jimmie Foxx
    2B – Joe Morgan
    3B – George Brett
    SS – Alex Rodriguez
    LF – Ted Williams
    CF – Ty Cobb
    RF – Hank Aaron
    P – Satchel Paige
    P – Tom Seaver
    P – Lefty Grove
    P – Pete Alexander

    Third Team:
    C – Yogi Berra
    1B – Albert Pujols
    2B – Eddie Collins
    3B – Eddie Mathews
    SS – Cal Ripken
    LF – Stan Musial
    CF – Mickey Mantle
    RF – Frank Robinson
    P – Christy Mathewson
    P – Randy Johnson
    P – Pedro Martinez
    P – Warren Spahn

    Fourth Team:
    C – Mike Piazza (although he may not make Joe’s final list at all)
    1B – Cap Anson (although he may not make Joe’s final list at all)
    2B – Nap Lajoie
    3B – Pete Rose (or utility guy, if you prefer)
    SS – Pop Lloyd
    LF – Rickey Henderson
    CF – Tris Speaker
    RF – Mel Ott
    P – Bob Gibson
    P – Sandy Koufax
    P – Bob Feller
    P – Phil Niekro (although he may not make Joe’s final list at all)

    Piazza might have to get supplanted by Campanella and Anson by Bagwell or Thomas, all of whom did make Joe’s list. Niekro might get bumped by Carlton…..we’ll have to see. I’m sure Joe will have some kind of surprises left in store.

    • Geoff says:

      I have to admit, the ranking of Josh Gibson as one of the 20 greatest players of all-time always troubles me a bit. There’s general agreement that Johnny Bench is the greatest catcher in ML history, but very few people would rank him higher than 30 overall. Bill James ranks Gibson #9 and Berra (his next catcher) #41. Basically, he’s saying that the gap between Gibson and the greatest catcher in baseball history is comparable to the gap between Ted Williams and, say, Eddie Mathews. This is possible, obviously, but the idea that the guy about whom we have almost no real data is miles better than anyone else at his position doesn’t really pass the sniff test for me.

      • Herb Smith says:

        Ah, Josh Gibson.

        MLB catchers have always ranked quite low in all-time lists; I assume that it’s because it’s nearly impossible to play 20 years at the position (and thus accomplish milestones like 3000 hits/500 homers,etc.).

        I ranked Gibson real high on my list (probably too high), simply because many people I respect (like B James) consider him to be, by far, the greatest backstop in baseball history. Many Negro League experts consider him to be the greatest PLAYER in Negro League history, though many also vouch for Oscar Charleston.

        James said something like “he handled the catcher’s job in a similar way to Campanella, only he didn’t hit like Campy…he hit like Foxx or Babe Ruth.” Needless to say, that would be quite a valuable guy.

        Now that I’ve ranked Gibson too high, I can give my own theory: in batting skill and temperament, he sounds exactly like Dick Allen. He was great with the stick, hit mind-blowing/crowd silencing homers, and was difficult as heck to deal with. Now, imagine if “Richie” Allen, instead of being an error-prone corner infielder, was a well-above-average defensive catcher… he might not be a top-15 all-time player, but he’d probably be considered superior to Bench or Yogi.


        • Geoff says:

          I think you’ve captured the reasons Gibson tends to be ranked so highly, I just question whether it’s really likely he actually “hit like Foxx or Ruth.” The fact that no big league catcher has ever hit like that (Piazza was closest) in 120 years reflects the reality that it’s simply not possible to produce at that offensive level while catching, especially not long enough to produce the career totals typically required to be ranked as high as Gibson is. I’m not saying that Gibson wasn’t that kind of hitter, but given how little info we actually have on him, it seems improbable. Plus, it’s not like he was especially notable for his career longevity.

          Imagine if Mike Piazza didn’t play Major League Baseball, but played in the Atlantic League, where he put up video game numbers, and played a few exhibition games every spring against big league teams and hit a few monster home runs. Ranking him the greatest catcher in ML history on that basis would be nuts, but that’s basically what we’ve done with Gibson.

          • DM says:

            Hi Geoff,

            I agree that this is a bit of a dilemma, that it puts a lot of faith and trust in someone that we don’t have a lot of hard data on. Of course, the main thing I have to keep reminding myself that the goal of this is not necessarily for us to vote on who we think the best players are, but to predict who we think Joe will choose, and in doing so, there’s a bit of “putting ourselves in his shoes” to this contest. ‘

            Clearly, two of the biggest influences in Joe’s thought process are Bill James and Buck O’Neil,

            In late 2011, Joe had a post entitled “Buck’s All Time Team”. No surprise that Gibson was the catcher. Here’s what Joe wrote:

            [beginning of quote]

            There have been six or seven players Buck has suggested might have been the best of all time — Oscar Charleston, Pop Lloyd, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Josh Gibson, Willie Mays and maybe one or two others. But I think deep down he thought Gibson was the best because he was a catcher, and a good one, who “hit like Babe Ruth only, maybe, a little better because Ruth would strike out 100 times a year and Josh, he would strike out maybe 30 times a year.”

            [end of quote]

            Now, we don’t really know for sure about the validity of the strikeout reference, but I think the point is that Buck, who i suspect Joe must respect about as much any other man he’s ever met, may have considered Gibson the best ever.

            In addition, Bill James, whose influence is very visible through so much of what Joe writes, had Gibson as his #9 overall player.

            So, in the context of this contest, I felt I had no choice but to “predict” that Gibson would be high up, given the stature that two of Joe’s biggest influences had bestowed upon Gibson. If I were picking my own? I would probably select Bench. But, it’s hard for me to ignore the perspectives of good people.

          • BobDD says:

            Admitting that the Negro Leagues were comprised of as many A league players as major league caliber players, in 50 plus years and about 30 years of full season play, it would make sense that about one of the nine positions in baseball would have the best player come out of those leagues. One or two.

            Back in the 30’s when the most integrated barnstorming was going on, the ones most suggested as possibly the best at their position were Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Pop Lloyd and Oscar Charleston. Of those Gibson has received the most traction as the best at his position.

            I’m guessing that this kind of group we have here might rate Negro Leaguers a mite on the weak side simply because in the absence of stats (and that’s a new love for almost all of us) it is hard to put estimates as high as the players we’ve pored over their records and painstakingly made “new” evaluations for.

            Personally I have Gibson as the most highly rated catcher and number four overall, because at some point I had to put some weight on the testimony and evaluations of those who have gone before. I have estimated four players from that league in my top 50 (top 25 for that matter) and they are the ones I cannot defend with numbers and because of that I’m left with some uncomfortable dissatisfaction, but I play the game here as best I can.

          • BobDD says:

            DM, I know you were only quoting, but I just want to jump on that wrong idea somebody else had – Babe Ruth never struck out 100 times in a season. His high was 93, and he led the league in strikeouts five times, once with 58 his next to last year in Boston.

      • dshorwich says:

        “I have to admit, the ranking of Josh Gibson as one of the 20 greatest players of all-time always troubles me a bit. There’s general agreement that Johnny Bench is the greatest catcher in ML history, but very few people would rank him higher than 30 overall. Bill James ranks Gibson #9 and Berra (his next catcher) #41. Basically, he’s saying that the gap between Gibson and the greatest catcher in baseball history is comparable to the gap between Ted Williams and, say, Eddie Mathews.”

        This is one of the hazards of ranked lists such as these – they imply that the difference between #1 and #2 is the same as the difference between #2 and #3, or #10 and #11, etc., and thus that the difference between #9 and #41 is the same as that between, say, #37 and #69.

        But this is not necessarily the case, in fact it’s almost certainly not the case; the gaps between players ranked consecutively aren’t created equal.

  45. Steve says:

    This is so fascinating now that many of us have entered the contest and we can match our picks with those of the Poz, and with each other’s picks. The chart above that summarizes our picks tells me the following:

    1. For readers of this blog, PED use is not a liability. Three steroid users are on the list, and one is ranked number 3. The general public sees things quite differently, however.

    2. Years ago, the consensus was that Yogi Berra was the greatest catcher of all time. Outside of New York, that is no longer the case, at least among the baseball intelligentsia, which has also downgraded Koufax considerably.

    3. Mays and Aaron will always be linked together, for many reasons. But the consensus over the years is that Mays was better than Aaron, even if not by much.

    4. In comparison to everyone else’s list, I overrated (by at least 10 slots) Pujols, Bench, Yogi, Mathews and Fergie. I also overrated Jackie and Josh Gibson by nine slots and Seaver by eight. I underrated (by at least 10 slots) Bob Gibson and Mel Ott.

    5. According to the roundup of everyone’s picks, the all-time all-star team is as follows (with backup in parentheses):

    OF: Ruth (Williams)
    OF: Mays (Cobb)
    OF: Bonds (Aaron)
    1B: Gehrig (Pujols)
    2B: Hornsby (Morgan)
    3B: Schmidt (Brett)
    SS: Wagner (Rodriguez)
    C: Bench (Berra)
    P: Johnson
    P: Clemens
    P: Maddux
    P: Young
    P: Paige
    P: Seaver
    P: Grove
    P: Alexander

    • Steve says:

      Looks like DM beat me to the all-time team. I can play with these spreadsheets all day.

    • Sadge says:

      Don’t be so quick on #1. You may be right but you have to remember the context of our lists. We are trying to predict Joe’s ranking, not necessarily putting together our own lists. Because of that, there is a strategy in play that might or might not align with our personal feelings, biases, and/or knowledge.

      • DM says:

        Hi Sadge,

        I totally agree, and I expressed a similar thought elsewhere on this post. It’s not the same exercise as picking our own.

  46. Steve says:

    It also looks like DM read the list more carefully than I did. Josh Gibson is the all-time great catcher and Jimmie Foxx is the number 2 First Baseman.

  47. Ian R. says:

    You’re still using range factor? Really?

    By Total Zone, Kaline was 152 runs better than average for his career. dWAR doesn’t show that because the negative positional adjustment for being a right fielder eats up most of his runs.

    As for Kaline’s OPS+, notice that he played 22 seasons. The vast majority of the 118 guys ahead of him played many fewer seasons. Andrew McCutchen’s OPS+ is higher than Kaline’s – does that mean Cutch has had a better career than Kaline did? Of course not.

    Kaline didn’t have the brilliant peak many Hall of Famers did, but his incredible longevity makes him worthy of this spot.

    • Ian R. says:

      This was supposed to be a reply to Carl above. No idea what happened there.

    • Carl says:

      Hi Ian,

      Don’t like Total Zone, especially for pre-2002. You prefer a different metric – fine.

      His average (I used 21 rather than 22, not counting the first season riding the bench) season:

      H 143 HR: 19 R: 77 RBI: 75 SB 6 and slash stats of: .297/.376/.480. All very good. But to me not top 50, and not top 44 non-pitchers.

      You feel longevity makes him worthy of this spot. If you like accumulators, (or persistent people as Joe referred to them here) that’s fine. I just don’t.

      • Ian R. says:

        I don’t especially like TZ either, but for pre-2002 players, it’s the best we’ve got. Range factor is pretty close to meaningless because it doesn’t account for the number of balls that were actually hit in Kaline’s direction – if he played on teams with a bunch of ground-ball pitchers, that would hold his range factor down through no fault of his own.

        Also, bear in mind that Kaline played most of his career in a low-scoring era. His neutralized line is .302/.382/.486, which is pretty excellent for a guy who had over 11,000 PA.

        My point regarding Kaline’s longevity isn’t just that he played for a long time – he played for a historically long time. He’s in the top 20 all-time in games played. Even if you don’t like accumulators, that ought to count for something.

  48. ElGrizo says:

    I’ve been kicking myself for not making Schmidt/Brett the tie… And for leaving off Pete Alexander… Have really enjoyed every article in the series and glad to be a part of the contest. Keep up the good work, Joe!

  49. NevadaMark says:

    I always wondered why the Yankees didn’t move in on Kaline. He played his amateur ball in Baltimore, right down the road from New York. Was it because the Yankees already had a couple of bonus players on the roster and couldn’t afford to tie up another spot? I don’t know if this is true-does anyone know? You would think in the pre-draft era, the Yankees would be all over a player like this.

    • Geoff says:

      Maybe because in the pre-draft era it was entirely possible for a talent like Kaline to fly under the radar, or at least not be well-known to all 16 teams. Maybe the Tigers just out-scouted the Yankees on him.

      Also, Baltimore is not exactly “down the road from New York.” Perhaps its the Orioles who missed the boat on this one…

      • NevadaMark says:

        Well, the Yankees had a reputation anyway of having the best scouts in baseball. After all, they found Mickey Mantle in the middle of nowhere.

        Checked the 1953 roster for the Yankees (Kaline’s rookie year) and found no bonus babies (at least any I recognized) so it looks like my impression was incorrect.

        Detroit’s scout was apparently at Kaline’s door the moment he was eligible to sign a contract so your comment about out scouting the Yankees appears correct.

        This is what is so fun about baseball history. No matter how much I find out, I want to find out more.

      • Carl says:


        Kaline made his debut in June of 1953. The St. Louis Browns did not move to Baltimore until 1954.

  50. itchie says:

    I didn’t enter the contest, but I did notice Joe seemed to give a hint with the word “tiebreaker”.
    Tie between Tyrus and Oscar or Tyrus Raymond and someone else?

    • Herb Smith says:

      Ty-Oscar would be an interesting pair. Bill James went to great lengths to compare Mickey Mantle to Cobb in his book…totally different ballplayers, but very similar value.

  51. DM says:

    OK…more fun with data. Hope the formatting works.

    I should have gone back and pick up all corrections after the first phase, but decided to just go with the first iteration of the file. At the end of this post is the same “points” ranking as before, but also includes average rank, highest rank, and lowest rank.

    It’s noteworthy that no one had Babe Ruth lower than #3 on any ballot. He had 92 firsts, 11 seconds, and 2 thirds, a rather dominating performance.

    The players with the highest range (distance between high and low rank) were:
    Name – Highest Rank – Lowest Rank – Range
    Satchel Paige – 3 – 50 – 47
    Oscar Charleston – 2 – 48 – 46
    Greg Maddux – 5 – 50 – 45
    Joe Morgan – 3 – 48 – 45
    Joe DiMaggio – 6 – 50 – 44
    Pedro Martinez – 6 – 50 – 44
    Lefty Grove – 6 – 49 – 43
    Sandy Koufax – 7 – 50 – 43
    Alex Rodriguez – 8 – 50 – 42
    Rogers Hornsby – 5 – 46 – 41

    An interesting group, with plenty of controversial subjects.

    Below is the full list:

    Overall – Name – Count – Total Points – Avg. Rank – Highest Rank – Lowest Rank
    1 – Babe Ruth – 105 – 5,235 – 1.14 – 1 – 3
    2 – Willie Mays – 105 – 5,075 – 2.67 – 1 – 14
    3 – Barry Bonds – 104 – 4,827 – 4.59 – 1 – 19
    4 – Ted Williams – 105 – 4,665 – 6.57 – 2 – 21
    5 – Ty Cobb – 104 – 4,636 – 6.42 – 2 – 16
    6 – Walter Johnson – 105 – 4,562 – 7.55 – 2 – 18
    7 – Hank Aaron – 104 – 4,551 – 7.24 – 2 – 16
    8 – Honus Wagner – 105 – 4,433 – 8.78 – 2 – 21
    9 – Stan Musial – 106 – 4,245 – 10.95 – 4 – 31
    10 – Lou Gehrig – 105 – 3,906 – 13.80 – 2 – 33
    11 – Roger Clemens – 104 – 3,855 – 13.93 – 3 – 40
    12 – Mickey Mantle – 103 – 3,614 – 15.91 – 5 – 43
    13 – Rogers Hornsby – 103 – 3,506 – 16.96 – 5 – 46
    14 – Greg Maddux – 106 – 3,452 – 18.43 – 5 – 50
    15 – Cy Young – 104 – 3,391 – 18.39 – 3 – 40
    16 – Josh Gibson – 99 – 3,373 – 16.93 – 3 – 44
    17 – Tris Speaker – 105 – 3,309 – 19.49 – 5 – 46
    18 – Oscar Charleston – 88 – 2,978 – 17.16 – 2 – 48
    19 – Rickey Henderson – 102 – 2,932 – 22.25 – 9 – 46
    20 – Satchel Paige – 97 – 2,868 – 21.43 – 3 – 50
    21 – Tom Seaver – 105 – 2,796 – 24.37 – 5 – 43
    22 – Mike Schmidt – 104 – 2,775 – 24.32 – 10 – 48
    23 – Lefty Grove – 104 – 2,628 – 25.73 – 6 – 49
    24 – Joe Morgan – 104 – 2,625 – 25.76 – 3 – 48
    25 – Frank Robinson – 104 – 2,541 – 26.57 – 11 – 41
    26 – Alex Rodriguez – 101 – 2,530 – 25.95 – 8 – 50
    27 – Joe DiMaggio – 104 – 2,503 – 26.93 – 6 – 50
    28 – Pete Alexander – 97 – 2,405 – 26.21 – 10 – 46
    29 – Christy Mathewson – 104 – 2,277 – 29.11 – 8 – 49
    30 – Randy Johnson – 103 – 2,255 – 29.11 – 9 – 50
    31 – Eddie Collins – 93 – 2,108 – 28.33 – 14 – 49
    32 – Jimmie Foxx – 100 – 2,022 – 30.78 – 13 – 49
    33 – Johnny Bench – 106 – 1,944 – 32.66 – 12 – 50
    34 – Albert Pujols – 98 – 1,790 – 32.73 – 12 – 50
    35 – Mel Ott – 97 – 1,656 – 33.93 – 17 – 50
    36 – Pedro Martinez – 93 – 1,570 – 34.12 – 6 – 50
    37 – George Brett – 105 – 1,456 – 37.13 – 17 – 50
    38 – Nap Lajoie – 95 – 1,445 – 35.79 – 16 – 50
    39 – Cal Ripken – 103 – 1,436 – 37.06 – 15 – 50
    40 – Jackie Robinson – 95 – 1,429 – 35.96 – 9 – 50
    41 – Warren Spahn – 97 – 1,353 – 37.05 – 15 – 50
    42 – Bob Gibson – 95 – 1,344 – 36.85 – 9 – 50
    43 – Roberto Clemente – 104 – 1,244 – 39.04 – 20 – 50
    44 – Carl Yastrzemski – 99 – 1,068 – 40.21 – 20 – 50
    45 – Eddie Mathews – 89 – 965 – 40.16 – 26 – 50
    46 – Yogi Berra – 78 – 951 – 38.81 – 15 – 50
    47 – Pete Rose – 99 – 935 – 41.56 – 10 – 50
    48 – Sandy Koufax – 80 – 847 – 40.41 – 7 – 50
    49 – Bob Feller – 63 – 676 – 40.27 – 11 – 50
    50 – Al Kaline – 76 – 515 – 44.22 – 23 – 50
    51 – Pop Lloyd – 35 – 497 – 36.80 – 13 – 50
    52 – Cap Anson – 44 – 318 – 43.77 – 17 – 50
    53 – Mike Piazza – 20 – 145 – 43.75 – 23 – 50
    54 – Phil Niekro – 19 – 98 – 45.84 – 35 – 50
    55 – Juan Marichal – 8 – 83 – 40.63 – 29 – 50
    56 – Duane Kuiper – 3 – 82 – 23.67 – 10 – 50
    57 – Jim Palmer – 10 – 79 – 43.10 – 24 – 50
    58 – Martin Dihigo – 4 – 68 – 34.00 – 29 – 39
    59 – Carl Hubbell – 14 – 67 – 46.21 – 37 – 50
    60 – Cristobal Torriente – 4 – 61 – 35.75 – 11 – 48
    61 – Casey – 2 – 59 – 21.50 – 1 – 42
    62 – Fergie Jenkins – 11 – 57 – 45.82 – 39 – 50
    63 – Carlton Fisk – 11 – 56 – 45.91 – 39 – 50
    64 – Lou Brock – 7 – 52 – 43.57 – 30 – 49
    65 – Paul Molitor – 8 – 46 – 45.25 – 29 – 50
    66 – Mordecai Brown – 5 – 45 – 42.00 – 31 – 47
    67 – Gary Carter – 10 – 43 – 46.70 – 41 – 50
    68 – Ivan Rodriguez – 5 – 36 – 43.80 – 40 – 48
    68 – Pie Traynor – 2 – 36 – 33.00 – 20 – 46
    70 – George Sisler – 4 – 30 – 43.50 – 37 – 48
    70 – Manny Ramirez – 7 – 30 – 46.71 – 41 – 50
    72 – Mule Suttles – 3 – 25 – 42.67 – 38 – 48
    72 – Harry Heilmann – 3 – 25 – 42.67 – 38 – 49
    74 – Larry Doby – 2 – 23 – 39.50 – 37 – 42
    75 – Eddie Plank – 6 – 21 – 47.50 – 44 – 50
    76 – Dave Winfield – 5 – 20 – 47.00 – 44 – 50
    77 – Carlos Beltran – 2 – 18 – 42.00 – 37 – 47
    77 – Sammy Sosa – 1 – 18 – 33.00 – 33 – 33
    79 – Frank Baker – 2 – 17 – 42.50 – 36 – 49
    80 – Ray Dandridge – 1 – 16 – 35.00 – 35 – 35
    81 – Ed Walsh – 1 – 15 – 36.00 – 36 – 36
    81 – Pud Galvin – 3 – 15 – 46.00 – 43 – 49
    83 – Al Simmons – 5 – 13 – 48.40 – 46 – 50
    83 – Mickey Cochrane – 2 – 13 – 44.50 – 44 – 45
    83 – Dan Brouthers – 1 – 13 – 38.00 – 38 – 38
    83 – Roy Halladay – 1 – 13 – 38.00 – 38 – 38
    87 – Omar Linares – 1 – 11 – 40.00 – 40 – 40
    87 – Kid Nichols – 1 – 11 – 40.00 – 40 – 40
    87 – Mike Trout – 1 – 11 – 40.00 – 40 – 40
    90 – Tim Keefe – 2 – 10 – 46.00 – 44 – 48
    91 – Whitey Ford – 1 – 9 – 42.00 – 42 – 42
    91 – Luke Appling – 3 – 9 – 48.00 – 46 – 50
    93 – Jim Thome – 1 – 8 – 43.00 – 43 – 43
    93 – John Clarkson – 2 – 8 – 47.00 – 45 – 49
    95 – Luis Aparicio – 1 – 7 – 44.00 – 44 – 44
    96 – Bill Dickey – 2 – 6 – 48.00 – 47 – 49
    97 – Torii Hunter – 1 – 5 – 46.00 – 46 – 46
    98 – Edgar Martinez – 1 – 4 – 47.00 – 47 – 47
    98 – Vlad Guerrerro – 1 – 4 – 47.00 – 47 – 47
    98 – Rich Gossage – 1 – 4 – 47.00 – 47 – 47
    101 – Roger Connor – 1 – 3 – 48.00 – 48 – 48
    101 – Jeff Kent – 1 – 3 – 48.00 – 48 – 48
    103 – Ralph Kiner – 1 – 2 – 49.00 – 49 – 49
    103 – Dizzy Dean – 1 – 2 – 49.00 – 49 – 49
    103 – Hank Greenberg – 1 – 2 – 49.00 – 49 – 49
    106 – Raul Ibanez – 1 – 1 – 50.00 – 50 – 50

    • murr2825 says:

      Am I reading that right? Someone left HENRY AARON off their top 50?
      Please tell me I am wrong.

      • DM says:

        Yep, it looks like someone did leave him off. Major penalty in someone’s future…..

      • BobDD says:

        I found it interesting too who was left off. Someone left off Barry Bonds and Ty Cobb. Two people left off Mike Schmidt. Seven people left off Josh Gibson and seven more voters had Christy Mathewson than Pete Alexander. Strange.

        Evidently the only ones on every ballot were: Johnny Bench, Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, George Brett, Tom Seaver, Tris Speaker, Lou Gehrig, Honus Wagner, Ted Williams, Greg Maddux, and Walter Johnson. Twelve unanimous.

        • Geoff says:

          The fact that the entry without Bonds was different from the entry without Clemens makes me wonder if both were oversights. I can see excluding both (though I disagree with it), but it’s tough to see you could have one without the other.

    • Dan Shea says:

      The Gibson/Charleston/Paige trio is interesting – fewer votes than others in the neighbourhood, but a higher average ranking. Those who think Joe likes them, think he likes them a lot.

  52. Judd says:

    My late father used to joke that Al Kaline was so good they named batteries after him. Cheesy I know, but makes me smile

  53. Chad says:

    Damn. Going through my list, I realized I left off Jimmie Foxx. SOaB.

  54. Number Three says:

    I grew up watching Kaline and George Kell do the Tigers games on Detroit teevee. Never saw him play. But he was as much a part of my education as a Tigers fan as Ernie Harwell. Kaline and Kell were such old-school gentlemen, and they clearly admired and respected each other immensely.

  55. […] Posnanski is running this great series of the top 100 baseball players over at his blog. #50 was Al Kaline. I love the way he sets this […]

  56. David Kargetta says:

    Al Kaline personified great baseball his entire career. He did it all, and did it with class. Baseball isn’t statistics, even though the whole baseball world is consumed by them.

    Baseball is watching the swift bat meet the slider down and away for a line drive single to right center, scoring Mickey Stanley from Second Base to tie the game against Baltimore.

    Baseball is watching an Outfielder in warmups throw lasers between Ike Brown’s legs to the plate, where Ike doesn’t even hike his legs a bit.

    Baseball is seeing the Baserunner get a good jump at First off the leftie Dave McNally, so that Jimmy Northrup’s deep drive Double to Center scores the Runner without having to slide.

    Baseball is screaming in agony when the Hero of the previous Inning having hit the Home Run in the Playoffs against the hated Athletics, throws a strike from RF to Aurelio at Third, only to see the ball carom off the back of the Runner about to be cut down, and as it skips away, you realize that the stupid scorer in the Press Box is about to hoist the E9 sign. Idiot. It was a perfect throw.

    Baseball is watching the 1971 All Star Game, and having it burn so deep in your memory, that even a trip to Hell one day won’t stop the smiles from remembering that accumulation of greatness in one spot… the Corner.

    Baseball is playing hooky from school on the last game of 6’s career, and when he is lifted for a pinch hitter mid-game, you realize that childhood is now over.

    That’s Baseball… as seen by a real statistician.

    • Geoff says:

      “Baseball is watching an Outfielder in warmups throw lasers between Ike Brown’s legs to the plate, where Ike doesn’t even hike his legs a bit.”

      Maybe a statistician…definitely not a physicist.

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