By In 100 Greatest, Baseball

No. 59: Reggie Jackson

Jim Sundberg told me not too long ago that Reggie Jackson was the smartest hitter he ever matched wits with as a catcher. Now, it is true that Reggie Jackson was standing right next to us when Sundberg said it — Reggie nodded kind of knowingly — but Sundberg has said the same thing on other occasions. He explained how Jackson used to anticipate pitches, how he used to goad pitchers into challenging him, how he would do things with outside pitches than Sundberg has never seen anyone else do.

“He never got credit for that,” Sundberg said. “This guy was the smartest hitter I ever saw.”

Let me just say: I love that. Reggie Jackson was called just about everything in his tumultuous, brilliant, outspoken, difficult and often wonderful career. “Smart hitter,” I’m pretty sure, was never one of the descriptions.

There are obvious reasons why Reggie Jackson was not often (if ever) called a smart hitter during his career. He struck out more times than any batter in baseball history — even Jim Thome, as he stretched out his glorious three-outcome career could not quite get Reggie’s strikeout total. Jackson actually had more strikeouts (2,597) than hits (2,584) which was a rather astonishing achievement at the time. He remains the only player with more than 2,500 strikeouts and 2,500 hits.

These days, it should be added, it’s not an astonishing achievement at all to have more strikeouts than hits.

Here is just a partial list of active players with more strikeouts than hits (min. 1,000 strikeouts):

5. B.J. Upton, 982 hits, 1,171 Ks, minus-189.
4. Ryan Howard, 1,176 hits, 1,401 Ks, minus-225
3. Carlos Pena, 1,138 hits, 1,401 Ks, minus-428
2. Mark Reynolds, 797 hits, 1,276 Ks, minus-479
1. Adam Dunn, 1,537 hits, 2,220 Ks, minus-683

Such numbers would have been unheard of before this era of swing-for-the-fences. Then, you could argue that Reggie Jackson, more than anyone else, ushered in this era of swing for the fences.

Anyway, Jackson struck out a ton. And in a time when batting average was essentially how a player’s baseball skill and hitting acumen were judged, Jackson hit only hit .300 once (even then, in 1980, his average was actually .2996). And so while Reggie Jackson’s career certainly did not lack for lavish praise, “smart hitter” simply was simply not a description used. How smart could you be if you didn’t hit .300?

But I think Sundberg line is a new way to look at Reggie Jackson. And the more I think of it, yes, Reggie was an extraordinarily smart hitter. Reggie Jackson invented an entire persona. He took what he gifts and flaws he had — he was a strong and fast former football player with a gigantic hole in his swing — and he invented “Mr. October” and “The Straw That Stirs The Drink” and the “Reg-gie, Reg-gie” chant. He made himself one of the greatest baseball players of all time. But it was more than that. He, perhaps more than any player of his time, strived to become heroic and celebrated and larger than life … and in large part he did that too. There was a candy bar named for him.

Jackson always says he was a better football player than baseball player. It has been written on many occasions — it is also in Dayn Perry’s book on Reggie — that Reggie Jackson was such a good high school football player that he was heavily recruited by both Georgia and Alabama, even though neither school had ever had a black football player.* Jackson himself does not seem to claim this, and I must admit being skeptical that he was really recruited to integrate those schools.

On Martin Luther King Day, it’s worth remembering just where America stood in 1964, when Reggie Jackson graduated from a Pennsylvania High School. The University of Georgia had been desegregated as a university for just three years. Only one year earlier, Alabama governor George Wallace had stood at the door of an Alabama auditorium to symbolically block entry of two black students. King’s “I Have A Dream” seminal speech had only been uttered a few months before. The idea that they were heavily recruiting Reggie Jackson in 1964 to break the football color barrier at Georgia or Alabama — seven years before either school actually integrated — seems pretty wildly exaggerated. My guess is that he might have been contacted unofficially by parties at Georgia and Alabama but it never would have gone very far.

*You will actually read in many places that that Oklahoma also recruited him to break their color barrier, but this definitely isn’t true — Prentice Gautt played football at Oklahoma from 1956-1959, before Reggie Jackson was even in high school.

These Reggie Jackson football stories, though, do a good job of expressing just how good a football player he was. Perry says he averaged eight yards per carry as a runner in high school. Jackson says he was recruited by Syracuse and Penn State among many others. He eventually signed to play football at Arizona State with the hope of playing a little baseball on the side. He had supernatural power as a hitter. His baseball tryout at Arizona State became something of legend — three or four homers in seven or eight swings — and after quitting football* he became an All-American baseball player his sophomore year and set the school record for home runs.

*Reggie Jackson quitting Arizona State football was an inevitability, when you consider that Arizona’s football coach was legendarily strict Frank Kush. Jackson, though, still has nothing but kind words for Kush.

Something else happened at Arizona State, something Perry expresses well. Reggie heard the crowd. Reggie Jackson had heard the crowd before, of course, many times, in football and basketball and baseball, but it was in Tempe that he realized that the cheers are never quite as loud, never quite as focused, never quite as personal as when you hit a home run. “The same exposure,” Perry wrote, “also allowed one to be adored in uncommon ways.” Reggie Jackson, more than anything, wanted to be adored.

He was the second pick in the 1967 draft — the Mets famously took Steve Chilcott with the first pick. Jackson was told and still believes the Mets took Chilcott for racial reasons, specifically that they did not appreciate that Reggie Jackson dating a Mexican woman. The Mets denied this through the years, and their missed opportunities in the first couple of years in the draft does support their case. In 1965, they took a catcher named Randolph Kohn 14 picks before the Reds took a catcher named Johnny Bench. In 1966, they took Chilcott over Reggie. The Mets still won the 1969 World Series and 1973 pennant. But it could have been even more.

Anyway, the Kansas City Athletics took Reggie with the second pick, and he was in the big leagues the next year. In 1969, his second full season, he had a year for the ages. He hit 47 homers (and was briefly on pace to break Roger Maris’ single season home run record), walked 114 times, scored 123 runs, drove in 118. He did this in a league dominated by pitching and in a home ballpark that favored pitchers. It’s always instructive and fun to convert those numbers into, say, 1990s baseball. Let’s try 1996.

Reggie Jackson’s numbers converted to 1996 run-scoring context context:
1969: .320/.462/.703, 58 homers, 165 RBIs, 172 runs.
1970: .273/..403/.519, 27 homers, 88 RBIs, 76 runs
1971: .324/.405/.591, 40 homers, 116 RBIs, 125 runs.
1972: .329/.423/..588, 35 homers, 129 RBIs, 124 runs.
1973: .341/.437/.616, 40 homers, 166 RBIs, 141 runs.
1974: 345/.456/.615, 38 homers, 140 RBIs, 136 runs.

And so on. Adjusted to 1996, Reggie Jackson hits .304 for his career with 704 homers. This is obviously an extreme example, but sometimes it’s worthwhile to use extreme examples to get across the point. Jackson’s strong numbers are from his time. In another time, the numbers would have been bigger.

In any case, Reggie Jackson came to the ballpark to hit home runs. In this, he was utterly unapologetic. Before he came along, it was an embarrassment to strike out 120 times a season no matter how many home runs you hit. Before 1960, the only players to strike out 120 times more than once were Mickey Mantle (three times), Vince DiMaggio and Jim Lemon (twice each).

Reggie Jackson struck out 120 times in a season THIRTEEN TIMES between 1968 and 1985.

This was not done accidentally. Jackson had made the calculations. If he swung hard — and NOBODY swung harder than Reggie, he would sometimes swing so hard that his legs would collapse from under him — he would strike out many times. This was true. He also would hit titanic home runs that everyone would remember forever. This was true too. He hit the one off the transformer on the roof in Detroit at the All-Star Game. His third home run of Game 6 of the 1977 World Series was a majestic blast later estimated to go 475 feet. Well, he hit a lot of majestic blasts. If you went to the ballpark enough, you would eventually see one.

And to hit so many of those kinds of home runs, it’s not enough just to swing big and hope for the best. Sundberg says Reggie would set up pitchers, give them openings and take them away, flash for them weaknesses that weren’t weaknesses at all. “And he learned from pitch to pitch,” Sundberg said. In the 1978 World Series, the Dodgers led the Yankees by a run in the bottom of the ninth. The Yankees put two men on, and Jackson came up to face the Dodgers young star Bob Welch.

If you are old enough, you will remember how the scene played out on television — it was not unlike the final scene of The Natural. The brilliant young pitcher. The great slugger. The camera closed in tight on Welch’s face, then on Reggie in the box. The count went full. The runners took off which Reggie would always say jolted his attention. He swung. He missed. He slammed his bat, and it broke in his hands. Dodger Stadium erupted in sound.

In Game 4, Welch faced Reggie Jackson again, score tied, Roy White on first base. This time, Jackson ripped a single and the next batter, Lou Piniella, won the game with another single.

In Game 5, they faced one more time. This time the game was not on the line. The Yankees already had a 5-2 lead. But the matchup was so choice, so perfect, that one more time television built up the drama. The young pitcher. The great slugger. But this time there was no drama. Reggie Jackson had figured out Bob Welch. He had turned and twisted that Rubik’s Cube and had solved it. In his latest autobiography, he would compare Welch to a cup of coffee.

“He threw hard every time he came in, but the first time I saw him he was fresh as a daisy. The last time, you know, the coffee had been on the stove a little bit. And I had smelled the aroma enough to be able to understand the taste.”

Isn’t that great? Reggie always did have a way with words. Reggie Jackson went up to the plate to hit a home run against Bob Welch. He would often say he KNEW he was going to hit a home run. And he hit a home run. He did not point to the fence, but that was his called shot. He would say he often called those shots in his mind.

What did Reggie Jackson want? He had a great arm and, in his younger days, overwhelming athleticism, but he was not a great outfielder, often not even a good one. He was not a particularly helpful player the last five years of his career, while he gained some of the magic numbers. His lifetime on-base percentage of .356 is good, but not great. The highways are jammed with people who have called him overrated.

But that wasn’t the point with Reggie. What did he want? He wanted to be traded. He wanted to be cheered. He wanted to be respected. He wanted to be loved. He wanted to be left alone. He wanted Billy Martin to shut up. He wanted more money. He wanted and he wanted and he wanted … to be Mr. October. He wanted to be remembered.

Maybe this is how you say it. Reggie Jackson came to play 31 times in an All-Star Game. He hit just one All-Star Game home run — that one roof-blast in Detroit. But one was enough. No one who saw it will ever forget it.

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100 Responses to No. 59: Reggie Jackson

  1. Chad Meisgeier says:

    Great to remember Reggie.

    No. 59 on my list is Derek Jeter.

  2. invitro says:

    For the predictors… Jax is #57 on both James’ and ESPN’s lists, so this is another near-exact match. I picked him in this spot a few minutes ago. (Not before the 100 started… my predictions have been horrible until now. But I wasn’t using James/ESPN until recently.) Coming up I’m calling #58 Carew, then Boggs, Feller, Banks, Clemente, Jones, Carlton, Berra, and #50 Koufax. (Apologies to the non-predictors.)

    I like Reggie and would probably rank him right about here: he’s #75 on hallofstats and has the great playoff stats.

  3. Bill Caffrey says:

    Sigh. Oh, Mets, my Mets.

  4. Anon says:

    in many ways, because of the bluster of his career and the fact that he played in such a poor offensive era, Reggie is almost underrated for his actual on-field numbers.

    • need money says:

      You are so right about that fact that he played in a era that was the richest era for pitching in history. You can’t put up the numbers of the 1930’s to 50’s when you face a quality pitcher every night. Relatively his numbers stand up to any of the greats from different eras.

  5. tombando says:

    *Reggie Jax wasn’t really over-rated. Quite deserving of his ranking(s) here desite hisself. I always like the shots of him in an Orioles uni, people just forget he was a Bird for a year.

    *No Al Simmons? Surrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre.

    *Notice how Jim Rice never gets the ‘see how he’d have hit in 1996 treatment’. Committed the unpardonable sins of: playing in Fenway, not walking enough, not playing in Houston(or Oakland), and driving in too many runs.

    • John says:

      Rice’s career:
      382HR 1451RBI .298/.352/.502 .854 OPS 4129 RC

      Rice in 2000 Colorado:
      483HR 1465RBI .344/.401/.578 .979 OPS 2110 RC

      That to me, remains, a borderline Hall of Famer. Larry Walker’s adjusted stats look very similar. Rice was a great player and one of the top hitters on those ’80s Red Sox teams. I just wouldn’t want him in my Hall of Fame.

      • saabenz says:

        How do you add 100 HR and only 14 RBI?

        • John says:

          I didn’t do the math, I’m just reporting the result. I suspect, these numbers suggest that Rice drove in an above average number of runners, compared to the 2000 Rockies (which makes sense, since if the guy in front of you hits a HR instead of a double, when you follow with a HR you get fewer RBIs).

    • Spencer says:

      We’re all very sorry some people don’t think your favorite players are as good as you do

    • Geoff says:


      It’s hard to believe you know how to open a browser, let alone read Joe Posnanski’s blog. Feel free to go back into your cave…we’ll let you know when it’s safe to come out.

  6. andrewgetraer says:

    Sundberg’s comment about Reggie and the outside pitch is spot on, but incomplete. When Reggie was ‘on’ he would drill that low and way pitch down the left field line for a double. It was brilliant. When he was off, anything low and way made him look awkward and foolish. How he handled that low outside pitch was always the indicator with Reggie. If he nailed it we would be in for a week or two of absolute brilliance. He could be frustrating and infuriating, but there was no one like Reggie, then or now. I miss him.

  7. bl says:

    I think Reggie is kind of the Nolan Ryan of hitters. He was going to do things his way and he’d either fail miserably or succeed spectacularly. Reggie’s strike outs being the equivalent of Nolan’s walks.

  8. CT Bold says:

    Joe’s Dog Is Chasing Its Tail

    Look, I enjoy a good anecdote like anyone, but players say silly congenial stuff all the time that isn’t factual. Just because you heard a conversation that seems vaguely on topic doesn’t mean it makes sense to start the story with it – especially when the source is immediately punked and there’s no supporting data at all for the assertion.

    A great HR hitter, yes; an outsize personality, sure; entertaining, absolutely; had an unforgettable WS: you bet. Football under Kush – interesting. Steinbrenner: on point. Please – more of that good stuff.

  9. Reggie is one of those guys that deserves the Barry Bonds treatment. He really was one of the bigger jagoffs to the fans. When he was with the Angels, people would see him about town. He was definitely a guy who liked to be out on the town. One of my female friends went up to him and asked for an autograph. His response “who are you, and why are you talking to me?” included with a death stare. This was pretty common. I’ve heard similar stories several times from other people I don’t know as well. I could understand declining to sign when trying to relax. But, he cultivated his fame and then seemed pissed that people noticed him and wanted to talk with him. By contrast, I once ran into former Green Bay Packer Willie Davis. When we recognized him, we not only got an autograph, but an invitation to join him. He then spent the better part of an hour talking football and telling great stories. With Reggie, just not being a jerk would have been sufficient.

    • Geoff says:

      What exactly is the evidence that Barry Bonds was a “jagoff” to fans? I know reporters didn’t like him, but I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him a couple of times and found him to be friendly and thoughtful, and have honestly never heard of anyone having a bad experience with him personally. I was lucky enough to work in baseball for a long time, and one of the biggest lessons I learned was that there is almost no correlation between the way players are portrayed in the media and the way they are in person. I was surprised, both positively and negatively, on numerous occasions, so I tend to be very cautious when I throw these labels around.

      Professional athletes are at an extreme disadvantage in terms of building a positive reputation in the public sphere, simply because they have so many more random encounters than most of us do. Let’s say there’s some small percentage of the time that you’re in a terrible mood, say 1% of the time. When this happens to me, it’s not that big a deal; I try not to take it out on my girlfriend and generally just keep to myself. Now imagine that you’re Reggie Jackson: on your shitty day, you still have to go to work and interact with a large number of people, many of whom barely know or don’t know at all. Maybe you’re out with your friends later, trying to unwind and someone asks for an autograph, but instead of politely declining you snaps at them. Now a bunch of bored writers decide to make it a thing and talk about how “arrogant” you are. Pretty quickly, you’ve acquired a reputation that’s almost impossible to live down.

      I’m not excusing bad behavior, or saying that Reggie Jackson isn’t a jerk (I honestly have no idea), but people are complicated and I think it’s a mistake to make snap judgements on the basis of a handful of random anecdotes, as reported by people who may very well have their own agendas.

      • It’s easy to blame the media. It’s kind of like blaming Congress. Who’s going to disagree? But, Was the media responsible for Bonds having his own dressing area and barely speaking to most of his teammates…. Who while not dissing Bonds, generally confirmed that he didn’t communicate with them? Look, I haven’t met Bonds, or nearly all of the professional athletes. So maybe you’re right, but I don’t think everything the media has reported about Bonds’ demeanor is an outright fabrication.

        • RPMcSweeney says:

          The media might not be responsible for fabricating those things, but it is responsible for reporting those things to you. And one might wonder (a) how true those “facts” are, (b) how representative they are of Bonds’s true nature if true, (c) what purpose the media was serving in reporting them, and (d) what in the world they have to do with Bonds being a jagoff to the fans, which is the charge that Geoff is refuting. You’ve pointed to selectively reported stories that at best support the conclusion that Bonds wasn’t very close with his teammates. The narrative that was constructed from these stories is that Bonds was a prickly dude, bordering on the clinically antisocial–and that narrative was entirely constructed by the media. Even if the “facts” supporting the narrative are true (which again, see points (a), (b), and (c)), the media totally concocted the narrative. There is no narrative without the media.

        • Geoff says:

          Bonds’ “dressing area” is a perfect example of how silly some of these things are. You know who else had his own “dressing area?”

          Ken Griffey Jr.

          What this really means is that he was given a second locker, which is basically standard practice for superstars. Griffey needed the second locker because his area was overflowing with all the free stuff people/companies would send him. And yet I never heard anyone talk about what a jerk he is.

          • Hov34 says:

            Maybe because he wasn’t a jerk?

          • Geoff says:

            So, to summarize:

            Barry Bonds had a second locker, therefore he’s a jerk.

            Ken Griffey Jr. was not a jerk, therefore his second locker doesn’t make him a jerk.

            Interesting logic.

    • Bill Caffrey says:

      I don’t doubt that these stories are true, but you should keep in mind that Reggie Jackson was exponentially more famous and recognizable than Willie Davis. Willie Davis probably got asked for fewer autographs in his entire career than Reggie did in a season. If Willie was as besieged with autograph seekers as Reggie was he may have found it difficult to be so affable.

  10. jdennis says:

    Maybe the guy was just being literal when he said smartest hitter. Reggie Jackson has one of the highest IQs of any baseball player ever.

    • Stuart says:

      Reggie: I have an IQ of 160
      Mickey Rivers: Out of what, 1000?

      • Mickey Rivers was quite the …. I don’t even know what the word was…. But he was a lot of fun and very quirky. Certainly he was fun to watch on the base paths. That comment was a classic…. I’m sure Rivers was sick of Reggie always talking about how smart he was. Reggie was definitely not a clubhouse favorite.

      • buddaley says:

        I heard that story as Rivers saying “Reggie can’t even spell I.Q.”

  11. Steve says:

    That standoff with Bob Welch in the 1978 Series is glorious in hindsight, but for a young Yankees fan at the time, it was devastating. That strikeout ended game 2, with the Dodgers up two games to nothing. It seemed like an uphill battle to win the Series at that point. Of course, the Yankees went on to win the Series by winning the next four games, in part because of Reggie’s controversial interference play as a baserunner between first and second base, when he thwarted a double-play throw to first with his hip.

    Reggie was the lightening rod for the team in those days, stuck in the toxic love-hate relationship between Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner. Billy never wanted Reggie on the team, and he misused Reggie from time to time to prove to the world that Billy was in charge. But Billy was an out of control drunk and he eventually self-destructed in 1978, resigning (or was fired) after Billy ordered Reggie to bunt in a tight game and Reggie then defied orders later in that at-bat not to bunt, and he bunted foul for a third strike. Reggie was suspended five days, and when he returned to the lineup the Yankees began their famous comeback. So much drama in those days.

    By 1981, Steinbrenner – an emotionally disturbed man if there ever was one – decided to humiliate Reggie mid-season when Reggie was in the middle of a horrendous slump. Reggie was hitting .199 at the time of the players’ strike with fewer home runs than Bucky Dent. Steinbrenner ordered Reggie to undergo a physical and psychological evaluation. Reggie then played his butt off for the rest of the year and salvaged a lost season for himself before bolting for the California Angels, where he had one more good year and then a long decline. Steinbrenner said that letting Reggie go was his biggest mistake, but that cannot be true, as reflected in Reggie’s numbers from 1983 through 1987.

    • The typos:

      “But I think Sundberg line is a new way ” perhaps “the” before Sundberg?

      “He took what he gifts and flaws he had” remove the he before gifts

      “If you are old enough” should be “If you go to YouTube and watch it.” Then it’s a lot less personal. A *LOT* less personal. That season my seats for the World Series were game seven (the game that didn’t happen) IIRC.

      I will never forgive Reggie for interfering with the double play. But he was a great player.

  12. Kendal says:

    I was at the ’71 All Star Game in Detroit. Sitting in the CF bleachers with my Dad. You’re right, I’ll never forget that home run – the crowd just gasped, collectively, then cheered when we realized what happened. And the ball, caromed almost all the way back to 2nd base! Just gigantic. Probably not, but for years I swore that ball was still going up when it hit the transformer. For some perspective, Johnny Bench’s HR was 10 rows below us in the CF bleachers, almost directly above the 415′ sign in Right CF.

    • otistaylor89 says:

      It just sounds great, “It hit the transformer!”.
      If it just hit the roof, it wouldn’t have the same feeling.

      BTW, the 2nd baseball game I ever went to (the 1st was as a 5 year old to see the Seattle Pilots) my family sat in the bleachers at Fenway and Reggie was playing CF for the A’s in 1972 (he played 92 games in CF that year) and the Boston fans were just giving it to him, calling him Hot Dog, etc. This was before they had even won their 1st WS. It was like he was the only player on the field, it was so electric. Every time he came up all eyes were on him. Every time he came out to the field nobody did anything but talk about him. He didn’t hit a HR, but did have 3 hits and a double in a loss.

    • Will3pin says:

      I was 9 years old and living in Detroit at the time. We wrote for tickets to the game, but were denied. I was crushed that my friends/classmates were going, and I was shut out.

      Watching on TV, Reggie’s blast was hit so hard it quickly went out of camera shot. It was confusing – first a “what just happened?!?” and then an “OMG!” moment.

      Fun fact: Reggie jacked this one off of Doc “Captain Trips” Ellis, who supposedly had been dabbling with speed/alcohol earlier in the day. Doc would get even – he sent Reggie to the hospital a few years later with a pitch to the face.

      Of course what us young Tiger fans liked about the game was that the AL won! It would be the only All-Star victory over a 20 game All-Star span.

  13. Michael Green says:

    Reggie Jackson may not have been the best teammate or person (of all people, Gary Bender, the sportscaster, has a devastating account of him as a commentator when they worked together). But the Hall of Fame isn’t for people we love–it’s for players we love. I hated Reggie because he wasn’t on my team. But if my Dodgers had gotten him, I would have had no trouble loving him.

  14. Rocky Coppinger says:

    Can people please let go of their own personal lists and the lists of others?

    Fantastic piece, Joe.

  15. Steve says:

    I will say this: those three home runs in the last game of the 1977 World Series was a majestic moment, especially number 3, a mammoth blast that was high and deep into the night, landing in the no-man’s land of the black seats in deep center field.

    • Rick R says:

      One of the things that made it so epic was that Reggie only took 3 swings the whole game and hit 3 homers (having walked on 4 pitchers his other at bat). That final at-bat with Yankee stadium going wild was one of those times when the crowd was willing a player to hit a homer, and incredibly he did it. Even Steve Garvey had to applaud.

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  16. Alejo says:

    “Hitters drive Chevy. Sluggers drive Cadillac”
    Sparky Anderson

    “People don’t come to the park to watch you hit singles, you have to swing for the fences”
    Reggie Jackson to Tony Armas.

    “… the Greek God of walks”
    Michael Lewis in Moneyball about Kevin Youkilis.

    Would you rather watch Reggie in his prime striking out three times and hitting one on the 9th; or watch Joey Votto patiently work to get four BBs in a game?

    • Bill Caffrey says:

      Reggie Jackson hit 48 9th-inning HRs in his career. He had 118 3-K games. I bet there’s little overlap between those two sets of games.

      On the flip side, Joey Votto has NEVER had a 4-BB game. Not once. He has one 5-BB game, and 22 3-BB games.

    • Personally, I like productive players. Reggie struck out an awful lot in key situations where a walk would have prolonged the inning, and/or helped setup a bigger inning. I’d take Votto. Reggie was too frustrating…. Not to mention the poor outfield play (including a couple of times where a flyball actually hit him in the head) missing cutoff men, and getting thrown out by 10 feet trying to take an extra base. Reggie went for it, and was exciting, but it led to a lot of disastrous plays. Well, at least it was fun booing him…. Almost as fun as cheering when he actually pulled it off.

      • Tom K says:

        Can’t agree about the base running, I remember him as very smart at that (in his Yankee days, anyway). Not just sb, but running generally, and even putting aside post-season hip checks. I’d also be surprised if he ever pulled a Canseco style header. But yeah, he struck out a lot.

    • SBMcManus says:

      It’s a good question. More than anything, I like to see my team win. If Votto was on my team, I would probably “enjoy” his boring spectacular value more than someone flashier that is less valuable. Also Votto is a Good Old Toronto Boy!

    • Double J says:

      I was at the game last season when Votto drew 5 walks in 5 plate appearances. It was pretty awesome. Oh, and one of them happened with the bases loaded and drove in a run. The Reds won the game 3-2.

      I’ve also seen Votto hit home runs. Even a walk-off. That was cool too.

      It is possible to appreciate different aspects of the game. It’s also possible to admire a majestic home run while understanding the value of leading the league in OBP four seasons in a row.

  17. Geoff says:

    Yes, except Walker didn’t play his entire career in 2000 Colorado, either. And he had far more baserunning/defensive value than Rice did.

  18. Eric Rothschild says:

    Getting to the point where some great candidates should start getting nervous about whether they make the list. Players that are waiting to see if they make top 10 or not at all: Phil Neikro; Gary Carter; Ernie Banks; Al Kaline; Cap Anson; George Sisler; Chipper Jones; Luke Appling; Jim Palmer. My guess is that Banks, Sisler, Anson, Palmer, Carter are not on list.

    • Bill Caffrey says:

      Ernie Banks is on Joe’s list. There’s no way George Sisler was even close to making it (nor should he have been). Really no idea bout the others.

    • invitro says:

      There’s a fair amount of discussion of this kind of thing in the BRobinson comments. I feel 90% sure that Banks and Jones will be on, and Niekro, Carter, Anson, Sisler, Appling, and Palmer will be off. I’m 50% sure that Kaline will be on. The reason: Joe’s list is matching Bill James’ and ESPN’s lists very, very closely so far.

      Fun fact: George Sisler was #33 on Sporting News’s 100 Greatest Baseball Players:

  19. Scott says:

    I really love this whole series, and I must check Joe’s blog two or three times a day for new posts, but he has to get rid of the voice recognition software he is using and replace it with something more reliable when he dictates these pieces. For example, in the last paragraph he clearly meant that Reggie came to plate 31 times in an all star game, as opposed to came to play 31 times. Not even Gordie Howe played in so many all star games! Nevertheless, I will buy the book when it comes out without no hesitation. So much fun to read about the 70’s stars from my childhood, and the Brooks Robinson one may be my favorite so far…

  20. otistaylor89 says:

    How much higher on the count would he be if he didn’t announce publicly that he needed to kill the Queen of the UK?

  21. Steve says:

    Phil Rizzuto calling play by play on TV: “that’s two balls on Reggie.”

  22. Anon says:

    The parts about converting Jim Rice’s numbers got me curious about that feature. If you put Pete Rose in an historically neutral environment he actually ends up with over 4500 hits and if you put him in 2000 Colorado he ends up with 5632 hits with a high of 309 hits in 1973. He clears .400 3 times in his career and ends up with a career .361 BA.

  23. otistaylor89 says:

    Yes, that was the game, but should have clarified that my Sox lost.

  24. theycutthepower says:

    The final Reggie/Welch confrontation in Game 6. I love these old games being online.

  25. Bullman says:

    Great choice & article Joe. I remember like it was yesterday sitting with my brother at my grandparents house eating homemade ice cream & watching Reggie’s All-Star Game homer in old Tiger Stadium. I lived in NY during the Reggie years and while there were many memorable moments, the 2 that stick out for me were the 3 HR game in the series (of course), but also a game earlier in that year where the Yankees lost a game when Reggie ran into the late Paul Blair chasing fly ball. Incredulously, my dad commented “Reggie tried to call off Paul Blair!?”

  26. Phil says:

    Favourite Reggie quote ever, maybe my favourite baseball-related quote from anyone:

    “The only reason I don’t like playing in the World Series is I can’t watch myself play.”

    My family went to Disneyland when I was seven, and I got to see the A’s play at home the year Reggie hit 47. I don’t think he homered, though I have no recollection of the game. Years later, when he was with the Angels, my dad and I (stupidly) left a game early where he ended up homering against the Jays. Checking game logs, it was #520:

    Envious of the commenter above who was there for the ASG home run in Detroit.

  27. John Leavy says:

    While we can never KNOW if racism was part of the reason that the MEts didn’t draft Reggie Jackson, the charge is more plausible because George Weiss was running the Mets organization at the time. And despite his undeniable brilliance as a baseball man, Weiss was very much a racist. When he was GM of the Yankees, they didn’t have any black players on their roster until he reluctantly brought up Elston Howard in 1955.

  28. rucksack says:

    Reggie Jacksonism (swinging really hard, increasing home run totals, accepting increased strikeouts) may explain the entire steroid era. The linear relationship between strikeouts and home runs holds through the history of baseball and starting in 1994, both jump significantly such that they stand apart – there is no crossover in home runs per game (except 1987 – a notorious “juiced ball year”) or strikeouts per game. Is it the steroid era or the swinging too hard era?

    • Dan Shea says:

      Eh, a little from Column A, a little from Column B.

      I would also suspect that PEDs might have played a role in a significant amount of players deciding it was now worth their while to swing like Reggie.

      Taking a look at MLB as a whole:

      1986-1988 – 11,451 HRs, 73,160 Ks. 6.3K/HR.
      1993-1995 – 11,417 HR, 71,501 K. 6.26 K/HR.
      1999-2001 – 16,679 HR, 94,879 K. 5.7K/HR.

      Lots more HRs, lots more Ks, but more HRs per K.

      What’s interesting is that HRs have decreased since those heady days, but strikeouts have continued to climb.

      2011-2013 – 14,147 HR, 107,624 K. 7.6K/HR.

      Which might suggest people are swinging harder than ever for those fences, but not reaching them as much as they used to.

  29. Geoff says:

    Okay, so now that Reggie’s on the list, here are the candidates for the remaining 58 spots (assuming we don’t have any more ties)…

    Locks (47):
    Hank Aaron
    Pete Alexander
    Johnny Bench
    Wade Boggs
    Barry Bonds
    George Brett
    Steve Carlton
    Oscar Charleston
    Roger Clemens
    Roberto Clemente
    Ty Cobb
    Eddie Collins
    Joe DiMaggio
    Jimmy Foxx
    Lou Gehrig
    Bob Gibson
    Josh Gibson
    Ken Griffey Jr.
    Lefty Grove
    Rickey Henderson
    Rogers Hornsby
    Babe Ruth
    Randy Johnson
    Walter Johnson
    Nap Lajoie
    Greg Maddux
    Mickey Mantle
    Pedro Martinez
    Eddie Mathews
    Christy Mathewson
    Willie Mays
    Joe Morgan
    Stan Musial
    Mel Ott
    Satchel Paige
    Albert Pujols
    Cal Ripken
    Frank Robinson
    Jackie Robinson
    Alex Rodriguez
    Mike Schmidt
    Tom Seaver
    Warren Spahn
    Tris Speaker
    Honus Wagner
    Ted Williams
    Cy Young

    Would be shocked if they didn’t make it (9):
    Yogi Berra
    Rod Carew
    Bob Feller
    Chipper Jones
    Al Kaline
    Pop Lloyd
    Turkey Stearns
    Pete Rose
    Carl Yastrzemski

    Will probably make it, but shouldn’t:
    Sandy Koufax

    Gary Carter
    Mike Piazza
    Ivan Rodriguez

    Not looking good:
    Cap Anson
    Carlton Fisk
    Fergie Jenkins
    Phil Niekro
    Mule Suttles
    Cristóbal Torriente

    If everyone from the first two lists, plus Koufax, makes it, I think the only remaining choice is which of the catchers makes it. I’d go Certer, personally, but I think it’s crazy that either he or Piazza won’t make Joe’s top 100. I think both Pudges are worthy, as well, but to get there with I-Rod you have to really believe that he was as good defensively as Bench, which isn’t really supported by the numbers we have.

    I’m in agreement with you BR’s who thought Anson and Niekro were likely to get snubbed. I can see the case against against Anson (though I don’t agree with it), but leaving Niekro off (if it happens) would be borderline criminal. I’d love to hear the case for why Gaylord Perry, Curt Schilling, or Nolan Ryan is better than him. Oh well.

    • invitro says:

      You forgot to mention Banks and Jeter. 🙂

      • Geoff says:

        Shoot…not sure how I did that. I know Banks was on my original list, so I must have accidentally clipped him when I was moving guys around. I would say he belongs in the “would be shocked if he didn’t make it section,” which, if everything else is correct, means the only catchers would be Bench, Campy, and Josh Gibson. That just seems nuts to me, so maybe there’s hope that Koufax will be excluded. 🙂

        I’d put Jeter in the “not looking good camp,” but it wouldn’t shock me to see his name if Stearnes or Lloyd get knocked out. I just can’t see how he gets ranked ahead of Yount or Vaughan.

  30. We’ve already passed Jackie Robinson. Koufax will absolutely be on this list. Whatever short peak argument you’re making doesn’t fly. I think Anson will make the list too based on his play. If you throw in his racist reputation, and this is not the HOF voting rules, then obviously that’s different.

    • Geoff says:

      “We’ve already passed Jackie Robinson.”

      No, we haven’t.

      “Koufax will absolutely be on this list. Whatever short peak argument you’re making doesn’t fly.”

      I agree that Koufax will be on this list, but have explained in great detail why I don’t think he belongs anywhere near the top-50. It’s nice that you think my argument “doesn’t fly,” but I find your rationale somewhat lacking.

      “I think Anson will make the list too based on his play. If you throw in his racist reputation, and this is not the HOF voting rules, then obviously that’s different.”

      I think Anson has no chance to make the list, as I can’t really see who he’d push out at this point. If he were to make the list, however, I agree that it would be based on his play. His mustache, while impressive today, was only slightly above league average once you adjust for era and ballpark.

      • DM says:


        Hello old friend. 🙂

        I see the Koufax topic is alive and well, having moved from the Brooks Robinson post to the Reggie Jackson post. A couple of bits of unfinished business from the Koufax discussion that started under Brooks Robinson’s post:

        Under the Brooks thread, in making the case against Koufax, you made a statement that, among HOF pitchers, you felt that among the roughly 70 pitchers in the HOF, Koufax was more towards the bottom of that group than the top. I felt that was questionable, unless you’re basing that primarily on WAR, and that if you consider other metrics, he stacks up much better.

        Your words were: “I’m not sure what’s “questionable” about saying that Koufax is more toward the bottom of HOF pitchers. I’m not saying he’s Catfish Hunter or Jesse Haines, but I do think he’s much more Amos Rusie than he is Lefty Grove. You complain that Koufax “doesn’t stand a chance” when you use WAR, but what other “measurements” are you suggesting? Unadjusted ERA? Left-handedness? My dad’s wistful recollections? Other than focusing solely on 2-3 year peak, what metrics could you use to get Koufax into the top 15-16 pitchers?”

        Let’s address those:

        First, regarding my dad’s wistful recollections….my father had no interest in baseball. When asked why he wouldn’t attend baseball games, his answer always was “I’ve already seen one”. So, no, it’s not based on that 🙂 Of course, maybe you meant YOUR dad’s recollections. Anyway, I know that was just you being cute, so we’ll move on.

        As to what metrics you might use, here are just a few:

        Among current HOF pitchers, he’s tied for 18th with Dizzy Dean (and tied for 16th if you remove Wilhelm and Sutter and just consider starters). A very important metric, one that adjusts for the things like time and place that favor Koufax. So, much closer to the top than the bottom.

        That’s not a trivial stat, right? Among HOF pitchers, I’m showing Koufax, despite a short career, was 21st in strikeouts, so he’s clearly a lot closer to the top than the bottom by that measure.

        Strikeouts per 9 innings.
        Koufax had 9.3 K/9, 2nd only to Ryan, who had 9.5. After those two, it drops to two relievers, Gossage and Sutter, at 7.5 and 7.4. The next starter is Gibson at 7.2. Of course, I will acknowledge that, once Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez make the HOF, it will bump Koufax down to 4th among HOF starters. Trevor Hoffman also is slightly higher than Koufax, so if you count him that pushes Koufax all the way down to 5th. But, clearly, until recent vintage, Koufax and Ryan were pitching a different type of game than other pitchers. Also, a related but somewhat different stat is strikeouts per batter faced. Ryan and Koufax both struck out more than 25% of the batters they faced. The next closest after them among HOF pitchers is 20%

        Strikeouts per BB
        Koufax had a 2.96 : 1 ratio, which is 7th among HOF pitchers.

        Hits per 9 innings:
        Koufax is at 6.8 H/9. Again, 2nd to Ryan

        Winning Pct
        Koufax is at .655, 6th among HOF. 2 of those are Spalding and Ruth, neither of whom I think is being considered in the discussion among the top pitchers in history. And, yes, I know I’ll probably get a lecture from someone about how pitcher wins and losses are completely misleading, that they have no business being part of the evaluation of a pitcher’s effectiveness, that they are too influenced by team. Yes, I do understand that, especially in the way starters are used in today’s game. Run support matters, defensive support matters. Of course. But take a look at the following summary, which also addresses Koufax’s peak year performance of ’63-’66, when the Dodgers went to 3 WS in 4 year span, and won 2.. The pcts are the totals over the 4 year span:

        Overall LA Win Pct 57.3%
        Win Pct in Koufax Decisions 78.2%
        Win Pct in non-Koufax Decisions 52.3%

        Koufax was also averaging about 8 innings per start, and he got the decision in 124 out of his 150 starts, so he clearly was the driving factor in those games. I’m not sure where to locate their winning pct in his starts (it’s probably out there somewhere), but since he got the decision in 83% of the starts, I’m not sure it would make much difference in the conclusion., So, LA wins 52% of the time with someone else starting, and 78% with Koufax. Did he have a good team behind him? Of course. But all of the Dodgers had the same team behind them as well. The Dodgers won 52% of the time with other starters. With Koufax, they won 78%. Now, did I do this for all pitchers? No. That would be an interesting study. Maybe it already exists somewhere, and Koufax doesn’t stand out quite as much as I think he does. I do think it speaks as to why people hold Koufax in such high regard. No single player carries the fate of any team….but that’s an awfully impressive run.

        Now, Geoff, I will concede this. You made the case that you would rank the following pitchers ahead of Koufax (there are all pitchers that Joe has not listed yet):

        Pete Alexander
        Steve Carlton
        Roger Clemens
        Bob Feller
        Bob Gibson
        Lefty Grove
        Randy Johnson
        Walter Johnson
        Greg Maddux
        Pedro Martinez
        Christy Mathewson
        Phil Niekro
        Satchel Paige
        Tom Seaver
        Warren Spahn
        Cy Young

        You know what? With the exception of Niekro, I actually agree with you, that those are an excellent representation of a top 15 pitcher list. I agree with you that their combination of peak AND career make for a reasonable argument that they be ranked above Koufax. You also conceded in one of your posts that you can see Koufax as a top 100 player, although he probably wouldn’t be in yours. I can respect that as well. But I think you should also be able to respect why many people would have Koufax in their listing, and why it’s not really a big stretch to have him ranked somewhere around this spot.

        I personally think Koufax, lacking the career value, probably deserves to be in the top 16-20 pitcher category, which on Joe’s list (where pitchers are representing roughly 25% of the entries), that would put Koufax somewhere between, let’s say 60-80. I think that would be fair.

        I hope you take this in the spirit intended. I think you made many good points. I learn more from the people I disagree with than the ones I agree with. 🙂

        • Geoff says:

          Sorry for the delayed response. I certainly don’t take this stuff personally, and appreciate your thoughts. That said, there are several issues with arguments you’re making in favor of Koufax’s inclusion in the top 100:

          1) Koufax’s rankings, even if you take them at face value (I’ll get to that in a bit) highlight the broader point I’ve been making, which is that Koufax’s peak, while fantastic, wasn’t good enough to overcome the fact that he only threw ~2,300 innings. It’d be one thing if he was one of the best 2-3 pitchers ever over his 6-year stretch of brilliance, but he was a notch below that, which I think knocks him out of the top-60.

          2) The metrics you selected are cherry-picked, and not all of them are particularly reflective of greatness. Winning percentage is a team-dependent stat, and, more importantly, is helped considerably by the fact that Koufax didn’t have a decline phase. Had he pitched 8-10 more years, his winning percentage likely would have been considerably lower. For most of his career, Doc Gooden had the best W% in baseball history, but he obviously didn’t finish there.

          You also took the Dodgers’ W% w/ Koufax vs. other starters, but so what? No one is saying that Koufax wasn’t great, so it’s not surprising that the team performed much better when he was on the mound. Doesn’t change the fact that the difference would have been even greater with Pedro or Maddux on the mound instead of Koufax.

          Strikeouts and strikeout rate are more interesting, but really only relevant when comparing Koufax to players of the last 50 years. Walter Johnson led the league in strikeouts 12 times, but only averaged 5.3 strikeouts/9. Very different game. Also, this is another area (along with hit rate) in which Koufax benefits enormously from the environment in which he pitched.

          3) You’re really cheating by comparing Koufax only to HOFers. As I said, the metrics you chose aren’t the greatest indicators of greatness, and his rankings look far less impressive when you compare him to ALL pitchers, rather than just those who’ve been enshrined. Here’s where he actually ranks in the categories you’ve mentioned:

          Adjusted ERA+ (You used ERA+, which doesn’t account for ballpark): (tie) 36th.
          He’s right around Halladay, Dean, and Rusie, which sounds about right. There are some inner-circle guys near him on the list (Seaver, Gibson, Maddux), but of course they all had much longer careers that included decline phases that dragged down their numbers.

          Strikeouts: 41st
          Almost dead even with CC Sabathia. If CC retired today, would you put him in the top 100?

          K/9: 8th
          Here you’re really cheating, since Koufax is going to drop another two spots next year. Oh, and guess who has the closest k-rate to Koufax: Oliver Perez. Yikes.

          K/BB: 52nd
          A selection of guys who appear higher on this list than Koufax: John Lieber (11th), Ricky Nolasco (19th), Rick Reed (23rd!), Shane Reynolds, etc., etc. I count 11 guys on this list who are currently or should definitely be in the HOF, and another half-dozen guys (Kershaw, Verlander, Felix, etc.) who could easily end up there, as well.

          H/9: 2nd
          This is the only one of these categories in which Koufax is legitimately one of the best ever (though this too would have changed a bit with a full career). Unfortunately, it’s also not in great indicator of overall greatness relative to other factors. I count a single inner-circle HOF type player in the top 20 (Pedro), though it’s certainly possible Kershaw (currently #3) ends up there.

          I didn’t actually rank the HOF pitchers, so I’m not sure exactly where I’d rank Koufax, let’s walk through this: There are 71 non-negro league pitchers in the HOF (including Paige) plus Pedro and Randy Johnson, who will sail in next year. If you take out the relievers (none of whom I’d consider for the top 100), Babe Ruth (who’s in for his hitting), and Hank O’Day (who’s in for his umpiring), you’re left with 68 HOF pitchers or obvious soon-to-be HOFers . I’ll break them into three groups: 1) Clearly better than Koufax, 2) Clearly worse than Koufax, and 3) somewhere in the middle:

          Clearly better (16):
          Pete Alexander
          Steve Carlton
          Roger Clemens
          Bob Feller
          Bob Gibson
          Lefty Grove
          Randy Johnson
          Walter Johnson
          Greg Maddux
          Pedro Martinez
          Christy Mathewson
          Kid Nichols
          Satchel Paige
          Tom Seaver
          Warren Spahn
          Cy Young

          Clearly Worse (37):
          Chief Bender
          Jim Bunning
          Jack Chesbro
          John Clarkson
          Stan Covelski
          Candy Cummings
          Dizzy Dean
          Don Drysdale
          Dennis Eckersley
          Red Faber
          Whitey Ford
          Pud Galvin
          Tom Glavine
          Lefty Gomez
          Clark Griffith
          Burleigh Grimes
          Jesse Haines
          Waite Hoyt
          Catfish Hunter
          Addie Joss
          Tim Keefe
          Bob Lemon
          Ted Lyons
          Rube Marquard
          Joe McGinnity
          Hal Newhauser
          Herb Pennock
          Old Hoss Radbourn
          Eppa Rixey
          Red Ruffing
          Amos Rusie
          Al Spalding
          Don Sutton
          Monte Ward
          Mickey Welch
          Vic Willis
          Early Wynn

          In the Middle (14):
          Bert Blyleven
          Mordecai Brown
          Carl Hubbell
          Fergie Jenkins
          Juan Marichal
          Phil Niekro
          Jim Palmer
          Gaylord Perry
          Eddie Plank
          Robin Roberts
          Nolan Ryan
          Dazzy Vance
          Rube Waddell
          Ed Walsh

          First things first: assuming you heavily discount pre-1893 pitchers (as I do) it’s obvious that Koufax is in the top half, and is no worse than the 31st best pitcher in the HOF. So what this really comes down to is how you’d rank those guys in the middle. Personally, I’d take all the guys with peaks that might have been a bit below Koufax’s, but pitched WAY longer. That means:

          Bert Blyleven
          Fergie Jenkins
          Phil Niekro
          Gaylord Perry
          Robin Roberts

          I’d also probably take a couple of other guys from the “In the Middle” group (Walsh, Plank, maybe Waddell), but at the end of the day it means I’d have Koufax in the 20-25 range, which really isn’t that far from you. In terms of the top 100, I think that would most likely put Koufax in the 80-100 range, I could certainly see him ending up at 105 or something if I really took the time to think it through. It also means that I think his making the top 56 (which is where we are now) would be absolutely ludicrous. If you look at the players we’ve had recently — Thomas/Bagwell, Yount, Reggie — there is no way that a reasonable person would take Koufax’s career over any of theirs if the goal was to win as many games as possible. Looking ahead, I can’t see how you’d take Koufax over say, Chipper, Kaline, or Carew.

          Here’s how I like to think about these rankings: If you gave your favorite GM a 20-year contract, and then had a draft of every player in history in which they were required to keep drafted players for their entire careers, what would his pref list look like? I think it’s pretty obvious that Koufax wouldn’t be anywhere near the top-60, unless your favorite GM is Ned Colletti.

          Btw, when I said “My dad’s wistful recollections,” I did mean “my dad.” Sorry if that wasn’t clear. 🙂

          • I love these arguments. Great stuff to read. I never saw Koufax pitch, just know him as a legend, so this stuff is really interesting. To me, at least.

          • DM says:


            No need to “apologize for the delayed response”. I figured you were working on it. It takes time to research and look all that stuff up 🙂

            Couple of things to address at the start:

            1. You got after me for using ERA+ rather than Adjusted ERA+, because you said that ERA+ doesn’t adjust for ballpark. Well, according to bb-ref, ERA+ is defined as “100*[lgERA/ERA] Adjusted to the player’s ballpark(s). “. I think the real problem is that bb-ref sometimes refers to it as ERA+, and other times as Adjusted ERA+, depending on what screen you’re looking at. In other words, I think both terms are really referring to the same metric, but they’re just not consistently calling it the same. I believe you and I are looking at the same thing. I’m showing that Koufax’s ERA+, adjusted for league and ballpark, is 131. If you’re seeing something different and these really are 2 different metrics, please let me know, but I think they’re the same thing.

            2. You criticized my comments on Koufax’s rankings on several of the metrics I was quoting by implying I was “cheating” by only showing how he ranked among the roughly 70 HOF’ers in an attempt to make his ranks more impressive. Well, I hate to remind you of this, but that wasn’t MY idea…..that was YOURS. Way back in one of your earlier posts (under Brooks Robinson’s entry), you said”

            “I actually tend to weight peak more than I do career value, which is why I think Koufax belongs in the HOF, but of the ~70 guys in the HOF for their pitching, he’s a lot closer to the bottom than he is to the top.”

            I challenged you on that statement with a response that “saying that Koufax is more towards the bottom of the Hall of Fame pitchers is a very questionable statement as well. Based on what? I’m sure that’s true if you’re measuring by WAR. Obviously, he doesn’t stand a chance. If you use other measurements, if you put it all in perspective, he stacks up quite well. Again, short careers don’t preclude you from making a list like the one Joe is presenting.”

            You replied with “I’m not sure what’s “questionable” about saying that Koufax is more toward the bottom of HOF pitchers. I’m not saying he’s Catfish Hunter or Jesse Haines, but I do think he’s much more Amos Rusie than he is Lefty Grove. You complain that Koufax “doesn’t stand a chance” when you use WAR, but what other “measurements” are you suggesting? Unadjusted ERA? Left-handedness? My dad’s wistful recollections?”

            I’m sure you remember that… 🙂 I still smile when I think of your dad sitting there expressing his fond recollection of Koufax, probably implying that those pitchers who came later could never compare. . Maybe that’s why you’re so intent on this whole crusade 🙂

            So, my reply was in the context of comparing him to other Hall of Famers, specifically because it was addressing the comment that YOU were making at the time. You’re the one that claimed in your statement that Koufax was closer to the bottom than the top of the pitchers in the HOF, so my counterpoint was to give some examples of how there were several ways that he rated quite well. So, don’t blame me for keeping the comparisons within that group rather than the larger pool. By pointing out how he ranked among that elite group on metrics like K’s, K/9, H/9, K/BB, Win pct, and ERA+ (plus others that I didn’t even include), I was making the point that it all depends on how you define greatness or quality. And, the point wasn’t that any single one of these is the ultimate measure of greatness. No single metric can do that, not even WAR. As Bill James used to say, it’s always the weight of the evidence. Koufax had several metrics that he rated well on within the HOF group, That’s why I’m not going to spend much time addressing you throwing around the names the likes of Oliver Perez, Jon Leiber, Rick Reed, Ricky Nolasco, and Shane Reynolds in an attempt to discredit those metrics just because each of them may possess a particular metric result that is similar to Koufax.. You’ve been making some valid points through this whole thing… diminishes your position when you start throwing around obvious red herrings. The fact that Oliver Perez happens to have the same K/9 ratio as Koufax doesn’t mean a thing. Obviously you know that.

            Again, the point was that there are many reasons to believe that Koufax is in the upper half of HOF’s, and is closer to the top than the bottom. Of course, this was probably a lot of wasted effort on my part, because it looks to me like, in your last post, you are actually coming around to that conclusion yourself, since you now list 37 HOF pitchers that are “clearly worse”, and that you feel that he has a reasonable argument for being in the top 20-25 pitchers of all time, which, as you said, is really not all that different from where I have him. Congratulations on your moment of clarity 🙂

            You did pick up on the fact that the metrics I chose, by and large were rate metrics. No surprise there, since the career was short. It’s definitely valid for you to make the point that he benefits on rate metrics because he didn’t have a “decline” phase, and that if he did, things like winning pct, ERA+, K/9, etc, would tend to decrease with additional years. I totally agree. The logical extension of this, of course, is that if this “decline phase” actually occurred, other “counting” metrics, like WIns, WAR, strikeouts, innings pitched (all of things that he doesn’t rate well on now) would likely go up, possibly significantly.

            Koufax’s last year was at age 30. It was may have been his best season, although you can argue that it’s one of the others. Assuming he had a decline phase sufficient enough to knock those rate metrics down a few notches, what would his overall record look like then? It’s speculation of course….no one can really know, but I think if you were to plug in some reasonable “decline phase” numbers, his overall record would look quite different, but I don’t think the overall package would diminish his place in history. I remember Bill James commenting several times on this type of observation, that (and these are by no means his exact words) the latter years of one’s career typically amount to adding on the “bulk” type of stats as you achieve various career milestones, but they tend not to define you as a player, and they don’t really determine your greatness.

            I think you hit in on the head when you mentioned that, while I have him somewhere in the 16-20 range (which also implies that I would not consider it “ludicrous” (your word) that Joe mentions him soon) you see him as more 20-25, with the difference being how we consider the 5 pitchers you identified:

            Bert Blyleven
            Fergie Jenkins
            Phil Niekro
            Gaylord Perry
            Robin Roberts

            I would rank Koufax above those 5. I feel fairly confident many others would, too, including Joe. This is his list of the 100 “greatest” players. It depends how you define “great”.

            You posed a question at the end of your post. I’ll restate it here:

            “Here’s how I like to think about these rankings: If you gave your favorite GM a 20-year contract, and then had a draft of every player in history in which they were required to keep drafted players for their entire careers, what would his pref list look like? I think it’s pretty obvious that Koufax wouldn’t be anywhere near the top-60, unless your favorite GM is Ned Colletti.” You implied in the paragraph prior to this that the goal should be to win as many games as possible.

            Here’s my reply. If the goal is to maximize the number of wins over a 20 year period, I would probably tend to agree with your choice of those 5 pitchers over Koufax. However, let’s put a twist on that. Suppose the owner of this fictitious GM said, “OK, here’s the deal….you have a 20 year contract, but I don’t care about the total number of wins you get over those 20 years. However, I’m not going to pay you unless you get me to the World Series a few times, and you gotta bring home a couple of championships”. Given that, would you take your chances with that group of 5, who are consistently good, or someone like Koufax, who might be unavailable to you some years, but spectacular in others? In that scenario, I’d go Koufax. That’s exactly what he did in helping to lead the Dodgers to those World Series and the 2 championships in a very brief window. That’s the difference. Once you win a championship, it’s yours forever. They never take it away. No one remembers someone who wins a bunch of bronze medals. They remember the gold medal winners.

    • Bill Caffrey says:

      There’s a permanent link at the top of the page to the Baseball 100. So it’s very easy to verify that we haven’t gotten to Jackie Robinson yet.

  31. DAG says:

    Both 59 and 60 share a birthday, May 18.

  32. Will3pin says:

    Absolutely love Reggie’s ’74 Time Magazine cover – “One Man Wild Bunch”.,16641,19740603,00.html

  33. Chris H says:

    When I was growing up in Columbus, we would make one or two trips per year to Cleveland to see the Indians, and almost every year that included a game against the Yankees – so I probably saw Jackson play several times. But the only one I remember happened to be my first trip to Cleveland Stadium, late in 1980. We had seats about ten rows behind home plate (it wasn’t hard to get good seats in those days). The Yankees were blowing the Indians out, something like 19-5, and late in the game Reggie came up and hit a fat pitch straight away from us, out to center field, arching high in the night sky and landing somewhere beyond the 400′ marker. You could call it majestic.

    And, early teenager that I was, my biggest thrill in that game was seeing Joe Charboneau come up and deliver a pinch-hit single.


  34. Squawks McGrew says:

    Recall interviewing Reggie at an All-Star game after he retired. He was playing in the old-timer’s version or something and we were near the cages during BP. Don’t recall the subject matter but Reggie was a making a point, stopped mid-sentence and jumped in to hit. I stood there watching him swing while quickly editing my notes and wondering if he’d return and resume the interview. Reggie finished his swings, marched right back over to me, passing several other writers, and picked up right where he left off. To the word.

    Thought it both rather classy since he could have ended the interview and wandered off and also rather fitting for his personality in that he wanted his point fully made. I had expected him to be surly or annoyed. Instead, he was most gracious.

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