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Friday, May 06, 2011

ESPN: Schoenfield: Ten reasons Willie Mays is greatest ever

Shouldn’t it be Eighty reasons today?

3. Because he won two MVP Awards ... but should have won eight.

 

  * 1955: Led NL in home runs, slugging and OPS while finishing second in batting average, runs and RBIs. Finished fourth in the voting behind Roy Campanella, whose Dodgers won the pennant.

  * 1958: Led NL in OPS, runs and stolen bases while ranking second in batting average and slugging. Finished second to Ernie Banks, primarily due to Banks’ 129 to 96 edge in RBIs. Was Mays not clutch that year? Hardly. He hit .325 with runners in scoring position, .371 with men on base and .408 in “late and close” situations. The problem was the Giants didn’t have many men on base in front of him: their leadoff and No. 2 hitters both had a .315 OBP.

  * 1960: Finished third behind Dick Groat and Don Hoak of the first-place Pirates. They were close to Mays in value. I mean, when added together.

  * 1962: Maury Wills edged Mays in the voting, a stunning result in retrospect. Wills scored 130 runs (the same as Mays) ... but drove in 93 fewer. Mays’ Giants even won the tiebreaker over Wills’ Dodgers, but Wills swiped the headlines by breaking Ty Cobb’s single-season stolen base record.

  * 1963: Finished fifth as Sandy Koufax went 25-5 to win. Dick Groat finished second in the vote with six home runs. Man, did the writers love Dick Groat or what? Koufax and Aaron had good cases, but I’d have given the nod to Mays.

  * 1964: Finished sixth in the voting even though Dick Allen was the player within two wins of him in overall value. Led NL in home runs, OPS and scored 121 runs (second) and didn’t receive one first-place vote.

 
So that’s eight. You could also make strong cases for him in 1957, 1961 and 1966. So he could have won 11. But that would have been quite boring.

Repoz Posted: May 06, 2011 at 01:25 PM | 374 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: giants, hall of fame, history, sabermetrics

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   1. Bruce Markusen Posted: May 06, 2011 at 01:50 PM (#3819670)
I'm currently reading James Hirsch's biography of Willie Mays and enjoying it very much. I don't think I ever get tired reading about Mays.
   2. Dan The Mediocre Posted: May 06, 2011 at 01:57 PM (#3819675)
3. Because he won two MVP Awards ... but should have won eight.


If we accept B-Ref WAR(and ignore pitchers), it was actually 11.

That ties him with Ruth and Wagner, and puts him one ahead of Bonds and Hornsby. No one else has more than 7.
   3. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: May 06, 2011 at 02:00 PM (#3819678)
I was lucky if I saw him play a series a year early in his career but during the 60's I must have seen him play in person over 50 times as I worked to see the Giants specifically because of Willie.

He was a delight.
   4. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: May 06, 2011 at 02:03 PM (#3819684)
Sorry, but "greatest ever" can't be reduced to a statistical argument, and there are at least four other players (Wagner, Ruth, Mantle, Bonds) who belong in a discussion that will never be resolved.
   5. AROM Posted: May 06, 2011 at 02:14 PM (#3819692)
I've never been convinced that it should be anybody other than Ruth. You can make a good case that Bonds or Mays beats him as a position player, especially considering they played in integrated leagues.

But to convince me that anyone else was a better baseball player than Ruth, I'd have to see Bonds or Mays pitch.
   6. JE (Jason) Posted: May 06, 2011 at 02:15 PM (#3819693)
Man, did the writers love Dick Groat or what?

Well, the guy did have a disease named after him.
   7. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: May 06, 2011 at 02:15 PM (#3819695)
   8. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: May 06, 2011 at 02:28 PM (#3819712)
AROM:

By common sense and by observation I think it's pretty suspect to believe that a guy who played the game decades ago could be the greatest ever in the history of a sport that has continued to evolve.

If someone would point to horseracing then I could be swayed simply because of how the breeding practices of the past 20 years have negatively impacted the quality of racing.

But baseball? Nah. I would be thrilled to believe that the players of my youth were the 'best ever'. But I know better. I see it every day.

I am NOT saying they could not be considering AMONG the best. But THE best?

Nah.
   9. valuearbitrageur Posted: May 06, 2011 at 02:40 PM (#3819721)
But to convince me that anyone else was a better baseball player than Ruth, I'd have to see Bonds or Mays pitch.


Maybe they didn't see the challenge in pitching to the 140lb white guys of Babe Ruth's era.
   10. Clemenza Posted: May 06, 2011 at 02:52 PM (#3819735)
Along Harveys line...It kind of depends on what the definition of best ever is. Best ever relative to his era or just best ever no matter what era? Do we give older players credit for not having benefitied from how the game has evolved since they played or not? For example, if we could bring 1927 Babe Ruth to today's game would he still be the best player in the game. I highly doubt it. Similarly, if you plopped Einstein in a graduate class at MIT today without the benefit on knowing all the scientific advances since his death he might not have an earthly clue what the prof was talking about. Does that make him any less of a scientist?

I think it's perfectly reasonable to say Babe Ruth was the greatest player ever (or whoever you like for that title) and also recognize today's best players are, in fact, better.
   11. valuearbitrageur Posted: May 06, 2011 at 02:55 PM (#3819737)
Similarly, if you plopped Einstein in a graduate class at MIT today without the benefit on knowing all the scientific advances since his death he might not have an earthly clue what the prof was talking about.


What scientific advances? The ones based on his discoveries?
   12. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: May 06, 2011 at 02:59 PM (#3819742)
Similarly, if you plopped Einstein in a graduate class at MIT today without the benefit on knowing all the scientific advances since his death he might not have an earthly clue what the prof was talking about.


Well that's a patently and implicitly unfair setup for Dr. Einstein, a situation in which nobody could be expected to excel. If we transported Stephen Weinberg, Carl Weiman, and Makato Kobayashi to one of Professor Einsten's lectures in Bern, they might have some trouble as well since none of them, to my knowledge, speak a word of German.
   13. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: May 06, 2011 at 02:59 PM (#3819743)
Along Harveys line...It kind of depends on what the definition of best ever is.

We've had probably well over a hundred "best ever" threads, and every single one of them has gotten bogged down on this point. Which is why I've said that it's an argument that by its nature is impossible to resolve.
   14. zack Posted: May 06, 2011 at 03:03 PM (#3819745)
I like to think of Mays as the best player ever simply because he more than excelled at everything that was asked of him, the archetypal "complete player". I'm willing to accept that Ruth may have been more valuable, and the fact that he was excellent as both a pitcher and a hitter probably seals it, but hey, picking Ruth is boring.

Edit: Now that I think about it, Ruth probably had a pretty good arm. He had a decent number of assists in the OF. I can't imagine his later-career fielding was very good, but it's not unpossible that he was very good as a younger man. His baserunning was...optimistic at best, though.
   15. John DiFool2 Posted: May 06, 2011 at 03:10 PM (#3819758)
But to convince me that anyone else was a better baseball player than Ruth, I'd have to see Bonds or Mays pitch.


Honus Wagner had an 0.00 ERA in 8 innings.

As great as Honus was in the dead-ball era, he'd be even more spectacular in a home run era. I'd think even given a timeline adjustment that he'd still be one of the top hitters in the league. I'd say he'd be a better hitter than Ripken, another big guy playing short, and just as good defensively, which would still put him in the conversation for best ever. But alas unless Doc Brown drops by in his time machine we'll never know for sure.
   16. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: May 06, 2011 at 03:21 PM (#3819776)
John:

I suppose it's on how one defines big but Wagner was under 6' tall and weighed 200 lbs. He was a big guy for his time but now the nicest way to characterize his build would be to term him 'solid'.
   17. Jose Is The Most Absurd Thing on the Site Posted: May 06, 2011 at 03:32 PM (#3819790)
The thing that has always struck me about Mays is the esteem he is held in by those who saw him play. Until Bonds there was unanimous opinion of everyone I'd ever spoken to who saw Mays play that said he was the best they ever saw. That doesn't mean "best ever" of course, just an acknowledgement that for whatever reason even people who saw DiMaggio, Mantle and any other contender you want to consider gave Mays the nod.
   18. AROM Posted: May 06, 2011 at 03:40 PM (#3819794)
Time machine for Wagner:

Miguel Tejada with more speed and a better glove. At least that's my guess.
   19. Steve Treder Posted: May 06, 2011 at 03:44 PM (#3819796)
I don't know if Mays was the "best ever," and honestly I don't think there's a great deal to be gained in worrying about that question. Without question he was a player not only of exceptional all-around skill, durability, consistency and so on, but on top of that he was just so captivating to watch. He played with an ebullient, self-assured joy and zest that truly can't be described; I know it's a cliche but it's a cliche because it's so often true, as it is in this case: you had to be there.

I only saw him from his mid-30s on. In other words, what I saw was his decline from superstardom into excellent-veteran into end-stage. But even in those phases, he was absolutely electric. Whenever he was at the plate, in the field, or most especially, on the bases, he stole every scene. You simply couldn't resist watching his every move, and couldn't resist loving every second of it.
   20. Morty Causa Posted: May 06, 2011 at 03:46 PM (#3819798)
Some people are confusing what constitutes the greatest ever: it's value you have to consider, not ability, especially considering ability out of the time a player played.

When you look at it that way--it's almost surely got to still be Ruth. He was more valuable in the context of his time and in comparison to his competition than any other player has been in the context of his and in comparison to his competition. After all, that's what it's about--judging players wrt to how they help their team win compared to how their competitors helped their team win.
   21. Steve Treder Posted: May 06, 2011 at 03:46 PM (#3819799)
Time machine for Wagner:

Miguel Tejada with more speed and a better glove. At least that's my guess.


Bah.
   22. Papa Doc LaValliere Posted: May 06, 2011 at 03:47 PM (#3819800)
it's an argument that by its nature is impossible to resolve.


Of course. And of course we'll continue having the argument, even after ranking by WS or WAR or whatever provides a concrete answer to a fairly well-defined question.
The fact that pitchers rarely enter the discussion implies to me that we are after the "best all-around" or "archetypal complete player." That being the case, and agreeing with Harveys view on past v. present, I have a hard time seeing anyone other than Bonds as the greatest. A few years back BPro showed that Ruth's pitching more than made up the difference created by Bonds' fielding, but I could just never swallow that. Anyhow, if Bonds is the best, Mays isn't far behind. I was much too late to see him play, but reading accounts of him was one of the major factors in my becoming a baseball fan...I think that is probably true of a lot of fans, which is why he's always an emotional favorite in this debate.
   23. Morty Causa Posted: May 06, 2011 at 03:57 PM (#3819809)
Well, DHs don't enter the discussion, and pitchers are the original designated player.
   24. Steve N Posted: May 06, 2011 at 03:57 PM (#3819810)
I saw Mays play once in old Connie Mack Stadium. The highlight of the game was Mays colliding with catcher Jim Coker to score. Coker was injured and was pretty much through after this. (Not that good before.) I missed the play because I was too busy trying to score it and was looking at third. That's why I no longer keep a scorecard.
   25. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: May 06, 2011 at 03:59 PM (#3819812)
Again, what does "best" mean?

1. Greatest career WAR?

2. Greatest peak WAR? (Oh, and how many years make up a "peak"?)

3. Greatest prime WAR? (And how long does that "prime" have to last?)

4. Greatest number of MVP awards?

5. Greatest all-around skills? (And do we adjust for era and the sort of game favored by the era they played in? How many bases might Mantle have stolen in the dead ball era? How many home runs might Wagner have hit in 1999? How many errors would Ozzie Smith have made on pebble-strewn infields rather than the ones he actually played on?)

6. Most likely to outperform anyone else within a neutral timeframe? (And who defines "neutral"?)

Seems to me that we should choose the category we're talking about before making our case. And of course these aren't the only categories we can think of. You can devise any category you wish, but tell us what it is you're measuring.
   26. Esmailyn Gonzalez Sr. Posted: May 06, 2011 at 04:03 PM (#3819815)
Miguel Tejada with more speed and a better glove. At least that's my guess.

Hopefully not 2011 Tejada
   27. Randy Jones Posted: May 06, 2011 at 04:08 PM (#3819821)
Ehh, if you adjust for the era, it's Ruth, if you don't, it's Bonds.
   28. GuyM Posted: May 06, 2011 at 04:10 PM (#3819825)
Miguel Tejada with more speed and a better glove.

That's probably about right. David Gassko did some nice work over at Harball Times on timeline adjustments, and his estimate is that Wagner's peers performed at about 70% of the level of today's players. Wagner had a career OPS+ of 150, so that would make him about a 105 OPS+ hitter today.

These timelines are very sensitive to assumptions. My guess is that Gassko understates the amount of change, and that Tejada probably represents the ceiling for Wagner's potential offensive ability today (he might be quite a bit worse). But there is no conceivable way he would be among the best hitters in baseball.
   29. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: May 06, 2011 at 04:11 PM (#3819826)
Ehh, if you adjust for the era, it's Ruth, if you don't, it's Bonds.

And exactly what kind of "era adjustment" are you talking about? There's more than one kind, and they can go in different directions.
   30. Randy Jones Posted: May 06, 2011 at 04:11 PM (#3819828)
But there is no conceivable way he would be among the best hitters in baseball.


Nice to see that you are pretending to be omniscient about something other than Derek Jeter's defensive ability.
   31. Los Angeles El Hombre of Anaheim Posted: May 06, 2011 at 04:13 PM (#3819831)
Mays had almost as much range as Peter Bourjos does.
   32. GuyM Posted: May 06, 2011 at 04:22 PM (#3819841)
Nice to see that you are pretending to be omniscient about something other than Derek Jeter's defensive ability.

Who's pretending?

Seriously, there can't be any real doubt about this. Wagner was a big strong guy compared to his peers -- today he'd be smaller than average. He'd be facing much bigger, stronger pitchers, hitting balls to much faster/better fielders, and be compared to better hitters. The real Wagner might be an average hitter, but not much better than that. (Treder answers a different question: how good would Wagner be if we imagine he is two inches taller, stronger, and generally more talented than the actual Wagner. Who knows?)
   33. Clemenza Posted: May 06, 2011 at 04:25 PM (#3819842)
What scientific advances? The ones based on his discoveries?

Well that's a patently and implicitly unfair setup for Dr. Einstein, a situation in which nobody could be expected to excel. If we transported Stephen Weinberg, Carl Weiman, and Makato Kobayashi to one of Professor Einsten's lectures in Bern, they might have some trouble as well since none of them, to my knowledge, speak a word of German.

I wasn't trying to be fair to Dr Einstein. Just the opposite. I was trying to illustrate how unfair it would be to expect him to be aware of current scientific theory given his 56-year absence from progress. I think he needs to be judged in the environment in which he existed and not penalize him for missing the advances that he did, in fact, set in motion. Whatever he understood about his discoveries there is no way he could possibly know what direction following generations would take them. Just because today's scientists "know" more than Einstein (largely because of Einstein) doesn't make Einstein a lesser scientist.

I would look at Babe Ruth the same way. I would imagine (maybe I am wrong) that a 1927 Babe Ruth facing a 2000 Randy Johnson slider would look quite foolish. He can still be considered the best ever.

Which is an awfully long way of agreeing with #13. This is an impossible debate to settle.
   34. Shooty Survived the Shutdown of '14! Posted: May 06, 2011 at 04:27 PM (#3819846)
I think I'm in the Ruth as greates/Mays as best camp. Ruth was the perfect player at the perfect time and that scenario just can't be recreated. His influence on the game dwarfs any other single player. It's like art--Hemingway is "greater" but William Carlos Williams was better. (Though I like both and don't mean to start one of those annoying Hem bashing threads. It's just that William Carlos Williams was fantastic.)
   35. JJ1986 Posted: May 06, 2011 at 04:27 PM (#3819847)
Wagner was a big strong guy compared to his peers -- today he'd be smaller than average. He'd be facing much bigger, stronger pitchers, hitting balls to much faster/better fielders, and be compared to better hitters.


But Wagner would have access to better nutrition and training. He would be bigger and stronger and faster than the Real Wagner was.
   36. valuearbitrageur Posted: May 06, 2011 at 04:31 PM (#3819851)
I wasn't trying to be fair to Dr Einstein. Just the opposite. I was trying to illustrate how unfair it would be to expect him to be aware of current scientific theory given his 56-year absence from progress. I think he needs to be judged in the environment in which he existed and not penalize him for missing the advances that he did, in fact, set in motion. Whatever he understood about his discoveries there is no way he could possibly know what direction following generations would take them. Just because today's scientists "know" more than Einstein (largely because of Einstein) doesn't make Einstein a lesser scientist.


Of course I agree with you on all your points. My point was that I think it would take Einstein about 15 minutes to read up and understand all the "scientific advances" made since his death. It would be trivially easy for him not just because he was a pretty smart guy, but because those "advances" were mostly built off his ideas.

And where they weren't, he'd certainly understand them quickly, I suspect he'd just vehemently disagree with them.
   37. Papa Doc LaValliere Posted: May 06, 2011 at 04:34 PM (#3819854)
Hemingway is "greater" but William Carlos Williams was better


Very nice. I think the most satisfying answer, whatever it is, will be in this format.
   38. Steve Treder Posted: May 06, 2011 at 04:36 PM (#3819855)
But Wagner would have access to better nutrition and training. He would be bigger and stronger and faster than the Real Wagner was.

That's the essential feature of all of my Time Machine scenarios. Similarly, if we sent Bonds or whomever back, they'd lose the modern advantages.
   39. zack Posted: May 06, 2011 at 04:41 PM (#3819863)
Baseball is kind of hard to timeline for me, for a long time I was a weak timeliner because size and strength aren't as big a factor in baseball as other sports, and if you watch a game from the teens it still looks like baseball, other than the pitchers having funny deliveries.

On the other hand, I've been watching some hockey from the 60's lately, and it has been blowing my mind. I can't see how the 60's Canadiens wouldn't be completely blown out by the 2011 Oilers.
   40. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: May 06, 2011 at 04:43 PM (#3819865)
I would look at Babe Ruth the same way. I would imagine (maybe I am wrong) that a 1927 Babe Ruth facing a 2000 Randy Johnson slider would look quite foolish.

And what do you think that Albert Pujols might look like against one of Ed Walsh's spitballs, or just a plain old dead ball packed down with several innings worth of dirt and tobacco juice? And what do you think he'd feel like after spending a nice midsummer St. Louis or Washington evening in a hotel without air conditioning? Those time travel deals cut in both directions.
   41. Greg K Posted: May 06, 2011 at 04:49 PM (#3819868)
It's almost a debate of essences. There is an essence of Honus Wagner somewhere out in the void, and the question is had that essence been in a human born in the 1980s, what would that Honus Wagner look like?

Or maybe I just choose to look at it that way because the "Wagner abducted in 1914 and brought to 2011 and not doing all that well" argument seems kind of obvious and boring.
   42. GuyM Posted: May 06, 2011 at 04:50 PM (#3819869)
But Wagner would have access to better nutrition and training. He would be bigger and stronger and faster than the Real Wagner was.

It doesn't work that way -- at least not for the most part. You can't say that if embryo Wagner were implanted in a womb in 1964 he would benefit from all the increases we observe in players' average size and weight. That's a result of many changes, most of which wouldn't effect the development of baby Wagner. For example, he didn't have any debilitating childhood diseases that stunted his growth -- catapaulting him into the future doesn't change that. He presumably wasn't malnourished either, given his great size and strength relative to his peers. And a big reason that today's players are so much bigger and stronger is simply that they are the best of a vastly larger talent pool -- again, that has no effect on baby Wagner.

It's like the common misunderstanding about life expectancy, which has grown greatly since Wagner's time. It doesn't mean that a 40-year old man will live that much longer than they used to, because the main change has been a huge decline in infant mortality. Much of the gains in health and nutrition since Wagner's time don't matter for Steve's bizarro Wagner, since we already know Wagner wasn't crippled or killed as a child.
   43. The importance of being Ernest Riles Posted: May 06, 2011 at 04:51 PM (#3819870)
Similarly, if you plopped Einstein in a graduate class at MIT today ... he might not have an earthly clue what the prof was talking about.


Then he'd fit in with the rest of us schmucks.
   44. Greg K Posted: May 06, 2011 at 04:55 PM (#3819873)
The other obvious answer is to set up a few teams of these players plucked from throughout history and have them play in a rotating series of stadiums which reflect various eras (not just the physical stadium, but also ball liveliness, spitball rules, strike zones, day/night games, etc.).

First match is Walter Johnson vs. Greg Maddux in 1966 Dodger Stadium.
   45. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: May 06, 2011 at 04:59 PM (#3819879)
I'm pretty confident that Isaac Newton could get up to speed in a graduate-level MIT physics class in about a week. Einstein might need all of the first lecture, but probably a lot less. The really scary thoughts are 1) would modern nutrition and medical care have made them even smarter, and conversely 2) would modern education have screwed them up (I'm thinking in terms of having some special needs label slapped on them at an early age).
   46. Papa Doc LaValliere Posted: May 06, 2011 at 05:02 PM (#3819881)
Greg, doesnt that eventually get you back to the matter of 'essences' though, since the result of Koufax v. Clemens in, say, 1908, would be influenced by the ability of each pitcher (his essence) to learn and use the spitter effectively.
   47. AROM Posted: May 06, 2011 at 05:14 PM (#3819888)
Wagner was a big strong guy compared to his peers -- today he'd be smaller than average.


Not among shortstops. Last year there were 28 players with 100+ games as a shortstop. Only 8 of them have a listed weight on BB-ref as more than Wagner's 200 pounds.

Those weights may not be accurate. Jeter (195) might be more than that. A few others are questionable in the other direction - I don't think Jose Reyes and Elvis Andrus are 200 pounds, nor do I believe Cliff Pennington at 5'10 215.

But there is no conceivable way he would be among the best hitters in baseball.


I don't know how you can make such a statement with that kind of certainty. I'm sure he would not dominate his peers to the extent he did in his own time. Beyond that, I could see him anywhere from Tulowitzski/Hanley Ramirez at the high end to maybe JJ Hardy at the low end. I do find the idea that he'd be Neifi Perez, as stated in the Prospectus book, to be completely laughable.
   48. Jose Is The Most Absurd Thing on the Site Posted: May 06, 2011 at 05:19 PM (#3819890)
Much of the gains in health and nutrition since Wagner's time don't matter for Steve's bizarro Wagner, since we already know Wagner wasn't crippled or killed as a child.


True but Bizarro Wagner would be a much more muscle-defined individual. While I'm sure he was more solidly built than most I bet he and most of his colleagues were downright flabby compared to all but the most out of shape athletes of today.

For example, he didn't have any debilitating childhood diseases that stunted his growth -- catapaulting him into the future doesn't change that. He presumably wasn't malnourished either, given his great size and strength relative to his peers.


Are we transporting him or assuming his birth takes place 100 years after it did. If the latter then Bizarro Wagner is likely to be more Cal Ripken than Miguel Tejada in size/conditioning.
   49. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: May 06, 2011 at 05:25 PM (#3819895)
The other obvious answer is to set up a few teams of these players plucked from throughout history and have them play in a rotating series of stadiums which reflect various eras (not just the physical stadium, but also ball liveliness, spitball rules, strike zones, day/night games, etc.).

About 20 years ago I wrote a 20 page story that described a time travel World Series between the 1911 A's (the Ath-a-letics) and the 1989 A's (the Billionaires), and it had exactly the sort of conditions you describe. A few of my favorite scenes:

---Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire brawling after Canseco had used up all the hot water in the bathtub in their shared hotel room at the Bellevue-Stratford

---Rickey Henderson discussing the concept of a strike zone with umpire Bill Dineen

---the reaction of the Billionaires to Connie Mack's cleverly planted "demonstration iron lung" outside Shibe Park

---Chief Bender's problem with the way the umpires kept "switching baseballs" on him

---Danny Murphy trying to explain to a female reporter for the Oakland Tribune his interest in the porno tapes that Tony LaRussa had sent to his hotel suite

---Jack Coombs having to listen to Rickey's baiting him about his "cute little sister"

---During the final game that was played in Comiskey Park in 1933 (a neutral site in all respects), the picture of Storm Davis fumbling with a rubber glove before he'd shake hands with President Roosevelt, after Connie Mack had told him that FDR's paralysis was contagious.

Needless to say, this was no Field of Dreams, and it ended with Canseco charging a star-struck 1933 kid twenty bucks for his autograph. But it was a lot of fun writing it.
   50. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: May 06, 2011 at 05:32 PM (#3819901)
So who's the greatest thinker of all time? Both Einstein and Newton have been mentioned. Confining our discussion for the nonce to Western culture, I'd probably go with Aristotle.
   51. GEB4000 Posted: May 06, 2011 at 05:54 PM (#3819922)
Doesn't Wagner have about the same build as Jeff Bagwell? I think he did ok against those all those bigger faster players.
   52. Blubaldo Jimenez (OMJ) Posted: May 06, 2011 at 05:57 PM (#3819928)
But there is no conceivable way he would be among the best hitters in baseball.



Right and there is no way that Ghengis Kahn could defeat Patton using similar assumptions to what you are making. You are kind of defeating the purpose of the argument.
   53. Ron J Posted: May 06, 2011 at 06:00 PM (#3819932)
#5 To me that argument makes as much sense as "Ruth couldn't play shortstop since he was left-handed. He can't be the greatest."

How a player compiles value is essentially trivia.
   54. GEB4000 Posted: May 06, 2011 at 06:03 PM (#3819936)
It's kind of weird that your praising a 6' 180lb guy as the best ever and denigrating a 5'11" 200lb guy in the same thread. Wagner had the athleticism to make whatever adjustments he needed to make. He probably wouldn't have stood head and shoulders above everybody else, but he would have been a major star.
   55. GuyM Posted: May 06, 2011 at 06:06 PM (#3819942)
AROM: the fact that Wagner would be an average-size SS today, rather than an above-average player, supports my point quite well I think.

I feel confident that Wagner wouldn't be a 130+ OPS+ guy, because I know he was a 150+ at the turn of the century. For him to be 130 today would mean that today's players are only a bit better than those Wagner played against. And we have lots of evidence that isn't true, such as shrinking variance of performance, tracking year-to-year changes in players' performance vs. their league, increasing size and strength of players. And of course we know that performance has improved dramatically over the past century in sports for which we have objective measures of performance.

We also don't know whether Wagner could even handle SS today. Maybe yes, maybe no. Today's players are so much better, that I tend to doubt he could handle SS. You have to remember that Wagner was essentially playing against A or maybe AA players. Everything he did has to be interpreted in that context.
   56. GuyM Posted: May 06, 2011 at 06:10 PM (#3819946)
The point about Wagner's size isn't that a 5-11 player can't be very good. The point is that Wagner was considered an imposing physical specimen among his peers. And THAT tells you a lot about the quality of competition he faced, i.e. it sucked by today's standards. He faced vastly inferior pitchers. His BIP were handled by much slower fielders. All of the evidence of his excellence -- statistical and eye-witness testimonies -- has to be understood in that context.
   57. Papa Doc LaValliere Posted: May 06, 2011 at 06:11 PM (#3819947)
@50...Gauss and Plato come to mind, but I'm inclined to agree with Aristotle
   58. The Good Face Posted: May 06, 2011 at 06:15 PM (#3819953)
But Wagner would have access to better nutrition and training. He would be bigger and stronger and faster than the Real Wagner was.


Real Wagner was well known for adopting weight training way before the vast majority of his peers. He also didn't smoke and wasn't a heavy drinker, which probably put him ahead of many players of the time. While I'm sure modern weight training and nutritional science is better than whatever Real Wagner was doing, I'm not sure there would be vast gains there. In fact, he'd probably benefit less than almost any of his contemporaries, since they hadn't discovered the benefits of weight training at all.
   59. Ron J Posted: May 06, 2011 at 06:17 PM (#3819955)
#48 Wagner specifically not. He worked out. Very unusual for the day.

Also, Cy Young took conditioning as seriously as Steve Carlton.

I've posted this before but it bears repeating in a discussion of this nature.

(From the Diamond Appraised)

"My arm would get weak and tired at times, but never sore." Young said, "I credit it to my legs and my off-season conditioning.

"I ran regularly to keep my legs in shape. In the spring I'd run constantly for three weeks before I ever threw a ball. And I worked hard all winter on my farm, from sunup to sundown. [...} Swinging an axe hardens the hands and builds up the shoulders and back."

In addition he had his six "Rules for Pitching Success"

[Rule 2] Cultivate good habits: Let liquor severely alone, fight shy of cigarettes, and be moderate of tobacco, coffee and tea [...] A player should try to get along without any stimulants at all: Water, pure, cool water is enough for any man.

[Rule 3] A man who is not willing to work from dewy morn until weary eve should not think about becoming a pitcher.
   60. Ron J Posted: May 06, 2011 at 06:21 PM (#3819959)
The thing working against Wagner in the future is that I think only a handful of managers would see the inner shortstop in him. He didn't look like a shortstop and that's still likely to be important.

With modern gloves his biggest defensive asset (huge hands) probably becomes less important.
   61. Papa Doc LaValliere Posted: May 06, 2011 at 06:29 PM (#3819964)
Wagner was essentially playing against A or maybe AA players. Everything he did has to be interpreted in that context.


Indeed. A prospect who put up a .328/.391/.467 in A/AA (and low offensive context) today would likely project quite well for MLB performance.
   62. John DiFool2 Posted: May 06, 2011 at 06:29 PM (#3819966)
Wagner had a career OPS+ of 150, so that would make him about a 105 OPS+ hitter today.


While I have a fairly steep timeline adjustment in mind when making era adjustments in general, the above conclusion is basically saying that NONE of the great players from a century ago would be anywhere close to great today, and that just doesn't pass the smell test. No, Ty Cobb wouldn't hit .420 in today's game, but he doesn't have to. I hypothesize that the timeline adjustment would be stronger against fringe players of that time, less so against good players, and even less so against the superstars.
   63. Blubaldo Jimenez (OMJ) Posted: May 06, 2011 at 06:32 PM (#3819968)
@50, Tesla
   64. AROM Posted: May 06, 2011 at 06:35 PM (#3819973)
I feel confident that Wagner wouldn't be a 130+ OPS+ guy, because I know he was a 150+ at the turn of the century.


Wagner was a 150 OPS guy for his career. He was much better than that for his peak. He doesn't need to be a 130 OPS guy for a career to be a major star, assuming he's still a shortstop. Ripken (career) is at 112, Tejada 108. The methods used to timeline players are, as mentioned, extremely sensitive to assumptions. We'll never get anywhere close to calling this a science. Could he have been a 130 OPS guy for his career? Maybe not likely, but I think it's wrong to say it's impossible.

With modern gloves his biggest defensive asset (huge hands) probably becomes less important.


His greatest asset might well have been his powerful arm. Reading Craig Wright's description of Wagner in The Diamond Appraised he mentions Wagner one point having held the record for furthest throw of a baseball. You can't throw a ball that far without being able to throw it hard. Not knowing the wind conditions makes it a guess, but he probably could throw close to 95 MPH, similar to Rafael Furcal, at least when he was with the Braves. Wagner's speed is well documented as well. With better gloves, I see no reason his tools would not still play at short.
   65. GuyM Posted: May 06, 2011 at 06:36 PM (#3819976)
Indeed. A prospect who put up a .328/.391/.467 in A/AA (and low offensive context) today would likely project quite well for MLB performance.

LOL. Not if he were 27 years old!

that just doesn't pass the smell test.

I'm not sure what you're sniffing, but the idea that the average player of Wagner's era would be a 70 OPS+ hitter is entirely credible. And that's all my argument requires you to believe.
   66. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: May 06, 2011 at 06:39 PM (#3819978)
For example, he didn't have any debilitating childhood diseases that stunted his growth -- catapaulting him into the future doesn't change that. He presumably wasn't malnourished either, given his great size and strength relative to his peers.


I'm not sure you can make that claim with any certainty, since most of the great boxers of that era came from impoverished childhoods where hunger wasn't uncommon. Jack Dempsey left home as a skinny, undernourished 145lb kid and after 6 years of hard physical labor in Colorado and Utah mining towns grew in to a jacked-up 190lb ball of sinew and muscle whose 'Tale of the Tape" matches up well with Evander Holyfield's own measurements.

"Nobody has to go hungry today. There is plenty of work for a man who wants to work. A kid can make plenty of dough for himself doing almost anything. I was hungry. I had to fight my way along. Freights and the like, fight, fight all the time. The life was tough, but it hardened you...When I was a young fellow I was knocked down plenty. I wanted to stay down, but I couldn’t. I had to collect the two dollars for winning or go hungry. I had to get up. I was one of those hungry fighters. You could have hit me on the chin with a sledgehammer for five dollars. When you haven’t eaten for two days you’ll understand."

Don't underestimate the abilities of hard men forged by hard lives. I'd take Jack Dempsey out of a time machine today and throw in in the ring with any of our modern athletic superman heavyweights.
   67. Papa Doc LaValliere Posted: May 06, 2011 at 06:43 PM (#3819981)
LOL. Not if he were 27 years old!


Those aren't his peak numbers.
   68. Swedish Chef Posted: May 06, 2011 at 06:52 PM (#3819993)
Similarly, if you plopped Einstein in a graduate class at MIT today ... he might not have an earthly clue what the prof was talking about.

But the thing with Einstein was that he was an absolutely lousy grad student who shied away from advanced mathematics and who preferred idling in cafés with friends to doing any work, hence him ending up at the patent office. So MIT 2011 would be little different from ETH 1902 in that regard.
   69. Blubaldo Jimenez (OMJ) Posted: May 06, 2011 at 06:56 PM (#3819998)
GuyM,

How well do you think Bonds would do standing in with no helmet or body protection with a 42 oz bat against a pitcher standing in front of a bounch of people in the bleachers wearing white shirts throwing a flasher (a ball dark and dirty on one side and clean and white on the other) with no problem throwing it at his head?

You make it seem like any varsity HS player could waltz into 1911 and tear things up. Sure the player pool was nothing like it is today, but we also have things like arthroscopic surgery and contact lenses etc that would definately help the players of the past. Not to mention the fact that assuming that his basic athletic skills were top notch, how can you not assume that by facing better competition his skills would not have become even more refined.
   70. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: May 06, 2011 at 07:03 PM (#3820004)
Yes, there's timelining and then there's timelining. I simply cannot believe that Jesse Owens wouldn't be a good bet to win the gold medal at the 2012 Olympics, assuming he and the other runners were running under identical conditions.
   71. mex4173 Posted: May 06, 2011 at 07:07 PM (#3820007)
I'm infinitely interested in player ranking discussions, without having anything to contribute. But Honus Wagner (or any old timey superstar) with a 105 OPS+ is about as interesting as the arguments that Stormtroopers were elite soldiers and Luke Skywalker should have died as soon as he landed on the Death Star (or James Bond, or whomever).
   72. Foghorn Leghorn Posted: May 06, 2011 at 07:10 PM (#3820010)
My guess is that Gassko understates the amount of change
I think it is likely grossly overstated. Also, what GEB4000 says
   73. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: May 06, 2011 at 07:15 PM (#3820013)
How well do you think Bonds would do standing in with no helmet or body protection with a 42 oz bat against a pitcher standing in front of a bounch of people in the bleachers wearing white shirts throwing a flasher (a ball dark and dirty on one side and clean and white on the other) with no problem throwing it at his head?

Good points, but that 42 oz bat was hardly standard equipment outside of Babe Ruth's hands. There were plenty of lighter bats to be had, if not today's whiplash maple versions. And until Yankee Stadium came along, there were very few centerfield bleachers filled with white-shirted fans, because (a) the average crowd in those days seldom rose to more than ten thousand people, and (b) most of those older parks didn't have centerfield bleachers to begin with. The visibility problem was more a question of fading twilight and dirty baseballs than it was of white shirts.
   74. Blubaldo Jimenez (OMJ) Posted: May 06, 2011 at 07:17 PM (#3820014)
Good points, but that 42 oz bat was hardly standard equipment outside of Babe Ruth's hands.



How dare you poke holes in my poorly thought out generalizations!
   75. Cyril Morong Posted: May 06, 2011 at 07:33 PM (#3820021)
What exactly makes today's players better?

Is it training? At what age? Could we assume that Wagner, if say we snatched him right after he was born and then brought him to the year 1980, would get all the training, both at the amateur level and professional level, that today's players get? That includes physical conditioning and baseball training. Should we assume he has the same type of nutrition and medical care all throughout his life?

Are players better today because they are born healthier due to better prenatal care? I like how someone talked about bringing the Wagner embryo to the future.

Are today's players better due to better genes? That seems unlikely, but I sure don't know. But if that were the reason, how did it happen?

Or is the level of play better because the population pool is larger? Or is it some combination of all of these things?
   76. Swedish Chef Posted: May 06, 2011 at 07:42 PM (#3820025)
Or is the level of play better because the population pool is larger?

I wonder about that, a lot of people have a sedentary lifestyle, I would guess that population produces no athletes at all.
   77. Zach Posted: May 06, 2011 at 07:51 PM (#3820032)
If we transported Stephen Weinberg, Carl Weiman, and Makato Kobayashi to one of Professor Einsten's lectures in Bern, they might have some trouble as well since none of them, to my knowledge, speak a word of German.

Interesting to see Carl on this list -- I was his TA for a year.

Einstein is hard to rate because his big advantage was seeing things much more clearly than everybody else. He was at his best when there were lots of big, clean, unsolved problems to be had. Transport him to today and who knows how many of those problems he would find laying around? On the other hand, General Relativity has barely twitched since Einstein died -- he could probably catch up with the field just by picking up his pencil.

A great experimenter like Carl would probably translate well to any time, since so much of the job is pushing the boundaries of what's possible to measure. If you put someone with brains and a good work ethic in the Cavendish Laboratory in the 1920s, they're probably coming out with a Nobel Prize.
   78. Papa Doc LaValliere Posted: May 06, 2011 at 07:58 PM (#3820036)
@50, Tesla
: QFT
   79. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: May 06, 2011 at 08:02 PM (#3820042)
It's been almost 40 years since Willie Mays played major league baseball. Maybe we need to timeline him. It's not as if all the stuff you'd ding Wagner for stabilized in 1973.
   80. Baldrick Posted: May 06, 2011 at 08:03 PM (#3820044)
Einstein is hard to rate because his big advantage was seeing things much more clearly than everybody else. He was at his best when there were lots of big, clean, unsolved problems to be had. Transport him to today and who knows how many of those problems he would find laying around? On the other hand, General Relativity has barely twitched since Einstein died -- he could probably catch up with the field just by picking up his pencil.

I have a friend who did 6 years of research to get his Ph.D, all devoted to looking at the new data on the accelerating expansion of the universe, cosmic microwave background, etc.

His conclusion, after all of this: general relativity still works basically perfectly, and the small discrepancies are almost certainly because there's something else out there (dark energy?), not because Einstein got anything wrong theoretically.

At least, I think that was his conclusion. I'm an amateur enthusiast so hanging out with physics Ph.Ds very quickly gets me past my comprehension level.
   81. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: May 06, 2011 at 08:16 PM (#3820063)
Interesting to see Carl on this list -- I was his TA for a year.


Wow, that's quite cool. I'm a failed physicist, I couldn't handle the advanced mathematics in college and had to settle for undergrad degrees in chemistry and biology. I think Lord Rutherford once said that chemistry was just a branch of physics, that's how I consoled myself.

A great experimenter like Carl would probably translate well to any time, since so much of the job is pushing the boundaries of what's possible to measure. If you put someone with brains and a good work ethic in the Cavendish Laboratory in the 1920s, they're probably coming out with a Nobel Prize.


Well that lab was a perfect confluence of good funding, outstanding management and leadership (that'd be Lord Rutherford again) and of course a whole horde of absolutely brilliant experimentalists and theoreticians (Aston, Chadwich, Walton & Cockcroft, I know I'm forgetting a bunch). Can you just imagine walking through a corridor there as a young grad student and bumping into old JJ Thompson on his way to tea with Lord Rutherford? Unbelievable.
   82. Swedish Chef Posted: May 06, 2011 at 08:19 PM (#3820068)
His conclusion, after all of this: general relativity still works basically perfectly, and the small discrepancies are almost certainly because there's something else out there (dark energy?), not because Einstein got anything wrong theoretically.

At least, I think that was his conclusion.


Except that dark energy is just another component in the Mass-Energy tensor and not a challenge to General Relativity as such. But there are other explanations for the acceleration of the expansion of the universe that modifies gravity, but they lose every time Lorentz invariance is measured more precisely. Doesn't stop an army of hopefuls from trying their hand at it though.

What's really impressive is that the cosmological constant that Einstein introduced in a vain attempt to produce a static universe, later calling it his biggest blunder*, probably is non-zero and vital for modelling the evolution of the universe.

*) Not really, it is allowed by the math, so why not put it in even if it turns out to be zero in the end.
   83. Swedish Chef Posted: May 06, 2011 at 08:22 PM (#3820073)
Well that lab was a perfect confluence of good funding

Relative to that time in England, American labs at the time would have been shocked by how little money they had. Todays scientists would be shocked by how little time they had to spend with paperwork.
   84. Baldrick Posted: May 06, 2011 at 08:23 PM (#3820075)
#82, I think what I said is the same thing as what you said.

My friend was attempting to see whether there was any validity to the arguments that gravity itself doesn't work exactly as relativity predicts at extreme distances (thus obviating the need for 'dark energy' - because small changes in gravity at those scales would be sufficient to explain the acceleration).

He concluded that there was no viable evidence for those claims. Thus: dark energy (whatever it may be) is still a necessary concept.
   85. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: May 06, 2011 at 08:43 PM (#3820103)
Or is the level of play better because the population pool is larger?

I'd say that's by far the biggest part of it. Look at the Major League demographics of Wagner's era, compare it to today's, allow for expansion, and do the math. Those other factors you mention add to the mix, but if we were still drawing from nothing but the white U.S. population, I'd wager that the talent level in the Majors would still be stuck somewhere around where it was in 1946. And of course it's not just the addition of all those additional groups that's made the game so much better, it's the level to which the white players have had to rise in order to meet the competition.
   86. PreservedFish Posted: May 06, 2011 at 08:52 PM (#3820121)
Einstein is hard to rate because his big advantage was seeing things much more clearly than everybody else. He was at his best when there were lots of big, clean, unsolved problems to be had.


Honest question here: were people aware at the time that there were big, clean unsolved problems? Or did Einstein's accurate, elegant and mindblowing answers to them just make them seem that way in retrospect?

Isn't the whole unified field theory thing (I do not understand it at all) a big, clean unsolved problem?
   87. Jittery McFrog Posted: May 06, 2011 at 08:56 PM (#3820127)
My point was that I think it would take Einstein about 15 minutes to read up and understand all the "scientific advances" made since his death.


I think that grossly underestimates the amount of good science that has been done since 1955. Certain sub-branches may have stagnated, but overall it has been quite the opposite. For example, computational physics was still in its infancy back then, and think how much that has opened up.
   88. Greg Maddux School of Reflexive Profanity Posted: May 06, 2011 at 09:08 PM (#3820141)
I'm not sure what you're sniffing, but the idea that the average player of Wagner's era would be a 70 OPS+ hitter is entirely credible. And that's all my argument requires you to believe.

It also requires believing you're not doing the math wrong.


(OBP/lgOBP + SLG/lgSLG - 1) * 100 = OPS+

lgOBP = .319
lgSLG = .391

70 OPS+ =.271/.332
150 OPS+ = .376/.520

.376 / (.319 / .271) = .319
.520 / (.391 / .332) = .442

(.319/.319 + .442/.391 - 1) * 100 = 113 OPS+
   89. Swedish Chef Posted: May 06, 2011 at 09:24 PM (#3820154)
Honest question here: were people aware at the time that there were big, clean unsolved problems?

Yes and no. They were aware that there were problems, but it wasn't obvious that they weren't amenable to technical fixes. There were also plenty of big thinkers in physics then as always that proposed ambitious schemes with vague consequences.

What distinguishes Einstein from the herd is that he proposed absolutely outlandish solutions to well-known problems that worked very well.

Special relativity: Michaelson-Morley measured the ether drift, found no effect. Special Relativity explained that and, oh, you just had to merge time and space. Yeah, that sounds sane.

Photoelectric effect: Hey, you can explain these measurements if light consists of particles, not waves. Light had provably been waves since the days of Thomas Young...

General Relativity: Ok, we know that special relativity and Newtonian gravity doesn't work together, we can merge them in the simplest possible way like Nordström, or you know, we could invent a theory where gravity is just the sideeffect of spacetime bending around massive objects.
   90. alilisd Posted: May 06, 2011 at 10:08 PM (#3820185)
No one's pointed out that Mantle was better than Mays yet?
   91. Moeball Posted: May 06, 2011 at 10:12 PM (#3820190)
Wasn't Einstein the unanimous MVP (Most Valuable Physicist) in 1905? I would think his "career year" would match very well to the Peak Value of Ruth's 1923, Williams 1941, Mays 1955, Mantle 1956, Bonds 2001, etc., wouldn't you?
   92. Zach Posted: May 06, 2011 at 10:12 PM (#3820191)
Yeah, or Brownian motion: You know that jittery motion you see in dust particles when you look at them in a microscope? Let's invent a form of calculus that is nowhere differentiable and prove that atoms exist.

Like I say, it's hard to guess how many problems Einstein would find nowadays that would benefit from the Einstein magic. Even in his own era, he only had the one miracle year, although he was still Einstein for decades after that.
   93. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: May 06, 2011 at 10:18 PM (#3820197)
I'm not sure you can make that claim with any certainty, since most of the great boxers of that era came from impoverished childhoods where hunger wasn't uncommon. Jack Dempsey left home as a skinny, undernourished 145lb kid and after 6 years of hard physical labor in Colorado and Utah mining towns grew in to a jacked-up 190lb ball of sinew and muscle whose 'Tale of the Tape" matches up well with Evander Holyfield's own measurements.


Honus Wagner started working in a coal mine when he was twelve years old, to make money for his family.

What was that, again, that people were saying about him not benefitting from the advances of the modern era?
   94. Steve Treder Posted: May 06, 2011 at 10:23 PM (#3820201)
Honus Wagner started working in a coal mine when he was twelve years old, to make money for his family.

What was that, again, that people were saying about him not benefitting from the advances of the modern era?


Word.
   95. Zach Posted: May 06, 2011 at 10:23 PM (#3820203)
The question of whether people were aware that there were lots of clean, open problems available is a little unclear. Einstein came into physics right as the big questions of the 1700s and 1800s were being solved, and in a lot of ways Relativity is the culmination of trends in calculus and physics that matured in the late 1800s. The really big revolution of the 20th century was quantum physics, and from about 1920 to 1950 any researcher could tell that there were big problems with no really satisfying solutions.

When you read old physics papers, they start looking recognizably modern by about 1960. The approaches and terminology have started to stabilize, and people are starting to use computers instead of elaborate mathematical techniques. The Soviets, who never had good access to computers, continued to do everything by hand. On the one hand, that meant that a lot of their problems were abstract and not terrifically useful at the time. On the other hand, some of the problems they worked on -- which were just mathematical abstractions at the time -- have since become experimentally testable, so a lot of that work has been reborn as experiments have improved.
   96. Mefisto Posted: May 06, 2011 at 10:24 PM (#3820204)
No one's pointed out that Mantle was better than Mays yet?


No, they're sticking to the facts.
   97. GEB4000 Posted: May 06, 2011 at 10:51 PM (#3820221)
Got to love this thread devolving into Einstein and Wagner vs. the timeline.
   98. OCF Posted: May 06, 2011 at 10:53 PM (#3820223)
I'm actually teaching a course this semester called "Early History of Mathematics." It's intended audience is math majors who intend to teach high school, and we teach it more as a math course than a history course - that is, we use certain historical themes to suggest math problems (usually to be done in modern notation), rather than really worrying about the details of history. But from the standpoint of that course:

My favorite ancient - the one who seems to have accomplished the most, and in the most elegant way - is Archimedes. Of course, with all ancients, we don't really have primary documentation. We know them through copies of copies of copies - and the copiers weren't always neutral, they often added or deleted.

As for Newton (besides him being someone you probably wouldn't have wanted for an acquaintance): his most far-reaching conceptual advance (as embodied in the law of universal gravitation) was that heavenly motion and earthly motion had the same causes and could be described by the same laws. This, even though heavenly motion (which is perpetual and cyclical) and earthly motion (which grinds to a stop) were "obviously" different. In other words, the apple is accelerated toward the center of the earth for precisely the same reason as the moon is accelerated towards the center of the earth.

But was Newton the first to ever have that concept? Not really. There were others; debate and discussion about these issues was in the air. Newton's Principia did not arrive in a total vacuum with everything in it being totally novel. Newton's main advantage over other speculators was that he had a prodigious capacity for computation - grinding, massive, algebraic computation - and he used that capacity to back up what he said.

Now, as for the development of differential and integral calculus: one thing I've come to realize is that a very large number, perhaps a majority, of the problems typically assigned in a first-year college calculus course were doable (and often already done) before Leibniz published his first papers on the calculus in the early 1680's. I'm not talking about merely notational stuff like asking for the derivative of a particular function, but rather all the problems that find maxima/minima and tangent lines and areas and volumes and assorted physical quantities, as well as all of the uses of series and power series. The notation for all that wouldn't have looked like what the notation looked like after Leibniz, but the problems could be answered.

And if neither Newton nor Leibniz had invented calculus (and the priority dispute between them was just counterproductive stupidity), then someone else would have, and soon - mostly likely by 1700. Once a robust machine of algebraic notation and algebraic technique had accreted into place by the middle of the 17th century, and once Euclid's direction of logical flow had been turned on its head, with algebra being used to solve geometric problems (one associates that with Descartes, but even there, if not Descartes, it would have been someone else), then what we call calculus was inevitable.

----

Two physics problems in honor of Archimedes:

1. A boulder is sitting in a rowboat floating in a swimming pool. Lift the boulder out of the boat and let it sink (carefully - no splashes) to the bottom of the pool. Does the water level in the pool go up, down, or stay the same?

2. A glass of water with an ice cube in it is sitting on a counter. The water is exactly at the rim of the glass; if you look from the side, you see that the ice cube sticks up higher than the rim of the glass. Let the glass sit there untouched while the ice melts. Does the water spill? Or retreat to a level below the rim? Or stay exactly at the rim?
   99. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: May 06, 2011 at 11:04 PM (#3820229)
I'm more than a little rusty on this stuff, but what the hell: 1) stays the same; 2) spills.

No one's pointed out that Mantle was better than Mays yet?

Whether Mantle was or was not a better hitter than Mays at their respective peaks is kinda beside the point of this conversation. You'd stop whatever you were doing to watch Mantle hit, and maybe to watch him run the bases when he was young, but you'd stop whatever you were doing to watch Mays just shag flies. And I say this as someone who grew up as the world's biggest Mantle-worshiping fanboy.
   100. CrosbyBird Posted: May 06, 2011 at 11:16 PM (#3820242)
I am also rusty on this, but I think it's 1) stays the same, 2) stays the same. Isn't water displacement solely based on mass, and not on whether an object is partially or completely submerged?

The second one really had me thinking, because I know that solid ice is less dense than water, and so when the ice melts, it will generate a greater volume of water than it had as ice. There might be something wonky about that.
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