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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Wayne: A Decade (or so) Later…Revisiting TSN 100 Greatest Players List

A look back at the The Sporting News (1998) 100 Greatest Baseball Players. (Kirby Puckett?!)

Ken Griffey Jr (#93) should easily move up a minimum 70 spots. Greg Maddux was ranked 39th in 1998. In the ten years after he’s won an additional 153 games and passed the 3000 strikeout plateau while collecting more Gold Gloves than any player ever. Placing him in the top 15 (if not top 10) is a foregone conclusion.

And regardless of what you think of him, Barry Bonds has to be moved into the top 5 (from #34) based on raw numbers alone. Or does he?

So who comes off the list? Again, this is harder than you would expect. Mark McGwire? Dizzy Dean? Bill Terry? Kirby Puckett? Rollie Fingers? Ozzie Smith? The half dozen or so Negro Leaguers who are on the list based on well deserved legend but no real statistical evidence? And if this is a greatest players list (hence the presence of well deserving Black players who never had the chance to play in the Major Leagues) and not a greatest MLB list then where is the great Sadaharu Oh, arguably the greatest player ever (from any league) with more than his fair share of stats to back up that claim?

For the record, if I was revising this particular list, here is what the top ten would look like.

  1. Babe Ruth
  2. Willie Mays
  3. Ted Williams
  4. Barry Bonds
  5. Hank Aaron
  6. Lou Gehrig
  7. Stan Musial
  8. Albert Pujols
  9. Ty Cobb
  10. Alex Rodriguez

Repoz Posted: December 22, 2009 at 11:43 AM | 60 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: hall of fame, history

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. vin dog Posted: December 22, 2009 at 12:18 PM (#3419352)
isn't having Babe Ruth on top of everyone's best of all time list a little like Stairway To Heaven being the number one song of all time on every classic rock station across America? Isn't it just a matter of habit?
   2. Eugene Freedman Posted: December 22, 2009 at 12:49 PM (#3419363)
Honus Wagner has to be in the top 10, if not top 5. Oversight I'm sure.
   3. sunnyday2 Posted: December 22, 2009 at 12:58 PM (#3419365)
Well, Stairway to Heaven sucks. I can name you 10 better songs by the same artist. Babe Ruth didn't suck.

Yeah, there's lots to hate about the SN list. Wagner #13, an oversight by a panel of 12 editors? I doubt it. Just a really lousy judgment. Mathewson the #2 pitcher? No. Like the man said at Dugoutcentral, Bench (#18) ahead of Mantle (#19)? No. Not to even mention Josh Gibson (#20)? But, been there, done that.

As it relates specifically to Thomas Wayne's writings, his list of guys who "deserve at least a cursory look" at being added to the top 100: All the usual suspects except no Frank Thomas. But Vizquel? Trevor Hoffman? Sammy Sosa? Raffy? And for that you boot McGwire? Ozzie?

And Ken Griffey moves up 70 slots from #90? That puts him between Lefty Grove and Eddie Collins? Well, maybe. Maddux top 15 if not top 10? Bonds top 5?

Plenty to debate just among Wayne's update.

But then again, the SN list is pretty bad. Sisler #33, Lefty GOMEZ #73, Murray and Ripken #77 and 78 behind Pie Traynor and Lou Brock!!! Clemente #20 ahead of Frank Robinson #22?
   4. TomH Posted: December 22, 2009 at 01:32 PM (#3419372)
He mentions Maddux should move way up, but Maddux was already ahead of Clemens on the 1999 list, and he doesn't mention Clemens, who should move up further?
   5. TomH Posted: December 22, 2009 at 01:33 PM (#3419373)
Comparing various top 10 lists:

TSN, 1998

Babe Ruth
Willie Mays
Ty Cobb
Walter Johnson
Hank Aaron
Lou Gehrig
Christy Mathewson
Ted Williams
Rogers Hornsby
Stan Musial
   6. TomH Posted: December 22, 2009 at 01:35 PM (#3419374)
B James Historical Abstract, 2001

Babe Ruth
Honus Wagner
Willie Mays
Oscar Charleston
Ty Cobb
Mickey Mantle
Ted Williams
Walter Johnson
Josh Gibson
Stan Musial
   7. TomH Posted: December 22, 2009 at 01:36 PM (#3419375)
SABR member voting, 2000 (MLB only)

Ruth, Babe
Cobb, Ty
Mays, Willie
Williams, Ted
Wagner, Honus
Johnson, Walter
Gehrig, Lou
Aaron, Hank
DiMaggio, Joe
Mathewson, Christy
   8. TomH Posted: December 22, 2009 at 01:38 PM (#3419376)
"Survivor" Exercise, 2000-2, internet discussion of 22 participants
http://survivor.dmlco.com/

1. Babe Ruth
2. Honus Wagner
3. Barry Bonds
4. Willie Mays
5. Ted Williams
6. Ty Cobb
7. Walter Johnson
8. Mickey Mantle
9. Hank Aaron
10. Stan Musial
   9. TomH Posted: December 22, 2009 at 01:39 PM (#3419377)
And there is Palmer's TPR, which I do not have. And maybe someone could post what C Jaffe uses, JAWS?
   10. TomH Posted: December 22, 2009 at 01:39 PM (#3419378)
   11. 185/456(GGC) Posted: December 22, 2009 at 01:54 PM (#3419386)
Different Jaffe, Tom ;).
   12. Famous Original Joe C Posted: December 22, 2009 at 02:07 PM (#3419394)
Look, I love Pujols, but shouldn't we hold off just a few more seasons before we throw him into the All-Time top 10? He could certainly get there someday, I just think it's early to slot him in next to Cobb.
   13. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: December 22, 2009 at 02:09 PM (#3419396)
isn't having Babe Ruth on top of everyone's best of all time list a little like Stairway To Heaven being the number one song of all time on every classic rock station across America? Isn't it just a matter of habit?

No. He was the dominant hitter of all time, and won over 100 games as a pitcher. No one else comes close, really.
   14. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: December 22, 2009 at 02:10 PM (#3419397)
Murray and Ripken #77 and 78 behind Pie Traynor and Lou Brock!!!

I think my favorite bizarre ranking is Joe Morgan coming in two spots behind Brock. I actually did the math on this once - to get them even as offensive players, you have to weight postseason stats something like 14 times. Then you just have to make up the difference between a decent second base and a lousy left field...
   15. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: December 22, 2009 at 02:12 PM (#3419399)
Honus Wagner has to be in the top 10, if not top 5. Oversight I'm sure.

Yes, and Rogers Hornsby, and Walter Johnson I'd think. Or it that just a hitters list?

You can't really have zero picthers in the top 10, can you?
   16. Rants Mulliniks Posted: December 22, 2009 at 02:13 PM (#3419400)
"No one else comes close, really."

I defintely agree. I believe there is more space between him and the No. 2 man than between 2 and 10.
   17. Famous Original Joe C Posted: December 22, 2009 at 02:13 PM (#3419401)
No. He was the dominant hitter of all time, and won over 100 games as a pitcher. No one else comes close, really.

Just reiterating what snapper said. If Bonds had gone 19-8, 3.17 for the '88 Pirates, we could have taken the conversation further.
   18. Zonk is UP-playing! Posted: December 22, 2009 at 02:23 PM (#3419406)
Look, I love Pujols, but shouldn't we hold off just a few more seasons before we throw him into the All-Time top 10? He could certainly get there someday, I just think it's early to slot him in next to Cobb.


I don't think so.

Pujols is 4th all-time in raw OPS, 13th all-time in OBP, 4th all-time in SLG, tied for 6th (with Mantle, ahead of Cobb) all-time with adjusted OPS+, and 10th all-time in offensive win %.

Add to that, he's a dandy defensive 1B -- maybe not Keith Hernandez great -- but certainly one of the best of his era.

He's top 10 now... the only question is when his decline comes, will it come soon and hard enough to keep him from cracking the top 5.

...and please note -- this is a Cubs fan saying this.
   19. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 22, 2009 at 02:29 PM (#3419413)
Pure opinion here, with an imperfect balance attempted between peak and career values, and with overall skills, durability, and positional advantages most definitely factored in. And no active players.

Ruth (his pitching is the tiebreaker)
Bonds (no character clause on this list)
Wagner

Mays
Gibson
Charleston
Williams
Clemens
Johnson
Aaron

Though I'm sure if you asked me a week from now it would be a different list, maybe with Maddux or Paige instead of Clemens, or Musial instead of Aaron. Beyond the top three I find it almost impossible to rank them with any real conviction.
   20. sunnyday2 Posted: December 22, 2009 at 02:29 PM (#3419414)
Too high on SN list

1. Traynor 70
2. Brock 58
3. Sisler 33
4. Heilmann 54
5. Dickey 57
6. Brooks 80
7. Terry 59
8. Mathewson 7
9. Buck Leonard 47 and CP Bell 66
10. Ryan 41
or Klein 92
or Rose 25
or Clemente 90

Too low on SN list, considering the list was done in 1999

1. Morgan 60
2. Vaughan, Yount, Cronin NR, only 4 SS in top 100
3. Mize NR
4. Ripken 78
5. Boggs 95
6. Grove 23 (#7 pitcher)
7. Carter and Fisk NR
8. Sam Crawford 84
9. Nichols NR
10. Sandberg NR
or Santo and HR Baker NR
or Wilhelm NR

Then as to Wayne's comment about rating Negro League players with little or no information, well, there's a lot more info now, and SN missed (though understandably) on JH Lloyd, Joe Williams, Turkey Stearnes and Mule Suttles, among others, and on Buck Leonard and CP Bell the other way.
   21. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: December 22, 2009 at 02:33 PM (#3419420)
He's top 10 now... the only question is when his decline comes, will it come soon and hard enough to keep him from cracking the top 5.

The decline could also drag him out of the top 10 altogether.
   22. hokieneer Posted: December 22, 2009 at 02:33 PM (#3419423)
#18, I remember hearing most of those argument in favor of Frank Thomas when he was in his prime. How he was top 10 in this rate stat, or top 7 in this rate stat, only player to do this in his first 6 years (of course he couldn't play defense anywhere close to Pujols).

Thomas is still a HOF, but he's not going to be cracking any top 10 or top 30 all time lists anywhere. We can't judge the career of a future-HOF in his prime to the careers of retired players who have experienced the decline phase.
   23. DKDC Posted: December 22, 2009 at 02:35 PM (#3419428)
Pujols is 4th all-time in raw OPS, 13th all-time in OBP, 4th all-time in SLG, tied for 6th (with Mantle, ahead of Cobb) all-time with adjusted OPS+, and 10th all-time in offensive win %.


That’s all very impressive, but:

1) He plays an excellent 1B, but he’s still just a 1B, and there are players just behind him on that list that provided a ton more defensive value.
2) He’ll almost certainly end his career lower on all of those lists as his decline brings his rate stats down.
3) Those are all rate stats.

Without looking too closely, I don’t think he’s that close to the top 10 yet.
   24. sunnyday2 Posted: December 22, 2009 at 02:43 PM (#3419433)
And another list

1. Ruth
2. Wagner
3. T. Williams
4. Bonds
5. Mays
6. W. Johnson
7. Gibson
8. Mantle
9. Cobb
10. C. Young
11. Gehrig
12. Lloyd
13. Charleston
14. Alexander
15. Aaron
16. Grove
17. Joe Williams
18. Speaker
19. Hornsby
20. Rickey Henderson

21. Musial
   25. lar @ wezen-ball Posted: December 22, 2009 at 02:44 PM (#3419435)
@#12, @#18

If I remember right, Griffey is #93 on this list because he was only a 10-yr player when it came out. It seems people wanted to put him higher, but they held back because his career was only half over. Maybe it was the wrong thing to do, but it seemed like a fair approach. We're kind of in the same boat with Pujols, aren't we? Pujols at 10 yrs is probably better than Griffey at 10 yrs, but is it light-years better?

I certainly agree that, if this were to be re-done today, Pujols should be weighted pretty high. I just don't know how high, because there's still a long way to go in his career

(Or, to put it another way, as of 1999, where should Frank Thomas have been on this list? How much higher does Pujols deserve to go at the same point in his career?)
   26. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: December 22, 2009 at 02:46 PM (#3419437)
Pujols has only played 9 seasons. Unless it's a peak-only list, there's no way he comes close to the top 10. I would put him in the 20s or 30s. ARod is a tougher call. I'd probably put him in the 10-15 range.
   27. Famous Original Joe C Posted: December 22, 2009 at 02:47 PM (#3419439)
Pujols is 4th all-time in raw OPS, 13th all-time in OBP, 4th all-time in SLG, tied for 6th (with Mantle, ahead of Cobb) all-time with adjusted OPS+, and 10th all-time in offensive win %.

I was ready to bust out the Frank Thomas and the rate stat point, but instead I'll just tip my hat to hokieneer and DKDC. He has the peak, but he still needs the career (well, to break the top 10 al-time, anyway...he's a HoFer when he steps on the field next season).
   28. Zonk is UP-playing! Posted: December 22, 2009 at 02:48 PM (#3419440)
The decline could also drag him out of the top 10 altogether.


Maybe - but it didn't drag his peers down... Or - to put it this way - if we only took the first 9 seasons of what I'm saying are his peers, would Pujols stack up? I think so. He's probably in the bottom half of the top 10, but I still think he's in there... He's really just missing a couple of 200+ OPS+ seasons -- but then, his last 2 seasons (age 28 & 29) were his two finest, really -- so I wouldn't necessarily say he couldn't outdo what he's done to date.

He's got room to fall in the rate stats while he builds the counting metrics -- an in some instances, OBP, for instance -- he's improving (and historically, sluggers add walks as they age).

Without the career numbers, I suppose I'm putting him in the top 10 based on faith and conjecture - but we've got 9 seasons of supreme awesomeness... Just based on his career to date - and if he retires tomorrow, he's a season short of HOF eligibility - he's already better than an average HOFer in both grey and black ink.... and he's still getting better.
   29. Famous Original Joe C Posted: December 22, 2009 at 02:48 PM (#3419441)
(Or, to put it another way, as of 1999, where should Frank Thomas have been on this list? How much higher does Pujols deserve to go at the same point in his career?)

Not much, if at all, IMO. Frank was a better hitter, at least for his first eight seasons. Pujols, obviously the better defender.
   30. RJ in TO Posted: December 22, 2009 at 02:49 PM (#3419442)
1. Traynor 70


I've always wondered - why is there so much collective stathead dislike for Pie Traynor? He looks to me like he was a good hitter (at his position) and (by reputation) excellent defender, at a time when (to my understanding) a premium was placed on defense at his position, and when there really weren't many other long career notables at the position. During his time, the only other 3B in the NL who seemed to be able to hit worth #### were Groh and Lindstrom, and both of him had much shorter careers.

Is this just a heavy reaction to the "Greatest 3B in history" talk that surrounded him for years, or is there some additional source for the general disdain that I'm missing.

EDIT: And please don't take the above as some indication that I support Traynor as one of the Top 100 players of all time.
   31. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: December 22, 2009 at 02:51 PM (#3419444)
My top 20 (excluding negro league players):
1. Ruth
2. Mays
3. Bonds
4. Wagner
5. Johnson
6. Williams
7. Cobb
8. Gehrig
9. Aaron
10. Musial
11. Grove
12. ARod
13. Mantle
14. Clemens
15. Maddux
16. Speaker
17. Hornsby
18. Dimaggio
19. Morgan
20. Schmidt
   32. Cris E Posted: December 22, 2009 at 02:52 PM (#3419447)
We need a Top "Top 100 Lists" List, and then we can argue about peak (most egregious errors) vs average (not quite right but nothing ridiculous) and start talking LotVG and planning the LoM. Oh, it'll be a party!

And while it might be early to be putting Pujols on a list like this, he'll never be a "Puckett?!?" outlier.
   33. Famous Original Joe C Posted: December 22, 2009 at 02:52 PM (#3419448)
Maybe - but it didn't drag his peers down... Or - to put it this way - if we only took the first 9 seasons of what I'm saying are his peers, would Pujols stack up? I think so.

That's not the right comparison to make, IMO. You should (not to say you should actually do this) be comparing Pujols to others' best first nine seasons. Yeah, all of the guys who are in the top 10 all-time in OPS+ or whatever who aren't active all maintained that level, sure - but how many guys had those rates at their peak, and were brought down (relatively speaking) by their decline phase?

I don't know the answer, just throwing that out there.
   34. Zonk is UP-playing! Posted: December 22, 2009 at 02:53 PM (#3419450)
Frank Thomas was a different kind of player than Pujols - Griffey might be a better "at 9 or 10 seasons" marker.... but - it's worth noting that Griffey's two best seasons would be merely ho-hum Pujols seasons.

I guess, at the heart of things, we can't credit Pujols with conjecture and he does need that additional ~10 years to bump up the counting metrics... but I wouldn't bet against him.
   35. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: December 22, 2009 at 02:55 PM (#3419453)
Not much, if at all, IMO. Frank was a better hitter, at least for his first eight seasons. Pujols, obviously the better defender.

Very good point. Pujols is very unlikely to retire with a 170 OPS+. Probably will end up somewhere in the 150s.
   36. vin dog Posted: December 22, 2009 at 03:04 PM (#3419462)
#3 & #13- yes, hard to argue against the numbers, but he compiled them in a segregated league.
   37. hokieneer Posted: December 22, 2009 at 03:05 PM (#3419464)
Frank Thomas was a different kind of player than Pujols

Thomas' first 9 full seasons:

1311 G, 5851 PA, 169 OPS+, .319/.440/.575/1.015

Pujols'

1399 G, 6082 PA, 172 OPS+, .334/.427/.628/1.055


Thomas ended up with a career 156 OPS+. Pujols gets extra credit for defense, but call me skeptical if I don't think he's a top 20 player based off of 9 seasons in his prime.
   38. Zonk is UP-playing! Posted: December 22, 2009 at 03:12 PM (#3419473)
That's not the right comparison to make, IMO. You should (not to say you should actually do this) be comparing Pujols to others' best first nine seasons. Yeah, all of the guys who are in the top 10 all-time in OPS+ or whatever who aren't active all maintained that level, sure - but how many guys had those rates at their peak, and were brought down (relatively speaking) by their decline phase?


I was looking at this -

Gehrig was extraordinary through age 34, you know the tragic cliff that came next. Ditto Mays, his age 34 season was perhaps his finest, he settled into merely stellar for another 5-6 years of injury plagued play. Ted Williams was a freak with the bat until he retired. Wagner was Mays-like -- maintaining freakish production through age 34, then tacking on another half doze or so years of mere stellar production. Ty Cobb would have 2-3 more seasons of true all-time greatness after age 30, but they weren't contiguous. Ruth was in the Ted Williams class of freakishness into his late 30s. Aaron was another freak, putting up career highs in some categories into his late 30s. Mantle didn't exactly fall off a cliff after he turned 30 - the knees played a role, of course - but he was still posting 'mere' HOF numbers for a couple more years. Bonds, of course, needs no further discussion.

Again - I get it - we cannot just give Pujols credit for seasons he hasn't played yet...

But - looking at the class I'm suggesting he is a part of - we don't see a lot of what would be, for most players, normal aging patterns. Most of those guys were putting up other-worldly numbers well into their mid-30s.

Frank Thomas turned into a mere mortal 'good-to-great hitter' after his age 29 season... I guess, since Pujols is about to cross that same timeline -- this will be the year where Albert can cross over from Frank Thomas land into Lou Gehrig land.

I have no doubt that I'm forgetting players.... but of those that posted extraordinary numbers in their 20s -- the pool seems pretty weighted towards those (the aforementioned inner circle guys) that were able to maintain such high levels well into their 30s, rather than those that fell precipitously into mere mortaldom.

In fact... Frank Thomas looks like more the outlier than the others.
   39. Zonk is UP-playing! Posted: December 22, 2009 at 03:21 PM (#3419496)

Not much, if at all, IMO. Frank was a better hitter, at least for his first eight seasons. Pujols, obviously the better defender.


First 7 -- Frank's "cliff" (a cliff into mere good-dom) was really after his age 29 season, and he only had 240 PAs in his age 22 season. His best season was his age 26 (1994, abbreviated) - OPS+ of 211.

Now... Pujols got a year and a half head start on the Big Hurt - at age 21 and 22, Pujols was already posting 675 PAs of 150 or better OPS+... but I think the real differentiator is that that Pujols' last two season have been his best.

If we keep it to first 7 - Frank has a clear advantage... an OPS+ of 182 vs. Pujols at 167. However - when we expand to first 9 seasons (all of Pujols' career to date) -- the gap closes precipitously... Pujols at 172, Frank at 174.

That's where the comparison between Thomas and Pujols breaks down for me... Thomas had a substantial early lead - not that a 167 OPS+ through 4000+ PAs and seasons is anything to sneeze at - but given just 2 more years, Pujols has nearly caught him and is rapidly accelerating past him.

I think Pujols has already 'passed' the Frank Thomas test - and if not, all he needs is a career average 2010 to do so.
   40. Zonk is UP-playing! Posted: December 22, 2009 at 03:24 PM (#3419504)
Thomas ended up with a career 156 OPS+. Pujols gets extra credit for defense, but call me skeptical if I don't think he's a top 20 player based off of 9 seasons in his prime.


Very good point. Pujols is very unlikely to retire with a 170 OPS+. Probably will end up somewhere in the 150s.


Just to reiterate my two posts above --

By season 9, Thomas was sliding. Pujols is accelerating.

The divergence isn't something we need to predict -- it's already happened.
   41. LargeBill Posted: December 22, 2009 at 03:34 PM (#3419536)
I understand people attempting to seem enlightened, but there is no way to accurately rate the Negro League players. Worse than the unavoidable inaccuracy is that by including them on lists like this it is almost like denying the wrong was done to them. I almost get the sense that folks feel that slipping Charleston or Gibson into lists of top 20 ball players they are some how making up for that wrong. It is not possible to make up for a wrong done to long dead people. That would be like claiming that paying reparations would make up for a couple centuries of slavery. Nope, just like this it would be just committing another wrong. We don't just assume what a AAA player would have done in the majors if his path had not been blocked by a player on the parent club or base ranking on calculations of what they'd have done if they didn't miss time in the military. It is an ugly shame on baseball that the leagues were segregated, but let's not pretend it didn't happen.
   42. Misirlou cut his hair and moved to Rome Posted: December 22, 2009 at 03:36 PM (#3419537)
Just to reiterate my two posts above --

By season 9, Thomas was sliding. Pujols is accelerating.

The divergence isn't something we need to predict -- it's already happened.


I don't think the point is that Thomas is/was better than Pujols. he clearly wasn't/isn't. But Albert makes this lists top 10 and Frank is not only not in the top 100, he doesn't even rate a mention as one of the recent players to be considered for top 100. There is no way in hell the difference between them is so large. Either Albert has to drop down 50 or so slots, or Frank has to be in the top 40.
   43. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: December 22, 2009 at 03:41 PM (#3419547)
Just to reiterate my two posts above --

By season 9, Thomas was sliding. Pujols is accelerating.

The divergence isn't something we need to predict -- it's already happened


Through age 29 Thomas had a ~180 career OPS+ vs. ~172 for Pujols, and was coming off a 180 year. He started the slide the next year. By age there has been no divergence yet.
   44. Misirlou cut his hair and moved to Rome Posted: December 22, 2009 at 03:44 PM (#3419551)
One other point. The original list was made in 1998. Don't know if it was early or late 1998. I'll assume the former. Here are Frank Thomas's career stats after the 1997 season:

1076 G, 4789 PA, .330/.452/.600 182 OPS+ 2 MVP, 4 times in the top 3.

He didn't crack the top 100.

Here are Albert's stats as of today:

1399 G 6082 PA .334/.427/.628 172 OPS+ 3 MVP, 7 times in the top 3.

He's ranks #8.

One or the other, or both are clearly wrong.
   45. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: December 22, 2009 at 03:46 PM (#3419557)
By season 9, Thomas was sliding. Pujols is accelerating.

I have little doubt that, barring a major injury, Pujols will end up with far more career value than Thomas and will be close to the top 10 overall. But he simply hasn't accumulated enough career value to rank with guys like Aaron and Musial.
   46. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: December 22, 2009 at 03:52 PM (#3419574)
I understand people attempting to seem enlightened, but there is no way to accurately rate the Negro League players. Worse than the unavoidable inaccuracy is that by including them on lists like this it is almost like denying the wrong was done to them. I almost get the sense that folks feel that slipping Charleston or Gibson into lists of top 20 ball players they are some how making up for that wrong. It is not possible to make up for a wrong done to long dead people. That would be like claiming that paying reparations would make up for a couple centuries of slavery. Nope, just like this it would be just committing another wrong. We don't just assume what a AAA player would have done in the majors if his path had not been blocked by a player on the parent club or base ranking on calculations of what they'd have done if they didn't miss time in the military. It is an ugly shame on baseball that the leagues were segregated, but let's not pretend it didn't happen.

Look, despite all the micro stats that get tossed around here, ALL cross-generation comparisons are a stab in the dark. And of course the stats for the Negro Leagues are incomplete, and that only adds to the problem.

But we do know this: That when the best of the Negro Leaguers competed against Major Leaguers for nearly 40 years, they more than held their own. And none of this BS about how the Major Leaguers "weren't trying," because no white player from the Jim Crow era wanted his homeboys to rag on him about how he was shown up by a bunch of You Know Whats. Those would have been fighting words to pretty much any Major Leaguer back then, especially those from the South.

And with that knowledge, combined with the NEL stats we do know, and the judgments of their contemporaries, we can try to place them within the larger picture. No question that it's a guess to some extent, but it's not much more of a guess than trying to compare two white Major Leaguers who played in completely different eras in completely different sets of circumstances. It's not just sentimentalism or white guilt by any means.
   47. Zonk is UP-playing! Posted: December 22, 2009 at 03:52 PM (#3419575)
Through age 29 Thomas had a ~180 career OPS+ vs. ~172 for Pujols, and was coming off a 180 year. He started the slide the next year. By age there has been no divergence yet.


Age, yes - but as I said, it's not really fair to use age solely, as Pujols was posting 2 years of 675 PAs at better than 150 OPS+ while Frank was still in college/minors/part-time play.

Graph 'em... by age, Frank started above Pujuols, but by age 29 - Pujols had caught up.

Use "seasons" rather than age and take the first 9 - and the Pujols line has already trumped the Thomas line.

I concede the point - Pujols needs to actually perform according to the trend lines rather than merely be positioned to do so in order to crack the top 10.

[EDIT: bolded to emphasize]

But if anyone's up for a bet that may take a decade to resolve, I'll bet on Albert.

Like I said, he's already diverged from Thomas, from where I'm sitting. If the Thomas cliff is the "trap" -- then I think Albert has either already eluded it, or, at worst, just needs a career average 2010 to put it in his rearview mirror.
   48. Buddha Posted: December 22, 2009 at 04:08 PM (#3419609)
I understand people attempting to seem enlightened, but there is no way to accurately rate the Negro League players. Worse than the unavoidable inaccuracy is that by including them on lists like this it is almost like denying the wrong was done to them. I almost get the sense that folks feel that slipping Charleston or Gibson into lists of top 20 ball players they are some how making up for that wrong. It is not possible to make up for a wrong done to long dead people. That would be like claiming that paying reparations would make up for a couple centuries of slavery. Nope, just like this it would be just committing another wrong. We don't just assume what a AAA player would have done in the majors if his path had not been blocked by a player on the parent club or base ranking on calculations of what they'd have done if they didn't miss time in the military. It is an ugly shame on baseball that the leagues were segregated, but let's not pretend it didn't happen.


Very well put.
   49. Misirlou cut his hair and moved to Rome Posted: December 22, 2009 at 04:17 PM (#3419631)
I have little doubt that, barring a major injury, Pujols will end up with far more career value than Thomas and will be close to the top 10 overall. But he simply hasn't accumulated enough career value to rank with guys like Aaron and Musial.


Here's Stan Musial through 1951:

1370 G 6070 PA .347/.431/.584 172 OPS+ 3 MVP 6 times in the top 2. IOW, pretty much where Pujols sits today. Here's what he did after 1951:

1656 G 6642 PA .316/.404/.536 147 OPS+. IOW, Edgar Martinez with 2000 fewer PA. That should be worth more than 1 slot in the rankings.
   50. TomH Posted: December 22, 2009 at 07:15 PM (#3419995)
ranking NegLgrs with others is indeed fraught with error, but so is pitchers vs bats, linebackers vs RB for the Heisman, and attempting to put Secretariat on a top athletes of the 20th century list, like some publication I shant name once did. I mean, may as well add Samson and Nimrod while you're at it.

So we try anyway.

1 Ruth
2-8 Wagner Mays Bonds Johnson Williams Aaron JGibson - I can argue for any of these depending on what day it is. Only Bonds and Wagner have decent reasons to possibly touch Ruth.

possible top 10 candidates
Clemens Grove Musial Cobb Speaker Mantle Charleston
   51. Ron Johnson Posted: December 22, 2009 at 09:44 PM (#3420243)
I've always wondered - why is there so much collective stathead dislike for Pie Traynor?


Mostly because he's massively overrated. He hit .320, but in a context where a league average position player hit .295. He didn't walk much so his OBP isn't much above league average. And his ISO is (very slightly) below league average.

You missed Stan Hack as a decent comp. Basically I'd say Hack gets about as much regard as he deserves and Hack's better than Traynor. Yeah, 3rd-basemen didn't hit much in Traynor's day. That's still not enough to lift him to elite levels.
   52. Davo Posted: December 22, 2009 at 10:14 PM (#3420276)
No. (Ruth) was the dominant hitter of all time, and won over 100 games as a pitcher. No one else comes close, really.
I thought there was a legitimate "stathead" debate between Ruth and Bonds for #1.

That Baseball Prospectus book--I can't think of the title--compared those two in its introductory chapter, and reached the conclusion that Ruth was only very slightly better, and that Bonds had time to catch up (I think the book was written before the 2006 season).
   53. DevilInABlueCap Posted: December 22, 2009 at 11:09 PM (#3420315)
That Baseball Prospectus book--I can't think of the title--compared those two in its introductory chapter, and reached the conclusion that Ruth was only very slightly better, and that Bonds had time to catch up (I think the book was written before the 2006 season).

That's hitting only. I believe that the book says that when considering all around playing, Ruth blows Bonds out of the water.
   54. Mefisto Posted: December 22, 2009 at 11:24 PM (#3420326)
That's hitting only. I believe that the book says that when considering all around playing, Ruth blows Bonds out of the water.


If there's no timelining -- which seems to be the assumption everyone here is making -- then Ruth is always going to be #1 (though "blows out of the water" seems excessive). And I'm not sure what "all around playing" means, as Bonds was obviously the superior fielder and baserunner. If it means Ruth could pitch, well of course.
   55. cardsfanboy Posted: December 23, 2009 at 02:18 AM (#3420441)
as a Cardinal fan, I can't understand any argument putting Pujols in a top ten list of all time, he hasn't even passed the top Cardinal of all time, who is rated consistently 9th-15 in most of these lists. Pujols is, as mentioned a hofer when he takes the field next year, but guys who are top 20-50th have both a career and peak of comparable value, it's silly to think that Albert makes this list when almost everyone in top 10 offensively have more seasons of equal or better quality.

and sorry but Babe Ruth will forever automatically be the number one player of all time, until the day arrives that an everyday player becomes a legitimate ace level closer while still starting as a starting position player.
   56. TomH Posted: December 23, 2009 at 02:27 AM (#3420452)
...or until Pujols gets even better in the next 5 years, MVPing half a decade. Which he most probably will not, but I'll enjoy watching just because he might.
   57. cardsfanboy Posted: December 23, 2009 at 02:55 AM (#3420460)
I agree TomH, just that he hasn't done enough yet to merit the top 1/3rd of this list, has he done enough to join the list of 100? I think so, but I'm biased, just don't think he has passed even guys like Piazza, underrated Morgan, Frank Thomas and heck even Griffey Jr....I don't think so, career has value. (those are names off the top of my head, heck with more examination I might be wrong, but I agree with Bill James, I would rather err on the side of undervalueing the active player)
   58. Mister High Standards Posted: December 23, 2009 at 03:19 AM (#3420479)
This is one of my projects I want to finnish in the next few years. Maybe 2011. I have started a number of times to create a list of top 100 plays, but I can't seem to do it.

It won't be a 2010 project.
   59. PreservedFish Posted: December 23, 2009 at 03:28 AM (#3420488)
I have started a number of times to create a list of top 100 plays


I imagine this is a typo, but this list would be interesting too.

What is #1? Mays' catch? Mazeroski's homer? The time Johnny Bench caught a fastball with his bare hand?
   60. Misirlou cut his hair and moved to Rome Posted: December 23, 2009 at 03:38 AM (#3420499)
The time Johnny Bench was struck out looking on a supposed intentional ball 4 in the World Series.

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