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Baseball’s Dirty Word

Craig Biggio put up 3000 hits, but was he one of the game's greatest compilers?

Craig Biggio put up 3000 hits, but was he one of the game’s greatest compilers?

The term “compiler” has always bothered me. It’s used to disparage certain players for wanting to continue playing baseball. Can you imagine that? Wanting to continue playing baseball, a crime?! It’s not. Really, it’s not. I contend that it’s a fine idea to continue playing the game you love, one that rewards you so handsomely, as long as you’re allowed to play. But since others disagree, I’m putting together this post – one of the most prolific “compilers” of all-time.

First, the criteria. I only included hitters in our database. So nobody who’s still playing or just retired. And I didn’t include catchers either. They tend to hang on for reasons unrelated to career milestones that get the compiler crowd complaining. And to make sure I was focusing on players who haters hate, I’m only including the top-200 of the HoME consideration set by my equivalent WAR.

Finally, I didn’t include any seasons of fewer than 100 plate appearances. This was a tough call. After all, hangers-on often get released after few trips to the plate. But my research showed that about 80% of the eliminated seasons were either at the start of a player’s career or in a season with 30 or fewer plate appearances. I feel okay with the cut-offs.

To determine who made my list, I looked at the three worst seasons each player put up, let Excel do some addition, and voilà. Without further ado, the game’s greatest compilers, with my equivalent WAR total.

1.  Kid Gleason     -4.33Pete Rose
2.  Pete Rose       -2.95
3.  Jack Glasscock  -2.84
4.  Reggie Jackson  -2.47
5.  Brett Butler    -1.82
6.  Minnie Minoso   -1.73
7.  Ken Griffey Jr. -1.51
8.  Andre Dawson    -1.47
9.  Paul Hines      -1.46
10. Willie McCovey  -1.40
11. Eddie Murray    -1.35
12. Tony Perez      -1.11
13. Max Carey       -1.02
14. Willie Keeler   -0.88
15. Ron Santo       -0.70
16. Dave Winfield   -0.69
17. Craig Biggio    -0.62
18. Gary Sheffield  -0.61
19. Sammy Sosa      -0.57
20. George Sisler   -0.53

I don’t really know what to make of the list. Of course, there are slugging 1B and corner OF types who make up half of it. But then there are guys like Max Carey, Paul Hines, and Brett Butler too. Let’s just focus on the top few.

Most famous as the manager of the Black Sox, Kid Gleason was a pitcher and second baseman from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And frankly, he probably shouldn’t have been allowed to play second too much after his pitching career ended in 1895. But he was, and he compiled less than 1 WAR over the last decade of his career. But he was scrappy, I guess. Hell, for a guy 5’7” and 158 pounds, he might have been the scrappiest player ever.

After two players, it seems we might have a pattern. After all, Charlie Hustle, Pete Rose, was the epitome of scrappy during his career. But from 1980 through the time his playing days ended in 1986, he was worse than replacement level. That’s seven years of dreck after a storied career. You might have heard that as a manager, Rose had his issues. It’s too much of a stretch to say that if Rose the manager stopped letting Rose the player hit the field in 1985 and 1986 that things would have been different for the second place Reds, but it’s unlikely they’d have been worse.

Pebbly Jack Glasscock is a proud member of the HoME who was barely bigger than Kid Gleason and manned the shortstop position for seven teams in the late 1800s. His work from 1880-1893 was truly outstanding. He put up five MVP-level seasons and another four around the All-Star level, but it was his 1879 and 1894-1895 seasons that get him on this list. As so often happens with once great players, it took three National League teams – Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Washington – to cycle through Glasscock at the end before he was out of the game.

When Mr. October stunk up the joint for the Angels in the 1982 ALCS, perhaps baseball should have said goodbye to Reggie Jackson. Instead, California and Oakland gave the slugger five more seasons. After winning the 1982 AL HR crown, Jackson posted 99 more home runs, but he hit just .227 and was below replacement level. Had Jackson hung ‘em up with 464 homers after the 1982 season, his career wouldn’t have been any worse, but we might have looked at him less favorably without what he compiled in those last five seasons.

Just for kicks, here’s a list of the anti-compilers, those whose worst three seasons, by the same rules as above, were the best.

1.  Barry Bonds      11.06Bob Johnson
2.  Roger Connor     10.79
3.  Joe DiMaggio     10.75
4.  Jackie Robinson  10.73
5.  Mike Griffin      9.64
6.  Bob Johnson       9.30
7.  Ross Barnes       8.97
8.  Eddie Mathews     8.37
9.  Kirby Puckett     8.20
10. Lou Whitaker      8.02

That’s all for now. 1980 election results come out on Friday.




5 thoughts on “Baseball’s Dirty Word

  1. In your paragraph on Gleason, you have him playing in the 18th and 19th Centuries. I think you mean 19th and 20th.
    Nice job, good info.

    Posted by verdun2 | March 26, 2014, 8:55 am
  2. Hi Verdun,

    Perhaps you’re not aware of just how old “Kid” was. Baseball in 1720 was pretty awesome. Thanks for the correction and for reading!

    Posted by Miller | March 26, 2014, 9:12 am
  3. Ah yes, the 1700’s…When it was A Game. Who could forget the tragically abbreviated “Fire of London” season? If only…
    I think you need to now define “scrappy” in measurable terms, an compile a Top Twenty. Unethical alcoholic short guys who had a lot of walks and maintained acrimony in the clubhouse?

    Posted by Geoff Shields | March 26, 2014, 11:11 am
  4. If the HoME is creating careful and snarky readers, I think it’s a success. Thanks for reading, Geoff!

    Posted by Miller | March 26, 2014, 12:46 pm

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