90. Ed Walsh (ESPN Rank: NR)
ERIC: Next year will the 100th anniversary of his final appearance. He is the career ERA leader, which says much about when he pitched as well as about how well. But don’t get me wrong, he had a monster peak.
89. Bill Dickey (ESPN Rank: NR)
MILLER: He played the same position, for the same team, wearing the same number, and having about equal value to Yogi Berra. Yet one is ranked #42 and the other isn’t on their list. That kinda makes you wonder, or at least it should.
88. Nolan Ryan (ESPN Rank: 50)
ERIC: Nolan Ryan is probably the most overhyped player of my lifetime. Things began to get silly a few years after he and Steve Carlton passed Walter Johnson in the career strikeout rankings. By the early 1990s, he was a Sunday starter who still threw Texas heat. The no-hitters, the 300 wins, the 5,000 strikeouts somehow started making laypeople and complicit media types believe the tall righty was the best pitcher ever. He was voted to the All-Century Team (beating out Sandy Koufax, which is whole nother story). His baseball cards escalated in value. He starred in TV commercials left and right (“I could go another niiiiiiiiiine innings”). The narrative of Nolan Ryan always dwarfed the reality. He threw a ton of innings, struck out a ton of guys, and gave up very few hits. He also owns the career record for walks…by nearly 1000. He’s 15th in hit batsmen. He places second in wild pitches, surrounded by a mix of 19th Century guys throwing to catchers without gear, knuckleballers, and Jack Morris. Which explains, in part, why, despite his no-hit tendencies, he is 283rd all-time in WHIP and tied for 274th in ERA+. The narrative called him, at times, the greatest pitcher ever, the reality was always that Ryan was a Hall of Fame pitcher with a lot of sizzle, a freakishly healthy arm, and some big limitations that kept him from turning into Walter Johnson II.
MILLER: Most overhyped? Yeah, we didn’t live while Koufax and Ford were pitching. For me, it may be Ichiro. Joe Carter?
87. Paul Waner (ESPN Rank: NR)
ERIC: Born on my birthday. That’s enough to merit #87, right? OK, not. So how about this: prior to 1950 he’s essentially tied with Harry Heilmann among MLB right fielders in career WAR at 72 and change. They trail only Sam Crawford (78 WAR) and Mel Ott (106). The next highest after them is Willie Keeler, 18 Wins behind. He and Heilmann are tied for second in career WAA (Wins Above Average) with Crawford falling four behind. Works for me. Why not Heilmann too? Because his glove was worse, and when I include Michael Humphreys’ DRA in my modded out WAR calculations, Heilmann falls behind.
86. Bobby Wallace (ESPN Rank: NR)
MILLER: We’re not going to be a real commercial success when Wallace is just our fourth oldest shortstop. But he deserves a ranking on this list. If you’re not familiar with him, look him up. For me, only Honus Wagner, Alex Rodriguez, George Davis, and Luke Appling can match his eleven 5-WAR seasons among shortstops.
85. Pete Rose (ESPN Rank: 37)
MILLER: From 1963–1971, Rose stole 75 bases. Unfortunately, he was caught 76 times. Yet, he was a +8 on BBREF’s Rbaser number. I must admit that I don’t understand this result. It would seem to me that Rose advanced an uncommon number of times on wild pitches, passed balls, and defensive indifference.
ERIC: He had to get the nickname “Charlie Hustle” from something. For a guy who wasn’t that fast, didn’t have much power, and couldn’t find a position, he did pretty good. Just not as good as the hustle-worshipping media made him out to be.
84. Barry Larkin (ESPN Rank: NR)
ERIC: Maybe he shouldn’t have left ESPN???
83. Bobby Grich (ESPN Rank: NR)
MILLER: He’s this group’s Kevin Brown. I want Lou Whitaker in the Hall as much as any non-Tiger fan. But I want Grich in even more. It’s a shame he didn’t have a Hall-level keystone partner who is also criminally underrated and will keep people discussing him.
82. Reggie Jackson (ESPN Rank: 55)
ERIC: Imagine if the Mets had taken him instead of Steve Chilcott…actually that would have been insufferable for everyone outside of Flushing, so maybe it’s for the best. Reggie looked like a football player from his era (who were humanly proportioned, unlike today’s jacked-up roid raging monster-truck-sized NFLers). He was built thick and broad, and had, in fact, played the pigskin game at the amateur level. He’s remembered today has having a Trump-like personality, which diminishes his on-field play. ESPN ranks him too high thanks to his flair for baseball and interpersonal theatrics, but he certainly deserves to be on any top-100 list.
81. Yogi Berra (ESPN Rank: 42)
ERIC: Given how often the WWLinS shows Sox-Yanks games on Sunday night, maybe it’s no surprise that they like Berra more than us. Also, they probably give more credit for World Series play than we do. Which is fine, of course. What I also suspect, however, is that they have an unrealistic view of Berra’s competition at catcher. As we mentioned earlier, they placed Mike Piazza pretty low. They don’t have Gary Carter or Bill Dickey or Gabby Hartnett or Buck Ewing on their list, where as we do. (We didn’t include Roy Campanella whom they did.) Hey, look, catcher is hard to weigh against other jobs on the diamond. It’s just so different, and because of its physical demands, catching robs players of in-season durability and career length. If you don’t adjust your mental frame of reference around catchers, you shortchange them as a group. We both pay attention to this thanks to this long process we’ve engaged in. ESPN’s expert panel may not have had the benefit of comparing players at one position to another in a longitudinal fashion. Trust us, it changes your thinking.
THE WORLDWIDE LEADER IN SPORTS’ #90–81
- Paul Molitor
- Robin Yount
- Ozzie Smith
- Duke Snider
- John Smoltz
- Bryce Harper
- Tim Raines
- Vlad Guerrero
- Eddie Collins
- Don Drysdale
MILLER: I love Bryce Harper. I really do. And he has just three 3-win seasons. That’s the same as, possibly, the game’s worst Hall of Famer, Tommy McCarthy. As with #100–91, ESPN went for famous more than great.
ERIC: I snorted derisively when I saw that one. Stupid pandering. Vlad is a silly overreach as well. He’s a borderline Hall of Miller and Eric candidate, which makes him a downright reasonable Hall of Fame candidate. But the idea that he’s one of the 100 best players ever is pretty absurd. Then again, if their panel of experts included a bunch of BBWAAs, well, that’s the same folks who loved his poor-kid-makes-good narrative and voted him an MVP. His ranking is almost as absurd as ranking Eddie Collins 82nd. Pbbbbbbbbt.