80. Frankie Frisch (ESPN Rank: 00)
ERIC: They called him “The Fordham Flash” for a reason. He was fast and used that speed to take extra bases and swipe others. It gave him excellent range afield. He had a dollop of power, hit for a good average, was tough to strike out, drew enough walks to keep his OBP up, and played each game with intensity. The kind of guy that today’s sportswriters would swoon over. Like David Eckstein with lots more skill and ability.
79. Jeff Bagwell (ESPN Rank: 96)
ERIC: Bagwell was perhaps the player who best epitomized the shift in MLB from Charlie Lau’s hitting style to a more core-rotational centered approach. Lau wanted players to take an aggressive stride toward the pitcher, which allowed a batter to generate an effective weight shift from the back to the front foot. But if you watch Bagwell, he does something very different. He assumes a very wide, crouched stance with the front foot in the bucket. He lifts that foot, puts it down in line with his back foot, centering his weight rather than transferring it all to the front foot, and then uses the rotational force of his core muscles to generate tremendous force. Bagwell was merely the most extreme example of this technique, but Mark McGwire and to some extent Barry Bonds also used it. I’m no expert, but I strongly suspect that by not striding so much, a batter’s head would move less, helping him see the ball a split second longer, and he wouldn’t have to commit to the ball as quickly, giving him better control of the strike zone. Anyway, it added up to a hell of a lot of offensive production. He was the Johnny Mize of his times, only a little better.
78. Carlton Fisk (ESPN Rank: 70)
MILLER: He reached double figures in homers eighteen times. No other catcher put up more than sixteen. Mike Piazza and Johnny Bench did so only thirteen times each, Gary Carter twelve.
77. Tom Glavine (ESPN Rank: NR)
MILLER: I have to say I’m surprised that he’s not on ESPN’s list. Smoltz is there, and I think conventional wisdom is that Glavine was the superior pitcher. Glavine won 300. Smoltz was relegated to the bullpen for a while post-injury. Perhaps the ESPN folks remember too much of Glavine’s stay in New York?
76. Luke Appling (ESPN Rank: NR)
ERIC: The kind of player who gets lost in the shuffle. He had little power and drew lots of walks. In fact, he’s one of three Hall of Famers whose careers started in the live-ball era whose OBPs are higher than their SLGs (Rich Ashburn and Rick Ferrell are the others). He wasn’t flashy on the bases and played a solid but unspectacular shortstop. He never won an MVP. He was a nice guy who played on a team that never competed seriously for the AL flag during his tenure. He played during a time of deep star power at his position. But he did enough things well and well enough that he racked up impressive career value.
75. George Davis (ESPN Rank: NR)
MILLER: Davis got lucky when he was inducted into the Hall in 1998. It could easily have been Jack Glasscock who’s at #72 or Bill Dahlen who’s further up our list. There’s so much right about Bill James book What Ever Happened to the Hall of Fame? Perhaps the most significant thing in it is the second word in its original title, The Politics of Glory. Folks who really understand the history of the game just need more political pull.
74. Mike Piazza (ESPN Rank: 99)
MILLER: I don’t know what it is about my personality, but I was happier for Piazza this summer than I was Griffey. Griffey was a better player, though not by as much as many think, but he was this sure thing to be inducted. Piazza had to wait, and he never should have. Last post in this series Eric wondered what it would have been like had the Mets drafted Reggie Jackson rather than Steve Chilcott. Well, what might have happened to Piazza if he weren’t drafted in the 62nd round, perhaps as a favor done by Tommy Lasorda to Piazza’s father?
73. Pop Lloyd (ESPN Rank: NR)
ERIC: Playing in the deadball era, John Henry Lloyd was often described as “The Black Wagner.” It makes sense since both could really hit, and they were both big boned shortstops. As fielders they were both very good and known for shoveling up a whole mess of dirt as they fielded the ball. Lloyd was also known as “Shovel.” But these comparisons only go so far. Pop Lloyd was not as great a ballplayer as Hans Wagner, and that’s just fine because Honus is one of history’s most amazing ballplayers. Lloyd was merely amazing.
72. Jack Glasscock (ESPN Rank: NR)
MILLER: There are going to be two chances between now and 2030 for Glasscock to claim his much-deserved Hall of Fame plaque. Smart folks believe Bill Dahlen deserves to go in 2020. I’d be satisfied with a 2030 Glasscock election.
ERIC: You’re very optimistic. But with rapid advances in the science of senescence we should be able to see him elected in 3030.
71. Cristobal Torriente (ESPN Rank: NR)
ERIC: The best centerfielder in MLB between Ty Cobb’s peak and Willie Mays was clearly Joe DiMaggio. But he was not the best centerfielder in baseball at that time. That was probably the Negro Leagues’ Oscar Charleston. This guy, Cristobal Torriente, is DiMaggio’s competition for the #2 slot. The amazing Negro Leagues Database at Seamheads.com shows Torriente as being one of the best players period in the Negro Leagues. Translating Negro League performance is an inexact science, and our placement of Torriente here reflects that inexactness. Still, in those Negro League seasons we have information on, Torriente was a monster. We have 4300 document plate appearances with a .344 average, a .430 OBP, and a .514 slugging percentage. That last figure might not seem impressive until you recall that the ball wasn’t as lively in the Negro Leagues as in the majors, and that Torriente played several years in the deadall era. It was good for a 183 OPS+, which is 6th among all Negro Leaguers we have data for. If you think the Negro Leagues were as good in relation to the majors as AAA is today to MLB, knock 20% off there, and you get a 165 OPS+. Which is about 10 points higher than Joe D’s. Of course reality is not that simple, but it gives you an idea that Torriente was the real deal. He had a good glove, stole a lot of bases, hit like the dickens, and even tossed 374 innings (in some seasons pitched pretty well too). Torriente’s .439 wOBA is 10th all-time among Negro Leaguers in seasons we have data for, and the only person ahead of him whose career started during the deadball era was Oscar Charleston. He was a force.
THE WORLDWIDE LEADER IN SPORTS’ #80–71
- Roberto Alomar
- Eddie Murray
- David Ortiz
- Cool Papa Bell
- Ivan Rodriguez
- Rod Carew
- Juan Marichal
- Wade Boggs
- Dave Winfield
- Roy Campanella
ERIC: Roy Campanella is a big stretch. If they are counting his Negro League play, maybe it’s not, but he’s got a very short career with some really bad seasons mixed into it. I’m also not wild about Dave Winfield appearing on this list at all. I, personally, see him as not too far above the borderline and certainly not one of the top ten right fielders of all time. He was a poor fielder, dragging down his overall value, despite some Gold Gloves. Cool Papa Bell is generally a favorite among Negro Leaguers, but there’s not much info at the Negro Leagues Database to suggest that his reputation was entirely earned. This feels like a fame selection and not one based on real information.
MILLER: Wait, their list is about fame and not skill? Impossible!
ERIC: And don’t even get me started on the absurdity of Ortiz’s ranking….