70. Rod Carew (ESPN Rank: 75)
ERIC: Carew and Tony Gwynn are inextricably linked in my mind. Carew is on this list because he had a lot of time as a pretty good second baseman, which bumps his value up higher than Gwynn’s. That makes a difference. But as batters they are remarkably similar.
Carew: .328/.393/.429/131OPS+ with 353 steals
Gwynn: .338/.388/.459/132 OPS+ with 319 steals
Carew walked a bit more but also struck out a bit more. Gwynn traded Carew’s triples for homers. But basically, the same kind of hitter: lefties who had strong pitch recognition and contact skills but don’t walk with unusual frequency or hit for a great deal of power, who used the whole field to hit for high averages, and who possessed good speed and athleticism. I thought at first that perhaps this was a kind of hitter that existed about once a generation, such that Carew had passed a torch of sorts to Gwynn. That doesn’t appear to be true. There’s no hitter out there now who quite resembles the profile. Joe Mauer kind of looks like it, but he lacks the speed, and his OPS+ won’t stay near 130 forever since he’s fading away. But there’s no one after the war who resembles this profile much either. Even before the war, it’s pretty rare. Willie Keeler may be the archetype hit-em-where-they-ain’t guy, but he lacked even Carew and Gwynn’s mild power. Edd Roush might fit the bill. .323/.369/.446/126 OPS+ with 268 steals. Zack Wheat, perhaps: .317/.367/.450/129 OPS+ wit 205 steals. Eh, he’s not fast enough, and I suspect he’s got more power than the latter day guys. George Sisler, maybe? Anyway, it appears as though this is a more unusual set of skills than I’d imagined. We’re lucky to have seen both of them in such close proximity.
69. Mike Mussina (ESPN Rank: NR)
MILLER: There aren’t many Hall omissions that make me angry right now. Disappointed, yes, but not angry. Other people are angry for me about Raines. Folks band together for Whitaker and Trammell. My support for Grich and Reuschel is just unrealistic. Then there’s Moose. I think Mussina is better than Nolan Ryan and Jim Palmer and Juan Marichal and Bob Feller and Don Drysdale. C’mon! That’s a group of ridiculously good pitchers. He won 270 games. He finished in the top-6 in the Cy voting nine times. And his playoff ERA is more than a quarter run per game better than his regular season ERA. The Hall voters get it wrong year after year. The ESPN fools are getting it wrong now. And it’s utterly ridiculous.
68. Jackie Robinson (ESPN Rank: 30)
MILLER: It’s entirely possible our ranking is too low here. If one of us is to blame for the low number, it’s me. I ranked him a lot lower. Perhaps we just should have gone with Eric’s decision. Yeah, in retrospect, we should have.
ERIC: What’s hard about Jackie is that we are gauging him on about 60 percent of what a normal career for a player of his caliber would entail. He got to the majors at a time when most players are peaking, and he didn’t play until the bitter end. In some cases, we have to look beyond the numbers to see how great a player a guy was. Sometimes greatness is about demonstrated ability, not just about accumulated value. In this case, I think it’s fair for someone to place Jackie higher than his career value would otherwise suggest. He played every position on the field except catcher and pitcher and played well. He was a tremendous natural athlete and a fantastic base runner. And, of course, he could really hit. He had it all. All except opportunity.
67. Charlie Gehringer (ESPN Rank: NR)
MILLER: Familiar with Wade Boggs? Cal Ripken? That’s how good Charlie Gehringer was. Just for fun, Stan Musial is the only player in history who can match Gehringer in 2B, HR, and BA.
66. Eddie Plank (ESPN Rank: NR)
ERIC: I attended Gettysburg College, so I have a special place in my heart for “Gettysburg Eddie” Plank. The gymnasium there is named for him, or it was when I matriculated. Generally, Plank doesn’t much ink these days, 100 years after his last pitch thrown in anger. But he merits it. He racked up 47 pitching Wins Above Average en route to 87 pitching Wins Above Replacement, all over the course of 4495 innings. That compares well to Lefty Carlton (40 pWAA/84 pWAR/5217 IP) and Tom Glavine (39 pWAA/74 pWAR/4413 IP). He’s not that far behind Warren Spahn (41 pWAA/93 pWAR/5243 IP), and he’s a hell of a lot better than, say, Eppa Rixey (22 pWAA/57pWAR/4494 IP) or Tommy John (22 pWAA/62 pWAR/4710 IP). Of course, having pitched so long ago, it’s hard to suggest that he’s better than Carlton. We know that league quality wasn’t as high then as now, and we know that pitcher usage was simply different. But he’s absolutely good enough to be one of history’s 100 players.
65. Fergie Jenkins (ESPN Rank: NR)
ERIC: I think of Jenkins as the Mike Mussina of his era. Durable, long career, fell just short of 300 wins, and had outstanding command. He sported a career 3.2 K/BB rate. Mussina’s was 3.6 during a time of higher K-rates. Also neither of them ever had that one mouth-agape season where they blew the world away. Instead they simply had that one really good season over and over again.
MILLER: First, that comparison is outstanding. And it gives me some hope for Mussina and the Hall. Of course, Jenkins went from 52% to 67% to the Hall. Mussina went from 20% to 25% to 43%. One of the biggest differences between the two is the role of pitchers in the ear that each one played, and one of the most misunderstood things about pitcher quality is seasonal wins. Jenkins won 20+ games seven times, Mussina only once. Brian Kenny is right. Kill the win.
64. Bill Dahlen (ESPN Rank: NR)
ERIC: We’ve beaten this drum for a long time. Great shortstop, no respect.
63. Arky Vaughn (ESPN Rank: NR)
ERIC: He was the Joe Morgan of his time, an up-the-middle player who could do everything well, including walk, hit for power (such as it was playing in Forbes Field), draw a mess of walks. He traded better defense than Joe for less speed. His career was short, just fourteen seasons and only 12 full ones. He had six of the ten best seasons by an NL shortstop (per BBREF WAR) between 1925 and 1950 and four of the ten best among all MLB shortstops. During that time, he had 30 more WAR than the next best NL shortstop. In all of MLB, he’s second during that period by about 2 WAR to Luke Appling, and Appling racked up 2700 more plate appearances. But he died young, people forgot about him, and it took him a few decades to make the Hall. It’s not surprising that ESPN would forget him too.
MILLER: My wife isn’t a baseball fan, but she’s willing to watch a game with me, and she’s always excited to go to a game. She occasionally reads stuff from the HoME, and she’s always willing to listen when I talk about our HoME-work. So when thinking about Arky Vaughn, I begin thinking about the difference between ESPN’s list and ours. There are a shocking 38 names on ours that aren’t on theirs, and vice versa. So I asked my lovely wife about all 76 players. All I did was ask if she’s heard of them. And don’t forget, I talk about the HoME a lot. She’s likely to have heard of a lot of our guys. Of the 38 on our list but not ESPN’s she had heard of just 14. Of those on ESPN’s list, she had heard of all but three (and I’m 100% sure she just forgot the story I told her about Dave Winfield blowing me off when I asked him for an autograph at Fenway Park in 1983). ESPN chose famous players. We’re choosing great ones.
62. Ken Griffey, Jr. (ESPN Rank: 14)
MILLER: ESPN’s ranking here is shameful. If we ignore all pitchers, all infielders, all catchers, and all Negro Leaguers at every position, Griffey still isn’t among my top-14. He has no peak argument to the top-14 among outfielders. He has no career argument to the top-14 among outfielders. Making the best argument I can, I’d say Mel Ott played too long ago, Carl Yastrzemski was a compiler, and Ed Delahanty played waaaay too long ago, and Al Kaline just wasn’t quite as good. Now Griffey is #13. Success.
61. Ivan Rodriguez (ESPN Rank: 76)
MILLER: In all of baseball there are only 75 better players says ESPN. Since there are near three times that many players in the Hall, it would seem that their lesser Pudge is a slam dunk first ballot Hall of Famer. Well, we’ll see.
THE WORLDWIDE LEADER IN SPORTS’ #70–61
- Carlton Fisk
- Shoeless Joe Jackson
- Whitey Ford
- Nap Lajoie
- Frank Thomas
- Ichiro Suzuki
- Al Kaline
- Harmon Killebrew
- Brooks Robinson
- Chipper Jones
MILLER: Whitey Ford had 53.9 WAR for the Yankees. Mike Mussina had only 35.1. Of course, Mussina didn’t get to New York until he was 32. And he retired after winning 20 games when he was 39. Let’s remember that he pitched for the Orioles for a decade before going to the Bronx. While there he posed 47.6 WAR. There is zero doubt in my mind that Mussina was a superior pitcher to Ford (a guy who’s post-season ERA was virtually identical to what he posted in the regular season).
ERIC: 100% agreed on Ford who benefited as much as any famous pitcher from his circumstances in carving out a legend. This is a dramatic over reach. I had Ichiro among my top 100, but about 20 places down list. If you are, like Jackie, thinking about his lack of opportunity, however, this placement may make sense. But Harmon Killebrew is as bad a reach as Whitey Ford. Like Mark McGwire, Killer could do two things on a diamond and only two: walk and hit homers. Good things to do, but everything else he did badly, especially while wearing a glove. Also, Nap Lajoie and Eddie Collins, whom we talked about previously, aren’t getting near enough love from the WWLinS.