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The HoME 100: #70–61

We pick up our latest HoME 100 entry this week at #80. Go back and check out #100–91, #90–81, and #80–71 if you want to catch up.

#70–61

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.

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Eric’s 25 Most Important People in Baseball History

branch rickeyGraham Womack of Baseball: Past and Present has a cool project going on: The 25 Most Important People in Baseball History. I thought I’d share my ballot as a way to encourage others to vote.

Well, there’s 18,000+ players, several hundred managers, all kinds of execs, writers, even fans to choose from, and I needed to choose twenty-five. Graham doesn’t define “Most Important” for us:

Babe Ruth“most important” is a deliberately subjective term and I’m interested to see what direction people go with it.

For me, it’s about impact. Lasting impact. For me, there are three names that stand above all others, and that any baseball fan should know: Babe Ruth, Branch Rickey, and Jackie Robinson. Without them, major league baseball as we know it today simply would not exist or would be limping toward its death. Ruth who ushered in the modern mode of play, an offensive-minded game with greater mass appeal. Rickey who is the pivot man in at least three of modern baseball’s most important innovations—the farm system, the use of analytical statistics, and equal opportunity for all races—and who played a role in expansion by his attempt to organize the Continental League. And, of course, Robinson, whose success cemented the status of African Americans (and all other peoples of color) in sports, transcending the game and pointing us toward the civil rights era.

jackie robinsonAfter that to understand the lasting impact a person has on the game, we can look at some of the major themes of baseball’s history. These are the major story arcs since the 1840s. They continue to unwind themselves today. The flashpoints among them constitute game-changing moments. So as we sift through the games’ most important people, they should have some kind of prominent role in short- or long-term movements that have brought us to the present day.

  • Team-building/managing strategies
    Harry Wright was the first manager and was the first great team architect. These roles would eventually split apart in the 1930s and 1940s and have continued to speed away from each other since then.
  • Capital vs. labor
    Monte Ward
    did more than fashion a HoME-worthy career. A smart, smart man, he obtained a legal degree in 1885 from Yale and become an organizer of the Brotherhood of Baseball Players. As its president, he led the player revolt against the reserve clause that resulted in the formation of the Player’s League. That league’s brief existence hastened the downfall of the American Association and left the NL weakened to the degree that a decade later Ban Johnson could form the AL. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.’s moment was brief but profound. In 1921, he wrote the opinion that granted baseball its legal monopoly. Its antitrust exemption has proven an excellent tool in reaping profits in all kinds of ways and is a lynchpin in MLB’s operations. Of course, the exemption also paved the way for fifty more years of indentured servitude for players. Marvin Miller led the players out of that and into the free agent era. In so doing, he turned baseball’s salary structure and competitive landscape over, leading to the game’s most profitable decades. But first came the courageous stand of Curt Flood. The Flood case ultimately allowed Miller to devise the strategy that led to Peter Seitz’s decision to overturn the reserve clause. That decision is similar to Holmes’ in its far-reaching impact on how the game is operated today.
  • Race and ethnicity
    Rube Foster
    was the Negro Leagues. The brains behind its success and its acknowledged national leader. The Negro Leagues are vitally important to the story of race in baseball, but as a pipeline of talent, they also fed the likes of Robinson, Mays, Aaron, Banks, Doby, Paige, and many others into the league. Foster’s leadership led the way.
  • Equipment, safety, and injury prevention
    Roger Bresnahan
    invented shin guards, improved the catcher’s mask, and introduced other equipment innovations. The ability of catchers today to play as much as they do is a direct result of his inventiveness. We get to see more of them, and they have longer, more productive careers thanks to the Duke of Tralee. When you think about it, his ideas, mocked in his day but quickly adopted, have had a positive effect on 13 percent of all big league players (probably 2,000 or more men), and at the end of their careers, his catching brethren don’t have to have hands that look like your 90 year-old grampa’s. In terms of seeing more of our most talented players, Frank Jobe’s Tommy John surgery has given us the chance to witness hundreds of thousands more innings from players whose careers would have been over in yesteryear.
  • Organization and professionalization
    William Hulbert
    reorganized baseball from a chaotic, player-partnership into an effective, corporately owned, and stable financial structure. This is one of baseball’s and sports’ most important innovations. When Hulbert died shortly thereafter, Al Spalding saw to the game’s care and feeding, held it together after the Brotherhood revolt, and was the power behind the league for decades—and, of course, a publisher of annual baseball guides and the most important producer of baseball equipment in the game’s early decades. Finally, Ban Johnson is the man responsible for our modern two-league structure, and whose insistence on a clean and family-friendly product helped clean out hooliganism from the game.
  • Rules of play
    You probably don’t know Doc Adams’ name, but John Thorn’s book Baseball in the Garden of Eden can tell you all about him. Big takeaway: Adams was there at the beginning, working out the rules, helping to organize the Knickerbocker Club, then leading the National Association of Base Ball Players—the first national-scope league-like entity.
  • The influence of gambling
    Kennesaw Mountain Landis
    —you might not like his position on race, but he got rid of the corruption that threatened to topple the sport and created a clean backdrop for Ruth’s meteoric rise. He actually did restore faith and hope to the game.
  • Coverage, analysis, and documentation of the game
    Henry Chadwick
    created the box score, popularized the game with his Beadle Dime Base-Ball guides, and derived ERA and batting average. Not bad. The Hall of Fame’s J.G. Taylor Spink award signals Spink’s importance to the game. The owner-editor of the Sporting News (“Baseball’s Bible”) from 1914–1962, he was a mover and shaker in his own right who figured in numerous important episodes in the game’s history, including the settling of the Federal League war. Bill James, of course, ignited the sabermetric revolution that has changed the game both on and off the field. Sean Forman has gone far beyond anyone’s dreams in making baseball-reference.com the source of stats, enabling all kinds of research to be done in minutes that was impossible as recently as the 1990s or that would take years to accomplish. That level of access has ultimately allowed non-baseball people to enter the game’s front offices and make sweeping changes in the way the industry operates.
  • Growth and Expansion
    Walter O’Malley
    led the move to sunny California. His decision decentralized baseball as a primarily Eastern Time Zone phenomenon and allowed the game to grow in other regions. The move has ultimately led to several expansions and booming popularity. I hate to say it, but the man who canceled the World Series, Bud Selig, belongs on this list. This is not a vote for whom I like or respect the most; it’s a vote for who has had the most impact. Revenue sharing, sports-drug testing, playoff expansion, instant replay, and interleague play—like ‘em or hate ‘em they are here to stay and represent important facets of today’s game.

That’s another twenty to add to Ruth, Rickey, and Robinson for twenty-three total. Two more.

A lesser theme in baseball’s history is the ascendency of the Yankees. While Ruth accounts for much of it on the field, much of the rest can probably be laid at Ed Barrow’s feet. Barrow first built the twice-champion Red Sox of the late 1910s. Then, moving to the Bronx after the 1920 season, he took advantage of Sox owner Harry Frazee’s debt problems to build the Yankee roster into a perennial winner, thus starting The Evil Empire. Barrow continued on into the 1940s, overseeing the DiMaggio/Gehrig era as well, so this wasn’t a one-time thing. The Yankees are the game’s most loved and most hated team, and they occupy a special place in history thanks to Barrow.

Another team builder had a different kind of perennial influence. Ned Hanlon built the 1890s Baltimore Orioles and Brooklyn Superbas into a two-part syndicate dynasty. But as Bill James points out in his Guide to Baseball Managers the players on those teams went on to influence the game like no other team. John McGraw managed 33 years in the majors, Wilbert Robinson nineteen, and Hughie Jennings sixteen. Fielder Jones skippered for ten seasons, Joe Kelley for five seasons, and Bad Bill Dahlen for four. Jack Dunn became famous as the manager of the minor league Baltimore Orioles of the teens and twenties…the team that sold Lefty Grove and numerous other players to the majors. Hanlon also managed Miller Huggins for two years. All those guys exerted influence over subsequent generations of outstanding managers, including Stengel, Lopez, and Durocher. You can trace Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa, and virtually any great contemporary manager’s lineage back to Ned Hanlon’s Orioles.

Here’s my final ballot. After the big three, there’s any number of orders we could settle on. I’m looking for far-reaching, long-lasting, high-impact contributions. Your mileage may vary.

1. Branch Rickey
2. Babe Ruth
3. Jackie Robinson

I could have put Ruth first for creating interest at a time when the game’s gambling problems came to light. But the sheer number and breadth of Rickey’s innovations tipped the scales in his direction.

4. Kennesaw Mountain Landis
5. Walter O’Malley
6. Henry Chadwick

I’m pretty sure these are the next three. I put Landis first because rooting out gambling’s influence and restoring the integrity of any given game was far more important to the survival of the game than anything anyone below him could have accomplished. O’Malley is next because of the extreme importance of his vision and its affect on expansion. Chadwick was “Father Baseball” for a reason.

7. Doc Adams
8. William Hulbert
9. Ban Johnson
10. Marvin Miller
11. Bill James

Another tough group. As a founder of the game, I give Adams precedence and Hulbert’s corporate-ownership innovation is absolutely huge. Johnson and Miller could be swapped, but Johnson’s impact is still felt more than 100 years later, while Miller’s is more recent. James’ is more recent yet and just as widespread as Miller’s.

12. J.G. Taylor Spink
13. Rube Foster
14. Harry Wright

We’re getting into a place where everyone’s slot is up for debate. The Sporting News was almost an arm of Major League Baseball and affected its fanbase deeply. Foster’s role as a league architect trumps Wright’s as a team architect.

15. Peter Seitz
16. Al Spalding
17. Monte Ward

Ward turned the game upside down for a year, Spalding held it together for a decade, but Seitz has had the greatest total impact of the three. I ding him a little for being a one-trick pony, but it’s one hell of a trick.

18. Ed Barrow
19. Bud Selig
20. Roger Bresnahan
21. Ned Hanlon
22. Sean Forman
23. Curt Flood
24. Frank Jobe
25. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Among this final group of eight, we really are drawing straws. Barrow’s success laid the groundwork for almost 100 years of Yankee success. Selig has made numerous, though dubious, innovations…and helped to rob a lot of taxpayers of their money. I thought about putting him last simply because of his friendships with Jeffrey Loria and the Wilpons. Bresnahan has helped catchers for more than 100 years. Hanlon’s reach has been incredibly deep, though of course diluted over time. Forman’s reach is still growing. Flood and Jobe could be anywhere in this group, but Holmes I’m solid on for #25 because of the one-trick thing but also because I’m skeptical about the positive value of the anti-trust exemption.

There are some notable omissions. For example, I only have two men on this list for their playing careers. No Dickey Pearce nor Hank Aaron. I don’t have John McGraw or Connie Mack or Joe McCarthy or Joe Torre or Tony LaRussa on this list. No Bill Veeck or Billy Beane. Maybe I could have considered HOK architects or Hillerich & Bradsby. Negatory on George Wright, Al Reach, Everett Mills. Nor Fred Lieb or Ring Larnder.

There’s one other guy I didn’t touch on that I thought a lot about and is worth a mention.

I’m not entirely sure who had the most impact on bullpens, but their evolution is also a key theme in baseball history. Bill James suggests that McGraw rolled out the first relief specialist, Doc Crandall, but McGraw didn’t really follow up that innovation. Joe McCarthy was the first manager to split his moundsmen into starters and relievers. Herman Franks in 1979 announced that Bruce Sutter would only pitch in save situations. Although the Cubs canned Franks a year later, this innovation has had startling implications. Before this, relief aces could enter in any inning with any score when the manager felt it necessary. Other bullpen roles were therefore only vaguely defined. The sharp redefinition of the ace into the closer created a cascading effect. As closers threw fewer innings in save situations, managers needed a set-up man for the eighth inning. Since most late-inning relievers were righties, skippers soon found they also needed a lefty specialist to get that one big out in the seventh or eighth, enter the LOOGY (lefty one-out guy). Since then bullpens have become increasingly hierarchical, and include seventh-inning specialists and even the ROOGY. All of this spilled out of Franks’ decision to limit Sutter to save situations. Franks was not great, he wasn’t even a good manager. But his impact is still reverberating through baseball today as we see twelve, thirteen, and even fourteen-man pitching staffs.

This has been a fun exercise. Make your own ballot and vote!

—Eric

Institutional History

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