Second base is an awful position for some of those who played in the 1970s and 1980s. Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker, and Willie Randolph, for example, belong in the Hall of Fame. We think Tony Phillips and Jeff Kent (though he obviously played a bit later) do as well. That’s a lot of rejection of greatness. Today, we’ll see who Eric and I reject and accept with our top-125 lists.
Remember, Eric and I don’t agree on positions for everyone. He places them where they were best, while I prefer where they played most. With that in mind, You’ll find Rod Carew, Julio Franco, and Edgardo Alfonzo here for him. I put Carew at first, Franco at shortstop, and Alfonzo at third. For me, you’ll find Buck Herzog and Bip Roberts. Eric calls Herzog a shortstop and Roberts a left fielder.
Before you get to the lists, make sure you check out the positions we’ve already discussed.
We continue our way around the diamond at third base on Wednesday. We hope to see you then.
Second base has morphed as a position over the years. Before fields were well manicured and bunting for a hit was still a big part of the game, great defense belonged at third more than at second. As the double play became more important, a second sacker adept at making the pivot grew in value. And while sacrifice bunts were still in vogue, it seemed every team need to filed a scrappy second baseman who hit second and was willing to lay one down.
Today you’ll see the first of two weeks of rankings at second. Just as at first, our lists are pretty similar. One of the biggest differences is Eric’s inclusion of Rod Carew at the position at which he was best, while I included him at the position he played most.
If you haven’t yet, please take a look at the first two posts in this series.
One of the real underappreciated superstars of our time, Cano isn’t the player he once was, yet he continues to provide good value to a Mariner team most thought ridiculously overpaid when they gave him ten years and $240 million prior to the 2014 season. With more than 20 WAR over four seasons, Seattle has done quite well thus far. But Cano is 35 this year and still has six years left. This isn’t going to end well. It never was.
There are only 41 majority 2B in history with 1000+ trips to the plate from age-35 on. Hall of Famers Red Schoendienst and Nellie Fox are on that list. They had 2.3 and 2.0 respectively. Ryne Sandberg, Frankie Frisch, Bobby Grich, Craig Biggio, and Willie Randolph were all below 9 WAR total. In fact, only ten 2B ever totaled 10+ WAR from age-35 until the end.
There’s hope though. The best four on the list are Collins, Lajoie, Morgan, and Gehringer, my 2-5 all time. And the profile of those guys suggests Cano could follow a similar path – they all did it mainly with the bat, which is really all Cano has left. Well, kind of. Last year was Cano’s worst at the dish since his rookie offering of 2005. I worry for the M’s that Cano’s decline might be steep and might have started last season. If the bet is on whether or not he passes Bobby Grich for eighth on my list, I’m actually going to take the under. Sorry, Robby. —Miller
Cano is staying right where he is in my view. If I include Jackie Robinson’s MLE value, Cano can’t catch him. If I don’t include MLE figures, Cano will pass Jackie by this or next year and won’t catch Rodney Cline Carew. Well, life isn’t a hotel, so you don’t get everything you want. Cano will have to make do with being the best second baseman to hang it up in the last 35 to 40 years.—Eric
The only pace he’s likely to go is downward on my list. He’d still get my vote because it’s unlikely he can do enough damage to his case, especially on a team that’s too smart to let him suck up playing time if he can’t play anymore.—Eric
Utley is 15th all-time on the list I discussed above in the Cano comment. And he’s done it differently than those guys. Since turning 35, he’s had positive value in the field, on the bases, and avoiding double plays. What he can’t do is hit. The Dodgers signed him for two more years this off-season, which seems insane until you realize it’s for only $2 million total. Just 0.8 WAR over those two seasons will put Utley ahead of Fred Dunlap. I don’t think he can do it. —Miller
If conventional wisdom is equivalent to Hall of Fame support, the answer has to be Bobby Grich. In his one time on the BBWAA ballot, he received exactly 1/10th the support of Maury Wills. Rusty Staub, George Foster, and Vida Blue all more than doubled Grich. Tip of the cap to Willie Randolph in this category too. Even though he’s in both the Hall of Merit and Hall of Stats, there’s not a lot of clamoring for his Cooperstown induction. —Miller
I’m sure I’ve written elsewhere that Chase Utley is the Bobby Grich Lite of the contemporary game. He trades some of Grich’s defense and power for some baserunning, batting average, and DP avoidance. He also got a later start than Grich, so more of his career takes place outside his prime athletic years. But like Grich he does the invisible and less-visible stuff super well, and the glory stuff merely well. And that’s how we have a Hall-level player who will be a Hall afterthought.
Also, let’s give Cupid Childs his due. No one outside the Hall of Merit voters and nerds like us or Adam Darowski ever talks about this guy. No one ever remembered him before the baseball encyclopedias started pubbing. He played when everyone could hit, then he didn’t make it into the time when a lack of hitting ability was glorified as The Deadball Era, and which got a lot of attention from the early Hall voters because they remembered actually watching those guys.—Eric
On one hand, I want to say that it’s on Fred Dunlap. On the other, though I rank him 17th and Eric won’t introduce him in even the first few spots next week, it’s not like either one of us is pushing for his inclusion into the HoME. And we agree that he’s the third or fourth best in his era at his position. So while there’s a difference in our rankings, it’s not like I think Eric’s off in a meaningful way. In fact, I prefer his ranking to mine.—Miller
Let us posit for a moment that a major author’s most popular work is his own but also could highly influence public opinion. In the case of Dick Allen, Bill James’ deeply critical portrait may have done more to influence the public perception of Allen than anything the player had done in decades. At a much simpler and less emotionally charged level, we wonder if he’s done something similar for Ross Barnes.
James argued at length in the New Historical Baseball Abstract that Barnes deserved no place among the game’s 100 best second basemen. His biggest beef was that Barnes was probably the best fair-foul hitter there ever was and dominated the league using the tactic. I’ve played Olde-Tyme baseball, and it truly works. Ross was a righty, and righties stand at the plate with their hands in the vicinity of their right armpit or shoulder. Unless they are Julio Franco or Eric Davis, of course. For the fair-foul hit, as the ball nears the plate, the batter shifts his hands toward the front shoulder then chops downward toward his body, and hard, so that the path of his hands and the bat run just outside his left leg. If done well, the batter is almost catching the ball on its downward descent, and the ball strikes the ground almost at the hitter’s front foot. It smacks the ground in fair territory then bounds along in foul ground, allowing the batter to reach first with relative ease. Obviously this sets up a cat-and-mouse game with the corner infielders, especially the one nearest the batter. That means there’s lots of holes to hit through by swinging away. Since there were few double plays turned before gloves, middle infielders didn’t have to cheat toward the bag. It’s actually a fun way to play the game. Remember to that in Barnes’ time, pitchers threw underhanded and with less speed than they soon would.
Baseball dispatched with the rule in 1877 by declaring that any ball hit fair that went foul before reaching the bag was a foul ball. This kept the flow of the game moving along nicely and made infield play in general more interesting. Bill James contends, “deprived of this [the fair-foul hit], and fighting some injuries, Barnes was out of the league in a few years.” James also relies on the idea that the majors weren’t worthy of the distinction until about 1885. It “seems indefensible to me,” he writes, “to extend the status backward beyond 1876.”
There’s a few places where we disagree with Bill on this.
The major-league distinction: Bill knows more about baseball than Miller and I combined five times over, so maybe we’re barking up the wrong tree. His argument is that any old league prior to the mid-1880s could have been major since it was the Wild West of baseball out there. But after baseball outside of Cincinnati went overtly professional in 1871, leading amateur clubs in the east and west (well, west back then was the Great Lakes, the Jackson-Turner thesis was even dreamt of yet) formed the National Association of Base Ball Clubs. Or the NA as Miller and I usually call it. The collapse of the NA led to William Hulbert founding the NL in 1876. Virtually all the best players of the NA immediately went to the NL. Virtually all those players stayed in the NL or the upstart American Association prior to 1885 despite the existence of other professional leagues. For example, in 1886, Joe Start, among the best players nationwide in the 1860s, a stalwart of the NA and early NL, played his last game. Cal McVey, one of the original Cincinnati Reds moved to the NA and the NL and eventually gave up baseball and moved to the west coast in 1880. Cap Anson, Deacon White, Jim O’Rourke, and Ezra Sutton debuted in the NA, moved into the NL and played until someone tore the uniform off their backs. It seems strange to us to summarily simply slap away evidence of a player’s quality as James does with early professional baseball seasons.
This stance shows up again for James in the shortstops section of the New Historical Abstract. To be more precise, it doesn’t show up. James draws up a list 125 players deep and never includes the name George Wright whose career includes more seasons than Barnes and whose reputation in his times outshines Barnes’. At first base, at least Joe Start gets a nod: #107 there, behind Joe Pepitone, Dick Hoblitzell, and Deron Johnson among those close in rank. None of those guys was ever even discussed among the best in the game. Start was considered one of baseball’s great stars in the 1860s. And how then does one rank Start at 107 and not rank George Wright at all? If baseball wasn’t MLB quality prior to the mid 1880s, how can Anson rank 11th at his position, O’Rourke at 37th at his? But then why would Deacon White rank 76th? So we think the distinction might exist, but that it’s a distinction that makes no difference. That means that, for us, Barnes’ entire career is in play.
The rules: James says that Barnes’ case relies on a tactic that was outlawed because the league thought it was “cheap trickery.” By similar reasoning, we could reduce the rank of any and all spitballers. We might also consider reducing anyone’s ranking who played prior to the adoption of the foul-strike rule in the nascent years of the AL/NL era. After all, a hitter could just flick away pitches without penalty, which is kind of a cheap trick too. The rules is the rules until they isn’t the rules. Players will always find innovative ways to create value. Most fans find it “colorful” when King Kelly yells “Kelly in a third” in the middle of a play to catch a pop fly to the bench that the third baseman couldn’t reach. Now that’s trickery. Some observers, including the baseball commish, say that shifting borders on trickery and hurts the integrity of the game. We can only look at what a fellow did in the context he played in. For us that’s the only fair thing to do, though we understand why Bill might feel differently.
“Some injuries”: As reported in his SABR biography, Barnes suffered some type of chronic, debilitating illness. Researcher Robert H. Schaefer suggested in 1999 that it was the ague. Whatever it was, Barnes never, ever returned to anything near his peak. We find it hard to believe that a player would malinger such that he never played effectively again.
Performance after the fair-foul rule change: Barnes did, indeed, fail to ever play at his accustomed level after the rule change. On the other hand, in his comeback attempts in 1879 and 1881, despite losing 150 points of batting average, he nonetheless managed a 104 OPS+ in 650 PAs. That’s not exactly abject failure. His fielding appears to have gone well downhill, however. Overall, WAR sees him as a slightly above average player in both seasons.
Reliance on the fair-foul hit: Maybe the most compelling reason not to dismiss Ross Barnes is that he did not merely rely on trickery. The guy was a complete player. He led the league in walks twice and finished in the top 10 six times, leading the NL in career walks until 1880, and after he hung it up in 1881, he remained second. Barnes led the league in steals once and finished within the top ten four other times as well. From 1871–1875, his 103 steals led the NA…by 29 swipes!. His known stolen base record yields a 79% success rate. Most of all, Barnes could really pick it. At both second base and shortstop, in the NA, where we have play by play records, he saved a total of 53 runs in 265 games. Given that the league as a whole had a very wide range of fielding ability, but that’s pretty impressive. Those 53 runs were second only to Bob Ferguson, whose nickname “Death to Flying Things” describes his fielding prowess. Barnes trailed by just two runs but exceeded the third-place fielder by 15. At his retirement after 1881, Barnes ranked fourth in fielding runs despite missing two and two-thirds seasons due to his illness. Ross Barnes did everything on a ball field well, except stay healthy. And even that last wasn’t true until it suddenly was.
Which is to say that if Bill James’ arguments against Barnes as worthy of a significant ranking represent an important opinion in the baseball world, we disagree with him strongly. We have more in common with the SABR 19th Century committee who named him its 2013 Overlooked 19th Century Baseball Legend.—Eric
Come back in a week for the next 20 second basemen.
Not too long ago I read a tweet calling Jim Palmer an inner circle Hall of Famer. I immediately recoiled. Then I did what any stats guy or gal would do. I got out my spreadsheet.
What I found is Palmer’s name next to the number 31 among hurlers. When I last checked with Eric, he had Palmer 35th. And by JAWS, he’s 37th. I was satisfied; I felt my initial reaction was pretty much justified. But then I thought some more and realized that if I’m going to take pride in what I thought was a correct reaction, I’d better have an answer to who belongs in the inner circle.
So let’s think about the HoME. As of today, we’ve inducted 220 players. How many of those players do we think should be in the inner circle? Through the magic of BBREF, I know that there have been approximately 19,100 players in major league history. That means one out of 86 or 87 players ever is in the HoME. If we took the same percentage as the inner circle, we’d be looking at three guys, maybe Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and Walter Johnson. Maybe. But three guys don’t form a good circle.
Let’s reconsider. If, for example, we consider only hitters who had extensive careers, perhaps we put the mark at 5,000 plate appearances. Then we may have something. There are just shy of 1,000 hitters at that level, and there are about 160 hitters in the HoME. So about 16% of all players with what I’m calling extensive careers are in the HoME. And if we take 16% of the players in the HoME, we have 35 players in the HoME’s inner circle. That would be 9-10 pitchers and 25-26 hitters. And that seems reasonable enough.
So by my fictional and unofficial standard, here’s the inner circle of the Hall of Miller and Eric, or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof.
C: Johnny Bench
1B: Stan Musial, Lou Gehrig, Cap Anson, Jimmie Foxx, Roger Connor
2B: Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, Joe Morgan
3B: Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews
SS: Honus Wagner
LF: Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Rickey Henderson
CF: Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Mickey Mantle
RF: Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Mel Ott, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente
P: Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Roger Clemens, Pete Alexander, Kid Nichols, Tom Seaver, Christy Mathewson, Lefty Grove, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson
Do you think my inner circle is too large? Too small? Missing someone? Please let me know in the comments.
Because they came so close but didn’t pull through last season, the 1948 and 1920 champs have the longest current drought in the game. Known as the Blues in 1901, the Bronchos in 1902, and the Naps from 1903 through 1914, the Indians are the only team, I believe, whose Rushmore all played the same position. And much to my surprise, they’re the third best team in AL history in winning percentage.
By WAR, the greatest Indian ever is Nap Lajoie. However, he played parts of eight years with AL and NL Philadelphia clubs. Second on the Indian list is Red Sox great Tris Speaker. And fourth is another who played for the Red Sox, Lou Boudreau. Stan Coveleski is fifth on the Indian list, but he played for the A’s, Sens, and Yanks. Kenny Lofton and Jim Thome also put up great numbers while in Cleveland, but they both played everywhere. Earl Averill held on with the Tigers and Braves, and Joe Sewell was a Yankee for three years.
Al Rosen is the best hitter in Indian history never to play elsewhere, posting 32.6 WAR over seven full seasons before retiring because of issues with his back and legs. He’s 23rd in Indian history in WAR, but that’s not enough. There were four Cleveland pitchers who topped him, making them the only team without a hitter on their Rushmore.
Bob Feller: Rapid Robert was a hit after joining the Indians at age 17 in 1936. If we replace the three seasons and the one partial season he missed due to WWII with the average of the two years before and the two full years after he left, he moves from 63.6 WAR to an insane 84.4 WAR. That would move him from a tie for 144th with Richie Ashburn and Billy Williams to 53rd, just ahead of Pedro Martinez and Ken Griffey. I’m not saying this would have happened, just giving an idea about what might have been.
Bob Lemon: With 48.8 WAR, Lemon is the sixth best Indian ever. Of course, less than 77% of Lemon’s value was on the mound. He was truly an excellent hitter, adding 0.6 WAR to 1.9 WAR every year from 1947-1956 at the plate. From 1948-1950 he averaged six homers and 22 ribbies with a .334 OBP. With just pitching value, there are only two years when he threw like an All-Star. He’s in the Hall, which is quite a surprise given that Hall voters must look at pitcher offense less than I do, and Lemon is only 117th all-time among pitchers, right between Frank Viola and Ron Guidry.
Mel Harder: Eleventh on the all-time Indian WAR chart, Harder was a better pitcher than Lemon, putting up 47.9 WAR on the mound but giving back 4.2 at the dish, for 43.7 total WAR. During his 1932-1935 peak, he trailed only Carl Hubbell and Dizzy Dean in WAR among hurlers. Expanding things to 1939, and only Lefty Grove also gets past him. We’re looking at a star here.
Addie Joss: With similar star power to Harder, Joss nevertheless is in the Hall. Tied with him on the Indian WAR list with 43.7, Joss and his 160 wins are in the Hall due to a 1.89 career ERA. Even though he played only nine seasons, the 1977 Board of Directors passes a special resolution to waive the ten-year rule for him. There was no good reason for that decision. BBREF neutralizes Joss’ career ERA at 2.88, still a fine number, but c’mon. Imagine 170 wins and a 2.88 ERA in the last fifty years. Such a pitcher would have no chance at the Hall. If he pitched in the run environment of, say, 2004, his ERA would be 3.75. Kevin Brown pitched around that time. He finished with 211 wins and a 3.28 ERA, and he hasn’t sniffed the inside of Cooperstown.
My Indian Rushmore
Nap Lajoie: Yes, he had a significant enough career with the A’s, but he’s Cleveland’s all-time leader in WAR, and he had nine of his ten best years by WAR with the Indians.
Lou Boudreau: I’m not going to hold his short period of time in Boston against him. Speaker played in Boston too, but he had quite a significant career there. Each of Boudreau’s ten best seasons were with Cleveland.
Kenny Lofton: I’m skipping a couple of guys on Cleveland’s all-time WAR list to get to him, namely Stan Coveleski and Bob Lemon. My favorite Lofton memory is how he ran the bases like a brilliant madman in the 1995 playoffs, tripling twice and stealing 11 bases in the ALCS and WS.
Tune in next week for a look at the Cincinnati Reds.
Okay, we’ve finally reached the top-20, the elite of the elite, the inner circle, if you will. Today, you’re going to see ten of the twenty best players who ever stepped onto a diamond (and a few ESPN threw in there because their mainstream readers aren’t familiar with Oscar Charlton and Pete Alexander. If you’ve missed any of our comparisons to ESPN’s lists along the way, they’re all here: #100–91, #90–81, #80–71, #70–61, #60-51, #50-41, #40-31, #30-21.
ERIC: Well, at least we agree with ESPN on one thing.
ERIC: But since we have A-Rod and Schmidt back to back, let’s take a moment to answer a question posed to me about 15 years ago by a Philadelphia lawyer named Bill who as an avowed Phillies Phan: Is Mike Schmidt the best infielder since Lou Gehrig? At the time, I was about 70% sure the answer was yes, but 30% that it could be Joe Morgan. They were the only candidates, really. What do I think now? Especially with A-Rod’s career fully in the books?
As usual, I’ll take the long home on this one. First of all, was Lou Gehrig a fair starting point? Yes, pretty much. If you don’t count Stan Musial as a first baseman. Stan the Man had a superior career, in my opinion, to Lou Gehrig, and he played first base the most of any one position on the diamond. But Musial also only played it as a plurality of all his games, and he played the outfield more often than he played the infield in any capacity. So let’s set him aside and say that, yes, Gehrig is a great starting point.
In the 60 or so years between Gehrig’s retirement and when lawyer Bill asked me this question, who were the best infielders in the game? I’ve been only referring to BBREF’s WAR calculations so far in this series, but now I’m going to break out the numbers I used to analyze HoME candidates, the figures with all the little extra adjustments I like to make, especially the inclusion of Michael Humphreys’ DRA. Here’s what Lou Gehrig looks like by my calculations:
Best 7*: 68 WAR
Career: 113 WAR
*That’s non-consecutive for those playing along at home.
Who at the four infield positions were the prime candidates up to 2001?
To be honest, there’s no one close to Gehrig at his own position. Rod Carew and Jeff Bagwell are the next best pair, and they are incredibly far behind.
There’s just one guy here.
Best 7: 56 WAR
Career: 96 WAR
Schmidt is the best third baseman who ever lived by a country mile, so there’s little point in listing anyone else at the hot corner.
Best 7: 64 WAR
Career: 116 WAR
You probably know this guy. He was incredible, and he doesn’t hold a candle to Mike Schmidt.
Cal Ripken, Jr.
Best 7: 52 WAR
Career: 89 WAR
In retrospect, at the moment the attorney deposed me on the matter, Mike Schmidt was clearly and obviously the best of the candidates to be best-since-Gehrig. Given how close his numbers are to Gehrig’s, and given the timeline factors we’ve discussed elsewhere in this series of articles, Schmidt could have been more aptly described as the best infielder since Rogers Hornsby.
Of course, since that time a couple fellows have come along to challenge Schmidt, one of whom is still building his resume.
Albert Pujols (through last year)
Best 7: 63 WAR
Career: 104 WAR
That’s awfully impressive, Mr. Pujols. He’s very close to Schmidt, though he trails by enough career-wise that it’s not an automatic. Thirty years is enough time for a small amount of timeline factors to come into play and perhaps push Pujols over Schmidt. But, boy, it’s not at all clear. Also, Pujols is looking fork-tender this year, so it’s unlikely he’s got anything more to help him surge ahead.
Alex Rodriguez (through last year)
Best 7: 64 WAR
Career: 119 WAR
A-Rod’s misery-laden 2016 season will press that career figure down by one. He’s even in peak WAR with Schmidt, and he’s ever-so-slightly ahead in career WAR. And his career started 25 years later. So, yes, I would say that the mantle has been passed from Gehrig to Schmidt to Rodriguez. And it’s going to stay that way for a while. Manny Machado’s amazing and probably the best bet out there to contend for this distinction. Through age 23, he’s got 24.0 BBREF WAR (and might finish the year with 25 WAR). A-Rod had 27.7 WAR through age 23 with about 40 or 50 or more games. Good luck, young Manny.
MILLER: Why include Negro Leaguers on your list if you’re not going to include Charleston? Maybe you put Satchel Paige in front of him. Maybe Josh Gibson. But nobody else. Oh, I see, ESPN readers haven’t heard of Oscar Charleston. And introducing the most dynamic player in Negro League history to casual fans is more than they were willing to do.
ERIC: It’s unclear to me how ESPN could separate Lajoie and Eddie Collins by 15 spots. They’re as similar as can be value-wise. A little more career for Eddie, a little more peak for Nap.
MILLER: A couple of posts ago when I was talking about Gary Carter vis a vis Johnny Bench, I mentioned how underrated Collins is historically because he was a contemporary of Rogers Hornsby. Well, Eric and I are looking at the stats, and we see that they’re very close historically. The folks at ESPN underrate Hornsby, and they underrate Collins ridiculously. We’re talking about a guy with 17 4-WAR seasons by my numbers. Ruth, Bonds, Cobb, Mays, Aaron, Ott, Wagner, and Collins. That’s it. No, Collins doesn’t have a claim that he was better than Hornsby, but like Carter versus Bench, it’s a lot closer than people say.
Stats can be strange things. Both Luis Gonzalez and Dave Parker, as well as a dozen others, can say that they doubled, tripled, and homered more times in their careers than Rickey Henderson. His surprisingly low total of 66 triples ties him for 437th in history. Again, surprisingly, Derek Jeter shares that tie. But as we throw in another stat, singles, for the all-time leader in steals and runs, as well as the runner-up in walks, only Hank Aaron and Stan Musial top Rickey in every base knock category.
ERIC: As I look at ESPN’s silly underranking of Alexander, non-ranking of Perry and Niekro and others, and dramatic overranking of Koufax and Pedro, I’m utterly confused. We know they used a bracket-like system to put players head to head (and how that works, God only knows), but how is it possible that a pitcher with three 10-WAR seasons gets stuck at the back of the bus? As my grandfather used to say to me all the time, “Eric, I just don’t know.”
MILLER: I often claim to know when I don’t. This list is about fame, not talent.
MILLER: I’d pay a fair amount of money to watch Stan Musial play baseball. Still, it’s kind of surprising that he was as respected as he was. Much of his value came from drawing walks, a skill that wasn’t embraced in the 20th century. And his power was more doubles and triples than homers even though he knocked 475 out of the park in his career. He never hit 40 homers in a season, and he never led the league. Heck, he only twice led the league in the once-coveted run batted in. He’s also a bit of an oddity in that I call him the best 1B in history, though he’s much more a corner outfielder than a first baseman. See, I decided I’d classify a player by the position he played most, not the position at which he was most effective. Thus, Ernie Banks is a 1B rather than a SS. And Musial is a 1B despite not playing there regularly too much until his very best days were over. It’s nice for our lists when greatness and fame intersect. ESPN gets things right then.
ERIC: Hornsby might be the best third baseman in history. Which is interesting since he’s a second baseman. Hear me out. Bill James document the jump in the defensive spectrum that occurred between the introduction of the lively ball and roughly World War II. Before that, thanks to prodigious amounts of bunting and lower double-play rates, third basemen had to be very good defenders. They were like second shortstops in some ways. Fellows such as Ossie Bluege could have a nice, long career with the kind of offensive numbers that would get today’s third basemen sent to AAA. Second basemen, on the other hand, had the short throw and didn’t need to make the pivot as frequently as today’s keystoners do, and they didn’t have to charge bunts. So managers often put the good-hit/so-so-fielding right-hand-throwing players there. For example, Larry Doyle or George Grantham. But the defensive spectrum jumped, and after the war, Ossie Bluege turned into Bill Mazeroski, and Larry Doyle turned into Harm Killebrew or Dick Allen. What this meant was that the offensive requirements of the position switched places. While today we might expect that the average second baseman to create about 4 to 6 runs below the league average, we’d expect a third baseman to be at least a league average hitter and perhaps a couple runs better than that. Well, that’s the inverse of how things were before second and third base swapped places on the defensive spectrum. If Rogers Hornsby had come along after 1945, he’d have been the best third baseman of all time. Him or Mike Schmidt. Of course, had Schmidt come along in 1993 instead of 1973, he’d have been one of those big Cal Ripken like shortstops.
MILLER: Fewer and fewer folks want to call Honus Wagner the third best position player ever. That’s because they’re dying. I remember lists that included Ruth, Cobb, and Wagner, with the latter two flip-flopping. And honestly, I find that far from an unspeakable ranking. See, I list Wagner #6. To get ahead of #5, Tris Speaker, all you need to do is embrace Rfield rather than DRA. To get him past Barry Bonds, all you need to do is mention steroids. Getting him past Mays isn’t easy at all, so the thing to do is to try to get him past Cobb. Here’s how. You can rate the game’s second best centerfielder ahead of its best shortstop. Right? So there, Honus Wagner, if you twist things just a little may still be the third best position player ever. The truth is that I like him anywhere from 5-8.
THE WORLDWIDE LEADER IN SPORTS’ 20–11
ERIC: I’m taking one more whack at this one. Any list purporting to rank players by their greatness on which Sandy Koufax appears ahead of Roger Clemens is not credible.
Koufax led the league in wins three times, winning percentage twice, ERA five times, complete games twice, shutouts thrice, innings twice, strikeouts four times, ERA+ twice, and WHIP four times. His best seven pitching WAR totals from BBREF are 10.7, 10.3, 8.1, 7.4, 5.7, 4.4, and 2.1.
Clemens led the league in wins four times, winning percentage three times, ERA seven times, complete games three times, shutouts 6 times, innings twice, strikeouts five times, ERA+ eight times, and WHIP three times. His best 7 seasons by BBREF’s pitching WAR are 11.9, 10.6, 9.4, 8.9, 8.8, 7.9, and 7.8.
Dudes, seriously! Stop smoking crack before you make a list like this.
MILLER: One of the really funny things for me is that they stuffed DiMaggio and Griffey onto this group. We rank them #54 and #62, respectfully. But ESPN had to get them here. You know, because of popularity. And because if they weren’t this high, there’s no way they could get Mickey Mantle so foolishly high in their next post.
Salary caps have always struck me as odd, dare I say un-American. At their best, they seem to help undisciplined owners make fewer mistakes; at their worst they suppress what workers can earn in a very artificial way. One might argue that they help to improve competitive balance, but I’m not so sure. What a team pays in salary is one factor among many that helps them to succeed. And teams that fail tend to find lots of ways to do so.
In our last two elections, we paid homage to William Hulbert and Charlie Comiskey, two of the men integral in the formation of the National and American leagues, respectively. Today we honor a third man, Ban Johnson, who probably deserves even more credit than Comiskey for the existence of the American League.
Why? Other “major” leagues had come and gone, none up until 1901 with any success. That’s when Ban Johnson’s Western League became the major league we know today as the Junior Circuit, the American League. In order to compete, one of the main tactics the AL used was to remove the salary cap. Cy Young, Nap Lajoie, Ed Delahanty, Jesse Burkett, and over 100 more jumped to the AL., and by 1902 the fledgling organization outdrew its NL competition by half a million. And the rest, as they say…
I don’t want to share an entire history lesson here. I’m happy to let Joe Santry and Cindy Thompson at SABR do that. I want to point out what a critical element to baseball’s success salary is. Generally speaking, the talented go where the money is. Again, I say that only generally. And in order for great athletes to choose baseball, there has to be a financial incentive. Michael Haupert’s SABR article on salary progression is fascinating for people who like numbers.
Here are a few of the highlights:
To say that Ban Johnson is responsible for Ryan or what we see today would be ridiculous. Dozens, maybe hundreds, of people have more to do with Peter Bourjos, for example, making $2 million this season than he does, but I don’t think we’d see a game much like today’s without Ban Johnson helping to get the American League off the ground by poaching players from a more financially-constrained NL.
As we get deeper into this project, those we elect will be more and more stage-sharers, people to whom we’ll attribute something, something that is more likely the work of a number of people. We’re not quite there yet. We can say that without Ban Johnson, we wouldn’t have had a competitive major league in the form we had one, when we had one. And who knows what would have happened later.
Overall, we’ve elected nine greats into the Hall of Miller and Eric’s Pioneer/Executive wing. Here they are:
Number ten is just a week away.
A couple of weeks ago, I previewed a little (well, not quite so little) study I was doing to try to determine the best combination player/manager in baseball history. The only real rule is that the person never had to serve as a player/manager, just that he had a significant career in both.
For players, I use my MAPES score (Miller’s Awesome Player Evaluation System). Each player has a yearly score based on their WAR and adjusted in several ways. I substitute defensive regression analysis for part of BBREF’s Rfield number. I give catchers extra credit based on the difficulty of their day-to-day work, I adjust for 19th century rules, and I adjust pitchers just a shade so they look the same as hitters. From there, I weigh peak seasons and consecutive peak seasons to come up with my score. For reference, Babe Ruth leads among position players at a bit over 129, and Walter Johnson leads pitchers at nearly 123.
For managers, I use my ZIMMER score (Zooming In on Major Managerial Excellence and Rank). As with players, there’s a seasonal total that looks at Pythagenpat wins versus actual wins, expected wins versus actual wins, marginal wins (as calculated by Seamheads), and bonuses for playoff success. From there, I adjust for games above .500, and I weigh peak seasons to come up with my score. Among managers in this study, John McGraw leads the way at just over 103.
From there, I took the harmonic mean of the two numbers to determine the best combination player/manager in history.
Two weeks ago, we narrowed our list of those we would consider to 80. In case you hadn’t memorized them, here they are.
Felipe Alou Larry Dierker Pinky Higgins Mel Ott Cap Anson Hugh Duffy Gil Hodges Roger Peckinpaugh Dusty Baker Leo Durocher Rogers Honrsby Lou Piniella Hank Bauer Jimmy Dykes Miller Huggins Wilbert Robinson Don Baylor Buck Ewing Fred Hutchinson Frank Robinson Buddy Bell Art Fletcher Hughie Jennings Pete Rose Yogi Berra Jim Fregosi Davey Johnson Red Schoendienst Bob Boone Frankie Frisch Walter Johnson Mike Scioscia Lou Boudreau Phil Garner Fielder Jones Billy Southworth Roger Bresnahan Cito Gaston Joe Kelly Tris Speaker Donie Bush Kirk Gibson Nap Lajoie Eddie Stanky Frank Chance Joe Girardi Bob Lemon Casey Stengel Fred Clarke Kid Gleason Al Lopez Patsy Tebeau Ty Cobb Joe Gordon Billy Martin Bill Terry Mickey Cochrane Clark Griffith Don Mattingly Joe Torre Jimmy Collins Charlie Grimm John McGraw Pie Traynor Charlie Comiskey Ozzie Guillen Deacon McGuire Bill Virdon Del Crandall Ned Hanlon Pinky Morrill Monte Ward Joe Cronin Mike Hargrove Steve O'Neill Dick Williams Al Dark Bucky Harris Jim O'Rourke Don Zimmer
Major league teams are generally quite good at avoiding putting guys on the field who are below replacement level. They’re far, far less good at finding managers with equivalent skills. Our first cuts will be men who were below replacement level by either MAPES or ZIMMER for their careers. That’s because when we figure a harmonic mean, a negative number on either side results in a negative total.
I don’t really understand how harmonic means work, but Excel does, so I feel okay about the number. Duffy was an excellent player, as his Hall plaque would suggest. But he couldn’t manage. To be fair, he had some stinky teams. But even they underperformed expectations. Is he really worst on our list? I don’t know. I’m confident he’s nowhere near the top half though.
#79 Buddy Bell (MAPES: 54; ZIMMER: -20; Player Manager Score: -65)
For my money, Bell was an even better player than Duffy. Though he’s not in the Hall, he is a member of the HoME. I feel really confident in Bell’s manager score, or at least his standing relative to most others. He was bad in Detroit, in Colorado, and in Kansas City.
#78 Deacon McGuire (MAPES: 32; ZIMMER: -11; Player Manager Score: -35)
Around the turn of last century, McGuire donned the tools of ignorance more than 1600 times. Perhaps the beating he took dulled his brain; managing wasn’t his thing. He was more of a fill-in, leading only the 1910 Cleveland Naps for a full campaign. He wasn’t good.
#77 Art Fletcher (MAPES: 32; ZIMMER: -11; Player Manager Score: -35)
Our second HoMEr among players, Fletcher was a New York Giant shortstop and a wonderful defender who could hit some too. Managing wasn’t his strong point. In four seasons with the Phillies, he never finished above sixth, and he got even less out of a bad club than he should have.
#76 Del Crandall (MAPES: 34; ZIMMER: -9; Player Manager Score: -25)
Another catcher, one who displayed some decent pop with the 1950s Braves, Crandall was less impressive as a manager. In parts of six seasons, he never finished above fifth. It says something about him, perhaps, that in those six seasons, he only managed the full campaign twice.
#75 Bob Boone (MAPES: 30; ZIMMER: -7; Player Manager Score: -19)
Before I really knew a ton about baseball, I argued that Bob Boone should be in the Hall of Fame because of the tremendous number of games he caught, 2225. His MAPES score takes that number into account, and it still says he’s far short. By the time Boone managed, I knew a lot more. I knew enough to have confidence in his ZIMMER number. Neither the Royals nor the Reds were better off for having him in the dugout.
#74 Mel Ott (MAPES: 76; ZIMMER: -7; Player Manager Score: -16)
Even if you hit 511 home runs and draw 100 walks in a season ten times before it was fashionable, you’re not necessarily a very good manager. Ott is 20th in MAPES among position players, and he spent the last six years of his playing career and 75 games beyond that managing the NY Giants. Perhaps because Ott was diminished as a player, Ott the manager had it tough.
#73 John Morrill (MAPES: 28; ZIMMER: -3; Player Manager Score: -7)
Honest John, as he was known, played for 15 years in the bigs, mostly at 1B. As a manager, he doesn’t deserve to rank this low, but his numbers are destroyed by the 1885 Beaneaters playing below expectations. While I don’t trust the ZIMMER score, it’s not like Morrill would ever crack our top half.
#72 Roger Bresnahan (MAPES: 41; ZIMMER: -3; Player Manager Score: -7)
Yet another catcher, yet another Hall of Famer, yet another stinky manager. Bresnahan was known for his innovation as a player, working to find a means of protecting himself from baseballs flying at him at 90 MPH or more. As a manager he was far less interesting, finishing fourth or worse in five seasons with the Cardinals and Cubs.
#71 Phil Garner (MAPES: 27; ZIMMER: -3; Player Manager Score: -6)
“Scrap Iron” is such a cool nickname. I think of Garner as David Eckstein before we ever knew Eckstein. Maybe it’s because of his scrappy play that he was allowed to manage for fifteen seasons. What kills Garner is how his Brewer teams underperformed by Pythagenpat and by expected record. Later in his career he was decent, even winning a pennant with the 2005 Astros.
#70 Leo Durocher (MAPES: 0; ZIMMER: 60; Player Manager Score: 0)
We know that Durocher was a great manager. He and his 2008 career wins are in the HoME in that capacity. As a player, he was a pretty useless shortstop for the Yankees, Reds, Cardinals, and Dodgers. While I like my ZIMMER numbers, I have more confidence in my MAPES totals. It’s clear that Durocher is far from the top group.
#69 Eddie Stanky (MAPES: 34; ZIMMER: 0; Player Manager Score: 0)
This three-time All-Star was wonderful at drawing walks. And he played a strong 2B for five NL teams from 1943-1953. Managing went less well even though he had a still great Stan Musial with the Cardinals and some very strong pitching with the White Sox.
Each of our first dozen cuts has total Player Manager scores in the negatives. Our next cuts are at least above zero.
#68 Kirk Gibson (MAPES: 33; ZIMMER: 0; Player Manager Score: 0)
The 1988 NL MVP and hero of that year’s World Series after a dramatic Roy Hobbs-ian homer against Dennis Eckersley was a fine player overall. He smacked 255 homers and stole 284 bases, heights that have been reached by only 19 other players. As a manager, he won the NL West in his first year with the Diamondbacks, but things went downhill after that. This ranking is likely a bit too low, though he’s clearly not among the top-40.
#67 Joe Kelley (MAPES: 46; ZIMMER: 0; Player Manager Score: 0)
Great players got jobs as managers because they were great players, not necessarily because they were brilliant tacticians or motivators. Kelley seems like he’s one such player. An excellent hitting outfielder for six teams over seventeen seasons, Kelly was pretty mediocre in the dugout, leading two teams over five years to finishes of third or worse.
#66 Cito Gaston (MAPES: 0; ZIMMER: 25; Player Manager Score: 1)
I remember Cito Gaston as a decent player. Funny how memories work. He made the 1970 NL All-Star team with the Padres, but that was about it. In the dugout, he was a push-button manager. He just let guys play, which was effective enough when his teams in Toronto were great. He won a couple of World Series in 1992 and 1993. But the Jays couldn’t keep the talent level high, and Gaston’s mediocrity got him fired. Twice. The truth is, however, he’d rank a lot higher if he had been a better player.
#65 Donie Bush (MAPES: 36; ZIMMER: 1; Player Manager Score: 1)
As a hitter, this mediocre shortstop could take ball four. In the dugout, he was nothing special. He managed four teams over seven seasons, clearly showing he knew how to wear out a welcome. The highlight of his managerial career came when his Pirates were swept in the 1927 World Series by the Yankees.
#64 Joe Gordon (MAPES: 52; ZIMMER: 3; Player Manager Score: 6)
It was a revelation to see just how good Joe Gordon was when we were putting together the HoME. The 1942 AL MVP was a great combination of infield defense and pop. The ten-time All-Star is the power hitter that some claim Jeff Kent to have been. As a manager, he did very little though. He managed two full seasons and parts of four others, so there’s not much there.
#63 Don Zimmer (MAPES: 4; ZIMMER: 20; Player Manager Score: 7)
As the manager of the 1978 Red Sox, the first team I ever loved, Zim was the first manager I got to know. He was acceptable in the dugout, winning 885 games in 13 years. He even made it to the playoffs with the Cubs in 1989. As a player, he was an All-Star in 1961, and he was the first ever Met 3B. Overall, that’s not saying a lot of Zim as a player.
#62 Pinky Higgins (MAPES: 18; ZIMMER: 4; Player Manager Score: 7)
As a player, Higgins made three All-Star teams and drove in at least 70 runs for twelve straight years from 1933-1944. He finished his playing career with the 1946 Red Sox and began his managerial career with the same team in 1955. He’s third in wins with the Sox, totaling 560 over eight campaigns. He oversaw a bunch of mediocre teams, and he was, well, mediocre.
#61 Dick Williams (MAPES: 4; ZIMMER: 61; Player Manager Score: 8)
One of the best managers ever, the man who led the Impossible Dream Red Sox of 1967 and the start of the A’s dynasty in 1972 and 1973, Williams won 1571 games and has a plaque hanging in Cooperstown. As a player, he wasn’t much. He played at least 150 games in LF and CF as well as 1B and 3B, which is something only he and Frank Thomas (the other one) can say, but he didn’t play 300 anywhere. That a poor hitting, mediocre fielding corner type could hang on for thirteen seasons probably says all you need to know about his baseball mind. (By the way, this seems like a good time to mention that BBREF’s Play Index is gold, pure gold).
#60 Billy Martin (MAPES: 4; ZIMMER: 69; Player Manager Score: 8)
If you named Billy Martin your manager, you were about to be in for a ton of controversy and almost as many wins. Martin won a pennant with the Yankees in 1976 and the World Series a year later. He also took the Twins, Tigers, and A’s to the playoffs. As a player, I suppose you could describe the 1956 AL All-Star as scrappy. He was a poor-hit, poor glove infielder who owns four rings with the great Yankee teams of the 1950s.
#59 Pie Traynor (MAPES: 37; ZIMMER: 5; Player Manager Score: 8)
The guy I’d call the most overrated 3B of the first half of the 20th century, Traynor was nonetheless a very talented player. He drove in lots of runs for Pirate teams that were consistently near the top of the National League. In fact, he’s one of one of only six 3B ever with 1200 RBI and 2400 hits. As a manager, he was kind of blah, winning 457 games for the Pirates and never going to the World Series.
Napoleon was a dynamite player and a pretty average skipper. The Indian star owns five batting titles, four slugging titles, and is one of the 10-15 best position players ever. He was so great as a player that Cleveland’s AL squad named their team in his honor from 1903-1914. From 1905-1910 he was their manager, finishing second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth once each.
#57 Larry Dierker (MAPES: 28; ZIMMER: 6; Player Manager Score: 10)
For whatever reason, pitchers don’t become managers much. Dierker is the first hurler on our list. He appeared in his first games with the Astros in 1964 at age-17. He made a couple of All-Star teams in Houston and won 20 games in 1969. As a manager, he made the playoffs in four of his five seasons, though he went 2-12 once he got to October. How can someone who makes the playoffs four times in five years have such a low ZIMMER score? It’s simple. His Astros were very good. They should have made it. The fact that Dierker never got another job suggests baseball knew the same.
#56 Ty Cobb (MAPES: 112; ZIMMER: 6; Player Manager Score: 11)
Cobb is an excellent example of why I use a harmonic mean rather than an arithmetic mean to determine the best player/manager ever. By arithmetic mean, he’d be sixth on our list, but I don’t think anyone believes the guy who his .367 and stroked 4191 base hits (or 4189, or whatever) belongs that high. That he was given managerial authority to terrorize players on his own team says something about how one became a player/manager in the 1920s.
#55 Jim O’Rourke (MAPES: 49; ZIMMER: 7; Player Manager Score: 12)
Hall of Famer number eleven played the game for 23 seasons, starting in the National Association and ending in the World Series era, albeit playing just one game. As a player, he kept on producing good, not great, seasons. As a manager, he was less impressive. He won 246 games over five years, finishing as high as third three times. Had he not taken the job with the Senators almost a decade after leaving the Bisons, he’d be higher on our list.
#54 Rogers Hornsby (MAPES: 99; ZIMMER: 7; Player Manager Score: 13)
The Ty Cobb of the National League, if you will, Hornsby won the triple slash triple crown every year from 1920-1925. He’s the best 2B ever and one of the best players ever. As a manager, he was one heck of a player. He did win the 1926 World Series, so there’s that. But Hornsby was really just a fill-in in the dugout. He managed for 14 years for six teams, but just five full seasons.
#53 Joe Girardi (MAPES: 9; ZIMMER: 33; Player Manager Score: 14)
Before we get too excited about Girardi climbing up this list, check out the MAPES score. A ZIMMER score three times as great wouldn’t do much for him. As a player, he blocked Jorge Posada for a spell. As a manager, he’s been far better to the Yankees, winning the 2009 World Series and making the playoffs four other times. But Yankee fans expect more. He hasn’t won 90 games since 2012. That’s the longest such drought in New York since the Andy Stankiewicz days.
#52 Jim Fregosi (MAPES: 39; ZIMMER: 8; Player Manager Score: 14)
We think of him as the guy who was traded for Nolan Ryan. While that’s true, prior to the trade, Fregosi was one heck of a player, even making six All-Star teams. He made it to the playoffs with the 1979 Angels and won a pennant with the 1993 Phillies. In all, he won 1028 games. Remove his 1980 season when Don Baylor collapsed and Nolan Ryan left for Houston, and you have a guy who would jump up a number of rankings.
#51 Kid Gleason (MAPES: 34; ZIMMER: 9; Player Manager Score: 14)
The man who ran the Black Sox had more fame as a manager but more value as a player. And almost all of that value was on the mound. Gleason won 120 games over five seasons from 1890-1894, which wasn’t really so many, just eighth best in baseball over that span. It’s hard to say what he would have been as a manager if he had more time with Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte, Buck Weaver, and the other fixers. It’s pretty impressive that he even kept his job.
#50 Patsy Tebeau (MAPES: 10; ZIMMER: 27; Player Manager Score: 15)
Tebeau, a 19th century corner infielder, is the first guy on our list with 10 MAPES and 10 ZIMMER points. He really wasn’t much as a player, though he did put up 1290 hits in thirteen years. And managing the Cleveland Spiders, you couldn’t expect a ton in the way of greatness. They won the second half of the 1892 season, but they came up short against the Beaneaters in what was essentially the World Series. He finished second twice more and third once, winning 726 games in eleven years.
#49 Don Baylor (MAPES: 22; ZIMMER: 11; Player Manager Score: 15)
The 1979 AL MVP had one of the coolest nicknames ever, “The Sneak Thief”. Maybe he got that name because he stole 285 bases in his career and was a pretty big guy. Only six guys ever top Baylor’s 338 HR and 285 steals – Bonds, A-Rod, Mays, Dawson, Soriano, and Beltran. Baylor was also the first manager of the Colorado Rockies, hanging on there for six seasons, and making the playoffs in 1995. He did get another job with the Cubs, but things didn’t work out there so much. I actually don’t think Baylor should rank this high. His ZIMMER number is where it is because of his success with the expansion Rockies, credit I’d give to people other than The Sneak Thief.”
#48 Monte Ward (MAPES: 49; ZIMMER: 10; Player Manager Score: 17)
Very little bothers me about the great BBREF. But there’s one thing that’s always a pain, looking up Ward and having to remember that his first name is “John”. Anyway, John played in the 19th century. He won a couple of SB titles, and he also boasts crowns in ERA, K, and W. He was a versatile and valuable pitcher and middle infielder. As a manager, he got to manage himself. And he even got to manage a team named for him, Brooklyn’s Ward’s Wonders of 1890. Overall, he managed five teams in seven years, which says mostly all you need to know about his managerial acumen.
#47 Bill Virdon (MAPES: 18; ZIMMER: 16; Player Manager Score: 17)
Our most balanced entrant yet, Virdon was a mediocre player and a somewhat useful manager. He was the 1955 NL Rookie of the Year, and he was a pretty good center fielder over his dozen years in the bigs. Managing is probably how he’s better known though. He led the Expos, Astros, Yankees, and Pirates to 995 wins over thirteen seasons. He took the 1972 Pirates to October, and he brought the 1980-1981 Astros there too. We’d be looking at a higher ranking for Virdon were he to have hung on in New York. He was fired in 1975, before the Yankee mini-dynasty of 1976-1981.
#46 Fred Hutchinson (MAPES: 24; ZIMMER: 14; Player Manager Score: 17)
As a player, Fred Hutchinson was a control pitcher who won 95 games and was an All-Star for the 1951 Detroit Tigers. As a manager, he led those Tigers, the Cardinals, and the Reds. He took the Reds to the World Series in 1961, where they lost to the Maris/Mantle Yankees. The next year they won 98 games but finished third. In all, he won 830 games in a dozen campaigns.
#45 Charlie Comiskey (MAPES: 11; ZIMMER: 43; Player Manager Score: 18)
Best known as the owner of the Chicago White Sox, Comiskey had two careers before he got there. He put up negative WAR over the last seven years of his career as a pop-less first baseman jumping from the AA to the PL to the NL. He was far more successful managerially. His 1885-1888 St. Louis Browns won the AA pennant each season, and in 1886 they topped the NL’s Chicago White Stockings in the forerunner to the World Series. It’s possible Comiskey should rank higher. Then again, winning AA titles maybe isn’t so impressive.
#44 Charlie Grimm (MAPES: 13; ZIMMER: 30; Player Manager Score: 18)
Grimm played 20 years as a first baseman in the majors, totaling 2299 hits. But he wasn’t very good. Playing for four teams, he reached 2 WAR only three times in those 20 years. Managing was his calling. He won pennants with the Cubs in 1932, 1935, and 1945, but he lost the World Series each year. The 1945 Series loss to the Tigers was the last time the Cubs made it there over the last 70 years. He also had a nice run with the Braves, where he finished in the top-three the first three years they were in Milwaukee. His 1287 wins lands him in 44th place on our list.
Known as the guy who began managing the Indians when he was 24 and who won the World Series in Cleveland at 30, Boudreau totaled 1162 wins as a manager for four teams, but his real success was as a player. The 1948 AL MVP, 1944 AL batting champ, and seven-time All-Star is a member of the HoME as a plus bat, plus-plus glove shortstop who posted a .295 career BA and a .380 career OBP.
Peckinpaugh was a very good player, approaching the best two-dozen shortstops ever. He gained most of his fame as a Yankee, but later in his career he helped the Senators to a 1924 World Series victory. Then he came back the next year to take the AL MVP in his final full season. He wasn’t given the best lot as a manager, taking over a weak Indians team in 1928. But he made the best of a bad situation, bringing a team that finished six or seventh the previous two years to four straight finishes of third or fourth. To get to this level, it seems you didn’t need to be that successful of a manager. Peckinpaugh won just 500 games as a big league skipper.
Robinson is in the Hall of Fame as a manager, and it’s pretty clear that he’s the Hall’s biggest mistake in that category. Uncle Robbie was a nice guy who led the Brooklyn Robins from 1914-1931. But let’s not confuse longevity and success. During that time, he won only two pennants, losing to the Red Sox in 1916 and the Indians in 1920. He did win 1399 games, so that’s something. On the playing side of things, he was a catcher who got into 1316 games behind the plate, almost all in the 19th century. So he was a tough guy. Of course, being a tough player and a nice manager shouldn’t qualify you for a bust in Cooperstown.
That’s all for today. Check out the next twenty on our list next week, and tune in two Wednesdays from now for the top-twenty player/managers of all time.
Who was the better homer hitter: Schmidt (a league-leading 37) or Murphy (who placed with 44)?
Same type of question, thornier scenario. In 1906, HoMEr Nap Lajoie racked up more value than any other player in the AL (10.0 Wins Above Replacement or WAR), and in 1907 his 7.6 Wins led the league again. Which season was better?
Math majors (which I was not one of) will recognize where this is headed—standard deviation. Which sounds like Emile Durkeim territory, but, sorry sociology majors, it’s not. Standard deviation is a powerful concept for comparing historical players against one another. You might picture it like this:
So first off, let’s dispense with the statistical talk and call high-standard deviation leagues “easy” and low standard deviation leagues “tough”—as in easy to dominate or tough to dominate. And let’s refer to the idea of standard deviation as the “toughness” of a league.
Clearly, position players have relatively little control over one another’s overall performance. So, the toughness of a league is part of a player’s context, just like the size of his home park or the length of the season he plays in. And toughness isn’t the same as the quality of play in the league. Like with our Lajoie example above, a league can be easy one year and tough the next with the same mix players and conditions.
For the purpose of the HoME, I want to strip away contextual illusions to put players on an equal footing so I can better compare them. After doing some very basic research, I’m incorporating an adjustment for toughness into my system. [I’ll save the nuts and bolts for the end of this post so that those who like to peek under the hood of my statistical Yugo can tell me what I’m doing wrong, and those that don’t care can get on with life.]
The following graph shows what the adjustment looks like over time and why it’s important. The historical average is 1.00; any league above 1.00 is a tougher league to dominate and anything below is easier. [As they say, click to embiggen.]
You can spot both large, long-term historical trends in the toughness of the leagues but also a lot of year-to-year bumpiness. For instance the 1920s and 1930s when the NL is clearly tougher for a long time, but where both leagues bounce around a lot.
So what causes toughness to change annually and over time? Here’s a few things that the graph may suggest:
One factor that’s surprisingly hard to discern from the chart is scoring levels. It’s not immediately clear whether runs/game has an effect on toughness or not.
Does all this numbering around really mean anything to how I’m viewing a HoME candidate, or how we might look at players generally? The answer is…yes, but sometimes a lot more than others.
Here’s two contrasting examples. In 1986 and 1987, Tony Gwynn led the NL in WAR each year with 6.6 and 8.5 respectively. The NL of 1986 was one of the toughest leagues after integration with a 1.13 adjustment factor. The 1987 NL was a little tough at 1.04. That’s not nearly enough to draw them even (they adjust to 7.2 to 8.8), but if the Left-Digit Effect [warning: pay-link but with helpful, free abstract] applies to our perceptions of ballplayers as it does to commodities, we’ve moved the needle a tick or two.
But what about the most extreme example?
The largest one-year jump in toughness occurs between the 1906 and 1907 AL. In 1906 Nap Lajoie led the AL in WAR with exactly ten Wins. In 1907 he led again, at 7.6 this time. When we adjust for the toughness of the leagues, that gap of 2.4 wins nearly disappears with 1906 knocked down to 8.9 WAR and 1907 amped up to 8.4 WAR. My take: our perception that his 1906 season is significantly more impressive than his 1907 is in part an illusion of context due to one of the leagues being way tougher than the other.
In the end, however, we know that players don’t crank out the same season every year. Their own performance varies due to all kinds of reasons (injuries, fatigue, divorce, marriage, fitness or its lack, weather, Bobby Valentine, whatever). But that doesn’t mean that our perceptions of their seasons are always well formed.
Does this change my view on Gwynn or Lajoie a lot? Probably not. It’s when we get down to candidates at the very edges of the HoME, the last thirty players we select, the last two guys at each position, that every last bit or byte of information can make or break a player’s case.
Good thing we’re still a long way off from there.
So how does this toughness adjustment work?
FIGURING THE ADJUSTMENT FACTORS
APPLYING THE ADJUSTMENT TO INDIVIDUAL PLAYER SEASONS
This example with Nap Lajoie should make it clear:
YEAR WAA ADJ adjWAA DIFF WAR adjWAR --------------------------------------------- 1906 7.6 * 0.86 = 6.5 -1.1 + 10.0 = 8.9 1907 5.5 * 1.20 = 6.3 +0.8 + 7.6 = 8.4
WAYS AND MEANS AND MEDIANS
Can we talk about .400 hitters? They ain’t always what they’re cracked up to be, you know.
As with so many things baseball, they’re often the right guy at the right time, not exactly a product of context, but an exploiter of it. So with Ty Cobb and George Sisler gaining eligibility in this election—owners of five of the twenty-eight .400 seasons in history are on our ballot—let’s take a little look at the contexts faced by .400 hitters.
Stephen Jay Gould famously essayed on this very subject in “Where have all the .400 hitters gone?” Since then, many smarter minds than ours have taken up the question as well (a nice summary here). Two of the biggest reasons for our lack of .400 hitters appear to be
These two points account for other sub-arguments such as the style of play (place hitting versus power hitting) and the emergence of relief pitching (today’s players don’t face tiring starters for a fourth time during a game). But they don’t tell the whole sordid story.
See, when we look at these seasons closely, a pattern emerges.
1876 NL .265
Ross Barnes .476
The first season of the National League.
1884 UA .245
Fred Dunlap .412
The first and only season of the third-rate Union Association that was major in ambition only. It had one dominant team, you guessed it, Dunlap’s.
1887 AA .273
Tip O’Neill .435
Pete Browning .402
For 1887, MLB decreed that four called strikes were an out. It reverted to three for 1888. The AA’s batting averages from 1886 to 1888 tell the story: .243, .273, .238.
1894 NL .309
Hugh Duffy .440
Tuck Turner .418
Sam Thompson .415
Ed Delahanty .404
Billy Hamilton .403
The pitcher’s mound moved backward ten feet in 1893, and offense shot up from 5.1 runs per game in 1892 to 6.6 runs per game in 1893. In 1894, it zoomed northward again to 7.4 runs per game. The entire league’s batting average rose from .245 in 1892 to .280 in 1893 and then to .309(!) in 1894. To put this in perspective, Duffy’s record setting .440 average was 42 percent higher than the average batter. When George Brett hit .390 in 1980, his average was 47% higher than the league’s .269 average. And Duffy’s league let pitchers bat, Brett’s didn’t. Things settled a bit as the decade ground on, but it was still a pinball offense until the league contracted to eight teams following the 1899 season. Oh, and the foul-strike rule didn’t exist until the 1900s.
1895 NL .296
Jesse Burkett .405
Ed Delahanty .404
1896 NL .290
Jesse Burkett .410
Hughie Jennings .401
1897 NL .292
Willie Keeler .424
1899 NL .282
Ed Delahanty .410
1901 AL .277
Nap Lajoie .427
The AL was an expansion league in its first year with less talent concentration than the NL. Lajoie was by far its biggest star.
1911 AL .273
Ty Cobb .420
Joe Jackson .408
For 1911, the AL introduced a new cork-centered baseball. Runs rose from 3.6 to 4.6, and batting averages from .243 to .273, a similar percentage rise to the 1890s.
1912 AL .265
Ty Cobb .409
The new baseball stuck, and for one more year the hitters had their day. Until pitchers caught up by defacing and sliming balls so that they would dip and dive. Batting averages slid downward again until…
1920 AL .283
George Sisler .407
The spitter was outlawed, grubby baseballs were replaced during games, and Babe Ruth revolutionized offense. Offense exploded and the league batting average rose from .268 to .283. The 1920s were the greatest conditions for hitters between the 1890s and the 1990s.
1922 AL .285
George Sisler .420
Ty Cobb .401
1922 NL .292
Rogers Hornsby .401
1923 AL .283
Harry Heilmann .403
1924 NL .283
Rogers Hornsby .424
1925 NL .292
Rogers Hornsby .403
1930 NL .303
Bill Terry .401
1930 was the crowning touch, the capstone on the big 1920s offensive bang. Runs scored slid downward as the depression went on. Batting averages settled around .280 by mid decade then slid to the low .270s as the 1940s approached.
1941 AL .266
Ted Williams .406
By 1941, league averages slide to levels not seen in twenty years. Williams faced the third lowest league batting average among these 28 hitters and the highest quality of play. Given that combination, his .400 season (52 percent higher than his league) is the most impressive in history.
To recap, we have:
So the dirty secret about .400 seasons is this: with one exception, they always occur at times when the pitching-hitting balance or the overall quality of play is thrown all out of whack. Which explains a bit about Tony Gwynn’s .394 average in 1994 (a year after an expansion, during a time of crazy high run scoring), doesn’t it? And which makes the runs at .400 by Brett, Rod Carew (.388 in 1977) and Ted Williams (again! .388 in 1957) all the more impressive.
Will the .400 hitter ever make a return? You know, it’s probably bound to happen by random chance, just like Miguel Cabrera’s triple crown season. But unless we see a rule change that makes the slider illegal or lets batters swing metal bats, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Congratulations to our largest ever class of inductees – Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, Nap Lajoie, Eddie Plank, Sam Crawford, Joe Jackson, Jesse Burkett, Ross Barnes, and Rube Waddell for gaining entrance to the Hall of Miller and Eric with our 1926 election.
The HoME is now populated with 29 of the greatest players in the game’s history.
Per our rules, all four had to be named on both ballots for induction. Let’s look to see how we voted.
Miller Eric 1 Honus Wagner Honus Wagner 2 Christy Mathewson Nap Lajoie 3 Nap Lajoie Christy Mathewson 4 Sam Crawford Eddie Plank 5 Eddie Plank Joe Jackson 6 Joe Jackson Sam Crawford 7 Ross Barnes Jesse Burkett 8 Jesse Burkett Paul Hines 9 Rube Waddell Elmer Flick 10 Monte Ward Charlie Bennett 11 Pud Galvin George Wright 12 Jimmy Collins 13 Ross Barnes 14 Joe McGinnity 15 Rube Waddell 16 Vic Willis
It’s pretty easy to say that Honus Wagner is the best shortstop in the history of major league baseball. Sure, Alex Rodriguez seemed to be ready to challenge, but then the Yankees moved him to 3B, and there was some other nonsense… Anyway, as a Pittsburgh Pirate he won eight batting titles, seven doubles titles, six slugging titles, five run batted in titles, four on base percentage titles, three triples titles, two runs titles, and one ticket into the Baseball Hall of Fame’s inaugural class. The Flying Ducthman was also a slick fielder and aggressive and adept base runner.
A fine football player and college man before joining the Cincinnati Reds, Christy Mathewson soon became part of perhaps the most lopsided trade in baseball history when the Reds shipped him to the New York Giants for 246-game winner, Amos Rusie. Well, Rusie never won a single game for the Reds, or for anyone else. Mathewson won 372 for the Giants – and then 1 for the Reds, just for fun. Mathewson won 30 games four times. He also had five strike titles to go with five ERA titles. He’s one of the dozen or so best players ever to play the game.
Nap Lajoie owns the greatest single-season batting average in the history of the American League, .426 for the 1901 Philadelphia A’s. The second baseman won four more batting titles, all for the Cleveland Indians. And he collected a total of 3243 hits during his career, which was second in history at the time of his retirement. Lajoie’s career was nearly derailed after he contracted sepsis due to an untreated spike injury when the dye from his sock entered the open wound and led to blood poisoning. Luckily for him, the Indians, and all of baseball, they didn’t amputate, and he recovered. After more than 1700 additional hits, he entered the Hall in its second class, with more votes than such greats as Cy Young and Tris Speaker.
Eddie Plank was among the best left-handed pitchers ever to play the game. He was the first lefty with 200 wins and with 300 wins, even though he didn’t get to the majors until he was 25. Once he got started, Plank never slowed down, winning at least 14 games every year from 1901-1916. His 326 victories are the thirteenth best ever, and he’s in the top-20 in pitcher WAR as well. Plank retired after the 1917 season. Still, the New York Yankees traded Urban Shocker, 15K, and four other players for him and Del Pratt. Plank kept giving after his retirement, as Shocker went on to win 126 games for the Browns before being dealt back to the Yankees.
Nobody in the history of the game compiled more triples than Sam Crawford. Wahoo Sam led the AL in the category six times and reached double figures every season from 1900-1916. For some perspective on how the game has changed, the top player on the all-time list who played in the last quarter century is Willie Wilson, and he’s tied for 56th place. Showing more speed and power, Crawford holds the single-season record with twelve inside the park home runs and is second all-time to fellow HoME inductee Jesse Burkett.
There’s little we can share here about Joe Jackson that hasn’t already been told. For those who think his greatness is a creation of Black Sox apologists, check out the similarities between Shoeless Joe and Ed Delahanty. The third highest batting average in the game’s history is enough to put him in the HoME. Add to that his back-to-back 9 WAR seasons in 1911 and 1912, and you might have the game’s best right fielder at his peak aside from Ruth and Aaron. As a sign of his greatness, Jackson’s best season for the White Sox was his last, in 1920, the year after the White Sox threw the World Series and the year before he was banned for life.
Jesse Burkett isn’t the game’s best known superstar, probably because his career ended more than a century ago. But Burkett could hit – think about the level of Billy Williams. Seasons above .400 for the 1895-1896 Cleveland Spiders helped him to achieve an impressive .338 career mark. He was such a consistent and solid player, posting over 4.0 WAR for seven consecutive seasons, from 1895-1901. Among players in left field, only Ed Delahanty and Barry Bonds can makes that same claim.
Ross Barnes is the best player in the history of the National Association. He was the second baseman for the dominant team in the NA, the Boston Red Stockings, that won titles in four of the NA’s five seasons, including a spectacular record of 71-8 in 1875. Barnes also starred in the National League, winning the triple slash triple crown, the second of his career, in the circuit’s inaugural campaign of 1876 for the Chicago White Stockings.
Not long ago, I made the argument that Rube Waddell might just be the greatest strikeout pitcher in the game’s history. He won six K crowns and a pair of ERA titles to go with his 193 wins and 2.16 career ERA. The thing that made him so great is the number of strikeouts he had compared to his peers, routinely striking out a batter or three more than the runner-up in his league. He gets into the HoME with ease as one of the half-dozen or so best pitchers in the first two decades of the American League.
Each season, some guys are elected, while others receive votes from only one of us. Below we’ll explain our reasons for such votes
Monte Ward: Ward ranks 140th in career WAR, right between Dave Winfield and Willie McCovey. Now some of his total is inflated because of the huge pitching numbers, particularly in 1879 and 1880. On the other hand, it’s deflated on offense by the shorter schedule. He was a very good pitcher; then he was a pretty strong hitter. He was an adept fielder who played every day. I wouldn’t put him in as a pitcher or as a hitter. Combined, I think he belongs.
Pud Galvin: I’m looking at those 365 wins, fifth all time. And he’s second in innings in history. Sure, his 107 ERA+ ain’t shiny, but I just salivate over those wins.
Paul Hines: He’s Deacon White in the outfield and the best CF before Billy Hamilton. The impressiveness of his longevity and performance is masked by the length of the schedules in his day. And perhaps it’s overshadowed by the extreme longevity of Cap Anson and Jim O’Rourke.
Elmer Flick: I went back and looked at the great right fielders in history (who have been eligible for the Hall through 2013), and this guy is, like Burkett, smack dab in that middle third. He dominated his position in the early aughts, and just because Lajoie was better than he is doesn’t constitute a knock against him. Sad that he got whatever disease he had because he was really special.
Charlie Bennett: Probably the second best catcher before Gabby Hartnett. His greatness is often overlooked due to what appears to be a paucity of games played. However, catcher really beat a guy up back then, and he routinely was among the league leaders in games caught. He was a gifted receiver and mobile fielder and thrower who racked up tremendous defensive value and who hit enough to be a middle-of-the-order hitter. Worth noting that catchers were simply more valuable defensively during the early game because teams ran so much, and because fielding percentage was a high-value stat when there was limited defensive equipment.
George Wright: He was the world’s best player by contemporary and historical acclimation before the National Association, second only to Ross Barnes during the NA, and continued along a couple more years into the NL.
Jimmy Collins: This is going to sound very twisty, but here goes. I can’t get Jimmy Collins any higher than 14th all-time among third basemen based solely on my interpretation value stats. But I also can’t get him any lower than that. And when I take the broader historical context of his era and position into account, the argument becomes clearer. Among all-time 3Bs ahead of him (who will be eligible by our 2013 election), Collins is immediately beneath a clutch of 1970s guys: Darrell Evans, Buddy Bell, Graig Nettles. When you consider that George Brett and Mike Schmidt also came out of that era (and Sal Bando and Toby Harrah for that matter), but that pretty much nobody but Collins had even a moderately long career as a full-time third baseman in his time, there’s something contextual going on. Collins is the best third baseman between Deacon White and Home Run Baker, and the second best third baseman between White and Eddie Mathews. Or the third best third baseman from 1871 to 1950. That’s 80 years. I don’t like to dive into the bullshit dump very often, but after studying this a bit, I believe that there’s something about that era and third base and the amazing lack of durability showed that isn’t well captured by the numbers. When I combine that with the fact that Collins was the best third baseman of his time, and the fact that the stats stick him squarely within the HoME, I’m comfortable voting for him, even though he isn’t a slam dunk.
Joe McGinnity and Vic Willis: One comment to cover both of these pitchers. You could put either ahead of the other, doesn’t really matter. They were both league-leading pitchers and among the best of this generation for a little while, much like Rube Waddell. McGinnity had the durability and most ink, and Willis probably has the most bulk value. In the end, again like Waddell, they should both occupy a place in the HoME roughly equivalent to the upper part of the bottom third of pitchers. After examining all three and the players around them, I don’t see much chance they could fall very far at all in my rankings, so there’s no real downside to voting for these two now too.
Please visit our Honorees page to see their plaques and to see more information about the HoME and those who have been elected.