August 13, 2002
One man's opinion (Part 1: Hitters) continued...
From the emails I got, it sounds like a lot of people enjoyed my "Top 20 Players Of All-Time" list.
So, I decided to put together a pitchers list too.
But first, a couple of notes (some in response to email questions or comments) about the list of position players...
As you can probably tell from the list, I value defense up the middle, meaning center field, shortstop and second base.
I also value catcher a lot too, but that is a whole different story (a little more on that later).
Of the top 20 players: 5 played primarily center field (Mays, Mantle, Cobb, Speaker, DiMaggio), 1 played primarily shortstop (Wagner), and 3 played primarily second base (Morgan, Hornsby, Collins).
I think, in terms of purely defensive value, that shortstop is actually #1, slightly ahead of center field.
However, there just aren't that many shortstops that I would consider even candidates for the top 20 players in baseball history, despite how much credit I added on for defense and position.
I think there is an obvious reason for this: Until recently, shortstop was seen as a completely defensive position.
Save for a few exceptions, shortstops in the majority of the first century of baseball were slick-field/no-hit or even decent-field/no-hit.
Honus Wagner is obviously an exception, which is why he is so great and why he is #3 on my list.
Arky Vaughan was another exception, but I don't think his career was long enough to deserve a spot in the top 20.
In 30 or 40 years, if I were to re-do this list, I believe that more than one shortstop would show up (a little more on this later too).
I listed Vaughan and Cal Ripken Jr. in my "Received Serious Consideration" list, but I really could not see any justifiable way (in my mind at least) to put them in the top 20 ahead of McGwire or Frank Robinson or Jimmie Foxx.
Several emails asked what the breakdown of playing era was for the players on my list.
I hadn't really thought about that before I made the list and maybe I should have.
Before I show that, I just want to point out that, with a list this small (only 20 guys) as few as 1 or 2 players could really skew the data, as far as charting when the players played. What I mean is, if I exchanged Arky Vaughan for Mark McGwire, I lose someone who played primarily in the 1980s and 1990s and I replace them with someone who played primarily in the 1930s and 1940s. And when each player makes up 5% of the entire list, doing that replacement really affects things a lot.
Anyway, here is the decade-by-decade breakdown. I basically just listed decades in which a player played at least 5 years (so McGwire gets the 1990s, but not the 1980s and 2000s). Obviously not a perfect method, but I had to make the cutoff somewhere and 5 seasons sounded like a good number.):
1900s: 2 (Wagner, Cobb)
1910s: 6 (Ruth, Wagner, Cobb, Speaker, Hornsby, Collins)
1920s: 7 (Ruth, Cobb, Speaker, Gehrig, Hornsby, Collins, Foxx)
1930s: 4 (Ruth, Gehrig, Hornsby, Foxx)
1940s: 4 (Williams, Musial, DiMaggio, Foxx)
1950s: 5 (Mays, Williams, Mantle, Musial, Aaron)
1960s: 5 (Mays, Mantle, Aaron, Morgan, Robinson)
1970s: 4 (Aaron, Morgan, Schmidt, Robinson)
1980s: 3 (Henderson, Morgan, Schmidt)
1990s: 3 (Bonds, Henderson, McGwire)
Obviously adding McGwire for the 1980s or DiMaggio for the 1930s or Mays for the 1970s could change things quite a bit.
But, basically, you can see that it is a pretty even distribution.
A lof of emails asked me about current players, specifically about 2 guys: Bonds and Alex Rodriguez.
With Bonds, I ranked him as if this were his final season. So, I basically gave him credit for the next 50 games or so that are left in this season, at his 2002 level, and then I pretended he retired.
Same thing with Rickey Henderson, although that obviously doesn't impact things as much as it does with Bonds.
That said, if Barry can play another 3 or 4 years and maintain a level of performance that is anywhere near what he has done the last 2 years, he is going to move up the list.
Heck, even if Barry plays 3-4 more years at anywhere near as well as he did from about 1990 to today, he is going to move up the list.
As for ARod...
As anyone who has read my blog already knows, I believe ARod is the Most Valuable Player in the AL this season. I also believe that he was the MVP of the AL in at least 2 other seasons. So, obviously, I think he is pretty good.
I actually thought about putting him in the top 20, but this is only his 9th season and that is just not enough in my mind.
Most of the guys on the list played over 20 seasons, with the fewest being Joe DiMaggio, with 13.
However, like with Bonds, if ARod can maintain this level of performance for the next 5-7 years (at least) he is going to find himself very high up on the my list.
I believe he has a good shot at being the greatest shortstop of all-time, which would place him at #3. And once you are at #3, pretty much anything is possible, especially if he plays 20 seasons or something like that.
I also wanted to add something about another active player, Mike Piazza.
Piazza is the only guy still playing that is on my "Received Serious Consideration" list, and I really did give him consideration.
But, once again, this is only his 11th season, which makes it very difficult for him to be on the list.
As with ARod, I believe Piazza has a very good chance to be on the list eventually, although with catchers, you never know when they might suddenly just completely break down (which is why I think there aren't any catchers on the list).
And, with his lack of throwing arm, if he isn't hitting, he isn't worth a whole lot.
I think that covers just about everything I wanted to add about the list, at least at this point.
Keep those emails coming, and if anyone else asks a good question or brings up a good subject, I will do another "notes" post.
But, I should get started on that list of pitchers!
So, check back later...