(WARNING: This is long, even by my standards.)
I think there's overwhelming evidence steroids have helped players, most obviously including the 3 I'm talking about. Being a Giants fan (despite
Bonds' loathsome personality), I'm well aware of his 1992 season, but it doesn't hold a candle to what he's done since the start of 2001. I'm sure
you realize that. His on-base in 1992 was .456. From 2001-2004, it was .515, .582, .529 and .609, respectively. His slugging in 1992 was .624.
From 2001-2004, it was .863, .799, .749 and .812. In 1992, he created 135 runs. From 2001-2004, he created 210, 186, 153 and 184.
Not even close.
So let's not pretend Bonds' 1992 MVP year makes his recent gargantuan figures legitimate. It doesn't. His figures in 1992 were those of a genuinely
great player having a great year. This post-36th bithday stuff is for people who believe in the Easter Bunny.
Maris didn't juice. The suggestion has never been made, nor am I aware of ANY steroid presence in baseball then. 1961 was an expansion year in which
there were suddenly 25% more pitchers in the AL than the year before. THAT is why Maris suddenly exploded, and even then, Mantle clearly had a better
year than Maris. Whether Maris took "greenies" I don't know, but how a basic stimulant is supposed to make one vastly better, I also don't know. It
sure ain't like turning yourself into Godzilla.
I absolutely, 100% agree with you about the blame for the steroid travesty. MLB wanted increased revenues, and a moral coward like Selig didn't care
about the integrity of the game, its most hallowed records, etc., so they were willfully blind to these frauds. The Players' Union, meanwhile, let
their own greed and lust for fame blind them not only to their sullying of the game's integrity, but also to what a great many players were doing to
their long-term health. The latter, I suppose, was the players' decision to make (some widows will disagree in a few years), but the former wasn't.
I'd like to see a whole lot of them, starting with Selig and Fehr, locked up if smoking guns can be found to prove they deliberately and knowingly
turned blind eyes to specific violations of federal drug laws.
Your memory of McGwire as a young player is inaccurate. I am also an A's fan, and his first home run was hit over the 440 sign in CF of old Tiger
Stadium. I was half-heartedly watching the game, in September of 1986, because the A's were long gone from the pennant race. When I saw this very
tall, right-handed white guy hit one that far, I assumed it was Dave Kingman (whose career was about to end, as it turned out), but as the player
rounded the bases, I noticed his shoulders were too broad to be Kingman's. Even as a rookie, McGwire was a powerfully built, broad-shouldered kid...
though nothing like the B-movie monster that was to come.
I am one of the very few people I know who agree that Mantle/Mays is a close call on a career level. Almost everyone I know thinks it's Mays in a
slam dunk. I've already given two of what I think are the three reasons supporting Mantle: (1) he hit into well less than 1/2 the double plays Mays
grounded into, which is a difference of a lot of outs; and (2) he had a MUCH better on-base %. The third reason is HR %. But for the last 9 or 10
years of Mantle's career, there was SUCH a big difference on the bases and in the outfield. Also, Mays played longer and wound up with significantly
bigger career totals. Of course, the oft-overlooked fact that favors Mantle in that respect is that Mays also wound up making over 2,100 more outs
than Mantle, a good many of which were the result of all those DP's.
So I can't fault you for putting Mantle ahead of Mays. I can, and do, disagree with you. But it's one of those questions where neither answer can
properly be dubbed "wrong."
On Wagner: I want to thank you for being the first person, including Bill James, to offer any real justification for James' enormously high rating of
him. Leading in runs created 7 times, and OPS 8 times, is enough to make anyone who's not a butcher in the field an all-time great, and Wagner was
anything but a butcher. Also, although we obviously both know it's a hugely overrated stat, I believe Wagner is tied with Gwynn for the second most
batting titles. Vastly overrated or not, that's not nothing.
On the other hand....
I think that hitting records before about 1905 or 1910 need to be discounted quite a lot, and that pitching before 1920 needs to be discounted
IMMENSELY. Exhibit A in favor of the latter thesis is Walter Johnson, whom James has now decided to rate as the #1 pitcher, much to my dismay.
Please note how much Johnson's career nose-dived in 1920, when the live ball came in. His Adjusted ERA's for his last 8 seasons bear scant
resemblance to what he had done in that gargantuan park before then. And his biography, written by his grandson for the apparent purpose of refuting
James' rating of Grove as #1, talks over and over about what great fielders Johnson had. Obviously the guy thrived on the dead ball, and was a
fraction of his former self with a real baseball.
James wrote at great length in a previous book--while explaining his then-position that Grove was #1 at pitcher--about how different Dead Ball
pitching was, and how little the pitcher had to try for most of the game. Boy did that change when the live ball came in and any pitch could get hit
to, or over, the wall. So I think I'm on pretty solid ground in enormously discounting the feats of Johnson, Young, Nicholls, Matthewson, etc.
All of this doesn't necessarily mean we toss out hitting records in the Dead Ball Era. Cobb, Speaker, Lajoie, Collins and Wagner were SO much better
than the average bum that their hitting cannot be ignored. But I think hitting in the 1910's was a lot more competitive than it was in the 1900's,
and I'd ask you to note that Wagner's career OBP and slugging are far below Cobb's and Speaker's figures in those categories, even if you cut off Cobb
and Speaker after 1919. Only Speaker's slugging percentage is close. And using those figures ensures Cobb and Speaker don't benefit unfairly from
their "live ball" years.
Anyway, Wagner's best years came shortly after the NL had split into the NL and AL, and when I believe a lot of would-have-been great players didn't
play at all, because it was considered a disreputable and unseemly profession. Had he been born 10 or 20 years later, I would take his stats a lot
more seriously. Ditto Nap Lajoie, who barely makes my Top 5 at 2B. (Morgan, Collins, J. Robinson, Hornsby and Lajoie, the most oldie-heavy position
on any of my lists. I agree with everything James says about Hornsby, PLUS I think being a world-class a.h. is something that SHOULD be counted
against a player, when it resulted in his being traded annually despite awesome numbers, so I also put him behind Robinson. Also, for the benefit of
people under 55, I note that when I was about 6, and first started reading baseball history stuff, the overwhelmingly prevailing view was that
Collins, not Hornsby, was the greatest 2B ever.)
On Aaron, I think he gets UNDERrated because: (1) people didn't see or don't realize how much he got hurt in County Stadium in his prime years--James
has said he thinks Aaron would have hit over 60 HR's, probably more than once, but for that park; (2) he gets almost zero credit for being a great
right fielder (ditto Kaline), probably because he played at the same time as Clemente; and (3) he had an excellent 240-73 ratio of SB/CS. His biggest
weakness, to me, is that he never drew 100 BB, and not until he was 35 did he draw over 80.
But Aaron doesn't just own the HR record. He owns the extra base hit record by a mile. He owns the RBI record by a good margin. He's tied with Ruth
for 3rd in runs scored, and is first by more than a literal mile in total bases. He is second only to The Big Guy in runs created. Although not
thought of as a fast man, he's got the seventh best power/speed number of all time.
James ranks Aaron as the 12th best player, and the 10th best MLB player, of all time in his giant book. I think it's the most indefensible position
he's taken. Your list apparently does not include Negro League players, and the only MLB player James puts ahead of Aaron that you don't is Walter
Johnson. I'm obviously with you, in a real big way, on that one.
But I think you and James are selling Aaron too short by putting some of those other guys ahead of him. You could start, for instance, by reading
what James has repeatedly written about Ted Williams' repellent and malignant personality... one which doubtless explains why those great teams won no
Series and one pennant.