posted on Feb, 1 2006 @ 03:10 PM
I agree with all of the above, b.t.w.
No, Hootie, I don't necessarily know whose side I would come down on. In fact, if you look into it, I don't think YOU do, either, and here's why:
As you know, the stolen base was an enormous part of the Dead Ball Era's game. The only three pre-Dead Ball seasons for which my source lists "caught
stealing" stats, for some reason, are 1914, 1915 and 1916. 1917-1919 are not listed, and neither is anything before 1914. In the 1920's, Cobb stole
127 bases and was caught 99 times, which obviously was terrible and very detrimental to Detroit/Philadelphia--a fact not known at that time. In
1914-1916, he stole 199 bases (1915 was his big year, with 96), and was caught 79 times, which is more like it.
Speaker, of course, was not nearly as prolific a base stealer, with just over half as many, and it's a good thing. In the 1920's, he stole 58 and was
caught 48 times, which is slightly worse than Cobb's numbers from those years, but with far fewer outs. In 1914-1916, it's no comparison; Speaker
stole 106 bases, but was caught 81 times! And that's during his peak. (He was born 2 years after Cobb, in 1888.)
So on the big issue of base stealing, we don't have definitive stats, but it's very likely Speaker's teams would have been better off, despite his
great foot speed, if he'd never tried to steal a base. The same is true of Cobb for at least his last 9 seasons, but I don't know about the whole
24-year package, and there's no way we can know.
The difference at the plate is nothing like the batting averages would suggest (.366/.367 to .344/.345). Cobb had a tremendous on base percentage of
.433, but Speaker was right behind him at .428; Cobb had a terrific--for that era--slugging figure of .512, but Speaker was at .500.
They hit the same number of home runs (117), but Speaker in far fewer at bats, and while Cobb hit a whomping 73 more triples (295, the second-highest
total ever), Speaker hit 68 more doubles (792, THE most ever, to this day.
So, there's not much to separate them, and the missing data on SB% is really crucial (especially given their era), making it impossible to rate them
as "percentage players." Under runs created, again missing that vital stat, Speaker is at 8.25/27, while Cobb is at 8.84/27. That's not a huge
difference, but it's also not a tiny one. Over 1/2 run per game.
What a world of difference in the outfield.
Cobb was notoriously erratic as an outfielder, often getting bad breaks on the ball, which did a lot to offset his great speed. His fielding
percentage was only 2.5% better than that of the average outfielder for his time, and that's in center field, where a lot of balls go.
Speaker, on the other hand, committed errors on 25% fewer plays than the average outfielder, and as I've said, was the gold standard among
centerfielders until my childhood, when people who'd never seen him started putting Ashburn and Mays there.
And same story on Range Factor. Cobb got to about 12% more balls than the average outfielder, which I would guess is at best average for a CF.
Speaker got to 28 or 29%, AND IS STILL THE ALL-TIME CAREER LEADER IN ASSISTS BY AN OUTFIELDER.
Those are huge differences.
It may be the answer is, "Lacking the stolen base % data, especially for two players of this era, we cannot fairly make this comparison." But I know
this: There are still people who consider Cobb the greatest player ever. I have never heard anyone come close to calling Speaker the greatest ever.
And when you look at how close the two obviously were, that's troubling, isn't it?
Speaker was NOT underrated in his time. But he has become, as you say, the most underrated player of all time.