posted on May, 6 2006 @ 01:04 AM
Picking up on a previous pair of posts:
"The Top 20 MLB Players of All Time," from Bill James' 2001 book:
20. Cy Young (1867-1955)
19. Rogers Hornsby (1896-1963)
18. Mike Schmidt (1949-)
17. Grover Cleveland Alexander (1887-1950)
16. Lefty Grove (1900-1975)
15. Eddie Collins (1887-1951)
14. Barry Bonds (1964-)
13. Joe Morgan (1943-)
12. Lou Gehrig (1903-1941)
11. Joe DiMaggio (1914-1999)
10. Hank Aaron (1934-)
9. Tris Speaker (1888-1958)
8. Stan Musial (1920-)
7. Walter Johnson (1887-1946)
6. Ted Williams (1918-2002)
5. Mickey Mantle (1931-1995)
4. Ty Cobb (1886-1961)
3. Willie Mays (1931-)
2. Honus Wagner (1874-1955)
1. Babe Ruth (1895-1948)
When I posted this previously, on April 12th in a thread titled "Is Winning Overrated?", BirdstheBest asked me about the fact there were "only five
players (I think) who played their entire careers after 1950 (Schmidt, Bonds, Aaron, Morgan, and Mantle). And only two of those (Schmidt and Bonds)
played their entire careers after 1970."
BtB was off by one year, since Willie Mays was a rookie in 1951--meaning there are all of SIX players on James' list who played their entire careers
after 1950--but that is a trivial matter. One would hope there would be, at MOST, six players on the list who played their entire careers BEFORE
1951, with the remainder having straddled the year 1950 in their careers.
That is hardly the case.
Of the players on James' top 20, #'s 20, 19, 17, 16, 15, 12, 9, 7, 4, 2 and 1 were all retired before 1951. And player #11, Joe DiMaggio, retired
after the 1951 season. So ELEVEN of James' greatest 20 were done before the second half of the century--with a 12th soon to follow--and, in fact, TEN
of the 11 (all but Grove) were retired before 1940!!
Damn straight that troubles me, not least of all because James' views are pretty much typical and you can find MANY historians who give MORE credit to
players from 1880-1940 than James does. Seriously.
In fairness, I would point out that players who started in 1990 or 1995--e.g., Pedro Martinez, if he finishes out anywhere near as well as he's done
so far--can't make the list YET, but MAY do so eventually. Others in this group include Manny Ramirez, A-Rod and, of course, Clemens or Maddux. But
James has gotten VERY hard on pitchers in the last 15 years or so. He once rated Grove as the #3 total PLAYER of all time. Now he's #16 in MLB
history, #19 if you include Negro Leaguers. So don't hold your breath for the great modern pitchers to crowd their ways into this list.
Who else, besides Ramirez and A-Rod? Well, Pujols, of course.
But the clear thrust of this list is that players were better in the first 40% of the century--even though they lost three years to WW II. And I find
that notion ridiculous and insulting to our collective intelligence.
Yeah, I absolutely believe the greatest player of all time was Babe Ruth, who played from late 1914 to early 1935. But I also believe Ruth towers
above his contemporaries, including Gehrig--even though Gehrig is the #1 first baseman (until Pujols plays another 10 years, lol).
Here is what I would immediately do to James' list:
(A) Remove Cy Young (Dead Ball Era pitcher)
(B) Remove Grover Cleveland Alexander (ditto)
(C) Remove Walter Johnson (ditto, though he'd probably make my top 40)
(D) Quite possibly remove Hornsby, who, though a spectacular hitter, was a lousy fielder and a clubhouse cancer who was traded repeatedly and whose
teams kept improving after he was traded--making it CLEAR what kind of effect his a.h. personality had on those teams. And:
(E) Although ALL experts rate Honus Wagner #1 at shortstop and say he is further ahead at that position than anybody else is at any other position,
including Ruth in RF, I'm not sure I want him in my Top 20. To me, Cobb and Speaker are the Top 2 Dead Ball players, not Cobb and Wagner, and while
unmistakable greatness is written all over the career numbers of Cobb and Speaker, I don't see it so clearly with Wagner.
So, BtB, to very belatedly answer your question...
YEAH, I am really troubled by the dominance of players from 1900-1950 (really, 1950), as opposed to 1951-2000, on James' list. And I'm even more
troubled by the fact most experts have a GREATER tendency to go with those players than James does. Give James credit, at least, for excoriating the
Hall for having inducted so many laughably unqualified players from the 20's and 30's. A lot of the other experts helped get those guys enshrined.
Perhaps I should put my money where my mouth is one of these days, and make my own Top 20 list--or, better yet, with my lists of my Top 5 Players of
All-Time, in order, at each position. I will not attempt to incorporate Negro Leaguers in my ranking, although I will say it's clear to me that Josh
Gibson is the #1 catcher of all time, and by a huge margin.
But I can guarantee you--and that's second-person plural--my lists won't be anywhere NEAR so loaded with players from 1900-1940. I'll have 3 out of 5
from that time period at 2B, but I think that's the only position where that will occur, and at some positions, it will be 1, if not zero.
I welcome input as to why all of these guys--including James, who made a huge, self-aggrandizing point of how he was the first to include and rank a
significant number of Negro Leaguers--seem to think the 40 years from 1900 to 1940 outshine the 60 years from 1941 to 2000. Yeah, I agree with the
unavoidable conclusions about Ruth and Grove. But I DON'T agree about all these "great" players and pitchers of the Dead Ball Era--whom,
incidentally, James has ranked as the #'s 1 (Walter Johnson), 3 (Alexander), 4 (Cy Young), 7 (Mathewson), and 9 (Kid Nichols) pitchers of all time.
What a crock.
Anyway, BtB, there's the info both to fill out your question and respond to it, along with my opinions on what I consider a disturbing subject. I
do realize that as football and basketball got more popular in the late 50's and early 60's, and as baseball began to cannibalize itself after the
Flood case, the percentage of top athletes gravitating toward baseball plummeted. But:
(1) That does not explain the period from 1940-1965, when the quality of players was allegedly declining, if these rankings are to be believed; and
(2) In any event, I just don't believe, despite expansion galore, and despite top athletes' having more choices in good-paying sports, that the
players of 1900-1940 were not only better, but THAT much better. Baloney!