Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Canon Review's 10 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time

First of all, I'd like to apologize for the lack of recent updates. I've been pretty sick over the past three days, and only now am I well enough to contribute further to the Canon Review. I have a few things coming up which may or may not interest you, so stay tuned.

Anyway, a reader named Dickson S. asked who I thought were the three greatest baseball players. Mr. S felt that Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, and Mickey Mantle were the three best baseball players. Well, instead of only three, I have decided to name the ten best players in baseball history, according to my opinion, because that's how we roll here at The Canon Review. So let's get started, shall we?

Guys that could be top 10, but are not for various reasons

Oscar Charleston and Josh Gibson: These two are considered to be the greatest players in Negro League history. Charleston was often regarded as a black Ty Cobb, only with more power, while Gibson was  catcher who many experts said had more power than Babe Ruth. Baseball historian Bill James ranks Charleston as the number 4 player of all time, and Gibson number 9. Ultimately, I just don't think there's enough data out there to rate these two players accurately. It's possible that they are among the 5 or ten greatest ball players of all time, but I just don't know.

Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Alex Rodriguez: Bonds probably would be in my top 5, and Clemens and Rodriguez would at least be considered for the top 10. However, due to their use of steroids, I can't give an accurate representation of these players until more information comes out (i.e. just how many players were using steroids during their playing time, and how much of an impact did the steroids actually have). So, they're off the list altogether.

Players that just missed the Top 10:

Mike Schmidt: In 16 years, Schmidt led the National League in home runs eight times, led in Slugging Percentage five times, and in on-base percentage three times. He also won 10 Gold Gloves playing one of the most demanding positions on the field (3rd Base). Ultimately, he just fall short, but not by much.

Greg Maddux: With 4 Cy Young Awards, 18 Gold Gloves, and 17 straight seasons in which he won at least 15 games, Maddux definitely has some great credentials. But I only have one pitcher on the list, and I just couldn't put Maddux, as well as Tom Seaver and Lefty Grove, over the pitcher already on the list.

The Top 10:

10. Lou Gehrig - Gehrig not only has a disease named after him, he's also one of the greatest hitters baseball will ever see. Gehrig finished his career with a .340 batting average, a .447 on base percentage, and a .632 slugging percentage. Gehrig is still 5th in career RBIs with 1,995, even though his career was cut at least 3 or 4 years short due to Lou Gehrig's disease. Yes, he played in an era where a lot of runs scored, but according to Adjusted OPS, a stat which accounts for different era and park factors, Gehrig ranks fourth all-time, behind Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, and Babe Ruth. He also played in 2,130 straight games, and, unlike fellow ironman Cal Ripken, his play never suffered due to overuse.

9. Stan Musial - Musial played in 24 All-Star Games, won three MVPs, led the National League in batting average seven times, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and hits six times each, and led the NL in doubles eight times. He was an above average defensive player at all three outfield positions and first base, and his 3,630 hits currently rank fourth all-time. In other words, Stan Musial was pretty darn good.

8. Walter Johnson - The only pitcher on this list, Johnson was a dominant force, often for teams that were no threat for postseason play. The all-time leader in shutouts (110). Johnson led the American League in Earned Run Average five times, wins six times, and strikeouts a remarkable 12 times. In an era where strikeouts were much rarer than they are now, Johnson had seven seasons of over 200 strikeouts, and two with over 300 strikeouts. Also, Johnson had exemplary control, twice leading the A.L. in fewest walks per nine innings, and finishing his career averaging just over two walks per 9 innings. If they had a Cy Young Award in Johnson's playing days, he would have won at least five, maybe ten. Hell, they should just call it the Walter Johnson award.

7. Mickey Mantle - Perhaps the greatest power-speed combination in major league history. If he had played in an era with more stolen bases, Mantle could have regularly stolen 50 bases a season. He also could knock the crap out of the ball. A 20 time All-Star, Mantle won 3 MVP Awards, led the AL in home runs four times, in walks five times, and in runs scored six times. His .421 on base percentage ranks 19th All-time, and his Adjusted OPS+ of 172 is sixth in Major League Baseball History. Not to mention his seven World Series titles, and his major league record 18 World Series home runs. Mantle is quite deserving of his spot in the top ten.

6. Honus Wagner - The highest ranked infielder on this list, Wagner was one of the biggest players of his era at 5'11" and 200 lbs, and according to many observers, could have mastered any position, but was put at shortstop because that's where the Pirates needed him most. Wagner was an eight time batting champion, a National League record. He also led the N.L. in on base percentage four times, slugging percentage six times, stolen bases 5 times, and runs batted in five times. He did all of this while playing excellent defense at shortstop, which is considered the most important defensive position other than catcher. Currently, Wagner is third all time in triples (252) and eighth all time in hits (3,415). Yet, for some reason, many have forgotten just how great Wagner was. To be honest, I feel six might be too low for Wagner, but I just can't put him ahead of any of the next five guys, so sixth Wagner stays.

5. Ty Cobb - Say what you want about Cobb, but the man could flat out hit. His .366 average is still the highest of all-time. He led the American League in batting average a record 12 times, led in on base percentage seven times, and in slugging percentage eight times. Not only did he win the Triple Crown in 1909 (.377 BA, 9 Hr, 107 RBI), he also led the league in stolen bases that year with 76. Overall, Cobb led the A.L. in steals six times, and RBIs four times. His career total of 892 stolen bases rank fourth all time, and Cobb is second all time in both hits (4,189) and runs (2,246). Not too bad for the Georgia Peach, but the other guys in front of him hit for more power, and Cobb never won a World Series, so Cobb ranks fifth.

4. Hank Aaron - I originally had Aaron at third, but after looking more into it, I decided to drop him down a spot to number 4. Many people still consider Aaron to be the true Home Run King (officially, he ranks second to Barry Bonds with 755). Aaron is the game's all-time leader in RBIs with 2,297, and is third in hits with 3,731. Aaron was a remarkably consistent player, a 25 time All-Star, and a threat for over twenty years. However, I put him at fourth because he rarely dominated over a single season. He only one one MVP and one World Series (both in 1957). He led the National League in batting twice, home runs and RBIs four times, and in total bases six times. Ultimately, Aaron was great, but there were some that were better.

3. Ted Williams - On one hand, Williams never won a World Series and was reputed to be an enormous prick. On the other hand, the man hit as well as anyone that ever played and being a prick does not effect anyone's rankings. Williams won the AL Triple Crown in 1942 and 1947, was a 19 time All-Star, and was a two-time MVP that would have won at least two more had the writers based the award on merit rather than whether or not they liked the guy. Anyway, Williams, the last guy to hit over .400 in a season (.406 in 1941), led the American League in batting average six times, on base percentage a whopping 12 times, and slugging percentage nine times. Williams led the league in home runs and RBIs four times each, and finished his career with 521 homers and 1839 RBIs. Williams may have been a jerk, but he was a jerk that served his country in both World War II and the Korean War as a fighter pilot, flying 39 combat missions. Those wars took out five years of Williams prime, so it's quite possible he could have finished with over 700 home runs and at least 2,200 RBIs. Williams is still the All time leader in on base percentage (.482) and is second all time in slugging percentage (.634). In other words, Williams could play some ball.

2. Willie Mays - Mays was named to 24 All-Star Games, won 12 Gold Gloves for his play in center field, was a two time MVP, and won 1 World Series. Like Mantle, Mays would have had much more stolen bases in a different era, as it is, he led the National League in stolen bases 4 times. Like Williams, Mays missed two years due to the Korean War, possibly taking away 40 or 50 home runs. Mays also played the majority of his home games at Candlestick Park, which was a severe pitchers park. Mays led the NL in batting average one time, slugging percentage five times, and home runs four times. Currently, Mays is seventh all time in runs scored, (2,062), 3rd in total bases (6,066), 10th in RBIs (1,903), 5th in Extra Base Hits (1,323), and 4th in home runs (660). I decided to put Mays ahead of Williams for two reasons, one, Williams played in a much more favorable park (Fenway Park), and two, Mays was a much better defensive player.

1. Babe Ruth - The only player in major league history to be a dominant pitcher and hitter. Ruth was so far ahead of his peers that, in my opinion, he's the clear choice as the greatest player of all-time. As a pitcher, Ruth was excellent, a 20 game winner in two different seasons, and pitched 29 1/3 straight shutout innings in World Series play. As a hitter, Ruth was transcendent. For example, in 1920, Ruth hit 54 home runs for the New York Yankees, more than any other team in the league. Ruth only led the AL in batting average one time, in 1924. However, Ruth led the AL in on base percentage 10 times, in Slugging Percentage 13 times, in home runs 12 times, and in RBIs six times. To this day, Ruth is third all time in home runs (714), second in on base percentage (.474) and first in slugging (.690) and adjusted OPS+ (209). His .342 batting average is currently 10th all time, and Ruth was a member of seven different championship teams. If Ruth had remained a pitcher, it's very likely he'd be a Hall of Famer. As it is, he only became the most dominant hitter that ever lived.

Well, that took a little longer than I thought. Anyway, if you have any grievances or compliments on my rankings, or any ideas for future reviews, let me know. I'm going to lay down for a while, but, as Arnold Schwarzenegger would say, "Dillion, you son of a bitch!"

Edit: Sorry, meant to put a video up to explain that quote. Here it is:

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