December 20, 2014

Comments on Baseball’s Best 1,000 (Part 1)

April 4, 2009 by · 4 Comments 

In mid-2008 I picked up the 2008 edition of Derek Gentile’s fun book Baseball’s Best 1,000: Rankings of the Skills, the Achievements, and the Performance of the Greatest Players of All Time. (Apparently he had a 2004 edition as well, though somehow I missed that.) At my personal blog I wrote a series of postings with commentary on Gentile’s selections, and I’d like to share those with Seamheads readers as well. This is the ultimate baseball debate question, so I encourage comments to these postings. In this posting, I will list Gentile’s top-100 selections and comment on some of them, and then in part 2 I will comment on some of the players he ranks 101-1000.

First, it must be noted that it seems this edition’s rankings are based on stats/etc. up through about mid-way through the 2007 season. Gentile states that he doesn’t have an overall single statistic approach, as other authors have used. Rather, he considers all the common statistics, as well as awards, all-star appearances, and so on — taking into account both the absolute numbers and the era-relative comparisons as well. I prefer this kind of approach to these kinds of “all-time” questions in baseball, though I also enjoy the attempt to create a single overall, cross-era-comparing equation (like TPR or WIn Shares or whatever).

Gentile also does his best to include players from the Negro Leagues, though with incomplete data this isn’t easy to do. Because of this, and because my own knowledge of the Negro League players is not very strong, I won’t comment on any of them in what follows (except to indicate “*” in each case).

Any two baseball fan’s top-10 all-time player’s list will vary, and even more so their top-100 list. So naturally any two top-1000 lists would vary a great deal indeed. While no one would rank Rich Dauer (his #1000) over Babe Ruth (his #1), there is a lot of room for healthy debate in such a ranking project. What follows are my disagreements with his listing — in some cases I have questions or just mild disagreement, but in other cases I am baffled as to how he could rank the player there instead of much higher or lower.

When I refer to other rankings, these are:

  • TSN – 1998 book “The Sporting News Selects Baseball’s Greatest 100 Players”
  • James – 2001 book by Bill James “The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract

I’ll only comment on the players where I have something significant to say: lack of comment doesn’t imply I necesssarily would rank that player in that exact spot, I just don’t disagree enough to say anything.

In this post, I’ll start with consideration of his top-100:

  1. Babe Ruth
  2. Willie Mays
  3. Honus Wagner — interesting to see him this high, before his contemporary Ty Cobb. He was sometimes referred to as the “Cobb of the NL”, but was Cobb ever called the “Wagner of the AL”? TSN ranks Cobb 3rd and Wagner 13th (a bit low). In 2002 Cobb ranked 2nd all-time in Win Shares while Wagner came in 3rd. However in James’s own top-100 list… he ranks Wagner second, ahead of both Mays and Cobb, which I found fascinating.
  4. Ty Cobb
  5. Walter Johnson
  6. Barry Bonds — tough to rank him, given his possibly (likely? definitely?) inflated numbers from steroids. And yet his numbers are mind-boggling.
  7. Mickey Mantle — this is the first big disagreement I have with Gentile. I don’t see how Mantle could be this high — over Ted Williams even? TSN ranked him 17th, which might be a bit low but seems closer to the mark than 7th. But Gentile is in good company, as James ranked Mantle 6th (right after Cobb and before Williams). One can feel for Mantle’s late-career injuries, but what about Williams’ lost years to the war?
  8. Ted Williams
  9. Josh Gibson*
  10. Stan Musial
  11. Joe DiMaggio — Exactly where TSN had him ranked too. James listed him 13th — and I prefer to see Speaker rated over Joe D.
  12. Tris Speaker — See above. Also, TSN ranked Speaker only 27th — a travesty!
  13. Lou Gehrig — I’d rank Lou ahead of Joe D. as well, though James did not. TSN ranked him 6th — surely too high.
  14. Hank Aaron — I’d rank him ahead of Joe D. as well.
  15. Lefty Grove
  16. Grover Cleveland Alexander — I disagree with Alexander appearing so far ahead of Christy Mathewson. TSN agrees, as they have Mathewson as high as 7th, with Alexander at 12th. James seems to agree with Gentile though, ranking Alexander 20th and Mathewson 42nd.
  17. Satchel Paige*
  18. Eddie Collins — Whenever I see him ranked this high I question it, but then after some thought, I tend to agree. TSN had him a bit lower at 24th. James flips Collins (18th) and Morgan (15th) amongst 2B. I’m conflicted though — what about Rogers Hornsby? I still think of him as the greatest at the position (TSN ranks him 9th overall, while James has him 22nd).
  19. Joe Morgan
  20. Roger Clemens — if you believe the steroid accusations, you might adjust down. He and Maddux were the best of their generation, but with Maddux you don’t have the clouds overhead.
  21. Rogers Hornsby — see Collins discussion above.
  22. Oscar Charleston*
  23. Cy Young — I’d probably nudge him up a bit. TSN had him 14th overall, James had him 23rd.
  24. Mike Schmidt
  25. Rickey Henderson — Good to see. TSN totally messed this up by ranking him 51st. James is on target by rating him 26th.
  26. Jackie Robinson — Hard to rank him, because of his short career. Obviously, in terms of importance to the game, he is at or near the top (with Ruth and few others). TSN ranked him lower, at 44th place. James liked him at 32nd place.
  27. Jimmie Foxx
  28. Pete Rose — another player who is hard to rank. Not only is their the distaste over his gambling, his attitude about his gambling, and his banishment from the game, but he also was a unique type of player and his lifetime numbers don’t compare easily with other greats. TSN put him 25th, James had him 33rd, and I think somewhere around 25-35 is about right.
  29. Frank Robinson
  30. Eddie Mathews — I don’t like seeing Mathews ahead of Brett.
  31. Pop Lloyd*
  32. Mel Ott
  33. Carl Yastrzemski — seems about right, while TSN definitely does Yaz wrong by ranking him 72nd, below the likes of Pie Traynor!
  34. Warren Spahn
  35. Nap Lajoie
  36. Yogi Berra — the first catcher in the list (other than Josh Gibson of course). James also rated Berra top amongst catchers, and 41st overall. TSN went dramatically the other way, rating Bench 16th and Berra 40th — surely there isn’t that much distance between them.
  37. Tom Seaver
  38. Bob Feller
  39. Roy Campanella — I don’t think he should rank ahead of Bench, and James lists him third amongst catchers as well.
  40. George Sisler — This is in line with TSN’s view of Sisler (33rd), but I agree with James that he is overrated. James goes so far as to rate him 24th among 1B, and therefore not in his overall top 100 at all.
  41. Christy Mathewson — I really don’t see how you can have this much space between Mathewson and Alexander, as their career numbers and achievements are quite similar. I’ll admit that TSN’s ranking of him as 7th ia a bit high, but I think Mathewson, Alexander, and Young should all be in the 10-20 range.
  42. Turkey Stearnes*
  43. George Brett — I would have rated him higher than Mathews, and both TSN and James agree.
  44. Johnny Bench — see comments on Berra and Campy above.
  45. Charlie Gehringer — a bit high in my view. TSN has him 46th, but I like James’s ranking of him at 59th.
  46. Kid Nichols
  47. Sandy Koufax — a hard one to rank, due to his short career. TSN had him higher (26th), but I like him in this 40-60 range.
  48. Eddie Murray — my initial reaction was that this is too high, and that TSN’s ranking at 77th is better. But upon reflection, I think somewhere in the 45-55 range is good. James rated him at 61.
  49. Harry Heilmann — Too high. This is similar to TSN’s 54 ranking, but James considers him like Sisler (as having numbers aided by his era), and hence not worthy of even a top-100 spot.
  50. Ernie Banks — Gentile nearly splits the difference between TSN’s ranking (38th) and James’s (77th). I’d put Banks a bit closer to the lower end of this range.

Before I comment on players he ranks 51-100, I wanted to warn readers that there are some noticeable typos in the book. Generally I find the book to be well-written, and with few errors, but there are a few mistakes which are kinda funny if you think about them (well, for baseball fans at least):

Gentile clearly updated his section on Roger Clemens mid-way through the 2007 season, as he notes Clemens had gotten his 350th win. But then he indicates his lifetime record to be 350-118. This is way off, as after the 2007 season ended his record was 354-184. Suffice to say that if someone really had 350 wins AND a .748 career winning percentage, they would be rated even higher than the 20th spot that Gentile gives Clemens. Such a pitcher would be the best of all time (ahead of Johnson), and might even be a top-3 overall player.

Several pitchers have their CG totals listed as “SB” — likely a typo as the CG is the last stat given for each pitcher, while SB is the last stat given for each hitter. This happens for at least John Clarkson (#131), and for Ed Walsh (#135), though the error is made worse for Walsh as the 315 number given is actually his GS not his CG.But the typo I actually found hilarious was Dave Winfield’s career Stolen Base mark, which was indicated to be 1,686 instead fo 223. Turns out 1,686 was his career strikeouts. If he was really that great on the basepaths (a full 280 more than career leader Rickey Henderson), then Winfield would surely have been rated a top-20 player, and not find himself in 140th place — which is way too low, by the way.

OK… now picking up where I left off, at number 51:

  • 51. Arky Vaughn — I too like to give Arky his due, and James makes a strong case for him to rated as the #2 SS of all time, and even higher overall (39). No doubt, TSN snubbed him by not including him in their top 100 at all.
  • 52. Bill Terry — surely too high. While TSN generally agrees with Gentile, by rating Terry 59th, James completely disagrees by not including him the top 100 and only ranking him 26th amongst first-basemen. I have to agree more with James here, because while Terry’s raw numbers look impressive, you have to consider the era in which he played (league batting average during his time was a lofty .289 and was over .300 in some seasons). So while I might not downgrade him as much as James does, I think 52nd is too high.
  • 53. Cal Ripken
  • 54. Whitey Ford — Again, TSN agrees, ranking him 52nd. James keeps Ford off his top-100, and while I might get him in the top-100, I think 54 is too high.
  • 55. Duke Snider
  • 56. Steve Carlton
  • 57. Buck Leonard *
  • 58. Lou Brock — Again, TSN agrees, ranking him 58th also. But I prefer James on this one too, as he doesn’t include Brock in his top-100, presumably because of his lackluster fielding, low OBP and high strikeout rate. Oh, and did you know that Lou was only an all-star six times? Lower than I would have thought given his level of fame.
  • 59. Bill Dickey — Noticing a pattern at this point? TSN rates Dickey 57th, while James keeps him off his top-100. Interestingly, he doesn’t downgrade fellow catching old-timer Mickey Cochrane, who Gentile ranks 62, TSN ranks 65, and James ranks 72. I’m not sure which I would rate higher.
  • 60. Cap Anson
  • 61. Cool Papa Bell *
  • 62. Mickey Cochrane — see comments above for Dickey.
  • 63. Reggie Jackson
  • 64. Roberto Clemente — seems about right, though obviously I cringe at seeing him lower than Brock here. Surely TSN’s ranking of him 20th is way too high! James has him 74th.
  • 65. Hank Greenberg
  • 66. Robin Yount
  • 67. Tony Gwynn
  • 68. Gabby Hartnett — really? Before Piazza, Fisk, and Carter as catchers? No way!
  • 69. Harmon Killebrew
  • 70. Bob Gibson — I think he should be a bit higher. TSN has him at 31, and that might be too high. James says 46th.
  • 71. Ryne Sandberg
  • 72. Rod Carew
  • 73. Joe Jackson — hard to rate him because of his banishment. 73rd seems about right.
  • 74. Mule Suttles *
  • 75. Brooks Robinson
  • 76. Home Run Baker
  • 77. Ken Griffey Jr.
  • 78. Willie McCovey
  • 79. Ron Santo — nice to see him included this high!
  • 80. Dan Brouthers
  • 81. Joe Cronin — A bit high I think. Neither TSN nor James include Cronin in their top 100.
  • 82. Wade Boggs — This is fine placement relative to Carew and Gwynn I think, but surely he should be higher than Cronin!
  • 83. Carl Hubbell
  • 84. Al Simmons
  • 85. Greg Maddux
  • 86. Jim Palmer
  • 87. Joe Williams *
  • 88. Johnny Mize
  • 89. Mike Piazza — see Hartnett. And I would rate him close to Cochrane and Dickey.
  • 90. Tim Raines — very nice to see included here!
  • 91. Dizzy Dean
  • 92. Mark McGwire — hard to rate him, given the clouds of suspicion.
  • 93. Willie Stargell
  • 94. Paul Waner
  • 95. Willie Wells *
  • 96. Al Kaline
  • 97. Juan Marichal
  • 98. Frankie Frisch
  • 99. Sam Crawford
  • 100. Mordecai Brown
  • Fun stuff!

    In part two I of course won’t be listing all of the players, but rather providing comments on just a fraction of the players that Gentile ranks from 101-1000.

    Comments

    4 Responses to “Comments on Baseball’s Best 1,000 (Part 1)”
    1. Bob R. says:

      Obviously there are endless arguments here, but one ranking seems to me way off. I do not understand how Greg Maddux can be listed so low at #85. Although I do not agree with your suggestions that the steroid hysteria or character issues should alter our view of players’ achievements (should we downgrade Willie Mays for the red juice and Babe Ruth for his casual violation of numerous laws?), your own comments about Maddux in the Clemens section imply that he is pretty close to Roger at #20. Seems to me Gentile is way off in this case, wouldn’t you agree?

      I also think that given the pitchers Gentile has on this list, Randy Johnson deserves a pretty high ranking in the top 100 as well.

    2. Tom Stone says:

      You make a good point. I agree about Maddux needing to be higher — not sure how I missed that in my review. One spot ahead of Palmer here? That alone is a signal that something is amiss! Based soley on numbers and awards, however, I’d rate Clemens a bit ahead of Maddux — that is consistent with my comments on Clemens in the posting. If one penalizes because of belief that the numbers are inflated by steroids, then perhaps Maddux would rate higher. But I definitely agree that Maddux at 85 is inappropriate indeed!

    3. sayhey says:

      i have no problems with the order of ranking–to me its just a list of 1000 guys in order of great to good

      it’s great bathroom reading–i love finding the typos and errors

      how can i get in touch with author to point them out to him so he can correct for next printing?

      but????–what does gentile have aginst portly lefthanders?? no David Wells no Wilbur Wood??

      how bout Johnny Podres??

      also there are several players with less than 10 years experience–i thot that was the minimum to qualify>>

      i find myself eating more mexican food lately so i can enjoy more reading time

    4. ron says:

      Kaline is ranked waaaaaay to low. Very similar player to yaz, if not a shade better.

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