The Hall of Famers: The 5 Levels of Greatness – Part 2
In this article, I will present the Level 1 and Level 2 position players. These are the thirty-one (31) major league players who had the best career numbers in the 20th century. I think it is fair to say that there are few surprises on these two lists.
Level 1 - Players with a CAWS score > 400
Since 1901, there have been only thirteen (13) position players who attained a CAWS career score of 400 or better. These are the true legends of the game. Their career numbers are better than any other position players. Here they are.
All numbers include the 2011 season.
Bold = Hall of Famer
CWS = Career Win Shares
CV = Core Value (sum of win shares for 10 best seasons)
CAWS = Career Assessment/Win Shares = CV + .25(CWS – CV)
* = deadball era
The CAWS Career Gauge suggests that these thirteen players posted better career numbers than any other major league position players of the 20th century. And, of course, for serious baseball fans, most of these are “household names.”
Because of the allegations of steroids use, I am sure that there will be those fans who will be upset that Barry Bonds’ career numbers put him just behind the Babe on this list. But please remember that this list is just about his numbers (whether he earned those numbers fairly is another question).
Take a look at Bonds’ core value of 427. That means that he averaged 42.7 win shares during his ten best seasons. 98% of major leaguers can only dream of a season in which they earn 40 win shares – but Barry averaged better than 40 for his ten best seasons. Note that only four players on the list had a CV (core value) of better than 400: Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner.
As you can see, four of the legends from the list above played predominantly during the deadball era (1901 to 1919): Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Tris Speaker and Eddie Collins. And how many casual fans have even heard of Eddie Collins – who is arguably the best second baseman of the century?
This ranking places the great career of Honus Wagner in proper perspective and shows just how special a player he was. Did he really have better career numbers than Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle? That is hard to believe but the numbers do not lie.
Look at how close the CAWS score is for Stan Musial (435) and Ted Williams (434). And how relatively close for Willie Mays (452) and Mickey Mantle (441).
Nine of the thirteen legends were outfielders while two were second basemen and one each was a shortstop and a first baseman. There are no catchers or third basemen among these players.
Of the Level 1 players, twelve are in the Hall of Fame and one (Barry Bonds) is not yet eligible – and perhaps will never be elected.
Level 2 - Players with a CAWS score > 330 & <400
There are eighteen (18) superstars in Level 2: ten are outfielders, three are third basemen, two each are first basemen and second basemen and one is a shortstop. There were no third basemen in Level 1 but there are three here. No catcher has career numbers that would put him in Level 1 or 2.
As you would expect, everyone on this list who has been eligible has been elected to the Hall of Fame.
Note that this list suggests that Mike Schmidt had the best career at third base in the century. It is possible that Alex Rodriguez will pass him if he plays more games at third base than at shortstop before he retires.
Note that three recent players are in this group: Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Gary Sheffield. Gary Sheffield??? ARod and Pujols did not surprise me at all. But Sheffield’s career numbers ranking him this high completely stunned me.
But that is one of the advantages of this type of research – once in a while a genuine surprise comes along. Also note that Sheffield has 430 career win shares. Every major leaguer with 400 or more win shares (who has been eligible) has been elected to the Hall of Fame. Of course, the “steroids problem” may put an end to that streak.
Adjusting for Military Service
You will note that Joe DiMaggio is in Level 2 at #25. And some fans may be surprised that he is not a Level 1 player. As most fans know, Joe D had a relatively short career of only thirteen seasons and this is a major reason why his career numbers do not rank him higher. He lost seasons to military service and to early retirement due to a foot problem.
DiMaggio lost three playing seasons (1943-45) in the prime of his career to military service in World War II. And so, some fans may speculate as to what his career might have looked like if he did not lose those years. For example, would he have been a Level 1 player? Of course, the same question would apply to some other great player as well such as Ted Williams, Stan Musial and Willie Mays – to name just a few.
But I thought that I would use Joe and Ted as examples as to what would happen if we “project” (in a reasonable manner) what those missing years would have been like. And in these two cases, this is relatively easy to do.
For the two years prior to his military service, Joe DiMaggio earned the following win shares: 1941 = 41 and 1942 = 32. On his return from the military, he earned the following in the next two years: 1946 = 24 and 1947 = 30. If we average these four seasons, we get 31.75 or 32 win shares. Therefore, it is reasonable to project that he would have averaged 32 win shares for the three years that he was in the military. And so his new CAWS line would look like this.
As you can see, this adjustment would not put the Yankee Clipper into Level 1 since his CAWS score would still be less than 400. But it would move him on the Level 2 list from #25 to #17.
This adjustment is even more dramatic for Ted Williams since he essentially lost five seasons to military service – three during World War II and two during the Korean War. As most fans know, Ted was a jet pilot.
For the two years prior to his first military stint, Ted earned the following win shares: 1941 = 42 and 1942 = 46. On his return, he earned the following: 1946 = 49 and 1947 = 44. The average is 45.25. So, we award him 45 win shares for each of the three years during WW II. Similarly, for his time in the Korean War, 1950 = 19 and 1951 = 34 while 1954 = 29 and 1955 = 23. So, we award him 26 win shares for each of the two seasons he lost there. Therefore, Ted’s new CAWS line looks like this.
This adjustment becomes VERY SIGNIFICANT. It moves the Splendid Splinter up from the #9 position on the Level 1 list to #2 – just behind the Babe. And I think it is fair to say that many fans would tend to agree with this conclusion.
In Part 3 of this series, we will take a look at those players who qualify for Levels 3 and 4 of the Levels of Greatness among the position players of the 20th century.
Thanks for your time.
Professor Emeritus – City U of NY
Author of A GOOD CAWS: A Hall of Fame Handbook (2011)