October 20, 2017

Comments on Baseball’s Best 1,000 (Part 2)

April 11, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

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. 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. This is Part 2, where I’ll comment on some of his choices from players he ranks 101-300. (see also Part 1)
As with Part 1 of this series, 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

Before I dive into players ranked 101-300, I want to make one general remark that became evident to me in reading through this part of his rankings. Gentile seems to rate pitchers — both starters and relievers — a bit lower than I would relative to everyday players. This will get brought to light somewhat in my comments below.

And now, some comments on the players rated 101-300:

  • 109. Nolan Ryan — Really this low? I know that most fans consider Ryan to highly: he was a lot of fun to watch, but his lifetime W-L% wasn’t so great (even relative to the poor teams he was often on). For instance, TSN a few years back ranked him 41st all-time (too high in my view). But I think 109 is a bit low.
  • 114. Pie Traynor — Several decades ago, he was talked about as the greatest 3B of all-time. That was an exaggeration then, and I think 114 overall is still too high now.
  • 122. Alex Rodriguez — Really below Traynor? And below Bobby Doerr (117) and Dick Allen (118)? And only one spot ahead of Don Mattingly at #123? No, I think A-Rod deserves to be at or above 100, and of course if he keeps playing at a high level he could easily crack the top 20 or even top 10 before he is done. And I say that even with the steroid issue factored in.
  • 129. Reggie Smith — I like him, and he surely is underrated today, but this is a bit high I think. Consider that he is above fellow outfielders Dale Murphy (138), Dave Winfield (140), Andre Dawson (143), and Kirby Puckett (146).
  • 140. Dave Winfield — I don’t see how he is below the aforementioned Mattingly, Smith, Murphy. I mean, over 3,000 hits, 465 HR, 1,833 RBI, 12 All-Star teams, and 7 Gold Gloves? Should be much closer to the top 100, if not in it (TSN ranked him 94th all-time in 1998). I consider Winfield to have been justly selected as a Hall-of-Famer, and those other guys are rightly excluded in my view.
  • 146. Kirby Puckett — Below Will Clark at 145? I don’t see it. And neither would Bill James, who a few years ago ranked Puckett 98th all-time. And the somewhat popularity-tilted TSN ranked him 86th all-time.
  • 156. Roberto Alomar — what we know of his personality not withstanding, is Roberto really 50 spots lower than Barry Larkin (106)? If anything Alomar’s lifetime numbers are better, and he was a 12-time All-Star with 10 Gold Gloves. Indeed, a few years ago Bill James rated Alomar the 80th player of all-time, and Larkin below him at 93rd. Surely a snub at this spot in the list.
  • 158. Phil Niekro — This seems a bit low, esp. compared with Ted Lyons (147). Oh, and by-the-way, his brother Joe and his 221 wins don’t make the book’s top-1000 list at all (one of many victims of Gentile’s stronger preference for everyday players than pitchers).
  • 166. Darrell Evans — I’m pleased to see him this high — a player underrated by most fans.
  • 167. Craig Biggio — A major snub here. His position versatility, his long career, his high-OBP, 3,000 hits, and on and on… all warrants a higher slot. Who is next at 168? Sal Bando. Biggio is really only spot ahead of Sal? Come on. And don’t let Bill James see this ranking for Biggio: a few years ago he ranked Biggio the 35th best player of all time (I wouldn’t go quite that far).
  • 173. Gaylord Perry — see my comments for Niekro and magnify. TSN ranked him 97th all-time in 1998.
  • 176. Willie Randolph — too high! Just a few spots below Tony Lazzeri? And consider again the injustice of Biggio being at 167 if Randolph is here at 176! Is there really that little difference between the two? No way.
  • 178. Ivan Rodriguez — a bit low, compared with Piazza at 89th place. Still playing, so hopefully he’d climb up this list by the time he retires.
  • 181. Pedro Martinez — definitely too low. He is still playing, but even if he retired today, he was so dominant for a few years, he should be higher based on that alone. Compare with others who were dominant for a short period: Sandy Koufax (47), Dizzy Dean (91), Big Ed Walsh (135). Or even Jim Palmer at 86th place, who played longer than those others but not as long as other stars. Given these ratings, Pedro should be close to or in the top 100.
  • 183. Dave Parker — Shouldn’t he be up higher with the likes of Murphy, Dawson, and Rice? And how is Wally Berger (182) a slot ahead of Parker?
  • 184. Manny Ramirez — his numbers, without any talk of steroids, mean he deserves to be higher already.
  • 185. Max Carey — Led the league in SB 10 times, and was arguably the best centerfielder of his era. I think he should be higher than this.
  • 187. Gene Tenace — Wow. Top 1,000 surely. But this high? No way. Derek Jeter is #186, and Tenace comes right behind him? Tenace’s career numbers are .241, 674 RBI, and 1076 hits. Um, OK. He is this close behind Pedro, Manny, and others I’ve complained about above? No way. Or compare Tenace with Joe Torre who is below him at 190 — they are both C-1B-3B even, and surely Torre should rank higher! than Tenace! Gene’s 201 HRs, lots of walks, catching sometimes, and post-season heroics are all nice plusses, but this is way to high.
  • 197. Tommy Leach — A lesser-known player, but I’m glad to see him crack the top-200. Good.
  • 208. Phil Rizzuto — I’m glad to see him this low. He shouldn’t have been elected to the Hall of Fame in my view.
  • 209. Jesse Burkett — too low for sure. A lifetime .338 hitter, against a league batting average during his tenure of .280. Lifetime OBP was .415, he scored 1,720 runs, stole 389 bases, and was only 150 hits shy of 3,000. He won three batting titles, including two seasons over .400. Compared with other old-timers, Jesse should be higher than this.
  • 211. Hoyt Wilhelm — The first reliever elected to the Hall of Fame, I think he should be higher than this. He started during parts of several seasons, and the one season he was a full-time SP he went 15-11 and led the AL in ERA with a 2.19 mark. As a reliever he kept his ERA below 2.00 six times! Interestingly, he never actually led his league in saves. But still, he racked up 227 of them before the statistic became a household word (well, in baseball fan households anyway).
  • 232. Dennis Eckersley — Appropriate that I complain about Eck’s placement right after Wilhelm’s. He too should be higher. 197 career wins and 390 career saves, and some of the most lights-out seasons ever, mean he should be ranked 150th or higher. TSN ranked him 98th all-time in 1998.
  • 241. Sammy Sosa — For some reason, the entry on Sosa hasn’t been updated since after the 2003 season, so perhaps Gentile would re-evaluate Sammy’s spot in the list now that he has 609 career HR. Even with the steroid suspicions, I think he should be a bit higher.
  • 242. Wee Willie Keeler — Ouch. Similar to my comments on Jesse Burkett, but even more so given he places Keeler 33 spots lower. He had a .341 average compared with a .280 league average during his time period. He didn’t walk much, but he had 2,932 hits, scored 1,719 runs, and stole 495 bases. Two batting titles, including .424 in 1897.
  • 245. Gary Sheffield — See Manny Ramirez. Should be lower than Manny, but they both should be higher than Gentile lists them. Sheffield is still playing, so will likely end up with about a .290 average, 500+ HR, 1,700+ RBI, 250+ SB, and close to 3,000 hits. Obviously at that point he’ll be higher than 245th, but I think he should be already.
  • 249. Eddie Plank — um, what? A 326-197 record for a .627 winning percentage. A lifetime 2.35 ERA (against a league average 2.87). A lifetime WHIP of 1.12. He completed 410 of his 529 starts. His postseason record was a hard-luck 2-5, given he posted a 1.32 ERA! Granted he’s not in the class of Johnson, Alexander, and Mathewson, but he’s in the next rung for his era — and should be far higher than 249th all-time. TSN a few years ago ranked Plank 68th overall — perhaps a bit too high, but closer to the mark than 249th.
  • 253. Vada Pinson — Like Darrell Evans, an oft-forgotten and underrated player. I’m glad to see him at least this high, but I think he perhaps deserves better: .286, 2,757 hits, 256 HR, 1366 Runs, and 305 SB.
  • 254. Goose Gossage — a victim of Gentile’s generally low ranking of dominant closers. I’d rate each of the great ones higher than he does.
  • 260. Andre Thornton — Wow… definitely too high. His numbers: .254, 253 HR, 895 RBI, 792 Runs, 1,342 hits. And he played parts of 15 seasons. If he had only played 10 and had that career line, then maybe. But he played a long while, and only had 30+ HR three times. And its not like he was a catcher or middle infielder with power — he split his time between 1B and DH! He was only an All-Star twice, and never led the league in any important categories. There is no way he should be this high in the rankings. I won’t list all the guys that should be higher than Thornton but aren’t — there are too many.
  • 262. Dwight Evans — But I gotta list this one. See, this is what I mean. How is Thornton higher than Evans, or even anywhere close to him in the list? Dwight’s numbers: .272, 385 HR, 2,446 hits, 1,384 RBI, 1,470 Runs, 8 Gold Gloves in the OF. Even leaving aside the comparison with Thornton, Evans should be up closer to Murphy, Dawson, Rice, and similar others, not down in this mid-200s range.
  • 269. Bert Blyleven and 271. Early Wynn. — Again, not enough credit is being given to starting pitchers here. Wynn was ranked 100th by TSN in 1998.
  • 274. Randy Johnson — Speaking of which, holy-cow man! The dominating Randy Johnson only comes in at 274th? He has led the league in strikeouts nine times, and is second all-time. He led the league in ERA four times. He won 20 games or more 3 times, and won 19 games 3 times. A ten-time All-Star, and most of all a five-time Cy Young Award winner? He should be in the top-100 at this point. What the heck?
  • 290. Old Hoss Radbourn — It is admittedly tough to rank the early pitchers. Radbourn played from 1880-1891, and he had two mind-boggling seasons in particular. In 1883 he went 48-25, and then in 1884 he agreed to pitch most of the second half of the season and went 59-12 (with a 1.38 ERA). He is often described as having gotten burned out after that, though he managed to win 20+ in five more seasons and end up with a 309-195 record. I gotta rank him higher than 290th… I mean, Gentile has Jay Bell ranked 289th!
  • 292. Ralph Kiner — Really? Someone who dominated his time, winning seven consecutive HR titles? He ended up hitting .279, with 369 HR, and .398 OBP. And that puts him just one spot ahead of Tony Fernandez (293), and again, well behind Andre Thornton? And TSN ranked him 90th all-time, perhaps a bit high, but closer to the mark than this 292nd appearance.

Again, not commenting on a player above doesn’t mean I necessarily liked the spot Gentile put him at in the ranking — I had to be selective otherwise this would go on forever.

Stay tuned for the next batch!

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