BILL JAMES ONLINE

The Five

February 13, 2014
  
This article started with one of Joe Posnanski’s poll questions on the Hall-of-Fame. He raised a simple, straight-forward question:
 
 
What five players would you include in the Hall-of-Fame, if you could only have five?
 
I love questions like this. I think questions like this are why Joe’s site is a must-read for any baseball fan, because it’s filled with little ideas that send an obsessive like me down a rabbit-hole.
 
This question, I think, is not about identifying the five greatest players. Greatest certainly counts, of course, but the question demands a slightly different tact. What five players would best represent the story of baseball’s history? What five players would you pick to talk about, if you had to explain baseball someone who knows nothing about the game?
 
So let’s get into it….my five.
 
Babe Ruth, obviously. Babe Ruth is the easiest, most obvious pick. He’s the single most significant player in baseball history, perhaps the single most important player in all of American sports.
 
Ruth’s career in the majors stretches from 1914 to 1935. He’s a useful player because he was a pitcher and a hitter….he covers both sides of the game. He was a key figure in two dynasties: he started the Yankees utter domination of professional baseball, and he’s the marker for the end of the Red Sox first dynasty. He’s larger than life, a fascinating character that simultaneously reflected and transcended his era.
 
Okay. One down.
 
Number Two is Willie Mays. With apologies to Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle, Willie seems like he has to be on the list. Willie covers a lot of bases: he played in the Negro Leagues as a teenager, and he was the first black superstar to come up as a challenger to Ruth.
 
Mays gives us some nice contrasts to Ruth: he was an elite defensive player, a fast runner. So we get speed and defense and agility into our Hall. We get a National Leaguer….we have both of the major leagues represented. Mays covers us nicely 1950’s and 1960’s.
 
For number three, I’m going with Honus Wagner.
 
I’m a little sad about this, because I think Ty Cobb is a much more interesting player. Cobb is the baseball’s embodiment of a particularly kind of athlete, one that is intensely, relentlessly focused on beating everyone around him. Basketball has had most of the recent versions of this kind of athlete, with Jordan and Kobe. Ted Williams is in this camp, as is Rose.
 
But there are two big reasons to go with Wagner:
 
-Wagner’s career (1897-1917) comes a little before Cobb’s (1905-1928). Cobb has a lot of overlap with Ruth, while Wagner’s career exists more fully in the dead-ball era.
 
-Wagner is a shortstop, while Cobb is an outfielder. We have two outfielders already.
 
Actually, there’s a third reason: Wagner has a great nickname: The Flying Dutchman. I think great nicknames are important. We have the Sultan of Swat, the Say-Hey Kid, and the Flying Dutchman. Doing well….
 
So we’ve got three: Ruth, Mays, Wagner. Pretty good three. We’ve covered the years 1897-1935, and the years 1951-1973. Pretty good.
 
We need someone to represent the fifty years between Mays and our current moment. It’s really difficult to find one player that adequately bridges that gap.
 
Joe Morgan is interesting. He was perhaps the best player of the 1970’s, a star on the Big Red Machine, and his career gets us comfortably into the mid-1980’s. But Morgan has a decade of overlap with Mays, and he doesn’t really pass the ‘gut instinct’ test.
 
Mike Schmidt is another ‘GOAT’ to consider, but his last game was in 1989: we don’t get a hint of the 1990’s, or the 2010’s. We also have a couple of sluggardly sluggers on our board, and Schmidt doesn’t seem like the ‘force’ that the other three were.
 
It’s tempting to pick one of the great 300-game winners from the seventies: Seaver, Carlton, Perry, or Niekro. Seaver seems the best candidate, but his career overlaps with Mays, and doesn’t get us into the 1990’s.
 
It’s very tempting to pick Nolan Ryan. Ryan absolutely gets a check for being super-famous, and his longevity covers us into the early 1990’s. Ryan was an absolutely singular player, in the same way that Ruth was….a player that cannot reasonably be compared to anyone else. He gets us a Texan on the team, and a pitcher.
 
Unfortunately, I’m not inclined to pick a player who wasn’t that great. Greatness seems an important qualifier here, and while Ryan was a singular player, he ranks behind four or five of his pitching peers in terms of actual talent. He was unrelenting, but I don’t think he cracks the Five.
 
I would love to put Pedro on, but he didn’t have a career that was long enough. Plus he’d leave a big game between Mays and himself. The same holds for Mariano, who I would also disqualify for being a closer.
 
It really comes down to two players: Bonds and Clemens. Bonds covers us from 1986 to 2007. Clemens gets us two extra years, going from 1984 to 2007. 
 
This is unpleasant, having these two guys on the list. It’s be nice to just cheat and go with Greg Maddux, or Ken Griffey, Jr. But I think we have to look at this era directly, and represent it honestly. Clemens and Bonds were the two best players of this era, and they are, for better and worse, players indicative of the era…players who sought every way to maximize their greatness.
 
Between the two, I think it’s essentially a jump ball.
 
Bonds is tempting because he represents the best of two players: he was Willie Mays, who then turned into Babe Ruth. He owns many of the significant hitting records. In a period when average players put up eye-popping numbers, Bonds’ numbers managed to be more than merely eye-popping. They were eye-gouging. He hit 73 homeruns one year, .370 the next. He walked 177 times in a single-season. Then he walked 198 times. Then he walked 232 times. From 2000 to 2007, his on-base percentage was over .500…he reached base more than he made out for eight years. In 2004 he had a .609 on-base percentage.
 
This was his ‘decline’ phase. In his prime, he was Willie Mays: an excellent corner outfielder with speed and power. Like Mantle and Musial and Mays and Williams, he was the guy the writers had to argue not to give the MVP to.
 
The arguments against Bonds are that we’ve got two outfielders already. We should also consider league balance: Wagner and Mays are both NL players…Ruth’s all alone from the AL. And Mays and Wagner already represent the Giants and Pirates: Bonds doesn’t bring any new teams into our Hall.
 
Clemens is a pitcher. That seems like enough of a reason to push him past Bonds. Clemens won seven Cy Young Awards, he was the first pitcher (and the second pitcher) to notch a 20-K game, and he gives us the Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays, and Astros into the Hall. Nice to have Canada represented. 
 
But I’m still on the fence about this one. Bonds, to me, represents the absolute excesses of his era. Clemens’ statistical record, while impressive, isn’t nearly as jaw-dropping as Bonds….he seems closer to the pack. I think, for instance, that Pedro was a greater pitcher in their respective primes…Pedro doesn’t have the longevity, but he was a few ticks better at their peak. Maddux and Randy Johnson have their cases, too: it’s not an absolutely sure thing that Clemens was the best of his era. 
 
But Clemens does have the great nickname: Rocket. Barry Bonds has no nickname, unless we consider an asterisk a nickname.
 
I’m really torn about spot #4….but I think it’s between these two. Push come to shove, I’m taking Bonds. Those numbers, and the hubris they represent, is too much to pass up.  In a way, he brings a dimension of personality lost when I picked Honus over Tyrus.
 
That gives us this coverage for baseball history:
 
 
Year
 
Player
 
Year
 
Player
 
Year
 
Player
 
Year
 
Player
 
Year
 
Player
 
Year
 
Player
1897
 
Wagner
1917
 
Ruth/Wag
1937
??
1957
 
Mays
1977
??
1997
 
Bonds
1898
 
Wagner
1918
 
Ruth
1938
??
1958
 
Mays
1978
??
1998
 
Bonds
1899
 
Wagner
1919
 
Ruth
1939
??
1959
 
Mays
1979
??
1999
 
Bonds
1900
 
Wagner
1920
 
Ruth
1940
??
1960
 
Mays
1980
??
2000
 
Bonds
1901
 
Wagner
1921
 
Ruth
1941
??
1961
 
Mays
1981
??
2001
 
Bonds
1902
 
Wagner
1922
 
Ruth
1942
??
1962
 
Mays
1982
??
2002
 
Bonds
1903
 
Wagner
1923
 
Ruth
1943
??
1963
 
Mays
1983
??
2003
 
Bonds
1904
 
Wagner
1924
 
Ruth
1944
??
1964
 
Mays
1984
??
2004
 
Bonds
1905
 
Wagner
1925
 
Ruth
1945
??
1965
 
Mays
1985
??
2005
 
Bonds
1906
 
Wagner
1926
 
Ruth
1946
??
1966
 
Mays
1986
 
Bonds
2006
 
Bonds
1907
 
Wagner
1927
 
Ruth
1947
??
1967
 
Mays
1987
 
Bonds
2007
 
Bonds
1908
 
Wagner
1928
 
Ruth
1948
??
1968
 
Mays
1988
 
Bonds
2008
??
1909
 
Wagner
1929
 
Ruth
1949
??
1969
 
Mays
1989
 
Bonds
2009
??
1910
 
Wagner
1930
 
Ruth
1950
??
1970
 
Mays
1990
 
Bonds
2010
??
1911
 
Wagner
1931
 
Ruth
1951
 
Mays
1971
 
Mays
1991
 
Bonds
2011
??
1912
 
Wagner
1932
 
Ruth
1952
 
Mays
1972
 
Mays
1992
 
Bonds
2012
 
(Trout)
1913
 
Wagner
1933
 
Ruth
1953
 
Mays
1973
 
Mays
1993
 
Bonds
2013
 
(Trout)
1914
 
Ruth/Wag
1934
 
Ruth
1954
 
Mays
1974
??
1994
 
Bonds
2014
 
(Trout)
1915
 
Ruth/Wag
1935
 
Ruth
1955
 
Mays
1975
??
1995
 
Bonds
2015
 
(Trout)
1916
 
Ruth/Wag
1936
??
1956
 
Mays
1976
??
1996
 
Bonds
2016
 
(Trout)
 
We have two evident gaps: the years between 1936 and 1950, and the years between 1974 and 1985.
 
And with apologies to Schmidt, Morgan, Rose, Seaver, and Ryan, I think it makes more sense to cover the longer gap.
 
Joe DiMaggio fits the gap perfectly. His rookie year was 1936….and he played until 1951. DiMaggio was super-famous….he was the guy that baseball fans of that generation talked about. He has a fantastic nickname: The Yankee Clipper. He actually has two fantastic nicknames, if you count ‘Joltin’ Joe.’ He has a great story, a story that fits into the fabric of American history. He was the eighth child of nine, born to immigrant parents in California. His father was a fisherman; he wanted his sons to grow up to be fisherman with him. His sons wanted to play baseball. Three of them reached the majors.
 
DiMaggio might be the second most famous baseball player of all-time: he is likely the only challenger to Ruth. He’s referenced by Simon and Garfunkel and Billy Joel, imagined by Hemingway and Joyce Carol Oates (and Don DeLillo and Philip Roth must make a reference to him somewhere). He has a super-famous, super-weird record (the 56-gamer) that hasn’t ever had a real challenger to it.  He was married to Marilyn Monroe…there’s a story that he got very upset during the shooting of Monroe’s most famous scene. He is one of the rare baseball players to fully transcend the game: it’s him and Koufax and Ruth.
 
But….there are a few knocks against Joltin’ Joe. We already have a few outfielders on our team, and we already have a New York Yankee outfielder.
 
More significantly, he was a very good player, but it wasn’t clear that he was the best player of his era, not after Williams and Musial showed up. He had a short career: even allowing the three years he lost to the war, he played sixteen seasons in the majors, retiring at 36. He does not come across, in biographies, as a particularly nice man…he doesn’t come across as particularly interesting. He led an interesting life certainly, but doesn’t it seem like a lot of the interesting parts stem from him being really famous? I don’t have a great sense of what, in his personality, captured the hearts and minds of so many people. I think he got trapped, to an extent, in his own mythology.
 
So that leaves us with the fifth spot.
 
And it’s going to Satchel Paige.
 
Satchel Paige absolutely belongs in the five. If we had a Hall-of-Fame of Two, I’d be tempted to pick him and Ruth, though their careers had some overlap.
 
Satchel is perfect. First, he’s a pitcher, and we need some pitching. He certainly belongs in the GOAT conversation: him and Walter Johnson and Grove and Clemens. He has a great nickname: Satchel. He got the name when he was just a kid, carrying bags at a train station. The story is that he rigged up some contraption to carry more bags. Someone else, seeing this, said that he looked like a satchel tree.
 
Just breaking that account apart a bit: there’s so much story hidden in the account. He was a kid, and he worked…he toted bags at the railway station. This would’ve been in Mobile, Alabama, which was a big city then. He was smart: if he was getting a dime a bag, he figured he could come up with a way to carry four bags. It reveals him as a showman, too, an individual who is attentive to the demands of audience. I imagine that his contraption netted him more bags and dimes than any of the other porters were making.
 
The point I’d make is that all of Paige’s life is filled with stories like this, stories that have enough contexts to show us a world.
 
Paige got into trouble as a kid: though he wasn’t an orphan like Ruth, he went to a reform school from thirteen to eighteen. Like Ruth, he came under the guidance of a teacher, who channeled his energies into baseball.
 
He played on two famous Negro League team: the Crawford Giants and the Kansas City Monarchs. He played against most of the famous players in that era, both in the majors and the Negro Leagues. One of the best stories is about young DiMaggio: in an exhibition game when DiMaggio was still in the minors, DiMaggio came up against Paige in a crucial at-bat, hitting a hard grounder that Paige deflected for a game-winning infield hit. The Yankees scout sent an enthusiastic telegraph to the Bronx saying: "DiMaggio everything we’d hoped he’d be. Hit Satch one for four."
 
His life, put into a biography, would require multiple volumes. The account of his defection to the D.R. (with a bunch of other stars) to play under armed guard for dictator Rafael Trujillo deserves its own book.
 
Paige is a central figure in the Negro Leagues, and he is a central figure in the movement to integrate professional baseball. Paige was well-known by baseball fans: he was more well-known than many of the stars in the major leagues. Paige was the rare person who was a myth within his time: he existed in the imagination of people who never saw him play.
 
This is pure speculation, but I think that Paige, more than any other player in the Negro Leagues, made professional baseball seem like it was missing something.
 
Integration happened because it had to happen: I don’t say that to denigrate the courage of Jackie Robinson, or Larry Doby…but sooner or later black players were going to be let back in the major leagues. I think Paige was absolutely central in pushing the line earlier: if you were a baseball fan in the 1940’s, you knew that you were missing something; that the other league had guys the major leagues didn’t. 
 
The Negro Leagues, in a way, were the first (and so far only) challenge to the major leagues’ monopoly: they were a league that had players just as good as the ones in the majors, and they had a version of baseball that was a little more exciting. The majors had to give in: their authority as the best game in town was challenged by this other league. It was challenged, especially, by the legend of Satchel Paige. 
 
Going a little farther afield…one of the things that exciting about Mike Trout’s career, at this moment, is that we get to look ahead to the player he could become. We consider his major league record within the context of how we imagine his career will look like fifteen years down the track.
 
Satchel Paige is the exact opposite: we read his major league record and look backwards, trying to see what his career might’ve looked like, if he had played in the majors.
 
I hadn’t ever looked over Paige’s major league numbers until I started writing this article, but they are every bit as remarkable as the numbers that Mike Trout has put up in his brief career.
 
Paige, as a major leaguer, pitched mostly out of the bullpen. Just looking at his two longest seasons in the majors, 1952 and 1953:
 
 
Pitcher
 
Age
 
IP
 
rWAR
 
W-L
 
SV
 
ERA
 
ERA+
Satchel Paige
45-46
255.1
6.4
15-19
21
3.28
123
 
This is pretty good: he posted a strong ERA, despite a low strikeout rate (5.0) and a high walk rate (3.4). He was, I’ll reiterate, in his middle forties at the time. He had thrown many, many, many innings. He had had arm troubles and had come back from them. His arm wasn’t a young forty-five.
 
I’ve said ‘pretty good’….one way to understand how good it is, is to compare him to other great pitchers who were pitching effectively into their forties. I found a list of ten players:
 
 
Pitcher
 
Age
 
IP
 
rWAR
 
W-L
 
SV
 
ERA
 
ERA+
Phil Niekro
45-46
435.2
6.4
32-20
0
3.59
109
Gaylord Perry
43-44
403
3.5
17-26
0
4.51
94
Cy Young
43-44
289.2
3.2
14-19
0
3.08
100
R. Johnson
44-45
280
3.5
19-16
0
4.24
106
 
Satchel Paige
 
45-46
 
255.1
 
6.4
 
15-19
 
21
 
3.28
 
123
Tommy John
45-46
240
-0.1
11-15
0
4.84
81
Nolan Ryan
45-46
223.2
1.4
10-14
0
4.06
97
R. Clemens
43-44
212.2
5.0
13-12
0
3.18
141
Hoyt Wilhelm
45-46
171.2
5.4
11-11
26
1.84
172
Jim Kaat
43-44
109.2
-1.3
5-3
2
4.02
91
 
This is a good list: five Hall-of-Famers, plus Jim Kaat, Tommy John, Roger Clemens, and Randy Johnson. These are, as far as I could find, the ten best pitchers who lasted into their middle forties. There’s no dud in the bunch: they are all top-100 pitchers….most would be in the top-25.
 
And Satchel is either the best of the group, or the second-best, behind Hoyt Wilhelm. WAR credits Satchel as providing the same value as Niekro, over 180 fewer innings. His Adjusted ERA ranks behind Roger Clemens and Wilhelm, and is well ahead of everyone else. Paige is two years older than Clemens, and Paige didn’t have a lot of the medical (ahem) advantages that Clemens has.
 
This is only a fragment: there’s no way to look back and figure out how many games Paige would’ve won in the major leagues. This fragment only tells us that Paige, as a forty-six year old, was a better pitcher than just about anyone who has played professional baseball at that age. Looking backwards from that vantage, it’s not unreasonable to think that Satchel Paige, identified by DiMaggio and Williams and Feller and Dizzy Dean and Buck Leonard as the best pitcher they ever saw, might have actually been the best pitcher ever.
 
So that’s my five: Wagner, Ruth, Satchel, Mays, Bonds.
 
Dave Fleming is a writer living in Wellington, New Zealand. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions here and at dfleming1986@yahoo.com. 
 
 

COMMENTS (87 Comments, most recent shown first)

1000ringsofsaturn
I know I'm a few months late but wanted to toss my list into the ring:

-Walter Johnson 1907-1927
-Babe Ruth 1914-1935
-Stan Musial 1941-1963
-Willie Mays 1951-1973
-Cal Ripken, Jr. 1981-2001
4:36 PM Jul 2nd
 
Cypher
To judge Jeter, or any player, by his place in highlight reels is just sooooooooooo ESPN. Dominique Wilkins is NOT the greatest basketball player either.
12:27 PM Mar 9th
 
MarisFan61
(Yes, Ontario is correct. That's where Musial played.) :-)
8:55 PM Feb 23rd
 
OldBackstop
Well, that long list was guys I would realistically consider for The Five.

I was trying purposely to get "legends" by going off the top of my head. Williams suffers a bit because of the jam up in peers and his crappy local media. Musial because he played in Ontario or whatever. I always sort of forget Musial, his numbers really hold up....

Anyway, those two wouldn't be in the running for my five. Actually, neither would Aaron or Cy Young or Koufax. So that is down to ten.
5:00 PM Feb 22nd
 
steve161
OldBackstop, is the absence of Musial and Williams from your list of a couple of days ago an oversight or intentional? If the latter, permit me to disagree violently.
3:52 PM Feb 19th
 
rgregory1956

Spalding isn't a bad choice, but I'd take Harry Wright over him. And it's not particularly close.

8:27 AM Feb 19th
 
MarisFan61
Nice list!
Just one 'amendment' to your afterword: Spalding was a helluva player too!

I'll always remember his W-L record as it appeared when I first started following these things, as a kid -- at least in the Herald Tribune booklet n the Hall of Fame: :-):
"252-68."

Since then, he lost 3 losses, I guess not unlike how Cobb lost a hit or three.
So now his record is even better. :ha:
11:46 PM Feb 18th
 
DaveFleming
Non-player version:

Spalding
McGraw or Mack
Branch Rickey
Marvin Miller
Bill James

I think that covers the arc of baseball rather nicely. And McGraw was a helluva player.
10:18 PM Feb 18th
 
OldBackstop
mmm...I sent a HeyBill in pointing out that AO copped to using a corked bat for half his career. I think I remember BJ looked upon Otis as a hero with KC, but that is a pretty BS move by the guy....he was only a .277 hitter with 16 HRs a year, but made five All-Star teams on his wheels and leather. But at .245 with 5 HRs some non-cheater makes the All-Star game those years. Never mind the affect on standings, other guys' careers, etc. Cheating for half of a 17 year career is pretty damn heinous, IMO....
7:33 PM Feb 17th
 
DaveFleming
He has a trailblazer (Green), a Latin player (Marsans)...but he has career overlap with Rabbit and Marsans, and Roof/Otis. No pitchers, either.

On the plus side, he's the first person to not include Ruth. Always a contrarian, that Mr. James.


6:12 PM Feb 17th
 
OldBackstop
Well, here is Bill's insight:

Hey Bill, re: Dave's article "The Five". Who are yours? Oh, and why?

Asked by: OldBackstop


Answered: 2/17/2014


Pumpsie Green, Rabbit Maranville, Phil Roof, Armando Marsans and Amos Otis
3:35 PM Feb 17th
 
Steven Goldleaf
and I'll add another hypothetical: say you've got a player on a losing team, who is doing one negative thing that is in his control to change, but he thinks he's ok, and doesn't change it. In year 9 of his career, he does change it and his team wins a championship. Are you giving him high points for "leadership" and "courage" and "clutch" or are you downgrading him for being a lazy, conceited swine?​
10:41 PM Feb 16th
 
Florko
"Florko's statement: "Without those championships no one is talking about Jeter's leadership and determination" is pretty inaccurate. "

I obviously tend to disagree, every time I debate Jeters place in history I hear the same argument.. Rings
9:15 PM Feb 16th
 
Florko
MarisFan61, go watch highlight reels of defensive plays and see how many times you see Jeter.
1. the flip
2. when he decided to run into the stands
3. that awkward jump throw thing

and that is all
9:04 PM Feb 16th
 
Florko
MarisFan61, go watch highlight reels of defensive plays and see how many times you see Jeter.
1. the flip
2. when he decided to run into the stands
3. that awkward jump throw thing

and that is all
9:04 PM Feb 16th
 
DaveFleming
To MarisFan's first axiom (It's awfully hard to win a bunch of championships with an 'awful' defensive SS)....I'd agree.

But Jeter wasn't awful in 1996, 1998, or 1999. He was sort of bad in 2000, but not off-the-rails bad.

The Yankees also won in 2009....that was the year Jeter dedicated his offseason to really working on his defensive range, and the results show: it was his best defensive season since 1998.

The criticism is with Jeter's defense in 2000-2008, when he tallied a dWAR of -8.3
8:52 PM Feb 16th
 
DaveFleming
Florko's statement: "Without those championships no one is talking about Jeter's leadership and determination" is pretty inaccurate.

Tony Gwynn never won a championship...when he retired, people still used phrases like leadership and determination to talk about him. The same is true for Sandberg and Mattingly. The notion of leadership isn't reserved for dynasty players: I'm fairly certain that Derek Jeter, as a career Royal, would get 85% of the fawning that he'll get this year. And he'd probably receive significantly less criticism on the weaker parts of his game.
8:43 PM Feb 16th
 
MarisFan61
Fairly decent axiom: It's awfully hard to win a bunch of championships with an "awful" defensive SS.

Another one: It would generally be wrong and is arguably naive to think that an awful defensive SS would be voted several Gold Gloves by major league coaches and managers.

Yet another: SGoldleaf needs to look more closely at whether his comments on what people have said are really comments on what they have said. :-)
8:42 PM Feb 16th
 
Florko
I guess that leads to my next point/question. What if a guy like Nomar was the Yankee SS and Jeter was with Boston who are we talking about as the greater player?
8:35 PM Feb 16th
 
DaveFleming
It's absolutely true that fate/luck brought him to the Yankees, rather than the Royals. But...plenty of players have lucked into similar circumstances and not done nearly as well. And plenty of players have started with also-ran teams, and built legacies as 'winners. Beltran and Damon come to mind.

Putting it another way: for all the accolades and fame that Jeter has received, there's a cost to that. He's so famous that he can't go out to eat at a restaurant, or walk around Central Park, without getting harassed. If he had started with the Royals, it's likely that he wouldn't have such celebrity. Matt Harvey wandered around Central Park last year with a crew from one of the talk shows, asking Mets fans about Matt Harvey...most of those fans didn't recognize him without the jersey.

It seems silly to denigrate his career on the luck of where he was picked in the draft. He's handled a tough gig with aplomb, and deserves credit for it.

But he was a horrible defensive shortstop. :)
8:24 PM Feb 16th
 
Florko
Without those championships no one is talking about Jeter's "leadership" and "determination"
7:48 PM Feb 16th
 
Florko
Minus the Championships, take away some home runs, I may be wrong but WAR credits Jeter for playing SS rather than 2nd.
7:48 PM Feb 16th
 
rgregory1956

The thing about speculation is that anybody can go anywhere with it and you can't prove them wrong. Jeter as a Royal? You see that as a negative. I see at as a potential positive. It's feasible that he'd be considered even greater than he is. What if the Royals had been smart enough to make him a second baseman instead of a shortstop? I'll speculate that Jeter the person remains the same (poise, charisma, determination, etc); his hitting remains the same and he's an average fielding second baseman. His WAR is now over 90 and his Jaws over 70. It's possible.
7:13 PM Feb 16th
 
Florko
The question I always ask people regarding Jeter is would Derek Jeter still be Derek Jeter if he were drafted by the Royals
5:23 PM Feb 16th
 
OldBackstop
I went back and looked at Joe's blog post to cadge insightful comments and raise my Q Factor here. His actual question is different than Dave posits:

""Hall of Fame from scratch so every player, executive, announcer, contributor and pioneer in baseball history is available to you. Only catch is — you can only include five people.""

So, here's my insightful comment, uncadged. How many times has Bill bemoaned the HOF argumnet "if X, why not Y?" How many times has he said that the guys slapped in by Veterans Committees diluted the standard? How many times did we say it is BS that one guy got in before another, better candidate? Look into your lists and souls, people!

Thinking that way, I think I would forget about the eras and positions and do what the founders of the HOF did -- draft the best available player: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson. They all had careers with in living memory of the inductors, that is true, and maybe that prejudiced the selection. No 19th centuriers except three years of Honus Wagner. Maybe they wanted a show of

So, let's keep it to the true stars, the FAMOUS ones, the legends. The guys who in the Field of Dreams outfield would stop your heart to meet. The guys that the non-baseball fan knows their face.

The Long List:

Ty Cobb
Babe Ruth
Willie Mays
Joe DiMaggio
Mickey Mantle
Lou Gehrig
Jackie Robinson
Christy Mathewson
Walter Johnson
Cy Young
Sandy Koufax
Barry Bonds
Hank Aaron

Too many CFers? -- the most spectacular athletes on the field.
Too many Yankees? -- 27 rings. Champs become superstars
Too many New Yorkers? It's about Fame and it's the media capial of the world. It ain't about fair, it's about fame.

I'll take the first five.


5:12 PM Feb 16th
 
Florko
WAR (at least the one I look at) doesnt have Trammell and Jeter even, im not sure where that came from. Fangraphs has Jeter 10 WAR ahead of Trammell.
5:10 PM Feb 16th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Studes--I might list Jackie very high on my list too, well beyond his stats, because he obviously made gigantic contributions to the MLB in ways and under circumstances that don't show up in the numbers--and the Babe, and Ted Williams and Bob Feller (war contributions that took them away from the game)--but can someone please explain to me wtf Derek Jeter did other than play baseball to give him all these points for "intangible greatness"? It's like his fans are conceding "Ok, we can go only so far with the numbers--but he still deserves to stand alongside the Babe and Jackie and Ted W because: Derek Captain Clutch Yankee Mister November Jeter!! And I can say that louder and more repeatedly if you didn't hear me say it the first six times. Win!!!"
5:07 PM Feb 16th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Lichtman (and MF61, for that matter) are very good at avoiding answers to direct questions: he asks why we deduct from Jeter's record for batting in a PED-using era if Jeter himself didn't use PEDs.
Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?

OK, I'll take it. It's because he had a lot of (PED-using) teammates on base to knock in, and because he had a of (PED-using) to knock him in, inflating his RBI and Runs scored counts. Any more rhetorical questions you'd like my help with, Mitch?

(As for MF61: is is it true that you like to pretend that any question you can't deal with is a "strawman"? Oooh, that sounds like so scarey--let's run away!!! Try answering my questions instead of snarking at them.)
4:52 PM Feb 16th
 
Florko
Here is a article by Mitchell Lichtman (MGL) on the Trammell Jeter Debate..
mglbaseball.wordpress.com/2014/02/16/how-jeter-can-turn-a-very-good-writer-into-a-hack/
4:12 PM Feb 16th
 
studes
My POV, if you're going to talk about not only great ballplayers, but ballplayers who combine to somehow tell the highlights and story of baseball history, I don't see leaving out Jackie Robinson. In fact, I might list him first--or at least tied with the Babe--cause I consider his story the most fundamental and invigorating story in baseball history.
3:13 PM Feb 16th
 
MarisFan61
The subject of Derek Jeter seems to bring out the occasional arrogance of sabermetrics like nothing else. The field prides itself on objectivity and comprehensiveness, but, as per what RGregory just cited, look at what's been going on here: We have good, bright, extremely well-informed people doing this mockery of Jeter-worship with whatever isolated factoids suit their purpose of the moment. When you do that, you're doing exactly the thing that you correctly fault in the worst of uninformed thinking.

And let me offer that there's an arrogance in being so convinced that what some of us believe about the limitations of metrics is mistaken. How about a little more restraint and modesty.... Is it so necessary to believe so firmly that it is all pinned down as well as you think it is? I do think it is pinned down a lot, but with gaps and with possible kinds of instances where it might not be very close.
2:48 PM Feb 16th
 
MarisFan61
SteveG: It looks like you're going out of your way to build and knock down straw men.
2:25 PM Feb 16th
 
rgregory1956

WAR has its uses, but name another reliable metric that has Jeter and Trammell even. There are about a dozen that I look at and none of them have it has Trammel being anywhere in the same area code as Jeter. And I mean none. A couple that everyone has access to:

Win Shares: Jeter 403, Trammell 318
HOF Standards Jeter 67, Trammell 40
HOF Monitor: Jeter 334, Trammell 118




2:16 PM Feb 16th
 
Steven Goldleaf
So you don't think they accurately represent Mazeroski's or Smith's or Brooks Robinson's abilities? Without those defensive WARs are they in the HoF? Should any of them be?
2:06 PM Feb 16th
 
MarisFan61
(a) You missed that I said may be erroneously.... :-)

(b) NO.
But I'm assuming (and I'm reasonably sure you'd agree with this at least in broad principle) that defensive metrics aren't nearly as accurate as we'd like, if not with the extra aspect I'm including that "the presence of" certain kinds of players in the middle of the diamond can have positive impacts that are extremely hard if not impossible to metricize.
1:45 PM Feb 16th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Are you saying that you're willing to discount defensive WAR BECAUSE it is an argument against Jeter's greatness?
12:37 PM Feb 16th
 
Steven Goldleaf
And you should probably take "erroneously" out too--unless you think that to disagree with your position is to be in error.
12:35 PM Feb 16th
 
MarisFan61
P.S. Nothing against Trammell and I truly don't mean to take anything away from him, but.....

If you accept that many of us think that 'stats' like Jeter's defensive WAR can be gross misrepresentations and if you're willing to grudgingly deign for a second to ignore that number, Trammell's WAR is no longer remotely similar to Jeter's.
12:34 PM Feb 16th
 
MarisFan61
You may be erroneously neglecting a significant part of what "ballplayer" involves.

Or more correctly I should probably say ignoring rather than neglecting, because you sort of know what it is :-) -- you just don't much believe in it.
12:31 PM Feb 16th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Of course not, Bob. If it were, I'd be advocating for Clemens and Bonds and Rose to get in, which I'm arguing strenuously AGAINST.

But character can be taken too far, to make someone into MORE than he is, rather than less. Jeter is a good ballplayer, but so is Alan Trammell. So is Craig Biggio. So is Dave Concepcion. I don't hear quite the level of accolades for these guys to get in the HoF instantly, automatically, no questions asked as I do for Jeter.
11:39 AM Feb 16th
 
rgregory1956

Goldleaf, is WAR the only criteria for getting into the Hall? If that's the only thing that matters, then it is probably shocking that Jeter will get over 90% of the vote his first eligible year. But if you look at ANYTHING else, it shouldn't be a surprise.

9:05 AM Feb 16th
 
Steven Goldleaf
steve161, yep, that was I who PASSED ON the remark about Pastadiving Jeter (I didn't invent it). I just read (somewhere on the Net) a comparison between Jeter and Alan Trammel that struck me as dead-on. They have comparable careers, comparable impact as career ss's, yet Jeter is the sure-shot first-ballot HoFer and Trammel is the "Did-he-play-MLB?" guy.
7:54 AM Feb 16th
 
MarisFan61
BTW, thought I'd mention this thing about how reputations and thought processes change over time.

When I started following the game, which was the late '50's, there seemed to be a very clear consensus "Top 3":

Cobb, Ruth, Cy Young

.....and often in that order, with Cobb being regarded as greater than Ruth.

A couple of separate things seem to have changed since then. Cobb and Cy Young have come to be seen as somewhat lesser (somewhat).....and there has become more openness to considering more-recent players as rivaling the old old timers. At that time, it didn't seem that guys like Williams, Musial, Mays, Mantle etc. ever got mentioned in such contexts, except Mantle in a subjunctive kind of way.
10:58 PM Feb 15th
 
MarisFan61
But you don't have to "look at the numbers" (or analyze them) to know that some concrete aspects have been lacking in Jeter's fielding.

And we know this, because even many casual fans have been aware of it for years. I've been active on the MLB yankee fan site since about 2005, whose membership is (pardon if any of my friends from over there are looking) :-) not very sabermetrically sophisticated, and it's been evident from the posting that this is very common knowledge. Sure, when people criticize Jeter's fielding, there are always others who come strongly to his defense, but nobody (from what I've seen, literally totally nobody) disputes the aspects that I imagine you're talking about.

So, if casual fans know it, I think it's more than a fair guess :-) that the managers and coaches who vote for the Gold Gloves know it.
6:43 PM Feb 15th
 
steve161
MF61, I'm not so arrogant as to believe that I know more about baseball than people who have spent their lives in the game, so I try to keep my mind open to the possibility that they're seeing something that I and the numbers are blind to, but boyoboy it's hard.

My best guess is that Jeter simply looks like a ballplayer. He hustles, he never gives up on a play, his effort is never less than 100%. And the jump throw is really attention-getting. It's only when you look at the numbers that you begin to suspect that there is less there than meets the eye.

sgoldlead, was it you some time back who said that, listening to Michael Kay broadcasting Yankee games, you'd get the impression that his first name was Pastadiving?

But he's not the worst ever. Having gone out on a limb a couple of posts ago, I checked at BB-Ref, and indeed Jose Offerman's numbers at SS are worse, despite his actually having a bit more range.
6:17 PM Feb 15th
 
MarisFan61
Brian Doyle, a rookie 1-year wonder?
I think maybe you mean a 1-post-season wonder. :-)

He never had any regular-season wonder years. In fact, he never had any regular season you could even call a "year"!

About Jeter costing more runs in the field than blah-blah.... :ha:
I know that I'm pretty much talking to the wall when I say things like this here, not to mention making myself sound like a Neanderthal know-nothing morooon, but....

You're not taking into account the unmeasurable effect (yes, I suppose I'm talking about a portion of the dreaded "intangibles") of the presence of such a player in the middle of the diamond.

How do I know such an effect exists? What evidence do I have?
I don't, and none.

But I don't think evidence to the contrary exists either.
I know that you could say 'something' exists on the other side: The absence of any visible elephant tracks.
But I have a couple of little tiny something on this side: The apparent belief by people in baseball that such a thing exists, including from his having gotten those several Gold Gloves which would be so clearly absurd on the basis of anything "tangible."
4:40 PM Feb 15th
 
steve161
Clarification: I meant the SABR website, but of course if it could be published here that would be just fine as well.
4:36 PM Feb 15th
 
David Kowalski
Well, Evan, I found the following list on the net of rookies who were one-season wonders: Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, Super Joe Charboneau, Bob Hamelin , Brian Doyle and Wally Bunker. I remember all of them but have the fewest memories of Brian Doyle. He played with the Yankees and the first thing that came to my mind was the name of the actor, Brian Doyle-Murray. Two Brian Doyles, more or less.

There were others who were really good for a while but not their whole career like Walt Dropo, Herb Score and Pete Reiser. Score and Reiser's careers were shortened by tragic injuries. Reiser started out as a left handed batter but taught himself switch hitting in three weeks and ultimately became a left handed hitter in the majors. He changed the game's equipment: walls were padded because of his accident. he also won the NL batting title as a rookie with a .343 average.

It's a separate top five. Another top five would be Joe Jackson, Pete Rose, Hal Chase, Gaylord Perry and Cap Anson. Jackson, Rose and Chase were banned from the game while Perry and Anson are remembered in part for controversy or scandal (the constant spit ball rumors, refusal to play against the first and by then only black major leaguer).

I'd put Ty Cobb in instead of Chase but he wasn't banned from the game.
4:09 PM Feb 15th
 
steve161
KaiserD2 asserts that "in the field [Jeter] has almost surely cost his team more runs and games than any shortstop--and yes, maybe any player--in the history of baseball." Obviously he never saw Jose Offerman.

Will that talk to the SABR chapter be on the website? If not will you post (a summary of) your findings here?

3:50 PM Feb 15th
 
DaveFleming
I had to look up why Tony Fernandez is on that list. Not from Cleveland, obviously.
3:06 PM Feb 15th
 
evanecurb
Fred Merkle
Mickey Owen
Ralph Branca
Bill Buckner
Tony Fernandez
2:59 PM Feb 15th
 
David Kowalski
Sorry, A Rod had a .337 OBP in September. darned typos.
8:54 AM Feb 15th
 
David Kowalski
Maybe Alex Rodriguez continued using steroids but it didn't seem to effect his career aging arc. Rodriguez's last great year (by his standards) was 2007, his age 31 season. He hit .314 with 54 homers, 156 RBIs, 143 runs scored and 120 walks. His last black ink came the next season (age 32) when he batted .302. That was Alex's last .300 season. Since then his batting average declined every year but he did better maintaining his power.

In 2013, Alex hit .280/.359/.451 and a 126 OPS+ in August. He had a .203/.3317/.392 slash line for September. His isolated power, however, was 171 in August and 189 in September. using OBP minus Batting Average , he had a 79 Isolated OBP in August and a 134 isolated OBP in September. His power was up slightly and he got a lot more walks (despite a much lower batting average) in September.

The monthly splits simply showed that Alex ran out of gas quickly.

I'm not sure whether he's almost through as a player or he has been slowed by injuries. In any case, after a year off in 2014, he will have recovered from the injuries in 2015 but will return as a 39 year old. If he plays, he'll hit some homers, make some money but won't appreciably contribute to his career totals.

Oh, Steve 161, Walter Johnson is your Midwesterner. True, he didn't play in Chicago, but he was from Kansas. Paige, of course, played in Kansas City. So he would remain and option. And of course he pitched until 1927.

OBS, Honus Wagner did play before 1900. He started in 1897 but his career fits pretty comfortably within the 20th century with 2,433 games in the 1900's and 361 games in the 1890's. ​
8:52 AM Feb 15th
 
steve161
Just to make an impossible task even more impossible, I submit that, in addition to complete coverage of baseball's history, you need complete coverage of baseball's geography. I miss the heartland of America in your picks (and no, I don't think Paige fills in that gap). You need a Cub or a Cardinal or a Red--indeed, given that you've got three National Leaguers already, you probably really need a White Sock (Shoeless Joe, anyone? No, that's going too far, even farther than you did with Bonds).

Actually, Dave, I think you've done as well as Joe Posnanski could have hoped for. You had me a bit worried thinking you were going to go for DiMaggio over Musial or Williams, and, to introduce just a hint of Cincinnati, I might have gone with Mathewson over Wagner. But at the end of the day, while I might quibble, I can't disagree--especially with the inclusion of Paige.
6:42 PM Feb 14th
 
SteveN
oldbackstop, you seem to be saying that Johnson pitched before 1900. Not so. 1907-1927.
3:13 PM Feb 14th
 
DaveFleming
On Paige over Gibson: I selected Satchel for a few reasons.....one, I really needed a pitcher.

Two: Paige crossed over...he was a Negro League star who played in the majors....as I hadn't picked Jackie, I wanted to get one of the first players to cross the line. Paige was, I think, one of the first ten players to integrate, and the first pitcher in the AL.

I like the Mathewson suggestions....I'm sticking to Wagner because I want one of those old-time hitters (big barrel, make contact) in, but Christy is a good candidate. The contrast of him and McGraw is terrific.

A-Rod is an interesting pick over Bonds: he gets us a Latin representative, though I'm not sure that's a positive....he does tick a lot of the boxes of the era: escalating salaries, media press, steroids. Pujols, a better player and probably a better person, has less of that drama, lawsuits with Jack Clark aside.
2:15 PM Feb 14th
 
jollydodger
I was thinking if we could make a valid list of 5 w/o tradition ties to NL/AL.

Ichiro (NPB/MLB)
Paige (NegroLeague)
Oh (NPB)
Gibson (NegroLeague)
Dihigo (Cuban&Mexican Leagues/NegroLeague)

4,000 hit guy, a legend, a career HR leader, maybe the best at his position ever, and a guy that went 18-2 with a batting title the same season.
12:28 PM Feb 14th
 
David Kowalski
One more note on Sadahuru Oh. He still holds the record for career home runs with 868. Alex Rodriguez is near the top in a lot of categories but lacks that single record that identifies him.

The mere fact that Barry Bonds is disqualified from the Hall of Fame should not disqualify him from the five. Scandal goes back to the beginnings of the majors. George Hall, the first National League home run champ, was caught being part of a group that fixed games for gamblers. Joe Jackson and Pete Rose had their own scandals. Despite the fact that Bonds was bulked up and with his pads looked like a character from a Transormers baseball movie.

A case can be made for Josh Gibson over Satchell Paige although I'd take Paige. Gibson not only hit over 800 homers but also never was allowed to play in the majors. As such, although less colorful than Paige, it can be argued that he better personifies a disgraceful event. Want to represent the Nego Leagues/ Josh could be your man.

One other person who'd make my top ten list is Bill Veeck for his showmanship and ownership of the Browns and White Sox. The man gave us Eddie Gaedel, disco demoloition night, and the infamous "shorts" uniforms. Veeck credited his wife, Mary Frances, with designing the shorts uniform. He couldn't build a new park for the White Sox but did paint Commiskey white.
12:18 PM Feb 14th
 
jollydodger
Ruth…cartoon character life, would be mythical if he wasn't real
Robinson…obvious reasons
Henderson….stolen bases, speed, arrogance, socially curious
Maddux…regular guy non-super athlete carving up hitters in huge hitting era
Bench…bat, arm, dominant team….legend
12:15 PM Feb 14th
 
KaiserD2
This comment is based on my study of greatest players in each generation, defined by number of superstar seasons, if you will, of five wins above average. Something very interesting is emerging from discussions like this one.

In each generation (I use the definitions of William Strauss and Neil Howe, which I've also used in other books), there are, as it happens, two or three (in one case) hitters who tower above everyone else by this measurement, with at least 10 such seasons each. For the Lost generation it's Ruth, Cobb, and Speaker. For the GI ("greatest") generation it's Musial and Williams. For the Silent generation it's Mays and Aaron. For Generation X, it's Bonds and Pujols.

For the Boom generation, it's Mike Schmidt and Rickey Henderson, and this discussion is one of many indicators that their greatness is not getting proper recognition even from the educated public.

Incidentally I will be giving the first public presentation of my results at the Connecticut SABR chapter meeting in Hampden Connecticut tomorrow.

DK
11:43 AM Feb 14th
 
David Kowalski
Marisfan's selection of Al Spalding to the five is brilliant. Spalding started playing semi-professionally in 1865. He was a player, masnager, entrepreneur and popularized the use of the baseball glove. He tried hard to internationalize the game under the sponsorship of his sporting goods company. Spalding took and All-star team to Europe, Asia and New Zealand although his Asian stop was Hawaii, then an independent nation.

The point about 1865 is that it ties Spalding, however peripherally, to the Civil War (the war ended in 1865). Baseball spread from the Northeast to the Midwest and South due to the popularity of the game with both Union and Confederate soldiers. The stop in New Zealand didn't include a game but it adds another continent for Spalding.

Spalding's record as a player, manager, part owner, rules maker, and equipment maker is uniquely broad.

Bill James is interesting in that ten years ago he looked likely to be ignored or at least bypassed by the Hall of Fame. Since then, at least 29 of the 30 baseball teams have hired full time statistical analysts and James has worked for the Boston Red Sox playing a part in bringing them back to World Championship status. He is a recognizable name and a recognizable figure. Fans can identify his picture.

Marvin Miller is still unlikely to be inducted. Miller faces the opposition of owners and a sub-set of baseball writers. Does he belong? Unquestionably.
9:13 AM Feb 14th
 
David Kowalski
To Dave Fleming,

I guess I'm giving away my age here, but who cares. When I was a teen or in my 20's most baseball fans could name at least one Japanese player: Sadahuru Oh. Oh is a different kind of player but holding the record for career homers puts him in over Alex Rodriguez, at least in my opinion.

Technically, the original class in the Hall of Fame was five. True, the building wasn't built but I could argue that a Hall with five names just ties the record.

Oh is both the prototypical Japanese player and fails some crucial tests. He's too big and hits too many homers. he's the Japanese Babe Ruth. The Japanese Babe Ruth has to be in you Hall of Five.

Ruth also is the only real character in your Hall. Sure, the other players had character but they weren't characters. Baseball needs a characters. Casey Stengel would be a pick based on that as he played for the Giants and Dodgers, managed the Mets and Yankees and his mentor was Kid Nichols. He even learned platooning from John McGraw. History and a character.

True, Casey has a lot of New York City but he came from Kansas City, Missouri and wound up in southern California. That could bring in the Cards and Royals (MO), Padres, Dodgers and Angels (southern California) and the A's and Giants (northern California).

Two of your five, Wagner and Ruth were among the first five elected. That could give you the two, Wagner and Ruth.
8:13 AM Feb 14th
 
taosjohn
Yes.




Okay, if it has to be five players:

Joe Start
Connie Mack
Willie Mays
Nolan Ryan
Martin Dihigo
8:08 AM Feb 14th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Do we really want to reject Jack Morris completely in this discussion?
6:52 AM Feb 14th
 
MarisFan61
P.S. Boring plaques on the wall, with those cool beards and mustaches?
I think not. :-)
2:31 AM Feb 14th
 
MarisFan61
OK, OK, 5 players. :ha:
(Dave: I actually came back to the laptop to succumb and do it before knowing of that last post of yours.) :-)

Babe Ruth -- just because
Satchel Paige -- ditto
Jackie Robinson -- double ditto
Willie Mays -- I really think he's the best player ever, if we don't count Babe, and maybe even if we do

I'm feeling a gap from 4th to whoever would be 5th, so my top 5 really has just 4.

5. I'm wanting to pick another pitcher, and I can't escape the names Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson, and I would usually break such a tie on "character" -- and on that, they both win, so I'm calling it still a tie.
2:28 AM Feb 14th
 
RonMock
My reading of the task: create a big-picture history of baseball with the individual stories of five outstanding participants who, as a side-benefit, also illustrate various kinds of greatness in the game.

If you want to cover all of baseball history with just players, you have to give me seven, and then I can do something like this:

Cap Anson (1871 – 1897) This key figure takes us from to the dawning era of baseball to the cusp of the modern era. He covers the professionalization of the sport, the turmoil of the early leagues, and the establishment of the color barrier.

Honus Wagner (1897 – 1917) One of the true all-time greats, Honus spans the founding of the modern era and the two major leagues, to the end of the dead-ball era.

Babe Ruth (1914 – 1935) The most outstanding figure in baseball, Ruth leads the way into the live-ball era and the development of the sport as a big business. He typifies the era(s) of Yankee dynasties – and an early example of the Yankee Way: buying the best players from hapless fellow owners.

Satchel Paige (1926 – 1953) We need a pitcher! We also need this look at the Negro Leagues, the breaking of the color barrier, and showmanship through the story of one of baseball’s more colorful characters.

Willie Mays (1951 – 1973) Mays may be the best illustration of how baseball got better after it was integrated, and of the post-war dynamics that drove baseball to the Pacific and into the first two rounds of expansion.

George Brett (1973 – 1993) Brett is more than just our bridge from Mays to Arod. He’s also our portal to covering that crucial Royals fan: Bill James.

Alex Rodriguez (1994 – 2014) Here's a poster boy for the dysfunctions of the steroid era AND the explosion in players’ salaries, and also the tragic rise and fall of one of the all-time greats.

It’s seven players, and Brett is not an all-time great. But even though we double up at shortstop, we cover every year since 1871, and every position on the field except left field and second base, thanks to Cap Anson’s stints at 1b and catcher. And these players give us a window on all the major themes in baseball history.

BUT if you let me use other key figures in the game’s history, I can cover the last 110 years with two guys:

Branch Rickey (1905 – 1955)

Vin Scully (1950 – 2014)

And they overlap with the Dodgers in 1950! If you decide 1905 is good enough for continuous coverage, you can add three players of your choice. I think mine would be Ruth, Paige, and Rodriguez.

2:22 AM Feb 14th
 
DaveFleming
I said players deliberately....all of the innovators mentioned are deserving, but it's the players that bring the game to life. And MarisFan's Hall, even expanded to eight, would have an awful lot of boring pictures on the wall :)

It's be fun to see Bill in. I wonder what cap he's want...
2:07 AM Feb 14th
 
MarisFan61
Evan: Chamberlain and Russell on the same team? :-)
Impossible to picture. Although, I imagine they must have played on the same all-star teams a number of times, and so it really happened. I'm surprised we don't have (or at least I don't have) more of a picture of that. I still find it unimaginable, even though it happened.
1:40 AM Feb 14th
 
MarisFan61
Yeah, 5 isn't enough.
But it's what makes it interesting. :-)

And, I'm going to violate the "Players" part of it, on the theory that I'm not sure Dave gave huge thought to it when he said it (sorry, Dave, if you did!) and that even if he did, he won't mind the violation too much. The thing is, "5" makes it impossible for me to single out 5 players, so I have to think of it in other ways. I'm thinking "figures" and "influence."

Babe Ruth
Jackie Robinson
Satchel Paige
Henry Chadwick
Albert Spalding

My approach is sort of like Taosjohn's.

My 6th, 7th, and 8th would be Branch Rickey, Marvin Miller, and Bill James.
1:35 AM Feb 14th
 
OldBackstop
Walter Johnson: screw it, it wasn't really baseball before 1900.

Babe Ruth: .....

Willie Mays: true star, Negro Leagues, speed and power

Mariano Rivera: Latin baseball, greatest closer, class act

Barry Bonds: insane numbers, represents, for better or worse, the last twenty years, which will always be suspect for PEDs.

No infielder. But ethnically diverse. Rivera won't get mentioned much but relievers have become such a huge factor.

Next five would be:

Honus-- infielder. I think you have to give a nod to the first five.
Cobb: ditto
Branch Rickey:for that side of the game
Yogi: greatest catcher and maybe character ever
Gehrig: if Ruth had remained a pitcher, and Gehrig hadn't got sick, he would be the greatest player of all time.
11:51 PM Feb 13th
 
taosjohn
If we're trying to tell the story of baseball through the lives and careers of five people:

Joe Start
Connie Mack
Willie Mays
Bud Selig
Martin Dihigo
10:41 PM Feb 13th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Oops, I just noticed that all five of my guys have significant ties to NYC MLB.
9:33 PM Feb 13th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Who says we need to "cover" all of baseball history? Chance would dictate that two or more players did overlap careers. or that 4 would be in one league and 1 in the other.

I'm a "character" guy for the HoF, my logic being that there are plenty of great ballplayers but only some of them were also exemplary human beings, which is another consideration. I'd take Rickey, Mathewson, Ruth (as my token talent-over-character guy), Gehrig, and Mays.
9:29 PM Feb 13th
 
evanecurb
Roy Hobbs
Henry Wiggen
Luke Gofannon
Ray Kinsella
Joe Boyd
9:25 PM Feb 13th
 
DaveFleming
Five is not enough, of course. That's the challenge of the exercise.

Pale Hose: you've listed two: Teddy and Jackie. That's a defensible start, so finish the five.

I think you've painted yourself in a corner, though: Jackie's career fits into Ted's career: 1939 to 1960. That leaves you all of 1870-1938 and 1961-2013 to cover, and three players to choose from.
9:14 PM Feb 13th
 
DaveFleming
Is Oh 'better known' than Ichiro? And, seperate question, who is the more important figure, in baseball history?

I thought about the Latin players, but the three logical players are Clemente, A-Rod, and Pujols. Clemente overlaps with Mays, and wasn't a better outfielder.

I suppose one could make a case for Pujols over Bonds, but I think Barry was the greater player, and the more representative player of that era.

Maybe Jose Fernandez will challenge Mike Trout for the sixth spot, when the Hall expands.
8:55 PM Feb 13th
 
Pale Hose
I'm with rgregory that 5 isn't enough. I also think one's answer depends on what one thinks the HOF should be/represent. But, in this case, it's your bat and ball so we'll play your game.

Having said that I think Ted Williams has to be on this list. He would surely be in any "Small Hall" person's HOF, and, my goodness, he WAS John Wayne. A combat fighter pilot in two wars, that took what, 4 years out of his prime. Think of what he would have done with those years. Pardon me for my jingoism, but he was a great ballplayer and a great American.

I get your point about Satchel but I think Jackie Robinson should be on the list. He might not be a small hall guy but the cultural side of his ledger is too important to ignore. In 2014 we can't fathom what he had to go through in his day.

I think David Kowalski's comments on the lack of Latin or Asian players is spot-on as well.
8:48 PM Feb 13th
 
David Kowalski
The biggest gap to me involves ethnicity, not time period. There is no Latin or Asian player on your list. That is a huge gap. Put Sadahuru Oh on your team. He was , if not the greatest, easily the best known Asian player of all time. This is the Hall of FAME.

Oh probably deserves strong consideration on merit but the combination of being representative of the history of baseball and being the most famous Japanese ball player makes him my choice.

The fifth choice is far from obvious. I ran down John McGraw, Connie Mack, Joe McCarthy, Branch Rickey and Alexander Joy Cartwright before I started eliminating anybody. McGraw based on his wins, Mack for managing 50 years. McCarthy for his win-loss percentage, Rickey for re-integrating the majors and for creating the farm system.

As others pointed out Cap Anson and Jackie Robinson are reasonable choices. I eliminated people who are mainly famous names: Abner Doubleday heads that list.I eliminated people famous for a short span of unbelievable performance like Charles "Old Hoss Radbourne. Or one event like Candy Cummings who proved that abaseball could curve. I really thought about a line from a recent movie, "Trouble With the Curve." The movie featured a woman, Sandra Bullock, who was a lawyer and who learned talent evaluation from her father, a long time scout. The team execs started to compare the phenom to Sandy Koufax but Bullock replied that he was more like Randy Johnson or Steve Carlton: someone with a phenomenal curve which was his second best pitch (behind the slider for Carlton).​
8:28 PM Feb 13th
 
DaveFleming
Just a further note on that DiMaggio story....that would've happened in 1934, the year before DiMaggio reached the majors. Satchel Paige was a legend [i]then[i]...he was famous enough for the Yankees scout to refer to him as 'Satch', and his abilities were so respected that a one-for-four performance by a top prospect was call for a telegram.

That was 1934....and Paige's biggest year in the majors didn't come for eighteen more years, not until 1952. The year after Joe DiMaggio's retirement.

Satch pitched in a major league game thirteen years after that, in 1965. He started against the Red Sox, and retired nine out of ten batters he faced. Only Yaz reached safely, on a double in the first.

Publicity stunt, sure....but my god, he was fifty-eight and pitching to a lineup with Yaz and Tony C.
7:31 PM Feb 13th
 
KaiserD2
I would suggest filling the Wagner spot with Christy Matthewson. He has one of the greatest pitching records, relative to his league, of all time. (Other contenders for that honor are Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, and Clemens. In terms of sustained peak performance no one from the years 1940-80 comes close.) He was on many pennant winners and was probably a more dominant figure than Wagner was.

I think Ted Williams should replace Satchel Paige.

I can't disagree that Bonds is one of the great representatives of his era in every way, but that's also the reason I'd just as soon not include him. And I'm amazed anyone can refer to his "decline phase" with a straight face. But hes, I suppose if you want the man who tells the story of that part of the game, he's the one.

Incidentally, I'm seeing a lot written about Derek Jeter the last two days. I suspect he will become MLB's public symbol of his era. The problem is, he has never been great. He has been good for a very long time. And, the most sophisticated methods show, in the field he has almost surely cost his team more runs and games than any shortstop--and yes, maybe any player--in the history of baseball.
7:28 PM Feb 13th
 
karlweberliterary
What a fun column. I don't have my list of five to share, but if we want to include a contributor along with four players, it seems to me that Branch Rickey would be the guy. Integrated the game, played a key role in creating the modern minor league system, spring training, and other player training techniques, and was a central figure in the histories of more than one great franchise.
7:19 PM Feb 13th
 
DaveFleming
To rgregory: when I filled out my list for Joe's site, I went with four players and one contributor. The contributor covered the long gap after Mays....from about 1977 onward, really.

I didn't think I could reasonably rate him in the article, though...
6:28 PM Feb 13th
 
evanecurb
Dave: Very good column, as usual. The problem with the top five, of course, is that there isn't a top five. There's probably a top 20 or something like that. I like your five as well as any other five I can think of, but it would be fine if you went with Cobb or Johnson, Gehrig or Dimaggio, Aaron, Williams, or Musial, etc. etc.

Same question, but for basketball: My five are Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan. They actually could take the court together if you make one of the centers into a power forward.
6:19 PM Feb 13th
 
chuck
I working up the post The 27 Families of Pitchers, I looked at Paige’s stint in the majors. He had some terrific ratios to the league and to his teammates. Over those seasons,
1) his strikeout ratio was 46% above league average,
2) his control (bb+hbp) ratio was 12% below league average,
3) he was hard to hit; his hits in play ratio to balls in play was 6% below his teammates- this is a good number. A little better than Spahn in that regard.
4) he was very tough to homer against. His HR/batted ball ratio was 27% below that of his teammates.

In comparative terms, here are those ratios within a 100-point index, 100 being average, along with the closest comp I could find for all of them:
SO ... BB ... HT ... HR ... Pitcher
146 .. 088 .. 094 .. 073 .. Paige
149 .. 092 .. 095 .. 076 .. Roger Clemens
And this was Paige just in his 40’s... Unbelievable how great he must have been.
4:42 PM Feb 13th
 
rgregory1956

Five isn't really enough to tell the story, but I'll play along.....sort of. I'm going with 4 players and a contributor.

The Players are Anson, Wagner, Ruth and Williams. If I tell the story of Cap, I can tell about the story of how baseball swept the country. If I tell the stories of Honus, Babe and Teddy Ballgame, I can tell about the evolution of the game. If I want to tell the story of baseball from 1960 to today (and in my opinion it's a fairly negative story of greed, excess and self), who would be better than George Steinbrenner?
4:41 PM Feb 13th
 
Steven Goldleaf
One of your top five may never get elected to the real HoF. I'd call that a DQ.
3:24 PM Feb 13th
 
 
© 2011 Be Jolly, Inc. All Rights Reserved.