The Teams of the Deacde

July 26, 2021
                                           The Teams of the Decade

 

          Summarizing the arguments for and against Gil Hodges as a Hall of Fame candidate, John-Q listed this as number 2 in the "for" column, and number 5 in the rebuttal section:

2-He was the best First basemen of the 1950’s.

#5 He benefitted from a weak first basemen group in the 1950’s.

         

          I was taken by that thought, and I got to wondering whether that was true.   Is that a valid and meaningful argument, to begin with, and WERE the first basemen of the 1950s a weak group?  

          I used Win Shares during the calendar decade to choose the teams.  The most Win Shares that any player has ever had in one calendar decade is 421, by Honus Wagner in the years 1900 to 1909.  He is followed by Babe Ruth, 1920s, Kid Nichols, 1890s, Ty Cobb, 1910s, Walter Johnson, 1910s, Rogers Hornsby, 1920s, Tris Speaker, 1910s, Tim Keefe, 1880s, and, rounding out the top 10, Barry Bonds, 1990s. 

          Normally, in this exercise, I would use some discretion in placing players on the team.   If a decade has two great center fielders and no particularly good left fielder, I would move one of the center fielders to left to make the team, or if a player was more of a shortstop than a second baseman but played both, I would feel free to put him at whichever position made for a better team.  That doesn’t work in this particular context, however, because this is being set of as a test of historic stature, and that might lead to a placement on the team that was disadvantageous to. . .well, Gil Hodges or some equally deserving candidate.   If Player X played primarily third during the decade and had more Win Shares during the decade than any other player who played primarily third base, then we HAVE to place Player X at third base in this exercise, whether or not this creates the best possible team.   I don’t see that that’s a negotiable approach; I think it absolutely has to be done that way, even though sometimes this leads to undesirable choices.

          This creates a "double-rigidity" in the teams selected.  The system is rigid in that a decade HAS to run from a zero to a nine, even if the player who SHOULD be there, the player that you or I or anyone else would intuitively select as the best whatever of the whenever, even if he had his best years from 1967 to 1976.   The system works 70, 80% of the time, but it creates some completely absurd answers for us once in a while.  To give you the worst example of an absurd answer, the system picks Willie Mays as the fourth best center fielder of the 1950s.  He barely misses ranking fifth.  

          The reason this happens is that there were five Hall of Fame center fielders in the 1950s (Mantle, Ashburn, Snider, Doby and Mays).   Mays missed the 1950 and 1953 seasons entirely, and almost all of the 1952 season.  Because of that, those three have far more playing time in the 1950s than Mays does, so they have more Win Shares.  You could avoid some of those problems by using WAR, but you would just create other problems of the same nature somewhere else. 

          So this is not about choosing All Decade teams; this is about choosing All Decade teams by a rigid and highly organized process.  Anyway, these are the Decade All Star teams by this method, up through the 1940s:

 

1880s

Catcher—Buck Ewing (158)

First Base—Roger Connor (234)

Second Base—Hardy Richardson (183)

Third Base—Ned Williamson (148)

Shortstop—Monte Ward (243)

Left Field—Harry Stovey (199)

Center Field—George Gore (194)

Right Field—King Kelly (212)

Starting Pitchers—

Tim Keefe (356)

Old Hoss Radbourn (348)

Mickey Welch (332)

Pud Galvin (306)

 

          Others with 200 or more Win Shares during the decade:  first basemen Dan Brouthers (219) and Cap Anson (216), pitchers Jim McCormick (295), Tony Mullane (286), Jim Whitney (274), John Clarkson (259), Guy Hecker (254), Charlie Buffinton (228), and Ed Morris (201), and pitcher/outfielders Bob Caruthers (264) and Dave Foutz (218). 

 

 

1890s

Catcher—Duke Farrell (137)

First Base—Jake Beckley (167)

Second Base—Cupid Childs (220)

Third Base—George Davis (214)

Shortstop—Bill Dahlen (206)

Left Field—Ed Delahanty (254)

Center Field—Billy Hamilton (271)

Right Field—Mike Tiernan (185)

Starting Pitchers—

Kid Nichols (390)

Cy Young (331)

Amos Rusie (283)

Jake Stivetts (264)

 

          Others with 200 or more:  shortstop Herman Long (204), left fielders Hugh Duffy (251) and Jesse Burkett (232), center fielder George Van Haltren (233), pitchers Bill Hutchinson (204), Ted Breitenstein (202) and pitcher/second baseman Kid Gleason (202)

 

1900s

Catcher—Roger Bresnahan (169)

First Base—Frank Chance (206)

Second Base—Nap Lajoie (296)

Third Base—Bill Bradley (181)

Shortstop—Honus Wagner (421)

Left Field—Fred Clarke (247)

Center Field—Roy Thomas (230)

Right Field—Sam Crawford (264)

Starting Pitchers—

Cy Young (289)

Christy Mathewson (275)

Joe McGinnity (234)

Rube Waddell (231)

 

          Others over 200:  shortstop Bobby Wallace (202), left fielders Jimmy Sheckard (224), Fielder Jones (223), Tommy Leach (215) and Topsy Hartsel (209), center fielder Ginger Beaumont (202), right fielder Elmer Flick (239), and pitchers Vic Willis (222), Eddie Plank (218) and Jack Chesbro (203).

Cy Young thus becomes the first player to make the decade All-Star team for two decades, as the #2 starting pitcher from the 1890s and the #1 starting pitcher from the 1900s.  In listing the honorable mentions I wasn’t as careful about double-checking which position they should be listed as, so I might have missed some of those. 

 

1910s

Catcher—Chief Meyers (119)

First Base—Ed Konetchy (204)

Second Base—Eddie Collins (338)

Third Base—Home Run Baker (253)

Shortstop—Art Fletcher (192)

Left Field—Zack Wheat (204)

Center Field—Ty Cobb (386)

Right Field—Shoeless Joe Jackson (257)

Starting Pitchers—

Walter Johnson (378)

Pete Alexander (266)

Eddie Cicotte (196)

Hippo Vaughan (183)

 

          Others over 200:  second baseman Larry Doyle (225), third baseman Heinie Zimmerman (204), left fielder Sherry Magee (200), center fielders Tris Speaker (361) and Clyde Milan (219) and right fielder Harry Hooper (208).

          You can see that the selections of the process are generally consistent with mainstream thinking. There aren’t very many cases in which you say "What?"   Tris Speaker is the real-life case that best demonstrates a problem discussed earlier.  Speaker was the #3 player of the decade.  Cobb had 386 Win Shares, The Big Train had 378, and the Gray Eagle had 361.  Logically, we would put Speaker in center and move Cobb to left, which creates a stronger team, but if we were then considering the Hall of Fame case for Zack Wheat, as we now are considering the case for Gil Hodges, someone could legitimately say that he was left off of this team although he was, in fact, the best left fielder of the decade, since Cobb was not a left fielder.  So our rules don’t allow us to move Tyrus and bench Zack.

 

1920s

Catcher—Wally Schang (137)

First Base—Joe Judge (179)

Second Base—Rogers Hornsby (362)

Third Base—Pie Traynor (176)

Shortstop—Joe Sewell (220)

Left Field—Goose Goslin (200)

Center Field—Tris Speaker (233)

Right Field—Babe Ruth (413)

Starting Pitchers—

Pete Alexander (210)

Burleigh Grimes (210)

Eppa Rixey (201)

Dolph Luque (191)

Reliever—Firpo Marberry (93)

 

          Others over 200:  second baseman Frankie Frisch (243), right fielders Harry Heilmann (263) and Sam Rice (217).

          Joe Judge is an off-beat pick at first base, as there are God knows how man Hall of Fame first basemen in this decade—George Sisler, Highpockets Kelly, Bill Terry, Jim Bottomley, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx late in the decade.  Joe Judge was a good player and a historically underrated player.  He hit .300 eight years in ten during the 1920s, hit .294 and .291 the other two years, was a fine fielder, but honestly he rates ahead of the Hall of Famers because he was the only one who was in possession of a regular job throughout the decade. 

          Pete Alexander, like Cy Young, was the #2 pitcher in one decade, then the #1 pitcher in the next one.

          And I was shocked, shocked (!!) that Dazzy Vance did not earn a spot on the team.  Dazzy certainly had the most impressive seasons of the decade, in 1924, 1925 and 1928, but he missed the 1920 and 1921 seasons, thus gets left behind.

 

1930s

Catcher—Bill Dickey (230)

First Base—Lou Gehrig (323)

Second Base—Charlie Gehringer (270)

Third Base—Stan Hack (142)

Shortstop—Tie, Joe Cronin and Arky Vaughan (249 each)

Left Field—Al Simmons (211)

Center Field—Earl Averill (253)

Right Field—Mel Ott (323)

Starting Pitchers—

Lefty Grove (262)

Carl Hubbell (243)

Wes Ferrell (205)

Red Ruffing (205)

Reliever—Johnny Murphy (62)

          Others over 200: catcher Gabby Hartnett (209), first baseman Jimmie Foxx (314), left fielder Joe Medwick (207), center fielders Wally Berger (240) and Ben Chapman (202) and right fielder Paul Waner (253).

 

1940s

Catcher—Ernie Lombardi (92)

First Base—Johnny Mize (187)

Second Base—Bobby Doerr (209)

Third Base—Bob Elliott (219)

Shortstop—Lou Boudreau (255)

Left Field—Ted Williams (290)

Center Field—Joe DiMaggio (213)

Right Field—Dixie Walker (219)

Starting Pitchers—

Hal Newhouser (224)

Dizzy Trout (175)

Bucky Walters (157)

Bob Feller (155)

Reliever—Ted Wilks (63), ahead of Hugh Casey and Joe Page, both 59.

          Others over 200:  shortstops Luke Appling (207) and Vern Stephens (203), left fielder Stan Musial (263), right fielder Bill Nicholson (202).

 

          Now we are ready to address the questions with which we started the article.  Let me begin by just giving you the 1950s team:

 

1950s

Catcher—Yogi Berra, (276)

First BaseStan Musial (285)

Second Base—Nellie Fox (224)

Third Base—Eddie Mathews (248)

Shortstop—Alvin Dark (187)

Left Field—Minnie Minoso (234)

Center Field—Mickey Mantle (317)

Right Field—Henry Aaron (177)

Starting Pitchers—

Warren Spahn (239)

Robin Roberts (237)

Early Wynn (199)

Billy Pierce (190)

Reliever—Jim Konstanty (61), ahead of Elroy Face (55)

 

          Others over 200:  first baseman Gil Hodges (221), third baseman Eddie Yost (207), left fielder Ted Williams (212), and center fielders Duke Snider (278), Richie Ashburn (249), Willie Mays (237) and Larry Doby (226).

 

So all of a sudden, we are in a terrible tangle.  The first thing we learn is, Gil Hodges is actually NOT the best first baseman of the 1950s, unless you are going to ignore the fact that Stan Musial was playing first base for the Cardinals.   In the decade, Stan Musial played 721 games at first base, 322 in left field, 295 in right field, and 139 in center field.  What’s his position, do you think?  Where are you going to put him, on the Decade All Star team?  He played easily more games at first than at any other two positions, combined.

Your only out, to try to save Hodges’ spot, is to claim that Musial was an "outfielder"—not a left fielder, not a center fielder, not a right fielder; just an outfielder.  In the 1950s, "outfield" was sometimes presented as one defensive position.  In the modern world, that’s not how we present the data, and that’s not really how anybody thinks.   Stan Musial in the 1950s was not an "outfielder"; he was a first baseman. 

Musial had 285 Win Shares during the decade, which is way more than Gil Hodges.   Despite that, Hodges’ case here is NOT weak.  It is stronger than I would have guessed.  First, a Hodges supporter can reasonably say that Musial was not a true first baseman.  The Hodges supporter does not have to concede the point, merely because it has been figured that way.  You could certainly make up some set of logically consistent rules that WOULD put Hodges at first base on the 1950s All Star team. 

Second, John Q’s argument that "it was a weak first baseman group in the 1950s" is pretty clearly not true.  It is not a weak group.  Musial’s Win Share total from the 1950s is the third-highest we have yet seen for a first base decade, the second-highest total being 314, by Jimmie Foxx from the 1930s, hidden behind Lou Gehrig.  But Hodges had 221.   That’s more than the decade leader at first base from the 1890s, 1900s, 1910s, 1920s, or 1940s.  221 is not a low total for a decade leader.  It is 22 Win Shares per season, which is a stiff pace to maintain for ten years.  And even the players behind Hodges, Ted Kluszewski at 170, Mickey Vernon at 160 and Vic Wertz at 149, are not weak compared to the 2-3-4-5 guys from other decades, except the 1930s, which had so many great first basemen that you can’t count them.

The real explanation is not that the 1950s first basemen were weak; it is that whether a player’s career fits neatly into one decade is a really, really terrible way to put his contribution into historical context. 

Also, about 75% of the players listed here ARE in the Hall of Fame, which can be represented as supporting Hodges’ candidacy.  But while it is true that most players who are the best in their league in a decade are in the Hall of Fame, there are many who are not.  Basically, there are two or three players on every decade All-Star team who are not in the Hall of Fame—Bill Bradley and Roy Thomas from the 1900s, Chief Meyers, Ed Konetchy and Art Fletcher from the 1910s, Wally Schang and Joe Judge from the 1920s.   Stan Hack was not only the #1 third baseman of the 1930s, but also the #2 third baseman of the 1940s, and he is STILL not in the Hall of Fame.  From the 1940s, third baseman Bob Elliott and right fielder Dixie Walker are not in, although their totals for their decade are almost exactly the same as Gil Hodges’ total from the 1950s (221-219-219). 

And, from the 1950s, there are two other players who show up here as the decade leader, but are not in the Hall of Fame—shortstop Alvin Dark, and left fielder Minnie Minoso. 

Of course, the Gil Hodges defender has a response to this, and this leads us down a dark alley, not essentially relevant to the issue of whether Gil Hodges should be soaked in bronze and displayed on a pedestal.  "Al Dark wasn’t the top shortstop of the 1950s; Ernie Banks was," and also "Minnie Minoso wasn’t the top left fielder of the 1950s; Ted Williams was."   As to Banks being the rightful owner of the title of Shortstop of the 1950s. . .well, that’s true; Dark finished first only because Banks didn’t play the first four years of the decade, except for a few games.  As to Minoso vs. Williams, that is more debatable.   Williams, although he maintained fantastic rate stats, drove in or scored 100 runs only once during the 1950s, because he was in and out of the lineup.  If you represent the decade as a year, there are going to be an awful lot of games there when the All-Star team has no left fielder. 

Regardless of how you come down on that issue, Williams vs. Minoso, Minoso still had more Win Shares in the 1950s than Gil Hodges did, 234 to 221, despite playing fewer seasons and despite playing in 130 fewer games (1,477 to 1,347).   Minoso, later in getting to the majors than Hodges, mostly because he was a person of color, wound up with 9.9 more career WAR than Hodges did.  No matter whether you put Hodges and Ted Williams on the decade All Star team or Musial and Minoso, the question still is, if Gil Hodges’ performance during the 1950s makes him a Hall of Famer, does it not still leave Minnie Minoso in line in front of him? 

Finishing up the Decade All Star teams, selected by Win Shares, rigid positional requirements:

 

1960s

Catcher—Joe Torre (178)

First Base—Harmon Killebrew (257)

Second Base—Pete Rose (176).  Sabermetric hero Dick McAuliffe, 170.

Third Base—Ron Santo (249)

Shortstop—Maury Wills (215)

Left Field—Carl Yastrzemski (231)

Center Field—Willie Mays (337)

Right Field—Henry Aaron (340)

Starting Pitchers—

          Juan Marichal (216)

          Bob Gibson (213)

          Don Drysdale (192)

          Jim Bunning (185)

          Sandy Koufax fifth at 168

Reliever

          Hoyt Wilhelm became the first reliever to earn 100 Win Shares in a decade, with 144.  He was followed by Ron Perranoski (108), Lindy McDaniel (101) and Stu Miller (101).

 

          Others over 200: first basemen Willie McCovey (237), Norm Cash (233), and Orlando Cepeda (223), third basemen Brooks Robinson (234) and Eddie Mathews (202), left fielders Frank Howard (229) and Billy Williams (227), center fielders Mickey Mantle (248), Vada Pinson (225) and Curt Flood (207), right fielders Frank Robinson (307), Roberto Clemente (262), Al Kaline (230) and Johnny Callison (209). 

 

 

1970s

Catcher—Johnny Bench (263)

First Base—Tony Perez (217)

Second Base—Joe Morgan (315)

Third Base—Pete Rose (288)

Shortstop—Toby Harrah (173)

Left Field—Willie Stargell (230)

Center Field—Amos Otis (237)

Right Field—Reggie Jackson (262)

Designated Hitter—Hal McRae (141)

Starting Pitchers—

          Jim Palmer (235)

          Tom Seaver (230)

          Gaylord Perry (222)

          Phil Niekro (214)

Reliever—Mike Marshall (134), followed by Rollie Fingers (126)

 

          Others over 200:  catchers Ted Simmons (224) and Thurman Munson (204), first baseman Bob Watson (203), second basemen Rod Carew (245) and Bobby Grich (202), third basemen Graig Nettles (222), Sal Bando (220), and Mike Schmidt (202), left fielder Carl Yastrzemski (218), center fielders Cesar Cedeno (218) and Al Oliver (208), right fielders Bobby Murcer (240), Ken Singleton (231), Reggie Smith (224) and Rusty Staub (201), and pitchers Ferguson Jenkins (204) and Steve Carlton (202).  George Brett was at 152 in the 1970s.

          Pete Rose makes the team both for the 1960s and the 1970s.

 

1980s

Catcher—Gary Carter (215)

First Base—Eddie Murray (250)

Second Base—Lou Whitaker (205)

Third Base—Mike Schmidt (265)

Shortstop—Robin Yount (274)

Left Field—Rickey Henderson (289)

Center Field—Dale Murphy (244)

Right Field—Dwight Evans (230)

Designated Hitter—Reggie Jackson (114)

Starting Pitchers—

          Dave Stieb (175)

          Jack Morris (154)

          Bert Blyleven (139)

          Fernando Valenzuela (135)

Reliever—Dan Quisenberry (153)

 

          Others over 200:  first baseman Keith Hernandez (221), third basemen Wade Boggs (237) and George Brett (229), shortstops Cal Ripken (219), Alan Trammell (219) and Ozzie Smith (204), left fielder Tim Raines (246), center fielder Andre Dawson (204), right fielders Pedro Guerrero (221) and Jack Clark (213),

 

          Reggie makes the All Decade team both for the 1970s and the 1980s, although his total for the 1980s is not really notable.  DH is a hard position because very few star players have been career Designated Hitters.

 

 

1990s

 

Catcher—Mike Piazza (206)

First Base—Frank Thomas (273)

Second Base—Craig Biggio (287)

Third Base—Robin Ventura (203)

Shortstop—Barry Larkin (242)

Left Field—Barry Bonds (351)

Center Field—Ken Griffey Jr. (261)

Right Field—Tony Gwynn (208)

Designated Hitter—Edgar Martinez (204)

Starting Pitchers—

          Greg Maddux (231)

          Roger Clemens (204)

          Tom Glavine (184)

          Randy Johnson (167)

Reliever—

          John Wetteland (116)

 

          Others over 200:  first basemen Jeff Bagwell (263), Rafael Palmeiro (244),

Mark McGwire (234), Fred McGriff (213), Mark Grace (210), second basemen  Roberto Alomar (243) and Chuck Knoblauch (208), third baseman Matt Williams (201), shortstop Jay Bell (200), left fielders Albert Belle (222) and Rickey Henderson (211), and right fielders Gary Sheffield (207) and Larry Walker (204).  First baseman John Olerud was at 199. 

 

          Edgar Martinez was the first Designated Hitter to have 200 in a decade.

 

 

2000s

 

Catcher—Jorge Posada (214); Pudge Rodriguez is second in both the

1990s and 2000s

First Base—Albert Pujols (315)

Second Base—Jeff Kent (206)

Third Base—Alex Rodriguez (311)

Shortstop—Derek Jeter (248)

Left Field—Barry Bonds (267)

Center Field—Carlos Beltran (225)

Right Field—Bobby Abreu (254)

Designated Hitter—David Ortiz, 174

Starting Pitchers—

Roy Halladay (157)

          Johan Santana (155)

          Randy Johnson (152)

          Mark Buehrle (149)

Reliever—Mariano Rivera (161)

          Others over 200:  first basemen Lance Berkman (259), Todd Helton (246), Carlos Delgado (225), Jason Giambi (218) and Jim Thome (211), third baseman Chipper Jones (239), shortstop Miguel Tejada (233), left fielder Manny Ramirez (257), center fielder Johnny Damon (215), right fielders Ichiro Suzuki (238), Vladimir Guerrero (234) and Brian Giles (226).

          Barry Bonds makes the All Decade team both for the 1990s and 2000s, and Randy Johnson is in the pitching rotation for both decades.  Mariano Rivera is the first relief pitcher to have a higher total for the decade than any starter. 

 

 

2010s

 

Catcher—Buster Posey (223)

First Base—Joey Votto (263)

Second Base—Robinson Cano (264)

Third Base—Tie, Adrian Beltre and Evan Longoria (189 each)

Shortstop—Elvis Andrus (185)

Left Field—Ryan Braun (195)

Center Field—Mike Trout (299)

Right Field—Jose Bautista (192)

Designated Hitter—Nelson Cruz (205)

Starting Pitchers—

          Clayton Kershaw (184)

          Justin Verlander (177)

          Max Scherzer (172, 86 with each eye)

          Zack Greinke (161)

Reliever—Craig Kimbrel (125)

 

          Others over 200:  catcher Yadier Molina (202), first basemen Miguel Cabrera (237), Freddy Freeman (226) and Paul Goldschmidt (214), and center fielder Andrew McCutchen (259).

 

          OK, before I go I have a couple of bones to pick with readers about comments posted in re The Immortal Gil Hodges. 

 

Someone wrote that "there’s a little padding of the list of first basemen who are ahead of Hodges in the HOF line."  I haven’t "padded" anything.  It was never presented as a list of first basemen.  It was clearly introduced as a list "of first basemen or sometimes first basemen."  The reader chose to misrepresent it as a list of first basemen, so that he could falsely imply that I was misleading the public.  I would ask you politely not to do that.

         

          The point is, when you are discussing whether Gil Hodges should be first in line for the Hall of Fame, players like Rusty Staub, Jack Clark and Bobby Bonilla are very obviously relevant to that discussion.  Hodges shouldn’t go into the Hall of Fame in front of Jack Clark unless his credentials are clearly better than Jack Clark’s—regardless of how much time Jack Clark spent at first base.   The fact that you might have approached the issue differently does not justify misrepresenting what I said.

         

          Also, there was a comment that "Comparing hs 1950s stats to stats of guys who played in the 1980s (when everyone hit 370 homers) ain’t fair."  

 

          To deal with the factual issue first, the percentage of players who hit 370 or more home runs was HIGHER in the 1950s than it was in the 1980s.  It is not lower; it is higher.  There were 422 players who played in the 1980s and had careers of 1,000 or more games.  7.8% of them hit 370 or more homers.  There were 223 players who played in the 1950s and had careers of 1,000 or more games.   8.1% of them of them hit 370 or more homers.  (Three players played in both the 1950s and the 1980s—Willie McCovey, Tim McCarver and Minnie Minoso.) 

          The reader implies that the 1950s were some distant era before home run hitters took over the game, but that’s just bizarrely untrue.   The 1950s were ankle deep in players who did nothing BUT hit home runs—Gus Zernial, Ralph Kiner, Roy Sievers, Vic Wertz, Ted Kluszewski, Eddie Mathews, Rocky Colavito, Joe Adcock, Del Ennis, Wally Post, Eddie Robinson, Hank Sauer, etc.  The Dodgers of the 1950s had three guys who had 40+ homers in a season—Hodges, Snider (several times) and Campanella. 

          There were 15 Dodger players in the 1950s who hit 30 or more home runs in a season; not 15 different players, of course.  By contrast, there was one Dodger in the 1960s who hit 30 homers, 3 in the 1970s, 3 in the 1980s, and 12 in the 1990s. 

          There were 7 Dodger players in the 1950s who hit 40 or more home runs.  By contrast, there were none at all in the 1960s, none in the 1970s, none in the 1980s, and one in the 1990s.  After Duke Snider hit 40 home runs in 1957, not a single Dodger player reached that level until 40 years later.  

          It wasn’t a LOW home run era; it was a HIGH home run era, at least for the Dodgers. 

 

          That is the smaller issue.  Although I am certain that the reader did not mean to be insulting, the comment is quite offensive.  Let me try to explain why. 

 

          In the 21st century, discussions of this type—that is, discussions of who belongs in the Hall of Fame, and of who was better than whom, take place on two entirely differently levels, which could be called

 

          A naïve level and a sophisticated level

          An un-educated level and an educated level

          A primitive level and an advanced level

          A stupid level and a smart level

          A talk-show level and a student-of-the-game level

          A fans’ level and an analysts’ level

         

          I hope you get the point, but not the judgment.  People who like to talk about who belongs in the Hall of Fame or similar topics should not be precluded from joining the discussion because they haven’t followed the latest research.   In many cases, they know more than we do; they just don’t use the systems of analysis that we in our field have created. 

 

          In a fans’ level discussion, people will say things like "everybody hit 370 home runs in the 1980s", because they don’t know any better.  In a fans’ level discussion, a fan will assert something like "Juan Gonzalez was obviously better than Duke Snider.  Look, Gonzalez hit more homers than Duke (434 to 407), drove in more runs (1404 to 1333), did that in fewer games and fewer at bats, and hit for the same average.  Gonzalez won two MVP Awards; Snider didn’t win any.  Why would anyone think that Snider was better than Gonzalez?"

          Again, the fan is entitled to his opinion; he isn’t required to take a sabermetrics class to have an opinion or to say what it is.  But that isn’t what we do here.  That isn’t what we’re doing.  That isn’t what I have done; it isn’t what anyone in this discussion has done.  When you say that we are just comparing statistics from different eras, it’s offensive.  It’s rude.  It’s rude, because it denies the fact that we have done the work that we have done, and it denies that we know the things that we have learned. 

          What we are looking at is not raw stats; it is the impact on the team’s wins.  We look at WAR—WINS above replacement--and we look at Win Shares, which is WIN shares.  Duke Snider had 66 WAR; Juan Gonzalez had 39.   Duke Snider had 352 Win Shares; Juan Gonzalez had 233.   Not only is Gonzalez not better than Snider; he’s not in the same range.  Basically, everybody on this site, almost everybody, knows that and would agree with that. 

          We are not comparing statistics.  We are comparing players.  It is a different thing.  Yes, we are comparing players based on their statistics, but only after we have gone through a rigorous process of (a) looking at EVERY relevant statistic, rather than picking and choosing those we like, (b) placing every statistic in its exact context, and (c) trying to measure the value of each accomplishment. 

          After we have done that, we have an estimate of how many games the player WON for his team.  We are digging down to the bedrock underneath the soil. We’re not always correct; we don’t always agree.  But a win is a win.  A win in the 1950s is a win in 2021 (acknowledging that the schedule is 5% longer post-1961, so a post-expansion player has a 5% advantage.)  But once you get down to the level of wins, rather than home runs or RBI or some other category stat, then we CAN, in fact, compare players across time,

Players in the 1950s were trying to win games, and

Players in 2021 are trying to win games. 

 

What they are trying to do is exactly the same, even though the statistics may be different and the way that each player goes about it may be different.  This process in no way discriminates against 1950s players.  Of the top 17 players ever in Win Shares, six played in the 1950s (Aaron, Mays, Musial, Mantle, Ted Williams and Frank Robinson), whereas only three played in the 1980s (Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson and Pete Rose.)   Career Win Shares puts Eddie Mathews ahead of George Brett, Al Kaline ahead of Robin Yount or Dave Winfield, Warren Spahn ahead of Greg Maddux, Yogi Berra ahead of Johnny Bench, Gary Carter or Ivan Rodriguez, Duke Snider ahead of Andre Dawson, Robin Roberts ahead of Nolan Ryan, and Richie Ashburn ahead of Dave Parker or Vladimir Guerrero.  I would not AGREE with some of those comparisons, but the point is, there is no way that anyone familiar with the data could argue that Win Shares is unfair to 1950s players.

We have worked very, very hard on the problem for, in my case, more than 50 years—and thousands of other people have also contributed meaningfully to the process.  To barge into the room and say that you can’t compare a player from the 1950s to a player from later on is offensive, because (a) I have worked immensely hard in order to figure out how to do exactly that, and (b) yes, in fact, we can.  Maybe YOU can’t, in the un-educated part of the discussion, but we certainly can, over on our side of the fence. 

The problem with Gil Hodges isn’t that he "only" hit 370 home runs or that he "only" hit .273 or that he got less than 2,000 career hits.  The problem is that there are more than a hundred other players who won more games for their team than Gil Hodges did, and who are not in the Hall of Fame. 

 

 

 
 

COMMENTS (29 Comments, most recent shown first)

Jaytaft
3for3, in case you missed it, I hopped a fence, barged into Bill's room, and too casually expressed my rude, stupid, prehistoric, uneducated, offensive opinions until he he started firing an AK-47 at me while for some reason screaming about the 1980s. If I had any opinions about Gil Hodges, I don't even remember what they were.
9:24 PM Jul 29th
 
3for3
Jay: Why do you use 2 different standards for evaluating where Hodges ranks on the HR list? Why parse Hodges standing regarding Lefty/Righty? Is a Right handed hitter’s HR more valuable than a Left handed hitters HR? Why NL/AL? It’s that kind of selective stuff designed to make a player look better than he is which really undermines his case, at least in my view.
7:41 PM Jul 29th
 
Jaytaft
Bill, I just read the article a second time (because I usually read each of your articles twice) and realized with some surprise that the comment you found insulting was actually my own (though you misread it). I did not realize this initially because my comment didn't mention the 1980s. My comment was: "Comparing his 1950s stats to the stats of guys who played in the 1990s (when everyone hit 370 homers) ain't fair." I was, while avoiding the word "steroids," alluding to the fact that the steroid era changed the perceived value of 370 home runs. Hodges is now at number 80 on the all-time homer list (not tremendously impressive) but he retired with the most career homers ever by a National League right-handed hitter (which was certainly impressive). Anyway, I couldn't possibly have more respect for you and your work and I sincerely apologize if I came off the wrong way. I guess I have a soft spot for Hodges because he fell just one vote short of election in 1993.
12:06 PM Jul 29th
 
wovenstrap
Was anyone else surprised by Toby Harrah as the best SS of the 1970s? Who were his competition?
9:35 AM Jul 29th
 
Jaytaft
I was surprised to see Amos Otis over Cesar Cedeno as the best CF of the 1970s. (Cedeno beats Otis in WAR for the decade, 44.2 to 40.8.)

Technically, Bobby Murcer played more games in center (763) than in right (724) in the 1970s, but I think Otis should be called the best CF of the 70s for the same reason I think Hodges, not Musial, should be called the best 1B of the 50s.
10:05 PM Jul 28th
 
Jaytaft
Musial wasn't like Robin Yount, who had a position and switched to a different position; he played everywhere, like Zobrist and Bellinger. I don't think a guy who only played first base part time should be called the best first baseman of a decade; Hodges put in like twice as much time at the position. Not really having a position might keep Musial off certain lists, but his consolation prize is being by far the greatest super utility player that ever lived.

If I get to pick a center fielder for one game, I'll take 9/7/93 Mark Whiten. If I get to pick a center fielder for 7 games, I'll take 1923 Babe Ruth, who played 7 games in center. If I have to pick a center fielder for a whole season, quantity of play becomes a major consideration. When looking at an entire particular decade, quantity becomes as important as quality; I'll take a very good player who played the position and stayed healthy all decade over a great player who didn't even play the position in half the decade's games.

The fair question is, "Do I want Hodges as my regular first baseman for the decade, or would I rather have Musial for half my games and a replacement-level player for half my games?"
7:59 PM Jul 28th
 
pgups6
Love this, so damn fun.

Along the lines of "player X was the best (insert position) of the decade", these numbers convey why I don't believe Lou Whitaker is a Hall of Famer. You look at his win shares compared to the others in the 80s as well as the other HOF 2Bs, and they are not on the same level.

Guys like Morgan and Biggio were not just the best 2Bs of their time, they were amongst the best overall players of their time, and that's who would should honor. But WAR would say otherwise.

Also, we get so pigeon holed in a player's position. Understand for evaluation purposes, we want to evaluate like cases, but the eval should not end there.


1:30 PM Jul 28th
 
phorton01
wdr1946. Appreciate the shout outs for Ferrell and Coveleski.

I would just make the following two comments.

The case for Ferrell seems to rest on his batting ability -- he had 49 WAR from pitching, but added 11 with his bat. Coveleski on the other hand had 67 WAR pitching, but subtracted 5 with his bat.

With regard to Coveleski, I think it is bordering on inappropriate to call someone underrated when they are in the Hall of Fame.


8:29 AM Jul 28th
 
Marc Schneider
I don't have the time or inclination to read the latest sabermetric research. But I appreciate the aim of using actual data to determine the best players rather than subjective, often metaphysical ("he knew how to win") criteria. What I see on the baseball blogs in which I participate is the tendency of people who grew up in a particular city with a good team (ie, 1950s Dodgers) to push their favorite players. And, with respect to the 1950s, you have the issue of World War II and the apparent notion that because a given player served his country (Hodges on Iwo Jima), he therefore deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, as if Hodges not being in the Hall is some sort of rebuke to his service. Personally, I appreciate the use of relatively objective data even if my eyes sometimes glaze over. My subjective impression of Hodges was pretty much what Bill's study shows, that he was a good player on a great team, but not a Hall of Famer (although there are undoubtedly worse players who are in). The issue of combining his managerial career with is playing career to bolster his case seems silly to me because the entire case for that is built on one season-the 1969 Mets. Other than that, Hodges' managerial career is nothing special.
5:31 PM Jul 27th
 
bjames
John-Q
What parameters are you using to list Musial as primarily a First Basemen in the 1950’s? He played 721 at 1b during the 50’s and 713 games in the outfield.


You might read the article.
5:29 PM Jul 27th
 
wovenstrap
I hope this article ends the practice of saying that "Player X was the best third baseman of the 1960s" or whatever as a reason to put him in the Hall of Fame. Bill, you once had a very good paragraph about some USA Today blurb about Cal Ripken, talking about the possibility of his ending the 1991 season in the company of six or seven other greats, on the logic of just barely qualifying for 35+ home runs, 40+ doubles etc., a statement that would make Ripken in the weakest member in every category, and yet implying that he would be a peer of those others..... You taught us to recognize such statements as manipulative and mendacious, and I think you've taught me today that the decade stuff is almost as bad. I suspected but didn't have a good way of being sure.
12:17 PM Jul 27th
 
hotstatrat
Thanks. Fun stuff.

Everyone has a slightly different idea of what the Hall of Fame should be.

I don't see why being the best player at a particular position given a particular decade is an arguement that he should get special consideration for the honor.
11:30 AM Jul 27th
 
John-Q
What parameters are you using to list Musial as primarily a First Basemen in the 1950’s? He played 721 at 1b during the 50’s and 713 games in the outfield. He only played 75% of his team’s games at 1b twice during the 1950’s: 1957 & 1958. He only played 66% of his team’s games at 1b two other seasons: 1955 & 1956. He started 5 all star games in the outfield. Musial only topped 120 games at first base twice during the 1950’s. You could just as easily list him as an outfielder during the 1950’s. Hodges by contrast played 1400 games at first base during the 1950’s.

Yeah, if you want to use a broad brush, then you can use Musial as a 1b during the 1950’s.

I just remember people listing Musial as a hybrid OF/1b during the 1950’s whenever they had those HOF debates at the Baseball Think Factory or various other baseball websites.

The Baseball Gauge used to be a really good source for information for lists like this. I think they would use 66% of games played at the position.

I have to disagree with your listing of Pete Rose as the best third basemen of the 1970’s. Rose only played 4 seasons, 618 games at third. By contrast he played 836 in the outfield and 159 games at first base. I would say that Nettles or Schmidt were the best 3b during the 1970’s. Nettles is the WAR leader for the 70’s and Schmidt is the WAA leader.

I would say that WAR or WAA works better for these type of decade lists.

The same thing goes for Stargell. He only played 572 games in left field during the 1970’s compared to 614 at first base.
6:41 AM Jul 27th
 
3for3
FrankD. Funny thing about your comment is that the 60s image should likely be about 64-73, give or take. Surely 1971 was more ‘60s’ than 1961…
12:24 AM Jul 27th
 
wdr1946
It might make more sense to have, instead of decade by decade teams, those by era: 1871-99; 1900-19; 1920-45; 1946-68; 1969-92, etc. This would produce fewer strange choices. For instance, the 1920-45 team would (in my opinion) be: 1B: Gehrig; 2B: Hornsby; SS: Vaughan; 3B: Hack; C: Dickey; OF: Ruth, DiMaggio, Greenberg; DH: Foxx. 4 P: Grove, Feller, Hubbell; Vance. (I have not separated out the three outfield positions, and have added a "DH" which obviously didn't exist at that time.) There would (easily) be enough talent to have a second team, and a third one- the second 1920-45 team would be 1B: Mize; 2B; Gehringer; SS: Appling;3B; Traynor; C: Cochrane; OF: Ott, Heilmann, Paul Waner; DH: Simmons; 4 P: Dean, Coveleski, W. Ferrell; Newhouser. (Coveleski and Ferrell are among the most underrated players in history- check them out.) Also, in choosing these teams you have to take into account their peaks, as well as their lifetime totals.
12:19 AM Jul 27th
 
evanecurb
https://www.mlb.com/news/mlb-statistical-leaders-by-decade

Link to decade leaders
10:21 PM Jul 26th
 
evanecurb
Love the article. Along those same lines, MLB.com has published a list by decade of most hits, hime runs, wins, and strikeouts. The list only goes back 100 years so 1880-1919 are not covered. A few highlights:

Mark Grace had the most hits in the 1990s. He’s the only decade leader prior to 2000 who is not in the Hall of Fame.

Randy Johnson 1990s-2000s and Nolan Ryan 1970s and 80s led in strikeouts for two decades each.

Warren Spahn won over 200 games (202) in the fifties, the only guy to average 20 wins. Lefty Grove (199 in 1930s) did it if you round up.

Career HR leaders Aaron and Bonds didn’t lead any decade in HR.

10:20 PM Jul 26th
 
W.T.Mons10
It doesn't affect anything, I guess, but Tommy Leach should be the third baseman of the 1900s. He played about 2/3 of his games at third, and had more Win Shares than Bradley.
9:35 PM Jul 26th
 
FrankD
This is a fun article. I was glad to see Killebrew, a hero of my youth, listed as 'best' first basemen of the '60s. Killebrew is/was a no-doubt hall-of-famer, but it seems that he is now drifting from baseball consciousness. I know, he 'only' hit HRs, walked and had a lot of RBIs .....and Joe Judge - who'da thunk it? I only know about him from playing APBA (1925 WS) as a kid and that he'd get mentioned when the Twins/Senators announcers talked of old franchise players. It might be interesting for somebody to use a running 10 year filter and list each player who was 'best' at their position during that span. For example, say 1955-1965, inclusive, who was 'best' at each position.
9:16 PM Jul 26th
 
Fireball Wenz
Hi Bill - I appreciate the mild nature of the your rebuke and want to say I was not attempting to impugn you integrity when I said the list of first basemen ahead of Hodges was "a little padded." I looked at the final sentence, which said, "Throw out the not-yet-eligible guys and the steroid suspects, and you’ve STILL got more than 20 FIRST BASEMEN who rank ahead of Hodges, in career Win Shares." If you throw out the guys I think would generally be characterized as primarily playing other positions, I think we're down to 16. I didn't pick up the "sometimes" in the preamble to the list and focused on the more definitive final sentence. My oversight, so I apologize.
8:56 PM Jul 26th
 
Manushfan
I Think Jim Kaat played 1959-83 too for what it's worth. Bill is right-Duke>Juan Gone. And it's fun seeing Joe Judge get the nod over Gehrig etc. Neat.
8:02 PM Jul 26th
 
howard38
"I noticed" that howard38 made a mistake in his NON-fact check.

The Dodgers had FOUR 30-HR players in '77.
But, in support of Bill's point of the comparison of that decade vs. the '50's Dodgers: Besides '77, there was ONE Dodger season of 30+ HR'S
an hour ago | Report abuse

Yes. four is what I wrote. What is the mistake?
7:33 PM Jul 26th
 
FrankD
Interesting article. When we bin data, for example selecting players by position by decade, we will always get some artifacts created by the binning. But, you (Bill James) have explained the binning rules and the reader can understand how the data were categorized. It is interesting to see these data, and we humans do bin many things by the decade - look how we bound the Roaring '20s (gangsters, prohibition), The '60s (hippies, music), etc .....As for Hodges and the original article: I thought you were very fair on Hodges and his HOF credentials, you just presented the data.
6:56 PM Jul 26th
 
DaveNJnews
I've noticed with the Pro Football Hall of Fame selections, people will discuss the All-Decade teams as being very relevant to the picks. For instance, when Drew Pearson was picked earlier this year, it was noted he was the last all-decade offensive player from the 1970s to be picked. If you are trying to guess who the veterans' committee might pick in any given year, those lists seem to be a pretty good guide.

I think that focus makes sense in a sport where careers are often shorter than in baseball, and also because those selections reflect the expertise of contemporary experts - and let's face it, there are not a lot of good ways to evaluate in hindsight who was the best guard of the 1950s.

I wouldn't recommend using all-decade teams the same way in baseball. I just find it interesting.
6:54 PM Jul 26th
 
archieleach
I "noticed" that howard38 made a mistake in his NON-fact check.

The Dodgers had FOUR 30-HR players in '77.
But, in support of Bill's point of the comparison of that decade vs. the '50's Dodgers: Besides '77, there was ONE Dodger season of 30+ HR'S
6:42 PM Jul 26th
 
Gfletch
The last part of your article, starting with "That is the smaller issue..." describes a common sort of confrontation in Reader Posts, sometimes in an extreme form, but more often selectively.

It is unfortunate that sometimes people who want to form judgements by what their "gut" tells them are treated with contempt. What's unfortunate is that, as you said, they are in the wrong room for the discussion they want. They are irritated because most of the people in the room brought a slide rule to the room when they expected a bull session.

Yeah, I've used that line before, but I think it's appropriate.
6:24 PM Jul 26th
 
bjames
howard38
I'm not fact-checking but just happened to notice what appears to be a mistake here:

"There were 15 Dodger players in the 1950s who hit 30 or more home runs in a season; not 15 different players, of course. By contrast, there was one Dodger in the 1960s who hit 30 homers, 3 in the 1970s"

The 1977 Dodgers alone had four players who hit 30 home runs.


It is four, and actually the total for the decade is five. I also missed Jimmy Wynn in 1974.
6:11 PM Jul 26th
 
howard38
I'm not fact-checking but just happened to notice what appears to be a mistake here:

"There were 15 Dodger players in the 1950s who hit 30 or more home runs in a season; not 15 different players, of course. By contrast, there was one Dodger in the 1960s who hit 30 homers, 3 in the 1970s"

The 1977 Dodgers alone had four players who hit 30 home runs.
5:52 PM Jul 26th
 
CharlesSaeger
Just pointing out how weak this shows 1980s pitchers were. Jack Morris had 154 WS and was second; the only other decade where he'd be in the top 4 is the 2000s. Bert Blyleven had 139 WS and was third; he'd not only not be in the rotation in any other decade with that total, but he had 192 WS the decade before and didn't qualify. So the rotation for the decade is a guy whose best years at the beginning are muted since his team wouldn't score any runs for him, another guy whose greatest accomplishment is not having Sparky Anderson destroy his career (which is a helluva accomplishment, all things considered: just ask Don Gullett and Gary Nolan), a guy from the previous decade whose accomplishment this decade is staying in the rotation the whole time, and a legendary flash in the pan.
4:51 PM Jul 26th
 
 
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