The 100 Greatest MLB Players of All Time: An Introduction

A couple of months ago I was driving with my father-in-law from St. Louis to Springfield, MO.  It was long, dreary drive over rolling hills and nothing to look at but darkness.  We were discussing Joe Posnanski’s blog in which he is slowly listing his top 100 greatest baseball players of all time.  Each player listed has an accompanying article brilliantly relaying a story about that player and why Mr. Posnanski believes that player belongs in that particular slot on his top 100 list.

We ended up disagreeing on where many players currently reside on the list, or even that they are on the list to begin with.  We attempted to guess where certain players that have yet to be listed will end up on the list, which resulted in even more disagreement.

This got me thinking.  What if I make my own list, with my own criteria and grading scale?  How would my list compare with lists created by Joe Posnanski, Bill James, ESPN, or any other respected person or entity?

Every Monday I will post ten players from my list beginning with player number 100.  Over the next couple of months I will reveal my top 100 baseball players of all time.  I hope everyone enjoys it.  Most importantly, I hope everyone chimes in with why they agree or disagree with a ranking.

The Method:

I compared the top 50 players in 30 offensive categories.  The top 50 players in 25 pitching categories.  The top 20 players in three defensive categories at every position, and the top 50 players in two overall defensive categories.

The top players in each category were awarded 50 points, and the bottom player was awarded one point.  For the defensive players at each position the top player was awarded 20 points, and the bottom player was awarded one point.

All points were tallied and then the average points per player were determined.  The players were then ranked by their average points.

The method is not perfect, but the final results are very interesting, and they will create much debate.

The Criteria:

I included any player from any era, and those players were graded exclusively on their career statistical performance.  Players who only played in the Negro Leagues, Japan, or anything other than Major League Baseball were not considered.

I understand the fact that players that lost time due to war, such as Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, and Bob Feller may not be fairly rated or may be losing statistical points due to the loss of prime years in their careers.  I don’t necessarily like it, but for the purposes of this exercise I will not be taking that into consideration.

Players who admittedly or allegedly used steroids or any other performance enhancing drug are only being considered for their on-field performance.  The content of their character is not being taken into consideration for this exercise.

Players with less than 10 years of Major League service time were not considered for this list.

There are a handful of active players on the list.  Their position on this list assumes that their career were to end when this list was created.  No potential future accomplishments were considered in the making of this list.

Feel free to speculate and guess in the comments where you think a player will land on the list, or any surprises that you think might show up.

The List:

To start things off I will reveal the first player to not make the top 100.  Player 101, if you will.  Well, technically he is player 102, because there is a tie somewhere in the top 100*.  But who is counting?

*A tie that is guaranteed to create some controversy.

Without further ado, the list begins with…..

101. Juan Marichal

Juan Marichal was one of the most dominant pitchers of the 1960’s.  He won more games in that decade than any other pitcher.  He was selected to 10 All Star games, appearing in eight.  He pitched to a 2-0 record, 0.50 ERA, and faced 62 batters over 18 innings in his All Star appearances (2nd most innings all time behind Don Drysdale).  Marichal finished his career with a 2.89 ERA.  He led the league in shutouts and complete games twice and won 20+ games in six separate seasons, but only won 243 games for his career.

Merkle’s Boner: The Ultimate Curse

On October 7, 1945 Billy Goat Tavern owner Billy Sianis attempted to bring a billy goat through the gates of Wrigley Field during the World Series against the Tigers. Billy’s goat was turned away at the gate because the goat’s odor was bothering other fans, which left the tavern owner furious with Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley.

The Cubs were up two games to none against the Tigers before the billy goat incident, but in his rage Mr. Sianis declared “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”

The Cubs lost the 1945 World Series four games to three, and they haven’t been back to the Fall Classic in the 69 years since. The Curse of the Billy Goat had begun.

Or had it…?

**************************************************************************************************************

To fully understand “The Merkle Boner” we must first understand Major League Baseball Rule 59, which is now Rule 4.09. Rule 4.09 states:

One run shall be scored each time a runner legally advances to and touches first, second, third and home base before three men are put out to end the inning. EXCEPTION: A run is not scored if the runner advances to home base during a play in which the third out is made (1) by the batter-runner before he touches first base; (2) by any runner being forced out; or (3) by a preceding runner who is declared out because he failed to touch one of the bases.

“Merkle’s Boner” is one of the most controversial plays in baseball history. It changed the history of the game forever, and soiled the legacy of a solid ballplayer.

Fred Merkle, a 19-year-old rookie for the New York Giants made his first Major League start on September 23, 1908. The Chicago Cubs were two-time defending National League champions, and defending World Series champions. The Giants and Cubs were tied for first place when the two teams met that day at New York’s Polo Grounds.

The game was a classic pitcher’s duel between legendary Giants pitcher Christy Mathewson and the Cubs’ Jack Pfiester. Neither team was able to muster much offense against the two great pitchers. Heading into the bottom of the ninth the game was tied 1-1. With two out and Moose McCormick standing on first base for the Giants, Fred Merkle came to the plate. Merkle had yet to record a hit to that point in the game, but he was about to become an important person in Major League history.

Merkle lined a single to right field sending McCormick to third base. Al Bridwell came to the plate next sending a screaming liner into center field. As McCormick came home with the apparent winning run the Giants fans rushed the field in a wild frenzy. It was customary in these days for fans to exit the stadium through the center field gates, so it was not unusual for fans to rush onto the field after an exciting walk off win.

Fred Merkle did what every other player did during this time. He did not run to second, but instead made a beeline for the clubhouse to avoid the swarm of crazed fans engulfing the field. What happened next makes the Bill Buckner play in the 1986 World Series seem like a trivial event.

The story is recounted by Mr. O.C. Schwartz who attended the game with his father when he was eight-years-old. As Mr. Schwartz tells it the ball hit by Bridwell bounced twice before coming to Giants center fielder Solly Hofman. Hofman, realizing that the winning run was scoring as he fielded the ball, lobbed the ball into the infield. Giants third base coach Joe McGinnity, pitcher Christy Mathewson, and a fan were all in a battle with second baseman Johnny Evers to catch the ball. The fan won the ball from the players and tossed it into the stands along the third base line.

Merkle was halfway to the Giants clubhouse when Evers had somehow retrieved another ball from somewhere and touched second base. The umpires, “Blind Bob” Emslie and Hank O’Day, met in the middle of the infield with both teams managers, all of the players, and a throng of irate fans surrounding them. Emslie stated that the ball hit by Bridwell had nearly knocked him down, therefore he did not see if Merkle touched second base. It is then that O’Day, in one of the most controversial and courageous acts in the history of all sports, tells Emslie that Merkle did not touch second base. Emslie calls Merkle out, thus negating the run scored by McCormick. With dusk settling in and the hundreds of fans still on the field Hank O’Day calls the game a tie.

The Giants protested the game, but National League president Harry Pulliam backed his umpires and denied the protest. The National Commission, Baseball’s governing body at the time, also stands by Pulliam’s decision and the game remained a tie.

Fred Merkle was vilified by the fans for his mistake, and the play was quickly labeled “Merkle’s Boner” by an unforgiving press. The headline in the next day’s New York Times read “BLUNDER COSTS GIANTS VICTORY”, and the accompanying article began as follows:

“Censurable stupidity on the part of the player Merkle…”

Criticism of this kind was unheard of at the time, and it never ceased. Merkles daughter Marianne told of how her family was attending church service in Florida some 30 years after the infamous game when a visiting minister introduced himself. “You don’t know me, but you know where I’m from! Toledo, Ohio! The hometown of Bonehead Fred Merkle!”

Since that September 23rd game ended in a tie and both teams were tied for first place at season’s end a makeup game was scheduled featuring the same pitching matchup. This time, however, Mathewson’s arm was too fatigued to pitch and the Cubs won the game, and the National League pennant, by a score of 4-2.

The Cubs went on to win the 1908 World Series, but legend has it they have been followed by “The Curse of Fred Merkle” ever since. Over a century later the Cubs have appeared in seven World Series, losing all of them. They have yet to return to the Fall Classic since “The Curse of the Billy Goat” in 1945, but they have been cursed for much longer than that.

Fred Merkle spent 16 productive seasons in the Major Leagues, but “Merkle’s Boner” has haunted the Cubs franchise for over a century.

Friday Fun Fact: August 1, 2014

Every Friday I will post a Fun Fact for your enjoyment.  These will usually consist of some kind of trivia that you can use to impress the ladies.  Check back every Friday for your weekly Friday Fun Fact.

Today’s Fun Fact:

Since 1900, the Top 10 single-season On-Base Percentage’s have been recorded by only three (3) players:

Babe Ruth

Ted Williams

Barry Bonds

It’s no surprise that these three players are widely considered to be among the 10 greatest players of all time.  Yes, even Bonds with all his steroid accusations is still widely considered a top-10 player.  In 75 years, baseball fans will look at Barry Bonds’ 232 walks in 2004 and think it’s a typo.

The Orioles Need A Dark Horse To Go Deep In The Playoffs

Even though I am a diehard Baltimore Orioles fan my intent for this blog is not to be an Orioles commenter or a Baltimore homer, but rather to share insight and stories about the sport I love most; baseball.  However, there will be times when the best thing to write about will be my feelings towards the current state of the Orioles franchise, which is what I am going to use my soapbox for right now.

The Orioles are currently a season-high 14 games above .500 and ahead of the Blue Jays in the AL East by 2.5 games.  Their current record and standing in the division is not my concern.  The Blue Jays did nothing to better their prior to the non-waiver trade deadline.  The Yankees rebuilt (see: bought a whole new team) through trades, but chemistry is a big factor in baseball and there are no guarantees that all of the new faces in the Yankees organization will mesh into a winner in the second half.

This brings us to the two big movers in the East Division today.  Let’s start with the Rays.  I wasn’t particularly impressed with what the Rays were able to acquire for the best pitcher in their franchises history.  Drew Smyly is nice prospect.  He might even be considered a “post-hype” prospect at this point in his career.  Nick Franklin is also a nice prospect.  Willy Adames is the prize in this transaction.  He’s an 18 year old infielder that might have been the best prospect in the Tigers organization.  The only issue I see for the Rays with Adames is that he is probably four years away from the Big Leagues.

Will Drew Smyly and Nick Franklin turn into perennial All-Stars?  I highly doubt this.  Adames might, but he is too far away at this time to speculate.  I believe that Franklin may have the talent to play at an All-Star level one day, but there is no guarantee that he will live up to the hype.  Drew Smyly doesn’t impress me long term.  I’ve watched him pitch a handful of times and his “stuff” doesn’t impress me.  He may project to be a middle of the rotation starter, but I don’t seem him progressing to be much better than that.  If I were the Rays I would have held onto Price instead of shipping him off for a couple of players that will not turn the franchise around in the near future.

What the Red Sox were able to pull off today is just dirty.  The Red Sox were able to dump a bunch of salary, somehow improve their everyday lineup for the rest of this season, and if they are able to land a top-tier starting pitcher in the offseason they will be poised to make another run at the World Series in 2015.  The addition of Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox lineup is a dramatic improvement.  Cespedes will put up incredible numbers playing in hitter-friendly Fenway Park.  I can just see the indentations of the ball on the “Monstah” as Cespedes slides into second base for yet another double.  It’s bound to happen.  The guy is a legitimate offensive threat.  But the Orioles don’t have to worry about that right now.

What the Orioles need to be worrying about is the two teams ahead of them for best record in the American League; Detroit and Oakland.

Detroit now has the last three American League Cy Young Award winners in Max Scherzer, David Price, and Justin Verlander.  Granted, Verlander is having a down year, but he is still Justin Verlander and he is still capable of shutting down opposing hitters in the postseason.

Oakland also has a superior starting rotation with Jeff Samardizja, Jon Lester, and Sonny Gray.  Not quite the threat that Detroit poses, but a step above Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Bud Norris.  As of this morning the A’s had an unbelievable 162 positive run differential.  With their lineup coupled with their upgrade starting rotation the A’s will likely be able to improve on that already impressive number.

The problem facing the Orioles is not winning the division, or getting to the playoffs.  The problem facing the Orioles is winning a playoff series against Detroit or Oakland, or both.

There is a silver lining here for the Orioles.  First of all, Andrew Miller, whom they acquired for highly rated prospect Eduardo Rodriguez, is a dominant lefty out of the bullpen.  Possibly the most dominant left out of the pen in all of baseball.  For Buck Showalter to be able to go to Miller in any pressure situation is definitely a huge advantage for the Orioles over their competition.  I like that move.

The other side of the silver lining is the Orioles dark horse.  The dark hose might be the reason why the Orioles didn’t move on one of the top pitchers at the deadline today.  That dark horse is top prospect Kevin Gausman.  Just last night Gausman pitched a solid game against the Angels.  He was used sparingly in the first half, and if he pitches well in the second half he could be the equivalent of trading for a top of the rotation starter.

The Orioles need Gausman to be the guy that can carry them to a playoff series win.  The difference between the Orioles and the Yankees in the 2012 Divisional Round was simply CC Sabathia.  That’s it.  CC won that series for the Yankees.  The Tigers are expecting David Price to win a series for them, and the A’s are expecting nothing different from Jon Lester.  The Orioles are going to need to Kevin Gausman to win a series for them because I don’t believe the other four guys currently in their starting rotation have the ability to put the team on their backs and carry them through the playoffs.

A Passionate Defense of Our National Pastime

*The following is an essay I wrote for an online writing workshop.  The assignment was to sit down and write whatever came to your mind for 20 minutes.  The purpose was to practice overcoming writer’s block.  Nothing else mattered.  This is what I came up with…

I’ve had this argument countless times.  There is always someone that will try to convince me that I am wrong.  There is always someone that will roll their eyes at me and tell me that I’m crazy.  But no matter how much criticism I face nobody will be able to convince me otherwise.  It’s plain and simple for everyone to see:  Baseball is the greatest sport ever.

Sure, the hard hits and deep passes in football are exciting.  The dunks in the NBA can be spectacular.  The thrill of a Stanley Cup Playoff game is undeniable.  But, to me, none of these sports bring the excitement, the drama, or the history of baseball.

How many times are you laid out on the sofa on a Sunday afternoon watching a football game,  the home team is up by 2 scores with five minutes left in the game and they run the ball and try to ice the clock?  The game is essentially over at that point.  Sure, there are times when the other team can make an epic comeback and keep our hearts pounding, but in baseball the winning team doesn’t have the option to ice the clock.  No matter how much they are winning by they must continue to pitch, catch, and hit until both teams have completed 27 outs.  It is entirely possible that a team could get hot and keep a rally going for days, or even weeks.  Some might find this boring, but this is part of the excitement of baseball.  The game is never over until it’s over.

Baseball is the only sport that the defense holds the ball.  The chess match the occurs between the pitcher and hitter can sometimes provide more drama than a high school cafeteria.  If the pitcher is ineffective the manager marches out to the mound, hook in hand, and yanks him out there in front of thousands of screaming fans.  But when two pitchers are battling each other, not allowing the opposition to break through with a hit, the batters doing everything they can to close the holes in their swing until finally the pitcher makes a mistake or loses some velocity on his fastball so that he can jump on the mistake, send the crowd into an uproar and be the hero for the day.

The baseball All-Star game is the only game All-Star game worth watching.  Since baseball is largely an individual sport you can take the best players from each team, put them on another team together, and they can still perform at an exceptionally high level.  They don’t need to practice for weeks or months together to be able to perfect their craft.  They just go up there and see the ball and hit the ball.  It’s as simple as that.

Let’s face it.  Baseball is the hardest game to play.  I get it, hitting a golf ball is difficult.  But it’s on a tee.  In baseball five year olds hit off of tees, men hit 90 mph fastballs with movement.  Other people tell me that basketball is difficult.  Sure, shooting the ball over a 7 footer from 30 feet away is difficult, but if basketball is so hard how come the greatest basketball player ever couldn’t hit a curveball?

My personal reason for loving baseball more than any other sport is the one thing that every other sport shares in common.  Statistics.  No sport relies on its statistics more than baseball.  Baseball statistics are kept in such high regard that when a record is broken there is almost always an outcry for an asterisk to be included with it.  When Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run record in 1961 there was outcry among baseball traditionalists who declared that Maris’ record should include an asterisk because he broke the record in 162 games whereas Ruth set the record in just 154.  We have seen this asterisk claim numerous in the 50+ years since Maris hit 61, most of these claims are a result of outcry over the records set during the steroid era.

If I start rattling off numbers most casual baseball  fans are able to relay their significance back to me.

56. 61. 2131. 511. 755.

No other sport has the history or stories that come with the game of baseball.  Baseball is America’s national pastime for good reason.  Does baseball have big hits like football and hockey?  No.  But do you need big hits when there are guys that have the audacity to try to steal the next base?  Is baseball a fast paced game?  No.  But do you need non-stop action when you have two managers trying to outwit each in opposing dugouts?  Even football only has action once every 40 seconds, and that action rarely lasts longer than a few seconds.

You can argue with me.  You can call me names.  But no matter what you do, you cannot convince me that there is a better sport than baseball.

 

Mike Hargrove: Superstitious Jackass

The other day I was cruising down a main, two-lane street in downtown Baltimore at about 25 to 30 miles per hour.  As I approach yet another green traffic light at yet another busy intersection some guy steps off the curb without a care in the world and begins his long leisurely stroll from one sidewalk to the other.  This guy sees my 3,000 pound vehicle hurtling towards him at a relatively high rate of speed.  He looks right at me, slows his walk down to a near crawl, and essentially challenges me to run him over. I swear, the turtle crossed the road at least a dozen times before this guy crossed it once, even if nobody knows why the turtle crossed the road.  I elected to do the right thing and slam on my breaks to wait for him to complete his epic journey to the other side of the street.  This guy was holding my life hostage until he finished crossing the street.  He believed that his time was more important than mine.  He was a jackass.  This guy was literally a human rain delay.

It is a common complaint amongst casual baseball fans, and even some hardcore fans, that baseball games take far too long to complete.  After every pitch the batter steps out of the box, adjusts his helmet, his gloves, his crotch.  The pitcher walks to the back of the mound and plays with his rosin bag, licks his fingers, and shrugs off ten suggested pitches from the catcher before stepping off the rubber and repeating the whole process.

Some players took longer than others.  Nomar Garciaparra was almost as famous for the way he played with the Velcro on his batting gloves between every at bat as he was for the way he crushed line drives off the “monstah”.  Jonathan Papelbon averages a full 30 seconds between every pitch that he throws.  It’s also no surprise that both of these players came up in the Boston Red Sox organization which leads the majors in most time between pitches as an organization with 23.3 seconds between pitches.

But nobody took longer between pitches than the original “Human Rain Delay”, Mike Hargrove.

Hargrove spent 12 serviceable years in the majors, mostly with the Texas Rangers and the Cleveland Indians.  He won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1974 after batting .323 with 66 RBI’s and only 42 strikeouts versus 49 walks in 477 Plate Appearances.  He followed that season up with a trip to the All-Star game in his second campaign.  Hargrove finished his career with a .290 batting average and he walked almost twice as many times as he struck out.  He then went on to manage the Cleveland Indians to the 1995 and 1997 World Series, and also the Baltimore Orioles into relative mediocrity at best in the early 2000’s.

His ability to draw so many walks may have been linked to his ability to bring a game to an almost complete stop.  His routine between pitches would drive opposing pitchers crazy.

Between every pitch Hargrove would:

Touch his helmet

Mike Hargrove Human Rain Delay

Pull his shirt up on his shoulder

Mike Hargrove Human Rain Delay

Wipe his nose

Mike Hargrove Human Rain Delay

Adjust his gloves

Mike Hargrove Human Rain Delay

Pull up his belt

Mike Hargrove The Human Rain Delay

Flick mud off his cleats with his bat

Mike Hargrove Human Rain Delay

Adjust his helmet again

Mike Hargrove Human Rain Delay

(Photos courtesy of YouTube)

Repeat after next pitch.

“It really became a time to where I was getting ready to hit physically,” Hargrove told the Amarillo Globe-News. “But I also used that time to think about what pitch the pitcher had thrown, what count it was, so it was mental as well.”

Hargrove’s antics made him about as popular as popular as red-headed step son at Christmas lunch.  The fans, the media, and the league were constantly on him about his routine.

Was Mike Hargrove just a superstitious baseball player that couldn’t step into the batter’s box without completing a choreographed routine that made a Beyoncé video look like a fat chick hula hooping?  Or was Mike Hargrove just another jackass hijacking the precious time of the fans, the opposing pitchers, and rest of baseball?  Probably a little bit of both.

If Mike Hargrove were crossing the street in downtown Baltimore would he challenge me to run him over, or would he dash across the street as quickly as possible to avoid being crushed by a 3,000 pound vehicle?  Mike Hargrove may be a superstitious jackass, but he is not a full blown jackass.  He would get out of the way.

Friday Fun Fact: July 25, 2014

Every Friday I will post a Fun Fact for your enjoyment.  These will usually consist of some kind of trivia that you can use to impress the ladies.  Check back every Friday for your weekly Friday Fun Fact.

Today’s Fun Fact:

Not Mickey Mantle.  Not Eddie Murray.  Not Roberto Alomar.

Vida Blue is the last switch hitter in the American League to win the MVP Award.  Vida Blue won the award pitching for the 1971 Oakland Athletics posting a 1.82 ERA, 24 Complete Games in 39 Starts, 8 Shutouts, 301 K’s in 312 IP’s, and a .095 WHIP.

Blue definitely did not win the award for his hitting prowess.  Blue had 12 hits in 102 At-Bats with 63 K’s in 1971.  But you can’t argue with that pitching line.  And his name makes it sound like he could be your grandmother.  Just more proof that baseball has the best names in all of sports.