When the question is asked, "Who is the greatest baseball player of all time?", it is all relative to what the person answering the question prefers or enjoys about the game of baseball. It could be limited to the person's favorite team, or at the very least, the time the person most enjoyed baseball. It could be about the now or it could be about the person's childhood. It could also be about the "Golden Era," a timeframe where one insists that baseball was just simply better. Another baseball fan may insist that the game now is the best that it has ever been. Obviously, any biasness will force a difference in opinion when it comes to the best players of all time.
I would love to put together a list of the best baseball players to ever play. That player would be the best when it comes to hitting, fielding, and even pitching. The problem is that there is no way to ever quantify whether is hitter is better than a pitcher or a pitcher is better than a hitter. Their stats can never be compared to each other. It is apples to oranges. Wins above replacement is a respectable equalizer, but no stat can normalize what a hitter brings to the table and what the pitcher is trying to accomplish. It is safe to say a separate list has to exist when it comes to hitters and pitchers.
What about defense? We now live in a day and age where defensive metrics tell more than ever about a player's ability to field and his usefulness by being able to get to a ball. These numbers were not always quantified. In addition, field and equipment conditions are advantageous to the modern day baseball player. How do you judge a player who was forced to use a dishrag for a glove? Or a player who made a lot of "errors" because his team's infield was a gravel pit?
Here are a couple other things that need to be straightened out. What a player accomplished on the field means just that. There is no character clause. If a player did something devious, perhaps even criminal, that should not take away anything from what the player did on the field. Steroids may have given some players an unfair advantage, but the numbers are just that, the numbers. How a player did it may have a place in the judging over whether the player was a good person. The is not a list of the 100 greatest people.
Finally, this list contains the best players to ever play in any major league. This includes the National League, American League, American Association, National Association, any Negro Leagues, as well as any foreign or Latin American League. There are active MLB players on this list and there are players who played in 1871. Each player considered for this list had their accomplishments weighed over the time they played against their competition. Who were the best players of each generation? Who were their contemporaries? There are some players who rank high on this list that had shortened careers. Others lost valuable time serving the country in a World War. The entire top 100 list can be found on www.johnpielli.com. If that does not appeal, the list is contained on my twitter feed @john_pielli or Instagram johnpielli.
Here are the top twelve players left off this list.
12. Lou Brock
Brock held the MLB stolen base record until Rickey Henderson broke it. He also had over 3000 hits. A Hall of Famer, no doubt. I have nothing else to say other than there are 100 better offensive players than Brock.
11. Lefty O'Doul
O'Doul has the fourth highest batting average in the history of Major League Baseball. (Minimum 1000 plate appearances.) What hurts O'Doul is the few seasons he had as a MLB hitter after starting his career as a pitcher.
10. Ryan Howard
It is easy to dismiss Howard until you look at his five year peak at the beginning of his career. Howard's top five seasons are all time but he was never the same player after tearing his Achilles making the last out of the 2011 NLDS.
9. Fred McGriff
Fred McGriff has the same amount of career home runs as Lou Gehrig. McGriff belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame. What leaves him out is maybe the same reason he is not getting the credit by the Baseball Writers- he was never considered a top player in the entire game. Does that make him a compiler? No, just a really good player who managed to get his career in under the radar.
8.. Cool Papa Bell
Bell was considered to be the fastest man to ever play baseball. The most difficult assessment is that of the Negro Leagues player because of the last of paralleled full season stats. His stats were great, but the stories of his talent were even better.
7. Gary Sheffield
Sheff is a similar case to that of McGriff, except he was a little more well known. His numbers stack up, but he played in the back round of the best in the game.
6. Todd Helton
Larry Walker getting into the Baseball Hall of Fame will help Helton's future case. Is it the Colorado inflation that holds him back? Maybe. But his numbers are certainly top 100 worthy.
5. Robin Yount
Yount won the American League MVP as a shortstop and as a centerfielder. I sense many in the Midwest are annoyed Yount is not in the top 100. Perhaps if defense had any weight in this discussion, he may have slipped in.
4. Harmon Killebrew
Killebrew was the best power hitter not included in the top 100. His 573 home runs almost seem sacrilegious to leave out. But he only hit .256 for his career. A sure fire Hall of Famer- yes.
3. Hugh Duffy
Duffy played in the 1800's and while a lot of players from that timeframe made the list, Duffy misses out. His .440 batting average is one of the highest recorded in the history of the game. The longevity of his career compared to some of his contemporaries, works against him and leaves him on the outside looking in.
2. Willie Stargell
It pains me to leave Pops off the list. This man is one of the reasons for this post. 475 home runs, a National League MVP, three straight years finishing either 2 or 3 in the voting. Those Pirates teams would not have won without Stargell, but that speaks to his value from an intangible standpoint. He never played in more than 148 games and lost a good amount of his career playing second fiddle to Roberto Clemente. After Clemente's passing, Stargell had years of greatness, but his total resume just misses out.
1. Billy Williams
Williams was the sidekick to Ernie Banks. Banks was the big time Chicago Cubs star. I look at Williams as the best player to not be on the list. His numbers are deserving and he clearly is the best player I have profiled to this point. I look at Sheffield's numbers and see a similarity in that Williams produced consistently every year, but did not get the credit he deserves.
Please check out the actual list of the Top 100 Offensive Position Players of All Time on www.johnpielli.com. I am sure legitimate cases can be made for these twelve as well as many other great players when it comes to the history of the sport. Please join me for the discussion.
Seven of the twelve are deserved members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Four of the remaining five really should be in the Hall. And Howard, who will get some consideration, had a five year stretch that has seldom been paralleled. Perhaps O'Doul did not play long enough, but he did manage some of the better hitting offensive seasons of memory. It is safe to say these twelve players can each switch places with some of the top 100 players.
Why is there just 12? In all honesty, I felt like the top 100 list was really the top 112. After number 112, I saw a significant drop off in the quality of player being evaluated.