Rating the Greatest Baseball Players of All Time

My rankings of the greatest baseball players ever, starting with number 1, in order.

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Saturday, August 02, 2003
 
Number 54: Steve Carlton

He was Lefty, a big fella with a big fastball and the know-how to use it. He came up to the majors in 1965 with the Cardinals, and was there for the 1967 World Championship and the 1968 NL pennant. He was a key member of the rotation, behind ace Bob Gibson. He lost 19 games in 1970, but still had an ERA below league average. He won 20 in 1971, but with an ERA that was worse relative to the league. In the offseason, he was traded to Philadelphia for Rick Wise. The Phillies were terrible then, but in 1972 Carlton had one of the all-time greatest seasons for a pitcher. He went 27-10 with a team that won only 59 games, setting a 20th century record for percentage of team's wins by one pitcher. He was a media darling, and was quoted extensively on his training and meditation regimen. When he lost 20 games the next year, the press made fun of his regimen, and Carlton determined never again to talk to the reporters.

The team got better, and Carlton continued to pitch well, and by 1976 the Phillies won the first of three consecutive NL East titles. In 1980, they won the World Series, for the first time in team history. Carlton was one of the big stars, winning his starts in Game 2 and the clinching Game 6. That year delivered his third Cy Young Award, of four awards total. He pitched well until 1985, with the Phils reaching the Series again in 1983. He faded after that, but kept chasing a chance to pitch for a couple of years, even ending up on the Twins during their World Series run in 1987. But he was finished by then.

He was not loved by the press corps, but his teammates respected his work ethic and his ability. Steve Carlton is one of the greatest pitchers of all time. He earned 189.29 ratings points.

Carlton's stats: 329-244 record, 3.22 ERA, 4136 K, 254 CG, 55 shutouts.


Wednesday, July 30, 2003
 
Number 53: Bob Feller

You think prospects today are overblown? Feller's high school graduation was carried live to the nation on radio! And that was the major means of mass communication at the time. Feller made his major league debut not long after and lived up to the hype as he went 5-3 for the Indians in 1936 at the age of 17. Feller commonly led the league in strikeouts and in walks in his early days, but he was obviously an incredible talent, much like the more recent Nolan Ryan.

But while Ryan only faced reserve duty during the Vietnam War, Feller was 23 when World War II began. He went into the military, missing most of four seasons. When he returned, and after 348 strikeouts in 371 innings in 1946, some of the hop in his fastball was gone but his control was better. The Indians, contenders before, won the pennant and World Series in 1948 with Feller as the ace. They won the pennant again in 1954, but by then Feller was a part-time starter, and he didn't pitch in the Series. He finished in the top ten of MVP voting six times, placing second in 1940. There was no Cy Young Award yet. Feller was an amazing talent, and there is no way to know what he would have accomplished if not for the time lost in military service. The credit I give Feller for that time missed raises him some several positions on this list, as those would have been prime seasons, ages 23-26. There is an argument that time missed saved the hard-working Feller an arm injury. But his numbers were still impressive.

Feller earns 190 rating points, including 25 for military time missed.

Feller's stats: 266-162 record, 3.25 ERA, 2581 Ks, 279 CG.


Monday, July 28, 2003
 
Number 52: Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn.

A great 19th century pitcher whose memory has been revived by a clever writer posting a Twitter account in the old player's name. A pretty good trick, since Radbourn died in 1897 at age 42. The account is great fun, and puts a great pitcher back in the public eye.

Radbourn himself was an ace back in the day when pitchers were not allowed to raise their arms higher than their shoulders to throw, and teams typically used just two pitchers, alternating. In 1884, his Providence team was contending for the National League pennant, the team's other pitcher was suspended for insubordination. Radbourn vowed to pitch every game for the rest of the season, and very nearly did, starting 73 of the 128 league games Providence played that year and winning 59 to lead the team to the pennant.

Radbourn pitched in eleven NL seasons, hurling for Providence and Boston and one season for Cincinnati. In a time when pitchers had heavy workloads and didn't last long, he was quite a workhorse.

Radbourn earned 190.24 ratings points.

Radbourn's stats: 309-194 record, 2.68 ERA, 120 ERA+, six consecutive seasons of 400 or more innings.


Sunday, July 27, 2003
 
Number 51: Jackie Robinson

On the list of most significant baseball players, Robinson could rank #1, as the man who broke the long-established color line. In the 19th century, there were black players at the highest levels, although this was often discouraged from the very first. As the leagues became more organized, rules both written and unwritten prohibited the participation of those whose complexion was considered too dark. Some Latin players with a relatively light coloring managed to play, but most could not. John McGraw of the New York Giants once went so far as to try to pass off a black player as an Indian.

By the end of World War II, Branch Rickey was trying to find ways of improving the Dodgers, long a National League also-ran. With longtime commissioner and noted racist Judge Landis dead, Rickey figured the time was ripe to try and break the color line. Passing on the established veterans of the Negro Leagues, Rickey went to a young player in his prime, a shortstop named Jack Roosevelt Robinson. To warm up the public to the idea, Robinson spent a year in AAA, playing for the Dodgers' farm team in Montreal. Prejudice was less prevalent in Canada, then as now, and this was a little easier environment for Jackie to establish himself. However, the International League at this time also included southern cities such as Louisville, providing a barometer on the future of race relations.

Robinson debuted in the NL in 1947 at first base, amidst great controversy, and with stylish play. He batted .297, hit 12 homers, stole 29 bases, and scored 125 runs, and the Dodgers went to the World Series. Robinson in 1949-52 was incredible, playing fantastic defense at second base, hitting for average and power, stealing bases, and playing with a reckless abandon. After 1952 he began switching between left field and third base, and slowing a bit with age. He spent 10 years with Brooklyn, retiring after 1956 when the Dodgers attempted to trade him to the Giants. In those 10 years the Dodgers won 6 pennants, in no small part due to Robinson's excellence on the field.

He was the MVP in 1949, as well as Rookie of the Year for 1947. His career started late, but was exceptional. He blazed the trail for the dark-skinned players, of African-American as well as Latin American descent, and did so with his head held high. The significance of a black man excelling against white players in so public a forum cannot be dismissed. If Robinson could play baseball with the white men, what else could the black man do? The tide rose and eventually became unstoppable. Today, the skin color of Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Ken Griffey Jr. is infrequently mentioned. This is due in large part to the price paid by the first man to walk the road, Jackie Robinson.

Jackie Robinson's legacy is largely this lesson; injustice can be defeated by one man's courage.

Robinson earned 190.45 rating points.

Robinson's stats: .311 average, 137 homers, 190 steals, 947 runs in 10 seasons.