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A Quick Note About Bill James
by Asher B. Chancey, Baseball Evolution
January 29, 2006
Just this morning, writing in defense of George Sisler
, I mentioned that one of the bones I always pick with Bill James is that he waxes moralistic, which allows him to include Negro Leaguers with no basis for comparision.
More specifically, I pointed out that James says in his book that, "Lots of people said (Oscar Charleston) was the greatest player ever. John McGraw, who knew something about baseball, reportedly said that.
" (The italics are my own). I then posited that perhaps we should just "discard all statistics and rank players based on compilations of first hand accounts of people who know baseball."
Well, only hours later, I was thumbing through the Bill James Book, and I came upon the ranking for one Harry Hooper. In this comment, James quotes none other than John McGraw, who said
"For years Harry Hooper has been considered one of the greatest outfielders that ever lived. He is also one of the most dangerous hitters in a pinch that the game has ever known."
After the quote, James goes on to say that, "I do not believe, despite the testimonials of Ruth, McGraw, and Barrow, that he was a great player."
Now wait a minute, Bill. One of the reasons you have Oscar Charleston ranked as the fourth best player of all time
is that John McGraw said he was the greatest, and John McGraw knew something about baseball. Can we put iron-clad faith in John McGraw's testimony about one player and discard his testimony about another player? What is the difference between Harry Hooper and Oscar Charleston?
The difference is that there is no complete set of statistics to disprove, or support for that matter, claims about Oscar Charleston, while notions of Harry Hooper being the best who ever lived are easily disputed by reference to his readily available stats.
Consistency, Mr. James. It's all we need. If you are going to invent a system for ranking players, then don't ignore the fact that your system places Willie Mays behind Mantle, Speaker, and Cobb. And if John McGraw's word is bond, then don't suddenly disregard it when it doesn't fit with what the stats are telling you.
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Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Asher B. Chancey resides in Alexandria, Virginia, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org