Bill James Comments

The List

2. Honus Wagner

Keith:
I like this ranking.  Honus wasn’t just the best shortstop ever by miles and miles, he was also the
best hitter in his era by acres and acres.  People today gawk at A-Rod as the best player in baseball
today.  Well, he is clearly not the best hitter in baseball, and almost certainly isn’t the best defensive
shortstop out there.  So since it is clearly difficult to visualize exactly how dominant a player Wagner
was, try and think A-Rod, only much better, and stretched out for 20 years.  While I can’t bring myself
to rank him #2, I think it’s bold and justifiable for James to have done so.

3. Willie Mays

Asher:
I like Willie Mays a lot. Back before I started looking hard at the statistics, I argued that Mays was better than Ruth because Mays could field and steal bases. Like I said, before I started looking at the stats. So, if my novice eyes can look at the stats and see that Willie is not better than Williams, Musial, Gehrig, and Speaker, why can't James'?

More to the point, its one thing to ignore objective criterion, it is another thing altogether to ignore the stat that you invented. Consider - Bill James invents Win Shares. Bill James compiles Win Shares and ranks players according to Career WS, Top 3, Top 5, and WS/162. Amongst centerfielders, Mays ranks second in Career Win Shares to Cobb, his Top 5 is fourth behind Cobb, Mantle, and Speaker, and his per 162 is fourth behind Cobb, Mantle and Speaker. Further, his Top 3 seasons are worse than the top three seasons of Cobb, Mantle, and Speaker. In my book, that would indicate that he should at the very least be behind Cobb, and probably should be behind Mantle and Speaker as well. But no - Mays goes straight to the top of the CF list, and to third overall. A questionable ranking which flies in the face of traditionally compiled baseball stats as well as Bill James' own Win Shares. That was a great play he made in the World Series, though.

4. Oscar Charleston

Asher -
John McGraw: Genius or not? Make up your freakin' mind, Bill.

6. Mickey Mantle

Keith:
I’m as big of a Mickey Mantle supporter as anyone, but at some point you have to wake up and
smell the center field bias.  When four of your top six players are center fielders, maybe it’s time to re-
assess how much credit you’re giving center fielders in your win shares system, Bill.
  
14. Lou Gehrig

Keith:
Here is an instance of someone asking why the 1925-1934 Yankees didn’t perform better while
having two of the best players of all-time, and assuming that Lou Gehrig’s overratedness must be the
answer.  This is the sort of thinking that gets Derek Jeter mentioned among the greatest shortstops of
all-time because he has played for so many World Series champs.  Look, a baseball team is comprised
of 25 players.  As much as we’d like to think that one or two of those players can be so good as to
guarantee a team’s victory, it just doesn’t work that way.  You’d think that the inventor of Win Shares
would know that better than anyone.    

17. Satchel Paige

Keith:
James has an interesting section of his book where he goes year-by-year and ranks who he
believes had the best Negro league pitching season.   In the fifty years that James documents, ten
pitchers win this hypothetical Cy Young award in multiple seasons, yet  Satchel Paige wins the award
just once.  Now obviously, Satchel had incredible longevity, and that needs to be considered as well.  
But if I were to estimate his ranking among the best pitchers in major league history, it would be a lot
closer to Wilbur Wood and Jack Taylor than Cy Young and Lefty Grove.

Stay tuned for more commentary on Bill James’ Top 100 list.