Willie Mays vs Whitey Ford: The Korean War

By Keith Glab 3/20/04

Determining how much value to award players who missed time due to war rates as an important issue
for us at Baseballevolution.com as we rank the
best 100 players of all-time.  I personally believe that a
player must demonstrate premier abilities both before and after the missed time in order to earn credit
for those truant seasons.   For example, Whitey Ford exhibited excellence prior to the Korean War
while Willie Mays did not; This is why I add a bit of value when I look at Whitey's stats, but not at
Willie's.

You see, although they both won Rookie of the Year awards, Ford's 1950 ERA (2.81) looks pretty
close to his career ERA (2.75). However, if you combine Mays' 51 & 52 seasons you get the following
stat line:

G----PA--AB--R--H--2B-3B-HR-RBI  SO,BB-SB-CS-AVG-OBP-SLG

155,664,591,76,157,24,9, 24, 91    77, 73, 11, 5, .266, .346, .458

vs. his 154-G career averages:

G----PA--AB--R--H---2B-3B-HR-RBI  SO,BB-SB-CS-AVG-OBP-SLG

154,635,560,106,169,27,8, 34, 98    79, 75, 17, 6, .302, .387, .557

So I give Ford credit for 2 seasons at approximately his career average, and Mays "credit" for 1.75
seasons at approximately an .800 OPS.  While this brings Mays temptingly close to 700 homers, it
also bring him dangerously close to becoming less than a .300 career hitter.  I call it a wash, and just
rate him on his actual numbers.

Yes, it's possible that Mays would have improved during 52 & 53 to somewhere between an .804 and
1.083 OPS, but I think you have to be conservative when crediting missed seasons.  That is what I
mean when I say that you have to be good before AND after the missed time to be given credit for war
years.