Posts Tagged ‘Richie Ashburn’

A Remembrance of Richie Ashburn

June 13, 2019

Richie Ashburn

When I was a kid the baseball world was full of terrific center fielders. New York had Mays and Mantle and Snider. As a Dodgers fan I loved Snider but it was tough to give either Mays or Mantle their due. After all the Giants and Yankees were the great rivals of my team. But Richie Ashburn was different. His Phillies weren’t a direct threat to the Dodgers and he was a great outfielder.

The Phillies weren’t on television all that often and were on the radio only when they played the Cardinals (who were the closest team to us and all their games were on the radio). So I didn’t get to watch Ashburn all that often. When I did I was in awe. He was a terrific outfielder. I’d never heard of most fielding stats but I could tell he was good. He made it look easy in center. Willie Mays always had that element that made it look harder than it was, but Ashburn just went out and made the play. I discovered Ashburn is second among centerfielders in range factor per game, 10th in career assists, and third in putouts while playing center. None of those I knew in the 1950s (and probably had never heard of either). All of that confirms that I was right in believing he was a great outfielder.

He was different from the other big centerfielders of the day. Snider, Mays, Mantle all hit for power; Richie Ashburn was more like Bill Bruton of the Braves. Both led off and both could steal a base. Bruton won two stolen base titles in the National League to Ashburn’s one, but Ashburn stole 30 or more twice to Bruton’s once. It was an era without a lot of stolen bases as each team featured a big slugger who could clear the bases and no one wanted to run into an out trying to steal second. For the Phillies that was Del Ennis. He benefitted from Ashburn being on base a lot. Richie Ashburn led the NL in hits three times, walks four times, and triples twice. He won a batting title and led in OBP on four occasions (one of the OBP titles and one of the walks titles came with the Cubs late in his career). That gave Ennis, and other batters, a lot of chances to drive in runs.

In 1960 Philadelphia sent him to Chicago. He played two years with the Cubs having a good season in 1960 and a much weaker one in 1961. He ended up in New York in 1962 with the Mets. They were awful but his 2.1 WAR was second on the team (to outfielder Frank Thomas–not the Hall of Fame White Sox first baseman). He’s part of a great trivia question, “The 1962 Mets had two Hall of Famers in their dugout. Who were they?” The answer is of course Ashburn, and also manager Casey Stengel.

For his career Richie Ashburn’s triple slash line reads 308/396/382/778 with 1322 runs scored, 317 doubles, 109 triples, an OPS+ of 111 and 63.9 WAR. In 1995 he made the Hall of Fame. It’s always gratifying when one of your heroes makes the Hall. It kind of vindicates your view.

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The Last Segregated World Series: the Games in Philadelphia

May 11, 2015

The 1950 World Series was a contest between perennial power, the New York Yankees and the upstart National League winners the Philadelphia Phillies’ “Whiz Kids.” The first game was played 4 October at Shibe Park in Philadelphia. Due to the proximity of the two cities, the Series was played on consecutive days.

Vic Raschi

Vic Raschi

Game 1

The Yankees started ace Vic Raschi on the mound in game one. For the Phils there was a pitching dilemma. Ace Robin Roberts had started the last game of the season and was tired. Number two pitcher, Curt Simmons, was off doing military service due to the Korean War, and three pitcher Bubba Church was out with an injury. Manager Eddie Sawyer solved his quandary by starting Jim Konstanty, his bullpen ace. Konstanty had pitched in 74 games, started none, and averaged almost exactly two innings an outing. It was a gamble, but Philadelphia came close to pulling it off. Over three innings, Konstanty allowed two singles and three walks (one intentional), allowing one man to reach third. In the fourth Bobby Brown doubled. A Hank Bauer fly moved him to third, and another fly by Jerry Coleman brought him home with the Yanks first run. In the fifth, no Yank got on base. In the sixth there was one walk. In the seventh an error and a single put two men on, but Konstanty got out of it. The eighth was perfect and a pinch hitter removed Konstanty in the bottom of the eighth. He had been magnificent in an unaccustomed role. The last time he’d started a game was 1946 and he’d allowed one run, four hits, and four walks.

The problem for Philly was that Raschi was even better. In a complete game shutout he walked one, allowed two hits, and struck out five. The two hits were two singles in the fifth that put men on first and second with two outs. One of the five strikeouts ended the threat. The walk came with one out in the sixth but the runner didn’t advance. Those were the only three men to reach base against him. Raschi’s great performance gave the Yankees a one game lead in the Series.

Joe DiMaggio

Joe DiMaggio

Game 2

For game two on 5 October, the Phils finally got a chance to use their best pitcher. Fully rested, Robin Roberts took the mound in Shibe Park. He faced old hand Allie Reynolds. Roberts gave up two singles in the first, but got out of the jam on a popup and a foul. He wasn’t as lucky in the second. With one out, a walk to Jerry Coleman and back-to-back singles to pitcher Reynolds and Gene Woodling plated the first run of the game. Philadelphia got it back in the bottom of the fifth. Mike Goliat singled. After a failed bunt attempt, another single sent Goliat to third. He came home with the Phillies first run of the World Series when Richie Ashburn hit a sacrifice fly to left.

And that was all the scoring for the regulation game. Both pitchers gave up a lot of hits with Roberts giving up nine and Reynolds seven. Additionally both walked three men. Going into extra innings, both starters were still in the game. To lead off the 10th inning, Roberts faced Joe DiMaggio. The Yankee Clipper parked one in the left field stands and the Yanks took a 2-1 lead. Then a strikeout, a fly, and a grounder ended the top of the 10th. Reynolds walked the leadoff man in the bottom of the tenth, and a bunt sent him to second with one out. A foul to the first baseman and a strikeout ended the threat and the Yankees won 2-1 to take a two games to none lead in the Series.

Both games in Philadelphia were close games dominated by pitching.  Shibe Park was noted as a hitter’s park, but a total of four runs were scored in two games. Yankee Stadium was known as more of a pitcher’s park, especially in left and center fields. If the pitching continued to dominate, the Series, without regard to who won, could be counted on to produce some close games. It did.

 

The Last Segregated World Series: The Whiz Kids

May 6, 2015
Robin Roberts

Robin Roberts

Recently I did an extended look at the 1947 World Series, the first to include a black player (actually two: Jackie Robinson and Dan Bankhead). It seemed like a decent follow-up would be to look up the last Series that included no black players and go over it. Turns out that’s 1950.

The 1950 World Series was played between the New York Yankees, defending World Champions, and the Philadelphia Phillies, winners for the first time since 1915. The Series is generally considered a walkover. It’s true it was a sweep, but if you look at the scores, three of the games were decided by one run. So it’s actually worth taking a look at.

The Phils had just completed a rebuilding period. A cynic might point out that 16 consecutive losing seasons constituted an elongated rebuilding period, but however long it lasted, it finally came time for Philadelphia to win in 1949. The next year they fought down to the wire and defeated the National League defending champions, the Brooklyn Dodgers, to win the pennant on the last day of the season.

Manager Eddie Sawyer was a career minor leaguer who’d spent a decade managing. He took over the Phillies from Ben Chapman in 1948 (there was actually an interim who was around for 12 games). The team rose some, finally had a winning season in 1949, then broke through in 1950. Sawyer was considered an excellent handler of young talent.

And he needed to be. The team was nicknamed “The Whiz Kids” and the emphasis could be on the “Kids.” The eight everyday starters averaged 26 years old. The six men who started more than 10 games averaged 25.5. Of the nine men who spent time on the bench, only three were 30 or more (the youngest 22, the oldest 35).

The infield had Eddie Waitkis at first. At 30 he was the oldest infielder (and the oldest starting everyday player). He had no power, no speed, but was a decent fielder and led the team by scoring 102 runs. He was primarily famous for having been shot in a hotel room by a woman back in 1949. The incident served as a device in Malamud’s The Natural. Mike Goliat was at second. He hit .234, but had 13 home runs, a large number of 1950s second basemen. At 23, shortstop Granville “Granny” Hamner was the youngest infielder. In 1950 he hit .270, had 11 home runs, and finished sixth in the MVP race. He had good range, but made a lot of errors. Willie Jones held down third. He was second on the team with 25 home runs, hit .288, and his 88 RBIs were second on the team. His BBREF WAR was 3.6, tied for fourth on the team.

The outfield consisted of Dick Sisler, Del Ennis, and Richie Ashburn. Sisler hit .296, had 83 RBIs, and 13 home runs, one of which was the pennant clinching homer against the Dodgers. Ennis led the team in home runs (31), doubles (34), RBIs (126), hits (185), and slugging (.551). Hall of Famer Ashburn was a third year player and spectacular fielder (with Ennis and Sisler both being really slow, he had to be). He hit .303, had 14 triples, which led the NL. He’d led the league in stolen bases in 1948, but was down to only 14 (still good enough for fifth in the league) in 1950. His 3.8 BBREF WAR was third on the team, while Ennis’ 5.0 led Philadelphia.

The bench was shallow with only five men playing 25 or more games. Jimmy Bloodworth, an in season acquisition, and Putsy Cabellero were the backup infielders. Bloodworth hit .229 while Cabellero was below the Mendoza line. Neither had a home run. Former MVP runner-up (1944) Bill “Swish” Nicholson and Dick Whitman were the other men in the outfield. Nicholson had three home runs and Whitman hit .250. Nicholson’s three homers were three-quarters of the bench home run total.

The other bench home run went to catching backup Stan Lopata. He hit .209, caught 51 games, and managed a woeful slugging percentage of .279. The main catcher was Andy Seminick. His 24 home runs were third on the team, his OPS of .925 led the team, as did his 143 OPS+. At 4.3, his BBREF WAR was second to Ennis.

They caught an emerging pitching staff. The undoubted ace was 23-year-old future Hall of Famer Robin Roberts. He was 20-11 with an ERA just above three with 146 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.180 (his WAR was a team leading 7.3). Right behind him was lefty Curt Simmons. Simmons went 17-8, matched Roberts with 146 strikeouts, and had a 1.236 WHIP. Other pitchers who started more than ten games included rookie Bubba Church, Bob Miller, Russ Meyer, and left hander Ken Heintzelman, who at 34, was eight years older than any of the other starters. Jim Konstanty led the bullpen. He appeared in 74 games, won 16, lost seven, and ended up winning the National League MVP (the first reliever to do so). His 22 saves led the league (and are roughly 30% of his career save total).

The Phils were a surprise in 1950, but were also a good team. By the time the Series started they were having pitching problems. With the team needing a win on the final day of the season, Roberts had pitched and was unavailable for game one. Church was struck in the face by a batted ball earlier in the summer and was out for the Series. Just prior to the Series Simmons was called for military duty (the Korean War was going on) and was also unavailable for the Series. It would lead to a serious shuffling of the staff. The loss of Simmons and Church and the inability to use Roberts in game one would haunt Philadelphia for the entire World Series.

The Bigot

March 13, 2014
Ben Chapman

Ben Chapman

By now I presume most of you have seen the movie “42” about the arrival of Jackie Robinson in the Major Leagues. One of the better performances in the flick is Alan Tudyk’s turn as Phillies manager Ben Chapman. For the purposes of the movie, Chapman becomes the symbol of all the hatred among players and managers aimed at Robinson and Tudyk’s wonderful job makes Chapman particularly odious. Of course Chapman wasn’t the only person who tossed slurs at Robinson, but he’s become, over the years, the ultimate symbol of racial bigotry in the Major Leagues, with only Cap Anson getting anything like equal billing.

Alan Tudyk as Chapman in "42"

Alan Tudyk as Chapman in “42”

William Benjamin Chapman was born in Tennessee on Christmas day in 1908. He was good at baseball and caught the eye of professional scouts. He spent 1928 and 1929 in the minors, then arrived in New York in 1930 as a backup third baseman and part-time second baseman for the Yankees. He hit .316 with 10 home runs, stole 14 bases, and 74 runs (it’s 1930, remember?). That got him a fulltime job, but not as an infielder. He moved to the outfield, splitting time between right field and left field (essentially playing whichever Babe Ruth wasn’t playing that day). He continued to hit well, leading the American League in stolen bases three times (and also leading in caught stealing four times). He was part of the 1932 Yankees World Series winning team, hitting .294 (his season average was .299) with a run, six RBIs, and an OPS of .780. He remained with New York through 1935 continuing to hit around .300 (.289 in 1935 was his low) and playing a decent, but not spectacular outfield. He led the AL in errors twice, but sources attribute that to his ability to get to balls slower men couldn’t even pretend to catch. He made three All Star teams (1933, ’34,’ and ’35) By 1934 and 1935 he was spending more time in center than either of the corner outfield slots. The next season the Yanks brought up Joe DiMaggio and Chapman was traded.

He ended up in Washington after 36 games in New York. He was still good enough to make another All Star team. In 1937 he was traded to Boston (the Red Sox, not the Braves) and led the AL one more time with 35 stolen bases.  He hit well enough in Boston but with diminishing speed and little power, he was traded to Cleveland in 1939. Now over 30, his numbers were slipping and he saw himself traded one more time. He went back to Washington in 1941, lasted 28 games, and was sent on to the White Sox.

He spent 1942 managing in the minors. In 1943 he was suspended for the season after slugging an umpire, then returned to minor league managing in 1944. He turned his career around by becoming a pitcher and resurfaced in the Majors in late 1944 with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Yep, that’s Jackie Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers; the irony is stunning.  He went 5-3 mostly as a starter, then after going 3-3 in early 1945, he was sent to Philadelphia. He played a few games in the outfield in this last stage of his career, but he remained primarily a pitcher. He got into one final game with Philadelphia in 1946 and ended his big league playing career (he got into a few games for Gadsden in 1949).

By this point he was managing the Phils, having taken over about midway through the 1945 season. Philadelphia finished eighth. He got them to fifth in 1946, then back to eighth in 1947. Seventy-nine games into 1948, with Philadelphia in eighth place, Chapman was fired. Many sources blame his reaction to Robinson for his firing, and that may be true. But it’s also true his teams weren’t winning and the universal fate of losing managers is firing. His comments to Robinson may simply have been the final blow. In partial defense of Chapman as a manager, it’s not like the Phils were the 1927 Yankees or anything. They weren’t very good. Even John McGraw would have had trouble making this team a contender. Having said that, you can see the beginning of the 1950 “Whiz Kids” pennant winner starting to come together under Chapman. Del Ennis is there, Dick Sisler shows up, and finally in 1948 both Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts show up. He simply doesn’t win with them.

After retirement, Chapman sold insurance in Alabama, worked with high school baseball teams, and sat through a series of interviews, most of which wanted to talk about Robinson. He died largely forgotten in 1993.

For his career his triple slash line is .302/.383/.440/.823 with an OPS+ of 114. He had 1958 hits, scored 1144 runs, and had 977 RBIs. He hit 287 home runs, stole 287 bases (try doing that on purpose), but had a huge number of caught stealing. He ended up with 2849 total bases, and was 8-6 as a pitcher. All in all it’s not a bad career. His Baseball Reference.com WAR is 41.4. And his managerial record is 196-276. Baseball Reference.com has a similarity chart at the bottom of each player page. This tells you what other player this person is most like statistically. Interesting for Chapman, it’s Dixie Walker, the guy who started the petition to keep Robinson off the Dodgers. Funny how that works.

But of course Chapman is known for one thing, his virulent opposition to Jackie Robinson. And it has become simply the sole thing anyone knows about him. When I first saw Tudyk’s portrayal of Chapman I was stunned. Stunned not so much at the words he used on the field, but at the words he used to justify his actions. I’d heard them all my life from people I knew. “They don’t mind it. They know it’s just good-natured ribbing. They do it to us. All of us do it to each other and no body cares.” I found an interview with Chapman done in the 1970s where he still spouts the same thing. He’s also simply astounded and still shaken that no one seems to understand. In fact he never seemed to understand himself why people were repelled by his comments and actions. To me, that’s really the great tragedy of Chapman’s life and career. He never seemed to understand why he was seen as a jerk. (Or just possibly he’s fooled us all and knew exactly what he was doing and understood that his one chance for redemption was to act like he was a fool.) One of the best parts of Tudyk’s interpretation of Chapman is his ability to convey just how totally clueless Chapman was as to why he was being hounded. If Chapman had thought for even a minute about it he may have seen just how much his hounding of Robinson was much like what he himself was going through. But that presupposes a depth of self-perception that Chapman lacked.

Chapman's grave in Birmingham

Chapman’s grave in Birmingham

The Guy with the Really Strange Stats

October 1, 2012

Roy Thomas, Phillies outfielder

You know, there are a lot of strange stat lines in baseball. Some are odd-looking lines for a particular game, others for a season. But there is nothing quite like the career stat line for Roy Thomas.

Thomas was a Deadball Era center fielder who spent most of his time with the Phillies. He made the Major Leagues in 1899, stayed through 1909, and played all but two years with Philadelphia (actually he played six games in Philly in 1908, but spent most of the season with Pittsburgh. He was a leadoff hitter and a very good, for the era, center fielder. You could, if you wanted, make a case for him as the second best center fielder in Phillies history after Richie Ashburn if you wanted (I’m not sure I would). In other words he’s a good solid player who deserves to be remembered, but Geez does his stat line look funny.

For his career Thomas hit .290, had an OBP of .413, and slugged .333 for an OPS of .747 (OPS+ 124). His WAR is 38.7 (about 3.0 per season). He has 100 doubles, 53 triples, seven home runs, and 1011 runs scored in 1537 hits. He walked 1042 times, struck out 518, had 1764 total bases, and 299 RBIs. He led the NL in walks seven times and in OBP twice. As a fielder he led the league in putouts, assists, range factor, and fielding percentage at various times. Like a said, a nice solid career.

But look at a couple of those numbers closely. He scored 1537 runs and had 299 RBIs. As such he’s the only significant player (more than 500 games) who managed to score three times as many runs as he knocked in. His ratio of doubles to total hits is a MLB record, as is his ratio of singles to hits. He’s also the only man with 1500 hits and less than 300 RBIs. This guy is an on base machine, but it’s always to first base. He also has only 244 stolen bases with a high of 42 in his rookie campaign. That means between 1537 hits, 1042 walks, he manages to get to second base on his own 404 times ( doubles + triples + home runs + stolen bases), also an MLB record. His OBP to slugging percentage is 1.24 to 1 (another record) and he manages 6.5 walks for every extra base hit (You guessed it, yet another record).

Now are those a strange set of stats or what? Roy Thomas is the ultimate singles hitter. Just thought you’d like to know.

My 10 Best Center Fielders

March 30, 2011

Now that I’ve made up my mind about who I think are the top ten center fielders, I’ll present the list in a moment. I thought about it, read over comments on my question about the “tenth man,” and decided on a list. I’m putting it down in alphabetical order, not in order of 1-10:

Richie Ashburn, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Jim Edmonds, Ken Griffey, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Kirby Puckett, Duke Snider, Tris Speaker.

Now, of course, the usual commentary is going to show its ugly head. First, I left out all Negro League players who spent the bulk of their careers in the Negro Leagues (guys like Oscar Charleston). I just don’t think there is enough information available for analysis to compare them directly with Major League players. Are some of them as good or better than the people listed? I’m sure they are, I just can’t prove it. My guess is that Charleston, and maybe Torriente and/or Bell, might make this list. Proving it is another story. I also dropped in pre-mound players. I simply think the game is too different to compare the players. I know a bunch of people have come up with statistical programs that claim to have overcome that problem. Obviously I don’t buy that. Feel free, particularly if you’ve invented one of those programs, to disagree.

You’ll notice it’s a pretty standard list. My guess is that almost anyone reading this then putting together their own list is going to have seven or eight names that are just like mine. It’s the other couple that will create the problem. So let me take a second of commentary and at least partially justify three of my picks, the three I think will create the most “Huh?” factor from readers.

Ashburn: Richie Ashburn is simply the best center fielder I ever saw (which has nothing to do with how well he hit). He had incredible range and a fine glove. He led the league in putouts nine times, in assists three times, and range 10 times. The argument is always made that he played behind a staff that threw an inordinate amount of fly balls. If you had Ashburn behind you, wouldn’t you throw a lot of fly balls too? Additionally he could hit a little. He led the league in average twice, on base percentage four times, hits three times, triples twice, walks four times, and stolen bases once. For a man who hit only 29 home runs for a career (his career high was 7 in his final season with the 1962 Mets) he has a respectable OPS of  778 (OPS+ of 111). His black ink total is 32, his gray ink is 156, both above Hall of Fame standards. I remember we didn’t see the Phillies much when I was small (they were usually terrible), but when we did it was Ashburn you were drawn to. I’ve always been a little surprised he took as long to make the Hall of Fame as he did.

Puckett: I’m amazed at how quickly Kirby Puckett has disappeared from our conciousness. OK, I know he’s dead, but he seemed to be fading already by the time he died. His post baseball career was a tragedy of weight gain, vision problems, and allegations of abuse. It seems he just didn’t know what to do with himself when the thing that defined him, his baseball career, was over. But let me remind you how terrific he was. The greatest catch of the last 25 years may have been in game 6 of the 1991 World Series. Frankly, I didn’t think short-legged, chubby Kirby Puckett could run that far that fast. He was a very good center fielder. Three times he led the league in both assists and putouts by a center fielder and twice in range. He hit well, winning a batting title, leading the league in hits four times, total bases twice, and in RBIs once. His OPS is 837 (OPS+ of 124). The Minnesota Twins have won exactly two World Series’ ever. Puckett hit third on both teams.

Edmonds: Obviously, based on the last post I made, he was the person I thought longest and hardest about (and just as obviously Andruw Jones is 11th on this list). I finally chose him based on his fielding and his overall hitting  stats. I decided that both he and Jones have differences, but that they are pretty much miniscule. Even at strange stats like gray ink and Hall of Fame standards they end up a wash (Edmonds leads in gray, Jones in HoF standards). The key difference to me was the OPS+ stat where Edmonds leads 132 to 111 (which is quite a difference). I finally decided if Ashburn gets in at 111, then Edmonds, who has a higher number, should be in too.

So there’s the list. I’m sorry to have had to leave out Earl Averill, Earle Combs, Hack Wilson and an entire group of good center fielders, but somebody had to be left out. I especially hate having to leave out Vada Pinson, who I thought was great when I was much younger. I also have some problems with including either Edmonds or Jones (or even Griffey for that matter). I don’t like to put in players who are still active or who have just retired. We have absolutely no perspective yet on them and that always worries me. I’m not sure how, ten years from now, their careers will stack up, but to leave them off smacks of fogeyism. You know fogeyism, don’t you? It usually starts with a comment along the following lines, “Heck, everyone was better when I was a kid. These guys couldn’t hold Paul Blair’s glove.” Most of us are probably guilty of it from time to time. Hopefully I haven’t been in this case.

 Thoughts appreciated, but remember to be kind in your comments. This is a family site. 🙂

The Center Fielders

March 11, 2011

The loss of Duke Snider and a spring training have gotten me to thinking about one of baseball’s glamour positions, center field. So for the next short while I’m going to turn to the position on this site. Some posts will be my standard bios with commentary, others will be on different issues.

Did you ever notice just how many really good center fielders there were? I didn’t say “great”, I said “really good.”  Jim Edmonds is one of those. He just retired and I have to admit I loved watching him play. It wasn’t his hitting that I enjoyed, although it was pretty good too, but it was his play in the field. It seem like the guy could catch everything, no matter how far he had to run or how far he had to stretch out. Torii Hunter is another of those that I simply love to watch field. I’ve been known to offer up a prayer to the effect of “Let someone hit a shot to center just so the world can see Edmonds  (or Hunter) go get it.” Sometimes it gets answered.

Those kinds of guys have existed for a long time. I remember the 1966 World Series pitted Paul Blair against Willie Davis, two truly fine enter fielders of the era. The Series turned on pitching (and three errors on two consecutive plays by Davis) but both were tremendous in the field (Ok, not Davis in game 2). In 1941 Joe DiMaggio faced off against Pete Reiser. In 1927 it was Earle Combs against Lloyd Waner. I could go further back.

But you know what? There aren’t really a lot of great center fielders. Now I suppose we’ll all have different definitions of “great” and that’s part of the joy of baseball. But to make a partial point about it, take a look at the last 30 years of Hall of Fame voting (1981-2010). In 1980 Duke Snider got in. In the 30 years since there have been only two or, depending on where you put Robin Yount and Andre Dawson, three or four center fielders make the Hall. The only two sure center fielders are Richie Ashburn in 1995 by the veteran’s committee and Kirby Puckett by the writers in 2001. To me Yount is a shortstop and Dawson plays right, but others may disagree.  Considering how many quality center fielders there have been in the last 30 years, that’s not a lot being defined as “great.”

Take a minute, sit down, and draw up your own list of the five greatest center fielders ever, leaving out 19th Century and Negro League players and concentrating on the players since 1901. Here’s mine alphabetically: Cobb, DiMaggio, Mantle, Mays, Speaker. Yours may vary and that’s not the point. I’ll bet it didn’t take long to come up with the list, did it? Now go to 10. See if it doesn’t get really harder as you get toward nine and ten (passing Griffey, Puckett, and Snider as examples). Mine did. And by 15 I was beginning to list guys like Edmonds and Hunter who I knew weren’t “great.”

This problem isn’t unique. Try it with first basemen or third basemen or left fielders. You get the same results. There are a few truly amazing players, then an entire truckload of very good ones.  But I want to stick with center fielders for a few days.