#5: Ted Williams, LF, Boston Red Sox, 1939-1960

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What can one say about Teddy Ballgame that hasn’t already been said? He was, simply, the greatest pure hitter the game has ever known. His triple slash lines are just gaudy: .344/.482/.634. That is like a dream season for someone like Albert Pujols, and Teddy posted those stats over nineteen seasons! If he didn’t lose almost five full seasons to wartime obligations, we are probably talking about Ted as either number one or two. He hit 521 lifetime home runs. Just average out roughly 27 home runs each year he missed- that’s the average per year of his nineteen year career- and you get 656 homers. Do the same wit RBI’s, and he’s your all time ribby leader at 2,324. Average it for hits, he bumps up to 3,354. Even these projections are not doing Williams justice: I am simply averaging his entire career stats, not his prime stats, as three of the years he missed for World War II were his absolue peak years, age 24-26. Using that logic, I don’t think its far fetched to estimate Teddy would have had upwards of 700 home runs, 2,500 RBI’s, and 3,600 hits. Unreal.

The big stigma on Ted, besides his cantankerous personality, is his lack of World Series success. In his one postseason, a 1946 seven game loss to the Cardinals, he went 5 for 25, all five hits singles. People labeled him as a choke artist, a loser. This is deceptive. You see, the Red Sox that year clinched the AL so early that manager Joe Cronin was worried his squad would get rusty before the Series began. So he set up a couple of scrimmages with an All Star team. This would, of course, be unfathomable now days, but it wasn’t too unusual at the time. Unfortunately, Teddy was hit by a pitch in one of these games, injuring his arm. Ted never used that as an excuse, as a crutch, but those who played with him and knew him at that point were always quick to point out just how sore Ted was during that series. I only wish he could have gotten another crack at it, for Ted was a tremendous All Star Game performer. For younger fans who are used to the All Star Game meaning, well, nothing, back then players took immense pride in the game, and gave it their all. Ted was tremendous in these games, against the best possible competition, which leads one to believe ole Teddy would have worn out the next National League staff he would see in October. Alas, the Red Sox were not a very good team in the years following 1946, and became something of a punchline in Boston until 1967’s impossible dream squad that captured the hearts of a beleaguered Nation. That was seven years after Ted’s final at bat, where he launched a home run into the Fenway bullpen- Williamsburg- ending a remarkable career with a bang.

On a personal note, one of my favorite baseball memories ever was the 1999 All Star Game at Fenway Park, when Ted was honored. It was quite the site to behold, watching all these great players from the 90’s jostling like little kids waiting for a glimpse of the man, to spend a precious few seconds sitting under the Ted Williams learning tree. If you are a baseball fan who saw that, and did not have tears in your eyes, I don’t think you’re human.

Now will someone please thaw the man out and give him the proper burial he so richly deserves?

#6: Stan Musial, OF/1B St. Louis Cardinals, 1941-1963

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https://marianosaves.wordpress.com/2013/01/20/stan-musial-1920-2013/

That was my article on Musial after his death earlier this month. The sentiment of the article has not changed. Stan Musial is the most under-appeciated baseball superstar of all time. Just consistently great, and criminally overlooked. Ranking #6, Stan, and #5, the next man on the list, was the decision I labored over the most. In the end, #5’s overwhelming greatness as a pure hitter just edged by Stan’s all around goodness. A very tough decision indeed.

#7: Henry Aaron, RF Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves 1954-1974, Milwaukee Brewers 1975-76.

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Baseball’s untainted Home Run King. That is how most people know Henry Aaron. Lost in that assessment is just how great a player “Hammerin Hank” was. His triple slash line is nice, at .305/.377/.555. Sure, the on base percentage is maybe a tad bit low for Aaron to be ranked this high. But a lifetime .555 slugging percentage is remarkable. Aaron was, until Barry Bonds dubiously broke the record, baseball’s all time home run king, slugging 755 long balls. Aaron still holds the all time career RBI record, with 2,297. That mark, barring a healthy and productive return by Alex Rodriguez, may never be broken. Aaron also had 3,771 career hits, trailing only Pete Rose and Ty Cobb on the all-time list. Just his sheer statistics alone are staggering. In his career, Aaron complied 6,856 total bases, an average, AVERAGE, of 337 a year for 23 years!! Going with a sabermetric slant, Aaron’s career WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is fifth all time at 137.3.

My favorite Aaron stat is this, and it is well documented: he hit 755 career home runs, but never once hit more than 47…and he did that at age 37! He was just a remarkably consistent offensive threat. The amount of bigotry and ignorance he had to deal with whilst chasing Ruth’s home run record also has to count for something. It could not have been easy on the man. Just look at what happened to Roger Maris when he was hunting down the Bambino’s single season home run record. Bouts of stress, anxiety, hair loss, et al. Aaron was a black man from Birmingham, Alabama, chasing down, then, the most celebrated record in all of sports. I cannot fathom the bullshit that man had to put up with.

The fact remains this with Henry Aaron: He is almost diminished by those 755 home runs. Diminished in the sense that most fans just see that number and don’t investigate into just how great a player Henry Aaron was.

#8. Tris Speaker, CF, Boston 1907-1915, Cleveland 1916-1926, Washington 1927, Philadephia 1928,

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So what is the worst trade the Boston Red Sox have ever made? The uninitiated will undoubtedly scream RUTH!! However, there was never a “Curse of the Bambino.” While the Ruth deal was catastrophic, then-Sox owner Harry Frazee made several trades over the period worse than Ruth. If one looks at the 1923 World Champion Yankees, 12 of the 25 on that roster were exiles from Boston, sold off by Frazee to supplement his capital in order to finance his true love: Broadway, and off-Broadway, musicals.

The greatest sin Frazee ever perpetrated was trading Tris Speaker to Cleveland when Speaker wanted a bump in pay. Simply put, Speaker was considered the greatest outfielder of his time, a tremendous power hitter from the dead ball era who owns the record for most lifetime doubles, 792. His slash line numbers are tremendous, at .345/.428/.500 over a 22 year career.

Speaker was, and to some, still is, considered the best defensive center fielder of all time. He played remarkably shallow, resulting in an ungodly amount of outfield assists, 448 for his career, also a record. A typical Speaker center field play was such: a batter bloops a ball in front of Speaker in Center, Speaker fields it, and throws to first to nab the guy. Picture that in today’s baseball landscape. It was a different game in those dead ball days, and Speaker was one of its foremost practitioners.

One cannot speak of, um, Speaker, without mentioning this: He was allegedly a grandmaster of his local branch of the Ku Klux Klan. I have a hard time believing this, as there is ample evidence in the years following the end of his playing days of Speaker helping numerous black, and Jewish, and Italian, outfielders better acquaint themselves to the rigors of playing solid defense. One man Speaker was instrumental in helping in his transition from second base to center field was Larry Doby, the first Black ballplayer in the American League. The Klan rumors, however, have persisted to this day. But let that rumor be a lesson to all, especially the BBWAA when they are voting for admittance to the Hall of Fame. The so-called morals and ethics clause is cited by these hacks when excluding players tainted by the suspicion of steroids. So where was this morals clause when a rumored clansmen was one of the initial entries into the Hall? Or proven bigots like Cap Anson and Ty Cobb? The morals clause pertaining to entry into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown is one of the biggest jokes, and biggest crutches, in sports. Either a player is a Hall of Fame performer or not, judge it by his actions on the field.

Okay, I am off my soapbox now. But the main point should still remain: Tris Speaker was a hell of a ballplayer, and his trade from Boston to Cleveland was the beginning (but not the end) of the Red Sox downward spiral from grace.

#9: Mickey Mantle, CF, New York Yankees, 1951-1968

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Call me a Yankee homer. Go ahead. I will not fault anyone for that assessment. Gehrig was the greatest First Bagger of all time, but Mantle is damn close to the best CF of all time. Plus, he is my favorite player of all time.

Where to begin with the Mick. How about this: he was the fastest player of all time. ALL TIME. I heard a few years ago that Jose Reyes could go from the batters box to first base in four seconds. Mantle could do it in 3.8. Mantle was an absolute anomaly, a freak of nature. He could not only hit the ball longer than anyone, he was FASTER than anyone. Faster than Mays, Irvan, Aaron, Henderson,  all the Negro League dudes. Mantle was a comet. The Commerce Comet. Honestly, Mantle holds a special place in this scribes heart: Mantle was the man I grew up idolizing. I own more Mickey Mantle books than Popeye owns spinach. I loved the dude, and was devastated, at 14 years of age, when he passed away in 1995. The Mick was the greatest talent, and the greatest drinker, to ever grace the major league stage. But he was a hell of a player, and I hope people realize that. He was like a gazelle in center field, covering more ground than his famous friend in Flushing named Mays, and his plodding friend in Flatbush named Snider.

Mickey Mantle. The name flows off the tongue. Just the perfect baseball entity. Mantle was, and remains, the freakiest talent baseball has ever seen. 4.3 speed. Unfathomable power. Bo Jackson was a freak of nature, we al observed it from 1988-1991. Mantle was better. Faster, stronger. If it wasn’t for DiMaggio (my goomba!) in 1951, Mantle would have equaled, or eclipsed, Willie Mays. He had greater talent, greater abilities. He was, simply put, greater. That sentiment was widely held of the time. Willie Mays is one of the two or three greatest players of all time, but, minus the DiMaggio-caused knee injury, minus all the Billy Martin alcoholic influence, Mantle should have been the greatest player ever. All the tools were there, besides the fact he thought he would be dead by thirty.

I hope to God people realize what a player Mantle was. Did he strike out a bunch? Yessir. Walks? You betcha. His triple slash statline? .298/.422/.557. Mantle was so underrated he was overrated. And vice-versa. 536 homers.

I recognize Mickey Mantle underachieved relative to his talents. The man was still an amazing ballplayer.

#10. Lou Gehrig, 1B, New York Yankees 1923-1939

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For my money, Jonathan Eig’s biographical account of Lou Gehrig’s life is the best sports biography ever written. Gehrig was a shy man, a mama’s boy, no doubt. But he was a brilliant baseball player, and undoubtedly the greatest first baseman who ever lived. Granted the man played during an era of offense only equaled by the steroid era, Gehrig was magnificent. He posts a career slash line of .340/.447/.632. The dude, for his CAREER, has a 1.079 OPS!!! Guys would kill to have that kind of slash line for a season or two, never mind a career. The bastard never really got his due, an unfortunate victim of bad timing. He was overshadowed by the Bambino for his first ten years, and, after one year in the spotlight, a great dago ballplayer named DiMaggio stole the spotlight from the Iron Horse. Then, years after he established a record thought unbeatable, his 2,130 consecutive games played, the unbreakable record is broken by a player whose caliber wasn’t even sniffing Gehrig’s, Cal Ripken Jr., who, in my mind, is the single most overrated player to ever field a glove. The lasting memory of Gehrig seems to be the disease which has since come to bear his name, ALS, and that is the biggest tragedy of it all, as Henry Louis Gehrig was one of the greatest baseball players ever, and his name should be uttered in the same reverential tones as the two men who overshadowed him, Ruth and, certainly, DiMaggio. (That sentence hurts to write for a fellow Sicilian.)

It is really unfortunate that Gehrig doesn’t get his just due. I know he existed during an epoch where hitting was the norm, where gaudy offensive numbers littered the landscape. Just chew on these statistics, and I have for years. In 1927, Babe Ruth’s biggest year, his year of sixty home runs, Lou Gehrig, batting behind the man, drove in 175 runs. The man hit 60 homers and drove in 164 of his own, so, basically, the Bambino is clearing the bases in front of the Iron Horse. Gehrig drives in eleven more runs than Ruth. That is spectacular, amazing, and unfathomable in today’s game. I understand that the game had evolved (devolved?) to get guys on base and drive them in with a three run homer, but to bat behind the home run champ, who drives in 164, and drive in MORE runs? Absolutely ludicrous. Did Jeff Kent drive in that many more runs batting behing Barry Bonds in the early 2000’s? How about guys batting behind Ted Williams? Mickey Mantle? Henry Aaron? Willie Mays? The stats of the era may be skewed, but I think we can all agree that Gehrig’s RBI totals behind Ruth was ridiculous. And what’s worse? Gehrig did it THREE MORE TIMES, although in the twilight years of the Sultan of Swat, including a mind numbing and American League record 184 RBI’s in 1931. RBI’s have been sacrificed at the altar of saber-metrics in recent years, but I still maintain that Runs Batted In are a valuable statistic. Runs scored are considered eminently valuable in Sabr communities, but what of the players who actually gain the clutch hits and drive those pesky baserunners in? Why does the saber-metric community discount that?

Anyway, I hope i have peaked your interest in Gehrig, because Jonathan Eig’s 2006 biography on the man is probably my favorite baseball bio ever written. Gehrig was an odd dude, and his wife, while ahead of her time, was, well….read the book. Suffice to day the feud that started between Ruth and Gehrig was directly because of Gehrig’s “flapper” wife. Flapper meaning loose. Meaning “She was double teamed by the Babe and his wife on a cruise.”

Lou Gehrig was the greatest first baseman in the history of the game. The only one close to him is “Double X.”

The Top Ten Baeball Players of All Time

I am not going to lie. I am in a bit of a writing rut right now, so I am degrading myself with writing the most haphazard, cheap, brutal of all writing styles: top whatever lists. However, I do want to state this. Unlike my wrestling articles, which are pretty much written straight off the top of my head, from years of viewing experience, this project is different. Over the last ten years, I have read all there is to read about baseball. I have done painstaking research, read through both books and periodicals, newspapers and encyclopedias. All this has just aided in my already lofty knowledge of the sport of baseball. For the uninitiated, for you unwashed masses unfamiliar with me, since about 1992, I have been, and remain, basically an amateur baseball historian. Even that is unfair. I love baseball. More than just about anything in life. Which probably explains why I have no girlfriend or no life at this point. BUT I digress. I have made it my mission in life, in my free time over, basically, the last decade, and, honestly, even longer than that, to become a true scholar or America’s Pastime. I wanted to dissect the sport, open it up, find what, who, and when, made and makes it tick. I wanted to know, relative to the era each great player played, how great the player played. Christ, that is a mouthful. Anyway, I have read just a litany of books on baseball, well over 500, coming up with this list in my mind and soul, and, frankly, it has not been easy. There have been so many great players throughout the epochs of baseball history, and to try and narrow it down to a top ten, well, has been a labor of love. Without genital contact, which makes the love almost hate. And wasted promises. And blueballs. Anyway, over the next week or so, I am going to reveal my list, as well as the best books on the subjects I am featuring. Just to let you know, pitchers are a completely different animal, so I will rate them separately. This top ten is for position players only, so no pitchers and no DH’s. No Cy Young’s or Edgar Martinez’s here, boys, just position players. And, to be honest, the top ten is an elite club, so there will not be many current players there. Albert Pujols is close to cracking the top ten. So WAS A-Rod, until this crazy story about MORE performance enhancers came out just today, Tuesday January 29, 2013. I hope all of you enjoy the journey with me, as this has been literally a labor of love. I love the game, and want to represent its greatest stars properly. #10, coming in a few minutes!