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Joe Posnanski's '100 Greatest Baseball Players Ever' Thread

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  • These 1989 Wade Boggs scouting reports says he was an "average fielder" and a "decent defensive 3B".

    boggs scouting report.jpg



    boggs scouting report 1989.jpg
    Last edited by Honus Wagner Rules; 03-05-2014, 01:27 PM.
    Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis

    Comment


    • Originally posted by GiambiJuice View Post
      Interesting. I have yet to see anyone rank Santo over Boggs.

      Boggs has more dWAR than Santo FWIW. Wasn't Boggs a solid defensive 3rd baseman?
      I don't know which I trust less: dWAR or Gold Gloves, but for what it's worth, Santo won five consecutive GGs.

      HWR has it right concerning Boggs' defense. He was terrible when he came up, but eventually became an adequate third baseman.
      They call me Mr. Baseball. Not because of my love for the game; because of all the stitches in my head.

      Comment


      • I love scouts. I love it more when they tell me a thirty-one year old Wade Boggs can hit.
        Your Second Base Coach
        Garvey, Lopes, Russell, and Cey started 833 times and the Dodgers went 498-335, for a .598 winning percentage. That’s equal to a team going 97-65 over a season. On those occasions when at least one of them missed his start, the Dodgers were 306-267-1, which is a .534 clip. That works out to a team going 87-75. So having all four of them added 10 wins to the Dodgers per year.
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5hCIvMule0

        Comment


        • Are any of the rest of you going to enter the Top 50 contest? I decided to take a stab at it. Here was my submission:

          50. Carl Hubbell
          49. Pete Rose
          48. Warren Spahn
          47. Mike Piazza
          46. Carl Yastrzemski
          45. Bob Feller
          44. Pop Lloyd
          43. Johnny Bench
          42. Roberto Clemente/Al Kaline
          41. Bob Gibson
          40. Nap Lajoie
          39. Pedro Martinez
          38. George Brett
          37. Christy Mathewson
          36. Frank Robinson
          35. Cal Ripken
          34. Joe DiMaggio
          33. Rickey Henderson
          32. Eddie Mathews
          31. Jackie Robinson
          30. Tom Seaver
          29. Eddie Collins
          28. Mel Ott
          27. Tris Speaker
          26. Jimmie Foxx
          25. Josh Gibson
          24. Randy Johnson
          23. Joe Morgan
          22. Pete Alexander
          21. Mike Schmidt
          20. Satchel Paige
          19. Albert Pujols
          18. Mickey Mantle
          17. Lefty Grove
          16. Alex Rodriguez
          15. Rogers Hornsby
          14. Greg Maddux
          13. Lou Gehrig
          12. Hank Aaron
          11. Cy Young
          10. Stan Musial
          9. Roger Clemens
          8. Oscar Charleston
          7. Ted Williams
          6. Honus Wagner
          5. Walter Johnson
          4. Ty Cobb
          3. Barry Bonds
          2. Willie Mays
          1. Babe Ruth
          Last edited by Chadwick; 03-06-2014, 08:19 PM.
          "It is a simple matter to erect a Hall of Fame, but difficult to select the tenants." -- Ken Smith
          "I am led to suspect that some of the electorate is very dumb." -- Henry P. Edwards
          "You have a Hall of Fame to put people in, not keep people out." -- Brian Kenny
          "There's no such thing as a perfect ballot." -- Jay Jaffe

          Comment


          • If I'm correct about Joe's top 50 (forget my guess as to the order of them), that means he left the following completely out of his top 100:

            Cap Anson, Yogi Berra, Dan Brouthers, Willard Brown, Gary Carter, John Clarkson, Roger Connor, Sam Crawford, Ed Delahanty, George Davis, Martin Dihigo, Carlton Fisk, Tom Glavine, Bobby Grich, Vladimir Guerrero, Billy Hamilton, Harry Heilmann, Tim Keefe, Edgar Martinez, Minnie Minoso, Paul Molitor, Phil Niekro, Manny Ramirez, Ivan Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Willie Stargell, Mule Suttles, Cristobal Torriente, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker, and Billy Williams.

            Quite a few of those guys, I can actually see just missing the Top 100, mostly for reasons of space.

            My biggest complaints about his 51-100 list are Charley Radbourn (over Keefe/Clarkson?), Ichiro (over Katsuya Nomura or Shigeo Nagashima?), Monte Irvin (over quite a few better OFers) and the lack of Cap Anson in a Top 100 list, which includes a dozen first basemen, by my count. Also, possibly Schilling, depending on if any of the pitchers I'm guessing are in the Top 50 get left out. (He's not better than Spahn or Hubbell or Gibson, for example.)
            "It is a simple matter to erect a Hall of Fame, but difficult to select the tenants." -- Ken Smith
            "I am led to suspect that some of the electorate is very dumb." -- Henry P. Edwards
            "You have a Hall of Fame to put people in, not keep people out." -- Brian Kenny
            "There's no such thing as a perfect ballot." -- Jay Jaffe

            Comment


            • Originally posted by Brad Harris View Post
              Are any of the rest of you going to enter the Top 50 contest?
              I entered the contest. I'm on my phone now but will post my list when I get a chance.
              My top 10 players:

              1. Babe Ruth
              2. Barry Bonds
              3. Ty Cobb
              4. Ted Williams
              5. Willie Mays
              6. Alex Rodriguez
              7. Hank Aaron
              8. Honus Wagner
              9. Lou Gehrig
              10. Mickey Mantle

              Comment


              • Here's my list of what I think Joe's top 50 might be. I didn't put a tremendous amount of thought into it.

                1 Babe Ruth
                2 Willie Mays
                3 Barry Bonds
                4 Ty Cobb
                5 Walter Johnson
                6 Hank Aaron
                7 Ted Williams
                8 Honus Wagner
                9 Oscar Charleston
                10 Stan Musial
                11 Lou Gehrig
                12 Mickey Mantle
                13 Alex Rodriguez
                14 Pete Alexander
                15 Tris Speaker
                16 Cy Young
                17 Mike Schmidt
                18 Johnny Bench
                19 Satchel Paige
                20 Rogers Hornsby
                21 Joe DiMaggio
                22 Jackie Robinson
                23 Frank Robinson
                24 Rickey Henderson
                25 Albert Pujols
                26 Greg Maddux
                27 Josh Gibson
                28 Roger Clemens
                29 Christy Mathewson
                30 Joe Morgan
                31 Lefty Grove
                32 Pop Lloyd
                33 Eddie Mathews
                34 George Brett
                35 Tom Seaver
                36 Roberto Clemente
                37 Jimmy Foxx
                38 Cal Ripken
                39 Mike Piazza
                40 Randy Johnson
                41 Warren Spahn
                42 Nap Lajoie
                43 Al Kaline
                44 Pete Rose
                45 Yogi Berra
                46 Carl Yastrzemski
                47 Sandy Koufax
                48 Gary Carter
                49 Eddie Collins
                50 Al Simmons

                I know Eddie Collins is too low but I was too lazy to change it.
                My top 10 players:

                1. Babe Ruth
                2. Barry Bonds
                3. Ty Cobb
                4. Ted Williams
                5. Willie Mays
                6. Alex Rodriguez
                7. Hank Aaron
                8. Honus Wagner
                9. Lou Gehrig
                10. Mickey Mantle

                Comment


                • Originally posted by Brad Harris View Post
                  If I'm correct about Joe's top 50 (forget my guess as to the order of them), that means he left the following completely out of his top 100:

                  Cap Anson, Yogi Berra, Dan Brouthers, Willard Brown, Gary Carter, John Clarkson, Roger Connor, Sam Crawford, Ed Delahanty, George Davis, Martin Dihigo, Carlton Fisk, Tom Glavine, Bobby Grich, Vladimir Guerrero, Billy Hamilton, Harry Heilmann, Tim Keefe, Edgar Martinez, Minnie Minoso, Paul Molitor, Phil Niekro, Manny Ramirez, Ivan Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Willie Stargell, Mule Suttles, Cristobal Torriente, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker, and Billy Williams.

                  Quite a few of those guys, I can actually see just missing the Top 100, mostly for reasons of space.

                  My biggest complaints about his 51-100 list are Charley Radbourn (over Keefe/Clarkson?), Ichiro (over Katsuya Nomura or Shigeo Nagashima?), Monte Irvin (over quite a few better OFers) and the lack of Cap Anson in a Top 100 list, which includes a dozen first basemen, by my count. Also, possibly Schilling, depending on if any of the pitchers I'm guessing are in the Top 50 get left out. (He's not better than Spahn or Hubbell or Gibson, for example.)
                  Not to mention Sandy Koufax, who generally comes in around number 20 or so among pitchers.

                  Comment


                  • Originally posted by Brad Harris View Post
                    If I'm correct about Joe's top 50 (forget my guess as to the order of them), that means he left the following completely out of his top 100:

                    Cap Anson, Yogi Berra, Dan Brouthers, Willard Brown, Gary Carter, John Clarkson, Roger Connor, Sam Crawford, Ed Delahanty, George Davis, Martin Dihigo, Carlton Fisk, Tom Glavine, Bobby Grich, Vladimir Guerrero, Billy Hamilton, Harry Heilmann, Tim Keefe, Edgar Martinez, Minnie Minoso, Paul Molitor, Phil Niekro, Manny Ramirez, Ivan Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Willie Stargell, Mule Suttles, Cristobal Torriente, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker, and Billy Williams.

                    Quite a few of those guys, I can actually see just missing the Top 100, mostly for reasons of space.

                    My biggest complaints about his 51-100 list are Charley Radbourn (over Keefe/Clarkson?), Ichiro (over Katsuya Nomura or Shigeo Nagashima?), Monte Irvin (over quite a few better OFers) and the lack of Cap Anson in a Top 100 list, which includes a dozen first basemen, by my count. Also, possibly Schilling, depending on if any of the pitchers I'm guessing are in the Top 50 get left out. (He's not better than Spahn or Hubbell or Gibson, for example.)
                    I think he will include Berra but omit Hubbell.
                    1885 1886 1926 1931 1934 1942 1944 1946 1964 1967 1982 2006 2011

                    1887 1888 1928 1930 1943 1968 1985 1987 2004 2013

                    1996 2000 2001 2002 2005 2009 2012 2014 2015


                    The Top 100 Pitchers In MLB History
                    The Top 100 Position Players In MLB History

                    Comment


                    • I didn't bother trying to figure out Joe's top 50. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't win that.
                      I'd have ranked Kaline a little higher than 50 myself, but 50 isn't too far off. It's tough to say because I rank position players and pitchers separately.

                      Comment


                      • I would almost bet money that Berra is top 50 and Ted Williams is top 5.

                        In his hitting list from a few years ago he had Mantle & DiMaggio 10th & 11th, so I don't think they will be very far apart on this list. Maybe 5-7 spots at most.

                        Another prediction is that Cobb and Wagner will be very close. I'm guessing within a spot or two. Something like 5-6 or 6-7.

                        Comment


                        • #50 Al Kaline

                          Let’s begin with an ending: Al Kaline never hit 30 home runs in a season. He only had 100 RBIs in a season three times, only scored 100 runs in a season twice. He never stole 20 bases in a season, never led the league batting or hits after he turned 21, did not hit .300 for his career and did not manage 400 career home runs.

                          Baseball numbers mean … what exactly?

                          * * *

                          When I was young, the thing that I admired most in the world was talent. That, I suspect, is because I wanted talent more than anything else. The baseball players who filled my imagination were like the kids in school who seemed to make A’s without studying and dominated the playgrounds without sweating. What mesmerized me about baseball was Ellis Valentine’s arm, Bob Horner’s impossibly short stroke (like a perfectly thrown short right cross), Willie Wilson’s blazing speed, J.R. Richard’s fastball, Darryl Strawberry’s gorgeous swing. Nothing on earth seemed more awesome than talent, pure and unlimited, and nothing seemed more important.

                          When I grew a little bit older, I changed, and the thing I admired most in the world was skill. That, I suspect, is because I started to see how rarely talent evolved into greatness. At first, I thought of this as talent being wasted … but like everything else it’s so much more complicated than that. Sometimes talent is wasted, sure. And sometimes, talent isn’t really talent. The Royals once has a player named Alexis Gomez who seemed impossibly talented. He was breathtakingly fast (6.5 in the 60-yard dash), had a fantastic arm, great hand-eye coordination (he was a volleyball star in the Dominican), lots of bat speed, and he hit massive home runs in batting practice. On top of that, though, he had a good attitude and was a hard worker and desperately wanted to improve.

                          But you know what? He kicked around i the minor leagues for the better part of 15 years (playing in only 89 big league games) and it wasn’t because he wasted his talent. It was because, for all his obvious gifts, he didn’t have THE talent. He didn’t have the skill to hit baseballs consistently. It wasn’t his fault; the things we think of as talent are often simply the limits of our own vision and imagination. Lots of people can jump high; that doesn’t mean they can play basketball. Lots of people can run fast; that doesn’t mean they can play wide receiver. Skill — the ability to do something well — now that was what mattered. The artistry of Maddux, the laser focus of Pujols, the the way Andruw Jones played the outfield, this was at the heart of it all.

                          And now? Now, as I close in on 50, I think something else still.

                          Persistence. I think it comes down to persistence.

                          And persistence, more than his youthful talent, more than his developed skill, is why Al Kaline matters.

                          * * *

                          Nicholas Kaline wanted his son to be a ballplayer. How many of these stories start that way? Al Kaline was born in Baltimore during the Depression. Nicholas was a broom maker, but he thought himself as a ballplayer; he had been good on the sandlots. He started teaching Al to throw a curveball at 8 years old. The kid had a hell of an arm. That was the first sign.

                          When Al Kaline got to high school, his coach Bill Anderson had his share of pitchers so he moved Kaline to center field. The kid immediately hit. More than that, he immediately UNDERSTOOD hitting. Anderson would talk to him just before a game about hitting a pitch where it is thrown and then watch in amazement as Kaline in his first at-bat rifled an outside pitch to the right field. That was the second sign.

                          You probably know that Kaline, like his contemporary Sandy Koufax, never spent a single day in the minor leagues. Kaline was a bonus baby — this was the rather astonishing rule that stated any player who signed for more than $6,000 had to spend two calendar years on the big league roster. Could you imagine anything more destructive for young players? Kaline signed with Detroit for $15,000. He spent most of his first year as a pinch-runner. The young Kaline could fly — he was called “The Baltimore Greyhound” for a while.

                          But Kaline, unlike most bonus babies, became a regular in his second year. He was 19 years old. He finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting behind a pitcher named Bob Grim (who won 20 games for the Yankees and won just 41 for the rest of his career) and a third baseman named Jim Finigan (who hit .302 that year and .247 for the rest of his career). Everyone buzzed about the kid’s talent.

                          At age 20, Kaline had the best season of his career … and what was probably the best season for any 20-year-old player before Alex Rodriguez and Mike Trout. Kaline hit .340/.421/.546. He led the league in hitting, hits and total bases. He scored 121 runs, drove in 102. He played defense in right field that left opponents mesmerized.

                          “He’s made some catches I still don’t believe,” Yankees manager Casey Stengel said.

                          “He’s just one of those naturals,” his teammate Ned Garvin said. “Nobody expects a kid to step right out of high school in the big leagues.”

                          “The kid can’t miss,” Joe DiMaggio said.

                          “He’s the greatest right-handed hitter in the league,” Ted Williams said.

                          Yes, first it was talent that marked Kaline. And then it was skill. As a hitter, Ted Williams had a huge effect on the young Kaline — a short conversation with Williams had clarified the core of hitting. “Wait for your pitch and then hit it,” Kaline would tell young hitters for the rest of his career and beyond, and while the advice probably sounded almost insultingly simple to cocky young hitters, it was in this simplicity that Kaline (and Williams) found their strength. If you avoid pitches you can’t handle and make good contact on pitches you can, that’s all it really takes. The constant temptation is to complicate things. Only the most skilled hitters can see past the complications.

                          Kaline’s skill was evident in every part of his game. He lost much of his speed as he grew older but he was always a good base runner. He did not have great natural power but he always hit 15 or 20 or 25 home runs, even when the game started tiling wildly toward the pitchers. When they started giving out Gold Gloves in 1957, it seemed mainly for Kaline and Willie Mays. Kaline won a Gold Glove 10 of the first 11 years they gave one out; Mays won a Gold Glove each of the first 12 years. Kaline never won an MVP award but he was Top 10 nine times and runner-up twice. He was perhaps the most widely admired player in the American League because of the way he cared about his craft, and the kindness with which he treated other people as he matured.

                          “Fans don’t want much,” he once said. “All you have to do is smile and say “hi!” And shake their hands. They’re happy.”

                          * * *

                          And so, I always loved Kaline for these things — for being so talented, for being so skilled, for putting together a career with 3,000 hits and almost 5,000 total bases and more than 1,800 runs created and for being such a decent person.

                          But being older now, there’s something else about Kaline’s career that stands out. He kept on going through all sorts of pain and disappointment. He kept finding ways, small and big, to get a little bit better, a little bit wiser, a little bit more attuned to what really matters. Persistence.

                          Kaline’s temperament — unlike the man he was often compared with, Stan Musial — often ran hot. He beat himself up after bad at-bats (“I just never thought I should make an out,” he said). The pressure after his amazing 20-year-old season wore him down. He was particularly leery around reporters — Joe Falls, the legendary Detroit sportswriter, wrote: “There was a time when Al Kaline was not a very pleasant person to be around.”

                          Persistence. By the end of his career, no one was more respected or beloved by sportswriters.There’s a wonderful little story in Jim Hawkins’ book Al Kaline: The Biography of a Tigers Icon. After he got his 2,000th hit, Kaline rudely shrugged off reporters; he just didn’t think it was a story. Only then, he realized that whether or not HE thought it was a story, those reporters had to write about it anyway. He walked up to Joe Falls and said quietly: “I should have understood what they wanted. Would you please apologize to them for me?”

                          Not many people remember this, but Kaline was thought to be selfish as a young player because he felt like he deserved a better contract after his excellent 1955 and 1956 seasons. He was getting paid $15,000 and he thought that he deserved a pretty good raise — an entirely reasonable viewpoint. For instance, Mickey Mantle was making $60,000 or so at the time. The Tigers, however, had the power and when Kaline did not sign the first contract sent, Tigers president Spike Briggs took to the public forum.

                          “Al thinks he’s as good as Mickey Mantle and wants more money than Mantle,” Briggs told a banquet audience. “I don’t agree with him and he isn’t going to get it. … I sent Kaline a contract over the holidays with a $3,000 bonus for last year. I got the contract back unsigned. I didn’t get thanks for the bonus or even a holiday greeting.”

                          Kaline was outraged — “I definitely didn’t ask for Mantle’s pay,” he angrily told a reporter. He had not — he only wanted a fair raise. But people then (and people now) were not especially interested in taking the player’s side when it came to money. And Kaline was hit pretty hard by the negative reaction. He was always shy; after this argument, he grew almost insular.

                          Persistence. Fifteen years later, Kaline again made the papers for a contract dispute This time he Tigers offered Kaline the team’s first ever $100,000 deal. He wouldn’t take it. He didn’t think he earned it because he had hit just .278. “I don’t deserve such a salary,” he said. “I didn’t have a good enough season last year.”

                          Persistence. In 1960, as a 25-year old, Kaline was thrown out of a game for arguing with an umpire. He would say that he knew on the way back to the dugout that he had been wrong … and so after the game he found the umpire to apologize and to say he was wrong and he was sorry. In later years, umpires would talk often about the class and graciousness of Al Kaline.

                          Persistence. Kaline had a severe problem with his left foot that bothered him more or less his entire career. In addition to that, he was generally unlucky. He was knocked out running into a wall once. He broke his collarbone diving for a ball. He suffered a nasty knee injury from day-to-day play, and he broke his hand slamming his bat after a strikeout. And that left foot was always hurting. In all he missed almost 600 games in his career, But he still played in 2,834 games … more, for instance, than Derek Jeter will play.

                          It wasn’t always fun. In truth, it wasn’t fun most of the time. Pain. Slumps. Salary fights every year. And the pressure; that smothering pressure, it was everywhere. Everyone just kept waiting for Kaline to have another season like he did at age 20. He had some that were close. But he never quite matched it, and the pressure was overbearing. No, it wasn’t always fun. Kaline when he retired in order to spend a year with his son before he went off to college, he was not sad about leaving. He had given everything he had to baseball, there were no regrets, and it was time to live real life. “On the Fourth of July,” he said, “I’d love to be at a lake instead of at the ballpark for two.”

                          Few men have given so much of themselves to the game. That, I think now, is what made him special, what made him Mr. Tiger, what made him so iconic in Detroit and in the Midwest. In 18 different season, Kaline contributed 2.5 or more wins above replacement — only Bonds, Cobb, Aaron, Mays and Speaker did that in more seasons. Some of those were great seasons. Some were good seasons. And some were just solid, injury shortened seasons — that was all he had to give. That was the point. Al Kaline gave whatever he had.

                          * * *

                          Funny thing about baseball numbers — they sometime clash against the memory of a ballplayer; they sometimes magnify and amplify that memory. When the numbers clash, the chemical reaction can be violent. Jim Rice’s career numbers simply didn’t match the image of the fearsome hitter who made pitchers break out in a cold sweat. So Jim Rice inspired more arguments than almost any other player. On the other hand, Lou Whitaker’s career numbers tower over the general reaction to his career. Dwight Evans, by the numbers was a better baseball player than Tony Perez — he had 30 points of on-base percentage, a higher slugging percentage, won eight more Gold Gloves. But it is Perez in the Hall of Fame.

                          What do baseball numbers mean? They mean what you want them to mean. Kaline’s numbers are what you make them. At the beginning, I listed off Kaline’s numbers as cynically as I could. At the end, I can easily go another way — Kaline is 17th all-time in games played, 24th in total bases, 27th in hits and 39th in RBIs. Only Mays and Kaline’s great contemporary Roberto Clemente won more Gold Gloves, and by Total Zone runs the only right fielder to contribute more defensively over a career was Clemente.

                          This is how it is for a career as long and diverse and haunted and beautiful as Kaline’s. We love baseball numbers because they help tell a story. We loathe baseball numbers because they can crash a story. I once sat down with Kaline before a game in Detroit and what I remember most was his answer to how he looked back on his career. “I can honestly tell you I gave my best,” he said. I was 30 or so when he told me that. It means even more to me now.
                          My top 10 players:

                          1. Babe Ruth
                          2. Barry Bonds
                          3. Ty Cobb
                          4. Ted Williams
                          5. Willie Mays
                          6. Alex Rodriguez
                          7. Hank Aaron
                          8. Honus Wagner
                          9. Lou Gehrig
                          10. Mickey Mantle

                          Comment


                          • Since Oh made it, has anyone ever seen a list of greatest players ever (not just this one) that includes Oh AND Masaichi Kaneda? I'm not sure I have, and I wonder why Kaneda is never considered if Oh is. I'm not really an expert on Japanese baseball, but it seems to me that Kaneda would be a better choice than Oh, if one is going to include any players that played only in Japan.

                            Comment


                            • Finally, we have #49...
                              No. 49: Nap Lajoie
                              38 Replies

                              So much of life is style. Larry “Napoleon” Lajoie could be every bit the hard character that his great nemesis Ty Cobb was. Lajoie was suspended for throwing a wad of tobacco juice into the face of an umpire. He was suspended another time for viciously arguing balls and strikes. He once forced a forfeit of a game by throwing a baseball over the grandstand. He crashed into second base with ferocity and he got into numerous fights — once breaking his thumb in a scuffle with teammate Elmer Flick, who said that Lajoie constantly bullied him — and he was involved in the most famous contract dispute of his time, when he jumped to the American League (which resulted in him being banned from playing in Pennsylvania for a while). He was as competitive as any man of his day.

                              And yet, unlike the ferocious Cobb, everyone adored Nap Lajoie. He was such a graceful player, both at the plate and in the field, and unlike Cobb was generally a friendly and irresistible character. “Even when the son of a gun was blocking you off the base,” Pittsburgh’s Tommy Leach said, “he was smiling and kidding with you. You just had to like the guy.”

                              You have probably heard plenty about the famous batting race between Cobb and Lajoie, but it really is a story that never gets old. One thing that comes up again and again as I research the Top 100 is just how important batting races were in the early years of baseball. The race for the best batting average seemed just about as important — sometimes even more important — than the pennant races. Newspapers all over the country would have full stories in, say, July about Hornsby taking the batting lead from Waner or Sisler or Speaker’s attempt to hold off Heilmann. And these stories wold keep coming, again and again, all summer long.

                              In 1910, there was more than usual at stake in the batting race because automobile magnate Hugh Chalmers had announced that he would give the batting champion a Chalmers Detroit Model 30 automobile. Of course, they give cars away for everything now including holes-in-one at middling golf tournaments, but this was the early days of the automobile. There might be one or two cars in entire neighborhoods. And there was hardly anything more exotic than the Chalmers Model 30. Newspapers began hyping the contest months before the season ended.

                              It is sometimes written that Chalmers planned to give a car to the American AND National League batting champions … but this was never the plan. It was always going to be one car. Sherry Magee won the National League batting title and got no car. He was pretty bitter about it actually, especially because of the way things turned out. The one car was to go to the man with the highest batting average in baseball, and it always seemed like the contest would come down to Cobb (who had won three straight batting titles) and the aging Nap Lajoie (who won four straight batting titles from 1901 to 1904).

                              Actually Cobb was the heavy, heavy favorite — Lajoie turned 36 in 1910 and some wondered if his time had passed. But for a long while it looked like Lajoie would run away with the car. For much of the season, he was hitting well above .400 and was 25 or 30 points ahead of Cobb. But in July and August, he slumped, and going into September it was anybody’s Chalmers Model 30.

                              It was one of the peculiarities of the time that, even though batting races thoroughly mesmerized America, batting averages themselves were kept sloppily. Nobody REALLY knew the actual batting averages of anybody. Different papers would report different numbers. This gave the 1910 race a wild feel.

                              “Recently,” the Lowell Sun reported on Sept. 1, “Cobb overtook (Lajoie). The chances are that Cobb will beat Lajoie out for the batting honors.”

                              “Fred Snodgrass of the Giants is probably the the most talked about player in the country today,” the Lethbridge Daily Herald wrote on Sept. 2 under the headline “SNODGRASS LEADING THE WAY FOR THE PRIZE AUTOMOBILE.” “Snodgrass’ present average is about .405 while Cobb’s is round .380.”

                              The September 4 Washington Post had Cobb hitting .362, Lajoie hitting .359 and leading the league was Philadelphia’s Amos Strunk at .438 (he was 14 for 32).

                              The September 5 Sporting Life had Lajoie leading Cobb .372 to .365.

                              And so on. Nobody knew the official batting averages because Ban Johnson’s American League kept those under wraps until the end of the season. But that did not prevent daily speculation. It was like America was enraptured by a horse race in the dark. Cobb had some sort of eye ailment in the last month of the season and missed several against Lajoie’s Cleveland team. The Cleveland papers ripped him for this, saying he was afraid to face Lajoie’s team straight up. Cobb, instead, would sit in the stands wearing frosted eye glasses. When he returned, he went on a tear. Lajoie slumped.

                              With two games left in the season, Cobb seemed to have the title and the carl wrapped up. He was up by eight or 10 or 12 points, or something — nobody knew. Numerous papers made some sort of statistical adjustment that helped Cobb — “RECOUNT UPSETS LAJOIE” was the headline in the Cedar Rapids paper. On October 7th, Cobb cracked two hits* and felt secure enough about his lead that he declared himself done for the season. Seems his eyes were bothering him again. Or something. He headed for Philadelphia to join the All-Star team that would play the American League champions before the World Series.

                              *By the way, some papers reported Cobb actually got three hits on October 7. They couldn’t even count hits in ONE GAME. To be blunt: nobody had any idea what was going on.

                              On the last day, Lajoie was scheduled to play in a doubleheader — and nobody knew what was happening. The Washington Post in their batting averages showed Lajoie actually leading Cobb .378 to .376 though it did not include Friday’s games. More or less every other paper had Cobb with an all but insurmountable lead. The Cleveland papers called Lajoie’s chances “mightily slim.”

                              We now know, using the most accurate numbers available, that:

                              Cobb was hitting .383 (194 for 506).
                              Lajoie was hitting .376 (219 for 583)

                              But these “accurate” numbers had nothing to do with the actual race. All most people seemed to agree on was that Cobb led comfortably. Nobody even knew if Lajoie could get enough at-bats to catch him, even though Cleveland had a doubleheader against the dreadful St. Louis Browns.

                              The Browns were managed by a man named Jack O’Connor, who was apparently known as “Peach Pie” or “Rowdy Jack” depending on the day. O’Connor had played in Cleveland for years before Lajoie arrived. Nobody has ever known for sure the motivation for what he did that day — people just assumed he hated Ty Cobb like everyone else — but he made his intentions clear from the start: He inserted himself at catcher for the first game. Rowdy Jack was 44 years old and had not played in a game for three years. That seemed a bad sign.

                              He then put a rookie named Johnny “Red” Corriden at third base. Corriden had only played 11 previous games at third — majors or minors — and O’Connor gave him one bit of advice. He might want to play back for Lajoie. That guy could take your head off with a line drive.

                              And so was set up one of the greatest scams in the history of baseball. Lajoie came up the first time and lifted a fly ball to moderately deep center field. He hit it pretty well but, by pretty much every journalistic account, it wasn’t that hard a play for center fielder Hub Northen, another rookie. Northen did not get to the ball, and it fell for a triple.

                              “It was a clean and hard hit, but at that there were many in the stands who were of the opinion that a more experienced outfielder would have captured the ball,” was the nuanced opinion of the Washington Post.

                              “It went for a triple, although any kind of fielding by Northen of St. Louis would have converted it into an easy out,” was the less nuanced judgment of the Lowell Sun. And: “The only time Lajoie hit the ball hard Northen either intentionally or unintentionally misjudged it.”

                              As it turned out, that hit was the least controversial Lajoie at-bat of the day. His next time up, Lajoie noticed that Corriden was playing deep. And by “deep” I don’t mean that he was in the usual third-base position. The newspapers referred to Corriden’s position as “Short left field.” Lajoie, who was by this point a slow runner and was well known for swinging free and bunting only when asked, dropped down a bunt. The 44-year-old catcher and manager behind the plate was obviously no factor on it. Corriden ran up, picked up the ball and did not throw. A bunt single. Lajoie was two-for-two.

                              Third time up, Lajoie saw Corriden standing in left field again. He laid down another bunt up the third base line. Corriden ran up, picked up the ball, and did not throw. Lajoie was three-for three.

                              Fourth time up, Lajoie saw Corriden standing in left field AGAIN. He laid down another bunt up the third base line. Corriden ran up, picked up the ball, and did not throw. Lajoie was four-for-four.

                              And everybody understood. The fix was in.

                              We can pause here to ask: What was Lajoie’s role in this fix? There’s a great scene — one of many great scenes, actually — in the movie “Quiz Show” where Charles Van Doren is given the same question during the game show “Twenty One” that he was asked during his interview. The show’s producers KNOW that Van Doren knows the answer. The only question is: Will he go along with the scam and answer it correctly? In the end, of course, he does answer it correctly to win the game.

                              “How did you know he’d go for it?” one of the show’s producers asks Dan Enright, the guy in charge.

                              “What would you do?” Enright says.

                              So what was Lajoie to do when he saw Corriden standing in left field and saw a 44-year-old manager playing catcher? These sorts of questions come up all the time in baseball. You could argue this was the question players had to ask themselves when faced with the steroid question. It’s fair to say that you rarely hear of players who rise above the moment. Then again, that’s life too.

                              The second game was more of the same. It’s funny, on the day of that final game a story ran in newspapers all over the country where Cobb and Lajoie talked about each other’s skills as hitters. Lajoie called Cobb as “natural hitter,” while Cobb called Lajoie “a slugger.”

                              “I do not mean this to discredit Larry,” Cobb said. “He deserves the more credit for it … slugging the ball where they are chopping it.”

                              The point was that Lajoie did not chop at the ball, did not bunt it, did not play the artful and strategic game of bunt and slap and punch that Cobb played. So there was plenty of irony in this final game. His first time up in the second game, he once again saw Corriden playing deep and he once again laid down a bunt. For the fourth time, Corriden ran up to field the ball and did not make a throw. Lajoie was five-for-five.

                              In the third inning, Lajoie hit his bunt a bit too hard, it was more of a chopping ball toward shortstop and future Hall of Famer Bobby Wallace, who bobbled it a bit and then didn’t throw. A run scored and Lajoie was obviously safe. The official scorer, E.V. Parrish — a sportswriter for the St. Louis Republic — ruled that Wallace had committed an error, so he credited Lajoie with only a sacrifice.

                              Not long after — and this was in almost every newspaper recap — a bat boy was sent up to the press box to ask Parrish if that was called a hit or an error. He then handed Parrish a note that read: “Mr. Parish–If you can see where Mr. Lajoie gets a B.H. (base hit) instead of a sacrifice I will give you an order for a $40 suit of clothes — sure. Answer by boy. In behalf of — I ask it of you.”

                              Parrish, it should be noted, did not change his call. It was never officially revealed who sent the note but everyone understood it was St. Louis coach Harry Howell.

                              The next three times up, Corriden played his newly minted position as short left fielded (he would later say he did not want to shorten his career getting hit by a Lajoie line drive). And all three times, Lajoie laid down a bunt for singles — not once did Corriden even get to the ball in time to attempt a throw. That was eight-for-eight and, by pretty much everyone’s mathematics, it gave Larry Lajoie the 1910 batting title and the new car.

                              “Never before in the history of baseball,” the Washington Post wrote, “has the integrity of the game been questioned as it was by the 8,000 fans this afternoon.”

                              Oh what fun. And it was only beginning. For a couple of days, Lajoie and O’Connor and others involved in the farce tried to make it seem like people who dared question the legitimacy of the game were the crazy ones. “He fooled us,” O’Connor said, and Lajoie confirmed his strategic brilliance.

                              “The talk about my not earning those eight hits in St. Louis, though, makes me tired,” he wearily told writers. “The first time up I smashed one to the outfield that went over Northen’s head, yet some say he misjudged it. Then i hit one that Wallace was lucky to knock down. If that was a hit, there never was one. Then we get down to those six bunts I beat out. Supposed Corriden did play fairly well back. If he had played in for a bunt and I had swung hard on the ball, I suppose the youngster would have been roasted to a turn because he did not play deep.”

                              Yeah. Well, for one thing, it was actually seven bunt hits, not six, and the one Wallace was “lucky to knock down” was barely moving, and it was well known that Lajoie couldn’t run so there was no reason to play in on a bunt and … well, his explanation, like most explanations of the kind, was just kind of sad and pathetic. Ban Johnson had no choice but to make a show of investigating. He brought in O’Connor and Corriden and the coach Harry Howell and questioned them. He obviously did not like what he heard — within a few days O’Connor and Howell would be fired and they disappeared from baseball. It is believed Johnson quietly banned them from the game. Corriden was forgiven because he was just a rookie following orders.

                              But there was still a batting race to decide. The papers were more or less convinced that Lajoie’s final batting average was .3868 and Cobb’s was .3834 … but nobody knew for sure. Interestingly, several newspaper writers (including a couple in St. Louis) seemed to suggest that what Johnson needed to do was somehow, some way, decide the batting title in Cobb’s favor — that and that alone would counteract the foul stench of Lajoie’s bunt-crazy final day. They were all but asking him monkey with the final numbers.

                              And, it seems, that’s exactly what Johnson did. He announced his decision on October 16 which happened to be the the same day that boxing champion Stanley Ketchel was killed — a story worthy of another few thousand words. This led to one of the all-time great headlines in the Washington Post.

                              “Ty Cobb Is Awarded Batting Title–Stanley Ketchel Shot To Death.”

                              Anyway, first Johnson confirmed that the eight hits Lajoie received were all legitimately gained.

                              He announced that Cobb had 196 hits in 509 at-bats for a .384944 batting average.
                              He announced that Lajoie had 227 hits in 591 at-bats for a .384084 batting average.

                              And we had a winner. Ty Cobb.

                              Except … well … a few things. For one, the math was wrong even on the numbers Johnson put forth.

                              Cobb, at 196 for 509, would actually have had a .385068 batting average.
                              Lajoie, at 227 for 591, would actually have had a .384095 batting average.

                              Basic division was hardly the only mathematical shortcoming of the decision but we’ll get to that in a second. The response was immediate. Cobb was thrilled (“I am simply delighted, delighted, delighted,” he said, sounding much giddier than you would expect from Ty Cobb). Lajoie was publicly gracious but privately he seethed. Hugh Chalmers announced that he would give two cars, one to Cobb and one to Lajoie (or as the Syracuse Post Standard said, “Lajoie will also receive ‘Devil Machine’). This infuriated Sherry Magee, who may have hit fifty points lower than either man but did lead the National League in hitting.

                              Both the American and National Leagues announced that they would no longer allow these sorts of gifts to be given to players. They said that while they could not stop companies from offering such prizes, they would suspend any player who accepted them.

                              And when Johnson was asked for a few details of his decision, according to David L. Fleitz’s fine book Napoleon Lajoie: King of Ballplayers, he grumpily replied: “The Cobb-Lajoie affair is a closed matter.”

                              There was good reason he did not want to talk about it. It seems the subterfuge hardly ended in St. Louis. On September 24, the Detroit Tigers played a doubleheader and it seems that Johnson and his statistician Bob McRoy determined that the second game had not been entered into the stats. It just so happened, Cobb went two-for-three in that second game. So Cobb was credited those two extra hits and this proved to be the difference in the batting title.

                              Except — as Pete Palmer and Leonard Gettelson would discover some 60 years later — the game HAD been entered into the official stats. Well, of course it had. They credited Cobb twice for his two-for-three performance. They gave him two more hits than he actually had.

                              Was this an honest mistake or a purposeful deception by Johnson? Obviously we’re dealing with opinion now but I have little doubt that it was a deception. Johnson knew the Lajoie doubleheader was a fraud (as proved by his making the two St. Louis coaches disappear) and he also knew that it wouldn’t do baseball much good to go too far down that road — after all, did Lajoie have a deeper involvement? Johnson didn’t know and he didn’t want to know. It was obvious that Cobb deserved the batting title and obvious that the cleanest way to make this happen was to quietly find a couple more hits for Cobb somewhere.

                              The trouble is, this kind of mucked up the record book for years to come. Palmer presented indisputable evidence of Cobb’s two extra hits to Bowie Kuhn BEFORE Pete Rose broke the hit record and Kuhn, because he was Kuhn, chose to do nothing about it. So Cobb’s “official” hit total stayed at 4,191 when it was actually two fewer (his “official” batting average stayed at .367 when it was actually .366.

                              Pete Rose “officially” broke the record on Sept. 11, 1985 when he lined a single off Eric Show at Riverfront Stadium. But in reality, he passed Cobb three days earlier, at Wrigley Field, with a first inning line drive to left against Reggie Patterson in a game that ended 5-5 tie because of darkness.

                              Such is the liquidity of baseball’s numbers. A hit called an error, an error called a hit, silly defensive alignments, bunts that roll just foul, petty disagreements between players … these are the quirks of baseball stats. The most accurate records now show Lajoie’s with a .384 batting average in 1910, Ty Cobb with a .383 average. But Cobb has the official batting title. At least they both got the car.
                              "It is a simple matter to erect a Hall of Fame, but difficult to select the tenants." -- Ken Smith
                              "I am led to suspect that some of the electorate is very dumb." -- Henry P. Edwards
                              "You have a Hall of Fame to put people in, not keep people out." -- Brian Kenny
                              "There's no such thing as a perfect ballot." -- Jay Jaffe

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                              • If Joe DiMaggio is #34, that is baseball blasphemy. The nerds will have taken over. We may as well just burn the history books, and rank everyone by WAR. Sad day
                                This week's Giant

                                #5 in games played as a Giant with 1721 , Bill Terry

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