Top 100 Baseball Players

This is from an old magazine I came across. The article which featured a list of the 100 greatest baseball players of all-time through 1999, had a great trivia item: Ty Cobb had a lifetime batting average of .367. Now, in the entire 20th century only eight players ever enjoyed seasons with an average higher than .367. So, it was nearly impossible for stars to top .367 in one year, yet Cobb averaged that for his long (1905-1928) career! Some of the men who did exceed .367 in a season were Ted Williams, George Brett, Tony Gwynn, George Sisler, and Bill Terry. Here’s a link to a great web site, my very favorite, and their list of the highest batting averages ever:

The magazine’s top 100 had Ruth at the top followed by Gehrig, Ted Williams, Aaron, then Donor’a Stan Musial in the #5 slot. Number six was DiMaggio (I know he was great, but I think he was somewhat overrated, probably due to the New York City bias in the media–remember they’re the ones who contend Bobby Thomson’s pennant-winning homer was more significant than Maz’s homer which won a World Series).

Cobb came in seventh, then Mays, Hornsby, and, to wrap up the Top 10, Honus Wagner.

BONUS TRIVIA ITEM:  From a 1990 item in The Sporting News– Minnie Minoso, then 67, was working out and playing in some Old-Timers games. His goal was to play for at least one at bat in a big league game in order to become the only man ever to play in the majors in six different decades. He stated that he was earning $1,000 for each Old-Timers games he attended. “By playing seven games a year,” he observed, “I make as much playing baseball now as I did in 1951 as a rookie.”

Quick Larry Bird Item

In June of 1985, a Boston newspaper writer was questioning Larry Bird’s shooting touch due to a sprained index finger on his right hand. Bird quieted his critic by challenging the reporter to a free throw shooting contest. To make it fair, Bird shot with a handicap–he taped together all five fingers on his shooting hand. The writer sank 54 of 100 foul shots; Bird drilled 86!

That gave him a shooting percentage of .860 for the contest. To put that in perspective, even with a taped up hand, Bird shot .886 over his career. He led the NBA in that department four times, shot over .900 in four of his final five full seasons (in this case, we’ll got with playing 45+ games as a “full season”), and he hit a personal high of .930 one year.

Quick Baseball Item: Dale Long hit a home run in eight straight games in 1956. For that, he got a raise of $2,300 which hiked his salary to $15,000. He held that record alone for 31 years until Don Mattingly tied it (Ken Griffey Jr. later tied this as well). When Mattingly accomplished this he was earning a bit more than Long had. His 1987 salary was $1,975,000. Of course, that sum is now petty cash, only about four times more than what today’s minimum salary is. Long was also famous for being one of a handful of men who caught at least one game in the majors even though he threw lefty.

Baseball Trivia

TRIVIA FROM RECENT READINGS (from the book Grand Slam Baseball):  Walter Johnson wound up with more wins (417) than anybody other than Cy Young, but if he had played for a good club, who knows how many more wins he would have racked up. He had 110 shutouts (a sure way to get a win) which is 20 more than the #2 pitcher on that list, but of the 64 games he pitched which ended in a 1-0 score, he lost 26. He lost 65 shutouts overall, getting lousy run support from his Senators. Still, he averaged 30 wins per year over a five-year stretch.

Babe Ruth died in 1948 and at that time, many years after he had quit pitching, he still owned the highest winning percentage of any other pitcher against the Yankees. Unless I missed someone, Ruth and Gehrig are among just 38 players to ever steal home 10+ times. In 1920, 14.6% of all American League homers came off the bat of Ruth. After Boston sold him to the Yankees, he hit more home runs than the entire Red Sox squad in 10 of the following dozen seasons.

The most productive states for producing big leaguers in the 20th century were: California with 1,828; Pennsylvania at 1,324; New York with 1,107; Illinois at 985; then Ohio with 956.

On May 16, 1902, William “Dummy” Hoy, who was deaf, faced Luther “Dummy” Taylor, marking the first time a deaf batter opposed a deaf pitcher. Their nicknames reveal the insensitive attitude of their times.

Juan Marichal was among the top 10 in ERA seven seasons and in the top five for wins six times. However, he went through the entire decade of the 1960s and never got a single vote for the Cy Young Award. The only time he cracked the top 10 was in 1971 the he came in 8th in the voting.

Ted Williams won the Triple Crown in ’42 and ’47 yet came in second in MVP voting both seasons…In 1951, a pitcher named Ned Garver won 20 games for his St. Louis Browns. The entire team won only 32 more games as he became the first man to win 20 on a team which dropped 100 or more games in a season…Carlos May asked to wear jersey #17 so that the back of his uniform top indicated his birthday of May 17…Albert Spalding once said that two hours was “about as long as an American can . . .” last for a baseball game. Yet games reaching 3 1/2, 4 hours, and longer happen now all too often.

Here’s a very trivial item: Luis Gonzalez was the first man to hit homers into two different bodies of water. He hit one which splashed down in the pool during a Diamondbacks home game in April of 2000 then blasted one which ker-plunked into McCovey’s Cove in the Giants ballpark in September.

Cy Young must have known when to quit as the last seven batters he ever faced hit a triple, three doubles, and three more singles. He later said he never had a sore arm until his last day in the majors. A great quote from Young to a young reporter: “Son, I won more games than you’ll ever see.”

Rod Carew is the only A.L. player to lead the league in hitting without once connecting for a homer (1972)…Nolan Ryan is the only pitcher to have his number retired by three different teams…Kerry Wood fanned 20 men in just his fifth career start, tying the record for a nine-inning game. In that game he became just the second pitcher to match his age with the number of K’s he recorded–the other man was Bob Feller who whiffed 17 in a game when he was 17-years-old. When Roger Clemens twice struck out 20, he did not give up a single walk.


Modest Stan the Man

Stan Musial was a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), a group many baseball fans and members of the media also belong to. I was a member and as such was provided with a phone directory of other members. The people who put the directory together sent out a form requesting our names, jobs, phone numbers, address, and areas of baseball expertise.

Musial’s entry listed his address unlike some famous people who did not submit, for example, their address or phone number. However, Musial always was a man of the people and a great supporter of his fans. For occupation, he modestly wrote “retired.”

I gave a little laugh when I came to what he wrote for his area of expertise. First, realize that almost everyone listed something like, “I specialize in old ballparks,” or “Negro Leagues,” or “New York Yankees.” What Musial wrote for his area of expertise was, “Hitting a baseball.” How true!

PERSONAL PLUG: The latest edition of my You’re the Basketball Ref book is out now and available at places like Barnes & Noble and on line there as well as at Amazon and other such sites. It features Lebron James on the cover and challenges readers to make the call on basketball plays, testing your knowledge of rules.

Omar’s Glove Magic

 Does Omar Vizquel belong in the Hall of Fame? He lasted long enough to amass 2,877 hits and his glove work at shortstop is on a level with that of Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith (one respected Plain Dealer writer said Omar was a bit better than Ozzie). Smith wound up with 2,460 hits. I won’t bog things down with a lot of stats, and I’m not too fond of arguments such as, “Well, if Bill Mazeroski, the best glove ever at second, is in, then Ozzie AND Omar belong.” I just throw this out there for consideration.

Those who watched Vizquel a lot, like most Clevelanders, say he belongs (just as so many Pirate fans feel Maz was a deserving Cooperstown inductee). Baseball historian Morris Eckhouse said he believes Vizquel “will get in. I think it may be a couple of years yet, but Omar was a [steady player]. He was flashy, but he showed up and did his job and he was as good as it gets at shortstop.”

Having lived in the Cleveland area now since 1974, I agree that Omar was remarkable. The way he took infield practice between innings of games was unique. He was so talented with his hands that he probably got bored taking practice grounders the normal way, so he would let a ground ball thrown to him by his first baseman between innings roll up and over his gloved hand (without closing the mitt), up over his left wrist, then, and only then, he would grab the ball and make his throw to first. Sometimes, in a variation of that technique, using his old soccer skills, he would kick the rolling baseball into the air where he then would take hold of it and make his throw.

He even devised a way to catch pop ups that were blooped toward the outfield on bright sunny days. Instead of backpedaling or turning and racing to the spot where he knew the path of the ball should take him, he purposely made a Willie Mays-like catch with his back to home plate. Keep in mind, he did that when he could easily have made the catch in the usual fashion, but he had something in mind—using his method, the bill of his cap screened his eyes from the sun. One writer said that he had never before or since seen any infielder do this. 

Stan the Man of Donora and Teddy Ballgame of San Diego

I spoke recently to former Pirate (and Cardinal) Johnny O’Brien whose twin, Ed, also played in the majors. He shared a few stories about two of the game’s greatest of all-time, Stan Musial and Ted Williams.

O’Brien said, “The thing I noticed about the Hall of Famers is it seems to me that almost every one of those Hall of Famers [he played with or against] was a really nice person—they were helpful. You know, Ted Williams didn’t like the media, but he sure liked players and he would spend all kinds of time with you. I’ll tell you a story. George Sisler was our batting coach, the great Hall of Famer, with Pittsburgh, and his theory was that if you’re a right-handed batter, you could move your left foot in relation to what the pitch was. Well, I didn’t believe that. 

“We were in spring training and we went over to play the Red Sox. I wanted to talk to Williams. He was the only guy in the time that I played—and I only played exhibition games against him because we were in the National League—who, every time he got into the batting cage, everything stopped. Everybody would just stop and watch. And he’d always tell the pitcher, ‘Throw anything you want.’ You would get to feel sorry for the ball. I mean, he would really punish the ball.

“They had taken their batting practice and he was running around in left field. So I went out there and said, ‘Ted, I’m Johnny O’Brien,’ and he was a statistical nut. He said, ‘Oh, yeah, and your brother at Seattle University scored all those points [in basketball].’

“I said, ‘You know, George Sisler’s our batting coach.’ He said, ‘Oh, yeah, he hit .420 one year,’ and things like that—he was an encyclopedia. I mentioned the theory that Sisler had and Ted said, ‘Well, Johnny, Mr. Sisler,’—he always referred to him as Mr. Sisler—‘was a great hitter, but he batted in an era where he saw one less pitch than us. He saw the fastball, the curve, the change, and the spitter. We see one more pitch than that. We see the fastball, we see the curve, we see the change up, we see the spitter, but we also see the slider, a variation of the curve. As you know, it comes in as hard as it gets and it breaks. You don’t have time to adjust your foot to that so you do it with your hips.’

“He’s got a bat and he’s moving his hips and showing me. And these two guys show up and they had one of those Movietone cameras with the machine gun roll [of film] on it. They start taking pictures. Williams says, ‘Watch this.’ He turns to them and says, “What the [fudge, only he didn’t say fudge] are you guys doing?”’

“They said they were taking pictures. He said, ‘John and I are having a private conversation. Get your ass outta’ here.’ So they left and Williams looked at me and said, ‘Did you see what I just did?’ I said that I sure did. He said, ‘You can only do that when you’re hitting .340.’”

O’Brien continued his take on Williams and Hall of Famers: “He was so great with players. He would spend all the time with them. And I think of Stan Musial. Really nice people—Jackie Robinson. We felt like we were part of an elite group so we competed hard against one and other, but we were very friendly towards one and other.

“Let me tell you a story. Ed and I had kind of a notoriety because we were twins—the first twins that ever played short and second together in the major leagues. So we’d get invited to a lot of things. Well, the Cardinals were in [Pittsburgh] and they were going to honor Stan. They invited Ed and I to come over. They were going to give us $25 apiece to go, so we were all for that. During the game, I’m on first base and Stan says, ‘I see you guys are going to come over to my shindig tonight. How are you going to get there?’

“I said I didn’t know. He said, ‘Well, I’ll drive you over and back cause I’m coming back to the hotel.’ We got together and drove over, had a nice meal, honored Stan, and on the way back Stan said, ‘What did you guys get?’ I told him $25 apiece. He said, ‘I got $100. I’m not in too much need of it. Here, you guys share that.’ And he gave us the 100 bucks.

“Then, when I joined the Cardinals in ’58, he was the first guy who came over and said, ‘Hey, nice having you with us,’ and stuff like that. He was really a class guy.”

When I wrote the book Stan the Man I never, EVER heard anything but glowing things about Musial. O’Brien nailed it–Musial was a class guy all the way.