March 19, 2011
IF THE MICK HAD PLAYED IN THE POLO GROUNDS, CANDLESTICK, AND SHEA...:
Wezen-Ball: The History of the "Greatest Living Ballplayer" (Larry Granillo, 3/17/11, Baseball Prospectus)
Beginning in 1901, here is the chain of players who would be my answer to the question "Who is the greatest living (retired) player?"
* 1901 - 1917: Cap Anson. The greatest ballplayer of the 19th century. Others who might sneak in here: Kid Nichols (starting in 1906), Cy Young (1911), and Nap Lajoie & Christy Mathewson (both 1916)
* 1917 - 1928: Honus Wagner. Still everyone's favorite overlooked all-time great. The only other contender in this time frame is Walter Johnson, who retired in 1927.
* 1928 - 1935: Ty Cobb. "Ty Cobb wanted to play, but none of us could stand the son-of-a-bitch when we were alive, so we told him to stick it!" No one doubted his status as the top player in the game, though.
* 1935 - 1948: Babe Ruth. This is the first reign ended by the player's death (Anson and Wagner each gave way to the greater player while living). Never, ever any doubt that Ruth was the greatest while he was alive, though.
* 1948 - 1961: Ty Cobb. There are many players who had retired by Ruth's death who might be considered here: Rogers Hornsby, Jimmie Foxx, Mel Ott, Arky Vaughan, Pete Alexander, Eddie Collins... None could supplant Cobb.
* 1961 - 1968: Ted Williams. Cobb's death. And this is where things get dicey. Not only could we argue Joe DiMaggio (who retired in 1951 and who, late in life, had to be announced as "the greatest living ballplayer") and Williams here, we also have to deal with all the legends who retired in the 1960s: Stan Musial, Warren Spahn, Eddie Mathews. I think I'm sticking with Teddy Ballgame, though, until...
* 1968 - 1973: Mickey Mantle. I almost had Teddy all the way through these years, but, in the end, Mantle has to take the top spot. Sometimes I think Mantle is so overrated he's underrated. Then again, I don't live in New York.
* 1973 - today: Willie Mays. And then there's Willie, arguably the greatest player ever. As long as he's alive, the title is his. Only Barry Bonds has a case to take it away from him, but I'm not sure I'm ready to say that for sure. I like to have a bit of historical perspective.
...no one would contend he was better than Willie.
Posted by Orrin Judd at March 19, 2011 6:41 AM