There's not much to be gained by ranking across generations.
I have a confession. I suppose it’s not a very juicy confession. But all the same, I feel like I need to confess that I love All-Time teams. Or, at least, I used to love them. I used to make them when I was bored in school in the backs of my notebooks. All-Time Twins. All-Time Yankees. All-Time Guys Named Mike. And I was a sucker for other people’s All-Time teams too. Babe Ruth made a team of what he thought were the greatest players in baseball history back in the 1930s and named Hal Chase and Ray Schalk to it. Walter Johnson, and Rogers Hornsby and Ty Cobb published their dream teams too. Cobb put Buck Weaver at third base, while The Big Train honored both Chase and Johnny Kling. One of my first baseball books I owned as a kid was an old library book from 1963 that listed Pie Traynor as the greatest 3B in history. I’d read any of that stuff.
Which is why I was excited to hear about Graham Womack’s All-Time Dream Project, which asked fans to vote on the greatest players in baseball history and got heavy-hitting writers like Craig Calcaterra, Josh Wilker, and Dan Szymborski to write about them. Graham’s project, which is also raising money to run journalism workshops for kids, is great. And I don’t want to take anything away from it. But in the afterglow, Craig wrote about how the results illustrated that we may be overvaluing the past, saying “We get locked into older things first, and it’s that much harder for us to appreciate more recent greatness…. I think [voters] pick Rogers Hornsby over Joe Morgan because their father said he was the best and because the pictures of him are in black and white and, boy, if that ain’t history, I don’t know what is.”
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Intone the enigmatic words of John Cale along with history's most irascible dead second baseman.
She makes me so unsure of myself…
Standing there, but never ever talking sense
On Sunday evening, my Twitter followers received a stream of dispatches from my parents’ house, where I had been commanded to appear along with my wife, children, sibling, and various other family members. I always enjoy seeing my parents—in my early 20s, my father and mother stopped being conflict partners in my struggle to achieve adulthood and independence and became nice older people I happened to know—but when it comes to larger family gatherings, I often find reasons to demur. However, on this occasion I could not escape, as my father had spent the past 30 days in the hospital, and he had made this a command performance. He nearly died a couple of times over the last month, so he gets his way about things. It says that on the card they gave him when he was released.
I’m not sure precisely when I started ducking certain family events; I’d say it has been roughly ten years. At some point in what is now the distant past, I began to associate such occasions with feeling trapped. Family gatherings are always a strange alchemy of being praised and belittled by people who, at least in my case, really don’t know me that well and probably aren’t prepared for me to be 100-percent honest with them about how I feel about, well, anything, because I’m still nine years old in their eyes. As such, confronted with an assemblage of loving but judgmental faces, I clam up, seek the solitude of an empty room as soon as I can slip out unnoticed, and write in my pocket notebook or, as I did on Sunday, tweet desperately until the battery on my phone gives up the ghost. Both are fine and worthy refuges, because when one feels in danger of being invalidated, one takes shelter in that pursuit which makes them feel most worthy, which in my case is writing. For many others, their best refuge is in drinking and physical violence, which is why psychologists always have to be on call on major holidays.
Returning to a subject from this past winter, Dan digs in to discuss the all-time greats.
"It is the best game because the players look like us. They are not seven feet tall, they don’t weigh 350 pounds, and they don’t bench-press 650. We can relate to them. We can see them—they’re not obscured by some hideous face mask, and they don’t play behind a wall of Plexiglas—we can touch them and we can feel them. I see Greg Maddux with his shirt off, with his concave chest and no discernible muscles, and I marvel: This is one of the six greatest pitchers in the history of the game? I see Tony Gwynn with his shirt off and I see a short, fat guy with the smallest hands I've ever seen on an athlete, and I wonder: 'This is the best hitter since Ted Williams?'...They are regular guys, at least most of them, who just happen to be really, really good at something that everyone else is not."
--Tim Kurkjian, from chapter one of Is This a Great Game, or What?: From A-Rod's Heart to Zim's Head--My 25 Years in Baseball
After last week's column, Dayn got plenty of mail about his new Triple Crown. So, let's try this again.
In last week's column, I proposed a revised hitter's Triple Crown, one that made notional improvements upon the current troika of batting average, home runs and RBI. I chose on-base percentage, slugging percentage and plate appearances as the components of the New and Improved Triple Crown (NITC). Well, the inclusion of plate appearances raised many a hackle among readers, and when that happens it's usually a sign I've fouled something up.
In honor of the Mets' rethinking their philosophy on Roberto Alomar, the corresponding White Sox dump of D'Angelo Jimenez, and that inevitable day in the future when Alfonso Soriano plays a bad center field for the Mets, here is a top 10 list of 11 trades and transactions involving some of the best keystone commandos ever to play the game. Note that most of these moves are spectacularly lopsided; apparently it's a rare thing to come up with a two-way second baseman, but rarer still to recognize what you have, or know how to hold on to him.
Presented in reverse order of inequity:
11. Eddie Collins from A's to White Sox for $50,000 (December 8, 1914)
In part one of this review inspired by the Mets' excision of Roberto Alomar from their midst--call it a celebration if you must--we stumbled over the desiccated remains of transactions involving Frankie Frisch, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins and others on the way to a subjective ranking of the most misguided second baseman swaps in history. Part two revisits the five most self-destructive acts of abnegation by teams that had the goods but let them get away.
5. 2B Rogers Hornsby Giants to Braves for C Shanty Hogan, OF Jimmy Welsh. (January 10, 1928)
Throughout 1927, Giants manager John McGraw burbled happy noises in the direction of Rogers Hornsby. Not only did the second baseman hit .361 and lead the league in runs scored (133), but he had come only at the cost of Frankie Frisch, who was going to have to be traded anyway after jumping the team (see part one). Plus, Hornsby stepped in as manager pro tem whenever McGraw needed a day off--and he needed them with increasing frequency. McGraw had been left holding the bag when the Florida real estate bubble, a 1920s version of Tulip-mania, collapsed; plans to build McGrawland (actually "Pennant Park") near Bradenton collapsed, forever consigning Christy Mathewson Park, Bresnahan Boulevard, Merkle's Boner Avenue, and Rue de la Bugs Raymond to the Dark Realm of the Unbuilt along with Buckminster Fuller's 4D house, Albert Speer's Germania, and Disney's America and leaving he that had dreamed them deeply in debt.
It wasn't that long ago, really. In 1992, 30 homers would have placed a
hitter fourth in the National League. These days, a player could hit 30
home runs and never show up on the typical fan's radar. We're in the middle
of the biggest home run jump in baseball history. (Big news, to you all,
I'm sure. Tomorrow's feature: the Pope wears a skullcap!)
If the sportswriters of the future aren't careful, then hitters of the '90s
are going to be seriously overrepresented in the Hall of Fame, the same way
that hitters of the '20s and '30s are today. People looked at the gaudy
batting averages of the era (Freddy Lindstrom hit .379 in 1930! Ooooooh!)
and instinctively viewed then through the prism of their own era (a .379
average in 1976, when the Vets' committee inducted Lindstrom, would have
been 40 points higher than any major leaguer actually hit that year).