- - Sunday, July 24, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ESPN gave its kiddie corps in Bristol a summer project: Come up with the list of 100 greatest baseball players of all time. They got out their glue sticks and crayons and came up with a roster that includes Bryce Harper as one of the 100 greatest baseball players of all time.

That may make baseball fun again for the kids, but Harper hasn’t done enough to be remotely considered the 85th greatest player in the history of the game, where he is ahead of Robin Yount. Ahead of Ozzie Smith. Ahead of Ryne Sandberg.

Ahead of Duke Snider. Duke Snider. You know — “Willie, Mickey and the Duke” Duke Snider.

Are they writing songs about Bryce Harper yet?

Inclusion of Harper on such a list at this early stage of his career invalidates the entire exercise. They would have been better off making friendship bracelets.

Me? I was never much for arts and crafts.

On the day that Ken Griffey Jr. was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, I thought it would be valid and appropriate to compile my personal top 10 list of all time — especially since the children didn’t think that Griffey was one of their top 10 of all time.

It’s a common, foolish practice these days to leave Griffey off the list and instead include Mr. Cream and Clear, Barry Bonds, as the lone representative of the cheated generation. Griffey was the greatest player of his generation, not Bonds, and doesn’t carry the stink of steroids with him.

So here is an adult version of the top 10 list:

10. Warren Spahn. Yes, Warren Spahn. He was the greatest left-handed pitcher in the history of the game, and, save for Cy Young, represents the statistic that means more to his teammates than it does to the geek squad — wins. Spahn won 363, more than any left-hander in history. He won 20 or more games 13 times, including a 23-7 record at the age of 42. If that happened today, they would be building statues of Spahn in Bristol. If left-handed pitching is so valuable, how can you leave off the greatest left-hander of all time?

9. Mickey Mantle. If he had stayed healthy, and didn’t destroy a liver, Mantle would be higher on this list. As it is, his talent was so recognizable that even though others put up greater numbers, you can’t bring yourself to put them ahead of Mantle. He hit 536 career home runs, batted .300 or more 10 times and was named to the All-Star team 20 times. He won the Triple Crown in 1956 with 53 home runs, 130 RBIs and batted .353.

8. Johnny Bench. If the catcher is the quarterback on the field, the one who controls the game for his team, how can you leave off the greatest catcher of all time? A two-time Most Valuable Player, Bench was the leader of a team full of great Hall of Fame players — the two-time Big Red Machine World Series champions. Playing the most demanding position in the field, Bench hit 389 career home runs, leading the National League twice, and drove in 1,376 runs, leading the league three times in RBI.

7. Ken Griffey, Jr. The newest member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Griffey, like Mantle, was so impressive that he has to be on any list, even though because of injuries we never got to see the best of Griffey for the length of his career. As it was, he blasted 630 career home runs, was a seven-time Silver Slugger award winner and won 10 Gold Glove awards in center field.

6. Walter Johnson. Yes, Washington fans, you can say your city was once home to the greatest right-handed pitcher of all time. Big Train had 417 career wins, second only to Cy Young, with the most shutouts in history, with 110, and 3,508 career strikeouts. He led the American League in strikeouts 12 times.

5. Ty Cobb. However distasteful it may be, Cobb was one of the greatest players of all time, No one dominated the game in their era of play more than Cobb, who has the all-time batting average mark, with a .367 career average. Over 22 seasons, that is almost impossible to fathom. He reportedly set 90 major league baseball records during his career. Cobb had the longtime record for career hits, with 4,191, and stolen bases, with 892.

4. Ted Williams. If his country didn’t need his service for three years during World War II and two years during the Korean War, Williams would be at the top of the list, the greatest player of all time. He finished his career with 521 home runs and a .344 batting average, and the highest on-base percentage in history, at .482. He was the last man in baseball to hit .400, batting .406 in 1941.

3. Hank Aaron. You can probably interchange the top three on this list and not be wrong. Aaron is the all-time legitimate leader in home runs, with 755, has the undisputed lead in RBI, with 2,297, and extra base hits, with 1,477. And those who saw him play every day, like Nationals manager Dusty Baker, believe he is underrated as an all-around player.

2. Babe Ruth. It’s fashionable to disparage Ruth’s accomplishments these days, because of the color line that kept African-American players out of Major League Baseball. One, that was something Ruth could not control, and two, contrary to legend and lore, the Negro Leagues were not filled with supermen that would have drastically altered the performance of a player like Ruth. He hit 714 career home runs, batted .342 over his career and has the greatest slugging percentage of all time, at .690. He changed the game like no one else in the history of baseball.

1. Willie Mays. The best all-around player of all time. He is considered perhaps the greatest center fielder to ever play the game. Mays won 12 Gold Gloves, and they didn’t even start giving the award out until the sixth year of his career. He hit 660 career home runs, drove in 1,903 runs, with 3,283 hits, a .302 career batting average and 338 career stolen bases. And he did this while playing much of his career in wind-cursed Candlestick Park. As Roy Hobbs might say, “The best there ever was.”


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