The All-Non-HOF Team of the 1970s

It’s always fun to read posts that name all-decade teams throughout baseball’s rich history. One twist I don’t think I’ve seen is an all-decade team of non-HOFers. As it’s not only the decade I fell in love with baseball but also a decade that’s particularly overlooked by HOF voters, the 1970s feels like the right place to start.

CATCHERS

  • Starter – Thurman Munson – 1970 AL Rookie of the Year, 1976 AL MVP, 7 all-star selections, and 3 Gold Gloves–all by the age of 32. I remember him as having more pop than his stats actually show. But maybe that’s because 15 HRs for a catcher used to be a lot.
  • Backup – Ted Simmons – 5 all-star selections in the decade (8 overall) for this switch-hitting backstop who seemingly flirted with .300/20/100 every year of the decade.

FIRST BASEMEN

  • Starter – Steve Garvey – His 1974 NL MVP season kicked off the first of 6 all-star seasons in the decade (10 overall) to go with 4 straight Gold Gloves. A threat every season to bat .300, collect 200 hits, and drive in 100 runs.
  • Backup – Dick Allen – While some of his best years came in the 1960s, Allen still took home the 1972 AL MVP and made four all-star teams in the 1970s.

SECOND BASEMEN

  • Starter – Bobby Grich – The 1970s included 4 all-star selections and 4 Gold Gloves. Particularly notable was his 1979 season in which Bobby batted .294 with 30 HR and 101 RBI.
  • Backup – Davey Lopes – With “only” two all-star selections and Gold Gloves during the decade, Lopes is included mainly for his speed. From 1973-1979, Lopes averaged 53 steals per year, and–as his 1976 Topps Record Breaker card shows–almost never got caught!

THIRD BASEMEN

  • Starter – Pete Rose – Averaged 205 hits per year over the decade, which is pretty insane. Now for good measure throw in 9 all-star selections (!) and the 1973 NL MVP award. Based on games played, Rose probably belongs atop the list of outfielders, but memories of his 1976, 1977, and 1979 Topps all-star cards are too burned in my memory to take him off third base.
  • Backup – Bill Madlock – Batted .320 for the decade and won two of his four batting titles.  Also batted .375 for the Bucs in the 1979 World Series.

SHORTSTOPS

  • Starter – Dave Concepcion – 6 of his 9 all-star selections came in the 1970s, along with 5 Gold Gloves. The one year Concepcion wasn’t an all-star between 1973 and 1982 came in his best season, 1974, when he batted .281 with 14 HR and 41 SB.
  • Backup – Bert Campaneris – 5 all-star selections in the decade along with the final 2 of his 6 stolen base titles.

OUTFIELDERS

  • Starter – Dave Parker – The Cobra remains in my mind one of the top all-around baseball talents anywhere. His 1978 NL MVP season was one of the best of the decade, and his back-to-back batting titles in 1977-1978 contributed to a .317 mark for the decade.
  • Starter – George Foster – Three straight RBI titles between 1976-1978 highlighted what might have been the decade’s top three-year peak, and his 1977 season (.320, 52, 149) was easily the decade’s finest.
  • Starter – Fred Lynn – The first 5 of Lynn’s 9 consecutive all-star selections came in the 1970s, started off by his famous 1975 ROY/MVP campaign and book-ended by a 1979 campaign that was even better.
  • Backup – Amos Otis – The man known as A.O. was a five-time all-star and three-time Gold Glover in centerfield for the Royals. Otis also twice topped the A.L. in doubles and in 1971 stole bases to pace the junior circuit.
  • Backup – Don Baylor – Groove finished the decade with a bang, taking home the 1979 AL MVP award with a .296/36/139 season that led his Halos to their first ever division title. Baylor’s 1970s accomplishment also included four of his eight “hit by pitch” titles and a personal high of 52 stolen bases in 1976.
  • Backup – Dave Kingman- Here is a man who would fit right into today’s “feast or famine” approach to hitting, able to hit tape measure homers or whiff with the very best of them. While his batting average toiled around .230 for much of the decade, Kingman finished with a fantastic .288/48/115 season in 1979 that included one of the top slugging averages of the decade (.613).

PITCHERS

  • Starter – J.R. Richard – Here is a pitcher whose career trajectory was not unlike that of Sandy Koufax over his first ten years–five or so pedestrian seasons followed by total domination of the league followed by career-ending medical issues in his prime. Particularly noteworthy was his dominance of the Dodgers, going 13-0 with a 1.57 ERA over the final 17 contests of his career.
  • Starter – Vida Blue – Three 20-win seasons, two more 18-win seasons, the 1971 AL MVP and Cy Young Awards, four all-star selections, three World Series rings, and a 300 K season made Blue one of the most accomplished pitchers of the 1970s.
  • Starter – Luis Tiant – Among pitchers with over 100 wins in the 1970s, Tiant’s .607 winning percentage for the decade is right up there near the top. His three 20-win seasons also put him in select company among non-HOFers.
  • Starter – Mike Cuellar – Cuellar won 102 games over the five year stretch from 1970-1974, including a career high 24 in 1970.
  • Backup – Ron Guidry – Louisiana Lightning only pitched three full seasons in the 1970s, but they were so good that he still made my all-decade team. His 1978 AL Cy Young Award season (25-3, 1.74) remains one of the best pitching seasons of the modern era, and his postseason record for the decade was a perfect 4-0.
  • Backup – Wilbur Wood – Used primarily in relief over the first decade of his career, Wood won 20+ games each of his first four seasons as a starter, including two 24-win seasons. Also one of the few pitchers of the modern era to top 20 losses more than once.
  • Backup – Tommy John – Known these days more for the surgery and high-end underwear that bears his name, John also posted a .613 winning percentage for the decade, along with two 20-win seasons.
  • Backup – Jim Kaat – Most of Kaat’s best seasons came in the 1960s, but the decade of the 1970s still featured seven of Kaat’s then-record 16 Gold Gloves and a pair of 20-win seasons with the White Sox.
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How many Hall of Famers should there be?

There’s nothing like the National Baseball Hall of Fame for starting a good argument among baseball fans. All it takes to feed the fire names like these–

  • Pete Rose
  • Barry Bonds
  • Roger Maris
  • Mike Piazza
  • Steve Garvey
  • Gil Hodges

And of course I could have listed about 100 more guys without much difficulty. In general, there are three main flavors of most HOF disputes.

  1. Player X (not in HOF) is better than Player Y (in HOF). Therefore Player X should be in. (And sometimes add in something about one guy playing in New York.)
  2. Controversy X (e.g., gambling, steroids, spitballs) should/shouldn’t be relevant to HOF membership.
  3. The HOF just has way too many players!

The first is a very slippery slope in that all it takes is one dubious HOF selection (e.g., Rick Ferrell) to usher in strong cases for potentially hundreds of other players. The second is intractable enough even where we think we have full knowledge of a player’s exploits (e.g., A Rod) but becomes even worse where there are players where the jury is still out (e.g., Piazza, Pujols, Beltre). I’m not here to settle either of these arguments but rather to focus on the third. Is there a right size of the HOF? I think there are three useful ways to think about the answer.

HONORING THE TOP 1%

To date, there are about 250 players in the National Baseball HOF, spanning both Major League Baseball and the Negro Leagues. Meanwhile, the total number of players to have set foot on a diamond is roughly 25,000. Some very quick math puts the size of the HOF at about 1% the number of players.

Similarly, the number of players to make their Major League debut each year is in the 250-300 range. One percent of that number is around 2-3, which aligns pretty closely with the number of new HOF inductees each year.

Even divorced from baseball, the top one percent as a marker of elite status in any field probably sounds reasonable to most people, myself included. Now getting the right number of players and getting the right players still remain two separate things, but I do think it’s helpful for fans who believe the Hall is too big to think about it in terms of this percentage. For example, ESPN has created their own “Hall of 100” (with 25 additional Honorable Mentions) in response to the “too big” criticism. (And yes, for every new player added another player is kicked out.) Their Hall, which honors about 0.4% of all players, is large enough for just about any notable PED user you can think of but too small to include Roy Campanella and Carl Hubbell among their Honorable Mentions.

HOW OFTEN DOES TRUE HOF TALENT SHOW UP?

A valid critique of the Top 1% argument is that expansion drives up the player pool but doesn’t in itself (hence shouldn’t) create more Hall of Fame talent. As such it may make sense to think about the number of Hall of Famers in more absolute terms. Forgetting for a second about how many teams and MLB debuts we have these days, how many new players should we expect to see each year who have Cooperstown in their future?

I’d be hard pressed to defend my answer on anything but gut feel, but I’ll go with two, at least on average. To see what number of HOFers that leads to, let’s take 1876 as the first year of MLB and assume that most HOF-calibre players debuting in 1996 or later wouldn’t yet meet eligibility criteria. This gives us 120 years of baseball to work with, which at two players per year again puts the size of the HOF as just about right, even if certain eras show up as clearly over/under-represented.

KEEPING IT RELEVANT

While it’s hardly an argument to please purists, we should also consider the importance of annual inductions to the continuing viability and relevance of the Hall of Fame. And I do think inductions here is rightly plural.

I was lucky enough to be in Cooperstown on induction weekend for Nolan Ryan, George Brett, and Robin Yount (though I missed the actual ceremony). Honestly, that felt like a good number–even a right number–of inductees. If some years had two, that would feel okay, as would four some years. But zero, gosh that just doesn’t work. And even one feels a bit thin.

Perhaps oversimplifying a bit, let’s go with 2-3 on average and keep 1936 as Opening Day for the Hall. That gives us 82 years at 2.5 inductees per year, or 205 players total. While this number is about 20% lower than actual size, it still points to 250 as more correct than something like the ESPN Hall of 100.

CONCLUSION

While it’s easy to look at some–even many–of the plaques in the Hall of Fame and feel like the Hall is way too big, I have presented three different arguments for the size of the Hall being at least approximately the right size. All point to a current player membership of around 200-250, with an added 2-3 new members each year.

Not convinced? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the Comments.

The Dwight Gooden fan’s underwhelming guide to stadium giveaways (SGA)

Living through Dwight Gooden’s 1985 baseball season, both as a fan and as a collector, was one of the highlights of my baseball life. While newer statistics like WAR and WHIP hadn’t yet come into vogue, it seemed obvious even without fancy metrics that Dr. K was having one of the best pitching seasons ever–maybe the very best–and all at the age of 20. He would go on to win the pitching triple crown, not just for the National League but for the Major Leagues–and his pitching WAR of 12.2 is tops in the modern era, aside from Walter Johnson (1912, 1913) and Cy Young (1901).

As long as his list of accomplishments that season was, his list of SGAs is very, very short. Here it is–

June 15, 2008 Lynchburg Hillcats

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Doc’s 1983 minor league season with the Lynchburg Mets was almost as nuts as his 1985 big league campaign: 19-4, 2.50 ERA, and an eye-popping 300 strikeouts in 191 IP.  The season was commemorated 25 years later by the Lynchburg Hillcats with a limited edition (1000) Dwight Gooden figurine.

From what I can tell, this is a very difficult item to find–at least online. I have seen only one, with a price of $39.95 OBO without original packaging.

July 21, 2013 New York Mets

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Just over five years later, Dr. K’s first major league ballclub honored him with his one and only bobblehead, sponsored by Gold’s Horseradish. The packaging and the back of the bobblehead’s base make reference to Doc’s four all-star appearances (1984, 1985, 1986, 1988).

This bobblehead is fairly easy to find online. with NIB going for about $35-40.

At the moment, that’s all there is. In the future, maybe we can look forward to one commemorating Dr. K’s 1996 no-hitter with the Yankees or even a “Doc and Darryl.”

Dwight Gooden then and now

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PART ONE – WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN

No matter what team you followed in 1985, there was no greater pull from a pack of cards than young Dwight Gooden, who was at that time working on the greatest first two years of any pitcher in baseball memory. It would be hard to forget just how dominant Dr. K really was, but here are some numbers from the back of his 1986 Topps card in case a reminder is helpful.

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I was lucky enough to catch Dr. K live at Dodger Stadium in a late season matchup against Fernando Valenzuela, himself once the young phenom with unlimited potential. Going into the contest, Gooden’s record was 20-4 with a 1.81 ERA while Fernando sat at 16-9 with a 2.37 ERA. While each pitcher had lost their prior start, they had preceded the losses with 11 and 9 game winning streaks respectively. The contest had all the makings of a pitcher’s duel going in, and it absolutely lived up to the hype. At the end of nine innings, the teams were knotted at 0-0, a score that prevailed until the 12th when Darryl Strawberry launched a two-run double off Tom Niedenfuer (of course!). Doc’s final line that night was not much different from his line on most nights: 9 innings, no runs, 5 hits, no walks, and 10 Ks–all of them awesome. Best game I ever saw live.

Doc followed up his stellar 1985 season with a solid but very mortal effort in 1986. As a kid, I didn’t know what personal challenges Gooden was dealing with, but it was clear he wasn’t the same pitcher, even as he went 17-9. Though the Mets would go on to be world champs, Gooden was winless in the postseason, and there was a real sense that the magic was gone.

In truth, Gooden remained a very good pitcher for many more years (74-34 over the next five years with an ERA in the low threes), but even “very good” was nowhere near what once felt like his destiny–to be the greatest ever. Add in ten more years of largely journeyman-level pitching, punctuated by a full-year suspension, and the career of Dwight Gooden, despite the 45th highest winning percentage in Major League history and a career ERA bested by only 12 active pitchers–all aces–today, reads much more like a tale of what might have been than what actually was.

PART 2 – WHAT ACTUALLY WAS

From a news perspective (and even a privacy perspective), the 1980s and 1990s might have well been ancient history. There was no internet (apart from military, university, or uber-nerd populations), no social media, nothing viral apart from actual diseases, and little you might learn about your sports heroes beyond the stories told in numbers on the backs of their baseball cards. The high-profile coverage of cocaine use on Gooden’s Mets teams was at that time the exception rather than the rule for hearing just about anything our favorite players did off the playing field.

For me, it took watching the ESPN documentary “Doc and Darryl” to fully understand the arc of Dwight Gooden’s baseball career and to even begin to learn about Dwight Gooden the man. I won’t offer any spoilers here but will simply encourage all baseball fans to see the film, which is well worth the $3 or so on YouTube. What I will say is that Gooden was and remains a man whose larger challenges were never on the ballfield. His life was incredibly difficult, and I gather it sometimes still is.

PART THREE – HEROES THEN AND NOW

As a kid in 1980s, I had the same dream as so many other boys. When we threw tennis balls against the garage door, it was always alongside the same play-by-play: two outs, bottom of the ninth, World Series, game 7. When we tossed acorns or buttons or pairs of socks in the air to hit over the fence, the bases were always loaded and our team was down by three. No matter how unspectacular our Little League “careers” or even if we were still on a team, our dream was to be the hero, to get the last out, to knock in the winning run. We wanted to be Darryl. We wanted to be Doc. We would have traded away everything we had for even one moment on the baseball diamond with such infinite possibilities. Such was what it meant to be young and in love with the game.

Nowadays, I still marvel at the sight of Clayton Kershaw or Jake deGrom on the mound, but I’ve never once dreamed of being either. Maybe I’m too old, too busy, or just too boring these days. All I know is I’ve moved on. On the rare day I grab a bat or put on a glove, the narration is no longer some dramatic baseball scenario but simply a “Please, God. Don’t let me rupture my achilles.” But even today, there is no pitcher I root for harder and no card I’d rather find in my old stacks than Dr. K.

Part of it is the memories–how much of a thrill Dwight Gooden made the 1985 baseball season. However, the larger part is story of Dwight Gooden the man. Even with his 194 victories on the baseball diamond, his biggest victory is simply that he’s still here. I imagine every day as a battle for him and not every day a success. Some days he throws strikes, and other days he gets shelled. But there he is, still on the mound, still competing, trying to go nine. So maybe I’m just a sucker for a happy ending, but I’ll still say that this is what it means to be an inspiration: to “fall down seven times, stand up eight,” as they say. To keep battling. To help others battle. To not always win. To be like us. And most of all, just to be yourself. The hardest part of being a real hero isn’t the hero but the real. 

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The author in his “Cincy” colored GoodenBrand tee

With that, I offer this short to-do list–

  1. Watch “Doc and Darryl” if you haven’t already.
  2. Support Doc and his family (while looking badass) by buying GoodenBrand apparel.
  3. Dig through your old shoeboxes and relive the thrill of pulling a Dr. K rookie.
  4. Keep on battling.

All the best,
Jason

If Bob Gibson had Dennis Eckersley…

Bob Gibson’s astounding 1968 season

Gibson_1969Two things jump out from Bob Gibson’s 1968 season besides his unbelievable 1.12 ERA.

  1. He still managed to lose 9 games.
  2. He averaged 8.96 innings per game.

Knowing that modern pitchers wouldn’t go nearly that number of innings before bringing in the closer, it’s fair to wonder what Gibson’s 22-9 W-L record might have been had he been paired with one of history’s greatest closers.

While there is always a more complicated and (probably) more correct way to approach the problem, I will err on the side of simplicity and follow this approach–

  • Award a win for any game that Gibson actually won in 1968.
  • Award a win for any loss or no decision in which Gibson surrendered his lead in the 8th or 9th innings.
  • Award a no decision for any loss or no decision in which Gibson did not lead but was tied after 7 or more innings.

Review of Gibson’s Losses

  • April 20 – Gibson trailed 4-1 after 7 innings and ultimately lost 5-1. Even with a great reliever like the Eck, this would still have been a loss.
  • May 12 – Gibson gave up two runs in the seventh to fall behind 3-2. Still a loss.
  • May 17 – Gibson lost 1-0 in the bottom of the tenth. Had there been a closer, this would have been a no-decision.
  • May 22 – Gibson gave up an early run in what was ultimately a 2-0 loss. Even with a closer, this would have remained a loss.
  • May 28 – Gibson gave up the go-ahead runs in the 7th. Still a loss. (And by the way, this loss took Gibson to 3-5 on the year. Fortunately, he would go on to win his next 12 starts, 8 of them shutouts.)
  • August 24 – Gibson held a 4-3 lead after 7, so we’ll call it a win.
  • September 6 – Gibson surrendered the game-winning run in the 6th. Still a loss.
  • September 17 – Gibson gave up a first-inning run and lost 1-0. Still a loss.
  • September 22 – Gibson gave up the winning run in the bottom of the 8th, having entered the inning with a 2-2 tie. With a closer, this would have been a no-decision.

Review of Gibson’s No-Decisions

  • April 10 – Gibson left the game after 7 innings, trailing 1-0. The Cards came back to tie the game in the 8th and win in the 9th. This one remains a no-decision.
  • April 15 – Gibson left the game after 7 innings, trailing 3-1. The Cards came back to tie the game in the 8th and win in the 10th. Remains a no-decision.
  • August 4 – In this game that was decided in the bottom of the 13th, the score was tied 3-3 after seven. With Gibson still in the game, the Cards led 4-3 after 8 and were tied 4-4 after 9. Optimistically, this would convert to a win.

Gibson’s Revised Record

Tallying up these results, Gibson’s record changes from 22-9 with 3 no-decisions to 24-6 with 4 no-decisions. While that’s an improvement, it’s perhaps much less than the impact we’d see in today’s aces were they to attempt to go all 9 innings vs exit early. This is partly because runs were so scarce in 1968 that Gibson didn’t have to give up many to earn a loss. However, it’s also because Gibson was effective enough in the late innings that a great reliever wouldn’t have been much better.

Gibson by the Inning

The graph below shows the number of runs, including unearned runs, that Bob Gibson gave up by inning in 1968. While the seventh inning was by far his roughest, the eighth was one of his best, and the ninth was at worst about average. From the graph, the conclusion seems to be that Gibson would have been helped less by Dennis Eckersley and more by a terrific middle reliever who would have taken over in the 7th. And so the question left for us to ponder isn’t what if Gibson had Eck; it’s what if Gibson had Mark Eichorn. But let’s call that the subject of another article.

Gibson by Inning

Cardboard Play Ball – Part 1

Mize_1953Something I used to do all the time as a kid and occasionally still do today is take a stack of 50 or so baseball cards and make two teams from it–mine and that of some imaginary opponent. To go from stack to season, there are essentially three things you need to figure out–

  1. A fair and fun draft order
  2. An understanding of player value
  3. How to play a game

In this post, I’ll share some ideas for each of these, along with some preliminaries.

Preliminaries

Here are the main types of rosters you might consider for each team. This in combination with the number of teams in the league will inform how many cards you need. Of course, sometimes it works the other way around.

  • Basic – One player per position, including starting pitcher (and DH if you must!)
  • Basic Plus – Same as above, but with a 4-man (or 5-man) pitching rotation, plus optional relievers
  • Full Roster – Full team of 24 or 25 players just like a real MLB ballclub
  • Full Roster Plus – Same as above, but with “minor leaguers”

Draft Order

Here are several approaches, along with some pros and cons. Will assume four teams (A, B, C, D) here, but you can generalize to any other number. Will also assume that the first round draft order is A, then B, then C, then D unless otherwise stated.

  • Basic Order (ABCD ABCD ABCD) – This is the simplest. The four owners simply take turns, always following the same order. The disadvantage of this scheme, naturally, is that the owner who goes first has a decided advantage.
  • Jesus Order (ABCD DCBA ABCD) – This minor variation is sometimes called a “snake draft” in that it sort of zig zags back and forth. Were Jesus a fantasy baseball owner, I suspect this would be his favorite as it fulfills the prophecy that “the first shall be last.”
  • Circular Order (ABCD, BCDA, CDAB, DABC, ABCD) – An improvement upon the Jesus Order in that each owner picks first in some round(s). However, owner D can certainly complain that all the best players are gone by the time he picks first.
  • Random Circular Order – Same as above but each of the four sequences are determined randomly. For example, Round 1 may be CDAB and Round 2 may be ABCD.
  • Random Order – Draft order in each round is determined on the fly by randomly generating a permutation of ABCD. While Random Circular leads to only four possible draft orders, Random now allows for 24. For instance, the sequence DCBA is now possible.

In the most typical approach to drafting, the assumption is that the owner is either selecting from all available players or at least all available players subject to roster limits (e.g., no team can have more than two catchers).

Variations that are much more fun, though they can lead to unfair teams by increasing the role of chance, is to do one of the following–

  1. Position Restriction – Restrict selections to a position selected at random. For instance, owners are forced to draft shortstops in Round 1.
  2. Random Restriction – Restrict selections to a subset of four players, randomly selected from among all players.

Player Value

My goal here isn’t to open the door to any SABR-rattling. It’s simply to acknowledge the big questions that arise when, for example, it’s your turn to draft and you’re choosing between a 1975 Hank Aaron and a 1978 George Foster. Here are several approaches, with the last one being the most complex but still my favorite.

  • Year on Back – Assuming the back has stats, go with the last year shown (e.g., 1974 for Aaron and 1977 for Foster). And if there aren’t stats, look ’em up somewhere.
  • Year of Card – As a minor variation, go with the card’s year of issue. If you are using cards from multi-year issues (e.g., 1934-1936 Diamond Stars), I’ll leave it to you to come up with a scheme.
  • Best Season – Tailor made for Hack Wilson fans! Choose from among “qualifying seasons” only–i.e., avoid 1952 Ted Williams and his 10 at bats, .400 average, and .900 slugging percentage.
  • Career Average – Something like the 162-game average at baseball-reference.com works here. Or just divide the career stats by the number of seasons.
  • Random Season – Chance reigns supreme here, particularly for players with a single “career season” amid general mediocrity. Again, only include “qualifying” seasons.
  • Random Top Ten – One season is selected randomly from among the top ten qualifying seasons identified by the owner. (Where a player has fewer than 10 qualifying seasons, repeat the player’s worst season some number of times until ten seasons are reached.)

Playing the Games

In all honesty, playing the games will be the least fun aspect of all of this, but I’ll offer some ideas in a future post. In the meantime, you already have everything you need to play owner and draft a terrific team–everything except the cards, that is!

My Final Baseball Card Project…probably!

Over the last two years, I was able to check off three collecting goals, two of which I’d started more than 20 years ago–

  1. 1956 Topps Brooklyn Dodgers team set
  2. 1957 Topps Brooklyn Dodgers team set – needed only a $2 Don Elston!
  3. Hank Aaron mini-master set (all Topps regular issue cards + notable magazine covers + bobbleheads + a few random things)

However, I still stood two cards away from my biggest collecting challenge: a framed display of the 50 best baseball players from 1933-1969. As the two said players were Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, I figured it could be a while.

Complex Psychological Transformations

It turns out there are three things that happen (in this order) when you find yourself “only” a Gehrig and a Ruth away from a goal of more than two decades.

  1. You stop making progress.
  2. You miss the thrill of checking players off your want list.
  3. You convince yourself there really are other players you need.

And with that, the project has now been reinvented as a Top 100. The bad news is I now need even more players than two. But the good news is…wait, that was the good news!

Who the Experts Put in Their Top 100

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1939 Play Ball Bill Dickey

First on the agenda was trying to figure out which players to include. For help, I looked over Top 100 player lists from SABR, the Sporting News, and ESPN, paying special attention to the players making all three lists. (I later bumped my selections against the MLB All-Century Team nominees and found all were represented for except Goose Goslin.)

While my budget would dictate that there was no point adding deadball era greats like Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson, the review did convince me to go beyond 1969 so I could add a great number of the great players I grew up watching as a kid in the late 70s and early 80s. As a result, my new cutoff was 1980, just before card collecting got totally ridiculous.

Round 1: The Immortals

Reflecting both the variability in such Top 100 lists as well as the significant number of great players whose last card was pre-1933 or post-1980, there were only 51 eligible players who made all three Top 100 lists. Here are the 23 who made the top half of all three lists, along with two honorable mentions I added myself. Rankings on each list are indicated as well:

  1. Babe Ruth – 1/1/1

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    1964 Genko card of the Japanese HR King
  2. Hank Aaron – 4/5/5
  3. Willie Mays – 8/2/2
  4. Ted Williams – 3/8/4
  5. Stan Musial – 5/10/8
  6. Lou Gehrig – 2/6/11
  7. Rogers Hornsby – 9/9/15
  8. Mickey Mantle – 12/17/9
  9. Joe DiMaggio – 6/11/19
  10. Frank Robinson – 24/22/20
  11. Johnny Bench – 19/16/26
  12. Jimmie Foxx – 14/15/27
  13. Mike Schmidt – 16/28/16
  14. Steve Carlton – 30/30/25
  15. Tom Seaver – 28/32/22
  16. Bob Gibson – 17/31/33
  17. Roberto Clemente – 20/20/34
  18. Mel Ott – 42/42/37
  19. Sandy Koufax – 21/26/44
  20. Nolan Ryan – 44/41/36
  21. Warren Spahn – 15/21/45
  22. Lefty Grove – 33/23/48
  23. Pete Rose – 48/25/38
  24. Satchell Paige – NA/19/NA
  25. Sadaharu Oh – NA/NA/NA

Round 2: Triple Mentions

And here are the 28 other players who made all three Top 100 lists but fell outside the top 50 on at least one. Definitely some immortals on this list also.

  1. Ernie Banks – 27/38/53

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    These DeLong cards are tough finds
  2. Jackie Robinson – 36/44/54
  3. George Brett – 29/55/30
  4. Yogi Berra – 26/40/58
  5. Joe Morgan – 37/60/18
  6. Rickey Henderson – 60/51/14
  7. Bob Feller – 22/36/61
  8. Rod Carew – 51/61/55
  9. Willie McCovey – 62/56/59
  10. Eddie Mathews – 31/63/39
  11. Hank Greenberg – 35/37/65
  12. Reggie Jackson – 67/48/57
  13. Harmon Killebrew – 69/69/66
  14. Juan Marichal – 58/71/71
  15. Carl Yastrzemski – 45/72/40
  16. Al Kaline – 59/76/46
  17. Brooks Robinson – 32/80/43
  18. Charlie Gehringer – 46/46/81
  19. Eddie Murray – 82/77/67
  20. Duke Snider – 68/83/82
  21. Robin Roberts – 83/74/80
  22. Ozzie Smith – 56/87/62
  23. Frank Frisch – 72/88/88
  24. Jim Palmer – 57/64/90
  25. Paul Waner – 71/62/92
  26. Willie Stargell – 93/81/85
  27. Al Simmons – 66/43/99
  28. Paul Molitor – 81/99/78

Round 3: Double Mentions

In this next round are the 17 players who made two of the three Top 100 lists. Two standouts here are Roy Campanella and Carl Hubbell, who made the top 50 with SABR and the Sporting News but failed to crack the ESPN list at all–not even among their 101-125 Honorable Mentions.

  1. Carl Hubbell

    Terry_1935_DS_no case
    One of my very favorite cards!
  2. Roy Campanella
  3. Mickey Cochrane
  4. Whitey Ford
  5. Bill Dickey
  6. Dennis Eckersley
  7. Pie Traynor
  8. Lou Brock
  9. Dizzy Dean
  10. Rollie Fingers
  11. Bill Terry
  12. Robin Yount
  13. Joe Cronin
  14. Ralph Kiner
  15. Carlton Fisk
  16. Fergie Jenkins
  17. Gaylord Perry

Round 4: Single Mentions

There were 14 players who made only one Top 100 list. As this was a somewhat weak criterion for inclusion, I chose to include only 11 of them. Omitted were Lefty Gomez, Early Wynn, and Goose Goslin.

  1. Bert Blyleven

    Niekro_1969
    Who knew this guy used to be young?
  2. Luke Appling
  3. Johnny Mize
  4. Gary Carter
  5. Dave Winfield
  6. Joe Medwick
  7. Ron Santo
  8. Hoyt Wilhelm
  9. Luis Aparicio
  10. Chuck Klein
  11. Phil Niekro

Round 5: The Final 19

From my perspective, I had already ensured inclusion of all of the must haves. From here, while I was definitely interested in considering the best remaining players, I wanted to ensure I kept spots open for some sentimental favorites, record holders, and pioneers of the game. I also received some terrific input from the baseball experts at net54baseball.

  1. Don Sutton

    Garvey_1971_RC
    The T206 Wagner of late 1970s Brentwood Science Magnet
  2. Lou Boudreau
  3. Billy Williams
  4. Don Drysdale
  5. Hack Wilson
  6. Lefty O’Doul
  7. Gabby Hartnett
  8. Arky Vaughan
  9. Monte Irvin
  10. Richie Ashburn
  11. Minnie Minoso
  12. Larry Doby
  13. Roger Maris
  14. Steve Garvey
  15. Thurman Munson
  16. Rich Gossage
  17. J.R. Richard
  18. Andre Dawson
  19. Jim Rice

Honorable Mentions

In addition to Gomez, Wynn, and Goslin, I left off the two great shortstops of the 1950s (Rizzuto, Reese), a couple top stars from the late 60s/early 70s (Allen, Tiant), and several perennial all-stars from my youth: Dave Parker, George Foster, Fred Lynn, Dale Murphy, and Bruce Sutter.

Then What?

Once I finally get the three cards I still need for my framed display, I really do think I’m done. Building a collection like this was my biggest and maybe only dream as a kid. And for all the times I had my cards thrown away or stolen, I don’t think I ever really got over any of them. Yes, I know there are other ways to gain closure on past traumas, but this is the route I’ve chosen. Good chance it proves no more expensive than real therapy would have…plus I end up with something really awesome for my wall. Long live cardboard therapy!