Saturday, April 25, 2015

Baseball's Elite Eight

PED use aside, Bonds (left) and A-Rod are two of the greatest living ballplayers (NYPost)
So is letting fans determine the four greatest living players in baseball history (a title Joe DiMaggio proudly but wrongly held from 1969 until his death in 1999). Only not really, because voters are selecting from a ballot of eight candidates, several of whom shouldn't be there. Several writers, Joe Posnanski chief among them, have already pointed out the lunacy of Sandy Koufax's inclusion, and by extension Pedro Martinez (who was a lot like Koufax, only with better developmental seasons and a handful of years tacked on at the end of his career). Johnny Bench seems to be an odd choice as well, and I probably wouldn't have given Tom Seaver much thought.

If I were in charge of creating the ballot, these are the eight guys I'd put on there:

Barry Bonds
Nobody had a career anything close to the one that Bobby Bonds's son did, which is why the most similar batter to him has a similarity score of only 761 (fun fact: it's his godfather). He leads the world in home runs and walks, has more MVPs than anybody, stole 514 bases, and was the best (or nearly so) defensive left fielder of all-time. 2000-2004 Bonds was the closest anyone has come to dominating the game like Babe Ruth since, well, Babe Ruth.

Roger Clemens
The pitching equivalent of Bonds is, in all likelihood, the best pitcher to ever grace this earth (check back with us in 15 years, Clayton Kershaw).  The crazy thing about Clemens is how he was so good for so long. He won his first Cy Young award and was named MVP in 1986 at age 23; He won his seventh and final Cy Young in 2004 at 41, was the major league ERA champion the next year, and had a 2.30 ERA (194 ERA+) the year after that.

Hank Aaron
Aaron may have ceded his title as the Home Run King to Bonds, but he's still number one all-time in RBI, total bases, and extra base hits. What blows my mind about Aaron is that he was so good for so long, drawing MVP votes every year from 1955 through 1973, but came away with only one MVP award. He finished third six times, but for some reason I'm just really surprised by that, especially since he kept raking even as offense disappeared in the 1960s.

Willie Mays
At his best, Mays was the best all-around ballplayer there ever was. He had 50-homer power, 40-steal speed, was a threat to win a batting title, and played center field better than anyone not named Andruw Jones. It's scary to think what he could have accomplished had he not lost two full seasons to military service and played in one of the worst possible offensive environments (Candlestick Park in the '60s) imaginable.

Randy Johnson
The Big Unit also had a Koufax-esque run for the ages in the late '90s/early '00s, earning four straight Cys and five in all. The nine-time strikeout champion punched up more K's than everyone besides Nolan Ryan, won over 300 games, and staked his claim as the best southpaw to ever take the bump (apologies to Koufax, Kershaw, and Lefty Grove).

Greg Maddux
Mad Dog matched the peak of Koufax (four consecutive Cys, 2.15 ERA over a seven-year stretch) while remaining healthy and durable enough to complete more than 5,000 innings. Think about it--that's averaging 250 innings per year for 20 years. Nobody today, not even of Mark Buehrle, is capable of that.

Rickey Henderson
Henderson may not have the as great as he thought/proclaimed he was, but he was still pretty damn good. Man of Steal stole more bases and scored more runs than anybody in baseball history, reached base over 5,200 times, swatted nearly 300 home runs, and swiped 100 bags or more in a season three times. Henderson, who maintained a .401 OBP over 25 seasons and 13,346 plate appearances, was also exceptional into old age, leading the league in walks and steals at 39 and batting .315/.423/.466 at 40.

Alex Rodriguez
If nothing else, Rodriguez is reminding us this year of the incredibly gifted player once considered the best all-around talent in baseball. From his Mike Trout-esque beginnings in Seattle to his towering seasons in Texas to his continued dominance in New York, Rodriguez has been a force in major league baseball for two decades now. He's done some incredible things along the way, like win five home run crowns and three MVP awards while playing top-shelf defense and stealing hundreds of bases. The sad thing is that he probably still could have done all those things without PEDs.

Of these eight, I'd vote for Bonds, Aaron, Mays, and Clemens. If the ballot could have stretched to 10 I would have included Mike Schmidt and probably Seaver, with Frank Robinson just missing the cut.


  1. Joe Morgan and Albert Pujols are worth considering.

    1. Absolutely. Pujols is getting there, and Morgan is one of the most criminally underrated players ever