John Holway / History
THE REAL HR RANKINGS
By John B. Holway
I commented recently on the New York Times' Dave Anderson's list of the Top 20 hitters in baseball history, as he saw them. Here is Anderson's ranking:
1 Babe Ruth
2. Hank Aaron
3. Willie Mays
4. Ty Cobb
5. Lou Gehrig
6. Joe DiMaggio
7. Stan Musial
8. Ted Williams
10. Jackie Robinson
11. Mickey Mantle
12. Frank Robinson
13. Rogers Hornsby
14. Pete Rose
15. Mark McGwire
16. Cal Ripken Jr
17. Mike Schmidt
18. Johnny Bench
19. Josh Gibson
20. Roberto Clemente
Anderson ranked Williams 8th because he didn't do well in his only World Series.
After giving the list a second look, I find even more flaws than in the first reading. There's the familiar New York bias, for one thing. If Mays, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, and Mantle had worn "C" for Cincinnati, "W" for Washington, or "P" for Pittsburgh on their caps, instead of "NY" or (or "B" for Brooklyn), they'd have ranked a lot further down the list, or off it altogether.
Why is Gehrig so high and Jimmie Foxx not on the list at all?
Anderson still exhibits the traditional bias against Negro Leaguers, although they beat the white big leaguers 53 out of every 100 times they played each other. Dave threw Josh Gibson in as #19, and left many other stars off altogether.
He is also fixated on home runs, which are certainly important. He's got Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, and Willie Mays 1-2-3 on his list, and they are the top three on the all-time home run list too. So, I did a little arithmetic.
We award batting championships to the men who have the most hits per 1,000 at bats, not the most hits, period. So I applied the same principle to home runs. Hank Aaron hit a record 755 homers. If all the men on Anderson's list, and others, had come to bat as often as Aaron, here's how they would rank among those with at least 3,000 at bats:
|* Negro Leagues, Cuba, games against white big leaguers|
|** Japan (with many thanks to Yoichi Nagata)|
|*** includes Negro League totals|
|**** Japan plus U.S. majors|
This puts Dave's list in a new perspective.
I don't suggest that one Sadaharu Oh home run is equal to one Babe Ruth home run (nor is one Ruth homer equal to one by Honus Wagner). But it ain't exactly peanuts and crackerjacks either. How many other men on the list could hit 1,160 homers in any league?
The Negro Leaguers would have hit less in an integrated league. But so would Ruth, Gehrig, Foxx, and every other white player before 1947.
And I realize that longevity is important. Players with short careers usually missed the older years, when their skills would normally erode pulling their lifetime average down.
Even so. Aaron ranks #33, behind Jay Buhner, and Mays is right behind him. Gehrig is #45 just ahead of Bob Horner. DiMag is #61, and Cal Ripken #70. (Joe would have hit more in a friendlier park; so would Ted.)
To put Mays, Aaron, Gehrig, Joe Di, and Musial ahead of Teddy Ballgame simply cannot be justified. Ted's home run rank -- 13th -- is better than all of them and would be even higher if his big seasons at ages 24-25-26 were included. They were mountain top years. To get an idea of how huge these were, subtract the same ages from everyone else. Ruth would end up with 472 homers, Gehrig with 295 compared to Ted's 521 etc.
We won't even mention Ted's .406 or his lifetime .344, some 40 points above Aaron, Mays, and Mantle.
And what about old Double-X, Jimmie Foxx? When he retired, he and Ruth were the only two men to reach 500. Only a pro-New York bias could put Gehrig #5 and leave Foxx off the top 20 altogether. Lou had that cozy 296-foot fence just three feet high to aim at. If he had worn a "W", his target would have been 30 feet deeper and 30 feet higher. That's like counting only second-tier homers in New York.
As for Ripken, he's been over-rated by the uncritical writers. He hit in the clutch much less than the headlines would lead us to believe. Even in his two putative "MVP" seasons, he was not producing runs when the Orioles needed them in close games. How many pennants did Baltimore win with him in the lineup? One. Way back in 1983. I'm not saying he wasn't good, just that he wasn't as valuable as his adoring press corps suggests. Rip fits more comfortably in the second 20, not the top 20.
And Jackie Robinson ahead of Gibson? Jackie wasnt a great hitter, he was a great symbol.
Finally, a word about McGwire and Bonds. If Oh and the Negro Leaguers are outside the pale, then these two must be put in a separate closet of their own too.
Do they take steroids? You be the judge.