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*Official* Honus Wagner vs. Alex Rodriguez debate

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*Official* Honus Wagner vs. Alex Rodriguez debate

Postby Madison » Mon Oct 20, 2003 9:37 am

This thread is an "Official" debate between LC BOY and DK on who is the greatest shortstop of all time, Wagner or Arod. Please do not post in this thread. Any posts placed in this thread other than by LC BOY or DK will be deleted. There is a seperate thread to discuss how the debate is going and what we all think about it. :-)

LC BOY won the coin toss and has elected to let DK start the debate.

Good luck gentlemen. ;-D
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Postby DK » Mon Oct 20, 2003 8:36 pm

The Case For Alex E. Rodriguez

The numbers are mind-boggling. 345 Career HR's. 990 Career RBI. 1009 Career Runs. 177 Stolen Bases. A .308 average. A .581 career slugging percentage. Oh by the way, he's only 28 years old.
Alex Emmanuel Rodriguez, in only eight full seasons, has shown us power from a Shortstop we have never known. He has hit at least 111 RBI the last six consecutive years, with at least 41 Home Runs and 110 Runs down that stretch. Excluding 1997, Alex Rodriguez has had an average of:
R HR RBI SB
127 45 126 20

Those stats are not typos. Alex Rodriguez is the true definition of a 5-tool player. He can hit contact, hit for power, run, field, and throw. From a fantasy baseball point of view, he accumulates wonderful stats in all 5 categories.
Hitting? There is no doubt about this. Rodriguez can hit the ball. He can hit for contact to all fields, and is a danger every time he's at the plate.
Power? Even less doubt about this. Rodriguez has shown more power than any SS in history, having already hit 345 career homers at the age of 28.
Running? Rodriguez can fly on the basepaths. He isn't stealing bases as much as he used to, but if he is relegated to going on the paths he is one of the most dangerous players ever to play in the majors.
Fielding? Rodriguez has more Gold Gloves than he knows what to do with. Easily the best fielding SS in the game today (and arguably one of the best ever), he is a modern Ozzie Guillen who can hit.
Throwing? Rodriguez has a rocket at SS. The ball just seems to pop out of his hand and reach first before you can blink an eye. He is a masterful player and has proven to be the best at his young age.

Honus Wagner was a great player. If I was looking for a shortstop based on cumulative career stats, I would probably go with Wagner now. But if Rodriguez, who has yet to hit his prime years, continues to play as masterfully as he does now, in ten years this conversation will seem silly. At 6'3", 210 pounds, the baseball gods have never formed their clay so perfectly.

One of the main arguments against Rodriguez is that with the weight training today, he has been given an advantage. But can we really fault him for technological advancement in the world? It is not his fault that he has the training given to him. He has been handed this unreachable potential and remarkably, he has reached it. And without a doubt, Rodriguez could go further with the body he's been given.

If Rodriguez can live out his career and put up numbers at his current torrid pace, he will be the best Shortstop to ever play the game. There is no doubt.

That concludes the first Case for Alex E. Rodriguez. LCBOY, you have the floor.
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Postby LCBOY » Wed Oct 22, 2003 5:47 pm

First of all I’d like to take a moment and thank the Fantasy Baseball forums, Arlo, Madison, and DK for this opportunity to debate. I hope that through these debates baseball fans on this forum can gain a new appreciation for the greatest game ever.

Since the beginning of profession baseball fans (known as “cranks” in the early years of the game) have been arguing about who was the best ever. This is one of the things that make baseball such a great game. Over the past 120 years baseball has seen some truly remarkable players. Everyone seems to have his or her own opinions about what makes a great baseball player. Recently so fans are starting to think that Alex Rodriguez is ALREADY the greatest SS in baseball history. This is going too far! A-Rod may one day be the greatest SS but he has a long way to go to catch Honus Wagner. There are many lists of “greatest players” that have been writing over the years.. Many of the names on these lists have changed throughout baseball history. A select few have withstood the test of time. These select few are the true legends of the game. One of these few is Honus Wagner.

Who is John Peter “Honus” Wagner? Why do fans still speak about him even 86 years after his retirement? Many baseball fans have heard the name Honus Wagner. Many fans have heard and seen his famous 1909 T-206 baseball card. The most valuable baseball card ever (over one million dollars). But how many fans know whom the man and baseball player named Honus Wagner? It is one of my goals of this debate to shed light and show whom Honus Wagner the baseball player was. I want to expose a new generation of baseball fans to the unique greatness of Honus Wagner, the greatest SS that has ever been.

I have two goals for this debate:

1) Write about the life and times of Honus Wagner to the fans of this forum
2) Give evidence that will clearly show that Honus Wagner, and not Alex Rodriguez, is the greatest SS in ML history

I would like to start with a short bio of John Peter “Honus” Wagner:

John Peter “Honus” Wagner was born on Feb. 24, 1874 in Chartiers, PA, the fourth of six children of John and Katheryn Wagner. Honus’ parents were of German decent that immigrated to America in 1866. As Honus grew into adulthood he was well known for his unique physical appearance. He was extremely bow-legged, had very long arms, huge hands, and a large barrel chest, stood 5’11”, and weighed 200lbs. He was a tremendous athlete with great speed. Besides baseball, he also played basketball.

Honus began his professional baseball career in 1896 and by mid 1897 he made his major league debut at age 23 with the Louisville Colonels on the National League (NL). Honus had immediate success with Louisville, hitting .338, .299, and 336 in his first three years.

After the 1899 season the NL decide to contract from 12 to eight teams. Honus’ Louisville team was one of the contracted teams so he was sent to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Beginning in 1900 Honus began a 14-year run as the greatest player on his era. Honus utterly dominated the NL. Not only was Honus the best SS in the game but the best PLAYER. Here are a short summary of how dominating he was. I’ve listed the number of times he lead the NL in an offensive category. The number in parenthesis is the number of time Honus finished in the top-5 in that category.

Avg.- 8 times (4) 8-time batting champion!!
OPS- 8 times (4)
XBH- 7 times (6)
2B- 7 times (6)
Slug%- 6 times (6)
TB- 6 times (8)
RBI- 5 times (9)
SB- 5 times (4)
OBP- 4 times (6)
3B- 3 times (5)
Hits- 2 times (10)
Runs- 2 times (6)

It is obvious that Honus was the most dominant and most consistent hitter of his time. He led the NL in many categories and when he didn’t he was right behind the league leader.

Now I would like to address some of DK’s points that he made in his first post. I will address them as questions:

Question #1

DK states that, “A-Rod has shown more power than any SS in history.” Is this really true I ask? I do not believe that it is. What does it mean to hit for power? DK seems to imply that hitting for power means only hitting HRs. Certainly, hitting HRs is part of what it means to hit for power. However, there is more to hitting for power that just hitting HRs. Hitting power means hitting HRs, AND hitting 3Bs, AND hitting 2Bs. This is why doubles and triples are also considered as “extra-base hits” The stat that best measures “power” production of a player is slugging percentage. This takes into account hitting HRs, and hitting 3Bs, and hitting 2Bs. A-Rod certainly hits many HRs but does he hit lots of 3Bs or 2Bs? He does not. Though A-Rod always has always had strong slugging percentages, 2003 was the first year he lead AL. Before 2003 the best that A-Rod did was finish 3rd twice. In contrast, Honus led the NL in slugging percentage SIX TIMES, finished 2nd three times, and finished 3rd two times. That is 11 top-3 finishes for Honus and only three top-3 finishes for A-Rod so far.

Q1: DK, since A-Rod has only led his league in slugging once how do you reconcile this fact with your statement asserting that A-Rod has shown more power that any SS in history?

Q2: Since A-Rod has only played 10 seasons and Honus played 21 seasons are you asserting that A-Rod’s 10 seasons are more impressive than Honus’ 21 seasons?

Q3: DK states the A-Rod is “easily the best fielding SS in the game today.” Can you shown any statistical evidence to support this assertion? ONE Gold Glove in his first eight full seasons is not good evidence that A-Rod is a great defensive SS of historic proportions. Is A-Rod a better fielding SS than Omar Vizquel? Edgar Rentaria? I’d say it is next to impossible to show that A-Rod has redefined the SS position defensively. He is nowhere near Ozzie Smith, Marty Marion, or Omar Vizquel as glove men. A-Rod is certainly a competent and capable defensive SS but he is NOT Ozzie Smith or Marty Marion. DK, do you agree that A-Rod as a defensive SS is not in the same league as the others I mention and thus is not and will not ever be considered one of the greatest defensive SS in baseball history? If you disagree please give evidence to the contrary.

I now give the floor to my honorable opponent, DK.[/img]
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Postby DK » Mon Oct 27, 2003 7:52 pm

Now, for my second argument (Sorry for the delay, all)


LCBOY wrote:A-Rod may one day be the greatest SS but he has a long way to go to catch Honus Wagner.



LCBOY, I am not debating you here. Alex Rodriguez is not statistically the best SS ever-yet. If Rodriguez blows out his legs tomorrow and can never play again, then this debate is over. What I am saying is that he was given the tools to succeed and so far has succeeded as being the best SS to play the game in as short a time as his.

Who is John Peter “Honus” Wagner? Why do fans still speak about him even 86 years after his retirement? Many baseball fans have heard the name Honus Wagner. Many fans have heard and seen his famous 1909 T-206 baseball card. The most valuable baseball card ever (over one million dollars). But how many fans know whom the man and baseball player named Honus Wagner? It is one of my goals of this debate to shed light and show whom Honus Wagner the baseball player was. I want to expose a new generation of baseball fans to the unique greatness of Honus Wagner, the greatest SS that has ever been.

I have two goals for this debate:

1) Write about the life and times of Honus Wagner to the fans of this forum
2) Give evidence that will clearly show that Honus Wagner, and not Alex Rodriguez, is the greatest SS in ML history

I would like to start with a short bio of John Peter “Honus” Wagner:

John Peter “Honus” Wagner was born on Feb. 24, 1974 in Chartiers, PA, the fourth of six children of John and Katheryn Wagner. Honus’ parents were of German decent that immigrated to America in 1866. As Honus grew into adulthood he was well known for his unique physical appearance. He was extremely bow-legged, had very long arms, huge hands, and a large barrel chest, stood 5’11”, and weighed 200lbs. He was a tremendous athlete with great speed. Besides baseball, he also played basketball.

Honus began his professional baseball career in 1896 and by mid 1897 he made his major league debut at age 23 with the Louisville Colonels on the National League (NL). Honus had immediate success with Louisville, hitting .338, .299, and 336 in his first three years.

After the 1899 season the NL decide to contract from 12 to eight teams. Honus’ Louisville team was one of the contracted teams so he was sent to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Beginning in 1900 Honus began a 14-year run as the greatest player on his era. Honus utterly dominated the NL. Not only was Honus the best SS in the game but the best PLAYER. Here are a short summary of how dominating he was. I’ve listed the number of times he lead the NL in an offensive category. The number in parenthesis is the number of time Honus finished in the top-5 in that category.

Avg.- 8 times (4) 8-time batting champion!!
OPS- 8 times (4)
XBH- 7 times (6)
2B- 7 times (6)
Slug%- 6 times (6)
TB- 6 times (8)
RBI- 5 times (9)
SB- 5 times (4)
OBP- 4 times (6)
3B- 3 times (5)
Hits- 2 times (10)
Runs- 2 times (6)

It is obvious that Honus was the most dominant and most consistent hitter of his time. He led the NL in many categories and when he didn’t he was right behind the league leader.



LCBOY, although you finish nicely, the biography is irrelevant to the debate. I could go on for pages and pages about Rodriguez's childhood, but I won't because it has no regard to the situation.

As for your points, I have these names to read out to you: Pedro Martinez, Frank Thomas, Alfonso Soriano, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, Barry Bonds, Vladimir Guerrero, Gary Sheffield, Esteban Loaiza, Jose Reyes.

What are these names, you ask? These are current players who would have had no effect on Honus Wagner. Rodriguez has to go up against the likes of these on a daily basis, while Wagner had to go up against only the likes of his skin. And I only mentioned current players! I could go on for years of all the players Wagner would not have faced had they been in his time.

Now I would like to address some of DK’s points that he made in his first post. I will address them as questions:

Question #1

DK states that, “A-Rod has shown more power than any SS in history.” Is this really true I ask? I do not believe that it is. What does it mean to hit for power? DK seems to imply that hitting for power means only hitting HRs. Certainly, hitting HRs is part of what it means to hit for power. However, there is more to hitting for power that just hitting HRs. Hitting power means hitting HRs, AND hitting 3Bs, AND hitting 2Bs. This is why doubles and triples are also considered as “extra-base hits” The stat that best measures “power” production of a player is slugging percentage. This takes into account hitting HRs, and hitting 3Bs, and hitting 2Bs. A-Rod certainly hits many HRs but does he hit lots of 3Bs or 2Bs? He does not. Though A-Rod always has always had strong slugging percentages, 2003 was the first year he lead AL. Before 2003 the best that A-Rod did was finish 3rd twice. In contrast, Honus led the NL in slugging percentage SIX TIMES, finished 2nd three times, and finished 3rd two times. That is 11 top-3 finishes for Honus and only three top-3 finishes for A-Rod so far.


Wagner did have a high slugging percentage. But think of the equipment back then. Did it ever occur to you that it is possible many of Wagner's hits would not have gone past a Torii Hunter or anyone with a 13-inch glove? On many close plays, because of the inferior equipment.

Q1: DK, since A-Rod has only led his league in slugging once how do you reconcile this fact with your statement asserting that A-Rod has shown more power that any SS in history?


See my above statement. Also, considering that he has had 345 career home runs and he's only 28, that shows a remarkable display of power.

Q2: Since A-Rod has only played 10 seasons and Honus played 21 seasons are you asserting that A-Rod’s 10 seasons are more impressive than Honus’ 21 seasons?


I have said this many many times. Wagner, at this point in both careers, has had a better career. But with the tools Rodriguez has been given, if he plays even 8 more years, he will have surpassed Wagner as the best SS in history.

Q3: DK states the A-Rod is “easily the best fielding SS in the game today.” Can you shown any statistical evidence to support this assertion? ONE Gold Glove in his first eight full seasons is not good evidence that A-Rod is a great defensive SS of historic proportions. Is A-Rod a better fielding SS than Omar Vizquel? Edgar Rentaria? I’d say it is next to impossible to show that A-Rod has redefined the SS position defensively. He is nowhere near Ozzie Smith, Marty Marion, or Omar Vizquel as glove men. A-Rod is certainly a competent and capable defensive SS but he is NOT Ozzie Smith or Marty Marion. DK, do you agree that A-Rod as a defensive SS is not in the same league as the others I mention and thus is not and will not ever be considered one of the greatest defensive SS in baseball history? If you disagree please give evidence to the contrary.


first of all, Alex Rodriguez is being tried against Honus Wagner. He is not tried against Vizquel, Renteria, Marion, or the Wizard. I am not going to reply to that because the comparison made is irrelevant.


The floor is yours, LCBOY.
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LCBOY-Post #2

Postby LCBOY » Thu Oct 30, 2003 4:45 pm

DK,

As I stated in my first post, I wanted to share some the details of Honus's life and career. Since there is probably no one alive today that saw him play (he retired in 1917) and there is no existing film of him playing, most baseball fans today really don't have an accurate picture of how great a player he was. He was a much more dominant player in his time that A-Rod is this current baseball era. It wasn't intended to be the main part of the debate but an aside to whom ever was interested in knowing about Honus Wagner. Now, to the debate...

I will address some of DK's comments from his second post.
DK wrote:LCBOY, I am not debating you here. Alex Rodriguez is not statistically the best SS ever-yet. If Rodriguez blows out his legs tomorrow and can never play again, then this debate is over. What I am saying is that he was given the tools to succeed and so far has succeeded as being the best SS to play the game in as short a time as his.

DK,
You concede that A-Rod is NOT the greatest SS of all time just yet. So we are in agreement on this point. You place a lot of emphasis on what A-Rod MIGHT do the rest of his career. Trying to guess what he might do in the future is COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT to this debate. We have no idea what he will do in the future. We cannot assume he will continue to perform at his current pace. He may or he may not.
To prove my point how hazy and unpredictable the future can be, let's take a trip back to 1999. What if you were to ask baseball fans, managers, GMs, and sportswriters the following question:

"Do you think that Frank Thomas, Ken Griffey, Jr, and Juan Gonzales will go into the Hall of Fame?"

What do you think the responses would have been? People probably would have thought that this is a silly question. Of course all three were HoF bound. All three were racing to the HoF through 1999. All three were sure-fire first ballot HoFers. All three had been some of most dominant players on the 1990s. Through 1999 they won five MVPs, had many All-Star and postseason appearances and where amongst the most popular players in the game.

Now, in 2003, if you were to ask the same question the answers would be quite different. Because of injuries and diminished skills their careers are not as bright. Their HoF inductions are not such a sure thing.

This may or may not happen to A-Rod. My point is that we just don't know how A-Rod will age. So to argue that A-Rod is the greatest or will be the greatest SS of all-time IF he continues his torrid pace is irrelevant and meaningless. In any debate we must use facts and data, not what-if propositions to try to prove a point.
DK wrote:As for your points, I have these names to read out to you: Pedro Martinez, Frank Thomas, Alfonso Soriano, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, Barry Bonds, Vladimir Guerrero, Gary Sheffield, Esteban Loaiza, Jose Reyes.
What are these names, you ask? These are current players who would have had no effect on Honus Wagner. Rodriguez has to go up against the likes of these on a daily basis, while Wagner had to go up against only the likes of his skin. And I only mentioned current players! I could go on for years of all the players Wagner would not have faced had they been in his time.

I'm not sure what point you were trying to make here. A-Rod didn't have to face Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Three Finger Brown, Christy Mathewson, Tris Speaker, Napoleon Lajoie, etc. I can go on and on. Wagner played against many HoFers and some of the greatest players in baseball history. Again, this is irrelevant to this debate

DK wrote:Wagner did have a high slugging percentage. But think of the equipment back then. Did it ever occur to you that it is possible many of Wagner's hits would not have gone past a Torii Hunter or anyone with a 13-inch glove? On many close plays, because of the inferior equipment.

DK,
Did it occur to me? To be honest no because it is irrelevant. You make a lot of assertions but produce very little evidence. We can only go on what the stats say. Since Wagner never played against Torii Hunter what is the point of this argument? First, there are not that many close plays in baseball (i.e. Torii Hunter robbing hits away). Also, Torii Hunter is NOT the typical OF in the major leagues. He is the exception, not the norm. Even if your assertion were true and somehow better gloves would lower Wagner's slugging percentage how do you quantify this? How much would Wagner's slugging percentage be lowered? 10 points? 50 points? 100 points? And why do you assume it would be lowered? If Wagner played today, he hit agianst the lively baseball being used and his power numbers would be even higher. Remember, Honus Wagner played in the Dead Ball Era where HRs were EXTREMLY rare. The baseball used then wasn't as tightly wound and is more similar to a modern softball than the modern baseball.

DK wrote:See my above statement. Also, considering that he has had 345 career home runs and he's only 28, that shows a remarkable display of power.

If you look at the context of this baseball era, A-Rod’s display of "power" is NOT remarkable. A-Rod HR production while superficially impressive is not as great it seems. A-Rod plays in an era where many players have had 50+ HR seasons. A-Rod’s two 50 HR seasons, within the context of his era, are excellent but not historic. When players like Brady Anderson and Greg Vaughn can have 50 HR seasons what does that tell you about the ease of hitting HRs in this current era? HRs have become a dime of dozen.
DK wrote:I have said this many many times. Wagner, at this point in both careers, has had a better career. But with the tools Rodriguez has been given, if he plays even 8 more years, he will have surpassed Wagner as the best SS in history.

DK, I am confused now. You admit that A-Rod’s first eight seasons do not match Honus’ first eight seasons, yet you claim that if A-Rod has another eight seasons similar to his first eight he will “surpass” Honus? How is this possible? Since many of Honus’ greatest seasons where after his eighth season, this means that A-Rod must have future seasons that are vastly superior to what he has already accomplished. I want to show a comparison of Wagner’s offensive production vs A-Rod’s.

Below are Honus Wagner’s league leading offensive stats (and top-5 finishes) in his first eight seasons along with A-Rod’s:

Honus:
Avg.- 3 times (3 top-5 finishes)
OPS- 3 times (3)
XBH- 4 times (3)
2B- 3 times (4)
SLG- 3 times (3)
TB- 2 times (5)
RBI- 2 times (5)
SB- 3 times (3)
OBP- 1 times (4)
3B- 2 times (2)
HR- 2 top-5 finishes
Runs- 1 times (2)

Now A-Rod:
Avg.- 1 time (0 top-5 finishes)
OPS- 0 times (4)
XBH- 1 time (3)
2B- 1 times (0)
SLG- 1 times (4)
TB- 3 times (5)
RBI- 1 time (3)
SB- 0 times (1)
OBP- 0 times (0)
3B- 0 times (0)
HR- 3 (2)
Runs- 3 times (3)
Hits-1 times (2)

So let’s do the math. Honus led his league in 27 offensive categories and finished in the top-5 another 39 times. A-Rod has led his league in 15 offensive categories and had another 27 top-5 finishes.

Honus: 27-39
A-Rod: 15-27

That difference is startling.

So, I’ve now shown conclusively that Honus was the much more dominant offensive force that A-Rod. Honus hit for a higher BA, hit for more power, and stole more bases than A-Rod. And here’s the kicker! Honus got better. He played another 12 seasons and led his league in 36 offensive categories and had another 33 top-5 finishes after his eighth season.

DK wrote:first of all, Alex Rodriguez is being tried against Honus Wagner. He is not tried against Vizquel, Renteria, Marion, or the Wizard. I am not going to reply to that because the comparison made is irrelevant.


DK,

You opened up this “can of worms”, so to speak. You stated that A-Rod is easily the best fielding SS in the game today. I asked you to provide evidence for this and you refused to do so. As I said in my first post, while A-Rod is competent and solid defensive SS he is not a dominant defensive SS. He is not at he same level as Omar Vizquel, or Rentaria, or even Barry Larkin in his prime.

In my next post I will provide ample evidence to show that Honus Wagner was a better defesive player SS than A-Rod.

DK,

Based on your first post, you main argument seems to be that A-Rod is the greatest SS in history becasue he hits lots of HRs. However there is a lot more to baseball than just hitting HRs...

I have some questions for you that I hope you will address in your next post.

Q1. Please show evidence to suport your assertion that A-Rod is "easily the best fielding SS in the game today".

Q2. If A-Rod is already "behind" Wagner after eight seasons what kinds of seasons would he have to have to surpass Wagner?

Q3. If A-Rod is the greatest SS ever why is he yet to win an MVP award?

I know give the floor to DK...
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Re: LCBOY-Post #2

Postby DK » Wed Nov 05, 2003 11:05 am

I will now address some of LCBOY's points.


LCBOY wrote:DK,
You concede that A-Rod is NOT the greatest SS of all time just yet. So we are in agreement on this point. You place a lot of emphasis on what A-Rod MIGHT do the rest of his career. Trying to guess what he might do in the future is COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT to this debate. We have no idea what he will do in the future. We cannot assume he will continue to perform at his current pace. He may or he may not.

Why is it irrelevant? It is true we do not know what he will do in the future due to injury. If Rodriguez blows out his legs tomorrow, then it is no doubt that Wagner was the best STATISTICALLY. Rodriguez has the body to do much more than Wagner ever did. So far, in peak value of Rodriguez's 8 seasons and the peak in Wagner's 21 seasons, Rodriguez's has been better "statistically" Then Wagner's.


What I was trying to make out of the point is that Rodriguez has to go up against blacks and hispanics, who have been scientifically proven to be more athletic than whites. He goes up against great players day after day after day, while Wagner went up against only those of his skin color. Sure he went up against all the HoFers you mentioned. But again, how would they have performed against a 95mph heater from a Satchel Paige or a Pedro Martinez? We will never know, which is the unfortunate part.

LCBOY wrote:DK,
Did it occur to me? To be honest no because it is irrelevant. You make a lot of assertions but produce very little evidence. We can only go on what the stats say. Since Wagner never played against Torii Hunter what is the point of this argument? First, there are not that many close plays in baseball (i.e. Torii Hunter robbing hits away). Also, Torii Hunter is NOT the typical OF in the major leagues. He is the exception, not the norm. Even if your assertion were true and somehow better gloves would lower Wagner's slugging percentage how do you quantify this? How much would Wagner's slugging percentage be lowered? 10 points? 50 points? 100 points? And why do you assume it would be lowered? If Wagner played today, he hit agianst the lively baseball being used and his power numbers would be even higher. Remember, Honus Wagner played in the Dead Ball Era where HRs were EXTREMLY rare. The baseball used then wasn't as tightly wound and is more similar to a modern softball than the modern baseball.


I understand he was in the dead ball era, and if he had played now he would hit home runs. But who is to say that he would hit so many as a Rodriguez or a Bonds? Again, you are going on the idea that "Wagner would have been better had he played in this time" when so many variables (the ball, the bats, the equipment, the players, the managing, the pitches thrown) has been so vastly changed since the time Wagner played. Who knows what he would have done?

LCBOY wrote:If you look at the context of this baseball era, A-Rod’s display of "power" is NOT remarkable. A-Rod HR production while superficially impressive is not as great it seems. A-Rod plays in an era where many players have had 50+ HR seasons. A-Rod’s two 50 HR seasons, within the context of his era, are excellent but not historic. When players like Brady Anderson and Greg Vaughn can have 50 HR seasons what does that tell you about the ease of hitting HRs in this current era? HRs have become a dime of dozen.

Brady Anderson was a one-hit wonder. Rodriguez has proven that he can do it day in and day out. You say Rodriguez's HR production is not as great as it seems. In EIGHT SEASONS he has hit 345 HOME RUNS which translates to OVER 700 IN SEVENTEEN SEASONS. Only two men in the history of baseball have ever hit 700 Home Runs. Rodriguez can easily do it, barring injury.
LCBOY wrote:DK, I am confused now. You admit that A-Rod’s first eight seasons do not match Honus’ first eight seasons, yet you claim that if A-Rod has another eight seasons similar to his first eight he will “surpass” Honus? How is this possible? Since many of Honus’ greatest seasons where after his eighth season, this means that A-Rod must have future seasons that are vastly superior to what he has already accomplished.

You are twisting my words! I said that Rodriguez's performance in his EIGHT seasons is inferior to Wagner's in TWENTY-ONE seasons! There is no doubt there! However, because of Rodriguez's body and his low chance of injury, at his current pace, in ten years we will be laughing about ever having this debate.

LCBOY wrote: I want to show a comparison of Wagner’s offensive production vs A-Rod’s.

Below are Honus Wagner’s league leading offensive stats (and top-5 finishes) in his first eight seasons along with A-Rod’s:

Honus:
Avg.- 3 times (3 top-5 finishes)
OPS- 3 times (3)
XBH- 4 times (3)
2B- 3 times (4)
SLG- 3 times (3)
TB- 2 times (5)
RBI- 2 times (5)
SB- 3 times (3)
OBP- 1 times (4)
3B- 2 times (2)
HR- 2 top-5 finishes
Runs- 1 times (2)

Now A-Rod:
Avg.- 1 time (0 top-5 finishes)
OPS- 0 times (4)
XBH- 1 time (3)
2B- 1 times (0)
SLG- 1 times (4)
TB- 3 times (5)
RBI- 1 time (3)
SB- 0 times (1)
OBP- 0 times (0)
3B- 0 times (0)
HR- 3 (2)
Runs- 3 times (3)
Hits-1 times (2)

So let’s do the math. Honus led his league in 27 offensive categories and finished in the top-5 another 39 times. A-Rod has led his league in 15 offensive categories and had another 27 top-5 finishes.

Honus: 27-39
A-Rod: 15-27

What are you doing here? First you say that Rodriguez's performance isn't astounding because SO MANY OTHER players hit 50 Home Runs, 100 RBI, and a .300 average. Now you are belittling him because those players hit? Why is it Rodriguez's fault for a hitting surge in the MLB?

LCBOY wrote:So, I’ve now shown conclusively that Honus was the much more dominant offensive force that A-Rod. Honus hit for a higher BA, hit for more power, and stole more bases than A-Rod. And here’s the kicker! Honus got better. He played another 12 seasons and led his league in 36 offensive categories and had another 33 top-5 finishes after his eighth season.


What makes you think that? You say that slugging is not all about HR's, and I agree. But here is a comparison you forgot:

Wagner's SLG career: .466
League during Wagner's Career: .351

Rodriguez: .581
League: .437

Is that hitting for more power? Rodriguez's SLG+ is .144 during his eight years. Wagner's is .115. How is that "A better power force"?

Sure Wagner stole more bases. Why is that Rodriguez's fault? Look at the Toronto Blue Jays. Vernon Wells could easily steal 40 bases anywhere else, but he doesn't because they don't steal in Toronto. The fact is, Rodriguez doesn't steal as many bases because he doesn't get as many chances as Wagner did.

There was only ONE season in Wagner's entire career where caught stealing was measured. How are we to know how good a stealer he was? If a man attempts to steal 8000 times, and steals 700 bases, is he a good base-stealer? No! But did he get 700 stolen bases? Yes! You cannot use the fact that Wagner steals bases because Rodriguez DOES NOT steal, AND we do not know Wagner's SB%.



LCBOY wrote:Q1. Please show evidence to suport your assertion that A-Rod is "easily the best fielding SS in the game today".

Q2. If A-Rod is already "behind" Wagner after eight seasons what kinds of seasons would he have to have to surpass Wagner?

Q3. If A-Rod is the greatest SS ever why is he yet to win an MVP award?


Q1:First of all, I'd just like to congratulate Rodriguez on his Second Gold Glove Award, which he won yesterday.

Second of all, does Gold Gloves make a fielder? You stated earlier that he has only one (Two) Gold Gloves in his career. But think of it this way. Imagine the Gold Glove winner at 3B had a .991 fielding percentage. Imagine the one at SS had a .996 fielding percentage. the second place Gold Glove at SS had a .994 fielding percentage. The SS is still better than the 3B, but doesn't get the Gold Glove. because it is done by position, not by overall skill.

Q2: Again, you twist my words! Rodriguez's EIGHT seasons are better than Wagner's EIGHT seasons. Rodriguez's EIGHT seasons are inferior to Wagner's TWENTY-ONE seasons.


Q3: Now you've got me started. Is it Rodriguez's fault that he hasn't won an MVP? He has been the best player year in and year out, but he does not win it because the voters more likely than not pick the winner from a WINNING team. Rodriguez plays with heart and grace every day, trying to make his team better. The MVP is just an award given out, most of the time it's not given to the man with the best statistics, it's given to the man who had the best statistics of players on playoff teams. Did Mark McGwire ever win an MVP award? No. According to your logic, that means McGwire is worse than Boog Powell, a 1B who won the MVP in 1970. He's also worse than Mo Vaughn, Dolph Camilli, and Dick Allen-and those are just first basemen who won it.

I now give the floor to LCBOY...
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Postby LCBOY » Fri Nov 14, 2003 4:48 pm

In this post I will address an important idea to this debate. I call it the Context Issue.

The Context Issue

DK keeps harping on the fact that A-Rod has already hit 345 in his career and that he’s on pace for over 700 HRs. While this is true, what does his 345 HRs really mean? What “value” has his 345 HRs given to his teams? In the context of its time how good has A-Rod’s performance been? These questions try to answer what I call the Context Issue.

When we look at a player’s performance we must determine the context in which he played. The standards of excellence throughout baseball history have not been static but are ever changing. Throughout baseball history the balance between hitting and pitching has swung like a pendulum. In some years hitting dominated (1920s, 30s, 90s) while in others pitching dominated (pre-1920, 1960s). When comparing players from different eras it is important to deal with the Context Issue, especially if one played in a pitching dominated era and the other in an offensive era. If player A has a .330 career batting average and player B has a .295 career batting average, does that necessarily prove that player A was a better hitter than player B? The short answer is “It depends.” If both players played in the same era then the answer is probably “yes” assuming their power stats are similar. If the two players played in different eras the answer can get quite complicated.

To illustrate this point, I will use Carl Yastrzemski. Now Yaz was a great player:

Hall of Fame (1989)
18-time All-Star
MVP winner (1967)
Triple Crown (1967)
3419 career hits
3-time batting champion

Yaz is one of the greatest left fielders in baseball history. In 1968 Yaz won the AL batting crown with a .301 BA. This is the lowest BA for a batting champion ever. The year 1968 was a pitching dominated season. The 1968 American League as a whole hit .230/.294/.339. These numbers were straight out of the dead ball era.

Now, let’s take a look at 1930. This was the greatest offensive season of the 20th century. The 1930 National League hit .303/.358/.448. The entire league hit .303!!! Here are some of the awesome individual performances of that season:

Hack Wilson: .356 BA, 56 HRs, 191 RBIs, 146 runs
Chuck Klein: .386 BA, 40 HRs, 170 RBIs, 158 runs, 59 doubles
Bill Terry: .401 BA, 254 hits

These are some incredible offensive stats. But we must look at the context of the time. In 1930 National League teams averaged 5.68 runs per game. In 1968, American league teams averaged 3.41:

5.68-3.41=2.27

The difference between the two leagues is over two and a quarter runs per game!! If we just look at stats in a vacuum some people might think that Yaz was a worse hitter than that the average 1930 hitter. But this is a false logic. Does anyone really believe that Yaz, a HoFer is worse than the average 1930 hitter? Would Yaz hit only .301 in the 1930 National League? Of course not! If we just look at how much beyond Yaz was above the league average it is obvious that Yaz would probably hit somewhere in .370-.390 range in 1930.

1930 NL batting champion: .401
1930 National League Avg: .303
difference: .098

1968 Yaz BA: .301
1960 American League Avg: .230
difference: .071

If we take the average of the differences we get a .386 BA for Yaz. If we dropped Yaz into the 1930 National League he would be right there with Wilson, Terry, Klien posting huge numbers.

So we must look at the context of the time that a player was active. Luckily, we now have methods to compare players from different eras. Over the past 25 years sabermetrics has come into it’s own. What is sabermetrics? It is a branch of statistics that studies baseball statistics. Its purpose is to answer questions about baseball and to gain new understanding of the game. There have been many new baseball statistics created through sabermetrics that give a better understanding of what traditional baseball stats really mean. I’m sure most of you have heard of the following:

OPS
Runs Created
Offensive Winning Percentage
Linear Weights
Range Factor
Zone Rating
Win Shares

These are just a few of the new baseball statistics that have come into existence over the past 25 years. Win Shares is a great tool to compare players from different eras. Win Shares is a statistic invented by Bill James, the “Father of Sabermetrics”. What are Win Shares? I will let Mr. James explain it himself. This is from his book Win Shares:

What is a Win Share? Well, are you familiar with the concept of Runs Created? Runs Created is any formula by which we take singles, doubles, triples, walks, etc., for each player, and estimate from that how many runs the player has created. Win Shares are in essence, Wins Created…or actually, thirds of Wins Created. Win Shares takes the concept of Runs Created and moves it one step further, from runs to wins. This makes it different in essentially two ways. First, it removes the illusions of context, putting a hitter in Yankee Stadium on equal footing with a hitter from Colorado, and putting a hitter from 1968 on equal footing with a hitter from 2000 (or 1930). Second, the Win Shares system attempts to state the contributions of pitchers and fielders in t he same form as those as hitters.


Win Shares has the stated advantage of removing the “illusions of context”. It basically assigns parts (or shares) of a team win total to the individual players. The best players on every team will have more shares assigned to them since the created more runs for the team then say the backup outfielder. The best part is that it doesn’t matter if a player plays on a good team or a bad team.

Here is more from Bill James’ book:
…I want to stress that the Win Shares system DOES NOT discriminate against players on weak teams. No player is or should be marked down because his teammates can’t play. A player who hits .300 with 30 home runs on a bad team should rate exactly the same as the player who hits .300 with 30 home runs on a good team, other things being equal.

So lets take a look at Honus and A-Rod. Here are their Win Shares from their first eight full seasons:

A-Rod (1996-2003): 34, 22, 30, 23, 37, 37, 35, 32 = 250
Honus (1898-1905): 22, 26, 34, 37, 35, 35, 43, 46 = 278

It is obvious that A-Rod and Honus had several comparable seasons but overall Honus was better.

50+ Win Shares: Historic season, very rare
40-50 Win Shares: Monster MVP-type season
30-40 Win Shares: MVP-type season
20-30 Win Shares: All-Star season
10-20 Win Shares: Solid Regulars
0-10 Win Shares: Bench Players

In his career Honus Wagner had five seasons of 40+ Win Shares and one season of 50+ Win Shares. His 50+ Win Shares season came in 1908 when he recorded 59 Win Shares, the highest single season total recorded in the 20th century. Here is Bill James again from his book, The New Historical Baseball Abstract

Wagner’s 1908 season ranks, by the Win Shares system, as the greatest season of the 20th century; even Babe Ruth never matched it. Why? Well, Wagner hit .354 and drove in 109 runs. This is no big deal; Wagner hit .354 and drove in 109 runs pretty much every year. In baseball history there are lots of guys who hit .350 and drove in 150 runs. What makes Wagner different is (a) defense and (b) a quite exceptional ratio of wins to runs scored.

The National League ERA in 1908 was 2.35-the lowest of the dead ball era, the lowest ERA for a league in the 20th century.

In modern baseball, the league ERAs are just about twice that, about 4.70. So double those numbers: if you had a shortstop, like Wagner, who drove in 218 runs, what would that be worth?

In additon to that, the Pirates were playing in the poorest hitter’s park, which reduced scoring by 16%…In the context, where runs were extremely scarce, Wagner led the National League in hits (201), doubles (by 30%), in triples, in total bases (by 40), in stolen bases (53), in runs created (by 28%), in batting average (by 20 points), in RBIs, in on base percentage (.415), and in slugging percentage (by almost 100 points). He was second in home runs and runs scored. At shortstop, he led the league in putouts, by 40. Even Babe Ruth never had as much impact on the game he was playing as Honus Wagner did in that one season. (page 548-549)


So there you go, Wagner in his best seasons was comparable to Babe Ruth. Has A-Rod, in his best seasons, been comparable to Babe Ruth? No, he has not. In both of Bill James Historical Baseball Abstracts he ranked Honus Wagner as the 2nd greatest player of all time, behind only Babe Ruth.

I’ve shown that as good as A-Rod has been he has NOT performed at the level that Honus Wagner did. And many others agree. In an April 4, 2003 article, ESPN’s Rob Neyer wrote this:
Unless you've spent the last few days under a rock, you've heard that Alex Rodriguez just became the youngest player in major-league history to hit 300 home runs. The facts that 1) he's a shortstop, and 2) he got there 79 days faster than the next guy on the list make his feat look all the more impressive.

Rodriguez still hasn't won an MVP award, of course, but there's little doubt that he's been the best player in the American League since 1996 (his first full season).

That's impressive, too. So impressive that I off-handedly suggest, in my new book, that Rodriguez is already the greatest shortstop that anybody's ever seen.

Well, let me take a page out of David Well’s book -- whether figuratively or literally, I'm not exactly sure -- and disassociate myself from something that will, I'm embarrassed to admit, actually appear in print. Because it's simply too early to place Rodriguez on the same level with the great Honus Wagner.… So as impressive as Rodriguez has been, he's still years short of even being comparable to Wagner.

And there's still another problem with suggesting that Rodriguez is the greatest shortstop ever. Wagner, you see, is arguably the second-greatest player ever, behind only Babe Ruth. So if you're going to argue that Rodriguez is the greatest shortstop, then you have to also argue that he's the second-greatest player.
Which is, I realize now, impossible to argue.


Here is more from Bill James in the New Historical Baseball Abstract, page 604:
It is too early to rate Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter, the same is true of Alex Rodriguez. I have nothing to add to the constant hype that accompanies all three men, except to observe that it seems likely that all three men will rate among the top 20 at the position, and that I would regard any stronger statement as speculation. We do not know whether any of these men will eventually have better seasons that they have already had.

Now I will address some of DK’s comments.
DK wrote:I understand he was in the dead ball era, and if he played now he would hit home runs. But who is to say that he would hit so many as Rodriguez or Bonds?

This is easy to answer. If Wagner were born 20 years later he absolutely would have been a 500-700 home run man. Let’s move Wagner’s birth 20 years forward, to 1894 (for reference Babe Ruth was born in 1895). Wagner’s career would have been from 1916-1937. Wagner’s peak seasons would have at the height of the live ball era where all those .400 batting averages, 50-60 HR, 170-191 RBI, and 150-170 run seasons were recorded. Is it a great leap of faith to believe that Wagner would have had huge numbers similar to Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, Lou Gerhig, Hack Wilson, etc? Not at all. Physically, Wagner resembles Lou Gerhig almost to a tee. Wagner was 5’11”, 200 pounds, Gerhig was 6'0" 200 pounds, and both were well known for their great physical strength. Wagner's numbers would have mirrored Gerhig's. Gerhig ended up with 493 home runs and would have had 600-700 home runs if he hadn't contracted ALS.

Wagner was a man of tremendous physical strength and hit for tremendous power. Here is an example of is hitting prowess from the biography, Honus Wagner:a Biography. This is from a game in 1903:
At Brooklyn on June 30th, Wagner had a second consecutive four hit game. He tripled, drove in four runs, scored three times, and his 450-foot home run over the centerfield fence was heralded as one of the longest ever hit at Washington Park.


If Wagner can hit a "dead" ball 450 feet he can hit a "live" post 1920 ball much further than 450 feet.

Here is another quote from the same book about hitting the "dead" ball, page 244.
Late in the 1910 season, the cork-center baseball was introduced to the big leagues. Although a far cry from the lively ball used today, the new ball was a bit more springy than the rubber-center one. For the first time, fans were treated to the crack of the bat, rather than the thud that resulted from what Wagner described as hitting “a chunk of mud.” If there was any doubt that the cork-center ball would have an effect on the game, it was dispelled during an August homestand, as six homers were blasted over the Forbes Field wall in nine games-a feat accomplished just eight times in the previous year.


Also, another way to look at Wagner’s potential in the 1920 is to look at players who started their careers in the dead ball era and crossed over into the 1920s. Tris Speaker, a Hall of Famer, began his career in 1907 and retired in 1928. Through 1919 his career high in home runs was only nine, 90 in RBIs, and his career high in slugging percentage was .566. In 1923 at age 35 he set new career highs with 17 HRs, 130 RBIs, and a .610 slugging percentage. In 1925, at age 37, he still hit .389/.479/.578 as a part time player. Wagner and Speaker were contemporaries for many years. Wagner was always considered the better player. It is obvious that had Wagner played his prime years in the 1920s he absolutely would have hit a tremendous number of home runs.
DK wrote:In EIGHT SEASONS he has hit 345 HOME RUNS which translates to over 700 in SEVENTEEN SEASONS. Only two men in history of baseball have ever hit 700 home runs.

I am NOT impressed. Even if A-Rod reaches 700 home runs he most certainly will NOT be the 3rd player. He may only be the 4-5th player to reach the 600-700 home run range. Bonds and Sosa will both most certainly reach 700 home runs plus you have Palmeiro, Girffey, Bagwell, Gonzales, and Thomas all within reach of 600.
A-Rod is not even halfway to 700 yet so he has a lot of work to do. What would it mean to have 6-7 players in the 600-700 home run range? From 1876-2002, 126 seasons worth of baseball, there were only three men with over 600 home runs. In the next 10-15 year we may have 5-6 players reach that milestone. Clearly, this shows that hitting home runs has become much easier than in the past.

A-Rod's 345 home runs are a bit of an illusion. It is a product of his talent, yes, but also a product of his era. A-Rod is a great player with Hall of Fame talent. He would dominate in any era because he has great baseball skills, not because he hits home runs. However, if A-Rod had played in 1968 or 1910, his statistics would be very different. However, he plays in this era. His statistics are what they are. He has tremendous power. He has been the best player in the American League since 1996, year in and year out. He is having a Hall of Fame career. But as I have shown he is NOT the equal of Honus Wagner.
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Postby DK » Sun Nov 30, 2003 6:02 pm

And now, my rebuttal:

You make some fine statements, LCBOY. But when you present an issue that is proven wrong, you back off. My two main arguments from my most recent posts, the SLG. percentage and the SB totals, were completely disregarded in that last post of yours.

As for your arguments:

LCBOY wrote:1930 NL batting champion: .401
1930 National League Avg: .303
difference: .098

1968 Yaz BA: .301
1960 American League Avg: .230
difference: .071

If we take the average of the differences we get a .386 BA for Yaz. If we dropped Yaz into the 1930 National League he would be right there with Wilson, Terry, Klien posting huge numbers.


Is that to say for sure? Is it 100% that Yaztremski would make a .386 average? You base almost all of your arguments on these outside statistics. Could Yaztremski have that .386 average? It is entirely possible. But that does not mean he would even hit .300. You CANNOT say that if he was dropped, it is 100% sure he would produce because it never happened. Yaztremski was a fantastic ballplayer. But it is ultimately impossible to say he would have done this, he would have done that, because he never played in the era.

LCBOY wrote:What is sabermetrics? It is a branch of statistics that studies baseball statistics. Its purpose is to answer questions about baseball and to gain new understanding of the game. There have been many new baseball statistics created through sabermetrics that give a better understanding of what traditional baseball stats really mean. I’m sure most of you have heard of the following:

OPS
Runs Created
Offensive Winning Percentage
Linear Weights
Range Factor
Zone Rating
Win Shares

These are just a few of the new baseball statistics that have come into existence over the past 25 years. Win Shares is a great tool to compare players from different eras. Win Shares is a statistic invented by Bill James, the “Father of Sabermetrics”. What are Win Shares? I will let Mr. James explain it himself. This is from his book Win Shares:


What is a Win Share? Well, are you familiar with the concept of Runs Created? Runs Created is any formula by which we take singles, doubles, triples, walks, etc., for each player, and estimate from that how many runs the player has created. Win Shares are in essence, Wins Created…or actually, thirds of Wins Created. Win Shares takes the concept of Runs Created and moves it one step further, from runs to wins. This makes it different in essentially two ways. First, it removes the illusions of context, putting a hitter in Yankee Stadium on equal footing with a hitter from Colorado, and putting a hitter from 1968 on equal footing with a hitter from 2000 (or 1930). Second, the Win Shares system attempts to state the contributions of pitchers and fielders in t he same form as those as hitters.


Win Shares has the stated advantage of removing the “illusions of context”. It basically assigns parts (or shares) of a team win total to the individual players. The best players on every team will have more shares assigned to them since the created more runs for the team then say the backup outfielder. The best part is that it doesn’t matter if a player plays on a good team or a bad team.

Here is more from Bill James’ book:
…I want to stress that the Win Shares system DOES NOT discriminate against players on weak teams. No player is or should be marked down because his teammates can’t play. A player who hits .300 with 30 home runs on a bad team should rate exactly the same as the player who hits .300 with 30 home runs on a good team, other things being equal.



Bill James is an intelligent person. But can we say that everything that he writes is correct? Win shares and such statistics are not baseball. They are statistics pulled out of the air, created by this man to make an illusion of sorts; that his way is the best way. Bill James is not a scientist. He is a baseball man. That does not mean that he is the all-powerful, all-knowing.

If Bill James is the authority on baseball, why is he not a manager? Why is he not at an all-powerful position? LCBOY, sometimes you let the stats blind you. For instance, we all know that Mickey Mantle could have been one of the top three players of all time. Was he? No. Was he a great player? Yes.

Now, according to your idea, and sticking strictly with statistics, Mantle had less power than Jose Canseco, Dave Winfield, and Sammy Sosa, for example. Now, was Canseco a better power hitter than Mantle? No. Not even close.

You seem to forget, LCBOY, that baseball is not all about statistics. Baseball is about playing, and doing, and producing. It is true, statistics do reflect baseball-to a point. But the best way to find out if a player is the real deal is to watch him play.

It is impossible, however, to watch Honus Wagner play, because there are no tapes or records of him. How can you argue the side for Wagner strictly on "what some stats say"? To truly understand how great any player is at any sport, you must watch him play. An all-star running back is only as good as his offensive line. Manny Ramirez's RBI are only as good as the people put on base before him.

It is said in one of the articles that Wagner, because of the ERA differential, would have had 218 RBI. Is that true? No. For that to be true, the runners on base ahead of him would have to get on base nearly every trip to the plate, and he would have to get them home. Wagner's RBI, much like any player, are reliant on the players hitting before him. You cannot rely on RBI to correctly define a player.

LCBOY wrote:It is obvious that A-Rod and Honus had several comparable seasons but overall Honus was better.


This is true...for Win Shares. Again, review my post.


LCBOY wrote:In an April 4, 2003 article, ESPN’s Rob Neyer wrote this:


Unless you've spent the last few days under a rock, you've heard that Alex Rodriguez just became the youngest player in major-league history to hit 300 home runs. The facts that 1) he's a shortstop, and 2) he got there 79 days faster than the next guy on the list make his feat look all the more impressive.

Rodriguez still hasn't won an MVP award, of course, but there's little doubt that he's been the best player in the American League since 1996 (his first full season).

That's impressive, too. So impressive that I off-handedly suggest, in my new book, that Rodriguez is already the greatest shortstop that anybody's ever seen.

Well, let me take a page out of David Well’s book -- whether figuratively or literally, I'm not exactly sure -- and disassociate myself from something that will, I'm embarrassed to admit, actually appear in print. Because it's simply too early to place Rodriguez on the same level with the great Honus Wagner.… So as impressive as Rodriguez has been, he's still years short of even being comparable to Wagner.

And there's still another problem with suggesting that Rodriguez is the greatest shortstop ever. Wagner, you see, is arguably the second-greatest player ever, behind only Babe Ruth. So if you're going to argue that Rodriguez is the greatest shortstop, then you have to also argue that he's the second-greatest player.
Which is, I realize now, impossible to argue.



This argument is all hingent on the same idea: That Neyer is correct. Do you realize that there are hundreds of thousands of people, some right here in this very cafe, who think Neyer is off his rocker? It is impossible to rely on one person's beliefs, if that happens any debate will turn into a "he-said-she-said". I can give you many people who believe the exact opposite of Neyer. Just because a man is a sports columnist does not mean he is always right. Peter Gammons and Rush Limbaugh are two easy choices for this category.

LCBOY wrote:Now I will address some of DK’s comments.
DK wrote:I understand he was in the dead ball era, and if he played now he would hit home runs. But who is to say that he would hit so many as Rodriguez or Bonds?


This is easy to answer. If Wagner were born 20 years later he absolutely would have been a 500-700 home run man.


Again, this idea has become apparent: That you are taking things for granted. Wagner might have hit five hundred home runs, he might have hit zero. Whom is to know? Sabermetrics and statistics cannot win you every argument (See Mickey Mantle).

LCBOY wrote: Wagner was 5’11”, 200 pounds, Gerhig was 6'0" 200 pounds, and both were well known for their great physical strength. Wagner's numbers would have mirrored Gerhig's.


It is nearly impossible not to sound like a broken record, LCBOY. How can you be sure? Let me give you a list of baseball players' names, including height and weight:

Chris Magruder:5'11", 200 Lbs.
Reggie Smith:6'0", 195
Al Smith: 6'0", 191
Mark Grace: 6'2", 200
Richard Zary: 6'3", 200
Matt Cooper: 6'3", 200
Jared Camp:6'2", 195

And, My personal height and weight:

6'4", 225

Now, some of those players named are very respectable players. But, simply because they have a body similar to that of Lou Gehrig, does it make them a player like him? No! A person's body type does not have an extraordinary amount of say as to what a player will do. Look at me, I both weigh more and am taller, but does that make me better than Lou Gehrig? No! Height and weight are not the only telling factors as to what a player can do.



And now, two questions:

Q1:If CS was never measured, and there are no tapes that can signify his speed, can you show significant evidence that Wagner had more baserunning ability?

Q2:After showing the SLG+ percentages, can you still show that Wagner was a better offensive force?

You said earlier that slugging is not just hitting HR's...


When you look out on a ballfield, and watch the shortstop, do you see Bill James typing away? Do you see a scouting report? A stat sheet? A sabermetric report? No. You see a man. You see a man living his life to the fullest, playing the game he loves day after day for 162 games a year. Your idea that stats, sabermetrics, and writers are the all-powerful idea makers is blinding you from seeing what is truly there. Career-wise, I have made this statement, between eight years of greatness and twenty-one, I will choose the twenty-one. But according to peak value, projection, work ethic, love for the game, and youth, Rodriguez is still the better shortstop.
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Postby LCBOY » Mon Dec 08, 2003 4:32 pm

Post #4:

DK wrote: You make some fine statements, LCBOY. But when you present an issue that is proven wrong, you back off. My two main arguments from my most recent posts, the SLG. percentage and the SB totals, were completely disregarded in that last post of yours.


Yes, DK, your argument was so devastating that I just could not respond. Yeah right! I didn’t address it in my lost post because I didn’t have time. But now I will address the

1) Slugging issue

2) Stolen base issue

The Slugging percentage Issue

As usual DK does a lot of hand waving but doesn’t actually make any point. DK’s diatribe about A-Rod’s supposed superiority in slugging percentage is misleading. Honus Wagner’s career slugging percentage is .466. However, this career mark includes Wagner’s decline phase of his career. Every baseball player that has a long career has a decline phase. At the end of a player’s career, usually from age 38 on, they play at a much lower level of production. This even happens to Hall of Fame players like Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, etc. All these players had extremely poor seasons in comparison to their best seasons. Since A-Rod is only 28 years old he obviously has not had his decline phase, but he eventually will. At the end of A-Rod’s career, he will have a couple of seasons where he hits .265, 18 HRs, and slugs well under .500. This will have the effect of lowering his career numbers such as batting, average, OBP, and slugging percentage. In Wagner’s first eight seasons his slugging percentage was .473 not .466. Again, DK’s argument shows a superficial understanding of baseball statistics and what they mean. As I stated before, Honus Wagner, in the context of his time, was by far the more dominant hitter than A-Rod. Here are the league leading performances of both player THORUGH THEIR FIRST EIGHT SEASONS:

Honus Wagner:
Avg.- 3 times (3 top-5 finishes)
OPS- 3 times (3)
XBH- 4 times (3)
2B- 3 times (4)
SLG- 3 times (3)
TB- 2 times (5)
RBI- 2 times (5)
SB- 3 times (3)
OBP- 1 time (4)
3B- 2 times (2)
HR- 2 top-5 finishes
Runs- 1 time (2)

A-Rod:
Avg.- 1 time (0 top-5 finishes)
OPS- 0 times (4)
XBH- 1 time (3)
2B- 1 time (0)
SLG- 1 times (4)
TB- 3 times (5)
RBI- 1 time (3)
SB- 0 times (1)
OBP- 0 times (0)
3B- 0 times (0)
HR- 3 (2)
Runs- 3 times (3)
Hits-1 time (2)

So let’s do the math. Honus Wagner led his league in 27 offensive categories and finished in the top-5 another 39 times. A-Rod has led his league in 15 offensive categories and had another 27 top-5 finishes.

Honus: 27-39
A-Rod: 15-27

League leading performances are a key way to look at how dominant a player is. What is more impressive, a player hitting 30 home runs and leads the league or a player hitting 50 home runs and NOT lead the league? The 30 home run hitter is more impressive because he is the best home run hitter there in that league for that season. The 50 home run hitter may had done so in a season in which the league leader hit 70 or 73 home runs, so he is nowhere near being the best home run hitter that year.

So the conclusion is obvious, Honus Wagner was a more dominant hitter than A-Rod.

The Stolen Base Issue
DK wrote:Q1:If CS was never measured, and there are no tapes that can signify his speed, can you show significant evidence that Wagner had more baserunning ability?

DK, do you want significant evidence for Wagner’s speed? You conveniently “forgot” the most significant evidence we have, Honus Wagner stole 722 bases! True, we do not have CS data. We probably will never know. But one can’t use an argument from silence to argue that Wagner was not a great base runner and base stealer. We can get a good estimate about Honus’ CS by looking at other great base stealers and see what kind of percentages they had. Great base stealers have strong similarities. They usually have good to great speed, can read the pitcher’s motions, and have great running instincts. So I checked all the players that stole at least 500 bases. There are 36 such players. However, for 13 of them there is no CS data available. For another three (Cobb, Carey, and Collins) there was only partial CS data available. So I disregarded the 13 players and for the other players I only counted the stolen bases for the years there had CS data available. So that leaves us with 20 players. I ran the stole base percentages through an Excel spreadsheet. As a group the 20 players stole 12454 bases and were caught stealing 3554 time. This is a 77.8 % success rate. The lowest success rate was Ty Cobb’s at 63.4 % and the highest was Tim Raines’ at 84.7%. However, we only have partial CS numbers for Cobb and most of them are the end of his career. This gives us a good idea about where Wagner’s stole base numbers.

Also, there is tremendous subjective evidence from contemporary eyewitness accounts that Honus Wagner was one of the fastest players of his generation and was a brilliant base runner.

Let’s start with Honus Wagner’s nickname, “The Flying Dutchman”. Why do you think he was called this? Because he was slow? Here is an excerpt from the book Honus Wagner: A Biography, pg 142-143:
Wagner was a daring, sometimes reckless, baserunner who liked to take the offensive. The Pirates were frequent practitioners of the hit-and-run play. Taking his lead at first, Wagner would often signal to the batter that he should swing away at the next pitch because Wagner was heading to second. In stealing, he prided himself on getting a long lead, and he would slide either head or feet first to avoid the tag. He boasted that he could detect the slightest flaw in a pitcher’s motion that would indicate if he was going to the plate or to the base with a pickoff, and he would exploit it until the pitcher corrected the weakness.
In addition, to using his head, Wagner was a very fast man-a speed that defied his size and shape. It was his baserunning prowess during this decade that induced a sportswriter to begin calling him the Flying Dutchman…


Here more from The Glory of Their Times, The Story of the Early Day of Baseball, page 59. The quote is from Sam Crawford a contemporary of Wagner, a teammate of Ty Cobb, and a Hall of Fame outfielder himself:
You’d never think it to look at him, of course. He looked so awkward, bowlegged, barrel-chested, about 200 pounds, a big man. And yet he could run like a scared rabbit…Talk about speed. The bowlegged guy stole over 700 bases in the 21 years he played in the Big Leagues.


Here is more from Fred Lieb who in his long career was:
1) A sportswriter that covered baseball from 1911 through the late 1970s
2) A major league scorekeeper
3) A member of the Hall of Fame Veteran's Committee for many years

His book, Baseball as I have Known It, covers his 66 years of covering baseball. On page 16 this is what he said:
Honus looked more like the big clumsy Dutchman that he was, but in the filed at shortstop and on the bases he moved with the speed of angry grizzly …Sportswriters of the day referred to him as the Flying Dutchman in tribute to his speed.

Here is more…
Here is what Lawrence Ritter and Donald Honig wrote in The 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All time, page 213-214,
Along with his scoop-shovel hands, he was blessed with remarkable running speed for a big man, stealing a total of 722 bases and leading the league five times.


This is ample evidence that everyone that saw Honus Wagner play all saw the same thing. Honus Wagner possessed tremendous speed and a great base running ability.


DK wrote:Is that to say for sure? Is it 100% that Yaztremski would make a .386 average? You base almost all of your arguments on these outside statistics. Could Yaztremski have that .386 average? It is entirely possible. But that does not mean he would even hit .300. You CANNOT say that if he was dropped, it is 100% sure he would produce because it never happened. Yaztremski was a fantastic ballplayer. But it is ultimately impossible to say he would have done this, he would have done that, because he never played in the era.

DK, nothing is 100% sure in life. However it is possible to make accurate educated guesses about how Yaztremski would have hit in 1930. The .386 average is just an estimate. Yaztremski could have hit .370 or .410. The reason we can make accurate estimated predictions is because of something called inductive logic. We can make inferences about how Yaztremski would hit in the 1930s bases on the available evidence. If Yaztremski can hit .301 in a league that hits .230 overall, it is a simple logical step to conclude that he would hit much higher in a league that hits .303 overall. This wasn’t the main point I was trying to make, anyway. The point I was making was that the standards of excellence in baseball history are NOT constant. There have been big hitting eras (1920s, 30s, 90s) and there have pitching dominated eras (1099-1919, 1960s). A-Rod has had the benefit of playing in a big hitting era thus his home run stats are inflated. Why are all of he single season hitting records set in the 1920s, 30s. and 90s? Why was no one in the 1960s hitting .400 or driving in 191 runs? The 1960s were a pitching dominated era.

DK wrote:Bill James is an intelligent person. But can we say that everything that he writes is correct? Win shares and such statistics are not baseball. They are statistics pulled out of the air, created by this man to make an illusion of sorts; that his way is the best way. Bill James is not a scientist. He is a baseball man. That does not mean that he is the all-powerful, all-knowing.

If Bill James is the authority on baseball, why is he not a manager? Why is he not at an all-powerful position?

Bill James is not a scientist? Firstly, he is a scientist. James’ background is in statistics, which is a branch of mathematics. Mathematics is most certainly a science. Secondly, James didn’t just pull statistics “out of the air”. His Win Shares system is based on baseball’s traditional statistics, singles, doubles, triples, ABs, etc. Like all good scientists, James wants to gain a better understanding of what he is studying, in this case, baseball. And what is wrong with trying to better understand baseball? Comparing players from different generations has been part of baseball as long as baseball has been around. Through his Win Shares system he is attempting to compare these different players in as fair and objective manner as possible.

The goal of baseball statistics and sabermetics is to gain a deeper understanding of baseball. In doing this we all gain a deeper appreciation for the game of baseball and especially the players. To baseball fans, statistics are more that just mere numbers. To fans, baseball statistics create images of players. Ask any baseball fan what 755 means. Or 56, or .406, or 191, or 73, or 130. These are not mere numbers but they represent images and places in time. They are a link to the great baseball players of the past. These numbers flood our memories of Hank Aaron, and Joe DiMaggio, and Ted Williams, and Hack Wilson, and Barry Bonds, and Rickey Henderson.

Here is a description of the meaning and importance on baseball statistics from the book Baseball: An Illustrated History by Ken Burns:
And third, from this unique phenomenon, baseball statistics acquire the powers of language, which is what makes them so uniquely fascinating.

Did you ever wonder why it is that people who don’t give a hoot where the Dow Jones average is, who couldn’t tell you within three points what the prime rate is or the crime rate or what the Nielson ratings were can tell you nonetheless that Carlos Baerga has gained eight points in a week and is up to .296?

It’s because they don’t receive baseball statistics as numbers, they absorb them as words. A .296 average doesn’t stand for 296 of anything, it doesn’t make one think of 296 apples or 296 oranges. Three hundred means excellence: .296 means just short of the standard of excellence.

All baseball statistics are like that. Forty home runs doesn’t refer to forty of anything: it just means power, big power. This is a tremendous advantage. When the average man hears that the Dow Jones average is 3100, this immediately brings up a series of questions. Thirty-one hundred what? Thirty-one hundred dollars? Thirty-one hundred stocks? Is that good or bad? Didn’t it used to be like, 1200 or something? The prime rate is 7.3, what does that mean? Can I borrow money at that rate?
Baseball statistics are fascinating because:

a) they are personal, and
b) they don’t reformulate themselves immediately into these kinds of distracting questions

For the existence of a widely recognized standard, transmogrifying “40” into “power” and “.307” into “consistency”, baseball statistics acquire the ability to narrate stories in a manner that is absolutely unique in our culture. We don’t relate to any other numbers in the same way.


I couldn’t have said it better myself.

DK wrote:If Bill James is the authority on baseball, why is he not a manager? Why is he not at an all-powerful position?

Bill James background is in statistics, baseball history, baseball research, and as a writer. Being a major league manager requires a completely different set of skills and experience. Also, maybe he doesn't want to be a manager. James does work for the Boston Red Sox as a special consultant under Theo Epstien.

DK wrote:Now, according to your idea, and sticking strictly with statistics, Mantle had less power than Jose Canseco, Dave Winfield, and Sammy Sosa, for example. Now, was Canseco a better power hitter than Mantle? No. Not even close.

Exactly, what idea have I stated that shows that Canseco, Winfield, and Sosa had more power than Mantle? Besides, the statistics DO NOT show this. Since Mantle has more career home runs than Canseco and Winfield what would I say the opposite? I haven’t and I wouldn’t.

DK wrote:You seem to forget, LCBOY, that baseball is not all about statistics. Baseball is about playing, and doing, and producing. It is true, statistics do reflect baseball-to a point. But the best way to find out if a player is the real deal is to watch him play.

Now we are getting somewhere. DK is part of a school of thought that distrusts baseball statistics. They believe that observation can tell them everything about a player. However, baseball greatness is about long term consistency over many seasons. One can’t see consistency by just looking at a player. Also, everyone has biases in their observations. So whose observations are we to accept and whose do we disregard? Now, I am NOT saying that observation has no value. It does have value but it is not enough. It takes three things to determine how good a player is:

1) personal observation
2) Observation of others
3) Statistical analysis

DK’s main argument for A-Rod is that he has hit 345 home runs and is on pace for over 700. This from DK's first post:

The Case For Alex E. Rodriguez

The numbers are mind-boggling. 345 Career HR's. 990 Career RBI. 1009 Career Runs. 177 Stolen Bases. A .308 average. A .581 career slugging percentage. Oh by the way, he's only 28 years old.
Alex Emmanuel Rodriguez, in only eight full seasons, has shown us power from a Shortstop we have never known. He has hit at least 111 RBI the last six consecutive years, with at least 41 Home Runs and 110 Runs down that stretch. Excluding 1997, Alex Rodriguez has had an average of:
R HR RBI SB
127 45 126 20

This is a STATISTICAL argument! Yet, DK spend much of his last post denigrating baseball statistics as not that important. DK is being very inconsistent here. He is undermining his main (and only) argument. DK is being blinded by the hidden biases that are in all baseball statistics.

DK wrote:In all-star running back is only as good as his offensive line.

This is an irrelevant statement. Baseball and football are completely different games. In football, the offense moves as a unit in PARALLEL. The running back cannot do their job until the offensive line does their job (block) first. In baseball the offensive moves SEQUENTUALLY. He batters come to bat one at a time. The batter doesn’t have to wait for the other batters to do their job. Even if the previous batters fail (not get on base) the batter can still generate runs by hitting a home run.

DK wrote:Do you realize that there are hundreds of thousands of people, some right here in this very cafe, who think Neyer is off his rocker? It is impossible to rely on one person's beliefs, if that happens any debate will turn into a "he-said-she-said". I can give you many people who believe the exact opposite of Neyer. Just because a man is a sports columnist does not mean he is always right.

This is not true. Your point is based on two false premises:

1) Everyone’s opinions are equally true and valid (this is postmodernist thinking)
2) Expert conclusions are based on opinion or personal viewpoint

The reason Rob Neyer believes that Honus Wagner is a better player than A-Rod is because the available evidence makes this conclusion clear. Neyer based his conclusion on evidence, not his opinion or because he dislikes A-Rod. Rob Neyer is a baseball researcher, sportswriter, and sabermetician. This is what he does for a living. He is an acknowledged expert. In a court of law he would be considered an expert witness. The testimony of an expert witness carries more weigh that that of a non-expert. This doesn’t mean Neyer can’t be wrong. People don’t have to accept his conclusions. But for an opposing view (A-Rod is better than Wagner) to be accepted, it must be shown that Neyer’s conclusion is wrong because the stats he used are flawed or the method of comparison is flawed. Just stating “I believe Neyer is wrong”, without supporting evidence carries no weight in any discussion or debate.


DK wrote:Wagner might have hit five hundred home runs, he might have hit zero.

DK, I doubt even you believe this. You actually believe that Honus Wagner would have hit zero home runs in the 1920s? Again, we will never know for sure how many home runs Wagner would have hit in the live ball era. However, based on all available evidence and contemporary eye-witness accounts we can make an accurate estimate. I’ll state this again. Honus Wagner absolutely would have been a 500-700 home run man. I will show why I believe this:

Honus Wagner’s Tremendous Physical Strength

In my prvious post, I gave an example of Wagner’s home run power. Here it is again:
At Brooklyn on June 30th, Wagner had a second consecutive four hit game. He tripled, drove in four runs, scored three times, and his 450-foot home run over the centerfield fence was heralded as one of the longest ever hit at Washington Park.

If Wagner can hit a “dead ball” 450 feet, then obviously he can hit a “live ball” much further.

Power Increase of Other Players
Again, in my last post I gave examples of players who began their careers in the dead ball era and ended in the live ball era. I used Tris Speaker as my main example. He set career highs in home runs, slugging percentage, and RBIs in his late 30s, taking advantage of the new live ball. This gives us a good idea how Wagner would have hit with the live ball.

Contemporary Eye-witness accounts and Historians’ Views
Everyone that saw Wagner play said the same thing; Wagner would have been a huge star in the live ball era. His power hitting would have come to the forefront. One such eye-witness was Ed Barrow, who was a major league manager and general manager. He managed Babe Ruth with the Boston Red Sox and later was the Yankees general manager form 1921-34. He saw Babe Ruth play for many years. This is quote from Fred Lieb’s book, Baseball As I have Known It, pg 45:
Barrow blamed Wagner’s failure to hit more home runs (101) on the dead ball used during Wagner’s entire twenty-one year career. “If Wagner had batted against the lively ball he would have fifty home runs almost every year.”

Barrow obviously saw the similarities in power between Ruth and Wagner and rightly concluded that Wagner would have being hitting home runs with Ruth, Hornsby, Gerhig, Wilson, etc.

DK wrote:But according to peak value, projection, work ethic, love for the game, and youth, Rodriguez is still the better shortstop.

What does this have to do with this debate? It has been my observation that most major leaguers love the game of baseball. Most of them play the game hard. A-Rod is hardly unique in this aspect. The hardest working baseball player I have ever seen was Robby Thompson, the Giant’s former second baseman. Is A-Rod the only player that loves the game of baseball? Also, the concept of "peak value" is a Bill James creation!! DK, so I guess Bill James is right when it suits your needs?

DK wrote:Your idea that stats, sabermetrics, and writers are the all-powerful idea makers is blinding you from seeing what is truly there.

Since when is this my idea? I am an admitted baseball junkie. I love the game. I probably watch 100 games on TV a year and attend about 5-10 games a year. I also love studying baseball history and sabermetics. I want to learn everything about baseball and studying these things gives me a deeper understanding of the game.

Now, I would like to continue my case for Honus Wagner as the greatest shortstop ever. In my previous posts I laid out a thorough statistical argument for Wagner. Now, I will lay out a subjective argument based on contemporary eye-witness accounts and baseball historians. I will show that the people who saw Wagner play were impressed and awed by his talent.

Here is a quote from Sam Crawford, a contemporary of Wagner from The Glory of Their Times, page 59:
Cobb could only play the outfield, and even there his arm wasn’t anything extra special. But Honus Wagner could play any position. He could do anything. In fact, when I first played against him he was an outfielder, and then a third baseman, and later the greatest shortstop of them all. Honus could play any position except pitcher and be easily the best in the league at it…The greatest ballplayer who ever lived, in my book.

Again from the same book, here is a quote from Jimmy Austin, another player from the dead ball era, page 89:
I guess when you talk about the greatest baseball player who ever lived it has to be either the Babe, Ty Cobb, or Honus Wagner.


Here is Fred Lieb from his wonderful book, Baseball As I have Known It, page 45:
Two smart efficient baseball men, John McGraw and Ed Barrow, were better positioned that Kuhn and they didn’t forget it. Both McGraw and Barrow rated Wagner as baseball’s number one player of all time, putting the Dutchman ahead of even Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb…McGraw said, “I consider Wagner not only the number one shortstop, but had he played in any other position other than pitcher, he would have been equally great at the other seven positions. He was the closest thing to a perfect player no matter where his manager chose to play him.”

Here is more from Baseball’s All-Time Dream Team by John McCarthy Jr., page 159:
The are only a few players who have regularly been cited as t he greatest baseball player of all time-Buck Ewing, back in he 1880s, Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, maybe Walter Johnson, and even Willie Mays. But that’s it. Except for Honus Wagner, who easily joins the list.


And more…

From The 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time by Larence Ritter and Donald Honig, page 213”
The most gaudy accolade of all-“The Greatest Player Who Ever Lived”-is given most sparingly. It has in fact, been seriously applied to only three players: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and Honus Wagner. McGraw, with perhaps a dollop of National League prejudice, called Wagner the greatest of all players. So did many others. He remains legendary, as do Ruth and Cobb, and Walter Johnson, and a few others. He is to shortstops what Shakespeare is to playwrights. He dominates the position like a colossus.


and one last one…

Here is baseball historian Dr. Harold Seymour in Baseball, The Early Years. page 287:
Picking an all-time all-star teams always produces great controversy among fans and sportswriters, except for one position-shortstop-which is automatically assigned to Honus Wagner.


So I have carefully documented what players, managers, general managers, and sportswriters who saw Honus Wagner played said about him. He was was one of the greatest players that ever played. They all said Wagner was as dominant as Babe Ruth or close to to him. Wagner could have played any position and still be as dominant.

Obviously any player that is compariable to Babe Ruth is a great player. Here is where A-Rod comes up short. Can anyone argue that A-Rod is comparible to Babe Ruth. Of course not. A-Rod has never had seasons like Babe Ruth. This is why I conclude that Honus Wagner is still the greatest shortstop of all time.
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Postby Arlo » Sat Dec 13, 2003 7:50 pm

Disclaimer: In truth, I really don't consider A-Rod to be the greatest SS of all time. But it's fun to consider arguments that would support this claim...


First off, congratulations to both DK and LCBOY on the debate so far. It's not easy to come up with arguments not already presented by DK, especially in light of the strong case made by LCBOY.

To begin, I'd like to add a few footnotes to the points made in the debates so far. Nothing major, certainly, but perhaps worth considering...

LCBOY wrote:Beginning in 1900 Honus began a 14-year run as the greatest player on his era ... Not only was Honus the best SS in the game but the best PLAYER ... It is obvious that Honus was the most dominant and most consistent hitter of his time.

Was he? Wagner played in Ty Cobb's shadow for much of his career. The fact that Cobb received more recognition from Hall of Fame voters in 1936 - in spite of Cobb's lack of popularity - says a great deal.


LCBOY wrote:It is obvious that had Wagner played his prime years in the 1920s he absolutely would have hit a tremendous number of home runs.

This is a tricky question. Are Wagner's home runs and his high slugging an indication of power ... or speed? 40% of Wagner's home runs were inside the park. His home run numbers and ratio of inside-the-park homers, which were far easier to achieve then than now thanks in part to outfielders playing extremely shallow, are very similar to Cobb's, whom nobody is accusing of being a power hitter.

The game was different then, and so are the statistics. A high slugging average in the deadball era could be the result of being skilled at hitting line drives - or even grounders - past outfielders playing just behind the infield. (Fantasy side note: A hitter with the skills of, say, Juan Pierre, would be able to compile some very impressive numbers in such a setting. :-) ) Would Wagner have hit for power if he were playing today? Maybe, maybe not.

LCBOY wrote:I used Tris Speaker as my main example. He set career highs in home runs, slugging percentage, and RBIs in his late 30s, taking advantage of the new live ball. This gives us a good idea how Wagner would have hit with the live ball.

Well, mid-30s. ;-) In any case, one big season does not an example make (hmm ... we seem to be back in the +/- $5 player value debate :-D ). Speaker's live ball seasons before that big campaign (when he hit 17 hr) weren't terribly impressive: he averaged less than eight hr per season. Might not those seasons also be indicative of how Wagner would have performed?

There are many more possible analogies. In 1918, Edd Rousch (who also hit quite a few inside-the-park hrs) led the NL in slugging. When the live ball came, Rousch, who was entering what today would be called his peak years, raised his slugging, as you'd expect, but only hit a handful more home runs. George Sisler offers another good comparison: the new ball brought him one brief home run spike (19 hr), but that was all.

If Wagner had been born 20 years later, I have no doubt that he would still have been a fantastic ballplayer. But would he have hit 500-700 home runs? I have my doubts.



In any case, those are just a few details. The fact that Wagner played when he did doesn't diminish his standing as one of the greats of the game. It does, however, make comparing statistics difficult.

Perhaps we should start by taking a step back and asking how we can determine the greatest shortstop of all time. So far, both statistics and observations have been used, but both have their shortcomings when comparing players playing nearly a century apart.

I think we can all agree on one basic factor that needs to be satisfied before we even discuss trickier criteria: to be considered as a candidate for the title of all-time greatest SS, a player has to be clearly the greatest of his own era.

Surpassing contemporary competition seems like the most basic and obvious litmus test a player must pass before being touted as the best ever. If I start referring to Miguel Tejada as the best ever, there's no need to mention Banks or Cronin or to consider the effects of playing in different eras. You'll simply tell me that Alex Rodriguez has Tejada beat, and the discussion ends right there.

Clearly, A-Rod can pass this test, even though he plays in what has been called the golden age of shortstops. Garciaparra, Jeter ... fine players all, but A-Rod towers above them.

Can Wagner pass this test, too? Perhaps surprisingly, considering the accolades we've read, the answer is no.

LCBOY quotes some very solid sources - historians, players, managers, columnists - who put Wagner in a class by himself among the shortstops of the day. But they are all overlooking one man.

Pop Lloyd.

Lloyd had all the qualities Wagner had. Unbelievable versatility. A fantastic batting eye. Speed. Great knowledge of the game. Slick glovesmanship (and a fielding style that was remarkably similar to Wagner's). Longevity. You name it.

When listening to those who don't overlook Lloyd, the observations are a bit different:

Connie Mack is among the more reserved, saying, "Put Lloyd and Wagner in the same bag and whichever one you pulled out, you wouldn't go wrong."

When asked to name the best baseball player in the history of the sport," sportswriter Ted Harlow answered, "If you mean in organized baseball, my answer would be Babe Ruth; but if you mean in all baseball, organized and unorganized, I would have to say it is a colored man named John Henry Lloyd."

Wagner himself was honored by the comparison between himself and Lloyd.

But perhaps we should reserve the last word for Babe Ruth, who has been mentioned so often in this discussion. Who did Ruth consider the greatest player of all time? "I'd pick John Henry Lloyd."


Before Wagner can step up and be compared to the greatest players of other eras, proof needs to be shown that he was the best of his time. And that proof simply isn't there.
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