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Elliott Kalb Chimes In
June, 2006

The Book in Question 

Elliott Kalb:


Hey, I just stumbled across Asher's Top Ten Reactions to my book, ranking the greatest players of all time.  The book came out 18 months ago, and it's interesting to see how everything holds up.  I still believe that Bonds--who has faced the better competition--is better than Ruth and Cobb.  I also believe that ARod belongs where he does.  I'll give you the fact that Musial and Frank Robinson are too low, and that Koufax and Vlad are too high.  Nomar and Smoltz are great players.  Is Nomar that much worse than ARod?  Is Smoltz that much worse than Maddux?  When I wrote the book, I didn't think so.  Anyway, thanks for the feedback.  I will tell you a few things about my many radio/tv/print interviews:


1)  I must have pegged Rose correctly.  No one seems to have a problem with where I placed him.

2)  Koufax has a ton of supporters--many people feel that I pegged him too low. 

3) Bonds is really, really hated.  People are knocking him for his 2006 stats.  But what did Ruth or Aaron do at a similar age?  Bonds is a few home runs away from being 66 up on Willie Mays!  That's 10% more than the Say Hey Kid.  I could argue for Bonds all day long.


Thanks, Elliott



Asher’s Reply:


Mr. Stats,


Not that I think it changes my overall analysis, but I must admit that when Keith, one of my co-founders at baseballevolution.com, initially emailed your list to me, and I thought it was sent in by a fan.  I didn't realize that a professional sports personality had put it together.  Like I said, probably wouldn't have changed the analysis, but probably the form of the analysis.


I'll say at the outset that I like to be reserved about placing active players on the Top 100, to avoid things like the Great Bill James Craig Biggio Number 35 Fiasco of 1998.  Thus, a lot of your rankings, like Nomar, Vlad, ARod, are not because I don't think those players are great, but because I just think it is too early to have them where they are, or on the list at all.  I'll respond to things you said in your email:


"I still believe that Bonds--who has faced the better competition--is better than Ruth and Cobb."


In a sense, this is a very straight forward point.  Of course Bonds has faced better competition.  Generally speaking, baseball writers I have read acknowledge that the level of competition has generally improved on a more or less linear scale over the course of baseball history, which is why there are no more .400 hitters, or .366 lifetime hitters, or players hitting more homeruns than individual teams.


So, in that sense, your best player of all time will invariably be someone from the modern era, whether you live in 2006 or 2026 or 2046.  So, if you want to say that Bonds is better than Cobb and Ruth because he faced stiffer competition, you are perfectly within your right.  I disagree with you, and think that Ruth and Cobb were better players and dominated their leagues by a much wider margin, but the competition point counters my point, so . . . .


To me, putting Aaron ahead of Cobb is the more egregious transgression.  Cobb was a better player than Aaron in every sense except homeruns, and in response to that I point out that Cobb has a higher relative slugging percentage than Aaron – interesting, don't you think, that a player with roughly 600 fewer homeruns than Aaron still managed to out-slug his league by a greater margin than Aaron?


But again, that competition thing gets us, doesn't it?


"I also believe that ARod belongs where he does."


Let me put it this way – if ARod stopped playing today, would he have had a better career than Lou Gerhig?  The answer seems obvious to me – no way.


I am with you in the sense that I believe ARod will ultimately be a Top 10 player.  If you would have asked me in 1920, I would have said Joe Jackson would be a Top 10 player.  But things happen.  Way too early to make such a call, in my opinion.


By the way, what do you know about Josh Gibson that I don't?  I mean, I know he was great, but I don't know how great.  I have nothing to go by.  How are you able to pinpoint exactly where he belongs?  This befuddles me.


My problem with the Negro Leaguers is that we have no statistical way to compare, no way to balance the field, no way to equalize things between the two leagues, since we know so little and things were so unstable with their leagues.  Mostly, we have word of mouth to go by.  That doesn't get it done for me.  I need other things to go by, more concrete.


When people put Negro Leaguers in their top 100, it seems very subjective - "I've heard this guy was great, so number ten seems like a good place for a player to go."


I've heard a lot of people were great.  What people say about other people can be misleading and inaccurate.


"Nomar and Smoltz are great players."


You have Smoltz at 97.  Here is a list of 32 pitchers better than John Smoltz:


Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Roger Clemens, Grover Alexander, Christy Mathewson, Greg Maddux, Lefty Grove, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Tom Seaver, Bob Feller, Carl Hubbell, Whitey Ford, Warren Spahn, Mordecai Brown, Bob Gibson, Eddie Plank, Juan Marichal, Hoyt Wilhelm, Steve Carlton, Fergie Jenkins, Addie Joss, Ed Walsh, Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax, Jim Palmer, Mariano Rivera, Tom Glavine, Dazzy Vance, Dennis Eckersley, Curt Schilling


"Is Smoltz that much worse than Maddux?"



ERA – 3.01 vs. 3.26 – significant difference. 

K/BB ratio – 3.36 vs. 2.9 – significant difference. 

Win-Loss Percentage - .627 vs. .580 – significant difference.

IP – 4406 vs. 2929 – significant difference


Number of years leading league in:


ERA – 4 vs. 0

Wins – 3 vs. 1

WHIP – 4 vs. 0

BB/9IP – 7 vs. 0

IP – 5 vs. 2

K – 0 vs. 2

CG – 3 vs. 0

Shutouts – 5 vs. 0

K/BB – 3 vs. 0

ERA relative to league – 5 vs. 0


Yes, Maddux is that much better.  More important, there are plenty of pitchers between them.


And while we are talking about pitchers, let's talk about Dizzy Dean. Did you know that Dizzy Dean pitched 1,967 innings?  Did you know he played all of five full seasons?  Did you know he has a career ERA of 3.02?  How on earth do you find it valid to put Dizzy Dean on your Top 100?  Win-Loss Percentage?  Well, it is dandy.  But come on – Dean played his last full season at the age of 26, and his career statistics without his 1934 seasons – without one season – are significantly less impressive than his overall stats.


And what is this crap about Rivera?  In my opinion, Rivera is probably the greatest modern closer of all time – meaning under modern save rules.  But you know what?  That doesn't get you much.  Being a modern closer is just not that impressive.  Most modern closers are guys with good fastballs who couldn't cut it as starters.  I really just don't think it is worth that much.


I know Yankees fans like to give props to Rivera for his post-season play.  Let's think of it like this – the Yankees have been to the World Series six times in Mariano's career.  They have won 4 and lost 2.  Out of six World Series trips, one of them was lost when Rivera couldn't nail down the save.  No knock against the guy, but don't go around championing a guy for coming through 4 out of 5 times in the World Series.  Doesn't add much to his value, in my opinion. 


I hear there is some rube on a New York sports radio show who has Rivera in his Top Ten of all time. 


Ah, Yankees fans.


Back to Nomar – this came out before the 2005 season, right?  At that point, Nomar had about 4500 plate appearances, which a career does not make.  I know he played shortstop, which is great and all, but that, in my opinion, is WAY too few at-bats to consider Nomar historically, especially given the context in which he plays (offensively explosive era and all).  Now, in 2006 Nomar seems back on track, albeit as a first baseman.  I just don't see any valid reason to have him at 99 and not have Robin Yount on your list at all.


"I must have pegged Rose correctly."


The thing about Rose is, and he says this himself, he had more hits than anyone else, but he also had more outs than anyone else.  All he did was hit - which is a compliment and an insult.  No one did so much with so little, but it was still so little.  He played hit the ball, and he played forever, and that got him passed Cobb.  In today's game, we would call him empty average.  Of course, in today's game, he would probably score 130 runs per game if he played for the Yankees.  I think you have him a bit high, but nothing terrible.  All time hits leader – that's gotta count for something, right?


"Koufax has a ton of supporters--many people feel that I pegged him too low."


That is because many people are idiots.  The number of people in this country who think Sandy Koufax is the greatest pitcher of all time is troubling, to say the least, and kind of makes me reconsider the "everyone gets to vote in elections" thing.


Koufax had some bad years, then four great years, then called it quits.  Lots of people have had four great years, without being able to just quit and have people wonder "what if?"


You can see more about what I think about this at http://asher.baseballevolution.com/koufax.html


"Bonds is really, really hated."


See, that gives me pause.  I have argued vehemently that Bonds is not better than Ruth was, but I still feel he is one of the top ten of all time.  It used to really bother me when people would say he was the greatest of all time, but now it really bothers me when people say he is worthless, and all his stats should be thrown out because of steroids.  Obviously this is not an all or nothing issue as people seem to want to make it.  Bonds is truly one of the all time great players, in a class by himself who, like Ted Williams, let his ego make him do things that the fans really hate him for.  Hopefully, like with Ted, when Bonds is 80 something years old and in a wheel chair, people will forgive him.


Oh, something else just occurred to me – you have way underrated Frank Thomas.  Seriously, look at his stats.  Thomas' first ten years are without parallel among contemporary players.  And where in the world is Jeff Bagwell?  I think you may need to look at some stats, Mr. Stats, because these are two of the best, and you are missing them.


Anyway, obviously compiling a Top 100 must be difficult, everyone does it, and no two have been the same yet, right?  Everyone's a critic, that much we at baseballevolution.com have learned, so the exciting thing really is making the list and then defending it, isn't it?


Thanks for writing, and we'll look for more from you in the future.


All the best,




Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Asher resides in Alexandria, VA, and can be reached at asher@baseballevolution.com.

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