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Best in (The) Show
2005-09-08 22:25
by Mike Carminati

When I was a kid, Fleetwood Mac's "Rumors" came out, and it and they seemed to be the biggest thing on the planet. Next came Supertramp's "Breakfast in America". Then came Pink Floyd's "The Wall", which seemed to raise the bar beyond reach. Well, except for blips on the radar screen like the Police's "Synchronicity", when REM released "Losing My Religion, and U2 more than once with "Joshua Tree" and "All That You Can't Leave Behind". I always thought Weezer would break it wide open after the "Green" album, but they never seemed made it over the top.

Anyway, during the Nineties when most were maintaining that Alex Rodriguez was the "Best Player in the Game", it's now apparent that Barry Bonds was the real king. With Bonds expected to return to the game this weekend after missing most of the season due to injury, I was reminded of the issue of the best player on the plant.

Does Bonds still merit the title given the time lost and his age?

I thought it might be interesting to look into a empirical method for determining the best player. He would have to be having a great year at the time—let's say at least 25 Win Shares, which leaves Bonds out in the cold. And he would have to the career stats to earn the title (i.e., career Win Shares).

My method was for each season to look at all the players with at least 25 Win Shares and then take the one with the greatest career Win Shares. Yeah, it's not perfect, but it turns out to be pretty instructive.

Here's the final list. You'll note that no one qualified in strike years because of the 25-WS minimum, and I'm fine with that. I could prorate the Win Shares in those seasons, but I think that those years were such downers anyway that don't need them besmirching the honor of our made-up title. You may also note that pitchers dominate the list until the end of the first decade in the 1900s.

Finally, the man who wrests the title of best player away from Bonds after a decade is—drum roll please—NOT A-Rod. It's not even Vladimir Guerrero. It's A-Rod's teammate, Gary Sheffield. Whether you agree with that or not, he has a pretty good argument for the title this year. One other thing about the list: Every man on it dating back to 1897 who is eligible is in the Hall of Fame (and Rose would go if eligible). Sheffield doesn't get a lot of mention when today's Hall-worthy players are discussed, but he really should. He may have to either put up a monster season or accumulate a bunch of very good years to reach a few big milestones in order to get serious consideration, which is a shame:

YrCareer WSWSBestAge
200539729Gary Sheffield36
200466453Barry Bonds39
200361139Barry Bonds38
200257249Barry Bonds37
200152354Barry Bonds36
200046932Barry Bonds35
199931430Mark McGwire35
199841834Barry Bonds33
199738436Barry Bonds32
199634839Barry Bonds31
199530936Barry Bonds30
199341325Rickey Henderson34
199240027Dave Winfield40
199136325Rickey Henderson32
199040726George Brett37
198935934Robin Yount33
198836426George Brett35
198745026Mike Schmidt37
198642431Mike Schmidt36
198539326Mike Schmidt35
198436726Mike Schmidt34
198334135Mike Schmidt33
198248129Joe Morgan38
198036131Reggie Jackson34
197946427Pete Rose38
197843727Pete Rose37
197738230Joe Morgan33
197638730Pete Rose35
197535731Pete Rose34
197435225Willie McCovey36
197349426Frank Robinson37
197231432Billy Williams34
197162527Willie Mays40
197054225Hank Aaron36
196951738Hank Aaron35
196855730Willie Mays37
196754125Mickey Mantle35
196650637Willie Mays35
196546943Willie Mays34
196448234Mickey Mantle32
196338838Willie Mays32
196243433Mickey Mantle30
196140148Mickey Mantle29
196035336Mickey Mantle28
195931730Mickey Mantle27
195852525Ted Williams39
195751930Stan Musial36
195648926Stan Musial35
195546329Stan Musial34
195443430Stan Musial33
195340433Stan Musial32
195237137Stan Musial31
195137534Ted Williams32
195037029Joe DiMaggio35
194932240Ted Williams30
194832034Joe DiMaggio33
194631926Luke Appling39
194450625Mel Ott35
194334628Arky Vaughan31
194246535Mel Ott33
194143026Mel Ott32
193938028Mel Ott30
193848925Lou Gehrig35
193746436Lou Gehrig34
193642838Lou Gehrig33
193539034Lou Gehrig32
193435641Lou Gehrig31
193373429Babe Ruth38
193270536Babe Ruth37
193166938Babe Ruth36
193063138Babe Ruth35
192959332Babe Ruth34
192856145Babe Ruth33
192751645Babe Ruth32
192660329Tris Speaker38
192567825Ty Cobb38
192465327Ty Cobb37
192352835Tris Speaker35
192260229Ty Cobb35
192157326Ty Cobb34
192043639Tris Speaker32
191952732Ty Cobb32
191849531Ty Cobb31
191746446Ty Cobb30
191641840Ty Cobb29
191543328Sam Crawford35
191440531Sam Crawford34
191339830Christy Mathewson32
191257335Honus Wagner38
191153830Honus Wagner37
191050830Honus Wagner36
190947842Honus Wagner35
190936727Nap Lajoie34
190860027Cy Young41
190757327Cy Young40
190636729George Davis35
190553328Cy Young38
190450535Cy Young37
190347038Cy Young36
190243238Cy Young35
190144032Kid Nichols31
189939031Kid Nichols29
189835944Kid Nichols28
189731541Kid Nichols27
189339127Tony Mullane34
189236733John Clarkson31
189133442John Clarkson30
189038234Charley Radbourn35
188935627Tim Keefe32
188835130Pud Galvin31
188732133Pud Galvin30
188631633Jim McCormick29
2005-09-09 09:09:18
1.   Schteeve
If I were a pitcher, Sheffield might be the last guy I'd ever want to face. His raw production and the menacing aura that surrounds each at bat make him one of the most interesting and visceral characters in the game. Hero or anti-hero, I guess it depends on whom you root for.
2005-09-09 10:51:49
2.   Shaun P
I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the youngest guy to hold the "best player" title by your method was Mantle. (Unless you go all the way back to Kid Nichols in 1897.)

Nice list, Mike.

2005-09-09 11:46:10
3.   Cliff Corcoran
Further to Shaun's comment, I think you place too much emphasis on career achievement here, thus you get Ott, not Williams or DiMaggio in '41. Cobb and not Ruth in '21. And, just eyeballing it, no triple crown winners in the years they actually won the thing.

The way I see it, the best player in the game should be a player that's at the peak of his abilities, not one on the down slope, as so often occurs in your chart.

Prior to the 2004 season I tried to determine the best player in the game (obviously it was Bonds) in an article about Alex Rodriguez (linked on the Bronx Banter sidebar), and my method was to use the previous three seasons, but no more. I wonder how this chart would change if you used a similar short-term system.

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