The Greatest Living Ballplayer: Continued

38 Comments

Yesterday’s post about the Greatest Living Ballplayer for each team struck a nerve. Lots of folks around the Internets linked it and talked about, which doesn’t happen a lot with my stuff. Indeed, I tend to think that people mostly read what I write and either nod politely or roll their eyes and then move on without comment for fear that I’ll just be a jerk and argue about it. It’s not an unreasonable fear.

Larry Granillo has a great followup at Baseball Prospectus this morning, asking who held the title of Greatest Living Ballplayer — overall — at any given point since 1900.  I don’t think I disagree with any of his choices, including the decision to not name Joe DiMaggio — the man whose handlers more or less invented the title — Greatest Living Ballplayer at any given time.  Because he wasn’t.

And you all had some great followups in the very long comment thread following my post. Highlights:

  • There was a ton of dissent on the Yankees, with very few people buying Derek Jeter as GLB. I realized this as soon as I hit “post” yesterday, and hastily added Yogi Berra’s name, though intellectual honesty prevented me from taking off Jeter’s seeing as though I had already published the thing. If I had a do-over I name Berra, no questions asked. Many of you, however, were pro-Mariano Rivera. This seems a bit nuts to me in that I don’t see how a closer can be the guy who carries the team banner — and that’s part of this I think — but I guess I get it.
  • Many dead people — Eddie Matthews, Willie Stargell, Kirby Puckett, etc. — were suggested for the title of Greatest Living Ballplayer. I can’t decide if this is a function of people simply having lives and not following baseball news as closely as I do or if it’s some audacious statement about the sheer power of certain players. I’d like to believe it’s the latter.
  • Someone noted that Ted Williams really does complicate this list.  I mean, really, if I’m wrong and cryogenics is legit, I’m going to have an awful lot to answer for when The Splendid Splinter is walking among us again.  Of course, given that they only froze his head, it’s an open question whether he’d still be the Greatest Living Ballplayer or merely Baseball’s Greatlest Living Baseball Mind.
  • Much disagreement on my choice of Nolan Ryan for the Rangers given his relatively short tenure in a Texas uniform.  Very good point on that. I guess I fell for Nolan Ryan the cultural phenomenon as opposed to Nolan Ryan the Rangers pitcher.  And many people think that he should have been the choice for the Angels instead.
  • The Indians choices of Belle and Manny drew criticism. Some said I was sleeping on Jim Thome, who played there longer and had more overall career value. Maybe, but I also think it’s reached a point where he’s excelled for so many other teams for so long that he fails the homogeneity test. Another person mentioned Kenny Lofton. Unlike Thome, yeah, I did just whiff on him (though I probably wouldn’t pick him).  My overlooking of Lofton, I think, may be a precursor to what will happen when he’s Hall of Fame eligible. He’s way more valuable than anyone ever gives him credit for. Yet we so often give him short shrift. I’m not proud of this.
  • Many disagreed with my statement that Cal Ripken was the easiest choice, pointing to the continued Earthly existence of Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer. Noted. I still think I pick Cal — there is a fame and personality aspect to all of this that, while I don’t want to overstate, seems important — but those guys are way closer than I considered yesterday.
  • Speaking of Orioles, Frank Robinson’s name came up.  He’s like a lot of players of more recent vintage such as Roberto Alomar in that he played and excelled for a couple of teams. Which, somewhat perversely, harms your chances on this list. In my view Robinson falls just short of making it for the Reds and the Orioles and that’s just how it goes.
  • Speaking of the Reds, almost no one agrees with me on Joe Morgan, including Rob Neyer (who himself is in the conversation for Greatest Living Baseball Blogger). The beef: not enough time in a Reds uniform for Little Joe.  I think I have to agree. Neyer likes Rose. Bench gets the nod from most people. He probably gets it from me if for no other reason than I don’t want to encourage the Pete Rose lobby, which consist of a lot of frightening people.
  • People did not like that I called Todd Helton “the most boring Greatest Living Ballplayer for any team.”  To which I’d ask: who’s more boring on that list than Helton? He played football. So what? He has occasionally sported some interesting though not terribly original facial hair. Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a slam on Helton. Lots of people are boring. Al Kaline has held the title of GLB for the Tigers for 50 years and he’s boring. I may be the most boring baseball writer there is. It’s OK to be boring. Maybe Helton has a rich life away from the diamond of which I’m simply not aware, but c’mon, where’s the flavor with this guy?
  • Finally, many people think I should have named Larry Walker for the Rockies instead of Helton. That’s an interesting idea. Probably a good one too. Indeed, mentions of Helton and Carl Crawford and stuff make me wonder if the rule Granillo made for his Baseball Prospectus list — no active players can hold the title — isn’t a good one.  That would be hard for the Rays and a few other young teams, but there is a lot of merit until waiting until a guy is retired to bestow the honor. I mean, the whole idea of GLB was so that Joe DiMaggio could be announced that way when he walked onto the field or up to a lectern for some promotional event or public speaking engagement.  Can’t really do that as an active player.

Thanks for all the feedback, folks. It was one of the more fun things I’ve written and talked about in a while.

Yankees star Judge hits 61st home run, ties Maris’ AL record

aaron judge
Cole Burston/Getty Images
3 Comments

TORONTO — Aaron Judge tied Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 home runs in a season, hitting a tiebreaking, two-run drive for the New York Yankees in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night.

The 30-year-old slugger drove a 94.5 mph belt-high sinker with a full-count from left-hander Tim Mayza over the left-field fence at Rogers Centre. The 117.4 mph drive took just 3.8 seconds to land 394 feet from the plate, and it put the Yankees ahead 5-3.

Judge watched the ball clank off the front of the stands, just below two fans who reached over a railing and tried for a catch. He pumped an arm just before reaching first and exchanged a slap with coach Travis Chapman.

The ball dropped into Toronto’s bullpen and was picked up by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann, who turned it over to the Yankees.

Judge’s mother and Roger Maris Jr. rose and hugged from front-row seats. He appeared to point toward them after rounding second base, then was congratulated by the entire Yankees team, who gave him hugs after he crossed the plate.

Judge moved past the 60 home runs Babe Ruth hit in 1927, which had stood as the major league mark until Maris broke it in 1961. All three stars reached those huge numbers playing for the Yankees.

Barry Bonds holds the big league record of 73 for the San Francisco Giants in 2001.

Judge had gone seven games without a home run – his longest drought this season was nine in mid-August. This was the Yankees’ 155th game of the season, leaving them seven more in the regular season.

The home run came in the fourth plate appearance of the night for Judge, ending a streak of 34 plate appearances without a home run.

Judge is hitting .313 with 130 RBIs, also the top totals in the AL. He has a chance to become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012.

Maris hit No. 61 for the Yankees on Oct. 1, 1961, against Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard.

Maris’ mark has been exceeded six times, but all have been tainted by the stench of steroids. Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 and 65 the following year, and Bonds topped him. Sammy Sosa had 66, 65 and 63 during a four-season span starting in 1998.

McGwire admitted using banned steroids, while Bonds and Sosa denied knowingly using performing-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball started testing with penalties for PEDs in 2004, and some fans – perhaps many – until now have considered Maris the holder of the “clean” record.

Among the tallest batters in major league history, the 6-foot-7 Judge burst on the scene on Aug. 13, 2016, homering off the railing above Yankee Stadium’s center-field sports bar and into the netting above Monument Park. He followed Tyler Austin to the plate and they become the first teammates to homer in their first major league at-bats in the same game.

Judge hit 52 homers with 114 RBIs the following year and was a unanimous winner of the AL Rookie of the Year award. Injuries limited him during the following three seasons, and he rebounded to hit 39 homers with 98 RBIs in 2021.

As he approached his last season before free agent eligibility, Judge on opening day turned down the Yankees’ offer of an eight-year contract worth from $230.5 million to $234.5 million. The proposal included an average of $30.5 million annually from 2023-29, with his salary this year to be either the $17 million offered by the team in arbitration or the $21 million requested by the player.

An agreement was reached in June on a $19 million, one-year deal, and Judge heads into this offseason likely to get a contract from the Yankees or another team for $300 million or more, perhaps topping $400 million.

Judge hit six homers in April, 12 in May and 11 in June. He earned his fourth All-Star selection and entered the break with 33 homers. He had 13 homers in July and dropped to nine in August, when injuries left him less protected in the batting order and pitchers walked him 25 times.

He became just the fifth player to hold a share of the AL season record. Nap Lajoie hit 14 in the AL’s first season as a major league in 1901, and Philadelphia Athletics teammate Socks Seabold had 16 the next year, a mark that stood until Babe Ruth hit 29 in 1919. Ruth set the record four times in all, with 54 in 1920, 59 in 1921 and 60 in 1927, a mark that stood until Maris’ 61 in 1961.

Maris was at 35 in July 1961 during the first season each team’s schedule increased from 154 games to 162, and baseball Commissioner Ford Frick ruled if anyone topped Ruth in more than 154 games “there would have to be some distinctive mark in the record books to show that Babe Ruth’s record was set under a 154-game schedule.”

That “distinctive mark” became known as an “asterisk” and it remained until Sept. 4, 1991, when a committee on statistical accuracy chaired by Commissioner Fay Vincent voted unanimously to recognize Maris as the record holder.