SweetSpot: Hank Aaron

Happy 80th birthday, Hank Aaron

February, 5, 2014
When I was in second grade, my teacher, Mr. Nichols, gave me an old, beat-up poster of Willie Mays. I think it had been run through a washing machine because it was all wrinkled and full of creases. I hung it on my wall anyway. At the same time, my grandmother gave me the first baseball book I remember reading, a biography of Mays.

I was a Willie Mays fan, if forced to choose between him and Hank Aaron. (Although, I'm not sure if that ever discussion ever came up much when I was a kid, considering both players were retired by the time I was in second grade.)

You get the impression that for kids of the '60s, it was Mays over Aaron, as well. That's part of the Aaron story: underrated, perhaps not fully appreciated until it was he, and not Mays, who broke Babe Ruth's home run record. Even then, he had to deal with the racism from people who didn't want a black man breaking Ruth's record. As Vin Scully described it at the time, "What a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us."

The dignity and quiet strength Aaron displayed as he chased down Ruth is also a big part of his story, but even then nobody really said Aaron was better than Ruth, never mind that Ruth played in a segregated era. When Barry Bonds later passed Aaron, a new generation of fans learned about Aaron and his remarkable career, and we old-timers were reminded once again of one of the best ballplayers who ever played.

Aaron turns 80 today and I'm sure those who grew up in Milwaukee or Atlanta watching Aaron hit all those home runs and perform with consistent greatness year after year can't believe he's that old.

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It's almost too bad that the signature highlight of Aaron's career is the home run off Al Downing to pass Ruth. He was 40 then, a little thicker around the middle, no longer the lithe, young athletic right fielder. Our lasting image of Mays is his impossible catch in the 1954 World Series, racing back, back, back. For Aaron, it's a middle-aged man rounding the bases.

Because of that, it's easy to forget what a terrific all-around player Aaron was in his prime, hitting for power (he led the league four times in home runs), batting average (he twice led in average and hit above .320 eight times), stealing bases (he ranked as high as second in the NL in steals) and playing a great right field (he won three Gold Gloves and Baseball-Reference credits him with the sixth-most runs saved on defense among right fielders).

Several years ago, Aaron voiced the thought that he should have won more than one MVP Award, suggesting writers didn't vote for him because they didn't want a black player winning. Aaron won his MVP Award in 1957, when the Milwaukee Braves won the pennant and he hit .322 while leading the league with 44 home runs, 132 RBIs and 118 runs. Here's Aaron hitting the pennant-clinching home run that year.

Should he have won another one or two? He finished third in the voting five more times after that (plus 1956), but he wasn't necessarily robbed of any awards. First off, many black players were MVP Award winners in those days; from 1953 through 1969, 14 of the 19 NL MVP winners were black and two were Latin Americans (Roberto Clemente and Orlando Cepeda). Aaron didn't win, in part, because the Braves won just one more pennant (in 1958) and one division title (in 1969) during his career. You can argue that the Braves of the late '50s and early '60s -- with Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn, Joe Adcock and Joe Torre -- should have won more than two pennants, but they didn't.

Not that it was Aaron's fault. He was great every year. Baseball-Reference rates him as above 7.0 WAR every season except two between 1956 and 1969; he slipped all the way down to 6.8 in 1964 and 1968. B-R rates him as the best player in the NL just once, in 1961 (Frank Robinson won the MVP Award while Aaron finished eighth in the voting). It rates Aaron as the second-best player three times and third-best four times, usually behind Mays. The NL was loaded with talent in those days: Aaron, Mays, Robinson, Clemente, Mathews, Ernie Banks, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal -- not just Hall of Famers, but top-tier Hall of Famers. It was hard for anyone to win multiple MVP Awards.

My favorite Aaron story is a famous one: As a kid, he used a cross-handed batting grip. The story goes that he kept hitting this way even while he played for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues before he signed with the Boston Braves in 1952 and was sent to Class C Eau Claire, where coaches finally corrected his hitting style.

I doubt the story is true. For one thing: Try hitting that way. I don't see how you could generate enough power, but Aaron did hit five home runs in his stay with the Clowns. Plus, I can't see any coach letting a player hit that way. In Howard Bryant's biography of Aaron, "The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron," he writes of Aaron's time in Eau Claire, but makes no mention of Aaron changing a cross-handed grip. The story is a good one but unlikely to be true.

What is true, however, is that Mays and Aaron nearly played together. The New York Giants, who already had Mays, were also scouting Aaron, but the Braves reportedly offered $50 more a month, so Aaron signed with them. Think about that on Aaron's 80th birthday.
Miguel Cabrera leads the American League in batting average (.382) and RBIs (37) as he tries to go for another Triple Crown. It seems unfair to even suggest that would be possible, but if he goes on a home run tear at some point, I wouldn't put it past him.

So let's talk 10 things about Miggy as he lights up scoreboards across the country.

1. How awesome would three batting titles in a row be?
By "batting title" we mean batting average, so if this isn't your cup of Earl Grey, skip to the next section. The following players have won three titles in a row: Tony Gwynn (1994-97), Tony Gwynn (1987-89), Wade Boggs (1985-88), Rod Carew (1972-75), Stan Musial (1950-52), Rogers Hornsby (1920-25), Ty Cobb (1917-19), Ty Cobb (1911-15), Ty Cobb (1907-09), Honus Wagner (1906-09) and Nap Lajoie (1901-04). Gwynn, Boggs, Carew and Musial were all left-handed batters, so the last right-handed batter to do it was Hornsby almost 90 years ago. The only right-handed batters since World War II to win at least three batting titles in their career are Bill Madlock and Roberto Clemente, who each won four. So, yes, pretty awesome.

2. Does he really have a shot at the single-season RBI record?
Not really. With 37 RBIs in 32 games, Cabrera is on pace for 187, four shy of Hack Wilson's record set with the Cubs in 1930. But it would take a Herculean effort to even approach Wilson's mark, set in an era of high batting averages and high on-base percentages. Since 1950, only nine times has a player driven in 150 runs, with Manny Ramirez's 165 in 1999 the most. The Tigers rank only 15th in OBP from the leadoff spot (.335) but first in OBP from the No. 2 slot (.419), so even if Austin Jackson starts getting on more, Torii Hunter will probably get on less.

As is, Cabrera is second in the majors (behind teammate Prince Fielder) for the most runners on base while batting and is hitting .533 with runners in scoring position. I mean, he's good, but I'm pretty sure he won't .533 with RISP all season. Wilson hit .356 while batting cleanup for the Cubs in 1930, but one big advantage compared to Cabrera was he hit 56 home runs, so he drove in himself a lot. Plus, he played on a team that scored 998 runs, so he had many more RBI opportunities than Cabrera likely will receive -- Cubs leadoff hitters had a .332 OBP in 1930, but the No. 2 guys had a .425 OBP and the No. 3 hitters were at .424. That's a lot of baserunners to knock in.

3. He is durable. That should help.
True. Wilson missed just one game in 1930, and Cabrera's most underrated asset is his durability. He may have a body by red meat, but check out his games played since his first full season: 160, 158, 158, 157, 160, 160, 150, 161, 161. The only prolonged time he's missed was the final week of 2010, when he sprained an ankle.

4. What makes him so scary right now?
For one thing, Cabrera has adapted his swing in recent seasons. Compare the hit charts below from 2009 versus 2012-13. Now, he was still plenty awesome in 2009, hitting .324 with 34 home runs, but nearly all his home runs were pulled. Now he's more willing to take the ball the other way -- but still has the power to hit it out. His line-drive percentage right now is 26 percent -- more than 4 percent higher than last year. It's possible he's still getting better at the plate.

Cabrera Hit Chart ESPN Stats & InformationMiguel Cabrera's home runs don't just go over the left-field fence anymore, as most did in 2009.
5. Does he have a weakness?
Believe it or not, Cabrera struggles with pitches "up" in the zone. He's hitting .200/.400/.200 this year against pitches classified as such (36 plate appearances); last year, he hit .208/.453/.429. The trouble with pitching up in the zone is that you're also more likely to walk him. And if you miss too low, you're right in his wheelhouse. And Cabrera doesn't miss those pitches.

6. Remember skinny Miggy?
Of course, Cabrera has been a devastating hitter for years, going back to his Marlins days. Cabrera made his debut with the Marlins on June 20, 2003, and was 0-for-4 when he stepped up in the bottom of the 11th against Tampa Bay's Al Levine with a runner on. Levine threw a first-pitch fastball, and Cabrera crushed the ball over the fence in center field. He might have been 40 pounds lighter than now, but he always had the raw power. He also knew how to hit. "They got me out the first four times, but I told myself they are throwing a lot of fastballs, so I am going to look for a first-pitch fastball," he said after that debut blast.

Cabrera played left field and batted eighth that game. By the World Series he was batting cleanup.

7. OK, where does Cabrera rank among all-time right-handed batters?
Right now he's playing his age-30 season. He has 327 home runs, which ranks 11th -- more than Willie Mays had through age 30 but fewer than Andruw Jones or Juan Gonzalez. He's fifth in RBIs, behind only Jimmie Foxx, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Hank Aaron, and is a good bet to pass Aaron and maybe Pujols (70 behind).

8. Those are old-school stats. What about some of your fancy sabermetric stuff?
OK, let's look at OPS+ from Baseball-Reference.com -- a player's on-base plus slugging percentage, but adjusted for park and era. Cabrera doesn't fare quite as well there, with an OPS+ of 152, 16th-best since 1901, and behind Frank Thomas, Pujols, Jeff Bagwell, Ramirez and Mike Piazza, among more recent players (although better than A-Rod). Remember, the early part of Cabrera's career still came in the high-scoring period, which really didn't end until about 2008, when offensive numbers started dropping.

Using the wRC+ stat from FanGraphs, Cabrera ranks 19th among right-handed batters since 1901.


Who has been the AL MVP so far?


Discuss (Total votes: 4,807)

This makes Cabrera elite, but not necessarily a more valuable hitter than others we've seen in the past two decades. He can't match the on-base percentage that Thomas (.443) or Pujols (.426) posted through age 30, for example. (Cabrera is at .396). Even compared to Ramirez, Miggy's career-best slugging percentages have been .622 and .606 while Manny had seasons of .697, .663, .647 and .609 through age 30, plus three more above .600 after turning 30.

9. Does he have a shot at Aaron's career RBI record?
Definitely possible. Cabrera stands at at 1,160; Aaron had 2,297, so he's 1,137 away. That's how amazing Aaron was: Cabrera has recorded 100-plus RBIs nine seasons in a row and is barely halfway to Aaron's total. You can do the math pretty easily: Cabrera needs to average 114 RBIs for 10 seasons to catch him. Including this year, that takes him through age 39. Like Aaron, he'll have to remain productive and durable until he reaches 40.

10. Does he win the MVP award again?
Well, the voters do love them some RBIs, so I'd have to say he's the favorite right now.
Alex RodriguezUS PresswireAt age 20 in 1996, Alex Rodriguez boasted a 9.2 WAR for the Seattle Mariners.

A couple weeks ago, Keith Law unveiled his annual list of the top 25 players under the age of 25 Insider. Keith's list isn't a projection of the best players for 2013, but rather a projection and ordering of players if you were starting a franchise.

I thought it would be fun to do a similar list for all time. Of course, it's a difficult assignment because I was attempting to follow the same line of thinking as in Keith's piece: Whom would you build a team around? In doing this you have to pretend to ignore what happened in a player's career after a certain moment in time and project how he would have been valued at a particular age.

So this isn't just a list of the best players through the age of 24, or a list of the best seasons under the age of 25 -- although many of those players appear here. We're looking at the numbers and considering what the scouting reports would have been. Mark Fidrych, for example, was great at 21, but didn't possess the explosive fastball to make this list.

So here goes. A couple quick points. First, I ignored the 19th century. Second, I think it's important to understand that it was easier for a young player to excel in 1905 or 1929 or even into the 1950s than it is now. In my opinion, a 20-year-old Mike Trout dominating in 2012 is more impressive than a 20-year-old Ty Cobb dominating in 1907. Also, position matters. You build around up-the-middle guys more than corner guys (although there are some of those here). Cobb, for example, spent his early years as a right fielder before moving to center, so I downgraded him because of that.

Here's a way to look at this: If one player is ranked 23rd and another is ranked 14th, I'm saying I wouldn't trade the No. 14 player -- at that point in his career -- for the No. 23 player. Feel free, of course, to disagree.

25. Sam McDowell, LHP, 1965 Indians (age 22)

How dominant was McDowell in 1965? He averaged 10.71 strikeouts per nine innings, a record at the time and one that would last until 1984. In fact, while McDowell's K rate now ranks 25th all time, it's one of only three in the top 25 that came before 1990. He led the American League in ERA that year and the following May Sports Illustrated ran a cover story on McDowell with the billing, "Faster than Koufax?"

As you can see from his walk total, he had the blazing fastball but not Koufax-like command. That SI article perhaps points to some of McDowell's future issues in that it portrays him a pitcher with a fastball, slider, changeup and overhand curve ... and all too willing, apparently, to throw all four pitches. "He has such a good changeup that he wants to use it -- too much, in my opinion," catcher Del Crandall said. "I do not believe he is as impressed with his fastball as the hitters have indicated that they are."

McDowell liked to think out there. You wonder if he had just settled on two pitches -- maybe fastball/slider like Randy Johnson -- if he would have solved some of the control problems that did plague him throughout his career. The article mentions a game where he threw 163 pitches. "About par for me," McDowell said. Back then, nobody cared. "He has a good idea how to pitch," his manager Birdie Tebbetts said, "and he's going to be a real pitcher, one of the truly great ones. He runs three times as much as some pitchers, and he concentrates. He's going to get very tired in the next few years from all those pitches he throws, but he can stand that because he's young and strong, because he has a perfect build for a pitcher and because he doesn't have a sore-arm delivery. He's smooth."

24. Mel Ott, RF, 1929 Giants (age 20)

John McGraw didn't discover Ott so much as Ott found John McGraw. Ott was a 16-year-old playing for a lumber company semi-pro team in Louisiana when the lumber company owner bought Ott a train ticket to New York to try out for McGraw's Giants. A year later, Ott was playing in the Giants' outfield -- McGraw not wanting to farm out his young discovery to the minor leagues and have him fall prey to unknown evils.

Ott hit .322 with 18 home runs at age 19 and then exploded at age 20. Even in the high-scoring season of 1929, Ott's numbers were impressive: 42 home runs, one behind league leader Chuck Klein and the most ever by a 20-year-old; first in walks; fourth in on-base percentage and third in slugging percentage; second to Hack Wilson in RBIs. Ott -- helped by the short porch at the Polo Grounds -- never again hit 42 home runs but did lead the National League in homers six times and and in OBP four times.

23. Pete Reiser, CF, 1941 Dodgers (age 22)

Reiser's numbers are more impressive then they may appear at first glance: He led the National League in batting average, doubles, triples, runs, slugging percentage, total bases, runs created, OPS and OPS+, plus he was regarded as one of the fastest players in the league and played a terrific center field. Reiser led the NL in WAR that year, not that WAR existed in 1941, so teammate Dolph Camilli, who drove in 120 runs, won MVP honors.

Reiser would become one of baseball's legendary "what if" players. On July 19, 1942, he crashed head-first into an unpadded concrete wall in St. Louis, knocked unconscious with "blood pouring from his ears." Reiser either fractured his skull or didn't; history is a little murky on the whole incident, according to Steven Goldman. Reiser would miss only a few games and finished sixth in the MVP vote but he suffered from blurred vision the rest of the year. He was hitting .350 at the time, tailing off to .310 by the end of the season.

After that came World War II, and in 1947 Reiser crashed into another wall and was injured severely enough that he was given last rites. He was never the same. Does he deserve a spot in the top 25? While it's true that he may have never developed into a big home run hitter, it seemed clear he was already one of the game's best all-around players. Leo Durocher, who managed Reiser in '41, would say Willie Mays was the greatest player he ever managed, but that Reiser had the same potential.

22. Andruw Jones, CF, 1998 Braves (age 21)

Look where Jones stood at this point in his career: He already was compared to Willie Mays defensively (indeed, Baseball-Reference ranks Jones' 1998 season as the sixth-best since 1901 of any position, with his '99 season even better), hit more home runs than Ken Griffey Jr. did at the same age, stole 27 bases in 31 attempts and hit a respectable .271. There may have been some concern about the ultimate potential with the batting and on-base ability, but if you remember the young Jones, we saw a gifted all-around player with MVP glitter in his future.

Jones would have seasons of 51 home runs, a .302 average and as many as 83 walks -- he just never did all those things at once. He was a great player with his range in center, but eventually he got fat, his 30s were a big zero and a Hall of Fame career wasted away.

21. Bert Blyleven, RHP, 1973 Twins (age 22)

Blyleven ended up pitching so long and then his Hall of Fame debate became so heated that it's easy to forget that he was one of the greatest young pitchers of all time. He made the majors at 19 and the next year won 16 games with a 2.81 ERA. In the early '70s, pitchers were treated about as well as a herd of cattle intended for fast-food hamburgers and Blyleven pitched 278 innings at age 20, 287 at 21 and then 325 at age 22. Somehow his arm remained attached to the shoulder socket.

He threw nine shutouts in 1973 and two one-hitters, leading the AL in adjusted ERA and strikeout/walk ratio. That he finished seventh in the Cy Young vote was a reflection of less-informed times, when writers looked at his 20-17 win-loss record and failed to realize how good he was. While we know about his famous curveball, Bill James also rated Blyleven's fastball the ninth-best between 1970 and 1974. Sure, we would be concerned about Blyleven's workload, but he had the total package.

20. Bryce Harper, OF, 2012 Nationals (age 19)

In terms of WAR, Harper just had the best season ever by a 19-year-old position player. The rest of the top five: Mel Ott, Edgar Renteria, Ken Griffey Jr. and Ty Cobb. And Ott is 1.3 wins behind Harper.

19. Frank Tanana, LHP, 1975 Angels (age 21)

Maybe you remember the old junkballing Tanana instead of the young flamethrower who compiled 22.3 WAR from ages 21 to 23 -- second-best over those three ages since 1901, trailing only Walter Johnson (22.7). Nolan Ryan was a teammate those three years and Tanana was better: He went 50-28 with a 2.53 ERA while Ryan went 50-46, 3.16.

As a 21-year-old, Tanana led the AL in strikeouts and strikeout/walk ratio while finishing fourth in the Cy Young voting. Two years later, Sports Illustrated's Ron Fimrite wrote, "They know it exists; they just cannot find it, because the Tanana curve is among the most wicked in all of baseball. But then so are his fastball and his changeup. And all three are thrown with withering accuracy. Unlike Ryan, with whom he forms the most devastating one-two pitching entry in the game, he has complete control." James ranked Tanana's fastball the third-best of that era, behind two famous ones: Ryan's and Goose Gossage's.

Then he hurt his shoulder, and lost his speed. To his credit, he stuck around to win 240 games.

18. Hank Aaron, RF, 1957 Braves (age 23)

Aaron hit .314 at 21, won a batting title with a .328 mark at 22, but at age 23 his power exploded as he hit those 44 home runs and won what would be the only MVP Award of his career. Aaron led the NL in home runs, RBIs and runs and chased the Triple Crown into August (he would finish fourth in batting average). The only thing he didn't do yet was run -- one steal that year (though at his base-stealing peak in 1963 he took 31 bases).

In a profile that year in Sports Illustrated -- titled, appropriately, "Murder With A Blunt Instrument" -- Roy Terrell painted the image of Aaron that would last throughout his career: "Perhaps the most unusual part of the Aaron story is the fact that no one gets very excited about it. Sometimes it is even easy to forget that Henry Aaron is around. Without the physical proportions or explosive speed of a Mickey Mantle, without the breathtaking color of a Willie Mays, without the long and brilliant -- and controversial -- career of a Ted Williams, Aaron seems to be hardly a personality at all. He says practically nothing, stays out of nightclubs, never loses his cap running the bases, and spits only upon the ground."

17. Al Kaline, RF, 1955 Tigers (age 20)

Here's one example of why this list was difficult to put together: Do you take the 20-year-old Kaline over the 23-year-old Aaron? Or the 20-year-old Kaline over the 21-year-old Aaron for that matter? I think you have to go with Kaline, trying to ignore what happened after each age. An 18-year-old bonus baby in 1953, in 1955 Kaline led the AL with his .340 average, 200 hits and 321 total bases. He finished second in the MVP vote to Yogi Berra. He played a terrific right field.

Kaline went on to collect 3,000 hits and become a Hall of Famer, of course, but 1955 remained arguably the best year of his career (in terms of WAR, 1961 edges it out at 8.2). Kaline never hit 30 home runs and never hit .340 again. Looking back at '55, he got off to a great start, hitting over .400 in April and .371 in the first half (.301 in the second). Perhaps the league eventually figured something out; he also tore up the woeful Kansas City A's that year, hitting .451 against them with nine of his 27 home runs.

16. Cesar Cedeno, CF, 1972 Astros (age 21)

The sky was the proverbial limit for Cedeno in 1972 when he finished third in the NL in OPS while playing in the expansive Astrodome. Not shown above: He stole 55 bases and won a Gold Glove. Cedeno was outstanding again the next year, hitting .320 with 25 home runs and 56 steals. What happened from there? I wrote about his cautionary tale last August.

15. Mark Prior, RHP, 2003 Cubs (age 22)

How good was Prior in his first full season in the majors? As good as advertised when he came out of USC. From 1994 to 2004, the only pitchers with a lower ERA in a season were Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Kevin Brown, Roger Clemens, Jake Peavy, Randy Johnson and Jason Schmidt. In the heart of the steroids era, Prior looked like the next Clemens, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound horse who would lead the Cubs to a World Series championship.

"Chicago Heat" read the Sports Illustrated cover that summer, featuring Prior and Kerry Wood. The article detailed Prior's extensive conditioning program between starts and his fundamentally sound mechanics.

The next year, he got hurt.

14. Eddie Mathews, 3B, 1953 Braves (age 21)

Check those numbers again. Mathews' 47 home runs not only led the NL but remain the most ever for a player 21 or younger -- 20-year-old Mel Ott being the only other player that young to hit at least 40. Ty Cobb had seen Mathews as a minor leaguer and declared, "I’ve only known three or four perfect swings in my time. This lad has one of them."

Mathews finished second in the MVP voting to Roy Campanella that year, but in some regards, Mathews spent the rest of his career trying to live up to the unlimited promise of his sophomore campaign. He would finish second again in the 1959 MVP vote and hit over 500 home runs but tailed off in his early 30s. In his autobiography, Mathews mentioned that his drinking caused him to lose several jobs in baseball, including a stint as Braves manager in the early '70s, although it's unclear if that was a problem during his playing days.

13. Cal Ripken, SS, 1983 Orioles (age 22)

On June 22, 1982, Earl Weaver moved a 21-year-old rookie from third base to shortstop in a game against Cleveland. The Orioles lost 8-6 and the kid moved back to third base. On July 1, Weaver started the rookie again at shortstop. He'd spend the next 14 years there -- starting every game.

In his first full season at shortstop, Cal Ripken's Orioles won the AL East (and went on to win the World Series) and Ripken captured MVP honors with his strong year at the plate -- he led the AL in runs and finished second in total bases -- and surprising defense up the middle. Maybe he didn't have the speed of other shortstops, but his arm strength allowed him to play deep and he had a quick first step.

Ripken's bat never really developed from where it was as a 22-year-old -- he only had two more seasons that compared, offensively, to 1983 (1984 and his second MVP season of 1991) -- and while too much attention was paid to his ironman streak, he remained a power-hitting shortstop with underrated defense.

12. Walter Johnson, RHP, 1910 Senators (age 22)

Johnson's speed was apparent from the day he joined the Senators in 1907, a raw youngster with impossibly long arms. After losing 25 games in 1909 -- the Senators were awful -- Johnson had his breakthrough season at 22, winning 25 games for a team that would limp to a 66-85. Johnson led the AL in games started, complete games, innings pitched and strikeouts, and threw eight shutouts.

That offseason, the Washington Post circulated a rumored trade of Johnson for Ty Cobb. Tigers president Frank Navin denied the rumor, saying the Senators would never trade Johnson, whom Navin called "in my opinion the best young pitcher in the country, and doubly valuable because he is so young."

Was Johnson the hardest thrower of all time? It's possible, although some speculate that Johnson was merely the first pitcher to throw hard all the time (instead of saving his best stuff for key situations, as most pitchers could do during the dead-ball era), thus making his fastball seem faster than it was. Cobb would probably disagree with that. In Henry Thomas' biography of Johnson, he quotes Cobb saying, "The first time I saw him, I watched him take that easy windup -- and then something went past me that made me flinch. I hardly saw the pitch, but I heard it. The thing just hissed with danger. Every one of us knew we'd met the most powerful arm ever turned loose in a ballpark."

11. Vida Blue, LHP, 1971 A's (age 21)

Blue had started only 10 games in the big leagues (those 10 games included a no-hitter and one-hitter) when the 1971 season began. He got knocked out in the second inning of the season opener, but then quickly announced his presence: A six-inning shutout with 13 strikeouts in his next start, followed by a two-hit shutout and then eight complete games in his next nine starts, including three more shutouts. At the All-Star break he was 17-3 with a 1.42 ERA and 17 complete games in 22 starts. He would appear on the covers of Sports Illustrated and Time.

"He throws harder than Sandy Koufax did," Orioles first baseman Boog Powell said that season. "He has an effortless motion, a smooth, compact delivery. He goes out for nine innings and doesn't seem to weaken."

Blue relied mainly on his overpowering fastball, which he sometimes "cut" to add sinking movement. He also had a curveball and threw an occasional changeup. Blue was an outstanding athlete -- he threw 35 touchdown passes his senior year in high school, but chose baseball because there wasn't a future in pro football back then for black quarterbacks.

Blue's usage was an issue that summer and manager Dick Williams did cut back in the second half. But the damage may have been done. A holdout in 1972 -- Blue went 6-10 that year -- didn't help matters. But a quote from teammate Sal Bando in 1973 sums up why Blue, while remaining an excellent pitcher, never duplicated his 1971 wonders: "He found out that you can't throw the fastball for 300 innings."

10. Ken Griffey Jr., CF, 1990 Mariners (age 20)

"The Natural," billed the Sports Illustrated cover in May of 1990. Indeed, when told before one game to watch out for Bert Blyleven's curveball, Junior asked, "Is he a righty or lefty?" Griffey hit .300 and slugged .481 in his second year in the bigs with that picture-perfect swing, numbers more impressive in those years before muscles and offense exploded. He ranked seventh in the AL in batting average and ninth in slugging, won a Gold Glove and drew the inevitable comparisons to the next man on our list.

Am I overrating him on the list? After all, Bryce Harper had the same WAR in 2012, at the age of 19, as Griffey had at 20 and is 10 spots lower on the list. I think there was a certain awe about Griffey's potential at the time -- the leaping grabs in center field, the ability to hit for average, the untapped power that would eventually be unleashed. As Bill James wrote then, "He hasn't been overhyped; he's worth it. Griffey is the only major league player who has not yet established reasonable limits for himself. He could be anything -- he could be the greatest player there ever was, or he could be Cesar Cedeno."

I guess you could say the same thing right now about Harper, but let's wait a year on him. Obviously, I think he's going be awesome -- he's on this list after all -- but potential is a tough label to put on one so young.

9. Willie Mays, CF, 1954 Giants (age 23)

Mays missed most of 1952 and all of 1953 in the Army, but his return to the majors was so spectacular that he cracks my top 10, even if he is a little older than most of the others on this list. This is what the debate is all about: Would you trade 23-year-old Willie Mays for 20-year-old Ken Griffey Jr.? Mays led the NL in batting average and slugging percentage while finishing third in home runs. If there had been a Gold Glove Award back then, Mays would have won that, too. He did capture MVP honors and deservedly so.

I think the difference is this: The 23-year-old Mays was the finished product; the 20-year-old Griffey wasn't. While Griffey did develop into the player everyone projected, Mays was already that player. While Griffey made the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1990, Mays made the cover of Time in 1954. In July, Mays appeared on three network TV shows in one weekend. He was a phenomenon, and a Newsweek headline read: "Willie Mays: The Hottest Thing Since Babe Ruth."

8. Bob Feller, RHP, 1939 Indians (age 20)

I could have put the 17-year-old Feller on the list (he made the majors while still a high school junior in Iowa and struck out 17 batters in a game that September), or the 18-year-old Feller (he appeared on the cover of Time that spring and his high school graduation was aired by NBC Radio), or the 19-year-old Feller (went 17-11 with a 4.08 ERA but walked 208 batters), but I think the 20-year-old Feller is the better choice.

It was his breakout season and while he still wasn't quite polished, his control had improved enough for him to make that leap to superstar status. He led the AL in wins, innings and strikeouts. In a league where only eight pitchers struck out 100 batters, Feller had 246. How fast did Feller throw? In the days before radar guns, he challenged a motorcycle in the summer of 1940. The motorcycle was racing at 86 mph as it flew past Feller as he unleashed his pitch. He managed to hit the target on his first try -- three feet ahead of the motorcycle. MLB declared he threw the ball 104 mph.

7. Mickey Mantle, CF, 1956 Yankees (age 24)

The oldest player on my list, you could argue I made the wrong choice: That 20-year-old Mickey Mantle was more valuable than 24-year-old Mantle, in part because in a theoretical trade you would lose the four seasons from ages 20-23. I'm sure Nate Silver or Dan Szymborski could run the numbers through their projection system and give a mathematical answer. Anyway, the 20-year-old Mantle was already one of the best players in the league: He hit .311 with 23 home runs, led the AL in OPS and finished third in the MVP vote. He remained at the level the next two seasons then hit 37 home runs at age 23.

But then ... then came one of the greatest seasons in major league history. Mantle hit .353 with 52 home runs and won the Triple Crown. He slugged .705 and had a 1.169 OPS. At the time, you may have thought: OK, Mantle raised his game to a new level -- the highest level -- and he's just entering his peak years; he may do this for the next seven or eight seasons. We know now that didn't quite happen. He was nearly as good in 1957 when he hit .365 and had an on-base percentage over .500, but those were his two best years.

That Mantle wasn't able to maintain that level of play isn't really a knock against him, although we can debate how much was bad knees and other injuries and how much was off-the-field habits. But he was so good in 1956 that even a 20-year-old Mantle -- even a raw kid with big speed and huge power -- couldn't have been projected to have this kind of season.

6. Joe DiMaggio, CF, 1937 Yankees (age 22)

Picture Joe D at age 22: Second season in the majors, a league-leading 46 home runs, a league-leading 151 runs scored, third in batting average, second in RBIs, first in slugging percentage, graceful in the outfield and on the bases, nearly twice as many walks as strikeouts, the best player on the best team in the world. What kind of future would that player have?

By WAR, it would be DiMaggio's second-best season. One reason I ranked him sixth is that you could easily project a 22-year-old who hit 46 home runs to become a 50-homer guy; but the 46 would be DiMaggio's career high, as he never hit 40 again. (Yankee Stadium, with its mammoth 457 feet to left-center, certainly hurt him; he hit 27 homers on the road in 1937, for example.)

"Name a better right-handed hitter, or a better thrower, or a better fielder, or a better baserunner," Hank Greenberg once said. "That's right, a better baserunner. Did you ever see him slide when he hooked the bag with his toe? Absolutely perfect."

5. Mike Trout, CF, 2012 Angels (age 20)

Wait: I just ran that quote and then ranked Trout ahead of DiMaggio? Well, where do we begin?

1. Trout just played his age-20 season (he turned 21 in August). DiMaggio was still in the Pacific Coast League at 20.

2. DiMaggio may have been a great baserunner, but he did play in an era when there weren't many stolen bases. He stole 30 bases in his career; Trout just stole 49 bases in 54 attempts.

3. Check their adjusted OPS. Trout's is actually a shade higher. The AL hit .281/.355/.415 in 1937; it hit .255/.320/.411 in 2012.

4. Trout drew more walks in fewer plate appearances -- in a league where pitchers averaged nearly a walk less per nine innings.

5. Trout's WAR is the highest of any 20-year-old position player. Or 21-year-old for that matter.

So ... yes, I would rather build around 20-year-old Mike Trout than 22-year-old Joe DiMaggio.

4. Johnny Bench, C, 1970 Reds (age 22)

The only catcher to make the list, Bench's value, in part, lies in that positional scarcity. Who was he in 1970? Only the NL MVP after leading the league in home runs and RBIs while possessing the strongest arm many had ever seen -- he started 130 games at catcher and allowed only 32 steals while throwing out 30. You did not run on Johnny Bench.

3. Ted Williams, LF, 1941 Red Sox (age 22)

OK, maybe he couldn't play center field like DiMaggio or Trout. But the man did hit .400. By the way, the feat is more impressive now than it was at the time. From 1935 to 1940, seven players had hit better than .370, including Luke Appling's .388 mark. So Williams was 18 points higher than the recently established high at the time. The highest average in the past seven years was Joe Mauer's .365 mark in 2009, so in some fashion Williams' .406 would be akin to somebody hitting .383 today. (The AL hit .267 in 2009 and .266 in 1941.)

2. Dwight Gooden, RHP, 1985 Mets (age 20)

All these years later, I'm still trying to figure out how Gooden finished fourth in the MVP vote. "His pitch does everything," Cubs first baseman Leon Durham said that year. "It moves, it sinks, it rises." Gooden threw a hard curve and a slow curve and hitters couldn't touch either one. Batters hit .201 off him and slugged .270. He threw eight shutouts -- and that doesn't count two other games where he pitched nine innings with no runs and got a no-decision. He allowed one run or fewer in 19 of his 35 starts.

It wasn't just the best pitching season ever by a young starter, it may have been the best, period. Baseball-Reference.com rates it fourth-best since 1901, behind two Walter Johnson seasons and one Cy Young year, back in the days when hitters didn't hit home runs and pitchers could spit on the ball.

What happened? Sure, there were the drugs and maybe hitters learned to lay off the high fastball and maybe he lost the feel for his curveball -- as good as Blyleven's they said -- and then pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre instructed him not to go for strikeouts all the time and he hurt his shoulder in 1989 and was definitely never the same after that.

But in 1985, in that glorious summer, Dr. K was as good as any pitcher ever was.

1. Alex Rodriguez, SS, 1996 Mariners (age 20)

"The way he's going, someday he might bat .400 and hit 60 home runs. He's the best young talent I've seen in years." -- Red Sox GM Dan Duquette, summer of 1996.

I think the 20-year-old A-Rod is the pretty easy call for No. 1. He was already a five-tool player, leading the AL in batting average while swatting 36 home runs and a league-leading 54 doubles. He was polished in the field, with range and a strong arm. Like Trout now, he didn't have to get better to become the best player in baseball.

For me, as a Mariners fan, I can't believe that was 17 years ago. As much as I loved the young Griffey or the middle-aged Edgar Martinez or the fireballing Randy Johnson, Rodriguez's year was something special, when a player so young is so good you can only cherish the present and dream of a future with no limits.

* * * *

Honorable mention: Christy Mathewson, Ty Cobb, Smoky Joe Wood, Babe Ruth (the pitcher), Rogers Hornsby, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Arky Vaughan, Herb Score, Frank Robinson, Don Drysdale, Vada Pinson, Rickey Henderson, Roger Clemens, Albert Pujols.

Hall of Fame already compromised by PEDs

December, 28, 2012
The announcement of the 2013 Hall of Fame voting results is around the corner, and there's sure to be plenty of teeth gnashing involved once they come out on January 9. We might be treated to the spectacle of purportedly clean players like Craig Biggio and Jack Morris voted in, while vastly superior players like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds remain on the outside looking in. Is this a case of results may vary? No, my friends, make no mistake: Results will vary.

[+] EnlargeBiggio
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesBeing a player who was not suspected of using PEDs should enhance Craig Biggio's Hall of Fame chances.
Particularly where purported performance-enhancers are concerned, you already know to expect plenty of slow news day moralizing and some character assassination when the results come out. For that kind of sports-page sermonizing you can thank the guidelines, such as they are. What constitutes a Hall of Fame ballplayer is an opaque mishmash: “Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

The first two are rough synonyms for what a guy did on the field, which we can measure fairly objectively thanks to Alexander Cartwright. In contrast, the next three are entirely subjective and depend on the individual voter's sense -- or flat-out guess -- about these things and their importance; relative to the first two statistical bases for voting, they're sort of apples to oranges. Sure, they might matter, but good luck on nailing down how much and to what extent; results will certainly vary from voter to voter. And that last suggested standard sort of sums of these two broad categories of criteria, which to stretch the metaphor must make it a pluot or something.

Then there's the tradition of some voters withholding their votes for some first-timers on the ballot because these knowing scribes worry about how only a certain kind of player is “supposed” to get in during his first year. This seems like a self-important, self-reinforcing conceit, that first-year winners are special as opposed to their getting in the first year being a special result. Special, as opposed to mere Hall of Fame ballplayers? If a player is special, just vote for him already; even these made-up standards have made-up standards.

For all that, I'm nevertheless looking forward to the day when I may eventually get to vote. You might reasonably think that's because I'll get to use the ballot to sound off about players I've seen, analyzed, touted and excoriated, but that's not quite it. There's little about talking about a player's performance relative to the Hall of Fame which is any different from what every electron-stained wretch in the Fourth Estate gets to do every day … except for the responsibility voting entails, and come the day, I figure I'll be leaning heavily on the first two criteria for election more than the others.

That's because working as a baseball writer for 15 years has taught me that, while there are plenty of ways to be objective about a player's career, there's wisdom in leaning on the expertise of others. I expect to refer to the work of an old Baseball Prospectus colleague, Jay Jaffe, and his Jaffe WARP Score system metric for evaluating players' careers to suggest Hall worthiness using the statistical standards informally established by the examples of who's been voted in already.

Using JAWS to look at this year's ballot on Baseball-Reference.com, we can see that there might be as many as 13, maybe even 14 guys worthy of election because they're at least within a point or two of their already enshrined peers: Bonds, Biggio and Clemens, plus Jeff Bagwell, Curt Schilling, Larry Walker, Alan Trammell, Tim Raines, Kenny Lofton, Edgar Martinez, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire and Mike Piazza. Lee Smith is kind of tricky, because there aren't a ton of relievers in the Hall of Fame, and the standards for relief greatness have changed dramatically over a very short period of time. Each case is fun to mull over, and it'll be interesting to see how they do.

As simple as that might seem, you can bet voting won't be that simple for most voters, because a good number of them will be publicly wringing their hands over the purported performance-enhancing benefits of PEDs and whether players suspected of using them to enhance their performance should be banned because their use is considered antithetical to those standards of “integrity, sportsmanship, and character.”

[+] EnlargeBarry Bonds
AP Photo/Noah BergerBarry Bonds will likely be more successful with his 2011 perjury trial than with January's Hall of Fame voting.
I admit, I prefer evidence in such matters: Convictions in court or suspensions by MLB, clear violations of baseball's rules against the non-prescription use of prescription drugs. That rule has been on the books since 1971, much longer ago than the 2005 agreement specifically banning PEDs like steroids and amphetamines. Using either was a clear case of breaking rules within the game and -- since 1991, when possession of a non-prescription steroid became a federal crime -- and the law outside of it.

The game's lax enforcement of its own rule across the decades since and the writers' willingness to do likewise by enshrining amphetamine users suggests to me that the issue today is less about the numbers or even guilt and innocence by the nebulous standards of “integrity, sportsmanship, and character,” and more about writers going on about the immorality of steroids and stooping to playing make-believe about some players while doing so.

Witness what's happened to Jeff Bagwell: Innocent by any reasonable or legal standard, he's been loudly pronounced guilty by a few character assassins with votes who retroactively decided he somehow looked 'roid-y back in the day. The witches of Salem got better due process, but that's the problem in a nutshell: The issue of PEDs has become less about actual guilt or innocence, and isn't even about performance or performance-enhancement, if ever it was. Instead, it has become an opportunity for one sportswriter or another to be visible as a noisily moral public person. Swell.

For those who are squeamish about voting for one PED suspect or another, I guess I'd remind them that the Hall already represents a collection of shabby compromises and irrevocable judgments, which we are not free to undo. We don't get to kick out Cap Anson because we can't be sure how many hits he had, or because today we'd consider him a racist guilty of wrecking decades of baseball history by fighting for the game's segregation, probably the worst thing anyone associated with the game's history has been a part of.

And we also don't get to go back and kick out the amphetamine users. I mean, c'mon, no Mike Schmidt or Hank Aaron in the Hall of Fame? By their own admission they broke the same baseball rule on the books that Bonds did, and they did so for the same reason -- to enhance their performance.

Which is why I'd go so far as to say this: If you're worrying for the sake of the sanctity of the Hall where Bonds or Clemens are concerned, you need to ask and answer whether it still has any, or ever did. And after that, perhaps we'll come to the conclusion that the Hall's purpose is not to play make-believe about some players to keep them in or keep them out, but is instead to preserve the game's history, many warts and all.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.
Barry Bonds, Randy JohnsonAP Photo/Eric RisbergBarry Bonds hit three home runs in 49 at-bats against left-handed power thrower Randy Johnson.
The other night I tweeted something like, "Would love to see Aroldis Chapman face 2001 Barry Bonds." On the Baseball Today podcast, we had a reader ask us about best pitcher-hitter matchups to watch for over the next few years.

With that prompt, I'd thought it would be fun to list 10 of my all-time favorite matchups I would have wanted to see ... although a few of them are recent enough that some of us did see them. With help from Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org, we can even find results of the matchups.

Ty Cobb versus Walter Johnson (.366, 1 HR)
According to researcher Terry Cullen, Cobb hit .366 in his career off Johnson (120-for-328) -- pretty amazing considering Cobb's average against all pitchers was ... .366. While Cobb reportedly said Johnson's fastball "looked about the size of a watermelon seed and it hissed at you as it passed," he certainly didn't have issues hitting it. Cobb knew Johnson was too nice to pitch inside, so he'd crowd the plate. "I saw him wince when he fired one close to somebody's head, and he used to tell me that he was afraid someday that he would kill a man with that fireball," Cobb once said. "So I used to cheat. I'd crowd that plate so far that I was actually sticking my toes on it when I was facing Johnson. I knew he was timid about hitting a batter, and when he saw me crowding the plate he'd steer his pitches a little bit wide. Then with two balls and no strikes, he'd ease up a bit to get it over. That's the Johnson pitch I hit. I was depending on him to be scared of hitting me." Now, that's what Cobb said; seems a little too simple though, doesn't it? Why didn't every hitter do that? There's no doubt the approach helped Cobb, but unlike most hitters, he could hit Johnson's fastball. (By the way, his only home run off Johnson was an inside-the-parker.)

Babe Ruth versus Lefty Grove (incomplete)
Some say Grove was the best pitcher of all time -- 300 wins with a .680 winning percentage, nine ERA titles, seven consecutive strikeout titles. Wouldn't you love to see Ruth taking a big cut against Grove's legendary fastball? I couldn't find Ruth career's numbers against Grove, but he did hit nine home runs off him, tied with Lou Gehrig and Hank Greenberg for the most against Grove. In the data Retrosheet has available, Ruth hit .300/.349/.438 with three home runs in 80 at-bats, six walks and 27 K's.

Ted Williams versus Bob Feller (.347/.467/.677, 9 HR in 124 ABs)
Those numbers are from Retrosheet, but are incomplete. From 1948 to 1956, Williams crushed Feller -- .389/.511/.833, with eight home runs in 72 at-bats. So, at least initially, Feller fared better before Williams started dominating. Williams did call Feller the best pitcher he ever faced.

Willie Mays versus Bob Gibson (.196/.315/.304, 3 HR in 92 ABs)
With his fastball/slider combo, you might expect that Gibson was tough on right-handed batters and you'd be correct: right-handers hit .204 against him, left-handers .257. Basically, he owned Mays, who struck out 30 times in 108 plate appearances and had just four extra-base hits. In James Hirsch's biography of Mays he tells the story of Gibson once visiting Mays' home wearing glasses. Gibson didn't wear them when he pitched. "You wear glasses? Man, you're going to kill somebody one of those days," Mays said. Hirsch writes that later in his career Mays started conveniently scheduling off days against hard-throwers like Gibson and Tom Seaver, and that he always preferred off-speed pitches to fastballs.

Hank Aaron versus Bob Gibson (.215/.278/.423, 8 HR in 163 ABs)
Aaron had a little more success than Mays. So who did hit well against Gibson? Billy Williams hit .259 but with 10 home runs in 174 at-bats and 24 walks against 14 strikeouts. Richie Hebner had a 1.127 OPS against Gibson in 74 PAs, batting .387. Darrell Evans, facing mostly the late-career Gibson, never struck out against him in 35 PAs, drawing 11 walks and and hitting three home runs.

Willie Mays versus Sandy Koufax (.278/.426/.536, 5 HR in 97 ABs)
Of course, Mays faced the young Koufax, and then the unhittable Koufax. During Koufax's 1962-1966 run, when he led the National League each season in ERA, Mays still hit a respectable .242/.373/.484, with more walks than strikeouts.

Hank Aaron versus Sandy Koufax (.362/.431/.647, 7 HR in 116 ABs)
Of 73 players with at least 40 career plate appearances against Koufax, only five hit .300. Most of that damage was against pre-'62 Koufax, as Aaron hit .259 from '62 to '66.

Mike Schmidt versus Nolan Ryan (.179/.405/.482, 5 HR in 56 ABs)
Ryan came over to the Astros in 1980, the year Schmidt won the first of his three MVP trophies. In the ultimate battle of power hitter versus power pitcher, the results were perhaps what you would expect: Schmidt hit for a low average, but got on base and popped home runs at a pretty good ratio.

Barry Bonds versus Greg Maddux (.265/.376/.508, 9 HR in 132 ABs)
The two came up in 1986, so it's not surprising that Maddux faced Bonds more than any hitter in his career. How good was Bonds? Even the pitcher with pinpoint control walked him 24 times in 157 PAs with just 16 strikeouts. Bonds' nine home runs off Maddux are the most he hit off one pitcher, tied with John Smoltz. Bonds had an .883 OPS against Maddux, but 1.138 against Smoltz and .992 against Tom Glavine. Who did own Bonds? He went 3-for-33 off Chuck McElroy, with just one walk (although two home runs).

Barry Bonds versus Randy Johnson (.306/.452/.551, 3 HR in 49 ABs)
Johnson had 37 intentional walks in his career; 34 were to right-handed batters. Two were to Barry Bonds. The other? Jeremy Hermida. Go figure. The first walk to Bonds came in 2003, runner on second, no outs, sixth inning, Diamondbacks down 2-0. The second one came in 2004 and is more interesting: 2004, game tied in the fifth, runners on first and second. Edgardo Alfonzo hit a fly ball to deep left-center that Luis Gonzalez dropped; Steve Finley was then credited with an error on the throw in as all three runners scored. The walk to Hermida came in 2008, in a game Hermida was batting eighth. Maybe that's when Johnson knew he was nearing the end.

What are some of your favorite matchups?

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
Albert PujolsAP Photo/Chris CarlsonAlbert Pujols isn't alone among elite hitters who have had prolonged slumps.
The shocking thing about Albert Pujols' start, of course, is that if any player seemed immune to a slump it was him.

After all, this is player who ranks eighth all time in career adjusted OPS, behind seven guys named Ruth, Williams, Bonds, Gehrig, Hornsby, Mantle and Brouthers. (Well, maybe you don't know that last guy. That's Dan Brouthers, who played in the 19th century). Pujols never had a bad month. OK, he did twice hit under .250 in a month -- July of 2001, his rookie season, when he hit .241 but still hit four home runs and had a .793 OPS; and last April, when he hit .245 but slugged seven home runs.

But we're now 24 games into the season and Pujols is homerless with a feeble .208/.255/.292 line. I broke down his issues last week, but I wanted to take another approach. Have other all-time great hitters ever gone through a similar spell while still in their prime seasons? I examined seven of the best post-World War II hitters to see.

Stan Musial
April 15-June 12, 1947: 44 games, .202/.298/.345, 5 HR, 23 BB, 13 SO
Musial didn't quite have the power of Pujols but did top 30 home runs six times. Not surprisingly for a guy who hit .300 for the first 16 seasons of his career, he didn't suffer many dry spells. As it turns out, even his slow start in 1947 was caused by bad health -- appendicitis and tonsillitis.

Willie Mays
April 17-May 13, 1956: 22 games, .209/.303/.384, 3 HR, 11 BB, 8 SO
Mays actually went through a few slumps in his career, unusual for hitters of his caliber. Here's one from the start of the 1956 season. Through 42 games he still had just four home runs. Good news for Angels fans: Mays still finished with 36 home runs as he hit six home runs in both June and July, nine in August and 11 in September.

July 3-Aug. 3, 1958: 30 games, .250/.356/.313, 0 HR, 19 BB, 10 SO
Mays went through a long homerless drought in 1958. Before the drought, he missed two games while hospitalized with fatigue. In fact, going back to May, Mays would hit just three home runs over a 65-game stretch. One big difference between this slump and Pujols' slump: Mays had 19 walks and 10 strikeouts while Pujols has six walks and 14 strikeouts. He'd finish the year hitting .347 with 29 home runs.

May 28-June 25, 1959: 27 games, .265/.318/.367, 1 HR, 8 BB, 8 SO
According James Hirsch's "Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend," Mays battled a couple injuries during his span. On June 1, a home-plate collision with Del Rise left him with bruised shins. Rice broke his leg on the play and Mays left the game. Three days later, Mays hurt his shoulder in another home-plate collision. He played for a few days after that but then missed five games, available only to pinch-hit.

Aug. 28-Sept. 30, 1960: 32 games, .288/.343/.400, 0 HR, 9 BB, 10 SO
Mays hit .319 with 20 home runs in 1960, but only a home run on the final day of the season prevented a homerless September. Still, he managed to hit .288 during this power drought.

April 22-May 15, 1963: 22 games, .244/.330/.329, 1 HR, 11 BB, 10 SO
Now 32 -- the same age as Pujols -- Mays appeared to have just had a slow stretch soon after the season began. He'd still finish with a .314 average and 38 home runs and finish fifth in the MVP vote. Best-case scenario for Pujols?

June 24-July 31, 1965: 22 games, .223/.289/301, 2 HR, 10 BB, 11 SO
One final slump for Mays, but this one was another injury-related one. According to Hirsch's book, Mays pulled groin muscle on June 30 and then bruised his thigh and hip in a home-plate collision on July 10 that forced him to leave the game. Nonetheless, he'd still end up with one of his greatest seasons: a career-high 52 home runs and his second MVP trophy.

Hank Aaron
June 1-June 25, 1956: 28 games, .227/.277/.327, 1 HR, 8 BB, 10 SO
Few players matched the Aaron's consistency. This was just his second full season, still 22 years old. He'd end up winning the batting title that year with a .328 mark.

April 25-May 28, 1958: 31 games, .208/.288/.320 1 HR, 14 BB, 14 SO
Despite this dry spell, Aaron would finish at .326 with 30 home runs.

May 2-June 9, 1968: 32 games, .179/.268/.325, 3 HR, 16 BB, 15 SO
Aaron was 34 by now and 1968 was the famous Year of the Pitcher. Aaron would recover to hit .287 with 29 home runs -- big numbers for that season, as he ranked fifth in the NL in home runs.

Barry Bonds
April 8-May 19, 1991: 31 games, .182/.272/.255, 2 HR, 14 BB, 21 SO

I checked Bonds from 1990 to 1999, and this was the only bad stretch he had. It was likely caused by a bruised thumb that did force him to miss four games in early April and took time to heal.

July 28-Sept. 1, 1995: 33 games, .208/.386/.396, 4 HR, 28 BB, 25 SO
Here's another low-average stretch for Bonds, but even then he hit a few home runs and drew 28 walks in 33 games. Again, that's one big problem Pujols is having: his walk rate has declined significantly.

Manny Ramirez
Sept. 1995: .247/.314/.333, 1 HR in 24 games
Not too many bad months for Ramirez. This one came at the end of his first full season in the majors.

April 2007: 24 games, .202/.314/.315, 2 HR, 15 BB, 15 SO
Another slow stretch. Ramirez would finish with a .296 average and 20 home runs in 133 games.

Alex Rodriguez
Sept. 1999: .183, but seven home runs
June 1-June 26, 2006: 22 games, .213/.351/.325, 2 HR, 15 BB, 24 SO
July 26-August 20, 2010: 20 games, .195/.241/.416, 5 HR, 5 BB, 18 SO

A-Rod has had a few low-average periods in his career, but has usually kept his power intact. That poor 2010 stretch includes various ailments -- hip flexor tendinitis, a bruised shin and a strained calf muscle.

Miguel Cabrera
August 2007: .229/.345/.448, five home runs

Cabrera has essentially been slump-proof so far. This is the worst month on his record and it was still a big spike compared to what Pujols has done.

Why does this all mean? I guess there is enough anecdotal evidence here that even superstar hitters in the prime (or very near their prime) can still have rough stretches for 20-plus games. Look, Pujols isn't going to turn into a .220 hitter overnight. Yes, he's undoubtedly hit into some bad luck so far. Maybe like Willie Mays in 1963 or 1965 he can suffer through this slump and still put up MVP numbers. Hey, it's one reason we watch. Because we don't really know, do we?

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
We've moved on to the second round of the Greatest MLB Season Ever bracket. All top-10 seeds advanced, but there were three upsets; interestingly, all involved shortstops. Alex Rodriguez lost to Ken Griffey Jr. in a Mariners death duel (got destroyed, actually, 87 percent to 13 percent); Hank Aaron defeated Robin Yount, 61 to 39 percent; and Jimmie Foxx creamed Cal Ripken, 71 to 29 percent. Maybe I'll have to write up a post on the value of positional scarcity.

[+] EnlargeHenry Aaron
AP File PhotoThe Milwaukee Braves' Hank Aaron was named the NL's MVP in 1957.
I'm not surprised about Rodriguez; even though I chose one of his "pre-steroid" seasons, he's not exactly a fan favorite. Griffey has no PED stain on his reputation, a huge advantage in a popular vote like this. I was surprised Ripken lost so easily to Foxx, despite Foxx's awesome power numbers in 1932 (58 home runs, 169 RBIs). Ripken remains one of the most beloved players ever, and while his raw numbers in 1991 might not immediately impress (.323, 34 home runs, 114 RBIs), those were tremendous numbers for that season and especially tremendous for a shortstop in the pre-Rodriguez/Jeter/Garciaparra era.

But here's what stands out to me: Baseball fans still show great respect for the old guys. Foxx beat Ripken. Aaron over Yount. Stan Musial over George Brett. Joe DiMaggio edged out Albert Pujols in the closest first-round vote, 52 to 48 percent. Ty Cobb easily outvoted Rickey Henderson. In fact, in every matchup in which there was a sizable generation gap, the older guy won. Now, some of these weren't necessarily surprises -- it's not surprising that Mickey Mantle would beat Mike Piazza, for example -- but could you imagine this happening in other sports? No football fan thinks Bronko Nagurski was better than Walter Payton or Emmitt Smith. Sammy Baugh wouldn't outpoll Peyton Manning. George Mikan wouldn't beat out Shaquille O'Neal. Bob Cousy doesn't beat out Magic Johnson or even a more modern guy such as Dwyane Wade.

But in baseball, we cling to the past. Yes, the sport has been around longer, so the framework of the game hasn't changed dramatically like it has in football or basketball. I always wonder why people will argue that football and basketball athletes have improved, but not baseball players. Of course, baseball players in 2012 are bigger, stronger and more athletic than the players Babe Ruth faced in 1921. Pitchers throw harder. Outfielders cover more ground. Infielders have stronger arms. That's the way sports evolve.

* * * *

OK, a quick look at Round 2 in which the matchups get a lot tougher to decide:
  • Babe Ruth 1921 versus Joe DiMaggio 1941: The Babe remains the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament, but Yankees fans will be torn here. DiMaggio had the historic 56-game hitting streak and should get a boost from playing a brilliant center field.
  • Carl Yastrzemski 1967 versus Honus Wagner 1908: Two guys who utterly dominated their leagues. Fans respect the old guys, but Wagner's stats were compiled in the dead ball era and might not impress the voting public.
  • Ty Cobb 1911 versus Joe Morgan: I've made my case for Morgan. Not that Cobb was a slouch. Note that while Cobb hit .420 to Morgan's .327. Their OBPs were essentially identical (.467 to .466). And while 1911 was the dead ball era, consider this: The OPS in the 1911 AL was .696; the OPS in the 1975 NL was .696.
  • Rogers Hornsby 1922 versus Mickey Mantle 1956: The Mick won the Triple Crown, but Hornsby hit .401 with 42 home runs and 152 RBIs. I expect a close vote.
  • Barry Bonds 2001 versus Ken Griffey Jr. 1997: The most intriguing matchup of the second round. Bonds beat out Johnny Bench 65 to 35 percent, and while it was a decisive victory it's also clear that many voters held PED usage against Bonds. With a tougher second-round matchup, it will be interesting to see how he fares.
  • Stan Musial 1948 versus Willie Mays 1962: What makes this even more interesting is that Musial played a lot of center field in 1948. Not saying he played it as well as Mays, but it makes his season more impressive than at first glance.
  • Hank Aaron 1957 versus Lou Gehrig 1927: Two MVP winners, two beloved players. Both World Series champions as well. I'll say Gehrig pulls it out.
  • Jimmie Foxx 1932 versus Ted Williams 1941: No matter the era, 58 home runs and 169 RBIs are impressive. But so is .406. I'll predict Teddy Ballgame rolls on.

MorganRich Pilling/Getty ImagesIn the mid-1970s, Joe Morgan was the best all-around player in baseball -- by a large margin.
In 1975, Joe Morgan hit .327 with 17 home runs and 94 RBIs. Those traditional statistics may not seem impressive, but Morgan’s season ranks as one of the best in the game’s history.

As we begin voting Monday on the greatest individual season of all time, consider Morgan's value that season:
  • He drew 132 walks, giving him a league-leading .466 on-base percentage (the highest figure, by the way, in either league between Mickey Mantle in 1962 and Wade Boggs in 1988).
  • Because of his ability to get on base, he created a lot of runs --about 145, 17 more than the No. 2 hitter in the league, Greg Luzinski. But he created his runs in an efficient manner. He used up 354 outs; Luzinski, by comparison, used up 443 outs. So Morgan created more runs while using up 89 fewer outs.
  • He stole 67 bases in 77 attempts. Factor in his speed, and he was one of the best baserunners in the league.
  • He was an outstanding defensive second baseman, not only winning a Gold Glove but also ranking as the third-best overall defensive player in the National League in 1975, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
  • He did all this in an era when second basemen usually produced little at the plate. In 1975, National League second basemen hit a collective .267/.330/.353 (BA/OBP/SLG) -- with just 80 home runs. Morgan hit nearly one quarter of all home runs by National League second basemen. In 2011 terms, that would be akin to a second baseman hitting close to 50 home runs.
  • The Reds won 108 games, Morgan was the near-unanimous MVP winner, and he even drove in the winning run in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series.

Add it up, and you end up with a player who was the best hitter in the league and one of the best defenders and baserunners in his league, and he did so while towering over other players at his position and playing on a championship team.

The wins above replacement statistic attempts to capture all this. In 1975, Morgan’s Baseball-Reference WAR was 12.0, the best of his career and easily the best in the National League. During his 1972 to 1976 peak, Morgan rated as the best player in the NL four times, at least acording to Baseball-Reference.

In 1975, Morgan was a full five wins better than Mike Schmidt, an astonishing total. Only 12 times since 1901 has a player recorded a bWAR of at least 4.5 wins higher than the No. 2 position player in his league:

1921 AL: Babe Ruth (14.0) over Ty Cobb/Tris Speaker (6.6)
1924 AL: Babe Ruth (11.9) over Harry Heilmann (6.2)
1956 AL: Mickey Mantle (12.9) over Yogi Berra (7.3)
2002 NL: Barry Bonds (12.2) over Jim Edmonds (7.2)
1975 NL: Joe Morgan (12.0) over Mike Schmidt (7.0)
1924 NL: Rogers Hornsby (13.0) over Frankie Frisch (8.0)
1967 AL: Carl Yastrzemski (12.2) over Al Kaline (7.3)
1946 AL: Ted Williams (11.8) over Johnny Pesky (6.9)
1923 AL: Babe Ruth (14.7) over Harry Heilmann (9.8)
1926 AL: Babe Ruth (12.0) over Goose Goslin (7.2)
1922 NL: Rogers Hornsby (10.7) over Dave Bancroft (5.9)
1948 NL: Stan Musial (11.5) over Johnny Mize (6.9)

For what it’s worth, only three of those 12 seasons ended in a World Series title -- Morgan, Mantle and Ruth in 1923.

So maybe Joe Morgan didn’t hit 73 home runs or drive in 191 runs or bat .400. But his 1975 season ranks as sleeper candidate for greatest individual season of all time.

* * * *

It wasn’t easy picking the 32 best seasons. I had two rules: Only one season per player, so we’d end up with a bracket of 32 different players; and I considered only seasons since 1901 (sorry, Ross Barnes fans).

It was important to get a diverse list of eras as well as positions. I did put a little more emphasis on more recent decades; basically, the quality of the game has improved over time, thus making it more difficult to post seasons with huge WAR totals like Ruth put up. Here is the breakdown by decade:

1900s -- 1
1910s -- 3
1920s -- 3
1930s -- 2
1940s -- 4
1950s -- 3
1960s -- 2
1970s -- 3
1980s -- 3
1990s -- 4
2000s -- 4

And by position:

C -- 2; Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza.
1B -- 3; Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Rod Carew.
2B -- 4; Eddie Collins, Rogers Hornsby, Jackie Robinson, Joe Morgan.
3B -- 2; George Brett, Mike Schmidt.
SS -- 5; Honus Wagner, Ernie Banks, Robin Yount, Cal Ripken, Alex Rodriguez.
LF -- 6; Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Rickey Henderson, Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols. (Ruth played left field in 1921, and Pujols primarily played left in 2003.)
CF – 8; Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Hack Wilson, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr. (Musial started at all three outfield positions in 1948 but played the most in center.)
RF -- 2; Hank Aaron, Sammy Sosa.

So there are our 32 players. I didn’t necessarily pick each player’s highest WAR season. In some cases, a player’s iconic season -- like Ted Williams’ .406 year or Hank Aaron’s 1957 MVP campaign -- was selected. In some instances, maybe a player had other things in his favor that would help him to potentially fare better in the voting, like a big RBI total. Certainly, WAR is a good baseline to use because it helps us adjust for differences in eras, but it shouldn’t be the only factor in determining the better season between two players. Was what Williams accomplished in 1941 more impressive than what Morgan accomplished in 1975? Is Yount being the best hitter in his league while playing shortstop more impressive than what Babe Ruth did in 1921 against an inferior brand of pitching? Maybe you prefer the all-around brilliance of Mays or DiMaggio over the pure hitting dominance of Rogers Hornsby or Lou Gehrig.

Which seasons just missed the cut? There were seven players who had a bWAR season of at least 10.0 who didn’t make the bracket -- Lou Boudreau, Jason Giambi, Ron Santo, Adrian Beltre, Home Run Baker, Norm Cash and Matt Kemp. Sorry, guys. (Just noticed there are three third basemen there; too late now to change the final 32, unfortunately.)

So get to the bracket and start voting. We’ll do one round per day this week, culminating in the final matchup on Friday.

Let the debates begin.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
Hank AaronManny Rubio/US PresswireHank Aaron hit 755 home runs ... but how many of those came hitting cleanup?
Conventional wisdom says you hit your big home run hitter in the cleanup spot. With Jim Thome joining the 600-homer club, I thought it would be fun to take a little look at the eight members of the club to see where they hit most often in their careers -- as it turns, only two of the eight hit cleanup most often and neither of them did it 50 percent of the time.

Barry Bonds

Career plate appearances: 12,606
PAs batting cleanup: 3,599 (28.5 percent)
Home runs hitting cleanup: 242

Bonds received his most PAs in the three-hole, but also came to the plate more than 2,000 times in the leadoff spot (where he hit early in his career) and the five-hole. Bonds hit fifth in his first MVP season in 1990, as Andy Van Slyke hit third and Bobby Bonilla fourth. When Bonilla left after the 1991 season, Bonds moved into the cleanup spot. Inexplicably, Dusty Baker also hit Bonds fifth during his monster 1993 season when he hit .336/.458/.677. Will Clark and Matt Williams manned the three- and four-holes, but if Bonds had hit third or fourth (or even second) -- and thus received more plate appearances, the Giants may have picked up that one extra win they needed to tie the Braves that year.

Hank Aaron

Career plate appearances: 13,941
PAs batting cleanup: 5,126 (36.7 percent)
Home runs hitting cleanup: 261

Fred Haney, Aaron's manager in Milwaukee, talked about moving Aaron into the leadoff spot since he would get more plate appearances, but he never actually did it. Aaron had nearly 8,000 PAs hitting third.

Babe Ruth

Career plate appearances: 10,617
PAs batting cleanup: 2,012 (19 percent)
Home runs hitting cleanup: 144

We're missing some data from early in his career, when he was mostly a pitcher, but Ruth wore No. 3 for a reason -- that's where he batted most often, in front of Lou Gehrig. But if the Yankees had worn numbers in 1920 -- his first season with the club -- Ruth would have worn No. 4.

Willie Mays

Career plate appearances: 12,493
PAs batting cleanup: 1,849 (14.8 percent)
Home runs hitting cleanup: 111

Mays started 66 games in his career in the leadoff spot. Most of these came late in his career -- 32 times in 1972 and 20 times in 1973, his final season. It actually made since in 1972, when he posted a .400 on-base percentage.

Ken Griffey Jr.

Career plate appearances: 11,304
PAs batting cleanup: 984 (8.7 percent)
Home runs hitting cleanup: 56

Griffey batted third nearly his entire career.

Alex Rodriguez

Career plate appearances: 10,550
PAs batting cleanup: 4,173 (40 percent)
Home runs hitting cleanup: 243

Did the '96 Mariners have the best 2-3-4 single-season combo of all time? Hitting second, A-Rod hit .358/.414/.631, Griffey hit .303/.392/.628 and Edgar Martinez hit .327/.464/.595.

Sammy Sosa

Career plate appearances: 9,896
PAs batting cleanup: 3,319 (33.5 percent)
Home runs hitting cleanup: 215

Sosa received a few more PAs hitting third than cleanup.

Jim Thome

Career plate appearances: 10,220
PAs batting cleanup: 2,998 (29.9 percent)
Home runs hitting cleanup: 202

Thome has received more than 2,000 PAs in the third, fourth and fifth spots. On the 1995 Cleveland team that reached the World Series, Thome usually hit sixth -- and despite hitting .314/.438/.558 that year, began 1996 hitting seventh!

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
With Jim Thome approaching 600 career home runs, our Stats & Information group sent out a packet of stats on Thome. One fun stat that stood out to me: Thome went 12-for-27 with NINE home runs off Rick Reed in his career. I think it's safe to say that Thome owned Reed; those are the most home runs he's hit off one pitcher.

So who did the other members of the 600 home runs club own? Let's take a look.

Barry Bonds

Bonds hit nine home runs apiece off Greg Maddux and John Smoltz, but along with Tom Glavine, he faced them the most in his career. Bonds faced five pitchers at least 100 times in his career ... he did pretty well against four of them:

Maddux: 157 PAs, 9 HR, .265/.376/.508, 24 BB, 16 SO
Glavine: 120 PAs, 5 HR, .309/.425/.567, 19 BB, 11 SO
Smoltz: 108 PAs, 9 HR, .275/.463/.675, 28 BB, 16 SO
Curt Schilling: 100 PAs, 8 HR, .263/.410/.638, 19 BB, 13 SO
Dennis Martinez: 100 PAs, 1 HR, .228/.290/.337, 8 BB, 8 SO

What's amazing is that he had more walks than strikeouts against Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz and Schilling. These are four future Hall of Famers, three of whom possessed terrific control, and Bonds still drew his walks off them.

Bonds also owned Andy Ashby (.377/.514/.849, 7 HRs in 53 ABs) and Pete Schourek (.308/.420/.897, 7 HRs in 39 ABs) among others. The pitcher who faced Bonds the most times without allowing a home run: Rick Sutcliffe. Bonds hit .239/.280/.326 off Sutcliffe in 51 PAs. Not many pitchers owned Bonds. Tim Belcher held him to a .143 average and David Cone held him to a .175 average.

Hank Aaron

Aaron hit 17 home runs off Don Drysdale in 221 at-bats (249 PAs), fashioning a .267/.345/.579 line off Big D. A guy Aaron owned: Don Gullett. He hit .462/.583/1.316 off him with seven home runs in 26 at-bats. Here's Aaron against some of the top pitchers of his era besides Drysdale:

Bob Gibson: 180 PAs, 8 HR, .215/.278/.423, 15 BB, 32 SO
Juan Marichal: 161 PAs, 8 HR, .288/.348/.473, 13 BB, 23 SO
Robin Roberts: 158 PAs, 9 HR, .291/.335/.554, 10 BB, 13 SO
Sandy Koufax: 130 PAs, 7 HR, .362/.431/.647, 14 BB, 12 SO
Tom Seaver: 93 PAs, 5 HR, .220/.290/.476, 9 BB, 14 SO

A pitcher who owned Aaron: Glen Hobbie. Aaron hit .213 with one home run in 80 at-bats off Hobbie, a nondescript righty who went 62-81 in his career, primarily with the Cubs. Aaron hit .148 with no home runs and one walk in 48 at-bats against Jim Brosnan, the pitcher he faced the most without hitting a home run.

Babe Ruth

We don't have complete hitter-pitcher breakdowns for Ruth, but he hit 17 home runs off Rube Walberg, a left-handed pitcher with the Philadelphia A's, and 14 off Hooks Dauss, a Tigers right-hander. Here's Ruth complete home run log.

Willie Mays

Mays homered 18 times off Warren Spahn -- most memorably a 16th-inning home run that gave Juan Marichal a 1-0 victory over Spahn in 1963, both pitchers going the distance -- but he also faced him the most times, with 253 PAs. He hit .305/.368/.587 off Spahn.

He owned Bob Sadowski in a small sample, going 8-for-15 with five home runs and four walks, and Brooklyn Dodgers reliever Clem Labine in a larger sample, hitting .475/.516/.966 with seven home runs in 59 at-bats. He also slugged .762 off the Dodgers' Johnny Podres. In fact, you could argue that Mays owned Ebbets Field: In 56 games there, he hit .355 with 28 home runs, slugging .786.

Mays versus a few top pitchers:

Don Drysdale: 243 PAs, 13 HR, .330/.374/.604, 14 BB, 29 SO
Robin Roberts: 184 PAs, 4 HR, .312/.376/.476, 14 BB, 21 SO
Sandy Koufax: 122 PAs, 5 HR, .278/.426/.536, 25 BB, 20 SO
Bob Gibson: 108 PAs, 3 HR, .196/.315/.304, 16 BB, 30 SO
Jim Bunning: 95 PAs, 2 HR, .213/.255/.348, 4 BB, 17 SO

While Gibson and Bunning fared pretty well against Mays, Willie also struggled against Jim Maloney (.172, 1 HR in 58 ABs), Steve Carlton (.177, 2 HR in 62 ABs) and Tommie Sisk, the guy he faced the most without homering -- none in 45 at-bats. In fact, he never had an extra-base hit off Sisk, a middling starter/reliever with the Pirates in the mid-'60s.

Ken Griffey Jr.

Modern players don't face the same pitchers as often as hitters in Willie Mays' era, and Griffey of course changed leagues midway through his career. He faced just one pitcher 100 times in his career -- Roger Clemens. He hit .311/.392/.589 off Clemens, with six home runs. Only David Wells with eight allowed more home runs to Griffey. Junior went 7-for-14 with five home runs off Livan Hernandez and 6-for-16 with five home runs off Andy Benes.

Griffey struggled against Chuck Finley (.164, 2 HR, 5 BB, 18 SO in 73 ABs), Kevin Appier (.186 in 59 ABs) and Mike Mussina (.143 in 56 ABs). He faced Todd Stottlemyre 40 times without homering off him, although he did hit .294.

Alex Rodriguez

A-Rod has homered eight times off four pitchers: Tim Wakefield, David Wells, Ramon Ortiz and Bartolo Colon. Of those four, he feasted the most off his current teammate, hitting .431/.456/1.059 off Colon in 57 PAs. He went 12-for-23 with five homers off Esteban Loaiza and 10-for-21 with five home runs off Kenny Rogers. He's faced Matt Guerrier eight times and has gone 5-for-7 with four homers and a double. And poor Wil Ledezma: A-Rod went 4-for-6 off him, all home runs. Joel Pineiro, on the other hand, owns Rodriguez, holding him to a .128 average with no home runs in 39 at-bats.

Sammy Sosa

Sosa hit seven home runs off Curt Schilling and Jose Lima, hitting over .300 against both pitchers. He destroyed David Williams, going 8-for-13 with six home runs and nine walks off him. He went 6-for-14 with five home runs off Kevin Jarvis. He hit .405/.488/.838 off Ben Sheets in 43 PAs and .481/.533/.963 off Orel Hershiser in 30 PAs. Bonds may have owned Smoltz, but Smoltz owned Sosa: Sammy went .143/.200/.214 off Smoltz, and never drove in a run in 45 PAs. Sosa also hit .143 off Jason Schmidt and .128 off Dave Burba.

(Date from Baseball-Reference.com.)

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
To go with our Willie Mays package today, SportsNation worked up a list ranker with 30 of the greatest players of all time. Don't agree with me that Willie Mays was the greatest ever? Then Click here to vote yourself.

Here's my quick list without spending too much time thinking about it:

1. Willie Mays: He could hit, hit for power, run the bases and field with the best we've ever seen. Could have won as many as 10-11 MVP Awards.
2. Barry Bonds: If he had played center field instead of left, I'd consider him for No. 1.
3. Babe Ruth: I'd like to see him hitting 95-mph fastballs on a regular basis.
4. Hank Aaron: A testament to longevity, consistency, durability and greatness.
5. Stan Musial: Won three MVPs and finished second four other times.
6. Ted Williams: Maybe the greatest hitter of all time, but I give Musial the slight all-around edge.
7. Albert Pujols: Barring injury, he's this good.
8. Roger Clemens: We don't know what he did and if it helped. But we know what he did on the field. Greatest pitcher of all time.
9. Mike Schmidt: Dominated the mid-'70s to the mid-'80s. Eight-time home run champ and one of best fielding third basemen ever.
10. Walter Johnson: Could have dominated in any era.

11. Honus Wagner: Won batting titles, ran the bases and hit for power in the dead-ball era.
12. Lou Gehrig: Only strike against him is he didn't play a premium defensive position.
13. Alex Rodriguez: You can't deny the numbers.
14. Lefty Grove: The most underrated great pitcher of all time. Won nine ERA titles.
15. Mickey Mantle: If only he had stayed healthy.
16. Ty Cobb: Would love to go back in time and bring him back to 2011.
17. Josh Gibson: They say he hit 'em longer than the Babe.
18. Joe Morgan: The most underrated great position player of all time. Did everything well.
19. Rickey Henderson: The object is to score runs and nobody has scored more than Rickey.
20. Greg Maddux: 355 wins, fourth-most starts, more pitches painting black than anyone.

21. Cal Ripken: Overrated as a hitter, underrated as a fielder.
22. Tom Seaver: Mets fans still can't believe they traded him.
23. Pedro Martinez: At his peak, the best ever. Four pitches that made batters cry.
24. Frank Robinson: And to think he was only third-best NL outfielder of the early '60s.
25. Johnny Bench: Knees gave out, but those first 12 seasons were amazing.
26. Satchel Paige: Was he even the best Negro Leagues pitcher?
27. Rogers Hornsby: No denying his hitting numbers. Too low? Maybe so.
28. Pete Alexander: Won 94 games over one three-year span, impressive even for the time.
29. Cy Young: Yes, you can say I'm disrespecting the 19th century.
30. Sandy Koufax: A little bit of a product of his time and a huge home/road splits, plus short career for this list.

Follow David on Twitter: @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog: @espn_sweet_spot.
Willie MaysKidwiler Collection/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesWillie Mays poses at the Polo Grounds during his rookie season in 1951.
Now, I understand that arguing for Willie Mays as the greatest baseball player of all time isn’t exactly like arguing for Chester A. Arthur as the greatest president.

But there are many who still fight the good fight for Babe Ruth, those who will argue for Barry Bonds or Ted Williams, others who remain steadfast that Hank Aaron is underappreciated, New Yorkers who cling to Joe DiMaggio or Mickey Mantle, and maybe a select few who side with Ty Cobb or Honus Wagner (although I suspect most of their supporters are long since dead).

So let’s do it ... as he turns 80 years old today, 10 reasons Willie is still the greatest:

1. Because Jim Murray once wrote this:

"The first thing to establish about Willie Mays is that there really is one."

2. Because he was better than Aaron, and Aaron was pretty freakin’ awesome.

Here’s one comparison with Aaron, using the number of runs created (the old Bill James stat) per season, starting with the best season of each player’s career, going to second-best, third-best and so on.

Aaron eventually passed Mays -- but it took him 13 seasons to do it. And remember that Mays missed nearly two full seasons while in the Army early in his career; the first year he returned he won the MVP Award. The point is: When you're a tad bit better than Hank Aaron and played one of the most important defensive positions and played 150-plus games 13 consecutive seasons ... well, Jim Murray had a good point.

3. Because he won two MVP Awards ... but should have won eight.
  • 1954: Won. Deservedly so.
  • 1955: Led NL in home runs, slugging and OPS while finishing second in batting average, runs and RBIs. Finished fourth in the voting behind Roy Campanella, whose Dodgers won the pennant.
  • 1958: Led NL in OPS, runs and stolen bases while ranking second in batting average and slugging. Finished second to Ernie Banks, primarily due to Banks’ 129 to 96 edge in RBIs. Was Mays not clutch that year? Hardly. He hit .325 with runners in scoring position, .371 with men on base and .408 in "late and close" situations. The problem was the Giants didn’t have many men on base in front of him: their leadoff and No. 2 hitters both had a .315 OBP.
  • 1960: Finished third behind Dick Groat and Don Hoak of the first-place Pirates. They were close to Mays in value. I mean, when added together.
  • 1962: Maury Wills edged Mays in the voting, a stunning result in retrospect. Wills scored 130 runs (the same as Mays) ... but drove in 93 fewer. Mays’ Giants even won the tiebreaker over Wills’ Dodgers, but Wills swiped the headlines by breaking Ty Cobb’s single-season stolen base record.
  • 1963: Finished fifth as Sandy Koufax went 25-5 to win. Dick Groat finished second in the vote with six home runs. Man, did the writers love Dick Groat or what? Koufax and Aaron had good cases, but I’d have given the nod to Mays.
  • 1964: Finished sixth in the voting even though Dick Allen was the only player within two wins of him in overall value. Led NL in home runs, OPS and scored 121 runs (second) and didn’t receive one first-place vote.
  • 1965: Finally won another trophy with maybe his best season, and it took him to tower over the rest of the league to do so. He was more than three wins better than the next-best position player and his OPS was 105 points higher than Aaron, who ranked second.

So that’s eight. You could also make strong cases for him in 1957, 1961 and 1966. So he could have won 11. But that would have been quite boring.

4. Because he was one of the best fielders of all time.

He won 13 Gold Gloves. Do I need to defend his fielding? The advanced fielding metrics back up the reputation. Baseball-Reference ranks him as having the eighth-most fielding runs saved of all time -- behind Brooks Robinson, Mark Belanger, Andruw Jones, Ozzie Smith, Roberto Clemente, Bonds and Carl Yastrzemski. Other than Bonds, none are within 100 points of Mays in career OPS.

5. Because Roger Angell once wrote this in the New Yorker:
    "He may have lost a half-second or so in getting down to first base, but I doubt whether Willie Davis or Ralph Garr or any of the other new flashes can beat Mays from first to third, or can accelerate just as he does ... how much he resembles a marvelous skier in midturn down some steep pitch of fast powder. Nobody like him."

Here’s the thing: Angell wrote that in 1971, when Mays was 40 years old. And you know what? Angell’s observations were right; Baseball-Reference rates Mays as the top baserunner in the National League that year.

[+] EnlargeWillie Mays
Robert Riger/Getty ImagesWillie Mays is widely considered among the five best players ever.
6. Because he hit the best pitchers of his era.

Over 10 percent of Mays’ career plate appearances came against Hall of Famers. And these weren’t chump Hall of Famers: Spahn, Drysdale, Roberts, Koufax, Gibson, Bunning, Carlton, Jenkins, Sutton and Niekro (and, to a lesser extent, Seaver, Marichal, Wilhelm and Ryan). Against those pitchers he hit .286 with a .498 slugging percentage. He had a .978 OPS against Drysdale, .962 against Koufax and .955 against Spahn. (Gibson did own him, however.)

7. Because I don’t want to hear about Barry Bonds.

Bonds through age 35: 116.1 WAR
Mays through age 35: 127.0 WAR

And then came 2001. Look, Bonds has a strong case as the greatest ever. But he has one gigantic argument against him ... and it’s not necessarily PEDs. He played left field and played it beautifully. Willie played center and played it beautifully. Bonds took away doubles. Mays took away triples.

(By the way, this excludes Ted Williams from the discussion, because Bonds was better than Williams. And by that, I mean he was better even before his 2001 explosion.)

8. Because Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth played in a different era.

Here are B-R’s top 20 position players and the year they debuted in the majors:

1. Ruth 1914
2. Bonds 1986
3. Cobb 1905
4. Mays 1951
5. Aaron 1954
6. Wagner 1897
7. Speaker 1907
8. Hornsby 1915
9. Musial 1941
10. Collins 1906
11. Williams 1939
12. Mantle 1951
13. Gehrig 1923
14. Henderson 1979
15. Ott 1926
16. Schmidt 1972
17. Robinson 1956
18. Lajoie 1896
19. Morgan 1963
20. Rodriguez 1994

FanGraphs has the same 20, except Jimmie Foxx and Carl Yastrzemski instead of Nap Lajoie and Joe Morgan.

Do you see the problem here? Of that list of 20, nine debuted before Mays was even born. Do we really think nine of the 20 greatest players of all time began their careers before 1930 ... but only two have debuted in the past 30 years?

It’s a ridiculous assertion, and the problem comes in how players are statistically evaluated against their peers: Because the overall quality of play gets better over time, it was easier to dominate your league in the earlier days. Simply put, there weren’t as many good players, so the great players -- like Cobb and Ruth -- look even greater by comparison.

Look, you may not believe this. Just watch the old films: You don’t have to be a professional scout to see that pitchers throw harder than even 30 years ago, let alone 90 years ago. The quality of the athlete is better across the board. Mays dominated a more competitive era than Ruth played in -- an era after integration, mind you.

9. Because, yes, he’s better than Babe Ruth.

Here’s another Ruth issue. From the time he joined the Yankees in 1920, through his last season with them in 1934, there were nine Hall of Fame pitchers in the American League. Thing is ... four of them were Yankees (Waite Hoyt, Herb Pennock, Red Ruffing and Lefty Gomez). In an eight-team league, where you faced each club 22 times per season, the Yankees almost always had the best pitching. And Ruth didn't have to face it. Anyway, no offense to Red Faber or Ted Lyons or Stan Coveleski, but I’m not sure those guys were exactly Koufax, Gibson and Drysdale.

OK, Ruth does have the pitching thing. But Mays has the fielding and baserunning thing. And he wasn’t too shabby with the bat.

10. Because of this.

Which, you know, actually happened. Unlike, say, a certain called shot.

Follow David on Twitter: @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog: @espn_sweet_spot.

Barry, Bud and the record book

April, 22, 2011

While the expanded postseason was the more significant development to come from the commissioner Thursday, Bud Selig’s pragmatic and unrepentant declaration on Barry Bonds’ place in history was also important for three reasons.

First, it’s the acceptance of a simple fact: Bonds holds the single-season and career records for home runs. Moping about the circumstances or pettily assigning asterisks Ford Frick-style isn’t going to fly. The so-called “steroids era” is a historical fact, and a reflection of what we’ll politely call an unusual time in the game’s history. Bonds is accused of having used steroids at a time when plenty of people were using.

We’ll never know how much of an effect it had on the record book. While all of the focus is on home run tallies, plenty of pitchers are suspected of using steroids as well. Bonds never hit a homer off Roger Clemens, for example, having to settle for five walks (three intentional) and a beaning from the Rocket in eight plate appearances. What are we supposed to make of that? That no amount of juice could get one to pitch to the other? Professional courtesy? Bonds never homered off Andy Pettitte either, for that matter. If Bonds had homered off of any PED user, would that mean more, less, or would it be just what it was -- a home run?

[+] EnlargeBarry Bonds
AP Photo/Jeff ChiuCommissioner Bud Selig will let Barry Bonds' home run records stand.
The second takeaway from Selig’s latest pragmatic sanction is that it reflects a similarly pragmatic position taken by the industry as a whole where steroids in the sport was concerned. There was no real mystery that this was happening as it was happening -- Tom Boswell was publicly calling out Jose Canseco a dozen years before Rick Reilly asked Sammy Sosa for a sample. Yet at the same time, you had reporters commenting with nary a note of doubt over the latest player coming into camp with “30 pounds of muscle” added via “winter workouts.” As it was within the industry itself, the media simultaneously had its heroes, and also its quiet get-along, go-along group.

The problem for the industry, though, was that in the face of steroid abuse, you couldn't just order the problem away by issuing an edict. If you’re conspiracy-minded, toleration might have been profitable, especially in the wake of the strike of ’94. But it was also a necessity, because this was subject to collective bargaining. Eradication of steroids from the sport, like the decades-old tolerance of amphetamine use in every major-league clubhouse -- was something that could only happen through cooperation between players and owners. That it took time to negotiate certainly didn’t satisfy the Veruca Salt sensibilities of most observers or fans, but wanting something now doesn’t make it happen now. That the sport finally did adopt standards on steroids, and addressed amphetamine abuse as well, was progress achieved through negotiated compromise.

In the meantime, there was a lot of baseball, and a lot of players doing things that involved using steroids, or not, and using amphetamines, or not. In the absence of rules against their use, you can’t hold the players solely accountable. Although the players are the ones who will be sparring with John Law for years to come and they're the ones who be held responsible -- even when that responsibility should fall on the industry as a whole. The players are also the ones who, as Tim Kurkjian noted, will have to deal with their lot in history, as their generation’s greats become eligible for the Hall of Fame.

Which brings us to the third element of Selig’s public acknowledgment: the record book. Admittedly, I worry a lot less about this than my peers (and betters) in the sabermetric community, because I figure the record book is already a shabby historical compromise of sorts. Some might choose to hallow the records set by Hank Aaron and Pete Rose -- at a time when amphetamine use wasn’t just tolerated, it was condoned. You might be especially committed to the records set by Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb -- at a time when the game’s competitive balance was often laughable, when baseballs were doctored in some seasons, when there were plenty of major league-caliber players preferring to take their paydays playing in the independent “minors,” and when baseball, like the society it reflected, denied itself the talents of so many of the best because of race.

Now, you might hold such records in high regard, and decry those of more recent vintage. Me, I figure they’re all simply facts. They are like disappointments anyone can have with the game, past or present. You can know the stats, and associate something positive with 60 or 61 or 73, with 755 or 762, but inevitably you end up having to know about the time they came from.

The records are really only sanctified by us, if we choose. I’m in the odd position of saying I’m with Bud on this subject, because the past happened. Invariably, it will be judged -- by baseball men and women, past, present, and future, by voters for the Hall of Fame, and by you and me. But it does not alter the facts of what happened, and when, and why.

Christina Kahrl helped found Baseball Prospectus in 1996, is a member of the BBWAA and covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter here.
One of my baptismal moments as a baseball fan came when I was about 9 or so, and I had a new baseball card that was one of those historical tributes, this one to Walter Johnson. Riding in the back of our '76 Plymouth van, I quizzed my dad on how many career strikeouts the Big Train had, thinking there was no way he would get the exact four-digit number. When Dad said "3,509," I was flabbergasted. How could he possibly have known?

[+] EnlargePaul Molitor
Doug Pensinger /AllsportHall of Famer Paul Molitor, who retired in 1998, is the last player to crack the top 10 in all-time hits.
Soon enough, I learned the joy of losing myself in baseball's career stat leaders. In that long-before-the-Internet era, you would pore over the Baseball Encyclopedia or the Street and Smith's annual preview. We never saw Johnson or Ty Cobb play, but through those numbers (which later proved to be subject to correction by baseball researchers), they began to gain a purpose. They began to gain an identity.

Things change. Johnson, who was No. 1 in career strikeouts when I was a boy (in fact, was the tops from 1921 through 1983), is No. 9 today. Steve Carlton passed him first, then Nolan Ryan leapfrogged Carlton and obliterated the mark, finishing with 5,714. Besides Johnson, just one pre-World War II pitcher is left in the top 20. That's Cy Young, resting in 20th place with 2,803.

With marriage and three children, I'm forced to live much more in the present than maybe I'd like to, especially from a baseball standpoint. It's been years since I've luxuriated in the career tables like I did in the past -- one of life's simple pleasures lost to a much more complex existence. And so when I turned my attention to the career strikeout leaders today, it didn't surprise me much that so much change had occurred.

But when I looked over at the career hit leaders, I was taken aback -- by the utter stability of it all. It was as if it were frozen in time, but the truth is, that top-10 list is a boulder that would not be moved.

It was just as I left it as a single man. The most recent player to break into the top 10 was Paul Molitor, whose major league career began before my 11th birthday and ended back in 1998. Carl Yastrzemski was the only other top-10er to play into my teen years.

I mean, I don't know what I was expecting -- and those of you with healthier attention spans will think me a fool for being the least bit surprised, so forgive me -- but how wonderful, how glorious, how … viscerally energizing it was to see these names hold up over time. Rose and Cobb and their angry, cantankerous 4,000-plus hit careers. The classy Hammerin' Hank and Stan the Man holding strong in third and fourth. The classic old-timers -- Speaker, Cap Anson, Honus Wagner -- in the meat of the lineup at 5-7. At eight and nine, Yaz and Molitor, young whippersnappers even as they court the AARP demographic.

And then … this was my favorite. No. 10, with 3,315 hits: Eddie Collins. To my utter shame, I haven't given Eddie Collins a nanosecond of thought in years. My mind has been too polluted by extraneous, worthless details like work and family to give Collins the time of day -- and yet there he sits, steady as granite. Mays couldn't catch him. Murray and Ripken couldn't catch him. Yount and Gwynn, Winfield and Biggio, Henderson and Carew, Brock and Palmeiro and Boggs … all playing in the 162-game era, many with the designated hitter rule in their right pocket, and none could touch Collins, born in 1887, christened in 1906, retired by 1930. When he passed away in 1951, he was fifth all-time in hits. Sixty years later, he's lost only five spots.

Soon, Collins might finally face his top-10 eviction notice. Derek Jeter has 2,926 career hits, more than any ballplayer at age 36 since Yount, two decades ago. By July, Jeter will probably break 3,000 and (with all the subtle media coverage of a moon landing) become the 28th man to reach that milestone, leaving him perhaps no more than two years away from Collins. Behind Jeter looms Alex Rodriguez, barely 600 hits from Collins and Molitor at age 34.

After that? Maybe 36-year-old Ichiro Suzuki has more than 1,000 hits left in him to catch Yastrzemski. Quite possibly, 30-year-old Albert Pujols , who has 1,900 hits in his first decade, picks up close to the same in his second, knocking out Wagner.

And so maybe that stability on the all-time hits list is headed by the wayside. Hours ago, I wouldn't have known what I missed. But now I wonder … I miss Walter Johnson in that No. 1 spot. Is it that crazy that I might miss Eddie Collins at No. 10?

If it is, all I can say is that's the same kind of crazy that made me the baseball fan I am today.

Jon Weisman writes about the Dodgers at Dodger Thoughts for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

No need to exaggerate Mays' greatness

February, 10, 2010
There's a new biography of Willie Mays and it's getting rave reviews (including here, here and here).

Mays didn't write the book, but he "authorized" it and is getting half the proceeds, and that's brought him into the wonderful world of book promotion. In turn, that's led to a new round of appraisals, most of which are perfectly accurate -- since it's difficult to overstate Willie Mays' excellence -- but at least one of which ... well, let's just say I've tried to dispose of one misconception before, and clearly I failed.

[+] EnlargeWillie Mays
Malcolm Emmons/US PresswireWillie Mays finished his career with 660 home runs.
    Outstanding as Mays was, his career was nagged by a huge "what if." Numerous observers believe that Mays, not Hank Aaron, would have been the first to surpass Babe Ruth's home run mark of 714 were it not for two factors. First, Mays spent part of the 1952 season and all of 1953 serving in the Army. Then, after the Giants moved to San Francisco in 1958, he played home games for 12 full seasons (1960-71) at Candlestick Park, where the incessant winds muted drives pulled to left field by right-handed-hitting sluggers such as him.

    Asked if Candlestick denied Mays batches of homers, former Giants broadcaster Lon Simmons responded without hesitation.

    "No doubt about it," said Simmons, who saw Mays' best years in San Francisco.

    Right-hander Bob Bolin recalled watching the gusts stifle dozens of Mays' clouts when the Giants' bullpen was situated down the left-field line in Candlestick's early years.

    "The ball would actually be out of the ballpark on those high drives, and the wind would push them back in," said Bolin, who pitched for the Giants from 1961 to 1969.

    Undaunted, Mays learned to stroke pitches to right-center field, where the breezes carried batted balls toward the fence. But if Candlestick frustrated him, he wouldn't reveal it.

    "It was miserable to play there, and he never, ever said how bad it was," said shortstop Chris Speier, who began his 19-year career with the Giants in 1971.

    Indeed, when asked about Candlestick, Mays cast no aspersions other than to say, "We picked probably the coldest place in the city to put a ballpark."

It's odd to me that so many people aren't content with Willie Mays' career.

Considering, you know, that purely on the merits of the existing statistical record -- well, that and the firsthand accounts of his adventures in center field -- he's one of the three or four greatest players who ever played.

That said, I would be happy to give Mays extra credit for all those extra home runs he should have hit. The only problem is that I can't find them.

Ballpark-wise, we can divide Mays' career into five chapters. I know, I know ... only two chapters come easily to mind. Please bear with me for a moment.

Chapter 1 - The Polo Grounds: Famously short down the lines, famously distant to deepest center field, the Polo Grounds was a lovely place for dead-pull hitters, not so much for gap hitters. Mel Ott was a pull hitter, and hit 323 of his 511 career home runs at the Polo Grounds. Mays not particularly pull-happy, or at least he didn't take particular advantage of those short porches in Harlem; in his Polo Grounds seasons, he hit 94 home runs there and 93 on the road.

Chapter 2 - Seals Stadium: While the Giants waited for their new digs on Candlestick Point, they played in old Seals Stadium for two seasons, during which Mays hit 32 homers at home and 31 on the road.

Chapter 3 - Candlestick (I): In 1960, the Giants moved into Candlestick, which was inhospitable to just about every sort of living creature, including right-handed power hitters. It was 335 feet down the left-field line, 397 feet to left-center, and 420 feet to straightaway center. By contrast, Seals Stadium had been roughly 30 feet closer in left-center, 20 feet closer in center. Willie Mays, the Giants' greatest player and the most famous player in the National League, hit only a dozen home runs in his new home (and 17 on the road). We'll never know how many home runs Mays "lost" to the wind and the spacious dimensions, but it might have been another dozen. It might have seemed twice that. And that's what everyone remembers happening, every year.

Chapter 4 - Candlestick (II): But that isn't the way it was. After just one season, the Giants pulled the fences in. Most dramatically in left- and right-center fields, from 397 feet to 365 feet.

365 feet!

In 1960, there were only 80 home runs hit in Candlestick: 46 by the Giants and 34 by their opponents. In 1961, that number jumped more than 100 percent, to 174 home runs. Wind or no wind, Candlestick went from being one of the toughest home-run parks in the National League to one of the easiest, and it seems unlikely, on the face of it, that Willie Mays wouldn't have taken advantage.

He did. In the five seasons before 1961, Mays hit 163 home runs. From 1961 through 1965, Mays hit 226 home runs and led the league three times. He was not a creation of the suddenly cozy Candlestick; of those 226 homers, 108 came in road games. But after 1960 Candlestick sure doesn't seem to have hurt his power numbers.

Mays hit 37 homers in 1966, and wouldn't top 30 again in his career. In his remaining seasons as a Giant, he usually hit slightly more homers at home than on the road.

Chapter 5 - Shea Stadium: Included only for the sake of completeness. Mays joined the Mets in 1972 and hit 14 home runs over two seasons: seven at Shea, seven on the road.

Mays did lose a significant number of home runs because of his military service in 1952 and '53. It's possible that if not for those missed seasons, he would have broken Ruth's record before Aaron did. When he did play, though, he hit 335 home runs in his home ballparks and 325 on the road. Most players probably do enjoy a slightly larger edge, but Mays played in a particularly tough place for power hitters in just one of his 22 seasons.

Those numbers that we see, unadjusted and unexaggerated, are a pretty fair representation of how good Willie Mays really was. And they're plenty good enough.