Magazine article USA TODAY

Baseball's "100 Greatest Players"-Sez Who?

Magazine article USA TODAY

Baseball's "100 Greatest Players"-Sez Who?

Article excerpt

WHEN the 19th-century-born Sporting News--once properly dubbed "The Bible of Baseball," but now no more than a Generation-X-style tabloid that tries to be hip by spewning out an endless stream of wisecracking sports commentary--released its "Baseball's 100 Greatest Players" list, reaction was so (yawn!) predictable. Everyone seems to be arguing about the numerical merits of the list, how so-and-so could be ranked so much higher (or lower) than so-and-so, or why pitchers didn't rate a separate list from position players.

TSN got one thing right, though. Its editors realize that baseball remains America's pastime by virtue of its century-plus longevity and reliance on statistics. Every pitch, every at-bat, every play, every inning, every game, every season is charted. Football, basketball, and hockey, by their very nature--and the fact that they are not everyday sports--cannot make that claim. That does not necessarily make them lesser athletic endeavors. (My favorite sport is better than your favorite sport is a stupid game to play; I gave it up years ago.) Rather, it makes baseball more accessible to gabfests among followers. This growing mountain of statistics and the game's long history--there were National League games played the day of Custer's Last Stand--is the reason baseball trivia is the most popular of all.

Yet, it's an exercise in futility to quantify baseball players into a Top 100 list for this century. First of all, any real baseball fan could come up with 100 different names from those found on the list, and that group would be just as worthy as TSN's 100. In fact, to use an old baseball cliche, it would be a can of corn to name a third set of "The 100 Greatest" and still be on safe ground as to its validity.

No, the crux of the complaint here is that any such list of great individual players totally misses the point of what the object of the game is: Get to the World Series and win it. The New York Yankees are baseball's most famous and popular team not because of all their great players, but because they've won more World Series championships--by far!-than any other franchise. The Sporting News' Top 100 list, or any such list, is bogus because it's no more than a glorified Rotisserie League team. The game itself is what matters. Compiling individual stats in a vacuum and then throwing together the players with the best numbers isn't what produces winners. If someone could somehow experience his or her own "Field of Dreams" and resurrect all the magnificent Hall-of-Famers of yesteryear, that fantasy team still wouldn't match the accomplishments of the 1998 Yankees, who swept to a World Series title with a record-setting 125-50 record. Moreover, the '98 Yanks boast only a few potential players for enshrinement in Cooperstown--and they're very iffy at that.

If a sports publication is determined to make a "greatest" list, then do something more worthy: Compile a roster of the greatest teams in history. Trouble is, even this effort runs into the same snafus as the players list: You must see players/teams compete on a day-to-day basis to evaluate them accurately; players/teams must be compared to their contemporaries, or at least those of the same era, became conditions have changed so drastically. …

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