The Project

The Greatest of All Time

Ted Williams, Boston Red Sox, and Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle, New York Yankees
Ted Williams, Boston Red Sox, and Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle, New York Yankees

Who is the GOAT (Greatest of All Time)? It’s a discussion that usually begins and ends with Babe Ruth. And truth be told, it’s hard to argue with his stats: .342 lifetime batting average and 714 homers and by far the highest lifetime slugging percentage at .690. Truly impressive. But there are others who are often mentioned during these conversations.

Ty Cobb hit .366 (except we thought it was .367 when I was a kid) and Rogers Hornsby, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and Lefty O’Doul all ended their careers within 10 points of that mark.

I began my love affair with baseball as a kid, just as Hank Aaron was passing The Babe in career home runs and now, of course, Barry Bonds sits at the top with 762 lifetime round-trippers. I have often felt that the best all-around hitter might be Ted Williams. He managed a .344 average and 521 career HRs as a lefty in Fenway, all while missing nearly five years at his peak to military service.

While those flashy stats catch your attention, the thing that matters most in baseball is scoring runs. It stands to reason that anything you do to help your team score runs is valuable. That being the case, don’t we need to factor in stolen bases and walks? This is certainly a plus for Cobb and makes Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle a bit more valuable. And how great was Rickey Henderson? Well, I want to know. And so I bring you…

The All-Time Most Offensive Tournament

Babe Ruth, New York Yankees and Ty Cobb near the end of his career with the Philadelphia Athletics
Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb

First off, this is a massive solo project. I estimate that by the time it is finished, I, or rather my computer, will have played the equivalent of a quarter-million individual games. I started a version of this project back in the mid-1990s but, alas, kids, job, you know… life. The old files are gone, so I have begun again with records current as of the end of the 2015 season. I hope to complete this in less than a year.

What’s the point? 

Well, don’t you want to KNOW? I know I do. “Who is the Best of All Time?” is a common argument and a debate that I have had over more than one beer. I wanted this project to consider players that had high On Base Percentages as well as those that stole a mess of bases. Sure, Babe Ruth hit an awful lot of homers. Ty Cobb had a pretty high average. Ted Williams had both and walked a lot. So did Willie Mays and he did it while stealing bases. How does Barry Bonds fit in? What about Rickey Henderson? What about the players whose careers were cut short, like Lou Gehrig and – ahem – Joe Jackson? And what about the players of today? How would they fare against the all-time greats? I thought this might be a fun way of letting the numbers talk and see if anybody in baseball history can surprise us.

Here is how I’m going to do it

I am using Strat-o-matic Computer Baseball and its Normalized Career Historical Players to create teams made entirely of individual players plus a slate of identical pitchers. They will, in essence, be teams of designated hitters backed by nearly perfect fielders. My thought is that this will minimize the amount of luck that plays into the results. All games will be played in a neutral ballpark. All teams will get a computer-generated manager.

This is Not the First

Oscar Gamble and his spectacular afro
Oscar Gamble and his spectacular afro

The only other one of these sorts of things I remember was done by Baseball Weekly back in 1992. I believe they picked 32 hitters and had them go head-to-head in a single-elimination tournament. I have been unable to locate the tournament through the USA Today online archive or through Google. Anyone who has the November 3, 1992 issue is requested to take a photo of the tournament results and email them to me. I will update this info and give them all the credit they deserve.

Ted Williams won that tournament by defeating Babe Ruth in the final and I got a paragraph published in the next week’s edition. Although I could not find the results, I did find this: Softballcoach on the Stratomatic Baseball Village Forum had his own tournament back in 2010. I won’t spoil it for you… follow the link for the results.

The Hitters

As for my tournament, I started with the top 150 players in each of 10 categories, mostly because I wanted to include every player that hit over 300 lifetime home runs (and 150 was a nice round number). Obviously, there were some players who appeared in more than one spot and that went into the formula I used in seeding the first rounds. In the end, I added a few more “personal favorites” who didn’t make the top 150 in any of the categories in order to fill out the rounds. I don’t necessarily expect them to go far in the tournament but, hey, it’s my project and if I want Oscar Gamble in my tournament then I can have Oscar Gamble in my tournament. I ended up with 592 hitters. All the objectively great players are in and a few surprises, as well. Also, there is one accidental addition in the form of Don Buford… I was going for Billy Buckner and clicked the wrong name. I did add Buckner and 7 “additional” hitters to make a complete round. How will they do? We’ll see.

All the Hall of Famers as hitters and fielders are here. In retrospect, I really wonder I could have failed to notice that an additional 8 hitters would have made an even 600? That is just poor planning on my part.

The Pitchers

The pitchers in the first two rounds were made up of the best of the best of each decade based on hits plus walks per nine innings. I tried to balance it out by lefty-righty and made sure to have a couple of closers in there as well. The second (consolation) round staff was all the pitchers that didn’t get much mound time in the first round. Boy were the hitters overmatched!

After that, beginning in the third round, I decided to use the Career Wins and Saves leaders, sorted to give a balanced era representation, ensuring that there was a lefty and a closer on each staff. I also sorted the pitchers so that the best would be in the earlier rounds. Why? So that as we get toward the finals, the batters might have better statistics.

The Rounds

Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants
Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants

Each round will be broken up into “Leagues” of 8 teams playing 154 game schedules. Why? Because that’s the way the Good Lord intended baseball to be played. Also, with more games played, the effects of fluky occurrences are minimized. The top 4 finishers go to the next round, ties included. Additionally, any team playing .500 ball moves ahead as does any team that scores more runs than its opponents. Any team that otherwise would not qualify but finishes the season ahead of any team that does, will move on.

Now, I want to be certain that someone who played in a league where they were clearly outclassed will get a fair shake. With that in mind, there will also be a “Second Chance” for each round. All teams that do not qualify for the next round will play an additional season against other teams that did not qualify for a chance to move forward using the same rules as above. Since it doesn’t actually cost anything, I’d rather have more opportunities for players to move forward than fewer.

For an example of what I am describing, see Season 2, where Babe Ruth won 130 games and John McGraw (!) picked up 105 of his own. Larry Bowa might have had a better chance of making the next round if those two hadn’t skewed the results with their tremendous win totals.

As we near the finals, there will be some changes to both the eliminations and the second chance opportunities. When I get to the final 8 Greats, I will come up with some sort of “playoff” scenario that makes sense.

Welcome aboard and here’s hoping for a lot of fun!