March 5, 2007

100 Greatest Red Sox

Say what you will about Red Sox fans, they do nothing halfway. It is in that spirit that I must point out the existence of Top 100 Red Sox, a daily countdown of, well, you get the idea, written by a coterie of knowledgeable bloggers. 100 is a lot of people, there is some room for mistakes in ordering, but that doesn't make arguing about it less fun. John Cusack would be jealous.

After a little estimation you realize that the bottom third are going to be the Ike Delocks of the world. Listing the greatest 100 anything is quite a challenge, and it is hard to figure out what serious quantitative differences they used to separate #81 from #82, but as an excuse to write about and debate players of different eras it definitely works. It isn't that I necessarily have strong feelings about Ira Flagstead, but check out this paragraph:

The club honored the Montague native with “Flagstead Day” in 1928. “Boston’s outfielder” was presented with a variety of gifts, including a new car and $1,000 in gold...A .290 career hitter, he closed out his baseball career with Tacoma of the Pacific Coast League. He died at the age of 46 in March of 1940.
$1000 in gold? Died at the age of 46?! Who the hell is this guy?

Nothing matches baseball for obscure knowledge, and this countdown has it in spades. By the mid-sixties they started getting to people who I already knew, so it became interesting for the intended reason, and I applaud their venture. How they are figuring out that relief pitcher and Mike "The Iron Eagle" Timlin comes in at #59 I have no idea. (I just started calling him this and it made sense. It also happens to be the name of my car.) Their approach is supposed to be primarily statistical, but unless they are compounding win shares (something I didn't see any evidence for) it isn't immediately clear how they are comparing say, a 3rd baseman to a pitcher, or a relief pitcher to a starter. But this ambiguity is what makes it interesting. They have declared their intent to acknowledge only the years played in a Boston uniform, rather than the career as a whole. Guys like Babe Ruth, Dennis Eckersly, and Jimmie Foxx being notable examples of this. It will be interesting to see what they place the most emphasis on.

I would say that the #1 spot is a foregone conclusion, but the rest of the top 10 is up for grabs, especially depending on the historical sensitivities of the writers. This group of bloggers is quite thoughtful, so I am confident they will not trend embarrassingly to the recent when a bit of perspective is called for. I doubt that I could accurately predict their choices, but I can certainly give my own. It will be interesting to see how in line I am with their picks.

1. Ted Williams
2. Cy Young
Pedro Martinez
4. Carl Yastrzemski
5. Tris Speaker
6. Roger Clemens
7. David Ortiz
Harry Hooper
Smokey Joe Wood
10. Bobby Doerr/Carlton Fisk

No Babe Ruth, no Schilling (though Game 6 alone entitles him to a top 20 spot at least), and Clemens gets bumped way down for being backstabbing asshole (these things matter.) And Ortiz's spot is on basically on loan. If he retired tomorrow he'd crack the top 20 for the astonishing, mind-boggling, incredibleness of his 4 short years, but some more time and performance is necessary to justify that position. After all, has he let me down yet? They aren't quite using the same rules as me and are trying to apply more statistical rigor to their run-down, but hopefully I'm not way off.

I expect the brain trust over there to be kinder to Ruth, and slightly less keen on Ortiz, Yaz, and Fisk, but there isn't a great deal of flexibility there. In my mind Pedro and Cy Young are sort of a draw, but despite pitching only part of his career in Boston, Young has the goddamn pitching award named after him. It is impossible to know how he would fare in today's league, but back then he was one of those psychos who pitched both games of a double header, scoreless. And then threw a perfect game the following day. If I had it my way Clemens wouldn't be on there at all, but you can't forget him entirely. Since I can't purge him from the top 10 I'm copping out with #10. Whatever, I don't have rules, or any claim to expertise, or a readership who will be mad at me if I violated either.

I will keep my readership appraised of the results.