The Best Everyday Player of the 1970s

January 11, 2008

Some odds and ends from The New Bill James Historical Abstract on the players discussed in the recent Cardboard Gods poll on Best Everyday Player from the 1970s:

Though Bill James does not designate a best player of the decade, he does identify the winner of our poll, Joe Morgan, as the best player in four straight years, 1973 through 1976. Only Honus Wagner in the first decade of the twentieth century had a longer unbroken string of dominance (in James’ estimation the Dutchman was tops in baseball for seven straight years).

Of the players considered in our poll, Joe Morgan ranks the highest in James’ all-time list of players, at 15. Two players at the tail end of their careers in the 1970s rank higher, Hank Aaron at 12 and Willie Mays at 3. Other players getting votes in our poll were ranked thusly, starting at the back: 82. Willie Stargell (James’ choice for “Most Admirable Superstar”); 64. Rod Carew; 57. Reggie Jackson (James’ choice for “Least Admirable Superstar”); 44. Johnny Bench; 33. Pete Rose. 

Ken Singleton was the only player receiving support in the poll who was not ranked in the top 100 by James, but he is ranked by James as the eighteenth best rightfielder of all time. Singleton and Stargell are the only two of our players who did not make it onto James’ major league all-star team for the decade, passed over in the outfield in favor of Bobby Murcer, Reggie Jackson, and Bobby Bonds. 

Pete Rose is on that all-star team as a utility man, which would seem to make him the most vulnerable member of the squad if not for James’ high estimation of him in the overall rankings. That ranking made me feel a little better about spending so much verbiage lobbying for more consideration for Rose as one of the very best players of the decade. I’m sure part of my inspiration in doing so was reading, on some earlier occasion, the rhetorical question Bill James uses to sum up his thoughts on Pete Rose’s ranking in the pantheon of the game: “Which is better to start a pennant race with, a guy that you think might be the MVP, or a guy that you know is going to hustle every day and get 200 hits?”


  1. 1.  Since Juan Pierre would be an answer to the Bill James question I would always pick the player who has a chance to be the MVP and NOT the guy who plays hard and is just about money for 200 hits.
    It would be best to combine all three and come up with something like Stan Musial.

  2. 2.  1 : Yeah, I knew when I was typing in the “200 hits” part of that quote that Juan Pierre would come up pretty quickly. But here’s some more from Bill James on Rose to distinguish him from Pierre, that poster boy for the Relatively Empty 200 Hits Club: “Pete Rose had more extra base hits in his career than Mike Schmidt, Rogers Hornsby, Ernie Banks, Mickey Mantle, Al Simmons, Eddie Mathews, Willie McCovey, Harmon Killebrew, or Joe Dimaggio.” James also points out his non-Pierreesque ability to draw walks, his leading the league in OBP twice, his two Gold Gloves, and his two streaks of 500 consecutive games played, among other things.

  3. 3.  But yeah, I’d take Stan Musial over Rose (and over all but a handful of other guys).

  4. 4.  As someone who defended Rose in the previous column by pointing out that he had > 1000 extra base hits I understand the difference. Just couldn’t resist bringing peanut head into your world.
    Stan the Man was amazing. He’s one of those when you build the all-time team and he’s not there you say “what the hey” we have to make some room for Stan the Man.

  5. 5.  All I got to say:

    “I’ve Got More Action Than My Man John Woo
    And I’ve Got Mad Hits Like I Was Rod Carew.”

  6. 6.  5 : A good line, but in its references to baseball, Asian culture, and quantity of “hits” perhaps a little derivative of the earlier couplet:

    “There’s more to me than you’ll ever know
    And I’ve got more hits than Sadaharu Oh”

    Carew’s batting average for the decade: .343. Carew is also the only player from the poll besides Morgan to garner a Bill James Player of the Year designation, breaking Morgan’s run with his fantastic 1977 campaign. (His other Players of the Year for the decade were Yaz in 1970, Joe Torre in 1971, Dick Allen in 1972, Dave Parker in 1978, and Fred Lynn in 1979; I dispute his choice for 1978 on the basis that Parker’s slight advantage in OPS+ over Jim Rice–166 to 157–was erased by Rice’s significant advantage–163 to 148–in games played.)

  7. 7.  But didn’t Parker have an edge over Rice in both defense and position played (LF vs RF)?

  8. 8.  Bill Robinson had an OPS over 1.100 for the games he played in RF when Parker didn’t play in 78.

  9. 9.  7 : “But didn’t Parker have an edge over Rice in both defense and position played (LF vs RF)?”

    Yes. Damn it. Yes.

    Being a (semi-stats-literate) Jim Rice fan these days, it’s kind of like being someone coming into possession of an old girlfriend’s brutally honest, disillusioning journals. As Lucinda Williams once sang, “I thought I was in heaven, but I was only dreaming.”

  10. 10.  Johnny Bench

  11. 11.  6 Wow. You got me.

    I’m not really much of a Beastie Boys fan, so I had to look up the “Hey Ladies” reference to see that it was from Paul’s Boutique, earlier than “Sure Shot” from Ill Communication, 8 years later. To call the couplet derivative, when it refers back to their earlier work, is possibly the wrong word, but I get your point.

    However, Oh wasn’t on the list of players we were considering for the Cardboard Gods decade-player. Besides, I like the phrasing “mad hits like” better than “more hits than”, and “hits like I was Rod Carew” is more appropriate, since Carew was known for his high batting average, while Oh was known for his 800 dingers…

    I do hope you like the fact that I used that lyric in making my choice!

  12. 12.  1) Been drinking.

    2) Great to see someone referencing the Beasties and in the exact same manner that I strove to do just a week or less ago. Too bad I didn’t put the quote in, thank you Brent the Dodger Fan.

    3) Glad to see some love for Stan the Man.

    4) (and the only real, worthwhile point of this post) Where exactly does Stan the Man rank in the all time players list that James proposes? (Sorry, I don’t have the book and I just spent too much money for my books for this last semester (yes, last semester, I’m graduating and there isn’t a day that that notion doesn’t send shivers down my spine.)).

    5) Thanks for posting something for me to read whilst drunk tonight, Cardboard Gods has been an enlightening experience.

  13. 13.  10 : And Bench surges into third place in the voting.

    11 : Aw, I was just kidding with the “derivative” remark. Both great lines, both great songs. Sure Shot is probably my all-time favorite Beasties song, and Hey Ladies is from my favorite Beastie’s album. (And I agree that Carew makes more sense with reference to “hits.”)

    12 : James ranks Musial 10th behind, from the top, Ruth, Wagner, Mays, Oscar Charleston, Cobb, Mantle, Ted Williams, Walter Johnson, and Josh Gibson.

  14. 14.  Position by position, James would have this, I think:

    C – Josh Gibson
    1b- Lou Gehrig
    2b- Joe Morgan
    3b- Mike Schmidt
    ss- Honus Wagner
    lf- Oscar Charleston
    cf- Willie Mays
    rf- Babe Ruth
    sp- Walter Johnson

    I’ll pass on playing against these guys.

  15. 15.  Some will want Barry Bonds. Some will say even if he did use, you still had to hit the ball. And they are right, of course. But you can’t hit the ball from where he’s going (prison) so he ain’t playing.

  16. 16.  If the votes were still being tabulated, I would have to go with Morgan slightly over Bench. When you look at the everyday lineup of the Reds, it really makes you wonder how they didn’t win more championships. I mean they weren’t the Orioles of the 70’s, but Gullett, Nolan, and Billingham weren’t that shabby. Oh yeah, it might have had something to do with the 70’s being the best decade for great team depth. (I know I’m age-biased and I’m throwing that off the top of my head, but the Reds, A’s, Pirates, Orioles, Dodgers, Yankees, and Red Sox all had a number of excellent teams in the 70’s. I’ve been working on a piece that mirrors a little of what I mention above. The best decade for sports.

  17. 17.  14 : James ranks Ted Williams as the top leftfielder, but it stands to reason that Oscar Charleston, who ranks higher overall, could handle a switch from centerfield to leftfield.

    16 : And don’t forget the Royals and Phillies.

  18. 18.  Those Red and Dodger teams dominated the NL in the 1970’s.
    1970 – Reds
    1971- Pirates
    1972 – Reds
    1973 – Mets
    1974 – Dodgers
    1975 – Reds
    1976 – Reds
    1977 – Dodgers
    1978 – Dodgers
    1979 – Pirates

    Only 2 teams were able to keep the Reds or Dodgers out of the World Series during this decade. Seems to me the Reds did about as good as you can do. The Dodgers didn’t lose a playoff series during the decade. If they made the playoffs they were headed to the World Series. The great Philly teams couldn’t get past the Reds or Dodgers losing 3 straight conference playoff series from 1976-1978. The Giants in 1971 were the only other team to come out of the Western Divison during the 1970’s besides the Dodgers or Reds. For baseball fans was the 1970’s the greatest generation of baseball?

  19. 19.  Toy, you are absolutely correct, the ’70s were a great time for baseball, lots of great, competing dynasties, a richness in all facets of the game. I think of 1980 (OK, not the ’80s, close enough) and in the same game you could see a guy with 75 steals, another with 40 homers, another hitting .350, a 20 game winner and a 40 save guy. I can’t think of another time where all aspects of the game shared the field at the same time.

  20. Re: 5, 6: (The Beasties):

    I think Paul’s Boutique was definitely their creative high point.

    I’ll give ’em additional props for name-checking ’73-era NY Knicks
    reserve Hawthorne Wingo on the same album.

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