Are We Living in the Greatest Era of Baseball Ever?

Is Baseball in Its Great Revival?

Before I was even a baseball player and fan, I was a historian. Given a pack of Topps cards in 1977 and I immediately studied the history of each player, trying to figure out how good this guy was, why he was in the majors, how good he was compared to others. It helped I was a youngest child and had my brother’s packs to look at to give me additional confidence in my young child’s viewpoint (btw, there is a 1950s Mickey Mantle card in a local card shot that isn’t valuable yet expensive but because my dad was a huge Mantle and Maris fan, everytime I go in with my kids I have to hid the credit cards).

Baseball is great, so much better than any of the other sports, because you really can imagine players from other eras competing against today’s players. While there are better scouting and training today (and diet, and no greenies), you can still imagine that Ruth, Christy Mathewson, Big Train Walter Johnson, Joe Dimagio, Ted Williams, Mel Ott, Stan Musial, Lou Gehrig, Hank Aaron, Frank and Brooks Robinson…you name your favorites, would still be great today. Maybe not set the records they had (the game has changed, especially in terms of 5 man rotations with longer rest and power bullpens) but still great.

At one point in my life I was going to be a Civil War historian, and I along with every other human loved Ken Burn’s The Civil War series. So when he brought out Baseball, I gobbled it up just as much. For me, the period of the 1950s is the zenith of baseball, and Burns presents it as such. I say that knowing that many clubs were financially struggling leading to the movement of clubs out of New York and Boston, leading to new stadiums being built and losing grand old palaces (which were probably horrible but their names are legendary). But the players of that era – especially the players who came into the league in the 1950s. Add to that the greats who started in the 40s (or even 1930s talking about Williams) made the 1950s the great era of baseball, and probably the last time it was more popular than football (football, with its smaller schedule, faster action, the AFL, the violence, NFL Films, the Super Bowl, better captured the 1960s and on, plus it is far easier and profitable to bet on and easier for the modern version of betting, fantasy football rather than baseball).  Ask any bettor, because baseball teams lose 60s games regardless of how good or bad, whereas good football teams lose 4 max, it makes baseball a losing bet, and that makes baseball less interesting to many in America. So today football is king (boo!!!!), but if Americans start to pay attention, that might just change (and we know that aside from real football, you know, where you actually use your feet – I am a huge Manchester United fan after studying in Manchester, baseball is the world’s favorite game). If American want to see the best players, best athletes and best performances in the world – it is found in baseball, not football, especially during this decade.

But putting all the football issues, my real argument is bigger than just that baseball is better than football (duh!). I want to make a bigger argument – that we are indeed living during a decade of baseball even better than the 1950s! As great as the 1950s were in terms of the great players who played….we are lucky enough to live in an era of even better players. No really. Now, the game is more global, which helps. There are far more teams, which helps. Sadly, we have lost the African-American athletes from our game, something that to his credit Commissioner Bud Selig has made a focus so that we can once again see baseball become the African-American athletes first choice.  But even with that decline, I want to challenge you by looking at the names below, we are indeed in the greatest era of baseball.

How to measure? I will list the top players of the 1950s, the ones who started playing in the decade first and then the rest. I will then list the players under 25 already in the big leagues today plus other great players under 30. I choose from several lists for the 1950s, including the best players (top 3) at each positions and the WAR from the 1950s era (don’t trust WAR because defense was so much harder to measure then, and I don’t trust it now). You can argue with who I included and who I left off. It gets iffy in spots, but every player I list made at least one All-Star team and/or led the league in a key statistical category during the 1950s. The highlighted names are those you can visit in Cooperstown.

Deciding on the current day players was more subjective. I included those players under 30 (on opening day) who were 1) listed as a top prospect before making the majors 2) have actually begun their major league career and made an impact (statistical impact or great defense). I did include a few players who are still technically rookies this year, but those players are already making their presence felt and making their high prospect status appear correct.  Again, you can argue with me on which players did and did not make my list, but it gives a feel of how lucky we are to be watching baseball in the 2010s. My kids will never see All-Star starters at SS who hit under .250. That alone makes this decade great…but take a look at these lists and talk afterwards.

1950s Player Season Began Playing 2010s Players Age Currently
Yogi Berra 1946 to 1965 Michael Wacha 22
Roy Campanella 1948 to 1957 (car accident) Stephen Strasburg 25
Smoky Burgess 1949 to 1967 Bryce Harper 21
Harmon Killebrew 1954 to 1975 Andrelton Simmons 24
Orlando Cepeda 1958 to 1974 Jason Heyward 24
Gil Hodges 1943 to 1963 Freddie Freeman 24
Jackie Robinson 1947 to 1956 (started late due to Negro league career shortened by diabetes) Craig Kimbrel 25
Nellie Fox 1947 to 1956 Jose Fernandez (Miami) 21
Red Schoendist 1945 to 1963 Giancarlo Stanton 24
Eddie Matthews 1951 to 1968 Nathan Eovaldi 24
Key Boyer 1956 to 1969 Mike Trout 22
Brooks Robinson 1955 to 1977 Jose Igkesias 24
Ernie Banks 1953 to 1971 Mashiro Tanaka 25
Luis Aparicio 1956 to 1973 Jean Segura 23
Alvin Dark 1946 to 1960 Manny Machado 21
Hank Aaron 1954 to 1976 Elvis Andrus 25
Willie Mays 1951 to 1976 (missed season and half for military service) Neftali Feliz 25
Mickey Mantle 1951 to 1968 Eric Hosmer 24
Frank Robinson 1956 to 1976 Yordano Ventura (rookie pitcher ERA under 2) 22
Al Kaline 1953 to 1974 Wil Myers 23
Roberto Clemente 1955 to 1972 (killed early in plane crash) Matt Moore 24
Duke Snider 1947 to 1964 Chris Archer 25
Minnie Minoso 1949 to 1968 Starlin Castro 23
Vic Wertz 1947 to 1963 Anthony Rizzo 24
Larry Doby 1947 to 1959 (broke the racial barrier in AL) Xander Bogaerts 21
Norm Cash 1958 to 1974 Matt Harvey (had TJ buy great rookie year) 24
Ted Kluzewski 1947 to 1961 Jose Altuve 23
Roy Sievers 1949 to 1965 Sonny Gray (2nd year player as opening day starter) 24
Vada Pinson 1958 to 1975 Jedd Gyrko 25
Jackie Jensen 1954 to 1961 Chris Sale 24
Stan Musiel 1941 to 1963 Matt Davidson 22
Warren Spahn 1942 to 1965 Adam Eaton 25
Robin Roberts 1948 to 1966 Yasiel Puig 23
Early Wynn 1939 to 1963 Willin Rosario 25
Billy Pierce 1945 to 1964 Nolan Arenado (2nd rookie to win GG) 22
Bob Lemon 1941 to 1958 Maddison Bumgarner 24
Ted Williams 1939 to 1960 Brett Lawrie 24
Whitey Ford 1950 to 1967 Players Over 25 under 30
Johnny Antonelli 1948 to 1961 Troy Tulowitzki
Richie Ashburn 1948 to 1962 Matt Wieters 27
Del Ennis 1946 to 1959 Clay Buchholz 29
Gus Bell 1950 to 1964 Jose Abreu 27
Allie Reynolds 1942 to 1954 Yan Gomes 27
Mike Garcia 1948 to 1961 Max Scherzer 29
Al Rosen 1947 to 1956 Jason Castro 27
Harvey Kuenn 1952 to 1966 Billy Butler 28
Ralph Kiner 1946 to 1955 Chris Davis 28
Sal Maglie 1945 to 1958 Yoenis Cespedes 29
Eddie Yost 1944 to 1962 Felix Hernandez 28
Don Newcombe 1949 to 1960 Evan Longoria 29
Clem Labine 1950 to 1962 Yu Darvish 28
Carl Furillo 1946 to 1960 Prince Fielder 29
Wally Moon 1954 to 1965 Gio Gonzalez 29
Pee Wee Reese 1940 to 1958 Ian Desmond 29
Bobby Thomson 1946 to 1960 Tim Lincecum 29
Hank Sauer 1941 to 1959 Buster Posey 27
Carl Erskine 1948 to 1959 Andrew Cashner 27
Ray Boone 1948 to 1960 Andrew McCutchen 28
Preacher Roe 1938 to 1954 Matt Cain 29
Al Smith 1953 to 1964 Carlos Gomez 29
Johnny Podres 1953 to 1969 Clayton Kershaw 27
Jim Bunning 1955 to 1971 Dee Gordon 27
Joe Nuxhall 1944 to 1966 Matt Kemp 29
Herb Score 1955 to 1962 Carlos Gonzalez 28
Monte Irvin 1949 to 1956 Aroldis Chapman 26
Don Drysdale 1956 to 1969 Justin Upton 27
Dale Long 1951 to 1963 Paul Goldschmidt 27
Vern Law 1950 to 1967
Dick Groat 1952 to 1967
Maury Wills 1959 to 1972
Bob Feller 1936 to 1956

I will try and put this as a separate file when I figure out how to do it here.

I used under 30 as of opening day as the cut-off for the names listed above, emphasizing these as the players who will make the 2010s their decade. But just as we saw players who started their career in the 1930s and 1940s helped make the 1950s so great, players whose careers were started in the 1990s and 2000s are helping to make the 2010s great as well. The following players are multiple All-Stars, have led the league in a key category, or have a contract worth over $100million, or have finished in the top 3 in the Cy Young or MVP race. Who does that add to our list?: Jacoby Ellsbury, Miguel Cabrerra, Albert Puljos, Josh Hamilton, Justin Verlander, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Derek Jeter, Cliff Lee, ARod (I know, I know), CC Sabaithia Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Alfonso Soriano, Robinson Cano, Adrian Beltre, Mark Buerhle, Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Adam Wainwright, Yadi Molina, Matt Holliday, Tim Hudson, Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins, Bartolo Colon, David Wright, Curtis Granderson, Ryan Braun, Adrian Gonzalez, Joey Votto, and Dan Uggla. And we just said goodbye to Mariano Rivera and Todd Helton.

Now of course, the 1950s are over and done with, and we can see how great all those players were, and the large number of HOFs that played during that era.  But look at the list of players first under age 25. We are living in era where players are getting to the major leagues younger and younger. And it is not just the Mike Trouts, Jose Fernandezs, Manny Machados and Bryce Harpers. I was shocked at how young Chris Sale, Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Brett Lawrie and Maddison Baugarner, Giancarlo Stanton still are. How early did these guys make it to The Show? And even here in Colorado, we know Tulo made it young, but Nolan just turned 23! And around the league players like Buster Posey, CarGo, Felix Hernandez, and Clayton Kershaw have been playing forever and are still under 30. It makes me believe some of the guys down in the A-levels of the Rockies farm system might be here sooner than we realize.

So, take a look at the list of players on the current-era side. How many of those players have a real shot at becoming Hall of Famers in their career, or at least make the discussion a hard one. And these are just the players who have already arrived in The Show. How long before some of the top prospects in baseball begin to show up and start making their mark on baseball. It seemed like just a few years ago that young players spent a year in each level of the minors and would be rookies at 25 or 26, with their best years only from age 28 to 32. Baseball has made big changes, getting the best players up to the major leagues sooner, and they are ready to compete when they get here. This change alone has made this decade so much more exciting, and means that we might be living in an extended period of greatness in baseball.

When I was a kid I had a board game with a spinner called “All-Star Baseball” (they cost close to $100 on EBay, so that is one toy I won’t be able to share with my kids), featuring a statistical analysis of players from previous eras. Each year I would add new players by doing my nerdy best to figure out fly-balls, ground-outs, doubles, triples and the like (this was before baseball-reference and other sites, so I probably gave too much offensive potential to those 1970s and 1980s players). I loved playing that game  would play hours and hours when the weather stunk. Today, it would be exciting to see how the players of today would look like as little disks compared to those of the 1950s. If I was going to play a world-series of the 1950s vs 2010s, I would bet that today’s players win it 4-2.

Do you think we are in the great era of baseball? Are we lucky? Or am I fooling myself, the 1950s were the best, and I just need to go back and re-watch the Burns series and the mlb network programs on the seasons of the 1950s to understand just how great that time was.

Let me know your thoughts. As for me, I am jealous that my kids are getting to grow-up watching baseball as good as it gets.

 

 

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gary
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gary

Wow,I’m exhausted but impressed by your output Doctor C. To nit-pic slightly I think you should mention that the” splendid splinter”lost time to both the Korean and WW2 as a marine fighter pilot.He was shot down,slightly wounded in Korea came home and hit a home run in his first game back.As Ken Burns pointed out the fifties in NYC were amazing for baseball with the Giants,Dodgers,and the hated Yankees all going to World Series as well as having the three… Read more »

Doctor_Christopher
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Doctor_Christopher

Gary…that is the first I heard of that series. I am totally firing up the TIVO. Thanks a ton for that! You caught me! I have always been a Musial is a better hitter than Ted Williams guy. But as someone from a military family, I have always thought the world of Ted, especially going back in during Korea (along with the late, legendary Jerry Coleman, who of course had his beginning of his career stopped by WW2 and best… Read more »

rockymountainhigh
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rockymountainhigh

I’m a bit of the younger generation, but I thought the 70s were awesome. Of course I was a Big Red Machine fan growing up. Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Mike Schmidt, the entire Dodger infield, Nolan Ryan, Wilbur Wood, Dick Allen, Robin Yount, Rod Carew, “Harvey’s Wallbangers” Brewers team, Bob Gibson, Pete Rose, Tom Seaver, White Sox shorts and collared jerseys, Dennis Eckersley, Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, Ryne Sandberg, etc. White Sox forfeiting a game due to pregame concert riot,… Read more »

Doctor_Christopher
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Doctor_Christopher

RMH…that was when I was a kid as well. And all of those things bring a smile to my face – okay, not the short-shorts and collars for the White Sox – I can live with Eddie Gaddel, but not that. Loved Pete Rose (didn’t every kid in the 70s learn to slide head first jumping outwards). And the great facial hair on closers – Goose, Sutter, Fingers. Joe Morgan with the wing flap, Ryan throwing the original Ubaldo no-hitters,… Read more »