Baseball BeatJuly 21, 2003
You've Got Questions, I've Got Answers...
By Rich Lederer

I received the following questions in response to the Ken Griffey Jr. article posted over the weekend.

Q: You ranked Griffey as the sixth best center fielder of all time. How would you rank the top ten?

A: The top ten CF of all time, in my opinion, are as follows:

 1.   Ty Cobb
 2.   Mickey Mantle
 3.   Willie Mays
 4.   Tris Speaker
 5.   Joe DiMaggio
 6.   Ken Griffey Jr.
 7.   Duke Snider
 8.   Larry Doby
 9.   Earl Averill
10.   Hack Wilson

The top five are in a league of their own. Five of the greatest players ever. Ty Cobb and Mickey Mantle were the best offensively. Tris Speaker and Willie Mays were the best defensively. Mays and Joe DiMaggio were perhaps the most complete players. The latter's career counting stats would be even more impressive had he not missed three years at the peak of his career serving in the military during World War I. One could make a strong case for any of the top five--especially my top three--as the best ever. I just happened to pick Cobb, but I could understand why others might choose Mantle or Mays.

Griffey and Duke Snider are comparable players, falling short of The Big Five but well ahead of the rest of the pack. Like Speaker before them, Larry Doby and Earl Averill played the majority of their careers in Cleveland, giving the Indians three of the top nine center fielders of all time. I'm not particularly passionate about Doby, Averill, and Wilson as little separates them from the next best group of CF, which includes Jimmy Wynn, Fred Lynn, and Dale Murphy from the under-represented 1970s and 1980s.

Most Likely to Crash the Party: Bernie Williams and/or Jim Edmonds
Sadly Forgotten: Wally Berger
Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda: Pete Reiser

Q: What do you think will happen to Griffey's ranking if he returns to play next season as currently expected?

A: Griffey has already established his level of greatness. Retiring now or down the road is not apt to affect his overall ranking one way or the other. By continuing to play, Griffey would obviously pad his counting stats, but his rate stats would almost surely deteriorate. The gains from the quantitative side of the ledger would be offset by losses on the qualitative side. In my judgment, Griffey is much closer to the player immediately beneath him (Snider) than the one above him (DiMaggio). As a result, it is more likely than not that any change in his ranking would be downward rather than upward.

Q: You focused on career numbers. How does Griffey show up based on "peak" value?

A: At most, Griffey might slip one or two notches based on peak value. Hack Wilson, who had a much shorter career than Griffey, had a fantastic five-year stretch from 1926-1930 in which he led the N.L. in HR four times and set the all-time single-season RBI record of 191. Griffey had a similar run, leading the A.L. in HR four out of six years. However, Wilson would get the nod over Griffey based on superior OPS+ numbers (five consecutive years over 150 with a high of 178 vs. two for Junior and a high of 172). Wilson's overall ranking is diminished by his poor defensive performance as well as playing only eight seasons with 100 or more games in the field. Duke Snider is at least on par with Griffey in terms of peak value--if not slightly ahead--having four straight seasons with an OPS+ of 150 or greater with his high being 172 as well. Like Griffey, Snider's career went into steady decline at the age of 30, most likely due to not adjusting to the Los Angeles Coliseum's unusual dimensions after having excelled at cozy Ebbets Field his entire career.

Photo credit: Baseball Fulling.