The greatest of all time.

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The greatest of all time.

Postby j f jones » Thu May 11, 2017 1:41 am

Trying to identify the greatest of all time is a exercise of futility. When I have a public speaking session I often open the session by asking where my audience comes from. Living in a senior community in Arizona I get get responses from just about ever state in the union,I then ask the various people who their local hero they had in baseball, football, basketball, golf etc.For example: When someone from New York mentions Mickey Mantle as the best center fielder I suggest how about Willie May's. You get the idea. Naming the greatest is a very subjective thing.This is true in golf probably more true than any other sport. The obvious choices are normally Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods. While either answer could be correct I counter with Byron Nelson or Bobby Jones. As you can see The Greatest is a very subjective thing . It's very much dependent on a personal evaluation based upon many factors such as your age, how each of the golfers personally tugged on your heart string etc. It's a great subject to kick around on our forum. Your input would be welcome .

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Re: The greatest of all time.

Postby bkuehn1952 » Thu May 11, 2017 7:50 am

I can't disagree. Comparing people from different time periods is an impossible task. Better to say that "Tiger (or whomever) was the greatest golfer of his generation".
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Re: The greatest of all time.

Postby DougE » Thu May 11, 2017 8:49 am

Muhammad Ali. He said so. ;)

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bryan k
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Re: The greatest of all time.

Postby bryan k » Thu May 11, 2017 2:26 pm

"Greatest of all time" is a very broad description. You need a qualifier in order to be able to make the claim about anyone. I would argue that with a qualifier, there is a way to rate the greatest of all time by simply comparing that player to his or her contemporaries.

I would also argue that one would need a decent statistical sample size for any of this to mean anything. In football, for instance, there really is no way to claim the GOAT because football is not a statistical game. There aren't enough games to make it a statistical game. Baseball, on the other hand, is a statistical game, and Bill James has created a great metric called Wins Against Replacement that helps to rank players based on how they compared to their contemporaries.

I think you still have to have a qualifier, though. If someone asks me "who is the greatest baseball player of all time?", my answer will be "at what?"

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Re: The greatest of all time.

Postby j f jones » Thu May 11, 2017 6:11 pm

Doug E Sugar Ray Robinson?????

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Re: The greatest of all time.

Postby j f jones » Thu May 11, 2017 6:55 pm

Bryan K...If one could find a statistical sample to answer my question life would be easy, I was trying to suggest that emotion plays a huge part in assessing who was or is the greatest of all time,Over the years I have been blessed to being in the presence of some of the finest athletes of their era. I get a little pissed when Oscar Robertson is left off the list of great basketball players, How can football experts not have Otto Graham or Bart Starr on their list just because they played years ago . I have no trouble giving my list of today's super stars in any sport they ask me about. If Roger Federer isn't the best of all time , that doesn't diminish the accomplishments of Pete Sampras. When Tiger Woods was tearing up the tour it pissed me off when their was a large group that thought he was just another player .The stats proved that he was great but some drerep dark emotion wouldn't allow them to admit how good he was.

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Re: The greatest of all time.

Postby bryan k » Thu May 11, 2017 11:33 pm

I kind of agree with you when it comes to football. You cannot compare Tom Brady to the quarterbacks of the past because the quarterbacks of the past took a huge beating just to go on the field every Sunday. We're comparing two completely different games with no statistical ability to track actual performance.

I don't see why a SABRmetric (or more accurately APBRmetric) approach can't be taken in the NBA or the NHL, though. I know that value statistics are used in the NBA, and I see a great amount of value in them because they compare, from a strictly statistical perspective, how players compare to the others who are playing at the same time to grant an overall score. This completely takes the emotional context out of it, and when it comes to baseball, I have 100% confidence in its accuracy.

Baseball is a statistical game. There really isn't any debate on who the greatest of all time is because statistical analysis has already answered that question for us.

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Re: The greatest of all time.

Postby j f jones » Fri May 12, 2017 2:23 am

Thanks Bryan. Obviously some sports can use stats to improve the product. Billy ball proved that to the extreme. . but it's hard to justify individual performance when people allow passion to get in the way of common sense, For instance. My example about Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. As a devout Dodger fan I might want to vote for Duke Snider but the greatest center fielder I ever saw play was Joe Dimagio . He played the game with a grace that few others did. Joy plays such a big part in evaluating talent that it is often tossed aside like a dirty shirt.I think this discussion proves my premise perfectly. Trying to determine who's the greatest can be a waste but it's fun to have the discussion even iif one comes to no conclusion

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Re: The greatest of all time.

Postby legitimatebeef » Fri May 12, 2017 9:18 am

j f jones wrote:Joy plays such a big part in evaluating talent that it is often tossed aside like a dirty shirt.


Amen and that is why Federer towers over his rivals. Not only the most wins but he plays with such energy and spirit. Unlike those bores Djokovic, Nadal, Murray, the human backboards. These guys win a lot obviously, but they are turning the sport into a joyless, grim, defensive grind fest. Just keep pushing that ball back and wait for your opponent to make the error. If extraterrestrials landed on earth and started watching tennis, they would look at Fed and be like "That guy must be the best."
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Re: The greatest of all time.

Postby jattruia » Fri May 12, 2017 12:24 pm

I think this argument does fit all sports, including baseball. To me, Ted Williams was and is the greatest hitter to ever live; i'm a sox fan though. But with as many stats as baseball has to 'prove' who is the best, the game has still changed just as much as all others that there never will be a clear answer. The pitchers mound raising and lowering, pitch counts being enforced, the dead ball era, advanced scouting reports, outfield/infield shifts, and even the DH (to name a few). But, the debate nonetheless is as fun as ever.

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Re: The greatest of all time.

Postby bryan k » Mon May 15, 2017 11:04 am

I completely disagree. Baseball is a completely statistical game. It's an argument that I have been making since I was introduced to SABRmetrics in the late 80s. I was the king of my table top league because of the fact that I treated the works of Bill James as gospel, and it took the rest of the big leagues a good 20 years to catch on. The fact that the rest of the baseball world has caught on is probably the biggest reason why the game has recaptured my attention in recent years. When the Red Sox signed Bill James as a consultant en route to finally winning a championship, that was the most profound change in baseball history since the late 60s to early 70s when the playoffs were first being expaneed, the DH was being introduced, and the mound was lowered.

The greatest center fielder of all time is Willie Mays. This is coming from a Dodger fan who abhors the Giants, but a statistical analysis that shows his value to his team over the course of his career is something that I cannot argue with.

A decent argument can be made for Ty Cobb. Cobb, over the course of his career, won five fewer games for his teams than Mays won over the course of his career. Cobb played at a time when there were anywhere from 8 to 22 fewer games played in a season. Cobb won one game for his team out of approximately every 20 games. I don't think it is a stretch to assume that Mr. Cobb would have had at least 100 extra games played if he had played during the 162 game season.

No one else is even in this discussion. Tris Speaker is in third place in all time WAR with more than 20 WAR fewer than Cobb and Mays. Mantle is fourth almost 50 games back.

Now I would like to say that Ted Williams is the greatest hitter of all time because I genuinely like him, but he ranks 11th on the all time list. Even if you give him back his three war years at his career highs, he would still be lucky to crack the top five.

The greatest hitters of all time are Ruth, Bonds, Mays, Cobb, and Aaron. It's really not even close beyond that. As I stated before, Ted Williams would have needed three MVP-type seasons to overcome Aaron at number 5 on the list.

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Re: The greatest of all time.

Postby j f jones » Mon May 15, 2017 7:53 pm

I agree with Bryan K with the exception of Cobb, Speaker and Ruth. If you accept them without he rest of the great hitters from the 20s and 30s. If you do that you have to remove most of the great players from the 40s onward. Remember my original premise. The greatest is a subjective matter and not supported by just facts and figures, I agree picking Willie May's but my judgement is probably tainted by the fact he hit a 450 foot home run off of me when I was in the service. That was the day that I realized I wasn't as good as I thought I was.

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Re: The greatest of all time.

Postby jasonfish11 » Mon May 15, 2017 8:12 pm

j f jones wrote:I agree picking Willie May's but my judgement is probably tainted by the fact he hit a 450 foot home run off of me when I was in the service.


Ummm more details please.

How did this just get a single sentence at the end of a post?
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Re: The greatest of all time.

Postby bryan k » Mon May 15, 2017 9:00 pm

Darren Erstad hit two of those 450 foot long balls off of me in high school. In the same inning.

But I digress.

There is nothing subjective about rating statistical performances where all other factors are normalized. This is something I have to do with regularity at work. When we are comparing metrics across 32 different states with different terrains, geographies, and climates; we have to find a way to normalize the numbers so that those external and uncontrollable factors are treated in an objective manner. I have found that the best way to do this is the exact same way that Bill James started doing it in the '80s. We measure individual performance based on deviation from the averages of the other individuals who were exposed to as similar of an environment as possible, and we grade performances based on how much better (or worse) than an individual is against those contemporary peers.

My favorite of these statistics is Wins Above Replacement. This measures how many wins a player contributed above and beyond what the average player at that position would have contributed. When we compare all time WAR ratings among center fielders, we are not ignoring the great hitters of the '40s and '50s. We are simply prioritizing them based on how much actual value they had to their respective teams in a purely objective way. Here is the list, in case you are curious:

All Time WAR Leaders among Center Fielders in MLB
1. Willy Mays 156.3
2. Ty Cobb 151.1
3. Tris Speaker 133.9
4. Mickey Mantle 110.2
5. Ken Griffey, Jr. 83.6
6. Joe DiMaggio 78.1
7. Carlos Beltran 70.0
8. Kenny Lofton 68.2
9. Duke Snider 66.4
10. Richie Ashburn 63.9
11. Billy Hamilton 63.3

Mays, Cobb, Speaker, and Mantle all get a boost in their WAR ratings because they all played at a time when pitching was dominant. Mays was hitting 50 home run seasons at a time when the league's offensive production were at lows not seen since before the Ruth era. The 44 home run season that Mays put together in 1965 was easily more valuable than the 61 that Maris hit in 1961 because home runs were more scarce in 1965.

It's a fun exercise. I was pissed off at some of the things I saw when I first started looking at these lists. But I believe in the process that is used to arrive at these numbers in the only true way to rate a baseball player...his overall value to his team. Sure, you can say that Ted Williams had the sweetest swing. You can say that Tom Seaver had the greatest curve. You can say that Lou Brock was the greatest base runner. In the end, though, there are only two metrics that matter. How much did the player contribute to scoring, and how much did the player contribute to keeping the other team from scoring.


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