Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bill James's Greatest Chicago Players

     Bill James and his fellow sabermetricians--so named after the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), through which they operate--seek to go beyond the traditional figures that have populated the sports pages for more than a century (batting average, home runs, runs batted in, wins, strikeouts, and earned-run average), in order to measure every aspect of a player's performance and value.
     Their work leads inevitably to the ranking of players, which is always interesting, often controversial, and sometimes changes considerably over time (for example, Ernie Banks was ranked 40th in an early version of James's list of the greatest players of all time, but has since slipped to 77th). The rankings have made James's books best sellers and are surefire conversation starters.
     The best Chicago player of all time, according to James, was Eddie Collins. "Collins is described by various sources," James wrote, "as the best bunter in the history of baseball, the best hit-and-run man in the history of baseball, the best defensive second baseman in the history of baseball, the best sign-stealer who ever lived, and the greatest World Series star who ever lived. Kid Gleason, who managed Collins on the White Sox, said that Collins was the greatest team player who ever lived. Connie Mack [who managed Collins with the Athletics] said that Collins was the greatest team player who ever lived."
     Below is a list of all the Chicago players in James's most recent top 100. (Note that some of them played only briefly in Chicago, and therefore earned their ranking elsewhere.) Notable by his absence from this list is Sammy Sosa, whose steroid-tainted career remains difficult to evaluate at present.

18. Eddie Collins, White Sox 1915-1926

20. Grover Alexander, Cubs 1918-1926

22. Rogers Hornsby, Cubs 1929-1932

29. Jimmie Foxx, Cubs 1942, 1944

38. Tom Seaver, White Sox 1984-1986

58. Ryne Sandberg, Cubs 1982-1994, 1996-1997

66. Joe Jackson, White Sox 1916-1920

71. Al Simmons, White Sox 1933-1935

73. Ken Griffey Jr., White Sox 2008

75. Frank Thomas, White Sox 1990-2005

77. Ernie Banks, Cubs 1953-1971

78. Steve Carlton, White Sox 1986

80. Roberto Alomar, White Sox 2003-2004

81. Tim Raines, White Sox 1991-1995

83. Mordecai Brown, Cubs 1904-1912, 1916

85. Minnie Minoso, White Sox 1951-1957, 1960-1961, 1964

87. Ron Santo, Cubs 1960-1973; White Sox 1974

92. Greg Maddux, Cubs 1986-1992, 2004-2006

96. Robin Roberts, Cubs 1966

97. Carlton Fisk, White Sox, 1981-1993

100. Billy Williams, Cubs 1959-1974

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