My friend Graham Womack hosted an interesting crowd-sourced project at his fabulous blog Baseball: Past and Present. To participate this project, each voter picked 25 people whom they believe to be the most important in the history of baseball.
I, of course, cast a ballot, though it was a tough quest. I considered an unfathomable number of people who contributed something significant to baseball. There’s no clear measurement like, say, WAR, to judge how great they are. It’s completely based on my opinion. It took me more than 5 hours, but I was finally able to fill out my ballot. If you ask tomorrow, I’d probably choose a different 25. But for today, here are my picks, sorted by an alphabetical order.
Great baseball player, even greater person. 755 home runs, 3771 hits, 2297 RBI, 142.6 bWAR, 21 all-star selections. Also, he’s said to be one of the classiest guys in the sport.
The best player the game ever had not named Babe Ruth. In the light of his great talent and the darkness of all the steroid crap, he represents how baseball looked like in the 1990s and early 2000s.
He didn’t create the game from the scratch. But he and his New York volunteer firemen colleagues were an unignorable part in forming the rules of the game, and played the first recorded baseball game in history.
All he created was RBI, pitcher W-L, and many of the stats classified as “useless” by stat heads these days. But Chadwick invented the box score itself. It’s even possible that advanced stats wouldn’t have existed without his invention of a way to record the game in the books.
After becoming a regular in 1958, his age 20 season, Flood had accumulated 42.2 bWAR before he turned 32. But he sacrificed his borderline Hall of Fame career in the fight to get players the right known today as free agency. In fact, he got only 40 more plate appearances afterwards. Without his effort, there wouldn’t be 9-figure contracts today.
For us baseball nerds, Baseball Reference is a part of life. Eat, sleep, brush teeth, browse through various B-Ref player pages. Forman changed the way we watch the game by creating the encyclopediac baseball database.
Pioneer of African American baseball when they weren’t allowed to be in the big leagues. The Texas native played a huge part in establishment and improvement of the Negro League.
Without this man, advanced baseball analysis wouldn’t look as it does today. Bill James is to sabermetrics as Jimmy Page is to rock n’ roll, or Galileo Galilei is to astronomy.
Johnson is known as the founder and the first president of the American League. While a few other leagues, like the Federal League, lasted for only a couple of years or so, the Senior Circuit has been there for more than a century.
An uncountable number of pitchers’ career would’ve been cut short had Jobe not invented the way to reconstruct torn UCLs in their elbow. The image we’ve chosen for Dr. Jobe includes his most famous patient, former pitcher Tommy John.
With a 3731-3948 record, Mack is both the winningest and losingest skipper in history, by a thousand light years. In today’s game, no one manages for 50 years, let alone stays with one team for that long.
This spot could easily be given to Stan Musial, Micky Mantle, or Tris Speaker. But John Fogerty sung about none of them in his universally known classic song. Well, Ty Cobb missed the cut because of his personality. Joltin’ Joe Dimaggio, in my opinion, didn’t have a long enough career. So I’m going with Say Hey Willie.
McCracken’s legendary research on pitching and defense is one of the most significant events in the history of sabermetrics and, furthermore, the game itself. Advanced pitching stats like FIP or BABIP would probably not have been exposed to our eyes had McCracken not done this research.
During his tenure as the executive director of the MLBPA, the average annual player salary went up more than 1700%. He also played an important roll in the establishment of free agency, along with Curt Flood. It’s a shame that Miller wasn’t elected into the Hall of Fame before his death (and he still hasn’t been).
Player development would’ve been completely different without Rickey. Among Rickey’s many innovations are affiliated farm system and the 20-80 scouting scale. But he did even greater things for the game itself (see below).
Branch Rickey’s best known accomplishment is signing the first African American player in modern baseball history, Jackie Robinson. Imagine if Robinson had failed. We would never have had Aaron, Mays, and Bonds at the top of all-time leaderboards. The role he had was huge, and he surpassed the stratospheric expectation.
No one has changed (or ever will) the game in the way this great American did.
It would be blasphemous to go without mentioning the greatest broadcaster of all-time.
He probably was an awful person. He even was arrested for supporting WWII. But he’s the guy behind the founding of NPB. The Japanese Professional Baseball League would have been less than it is now without him. He’s enshrined in the NPB Hall of Fame.
Not only was he a fine player, Spalding also was a successful businessman. After his playing career, in which he pitched 2886.1 innings and had a 252-65 record in a span of 7 years in the 1870s, he founded a sports equipment company named after himself. Spalding one of the biggest players in the business today. Moreover, he’s said to be the first known player used a glove.
The last owner in history who single-handedly controlled his team. The Boss and his Yankees were always at the center of baseball journalism, or somewhere around there, during his tenure as an owner.
He was an even more influencing owner than Steinbrenner. He was a man of many ideas. One of them was using a midget as a pinch hitter.
You may or may not have seen this photograph of a tiny guy squatting at the plate. He deserves my vote for the Eddie Gaedel at-bat (well, it’s officially a plate appearance), along with many other weird stuff he did.
It wouldn’t be a proper list without including the best hitter in the history of game in my 25. Yes, Teddy Ballgame is even a better batsman than The Bambino, in my honest opinion. I always wonder what his career stats would’ve looked like had he not lost 5 years to serving his country.
Not many baseball fans have heard of Wilson. He’s said to have brought the game of baseball to Japan in 1871, when he was a teacher at a school currently know as Tokyo University. To this Japanese author, it’s important enough to put his name here. Wilson was elected to the NPB Hall of Fame in 2003.
It’s called the “Cy Young Award,” not the “Walter Johnson Award,” nor the “Nolan Ryan Award.” Johnson might have been a better pitcher, but for this reason, my 25th pick belongs to Denton True “Cy” Young, both the winningest and losingest pitcher in history.
That’s my Top 25 – who’s on yours? Let me know on Twitter. The overall project results will be posted on BaseballPastAndPresent.com sometime during the week of November 10, 2014, so be sure to have a look and see what the 262 voters came up with.
Kazuto Yamazaki is a Contributor for The Scoop, based in Japan. Follow him on Twitter at @Kazuto_Yamazaki.