I ran across a reference to the fact that Joe DiMaggio used to be introduced at Yankees’ Old-Timer games/events as the “greatest living baseball player.” And that got me to thinking about who would be anointed as such in 2022. Obviously, I began my search by going to the Hal of Fame website and looking at the members there; fortunately, they have a listing of the living Hall of Fame members. There are 75 living members of the baseball Hall of Fame, and they are not listed alphabetically; in fact, if there is an order to the listing, it is not obvious to me.
However, the first player on the listing there is Willie Mays. So, I went through the listing simply asking myself, is this guy better than Willie Mays or not. The answer was “No” for the 74 other member of the hall of Fame who are still alive.
So, then I had to think about the best player who is not yet in the Hall of Fame with the idea of comparing him to Willie Mays. Quickly, I adopted three sorting rules for my search:
- I was not going to include any pitchers on my list. I told myself that maybe I would try sometime in the future to identify the “greatest living baseball pitcher” but not today.
- Points would be deducted if a significant part of a player’s accomplishments were the result of him being a Designated Hitter. I think the “greatest living baseball player” also had to demonstrate fielding and baserunning skills.
- I was not going to consider young players who are still in the prime of their career because this sorting will be hard enough without rosy projections of possible future accomplishments. So, there is an unfilled list of players as “Not Yet” including folks such as Bryce Harper, Fernando Tatis, Jr., Ronald Acuna, Jr. – – you get the idea.
So, I began making a list because I was not able to keep all of this in my mind without notes and save for alphabetizing, here is my list along with some notes:
- Barry Bonds – – Nope, chemical enhancement
- Miguel Cabrera – – Sure to be in the Hall but not greatest player
- Albert Pujols – – Strong candidate
- A-Rod – – No
- Pete Rose – – Great baseball player; miserable human being
- Mike Trout – – Very good at everything
Fortunately, I did not have to worry about any rank ordering of that list for a very simple reason. No one on that list is comparable with Willie Mays as an all-around baseball player. So, my conclusion is that as of August 10, 2022, Willie Mays is the “greatest living baseball player.”
The reason I included today’s date in the paragraph above is that Willie Mays is also the oldest living member of the Hall of Fame; Willie Mays celebrated his 91st birthday back in May. And that got me to thinking about current living members of the Hall of Fame who might inherit Mays’ status down the line. Again, save for alphabetizing, here is my list of candidates with notes:
- Rod Carew – – Career batting average of .328. In MLB for 19 seasons and was an All-Star in 18 of those seasons.
- Orlando Cepeda – – Did everything well except baserunning. Overshadowed by teammate Willie Mays early in his career.
- Ken Griffey, Jr. – – Excelled at every phase of the game
- Reggie Jackson – – Great player with one ignominious stat. He struck out 2597 times in 21 seasons; no player ever struck out more times.
- Mike Schmidt – – Best third baseman ever notwithstanding Orioles’ fans thinking Brooks Robinson was better.
- Frank Thomas – – Had a 19-year career with career batting average of .301 and career OPS of .974.
- Yaz – – Was an All-Star 18 times in a 23-year career.
Choosing from that list is not easy; if there were an “Elite Members Only Wing” of the Baseball Hall of Fame, all these folks would have keys to the amenities in that wing. If I had to pick one player from the list, it would be Ken Griffey Jr. because he was great in the field, on the bases and at the plate.
Obviously, I do not expect unanimous agreement here. As they used to say in the car commercials, “Your mileage may vary…”
Up above, I said that I was not going to include young players in my thinking for “greatest living baseball player” but as I was ruminating, I did keep a separate list of “Current active players who should make it to the Hall of Fame”. Just for giggles, here is my list:
- Acuna, Jr. – – only needs to stay healthy
- Altuve – – forget the sign-stealing business, he is a great player
- Arenado – – good at the plate and excellent in the field
- Betts – – ???
- Cabrera – – Shoo-in
- Guerrero, Jr. – – can join his father in the hall…
- Harper – – must avoid injuries
- Machado – – Shoo-in
- Molina – – ??? longevity as a catcher is a plus
- Pujols – – Shoo-in
- Soto – – ???
- Tatis, Jr. – – ???
- Trout – – Shoo-in
- Votto – – great player on some awful teams
Finally, let me close today with this description of the movie, Star Wars taken from The Illustrated Dictionary of Snark:
“Star Wars: Let’s see; A woman with two sticky buns on her head, a shag carpet, a vacuum cleaner, and a gay robot save the universe. Could happen.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………