Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Top 10 Most Expensive Baseball Cards

Friday Night Lists recently put out a list of a the Top 10 Most Expensive Baseball Cards. It's no surprise that The Honus Wagner T206 came in at #1. Here's a quick look at the others that made the list:

10) 1951 Bowman #305 Willie Mays
9) 1954 Bowman #664 Ted Williams
8) Goudey 1933 'Heads-Up' R323 #274 Joe DiMaggio
7) Goudey 1933 #53 Babe Ruth
6) Leaf 1949 #8 Satchel Paige
5) Cracker Jack 1914 E145-1 #30 Ty Cobb
4) Cracker Jack 1914 E145-1 #103 Joe Jackson
3) Topps 1952 #311 Mickey Mantle
2) Goudey 1953 #106 Nap Lajoie
1) 1909 T206 #366 Honus Wagner

Some of the entries are surprising and I've seen a number of other cards sell for higher than the prices that are listed in the to 10 list but it's a brave attempt to create a top 10 list. Hopefully it will encourage others to improve on the data in the list!

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Sunday, July 6, 2008

David Martinez on Honus Wagner

David Martinez is a member of the Society of American Baseball Research and the author of "The Book of Baseball Literacy" (published 1996 and 2000). He is also the man behind the baseball blog Baseball Mud: History, Stats, and Other Stuff, a new blog with interesting tidbits of baseball lore, literature, personalities, statistics, terminology, and more.

In one of David's posts, he discusses his opinion on how Honus Wagner is the greatest Pittsburgh Pirate of all time:
Who's the greatest? It really is no contest. Honus Wagner is not only the greatest Pirate of all time, he's one of the top five players of all time. Don't know much about Wagner? As a fielder, Wagner was the greatest of his time. As a hitter and baserunner, only Ty Cobb was better. As a positive clubhouse influence, he was unmatched. He was more beloved by fans than anybody until Babe Ruth. He was friendly with rookies and veterans alike, and he maintained his humility despite his fame.

“If I had a choice of all players who have played baseball,” long-time Yankee boss Ed Barrow, who guided Babe Ruth’s career, once said, “the first man I would select would be Honus Wagner.” And legendary manager John McGraw said: “I consider Wagner not only as the number one shortstop, but had he played in any position other than pitcher, he would have been equally great at the other seven positions. He was the nearest thing to a perfect player no matter where his manager chose to play him.”
In a subsequent post, David explains why he put Wagner on his list of the top 5 players of all time:
Other than Babe Ruth, I don't know for sure who I would list among the other top ballplayers. Probably Willie Mays, Walter Johnson, and Barry Bonds. Or maybe Roger Clemens instead of Johnson. I don't know. There are dozens of ways to crunch the numbers and each would come up with a different result.

Why Honus Wagner? He played so long ago, when the game was so different, that it seems odd to believe that a bow-legged shortstop from 100 years ago remains one of the greatest players of all time.

The way I look at it is, how much did he help his teams win and how much better was he than his contemporaries? And by that measure, Wagner is near the top of the list.

What we have is one of the greatest offensive performers of all time, playing the best shortstop, on one of the best teams of his era.

It would take a lot of convincing before I would stop revering Honus Wagner.
In his post David also compares Wagner's 1908 season to the statistics from modern day heroes like Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols to show how amazing Wagner's achievements really were.

If you haven't heard of David's blog before it's definitely worth a read - I discovered it through his Honus Wagner posts and am looking forward to future entries!

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Sunday, April 6, 2008

How Good Was Honus Wagner Compared To Today's Players?

Professional baseball has been with us for over a century and Honus Wagner was one of the sport's earliest stars. But how good was he compared to the players in today's game? How can you compare players from one generation to the next?

Bill James, one of baseball's most famous historians, recently came up with a framework for measuring the effectiveness of players from different eras in his book "The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract." (As a side note Bill James was named to TIME Magazine's 100 Most Influential People list in 2006 for the work that he did). To rank the greatest baseball players of all time James used two key ratings: Runs Created and Win Shares.

Runs Created

Bill James maintains that a batter's job is not to get hits but to create runs. You could get all the hits you want but if they are not translating into runs for your team, does it matter? His argument is that the job of the batter is to generate runs which is how a hitter's value should be measured. The formula to figure out how many runs are created by each batter is:
(Hits + Walks) x (Total Bases) / (At Bats + Walks)
Win Shares

Bill James also create the Win Shares system which assigns a numerical figure which represents the value that a player brings to his team in any given season. It is a more complicated formula that looks at the number of wins that a single player is responsible for bringing to his team. In other words, if Honus Wagner were replaced with a league average shortstop, how many fewer wins would Pittsburgh have had?

How Does Honus Wagner Fare?

According to career Win Shares, the top 10 list are:
  1. Babe Ruth - 758
  2. Ty Cobb - 726
  3. Honus Wagner - 655
  4. Henry Aaron - 641
  5. Willie Mays - 641
  6. Cy Young - 635
  7. Tris Speaker - 633
  8. Stan Musial - 604
  9. Eddie Collins - 572
  10. Mickey Mantle - 565
If you look at Win Shares over five consecutive seasons, Honus Wagner actually leads the list:
  1. Honus Wagner - 1904-1908
  2. Babe Ruth - 1920-1924
  3. Ted Williams - 1941-1948
  4. Walter Johnson - 1912-1916
  5. Mickey Mantle - 1954-1958
  6. Ty Cobb - 1907-1911
  7. Tris Speaker - 1912-1916
  8. Willie Mays - 1962-1976
  9. Eddie Collins - 1911-1915
  10. Stan Musial - 1944-1949
The Greatest Players Of All Time

Bill James concluded his book by creating a list of the 100 Greatest Players of All Time. The top 10 were:
  1. Babe Ruth
  2. Honus Wagner
  3. Willie Mays
  4. Oscar Charleston
  5. Ty Cobb
  6. Mickey Mantle
  7. Ted Williams
  8. Walter Johnson
  9. Josh Gibson
  10. Stan Musial

According to Bill James, one of baseball's greatest historians, after years of research and analysis, his conclusion was that Honus Wagner was the second greatest baseball player of all time, behind only the legendary Babe Ruth.

Among baseball fans, the discussion of who is the greatest player of all time is one that will continue for decades to come but if anyone was going to put together an accurate framework for measuring players across different eras, James is the man for the job.

For more information, please refer to Bill James' book "The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract."

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

W Is For Wagner - The Line-Up For Yesterday

Ogden Nash was an American poet who the New York Times called one of the country's best known producers of poetry. In 1949 he produced a poem called "The Line-Up For Yesterday" which was published in Sport Magazine.

In the poem, Nash created a list of the all time great baseball players and used one name for each letter of the alphabet. Honus Wagner made the list for W:
W is for Wagner,
The bowlegged beauty;
Short was closed to all traffic
With Honus on duty.
Here is the complete poem:
A is for Alex,
The great Alexander;
More Goose eggs he pitched
Than a popular gander.

B is for Bresnahan,
Back of the plate;
The Cubs were his love,
and McGraw his hate.

C is for Cobb,
Who grew spikes and not corn,
And made all the basemen
Wish they weren't born.

D is for Dean,
The grammatical Diz,
When they asked, Who's the tops?
Said correctly, I is.

E is for Evers,
His jaw in advance;
Never afraid
To Tinker with Chance.

F is for Fordham
And Frankie and Frisch;
I wish he were back
With the Giants, I wish.

G is for Gehrig,
The Pride of the Stadium;
His record pure gold,
His courage, pure radium.

H is for Hornsby;
When pitching to Rog,
The pitcher would pitch,
Then the pitcher would dodge.

I is for Me,
Not a hard-hitting man,
But an outstanding all-time
Incurable fan.

J is for Johnson
The Big Train in his prime
Was so fast he could throw
Three strikes at a time.

K is for Keeler,
As fresh as green paint,
The fastest and mostest
To hit where they ain't.

L is for Lajoie
Whom Clevelanders love,
Napolean himself,
With glue in his glove.

M is for Matty,
Who carried a charm
In the form of an extra
brain in his arm.

N is for Newsom,
Bobo's favorite kin.
You ask how he's here,
He talked himself in.

O is for Ott,
Of the restless right foot.
When he leaned on the pellet,
The pellet stayed put.

P is for Plank,
The arm of the A's;
When he tangled with Matty
Games lasted for days.

Q is for Don Quixote,
Cornelius Mack;
Neither Yankees nor years
Can halt his attack.

R is for Ruth,
To tell you the truth,
There's just no more to be said,
Just R is for Ruth.

S is for Speaker,
Swift center-field tender,
When the ball saw him coming,
It yelled, "I surrender."

T is for Terry,
The Giant from Memphis
Whose .400 average
You can't overemphis.

U would be 'Ubell,
if Carl were a cockney;
We say Hubbell and Baseball
Like Football and Rockne.

V is for Vance,
The Dodger's very own Dazzy;
None of his rivals
Could throw as fast as he.

W is for Wagner,
The bowlegged beauty;
Short was closed to all traffic
With Honus on duty.

X is the first,
of two x's in Foxx
Who was right behind Ruth
with his powerful soxx.

Y is for Young,
The magnificent Cy;
People battled against him,
But I never knew why.

Z is for Zenith,
The summit of fame.
These men are up there.
These men are the game.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Honus Wagner Named Best Shortstop Of All Time

The Bleacher Report recently put out a report about the greatest shortstops of all time. It looked at the following players to determine who was #1: Lou Boudreau, Barry Larkin, Joe Cronin, Honus Wagner, Arky Vaughan, Ernie Banks, Cal Ripken Jr. Ozzie Smith, Luke Appling, Bill Dahlen, and Gorgeous George Davis.

How can you compare such talented players across decades of baseball? The authors used the Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) method. In a nutshell, WARP looks at how many additional games a team would win having a certain player on board instead of an average Triple-A "replacement player".

WARP scores look at three main factors: Batting Runs Above Replacement, Fielding Runs Above Replacement, and Pitching Runs Above Replacement. The three numbers are added and then divided by the number of runs per win that season.

A regular season player will average a WARP of 3 to 5 over a season which means that the player is responsible for 3 to 5 more wins than the team would win if they used a replacement player at his position. An all-star player would typically have a WARP over 7 while a MVP candidate might have a WARP over 10. Hall of Fame players usually have career WARPs of over 100.

So how do the shortstops compare?

Here's how they score according to their career WARP numbers:
  • Honus Wagner (240)
  • Bill Dahlen (180)
  • George Davis (170)
  • Arky Vaughan (134)
  • Luke Appling (130)
  • Cal Ripken Jr. (127)
  • Ozzie Smith (127)
  • Joe Cronin (120)
  • Ernie Banks (115)
  • Barry Larkin (110)
  • Lou Boudreau (108)
Here is what The Bleacher Report had to say about Honus Wagner and his clear margin of victory:
Honus Wagner is very clearly the greatest shortstop in the annals of the game, and quite possibly (Babe Ruth included), the most dominant performer at any point in baseball history. Looking at the above numbers, it is shocking the level to which Wagner exceeds the other shortstops on this list. He was worth 240 wins-above- replacement-player in his career, none of the others were within 60 points of that. His 5- year peak exceeded the 2nd place finisher by 10, 3rd place by almost 20. His 10-year totals were even more impressive. His 1908 season may be the best ever, where he put up the following line:

AB-568 H-201 D-39 T-19 HR-10 R-100 RBI-109 SB-53 BB-54 .354/.415/.542/.957

This looks pretty spectacular, and then you realize that 1908 was the lowest offensive point of the twentieth century, the deadest of the dead ball seasons. Baseball Prospectus translates this 1908 season into contemporary numbers. Prepare to be blown away, and remember, he is also one of the game's 3-4 greatest defensive shortstops.

AB-609 H-226 D-54 T-14 HR-57 BB-70 SB-54 R-150 RBI-177 .371/.440.787/1.227

From a gold glove shortstop, this is beyond belief. This season was worth 19 wins above a replacement player. This means that, given an average team that would finish the season with a record of 81-81, was starting a replacement level shortstop, replaced that shortstop with Wagner, and the team could expect to win 100 games.

Following is Wagner's career line, as translated through Baseball Prospectus:

H-3640 D-855 T-138 HR-637 BB-1174 SB-640 R-2060 RBI-2257 .324/.394/.595

It's like combining Albert Pujols and Ozzie Smith.

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