Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Criterion for top 50 lists

Every "All-Time" sports list differs from every other "All-Time" list because the criterion that goes into the rankings is entirely in the hands of the person creating the list. With billions of opinions and unique perspectives in the world, no two lists will have the same emphasis. Some may put more worth on individual awards. Others might throw out career length all together and focus on the best three-year stretch. As a result of the countless ways a person could choose to create a list, I think it's important for me to explain what I used in creating my lists.


The only time period limitation that I used was to limit the players eligible for the baseball list to players that played the majority of their career after 1900. I didn't limit any list to one specific league. Participants in the AFL, USFL, ABA, and WHA were eligible as long as they played in the major leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL) at some point in their career and for a good portion of their career. I reluctantly did not include baseball players from the Negro Leagues that never made it to MLB. Had I rated such greats as Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, and Satchel Paige, they would have been randomly thrown onto the lists. I don't have any way of knowing how good they were. I would rather not rate them at all and admit that this is a MLB-only list than do a disservice to those players by arbitrarily throwing them someplace. Let's just say that if African-Americans weren't barred from playing in MLB for close to 70 years, this list would look a lot different. I also did not include players who spent the majority of their careers in foreign leagues. I realize Aryvdas Sabonis was a phenomenal basketball player before he ever entered the NBA but there is no way for me to know how good he was. The same goes for Russian hockey players. I'm sure there were unbelievable players in Russia that never made it to the NHL. These lists are based on my experiences and the information that is available to me. That means they are based on players from American leagues. If someone wants to explore foreign leagues, be my guest.


If I were to make two lists for every league with one list based on the best career numbers and the other list based on best three-year stretches, the lists would be vastly different. I don't necessarily think either of those lists encompasses all of the dynamics that I would like to see in an "All-Time" list. My main objective was to simply identify the 50 best resumes of all-time for the four major sports. That means taking into consideration such factors as career length, statistical performance relative to peers, per game statistics, playoff success, individual awards, career statistics, player reputation, records held, and competition level. I would like to think that I gave each dynamic the same weight. The lists are designed in such a way that they reflect the average rating among all of those categories in order. If player "A" is rated ahead of player "B" it is because I felt that player "A" had a better resume based on the above factors. There will be many cases where player "B" has an enormous advantage in one or two of the factors but comes up short in the majority of the rest.

I tried as diligently as possible to avoid showing favoritism to "legends" from long ago. It is easy to fall into the trap of overrating players that put up huge numbers in a less competitive era. Since one of the factors that I used to create the lists was competition level, you can expect to see a larger representation of players from eras that were more competitive. Since it seems as though the competitiveness of sports seems to steadily grow, you will see a larger representation from modern players in most instances.

Special circumstances:

This is one of the factors that will differentiate one person's list from another the most. I tried to force myself to rate some of the "legends" that I left off the lists but in some instances I just couldn't rationalize it. For instance, I did not rate Sandy Koufax, O.J. Simpson, or Gale Sayers in the top 50. All would have been in the top 75. All three were brilliant for about the exact same length. All three had about 4.5 seasons of elite play. That might have been long enough to make the basketball and hockey lists since the total number of basketball and hockey players is significantly lower than that of football and baseball. I will say that those three players didn't miss by much. There were just too many other qualified players to put any three of those guys on my lists. Had I made the sole criteria for the list the best "three-year stretch" then all three would have made it easily. I suspect the majority of objections will come with the omission of these players and other players of the like who I didn't feel performed long enough to be included. I feel that "All-Time" lists often include certain players simply because those players are always included on other "All-Time" lists. In most cases, the players that are always rated deserve to be rated. In these instances, I think these players are rated because it's easier to rate them than not. Perception goes a long way in the way players from the past are remembered. I had no idea that Sayers only played for four plus years. I had no idea that Simpson only had three truly great seasons. Once I found those things out, I couldn't pretend to be oblivious.

Another special circumstance is military service. I did not punish players who had to take a break to serve in the war. In almost every case of a great player who served, that player came back and continued playing at an extraordinary level. I believe that is proof that a player would have continued performing at an elite level had his career not been interrupted. I didn't recalculate career totals based on the suspected results of missed seasons but I did make educated guesses as to how that player's career numbers may have looked. If player "A" served in a war but won an MVP award before and after serving, then I won't give player "B" an edge in the individual award comparison simply because player "B" won slightly more awards. In that instance, I would allow for a strong possibility that player "A" would have won an award in the time missed due to service. Make sense? I hope so.

As for rating players that were very good for a short time before suffering injuries, I did not give the same treatment as players that missed prime years in the service. To me, these are two totally different things. A player that performed at an elite level before and after missing time in the service would have performed well had he not missed that time barring injury. A player that had a career altering injury early on (i.e. Koufax, Chris Webber, Terrell Davis) was not given the "what if" treatment because that opens up a "can of worms" that I don't want to deal with nor do I think it should be dealt with. It's unfortunate that great players have suffered terrible injuries but a byproduct of those injuries is that it changes that player's place in history. That's just the way it goes.

Active Players:

Another aspect of the lists that I suspect may garner objections is my treatment of active players. Some people that have made "All-Time" lists do it in a manner in which a player can never go backwards on the list. I do not buy into that thinking. I think there needs to be a healthy median. I rated active players assuming that they will have a consistently good remainder of their career. I didn't assume that Albert Pujols would break the all-time home run record. I just assumed that Pujols would continue to be a good player for the rest of his career. If for some inexplicable reason, Pujols proceeds to hit below .300 for the next ten years, then he probably will end up lower on my list and I suspect it would be the same for every other list out there. If Pujols continues to set records, then he will gradually climb up my list. The way I chose to rate LeBron James and Dwyane Wade probably provides the most insight as to how I treated active players. If James never wins a championship or an MVP award but continues to put up similar numbers, I expect him to rate no lower than 29th on the all-time list. The same goes for Dwyane Wade. The only assumption that I have made in rating active players is the assumption of continued health. I feel that is a reasonable way to rate active players.


One thing I can assure you is that I didn't just throw together a list in an hour. It took me months to put these together. If I have a player rated ahead of another player, there are many reasons for it. For some player comparisons, it was like splitting hairs. The summary that I have under each player is an attempt to give some insight as to why I rated that player where I did. For every agreement that you have with the list, you will probably have at least two disagreements. The chances of even five or ten similarities between two lists made by two completely different people are extremely small.


My motivation for making theses lists was twofold; 1) I wanted to give sports fans a fairly accurate depiction of the best players in each sport, educate people on where certain players rate in the history of the sport and bring to light lesser known stars and 2) I wanted to see how I would rate the best players in history in the four major sports. I know I accomplished "2". Hopefully I've accomplished "1" as well.


rhino17 said...

R U kidding me??? this is the worst list I have ever seen. Shaq at #2. Hes maybe the fifth best center ever. Kareem, Wilt, and Hakeem were all beter than him. And Malone over Karla Malone. If malone is better why does he have 0 rings and Dream has 2.

Jake said...

Rhino, you must not watch much basketball so I'll give you a bit of a history lesson. First, when you say Malone over Karla Malone, I'm assuming you meant to say Malone over Hakeem.

Any knowledgeable basketball fan would know that Hakeem won two rings and Malone won zero rings because Jordan decided to retire for the '93-'94 and '94-'95 seasons. Had he waited two years, Malone would have won two rings and Hakeem would have won zero.

I'm not going to spell everything out for you because I don't have the time to educate every person that pretends to know basketball. Karl Malone is the second leading scorer in NBA history. Look up the stats and All-NBA honors etc. It's not that hard.

Malone is one of the three best power forwards in NBA history by any measure and that's if you call Duncan a PF. If you call Duncan a Center, then Malone is probably the best power forward in NBA history.

On the Shaq/Wilt thing, I'm going to enlighten you a bit although I doubt that'll do much good....

I know it’s difficult for people to grasp the idea of how far the game has advanced in the last 40 years. People see Shaq over the great Wilt Chamberlain and immediately tune out. They’ve programmed themselves to tune out. If people want to see a fa├žade, then that’s their choice. I deal with reason and logic. People have no idea how terrible the game of basketball was when Wilt Chamberlain played. So, I’m going to address the whole Shaq/Wilt issue.

Anon, you mention that you don’t understand all of these great players that Shaq has played against. This has nothing to do with Shaq’s competition. I could go on and on about Hakeem, Duncan, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, Yao Ming, and Dwight Howard (who are so much better than what Chamberlain had to play against that it’s ridiculous to even compare) but it isn’t about them. Shaq has actually had to play against CENTERS. People don’t understand that Wilt played against frontcourts with an average height of 6’7. What would happen if you put Rip Hamilton on Shaq? Well, that’s pretty much what went down in the 60s with Wilt and everyone he played against. Even the best player of that era besides Wilt was 6’9 (Russell). People also need to understand that if you put Dwight Howard or somebody like that in the 60s, he would absolutely tear the league apart much like Wilt. You might find a couple guys that were 6’10 in the entire league and even then, they were so uncoordinated that they road the bench. Tall guys weren't coordinated in the 50s and 60s with the exception of about four guys.

I know this is difficult to think about in the abstract because it’s so hard for people to discredit Wilt Chamberlain. I don’t view it that way. I view it as crediting Shaq. I mean, damn, I have Wilt as the 3rd best player ever. This is about a comparison of Shaq and Wilt—not about whether Wilt was phenomenal or not.

Here is who Wilt played against during his first and last MVP seasons. Tell me that Elton Brand wouldn’t absolutely dominate that league in Wilt-like fashion. Now, imagine Shaq against those guys. Shaq is bigger and stronger than Wilt was. It would have been ridiculous.

Chamberlain's competition in 1959-60 (his first MVP)

Cincinnati Royals

Jack Twyman 6’6 F
Phil Jordon 6’10 C
Wayne Embry 6’8 C
Hub Reed 6’9 C

Detroit Pistons

Walter Dukes 7’0 C
Bailey Howell 6’7 F
Barney Cable 6’7 F
Archie Dees 6’8 C
Shellie McMillon 6’5 F

St. Louis Hawks

Bob Pettit 6’9 C
Clyde Lovellette 6’9 F

New York Knickerbockers

Willie Naulls 6’6 C
Kenny Sears 6’9 F
Charlie Tyra 6’8 C
Johnny Green 6’5 F/C

Syracuse Nationals

Dolph Schayes 6’7 F/C
Red Kerr 6’9 F/C
Bob Hopkins 6’8 F/C
Connie Dierking 6’9 F/C

Minneapolis Lakers

Elgin Baylor 6’5 F
Rudy LaRusso 6’7 F/C
Ray Felix 6’11 C
Tom Hawkins 6’5 F

Boston Celtics

Tom Heinsohn 6’7 F/C
Gene Conley 6’8 F/C
Bill Russell 6’9 C

Chamberlain's competition in 1967-68 (his last MVP)

San Diego Rockets

Toby Kimball 6’6 F/C
Don Kojis 6’3 F
John Block 6’9 F/C
Johnny Green 6’5 F/C

Seattle Supersonics

Bob Rule 6’9 C/F
Tom Meschery 6’6 F
Al Tucker 6’8 F
Dorrie Murray 6’8 F/C

Chicago Bulls

Bob Boozer 6’8 F
Jim Washington 6’6 F/C
McCoy McClemore 6’7 F/C
Barry Clemens 6’6 F

San Francisco Warriors

Rudy LaRusso 6’7 F/C
Fred Hetzel 6’8 F/C
Nate Thurmond 6’11 F/C
Clyde Lee 6’10 F/C

Los Angeles Lakers

Elgin Baylor 6’5 F
Mel Counts 7’0 C
Darrall Imhof 6’10 C
Tom Hawkins 6’5 F

St. Louis Hawks

Zelmo Beaty 6’9 C
Bill Bridges 6’6 F/C
Paul Silas 6’7 F/C

Baltimore Bullets

Ray Scott 6’9 F/C
Gus Johnson 6’6 F/C
Leroy Ellis 6’10 F/C
Jack Marin 6’7 F

Cincinnati Royals

Jerry Lucas 6’8 F/C
Connie Dierking 6’9 F/C
Happy Hairston 6’7 F

Detroit Pistons

Dave DeBusschere 6’6 F
Terry Dischinger 6’7 F
John Tresvant 6’7 F/C
Joe Strawder 6’10 C

New York Knickerbockers

Willis Reed 6’9 C/F
Walt Bellamy 6’11 C
Phil Jackson 6’8 F/C

Boston Celtics

Bailey Howell 6’7 F
Bill Russel 6’9 C
Don Nelson 6’6 F
Tom Sanders 6’6 F

Like I mentioned above, anybody over 6’9 road the bench with the exception of a few players like Walt Bellamy, Clyde Lee, and Nate Thurmond. Wilt dominated 6’7 players. He was the best player in a league full of small guys. Shaq has dominated the NBA in a league riddled with players 6’10 and taller. It’s not a question of how great Shaq’s competition is. There is no question in my mind that the group of guys I listed above is much better than who Wilt played against but still, it’s about Shaq having to bang and pound every night against dudes that are 6’10 or taller and 250 lbs and heavier. Wilt destroyed players that were 6’7 and 6’8 and 220 lbs.
That is one of the reasons why I gave the nod to Shaq. The best player of a great era should generally be recognized as more accomplished than the best player of a poor era. For some reason, there is a large contingent of sports fans who have to hold on to the past being better than the present.

Shaq also has the second greatest PER (player efficiency rating) ever just barely behind Michael Jordan. It’s no coincidence that they are 1-2 on my list.


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