Cy Williams (1887-1974) was one of only three players born before 1900 to hit 200 homers in his career (Babe Ruth and Rogers Hornsby are the other two).

History of Baseball: The Greatest Players of All-time Series

The philosopher Jacques Barzun had it right.

He pointed out the necessity of learning baseball if one was to understand the essence of American culture. My grandfather once said that when America is excavated by archaeologists two thousand years in the future, it will be known for three main contributions to civilization… our form of government, our popular music, and baseball.
Cy Williams (1887-1974) was one of only three players born before 1900 to hit 200 homers in his career (Babe Ruth and Rogers Hornsby are the other two).

Cy Williams (1887-1974) was one of only three players born before 1900 to hit 200 homers in his career (Babe Ruth and Rogers Hornsby are the other two).

Our father, who played baseball at the collegiate level, moved the family to Japan after World War II. We quickly found a powerful cultural common denominator… baseball. Our father taught us brothers the game and, along with it, a respect for its history. We grew up learning about Babe Ruth, Tris Speaker and Ed Delahanty. The first book read to me was Frank Graham’s biography of Lou Gehrig. We were regaled by tales of King Kelly, Dizzy Dean and Lefty Gomez. On trips back to the States, our uncles and family friends shared their knowledge about other players, including the great Negro Leagues’ stars.
“I see great things in baseball. It’s our game–the American game.” – Walt Whitman

Later, I was privileged to meet some amazingly knowledgeable baseball fans such as Larry Stanton, who had witnessed hundreds of games in Philadelphia going back to the 1920s. He was a Phillies fan to the core and knew countless anecdotes.

I got to meet Cy Williams in Three Lakes, Wisconsin, at the resort he had designed. I enjoyed many breakfast baseball discussions with Eddie Robinson, the fine All-Star first baseman. Tex Carleton, the excellent 1930s National League pitcher, and many other ball players became friends of mine.

In 1943, the Norfolk Naval Training Station "Bluejackets" and the Norfolk Naval Air Station "Airmen" competed in the Navy World Series. Eddie Robinson crosses home plate after taking Ralph Hamner deep in Game 3, helping the Bluejackets gain a 2-1 lead in the series.

In 1943, the Norfolk Naval Training Station "Bluejackets" and the Norfolk Naval Air Station "Airmen" competed in the Navy World Series. Eddie Robinson crosses home plate after taking Ralph Hamner deep in Game 3, helping the Bluejackets gain a 2-1 lead in the series.

All these meetings resulted in discussions about the greatest players of all time. How do players of one era compare to players of another? What factors should be considered? Many players today are bigger, stronger, and faster than players of the nineteenth or earlier twentieth century. Should the older stars be downgraded because of this? How do changes in how the game is played today affect performances? How have performance-enhancing drugs affected results? Did early players perform some skills better than today’s players? Another factor: America’s best athletes were more likely to play Major League baseball then than now. How should this affect our understanding? What are the most important stats to consider when evaluating ball players?

These are questions that we brothers tackled when we formed Gillespie Games, LLC. In developing ULTIMATE BASEBALL THE GAME™, our goal was to make the board gaming experience as much as possible like the real game. That meant not only realistic results but also the means by which we obtained those results. We wanted gamers to feel involved in each decision and event in ways that would reflect utmost realism, as though they were participating in a real game. At the same time, we wanted to ensure that the virtual players would perform as they did in real life. So our player evaluations, including era-to-era comparisons, had to be accurate.
On April 30, 1940 facing the Cincinnati Reds, James Otto "Tex" Carleton threw his first and only no-hitter. He ended his career 100-76 with a lifetime ERA of 3.91.

On April 30, 1940 facing the Cincinnati Reds, James Otto "Tex" Carleton threw his first and only no-hitter. He ended his career 100-76 with a lifetime ERA of 3.91.

We brothers have worked for years to develop comprehensive statistical evaluations for players, including both offensive and defensive skills. We have included over two dozen statistical categories.We have been influenced by a number of people: Bobby Bragan, Ed Chandler, Ken Davis, John Dewan, Don Edwards, Peter Gammons, Gary Gillette, Donald Hall, Bill James, Charlie Kane, C. W. Kinsey, Tim Kurkjian, Frank Lucchesi, Rob Neyer, Pete Palmer, James A. Riley, Lawrence Ritter, Alan Schwarz, John Thorn, George Will, Clarence Williams, and many others.
“I don’t want to play golf. When I hit a ball, I want somebody else to go chase it.” – Rogers Hornsby, St. Louis Cardinals (1915–1926, 1933)
We believe we have developed a superb system for rating players. These ratings include offensive and defensive skills. And we believe we have developed an outstanding method for comparing players from era to era. Our lists include lifetime composite ratings of players from the 1840s to the present. We include a few players who are still active because we believe their body of work is sufficiently complete to warrant lifetime evaluation.We have also included separate lists of players who mostly played prior to 1893.
Oscar McKinley Charleston was one of greatest players of his time and one of the finest defensive center fielders ever. His career batting average was .348.

Oscar McKinley Charleston was one of greatest players of his time and one of the finest defensive center fielders ever. His career batting average was .348.

Of our top-ranked position players, nine of fifty-three are 19th century players–Sam Thompson is the top-ranked, mostly due to his offensive prowess. Still, we rate Buck Ewing to be the best all-around player of that era. In the same fifty-three top players, we include eight Negro Leaguers, of whom we rate Oscar Charleston the best all-around star.

A player who is rated higher overall than another may be there because of his defense, offense, or some combination. While the following chapters reflect UBTG™ TOTAL PLAYER RATINGS divided by position, we also have included separate offensive and defensive lists to further clarify a player’s strengths. We also included overall rankings (without regard to position), and a ranking of top base stealers. The value of a player to a team in a particular situation may rest more in a specific skill, such as base running, rather than on his overall ranking. We believe, therefore, that this book can provide invaluable help when drafting teams for playing UBTG™. Also, don’t forget to order your copy of HOW TO WIN AT UBTG™ (available now at http://store.ultimatebaseballthegame.com).

John Wesley "Jack" Glasscock (1857-1947) was nearly flawless in the field. At the plate, he struck out just once in every 33 ABs (doing so only eight times in 1888 and 1890).

John Wesley "Jack" Glasscock (1857-1947) was nearly flawless in the field. At the plate, he struck out just once in every 33 ABs (doing so only eight times in 1888 and 1890).

An interesting observation: slightly over half of the top offensive players are left-handed batters; three are switch-hitters, Mickey Mantle being the most productive.

Regarding our defensive ratings, we include not only the ability to field and throw the ball, but also the players’ knowledge of the game, when and where to throw, positioning, the capability to “call” defensive sets, simply knowing which plays to prioritize… all of which are simulated in UBTG™.

As for pure glove work, players such as Richie Ashburn (CF), Dave Bancroft (SS), Davy Force (SS), Jack Glasscock (SS), Willie Kamm (3B), Nap Lajoie (2B), and Fred Pfeffer (2B) are some of the best of all time.

Napoleon "Nap" Lajoie batted an astonishing .426 in 1901 and became the second player in history to be intentionally walked with the bases loaded.

Napoleon "Nap" Lajoie batted an astonishing .426 in 1901 and became the second player in history to be intentionally walked with the bases loaded.

Our top defensive performer: Brooks Robinson. Our top offensive performer: Babe Ruth.

The ranking lists in this series reflect UBTG™ formulas. Our evaluations no doubt will fuel baseball fans’ time-honored tradition of debate regarding the game’s greatest. We hope you enjoy the results of our research!
 

  • Anonymous

    Buck O’Neil thought Oscar Charleston was “Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Tris Speaker rolled into one.” Bill James also ranked him as the 4th greatest player of all time. It’s remarkable (i.e., a tragedy) that he never played in the big leagues.

    Wish there was footage of him playing…

    • http://fromdeeprightfield.com/ Paul Gillespie

      Oscar Charleston was indeed a superstar player. We have him rated in a tie for 12th All-Time. He would have been rated a little higher if his throwing arm had been stronger. He was a one-man juggernaut on the baseball field!