Open Thread: Who Do You Wish You’d Seen Play?

The older I get, the more I think about history. Today I’m pondering players I wished I’d gotten a chance to see play.

Willie Mays immediately leaps to mind because of his incredible skill set, but I didn’t miss him by much. Plus, I have a thing for less heralded guys (and less heralded skill sets). I’ve always been a fan of batters who draw a lot of walks, hence my infatuation with Gene Tenace and Dave Magadan, both of whom I had the pleasure of watching).

Then again, how exciting is it to watch someone work the count? In the context of what that does for his team, it’s great… but isn’t it more fun to watch Alfonso Soriano hack at stuff nowhere near the zone and occasionally drive one a long way than to watch Daric Barton… well, watch pitches?

And we haven’t even gotten to the pitchers, which brings me to my own response to the question at hand. This is almost too obvious, but if I had the opportunity to see anyone in the history of baseball play, it would be Walter Johnson. Despite my bias toward less heralded guys, sometimes you just have to go with the best of the best.

Who do you wish you’d seen play? Why?

* * *


Happy Friday!

Tagged as: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

38 Responses »

  1. 1. Ted Williams
    2. Satchel Paige (I would have loved to have seen a 58 year old man strike someone out)
    3. Willie Mays

  2. There are a lot of guys who I wish I had seen play but I’ll limit it to one guy during my baseball lifetime:

    1) Nolan Ryan

    I went to a Padres game when Ryan played for the Astros… more than likely 1988. Ryan was slated to pitch that evening.

    During batting practice he jacked a few out… and pulled something… he was scratched for the evening. I never saw Ryan throw.

    I remember as a kid getting amped up anytime the Rangers were playing because I knew there was a chance that Nolan Ryan would do something huge in that game. I recall sitting through the entirety of his no-no on the day Ricky broke the SB mark.

  3. the two Gibsons, Josh and Bob.

  4. All of the above plus:

    Babe Ruth. Talk about best of the best.
    Honus Wagner
    Oscar Charleston
    Hank Aaron
    Eddie Gaedel for s’s and g’s

    For the next open thread, unless it’s been done before, how about the best players you HAVE ever seen play, majors or minors?

  5. Martin Dihigo

  6. I would have like to see Hank Aaron, and Roberto Clemente play

  7. Roberto Clemente. I moved to Pittsburgh as a kid in the winter of 1978 and while the “We are Family” team of Stargell, Parker, Madlock et al was my team, the ghost of Clemente still pervaded that team. Because Willie Stargell was my first favorite player, the amazing esteem he always showed for Clemente – both the player and person – impacted me a lot.

  8. Robbie Alomar. Sure, I could watch him on TV, but I would have loved to have had him playing second base for the Padres every time I went to a game at The Murph.

    I also wish I hadn’t hated Rickey Henderson, but oh well.

  9. I started following baseball early in the ’57 season when my dad pointed out Ted Williams, and since I lived in New England, I followed the tail end of his career. One guy who retired the year before I started watching was Bob Feller. I would like to have said I’d seen him pitch, even the tail end of his career.

    One guy I would have preferred to have never seen play is Dick Stuart. Stonefingers. Dr. Strangeglove. The worst first baseman I ever saw, by a country mile. If Hawpe makes a dozen errors and looks stiff as a board, I’ll likely say, “Aw hell, that’s not bad at all. I’ve seen much worse.”

  10. I wish I had seen Bob Feller in 1936. He struck out batters at three times the league rate. He was a 17 year old rookie who had not yet graduated from high school

  11. I’ll go with Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Tris Speaker.

  12. 1. Babe Ruth
    2. Josh Gibson
    3. Christy Mathewson
    4. Satchel Paige, as a young man (I saw him as an older one)

    I chose those four because they are all legends as much as ballplayers. They were all considered by their contemporaries to be larger than life, and I’d like to see with my own eyes what made people feel that way about them. Cobb, Speaker, Johnson, Gehrig, Wagner — they’re all players who achievements are incredible but that’s all. There isn’t the same mystique that these four have.

  13. I saw Mays, Marichal, Gibson, Aaron, F Robinson, Banks, but it was the early 70s and they were past their prime, and I was a bit too young to fully appreciate it. Would like to have been at least a teenager and seen them all 15 years earlier in their careers.

    Also, Ruth, Mathewson, Koufax, Johnson, Spahn, and for some reason that I can’t explain….Carl Hubbel.

    I also wish I had seen Stengel come out of the dugout and visit the mound or argue with an umpire a few times.

    Overall, I think I view it more as teams I wish I had seen. 1920s Yankees, 1930s Giants, 67 Cardinals, etc

  14. Pete Rose in his late 20s.

  15. Gotta chime in here again because no one’s said Jackie Robinson yet. There’s seeing baseball players and then there’s history being made.

  16. Plain and simple, Hoffman. Been trying to get to SD for a game for years, and I didn’t make it soon enough.

  17. Great question. I saw Mays but not in his prime. So Mays in the 50s, Ruth in the 20s and Paige in the 30s.

    I have listened to a 1934 broadcast of Yankees vs. Tigers. Unfortunately, Ruth does not play but to hear the announcer routinely referring to Greenberg, Gehrig and Dickey is very cool.

  18. Players I am very glad to have seen in their prime.
    Gwynn, Griffey, George Brett, Alomar, Johnny Bench, Seaver, Ryan, Stargell, Rivera, Keith Hernandez, Rod Carew, Carlton, Yaz (not quite prime), Larkin, Nettles, Tim Raines, Rickey Henderson, and of course …Adrian Gonzalez

  19. Clemente and Speaker hit and play the outfield.

    Brooks Robinson play third.

    Mathewson pitch.

    McGraw and Mack manage a game against each other.

    Tinkers, Evers, and Chance play in the infield and see if they were really any good.

  20. I can’t believe no one said, Joe DiMaggio…

    He had 3 consecutive seasons above 1.050 OPS (ages 24-26). He has 361 career HR compared to 369 career strikeouts (790 BB). His career slash-line is: .325/.398/.579 and he played (remember he’s a right-handed hitter) in the pre-1970′s modified Yankee stadium where the monuments were in play and it was 420ish to right-center.

    The Babe gets a lot of credit for being “The Greatest Ever” but for my money, I would have wanted to see DiMaggio. He was a more complete player and in my mind, arguably the greatest position player to ever play the game.

  21. @PF

    That’s a bold statement.

    More complete than the guy who threw 1200+ innings of 122 ERA+ ball to go along with a 206 OPS+? Ruth might have had the talent to make the HoF if he never gave up pitching.

    DiMaggio was a great player, although the likes of Mays, Mantle, Bonds, and others push him down the list of best position player ever. But Ruth changed the way the game was played.

  22. @VV, yes, I know it’s a bold statement. But that’s why I say “position player.” With that qualifier you have to exclude Ruth’s contributions as a pitcher (if we include them, then yes, he wins), but without it, he’s probably a below-ave defensive RF (though obviously with a good arm)… Mays is interesting to compare:

    WM: .302/.384/.557
    JD: .325/.398/.579

    And Joe missed 3 seasons of his prime from WW2 (ages 28-30)…

    I EASILY prefer JD over WM (WM: struck out 12.2% of his plate appearances, JD 4.8%).

    But even without defending my opinion too much, I did say, “arguable…” So I know it’s not a consensus opinion. But the more I look at DiMaggio as a player, the more impressed I become.

  23. Peter F
    Mays missed two seasons for military service also.

  24. Those are unadjusted slash-lines, though. Both players finished their careers with a 155 OPS+. I don’t much care how many more times Joe D grounded out to short instead of striking out, just like we shouldn’t forget that Mays’ huge HR edge isn’t as significant as it looks due to ballpark and league differences.

    In their primes I’d give Mays the defensive edge. Joe wasn’t even the best CF named DiMaggio.

    Both benefit from a halo effect, but DiMaggio’s was polished by the pro-Yankee press to an almost unbearable gleam.

    Joe D’s WW2 service is a good point, but Mays spent most of 1952 and all of 1953 in the Army.

    Still, both of them finished 50, yes 50, points behind Ruth in OPS+. That’s the difference between Adrian Gonzalez and Chase Headley. Looking at it more, I’m now sure the other aspects of their games close the gap.

  25. Ty Cobb
    Walter Johnson
    Satchel Paige
    Mickey Mantle

  26. DiMaggio is always a tough player to draw comparisons with because his career was relatively short. He retired shortly after he began to decline, while Mays’ stats are watered down by about 6-7 years of decline.

    Also, both players had a good relationship with the press, so I think it is unfair to claim DiMaggio’s greatness has been exaggerated by a pro Yankee media.

  27. @Parlo

    That’s like saying Tony Gwynn and Derek Jeter both had a good relationships with the press. True, as far as it goes, but the press that loved Tony was smaller and less vocal, while Tony had less national exposure because the Padres sucked for so much of his career. Any doubt as to which of their halo’s has been burnished to a higher gleam, deserved or not? Tim McCarver never waxed poetic about Tony having the Eyes of a Champion to millions of viewers.

    There’s a book-writing industry devoted to turning out material on the Yankees unlike that for any other team.

    Mays did hang on, but even at age 40 he was a 6+ offensive win player. It wasn’t his peak of 8-10, but it was still damn good. His defense had obviously slipped.

    None of this is meant to suggest that the Yankee Clipper was anything less than a great, great player. We’re talking about men who deserve to be considered among the top 25 of everyone who ever put on a uniform.

  28. I didn’t see Walter Johnson or Babe Ruth, the best pitcher and hitter ever, I would love to have seen them.
    I didn’t see DiMaggio. Before my time. I did see Mays. No question that Mays was the best player to play center field ever. Best power, speed, arm, range. DiMaggio was a good contact hitter, but Mays the better overall player. Since him, and before him, there were guys that could go get the ball and guys that could hit, and a few that could do both at the highest level, but seriously, nobody as good as Willie Mays as a center fielder. In his youth, Mickey Mantle approached him, but got hurt.

  29. Fantastic question. I really wish I’d gotten to see Mays play, for the same reasons you stated.

    Also: Babe Ruth. And Old Hoss Radbourn. I’ve suddenly become fascinated with Old Hoss Radbourn’s 1884 season, in which he threw 73(!) complete games; he threw over 650 innings that year… simply amazing.

    Lastly, Jackie Robinson. The guy could make the game interesting.

  30. Vincent,
    McCarver never had flattering words for Tony Gwynn? I think you are overplaying your hand.

    Unlike DiMaggio, Mays played in the age of television which greatly increased his exposure. He also became a bit of a sitcom celebrity, appearing on several popular shows of the time (Bewitched, Donna Reed, variety shows).
    Yes, DiMaggio married Marilyn Monroe and his name was used as a metaphor by Hemingway and Paul Simon, but Bob Dylan mentions Mays in a song, and Talkin Baseball uses Mays name in the chorus. And just like JD, there was a song in 1950′s titled Say Hey Willie. Mays has had a great deal of exposure.
    Mays was a NY Giant from 1951 thru 1957 (minus military) and then returned to NY for two years at the end of his career, and from my experience, he is still highly cherished there. He recently brought the Giants trophy to a school near the site of the Polo Grounds. The NYT covered the story and it was also picked up by cable news.

    There is an excellent biography on Mays that I am about half way thru, and I highly recommend it. For a Gwynn book, Men At Work by George Will is very good

  31. @Vincent

    Again, it’s a matter of the degree. I didn’t say McCarver never had flattering words for Gwynn. I said that his fawning over Jeter is of a totally deeper nature, to the point of hero-worship. The press treats Jeter like they’re royal sycophants and he’s a king with a well-stocked dungeon. DiMaggio spent his entire career in the press capitol of baseball playing for the most storied team in the game. Mays made his name in NY, but spent 2/3 of his career in San Francisco. It’s not that Mays (or Gwynn) wasdowngraded, it’s that DiMaggio (and Jeter) enjoyed near-universal press adoration from a much bigger reporting corps that reached far more fans.

    DiMaggio also appeared on television, both in commercials and baseball-related shows .

    The songs perfectly make my point. Mrs. Robinson is more famous than all the songs that reference Willie Mays put together.

    If we’re judging halo effects, DiMaggio gets a 10, Mays an 8.

  32. Um, maybe we should just judge their performance, to the best of our ability, and ignore any halos. :-)

  33. No longer Vincent Vega, since the “bold statement” is many comments in the past…..


    I’d agree, if I thought DiMaggio fans (not PF) would do so. Both elite hitters, Mays for substantially longer. Mays the better defender, with both players slipping at the tail end of their careers. Mays stole 308 more bases. Joe D was great, but Mays was better. And I’m not sure at all that I’d call Mays the best overall.

  34. Not so much specific players but I would love to be able to experience games in different eras. How crazy must a late 19th century game have been with John McGraw and Willie Keeler’s Orioles starting fights and inventing things like the hit and run? Just how different was a deadball era game to what we see today?

    Can we bring a radar gun? Just how hard did Walter Johnson and Smokey Joe Wood really throw? Can we get PitchFX on Three Finger Brown and Ed Walsh? If anyone manages to go back in time to watch these guys make sure you bring a video camera.

  35. @ TW: Sounds like you’re judging performance to the best of your ability there so I’m happy. ;-)

    @ Anthony: Great take! Obviously many, many players we’d all like to see, but just to be able to go back and experience the eras firsthand would be the ultimate baseball trip!

  36. I never saw an OF who was within a mile of Mays, with the exception of the young Andruw Jones, who was not as good but was at least close. I also never saw a smarter baserunner. And this ain’t bias — I was a Brooklyn Dodger fan and I HATED the guy. When you played him you had to beat him first and then worry about the rest of the team. And he maintained that level from 1951 to the late 1960s (missing two years in the Army).

    I only saw his last year of DiMaggio but those who saw him at his peak talked about him just as I do about Mays. He lost a lot of HRs to Yankee Stadium but nowhere near almost 300, which is what Mays beat him by. And DiMag played during the souped-up hitting 1930s, while Mays played through the second dead ball era. The numbers say Mays was better.

  37. @PF You can’t use career stats with May’s since he played until he was 42 and probably had about 1,000 ABs (about 15% of his total career ABs) at the end of his career when he was running on fumes (ages 40 to 42).

    If Mays would have retired at 36 his slash line would have looked like this:

    But the big difference is their WAR
    DiMaggio = 83.6 in 13 seasons, Ave 6.4 per season
    Mays (until 36) =131.3 in 16 seasons, Ave 8.2 per season

    Even if you take out the seasons where Mays was 28, 29 and 30 (Same ages DiMaggio was in WWII) and end his career at 36, he would still have a career WAR of 104.7.

    DiMaggio was a great player (even though he was a Yankee) he just was not as good as Mays. It’s also a moot point because neither was as good of a hitter as Ted Williams (although Mays was a better overall player).