Say Hey

When I sent a copy of my All-Century ballot to a friend in California last year (complete ballot below), he sent it back with a few notes scribbled down. Next to Alex Rodriguez, my one write-in vote: "Same here, gut pick." Roy Campanella: "No no no. Unless you're counting his Negro League years." (Picking another catcher besides Bench was tough. I wanted to use my only write-in spot for Rodriguez, so that ruled out Piazza or Pudge, both of whom were inexplicably left off the regular ballot. All things being equal, which they weren't when Campanella broke in at the advanced age of 26, Campanella's peak value looks a little better to me than Berra's.) Ted Williams's name was x-ed out: "Can't run, can't catch, can't throw. Not on my fucking team. Bad for morale." (I think the adjective is a reference to Williams's standard batting-cage patter as documented in BALL FOUR. My friend's objections, and his preference for Musial, are similar to those voiced by Bill James. I don't know: a .634 lifetime slugging average buys a lot of selfishness.) And next to Griffey, "Easy over Mays at this point." I voted for both. So how does Ken Griffey compare to Willie Mays at this point in their careers? Griffey is about to begin his 12th season; Mays sat out half the '52 season and all of '53 for military service, so a comparable time frame for him covers 1951-1962 (with Mays's half-year cancelled out by Griffey's injury-shortened '95). Through 11 seasons, their at-bats (5,862 for Mays, 5,832 for Griffey) and AB + BB (Mays had 6,586 to Griffey's 6,579) are almost dead even. In terms of unadjusted numbers, Mays is running ahead in most key categories: AB H 2B 3B HR TB BB BA SA OBP RC/27 MAYS 5862 1846 302 99 368 3450 724 .315 .589 .390 8.55 GRIFFEY 5832 1742 320 30 398 3316 747 .299 .569 .378 7.82 Mays has a slight edge in batting average, slugging average, and on-base percentage, and he creates about 10% more runs per 27 outs (non-stolen base version). Griffey's leading in home runs and home runs per 100 AB by a similar margin. I haven't included their more team-influenced Runs and RBI totals, but if you add the two categories together, it's again a virtual tie (2,219 to 2,215 in favor of Mays). Those are the raw totals and averages. Once you adjust against league- wide offensive levels, Mays starts to establish clear superiority. While the '50s was by and large a hitter's decade--"get people on base and hit home runs," as characterized by James--obviously the seven-year offensive bonanza that got underway in '93 (during which time Griffey has hit about 80% of his career home runs, mirroring league trends every step of the way) has its only parallel in the early '30s, and maybe not even there. Here are the respective league averages for Mays's and Griffey's first 11 seasons: HR/100 AB BA SA OBP RC/27 N.L., 1951-62 ('53 excepted) 2.67 .259 .357 .325 4.44 A.L., 1989-99 2.87 .267 .414 .335 4.84 The differences aren't huge (slugging average is getting there), but across the board, Griffey's numbers have been put up in an era of historically inflated offense. When each player is measured against his league, Mays looks even better: HR/100 AB BA SA OBP RC/27 Mays +135.3% +21.5% +48.2% +20.2% +92.6% Griffey +138.4% +11.7% +37.2% +12.8% +61.7% Mays almost pulls even in home run percentage, and in the other categories he widens the gap. Whatever degree of dominance you attribute to Griffey today, Mays was even more dominant. Other considerations: 1) SPEED -- I don't use James's slightly more complicated stolen-base version when calculating runs created per 27 outs for the sole reason that I'm lazy. Mays had stolen 240 bases through 1962, with a success rate of 76%; Griffey is currently 167 for 227, a 74% rate. Call it even if you want, based on the assumption that Griffey's totals would be comparable if he felt the need to run (the DiMaggio argument), but it's hard not to go with Mays. 2) DEFENSE-- Gold Gloves were first awarded in 1957: Mays proceeded to win six out of six through '62, including the only one awarded to an N.L. out- fielder in '57 (the A.L. gave out the normal three that year). Griffey has won 10 of 11, missing out only in his rookie year. In Palmer and Thorn's TOTAL BASEBALL, Griffey is credited with 83 "fielding runs" through 1998 (I don't have figures for '99); through Mays's first 10 seasons, he gets credit for 126. I don't have the slightest clue how to calculate fielding runs, or how significant Mays's lead is; by way of comparison, Clemente totalled 99 fielding runs through his first 10 seasons. In any case, the evidence is again on the side of Mays. And if you love the Vic Wertz clip as much as I do, so is romance. 3) MVP HISTORY -- Mays won once (and would win again in '65), so has Griffey. Calculating total votes as a percentage of votes cast (what James calls "MVP share"), Mays had received a 4.19% share through '62, while Griffey stands at 3.20% thus far. With the player pool much larger now, basically this one's a wash. 4) TEAM SUCCESS -- In an eight-team league, the Giants won the Series in '54, the pennant in '51 (with Willie in the on-deck circle when the world stood still) and '62. In a 14-team league, the Mariners won divisional titles in '95 and '97. However you weight the points, edge to Mays. 5) NICKNAME -- "Junior"'s plain but good; "The Say Hey Kid" is a work of art, and it also inspired one of my e-mail addresses. With numbers being easy to juggle around until they say what you want them to say, I know that someone could put together a credible case for Griffey. (Just as a league-weighted case could be made for Grove over Koufax, Yount over Rodriguez, or other configurations different than my own.) Again, I voted for both of them. But I don't think you can make any kind of a case that Griffey is the clear or obvious choice. By the time he retires, maybe. Mays only had four really first-rate seasons left after '62 (including '65, one of his greatest), at which point age and the offensive free-fall of the late '60s caught up with him. Hopefully Griffey will be retired with the home-run record before he experiences anything similar to Mays's inglorious exit with the Mets at the age of 42. For now, though, I'd take Mays.

My All-Century Ballot (starters listed first):

CATCHER: Bench, Campanella FIRST BASE: Gehrig, McGwire SECOND BASE: Robinson, Hornsby THIRD BASE: Schmidt, Brett SHORTSTOP: Wagner, Rodriguez OUTFIELD: Ruth, Mays, Williams, DiMaggio, Musial, Mantle, Henderson, Bonds, Griffey PITCHER: Maddux (RHP), Koufax (LHP), Johnson, Mathewson, Grove, Clemens MANAGER: Stengel MASCOT: Joe Schultz

other pieces