MLB’s Greatest Player debate

16 02 2010

Ever since the Great Manning Debate began before the latest Super Bowl, in which his critics argued he couldn’t be considered one of the greatest all-time quarterbacks until he won multiple Super Bowls, I started wondering why the same debates aren’t held for Major League Baseball players.

We obviously hear the Super Bowl talk with NFL quarterbacks. And any NBA fan is accustomed to debates of the league’s greatest players revolving around a player’s number of titles. (Russell won 11, Michael and Kareem won six, Magic captured five, Kobe and Shaq have four and Bird got lucky thrice. Wilt went the distance only twice. This is common NBA knowledge.) So why aren’t championships included in the debate for the greatest MLB players? How many World Series-based arguments have you heard in favor of one MLB player versus another?

For instance, do you know how many World Series Babe Ruth won? You know Jordan won six NBA Finals and that Montana won four Super Bowls. Many of you can pinpoint 14 as the number of Majors won by Tiger. If not, you can probably come close. But what about the championship banners for one of the most legendary athletes ever?

The answer is seven. Ruth won seven out of the 10 World Series in which he played — three for the Red Sox and four with the Yankees. He was “just” 4-3 in the World Series as a Yankee. That pales in comparison to Jordan’s 6-0 NBA Finals record or Montana’s 4-0 mark. However, it’s Ruth who is the man of legend, probably because he played when most of our grandfathers were still punk kids. Yet most baseball fans today aren’t aware of Ruth’s championship list. And he ranks well behind the number of titles won by the other great Yankees.

Mickey Mantle, who some baseball historians believe had the talent to become the best ever, won seven of 12 World Series, all with the Yankees. Joe DiMaggio won nine of the 10 championships in which he played, also with the Yanks. And then there’s the greatest living ex-Yankee — Yogi Berra. The catcher, who often trails Ruth, Lou Gehrig (six World Series titles), DiMaggio, Mantle and Derek Jeter (five WS) on the list of Greatest Yankee, won 10 of the 14 World Series in which he played. If you track his career from his first WS (his rookie season in 1947) through 1963 (basically his last season since his official last year was a four-game stint with the Mets in ’65), Berra played in a World Series in 14 of 17 seasons. Compare that against Russell, who won 11 of the 12 NBA Finals in which he played during his 13-season career.

That all the World Series championships are linked with the Yankees might make you wonder if the team’s dominance in MLB history, specifically from the ’20s-’60s, makes it fair to use titles as a fair argument for the Greatest Player Ever tag.

After all, Willie Mays was just 1-3 in the World Series. Hank Aaron was 1-1. Ted Williams was 0-1, as the 1946 World Series represented the only postseason appearance of his legendary 19-year career. Barry Bonds was 0-1. Ken Griffey Jr., who at one time in the late ’90s was on his way to becoming a top 10 all-time player, has been in just one League Championship Series and has never making a World Series appearance. It took until Alex Rodriguez’s 16th season — his 14th in a full-time role — for him to appear in a World Series, which he obviously won.

Of course, with the Sosa-McGwire-Bonds generation eligible for the Hall of Fame, performance-enhancing drugs will be the topic on everyone’s tongues. And home runs and hits will continue to be the lead statistics people use to gauge a player’s greatness. I don’t have a good idea for how to include World Series titles in the greatest-ever debates. Maybe we can just start by remembering that the Sultan of Swat was also a Titan of Titles.