Bill Nicholson, Ron Santo, Eddie Collins among best of their eras
BY JOHN GROCHOWSKI For Sun-Times Media April 22, 2014 4:11PM
UNDATED: Ron Santo #10 of the Chicago Cubs poses for a portrait. Santo played for the Cubs from 1960-1978. (Photo by Louis Requena/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Updated: May 23, 2014 6:19AM
Chicago baseball history is littered with great players, MVPs, Hall of Famers and, of course, very few championships.
Among those great players, has any been the best in baseball for an extended period of time? What if we divided baseball history since 1901 into seven-year segments, equivalent to the seven seasons the JAWS stat uses to represent a player’s peak?
Using the play index tool at Baseball-Reference.com yielded four Chicago players since 1901 who had seven-year WARs among the top five in baseball and were within 10 wins of the leader. One was Rogers Hornsby, who was a Cub for only one season in the 1923-29 stretch when his 62.7 WAR trailed Babe Ruth’s 71.3. Let’s set him aside and let Cardinals be Cardinals.
Among the notables who made the top five in WAR but never came within 10 wins of the leader were Cubs first baseman Frank Chance and Cubs shortstop/first baseman Ernie Banks. Their closest calls: Honus Wagner 63.0, Chance 35.6 in 1902-08 and Mickey Mantle 64.1, Banks 51.9 in 1955-61.
Three others among the top five were derailed by Barry Bonds. It was Bonds 56.5, Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg 38.2 in 1987-93; Bonds 58.3, White Sox first baseman/designated hitter Frank Thomas 44.5 in 1991-97; and Bonds 61.0, Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa 40.8 in 1996-2002.
That leaves these three contenders:
† Cubs outfielder Bill Nicholson, 1940-46: Nicholson was fifth with 30.2 WAR, with Cubs third baseman Stan Hack right behind at 30.0. Indians shortstop Lou Boudreau, who has his own Chicago ties, was No. 1 at 38.9. But World War II skews this list. Ted Williams, second at 38.4, lost three seasons to military service, leaving him at 9.6 WAR per season to 5.5 for Boudreau and 4.3 for Nicholson.
† Cubs third baseman Ron Santo, 1963-69 and 1964-70: With a .380 on-base percentage and .502 slugging percentage from 1963 to 1969, Santo’s 53.8 WAR was within 1.7 of leader Willie Mays and 1.1 behind Hank Aaron. One year down the road, his seven-year WAR dropped to 51.3, but he still was third in the majors and actually was closer to first than in the earlier period. Roberto Clemente was the leader at 52.4, with Carl Yastrzemski next at 52.3. At less than 0.2 wins per season from the top, Santo is by far the closest Cub to be being a seven-year leader.
† White Sox second baseman Eddie Collins, 1909-15: Collins was an amazing player. He ranked among the top five in WAR in 10 seven-year stretches, every one from 1906-12 through 1915-21. In the 1909-15 period, he was the leader at 62.9 to Ty Cobb’s 62.6. Cobb hit .389 with a 1.008 OPS to Collins’ .343 and .882, but Collins played in a much tougher hitting park, where each run meant more, and that’s reflected in WAR.
It’s a narrow difference, as is the 1910-16 period, when Collins’ 60.2 WAR trailed Cobb’s 60.8. Collins might or might not have been the best player in baseball in either seven-year stretch, but he was awfully close.