The 25 most important people in baseball history

Full voting results for this project can be found here. A list of the 262 voters for this project can be found here.

More than 17,000 people have played Major League Baseball. Countless others have contributed to the game from working in front offices to writing about baseball and more. It’s hard to say who matters most, players or everyone else and it’s an age-old debate. Personally, I believe both groups are important. Few people can play at the highest level. And without a range of support, they wouldn’t do so professionally, at least not in a league that generates close to $10 billion annually.

That said, I decided recently to take this debate public. I spent several weeks asking anyone interested to select the 25 most important people in baseball history. I distributed a 190-person reference ballot with write-in candidates welcome and anyone eligible. There wasn’t a set criteria for importance. I prefer that voters for my projects work independently and make their own determinations.

In all, 262 people voted in this project. Here’s how the top 25 came out:

Babe Ruth, 1921 | Library of Congress
Babe Ruth, 1921 | Library of Congress

1. Babe Ruth, 259 votes out of 262

It’s difficult to overstate Babe Ruth’s importance to baseball.

The Boston Red Sox sold Ruth to the New York Yankees months after the 1919 World Series. While that Fall Classic is the most infamous example of players rigging games, gambling had long polluted baseball. The 1905, 1914 and 1917 World Series all had rumors of gambler presence.

Baseball needed saviors in 1920. It got Kenesaw Mountain Landis as commissioner and he immediately began banning crooked players. And baseball got its greatest star, perhaps the greatest star of any sport ever.

With Landis acting with autocratic precision and Ruth out-homering entire teams– 14 of 16 in 1920, for instance– baseball quickly transformed, becoming more popular than ever. If that sounds like hyperbole, consider that while no team attracted 1,000,000 fans in a season before 1920, three broke the mark in the ’20s with a number of other teams seeing spikes in attendance.

One can only wonder what might have been without Landis or Ruth– especially Ruth, who was always larger than life, ideally suited to be baseball’s king.

Jackie Robinson | Library of Congress
A 1951 comic book | Library of Congress

2. Jackie Robinson, 257 votes out of 262

The impetus for this project came after Ken Burns referred to Jackie Robinson as “the most important person in the history of baseball.”

I think voters for this project got it right, though that’s not to take anything away from Robinson. His breaking of baseball’s 63-year color barrier in 1947 is one of the greatest stories of any sport. Robinson then forged a legit Hall of Fame career, with his contributions above stats actually making him a little underrated.

Like Ruth, Robinson transformed baseball for the better. And like Ruth, baseball’s fate hung in the balance with Robinson. Branch Rickey knew when he signed Robinson that the wrong player could set back integration in the majors by 20 years. Robinson’s stoicism as he endured systemic verbal abuse his first two years with the Dodgers paved the way for numerous star black players.

3. Branch Rickey, 224 votes out of 262

Many people spoke of signing black players between 1884 and 1947. John McGraw had a list of players he wished he could sign. Bill Veeck tried to buy the Philadelphia Phillies in 1942 and stock the team with black stars, but commissioner Landis scuttled his plans.

Perhaps Landis’s death in 1944 and the looming civil rights movement made integration in baseball inevitable. That said, Branch Rickey helped accelerate the process by signing Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers in October 1945. Where others spoke, dreamed or quietly accepted the injustice of baseball’s color line, Rickey acted. It didn’t just benefit Robinson. Every black player in the majors before 1970 owes at least part of his career to Rickey.

If helping integrate baseball had been Rickey’s sole contribution, he might make this list. He rates so highly for everything else he did, including: creating baseball’s farm system while general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals; hiring the game’s first sabermetrician, Allan Roth in 1947; and helping spur baseball’s expansion by getting involved in 1959 with a proposed third league, the Continental League.

4. [tie] Hank Aaron, 195 votes out of 262

Much as some people despise Barry Bonds, he encountered nothing of the same vitriol Hank Aaron did in breaking the career home run record. Aaron spent 1973 receiving hate mail as he chased Ruth’s 714 homers. It got so bad that in spring training in 1974, with Aaron still one homer shy of Ruth, the Braves hired Atlanta Police Department detective sergeant Calvin Wardlaw as Aaron’s bodyguard. Aaron, typically low-key, played it down saying, “Ah, he’s a friend of mine and he’s on vacation down here anyway.”

Aaron got his record, cherished enough that some still consider him home run champion. Late in 1974, Aaron also gave an interview where he decried the lack of black managers, telling reporters:

I don’t think baseball has moved as far as it should have since Jackie Robinson’s time. Facts are facts. We have Monte Irvin in the Commissioner’s office and we have Bill Lucas in the front office [of the Atlanta Braves] and that’s all.

There’ve been four managerial changes so far this year and a black man wasn’t considered for any of them. To be absolutely honest about it, I wouldn’t like to manage. But I know other blacks in baseball who would, and could.

Nine days later, the Cleveland Indians named Frank Robinson player-manager.

Kenesaw Mountain Landis [Library of Congress]
Judge Landis, 1924 | Library of Congress
4. [tie] Kenesaw Mountain Landis, 195 votes out of 262

Kenesaw Mountain Landis is the highest-ranked person here whose impact on baseball was both significantly positive and negative.

On one hand, Landis’ role in excising gambling from the majors after the 1919 World Series cannot be denied. The job of commissioner was created for him, to replace the three-man National Commission. Seventy years after the former federal judge’s death, he remains the standard for commissioners. As longtime baseball writer Fred Lieb noted in his 1977 memoir Baseball As I Have Known It, “None of the men who succeeded him has had anything like the Judge’s czarlike authority and domination.”

That said, Landis may have done more than any man in his lifetime to keep baseball segregated. While it’s no surprise someone named for a Civil War battlefield held bigoted views common to his time, a more progressive commissioner may have allowed Negro League legends like Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston and Cool Papa Bell into the majors. The quality of play in the majors suffered for Landis’s racism.

Ty Cobb, 1913 | Library of Congress
Ty Cobb, 1913 | Library of Congress

6. Ty Cobb, 179 votes out of 262

Some people may forget that in the first Hall of Fame election, Ty Cobb finished first with 98.2 percent of the vote. Just four voters failed to select Cobb on their ballots. Early Hall of Fame elections were chaotic, with all players eligible and 30-40 future HOFers generally receiving votes. Still, one must wonder what those Cobb-less ballots looked like.

Cobb’s overwhelming Hall of Fame support was a credit to his much-celebrated 4,191 hits, .367 lifetime batting average [though there is some dispute over these stats] and more. Some fun facts with Cobb include that he won 12 batting titles in a 13-season span, hit .387 for the 1910s and once smacked five home runs in two days after saying he could hit homers if he tried. One newspaper writer noted after Cobb’s home run binge:

All the old fellows in the American League and some of the young ones, too, are crowing raucously and joyously because of the stunts Ty Cobb is doing with the bat. It is the reaction of ball players who have had Babe Ruth’s feats waved before their eyes until they have covertly expressed their annoyance.

7. Marvin Miller, 175 votes out of 262

The Veterans Committee has famously turned down Marvin Miller several times. I’m curious how much longer it takes for Cooperstown to honor the late Miller, who served as executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1966 until 1982. I doubt any person in the past 50 years has done as much to change baseball as Miller, who led the charge to topple the game’s reserve clause in the 1970s. Baseball’s more equitable for his efforts.

8. Bill James, 159 votes out of 262

I’ll admit it. It may look absurd that a former amateur statistician and one-time pork and beans factory night watchman got more votes for this project than many of the men listed below him and plenty more who didn’t make this list. That seems oddly appropriate for paying tribute to Bill James, who’s made a career of spurning conventional baseball wisdom and encouraging people to think differently.

While James’ methods and findings have sometimes been unorthodox, they’ve been used to great effect by teams like the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics. James has also inspired countless baseball researchers and writers. Sean Forman, founder of Baseball-Reference.com [who, by the way, finished 47th in voting here] told me via email:

Bill James is the central figure of sabermetrics and always will be just as Shakespeare is the central figure in English Literature.  All of the work that preceded him fed into his work and all that follows flows from what he did.

9. Ted Williams, 155.5 votes out of 262

Between being baseball’s most recent .400 hitter, winning two Triple Crowns and writing “The Science of Hitting,” Ted Williams might be the most famous hitter ever. He batted .344 lifetime and was remarkably consistent, offering roughly equal adjusted rates of offensive production for both halves of his career, a 193 OPS+ for his first nine seasons and a 187 OPS+ for his final ten.

Without service in two wars costing him roughly five seasons, Williams also may have broken Ruth’s home run record. I have Williams at 668 homers without military service and I assume Williams would have played longer than 1960 if he’d had a reasonable chance to catch Ruth. After all, the Splendid Splinter had an offer to pinch hit for the Yankees in 1961.

There’s more to Williams’ legacy than hitting, though. In his Hall of Fame induction speech in 1966, Williams said, “I hope that some day Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson will be voted into the Hall of Fame as symbols of the great Negro League players who are not here only because they weren’t given the chance.” Negro League inductions began five years later.

10. [tie] Willie Mays, 141 votes out of 262

The Say Hey Kid’s low rank strikes me, as he’s dominated two of my previous projects. In 2012, Mays got the most votes for a proposed Hall of Fame inner circle. Mays was also selected in 2012 as center fielder for an all-time dream team, besting Ty Cobb by a 4-1 margin in votes. I’m not sure what led to the switch this time, though I didn’t have Mays in a personal top ten list I that posted in September. Perhaps that influenced votes.

So we’re clear, I think Mays or Ruth is the greatest player in baseball history. I go back and forth on this, but it’s clearly a two-man race to me. Robert Creamer said in an interview here in January 2012 that Mays was the best player he covered, noting, “He could rise to a pitch of intensity that was almost unbelievable, creating an excitement that I have never forgotten.” Like Williams, Mays also may have broken Ruth’s home run record without missing time for military service.

But this project is about more than simply being a magnificent player. While I set no parameters, encouraging voters to determine their own criteria for importance, there seems to be a trend of honoring people who made contributions beyond the playing field. It’s hard to find anything Mays did to transcend baseball beyond playing it better than anyone of his era, if not ever.

10. [tie] Curt Flood, 141 votes out of 262

Reading votes for this project, I was reminded how many people were at least peripherally related to the fight to end baseball’s reserve clause. To name a few, there are Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, at the center of the 1975 arbitration case that led to free agency. There’s Catfish Hunter, who became a free agent because of a contract glitch in 1974, though it’s worth adding his case set no precedent. Then there are lesser-known figures such as New York Giants outfielder Danny Gardella who sued baseball challenging the reserve clause after being barred for jumping to the Mexican League in 1946.

For all the important figures of baseball’s labor movement, though, Curt Flood gets a lion’s share of the attention even if he was unsuccessful in his efforts. Flood’s refusal to report to the Philadelphia Phillies after a trade in December 1969 and his subsequent lawsuit against baseball to challenge its reserve clause effectively ended his career. It’s a common misconception that Flood’s case ended the clause. Flood lost 5-3 in the Supreme Court on June 6, 1972 and the reserve clause and baseball’s exemption to anti-trust laws remained. That said, Flood helped affect change.

While it can be argued that arbitrator Peter Seitz acted independently of Flood’s case when he abrogated the reserve clause in 1975, creating free agency, Flood’s case cast attention. It also had an unexpected benefit for players, as noted in this New York Times piece: It gave owners false confidence heading into the McNally-Messersmith case.

12. Lou Gehrig, 120 votes out of 262

Lou Gehrig slides into home | Library of Congress
Lou Gehrig slides into home | Library of Congress

Most consecutive games played until Cal Ripken Jr. Gave best speech in baseball history. Arguably the greatest first baseman of all-time.

Rather than say more, I encourage people to read what Frank Graham Jr. wrote for my all-time dream team project about his boyhood friendship with Gehrig.

13. Al Spalding, 116 votes out of 262

With Abner Doubleday long since debunked as baseball’s founder and Alexander Cartwright’s status as the game’s true founder dismissed in recent years, there’s a question of who could rank as baseball’s most important 19th century figure and pioneer. The honor could go to Spalding, a Hall of Fame executive, one of baseball’s first star players and a sporting goods magnate.

As John Thorn wrote in Baseball in the Garden of Eden, Spalding also backed the Abraham G. Mills Commission which anointed Doubleday as baseball’s founder in 1908. Thorn wrote:

It has turned out that Spalding and Chadwick– like the calculated exponents of Doubleday and Cartwright– were not mere liars and blowhards. They were conscious architects of legend… They were trying to create a national mythology from baseball, which they identified as America’s secular religion because it seemed to support faith for the faithless and unify them, perhaps in a way that might suit other ends. If in the process of crafting this useful past, certain individuals, events, ball clubs– even competing versions of the game, like those played in New England or Pennsylvania– had to be left along the road in the name of progress, so be it.

As a footnote, Thorn wrote of four people with a better claim to inventing baseball than anyone mentioned thus far: Doc Adams, William H. Tucker, Louis Wadsworth and William R. Wheaton.

14. Dr. Frank Jobe, 110.5 votes out of 262

Not counting Al Spalding or Babe Ruth– or Ted Williams or Ty Cobb, who each pitched briefly in the majors– Jobe got more votes here than any pitcher. In a sense, the doctor who developed Tommy John Surgery in 1974 and, later, reconstructive shoulder surgery is responsible for more wins than anyone. David Schoenfield noted for ESPN.com upon Jobe’s death in March that more than 500 pitchers have had Tommy John Surgery. Jobe isn’t in Cooperstown, though some like Schoenfield think he belongs.

15. [tie] Ban Johnson, 108 votes out of 262

Since its founding in 1876, the National League has faced many competing leagues. Most have quickly disappeared, such as the Union Association of 1884 which had teams that didn’t make it through the season. Ban Johnson established the only competitor that’s lasted, transforming the minor Western League into the American League in 1901. Johnson steered his circuit well enough for it to survive an ensuing war with the National League over the next two years. When peace was settled, he helped institute the World Series.

Cy Young [Library of Congress]
Cy Young, 1909 | Library of Congress
15. [tie] Cy Young, 108 votes out of 262

With few exceptions, Deadball Era pitchers were done in their mid-30s. Christy Mathewson, Kid Nichols and Ed Walsh all last pitched at 36. Chief Bender and Rube Waddell left the majors at 33.

Cy Young, however, pitched until age 44. As such, he holds records for wins, losses, games, innings pitched and a staggering 29,565 batters faced. No active pitcher has faced half as many. There’s a reason the top award for pitchers is named for Cy Young.

15. [tie] Henry Chadwick, 108 votes out of 262

The Bill James of 19th century baseball statisticians, Chadwick modernized the box score and invented a number of basic stats, such earned run average, batting average and the RBI. Chadwick has been in the Hall of Fame since 1939, one reason I think James will eventually be enshrined.

15. [tie] Roberto Clemente, 108 votes out of 262

The Pittsburgh Pirates plucked Roberto Clemente from the Brooklyn Dodgers’ farm system in the rule 5 draft in 1954 after Clemente hit .257 for Montreal. Clemente needed several more years to become a star, hitting .282 with an 89 OPS+ through 1959 for Pittsburgh. A weird thing happened, however, as Clemente aged– he got better as conditions for hitters grew significantly more challenging. After the size of the strike zone was increased in January 1963, causing run totals to plummet, Clemente hit .331 with a 149 OPS+ over his final 10 seasons, winning three of his four batting titles.

Clemente built a reputation beyond hitting, too. A cannon-armed right fielder, he won 12 consecutive Gold Gloves and, according to the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool, Clemente’s 205 defensive runs saved are fifth-best in baseball history. Clemente was also a veteran leader for Pittsburgh until his death in a 1972 plane crash. He had been en route to help victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua. Appropriately, baseball’s annual humanitarian award is named in Clemente’s honor.

19. [tie] Barry Bonds, 107 votes out of 262

19. [tie] Pete Rose, 107 votes out of 262

It seems fitting that two of the more controversial players in baseball history would wind up tied here. Barry Bonds and Pete Rose are both regulars in another project I do having people vote on the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame. For what it’s worth, I predicted recently that Bonds and Rose will both be in Cooperstown within 20 years.

I see a special steroid era committee enshrining all-time home run leader Bonds and a number of other players like Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire who, for better or worse, defined and dominated their era. In addition, Bonds was a Hall of Famer before he likely began using performance enhancing drugs. Bonds’ use of steroids obscures that younger version of him. In a sense, Bonds is underrated.

As for all-time hits leader Rose, someone who admitted to betting on games his teams played in is less attractive as a Hall of Fame candidate than a steroid user. But there’s no proof Rose bet on his teams to lose. Rose’s actions, while egregious, aren’t on the same level of Shoeless Joe Jackson, who took $5,000 to help throw the 1919 World Series. Time diminishes outrage, too. I see Rose being inducted by the Veterans Committee shortly after his death.

21. Bud Selig, 105 votes out of 262

Say what you will about Bud Selig who will retire in January after 23 years as baseball commissioner. He’s extremely polarizing and he’s presided over some of baseball’s darkest moments in the past quarter century, notably the 1994 strike and the steroid era.

Some like Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated have laid blame for steroid use in baseball on players, noting that baseball banned steroids in 1991 and that the players union wouldn’t agree to testing until 2004. Selig deserves some share of the blame in my book. Major League Baseball had to have some idea what its players were up to. It was on Selig to blow the whistle, ask for federal help, perhaps from the Drug Enforcement Agency to address baseball’s steroid problem.

Instead, Selig placed profitability first and that, ultimately, relates to what he will be remembered for. As CEO, in effect, of a multi-billion dollar enterprise, Selig has been very successful. Total MLB revenues were around $1.2 billion annually– about $2 billion in 2014 dollars– when Selig became acting commissioner in 1992. Today, MLB revenues are around $9 billion annually. From a pure business standpoint, Bud Selig is the best commissioner in baseball history and it isn’t close. He’ll be in the Hall of Fame soon, this year, maybe next.

22. Satchel Paige, 99 votes out of 262

A retired scout once asked me to name the most durable pitcher in baseball history. I thought for a moment and suggested Walter Johnson. “Nolan Ryan!” the scout chortled and our conversation was effectively over. I thought more about it later and it occurred to me that the answer had to be Satchel Paige. The legendary hurler debuted in 1926 and was pitching in exhibitions as late as 1969, estimating he won 2,000 games. Counting exhibition play, he might be the only pitcher to strike out Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron.

23. [tie] Bill Veeck, 95 votes out of 262

He wasn’t the most successful owner, not by a long shot. He might not have been the most creative one either, with Charlie Finley and Chris von der Ahe each giving him a run for this honor. But Bill Veeck was a masterful enough promoter and showman to still be talked about more than 50 years since he did anything of note, aside of course from his role in the infamous Disco Demolition Night of 1979.

Finer moments for Veeck include helping break the American League color barrier in July 1947 by signing Larry Doby, giving Satchel Paige a long overdue shot in the majors, having midget Eddie Gaedel hit, creating the exploding scoreboard and building pennant winners with the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox.

Connie Mack [Library of Congress]
Connie Mack | Library of Congress
23. [tie] John McGraw, 95 votes out of 262

25. Connie Mack, 94 votes out of 262

It’s hard to choose the best manager in baseball history. Joe McCarthy, who never had a losing season, has the top winning percentage at .615. Readers here selected Casey Stengel as manager for the all-time dream project. Tony LaRussa, meanwhile, got the most votes of any write-in candidate in this project with 19. I’ve found a person will get three to four times as many votes, sometimes more, if they’re on the ballot for my projects, so it’s conceivable LaRussa would be the top-ranked manager here if I’d included him.

I don’t know if I see LaRussa getting more votes, though, than McGraw or Mack who’ve had more than a century to build their lore. Mack has nearly 1,000 more credited wins than any manager in baseball history, sitting on the Philadelphia Athletics bench until months before his 88th birthday in 1950. He built [and for economic reasons dismantled] two dynasties, winning nine pennants and five championships. While Mack had few winning teams and was mostly a figurehead after 1932, McGraw stayed competitive throughout his 33 years managing the New York Giants and Baltimore Orioles. He had just four losing years, winning 10 pennants and three championships.

__________________________________

Approximately 332 people received at least one vote in this project. Full voting results can be found here.

Thanks again to everyone who voted. Names of the 262 voters are listed here

To see people explain their votes, make sure to check out these posts.

39 thoughts on “The 25 most important people in baseball history

  1. I realize it’s hard to distill 25 players out of the thousands that have played but no Joe DiMaggio? No Walter Johnson?? Cy Young spent more than half his career in the pre modern era and DiMaggio who along with Bob Feller lost prime years during the war are far more deserving than Barry Bonds or Bill Veeck

  2. Even tho’ I host a syndicated radio golf show, I am a longtime baseball fan. I filled out a ballot, but I was traveling on business and forgot to send it in by the deadline. For the most part, my ballot and your list contained most of the same names. My top 3 were J. Robinson, Babe Ruth and Branch Rickey. Because your list wanted the most important “people” in baseball history, I leaned more towards non-players. Ted Williams (your #9) was not in my Top 25. Neither were Willie Mays (#10) or Lou Gehrig (#12). Nothing against them, they were certainly among the greatest players, but I felt contributions by O’Malley, Steinbrenner, McPhail, Frick, Uerberroth, etc. outweighed them when it came to the most important “people.” Same for Rose and Bonds. Maybe there should be 2 lists, One for players, one for non-players. Just my thoughts.
    Thanks for doing this and for allowing me to share my opinion.

  3. I’d flip Robinson and Ruth, but the biggest disappointment to me is the low ranking of J.G. Taylor Spink. I honestly don’t see how anyone with a grounded knowledge in baseball history could fail to put him in the top 10.

    During Spink’s long (1914-1962) editorship of The Sporting News, that publication more or less functioned as the only national forum that the game had, with the top baseball writers from all over the country being given space on a weekly basis.

    Not to mention that TSN was also the Baseball-Reference of its time, with its policy of printing all the box scores and writeups of every Major League game along with the box scores of the top minor leagues. In addition there was his annual library of the Baseball Guide, the Baseball Register, the Baseball Dope Book, the World Series Record Book, and One For The Book.

    And then there were the many original interviews and exclusive stories, as well as the policy of distributing tens of thousands of free copies to servicemen overseas during the two world wars. Spink’s newspaper was truly the glue that held the baseball world together during his time, and yet how easily we forget.

  4. Good choices abound here, but the omission of Alexander Cartwright’s name stings. Cartwright codified the playing rules and dimensions of the diamond; presided over the formation of what is generally regarded as the first organized game played between two teams at the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey on June 19th, 1846; and later traveled all over the world, disseminating baseball across the globe, including to Hawaii (still a century away from becoming the 50th United State) where he settled and is buried. Controversy over Cartwright’s documented contributions to the origin and expansion of our national pastime should not obscure the important role he played in making baseball the greatest game in the world, and his name should not be omitted or forgotten.

  5. @Perry — I don’t know if I’d consider Cartwright an omission. He finished 35th with 65 votes. He trumps Abner Doubleday, who I didn’t even bother to put on the ballot, plus a bunch of other 19th century pioneers who may have deserved mention. [Doc Adams, who got five write-in votes, should have been on the ballot. That’s my mistake.]

  6. @Steve, I don’t see how anyone could claim Bob Feller and Walter Johnson had as much impact on the game as Barry Bonds and Bill Veeck. Now, the word “important” means different things to different people, but this wasn’t designed to be a list of the top 25 baseball players, or the “best” people, but rather those who were important to the game. Bob Feller and Walter Johnson were clearly two of the top players ever, but had far less impact on the game than Barry Bonds (as he represents, IMO, a pivotal figure in turning the public against PEDs that, for whatever reason, McGwire and Sosa did not do) and Bill Veeck, who pioneered so many aspects of baseball becoming a ballpark experience and not just about watching the competition of the game.

    DiMaggio finished 26th. I can certainly agree with anyone who thinks that he deserved to be ahead of some of these top 25, and I think he’s one of the most sabermetrically undervalued players of all time. But he isn’t more or less deserving than Bonds or Veeck for “importance”; it’s a matter of opinion how much these guys shaped the game as it stands today.

    Then again, and I love Graham for doing this, but some of the voting is ridiculous IMO. Some of the write-in votes included Don Zimmer, Jack Chesbro, Tim Lincecum, Jeff Kent, Bob Uecker, Bryce Harper, Kevin Costner (and Moonlight Graham), and Craig Calcaterra. I can only imagine how many of those voters left off guys that would have most voters scratching their heads.

    In the end, you get a mix of styles of votes, but a list that’s worth talking about.

  7. Ok, then in that vein shouldn’t Happy Chandler be up there with KM Landis? Chandler let integration go forward despite the objections of the majority of owners.
    Oh and I’ll put Uek on any top 25 list

  8. Anyone who thinks Bill James should be ranked ahead of Ted Williams and Willie Mays should not be allowed to vote again in my humble opinion. And to have Williams ahead of DiMaggio is questionable also. And Frank Robinson not in the top 25? First and only player to be MVP in both leagues and the first black manager should get him on the list. And only one pitcher in the top 25 is not good either. Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson should have been in there. But really the only one I can really say doesn’t belong in the top 25 is Bill James much less number 8…

  9. Roberto Clemente was on his way to Managua, Nicaragua after an earthquake, not the Dominican Republic.

    Makes you wonder what else is not accurate on this article!

  10. The Bill Veeck story about the 1942 Phillies may be entirely fiction (as much as I would love to believe it). But I love that he used Eddie Gadel, that in and of itself is enough for high inclusion on the list.

  11. @Javier — My mistake. I went ahead and corrected it. Thanks for letting me know.

    One other mistake has been spotted thus far– I said Hank Aaron entered spring training of 1974 a few homers shy of Babe Ruth. Aaron had 713 homers at the time.

    Let me know if you spot any other mistakes so I can correct them. Thanks again.

  12. Actually, while it’s not a huge surprise that Landis held bigoted views, given that he was a man of his times, he’s named after the Civil War battle at which his father was wounded. Weird, yes, but his father was fighting for the Union, not the Confederacy. Landis was born in Southern Ohio and grew up in Southern Indiana, neither of which was particularly tolerant racially but both of which sent a fair number of soldiers to fight for the Union.

  13. Yogi?
    Maybe not in the top 25 but not to get even a whisper in all the comments…my, my.
    How many besides “Babe” are a one name baseball Icon? Darn few. Yeah yeah…Willie, Mickey and Duke so the song goes.
    Yogi is known and loved everywhere by just about everyone, baseball fan or not, with “Yogisms” about Life that transcend baseball. In his day and still certainly an Ambassador for the game almost at the level of the great Babe in his day.
    And yeah…a clutch hitter with the best of them…he’d be my catcher hands down.
    And gotta chime in here…He did get the tag on the great Jackie!!!
    He knew it too – -maybe the only time he showed up an umpire—-I’ll shut up now.

  14. When I was a kid I guzzled that Yoohoo crap just because Yogi was on the lable, I didn’t even like it and I still drank it because of Yogi

  15. Very interesting list. Babe definitely deserves to be #1. After almost 100 years it is still impossible to overestimate the impact he had on the game, both on the field and at the box office.

  16. I’d rearrange the top 3 at Robinson, Rickey and Ruth, but otherwise my only big disappointment is seeing J.G. Taylor Spink way down at #53. It’s as if there’s a huge memory hole that he seems to have slipped into.

    From 1914 to 1962, as editor of The Sporting News, J.G. Taylor Spink was THE most important publicizer of baseball that the game has ever known, before or since. He was the straw that stirred the drink, and provided the Commons where the baseball world met every week to read and argue about the goings on from the Majors to the lowest Class D league.

    He provided a forum for the best writers from all over the country. They all appeared in The Sporting News, the Liebs and the Poviches and the Koppetts and the Broegs and all the countless others. If they didn’t come to Spink, he’d call them up in the middle of the night and tell them to hurry up with that copy.

    He ran countless original scoops and interviewed innumerable players going back to the 19th century, helping to found an oral tradition that was later carried on by the likes of Lawrence Ritter, John Holway and Donald Honig.

    His paper was the ONLY national publication where fans from all over the country could see the box scores and narrative writeups of every Major League game, as well as box scores from the leading minor leagues, and all the latest averages.

    In 1942 he also took over and continued the publication of the annual baseball guide, after Reach and Spalding threw in the towel. He also published the Baseball Register, The Dope Book, the World Series Record Book, and One For The Book, in elegant and inexpensive editions that formed the backbone of many a baseball library. Before the Macmillan Encylopedia and Total Baseball and then Baseball-Reference came along, Spink was the sole one stop source for nearly all our statistical knowledge.

    He could be a son of a bitch, and wasn’t in the forefront of the integration of baseball—that’s putting it politely—but once Robinson stepped onto the fields of Montreal and Brooklyn, he was treated fair and square by The Sporting News and given all his justly deserved praise.

    I placed Spink in the top 10 of the most IMPORTANT figures in baseball history, and though he never played a game or had any official position in organized baseball, he left an imprint that can perhaps only be fully appreciated by those who knew his paper when he was alive. If only a first rate writer like Norman Macht would take him on as his next subject, and re-introduce him to a new generation.

  17. Steve Jaeger- You do realize the vote was for the 25 most important people in baseball history, not the 25 best players, right?

  18. Yes I do realize that. But how is Ted Williams more important than DiMaggio? And I’ll say again, if Landis is on the list for his contributions why would you not include Happy Chandler? Without him there would not have been Jackie Robinson or Larry Doby and Bill Veeck

  19. Cal Ripkon Jr.

    Saved baseball after the strike, beat the “unbeatable” record and played with more class than most before him.

  20. The results are idiotic, by voters who are not historians and have no idea what “important” means or any real knowledge of baseball history. How can most of these choices be more important than, say, William Hulbert, who founded the National League or Ban Johnson, who founded the American League? Or Col. Ruppert , Ed Barrow, and George Weiss, who founded and continued the Yankee dynasty? Or… but what’s the point? I didn’t vote, fearing exactly what the vote would be.

  21. I agree with Bill’s sentiments. I understand the the idea of not defining what’s meant by “important” and leaving that to the voters. But then you get this weird mis-mash of votes.

    There are a number of great baseball players on this list. But I fail to see how most of them were important just by being elite on the field. Rickey and Robinson were critical to integration and shaping the game. But if Willie Mays had gone into law instead of baseball, would baseball be different? In your own words “But this project is about more than simply being a magnificent player. … It’s hard to find anything Mays did to transcend baseball beyond playing it better than anyone of his era, if not ever.”

    I’d argue the list should mostly be people like Bill James, owners, and executives with players like Flood and Robinson mixed in.

  22. “The results are idiotic, by voters who are not historians and have no idea what “important” means or any real knowledge of baseball history.”

    It’s too bad Bill that you didn’t vote. You seem to have quite a bit of knowledge in this area of the game. The inclusion of your insights could have only helped add some wisdom to the totals, especially if you followed up with details on your votes.

    As to the voters not being historians that might be the case for some here. I’d admit that it’s true for me. I’ve spent a great deal of time in my so far long life watching the game over a number of years. I’ve read a great deal about it’s history and those who have been a part of baseball. But, no I’m no historian by any means, nor an expert. All I can say is that I took the vote as seriously as I could. I think a number of people did.
    And that I’ve been delighted to be a part of the various votes that Graham has had here on BBPAP. It’s an honor to get to contribute.

    Taking a casual view of those who voted I saw a number of writers, bloggers and members of SABRE. It would seem to me that at the very least these individuals are a good bit more than your average fan in terms of time and investment in learning about the many facets of what Baseball is about. Your total sense of everyone’s diminished awareness may be a bit too harsh and unfounded. None of the above credentials may make one an expert, but it does convey an effort to become knowledgeable.

    As far as those who did not list or do not have credentials in terms of baseball knowledge, even there too, there may be many who have spent a great deal of time as an amateur learning all they could and indeed could have a great dialogue with someone like you.

    I realize that your comment over the vote is well beyond what I’ve written so far and is based on what you felt would happen and what you’ve seen as the results of the tally.

    I surely understand the passion that you have here in terms of who should be acknowledged. For someone as serious and passionate as you it’s a well taken point. If the vote was restricted to only the credentialed in whatever way that could be done, it would indeed be an education for the readers. But there is also something to be said for Graham leaving it open to all of us from the wise to the those with no credentials or perhaps deep knowledge to participate and then taking it one step further by having us define what is important.

    My personal involvement in votes like this here and elsewhere have only served to deepen my awareness of the game and those who made it great in a way that just reading about it would not have done. So for that I’m grateful too.

    Would the voting have been different and in perhaps better in terms of the scholarly, if Graham chose to define the parameters differently. Perhaps. But I believe it was a good experiment for him to leave the rules wide open. As he wrote in the initial article; ” Please use any voting criteria– “most important” is a deliberately subjective term and I’m interested to see what direction people go with it. I’ve included a broad enough range of candidates on the ballot for voters to go in any number of directions. On a related note, I do little to no active campaigning and encourage voters to work independently.”

    Imho it seemed like a pretty clear and interesting tact to take, allowing people to define it for themselves. Are the results aligned with traditional ideas, perhaps no. But sometimes it’s a worthwhile exercise to see what happens when the parameters are thrown wide open as Graham has. It was I thought a valid and interesting exercise on a number of levels, to attempt, just for the sake of it. That’s one of the things I like about this site; Graham likes to imagine various outcomes and possibilities and encourages his readers, fellow writers and even great writers and historians like Robert Creamer and other important people on the field on and off, to participate with him and the readers in those thought provoking and varied journeys in Baseball.

    Just my two cents as an uncredentialed fan of the game and this website.

  23. Alexander Cartwright didn’t have anything to do with codifying the rules or disseminating the game. Those are myths. People really ought to learn baseball history before voting on who the most important people in it were.

  24. I posted this on another thread just now, but anyone miffed at Alexander Cartwright not making the top 25 ought to read his SABR bio or John Thorn’s fine early history of the game, Baseball in the Garden of Eden. I actually regard it as progress that Cartwright didn’t make the top 25.

  25. i very strongly object:

    “… Shoeless Joe Jackson, who took $5,000 to help throw the 1919 World Series.”

    there’s a PILE of evidence that says otherwise, including the testimony of his teammates. i think it’s silly to keep the all-time hits leader out of the cooperstown museum of baseball, but i reject the argument that, hey, pete rose wasn’t as bad as shoeless joe.

  26. So can we know what three morons didn’t include Ruth on their ballots, and what five left Robinson off?

    In either case, these people should be banned from ever voting on a base ball question again.

  27. George Steinbrenner probably the single most important owner in the game since Branch Rickey is as responsible for the current wealth in the game as any single person

  28. The MOST important people in baseball – BY FAR – without question are none of the above .

    The MOST IMPORTANT people in Baseball are the FANS

    No Fans – no Baseball – simple as that

  29. Thanks for doing this exercise. It’s great to read a crowdsourced view of the 25 most important people in baseball history. For those expressing disgust with the process, I’d say take it for what it is–262 baseball fans expressing their ideas. It’s a critique-able list and no one’s claiming it’s definitive.

    When I saw the headline, I took 20 minutes, did some brainstorming, and assembled my own Top Ten list for comparison before reading the list itself. Having done that, I echo others’ surprise at the number of great baseball talents on this list who didn’t have much impact on the course of baseball history. There’s nothing wrong with not defining “important”–I’m just surprised more voters didn’t naturally associate that with shaping the course of the game.

    For me, the most glaring omission is Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, who only received one write-in vote(!). As far as commissioners go, I’d put him and Kenesaw Mountain Landis ahead of all the others (even Selig) in terms of changing the course of the game. Ueberroth did more than any man to make baseball a business. He negotiated the first lucrative national TV deal for the sport, introduced the idea of products endorsed by MLB (to paying corporations, of course), and was so adamant that teams balance their books and compete while turning a profit that his actions dipped into collusion; nevertheless, he changed the monetary structure of the game for good. During Ueberroth’s tenure, MLB went from 21 of 26 teams losing money to every team breaking even or turning a profit. He also led baseball to its first net profit in 15 years during his reign. My list was topped by Branch Rickey, Marvin Miller, and Peter Ueberroth (with the Babe at #5 and Robinson at #7).

    One final note: Andy Moursund makes a strong case for J.G. Taylor Spink. He didn’t appear on my list, though I gave thought to including a journalist, but couldn’t figure out who fit the bill. Spink seems to be the name I was searching for but didn’t know. Thanks for the education, Andy.

  30. You’re welcome, Aaron. Here’s one ironic note: Until I hit the reply button to thank you, I couldn’t find my own comment about Spink anywhere. I’ve had a dozen e-mail notifications about new comments, but this is the first time I’ve been able to see all the comments in one place. Either I’m missing something or there’s something missing in the system.

    The low ranking of J. G. Taylor Spink continues to mystify me. I wonder what his ranking would be among those who are old enough to remember when he was the editor of The Sporting News, back when TSN was the aptly named “Bible of Baseball”.

  31. What about Jose Canseco? Say what you will about his character, you can’t tell the story of baseball history without discussing his impact. He was instrumental in blowing the lid off of the ped/steroid era. An important contribution, regardless of intention… the ramifications of which are still not completely known.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>