Does Respect for the Past Bode Well for Baseball’s Future?
Breaking Down the Big Data of the Greatest Baseball Players of All Time List
How much does America’s Pastime’s current popularity factor into the rankings of who are the greatest baseball players of all time? And, what factors beyond simple player statistics come into play when one makes their own list? Well, the resulting Ranker data speaks – or rather, cheers – volumes when it comes to players of past generations. While nostalgia might have some effect on the voting, is the lack of current players represented on the list a sign that voters have an unwavering respect for the legends of the past, or is our national pastime becoming just that? Past its time.
Ranker asked participants upfront to list the best baseball players only by their on-field accomplishments. Nearly 115,000 votes from almost 7,500 participants have chimed in, and it’s no surprise who was the consensus top pick. With a lifetime batting average of .342 and #1 in all-time OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage), the voters made their choice clear: Babe Ruth. Anyone who has had a casual conversation around this topic knows the Great Bambino is always one of the first names mentioned when it comes to ranking the greatest players of all time, and he’s usually a favorite across all ages.
Whether you are an astute baseball statistical historian, been sitting in your team’s bleachers since you were a child, or are one of nearly 60 million people who play fantasy sports, you probably have at least a passing opinion about who is the best of all time. According to Ranker’s data, your top 5 has some combination of the Babe, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, and Willie Mays or Hank Aaron, the latter being the latest retiree of the group, which was all the way back in 1976. Once you break down the demographics even a little bit further, that’s when things start to get interesting.
Gone, but not forgotten.
The most glaring data at first glance is there’s nary an active player on the all-time list’s starting roster. In fact, it isn’t until you get down to #44 where you’ll find someone who is still an active player in Ichiro Suzuki. For the record, Ichiro is ranked only #76 on Ranker’s Top CURRENT Baseball Players List. Does this imply that voters know and respect their history? Or could it be that the current crop of baseball players aren’t well represented because they aren’t being watched? Television ratings data suggests that a steady decline in viewership over the years might play a factor in the voting. Major League Baseball as an entity is as strong as ever (just have a look at some of the salaries they’re handing out), people aren’t as interested in the game as they used to be.
How much does a voter’s age factor into the results? A deeper dive into the big data analytics suggests quite a bit. Baby Boomers are 184% more likely to have Mel Ott on their list than any other age group because, you know, they’ve actually seen him play. If you’re between the ages of 30-49, you are a whopping 305% more likely to have Sadaharu Oh of the Yomuiri Giants on your list (which suggests that internationally, fans aren’t only passionate about their soccer). If you’re a Millennial, you must enjoy a good quote. They are 248% and 234% more likely to vote for the non sequitur machine Yogi Berra and the forever quirky Rickey Henderson, respectively. Ranker doesn’t have analytics to suggest that voters in the 30-49 age demographic were all mustache enthusiasts, they were 281% more likely to include Rollie Fingers on their list.
However, those stats focus on specific characters in the game that a certain demographic is drawn to. Where are the Mike Trouts (#1 with people under the age of 29 on the Top Current Baseball Players List), Clayton Kershaws (#2), or players who have brand recognition among fans like Troy Tulowitzki (#20)? All of them, gaudy numbers and all, failed to crack the top 100. In fact, the only other active players on the list (besides the aging Ichiro) were the also-aging Albert Pujols (#48) and Miguel Cabrera (#90). Maybe, there’s just not a large (or long) enough sample size to include current players on this list of all-time greats.
Is today’s game yesterday’s news?
Perhaps voters are just into something else. When you look at the voting demographics, Young voters are the least represented participants, with the majority being aged 30 and up. But with nearly 23% of the votes, you would think at least a couple more current players would sneak in, wouldn’t you? Perhaps baseball just doesn’t resonate with this new generation. They’re gravitating toward playing lacrosse, on their video game consoles, or even fiddling with their smartphones. As a recent article in the Wall Street Journal even suggests, younger people are just tuning out.
So who’s got next?
The times may have changed, but according to Ranker data, the best baseball players really haven’t. From Cobb in the dead-ball era and Satchel Paige of the Negro Leagues to various International Leagues and beyond, the voters know that the greatest all-time baseball was played beyond just the Major Leagues here in the States. Records were made to be broken, but which of the best baseball players of today do you think will eventually break into the all-time list? Only time (and the fickle, under the age of 30 voters) will tell. So if you should happen to ask a Millennial if they saw the game last night, just don’t expect them to inquire who won. You’ll probably just get a “who cares?”