25 All-Time Baseball Greats Who Would Struggle in the Majors Today

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistJuly 11, 2012

25 All-Time Baseball Greats Who Would Struggle in the Majors Today

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    Bob Dylan certainly didn't have baseball on his mind when he recorded "The Times, They Are A-Changin'" in 1964, but that's exactly what the players on our list would realize were they thrust into today's version of Major League Baseball.

    These players, comprised of either Hall of Fame members or those who fall just short of baseball's ultimate individual honor, would struggle in the majors today for a variety of reasons—from their tools on the field to their personalities and beliefs off of it—and everything in between.

    So who are we talking about?

    Let's take a look.

Luis Aparicio, SS

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    Widely considered the best defensive shortstop of his time, Luis Aparicio led the league in stolen bases for nine consecutive years, from his rookie year of 1956 through the 1964 season.

    For as excellent as he was with the glove and on the bases, Aparicio left something to be desired at the plate, posting a career batting line of .262/.311/.343 with 83 home runs and 791 RBI—or five home runs and 49 RBI a season.

    While his defense was very good, it wasn't on the same level as Ozzie Smith or Omar Vizquel, and when you put the entire package together, today he'd be a slightly more productive version of Cesar Izturis.

Ty Cobb, CF

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    An 11-time batting champion, Ty Cobb finished his career as baseball's all-time hits leader (a record since broken by Pete Rose), and his lifetime .366 batting average remains one of the most unlikely-to-be-broken records in baseball history.

    He might not be as prolific a hitter were he playing today, but there's little doubt that he would be able to hold his own when he stepped to the plate. But Cobb's issue today wouldn't be his ability to hit the ball.

    Between Cobb's penchant for playing dirty and being a blatant racist, he would need to have a bat in his hand at all times to prevent getting pummeled by both the opposition and his teammates.

Don Drysdale, SP

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    Half of one of the most dominant pitching duos in baseball history with Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale was a three-time World Series champion and winner of the 1962 NL Cy Young award.

    Much like Koufax and the Cardinals' Bob Gibson, Drysdale wasn't afraid to come inside on batters, using an array of pitches—primarily his sidearm fastball—to intimidate the opposition. Over the course of his career, Drysdale plunked 154 batters—a National League record that stands to this day.

    Said Mickey Mantle: "I hated to bat against (Don) Drysdale. After he hit you he'd come around, look at the bruise on your arm and say, 'Do you want me to sign it?'"

    That kind of aggression wouldn't fly today, and Drysdale would routinely find himself being tossed from games for repeatedly pitching inside, a practice that has been frowned upon in recent years. Taking the ability to command the inside of the plate would be devastating to his effectiveness.

Johnny Evers, 2B

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    One third of the Tinker-Evers-Chance double-play combination that entertained fans of the Cubs in the early 1900s and the recipient of the MVP award in 1914, Johnny Evers would never be mistaken for a MVP candidate were he playing today.

    His greatest offensive asset—really his only asset at the plate—was his speed, as he averaged nearly 30 stolen bases a year over parts of 18 seasons in the major leagues. While his career slash line of .270/.356/.334 isn't terrible, it's much closer to Luis Castillo than Robinson Cano or Brandon Phillips.

Red Faber, P

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    The last American League pitcher permitted to throw a spitball, Red Faber spent his entire 20-year career with the Chicago White Sox, winning 254 games and throwing in four games of the 1917 World Series, including the series clinching Game 6.

    Between not being allowed to use his primary pitch and his penchant for allowing the opposition to get on base—11.7 per nine innings—Faber would be hard pressed to duplicate his past success today.

Rick Ferrell, C

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    Rick Ferrell was as durable a catcher as the game has ever seen, catching 1,806 games over an 18-year career that was primarily split between the St. Louis Browns and Boston Red Sox.

    While durability counts for something, Ferrell was a mediocre defender and was essentially a contact hitter at the plate, flashing little in the power department with only 28 home runs on his career. Brad Ausmus, who spent the bulk of his career as a solid but unspectacular catcher for the Houston Astros, would be a modern-day comparison for Ferrell.

Bob Gibson, SP

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    One of the greatest starting pitchers to ever toe the rubber, Bob Gibson spent his entire 17-year career with the St. Louis Cardinals, picking up two Cy Young awards and two World Series rings along the way.

    His 1968 season remains one of the greatest seasons any pitcher has ever had: 22-9 with a 1.12 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 28 complete games,13 shutouts and 268 strikeouts.

    Like Drysdale, Gibson needed to be able to throw inside to be as dominant as he was—and we know that umpires and the league office frowns upon that these days.

    Thankfully, I'm not the only one who thinks that Gibson (and Drysdale) would have issues playing in today's game. Said Gibson's teammate, manager and fellow Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst: "He couldn't pitch today because they wouldn't let him. The way he'd throw inside, he'd be kicked out of the game in the first inning, along with guys like Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax."

Lefty Gomez, SP

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    Lefty Gomez was a solid pitcher who spent the bulk of his career with the Yankees, appearing in only one game for the Washington Senators in 1943 before calling it a career.

    While his career numbers are solid at first glance—a record of 189-102, a 3.34 ERA and 1.35 WHIP—Gomez was one of the more hittable pitchers that you'll find in the Hall of Fame.

    He allowed more than eight hits per nine innings, and while he led the American League in strikeouts on three different occasions, his career 5.3 K/9 ratio doesn't give you a warm, fuzzy feeling that he had the ability to miss bats when he needed to.

Burleigh Grimes, P

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    The last National League pitcher allowed to throw the spitball, Burleigh Grimes spent 18 of his 19 major league seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

    A five-time 20-game winner, Grimes walked nearly as many batters as he struck out while allowing 9.5 hits per nine innings. Between his lackluster peripheral stats and the fact that his primary pitch has since been outlawed, Grimes would struggle mightily today.

Jesse Haines, SP

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    Jesse Haines played all but one game of his 18-year career with the St. Louis Cardinals, picking up 210 wins, including three seasons of 20 or more.

    As with many of the other pitchers on this list, Haines wasn't a strikeout artist—in fact, he walked almost as many batters as he faced, and he allowed nearly 10 hits per nine innings of work. Were he playing today, Haines wouldn't be much more than a back-of-the-rotation starter or a long man out of someone's bullpen.

George Kell, 3B

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    It's possible that George Kell would be a solid major league player today, but a Hall of Famer? Unlikely.

    A career .306 hitter who played above average defense, Kell had little-to-no power in his game, which is something that has essentially become a prerequisite to manning the hot corner today. He'd be Placido Polanco with a better glove, and while that's not a terrible thing to be, it's not exactly a path to greatness either.

Waite Hoyt, SP

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    Another quality pitcher from the first half of the 1900s, Waite Hoyt finished his 23-year major league career with 237 wins, the vast majority of those coming during a 10-year stint with the Yankees from 1921 through 1930.

    As with some of the other pitchers on this list, Hoyte's success can be attributed more to the teams that he played on—the great Yankees teams that featured Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Tony Lazzeri—rather than his individual talent.

    Hoyt was no strikeout machine, with a career K/9 ratio of 2.4, and he allowed a ridiculous 9.7 hits per nine innings. Hoyte may still have won his fair share of games on a good team were he to play today, but he certainly wouldn't be considered as one of the better pitchers in the game.

Bob Lemon, SP

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    Bob Lemon spent his entire 13-year playing career as a member of the Cleveland Indians, winning 20 games or more on four different occasions.

    However, if we take a closer look at Lemon's numbers, he was a mediocre pitcher at best. He walked as many batters as he struck out (four per nine innings of work) while giving up just over eight hits per game.

    Allowing an average of 12 batters to reach base, in today's game, is a recipe for disaster, and chances are that Lemon would find himself as nothing more than a fourth or fifth starter were he playing today.

Ted Lyons, P

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    Like Red Faber, Ted Lyons spent his entire career with the Chicago White Sox, a career that lasted 21 years during which he posted a 260-230 record.

    The only pitcher in the Hall of Fame to have walked more batters than he struck out, Lyons also allowed nearly 10 hits per nine innings of work—a combination for disaster. While he may have been able to succeed with a powerful offense behind him, there's virtually no chance that he would reach the same level of success today that he had in the 1920s and 1930s.

Rabbit Maranville, SS

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    A 23-year veteran, Rabbit Maranville was a speedy shortstop who spent 15 years playing for the Boston Braves in the first half of the last century.

    While he was solid with the glove and a threat to steal once on base, Maranville was below average at the plate, posting a career slash line of .258/318/.340 with 28 home runs and 840 RBI. Those kinds of numbers don't scream everyday starter, and Maranville likely would be nothing more than a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch-runner were he playing today.

Rube Marquard, SP

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    Some would say that Rube Marquard is the most glaring example of a player who doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame, but the fact remains that he's a member—and he's not going anywhere.

    While the career ERA of 3.08 looks impressive on paper, Marquard was nothing more than an average pitcher during the 1910s, and average pitchers struggle far more often than the true aces of the game.

    If you're looking for a modern day comparison, think Tommy John, but throw in some more strikeouts; a decent pitcher who threw together a few excellent seasons, but at the end of the day he really wasn't anything special.

Bill Mazeroski, 2B

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    Best known for his home run in the 1960 World Series that some consider the biggest home run ever hit and widely regarded as the best defensive second baseman ever, Bill Mazeroski's mediocre offensive game would spell trouble for the Hall of Famer were he playing today.

    With a career batting line of .260/.299/.367, Maz wouldn't be much more than a utility player in today's game, where second basemen are expected to be significant contributors on offense. Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, Brandon Phillips, Ian Kinsler and even Dan Uggla are leaps and bounds ahead of where Mazeroski was offensively, even at his peak.

Herb Pennock, SP

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    It's not Herb Pennock's fault that he was traded to the Yankees just as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were about to kick their Hall of Fame careers into overdrive, but his success can absolutely be tied to playing with two of the legendary figures in the history of professional sports.

    Over 11 years with the Yankees, from 1923 through 1933, Pennock posted a 162-90 record to go along with a 3.60 ERA and 1.34 WHIP, numbers that would be solid today but, for the time that he played, were rather pedestrian.

    For a modern-day comparison, think David Wells, who while he had some outstanding seasons, was essentially nothing more than an average starting pitcher.

Gaylord Perry, P

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    The most beloved cheater in the history of the game, Gaylord Perry carved out a Hall of Fame career over 22 years by breaking nearly every rule in the book.

    Perry, who won 314 games by doctoring the baseball with whatever he could find, routinely throwing the spitball even though it had been outlawed years earlier. Batters were convinced that Perry was always doctoring the ball even when he was not, resulting in umpires routinely checking Perry on the mound for foreign substances.

    Wildly entertaining, Perry's schtick wouldn't fly in baseball today. Between the lashing he'd take in the media and the fines and suspensions that would come down from Bud Selig's office, Perry would be hard pressed to play for as long or as well as he did over the course of his career.

Phil Rizzuto, SS

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    A solid defensive shortstop who used his speed to his advantage, Phil Rizzuto was a light-hitting shortstop who played on the great Yankees' teams of the 1940s and 50s.

    While he had a keen batting eye that resulted in him finishing his career with nearly 300 more walks than strikeouts and a career on-base percentage of .351, his lifetime OPS of .706 is more indicative of a utility player than a starting shortstop in today's game.

Robin Roberts, SP

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    The only pitcher in major league history to beat the Braves in all three cities that they called home—Atlanta, Boston and Milwaukee—Robin Roberts spent the bulk of his 19-year career pitching for the Phillies, winning at least 20 games for six consecutive years from 1950 through the 1955 season.

    For as successful as he was, Roberts allowed nearly a hit an inning and while he struck out more than twice as many batters as he walked, the right-hander had a tendency to serve up the long ball, allowing 505 over the course of his career.

    Giving up that many hits and home runs would be a recipe for disaster today, where the players are faster and stronger than ever.

Red Ruffing, SP

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    Red Ruffing is another example of a Hall of Fame pitcher who racked up a high win total for his career (273) largely due to the teams that he played on, not so much because of his own natural ability.

    Ruffing spent 22 years in the big leagues, primarily with the Yankees, for whom he would win at least 20 games for four consecutive seasons from 1936 through 1939.

    While his career numbers of a 3.80 ERA and 1.34 WHIP would be considered solid today, Ruffing wasn't a big-time strikeout artist and he walked nearly as many batters as he whiffed. Pair that with the fact that he allowed nearly a hit an inning, and you have a lesser version of Jack Morris.

Joe Tinker, SS

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    Another part of the famed Tinker-Evans-Chance double-play combination, Joe Tinker was a speedy shortstop who excelled in the field but was forgettable at the plate.

    As with his partner Johnny Evers, Tinker was a light-hitting infielder who had virtually no power, but one who could cause some problems for the opposition when he got on base, averaging 26 stolen bases a season. Of course, getting on base was a bit of a chore for him, evidenced by his career .308 on-base percentage.

    Statistically we could compare him to someone like Ozzie Guillen, but his inability to get on base with any regularity would probably have pushed Tinker to a utility infielder role were he playing today.

Rube Waddell, SP

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    There's no question that Rube Waddell was an incredibly talented pitcher who would be successful today were raw talent the only factor being taken into account.

    But when it came to personality and being able to handle the intense attention, pressure and scrutiny that comes along with being a ballplayer today, Waddell would have been an unmitigated disaster.

    Like a young child or a dog, Waddell was often distracted by shiny objects held by fans in the stands. It wasn't uncommon to find him missing from the dugout during a game, only to find that he'd run off after a firetruck that was racing to a fire.

    Whatever his issues were developmentally, Waddell would be eaten alive in today's game by the fans, the opposition, and the media for his antics, which quite possibly were no fault of his own and could perhaps have been treated with modern day medication.

Lloyd Waner, CF

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    Patrolling center field next to his brother Paul, who was in right field, Lloyd Waner teamed up with his older brother to drive the Pirates' offense in the 1920s and 30s.

    While he ended his 17-year career with a .316 lifetime batting average, Lloyd was nothing more than a glorified singles hitter. Nearly 83 percent of the 2,459 hits that he accumulated were singles—which wouldn't be a problem if he had world-class speed, allowing him to cause havoc on the basepaths.

    He didn't. Waner would be nothing more than a glorified singles hitter today. And while there's nothing wrong with that, one-dimensional players with little else to offer don't generally last long in today's game.