We all know of the baseball greats, the players whose performances have stood the tests of time. Sandy Koufax, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Lefty Grove, not to mention the obvious ones. We know of those who are leading the charge in today's game. Josh Hamilton, Tim Lincecum, Albert Pujols, Joe Mauer, just to name a few.
The best in the game match up with the best of yesteryear, sometimes in ways that can be surprising. In the October 24 New York Times, George Vecsey compares Josh Hamilton to Mickey Mantle in ways that surprised myself. The two were troubled, yet were two of the best hitters of their respective eras.
This is just one of many comparisons between 20 of the top players in baseball and their respective historical counterparts. The comparisons are based on build, ability, stats, and just about anything else that makes a baseball player a baseball player, for better or worse.
These two greats get many, many comparisons. Both are great, power-hitting outfielders, and both are great five-tool players. Their similarities in their personal lives, however, bring the comparison to another level.
Vecsey's New York Times article below, published a few days ago, shows the similarities very well: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/25/sports/25vecsey.html?_r=1
How well does this work out? Two of the most beloved players in St. Louis history just happen to be very much alike. Both are first baseman, both have hit for power and average, both are multiple MVP winners, and both were the face of the Cardinals' franchise.
The similarities do not end there though. If one were to watch a video of their swings side by side, the two are almost identical. Everything's the same except for some miniscule differences (Pujols' follow-through is one-handed, Musial's was two-handed).
The Lincecum-Koufax comparison has been thrown around quite a bit. Both are lanky hurlers with similar deliveries, and their strikeout numbers are both tops at their times. Koufax's K/9 inning peak was 10.5, as was Lincecum's, and both are no question the aces for very good pitching rotations.
Giants fans are hoping, I'm sure, that the end of Lincecum's career doesn't match Koufax's.
Here's an easy one. Walter Johnson was the longtime Washington Senators ace who became one of the first five hall of famers. His 110 shutouts is unrivaled, and his 417 wins could be even higher if he had played for a winner.
Roy Halladay is the same way. His 169 wins could have been higher on the Yankees or Red Sox, and his 58 complete games and 19 shutouts dwarf any other active player. While he did later become a Phillie, he stayed loyal to Toronto for a long time.
Derek Jeter was a tough one to figure out. All-around shortstops are not easy to come by, but with Barry Larkin, the two fit together surprisingly well. Aside from being right-handed shortstops who can fit nearly anywhere in the lineup (but were best as a #2 or 3 hitter), the two stuck with their teams throughout their careers and were among the faces of their franchise.
Finding a great pitcher with Sabathia's abilities are not too difficult. Finding a pitcher with Sabathia's ability, height, and weight, is a much taller order. The closest person we can get on this one is David Wells. Both had great careers, both took a while to hit their peaks, and both won World Series titles with the Yankees.
Evan Longoria and Chipper Jones seem to be two peas in a pod. Especially with the apparent gap in top third baseman in between the two, Longoria and Jones are often compared. Both started off highly regarded young batters in their farm systems, and developed into great players quite quickly.
I'm sure Rays fans would love to see him play like Chipper Jones and be the face of the franchise for many years to come.
There have been comparisons after Lee's recent performances in the playoffs to Sandy Koufax. While these aren't unfounded, a more accurate depiction would be Randy Johnson. Looking past the obvious height and delivery differences, the two are quite similar.
Both rose to greatness late (both their first great seasons came at 29), both can strike out without difficulty, and Johnson's half season with Houston seems to mirror Lee's half-season with Philadelphia in terms of dominance. It would be great to see Lee even come near some of the Big Unit's numbers, but since he's just now hitting his stride, it could happen.
I'm trying to avoid comparing lefty and righty pitchers, but here is a notable exception. Hernandez and Carlton are two fireballers who got their starts early. Hernandez led the league in batters faced this year and looks to do so many times, much like Carlton did. Hernandez can get wild, but so did Carlton; both had double-digit wild pitch counts many times.
Beyond that, many Hernandez for Cy Young supporters are comparing his season with Carlton's 1972 season, when his sub-2.00 ERA and 27 wins (nearly half of his team's) got him the Cy. While it's not a great comparison (27-10 is a Cy win total, unlike 13-12), the fact that King Felix is getting these comparisons is a great sign for him.
I hate to bring up MLB politics and the like by combining A-Rod and BB, so I'm taking a different approach. Let's look at Rodriguez and Bonds when they were just started out, Seattle v. Pittsburgh. Both were five-tool players who could steal, hit, hit for power, field, not strike out much, and score a lot of runs.
Any further comparisons, whether fair or not have already been made time and time again.
Another comparison that seems to fit all too well.
Sam Crawford, the deadball era star of the Tigers, is baseball's all-time triples leader, a .300 hitter, and was a force in the outfield. Carl Crawford is the active triples leader and actually has a chance to take over Sam's record. Both are ideal leadoff hitters who can get a rally going immediately.
Some compare him to Rickey Henderson, but this seems a more apt comparison to me, even if the elder Crawford didn't steal as often.
If one just looks at stats on this one, it doesn't make too much sense. After all, Oswalt's win-loss record looks more comparable to Dizzy Dean's right now than Bunning's. If we look at it through the eyes of the Phillies though, it makes more sense.
Both players had 20 game win seasons and were leading the league in games started, yet around 30, their win-loss records began to fall. They were still pitching well, but it was more difficult to see. After both signed with the Phillies at 32, a major turnaround ensued. Oswalt went 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA in his first part of the season, and Bunning went 19-8 and onward to a Hall of Fame career.
It's rather astounding how well these two fit. When Frank Robinson burst onto the scene in 1956, he was hitting for average and power without a problem. Miguel Cabrera was the same way, having hit 100 RBi in nearly every season of his career.
Beyond that, if one looks at Robinson's stats through 30, they're as follows: .304 AVG, 373 HR, 1131 RBI, 1855 hits. That sounds like a very realistic picture of where Cabrera will be when he reaches 30. All Cabrera needs is a couple of MVP trophies and the two will really look alike.
When Joey Votto and Jeff Bagwell entered their fourth seasons, they branched out into another level. Votto led the league in OPS, finished in the top three in batting average, HR, and RBI, and led the Reds to the playoffs. Bagwell, meanwhile, easily led the league in OPS, had nearly identical HR/RBI totals to Votto, and won the MVP that year.
The two are a staple at first base for their respective teams, and the Reds are hoping hsi career does turn out like Bagwell's.
Okay, one more lefty-righty split. It took both Spahn and Wainwright until their mid-20s to become staples in their rotation, but once they did, the 19-20 game win seasons just kept coming. They have their own pitching duos as well (Wainwright/Carpenter v. Spahn/Sain).
It's tough to say if this will hold up, since Wainwright is just coming into greatness now, and Spahn pitched until his mid-40s. If Wainwright fails to win a Cy Young Award this year again, then it's not too bad. Despite his great seasons, Spahn didn't win one until he was 36, though he probably should have won others.
Joe Mauer is easily one of the best hitters in the game, let alone hitting catchers. Bill Dickey, likewise, was the premiere hitting catcher of his time. Both lefties, both hit .300 just about every year, and both hit enough RBIs and extra base hits to be productive.
Another one that's a stretch, but when you look at when both were healthy, the two are similar. Both right-handed first basemen, Irvin was a walk machine, getting 70 in 1954. In his career year for the majors, 1951, he hit .312 with 24 HR, 121 RBI and 89 walks.
The walks aren't too far off from the Greek God of Walks' career high (91), and his career year of .312/29/115 looks pretty similar as well.
When one speaks of Bob Gibson, the 1968 season comes to mind. Even though he had a league-leading 1.12 ERA, he somehow still had nine losses. For Johnson, despite a league-leading 2.30 ERA this past season, he only had a 10-6 record to show for it.
What actually makes these two comparable though, is that they're the workhorses of their rotations. They keep their ERA down, they especially limit home runs, and even when their win-loss record doesn't show it, they seem to have amazing seasons.
Justin Morneau's career may already be looking better than McGriff's, seeing as how he has an MVP award. Nonetheless, both these lefties have had up and down years as the top bat in their staffs batting average-wise, but when they're on they can hit .320 pretty well. Both can draw walks, both have great HR and RBI totals, and both are first basemen that a team would not want to do without.
This is not a cop-out. Look at all of his stats and his demeanor throughout everything. His approach to the plate, his enormous hit numbers, his low (given his hits) OBP, and everything else. The way that Ichiro plays the game is just different than any other baseball great.
Ricvkey Henderson doesn't have the at-bats. Earle Combs doesn't have the stolen bases. Others may have played the game like Ichiro but weren't great at it. He, more than any other player on here, is unique to the game.