Position Players by WAR: Liveball Era

Baseball Prehistory | Deadball Era | Liveball Era | Post-War
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Last week we covered the position players of the Deadball Era. Our next stop is the Liveball Era. Although the names of the era make it obvious – the Deadball Era was characterized by low run scoring – the Liveball Era saw rise to the home run, Babe Ruth, and an offensive explosion that changed the way the game was played:

The Liveball Era players are ones I am much more familiar with. One fifth of the players in the Hall of Fame are from the Liveball era. There should be a good reason for that. The Hall of Fame was originally established in 1936. The first players inducted were people from the Liveball Era. A special committee of experts was created to select the best players on the 19th century for induction, but the whole process was botched. Initially, the voters averaged about 10 players per ballot, but the Hall of Fame folks only wanted to vote in five players. So they counted each vote as half a vote.

If you need 75% for induction, and each vote only counts for half, there isn’t much of a chance anyone will actually get inducted. So instead of getting five people in the Hall from the 19th century, none of them got in. As a result, the backlog of players that needed to be inducted made things slower in future elections. Instead of inducting a lot of the Liveball Era greats, the 19th century players took up space on the ballot, and diluted the voting. The Veterans’ Committee picked up the slack, resulting in 48 total players from this era being inducted to the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, the Hall of Merit thinks only 33 of those players were actually worthy.

The end of the Liveball Era was the start of WWII. Over 500 MLB players fought in the war, and the talent level dropped from 1941-1945, as did scoring.

Here is the first half of the Liveball Era:

And here’s the second half:

When I updated the methodology behind the ordering, I remade the graphs. The previous versions are available here and here

If we had to do it all over again, who would we elect from this time period? If you had a ballot, who would you vote for?

Player list (career WAR in parentheses):

Babe Ruth (177.7) Rogers Hornsby (134.9)
Lou Gehrig (125.9) Mel Ott (116.1)
Jimmie Foxx (112.3) Joe DiMaggio (92)
Charlie Gehringer (88.1) Luke Appling (84.7)
Paul Waner (79.2) Frankie Frisch (78.8)
Al Simmons (78.5) Harry Heilmann (78.1)
Joe Cronin (75.4) Arky Vaughan (74.3)
Goose Goslin (71.9) Johnny Mize (71.8)
Lou Boudreau (69.8) Hank Greenberg (68.2)
Joe Gordon (67.2) Bob Johnson (66.4)
Bill Dickey (63.8) George Sisler (62.8)
Bill Terry (61.1) Stan Hack (59)
Sam Rice (58.4) Billy Herman (56.9)
Tony Lazzeri (56.7) Joe Medwick (56.3)
Kiki Cuyler (56.2) Gabby Hartnett (56.1)
Mickey Cochrane (55.9) Earl Averill (55)
Edd Roush (54.7) Joe Sewell (54.3)
Dave Bancroft (53.8) Joe Judge (52.9)
Buddy Myer (51.4) Charlie Keller (50.4)
Ben Chapman (50.1) Travis Jackson (49.6)
Heinie Manush (49.4) Dixie Walker (48.5)
Harlond Clift (47.1) Chuck Klein (46.5)
Earle Combs (46.3) Babe Herman (46.2)
Augie Galan (46.1) Dick Bartell (45.7)
Hack Wilson (45.6) Bill Nicholson (45.5)
Ken Williams (45.5) Dolph Camilli (45.4)
Rudy York (44.7) Tommy Henrich (44.6)
Jack Fournier (44.4) Wally Berger (44.3)
Ernie Lombardi (43.8) Jeff Heath (43.8)
Jimmie Dykes (42.8) Jim Bottomley (42.5)
Max Bishop (42.3) Pie Traynor (42.2)
Ken Keltner (41.8) Lonny Frey (41.2)
Cy Williams (41) Wally Moses (40.9)
Phil Cavarretta (38.9) Wally Pipp (38.8)
Hal Trosky (38.6) George Grantham (38.4)
George Burns (38.1) Ross Youngs (38)
Lu Blue (38) Joe Kuhel (37.4)
Willie Kamm (37.4) Roy Cullenbine (36.7)
Riggs Stephenson (36.7) Pinky Higgins (36.5)
Frank McCormick (36.4) Frankie Crosetti (35.8)
Chick Hafey (35.4) Cecil Travis (34.5)
Marty Marion (34.4) Freddie Lindstrom (34.4)
Sam West (34.3) Marty McManus (34.2)
Rick Ferrell (34.1) Tony Cuccinello (33.8)
Bob Meusel (33.7)


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15 Responses to “Position Players by WAR: Liveball Era”

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  1. brett says:

    Cool stuff but your two graphs are identical, are they not? I think you used the same half twice.

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  2. Cliff Lee's Changeup says:

    I think some guy named Babe Ruth probably earned a ticket

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  3. Gary York says:

    I note with some interest that there are several players at 100+ WAR. However, between 90-99.9 there are no more players, and 80-89.9 there are only two more players. Plenty of players start appearing in the 70s.

    Not a normal distribution curve.

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    • theflash141 says:

      Might of been a normal distribution had it not just been a bunch of white guys playing. My guess is a lot of the 80-100 WAR guys were playing in the Negro Leagues.

      On another note, why is Rabbit Maranville in the Hall and not Bob Johnson?

      Rabbit managed 50.5 WAR over 23 years for an average of about 2.2 WAR/season (with all three of his 5+ WAR years coming in the Deadball Era).

      Bob Johnson, on the other hand, accrued 66.4 WAR over 13 years for an average of 5.1 WAR/season (all were played in the Liveball Era). His magnum opus came in 1939 when he put up a .450 wOBA and 7.2 WAR.

      Johnson also didn’t even start his career until he was 27.

      Maranville may have been lauded for his defense and played a longer career, but .258/.318./.340 is awful by any and all standards, especially next to Johnson’s .296/.393/.506 slash line.

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    • bcp33bosox says:

      As I mentioned below, the war seemed to have a possible affect as well on players like Greenberg, Gehringer, and Aplling.

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      • bcp33bosox says:

        Gary, I’d just like to add a few thoughts…I am not sure any of the players I mentioned above (or others I didn’t notice) could have been in the WAR 90 range that you mentioned was missing, but seems possible, especially for Appling or Gehringer. And though they are the two WAR 80s players you mentioned, it is possible Greenberg and Gordon could have been WAR 80 players.

        Also there are a couple points I would like to make. One is that WWII most likely affected the distribution curve regardless of WAR 90s… Even players who did not serve could have been adversely affected by it (perceived lack of interest from fans or general concern for their country? Either way the talent level and scoring dropped, which could have affected some players competitiveness and overall ambition… maybe I am strecthing here).

        A second is that none of the players over WAR 100 were affected by WWII, most likely due to age, as many of there careers were finished by then or in their twighlight. A few of them, like Cobb and Speaker even played in the Deadball Era, but played past Joshua’s cut off point, so they are included in the Liveball Era. Others, like Foxx, Ruth and Ott were the younger generation of the Liveball Era.

        Finally a gap between the elite players of an era who are arguably some of the all time greats, (in this era over WAR 100) and the greats (in 70-80s range), would possibly seem to be more noticeable when looking at only the one specific era.

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  4. Dan G says:

    “One fifth of the players from the Liveball era are in the Hall of Fame.” Did you mean “one fifth of the players in the Hall of Fame are from the Liveball era?” I’m a big Hall kind of guy but 20% is a little high even for me. ;-)

    Cool to see Ken Keltner at the bottom of the chart from Bill James famous Keltner list.

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  5. kds says:

    Dan G.; read Bill James’ book on the HOF, “The Politics of Glory”. Shows the % of PAs by HOFers throughout MLB history. (He was writing about 1993 so this only goes into the 70’s) The long term average is about 10%, for the Liveball era it is about 20%, with a max of 24% in 1929. Thanks Veterans Committee .

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  6. SF 55 for life says:

    OK let’s begin:
    1st list- Zach Wheat, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Johnny Evers, Eddie Collins, George Sisler, Harry Heilmann, Hack Wilson, Babe Ruth, Bill Terry, Rogers Hornsby, Frankie Frisch, Mickey Cochrane, Goose Goslin, and Lou Gehrig.

    2nd List- Tony Lazzeri, Gabby Hartnett, Earl Averill, Charlie Gehringer, Al Simmons, Jimmie Foxx, Paul Waner, Joe Cronin, Bill Dickey, Mel Ott, Hank Greenberg, Arky Vaughan, Joe Medwick, Luke Appling, and Joe Gordon.

    By my math that is 31 players deserving of the hall of fame. The most by any era so far. Oh, by the way you don’t have Rick Ferrell in bold. He was elected by the VC in ’84.

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  7. bcp33bosox says:

    Yeah the names from this era are definitely more familiar…the graph certainly shows Speaker, Cobb, Ruth, Gehrig, Foxx, Collins, Ott and Hornsby stand out even against the best from the era.

    The gaps from WWII are pretty interesting and easily noticeable on many of the players (I guess I am assuming that is what *some* of the gaps are on the players I am less familiar with). I don’t think I realized how many MLBers served (500), though I knew big names like Greenberg (and from the Post War Era: Williams, Musial, Snider, DiMaggio and Robinson) did. Maybe Greenberg, Gehringer, Vaughan and Aplling could have been in that WAR 90+ range that Gary York mentioned was missing. But it certainly seems that it could have affected the distribution curve.

    Williams (who also served in Korea) and the others from the Post War Era, should have similar gaps along with, I assume, some other players from that era that I don’t know. I’d be interested to know, how many from Joshua’s top 500 WAR list missed significant time from serving? (I was able to find how many HOFers served and I posted the link below.) If WWII, arguably (even though it seems obvious, they could have been injured or had terrible seasons) took some productive seasons away from HOFers, it may have taken away productive seasons from cusp players that prevented them from getting elected (Tommy Henrich?).

    Link of the HOFers who served:


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    • bcp33bosox says:

      Vaughan’s gap was not due to the war. My apologies, I should have researched that better before posting…from his Wikipedia page:

      “Normally a reserved player, Vaughan got into a clubhouse fight with temperamental manager Leo Durocher late in 1943. He sat out the next three years before returning in 1947.”

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