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The most underrated players in baseball history

Aug 15, 2014, 11:07 AM EDT

Mickey Mantle AP

Graham Womack of Baseball: Past and Present has been going decade by decade to identify baseball’s most underrated players. Today he has his final installment –covering the 1990s through today, with links back to the 60s-70s-80s, the 30s-40s-50s and the 00s-10s-20s.

You’re gonna love the choice for the most underrated of the 1990s. Word on the street is that I worship him.

Really, though: for many of these decades, note that the most underrated is often the best. Which says a lot about how we tend to misapprehend what true baseball greatness actually is.

  1. nobody78 - Aug 15, 2014 at 11:19 AM

    “Which says a lot about how we tend to misapprehend what true baseball greatness actually is.”

    Or about how much Graham Womack tends to misapprehend what it means to be underrated.

    • SocraticGadfly - Aug 15, 2014 at 11:51 AM

      Yes. Jeter the Father, Jeter the Son and Jeter the Holy Ghost was supposed to be in all three spots. Where’s this Graham Womack guy get off on not overrating the underrated Jeter?

      • nobody78 - Aug 15, 2014 at 12:02 PM


        Anyway, I think Davis, Fletcher, Nettles, and Evans are reasonable calls, though I only really agree with Nettles and Fletcher. That said, I think the intuition that a player who is almost-universally regarded as one of the very few best in baseball during a given era can’t be the most underrated is basically right.

        One good indication that a player is underrated is that he’d be an average or even above average Hall of Famer, but never gets even a whiff of serious consideration for inductation. By that measure, Lou Whitaker would be my choice for the 80s. In fact, I think Whitaker has a good case as the single most underrated player in MLB history.

      • nobody78 - Aug 15, 2014 at 12:03 PM

        sigh, “inductation.” INDUCTION!

      • SocraticGadfly - Aug 15, 2014 at 12:18 PM

        Sorry my anti-Jeter snark didn’t come through. Agreed that most of the choices other than Barry Fücking Bonds aren’t bad, but Sweet Lou has a definite argument. That said, in the 70s, I might push Grich ahead of Nettles.

      • pete2112 - Aug 15, 2014 at 12:36 PM

        SocraticGadfly, spread the hate.

  2. pete2112 - Aug 15, 2014 at 11:31 AM

    Just shoot me now.

  3. SocraticGadfly - Aug 15, 2014 at 11:39 AM

    Fück. Bonds pre-2000 is only “underrated” because of his 2000-on roids numbers. Seriously?

    • someguyinva - Aug 15, 2014 at 12:15 PM

      I sense among at least some who are opposed to Bonds in the HoF (and I’m not projecting this assumption on you, SocraticGadfly) that there’s the thought that Bonds would not be a Hall of Famer without the PEDs, and nothing could be further from the truth.

      The article says he had a career WAR of 76.1 from 1990-98; that’s 71st all time, and well ahead of many Hall of Famers. His career WAR from ’86 through ”98 was 99.5, if my calculations are correct, which would’ve landed him 32nd, between Warren Spahn and Jimmie Foxx, if he’d just stopped playing after ’98. (That 32nd would have him behind ARod and Clemens, by the way, so one could claim top 30 all time as a clean player.)

      Could be that’s what’s driving the underrated during the 90s narrative in the article.

      • SocraticGadfly - Aug 15, 2014 at 12:26 PM

        Oh, no, I think he still would be a HOFer.

        On counting stats, without all the intentional walks, he surely would have broken 3K hits. He still would have broken 500 HRs, easily.

        Let’s start with 2000 on HRs, since he didn’t have a huge uptick in 1999. He had 317 dingers from 2000 out, or 445 up to 1999. If I give him 155 HRs from 2000 on, not unreasonable, and he gets the 3K hits, he joins just Mays and Aaron in 600HRs/3,000 hits.

        On WAR, we’ll do a quick and dirty 20-point deduction. He’s still above 140 career WAR at that point. Actually, deducting 19.8 career WAR points ties him with Aaron for 5th all time among position players.

        I’ve always thought he (and the Rocket) would be HOFers, and even first ballot ones (Clemens breaks 275 wins for sure, most likely 300, without his PEDs) without “help.”

        Others? Doubtful. Raffy Palmeiro without “help” is just a slightly longer career version of Keith Hernandez, for example.

  4. SocraticGadfly - Aug 15, 2014 at 11:47 AM

    Rolen, for the “aughts,” I could halfway buy, though I could counter with another ex-Card, Jim Edmonds.

    • stex52 - Aug 15, 2014 at 12:03 PM

      He would be near the top of my list. I used to love to watch Edmonds play.

    • jrob23 - Aug 15, 2014 at 12:22 PM

      was going to post this as well. Edmonds might be the most underrated of all time. He probably should have won the GG every season if not for losing the popularity contest early on which resulted in his competitors trying to convince others that he showboated and such, but I have never seen a better CF. His offensive numbers are similar to Jim Rice and should warrant HOF consideration but when you combine his defense he seems like a shoo in. He was kept in the minors for one maybe two seasons too long as well so he got kind of a late start.

      But I suspect he won’t get in for some reason, maybe because he had some great protection, never led the league in any categories and he played in the steroid era.

  5. Detroit Michael - Aug 15, 2014 at 12:05 PM

    I tend to think Randy Johnson is very underrated and will become more so with time.

    RJ played at the same time as Clemens, Maddux and Pedro Martinez and, unlike them, has no reasonable argument as the best pitcher in baseball history. However, Johnson might be among the top 25 players in baseball history, definitely an all-time great.

  6. stex52 - Aug 15, 2014 at 12:06 PM

    It’s hard to say that a writer who goes after “most underrated players” and comes back with Mantle, Bonds, Hornsby and Lefty Grove was trying very hard. Everyone knows those guys were great.

    Reach a little harder and come up with some names that aren’t so universally known.

    • historiophiliac - Aug 15, 2014 at 12:27 PM

      Maybe he didn’t understand what “underrated” meant.

  7. karlkolchak - Aug 15, 2014 at 12:23 PM

    I have to concur with the other posters. How could a guy who was named in the song “Willie, Mickey and the Duke” be considered UNDERATED. Give me a break.

    An underated guy would be one who is great for bad teams and doesn’t get a lot of publicity. Steve Rogers, for example, won 158 games in 13 seasons had a career ERA of 3.17 while striking out 1621 batters and was a five time All Star, but because he did it all in Montreal he might as well have been playing in Australia for all that most baseball fans outside of Quebec remember him. THAT is underrated.

    • SocraticGadfly - Aug 15, 2014 at 12:30 PM

      He actually played about evenly between 60s and 70s, but here is some (warning: controversy alert!) who could be most underrated for the 60s.

  8. thinkfirstthenspeak - Aug 15, 2014 at 12:46 PM

    I’d vote for Olerud as most underrated in the 90s. .888 OPS for the decade and averaged 4 WAR per season.

    But in that time, he made only 1 All Star game and when he was up for the Hall got .7% vote. In 93, he finished 3rd in MVP voting behind Thomas and Molitor, both of who were worth significantly less wins than he. In 98, he finished 13th in the vote while only Bonds of the 12 in front were worth more.

    He was definitely underrated at the time and might be the most underrated for the decade.

  9. yahmule - Aug 15, 2014 at 1:49 PM

    Words have meaning, Graham.

  10. lpsjlb - Aug 15, 2014 at 5:26 PM

    Tony Olivia.
    8× All-Star (1964–1971)
    AL Rookie of the Year (1964)
    Gold Glove Award (1966)
    3× AL batting champion (1964, 1965, 1971)

    Enough said.

  11. bajamex - Aug 15, 2014 at 7:24 PM

    Womack in his next analysis will name Babe Ruth as the most underrated player all time, closely followed by Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, with special consideration to Foxx, Cobb and Spahn.

  12. raysfan1 - Aug 15, 2014 at 8:17 PM

    1980’s: Jack Morris (just kidding)

  13. joestemme - Aug 15, 2014 at 8:55 PM

    Any time I see Dwight Evans’ name mentioned, that’s a good thing. Although I’m not sure why Womack doesn’t mention Defense more prominantly. 8 Gold Gloves and one of the most feared outfield arms in the last half century at least.

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