The other day I read an article on Bleacher Report by a guy named Shawn McPartlin about the 50 most overrated baseball players of all time. Now, I understand that different people are going to have different opinions on a player’s value and whether he’s overrated or not. People’s definition of “overrated” may also differ. But some of these choices are either misguided or just plain wrong and the whole article ends up as a complete joke.
Some of the choices for this list are a little weird. For example, everyone knows about Brady Anderson’s 50-HR season but nobody thinks that was normal for him, so I wouldn’t call him overrated. Nobody except the most die-hard (and delusional) Yankees or A’s fan thinks of Scott Brosius as anything other than a pretty decent 3rd baseman. McPartlin specifically says that Lou Brock “belongs in the Hall of Fame”, so how can he be overrated? In addition, we all know that Brock is in there primarily because of his outstanding base stealing ability – nobody thinks it was because of the hundreds of home runs he didn’t hit. Who thinks of Omar Vizquel or Ozzie Smith as anything other than excellent defensive shortstops? Joe Carter was a good player, a good hitter, and a good guy who had one outstanding and unforgettable at-bat, but nobody would list him among the greats, so calling him overrated is unfair – and I’m a Blue Jay fan, the most likely to put Carter on a pedestal.
Dave Stewart won 20 games four years in a row (from 1987 to 1990), and then never won more than 12 in a season after that. McPartlin says of Stewart, “Consistency makes you a great player. Glimpses of greatness makes you overrated.” Nonsense. Glimpses of greatness makes you a good player who had, well, glimpses of greatness. If people latch onto those glimpses and think your whole career was like that, that is overrated. Overrated refers to how you are rated, i.e. how people remember you. If people were to think about Dave Stewart as the most dominant pitcher of the 80’s and 90’s, then yes, he would be overrated. He was very good, and maybe one of the most dominant pitchers of those four years, but anything more than that is a stretch. But who thinks of Stewart as anything more than that? Nobody I know.
The listing of Nolan Ryan as the most overrated player of all time is just funny. If you get to 3,000 strikeouts in your career, you’re almost a lock for the hall of fame, and here’s a guy with well over 5,000, almost 1,000 more than second place. He won over 300 games, was an All-Star 8 times, and threw seven no-hitters. He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He averaged better than a strikeout per inning over his 27-year career. He struck out 301 batters in 1989 when he was 42 – only three pitchers have beaten that total in the 21 years since (Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, and Randy Johnson). And McPartlin’s argument that he’s the most overrated player of all time is that he only won 20 games twice? He’s not known for being the best pitcher ever, he’s known for being the best strikeout pitcher ever.
We need to decide what “overrated” really means. The way I think about it is as follows: if you asked someone to list the best baseball players of all time in order of overall greatness and a player that you deem to be around #50 is on their list as #30, they they have overrated that player in your opinion. For a player to be generally considered overrated, he would have to show up on most people’s lists higher than he really deserves. But who decides where he deserves to be? You also need to ask why a particular player is where he is on someone’s list. If someone lists Lou Brock high because he had 3,000 hits and a zillion stolen bases, then the fact that he didn’t hit 500 home runs is irrelevant.
Obviously nobody keeps an ordered list of the best baseball players and there isn’t a canonical list to compare with, so you can’t decide whether someone’s overrated based solely on a numerical comparison. You have to look at how people in general think about a particular player in general and subjective terms. McPartlin says:
Some players reach greatness, while others fall short of the hype.
Some players have mediocre careers, but are talked about for decades because of their postseason exploits.
Some players were so gifted in one facet of the game that their shortcomings are overlooked.
Whatever the reason is, all sports have these players—the overrated ones.
The first one I completely agree with. The kid who comes up from the majors and is touted as “the next great shortstop / catcher / base stealer / home run hitter” and turns into a decent player but not a star is definitely overrated (or more accurately, was overrated). The second and third cases are more iffy and depend on who you’re talking to and how the player is described. Wade Boggs comes to mind – he was an incredible hitter, one of the best hitters ever to play the game. He was a good defensive third baseman, had a bit of power, and no base speed to speak of, and if everyone remembered him as “one of the best players ever” or even “one of the best third basemen ever”, then yes, he would be overrated. But nobody does. Anyone who saw Boggs play remembers him as one of the best hitters ever. Nobody has ever called him a five-tool player. Does his batting average make up for his lack of power and speed? That’s a matter of opinion, but I think it does.
He also lists a number of players who have tested positive for (or admitted to using) steroids, as if that immediately makes the player overrated. I’m no fan of steroids or steroid users either, but let’s be fair. Would Jose Canseco have hit 40 HRs three times if he had never taken steroids? We’ll never know but assuming he wouldn’t is unfair. Similarly, to simply dismiss Ken Caminiti, Jason Giambi, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire as overrated solely because they took PEDs is unfair. And considering this obvious bias, it’s odd that neither Roger Clemens nor Barry Bonds shows up on his list. Perhaps that’s because he decided (correctly) that they were two of the best players in the history of the game and were Hall-of-Famers before they ever touched steroids. The fact that the last number of years of their careers were chemically-enhanced doesn’t take away from the first decade or so when they were clean.
The take-home message, Mr. McPartlin, is that you can’t call someone “overrated” just because he wasn’t a five-tool player. Yes, some players are well known for being great at only one facet of the game, and the other facets weren’t that great. Some players are well known for a single season or even a single event, and the rest of their career wasn’t any big deal. Whether or not they are “overrated” depends on how people remember them. If people thought of Joe Carter as the greatest outfielder the Jays ever had simply because of that one home run, then I’d agree that he’s overrated. But even Jays fans don’t think of him that way – they rate him as a pretty good power-hitting outfielder / 1st baseman who happened to hit the most important home run in Jays history. That doesn’t make him overrated.
Having said all that, I can’t disagree with including Vernon Wells on the list.