Despite what ESPN says, SF Giants legend Willie Mays is baseball's GOAT

Sports Contributor Archive 2019
Sports Contributor Archive 2019 / Ron Vesely/GettyImages

On Wednesday, ESPN completed its Top 100 MLB players of all time. No one is going to come to the same conclusion about who the top 100 players in baseball history are, but the greatest of all time is undeniably SF Giants legendary outfielder Willie Mays.

Despite what ESPN says, SF Giants legend Willie Mays is baseball's GOAT

ESPN disagreed by identifying Babe Ruth as the greatest of all time ahead of Mays. It should come as no surprise that ESPN was displaying some regional bias and that bias was no more evident than when Derek Jeter was listed as No. 28 on the all time list.

This is not a knock on Jeter but placing him ahead of the likes of Albert Pujols, Josh Gibson, and Wade Boggs is insincere. However, choosing Ruth over Mays is an even more egregious mistake in my opinion.

That is what this is by the way. It is an opinion piece. I realize that ESPN was basing their rankings on objective data such as Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and certain qualitative factors like Hall of Fame status, peak performance, and contributions to the game.

Objectively, Ruth (183.1 WAR) had a higher WAR than Mays (156.1), so in one sense the ranking is based on substance. On top of this, the former is the superior contributor by most statistical measures including home runs, OPS, OPS+, and pitcher wins.

Ruth did excel as a pitcher earlier in his career in addition to being a middle-of-the-order threat for both the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. Very clearly, his is the best player of his era.

However, the greatest of all time? I just cannot wrap my head around it. This is not to take anything away from his illustrious career. The numbers speak for themselves in the case of Ruth and Mays, and there is no denying either one's legendary status.

With that being said, Ruth played in a totally different era, which is something that was out of his control. He played prior to integration and he played during a time when baseball was treated as a second job for many. The diet and health habits of the players during that era were questionable at best and the analytics of the game were still in the infant stages.

Plus, baseball was not nearly as specialized back then as hitters would often see the same pitcher four times in the same game. It took decades for front offices to discover that the hitter's performance typically improved with each turn through the lineup.

There are plenty of reasons why context is important in evaluating the debate between Ruth and Mays. By the time Mays debuted for the New York Giants in 1951, baseball had undergone a radical change as the competition began to significantly improve.

Mays not only posted prodigious numbers in the batter's box, but he was incredible with the glove as he nabbed 12 Gold Glove awards in center field. There has never been a player that has excelled at that level on both sides of the ball. And, there will very likely never be anyone like Willie Mays. He is baseball's GOAT. End of story.