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756, Hold the Asterisk

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Yglesias proclaims all-time HR leader Barry Bonds “the greatest offensive player in the history of baseball.” I don’t actually think that this is true. Ruth and Williams, as you can see, have decisively higher EQAs, and I think any good offensive metric will show the same thing. You can still make a case for Bonds — because of Ruth’s first career as a pitcher and Williams’s military service, Bonds has a longer career, and his 02-04 peak is almost certainly the highest level of offensive performance ever reached. But overall, I still have to rank Bonds slightly below Ruth and Williams as a hitter. (Bonds was certainly a better all-around player than Williams, and clearly remains behind Ruth, given that the latter was at least comparable offersively and also a great pitcher.)

Of course, the other case for Bonds is that because it’s harder to dominate modern baseball than baseball in the 20s or 40s he should be moved ahead. I can’t argue with that; at some level, these discussions rest on unfalsifiable assumptions about the quality of play. But in terms of dominance of their era, I would still rank Bonds slightly behind Ruth and Williams.

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