The Tuesday Discussion – The Greatest Centerfielder Ever
February 15, 2022
This week we asked our writers to identify the greatest centerfielder of all-time.
Here are their replies:
Lincoln Mitchell – The answer is Willie Mays. I considered Mickey Mantle, Tris Speaker, Ken Griffey, Jr., Mike Trout, and Ty Cobb, but it is Mays.
I have a more detailed answer coming at 1:00 p.m. today.
Tamar Chalker – My heart is with Mickey Mantle, but I think Willie Mays deserves the nod. Both are players I wish I had been able to see when they played.
Owen Hetherington – I would have to say the greatest CF of all-time has to be Mike Trout. Not only is he one of the best to play the game offensively, but his defensive metrics also speak for themselves. If Mike Trout keeps up his current pace, he’ll be the best five-tool player to ever play the game of baseball.
Paul Semendinger – There was a time when the answer to this was Joe DiMaggio. Period. It’s Joe. Now, Joe D. isn’t even in the discussion.
There are four centerfielders with over 100 WAR. These are from lowest to highest):
Mickey Mantle – 110.2
Tris Speaker – 134.8
Ty Cobb – 151.4
Willie Mays – 156.1
I could work the numbers and make a case that in some ways (peak value, for instance) Mickey Mantle was superior to Willie Mays, but to do that I would have to do mental gymnastics and cherry-pick numbers.
I could also say, “If Mantle didn’t get hurt…”
But, one doesn’t have to do any gymnastics, mental or otherwise, to note that Willie Mays is on the short list of the greatest players ever.
I’d rather it be a Yankee, but the answer is a New York player, at least (and a San Francisco one as well) – The “Say Hey” Kid, Willie Mays.
I don’t know if Willie Mays is the greatest player in baseball history, he might be, but he is in the discussion. It’s probably among, Mays, Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron and Ted Williams. I would probably find that Mickey Mantle makes the Top-10 players ever, but as great as he was, he wasn’t Willie Mays.
Mike Whiteman – I believe Oscar Charleston to be the best centerfielder of all time.
In his first eight seasons of league play (1920-1927) the player nicknamed “The Black Ty Cobb” slashed .384/.467/.661, winning the Negro National League/Eastern Colored League triple crown three times while ranking near the top of the leaderboard in stolen bases. Legend has it that John McGraw bemoaned the fact that he couldn’t sign Charleston to make his potent Giants teams of the 1920s even more imposing.
He was an explosive yet patient hitter, leading his league in walks three times.
His only weakness was that while he had great range in the field his arm was average at best – he compensated by playing a very shallow center field.
Charleston played on some of the greatest teams of all time – 1922 Indianapolis ABC’s, 1931 Homestead Grays and the 1935 Pittsburgh Crawfords.
Impressive feats all, but how does one compare those numbers to those who played in the white major leagues?
We have some data on this. Per Seamheads, Charleston slashed .355/.420/.738 in 37 games against major league competition – mostly barnstorming contests. He also slashed .351/.441/.513 over four seasons in the integrated and highly competitive Cuban Winter League. In 1921-1922 he batted .405 in California Winter League action, another integrated short season circuit.
Charleston is a bit of an out of the box choice, but his comprehensive skill package and dominance in the leagues he played in make him my pick.