Polls are a subjective thing. They are certain to cause lively debate, and not surprisingly, some controversy.
And when it comes to major-league baseball, polls about who is “the greatest” can fuel arguments for weeks.
But what about the “most important” people in baseball history? That goes beyond the realm of players and managers. That pulls in owners, reporters, authors, broadcasters, statisticians and more.
That is the subject of an online poll being conducted by Graham Womack, a freelance writer/blogger/statistics guy who also founded baseballpastandpresent.com, a website he launched in 2009.
Go here to vote: http://baseballpastandpresent.com/2014/09/22/vote-25-important-people-baseball-history/
Any person in baseball history is eligible, and Womack said write-ins are welcome. The deadline is 11 p.m. Eastern time on Oct. 26. Womack will reveal the results on Nov. 3.
So, here are my choices for the 25 most important people in baseball history. I am sure I am leaving somebody out, but I feel confident in these picks.
Babe Ruth — That’s an easy one. Ruth changed the way players and managers approached the game. His prodigious home runs put fans in the seats and effectively ended the “scientific game” of the early 20th century. His boisterous personality and love of children resonated with fans.
Jackie Robinson — No player faced more hatred, bigotry and adversity, and yet Robinson channeled his fury into the game and excelled. His courage opened doors, and his social awareness outside the game was even more valuable.
Marvin Miller — It’s a travesty that Miller is not in the Hall of Fame. He was the driving force that made baseball’s union so powerful, a tough negotiator and a believer in collective bargaining. He stood in the players’ corner when nobody else would. Players making astoundingly large salaries should bow to Marvin Miller.
Kenesaw Mountain Landis — A former judge, Landis gave baseball an authority figure when it was most needed. Landis pulled baseball out of the Black Sox scandal and ruled with an iron hand. His lack of action on integrating the game is definitely a negative, but Landis did keep the game scandal free as its first commissioner.
Branch Rickey — He is credited with signing Jackie Robinson to a contract, and Rickey certainly deserves credit. He also helped the St. Louis Cardinals (and later, the Brooklyn Dodgers) become powerful by building farm systems that could produce homegrown talent, and used some of that talent to acquire veterans.
Ban Johnson — He founded the American League and challenged the established National League. He established a second major league that has lasted for more than a century, and in the first 25 years of the league, his word was law.
Alexander Cartwright — Credited with many of the rules of baseball as we know them. A true pioneer.
Albert Spalding — Pitcher, manager and executive, Spalding make his biggest impact on the game through his sporting goods business.
George Steinbrenner — “The Boss” signified big spending for free agents, and Steinbrenner was not shy about opening his wallet — or second-guessing his managers. But in building 10 pennant winners and seven World Series champions, Steinbrenner did it his way and flourished.
Dick Young — The first true beat writer in baseball journalism that was not afraid to ask the tough questions and write the controversial stories. Young flourished while covering the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1950s, and while his combative, abrasive style wore thin as he aged, he remains the standard for covering baseball.
Jim Bouton — He was a journeyman pitcher who lost his fastball and resorted to the knuckleball. But Bouton’s pen was more powerful than his pitching, as his 1970 classic “Ball Four” gave baseball fans an inside look at the game from the eyes of a very observant player. Today, such a “kiss-and-tell” book wouldn’t cause a ripple. In 1970, Bouton was vilified for violating the sanctity of the clubhouse.
Walter O’Malley — Speaking of vilified, O’Malley ripped the Dodgers out of Brooklyn and moved them to Los Angeles, coaxing the Giants westward to continue their ancient rivalry. Brooklyn was despondent, but O’Malley’s vision made baseball a truly coast-to-coast sport.
Connie Mack — He owns the most victories — and losses — of any baseball manager. That’s what happens when you manage for 50 seasons and also own the team. But Mack put together some truly powerful teams in the 1910s and 1920s, particularly the 1929 Athletics.
John McGraw — Mack’s National League counterpart, “the Little Napoleon” exemplified baseball during the dead ball era and led the New York Giants to 10 pennants, three World Series titles and 11 second-place finishes.
Henry Aaron — Dignity and class — and a wicked home run swing. Aaron was a quiet hero who endured racial hatred as he chased Babe Ruth’s career home run record. Despite hate mail and threats, Aaron used his powerful wrists to rewrite baseball’s record book.
Bill James — He invented the term “sabermetrics” and showed how a bevy of diverse baseball statistics could define trends and assign values to players, managers and teams.
Curt Flood — He dared to challenge the reserve clause and lost, but Flood’s legal battles with baseball paved the way for free agency.
Frank Jobe —Ever heard of Tommy John surgery? Jobe performed the original procedure on John in 1974. The results revolutionized baseball medicine.
Henry Chadwick — The Bill James of the 19th century. He invented the box score and several baseball statistics.
Allan Roth — Another statistician, he bridges the gap between Chadwick and James.
Roger Kahn — An elegant, sensitive writer who wrote one of baseball’s endearing classics, “The Boys of Summer.”
Peter Seitz — He is the arbiter who put an end to baseball’s reserve clause, opening the door for free agency.
Rube Foster — A pioneer of black baseball, Foster founded the Negro National League in 1920.
Red Smith — One of the finest columnists ever to write about baseball — and other sports, for that matter. His prose remains legendary.
Bill Klem — Without a doubt, the greatest umpire in major-league history.
There are my 25, but I am going to add two honorable mentions — Bill Veeck, the maverick owner whose promotions were innovative and entertaining; and Vin Scully, perhaps the greatest baseball announcer. Red Barber, Mel Allen, Ernie Harwell and Harry Caray were great, but Scully remains a cut above.
Do you agree or disagree with these choices? Regardless, go and vote for your top 25. It’s a great mental exercise.