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Kansas City’s George Brett Ranks 35th In New Book On Best Baseball Players

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Jeremy Bernfeld
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KCUR 89.3
George Brett as depicted in a statue at Kauffman Stadium.

Sportswriter Joe Posnanski's book "The Baseball 100," which ranks the game's top players, comes out Tuesday. Satchel Paige, whose primary team was the Kansas City Monarchs, ranks at number 10, and Royals' slugger George Brett comes in at 35.

Joe Posnanski wanted to surprise people with baseball stories — even people who aren’t baseball fans.

That might be one reason he ranked Willie Mays as the number-one baseball player in American history. Posnanski is a former Kansas City Star sports columnist whose new book, “The Baseball 100,” comes out on Tuesday.

Mays, who started his career in the Negro Leagues and was a center fielder for the New York/San Francisco Giants and the New York Mets, was extremely versatile, according to Posnanski. His personality and skill put him above Babe Ruth, who many others would label as the best baseball player of all time.

“To me, Willie Mays did everything a player can do,” Posnanski told Up To Date. “He represented the game. One of the things I was looking for when I was doing this list are those players that could do everything, that were very well-rounded, but also had this extra something about them, charisma or joy or whatever that is.”

Posnanski met Mays at the Negro Leagues Baseball Musuem a few years back. By then, the aging star had health issues.

“He was clearly in pain, 1980 but he was also telling stories about some of the players on the field,” Posnanski said. “And, it really was very bittersweet, but beautiful in its own way.... It's a memory I'll cherish for the rest of my life.”

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Katie Posnanski
Former Kansas City Star sports columnist Joe Posnanski's new book is "The Baseball 100."

For his rankings, Posnanski started with a list based on a formula he developed with the statistical analyst and blogger known as Tom Tango. Then, Posnanski reordered parts of the list.

“There are no Negro Leaguers on that list so I included numerous of those,” said Posnanski. “There were players I felt were ranked a little bit too high, a little bit too low. I moved that around.”

His rankings involved another criteria, too.

“I tried to bring a little bit of art and fun into the ranking so that certain players are ranked connecting to a cool number that meant something in their careers,” Posnanski said.

In addition to giving Negro League players the recognition they deserve, Posnanski made sure to bring a few Kansas City players into the lineup. Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige, whose primary team was the Kansas City Monarchs, ranks at number ten.

The Kansas City Monarchs’ Bullet Rogan, who is not well known, is listed as number 92.

“He was a pitcher and a hitter at the same time and a really dominant player for the Kansas City Monarchs in the 1920s,” said Posnanski.

He said giving readers an insider’s look at where top baseball players come from and who they are, including stories that are not well known such as Rogan's, was important to him.

Out of the 100 players, only one is known for playing with the Kansas City Royals. Hall of Famer George Brett slides into the rankings at number 35. Posnanski said he made a point to write about the relationship Brett had with his father and how that was a driving force in his career.

“Jack (Brett) was very hard on George throughout his life throughout his childhood, but also throughout his playing career. And those two would clash tremendously,” Posnanski said.

“There's a very famous thing people in Kansas City will remember or have heard about 1980,” Posnanski continued, “when George almost hit 400. He fell five hits short of 400. And he said that that day, he said to his dad — you know, the guy hit 390 and had one of the greatest years in the history of baseball — and he talked to his father and his father said, ‘What? You couldn't have gotten five more hits.’ And that was their relationship.”

That leads to another surprise in Posnanski’s book.

“One theme that just kept coming up over and over again in this book was fathers and sons, and maybe that shouldn't be a surprise to people,” he said, “but it's really remarkable how many fathers played just massive, massive roles in their son's success.”

Joe Posnanski speaks about "The Baseball 100" with baseball writer Bill James, 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30 at Unity Temple on The Plaza at 707 West 47th Street, Kansas City, Missouri. Admission is $40 plus tax and includes a hardcover copy of the book as well as tickets for two guests. For information on how to purchase, click here

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga is a news intern for KCUR 89.3.
As Up To Date’s associate producer, I construct daily conversations that give our listeners context to the issues of our time. I strive to provide a platform that holds those in power accountable, while also spotlighting the voices of Kansas City’s creatives and visionaries that may otherwise go unheard. Email me at zach@kcur.org.