U. S. History Cycles



Generations at Bat

Take me out to the ballgame.

As a baseball fan I suppose it was natural that I would eventually try to tie my "Generations" view of History to baseball's great eras. The tables below are my latest effort. In these tables I have gathered the greatest baseball players, by birthdate only, into the generational fold. I think this compilation is a good self test for generational identity. Look through these generational teams and decide which one you emotionally associate with. I am willing to bet you will find that it is the team from your very own generation. Keep returning because I am going to keep working on this page until I get it right. Anyway, I hope you have as much fun with this as I am having.

They say the ball became live when they went to the cork center in 1911. It certainly seems like that was the case. But something else happened about then. The Lost Generation took the field. Babe Ruth and his contemporaries made baseball into a hitters game. But it didn't stay that way. Over the years the hitting waxed and waned, even with the cork center. Until just recently. In the last few years hitting has taken back its place in baseball's itinerary. In fact, it kind of coincided with the arrival of the Generation-X crowd. The first Reactive Generation to come to bat since, you guessed it, the Lost Generation. Go figure. The Gen-Xers have already claimed the Home Run as their own and they are only halfway through their run. Another interesting point is that, right at this moment in time, essentially the entire professional league is made up of Generation X players.

In the following tables I have attempted to designate a top generational team for each of the generations in modern baseball history as well as honorably mention a few others for their accomplishments. Initially I tried to extract this information from the player statistics directly but my statistical expertise and my patience were both found wanting and I have finally decided to revert to a less rigorous but more satisfying method. I have used Bill James' wonderful book "The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract" and sorted his top player lists to reveal top players in each generation. Keeping in mind that the rankings are a few years out of date (which would mainly effect the active players), I still think the resulting "All Generation" team listings are a great tribute to the stars of baseball, past and present. Enjoy.

The Gilded Generation

Birth Years (1822-1842)
Playing Years (1839-1886)
Dominant Years (1852-1872)

The history of modern baseball stretches back into the mists of the 19th Century. Alexander Cartwright is the accepted inventor of the modern game, introducing a set of rules for a baseball game, in New York, in 1845. In the years that followed, baseball became more popular, the rules and playing styles changed and the game matured. The 1860's, of course, were defined by the terrible reality of the Civil War and baseball, along with most aspects of social life in the United States, were put aside. Finally, in 1869 when the first professional teams began to form, useful statistics were kept for the first time and a reliable history of the game began to be recorded. After 1871, when most of the statistics that have been handed down began to be collected, it finally became possible to compare individual player's performance.

The Gilded Generation were the Civil War generation. The youngest of this generation were 18 years old when the Civil War began. Early on, most all of the fighting soldiers in the Civil War were of this generation with the early members of the Progressive Generation joining them as the war wore on. By 1871, the youngest of this generation were already nearly 30 years old. Their baseball careers were already waning as baseball emerged from the fog of time. Because there is so little information about this generation, I will not try to build a generational profile for them but it is important to remember how important their contributions were to the invention of the game as we know it. Joe Start, for instance, is credited with the 1st baseman's strategy of holding the runner and playing off the bag otherwise and Dickey Pearce is credited with inventing the bunt.

I would like to specifically point out one member of this generation. Joe Start was born in the last year of the Gilded Generation. Born even before Alexander Cartwright offered the rules of the game, he ended up with a 27 year long baseball career that began before the Civil War and stretched all the way to 1886, when he finally retired at the age of 44. No slouch, he actually had the most hits for the 1878 season when he was 36 years old. He was the oldest player in the league, and probably the last of his generation actively playing, from 1879-1886. Joe Start truly bridged the gap between baseball mythology and modern professional baseball.

The Progressive Generation

Birth Years (1843-1859)
Playing Years (1860-1903)
Dominant Years (1873-1889)

The Players Position Honors Rank Notes
Charley "Old Hoss" Radbourn (1854)pH,T45-P#1 Season wins (59)
Buck Ewing (1859)
Backup - Charlie Bennett
Cap Anson (1852)
Backup - Dan Brouthers, Roger Conner
Bid McPhee (1859)
Backup - Hardy Richardson, Fred Dunlap
Jack Glasscock (1857)
Backup - Sam Wise
Ed "Ned" Williamson (1857)
Backup - Deacon White
Jim O'Rourke (1850)
Backup - Harry Stovey, Charley Jones, Tip O'Neill
George Gore (1857)
Backup - Paul Hines
King Kelly (1857)
Backup - Orator Shaffer
Tim Keefe p--#1 Season ERA (.86)
Hugh Nicol of---#1 Season stolen bases (138)
Candy Cummings pH--First curveball
George Bradley p--#1 Season shut out (16)tie

The Missionary Generation

Birth Years (1860-1882)
Playing Years (1877-1926)
Dominant Years (1890-1912) "Dead Ball Era"

The Players Position Honors Rank Notes
Cy Young (1867)
Backup - Christy Mathewson, Kid Nicols, Mordecai "3 Finger" Brown
PH,T23-Overall, 4-P#1 Career wins (511)
Roger Bresnahan (1879) CH16-C-
Frank Chance (1877) 1bH25-1B-
Nap Lajoie (1874)
Backup - Cupid Childs, Frank Grant*
2bH,T40-Overall, 6-2B-
Honus Wagner (1874)
Backup - George Davis
SSH2-Overall, 1-SS-
Jimmy Collins (1870)
Backup - John McGraw
Ed Delahanty (1867)
Backup - Pete Hill*
LFH99-Overall, 12-LF-
Billy Hamilton (1866) CFH-9,CF#1 Season runs (192)
Sam Crawford (1880) RFH89-Overall, 10-RF-
Ed Walsh PH19-P#1 Career ERA (1.82)
Hugh Duffy OFH,T20-CF#1 Season bat. ave. (.440)
Matt Kilroy P--#1 Season SO (513)
Hughie Jennings SSH18-SS#1 Season hit by pitch (51)
#1 Career hit by pitch (287)

The Lost Generation

Birth Years (1883-1900)
Playing Years (1900-1944) Hitter's "Live Ball Era"
Dominant Years (1913-1930)

The Players Position Honors Rank Notes
Walter Johnson (1887)
Backup - Smokey Joe Williams, Lefty Grove, Jose Mendez*, Andy Cooper*, Ray Brown*
PH,M(2),T(3)8-Overall, 1-P#1 Career shutouts (110)
Gabby Hartnett (1900)
Backup - Biz Mackey*, Louis Santop*
George Sisler(1893)
Backup - Ben Taylor*
Eddie Collins (1887)
Backup - Rogers Hornsby, Frankie Frisch
2bH,M18-Overall, 2-2B-
Pop Lloyd (1884)
Backup - Joe Sewell, Jud Wilson*
SSH27-OverallNegro Leagues
Home Run Baker (1886)3bH70-Overall, 5-3B-
"Shoeless" Joe Jackson (1888)
Backup - Mule Suttles
LF-66-Overall, 6-LFBanned from play in 1920
Ty Cobb (1886)
Backup - Tris Speaker, Cristobal Torriente, Oscar Charleston
CFH,M,T5-Overall, 2-CF#1 Career bat. ave. (.366)
George Herman "Babe" Ruth (1895) RFH,M,A(2)1-Overall, 1-RF#1 Career slugging% (.6898)
Grover "Pete" Alexander PH,T(3)20-Overall, 3-P#1 Season shutouts (16)tie
Hack Wilson LFH19-LF#1 Season RBI (191)
Tom Zachary P--#1 Season Win% (1.00)

The G.I. Generation

Birth Years (1901-1924)
Playing Years (1918-1968) "Era of Transitions"
Dominant Years (1931-1954)

The Players Position Honors Rank Notes
Warren Spahn (1921)
Backup - Carl Hubbell, Satchel Paige, Bob Feller, Hilton Smith*
PH,C,A(14)36-Overall, 5-P-
Roy Campanella (1921)
Backup - Micky Cochrane, Josh Gibson, Bill Dickey
CH,M(3),A(8)53-Overall, 3-C-
Lou Gehrig (1903)
Backup - Jimmie Fox, Buck Leonard, Hank Greenberg, Johnny Mize
1bH,M(2),A(7),T14-Overall, 1-1b-
Jackie Robinson (1919)
Backup - Charlie Gehringer, Joe Gordon*
2bH,R,M,A(6)32-Overall, 4-2b-
Arky Vaughn (1912)
Backup - Joe Cronin, Pee Wee Reese, Willie Wells
SSH,A(9)39-Overall, 2-SS-
Stan Hack (1901) 3bA(5)9-3B-
Ted Williams (1918)
Backup - Turkey Stearns, Al Simmons, Stan Musial
LFH,M(2),A(17),T(2)7-Overall, 1-LF#1 Career OB% (.4817)
Joe Dimaggio (1914)
Backup - Cool Papa Bell, Turkey Stearns*
CFH,M(3),A(13)13-Overall, 5-CF-
Mel Ott (1909)
Backup - Paul Waner, Martin Dihigo, Willard Brown*
RFH,A(12)28-Overall, 4-RF-

The Silent Generation

Birth Years (1925-1942)
Playing Years (1942-1984) "League Growth Era"
Dominant Years (1955-1972)

The Players Position Honors Rank Notes
Bob Gibson (1935)
Backup - Robin Roberts, Sandy Koufax, Gaylord Perry
PH,M,A(8),C(2),G(9)46-Overall, 8-P-
Yogi Berra (1925) CH,M(3),A(15)41-Overall, 1-C-
Harmon Killebrew (1936)
Backup - Willie McCovey, Tony Perez*
1bH,M,A(11)63-Overall, 7-1b-
Nellie Fox (1927)
Backup - Bill Mazeroski*
Ernie Banks (1931) SSH,M(2),A(11),G77-Overall, 5-SS-
Eddie Matthews (1931)
Backup - Brooks Robinson, Ron Santo
3bH,A(9)34-Overall, 3-3b-
Carl Yastrzemski (1939)
Backup - Minnie Minoso, Billy Williams, Willie Stargell
LFH,M,A(18),G(7)37-Overall, 5-LF-
Willie Mays (1931)
Backup - Duke Snider, Mickey Mantle, Jimmy Wynn
CFH,R,M(2),A(20),G(12)3-Overall, 1-CF-
Hank Aaron (1934)
Backup - Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline, Frank Robinson
RFH,M,A(21),G(3)12-Overall, 2-RF#1 Career RBI (2297)
Pete Rose of,ifR,M,A(17),G(2)33-Overall, 5-RF#1 Career hits (4256)

The Boomer Generation

Birth Years (1943-1960)
Playing Years (1960-2004) "Free Agent Era"
Dominant Years (1973-1990)

The Players Position Honors Rank Notes
Tom Seaver (1944)
Backup - Steve Carlton, Jim Palmer, Rich Gossage*, Bruce Sutter*, Dennis Eckersley*
PH,R,A(12),C(3)38-Overall, 6-P-
Johnny Bench (1947)
Backup - Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter, Ted Simmons
CH,R,M(2),A(14),G(10)44-Overall, 2-C-
Eddie Murray (1956) 1bR,A(8),G(3)61-Overall, 5-1b-
Joe Morgan (1943)
Backup - Rod Carew, Ryne Sandberg
2bH,M(2),A(10),G(5)15-Overall, 1-2b-
Cal Ripken Jr. (1960)
Backup - Robin Yount, Ozzie Smith, Alan Trammell
SSH,R,M(2),A(19),G(2)48-Overall, 3-SS-
Mike Schmidt (1949)
Backup - Wade Boogs, George Brett, Paul Molitor, Darrell Evans
3bH,M(3),A(12),G(10)21-Overall, 1-3b-
Rickey Henderson (1958)
Backup - Tim Raines, Jim Rice*
LFH,M,A(8),G26-Overall, 4-LF#1 Career runs (2295)
#1 Career stolen bases (1406)
Kirby Puckett (1960) CFH,A(10),M(2),BR,G(6)98-Overall, 8-CF-
Tony Gwynn (1960)
Backup - Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield*
RFH,A(15),G(5)54-Overall, 6-RF-
Nolan Ryan pH,A(8)24-P#1 Career SO (5714)

The Thirteenth (GenX) Generation

Birth Years (1961-1981)
Playing Years (1978-2025) "Steroid Era"
Dominant Years (1991-2011)

The Players Position Honors Rank Records
Roger Clemens (1962)
Backup - Gregg Maddux, Mariano Rivera, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Trevor Hoffman
PM,A(11),C(7),T(2) +649-Overall, 11-P-
Mike Piazza (1968)
Backup - Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez
CR,A(12),SS(10) +179-Overall, 5-C-
Mark McGuire (1963)
Backup - Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas, Albert Pujols
1bR,A(12),G,SS(3) +131-Overall, 3-1b-
Craig Biggio (1965)
Backup - Roberto Alomar
2bA(7),G(4),SS(5),+335-Overall, 5-2b-
Barry Larkin (1964)
Backup - Derek Jeter
SSM,A(11),G(3),SS(9) +293-Overall, 6-SS-
Robin Ventura (1967)
Backup - Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones
Barry Bonds (1964)
Backup - Manny Ramirez
LFM(7),A(14),G(8),SS(12) +516-Overall, 3-LF#1 Season HR (73)
#1 Season BB (232)
#1 Season Slugging% (.8635)
#1 Season OB% (.6094)
#1 Career HR (762)
#1 Career BB (2558)
Ken Griffey, Jr. (1969) CFM,A(13),G(10),SS(10) +273-Overall, 7-CF-
Jose Canseco (1964)
Backup - Vladimer Guerrero
Ichiro Suzuki ofR,M,A(8),G(8),SS(2) +1-#1 Season hits (262)

The Millennial Generation

Birth Years (1982-2001)
Playing Years (1999-2045) "The Next Era"
Dominant Years (2012-2031) Their time will come

The Players Position Honors Rank Notes

The Millennials are just beginning to reach playing age. I would be willing to bet we will see some future stars showing up on the radar pretty soon.

  • Bold denotes the all generational team. Clearly, in some cases, the players were not actual playing contemporaries. If a player happened to be an early cohort in his generation then he would have to play late into his career to play with the last cohorts in his generation. Don't be disappointed if your favorite active player doesn't show up on the list. The Gen-Xers are only halfway through their playing years and some of the stars haven't built up their stats to the level that will get them on later lists.

    In several cases players have been included only on the basis of their having been voted into the Hall of Fame. I know there is controversy surrounding some of the these selections but I feel that if they have been picked by a group of knowledgable voters they probably were outstanding players and should be recognized for having been selected. In each of these cases they appear as backups for their position with an asterisk by their name.

  • The items in columns are:

    1. The players position,
    2. A summary of the honors and accomplishments a player has received (H-Hall of Fame, M-MVP, R-rookie of the year, A-All Star, T-Triple Crown, C-Cy Young Award, G-golden glove and SS-Silver Slugger)
    3. Bill James Overall ranking and ranking by position
    4. General Notes: The records are all-time baseball records.

  • Playing Years are the maximum range of years players from this generation will be playing, and
    Dominant Years are the years when most of the top players in the league are from the generation.

  • If you want to talk about Baseball History or about Baseball and History in general drop by my BLOG. I would love to hear from you.

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