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Mantle or Mays? Trout or Griffey? Settling MLB's great player debates

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Taking on the Mantle-Mays debate (2:38)

David Schoenfield and Brad Doolittle weigh in on whether Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays was the better player. (2:38)

The coronavirus can take away our games, for a while anyway, but it can't take away our debates. The baseball portals of the internet have continued to buzz over the past few weeks, with age-old discussions carrying on more loudly than ever. What else do we have, except the nagging anticipation of a season that can't get here soon enough?

We've tried to get in the spirit of things this week by hashing out some of the more typical disagreements you might find between fans of different teams. Do we think those mini essays are the final word in those arguments? Of course! OK, we're more realistic than that, but perhaps some of the entries have given everyone some fresh enthusiasm for those discussions, even for the deadest-horse arguments such as whether Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame.

Since that collaboration already has me in hot water with the fan clubs of Rose, Clayton Kershaw and the St. Louis Cardinals, we might as well keep on in that vein. This time, I'm dipping into a more fundamental sort of debate: Who's better? I don't imagine there is any actual data on this, but I suspect this type of debate is the most common of them all. It's my favorite, anyway.

There have been around 20,000 players in the major leagues, so there are endless combinations of players for which you could advocate. We narrowed it down to 10, but even that process was rough. We wanted to get in a few classic arguments (Mantle vs. Mays) and some that pit recent or current players against antecedents of a similar style. We looked for players on the same performance tier, so there would actually be a debate. For example: Stylistically, the current pitcher who is most reminiscent of Hall of Famer Greg Maddux is probably Zack Greinke. But while Greinke may someday join Maddux in Cooperstown, his numbers just aren't strong enough to really put up much of a fight when stacked up against Maddux's. We didn't want these to be no-brainers.

There are many more debates we could have done. Maybe we'll do some of those someday. This shutdown provides plenty of opportunity to dip into such thought exercises. We could have done Rose vs. Ty Cobb, for example. Derek Jeter against Cal Ripken Jr. would have been a good one, but I kind of tipped my hand on that one when I ranked the all-time shortstops a few months ago. I badly wanted to do Bob "The Hammer" Hamelin against "Super" Joe Charboneau, but ultimately decided it was too esoteric.

Anyway, we dwindled the list to 10. Whether or not they are the best 10, they are pretty good.