keypusher: <Isn't it close being barely knocked out in the Candidates final?>
Spassky beat him +4-1 in 1965 in the final.
<don't forget...if you keep the candidates tournament tal wins in 65 and 68.this is one pt. i think both sides will agree on.>
I don't. In 1968 Tal's health was in decline. The favorites in a Candidates' tournament would have been Korchnoi (who finished way ahead of Tal at Wijk aan Zee and beat Tal in a match that year) Larsen (who beat Tal in a match the following year), Geller and Spassky.
In 1965 Tal was in better shape, but I would rate his chances no higher than Spassky's, Geller's, or Larsen's. Spassky and Larsen, among others, tied Tal for first in the 1964 Amsterdam Interzonal.
I have Tal's autobiography, which contains an exhaustive summary of his tournament and match results. He was a successful tournament player in the 1960s, of course, but no more successful than others, and less successful than, e.g., Stein, Korchnoi and Larsen. So I don't agree that he would have been the favorite in a hypothetical Candidates tournament held at any time between, say, 1961 and 1972.
During the 1950s it's very hard to say Botvinnik was the best, but it's also quite hard to say he wasn't -- which is why he called himself primus inter pares -- first among equals. As plang pointed out, his real peak was the decade before he won the title, when he was (IMO) as dominant as anyone who ever played the game.