Over the past few weeks, ESPN released its Top 100 baseball players of all time, culminating with the release of their Top 10 last Friday. I have intentionally not looked at their list yet, because I did not want to be swayed by their experts, just in case they were wrong.
ESPN also released the Top 10 at each position which I think is a better way to identify greatness. What good is a Top 10 if you have four centerfielders? So here, by position, is my All Time Baseball Team, only one at each position.
We will start with the absolute no brainers:
1B – Lou Gehrig, duh!
CF – Willie Mays, the greatest living player and the ultimate five tool player. When Jose Canseco hit 40 home runs and stole 40 bases in the same season, Willie said, “If I knew it was a big deal, I would have done it several times.”
Closer – Mariano Rivera. If he is not unanimous on the first ballot for the Hall of Fame, the writers who do not vote for him should be stripped of their voting privileges forever.
OK, those three are so obvious that nobody who knows anything about baseball can possibly argue. The rest, I will admit are debatable and I am willing to tolerate anyone who disagrees with me, even though they would be wrong.
Starting Pitcher – Sandy Koufax. The logic here is simple. If I was the manager and we had to play one game against Mars with the future of Earth hanging in the balance, and we could have anyone in his prime – it would be Sandy. Perhaps Mickey Mantle (who is likely one of ESPN’s Top 10) said it best after striking out in the 1963 World Series, “How in the f*** are you supposed to hit that sh**?” (Leavy, 2002, p. 140)
Catcher – Johnnie Bench. There were better hitting catchers and better defensive catchers, but he was unbelievable at both.
2B – Ryne Sandberg. He once went an entire calendar year without making an error and was a great offensive player as well. I heard Whitey Herzog, who knows a thing or two about baseball, say that Sandberg was the “best baseball player I ever saw.”
3B – Brooks Robinson. We all had our favorite player when we were kids playing in the sandlot. Brooks was mine, reaching unquestionable “hero” status for me. I realize Mike Schmidt was probably better; but, did I mention he was my hero?
SS – Alex Rodriquez. Moved to 3B for the sake of the team – he was always better than Derek Jeter at SS. Closing in on 700 home runs and already the career leader in grand slams with 25.
LF – Barry Bonds. Easily the greatest hitter I ever saw. Many great hitters get in the zone for a week or two and carry their team. Barry was in the zone for four years. Check out the statistics – they look like video game numbers for 2001 – 2004.
RF – Roberto Clemente. What? Where is Babe Ruth (keep reading) and Hank Aaron? Personally, I thought Clemente was better than Aaron. Aaron was what I call an accumulator, if you are good and stay around long enough, you get big numbers.
DH – Babe Ruth. I cheated by moving him to DH so I could get Clemente in as my right fielder. Ruth is easily the best player of all time and if he is not #1 on the ESPN list, I will never watch ESPN again. By the way, as my DH, Ruth also pitches every fifth day.
Let the arguments begin!
Leavy, J. (2002). Sandy Koufax: A lefty’s legacy. New York: HarperCollins.
By Dr. Stephen Butler
Stephen L. Butler, Ed.D., is the Dean of Academic Affairs at the United States Sports Academy, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also hosts the Academy’s weekly Sports Talk program and is the resident baseball junkie.