"Baseball is like church. Many attend every Sunday, but few understand." ~ Wes Westrum
There is something about new Yankee Stadium. You walk through the gates and everything about it says brand new but there is an air of nostalgia that lives in that place. Murderer’s Row never stepped into that batter’s box. Joe DiMaggio never roamed that outfield. Whitey Ford never took that mound. It is not the house that Ruth built but one that was built by Jeter. Nonetheless, the pinstriped legend of the Bronx Bombers has come to reside within those walls. Monument Park has moved in behind the center field wall where it belongs. The Bleacher Creatures are still doing roll call. And as always, the only name on the Yankees’ jerseys is simply “New York”.
The stadium where the greatest franchise in North American sports won their first 26 world championships is now gone, but not forgotten. The new Yankee Stadium overlaps much of the field of it’s predecessor. On the concourse beyond the right field wall where many wait in line for hot dogs and nachos, Lou Gehrig once defended first base. Somewhere out in the parking lot, Phil Rizzuto once played ferocious defense. And in the back corner of the stadium, in the Yankees museum, there remains a bronze homeplate and pitcher’s mound where Don Larsen once pitched the only perfect game in the history of the World Series.
A statue of Don Larsen throwing a pitch and Yogi Berra crouched behind home at the other end with the two separated by a wall of balls signed by almost every player to ever wear a Yankees uniform, marks the exact location where Don Larsen pitched the only perfect game in World Series history.
I scoured the wall of balls between the two and found the signature of one of my favorite all-time players (Lou Gehrig) and saw a ball that looked exactly like the one that a young boy stole from his step dad’s trophy room getting him and his friends into the “biggest pickle” than any of them would ever be in. It is truly an amazing site to behold and a fitting monument to a perfect game – a game in which 27 Brooklyn Dodgers came up to bat, and 27 Brooklyn Dodgers never made it to first base. A perfect game is the greatest individual accomplishment that any pitcher could ever hope to have. A perfect game on the biggest stage? Now that is the stuff of legend.
Standing in front of that wall, I could not help but wonder how it felt for Larsen, for one afternoon, to have a game that was completely perfect. In standing where that mound once was, I wondered how it must be to have an afternoon of baseball play out exactly to your liking. That is what I want my perfect game to be. I want it to be a game, like Larsen’s, that is great for everyone else there but absolutely perfect for me. Thus far, that is exactly what this is, and once I have selected my pitchers for both teams – I hope that is what it will continue to be.
STARTING PITCHERS -
"Good pitching will always beat good hitting. And vice-versa." ~ Casey Stengel
AMERICAN LEAGUE -
SP: Leroy “Satchel” Paige (1927 – 1966)
Team(s): Kansas City Monarchs/Cleveland Indians/St. Louis Browns (1935, 1940 – 1953)
Hall of Fame: 1971
Honors: 2x MLB All-Star, 5 x Negro League All-Star, First Negro League player inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame
Rings: 2 – 1942 (Negro League), 1948
ERA: 3.29 (in Major Leagues, Negro Leagues uncertain)
Strikeouts: 288 (MLB)
Shut-outs: 4 (MLB)
Signature Moment: On April 29, 1929, Paige set a record by striking out 17 batters in one game. Six days later, he struck out 18 in one game.
Fun Fact: In 1965, at the age of 59, Paige started a game for the Kansas City A’s against the Boston Red Sox. He pitched three innings and retired six straight batters after the first inning.
Satchel Paige once said, “My pitching philosophy is simple – keep the ball away from the bat.” For nearly 40 years, that is exactly what Satchel did. He dominated the Negro Leagues and when he finally got into the Majors, he was in the twilight of his career but that did not stop him from being a dominating force on the mount and helping to lead the Cleveland Indians to the 1948 World Series. Paige was a masterful pitcher who claimed to have as many as 20 different pitches. The fact that he was never in the majors at the same time as Babe Ruth makes me want to put an asterisk next to the Babe’s records just because he never had to face the greatest pitcher of the day. Paige once remarked that “baseball has turned Paige from a second class citizen to a second class immortal” and truth be told, no one at the time could debate it. This was a pitcher with such confidence that he once intentionally walked three batters so he could strike out Josh Gibson in the bottom of the ninth inning in the Negro League World Series. On multiple occassions, after getting upset by an opposing team or one of their players, he would order his entire infield to take a seat and proceed to strike out the side. From the Midnight Rider to the Creeper to the Bee Ball, batters could not figure out his pitches and many accused him of throwing illegal pitches. But Satchel set the critics straight and would always attest that he never threw an illegal pitch but every “once in a while I toss one that ain’t never been seen by this generation.” Dizzy Dean said that Paige’s fastball made his look like a change-up and Joe DiMaggio said Satchel was the best he ever faced. Satchel Paige is one of my favorite athletes of all time and one of the greatest players to ever take the mound. I would love to see Satchel Paige take the hill just as much as the National League batters would hate it.
SP: Walter Johnson (1907 – 1927)
Nickname(s): “The Big Train”, “Barney”, “Sir Walter”, “The White Knight”, “The Gentle Johnson”
Team(s): Washington Senators (Minnesota Twins) (1907 – 1927)
Hall of Fame: 1936
Honors: 2 x AL MVP, MLB All-Century Team
Rings: 1 – 1924
Signature Moment: On July 22, 1963, Walter Johnson threw his 3000th strikeout. He was the only member of the 3000 strikeout club for over 50 years until Bob Gibson joined in 1974.
Fun Fact: Walter Johnson was the first American League pitcher to strike out four batters in one inning.
Ogden Nash once wrote, “J is for Johnson, The Big Train in his prime, Was so fast he could throw, Three strikes at a time.” Over time, Walter Johnson has largely been forgotten which is a shame because he might possibly have been the greatest pitcher to ever play the game. All-time he is second in wins with 417 and fourth in complete games pitched with 531. He was the founding member of the 3000 strike out club. This is incredibly impressive considering the current strike zone (established in the 1960s) is significantly larger than the strike zone of Johnson’s time. His record of 110 shutouts is a pitching record that I do not think will ever be broken, let alone approached. He brought the Washington Senators (Minnesota Twins) their lone World Series title in 1924. The Big Train was such a great pitcher that maybe today’s pitchers should be vying for the Walter Johnson. After all, he finished his career with 705 more strikeouts than Cy Young. He is one of 2 major league pitchers to have won 400 games (something which we may never see again). Walter Johnson put together an amazing career that included 12 20-win seasons (10 of those in a row). He won three triple crowns and twice won more than 30 wins in a season. He was such a great pitcher that he won the MVP award twice. In this day and age, it is nearly ludicrous to think that a pitcher would win the MVP. That’s how important the Big Train was to the Senators. When I started thinking of pitchers, five came to mind right away. Johnson and Paige were the first.
SP: Nolan Ryan (1966, 1968 – 1993)
Nickname(s): “The Ryan Express”
Team(s): California Angels/Texas Rangers (1972 – 1979, 1989 – 1993)
Hall of Fame: 1999 (First ballot)
Honors: 8 x All-Star, 1977 AL TSN Pitcher of the Year, Houston Astros #34 retired, Texas Rangers #34 retired, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim #34 retired, MLB All-Century Team
Rings: 1 – 1969
Signature Moment: On August 22, 1989, Ryan struck out Rickey Henderson becoming the first (and only) pitcher to ever record 5,000 career strikeouts.
Fun Fact: Nolan Ryan regularly soaked his pitching hand in pickle brine to help alleviate frequent blisters.
Along with Robin Yount and George Brett, Nolan Ryan now completes the 1999 Hall of Fame Class on my team. It is amazing to think that Nolan Ryan never won a single Cy Young Award. This is the lone member of the 5,000 strikeout club. He pitched a record 7 no-hitters in his career (but no perfect game), 12 one-hitters, and 18 two-hitters. He owns the record for career strikeouts by 839 but at the same time he also walked more batters than anyone. He also gave up more grand slams (10) than any other pitcher and hit 158 batters. Ryan was a fastball pitcher who still had pitches recorded over 100 mph when he was 40. It might be fair to say that Ryan was the Brett Favre of pitchers. All 4 of his teams lived by the Express and died by it as well. He played the game for 27 seasons (an MLB record) and even at age 44 his last pitch was recorded at 98 mph. He was a pitcher who played the game with intensity and never gave up. My favorite moment of Ryan’s was when Robin Ventura, a 26 year old, charged Ryan at the mound after being hit by a pitch, and Ryan, a 44 year old, was able to get Ventura in a headlock and pummel his head. This is why I love Nolan Ryan – the guy was simply intense. Whether he struck you out or walked you, you still weren’t going to hit Nolan Ryan.
SP: Denton “Cy” Young (1890 – 1911)
Nickname(s): “Cy” “Farmboy”
Team(s): Cleveland Spiders/Boston Americans (Red Sox)/Cleveland Naps (Indians) (1901 – 1911)
Hall of Fame: 1937
Honors: Major League Baseball All-Century Team
Rings: 1 – 1903
Signature Moment: On May 5, 1904, three days after one-hitting the Philadelphia A’s, Young met them again and threw the first perfect game in American League history. It was part of a streak of 24 straight innings without allowing a hit.
Fun Fact: Cy Young threw out the first pitch in modern World Series history in 1903 against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
How good was Cy Young? Every year the Major League awards the best pitcher in either league with the Cy Young. I have always been curious to see how good of a pitcher Young really was. This is the only member of the 500 win club but he also has over 300 losses. He won 30 games in a season 5 times and 20 or more wins in 10 other seasons. Oh and the reason that the pitcher’s mound is 60.6 feet from home is because Young threw so hard that the MLB agreed to move the mound back five feet. He is also credited with inventing the change-up in 1895 which he called the “slow ball”. It is really hard to say how hard Young threw or how good he really was but there is a curiosity about seeing the pitcher that has the award for best pitcher named for him.
SP: Roger Clemens (1984 – 2007)
Nickname(s): “The Rocket”
Team(s): Boston Red Sox/New York Yankees (1984 – 1996, 1999 – 2003, 2007)
Hall of Fame:
Honors: 11 x All-Star, 6 x AL Cy Young Award Winner, 2004 NL Cy Young Award, 1986 AL MVP, 5 x AL TSN Pitcher of the Year, MLB All-Century Team
Rings: 2 – 1999, 2000
Signature Moment: On June 13, 2003, pitching against the St. Louis Cardinals at Yankee Stadium, Clemens recorded the 300th win and 4000th strikeout of his career in the same game.
Fun Fact: Roger Clemens won a Cy Young with 4 different teams. He is the only player in MLB history to win a BBWAA (Baseball Writer’s Association of America) award with 4 different teams.
Say what you will about the Rocket and the steroid controversy. All I know about Clemens is this guy could flat out pitch. He won 7 Cy Young awards (6 of them in the American League) and led the Boston Red Sox to an appearance in 1986 and led the Houston Astros to one in 2005. He won 2 World Series with the Yankees but all in all, he played in 6. I only got to see the Rocket pitch live once and that was in 2007 with the Yankees. But man, I would have loved to watch him in his prime. In 1986, Clemens won the AL MVP award becoming the first pitcher in 15 years to do so. That same year, he became the first pitcher to strike out 20 batters in a nine-inning game. While this feat has since been matched, Clemens is the only pitcher to do it twice. Clemens was also good for a long time, in 2001 with New York, he became the first pitcher in MLB history to start a season 20 – 1. Roger Clemens is the greatest strikeout pitcher of my generation and I only wish I could have seen him in his prime.
1. Bob Feller, Cleveland Indians (1936 – 1956)
2. Jim Palmer, Baltimore Orioles (1965 – 1984)
3. Catfish Hunter, Kansas City A’s/New York Yankees (1965 – 1979)
4. Bret Saberhagen, Kansas City Royals (1984 – 1995, 1997 – 1999, 2001)
5. Johan Santana*, Minnesota Twins (2000 – Present)
NATIONAL LEAGUE –
SP: Sanford “Sandy” Koufax (1955 – 1966)
Nickname(s): “Sandy”, “Koo-Foo”, “The Man with the Golden Arm”
Team(s): Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers (1955 – 1966)
Hall of Fame: 1972 (first ballot)
Honors: 7 x All-Star, 3 x Cy Young Award Winner, 2 x World Series MVP, 4 x NL TSN Pitcher of the Year, 2 x Babe Ruth Award, 3 x Triple Crown winner, 1966 Hutch Award, LA Dodgers #32 retired, MLB All-Century Team, 2 x Winner of the Hickok Belt.
Rings: 4 – 1955, 1959, 1963, 1965
Signature Moment: Being Jewish, Koufax chose not to pitch during Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on the same day as Yom Kippur. Koufax went on to have an outstanding series leading the Dodgers to a 4th World Series title and garnering his second World Series MVP Award.
Fun Fact: Sandy Koufax is the youngest player ever elected into the MLB Hall of Fame
Koufax’s career is very much one of “what-ifs”. Forced to retire at the age of 30 due to arthritis, Koufax already had 4 World Series rings, nearly 2400 strikeouts, 4 no-hitters, and 3 Cy Young Awards. Had he stayed healthy, he might hold the record for career no-hitters and Cy Young Awards. Koufax was a pure fastball throwing lefty. Early on in his career he had major control issues and really did not break out until the 6th year of his 11 year career. Once he did breakout he was a brilliant hurler. His 3-hit shutout in Game 7 of the 1965 World Series against the Minnesota Twins and his perfect game against the Cubs are an important part of baseball lore. His 27 wins in 1966 are still the most by a left handed pitcher. My favorite thing about Koufax though was his integrity and religious sense of duty that kept him from pitching in Game 1 of the ’65 series. I always wonder what Koufax’s career would have been if not for the throwing hand problems or if he had found control a little earlier in his career. I have watched replays of the 1965 World Series several times and I can say that Game 7 was one of the most brilliant performances I have ever seen by an athlete.
SP: Bob Gibson (1959 – 1975)
Nickname(s): “Hoot”, “Gibby”
Team(s): St. Louis Cardinals (1959 – 1975)
Hall of Fame: 1981 (first ballot)
Honors: 9 x All-Star, 9 x Gold Glove Award Winner, 1968 NL MVP, 2 x World Series MVP, 1964 Babe Ruth Award, Cardinals #45 retired, MLB All-Century Team
Rings: 2 – 1964, 1967
Signature Moment: In Game 1 of the 1968 World Series, Gibson struck out 17 Detroit Tigers batters. Still a World Series record.
Fun Fact: The street in Omaha where Rosenblatt Stadium (home of the College World Series is located) is named Bob Gibson Boulevard.
Hank Aaron once told Dusty Baker not to dig in against Bob Gibson because he would knock you down. “He’d knock down his own grandmother if she dared to challenge him.” Bob Gibson was a fierce competitor and the greatest pitcher of his generation. He was the second member of the 3,000 strikeout club and was the first pitcher to ever strikeout 200 batters in a single season. During the 1968 season, he pitched more than 300 innings, threw 13 shutouts, and had a record ERA of 1.12. Known for his slider and fastball, Gibson was nearly impossible to hit. He is the most recent National League pitcher to win the NL MVP award. Gibson was also a solid hitter. St. Louis routinely used him as a pinch hitter and in 1970, he had a batting average of .303. His career batting average was .206 with 26 home runs and 144 RBIs. He is one of only 2 pitchers to have a career batting average above .200 and also have at least 20 home runs and 100 RBIs. He also played great defense as he won an unthinkable 9 Gold Gloves from the pitching position. To players of the day, it meant a lot to get a hit off of Gibson. When I worked for the St. Joe Blacksnakes, our hitting coach Pete LaCock (former Cubs and Royals player) once told me about a game winning grand slam he hit off Gibson in 1975 and how that was the most memorable moment of his career. That grand slam (the only of his career) ended up being the final pitch of Gibson’s career as Bob Gibson later said, “When I gave up a grand slam to Pete LaCock, I knew it was time to quit.” Bob Gibson did not give up many homers, especially not Grand Slams. I remember asking Pete if he had the grand slam ball. After all, a home run off Bob Gibson was about as common as teeth on a rooster.
SP: Randy Johnson (1988 – 2009)
Nickname(s): “The Big Unit”
Team(s): Arizona Diamondbacks (1999 – 2004, 2007 – 2008)
Hall of Fame:
Honors: 10 x All-Star Selection, 1995 AL Cy Young Award Winner, 4 x NL Cy Young Award Winner, 2001 World Series MVP, 2001 Babe Ruth Award, 1995 AL TSN Pitcher of the Year
Rings: 1 – 2001
Signature Moment: On June 3, 2008, Johnson struck out Mike Cameron for his 4,673rd strikeout. This strikeout surpassed Roger Clemens making Randy Johnson second all-time in strikeouts.
Fun Fact: When Ichiro Suzuki signed with the Seattle Mariners, he was assigned #51 (Randy Johnson’s number), Suzuki was so humbled that he wrote Randy Johnson a letter swearing that he would never bring shame to the number.
The Big Unit is the greatest lefty to ever play the game. At 6’10″ and with that crazy mullet and a deadly slider, Johnson was perhaps the most feared pitcher in all of baseball during his career. Many would ask why I have included him as a Diamondback as opposed to a Mariner (where he spent most of his career) but he was his best as a Diamondback. He won the only World Series of his career there and was the MVP of that series. Additionally, of his 5 Cy Young Awards, 4 of them came in his first four years with Arizona. Randy Johnson was one of my favorite pitchers to watch growing up. Funny enough the first time that I ever remember watching Randy Johnson pitch as a kid was against Minnesota Twins third baseman Lou Collins in the movie Little Big League. However, I still remember his masterful performance in the 2001 series, one of the best World Series of my lifetime. Johnson averaged 10.67 strikeouts per game in his career while allowing only 7.24 hits per game. He pitched a perfect game in 2004 becoming the oldest pitcher to do so and is one of 5 pitchers who pitched a no-hitter in each league. Interestingly enough, Johnson also holds the record for the most strikeouts (17) in a relief appearance. There is no doubt that the Big Unit belongs in this game. I won’t lie though, if he took the mound, my hope would be to see a live replay of the 2001 “bird beanball” incident. If you have not seen this – YouTube it now.
SP: Tom Seaver (1967 – 1986)
Nickname(s): “Tom Terrific” “The Franchise”
Team(s): New York Mets (1967 – 1977)
Hall of Fame: 1992 (first ballot)
Honors: 12 x All-Star, 3 x NL Cy Young Award Winner, 1967 NL Rookie of the Year, 2 x NL TSN Pitcher of the Year, New York Mets #41 retired, 1969 Hickok Belt Winner
Rings: 1 – 1969
Signature Moment: On April 22, 1970 in a game against the Padres, Seaver set an MLB record by striking out the final 10 batters of the game.
Fun Fact: Tom Seaver is the only New York Mets player currently in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame who was inducted as a Met and the only Mets player to have his number retired by the Mets.
Nolan Ryan gave Tom Seaver credit for him being the pitcher who he was. Many consider this pitcher who recorded nine consecutive 200 strikeout seasons, one of the best starting pitchers in the history of the game. This past April, I was at Citi Field in Queens, NY. As I saw his number out there on the left field wall and walked through the New York Mets museum – it was very clear what Seaver’s career means to Mets fans everywhere. Reggie Jackson used to say that, “Blind men come to the park just to hear him pitch.” Seaver was known for his overhand delivery but unlike other overhand pitchers, Seaver had the endurance that allowed him to have a long career with this unprecedented pitching style. His dominant pitching style and incredible strikeout percentage led to him receiving the highest percentage of Hall of Fame votes (98.84%) in history when he was inducted in 1992. He was a powerful pitcher with pinpoint accuracy that is rare in today’s game.
SP: Steve Carlton (1965 – 1988)
Team(s): Philadelphia Phillies (1972 – 1986)
Hall of Fame: 1994 (first ballot)
Honors: 10 x All-Star, 1981 Gold Glove Award, 4 x NL Cy Young Award Winner, 4 x NL TSN Pitcher of the Year, Philadelphia Phillies #32 retired, 1972 Hickok Belt Award Winner
Rings: 3 – 1967, 1980, 1987
Signature Moment: Between July 19 and August 13, 1972, Carlton pitched 6 complete games, picking up 6 wins (4 of them shutouts), meanwhile allowing only 1 earned run and 1 unearned run.
Fun Fact: In 1987, after winning a World Series with the Minnesota Twins, Carlton made a trip to the White House to meet with President Reagan. In the team photo with the President, Carlton was not listed as a member of the team but as “unidentified Secret Service agent”.
In April, I stood in front of Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia and saw the statue of Steve Carlton that stood there. I saw Phillies fans file into the stadium wearing their Howard and Utley jerseys but I saw at least 20 people wearing the familiar #32 of Steve Carlton – one of the greatest left handed pitchers of all time. Throughout his career, he was neck in neck with Nolan Ryan for most strikeouts but Ryan’s longevity allowed him to finish 1,600 ahead of Carlton. During his career, he picked off 144 base runners (an MLB record). Carlton had three pitches (a rising fastball, a long curveball, and a dangerous slider) of which his slider is considered legendary and during the 70′s, many considered it unhittable. Carlton was the first pitcher to win 4 Cy Young Awards and led the Phillies to two World Series appearances. He was the winning pitcher of the decisive Game 6. Today, Carlton owns the majority of the franchise pitching records for the Phillies and considering greats like Grover Cleveland Alexander and Robin Roberts have taken that same mound – that’s very impressive. With the Phillies’ current staff of aces though, who knows how long Carlton holds on to those records? Growing up I always heard stories about the great strikeout race between Ryan and Carlton. How great would it be to see them both pitching in the same game?
1. Greg Maddux, Chicago Cubs/Atlanta Braves (1986 – 2008)
2. Grover Cleveland Alexander, Philadelphia Phillies (1911 – 1930)
3. Warren Spahn, Boston/Milwaukee Braves (1942 – 1965)
4. Phil Niekro, Atlanta Braves (1964 – 1987)
5. Roy Halladay*, Philadelphia Phillies (1998 – Present)
Throughout baseball’s history, there have been many great pitchers. Starting pitching proved to be a difficult task as there were probably as many as 10 other starting pitchers I would have loved to see. I am happy now that I can make out the pitchers warming up in the bullpen. I look down the 3rd base line and see Johnny Bench catching for Sandy Koufax. Not too far from where I sit, Walter Johnson is throwing strikes to Mickey Cochrane while Satchel Paige stands nearby and jaws to Johnson while he pitches. Whatever he is saying is probably a huge exaggeration but engaging nonetheless.
I take a bite of my hot dog as the infielders do hitting drills and the pitchers warm up.As I sit there, Roberto Alomar fields a ground ball and I notice a barren outfield and begin to wonder who will be catching fly balls this afternoon?In the 7th installment of the Greatest Game Never Played I will choose my bullpen and then take on my greatest challenge yet as I make several controversial picks in determining the three starting outfieldersthat will play for either team as I move closer to creating the experience that would make me feel like Don Larsen. A game that is great for everybody in the ballpark, but one that is perfect for me.
Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks? Let me hear ‘em!