The Greatest Game Never Played – The 1st Inning

“People ask me what I do in the winter when there is no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” ~ Rogers Hornsby, HOF 2B, St. Louis Cardinals

I love baseball.  That’s all there is to it.  Not to be mistaken, I do not love baseball in the same way that “I love French fries” or in the same way that Brick loved lamp .  It is much deeper than that, much more emotional.  Baseball is a feeling and a sensation like nothing else.  It’s sport’s way of saying that winter is gone and summer is on it’s way.  Baseball has a smell, a taste, and even as Stanley Ross reminded us in his second stint with the Brewers – a song.  Like “Crash” Davis I too “believe in the hanging curve ball” and that “there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf.”  For these reasons, I love baseball.

Now I would not be so crass as to consider my love of baseball to be as important, or as deep, as the love that I would feel for a family member, friend, or significant other.  But baseball has given me some of my best memories with these people.   My relationship with baseball is more of a driving force; a part of who I am; an inner need; an obsession.

Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that my relationship with the sport is more of a lust than anything else.  Anyone that has been around me for at least 10 minutes knows this to be true.

Back in April, I decided that for my spring vacation (aka me using up all my personal days at work before they expired on April 30th) I was going to spend 5 days enjoying baseball.  I started about by attending a New Britain Rock Cats game (Minnesota Twins AA team in New Britain, CT), and then I would move on to New York to watch the Yankees host the Rangers and the Mets host the Astros.  And then on to the City of Brotherly Love to see the Phillies take on the Brewers.

Monument Park, located behind the center field wall at Yankee Stadium, pays homage to some of the greatest players to ever play the game

Right before I embarked on my vacation, I was talking to a friend of mine who is a Yankees fan (it is amazing we are still friends I know) about how excited I was to go to Yankee Stadium, see the Great Ball Wall, and take a stroll through Monument Park.    When I mentioned Monument Park he made a comment that I was going to get to recognize the greatest men who ever played the game.  He went so far as to say, “Think about it, if there was an All-Star game between the all-time greats, all those players [in Monument Park]  would be on the field.  The most fun players to watch in the history of baseball have been mostly Yankees. Heck, 80% of the American League team would be wearing pinstripes.” It gave me something to think about and though no contest had been declared, the only appropriate response, in the tradition of Barney Stinson, was simply, “I accept your challenge!”

I have loved baseball my whole life.  I fell in love with the game as a child playing Little League, quite terribly, every summer.  I remember sitting at home on Sunday afternoons watching Wally Joyner, George Brett, and the Kansas City Royals. When we were really fortunate enough to get the feed – I loved watching my favorite player Kirby Puckett and the Minnesota Twins.   When I was in third grade, I started reading every book on baseball and every baseball player biography in our elementary library.  By the fifth grade I had conquered the elementary and public library and was getting started on the high school library.  I used every spare dime I could to buy baseball cards.   I am a student of the game’s history and perhaps that is what makes the game so great.

"Bob Lemon once said, 'Baseball was made for kids. Grown-ups just screw it up." ~ Billy Heywood

My friend had explicitly said the “greatest” players and those who were “the most fun to watch.”   For him, this game would probably be predominantly Yankees but I knew for me this would not be true.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized there would be a lot of representatives from the game’s top historical franchises (A’s, Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals, Pirates, and Giants) but I also realized, in my case, there would also be players from teams like the Royals, Twins, Cubs, and Brewers.  And then the question simply became:

What would this look like?

Imagine it – an All-Star game that features the greatest players to ever play the game in their prime; a game that defies the rules of time and aging but exists only within the greatest mythology of America’s pastime.

Who would play in this game?

Who would manage?

Where would this game be played?

Who would sing the national anthem?

These questions captured my imagination in a way that has not been so in quite some time. I decided that if Roy Halladay, Don Larsen, and Catfish Hunter can have their perfect games as a player – why can’t I have mine as a fan?

Like a spinning top in the vault of my subconscious, the idea was planted firmly in my mind.  This concept that I needed to create this All-Star game, in the written form, has taken root and grabbed a hold of me.  I want to do this.  Moreso, I have to do this.  In doing so I am not drafting an All-Century team or assigning positional rankings of the greats, actual experts have already done so multiple times.  Call me selfish, but this undertaking is solely about me and the game I would want to experience as a fan.  It would be a game in which every detail sparked my interest and captured my love of the game.  It would be a game that was so engaging that from the moment the ceremonial first pitch was thrown, I would not leave my seat.  I would want to see every pitch, every hit, every defensive play.

Such a game would not be about the greatness of the players according to experts but about their greatness in my eyes.   Career merits would weigh heavily in one’s favor but at the end of the day, it would simply be about the brand of baseball the players played.  Whether they played for 5 years or 25 years, it would simply be about great players at the peak of their careers; it would not be about the quantity of years played but the quality.  It would be about seeing the diamond filled with the very players and legends who drove me to love baseball so.

It would be MY perfect game.

As I began to imagine what this game would look like and who I would select for the two teams, I realized I would need some guidelines to focus my selection process and I came up with the following nine over lunch one day:

1.  There will be a 25 man roster for the American League and the National League.  The positions included will be:

  • Catcher (2)
  • 1B (1)
  • 2B (1)
  • SS (1)
  • 3B (1)
  • Infielder (3)
  • RF (1)
  • CF (1)
  • LF (1)
  • OF (3)
  • DH (1)
  • UTIL (1)
  • SP (5)
  • P (1)
  • RP (2)

In addition each team will have a Manager, 1B Coach, and 3B Coach.  RP will be a set-up man and a Closer.  Any OF position can be chosen for an OF reserve spot, as is the case with INF.  The position of P can be either a SP or a RP.  Both teams will have a Designated Hitter and Utility Player.

2.   Unlike the Major League All-Star game, every Major League Baseball team/franchise does not have to be represented.

3. All players who played professionally after 1900 in the Major Leagues or Negro Leagues are eligible for consideration.

4. I will do my best to limit myself to a maximum of five people per franchise (for instance – the 1900 to 1961 Washington Senators will be considered the Minnesota Twins franchise, the Washington Senators after 1962 will be considered the Texas Rangers franchise, and the Montreal Expos will be considered the Washington Nationals franchise, etc.)   Managers/Coaches are not included in this count.  League affiliations will be determined by the most recent affiliation of said franchise.  This rule is in place, not to avoid players from teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Cardinals, but more so to avoid an inappropriate amount of Twins and Royals players and thus limit my bias.

5.   For Negro Leagues players that never made the Majors, their league affiliation will be determined either by A) the league affiliation of the MLB team that played in the same city as theirs or B) by the team that took them in the MLB Negro League player draft that took place in the earlier part of this decade.   Negro League players that never played in the Majors will not count against a franchise’s number of players.

6.  A player is only eligible for positions that they played successfully (at my discretion).  A player has to have played a position for at least 3 seasons (unless their career was shorter than that) to be eligible for it.  All batters are eligible to be named the designated hitter and utility player for a team. 

7.  At least one current player (11)  and one current manager will be considered for every position for both teams combined. In other words, if a current player is under consideration for the position of American League 1B, one does not have to be considered for National League 1B.  Current players refer to players who have appeared on an active roster for an MLB team in the 2011 season.

8.  The franchise allegiance of a player (especially in instances when they had great careers in both leagues) will be at my discretion.  In most cases, things  like where they had their most success, where they played the longest, where they won the most rings, team that retired their number, or the logo on their Hall of Fame plaque will suffice.  Players may also be listed as members of multiple teams in the same league if they had success on multiple rosters in the same league.  Negro League players who made the majors will be listed by both Negro League and MLB team.

9.   All considered players for each position will be ranked and, at most, five players who did not make the cut will also be shared in order of ranking.   There are cases where the runner-up for one position might in fact make the team in another position – such as the runner-up for starting RF to make it on as a back-up OF.

These guidelines will better help me to form my teams for this game and over this installment and the next three I will present the rosters for my teams.  In putting these teams together I am in no way saying these are the 50 best players to ever step on the diamond, these are just my 50 best (given the parameters provided).  However I firmly believe that the 50 I have chosen would all be considered in the top 250 players of all team and all be in the top 25 all-time for their respective postion.  That much, I do believe to be true.

Throughout the World Series (I have a feeling we’re in for at least 6 games) I will be publishing eight more brief installments that will lay out my perfect game.  Tomorrow, in the 2nd inning, I will set the stage for this game by selecting my stadium, announcer, broadcaster, anthem singer, and other important factors that play into what baseball has now become.   STAY TUNED.

Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks? Let me hear ’em!

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