The Greatest Game Never Played – 5th Inning

 

 

"Now, you tell me, if I have a day off during the baseball season, where do you think I`ll spend it? The ballpark. I still love it. Always have, always will." ~Harry Caray

The hardest part of this game is of course the people who do not get a chance to play.  At some of this game’s positions there are so many great players that I would love to see but eventually you have to leave somebody out.  Bruce Nolan would remind us that sometimes, “that’s the way the cookie crumbles”.   In looking at my 3 reserve infielders it was really a matter of what players I would want to see most that were not good enough to crack into my starting lineup.  There were no positional restrictions here so if I decided to carry 3 additional 2nd basemen on a team, there is no problem with that.  If I choose to go 1st base, 2nd base, and 3rd base – no problem with that either.  I just looked at the infielders I most wanted to see but had not made an appearance in this game yet.  This was still a hard decision and I feel like on the American League side, it will be pretty evident that I am a lifelong Minnesota Twins fan.

 

INFIELDERS –

“There are three types of baseball players: those who make it happen, those who watch it happen, and those who wonder what happens.” ~ Tommy LaSorda

 

AMERICAN LEAGUE –

1B/3B:  Harmon Killebrew (1954 – 1975)

Nickname(s):  “Hammerin’ Harmon”, “The Killer”

Team(s):  Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins (1954 – 1974)

Hall of Fame:  1984 (4th ballot) 

Honors:  13 x All-Star, 1969 AL MVP, 1971 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award, 6 x Home Run Champion, Minnesota Twins Team Captain

Rings: 

Career Batting Avg:  .256

Career HR:  573

Career RBI:  1,584

Signature Moment:  On July 18, 1962, Harmon Killebrew and Bob Allison became the first teammates since 1890 to hit grand slams in the same inning as the Twins scored 11 runs in the first inning. 

Fun Fact:  According to popular belief, the player in the MLB logo is Harmon Killebrew.

I remember when I was young and visited the Mall of America and I asked my Uncle why there was a metal home plate on the floor of Camp Snoopy.  He explained to me that Mall of America stood on the site of the Old Met where Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Tony Oliva, and the Minnesota Twins played their home games before the Metrodome was built.  That home plate was at the exact location of the old home plate.  He then pointed to a red stadium seat that was high on the wall about Paul Bunyan’s log chute and explained that it was the same seat and at the exact same position that Harmon Killebrew’s 520 foot home run landed.  From that moment on I knew who Harmon Killebrew was and this pick was primarily made because I have always wanted to see Harmon play.  Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson once said, “If Harmon Killebrew isn’t the league’s best player, I’ve never seen one.  He’s one of the greatest of all time.”   Hammerin’ Harmon was one of the most feared power hitters of the 1960s belting 40 homers in 8 seasons and leading the league in home runs on six occasions.  He was a powerful player who was known for hitting long home runs but in reality was just a quiet, mild-mannered guy who showed up everyday and did what he needed to do.  It was really hard for baseball fans not to like Harmon Killebrew.   Personality and play wise, a very good comparison would be Jim Thome in the 1990s/early 2000s – a good fielder with a powerful bat who everybody likes.   I understand there are a lot of infielders that many would have chosen but for me, I have wanted to see “Killer” play my whole life.  To this day there has only been one player to put on an MLB uniform with the first name Harmon or the last name Killebrew – Hammerin’ Harmon was truly one of a kind.

 

 

1B/2B:  Rod Carew (1967 – 1985)

Nickname(s):  Sir Rodney

Team(s):  Minnesota Twins/California (Los Angeles Angels) (1967 – 1985)

Hall of Fame:   1991 (First ballot)

Honors:  18 x All-Star, 1977 AL MVP, 1967 AL Rookie of the Year, 1977 Roberto Clemente Award, 7 x Batting Champion, Minnesota Twins #29 retired, Los Angeles Angels #29 retired

Rings: 

Career Batting Avg: .328

Hits: 3,053 

Career RBI:  1,015

Signature Moment: On August 4, 1985 in a game against Minnesota, Carew got his 3000th base hit against Twins pitcher Frank Viola.

Fun Fact:  In 1972, Rod Carew led the American League in batting average hitting .318 and did so without hitting a single home run.  To date, he is the only batting champ to ever accomplish this feat.

To understand how good Carew was and for how long just take this into account: Rod Carew is one of only a handful of players to have his jersey number retired by multiple teams.  Coincidentally the two years his jersey were retired – 1987 (Twins) and 1991 (Angels) – are the only two years the Minnesota Twins won the World Series.  In other words – if another teams wants to retire #29 next season I’d really appreciate it!

Once again this is a pick that was largely encouraged by the fact that I am a Minnesota Twins fan.   As a Twins fan there is no better 1B/2B combination than Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew.  For me it would be fun to see these two get to play together but from a baseball standpoint – there is no denying that Rod Carew is one of the greatest second basemen in American League history.  He was a good fielder but is remembered most for his hitting prowess as he is a member of the 3000 hit club and won 7 batting titles.  In 1977, Carew batted .388 which was the closest anyone had come to Ted Williams’ .400 at the time (as previously mentioned, George Brett has since had a .390 season).   In 1975, Carew became only the second player since Ty Cobb to lead all of Major League Baseball in batting average for three consecutive seasons.   Not only was he a great hitter but a speedy baserunner as well.  In his career with the Twins and Angels, Carew stole home 17 times (7 of these came in the 1969 season!).  To me, I cannot think of anything more exciting in baseball than a base runner stealing home.  Carew may have barely missed out on being named to Major League Baseball’s All-Century team but I knew he would be on this roster somewhere the moment I started writing.

 

3B:  Wade Boggs (1982 – 1999)

Nickname(s):  “Chicken Man”

Team(s):  Boston Red Sox/Tampa Bay Devil Rays (1982 – 1992, 1998 – 1999)

Hall of Fame:   2005 (First Ballot)

Honors:  12 x All-Star, 2 x Gold Glove Award Winner, 8 x Silver Slugger Award, Tampa Bay Rays #12 retired

Rings:  1 – 1996 

Career Batting Avg: .328 

Career HR:  118

Career RBI:  1,014

Hits: 3,010

Signature Moment: On August 7, 1999 Wade Boggs hit a home run at Tropicana Field against the Cleveland Indians.  That home run was his 3000th hit.  Boggs is the only player to ever have their 3000th hit be a home run.

Fun Fact: Wade Boggs was incredibly superstitious.  He ate chicken before every game, woke up at the same time every day, took exactly 100 ground balls in every practice,  and stuck to a perfectly timed routine.  Before every at-bat he drew the Hebrew word “Chai” into the batter’s box.  Additionally, Boggs is rumored to have once drank 60 – 70 beers during a cross country flight.

I feel that before I can even explain why I put Wade Boggs on my team I have to justify why I listed him as a member of the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays.  He is best remembered for his days in Boston and won the only World Series of his career with the New York Yankees; by the time he arrived in Tampa he was in the twilight of his career and the Devil Rays were a new team.  The reason that I listed Boggs as both is three-fold.  One when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, being a Tampa Bay native, he requested to go into the Hall as a Devil Ray.  Secondly, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays are the only team that he played on that has retired his number.  And third, because his greatest personal achievement – hit #3000 – came in a Tampa uniform.

As far as selecting him to this team, there is no doubt that Wade Boggs could flat out play and is one of the best third basemen to ever play the game.   As a batter he won 5 batting titles and would have had six considering that he batted .349 his rookie season.  Unfortunately he was about 120 plate appearances short to be eligible.  He also set the record for most consecutive 200-hit seasons with 7 (since broken by Ichiro Suzuki).  He won Gold Gloves, appeared at third base more than any player not named George Brett or Brooks Robinson, and he cared about the game.  Many Boston Red Sox fans today remember Boggs fighting back tears after Boston lost the 1986 World Series and see it as symbolic of the way the whole city felt after the loss.  I have always been a fan of players who play with emotion.

 

Others Considered:

1.  Jimmie Foxx, Philadelphia A’s/Boston Red Sox (1925 – 1942, 1944 – 1945)

2.  Derek Jeter*, New York Yankees (1995 – Present) 

3.  Eddie Collins,  Philadelphia A’s/Chicago White Sox (1906 – 1930)

 

NATIONAL LEAGUE –

 

 

SS/1B: Ernie Banks (1950 – 1971)

Nickname(s):  “Mr. Cub”, “Mr. Sunshine”

Team(s):  Kansas City Monarchs/Chicago Cubs (1950 – 1971)

Hall of Fame:  1977 (First Ballot)

Honors:  14 x All-Star, 1960 Gold Glove Award Winner, 2 x NL MVP, 1967 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award, Chicago Cubs #14 retired, MLB All-Century Team

Rings:   

Career Batting Avg: .274

Career HR:  512

Career RBI:  1,636

Hits: 2,583

Signature Moment:  In 1955, Ernie Banks set the single season record (later broken) for grand slams in a season with five.

Fun Fact: The term “Friendly Confines” to describe Wrigley Field was first coined by Ernie Banks.

Throughout the history of sport there have been many athletes that were widely hated, some that were loved by their fans but despised elsewhere, and some whose rivals could not help but cheer him/her on.   Ernie Banks clearly falls into the latter category. Banks was always smiling, always happy to be where he was, and always loyal to his team and his fans.  He truly loved the game which is seen in his signature catchphrase of, “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame… Let’s play two!” He is a player who played for many years on Cubs teams that were not in pennant contention but this did not stop him from becoming the first shortstop to win back-to-back MVP awards.  The Detroit Tigers Manager at the time, Jimmy Dykes, put it best when he said, “Without him, the Cubs would finish in Albuquerque!”  Ernie Banks loved to play and even today still has time for his fans.  When he retired he had hit the most home runs of any shortstop and still holds the Cubs records for most games played (2,528), extra base hits (1,009), and total bases (4,706).  He was a great player who loved to play and loved Chicago and brought his best to Wrigley every day though the Cubs rarely made the postseason in his 19 year career.  Mr. Cub is still an institution in Chicago to this day and was the first Cubs player to ever have his number retired.

 

 

SS:  Honus Wagner (1897 – 1917)

Nickname(s):  “The Flying Dutchman”

Team(s):  Pittsburgh Pirates (1900 – 1917)

Hall of Fame:  1936 (First Ballot)

Honors:  8 x Batting Champion, Pirates #33 Retired, MLB All-Century Team 

Rings:   1 –  1909

Career Batting Avg:  .327

Career RBI:  1,732

Hits: 3,415

Stolen Bases: 722

Signature Moment:  In 1909, Honus Wagner won the only World Series of his career against Ty Cobb and the Detroit Tigers.  In doing so, he set a Major League record by stealing six bases in a World Series.

Fun Fact:  The Honus Wagner T206 Baseball card (pictured) is the rarest and most expensive baseball card in the world with only 57 known to exist.  In 2007, a near mint Honus Wagner T206 card sold for $2.8 million at auction.

 

Of Honus Wagner, Hall of Famer Ty Cobb said he was, “maybe the greatest star to ever take the diamond.”  Wagner is considered by many to be the greatest player of the deadball era and the best shortstop to ever play the game.  His prowess as a fielder often had him compared to an “octopus” and it was said that “his huge hands also collected large scoops of infield dirt, which accompanied his throws to first like the tail of a comet”.  He was a great contact hitter, had a glove that a ball rarely got past, and a powerful cannon of an arm.  In 1898, while with the Louisville Colonels, he won a contest by throwing a ball more than 403 feet.  On top of all those things, he was a quick base runner.  In 1899, he became the first major leaguer to ever steal second, third, and home in succession.  He would accomplish this feat three more times in his career (1902, 1907, and 1909).  Wagner could do everything.  Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Mathewson often said that Wagner was the only player he ever faced who did not have a weakness.  Babe Ruth said that Wagner could have been just as good at any position on the field as he was at shortstop.  It must have been an amazing thing to see Honus take the field and I would love that chance.

 

 

SS: Robin Yount (1974 – 1993)

Nickname(s):  “The Kid”

Team(s):   Milwaukee Brewers (1974 – 1993)

Hall of Fame:  1999 (First Ballot)

Honors:  3 x All-Star, 1982 Gold Glove Award Winner, 3 x Silver Slugger Award Winner, 2 x AL MVP, Milwaukee Brewers #19 retired

Rings:   

Career Batting Avg:  .285 

Career HR:  251

Career RBI:  1,406

Hits: 3,142

Signature Moment:  On April 15, 1987, while playing center field for the Brewers, Yount made a game-ending diving catch to preserve Juan Nieves’s no-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles.

Fun Fact: Though an intense rivalry was portrayed on the field between Robin Yount and George Brett of the Royals, the two were actually very close friends.  George Brett’s second son is named Robin in Yount’s honor.

The case of Robin Yount, and the Milwaukee Brewers in general, is why I thought it was a good idea to make this simple and just keep players in the leagues that their franchise currently plays in.  Yount was an American Leaguer and 2 time MVP in the AL but since the Brewers are currently a National League Team, this too is where Yount must fall.  Robin Yount was a fun player to watch and a great shortstop from the time he entered the league as a teenager.  He was the first Brewer to ever start in consecutive All-Star games, though his 3 All-Star appearances are the fewest of a Hall of Famer in the All-Star game era.  In the 1980s, Yount collected more hits than any other player and ranks 17th on the all-time hits list.  He led the Milwaukee Brewers to their only World Series appearance and even set a record by becoming the only player to collect 4 hits twice in the same World Series.   I always enjoyed watching Robin Yount play on TV when I was young and what I would not give to see him play live.

 

Others Considered:

1.Ryne Sandberg, Chicago Cubs (1981 – 1994, 1996 – 1997) 

2. Rogers Hornsby, St. Louis Cardinals (1915 – 1937)

3. Craig Biggio, Houston Astros (1988 – 2007)

 

Well the game is inching closer and I can’t believe it – I was worried when Ozzie Smith took the field because I was afraid it probably meant Mr. Cub hadn’t made it to the game but sure enough there he is jogging on the warning track – ready to play two if anyone asks.   Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew are catching up in the middle of the field and I see a ballboy headed to the dugout with a bucket of fried chicken which can only mean that Wade Boggs is here as well.  As all of this goes on around me I see some people crowded around the bullpens.  I strain my eyes but for the life of me I can’t tell who is warming up.  Who will take the mound in this classic game?

I am over the hump and on my way to a perfect game.  In the 6th inning, I will break down the starting pitchers and bullpens for each of the two teams.

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

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