The Cafe 101: The 1st Course

Sports Heaven's most exclusive restaurant is the Cafe 101. As the name suggests there are only 101 tables, each reserved for the greatest to don that number.

Imagine there’s a sports heaven;
It’s easy if you try.
Where sports’ greatest legends
Depart to when they die.

Imagine all the athletes, of past and present day.

Now imagine a Cafe;
It’s not that hard to do.
There’s only 101 tables;
It’s open to a select few.

Imagine all the athletes, hoping to get a seat.

You may say I’m a dreamer;
But I’m not the only one.
Deciding the greatest athletes by number;
Who get to enter the Cafe 101.

Imagine this sports paradise and the Cafe 101 is the most exclusive of restaurants in sports heaven.  There are only 101 tables with each numbered table being given to the greatest athlete to don that number.   Who would get the table, who would just miss out? Who would at least be worthy of placing on a waiting list?

It’s time to introduce the first four members of the athletic afterlife’s most exclusive club.

TABLE

JOHN ELWAY

Quarterback, Denver Broncos (1983-1999)
2x Super Bowl Champion, 5x AFC Champion, 9x Pro Bowl Selection, 1987 NFL MVP, Hall of Fame – 2004

Without a doubt, the number 7 is one of the most sacred jersey numbers in all of sports.  To those who love baseball it’s Mickey Mantle, to soccer lovers it’s David Beckham, and for basketball fans it stirs up images of “Pistol Pete” Maravich.  Without a doubt, Table # 7 is one of the most exclusive tables at the Cafe 101 because so many great athletes have worn the number but when push came to shove, I had to choose John Elway.

John Elway is one of the top quarterbacks in NFL history.  He led a once irrelevant franchise to 5 Super Bowl appearances, winning the last two and leaving the game on top.   He is the only quarterback (and one of two players) to have a rushing touchdown in 4 different Super Bowls.  He is 4th all-time in passing yards and completions and is one of the winningest QBs of all time.  He is 5th in passing touchdowns and one of only four quarterbacks to have passed for over 3,000 yards in 12 seasons.  His nine Pro Bowl appearances are second among quarterbacks.  While Mickey Mantle could easily lobby the hostess for why Table number 7 should belong to him, I have to give this table to “Mr. Ed.”

RUNNER-UP: MICKEY MANTLE, Outfielder, New York Yankees (1951-1968)

ON THE WAITING LIST: David Beckham, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Mauer, Craig Biggio, Michael Vick, “Pistol Pete” Maravich, Phil Esposito, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Raul Gonzalez, Luis Figo, Anne Donovan, Danica Patrick (Indy Car), and Cristiano Ronaldo

TOO SOON TO TELL: Carmelo Anthony, Christian Ponder, & Lamar Odom

TABLE

NOLAN RYAN

Starting Pitcher, New York Mets, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Houston Astros, & Texas Rangers (1966-1993)
1969 World Series Champion, 8x All-Star, 1977 AL TSN Pitcher of the Year, Hall of Fame – 1999

Table #30 was another tough one but for me it came down to 2 defenders who were leaps and bounds ahead of the competition.  There are many who are going to be disappointed that I selected Nolan Ryan over perhaps the greatest goaltender of all time in Martin Brodeur but there is no denying Ryan’s dominance as a pitcher.  His 5,714 strikeouts are the most all-time and I believe that no one will ever approach his mark of 7 no-hitters.  On top of that he had 12 more games that were one-hitters.   Of course on the flip side, Ryan is the only pitcher in MLB history to have walked 200 batters in a season twice.  However I think with Ryan, the good outweighs the bad.  What I most respect about Ryan is that he excelled as a pitcher over such a long period of time having played in the Majors in 4 different decades.  He is so respected that he is the only player in the MLB to have his number retired by three different teams.

RUNNER-UP: MARTIN BRODEUR, Goaltender, New Jersey Devils (1991 – Present)

ON THE WAITING LIST: Terrell Davis, Tim Raines, Magglio Ordonez, & Orlando Cepeda

TOO SOON TO TELL: Ryan Miller & Tim Thomas

TABLE

DON DRYSDALE

Starting Pitcher, Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers (1956-1969)
3x World Series Champion, 9 x All-Star, 1962 Cy Young Award Winner, Hall of Fame – 1984

As we get into larger numbers, the pickings get a bit more slim as many sports rarely have numbers past 40.  While the pickings are a bit more slim than 7 and 30 were, there were still some very great athletes the donned jersey number 53.  The best athlete to ever wear the number was Don Drysdale who, along with Sandy Koufax, formed the most dominant pitching duo in MLB history.

Don Drysdale was overlooked throughout much of his career because he always pitched in Koufax’s shadow but he was a legend in his own right.  In his Cy Young season in 1962,  he won 25 games.  In 1968, he set an MLB record with six consecutive shutouts and 58 consecutive shutout innings (since broken by Orel Hershiser).  Drysdale is also one of the better batting pitchers of all time.  In 1965 he batted .300 with 7 home runs.  He finished his career with over 2,400 strikeouts, 209 wins, 167 complete games, and 49 career shutouts.  What is unbelievable is that he was forced into retirement by a sore shoulder, it’s crazy to think about what he could’ve accomplished with 5 or 6 more seasons in the league.

RUNNER-UP: HARRY CARSON, Inside Linebacker, New York Giants (1976-1988)

ON THE WAITING LIST: Randy Gradishar, Derek Morris,  & Artis Gilmore

TOO SOON TO TELL: Maurkice Pouncey & Bobby Abreu

TABLE

ALAN PAGE

Defensive Tackle, Minnesota Vikings & Chicago Bears (1967-1981)
4x NFC Champion, 9x Pro-Bowl Selection, 6x All-Pro, 3x NFL Defensive Player of the Year, 1971 NFL MVP, Hall of Fame – 1988

I thought I had this great #88 debate solved when I finally decided to take Alan Page over Michael Irvin but then I was reminded that Tony Gonzalez, the greatest Tight End to ever play the game and 2nd most prolific receiver of all time, is also #88.  After much consideration I still had to give the edge to Alan Page who was the cornerstone of the greatest defensive line in NFL History – the Purple People Eaters.  He may just be the greatest defensive tackle to ever play the game.

He played in 218 consecutive games in which he recovered 22 fumbles and collected an unofficial 148.5 sacks .  His three safeties are the second-most of all time.  Additionally in 1971, he became the first defensive player to be named the NFL MVP.  Page was such a great athlete that he was the first active NFL player to complete a marathon.  While I mean no disrespect to other great athletes who wore the number 88, I believe this table belongs to Alan Page.

But seriously, if someone wanted to challenge Alan Page for this table – could they really take it from him?

RUNNER-UP: TONY GONZALEZ,  Tight End, Kansas City Chiefs & Atlanta Falcons (1997 – Present)

ON THE WAITING LIST: Michael Irvin, Lynn Swann, Terry Glenn, Tory Holt, Marvin Harrison, Albert Belle, Eric Lindros, John Mackey, & Dale Jarrett

TOO SOON TO TELL: Hakeem Nicks, Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Patrick Kane, & Jeremy Shockey

Click photo to enlarge the seating chart for Sports Heaven's most exclusive restaurant

Will your favorite athletes be able to get a table at the Cafe 101? Keep reading to find out!  If you have any questions, comments, or snide remarks please comment below or tweet them to @can_of_corn!


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American Futbol

A special thanks to Mark Muzzi (one of the inspirations in the “M&M Gems” name) for his assistance with this blogpost.

What if America's best athletes played soccer?

In the past couple of years soccer has made significant gains in vying for fans.  Last season the MLS averaged larger crowds than both the NBA and the NHL.  ESPN’s coverage of the World Cup in 2010 led to more people in the United States watching the event than ever before.  And the MLS Cup on Sunday promises to have the largest viewership the event has had in years.  While men’s soccer continues to grow in the United States, our success on the international stage is lacking. (We have of course experienced much success in women’s soccer.

I’m a firm believer that the United States has the best athletes in the world and I feel like the collegiate and professional leagues that we boast are perfect proof of this.  We have the best hockey, basketball, and baseball leagues (and football of course) in the world.  We have dominated Olympic competition in nearly every sport except men’s soccer.  Soccer is a sport where successful teams are defined by speed and athleticism which begs the question:

If America has the best athletes in the world, why has the United States been so unsuccessful at men’s soccer?

Seems like a difficult question but the answer is really simple: because in every other country in the world, the best male athletes play soccer – in America this just isn’t true.  Our best athletes are in the NBA and NFL which caused my friend Mark and I to think about the soccer team the United States would field in the World Cup if our best athletes did indeed play soccer.   In putting together this team, we focused on American athletes who play sports professionally (except for soccer of course).

America’s All-Athlete Soccer Team:

Goalkeeper: Larry Fitzgerald, Wide Receiver; Arizona Cardinals

In soccer a goalkeepr’s job is simple (in theory at least) keep balls from getting in the net.  The most valuable commodity that a goalkeeper can have is a great pair of hands considering that they are the only player on the pitch allowed to use them.   Fitzgerald has the height, ability, and agility necessary to defend a goal and nobody can deny that he has large hands that can catch almost anything and was the obvious choice for goalkeeper.

Centre Back: Ed Reed, Safety; Baltimore Ravens

Ed Reed is one of the best safeties to ever play football and those skills would translate well to the soccer pitch.   In the NFL, Reed is notorious because of his vision and the ability he has to “see the entire field”.   He is also known for his speed and instincts that allow him to cover a lot of territory very quickly and always be near the ball.  As a center backer these abilities would suit him perfectly in his primary responsibilities: stop the other team from scoring and force turnovers.

Centre Back: LeBron James, Small Forward; Miami Heat

Oguchi Onyewu is the tallest player in U.S. National team history and is known as a hellacious defensive player.  But, athletically – he has nothing on LeBron James.  LeBron has great height and quickness.  Coming off the corners he would be nearly impossible to stop.  On the court he is known for his ability to make the big play on either end of the court.  As a centre back, James would swarm to the ball and make Fitzgerald’s life a lot easier.  He has the strength and the height needed for a good centre back combined with the instincts that would make him difficult to score on.

Left Back: Darelle Revis, Cornerback; New York Jets

If Revis Island can be where big plays go to die in the NFL, why not in the MLS or FIFA World Cup?  Darelle Revis possesses a rare combination of athleticism, speed, and depth perception.  He has instincts  that allow him to see how a play will unfold before the fact.  He is a master of reading body position and understands how that position plays into his opponent’s next move and his own.  A good fullback is expected to have a lot of stamina and be able to cover the flanks with blazing speed.  This is what makes Darelle Revis an obvious choice for this position.

Right Back: Eric Berry, Safety; Kansas City Chiefs

A couple years back I watched Tennesee play LSU on national television and I realized just how special Eric Berry really was.   His combination of speed, instinct, and agility was simply astounding to watch.  Even now in the NFL (before he was injured) Eric Berry seemed to always be at the point where the ball was.  Eric Berry is like Visa, he’s everywhere you want to be and that would make him an exceptional right back.  With an amazing awareness for where the ball is and ability to cover large amounts of the pitch very quickly, Berry would be a ferocious defender.

Center Mid-Fielder: Aaron Rodgers, Quarterback; Green Bay Packers

I still don’t think Jon Gruden has gotten off his knees yet from watching Aaron Rodgers dismantle the Vikings on Monday Night Football.  After that cacophony of praise I am having a hard time giving credit to Rodgers but there is no doubt he is a phenomenal athlete.  What makes Rodgers such a great quarterback in the NFL is his ability to distribute the ball and make the players around him better.  In a sense a center mid-fielder is the quarterback or point guard of his team.  There is no doubt that Rodgers is a natural leader and can distribute the ball.  On top of that anyone who has ever seen him run a bootleg knows that he has the speed and athleticism to lead his team down the pitch.  Watching Rodgers is like watching an artist at work.  He is deceptively fast and incredibly efficient.  Think of Spain’s Xavi here but even better.

Center Mid-Fielder: Chris Paul, Point Guard; New Orleans Hornets

Like Rodgers, Paul is a great ball distributor and makes his teammates better.  He is quick and has great feet.  He is a natural leader and understands match-ups.  There was no doubt in either of our minds that Chris Paul would make an excellent mid-fielder.  He has the speed and natural instincts necessary to master this position.

Left Mid-Fielder: Reggie Bush, Running Back; Miami Dolphins

If you want to understand the ability that Reggie Bush has to change direction and cover a lot of space very quickly – just go watch the USC vs. Fresno State game from his junior year.  When you see the play I have in mind you’ll know it – he somehow ran from one sideline to the other and back again to scamper more than 30 yards for a score.  He is naturally left-handed and left-footed which makes him a natural fit for this position.  Anyone that has seen him return a punt knows his ability to get up the field.  Mark described Reggie Bush as having “world class speed and agility.  Think [Tottenham Hotspur’s] Gareth Bale but more agile.”

Right Mid-Fielder: Devin Hester, Wide Receiver/Kick Returner; Chicago Bears

Devin Hester has an amazing ability to understand defense.  He naturally can find the ball and once he has it – find a seam that he can exploit to go the distance.  If you find Devin Hester unguarded with the ball breaking away down the right sideline – good luck stopping this guy because you won’t be able to catch him.  Hester could be a world-class right mid-fielder.

Centre Forward: Derrick Rose, Point Guard; Chicago Bulls

The centre forward has one job – to score goals.  If you ever watch the Bulls play, Rose has the ability to penetrate defenses and drive to the basket.  He has an incredible ability to shoot a gap and an understanding of angles to know what steps he has to take to get to the goal.  When you think of Derrick Rose translating his skill set to soccer, think Carlos Tevez.

Striker: Darren Sproles, Running Back; New Orleans Saints

Mark always likes to describe Sproles as having “phone booth quickness” and to be honest, I really can’t disagree.  Despite his size, this guy amazes me with his speed, quickness, agility, and ability to make guys miss.  I believe that he has the footwork necessary from the multiple times I’ve seen him tiptoe 40 yards down a sideline for a score.  As Mark put it, “If Sproles has any kind of skill, Messi can kiss it!”

The Subs

Reserve Goalkeeper: Calvin Johnson, Wide Receiver; Detroit Lions

The only reason that Calvin Johnson is dubbed Megatron instead of the Freak is because “the Freak” was already taken (twice actually).  Calvin Johnson is a remarkable combination of size, speed, and agility and lives by the motto of “If you can touch it, you can catch it.”  I feel that Johnson would be incredibly difficult to score on and with his remarkable height, strength, and leaping ability – would be a prime candidate if you needed to throw someone in the game to head a ball in.

Substitute: Adrian Peterson, Running Back; Minnesota Vikings

Peterson plays the game of football with a sense of violence and urgency that could come in handy inside of the penalty box.  He is difficult to tackle and once he has momentum, incredibly difficult to stop.  Peterson has quick feet, is very shifty, and can change direction on a dime.  In a game his best fit would probably be as a right mid-fielder.  While not as quick as Rose or Sproles, he could also serve as a full back in his ability to attack a gap and naturally figure out where he needs to be in order to get to the goal

Substitute: Metta World Peace (Ron Artest), Small Forward; Los Angeles Lakers

There is no denying the athletic ability of the basketball player formerly known as Ron Artest.  This was purely a Mark pic but I can’t deny the reasoning.  Artest would be great at getting to the ball and tipping it in when it bounces off the goal.  “Every team needs a garbage player” and nobody could feel that role better than whatever his name is this week.

There is no doubt in my mind that if our best male athletes were brought up playing soccer as opposed to basketball, football, and baseball – that our FIFA teams would enjoy similar success to our women’s teams.  The question has to be though – here’s our team:

WHO WOULD YOU PLACE ON YOURS?

The Greatest Game Never Played – 6th Inning

 

 

 

"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) 

Nickname(s):  Satchel 

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 

Wins: 260 

ERA:  3.29 (in Major Leagues, Negro Leagues uncertain) 

Strikeouts:  288 (MLB) 

No-Hitters:  2  

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 

Wins: 417 

ERA: 2.17 

Strikeouts:  3,508 

No-Hitters: 2 

Shutouts:  110

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 

Wins:  324 

ERA: 3.19 

Strikeouts:  5,714 

No-Hitters: 7  

Shut-outs: 61 

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 

Wins:  511 

ERA:  2.63 

Strikeouts:  2,803 

No-Hitters:  3

Shut-outs:  76

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 

Wins: 354 

ERA: 3.12

Strikeouts:  4,672

No-Hitters:  

Shut-outs: 46

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.

Others Considered:

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 

Wins:  165 

ERA: 2.76 

Strikeouts:  2,396 

No-Hitters:  4

Shut-outs: 40

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

Wins:  251

ERA:  2.91

Strikeouts:  3,117

No-Hitters:  1

Shut-outs: 56

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

Wins:  303

ERA:  3.29

Strikeouts:  4,875

No-Hitters:  2

Shut-outs:  37 

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

Wins:  311

ERA: 2.86

Strikeouts:  3,640

No-Hitters:  1

Shut-outs: 61

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)

Nickname(s):  “Lefty”

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

Wins:  329

ERA:  3.22

Strikeouts:  4,136

No-Hitters:  0

Shut-outs: 55

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? 

Others Considered:

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!

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!

The Greatest Game Never Played – 4th Inning

"You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around the whole time." ~ Jim Bouton, Ball Four (1970)

In New England, the law of the land is baseball.   In this corner of the US, Opening Day is like Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day, the 4th of July, and the day after Easter combined.  Many of these people’s families have been living in the same house, on the same street, for hundreds of years.  For the last hundred, they have lived and died by the fate of the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Mets, Blue Jays, and Giants.  These are passionate fans who take baseball season very seriously at all levels of play.  They celebrate their greatest heroes and forever berate and shun the scapegoats of their greatest failures.

I experienced this three days after I moved to Massachusetts.  On January 4, 2011, the Brockton Rox (a minor league baseball team in Brockton, Massachusetts) announced that they had signed Bill Buckner on as the team’s manager.  It was considered a risky move by many and in my part of the state, most Red Sox fans were in disbelief that Buckner was allowed in Massachusetts.   In his 20 year career, Buckner had more than 2700 hits, 1200 RBIs, batted .289. and stole 25 or more bases in 10 of these seasons.  However, all anyone in Boston can remember him for is the “Mookie Error” from Game 6 of the 1986 World series. It is this error, that makes it more acceptable for me to yell out the F-bomb in a church than to say anything positive about Bill Buckner in a Massachusetts bar.

This is the fate of infielders.  They are paid for their bats but they are remembered for their gloves.

In Buckner’s case, he is forever shunned for the time that his glove was not so reliable.  Though David Ortiz, Curt Schilling, Johnny Damon, and Dustin Pedroia have since eased this pain, many in Red Sox nation still cringe at the sound of his name.

Buckner’s career, like many others, has been defined by something so frail as a single moment.

Bill Wamsganss, former second baseman for the Cleveland Naps (Indians),explained this phenomenon best when talking about his unassisted triple play in the 1920 World Series, “”Funny thing, I played in the big leagues for 13 years, 1914 through 1926, and the only thing that anybody seems to remember is that once I made an unassisted triple play in a World Series. Many don’t even remember the team I was on, or the position I played, or anything. Just Wambsganss-unassisted triple play! You’d think I was born on the day before and died on the day after.”

For Buckner, he is not remembered for his greatest moments but the severity of one mistake.

As I continue my bid for the perfect game, I will be using this installment to select the rest of my starting  infielders and utility players. Like Buckner, they had their share of mistakes and like Wamsganss they had their great moments.  More than a single moment, these are all men who are remembered for continued superiority on the field and for entertaining and inspiring millions in the process.

Some positions, like shortstop, were extremely difficult to determine while other positions (third base) were so obvious that in the tradition of the Bluth family all I could say was, “That’s a freebie” and be thankful for such an easy decision.

SECOND BASEMEN

"I am convinced that every boy, in his heart, would rather steal second base than steal an automobile." ~ Tom Clark

AMERICAN LEAGUE –

2B:  Roberto Alomar (1988 – 2004)

Nickname(s):  

Team(s):  Toronto Blue Jays (1991 – 1995)

Hall of Fame:  2011 (2nd ballot) 

Honors:  12 x All-Star, 10 x Gold Glove Winner, 4 x Silver Slugger, 1992 ALCS MVP, 1998 All-Star Game MVP 

Rings:  2 – 1992, 1993

Career Batting Avg:  .300

Career HR:  210

Career RBI:  1,134

Career Hits:  2,724

Career Stolen Bases: 474

Signature Moment:  In Game 4 of the 1992 ALCS, Alomar went 4-5 and hit a home run off Dennis Eckersley that tied the game 6 -6 in the 9th.  The Blue Jays won the game 7-6 in 11 innings and took a 3 – 1 lead over the A’s. 

Fun Fact:  Roberto Alomar will (more than likely)  be the first player to ever go into the MLB Hall of Fame as a Toronto Blue Jay when he is inducted in July of this year.

I am one of those people that really do not know what to think of the practice of Hall of Fame voters withholding votes (in any sport) because someone was not good enough to be “first ballot”.  The truth is though, what more can a person accomplish between that first and second year to all of a sudden make them more deserving?  Roberto Alomar is one of the best second basemen to ever play the game and in my eyes should have been inducted last year.  His 10 Gold Gloves are more than any other second baseman in history and his 4 Silver Sluggers are the second most.  He recorded more than 2,700 hits and had a .300 career batting average which also makes him one of the better switch-hitters of all time.  Alomar was unbelievable defensively and a great hitter as well.  He is one of the biggest reasons that the Blue Jays won back to back World Series in the 90s (and who knows what would have happened in 1994 if not for the strike-shortened season?).  He was great in Toronto and had his best years there.  For me though, those 3 years he was in Baltimore and paired with Cal Ripken, Jr. and led them to back to back ALCS appearances?  That’s one of my favorite double play combinations ever!  (Hint, hint)

Others Considered:

1. Rod Carew, Minnesota Twins/California Angels (1967 – 1985)

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

3. Frank White, Kansas City Royals (1973 – 1990)

4. Dustin Pedroia*, Boston Red Sox (2006 – Present)

NATIONAL LEAGUE –

2B:  Jackie Robinson (1945 – 1956)

Nickname(s):  

Team(s):  Kansas City Monarchs (1945), Brooklyn Dodgers (1947 – 1956)

Hall of Fame:  1962 (First Ballot) 

Honors:  6 x MLB All-Star, 1 x Negro League All-Star, 1947 Rookie of the Year, 1949 NL MVP, #42 retired by all of Major League Baseball, Major League All-Century Team 

Rings:  1 – 1955

Career Batting Avg:  .311

Career HR:  137

Career RBI:  734

Career Hits:  1,518

Career Stolen Bases:  197

Signature Moment:  On April 15, 1947 Jackie Robinson made his MLB Debut at Ebbets Field.  In doing so he became the first black player since 1880 to openly break Major League Baseball’s color line.

Fun Fact:  Jackie Robinson was the first athlete to ever play in four varsity sports at UCLA – Football, Baseball, Basketball, and Track.  He was a national champion in track and of these four, baseball was his worst sport.

Jackie Robinson once remarked that, “A life has no value except for in the impact it has on others.”  He should know because even today, nearly 40 years after his death, he continues to have an impact on society.  He was a barrier breaker and a pioneer.  He served his country during World War II.  There are many reasons why I admire Robinson as a person.  There are just as many reasons to admire him as a player.

He made an impact from the moment he entered the league winning the inaugural rookie of the year award (and this was at a time when there was only one award for both leagues).   He finished his first season with 12 home runs, a league leading 29 steals, and 125 runs scored.   In 1950, he would lead the National League in double plays with 133.  If anyone wants to understand how valuable Robinson was to the Dodgers, in his 10 year career he led the Dodgers to 6 World Series appearances.  And the thing I think I love most about Robinson, is his loyalty.  At the end of his career, the Dodgers sold his rights to the New York Giants.  Rather than play for the rival Giants, Robinson chose to retire instead.

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)

4. Bill Mazeroski, Pittsburgh Pirates (1956 – 1972)

5. Chase Utley*, Philadelphia Phillies (2003 – Present)

SHORTSTOPS –

"Nobody ever won a pennant without a star shortstop." ~ Leo Durocher, Hall of Fame Dodgers/Giants Manager

AMERICAN LEAGUE –

SS:  Cal Ripken, Jr. (1981 – 2001)

Nickname(s):   “The Iron Man” 

Team(s):  Baltimore Orioles (1981 – 2001)

Hall of Fame:  2007 (First ballot) 

Honors:  19 x All-Star, 2x Gold Glove, 8x Silver Slugger, 2x AL MVP, 1982 Rookie of the Year, 2 x All-Star Game MVP, 1992 Roberto Clemente Award, 1992 Lou Gehrig Award, 1991 Home Run Derby Winner, Baltimore Orioles #8 retired, MLB All-Century Team 

Rings:  1 – 1983

Career Batting Avg:  .276

Career HR:  431

Career RBI:  1,695

Career Hits:  3,184

Signature Moment:  On September 6, 1995, Cal Ripken, Jr. played in his 2,131st consecutive game breaking a 56 year old record held by Lou Gehrig that many thought could never be broken.  Ripken’s streak ended voluntarily in 1998 at 2,632 games.

Fun Fact:  In 1987, Cal Ripken, Sr. took over as manager of the Orioles and Cal’s brother Billy played second base marking the only time in MLB history that a father has penciled in his own two sons into the lineup card at second base and shortstop.

And here is my favorite double play combination re-united with Alomar and now Ripken. My good friend Rodrigo has a saying, “How do you stop number 8?”  For twenty years, American League ball clubs tried to figure this out and for twenty years they found no answers.  Cal Ripken, Jr.’s advent into the Major League marked a significant change in the way we view shortstops today.  Traditionally these had been speedy, smaller players.   But at 6’4″, 225 lbs. and with a powerful bat, Ripken brought about the era of the power-hitting shortstop and today players like Alex Rodriguez, Hanley Ramirez, Nomar Garciaparra, and Miguel Tejada are often seen as a reflection of this.  There is not enough that I could write about Ripken – in this case the numbers speak for themselves.  He was an All-Star in 19 of his 20 years in the league and in 1991 became the first player to both win the Home Run Derby and be named the MVP of the All-Star game.  He was so great that he was named the AL MVP in 1991 despite the fact that the Orioles were below .500.  And of course, the greatest thing about Ripken was that he was always there for his team.  In good times and bad he was there as he started an MLB record 2,632 games at shortstop and third base breaking Gehrig’s mark by 502 games.  This is one record that I believe will never be broken.

Others Considered:

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

2. Luis Aparicio, Chicago White Sox (1956 – 1973)

3. Nomar Garciaparra,  Boston Red Sox (1996 – 2009) 

4. Hughie Jennings, Baltimore Orioles/Detroit Tigers (1891 – 1918)

5. Omar Vizquel*, Seattle Mariners/Cleveland Indians (1989 – Present)

NATIONAL LEAGUE –

SS:  Ozzie Smith (1978 – 1996)

Nickname(s):  “The Wizard” 

Team(s):  St. Louis Cardinals (1982 – 1996)

Hall of Fame:  2002 (First Ballot) 

Honors:  15 x All-Star selection, 13 x Gold Glove Award Winner, 1987 Silver Slugger Award, 1995 Roberto Clemente Award, 1994 Branch Rickey Award, 1989 Lou Gehrig Award, 1985 NLCS MVP, St. Louis Cardinals #1 Retired

Rings:  1 – 1982

Career Batting Avg:  .262

Career RBI:  793

Career Hits:  2,460

Career Stolen Bases: 580

Signature Moment:  In Game 5 of the 1985 NLCS, Ozzie took the plate batting left (he was a Switch Hitter) and despite having never hit a left handed home run prior, hit a game-winning home run that prompted announcer Jack Buck to make his now famous “Go Crazy Folks! Go Crazy!” call.  The Cardinals would beat the Dodgers and advance to the 1985 World Series. 

Fun Fact:  Ozzie Smith’s son Nikko made the top ten finalists during the 2005 season of American Idol. 

Has anyone ever had as much fun on an infield as Ozzie Smith did?  While Ozzie is one of the all-time greats, this selection has not so much to do with his greatness and more with the fact that he was just plain fun to watch.  It was a tough decision to go with the Wizard over Mr. Cub, The Flying Dutchman, and The Kid and in the end I decided I had to take Ozzie but his selection of shortstop would come with one simple requirement – he had better do one of his famous back flips the first time he takes the field.  Ozzie was so fun to watch that I always felt bad he could not have won a few more rings but then when I realize his only other two chances were World Series losses to the Twins and Royals – I don’t feel so bad.  No one else ever played the middle infield with quite the brilliance that Smith did.  He won the NL Gold Glove for shortstops for 13 straight seasons.  When he retired he held the MLB record for assists with 8,375 and for double plays with 1,590 (since broken by Omar Vizquel).  This latter stat is extremely important because at the end of the day, you select a shortstop because you want that potent double play combination and I can only imagine what him and Jackie could accomplish out there on the same field.  As a batter, he was always good to get on base and once there he was deadly.  In his 18 year career, he averaged 32 stolen bases a season.  While this was the toughest position decision I have made so far, there is no doubt that I would want to see the Wizard out there between 2nd and 3rd doing what he does best – delivering in big moments and entertaining the fans.

Others Considered:

1. Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs (1953 – 1971)

2. Honus Wagner, Pittsburgh Pirates (1897 – 1917)

3. Robin Yount, Milwaukee Brewers (1974 – 1993)

4. Hanley Ramirez*, Florida Marlins (2005 – Present)

5. Floyd “Arky” Vaughan, Pittsburgh Pirates/Brooklyn Dodgers (1932 – 1941, 1942 – 1943, 1947 – 1948)

THIRD BASE –

"If I were playing third base and my mother were rounding third with the run that was going to beat us, I'd trip her. Oh I'd pick her up and brush her off and say, 'Sorry Mom', but nobody beats me." ~ Leo Durocher, Hall of Dodgers/Giants Manager

AMERICAN LEAGUE –

 

3B:  George Brett (1973 – 1993)

Nickname(s):  “Mullet”

Team(s):  Kansas City Royals (1973 – 1993)

Hall of Fame:  1999 (First Ballot) 

Honors:  13 x All-Star, 1985 Gold Glove Winner, 3 x Silver Slugger, 3 x Batting Champion, 1980 AL MVP, 1985 ALCS MVP, 1986 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award, 1980 Hutch Award, Kansas City Royals #5 Retired

Rings:  1 – 1985

Career Batting Avg:  .305

Career HR:  317

Career RBI:  1,595

Career Hits:  3,154

Signature Moment: On July 24, 1983, against the Royals biggest rival, the New York Yankees, George Brett hit a 2 run home run in the top of the ninth with two outs to put the Royals up 5 – 4.  After Brett had rounded the bases, Tim McClelland called George Brett out because there was too much pine tar on his bat. This nullified Brett’s home run and George Brett angrily charged the umpires and was instantly ejected.  After a successful protest by the Royals, the game was resumed from the point of Brett’s home run on August 18th and the Royals won. 

Fun Fact:  George Brett is the only player to ever win a batting title in three different decades.  He did so in 1976, 1980, and 1990. 

Is anyone that really knows me surprised by this decision?  I have a certain affinity for the Kansas City Royals and having grown up in Missouri, I fully understand who George Brett and what he means to that organization and city.  In my life I have met 12 guys named Brett (after him) and know that on any Little League team in North Missouri, 5 is one of the most fought over numbers.  I have always been a George Brett fan and never having seen him play live, I would love to see him take the field.  While he may not be the greatest fielding third baseman (that distinction should belong to Brooks Robinson) to ever play the game – he is one of the most complete.  As a hitter, he is one of only four players all time to finish his career with more than 300 home runs, 3000 hits, and with a .300 average.  SPOILER ALERT – Those other three guys are going to make my team as well.   Aside from those things, Brett played the game with pure emotion.  Everyone has seen that angry outburst of his during the Pine Tar Incident and on the other end of the spectrum him celebrating the Royals 1985 World Series win.  Brett captured America’s attention in 1990 when he carried a .400 batting average into September in an attempt to become the first player since Ted Williams to finish a season with a .400 average.   He ended that season with a .390.  Not too shabby Mr. Brett, not too shabby.

Others Considered:

1. Brooks Robinson, Baltimore Orioles (1955 – 1977)

2. Harmon Killebrew, Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins (1954 – 1975) 

3. Wade Boggs, Boston Red Sox/Tampa Bay Rays (1982 – 1999)

4. Alex Rodriguez*, New York Yankees (1994 – Present)

5. Robin Ventura, Chicago White Sox (1989 – 2004)

NATIONAL LEAGUE –

 

3B:  Mike Schmidt (1972 – 1989)

Nickname(s):  “Iron Mike”, “Captain Cool”

Team(s):  Philadelphia Phillies (1972 – 1989)

Hall of Fame:  1995 (First Ballot) 

Honors:  12 x All-Star, 10x Gold Glove Winner, 6 x Silver Slugger Award Winner, 3 x NL MVP, 1980 World Series MVP, 1983 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award, #20 retired by the Philadelphia Phillies

Rings: 1 – 1980 

Career Batting Avg: .267

Career HR:  548

Career RBI:  1,595

Signature Moment: On April 17, 1976, in a game against the Chicago Cubs, Mike Schmidt became the 10th player in Major League Baseball history to hit 4 home runs in one game.  He is one of only 2 members of the 500 club to have accomplished this feat.

Fun Fact:  Mike Schmidt is one of only three major leaguers to be inducted into the Little League Hall of Fame.

I am really jealous of anyone who had a ticket to any game in the 1980 World Series because in my opinion it was a match-up of the two greatest third basemen to ever play the game – Mike Schmidt of the Phillies and George Brett of the Royals.  Most authorities consider Schmidt the best player to ever occupy the “hot corner” and it is really hard to argue As a defender, he had a powerful arm and is still remembered for his ability to field short grounders bare handed.  In 1974, he had 404 assists – a record for third basemen.  And as a batter, he was deadly.  In 1976, he hit 12 home runs in the first 15 games of the season.  He was one of only two players to hit 300 home runs in the 1980s.  He holds almost every single season and franchise record for the Philadelphia Phillies to this day.  His selection as the starting third baseman for the National League was an easy one.

Others Considered:

1. Larry “Chipper” Jones*, Atlanta Braves (1993 – Present)

2. Eddie Mathews, Boston/Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves (1952 – 1968)

3. Judy Johnson, Hilldale Club/Pittsburgh Crawfords (1918 – 193&)

4. Ron Santo, Chicago Cubs (1960 – 1974)

5. Scott Rolen*, Philadelphia Phillies/St. Louis Cardinals (1996 – Present)

 

UTILITY PLAYERS –

When I was young I woke up every Saturday morning and poured myself a bowl of cereal and sat down to watch cartoons with my brothers.  Over the years the ABC cartoon line-up changed from Duck Tales to Darkwing Duck to the Cowboys of Moo Mesa to Recess but the one constant was that every morning ended with Looney Tunes.  I always loved Bugs Bunny and remember one of my favorite episodes was “Baseball Bugs” where the Gas House Gorillas take on the Tea Totalers.   The Gas House Gorillas are winning 41 – 0 and then Bugs Bunny decides to play in the game for the Tea Totalers.  He ends up playing every single position on the field and single handedly defeats the Gorillas 96 – 95 by climbing up the Statue of Liberty to make the catch that saves the tying home run.

In all reality Bugs Bunny was the ideal utility player, a character who could play any position and fill in for anyone else at a moment’s notice.  The players I have selected below were not utility players but in their prime could have played a multitude of positions and would be the ultimate utility players for such an all-star cast.

AMERICAN LEAGUE –

 

UTIL:  Brooks Robinson (1955 – 1977)

Nickname(s):  “The Human Vacuum Cleaner”

Team(s):   Baltimore Orioles (1955 – 1977)

Hall of Fame:  1983 (2nd ballot)

Honors:  18 x All-Star, 16 x Gold Glove Award Winner, 1964 AL MVP, 1970 World Series MVP, 1966 All-Star Game MVP, 1972 Roberto Clemente Award, 1970 Babe Ruth Award, 1966 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award, Baltimore Orioles #5 retired, MLB All-Century Team 

Rings:  2 – 1966, 1970

Career Batting Avg: .267

Career HR:  268

Career RBI:  1,357

Hits: 2,848

Signature Moment:  In the 1970 World Series, Robinson was named the MVP after batting .429 against the Reds and being the defensive spark for the Orioles.

Fun Fact:  Robinson met his wife Constance on a team flight from Kansas City to Baltimore when she was a flight attendant for United Air Lines.  He was too shy to talk to her but kept ordering iced teas to get her attention.  They made a date to go out by the end of the flight.

If not for the fact that I consider myself a Kansas City Royals fan (second only to the Twins) than my decision for an AL third baseman might have been a bit harder.  Regardless, I knew that I had to get Brooks on my roster and what better role than as a utility player?   While he spent his whole career playing third base, he had the speed, arm, and defensive prowess to play 7 out of the 9 positions on the diamond.  Additionally, he always delivered in big time moments.  Take the 1970 postseason for example.  In that year’s ALCS, he batted .583 against the Minnesota Twins and followed that up by hitting 2 home runs and batting .429 in the World Series against the Reds.  Meanwhile making several plays on defense that have him considered the best defensive third baseman, and maybe the best fielder, of all time.  Reds Manager Sparky Anderson said about Robinson after that series, “I’m beginning to see Brooks in my sleep.  If I dropped a paper plate, he’d pick it up on one hop and throw me out at first.”  Don’t get me wrong – Brooks had his flaws.  He hit into more triple plays (4) than any other player in Major League history.  Nonetheless, his 15 consecutive Gold Gloves are unprecedented and I am starting to think what I would really like to see is some kind of fielding competition between Robinson and Honus Wagner.

Others Considered:   None 

NATIONAL LEAGUE –

 

UTIL:  Pete Rose (1963 – 1986)

Nickname(s):  “Charlie Hustle”

Team(s):   Cincinnati Reds (1963 – 1978, 1984 – 1986)

Hall of Fame:  PERMANENTLY INELIGIBLE

Honors:  17 x All-Star, 2x Gold Glove Award Winner, 1981 Silver Slugger Award, 1973 NL MVP, 1975 World Series MVP, 1963 NL Rookie of the Year, 1968 Hutch Award, 1969 Lou Gehrig Award, 1976 Roberto Clemente Award, MLB All-Century Team

Rings:   3 – 1975, 1976, 1980

Career Batting Avg:  .303

Career HR:   160

Career RBI:  1,314

Hits: 4,256

Signature Moment:  On September 11, 1985, Rose hit a single off of Padres pitcher Eric Show into left field.  That was the 4,192nd hit of Rose’s career and put him ahead of Ty Cobb as the all-time Major League hits leader.

Fun Fact: Pete Rose was given the nickname “Charlie Hustle” by Yankees Hall of Fame Pitcher, Whitey Ford in his rookie season after Rose sprinted to first base after being walked.

How good was Charlie Hustle?  He made the All-Star game at an unthinkable 5 different positions! (1B, 2B, 3B, LF, & RF) If that does not make him a great utility player option what does?  Aside from the fact that he played 5 different positions extremely well, there is the fact that if the NL put him into pinch hit they would feel confident that he would feel safely.  Why?  Because he did it more than anyone else in history.  Right handed or left handed pitcher it wouldn’t matter because the greatest hitter in the game was also it’s greatest switch hitter.  Yes, he bet on baseball games and yes, he can be a bit rough around the edges but on the field Pete Rose was a great player and I will say it right now – it is a shame that the holder of the second most impressive record in all of baseball (I consider Ripken’s consecutive games streak the most impressive) is not in the Hall of Fame.  I would love to see Rose playing in any position, just as long as I could watch him hit.

Others Considered:  None

As I sit there waiting for the  game to start, George Brett starts taking a few pitches, meanwhile Ozzie Smith and Jackie Robinson begin playing catch in the outfield.  Albert Pujols is stretching out in right field. So far, my perfect game is intact.  Sure there have been limitations and guys that did not make the cut that I would love to see out there but as Bruce Nolan would remind us, “That’s the way the cookie crumbles.”

For me as I would lean back in that rickety old stadium chair, I would think to myself, “Yep, this is the perfect infield.”  I know many would disagree with my selections and be surprised at some of the names left off or not even considered but for me, so far this game is perfect.   And as I would watch Brett warming up, I would see more guys emerging from either dugout and realize that there are still reserves for the infield that I have not seen yet.  Maybe some of the guys I want to see will still be a part of this game?

In the 5th inning, I will select the rest of my infield as I continue my bid for a perfect game.

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

The Greatest Game Never Played – 3rd Inning

This is the third part of my nine-part “Greatest Game Never Played”, if you have not read any of the prior installments, it would behoove you to do so o to better understand the premise of this writing.  I would appreciate any feedback you can give on either note (love it, hate it, where you agree, where you disagree, etc.)   As always an asterisk next to a player’s name denotes them as a current Major League player.  Happy Reading!

"You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around the whole time."~ Jim Bouton, Ball Four (1970)

When I was young, I played catcher.  I wore the mask and I had the glove and I spent the entire game behind homeplate.   But let’s be honest – the catcher in T-ball doesn’t really do anything.  As a fan, I have always been amazed by the athletes who play catcher.  The stamina they have to crouch behind homeplate for nine innings day in and day out; the knowledge they have of every batter and their pitchers to know what pitches to call; and of course the chance they get to make a play at the plate.  As a T-ball catcher, I didn’t do any of those things.  I didn’t wear the knee savers because I just stood there.  I didn’t call pitches because the ball sat on a tee.  And I didn’t ever get to make a play at the plate – but there was that one time I came close.

I was about six or seven and we were playing a game against the Conception Junction T-Ball team.   I don’t remember the score for the life of me but I do recall that we were winning by 2 or 3 runs.  It was the bottom of the second to last inning (I believe we played 6) and the bases were loaded with no outs.   The batter came up and hit the ball all the way to the outfield grass (which was far by our standards).

The base runners started advancing and behind me I heard my Dad yelling, “Cover home Devan! Cover home!”.  Now I loved baseball but being a young kid I really did not understand a lot of the terminology that pertained to the sport.

My dad continued to yell for me to “cover home” and I was not going to disobey an order like that so I got down on all fours and physically covered the plate with my body – leaving the slew of baserunners waiting in line to score confused.   My dad had yelled for me to cover home, how was I supposed to know?

As I continue my bid for a perfect game, I will choose my starting catchers, reserve catchers, and first basemen for my American League and National League All-Star teams.

THE CATCHERS

"No baseball pitcher would be worth a damn without a catcher who could handle the hot fastball." ~ Casey Stengel, Hall of Fame Manager

AMERICAN LEAGUE –

Starting Catcher:  Lawrence “Yogi” Berra (1946-1965)

Nickname(s):  Yogi

Team(s):  New York Yankees (1946 – 1963)

Hall of Fame:  1972 (second ballot)

Honors:  18 x All-Star, 3 x AL MVP, New York Yankees #8 retired, Major League Baseball All-Century Team

Rings: 13 – 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1956, 1958, 1961, 1962, 1969, 1977, 1978

Career Batting Avg:  .285

Career HR:  358

Career RBI:  1,430

Signature Moment:  In Game 3 of the 1947 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, Berra hit the first pinch-hit home run in World Series history off Ralph Branca.

Fun Fact:  He picked up his nickname from a friend who thought he resembled a Hindu holy man (a Yogi) they had seen in a movie.

Widely regarded as one of the greatest catchers in history, Berra holds the World Series records for most games, at-bats, hits, doubles, singles, games caught, and putouts.  He won 10 championships as a player and famously caught Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series (the first no-hitter in postseason history).   What made Berra’s style of play unique was his incredible bat control.   He was able to swing low and away for the homer but also swing at higher pitches for line drives.  Five times, Yogi had more home runs in a season than strikeouts.  On defense, he led the league in double plays six times (an MLB record).  Off the field, Yogi Berra is best known for his Yogi-isms (“It ain’t over till it’s over”) and being the inspiration for the Hanna-Barbera character Yogi Bear.

Reserve Catcher: Mickey Cochrane (1925- 1937)

Nickname(s): “Black Mike”

Team(s):  Philadelphia A’s (Present-Day Oakland Athletics) (1925-1933) 

Hall of Fame: 1947 (Fifth ballot) 

Honors: 2 x All-Star, 2 x AL MVP

Rings: 3 – 1929, 1930, 1935 

Career Batting Avg:  .320

Career HR: 119 

Career RBI: 832 

Signature Moment:  On August 2, 1933, Cochrane hit the second cycle of his career. 

Fun Fact:  New York Yankees Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle was named after Mickey Cochrane. 

Mickey Cochrane is relatively unknown to most today but he is one of the greatest catchers to ever play the game. The reason that I had to choose Mickey Cochrane is because he was great at two things – getting on base (his .419 career on base percentage is among the greatest all-time and second among catchers only to Joe Mauer) and making plays at the plate.  In today’s game, the ability to make a play at the plate is almost a lost art but Cochrane had an uncanny ability not only to do this but also to pick off baserunners.  As a batter, he was a great line drive hitter and his .320 lifetime batting average is the highest among catchers with at least 5000 at-bats.  His hitting was great, his defense was exceptional, and his leadership was irreplaceable.  It was his leadership that took the Detroit Tigers (traded from the A’s in 1934) from being a fifth place team to winning the 1934 American League pennant and the 1935 World Series over the Chicago Cubs.  In 1947, Cochrane was the first catcher ever elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Others Considered:

1. Carlton Fisk, Chicago White Sox/Boston Red Sox (1969 – 1993) 

2. Joe Mauer*, Minnesota Twins (2004 – Present)

3. Bill Dickey, New York Yankees (1928 – 1946)

4. Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez*, Texas Rangers (1991 – Present)

NATIONAL LEAGUE –

Starting Catcher: Josh Gibson (1930 – 1946)

Nickname(s):  “Black Babe Ruth” 

Team(s):  Homestead Grays/Pittsburgh Crawfords (1930 – 1936, 1937 – 1939, 1942 – 1946) 

Hall of Fame:  1972 

Honors: 10 x Negro League All-Star, 9 x Negro League Home Run Champion, 4 Negro League Batting Titles

Rings:  2 (Negro League World Series) – 1943, 1944 

Career Batting Avg: .359 to .384 (depending on the source)

Career HR:  Approximately 800 (according to the Baseball Hall of Fame) 

Career Slugging %:  .648 

Signature Moment:  According to Jack Marshall, in 1934 Gibson hit one over the third deck of the left field of Yankee Stadium for the only fair ball ever hit out of Yankee Stadium. 

Fun Fact:  Gibson played professionally in the U.S., Mexico, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.

Unfortunately many people today know nothing of the greatest homerun hitter of all time.  Though a ridiculous “gentlemen’s agreement” kept him out of the majors due to the color of his skin, Gibson could flat out hit and was great defensively behind the plate.  Kansas City Monarchs manager Buck O’Neil often talked about how there was no sound sweeter than the crack of a bat and that he only heard that sound from three batters in all his years around baseball:  Babe Ruth, Bo Jackson, and Josh Gibson.  The legend of Josh Gibson grew so much that people used to tell stories like this one.

“In the last of the ninth at Pittsburgh, down a run, with a runner on base and two outs, Gibson hits one high and deep, so far into the twilight sky that it disappears from sight, apparently winning the game. The next day, the same two teams are playing again, now in Washington. Just as the teams have positioned themselves on the field, a ball comes falling out of the sky and a Washington outfielder grabs it. The umpire yells to Gibson, “You’re out! In Pittsburgh, yesterday!”

Unfortunately for baseball, Gibson died at age 35 in 1947 just four months before Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier.  Gibson would without a doubt be my National League catcher because I don’t think there is any hitter I would rather watch in all of history than Gibson.

"You don't compare anybody to Johnny Bench. You don't want to embarass anybody." ~ Sparky Anderson

Reserve Catcher:  Johnny Bench (1967 – 1983) 

Nickname(s):  “Hands”, “Little General”

Team(s): Cincinnati Reds (1967 – 1983)

Hall of Fame: 1989 (1st ballot) 

Honors: 14 x All-Star, 10 x Gold Glove Winner, 2 x NL MVP, 1968 Rookie of the Year, 1976 World Series MVP, #5 retired by the Cincinnati Reds 

Rings:  2 – 1975, 1976

Career Batting Avg: .267 

Career HR:  389 

Career RBIs: 1,376 

Signature Moment:  In 1983, Bench retired as the leader in home runs among all catchers.  He has since been passed by Mike Piazza and Carlton Fisk.

Fun Fact:  In 1967, Bench’s rookie year, Ted Williams signed a ball for Bench inscribing on it that Bench would be a “Hall of Famer for sure!”

Considered by ESPN to be the greatest catcher of all time, Johnny Bench only played the position because his father thought it would be the quickest route to the Majors.  He ended his career with a remarkable .991 fielding percentage.  He was a great hitter with 2048 career hits and 389 home runs and was a key component of the “Big Red Machine”.  Even more remarkable was his ability to play defense.  He is still remembered for his ability to field the ball and his strong arm that allowed him to lead the league put-outs and runners caught stealing.  Johnny Bench may very well be the greatest all-around catcher to ever play the game.

Others Considered:

1.  Mike Piazza, Los Angeles Dodgers/New York Mets (1992 – 2007)

2.  Gabby Hartnett, Chicago Cubs (1922 – 1941)

3. Gary Carter, Montreal Expos (1974 – 1992)

4. Roy Campanella, Brooklyn Dodgers (1948 – 1957)

FIRST BASEMEN –

Costello: Look, you gotta first baseman? Abbott: Certainly. Costello: Who's playing first? Abbott: That's right. ~ Abbot & Costello, Who's on First?

I grew up thinking that first basemen were the best players on every team.  I remember that Wally Joyner was my favorite Royal and he played first.  And I remember that in Little Big League, Lou Collins, the Twins’ best player, was also at first.  I remember the home run race back in 1998 and everyone in Missouri was pulling for Mark McGwire – a first baseman.

In today’s MLB, we live in a golden age of first basemen with players like Albert Pujols, Mark Teixeira, Prince Fielder, Justin Morneau, Joey Votto, and Adrian Gonzalez all residing 90 feet from the plate.  This has not always been the case.  There have been many great first baseman but never so many at one time which actually made first base one of the easiest positions to choose for this game.

AMERICAN LEAGUE –

1B:  Lou Gehrig (1923 – 1939)

Nickname(s):  “The Iron Horse”

Team(s):  New York Yankees (1923 – 1939)

Hall of Fame:  1939 (Unanimous) 

Honors:  7 x All-Star, 2 x AL MVP, Yankees Team Captain (1935 – 1939), Yankees #4 retired, MLB All-Century Team 

Rings:  6 – 1927, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1937, 1938)

Career Batting Avg: .340

Career HR:  493

Career RBI:  1,995

Career Hits: 2,721

Signature Moment:  On June 3, 1932 in a game against the Philadelphia Athletics (Oakland A’s), Lou Gehrig hit 4 home runs in one game which is a Major League record.  His fifth hit of the day was a leaping catch made by Al Simmons at the center field wall – otherwise he would have had 5 and sat alone as the record holder. 

Fun Fact:  Lou Gehrig was the first athlete to ever appear on a Wheaties Box.

You remember how I mentioned in Part I that this was not particularly meant to be a position by position ranking?  Well throw that out the window here because Lou Gehrig was, without a doubt, the best first baseman to ever play the game.  This was as obvious of a choice for me as spinach for Popeye or lasagna for Garfield.  If I could build an all-time team around one player – no doubt in my mind that that player would be the Iron Horse.   This is a guy who showed up every day and played the game because he loved it.  He started and played in 2,130 straight games (a record until Cal Ripken, Jr. broke it in 1995), he has 23 career grand slams, scored the winning run in 8 World Series games, has the most extra base hits of a first baseman, had a .765 slugging percentage in 1927, and was so good that the Hall of Fame waived the waiting period rule so they could vote him in a few months after he retired.   Had Gehrig not come down with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), he would have likely finished his career with around 3,700 hits and 650 homeruns.

More than that, he was a great all around person and his famed “Luckiest Man” speech, in my opinion, is the single most moving moment in the history of sport.

Others Considered:

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

2.  Jim Thome*, Cleveland Indians (1991 – Present)

3.   Mark McGwire, Oakland A’s (1986 – 2001)

4.  Eddie Murray, Baltimore Orioles (1977 – 1997)

5.  Frank Thomas, Chicago White Sox (1990 – 2008) 

 

NATIONAL LEAGUE –

1B:  Albert Pujols* (2001 – Present)

Nickname(s):  “Prince Albert”, “El Hombre”, “The Machine”

Team(s):  St. Louis Cardinals (2001 – Present)

Hall of Fame:   

Honors:  9 x All-Star, 3 x NL MVP, 2 x Hank Aaron Award, 6 x Silver Slugger, 2 x Gold Glove Award, 2001 NL Rookie of the Year, 2004 NLCS MVP, 2008 Roberto Clemente Award, 2003 NL Batting Champion, 2 x NL Home Run Champion, 2010 NL RBI Champion 

Rings: 1 – 2006

Career Batting Avg:  .331

Career HR:  409

Career RBI: 1,234

Signature Moment: On August 15, 2010, Pujols hit his 30th home run of the season extending his MLB record of 10 straight 30 + home run seasons.

Fun Fact:  In his first ever college baseball game at Maple Woods Community College in Kansas City, Pujols turned an unassisted triple play and hit a grand slam.

Well Joe Mauer and Jim Thome both came close but it’s Albert Pujols who is my first current Major Leaguer to make the cut.  While this was a tough decision, the truth is that Albert Pujols is the best player in the game today and there is a reason why ESPN named him the best player of the last decade.  At his current pace, he should hit close to 800 home runs in his career.  He currently holds (or will soon hold) every significant record in the history of the St. Louis Cardinals franchise.  When you’re talking about a franchise that has boasted great names like Brock, Medwick, and Musial and that has the 2nd most World Series trophies of any franchise – that’s a significant distinction.

My main reason for picking Pujols though is because I have now seen him play on three occassions and it is nothing short of remarkable to watch.  I remember my first trip to Busch Stadium in July of 2008.  My friend Doug and I had gotten tickets to see the Cardinals play the Padres.  I was excited to watch Pujols play only to show up at the stadium and see that LaRussa was resting Albert.  The Padres started off the game strong and in the 7th inning were up 5 – 1.  The Red birds faithful were slowly leaving the stadium but then something happened – LaRussa decided to pinch hit Albert.  Slowly the seats began to fill up, there was a new energy at Busch, and the whole team had a new lease on the game.  The Cardinals ended up winning that game 9 – 5 on a walk-off grand slam.  As many numbers as I could use to describe The Machine, what makes him great are the intangibles.

Others Considered:

1. Buck Leonard, Homestead Grays (1934 – 1950)

2. Pete Rose, Cincinnati Reds (1963 – 1986)

3. Willie McCovey, San Francisco Giants (1959 – 1980)

4. Jeff Bagwell, Houston Astros (1991 – 2005)

Well there you have it, heading into the 4th inning I have selected my starting and reserve catcher for each team and at first base I have the greatest first baseman of all time for the American League and a guy who could one day be in that conversation for the National League.  Yes sir (or ma’am), this game is shaping up to be truly perfect.

I can see myself grabbing a seat on the first base line and sitting there an hour before the game with two Chicago Style hot dogs on my lap and a large frozen lemonade from the “lee-mo-nade, lee-mo-nade, LEEE-MO-NAAADE!” guy.  Gibson and Bench are playing catch near the dugout as Gehrig steps up to the plate for some B.P. and begins absolutely crushing balls.  Yup, so far this really is a perfect game.

In the 4th inning, I will select my 2nd base, 3rd base, shortstop, and utility players.

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

The Greatest Game Never Played – 2nd Inning

"A hot dog at the ballpark is better than steak at the Ritz." ~ Humphrey Bogart

*An asterik denotes a current player, mascot, manager, stadium, etc.

One of my great heroes, Bill Veeck, once remarked that there was nothing as beautiful as a ballpark full of people.  There is something about ballparks.  There is a beauty that cannot be described when you set foot into a modern marvel like Target Field, Yankee Stadium, or PNC Park.  There is a feeling of nostalgia that washes over you when you visit the Friendly Confines or Yawkey Way.  To many a ballpark is not simply just a place where grown men get paid to play a game – to many the ballpark is a temple.

It is a place that you go on Sunday to interact with other people.  You take the time to get ready and pull on your best jersey to show support for the team and players you love.  You pass your spending money down the aisle to the guy selling frozen lemonade.  Everyone shouts out to their team in unison and everybody stands together to sing  Take Me Out to the Ballgame.  In the stadium, fans gather to hope, dream, and pray that this year is the year that the World Series returns to their fair city.

I imagine that my perfect game would also be played on a Sunday afternoon – 70 degrees out, no wind and a lazy cloud to help keep the sun from shining so brightly. As I begin my bid for a perfect game, I will take the time to set the stage for this game by selecting my stadium, the announcer, broadcaster, first pitch, national anthem singer, and the mascots.

THE STADIUM

"And there used to be a ballpark where the field was warm and green; And the people played their crazy game with a joy I'd never seen; And the air was such a wonder from the hot dogs and the beer; Yes, there used to be a ballpark right here." ~ Frank Sinatra, "There Used to Be a Ballpark" (1973)

The Stadium: Ebbets Field (1913- 1960)

Nickname(s): The Cigar Box, The Band Box

Location: 55 Sullivan Place, Brooklyn, New York 11225

Team(s) that Played There:  Brooklyn Dodgers (1913-1957)

Capacity: 32,000

Signature Moment:  April 15, 1947 –  Jackie Robinson makes his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers at first base before more than 26,000 fans, changing the game forever.

Fun Fact:  On June 17, 1947 the first known televised soccer game in the US took place at Ebbets Field.

I imagine for a number of people the answer to this may have been Yankee Stadium, Fenway, Wrigley, or Busch.  I also know that at a National League Ballpark, there would be no DH but I think we can bend that rule for an afternoon.  Those who know me best probably expected me to choose Target Field,  Kauffman Stadium, or the Old Met.  The truth is though, that there is something about New York and baseball.  What basketball is to Indiana, hockey is to Minnesota, football is to Texas, and wrestling is to Iowa – that is what baseball is to New York.   When I think of the storied history of this game, I can’t help but get Brooklyn off my mind.   To many this field was constricting, a “cigar box”, and not the best way to watch the game, but to many more Ebbets is the symbol of a golden age of baseball.  Like Terrence Mann told Ray Kinsella, I too dreamed of playing at Ebbets Field when I was younger.  More than half a century after the Dodgers left for LA, there still remains a pain there for what has been lost.  The pain is so evident, that when the New York Mets decided to break ground on a new ballpark (Citi Field) a couple years ago, they modeled their new stadium after Ebbets Field and named the rotunda in Jackie Robinson’s honor.  The loss of the Dodgers to Brooklyn is one of the great sports losses of all time and for that reason, more than any other, I would have my game here and bring great baseball back to Brooklyn, where it belongs,  if only for a few hours.

Others Considered –

1. The Polo Grounds (1890 – 1963), New York, NY, Home of the New York (San Francisco) Giants, New York Yankees, and New York Mets. 

2. Metropolitan Stadium (1956 – 1985), Bloomington, MN, Home of the Minnesota Twins 

3. Wrigley Field* (1914 – Present), Chicago, IL, Home of the Chicago Cubs 

4. Griffith Stadium (1911-1961), Washington, D.C,  Home of the Washington Senators (Present-day Minnesota Twins) 

5. Comiskey Park, (1910 – 1990), Chicago, IL, Home of the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs (1918)

NATIONAL ANTHEM SINGER

National Anthem Singer:  Alicia Keys 

Signature Song(s): You Don’t Know My Name (2003), Unthinkable (2010), & Fallin’ (2001)

All I can say about Alicia Keys is this girl’s voice is pure gold.  In the age of music we are currently in, it is a breath of fresh air to have someone with her talent as a popular recording artist.  And that’s all I can say about that.  This was a hard choice to make, even after I decided to exclude all non-American singers, but in the end it has to be Alicia Keys for me.

Others Considered:

1. Michael Jackson (The 12 year old who sang I’ll Be There not the 1988 Neverland Ranch version)

2. Billy Joel 

3. Frank Sinatra

4. Dolly Parton 

5. Marc Cohn

BROADCASTER

"It may sound corny, but, I enjoyed listening to Vin (Scully) call a game almost more than playing in them. He's been a special broadcaster for a lot of years and he's been wonderful to listen too for a lot of years. He definitely is the All Century broadcaster as far as I'm concerned." ~ Sandy Koufax

Broadcaster: Vin Scully*  

Nickname(s): The Voice of the Dodgers 

Team(s):  Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers (1950 – Present) 

Honors:  1982 MLB Hall of Fame Ford C. Frick Award Recipient for Excellence in Broadcasting 

Most Memorable Call:  April 8, 1974 – Hank Aaron’s 715th career home run that made him the all-time home run king

Fun Fact:  Vin Scully has called four  perfect games in his career: Don Larsen’s in the 1956 World Series, Sandy Koufax’s on September 9, 1965, Tom Browning’s on September 16, 1988,  and Dennis Martinez’s on June 28, 1991.

Expert consensus is that Vin Scully is the greatest sportscaster of all time.  He has been on hand for some of baseball’s greatest moments.  From the Brooklyn Dodgers’ only world championship in 1955 to  Bill Buckner’s muffed ball in the 1986 World Series to Aaron’s 715th home run, Scully has called it all.   He is the best man for the job in this instance, there’s no doubt in my mind about that.  He has called four perfect games in his lifetime and so I would want him on hand for my perfect game.  In a game that’s bound to see several home runs his famous call of “Forget it!” is a must.

Others Considered:

1.  Harry Caray, Chicago Cubs

2.  Jack Buck, St. Louis Cardinals 

3.  Ernie Harwell, Detroit Tigers 

4.  Harry Kalas, Philadelphia Phillies

5. Red Barber, Cincinnati Reds, Brooklyn Dodgers, & New York Yankees

ANNOUNCER

"You're not in the big leagues until Bob Sheppard announces your name." ~ Carl Yastrzemski

PA Announcer:  Bob Sheppard (1951-2007)

Nickname(s): “The Voice of God” (credited to Reggie Jackson)

Team(s): The New York Yankees

Honors:  Inducted into the St. John’s University and New York Sports Hall of Fames

Fun Fact: The award for the most outstanding student-athlete at St. John’s is named for Bob Sheppard

Let’s face it – nobody did it better than Bob Sheppard.  There is something about those words of “Good evening and welcome to Yankees field” and I like to think that for one day he could change that over to Ebbets.  As Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski once said, “You’re not in the big leagues until Bob Sheppard announces your name”.   Bob Sheppard announced more than 4500 Yankees games including 6 no-hitters and 3 perfect games.  He was so influential on Derek Jeter that in 2008, Jeter asked Sheppard to record the announcement of his name and even today a year after Sheppard’s death – that recording is used to announce Derek Jeter when he comes up to bat.  I never got the chance to go to old Yankee Stadium and hear that voice and it would be a must for a game like this because he’d be the only one who could do this game justice.

Others Considered: None


CEREMONIAL FIRST PITCH

JFK throwing out the first pitch of the Washington Senators season in 1962. Many reports commented that after that game, he was not shy about sticking around to sign some autographs - not only for the fans, but for the players as well.

Ceremonial First Pitch:  John F. Kennedy 

Past First Pitches Thrown: The 1961, 1962, and 1963 home openers for the Washington Senators (Texas Rangers) 

Fun Fact: Every morning at breakfast, President Kennedy ate the same meal – an egg hard boiled for 4 minutes and an English Muffin.

After World War I, baseball grew in popularity and united the nation.  It became such a fanfare at Griffith Stadium – home of the Washington Senators – in Washington, D.C. that it was not considered baseball season until the President of the United States had thrown out the first pitch on opening day.  It was such a big deal that when Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was not a fan of baseball but loved golf, skipped the home opener to play a round of golf at Augusta National during the Master’s – he received a beating in the national media.  When you walk into my living room, the first thing you will see is a framed portrait of John F. Kennedy that my grandmother kept in her house.  Being an Irish Democrat, John F. Kennedy has always been one of my greatest heroes.  I remember writing papers for school about him as a kid and reading “Profiles in Courage” when I was in junior high.  When I began to imagine this game and it’s traditions and pageantry, I immediately knew that my dream game would have him throwing out the first pitch.  After all, his message and presidency is one of the influences that inspired me to dream in the first place.

Others Considered: None

TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME LEADER

"If you were a hot dog and you were starving - would you eat yourself? I know I would."

“Take Me Out to the Ballgame” Leader:  Harry Caray 

Nicknames(s):  The Mayor of Rush Street 

Team(s):  St. Louis Cardinals, St. Louis Browns (Baltimore Orioles), Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics, and Chicago Cubs 

Honors: 1989 Ford C. Frick Award Recipient, 1989 Inductee into the Sports Broadcasters Hall of Fame 

Fun Fact:  Though primarily known for baseball, Caray, a St. Louis native was also the voice of the University of Missouri Tigers and the St. Louis Hawks (Atlanta Hawks) early on in his career. 

While Nancy Faust had long played “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on the organ during the 7th inning stretch of ballgames at Comiskey Park, it was Harry Caray who made it a public singing exhibition.  Caray had routinely sang the words to himself when Faust played the organ so one afternoon, local broadcaster Jay Scott decided to leave the broadcast booth mics on without Caray’s knowledge.  As Harry sang, others sang along with him in what has become one of baseball’s greatest traditions.  A statue outside of Wrigley Field immortalizes Harry Caray leading the crowd in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at the Friendly Confines.  Who else could possibly be chosen for this role? 

Others Considered:  Is this even a question?

MASCOTS

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Charles Finley once announced to a room full of reporters (with his mule by his side) that he was going to ride Charlie O. around the bases at a Dodgers game to which one reporter wrote, "If not for the program, you would not be able to tell which one was the owner."

AL Mascot:  Charlie O. Mule

Team:  Kansas City Athletics/Oakland Athletics (1963-1976) 

Fun Fact:  Charlie O. shared a pen in the Kansas City Municipal Menagerie with Warpaint, the horse mascot of the Kansas City Chiefs. 

Those who know me best are not going to be surprised that I chose a live mule, nor are they going to be surprised that I chose a Kansas City mascot.  The truth of the matter is though that as a good, loyal 816er I am not a fan of Charles O. Finley in the least.  When Finley brought the A’s from Philadelphia to KC, there was concern about how committed Finley was to staying in Kansas City (apparently not so loyal after only a 12 year stay) so Missouri Governor Warren Hearnes gave Finley a Mule (the state animal of Missouri).  To demonstrate his commitment to Kansas City, Finley embraced the mule and named it Charlie O.  He changed the team’s colors to green and gold and ditched the longtime elephant and made Charlie O the mascot of the Kansas City A’s.  When the team moved to Oakland, Charlie O the jackass went along with Charlie O. Finley (the even bigger jackass).   When Finley sold the team, the new owner re-adopted the elephant as the logo but kept the colors of green and gold the same.

The reason I had to choose Charlie O. was because Finley would take his Mule with him EVERYWHERE – bars, hotel lobbies, everywhere.   There is something about the spectacle of Charlie and his mule and an old traditional live mascot that would make me want to see Charlie O at this game.

He carries around a cannon that shoots hot dogs into the crowd (and occasionally the face of an elderly woman) - how can you not love Sluggerrr?

Others Considered:

1. Sluggerrr*, Kansas City Royals (1996 – Present) 

2. Wally the Green Monster*, Boston Red Sox (1997 – Present)

3. The Bird*, Baltimore Orioles (1979 – Present) 

4. Rally Monkey*, Los Angeles Angels (2000 – Present)

5. Andy the Clown, Chicago White Sox (1960 – 1990)

 


 

 

 

 

 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

National League mascots are just better than those in the American League. Can you really blame me for having to pick two?

 

NL Mascot:  The Phillie Phanatic* (1977-Present) 

Team: Philadelphia Phillies 

Honors: Inducted as a charter member of the Mascot Hall of Fame in 2005, Named the best mascot ever by Sports Illustrated for Kids

Fun Fact:  The Phillie Phanatic is only one of two MLB mascots on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.  Our next mascot is the other.

In 1977, Dennis Lehman felt the Phillies needed a mascot similar to the famous San Diego Chicken to attract more families to Veterans Stadium.  Named for the Philadelphia fans, the Phanatic wears a Phillies jersey with a star for a number.  He has always proven popular with fans but not as much with opposing players.  In fact in 1988, Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda assaulted the Phanatic for mocking his players.  There is probably not a better known mascot in all of sports than the Phanatic.

NL Mascot:  Youppi (1979 – 2004)

Team: Montreal Expos

Honors: His likeness is on display at Cooperstown

Fun Fact: On August 23, 1989, Youppi became the first mascot in Major League history to be ejected from a game after Tommy Lasorda complained during the 11th inning of a game between the Dodgers and the Expos.   

Youppi has been a longtime favorite mascot of mine and a reminder of a past baseball team.  I have always really valued great mascots since my favorite team (the Minnesota Twins) has always had mascots that were pretty awful.  Youppi was designed by the same company that developed the Phillie Phanatic and was similar to the Phanatic in many ways – Tommy Lasorda was not a fan of his antics either.   Youppi was so popular in Montreal than in 2004 when the Expos moved to Washington, D.C. and adopted the eagle “Screech” as their mascot, the Montreal Canadiens bought the rights to Youppi making him the first mascot to make the jump from Major League Baseball to the National Hockey League.

The Swinging Friar is cool but what the Padres really need to bring back is the Swinging Friar logo (and Tony Gwynn while they're at it)

Others Considered:

1. Swinging Friar*, San Diego Padres, (1958 – Present)

2. Fredbird*, St. Louis Cardinals, (1979 – Present) 

3. Mr. Red, Cincinnati Reds, (1955 – 2007) 

4. Pirate Parrot*, Pittsburgh Pirates, (1979 – Present) 

5.Mr. Met*, New York Mets, (1962 – Present)


Well there you have it.  The stage has been set for a truly perfect game at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York.  With the anthem sung by Alicia, the first pitch thrown out by JFK, and the shenanigans of the Phillie Phanatic and Youppi – how can this not be a great day?

In the third inning we will get into the stuff you probably care about – the players.  I will start by selecting the Catchers and 1st basemen in the next installment of The Greatest Game Never Played.

STAY TUNED

Which stadium and mascots would you choose?

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