Taking a Break from Trump & Chatfield; My All-Time Baseball Team

by Mark Pontoni  March 23, 2020

I am going to take a break from politics today and join in a game being played on Twitter in which sports writers and personalities are posting who they think is the best all time baseball team.  Everyone has their own criteria, of course.  There’s the statheads, the traditionalists, and the homers, and what you end up with is a collection of teams that helps rekindle memories of baseball’s all-time greats.

Making my own list was really difficult since there have been so many players in so many eras that building criteria starts to hurt your head.  Do we count players before the color line was broken by Jackie Robinson?  After all some of the best players in the country were prohibited from playing against white players we think of as great.  I tend to dismiss including any of the players prior to Robinson for that reason.  We just really don’t know how good the major league players were because they weren’t testing their skills against all the best competition.  That means names like Cobb, Ruth, Hornsby, Wagner, Speaker, Young, etc aren’t going to make my list.  They were all great for sure, and it wasn’t explicitly their fault they played in a racist system, but I just can’t evaluate them, so they’re out.

I am making one exception to this rule as you’ll see, and I suppose I can explain that away because his career started in the segregated era and finished after the colorline was broken.  But in truth, I would be looking for an excuse to include him even if his entire career was played before Robinson.  He was just that great.

The other criteria I wanted to include was the players had to have played in the period I was personally paying attention to baseball (with that aforementioned exception of course).  I wanted this list to be more than just pulling stuff from the stat books.  Players I watched in person or on TV were therefore eligible.  Again, I realize this excludes a whole bunch of great players.  Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Ernie Banks, Jackie Robinson, etc. are all thought to be among the greatest in history, but they are mostly before my time.  Even Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, and Willie Mays, who belong on any list of greats, had piled up their accomplishments before my time.   I did see Mantle play a game at Tiger Stadium and he fell down chasing a fly ball.  I remember being really sad to see this guy on busted knees still trying to play far beyond his ability to do so.

I am also leaving out the steroid guys, though this was a tough call.  Cheating is as old as baseball itself, and we have no way of knowing how many of the players before the steroid era were using greenies and other stimulants that were illegal.  But I was so wounded by the level of cheating by the steroid users that they can be on someone else’s list.

All that being said, here’s my list.

Catcher: Johnny Bench – The Reds backstop during the Big Red Machine era was the consummate all around player.   Great catcher, great hitter, great leader.

First Base: Frank Thomas – Obviously Gehrig would be here if he was in the right era, and McGwire might be here if it wasn’t for the ‘roids, but they’re not.  I’m going with the wisdom of Sparky Anderson.  I remember him saying that Thomas and Jim Rice would be two guys he would walk with the bases loaded to avoid them clearing the bases.  That’s about the highest respect a hitter can receive.  If it was good enough for Sparky, it’s good enough for me.

Second Base: Joe Morgan – another hero from the Big Red Machine era.  He was a great hitter, a stellar fielder, and an onfield leader.  He was also 5’7” and that makes his accomplishments even more amazing.

Third Base:  Picking Mike Schmidt would be easy, but I’m going with Brooks Robinson.  No doubt Schmidt’s hitting numbers bury Robinson, but no one I ever saw played the hot corner like Brooks.  As a young player, I modeled myself after him.  I will never forget imitating him during an American Legion game when I dove to my right into foul territory, rolled to my feet and threw the ball…into the parking lot about 30 feet over the first baseman’s head.  I felt I let Brooks down that day.

Shortstop: Ozzie Smith – I know, I know, there were a lot of guys who were better hitters than Smith, but I when I think of shortstops, I think of Ozzie.  No one played the toughest defensive position in the game like him.  He made all the plays, routine and flashy.  He was truly a human highlight reel.

Outfield:  I picked three without worrying too much about whether they played center, left, or right.  These guys could have played anywhere.

Roberto Clemente – Not only was he one of the best hitters of his time, his throws from right field are the ones I would show my players when I was coaching.  He took as much pride in his defense as he did in hitting and that makes him a complete player.

Ken Griffey Jr – Watching his swing put tears in the eyes of any hitting coach.  So smooth.  But for me, it was his defense that made him stand out from all the other great outfielders of his era.  I was at Tiger Stadium when he made one of the most sensational catches I have ever seen, live or otherwise.  You can find it on YouTube.  That puts him on the list.

Joe DiMaggio – Here’s the guy who breaks the rules for getting on my list.  His career was over before I was born.  I have seen highlights of his career and no one would doubt his greatness.  One day, I was browsing the Baseball Encyclopedia (because that’s what baseball nerds do) and I ran across his career stats.  One season jumped out at me: In 1941 he came to bat 622 times.  He struck out 13 times.  13! For his career, he averaged 34 strike outs for every 162 games played.  Compare that to the consensus “best” player today, Mike Trout.  Trout averages five times as many strikeouts per season than DiMaggio did!

Starting Pitcher: Bob Gibson – This dude took pitching personally.  I sat in Ernie Harwell’s basement one time talking baseball and he couldn’t say enough about Gibson.  Harwell would tell stories of how terrified hitters often were just getting into the box.  Gibson, however, was not afraid to let you know where you were allowed to stand, and how deeply you were allowed to dig in.  Gibson’s stats were just filthy good.  They were so good in the late 60’s that Major League Baseball had to lower the mound to make hitting a little easier.

Relief Pitcher: Mariano Rivera – This is the “chalk” pick, but honestly, for anyone who watched their team face him, when he took the mound you KNEW you were going to lose.  In over 1100 appearances, he only blew a lead 80 times.

So there it is…just try to make a fair batting order out of that crew!

Morgan, 2b
Griffey, cf
DiMaggio, lf (sorry, Joe)
Thomas, 1b
Clemente, rf
Bench, c
Robinson, 3b
Smith, ss
Gibson, p

OK, back to politics.  Can you believe what Trump said today….

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One Comment on “Taking a Break from Trump & Chatfield; My All-Time Baseball Team”

  1. Dick scott March 23, 2020 at 1:29 pm #

    A stable genius emits whatever rises to his lips. Why listen? Unless those who do listen will succumb to reason.

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