By Diane M. Grassi
It is the age-old argument that will never go away amongst baseball aficionados a/k/a baseball fans. And that is, the comparison of individual players from different eras in which they played, as opposed to those who compete presently. What fascinates fans is that there is no right or wrong answer, thus the perpetuation of the argument and the historic relevance of players in Major League Baseball, unlike any other professional or amateur sport.
And while statistics do not necessarily tell the whole story, they remain the foundation for feats accomplished by the greatest in the game, and arguably still our national pastime. Moreover, baseball would not be the game that it has remained for well over 100 years without its intangibles and its stern attention to detail.
It has been said time and time again that baseball is a game of inches and most importantly a game consumed with the little things. And in that respect, it makes for a difficult argument for the best team historically.
Admit it. As fans, we are biased about our teams and especially partial as it comes to our favorite players. So here is but another take on some storied players, although many, many others could have been chosen, but this group would have made for one terrific run…
A team is largely an amalgam of several important components. Such has not changed over the years, although the formulas used to get there certainly have. Good pitching, defense and an offensive threat at any point in the game are the largest factors. Managerial strategies and team cohesiveness cannot be dismissed. Yet, when compiling an All Star type team, there is less of a need to make up for more normal roster deficiencies.
This choice of players is especially strong on defense, power pitching, selective and timely hitting, for both power and average, in addition to speed on the bases. It is a National League style roster where the batter would typically hit, although we have not allowed for double switches since we only had the choice of one relief pitcher in the bull pen.
The lineup is as follows:
1) Ozzie Smith – Short Stop
2) Pete Rose – 1st Base
3) Joe Morgan – 2nd Base
4) Frank Robinson – Right Field
5) Joe DiMaggio – Center Field
6) Carl Yastrzemski – Left Field
7) Gary Carter – Catcher
8) Brooks Robinson – 3rd Base
9) Starting Pitcher
The starting rotation is as follows:
1) Tom Seaver – RHP
2) Nolan Ryan – RHP
3) Steve Carlton – LHP
4) Catfish Hunter – RHP
5) Ron Guidry – LHP
Goose Gossage – RHP
We will start with some stats and offer some distinctive characteristics of each player, who comprise this wish list of an all-time team:
Ozzie Smith – Shortstop
‘Wizard of Oz’
Bats R/Throws R
Seasons played: 19 (1978-1996)
Teams: San Diego Padres: 1978- 1981; St. Louis Cardinals: 1982-1996
Career: BA SLG% OBP FLDG% (Lead in Fielding % 7 seasons) Stolen Bases Hits
.262 .328 .337 .978 580 2460
Awards: Inducted Baseball Hall of Fame: 2002; World Series Champion 1982 – St. Louis
13 consecutive NL Gold Gloves – SS 1980-1992 NL Silver Slugger – 1987 (.303 BA)
12x All Star 5x NL MVP NL NLCS MVP – 1985
Ozzie Smith’s triumphs have been well documented, yet his stats do not tell the entire story. His ability to create havoc on the base paths with his speed and his innate baseball sense lent depth to his game. Although one of the best shortstops in MLB history, Smith was often criticized for his lack of offense. But that was put to rest somewhat when he came through with key hits and by raising his batting average to .303 in 1987 when he won a Silver Slugger Ward. Smith was on the 1982 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals team which manager Whitey Herzog built upon speed, defense and timely hitting. And perhaps Ozzie would not have been as effective over a long career at short had it been a requirement that he hit for average and/or power day in and day out like many of today’s shortstops. But that does not take away from the magnitude of his contributions to the game.
Pete Rose – 1B
Bats L&R/Throws R
Pete Rose will be most remembered as the hit king with a career total of 4,256 and will most likely take to his grave having the most hits in the history of MLB. He eclipsed Ty Cobb’s record of most hits, with hit number 4, 193 at the end of the 1985 season, while finishing out his career with the Cincinnati Reds, his original team.
Seasons played: 24 (1963-1986) Player/Manager Cincinnati Reds 1985-1986
Teams: Cincinnati Reds 1963-1978; Philadelphia Phillies 1979-1983; Montreal Expos 1984
Cincinnati Reds 1984-1986
Career: BA OBP SLG% Hits FLDG%
.303 .375 .409 4,256 .987
Awards: 1963 NL Rookie of the Year; NL MVP 1973; World Series MVP 1975;
NL Gold Glove – Outfield – 1969, 1970; 17 All Star Team appearances; Batting titles: NL 1968, 1969 & 1973; 1968 No.1 in OBP; NL Silver Slugger Award 1981- Philadelphia Phillies
World Series Champion 1975, 1976 Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies 1980
Pete Rose, undeniably one the most successful MLB players in history who exhibited a hard nose, no nonsense playing style, required necessary preparation to make up for less natural talent than many of his contemporaries had. A number 2 hitter throughout his career, Pete consistently got on base. He was the consummate switch hitter who became the only player to play 500 games at five different positions:
1B, 2B, 3B, LF, RF. His never let up hustle earned him the name, Charlie Hustle, and he revived the head-first slide, a regular element of the game today, and Pete always ran to 1st base after getting a walk.
Second all-time in doubles, Pete’s 100 hits or more for 23 straight seasons remains a record. He led the NL in hits for 7 seasons and had 15 consecutive .300 seasons. His NL 44 game hitting streak still stands today. Whether on the prolific Big Red Machine of the 1970’s or with the underachieving Phillies when he first arrived there, Rose gave more than 100%. His persona preceded him and his post-playing gambling career dogged him for 20 years into his retirement, yet his combination of strong-headedness and determination created a stellar career, nonetheless.
Joe Morgan – 2B
Bats L/Throws R
Joe Morgan started his career in Houston in the then new Astrodome, where he played for 9 years. However, it was with the Cincinnati Reds’ Big Red Machine where he was acknowledged most for being one of the most versatile 2nd baseman in the history of the game, in spite of his small stature. His power was best accommodated in Riverfront Stadium where he earned NL MVP status in 1975 and 1976. He and his teammates won the World Series against the Red Sox in 1975 and against the Yankees in 1976.
Seasons: 22 (1963-1984)
Teams: Houston Astros 1963-1984; Cincinnati Reds 1972-1979; Houston Astros 1980; San Francisco Giants 1981-1982; Philadelphia Phillies 1983; Oakland Athletics 1984
Inducted Baseball Hall of Fame: 1990
Career: BA OBP SLG% FLDG% Stolen Bases Hits HR
.271 .392 .427 .981 689 2517 268
1st NL in SLG% – 1976: .576; 1st in NL OBP – 1972, 1974-1976
Awards: 9x All Star Team; NL Silver Slugger Award – 1982; 5x NL Gold Glove Award – 2B
World Series Champion 1975 & 1976 Cincinnati Reds
Little Joe’s best season for stats was 1975. He led the NL in walks with 132 with a .327 batting average, 17 home runs, 94 RBI and 67 stolen bases. That earned him his eventual first MVP and was an example of his dynamism coming out of the 3-hole.
Frank Robinson – RF (originally a Left Fielder)
Bats R/Throws R
Also a player that took no guff, Frank Robinson set the tone on all of the teams on which he played. A champion of the Civil Rights era, Robinson played by example and carried Jackie Robinson’s torch proudly. Becoming the first African-American player/manager and the only African American manager in both the American and National Leagues, he became the Manager of the Year in 1989. Robinson’s career was stellar. He most notably was the only player to win MVP honors in both the NL – with Cincinnati in 1961 and in the AL in 1966 with Baltimore.
Season: 21 (1956-1976) Cincinnati Reds 1956-1965; Baltimore Orioles 1966-1971; LA Dodgers 1972;
1973-1974 California Angels; 1975-1976 Cleveland Indians
Career: BA OBP SLG% Hits HR FLDG%
.294 .389 .537 2943 586 .984
Inducted Baseball Hall of Fame: 1982
Awards: Triple Crown 1966 (1st winner after Mickey Mantle in 1956); World Series MVP 1966 (Baltimore)
NL MVP – 1961, 1966; 12x All Star; NL Gold Glove – LF 1958; NL Rookie of the Year 1956 (Cincinnati)
No. 1 NL SLG% 1960 – .595, 1961 – .611, 1962 – .624, 1966 .624
Robinson’s no let-up attitude earned him a reputation for crowding the plate; when as a rookie he was hit 20 times. Back then, there was no such thing as body armor, overused today, so you knew that his brawn and not being intimidated was but a preface for what we saw throughout Robinson’s career. He eventually went back to manage the Baltimore Orioles from 1988-91 after his player/manager stint with the Cleveland Indians from 1975-1976. His Manager of the Year Award came in Baltimore in 1989.
Joe DiMaggio – CF
‘The Yankee Clipper’
Bats R/Throws R
Joe DiMaggio is arguably the best all-around player ever, whose understated manner made his feats even more remarkable. Unlike many of today’s players, he went about his business shining on the field in a multitude of ways and setting records year in and year out. In spite of a hiatus in his career of 3 years to serve in World War II, he finished his playing days after a total of only 13 years.
Seasons: 13 (1936-1942) (1946-1951)
Team: New York Yankees
Inducted Baseball Hall of Fame – 1955
Career: BA OBP SLG% FLDG% Hits HR
.325 .398 .579 .978 2214 361
Awards: 13x All Star; 9x World Series Champion – NY Yankees – 1936-1939, 1941, 1947, 1949-1951
AL MVP – 1939, 1941, 1947; AL 1st Slugging% – 1937: .673; AL 1st Batting – 1939 – .381&1940 .352
AL 1st HR -1937: 46 & 1948: 39
Perhaps Joe D will be best remembered for his yet to be broken 56 game hitting streak in the spring of 1941. But his defensive skills –with only 1 error for the entire 1947 season – running the bases know-how, his strong arm and home run record in the then very expansive Yankee Stadium, set him apart from his fellow players. He is often cited as a legend, but Joe was the real deal.
Gary Carter – Catcher
Bats R/Throws R
Gary Carter played a resilient back-stop for 19 major league seasons; a remarkable stint for a catcher, who never failed to deliver offensively, but another feat. In spite of the grueling regimen and the late career injuries he withstood, Carter was perhaps best known for his charismatic smile, his upbeat attitude and utmost cooperation with the press; the latter sometimes critically portrayed. Just 15 years since his retirement, those members of the press wont to criticize such open access which Carter allowed are probably those who now incessantly complain about the lack access to today’s players.
Seasons: 19 (1974-1992) 1974-1984 –Montreal Expos, 1985-1989 – NY Mets, 1990 – San Fran Giants
1991- LA Dodgers, 1992 – Montreal Expos
Inducted Baseball Hall of Fame – 2003
Career: BA OBP SLG% HR Hits FLDG%
.262 .335 .439 324 2092 .991
Awards: 11x All Star; NL Gold Glove – C 1980-1982; 5x Silver Slugger Award
NL 1st in RBI- 1984: 106; World Series Champion – NY Mets 1986
Carter’s offensive skills and clutch hitting was one of his trademarks, along with his career 10 Grand Slam
home runs. But it was his handling of pitchers, especially the young and raw talent of the rotation and relief pitchers on the NY Mets, on their way to a World Championship in 1986, which made Gary Carter especially valuable. His defensive skills were often compared to those of Hall of Famer, Johnny Bench. But Carter’s exuberance was second to none.
Carl Yastrzemski – LF
Bats L/Throws R
Carl Yastrzemski was one of those players, not unlike Joe DiMaggio, who led by example and who remained in the spotlight without even trying. A lifetime Red Sock, he was an institution in fandom and had the records to back it up. Yet, it was his consistent approach at the plate and his goal to continue to improve, year in and year out, that won him over with fans and players alike.
Seasons: 23 (1961-1983) Boston Red Sox
Career: BA OBP SLG% HR Hits FLDG% 2B RBI
.285 .379 .462 452 3,419 .988 646 1844
Inducted Baseball Hall of Fame – 1989
Awards: 18x All Star; AL MVP-1967; Al Batting Champion – 1963 & 1968; 1st AL OBP- 1963, 1965, 1967-1970; 1st AL SLG% – 1965, 1967, 1970; 7x AL Gold Gloves – LF
When Carl Yastrzemski retired after 23 seasons he did so with 3419 hits and over 400 home runs. That feat has been duplicated by a select few in the history of MLB with Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Eddie Murray, Stan Musical, Dave Winfield and Cal Ripkin, Jr. in that class. The only thing Yaz suffered from was the down years for the Red Sox, when Fenway Park was seldom sold out. Had Yaz been playing today his notoriety would be off the charts.
Brooks Robinson – 3B
Bats R/Throws R
The Human Vacuum Cleaner, as Brooks Robinson was affectionately known, redefined defense in the modern game. Brooks Robinson made playing the Hot Corner cool again. His brilliant displays were uncanny year after year and something fans routinely expected from Brooks. But there was nothing routine about his talent.
Seasons: 23 (1955-1977) Baltimore Orioles
Career: BA OBP SLG% FLDG% Hits
.267 .322 .401 .971 2, 848
Inducted Baseball Hall of Fame – 1977
Awards: 1st in AL RBI -1964 : 118; AL MVP -1964; 15x All Star; World Series MVP 1970 – Baltimore Orioles; World Series Champion 1970 – Baltimore Orioles; 16 consecutive AL Gold Gloves – 3B 1960-1975
Like other players on his team, Robinson’s consistency and work ethic was nonpareil. A trailblazer at 3B, Brooks was also as well liked as any player in the game and that only helped with team chemistry and providing leadership.
Tom Seaver – Starting Pitcher
The art of pitching was not lost on Tom Seaver. When he made it to the major leagues in 1967, the baby-faced cherubic looking kid gave no indication of the dominating power pitcher he eventually became. Seaver also was a natural leader on a green, over-achieving NY Mets team that in 1969 miraculously went on to the win the World Series that year. Seaver’s accomplishments on the mound played no small part.
Seasons: 20 (1967-1986)
NY Mets – 1967-1977; Cincinnati Reds 1978-1982; NY Mets-1983; 1984-1986-ChicagoWhite Sox; 1986-Boston Red Sox
Inducted Baseball Hall of Fame – 1992
Career: ERA Wins Strike Outs
2.86 311 3640
12x All Star; 1967 Rookie of the Year; 1969 NL Cy Young Award; 1973 NL Cy Young Award; 1975 NL Cy Young Award: 1st in NL ERA – 1970-1973; 1st in NL Wins -1969 -25; 1st in NL Wins – 1975 – 22;
1st in NL Wins – 1981 -14; Most NL strikeouts – 1970, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1976;
1st in NL Complete Games – 1973 – 18; 1st NL Shutouts – 1977 – 7, 1979 – 5
World Series Champion – 1969 – NY Mets
Much to his dismay, Tom Seaver never pitched a no-hitter, although he came close a few times. And Seaver thought his best season was in 1971 when he failed to win the Cy Young Award with a 20-10 record, 1.76 ERA and 283 strike outs. And his high-water mark of 19 strikeouts in a 1970 game against the San Diego Padres tied the MLB record with pitcher Steve Carlton. Seaver’s pitching style, utilizing the power of his legs was highly thought of with many power pitchers who came after him, such as Roger Clemens.
Nolan Ryan – Starting Pitcher
Nolan Ryan, in some peoples’ minds was a freak of nature, given the speed at which he could throw a baseball up until the end of his expansive career and into his 40’s. He remains the undisputed leader of most career strikeouts to this day, with 5,713. His power was exceptional, although he was known to be wild at times. So, players actually at times feared getting into the batter’s box. But his resilience and preparation were what allowed him to last 27 seasons; an absolutely stunning statistic for a starting power pitcher.
Seasons: 27 (1966-1993)
1966-1971 – NY Mets, 1972-1979 – California Angels, 1980-1988- Houston Astros,
1989-1993 Texas Rangers
Inducted Baseball Hall of Fame – 1999
Career: ERA Wins Strike Outs
3.19 324 5,714
Awards: 8x All Star; 1st AL Innings Pitched – 1974- 332.7; 1st NL ERA – 1981 – 1.691; 1987 – 2.764
12x 1st in Strikeouts per Inning; 1st in Strikeouts in AL – 10x; 1st in Strikeouts NL – 2x;
1st in AL Shutouts – 9x
World Series Champion – NY Mets 1969
Another record not soon to be broken is Ryan’s 7 no-hitters, with 2 in one season. And though a strikeout master, his one weakness was walks per inning at 4.5, which put fear in the eyes of many a batter. Yet, his overpowering 95 mph fastball served him well, into his 40’s, when he pitched 3 of his no-hitters.
From 1972-1974 Ryan struck out 300 hitters each season. And in 1974 his fastball was clocked at 100.9 mph on the radar gun. Most notably, Ryan became the only pitcher to record 2000 strikeouts or more in each major league. His portfolio defies description.
Steve Carlton – Starting Pitcher
Perhaps it might come as a surprise to most fans that Steve Carlton was the second most winningest left-handed pitcher in MLB, behind Warren Spahn. And perhaps it might be related to his self-imposed boycott of the press for his last 8 years he played for the Philadelphia Phillies. He was one hard headed guy, which also most probably played a role in his indisputable success.
Inducted Baseball Hall of Fame 1994
Seasons: 24 (1965-1988)
1965-1971- St. Louis Cardinals, 1972-1986 – Philadelphia Phillies; 1986 – San Fran Giants & Chi White Sox,
1987 – Cleveland Indians & Minnesota Twins, 1988 – Minnesota Twins
Career: ERA Wins Strike Outs
3.22 329 4136
10x All Star; 4x NL Cy Young Award – 1972, 1977, 1980, 1982; NL Gold Glove – 1981- Pitcher;
5x NL 1st Innings Pitched- 1972, 1973, 1980, 1982, 1983; 3x 1st NL Wins- 1972, 1977, 1980;
3x 1st NL Complete Games- 1972-30, 1973-18, 1982-19; 6 20 Game Winning Seasons;
World Series Champion – St. Louis Cardinals 1967, Philadelphia Phillies 1980
With a crafty curveball to go along with his fastball, and an expert pickoff move to 1st, it seemed that Carlton was always evolving and looking to improve. In fact, Carlton was an innovator in conditioning through weight training; he was ahead of his time. He also developed a slider by mid-career, always readjusting. Carlton was one of the most consistent and successful pitchers of the 20th century. Looking back now, the press should have been celebrating his achievements, rather than to antagonize him. It was the fans’ loss to not have heard from him more.
Catfish Hunter – Starting Pitcher
James Hunter, who affectionately became known throughout baseball during his playing career simply as Catfish, was so named by Oakland A’s owner, Charlie Finley, after Catfish made it to the major leagues. Catfish started out with the Kansas City A’s in 1964, never having played in the minors leagues, before the A’s moved to Oakland beginning in the 1968 season.
Seasons: 15 (1965-1979) 1965-1967 Kansas City A’s; 1968-1974- Oakland A’s; 1975-1979 NY Yankees
Inducted Baseball Hall of Fame – 1987
Career: ERA Wins Strike Outs
3.26 224 3012
8x All Star; 1974 1st AL ERA – 2.48; Perfect Game- 1968; Consecutive starts from 1965 to 1977; AL Cy Young Award – 1974; 2x most AL games won 1974-1975; pitched 200 innings or more – 1967-1976;
1st AL Complete Games -1975- 30; 300 Innings Pitched 1974-1975; Won 20 Games or more for 5 consecutive seasons – 1971-1975; 5x World Series Champion – Oakland A’s – 1972-1974;
NY Yankees – 1977-1978
Catfish Hunter’s accomplishments were none too few during his 15 seasons for both Oakland and the NY Yankees. But Catfish was the catalyst for the huge free agent multi-million dollars salaries we are are accustomed to seeing today for MLB’s elite players. And it was none other than George Steinbrenner, owner of the NY Yankees, who broke the bank and signed catfish to a $3.35 million contract for 5 years from 1975-1979. But in actuality free agency began with Curt Flood’s lawsuit against MLB regarding the reserve clause. And Andy Messersmith was the first player who realized the first free agent contract, when he signed a 3 year contract with the Atlanta Braves. Catfish won free agency on a technicality when A’s owner, Charlie Finley, failed to honor an insurance policy owed Hunter that was settled in arbitration and the end-result was giving Hunter free agency.
Catfish was not a flashy pitcher, nor an overpowering one. But he was overwhelmingly accurate as his accomplishments are well documented. According to then teammate, Lou Piniella, “Cat didn’t have overpowering stuff, but he knew how to pitch and how to beat you.”
Unfortunately, Catfish retired suddenly when he developed shoulder problems after the 1979 season and also left us too soon when he passed away at age 53 in 1999 from ALS, known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. His teammates and friends always felt he was an even better human being than he was a pitcher.
Ron Guidry – Starting Pitcher
‘Louisiana Lightning a/k/a Gator’
Having hailed from Cajun country in Louisiana, like Catfish, who also came from humble beginnings in North Carolina, Ron Guidry was an unassuming player. His stature on the mound was considered diminutive for a big league starting pitcher at 5’11” and 160 pounds. But he more than made up for it with a filthy slider which became his trademark pitch. His understated manner was in stark contrast to his explosiveness on the mound.
Seasons: 14 (1975-1988) NY Yankees
Career: ERA Wins Strike Outs
3.29 170 1178
Awards: AL Cy Young Award – 1978; 5x AL Gold Glove-Pitcher; 3x 20 win seasons; 4x All Star
2x AL ERA Leader-1978 (1.74), 1979 (2.78); 1st AL W/L% – 1978 (.893);
Most AL Wins-1978- 25 (25-3), 1986 – 22 (22-6); 2x 200 Strike Out Seasons – 1978, 1979; AL Shutout Leader 1978-5; World Champion – NY Yankees 1977, 1978
Although Ron Guidry’s career was not nearly as lengthy as most other pitchers of his ilk, his success was no less remarkable. In addition to being an overachieving pitcher, he was considered a fine athlete which earned him 5 gold gloves, and he even played left field for the NY Yankees twice. Warmly remembered by Yankee fans, he was embraced as the Yankees’ pitching coach from 2006-2007, under manager, Joe Torre.
Goose Gossage – Relief Pitcher
Goose Gossage had a commanding, intimidating presence on the mound along with a raging fastball, when he came into a game to save it. But unlike today’s use of relievers, often he could be asked to pitch up to 3 innings while closing out games. Most of his appearances were more than an inning and in 1978 in his first year as the stopper for the NY Yankees, he pitched 134 innings; fourth highest number of innings on the entire pitching staff, while saving 27 games. Goose saved the infamous 1978 playoff game, which extended the regular season, between the Yankees and the Red Sox for the American League East title. And Bucky Blankin’ Dent gave Goose the incentive to do it.
Seasons: 22 (1972-1994) 1972-1976 – Chicago White Sox; 1977- Pittsburgh Pirates; 1978-1983 NY Yankees; 1984-1987 – San Diego Padres; 1988- Chicago Cubs; 1989- San Fran Giants & NY Yankees
1991- Texas Rangers; 1992-1993-Oakland A’s; 1994-Seattle Mariners
Inducted Baseball Hall of Fame: 2008
Career: ERA Wins Saves Innings Pitched
3.009 115 310 1809
9x All Star; 1978 AL Rolaids Relief Award; 1st AL Saves 1975 (26), 1978 (27), 1980 (33)
World Series Champion- NY Yankees – 1978
Goose Gossage was recently quoted after Yankee closer, Mariano Rivera, got his 500th career save saying that he feels Rivera is the greatest closer in both Yankee and MLB history. However, he points out that, “We weren’t closers. That word hadn’t been coined yet. We were relief pitchers. We did a job it now takes 3 guys to do. I don’t know who the greatest relief pitcher is because we did different jobs…People forget about what we used to do…I don’t mean to blow my own horn, but I had 310 of the other kind of saves and 115 wins as a reliever.”
Compiling a dream team from different eras presents an interesting case to evaluate players’ talents. And that is what sets baseball apart from other professional team sport leagues. For no other professional team sport celebrates its great players post-career quite like MLB. While technology and better healthcare have had a tremendous impact on the longevity of players today, each generation offers something unique unto itself. However, as the game has changed, it cannot help but make us realize how much players of the past sacrificed and did without.
And let us not forget to continue to celebrate the game of baseball, in spite of its scandals, in spite of its dirty players or how mismanaged it may become. Because without the fans, MLB will cease to exist, and all of those wonderful players of the past and the challenges they faced will become but a footnote in the history