"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
July 21, 1999
BASEBALL: All-Century Team
From an email I wrote in July 1999, formatted for the blog:
Baseball's nominations for the All-Century Team can be found here:
The rules: Balloting for the team begins July 13 through September 10. Fans will be asked to vote for two players at each infield position, two catchers, six pitchers and nine outfielders for a total of 25 players.
After several days of deliberations, here are my selections:
The easiest call was 1B. Toughest: picking a second shortstop (none seemed quite worthy, since Banks was a 1B half his career; Ripken has been a very similar player to Cronin); leaving Eddie Mathews off at 3B; leaving Frank Robinson and Barry Bonds off the OF, largely on the defensive reputations of DiMaggio and Speaker; picking Bench over Berra; but worst of all were picking a second at 2B and the pitchers. At second, take a very close look at Gehringer some time; he really was amazing. Also, Jackie Robinson was the kind of player who has his best years in his 20s, and he was 28 when he was a rookie, so he may well have been better than Morgan if the war and the color barrier hadn't intervened and he'd been able to break in at, say, age 22 (1941).
As for the pitchers, you could take Mathewson, Clemens, Young, Ford, Maddux and Feller (or Spahn or Carlton, for that matter) and I'm not so sure I'd have a better staff. Clemens or Maddux would probably supplant Seaver in another two years or so.
I'm biased against the modern pitchers like Seaver, Clemens, Maddux, and particularly Ford because they had a smaller impact on the pennant race than did guys who pitched 300 innings every year. Ford, in his prime, often started only 28-33 games a year. On the flip side, Clemens and Maddux work much harder than their contemporaries. Also, one has to factor in outside influences -- Clemens, Maddux, Seaver (and Carlton and Ryan) all lost parts of prime seasons to strikes, Feller lost almost 4 seasons in his prime (albeit probably saving him from an arm injury) to war, Alexander lost almost a season and a half at his 30-wins-a-year peak to war, Ford missed two prime years to military service, Spahn got a late start due to the war, and of course Paige's whole career is in the shadows due to the color line. Young, of course, is hard to evaluate because he was pitching 450 innings a year when the mound was 50 feet away. The edge, as I see it, goes to guys like Grove, Johnson, Alexander, Koufax, and Clemens who totally dominated the league at their peak. I was just blown away when I went back to look carefully at Alexander's numbers from 1914-20 -- he was as dominant as Koufax, pitching in a park that was 257 down the right field line and 270 to right center, where even in the dead ball era there were 3 times as many homers hit in the Phillies' home games. The man threw 28 SHUTOUTS IN TWO YEARS. Take away the war and he would have won about 400 games.
Apologies to some of the Negro League stars, but only Gibson and Paige had reputations so strong that they demanded inclusion. Oscar Charleston was often compared to Cobb and Speaker, but who knows?
I also had some gripes with the nominations. Gary Carter belonged on the list rather than Gabby Hartnett (as did Mike Piazza -- Hartnett was not known as a glove man, so give a break to the best hitter at the position). Why bother with Luis Aparicio, who nobody in their right mind would trade for Alex Rodriguez (too young for the list) or Arky Vaughn? In fact, A-Rod, Jeter and Nomar would be as legitimate candidates at short as Banks, who was moved to 1B at a young age. I like Eddie Murray as much as the next guy, but he and Bill Terry don't have a prayer at 1B, and where's Johnny Mize? Also, Willie Keeler's career is pretty sad in this company if you only count his exploits in the 20th century. Nonetheless, nobody who was left off is really deserving of the final honor.