I'm all about the correspondence reports now...
Former WXYC host, Bill Ammons, a.k.a. "Billy The Kid", checked in from Charlotte, North Carolina via gmail last night by sending me Rob Neyer's All-Time Greatest Line-up from ESPN Insider...
So, here's a good topic for tonight's 'SportsRap.' What's your all-time line-up. Do you still include Barry in Left-Field? Without further adieu, here's Rob Neyer's picks.
***Here is my all-time lineup: the greatest players at each position, presented in the form of a batting order (though with these guys, it doesn't matter much where they reside in the lineup; they're going to score plenty of runs no matter what).
1. Joe Morgan, 2B - I'm not sure if people realize just how great Joe Morgan was. He won the National League's MVP Award in both 1975 and '76, deservedly so. But he could also have won the award in 1972, 1973, and 1974. And as you might guess, the list of players who were the best (or even arguably the best) in their league for five consecutive years is awfully short.
2. Honus Wagner, SS - Some will say that Wagner, who played a century ago and was built like a blockhouse with bowlegs, doesn't belong on any team with "modern" players. Perhaps. But Cal Ripken wasn't anybody's idea of a prototypical shortstop, and he did all right. How great was Wagner? Even in his late 30s, he ranked as one of the very best players in the game. And before you tell me this "proves" that baseball during the Dead Ball Era couldn't have been all that good, remember how much credit Barry Bonds has gotten for doing exactly what Wagner did -- 90
3. Ted Williams, LF - Williams. Musial. Aaron. Choosing between them is neither easy nor
fun. And no, Williams wasn't a particularly good baserunner or fielder (mostly because after a few years he stopped caring much about either skill). But the most important statistic in baseball is on-base percentage, and if not for World War II, the Korean War, and a couple of injuries, Williams would probably have led the American League in that category for 19 straight seasons (1940-1958). In 1960, the season in which he turned 42, Williams finished with a .454 OBP and a .645 slugging percentage, both of which would have been No. 1 in the league if he'd played enough to qualify (he fell roughly 20 games short).
4. Babe Ruth, RF - Ruth's claim on the title, Greatest Player Ever, is predicated, in part, on his three-season run as one of the game's top pitchers. That doesn't get him any extra points here, of course (if we need a reliever, we'll sign Mariano Rivera, or perhaps Lefty Grove). Ruth does get extra points, though, for fundamentally changing his chosen profession. Oh, he wasn't the sole reason for baseball's reinvention in the 1920s. But in 1920, Ruth outhomered every other American League team (and all but one National League team), and it's hard to believe that nobody was paying attention. With the exception of 1925, when he was sick, Ruth was the best hitter in the majors every season from 1918 through 1931.
5. Willie Mays, CF - Mays or Mantle. Mantle or Mays. One's preference is largely a matter of taste, as compelling statistical and anecdotal arguments can be made for both. I wind up with Mays because he essentially has no flaws, while Mantle's reliability/availability is always a question mark, even if it's buried far back in your mind. Also, with Williams and Ruth playing the corner outfield positions, it's probably a good idea to have Say Hey in the middle.
6. Lou Gehrig, 1B - Gehrig's life has been romanticized, of course, and he certainly wasn't the perfect player; he didn't run all that well, and wasn't a great fielder. That said, there are two or three excellent seasons separating Gehrig from his nearest competition -- Jimmie Foxx, Jeff Bagwell, Eddie Murray -- and that's with Gehrig's losing three or four (or more) seasons to the disease that would take both his life and his name.
7. Mike Schmidt, 3B - Schmidt, still underrated in some quarters, ranks just behind Joe Morgan among the greatest players of the 1970s. Here are the only three things you need to know about Mike Schmidt: He led the National League in home runs seven times; he led his league in walks four times; and he won (and for the most part earned) 10 Gold Gloves. The only thing Schmidt couldn't (or perhaps wouldn't) do was hit for average -- he topped .300 only once in 18 season -- but if his batting average didn't bother his on-base or slugging percentages, why should it bother us?
8. Josh Gibson, C - Roy Campanella was one of the five or six greatest catchers in major league history. And yet Branch Rickey, as fine a judge of baseball talent as ever lived, once said, "You know what I feel about Campanella" -- who starred for Rickey's Dodgers -- "but whatever Roy can do, Josh could do better." We don't have reliable stats for Gibson, whose career ended befor Jackie Robinson broke the color line. We do have the eyewitness accounts, though. In 1939, Walter Johnson saw Gibson play, and afterward remarked, "There is a catcher that any big league club would like to buy for $200,000. I've heard of him before. His name is Gibson. He can do everything. He hits that ball a mile. And he catches so easy he might as well be in a rocking chair. Throws like a rifle. Bill Dickey isn't as good a catcher. Too bad this Gibson is a colored fellow."
9. Roger Clemens, Pitcher - Perhaps we've not been kind enough to the "modern" player -- with his personal trainer, his year-round conditioning program, and his better living through chemistry. So let Roger Clemens carry the banner of the 21st century superstars. A few years ago, we could argue about who was greater, Clemens or Maddux, but this season Clemens has settled that debate. Now in his 22nd season, Clemens looks like he just might pitch forever. And unlike the great moundsmen of yesteryear, Clemens has rarely been able to coast; in his era, even the shortstops and second basemen are capable of hitting the ball over the fence, which makes for a different style of pitching than that employed by Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson. There are other pitchers you might want for a single game -- Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson come to mind -- but for the ultimate combination of dominance and durability, you just can't go wrong with the Rocket.
I don't suppose it's the most productive lineup ever, but the Big Red Machine in 1975 and '76 might have been the most balanced lineup -- and they weren't exactly light on production, either. With four Hall of Fame-caliber players (including Pete Rose) and three others (Dave Concepcion, Ken Griffey, George Foster) who enjoyed long and productive careers, this lineup essentially had no weakness except center fielder Cesar Geronimo … and Geronimo was a four-time Gold Glove winner. Here's the most common lineup used in those two seasons:
1. Pete Rose (3B)
2. Ken Griffey (RF)
3. Joe Morgan (2B)
4. Johnny Bench (C)
5. Tony Perez (1B)
6. George Foster (LF)
7. Dave Concepcion (SS)
8. Cesar Geronimo (CF)