Rich Gossage in . . . The Nagging QuestionJune 1, 2007
One thing I think about a lot, especially during times when I probably should be addressing other more vital and pressing issues, is my all-time baseball all-star team. Actually, I have many variations on this line of thinking, coming up at various times with all-time squads for each major league franchise, all-time squads made up of various ethnicities (a few years ago, back in the early screw-around-at-length-for-free days of Whatifsports.com, I pitted my favorite of these squads, featuring Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax, Benny “The Ty Cobb of the Federal League” Kauff, Gabe Kapler, et al, against a series of major league champions from the past for an entire 162-game season, and the Galicia Wiesels—named for the great writer and for the region in Austria-Hungary my father’s parents fled—went 97 and 65 against the likes of the 1927 Yankees, the 1953 Dodgers, and the 1975 Reds, among others), and even specialty all-time squads such as Most Misshapen (John “I’m not an athlete” Kruk, meet Walt “No Neck” Williams), Most Tragic (Lyman Bostock, meet Willard Hershberger), and Most Likely to Be “On Something” (Hit the showers, Pete Alexander, it’s time to hand the game over to Steve Howe). But I’ve always circled back around to the all-time team, making revisions and substitutions, envisioning tape measure shots and astounding catches, and staging entire Lincoln-Douglass debates in my mind over such issues as how many pitchers to carry and who should be the fifth outfielder.
It’s my way of hiding from the world, I guess, and as ways of hiding from the world go I guess it’s not too bad. Still, one of these days The Nagging Question should be “Why am I hiding from the world?” But today’s not that day, probably because I’d rather hide from the world and burrow down deep into that rich cluster of meaningless distinctions and impossible scenarios I call my all-time team. It changes all the time; in fact just today I reduced the pitching staff from ten men to nine and decided on a new backup catcher after years of going with a personal favorite, Mickey Cochrane, for the job. But here’s how I see it today:
Most common starting lineup:
Ty Cobb lf
Rogers Hornsby 2b
Babe Ruth rf
Josh Gibson c
Lou Gehrig 1b
Willie Mays cf
George Brett 3b
Ozzie Smith ss
Honus Wagner, ss
Martin Dihigo, util
Jackie Robinson, util
Ted Williams, of
Hank Aaron, of
Mike Schmidt, 3b
Buck Ewing, c
Oscar Charleston, of
I could go on at length about each and every choice on here (and actually I’m hoping the chance to do so will arise in the comments portion of this post), but for right now I’ll just note three recent alterations:
1. As mentioned above, I waved the man who Mickey Mantle was named after in favor of Buck Ewing. I decided I needed a representative from baseball before the 20th Century. It doesn’t seem likely that from all the players who took the field before 1900 there wasn’t a single one who deserves to be part of my all-time roster. Ewing was generally regarded as the best all-around player of that era, a .300 hitter with good speed, dominant defensive skills, and an unsurpassed knowledge of the game.
2. I cut the pitching staff down to nine. This allowed me to cut Roger Clemens, but that’s not why I did it. First, I really, really wanted to add another hitter. Second, the starters I’ve got are going to log a ton of innings, and if for some reason I hit a tough stretch in the schedule where someone is needed to eat up innings, I’ve got the tireless knuckleballer, Hoyt Wilhelm, and beyond that I’ve already got Martin Dihigo, who was a phenomenal pitcher, as one of my two utilitymen. If you haven’t heard of Dihigo, he was a Negro League star whose versatility as a fielder could have made Bert Campaneris and Tony Phillips seem like Greg Luzinski, who hit and played the outfield like Roberto Clemente, and who performed so well on the mound that he was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a pitcher (Bill James, on the other hand, ranks him as the best rightfielder in Negro League history).
3. I dropped Dennis Eckersley and added the man pictured at the top of the page in his pre-goatee days. Eckersley was pretty great for a while, but I started thinking about roles on the staff, and I think the 9th inning has to belong to Rivera, whose post-season success (save for a couple beautiful moments in ’04) earns him the closer role. So who’s going to be the right-handed set-up guy, able to storm into a shaky situation and then go for two or three innings? I’d rather have a reliever from the days of the three-inning save than the king of the one-inning relievers, Eck. Plus, I don’t think any pitcher ever scared me more than the Goose.
But anyway, on to The Nagging Question:
Who makes up your all-time 25-man roster?