Several weeks back a conversation was started at the local Liars’ Club monthly meeting about who were the best baseball players of all-time. The conversation (argument) morphed into banter about not only who were the best players, but who were the best at their respective positions. The dialog (all-out brawl) ended with a toast and a challenge to the public to help settle said spat. Well, the winners are in and the whiners can drown their sorrows about who was the absolute best in the minds of those discerning readers of the Morgan County Citizen.
Here they are with a few tidbits along with each one. Starting southpaw for the All-Star cast was Warren Spahn. It wasn’t all that close. The former Brave spent most of his 21 years with the organization in Boston and Milwaukee winning 363 games even though he missed three years due to military service. At the ripe old age of 42 he went 23-7. The right-handed starter wasn’t so cut and dried. Three different righties tied for the highest number of votes, and you could make a case for each one. Greg Maddux, Walter Johnson, and Nolan Ryan each have the numbers to give them the starting nod. Wouldn’t be a bad rotation. The Big Train (Johnson) won 417 times over 21 seasons and holds a 2.17 ERA. Maddux was the ace of the Atlanta Braves’ staff during their run of 11 straight Eastern Division Titles. He won four Cy Young Awards during his 21-year career. Enough said. Hall of famer Nolan Ryan was known for his heat, the gas, fastball. His 27 years in the Bigs were played for mostly mediocre teams at best. The longevity speaks for itself. Oh, he only won 324 games while pitching 5386 innings over that span. Mariano Rivera was a shoo-in for the greatest reliever. His epic career with the New York Yankees during some of their greatest seasons was a thing of beauty. The high leg kicker is hands-down the greatest at his craft we’ve seen in the modern era. This one wasn’t close either. Note: Here’s a head-scratcher of a trivia question from the President of the Liars’ Club (Ricky Cochran). Who is the only 25-game winner to never receive the Cy Young Award? Answer at end of article.
At catcher, Johnny Bench edged out Yogi Berra in a fairly close race. I’d take either one. Bench was the rock behind the plate for the great Cincinnati Big Red Machine of the 70’s. He was the starting catcher for them for 15 of his 17 seasons (he was injured during one season) and Yogi was the bad-ball hitting catcher for the notoriously good Yankees. Bench hit .267, homered 389 times, and was a 14 time All-Star selection. Not too shabby for a catcher.
First base was one of a few blowouts. Lou Gehrig, The Iron Horse, was the left-handed hitting mate of Babe Ruth on what many would argue was the greatest team ever assembled (1927 Yankees). Sweet Lou amassed a streak of 2130 consecutive games played. That record stood for 56 years before another guy on this list played in a few more. We’ll get to him in a minute. Gehrig was just shy of joining the 500 homeruns/3000 hits class by recording 493/2721 and had a batting average of .340 before succumbing to the disease that now holds his name; Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS).
Rogers Hornsby closed out Joe Morgan in a close vote for the greatest second baseman of all-time. Many would argue that it’s hard to compare the two because of the different eras they played in. However, Hornsby won the Triple Crown for the highest batting average, home runs, and RBI’s in a single season not once, but twice. His career .358 batting average overshadows Morgan’s .271 by 87 points. That’s quite a difference.
Third baseman Mike Schmidt was voted in by our readers as the number one hot corner of all-time, and rightfully so. The great commentator Tim Kurkjian once quipped, “Mike Schmidt was one of the great combinations of power and finesse with 548 home runs and 10 Gold Gloves at third base: He could play the piano, and move it, too. – Kurkjian.” Not much question on this one.
We had one other tie at shortstop, and probably another argument due to playing in different eras. Cal Ripken and Honus Wagner garnered most of the votes as the best of class. Wagner was named to the first Hall of Fame class and received more votes than Babe Ruth. He didn’t hit for power, but did win eight batting titles, get 3420 hits, and maintained a .328 batting average. Ripken, on the other hand, was the litmus test for longevity by breaking Gehrig’s consecutive game streak by 502 games. That’s about three seasons more. Cal put up some strong numbers during his 21 years at Baltimore for the Orioles. 11,551 at-bats, 1647 runs, 3184 hits, 431 homeruns, and 1695 runs batted in. Shortstops just aren’t supposed to do that.
The leading vote getters for the three outfield positions were close to being unanimous. The designated hitter slot was almost exclusively made up of outfielders as well. So, choose your poison. Start three of them and bring the other in just to hit. You can’t go wrong with these four. They are Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Willie Mays. At least almost everyone agreed with me on these four.
Manager Casey Stengell of the Yankees beat out Bobby Cox by a nose in a photo finish. Both had phenomenal talent, but Stengell won seven World Series titles to Cox’s one. That says it all.
We did receive one ballot from a fairly famous person. He’s the Prez, Donald Trump. Just goes to show how far-reaching our little hometown newspaper is being read. The return address was 1700 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC, so it had to be authentic. It was even hand-written and much like former president Barack Obama’s NCAA bracket that he completed during his terms as commander-in-chief. The Donald had some interesting choices. Here they are: Pitchers-Bill Lee and Mark Fidrych; Catcher-Bob Uecker; First base-Marv Thornberry; Second base-Steve Sax/Dan Uggla; Third base-Pete Rose, Jr; Shortstop-Mario Mendoza; Left field-Larry Littleton; Center field-Shoeless Joe Jackson; Right field-Jose Canseco; Relief pitcher-John Rocker; DH-Eddie Gaedel (look this one up); Manager-Ted Turner.
Our three winners for this year’s Liars’ Club Baseball Challenge were: First Place: Joe Sky; Second Place: Bill Wood; Third Place: Jabo Jarvis. Your prizes will be awarded soon. In other words, the check’s in the mail.
So there you go folks. It’s been fun and thanks for playing along. It was Cy Young, of course.