Archive for Sunday, July 6, 2008

Keegan: Ranking baseball’s best ever

July 6, 2008


My all-time baseball team features a battery in which the pitcher and catcher have the same last name. To enable more time to guess that name, I'll count backward, starting with right field, which is the number "9" position on the scorecard.

Hank Aaron, the home run king in a world without asterisks, gains the honor. David Aardsma, who has pitched for the Giants, Cubs, White Sox and Red Sox since making his major-league debut in 2004, has bumped Aaron into second place alphabetically among all-time major-league players, but does anyone really consider Aaron anything but first among home run hitters?

Willie Mays, of course, roams center field. If not for the Say Hey Kid's memorable commercials warning children not to play with blasting caps, I might not have fingers to type this column.

Babe Ruth, the greatest baseball player of all-time, is in left.

Once asked to name the world's greatest ballplayer, Ruth asked if he had to restrict his answer to the major leagues. Told he did not, the Bambino chose John Henry Lloyd, a power-hitting shortstop from the Negro Leagues. Who are we to question the Babe?

The obvious answer at third base is Mike Schmidt, a great home run hitter and fielder. Schmidt has the best tools and statistics of anyone who ever manned the hot corner, but he's not the choice here. You want to win a ballgame or a series, there's no better man to have on your side and in your opponent's face than George Brett.

Rogers Hornsby is at second base, and Lou Gehrig gets the nod over Sadaharu Oh (868 home runs for the Yomiuri Giants) at first.

Designated-hitter duties belong to Ted Williams, who used to like to refer to himself as "Teddy (Bleepin') Ballgame." Once, as a Red Sox spring training instructor, Williams pointed his bat toward his shiny new Cadillac parked in the nearby lot. He told a group of minor-league outfielders that if one of them could catch a ball off of his bat, the Cadillac was his. Dennis Gilbert, who later would become a famous baseball agent, sprinted in, laid out, made a spectacular catch, got up and, grinning ear to ear, sprinted in toward Williams to take ownership of the keys to his brand-new car. When he was about 20 feet from Williams, the self-described greatest hitter of all-time tossed a ball in the air, crushed it and said, "Double or nothing."

Gilbert, who now sells insurance to Hollywood celebrities, kept plugging away and eventually would become a multi-millionaire who gave back to the game by building a baseball diamond in downtown Los Angeles, joining the effort to revive baseball in the inner-cities.

The manager of this team? Easy. Tommy Lasorda, Kansas University baseball coach Ritch Price's professional idol. Baseball is a game of failure and insecurity, especially so with rookies. Nine Lasorda players won National League Rookie of the Year honors in large part because he made them believe in themselves.

The same-name battery? Not Charlie Brown (1-2 for the 1987 Cleveland Spiders) and catcher Drummond Brown (a .241 career hitter who finished up with the Kansas City Packers of the Federal League).

Bob Gibson and Josh Gibson.


chapdaddy 9 years, 10 months ago

Glad to see Barry Bonds isn't on this list, Keegs. And, that you chose Brett over Schmidt. Good man. Brett was a gamer.

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