Let's face it-- these trips to NY or Boston ain't what they used to be. And now we await the thrilling news about Orlando Cabrera-- Orlando Cabrera!!-- and more losses. And hope that September is a barrel of fun with the likes of Everidge or Carter or Doolittle even Cardenas in the lineup. SO in the wake of a truly entertaining induction speech by the one and only Rickey, here are my thoughts on the best three (3) players at each position since 1945. (Rickey will find his name on this list, don't worry). Let's start with catcher and the infield, and tomorrow I'll get to the OF and the pitchers.
CATCHER: Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Gary Carter.
And probably in that order. No, I never saw Berra play, but his numbers are very good, his postseason record incomparable-- at least for number of appearances/games-- and besides the guy has entertained us all with his "late out there early" and "fork in the road" Berraisms. Carter gets the nod over a lot of top contenders for his complete play-- the "Kid" could field the position and was a feared hitter throughout the late 1970s and 1980s. Fisk only has longevity over him; Piazza was too poor a fielder; and the obvious 'roid linkage to Rodriguez takes him down just a notch in my book.
Those too young to have seen him probably have no idea just how feared a hitter "Stretch" was in the period from roughly 1965-70. Think Pujols and Bonds and add three inches. Pujols is obviously the creme de la creme today, and health and steroids notwithstanding, may ultimately challenge Gehrig as the greatest to play the position. Thomas is a trickier proposition-- he only played the position full-time for about 10 years (McCovey played some outfield early on since the Giants had Cepeda as well for a time) and then became first a part-time and then full-time DH. But I can't put McGwire or Palmeiro ahead of him both for the obvious reason and for the fact that for those 10 years he was simply a much better hitter than both of them. Eddie Murray is probably the best of the pre-PED era, but since I believe the Hurt is probably clean, again the offensive numbers are too compelling. Mattingly and Hernandez (and Will Clark, for that matter) are nice players but not in Thomas' league offensively, despite their clear defensive superiority. And Stargell played a lot of outfield. And Banks' great seasons were at SS, not IB. And Killebrew played a bunch of different positions and was a 260-270 hitter for most of his career.
SECOND BASE: Joe Morgan, Roberto Alomar, Craig Biggio
Morgan is one of the 15-20 greatest players of all time. And maybe 15-20 worst announcers of all time, but that's for a different place. Alomar has two problems-- the "spit" is one, and a poor tail end of his career including some allegations of less than total effort. But at his best he was the nonpareil player at this position-- a great top of order hitter and a scintillating fielder. Biggio simply did more for longer than other contenders such as Whitaker, Grich or Sandberg. Chase Utley has a chance to get into this company one day.
SHORTSTOP: Cal Ripken, Ozzie Smith, Derek Jeter
Well this one might be very different if a certain player had never signed with the Yankees. Despite some of the problems I have with the Streak, Ripken's overall output at this position is simply staggering-- and he was for most of his career a lot better fielder than given credit for, kind of the opposite of Jeter. Ozzie was a wonder in the field and became a very good hitter in his 30s. Jeter has too much offense to let someone like Omar Vizquel or Alan Trammell by him. There were no great all-around SS in the 1950s, 60s, or even most of the 70s-- save for a few seasons by Ernie Banks. He-- and Robin Yount as well-- suffers becasue he was not a strong enough fielder to keep playing the position. And as for ARod, well, 7 seasons are not enough, I'm sorry;
THIRD BASE: Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Wade Boggs
The third guy here is tough. Eddie Matthews is a strong contender. So is Brooks Robinson. And maybe Scott Rolen. and one day either Evan Longoria, David Wright, or both. (Brett Wallace, perchance??) But in the end Boggs' sheer hitting talent-- all those .350 plus seasons and batting titles, plus pertty solid defense, wins out. (Matthews, btw, has more Win Shares than either Brett or Boggs, so I am probably reaching here) This is one case where seeing the guy play all those years-- even with Margo and the chicken factored in-- has an impact on me. And again 7 years of ARod ain't enough, though at least here he has a chance to reach the top rung.
DESIGNATED HITTER/ALL PURPOSE PLAYERS
Edgar Martinez,/Pete Rose, Paul Molitor
Edgar for DH obviously-- none better over the long haul. And Rose and Molitor both played numerous positions and were terrific top of order players.
Hope this stirs up some debate. I'll have OF and pitchers tomorrow.