September 11, 1999

The Natural Conclusion
by Steve Lombardi

This has been simmering for many, many, months.

It began at a subconscious level in January 1999 when The Sporting News released their book "Baseball's 100 Greatest Players: A Celebration of the 20th Century's Best."

Six months later, it became discernible when the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) released the results from their "Top 100 Players of the Century Survey" (voted upon by 865 SABR members).

It became inevitable in July 1999 once Major League Baseball and MasterCard announced their "All-Century Team" ballot (with balloting running from July 13, 1999 until September 10, 1999).

The Sporting News’ list was farcical. SABR’s results were disappointing. To date, the interim tally of the MasterCard ballot has been appalling. Therefore, what’s a NetShrine Curator to do? The gauntlet had been thrown. While it was never NetShrine’s intention to select a "Best Players This Century Team," what other choice was left? (As this is penned, Rob Neyer of ESPN.com is also working on a "best of the century" collection for each position on the diamond. Who’s next? You would have to believe that more "lists" are forthcoming. Regardless, NetShrine had to answer the call.)

It’s significant to note that NetShrine, from the beginning, was meant to be a "house" of all the Major League Baseball players that stand out. The site was never meant to single out nine, or twenty, or thirty, or even just one hundred players. Therefore, please do not mistake this feature to be a departure from NetShrine’s original directive. More so, please accept it as a rejoinder to the capricious acclamations of all the previously mentioned organizations.

First, some ground rules.

The roster: We’re going with a 30-man team. Why? Well, after spending about five minutes noodling over "Why 30?" and coming up with nothing better than "Why not?," that’s the answer: Why not?

We will break it down as follows: Two catchers, two first basemen, two second basemen, two shortstops, two third basemen, nine outfielders, and eleven pitchers. Seems fair, no?

The required qualifications: This will be a WELL ROUNDED team. The NetShrine group (a better name will follow) will be players who were proficient in just about every facet of the "talent" scale.  (By "talent," we mean the all the feasible positive skills a baseball player could possess.)

For position players, consideration will be given to Plate Discipline, Batting Success, Power, Speed, Range in the Field, Sure Handedness, Throwing Ability, Longevity and Consistency. Pitchers will be judged based on Repertoire, Control, Success, Dominance, as well as their Longevity and Consistency.

Enough prelude. Let’s rock.

CATCHERS

The candidates: Mickey Cochrane, Bill Dickey, Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra, Gabby Hartnett, Johnny Bench, Ernie Lombardi, Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter, Ted Simmons, Josh Gibson.

The selections: (2) Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra.

Comments: These are catchers; therefore, speed goes out the window. Gibson really can’t be compared since he was never given a chance to play in the bigs. Cochrane, Dickey, Hartnett and Campy were great run producers. Hartnett and Campanella were also good with the glove. But, Dickey, Campanella, and Cochrane did not "do it" as long as Bench and Berra. Hartnett, as well as Fisk, lacked consistency. Lombardi and Simmons fell short with the glove. Carter didn’t star long enough. Bench and Berra excelled both ways for a dozen straight years.

Current player most likely to someday qualify: Ivan Rodriguez.

FIRST BASEMEN

The candidates: Lou Gehrig, Willie Stargell, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg, Willie McCovey, Harmon Killebrew, Mark McGwire, Rod Carew, Bill Terry, Eddie Murray, George Sisler.

The selections: (2) Lou Gehrig, Eddie Murray.

Comments: All of these were tremendous offensive players. Therefore, looking for flaws here is similar to checking a super-model’s back teeth. Still, here we go: Greenberg was inconsistent. Killebrew, while on the whole under-appreciated, lacked speed and made a ton of outs. Carew had little pop. Ditto Sisler. Stargell swung and missed too often. McCovey fell short with the mitt. Terry and Foxx lacked longevity. Three bad seasons and heavy feet stymied McGwire. There were virtually little or no knocks against any of Gehrig’s and/or Murray’s game.

Current player most likely to someday qualify: Jeff Bagwell.

SECOND BASEMEN

The candidates: Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, Joe Morgan, Jackie Robinson, Charlie Gehringer, Ryne Sandberg, Bobby Doerr, Tony Lazzeri, Frankie Frisch, Nellie Fox.

The selections: (2) Joe Morgan, Charlie Gehringer.

Comments: Robinson’s career in the bigs was too short. Doerr also lacked the longevity of the others. Lazzeri pales to the others with the leather. Collins was super - although his lifetime Slugging Percentage was only five points higher than his lifetime On Base Average of .424. Fox and Frisch also lacked extra punch. Conversely, Sandberg swung for the fences too often - impacting his overall batting success. Lajoie did it all. His only failing was not always being on the field. Where’s Maz? Still looking for his bat. The public loves Hornsby. The take here is that Rajah was average defensively and had 9 great seasons during a very good 16-year run. That said, we like Morgan and Gehringer better. Little Joe and the Mechanical Man did it all, consistently, and had long runs.

Current player most likely to someday qualify: Craig Biggio.

THIRD BASEMEN

The candidates: Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Home Run Baker, Wade Boggs, George Brett, Ron Santo, Graig Nettles, Stan Hack, Pie Traynor, Brooks Robinson, Buddy Bell.

The selections: (2) Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews.

Comments: It’s quicker to run through these candidates. Baker didn’t "do it" long enough. Bell, Robinson, Traynor and Hack were no power threats. Santo and Nettles didn’t hit safely enough. Boggs was only a decent fielder at best. Brett had trouble playing a full season. Schmidt and Mathews were the best all-around here. Little contest.

Current player most likely to someday qualify: Scott Rolen.

SHORTSTOPS

The candidates: Honus Wagner, Ernie Banks, Arky Vaughan, Joe Cronin, Luke Appling, Robin Yount, Cal Ripken Jr., Ozzie Smith, Luis Aparicio, Pee Wee Reese, Alan Trammell.

The selections: (2) Honus Wagner, Cal Ripken Jr.

Comments: Banks was not a good baserunner and hardly took a walk. Trammell and Yount were inconsistent in the power department. Vaughan was only slightly above average in the field. Aparicio and Reese were not an offensive forces. Cronin only played 12 full seasons. Appling and Smith lacked power. Honus Wagner may have been the best all-around player ever. Ripken? Durable, good glove, power, 14 years an All-Star at SS. OK, he’s slow. Still, we’re going with Cal and the Dutchman.

Current player most likely to someday qualify: Alex Rodriguez.

OUTFIELDERS

The candidates: Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb, Stan Musial, Barry Bonds, Tris Speaker, Mel Ott, Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio, Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Duke Snider, Chuck Klein, Rickey Henderson, Al Kaline, Joe Medwick, Lou Brock, Dave Winfield, Max Carey, Roberto Clemente, Andre Dawson, Carl Yastrzemski, Sam Crawford, Pete Rose, Paul Waner, Joe Jackson, Al Simmons, Goose Goslin, Tony Gwynn, Billy Williams, Sam Rice, Reggie Jackson.

The selections: (9) Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb, Stan Musial, Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron.

Comments: So much to say here. The Readers Digest version: Speaker - If we could keep more, he would have made it. Rice, Reggie, Billy Williams, Goslin, Waner, Crawford & Ott - Only average a field. Joe Jackson & DiMaggio - Career too short. Frank Robinson - Caught in the numbers like Speaker. Simmons, Snider & Medwick - Peak years too few. Klein - Bad defense and inflated numbers. Dawson, Winfield & Kaline - Hard to find anything wrong with them - just can’t beat our nine. Yaz & Brock - Inconsistent power. Rose & Carey - Lacked power. Gwynn & Clemente - Long ball totals too low. And those selected? There’s no true reason why each of them should not be on the list of "best ever."

Current player most likely to someday qualify: Ken Griffey Jr.

PITCHERS

The candidates: Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Pete Alexander, Cy Young, Warren Spahn, Lefty Grove, Sandy Koufax, Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Bob Feller, Greg Maddux, Nolan Ryan, Carl Hubbell, Whitey Ford, Jim Palmer, Roger Clemens, Eddie Plank, Juan Marichal, Robin Roberts, Lefty Gomez, Ed Walsh, Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Dennis Eckersley, Gaylord Perry, Three Finger Brown, Don Sutton, Hoyt Wilhelm, Bert Blyleven, Fergie Jenkins, Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, Rube Waddell, Satchel Paige, Jim Kaat.

The selections: (11) Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Pete Alexander, Lefty Grove, Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Warren Spahn, Cy Young, Roger Clemens, Goose Gossage.

Comments: As it was with the outfielders, there is a heap of things to mention. Once again, we’ll try and keep it in capsule form. Paige never had a fair shot to show his stuff in the bigs. Koufax - Career too short. Sutton, Wilhelm, Perry, Jenkins, Fingers, Blyleven, Plank, Maddux, Lee Smith & Gibson - Caught in the numbers game - we could only keep eleven. Gomez, Palmer, Ford & Feller - Too many walks. Sutter, Brown, The Eck, Walsh, Roberts, Marichal, Waddell, Kaat & Hubbell - Peak years too few. The last spot (Gossage) was the trickiest. There were ten other names that could have replaced Goose and would have been just as worthy. However, we did want a closer - and Gossage meets all the qualifiers (Repertoire, Control, Success, Dominance, Longevity and Consistency). Obviously, the credentials of those who did make the pitching staff speak for themselves.

Current player most likely to someday qualify: Randy Johnson.

Did we miss anyone? If so, speak up! In any event, this group of thirty would not be embarrassed in any comparison versus another similarly formatted squad. In fact, the only thing left for them is a name. (We promised - remember?) Hmmmm………. NetShrine’s All-Time ultimate roster, at last. Just needs a handle………..wait, that’s it! NetShrine’s All-Time Ultimate Roster At Last - a.k.a. N.A.T.U.R.A.L.

That works. Our job is done. Later.

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