By Craig Degel
Arizona Daily Wildcat April 30, 1997
Thoughts on the greats of baseballMy loyal, faithful and somewhat deranged assistant challenged me yesterday. He said it was impossible to name the all-time greatest baseball team. I believe I have proved him wrong. Below, you will find the best of the best at everything from right-handed pitching to managing. Think of this not only as a sports column, but as a history lesson.
There was no real holiday, special occasion or other reason for me to write this column. I just thought it would be fun.
Feel free to argue in class about this one, especially with your older professors.
Right-handed pitchers Ä We start with Walter Johnson and end with Greg Maddux. Sports Illustrated called Maddux "the greatest right-hander you'll ever see." That's because only our oldest living relatives saw Johnson. Johnson is second all-time in wins ( 416), first in shutouts (110) and seventh in strikeouts (3,508). Maddux is ... well, he's Maddux.
Left-handed pitchers Ä You have to go with the inventor of the screw ball, Christy Mathewson, and Sandy Koufax. Had he not experienced arm problems, Koufax might be considered the greatest of all-time. Mathewson is third in wins (373) and third in shutout s (83). Those numbers might have been higher had he not died at an early age.
Relief pitcher Ä Most relief pitchers have a prime which lasts about six or seven years. With that in mind, I offer up for your consideration Dennis Eckersley. In his prime he was unbeatable Ä unless, of course, you were Kirk Gibson. But if that's all Eck ersley is remembered for that would be a shame. Even now, past the age of 40, Eckersley is still saving 30 games per year.
Catcher Ä This is a tough decision because you can either reward defense or offense. I went with a little bit of both with Johnny Bench. He had 389 home runs and took a no-name pitching staff on the "Big Red Machine" to victory in the World Series in 1975 and 1976.
First baseman Ä No room for debate here. There was never a finer first baseman than Lou Gehrig. He had 493 home runs and was third in RBI with 1,990. Of course, he's now second in consecutive games played with 2,130.
Second baseman Ä With all apologies to Jackie Robinson, this one goes to Joe Morgan. The second baseman on the "Big Red Machine" was a wizard defensively and stole close to 700 bases in career. He was also named the National League's most valuable player during the Reds' title years of 1975 and 1976.
Third baseman Ä I rewarded Morgan's defense so let's give it up for an all-out bomber and perennial Gold Glove winner like Mike Schmidt. He had 548 home runs and three MVP awards.
Shortstop Ä This was the toughest call on the list. Honus Wagner and Ernie Banks each had Hall of Fame careers, but we couldn't ignore Cal Ripken. The leader in consecutive games played has over 300 home runs and his chase of Lou Gehrig's record saved bas eball the year after the strike.
Outfielders Ä Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays rank 1,2,3 in home runs and 1,2,7 in RBI. Mays' outstanding defense also puts him on this list.
Designated hitter Ä This is kind of a stretch, but my grandfather would kill me if he knew I didn't include Ted Williams. Sure, the "Splendid Splinter" retired 20 years before the DH rule went into effect, but what one player would you put in a position t o do nothing but hit three or four times a game? How about the last man to hit .400 in the majors?
Manager - Another tough one, but Sparky Anderson is the only manager to win a World Series in both leagues. He was the manager of the "Big Red Machine" and the 1984 Detroit Tigers.
So there it is. And I know what you're saying. Where's Mantle? How about Brooks Robinson or Frank Robinson?
Well, I did say this was up for debate. Maybe we can come up with an honorable mention team.
Sports editor Craig Degel admits that coming up with this list is a clear sign that he has too much time on his hands.