It all started when I was perusing the player lists at Baseball-Reference.com, and I happened to notice that there has never been a major-league player whose last name began with the letter X. At that point, my mathematical mind started clicking: 25 letters remaining, 25 players on a roster. Thus did I endeavor to create my all-alphabet team: an all-time roster in which no two players can have last names beginning with the same letter.
Naturally, this was far easier said than done. For example, who should I pick as my left fielder? Ted Williams? Well, then I can't have Honus Wagner, Hoyt Wilhelm, or Hack Wilson. Stan Musial would block Willie Mays, Christy Mathewson, and Eddie Mathews. If I take Barry Bonds, there will be no Johnny Bench, Ernie Banks, or Mordecai Brown.
Okay, forget left field; who am I going to get for Z? Carlos Zambrano is good, but his numbers aren't really all that spectacular. Barry Zito has had serious problems the last couple of years. Who's left, Todd Zeile?
Then of course, there's the R's. How can I choose only one out of Babe Ruth, Mariano Rivera, Pete Rose, Jackie Robinson, Alex Rodriguez, Pudge Rodriguez, Cal Ripken, and Nolan Ryan?
Despite the problems, I did eventually succeed in assembling a respectable team. The list has gone through several revisions since then. The results of my deliberations are below.
I'm sure you will notice that some of the players listed are, well, not exactly paragons of virtue. This and earlier versions of the team included people whose moral shortcomings ran the gamut from steroid use to KKK membership to attempted murder. I do apologize if any of the choices bother you, but I promise that the players were chosen only based on their on-field performance. I may not respect their characters, but that does not mean they are not great players.
Click here to see the players immortalized in bad verse.
All MLB statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, and are complete through the 2009 season.
NPB (Japanese baseball) statistics are courtesy of Japanesebaseball.com.
Negro League statistics are courtesy of howstuffworks.com. These figures should be considered incomplete at best. Different historians may compile the numbers differently.
First Base: Lou Gehrig
Not only was Gehrig one of the best hitters at one of the best-hitting positions, he also worked hard to become a great fielder at a position where fielding is often ignored. His consecutive-games record stood until 1995, and he remains arguably the most truly respected player in major-league history. Seventy years after his retirement, he is still widely considered the greatest first baseman of all time, and his statement that he was "the luckiest man on the face of the earth" still send shivers down fans' spines.
Second Base: Rogers Hornsby
Many of the game's greatest hitters are lefties, and most are first basemen or outfielders. Rajah is an exception to both rules. His .358 batting average is second all-time, and he hit an unusually large number of home runs for a pre-steroid era second baseman. For the five-year period from 1921 to 1925, he maintained a composite .402 average; no other major leaguer has matched that for a single season in over sixty years.
Shortstop: Honus Wagner
Not for nothing is Wagner widely considered the greatest shortstop in history. He would unquestionably have won plenty of Gold Gloves had the award existed in his day, and he was one of the best base-stealers of all time. When he was elected as one of the first five members of the Hall of Fame, he was tied with a certain pudgy outfielder for the second-highest vote total. Only Ty Cobb received more votes.
Third Base: Mike Schmidt
Few other third basemen have come close to matching Schmidt's combination of offense and defense. Only Brooks Robinson ever won more Gold Gloves at third, and no one else ever hit so many home runs at that position. "Captain Cool" didn't even succumb to the temptation of free agency, spending his entire career with his beloved Phillies.
Left Field: Barry Bonds
An eight-time Gold Glove winner (it's rare for a left fielder to win one gold glove, much less eight), Bonds will always be better remembered as possibly the most intimidating hitter in the game. A whopping 688 times, pitchers chose to run and hide, rather than face him directly. A fantastic all-around player, Bonds ranks first all-time in home runs, sixth in on-base percentage, and 32nd in stolen bases. No other player in major-league history even ranks in the top one hundred twenty in all three categories. It's no wonder he walked away with seven MVP awards.
Center Field: Willie Mays
The "Say Hey Kid" is easily one of the most well-rounded players of all time. He batted over .300, ranks fourth on the home run list, and was a constant threat on the basepaths. And while he may have had an unorthodox fielding style with his basket catches, he was still good enough to win 12 Gold Gloves. His catch of Vic Wertz' drive remains one of baseball's legendary moments.
Right Field: Babe Ruth
If you don't know who this guy is, then you're at the wrong site to begin with. The Bambino transformed the game, almost single-handedly ushering in the era of the lively ball and forever changing managers' strategies. He was the first player to reach 700 home runs - as well as 600, 500, 400, 300, 200, and 150. To this day, he remains the standard by which all other sluggers are measured.
Catcher: Bill Dickey
This vastly underrated catcher deserves recognition among the game's elite. The best defensive catcher of his day, he had a rifle arm to catch would-be thieves. Despite an abbreviated career, his offensive production would be respectable even for a first baseman or outfielder, and has seldom been matched by other catchers, even in the steroid era.
Second Base: Chase Utley
The highly-touted-yet-still-possibly-underrated Utley is one of the most exciting players in baseball, and has established himself among the best second basemen in the game today. He doesn't try to steal very often (94 career attempts), but has an 88% success rate when he does. He is also a surprisingly capable hitter, frequently surpassing even his teammate Ryan Howard in a great many batting sabermetrics.
Shortstop: Arky Vaughan
Bill James once called Vaughan the second-greatest shortstop of all time (only behind Wagner). While Cal Ripken or Alex Rodriguez may have since supplanted him, Vaughan still ranks near the top. A strong fielder, he was also a remarkably consistent hitter who only struck out once in every 24 at bats.
Third Base: Ryan Zimmerman
Though still young and relatively unproven, Zimmerman is quickly becoming known as one of the game's best third basemen. While most hitters do their best work the year before signing a contract, the new "Face of the Nationals" did the opposite, exploding after getting a new contract in 2009. He grabbed everyone's attention with a 30-game hitting streak early in the season and followed it up by winning his first Gold Glove. Don't be surprised if he gets even better in the years to come.
Outfield: Hank Aaron
Hammering Hank became a household name when he overcame racist threats to become the first man to surpass Babe Ruth's home run total. Yet he was hardly a one-dimensional player, as he won three Gold Gloves and had decent speed on the basepaths. A naturally cross-handed hitter, he nonetheless managed to establish himself as one of the greatest right-handed sluggers in history.
Catcher: Joe Torre
Long before Torre was a famous manager, he was a famous catcher. A Gold Glover, he was also a force to be reckoned with at bat. His best season came in 1971, when he batted .363 and took home the MVP award. He might have done more in his career, but he retired early because his team needed him as a manager.
RHP Roger Clemens
The Rocket is arguably the best starting pitcher of the free-agent era, and exemplified the era by winning the Cy Young Award with four different teams (seven times total). Never afraid to brush back the hitter, he is one of only nine pitchers to win 350 games, one of four to strike out 4,000 batters, and the only one to do both.
RHP Walter Johnson
Discussions of history's best pitcher are never conclusive, but they usually begin with the Big Train. He was the first pitcher to strike out over 3,000 batters, and ranks second all-time in wins. Top that all off with an ungodly 110 shutouts, and it becomes extremely difficult to argue against him.
LHP Sandy Koufax
One-half of the Dodgers' dynamic duo of the sixties, Koufax' career was cut short when he developed severe arthritis in his pitching elbow, leading him to retire after a 27-win season in 1966. Nonetheless, he managed to stick around long enough to establish himself as one of the game's premier southpaws. His 382 strikeouts in 1965 is still second-best all-time, and no one else ever pitched no-hitters in four consecutive seasons.
RHP Satchel Paige
Segregation was one of the greatest tragedies in the history of baseball, and one of its many consequences is that we'll never know what Paige could have done in the majors. Already well-established as possibly the greatest Negro League pitcher, Paige finally made it to the majors at age 42, still putting up respectable numbers. He still had the touch in 1965, coming back to pitch three innings without allowing a run - a difficult enough feat for a man in his prime, and absolutely phenomenal at 59!
|Negro League Career||123||79||122||---||---||1584.0||241||1177||---||0.873||---|
RHP Cy Young
How many sports records are more incredible than Young's 511 wins, almost 100 more than the runner-up? Like most pitchers of his day, he didn't record many strikeouts; however, he did have pinpoint control, walking only one batter every six innings. But for some reason, he never won that pitching award, what was it called again?
Middle Relief: RHP Mark Eichhorn
Your eyes do not deceive you: I have an "E" in my bullpen, and it's not Dennis Eckersley. Great as Eck was, I needed a middle reliever more, and they don't come much better than Eichhorn. Despite a relatively low velocity, his control and his unusual delivery made him a consistent threat out of the bullpen. No few Blue Jays' fans would agree, "I like Eich!"
Middle Relief: RHP Rollie Fingers
Who could ever forget that handlebar? Well, besides having some of the best-known facial hair in sports, he was also one of the first great closers. His 341 career saves shattered the previous record of 227 and helped him establish a new role on the roster.
Middle Relief: LHP Sparky Lyle
Lyle might have annoyed some of his teammates with his nonstop practical jokes, but they were always glad to have him in the bullpen. One of the game's first star left-handed relievers, he was the first such player to win the Cy Young Award.
Middle Relief: RHP Dan Quisenberry
Possibly the most quotable player since Yogi Berra, Quiz established himself as a fabulous (if underappreciated) reliever. Much like Cy Young before him, Quisenberry demonstrated a subtle control, not striking out many batters but walking less than one every six innings. In 1983, he became the first pitcher to record 40 saves in a single season. He also makes the team a perfect 4-for-4 on mustached middle men.
Short Relief: RHP Jason Isringhausen
Isringhausen began his career as a promising starter, but a series of injuries pushed him into the bullpen, where he finally came into his own. He spent most of 2009 on the disabled list, but expect the Cardinals' all-time saves leader to reach 300 saves early next season.
Short Relief: LHP Hideki Okajima
At one time, "Okaji" was one of the best lefty set-up pitchers in Japan. Now the man with the corkscrew delivery is one of the best lefty set-up pitchers in America. Along the way, he became not only one of the few players to win national championships with three different teams, but one of the few to do so on two different continents! I'd say that qualifies him as a world-class player, wouldn't you?
Closer: RHP Joe Nathan
There are only three "N" players in the Hall of Fame, and they're all pitchers: Hal Newhouser, Kid Nichols, and Phil Niekro. The way he's going, Nathan may become the fourth. In his time in the bullpen, he has been nearly unhittable, amassing more strikeouts than walks and hits-allowed combined! Besides, how could I not pick a fellow Nathan?
Manager: John McGraw
Well, this one is outside of the regular 25. But every team needs a manager, and McGraw's first and last names do not repeat any letters (a surprisingly rare occurrence). A master of the small-ball era and a great recognizer of talent, he ranks second on the all-time managerial win list. He is also seventh in winning percentage, making him one of only two managers in the top ten on both lists.
Once again, click here to see bad verses in honor of these players.
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All images and statistics are property of their respective copyright owners. I do not represent these players, I do not know these players, I am not these players, I do not own these players, except for one who is my personal bitch, but I won't say who.
Unless otherwise credited, all writings are copyright ©2010 by Nathan Robson and may not be reproduced without the express written consent of the copyright owner. All rights reserved. I want a cookie.