The All-Alphabet Team

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.








Starting Lineup


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.

Selected stats: AB R 2B 3B HR RBI AVG SLG OPS+
MLB Career 8001 1888 534 163 493 1995 .340 .632 179


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.

Selected stats: AB H R 2B 3B HR RBI AVG SLG OPS+
MLB Career 8173 2930 1579 541 169 301 1584 .358 .577 175


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.

Selected stats: AB H R 2B 3B HR RBI SB AVG OPS+
MLB Career 10430 3415 1736 640 252 101 1732 722 .327 150


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.

Selected stats: AB R 2B HR RBI AVG SLG OPS+
MLB Career 8352 1506 408 548 1595 .267 .527 147


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.

Selected stats: AB H R 2B HR RBI SB BB AVG SLG OPS+
MLB Career 9847 2935 2227 601 762 1996 514 2558 .298 .607 182


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.

Selected stats: AB H R 2B 3B HR RBI SB AVG SLG OPS+
MLB Career 10881 3283 2062 523 140 660 1903 338 .302 .557 156


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.

Selected stats: AB R 2B 3B HR RBI BB AVG SLG OPS+
MLB Career 8398 2174 506 136 714 2217 2062 .342 .690 207


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.

Selected stats: AB R 2B HR RBI SO AVG SLG OPS+
MLB Career 6300 930 343 202 1209 289 .313 .486 127






Bench


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.

Selected stats: AB R 2B HR RBI SB AVG SLG OPS+
MLB Career 3310 602 217 161 585 83 .295 .523 129


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.

Selected stats: AB R 2B 3B HR RBI SO AVG SLG OPS+
MLB Career 6622 1173 356 128 96 926 276 .318 .453 136


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.

Selected stats: AB R 2B HR RBI AVG SLG OPS+
MLB Career 2363 350 161 91 364 .284 .478 116


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.

Selected stats: AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB AVG SLG OPS+
MLB Career 12364 2174 3771 624 98 755 2297 240 .305 .555 155


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.

Selected stats: AB R 2B HR RBI AVG SLG OPS+
MLB Career 7874 996 344 252 1185 .297 .452 128






Starting Rotation


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.

Selected stats: W L CG SHO IP BB SO ERA WHIP ERA+
MLB Career 354 184 118 46 4916.7 1580 4672 3.12 1.173 143


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.

Selected stats: W L CG SHO IP BB SO ERA WHIP ERA+
MLB Career 417 279 531 110 5914.7 1363 3509 2.17 1.061 147


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.

Selected stats: W L CG SHO IP BB SO ERA WHIP ERA+
MLB Career 165 87 137 40 2324.3 817 2396 2.76 1.106 131


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!

Selected stats: W L CG SHO SV IP BB SO ERA WHIP ERA+
Negro League Career 123 79 122 --- --- 1584.0 241 1177 --- 0.873 ---
MLB Career 29 31 7 4 32 476.0 180 288 3.29 1.279 124


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?

Selected stats: W L CG SHO IP BB SO ERA WHIP ERA+
MLB Career 511 316 749 76 7354.7 1217 2803 2.63 1.130 138






Bullpen


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!"

Selected stats: W L SV IP BB SO ERA WHIP ERA+
MLB Career 48 43 32 885.7 270 640 3.00 1.236 142
As reliever 48 40 32 847.7 256 624 2.89 1.228 147


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.

Selected stats: W L SV G IP BB SO ERA WHIP ERA+
MLB Career 114 118 341 944 1701.3 492 1299 2.90 1.156 119
As reliever 107 101 341 907 1505.7 429 1183 2.72 1.132 128


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.

Selected stats: W L SV IP BB SO ERA WHIP ERA+
MLB Career 99 76 238 1390.3 481 873 2.88 1.275 127


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.

Selected stats: W L SV IP BB SO ERA WHIP ERA+
MLB Career 56 46 244 1043.3 162 379 2.76 1.175 146


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.

Selected stats: W L SV IP BB SO ERA WHIP ERA+
MLB Career 45 50 293 915.3 394 755 3.60 1.327 118
As reliever 27 30 293 596.3 252 538 3.03 1.224 143


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?

Selected stats: W L SV IP BB SO ERA WHIP ERA+
NPB Career 34 32 41 642.0 295 681 3.36 1.315 ---
MLB Career 12 4 6 192.0 61 176 2.72 1.125 173


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?

Selected stats: W L SV IP H BB SO ERA WHIP ERA+
MLB Career 46 22 247 685.0 496 262 718 2.75 1.107 157
As reliever 34 17 247 522.7 346 166 623 2.18 0.980 200






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.

Selected stats: W L WP%
MLB Career 2763 1947 .587






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.