If you are looking for something to do, that might just be impossible, then spend a day, or so, trying to come up with a list of the all time greatest baseball players by position. My life is so boring that this is what it has come down to this week for me, pouring over stats and trying to find the right guys for this list.
I believe that I've made a case for everyone I've selected, but I'm sure you can find some I've missed, or you think rank higher. That is what makes sports so much fun, everyone has a different idea of what is great, and they are right. If you think it is easy give it a try yourself. Make sure you have plenty of erasers around when you change your mind 100 times.
I started out with a couple of basic benchmarks for picking this team. First, they had to be in the Hall of Fame, this eliminated guys like Pete Rose and Barry Bonds for example. Second, when it came to deciding between players, my next cut was they had to be voted in by the BBWA and not an oldtimers committee. Finally, if that didn't do the trick then it came down to who had the best WAR between them. In the case of pitchers I also looked at saves for relievers.
If you had an award named after you then you were selected. If you are regarded as the greatest of all time at that position, then you were selected. If you are regarded by me as the greatest of all time, then you were selected.
I then broke them down between American League and National League, and further down to pre 1960 induction and post 1960 induction. Why then? Because it felt right to me. It just seemed to be a different type of baseball played by the guys in the different eras so that is why I chose 1960. After selecting teams from both eras and both leagues I then narrowed it down to best in the AL, and best in the NL, of all time, and finally selected the team from those finalists.
Not surprising, the list of players who did not make any of the lists is unbelievably awesome. Looking over the names left off, I felt like I could put together five more teams and still feel good about the selections. It is amazing how many great players have played this game, and for that matter, how many great players have played this game and are not in the HOF.
I will not bore everyone with all my lists here. If you need to know who I picked for pre 1960 AL second baseman that didn't make the final selection, just send me a note and I will be happy to share the list with you.
Here are my choices for the greatest baseball players of all time, and remember, this is strictly an exhibition, no wagering.
Two absolute no brainers to start things off, in the outfield, are, Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb. Ruth is considered by nearly everyone to be the greatest baseball player of all time and his 182.5 WAR may never be touched. You know all the great things he's done and if anyone wants to argue with me on this one, you will lose that argument. Ty Cobb is regarded as the greatest hitter in baseball history, and if you aren't convinced of that, then feast on his 151.5 WAR. The man might have been an ass but he was a great hitter and baserunner.
Rounding out the outfield is Willie Mays. Until Mike Trout retires, and I see if his career continues as it has, then this guy is the best baseball player I ever saw with my own eyes. He is the definition of a five tool player and there is no way he was not going to be on my list.
I'm pretty sure that this one is going to surprise many of you, but Frank Thomas has the best stats of any first baseman in the HOF. His .301 batting average and .974 OPS, and 521 HR's, are just incredible, and a testament to his consistency over his career. The Big Hurt makes the list.
There have been a few really good second baseman in history but Rogers Hornsby stands above them all. He finished his career with a 127.1 WAR, 301 HR's and an OPS of 1.010, I'd say that was pretty good. For those in the camp of runner up Roberto Alomar, he ended up with a 67.0/210/.814 line compared to above. A no brainer here.
The greatest shortstop of all time is Ernie Banks. The perpetually happy Banks, finished with 512 HR's and over 1600 RBI for his career. He was not only a great shortstop, but he transitioned to become a better than most first baseman late in his career. He is also the only Negro League player to make this list.
It kills me to put his guy on the list but there is no doubt that Mike Schmidt is the best third baseman of all time. He finished with a WAR of 106.9, 389 HR's, 1595 RBI, and an OPS of .908. No matter how much I hate him for what he did to the Cubs over the years, I have to put him here, begrudgingly.
Johnny Bench is generally considered as the greatest catcher of all time. While his offensive numbers are good, they aren't great. What puts him on this list is his defense, which changed the game. His ability to throw out runners, and block pitches, was so far beyond what the game had seen to then, that he was almost otherworldly behind the plate.
Now we look at the best pitchers of all time. Believe me narrowing this list down to five starters and two relievers was pretty much impossible, so I added a sixth starter. I could have selected fifteen pitchers, easily, so to get it down to this few was the hardest of all positions. Left off this list included Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Rollie Fingers, Lefty Grove, and Whitey Ford, just to name a few.
When they name the award for the best pitcher after you, you are going to be on this list. Cy Young won more baseball games than any pitcher ever, and nobody will ever catch him. He also is the only Cleveland Spider to make the list.
If you're wondering if Walter Johnson belongs here, his 164.5 WAR says he does. It is the highest WAR of any pitcher in baseball history. Oh yeah, he had an ERA of 2.17 and a WHIP of 1.061 too.
The Athletics Grover Cleveland Alexander had a WHIP of 1.121 and an ERA of 2.56 to go with his 119.0 WAR. Not a bad number three starter.
The recently departed Tom Seaver was a franchise changer, and the main reason the miracle Mets won the 1969 World Series. He finished with a WAR of 109.9 and a 2.86 ERA.
Another Philadelphia Athletics pitcher to make the list is Lefty Grove. His 106.7 WAR puts him here ahead of many others.
The New York baseball Giants big righty, Christy Mathewson rounds out our starting staff with a WAR of 106.0, an ERA of 2.13 and a WHIP of 1.058.
In the new world of baseball, post 1960, if you wanted to win, you needed someone to close out the game, and these two were the two best of all times. Trevor Hoffman, on the right, had 601 saves in his career, and did you think that Mariano Rivera wasn't going to make the list. DUH!
So there you have my list of the greatest baseball players of all time. I will put them up against any team you want to put together. Have some fun and try it yourself. You can get the full HOF list from a number of sites, and for the easiest stats to read, and look up, go to www.baseball-reference.com.