Picking the Top Currently Enshrined MLB Hall of Famer at Every Position
Photo courtesy seattlepi.com
On Jan. 9, the 2013 MLB Hall of Fame class will be revealed.
Those on the ballot for the first time include Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio, Curt Schilling and Sammy Sosa.
Holdovers Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell, Lee Smith and Tim Raines will wait to see if their names are announced as well.
While there is much debate as to which of the current nominees are deserving of induction, there is no such debate for the members already enshrined.
While fans wait for the vote to be announced, we'll take a moment to look at the legends of the game who already have their Hall of Fame plaques and determine the best at each position.
The list will only include players who are currently enshrined.
Catcher: Johnny Bench
Photo courtesy johnnybench.com
When Johnny Bench made his debut for the Cincinnati Reds as a 19-year-old in 1967, it quickly became clear that he was ready to take the reins behind the plate.
Seventeen years later, he retired as the greatest ever to play the position.
Bench anchored the Big Red Machine in the 1970s, winning two Most Valuable Player awards, a Rookie of the Year Award and 14 All-Star selections.
Defensively, it would be difficult to find anyone better. Bench collected 10 consecutive Gold Glove awards and threw out 43 percent of runners attempting to steal over the course of his career.
First Base: Lou Gehrig
Photo courtesy usatoday.com
New York Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig became known throughout the world as a man who had a disease named after him.
However, to baseball fans, Gehrig is simply one of the best players who ever lived.
Gehrig's 17 years were indeed legendary. Among first basemen in the Hall of Fame, he is tops in on-base percentage (.447), slugging percentage (.632), RBI (1,995) and runs scored (1,888).
He captured the Triple Crown in 1934 with 49 HR, 165 RBI and a .363 batting average. He also won the MVP Award in 1927 and 1936.
Although his career was cut short by the disease bearing his name, Gehrig was without question the finest first baseman ever to play the game.
Second Base: Rogers Hornsby
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There are currently 19 second basemen enshrined in baseball's Hall of Fame. One of them stands tall above the rest: Rogers Hornsby.
Over a spectacular 23-year career, Hornsby set standards that have yet to be matched.
The batting Triple Crown has only been achieved 17 times in baseball history. Only two players in history have achieved it twice: Hornsby in 1922 and 1925 and Ted Williams in 1942 and 1947.
Among second basemen currently enshrined, Hornsby is tops in batting average (.358), on-base percentage (.434), slugging percentage (.577) and home runs (301).
He won the National League MVP Award twice (1925, 1929) and hit over .400 three times during his career.
He is one of only seven players in baseball history to have retired with an OPS above 1.000, and he led his St. Louis Cardinals to their first-ever World Series championship in 1926.
Third Base: Mike Schmidt
Photo courtesy phillysportshistory.com
Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt had the ability to beat teams on both sides of the ball—with his bat and with his glove.
Schmidt dazzled at the hot corner, collecting 10 Gold Glove awards during his stellar 18-year career.
But it was with the bat that Schmidt made his mark. He led the league eight times in home runs, ending his career with 548—good for 15th all-time.
Schmidt captured his first MVP Award in 1980, belting 48 home runs with 121 RBI in helping to lead the Phillies to their first-ever World Series championship. He would win two more MVP awards before all was said and done.
Rotator cuff injuries forced Schmidt to retire in 1989, and he was easily voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1995.
Shortstop: Honus Wagner
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Honus Wagner played baseball during a period of time known as the Deadball Era.
However, there was nothing dead about the way Wagner played.
During his 21-year career, Wagner collected 3,420 hits, capturing eight batting titles along the way.
While he only averaged slightly more than five home runs per season, he led the league in slugging percentage six times. He was a tremendous gap hitter, leading the league in doubles seven times and collecting an amazing 252 triples during his career as well.
In addition, Wagner's speed was legendary, earning him the nickname "The Flying Dutchman." He retired with 723 stolen bases, good for 10th all-time.
Left Field: Ted Williams
Photo courtesy freep.com
Imagine what Ted Williams would have accomplished had he not committed five years of service to his country.
Despite missing several of the prime years of his career, what Williams did in fact accomplish was indeed special.
He is one of only two players in history (along with Rogers Hornsby) to capture the Triple Crown twice in his career and is the last player to end the season hitting .400.
The only two times Williams wasn't selected as an All-Star was in his rookie year and his first year of service during the Korean War.
Considered by many to be the greatest hitter that ever lived, Williams is second all-time in slugging percentage, second in OPS and first in on-base percentage.
Center Field: Willie Mays
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The position of center field is well represented in the baseball Hall of Fame. Worthy candidates such as Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Ty Cobb could all be considered the greatest.
However, Willie Mays gets the slight nod over the above trio of legends.
There may have been no all-around better player than Mays. He could simply beat teams with his bat, glove and speed.
The prototypical five-tool player, he led the league in home runs four times, in stolen bases four times and in triples three times, and he captured a batting title in 1954.
In addition, Mays won 12 consecutive Gold Gloves and likely would have won more had the honor been introduced earlier in his career.
His 24 All-Star appearances tie him with Stan Musial for the most in baseball history, and his 660 home runs rank him fourth all-time.
Right Field: Babe Ruth
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Right field is also well represented in the Hall of Fame, with 23 players who earned their plaque with their stellar achievements.
Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline, Reggie Jackson and Tony Gwynn are just a few who earned immortality because of their on-field exploits.
However, no one did it quite like the Sultan of Swat.
Babe Ruth didn't just hit prodigious home run blasts—he transformed the way the game was played. Ruth almost single-handedly helped usher in the live-ball era, becoming the first player in history to hit 60 home runs in a single season.
Ruth led the league in homers 12 times, on-base percentage 10 times and slugging percentage 13 times and is still the career leader in slugging percentage (.690) and OPS (1.164).
Right-Handed Starting Pitcher: Walter Johnson
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This may have been the toughest call of any on this list.
Cy Young may have the best pitcher award named after him, but Walter Johnson gets the nod in terms of overall dominance.
Johnson's game would have translated well to modern times. Blessed with a fastball that reportedly neared 100 mph, he completely dominated during his 21-year career.
During one nine-year stretch (1910-1918), Johnson won no less than 23 games in any single season. He led the league in strikeouts 12 times, finishing his career with 3,509 whiffs overall.
In fact, Johnson stood alone in the 3,000-strikeout club for over 50 years after his retirement. Bob Gibson finally joined him in 1974.
Of the 666 games Johnson started, he completed an amazing 79.7 percent of them. He holds the record for must shutouts (110) by a wide margin, and he still holds the American League record with 55.2 consecutive scoreless innings.
No less than immortal outfielder Ty Cobb sang the praises of Johnson and his total dominance (h/t Baseball-Reference.com):
He was the only pitcher I ever faced who made the ball whistle. You could actually hear it as it crossed the plate. Sounded like a bullet from a rifle, sort of a zing, and it made you shaky in the knees.
Left-Handed Starting Pitcher: Warren Spahn
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Southpaw pitcher Warren Spahn wasn't just a great pitcher; he was a complete master at keeping hitters off-balance.
That mindset allowed Spahn to win 363 games, more than any other left-hander in major league history.
Spahn once said that the key to his game was in making hitters guess wrong (h/t Baseball Almanac).
"A pitcher needs two pitches, one they're looking for and one to cross them up," Spahn said. And cross them up he did, winning at least 20 games in a season 13 times during his 21-year career.
He even won 23 games at the ripe old age of 42, and he led the league with 22 complete games that year to boot.
Spahn won his only Cy Young Award in 1957, the same year he helped his Milwaukee Braves win their first World Series title since 1914.
Relief Pitcher: Rollie Fingers
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Thus far, the Baseball Hall of Fame has been slow to recognize relief pitchers. Only a few have been enshrined, and Rollie Fingers tops that list.
Fingers worked in the days when specialists such as setup men and closers weren't limited to just the eighth and ninth innings.
In fact, Fingers routinely worked over 100 innings per season. In 1977 with the San Diego Padres, Fingers compiled 35 saves while throwing an incredible 132.1 innings in relief—a number unheard of in today's baseball standards.
Fingers saved his best for last—well, almost last.
In the strike-shortened 1981 season, Fingers posted a 1.04 ERA with 28 saves for the Milwaukee Brewers, earning him both the Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player Award. It was the first time in history a relief pitcher had ever won both awards in the same season.
Widely regarded as the pioneer of modern relief pitching, Fingers retired with 341 total saves and a 2.90 ERA in 17 seasons.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.