I was watching a video of Ken Burns' classic miniseries "Baseball" on the MLB Network the other day.
As the film footage of various legends flickered across the screen, a thought came to mind...
Wouldn't it be interesting to compose a list of the greatest ball players of all time, according to team? Not just for how many home runs they hit or how many people they struck out, but also for the impact they had on their franchises, and the way they put their teams on the map.
So with the new major league baseball season I thought, "Why not go for it?" If nothing else, it would provide baseball fans with something to read, ponder, and comment on.
So let us begin with the National League and the team I have followed since age 10, the...
DODGERS - Despite the fact that this franchise has had legends such as Duke Snider from their Brooklyn days, Sandy Koufax, and even Mike Piazza from recent times, there could be only one choice here.
Anyone who disagrees on this has no soul or sense of historical significance: JACK ROOSEVELT (JACKIE) ROBINSON.
He didn't do that much, merely break the color barrier on April 15, 1947, change sports and this country forever, and get his number 42 retired by every team in the majors—the first time that's ever happened in sports.
Oh yeah, he was a .311 lifetime hitter and a terror on the base paths too.
GIANTS - Only one obvious choice here as well from the Dodgers' longtime enemies: WILLIE MAYS. The "Say Hey" Kid, and the reason why unlike most Dodger fans, I don't hate those rivals from San Francisco.
If I had to pick one man for the greatest all-around baseball player who ever lived, Mays would be it.
He hit 660 home runs, still fourth all time, with a lifetime average of .302. He was an absolute speed demon on the bases. A master of the basket catch. Maker of probably the greatest defensive play of all time with that running catch in the 1954 World Series at the Polo Grounds.
I could go on and on, but let's move on to the...
PADRES - Another clear-cut selection here: TONY GWYNN.
He batted .339 for his career, with eight batting titles. Elected to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown last year, he did more for that San Diego franchise than anyone, having been a Padre for 20 years and helping to lead them to the 1984 and 1998 World Series.
Dave Winfield was pretty huge for them during their 1970s mustard and brown colored days, but he bailed for the Yankee empire at the height of his career. That's why Gwynn is my choice.
ROCKIES - Only 16 years in existence, this team won the pennant in 2007 and they have a bunch of good young players, BUT...
As far as putting baseball on the map in Denver, I'll go with ANDRES GALLARAGA - The "Big Cat". He hit .370 there one year during their early days.
Dante Bichette had good years in that mile-high city too, hitting the first homer at Coors Field in 1995, and Vinny Castilla was great as well. But Gallaraga just seemed like more of a leader; the one who led Colorado to respectability.
DIAMONDBACKS - This franchise is barely over 10-years-old, but has a world championship from 2001, and one real standout that put big league ball in Arizona on the map: LUIS GONZALEZ.
He hit 54 homers in the Valley of the Sun in 1998, and was in that big chase with Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa for a while that year.
He also delivered the hit that beat the Yankees in Game 7 of that '01 Series. That puts him on this list above anything else.
CUBS - Despite the fact that these northsiders from the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field have not even BEEN in a World Series since the end of World War II—let alone having not won a Series in 101 years, these Cubbies from Chicago have had some great players: Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Ryne Sandberg, even Sammy Sosa.
Not to mention having a legendary fan base and baseball's best seventh inning stretch.
But as far as I'm concerned, there's really only one guy who belongs on this list: ERNIE BANKS - "Mr. Cub". The "Let's Play Two!" man.
A great shortstop and first baseman, he had a love for the game that shined for everyone to see for 19 years. Plus he hit 512 home runs.
Such a real shame that he never saw post season play.
CARDINALS - This is not too easy a call.
Lots of great St. Louis players abounded, dating back to Rogers Hornsby in the 1920s and Dizzy Dean's Depression-era Gas House Gang. The 60s saw perhaps the meanest pitcher ever, Bob Gibson, the type who would fire a 99 mile-an-hour fastball at is mother's head and think nothing of it.
Then there was Curt Flood, who took a stand against the owners' slave-like reserve clause and sacrificed his career so that ballplayers could choose where they wanted to play and live.
The way I see it though, I'm going to go with "The Man" - STAN MUSIAL.
He played in a span of three different decades with 3,630 hits, a National League record. He also had seven batting titles. Twenty straight all-star games. 475 homers. He was the all-time Cardinal leader in almost every category.
And he plays a pretty mean harmonica to boot.
PIRATES - Like the Cubs and Cards, these Pittsburghers from steel town have also had their share of legends dating back over a century, from Honus Wagner to Willie Stargell, even Barry Bonds—before he allegedly juiced, of course.
And they will always have 1960 and that Bill Mazeroski shot.
One man stood out from all of them, however.
The greatest Latino player ever, he simply defined cool: a .317 career batting average, with 3,000 hits and a wicked throwing arm. A hero in his native Puerto Rico and of the 1971 World Series, he literally gave his life helping others.
That's a fairly good description of ROBERTO CLEMENTE, don't you think?
REDS - A tough call here; could pick from about three or four guys, all from the 1970s Big Red Machine.
They were a part of my childhood: Tony Perez, Joe Morgan (who's great on ESPN now), Johnny Bench with his 10 Gold Gloves and his "Baseball Bunch" TV show...but my pick for the greatest Cincinnatian is a bit controversial: PETE ROSE.
Yes, I know he was a compulsive gambler who bet on the Reds while he was their manager and yes, I fully acknowledge that it was an awful thing to do, but come on, now...
He had more base hits, more at-bats, and played in more games than anyone who ever played the sport. Over a 24-year span, he led the league in hits seven times.
Most of all, "Charlie Hustle" was one tough mother who used any means necessary to win a game. The type of dude you'd love if he was your teammate, and hate if he was not.
Regardless of his faults, the Cincinnati Reds would NOT have been the Reds without him.
And he would DEFINITELY get my vote for the Hall of Fame.
ASTROS - Like the Reds, this isn't the easiest call. Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio have the best numbers and led Texas' first franchise to the pennant in 2005, but...
I sort of prefer the Astro guys from the 1970s, who wore those rainbow Trix-style uniforms and played in the Houston Astrodome, bad as that Astroturf was.
The guy who stood out to me from that time was a 6'7" pitcher who threw pure heat named JAMES RODNEY (J.R.) RICHARD.
I used to love watching him on TV as a kid, with him doing that big leg kick and mowing down hitters the way he did; he even set a league strikeout record one year.
It was horrible the way his career ended, having a stroke in the middle of the 1980 season. I heard he was even homeless for a while. I hope he's OK.
BREWERS - This is between two men from this club's American League days.
One of them, Paul Molitor, was the definition of steady.
To me, however, the greatest Brewer of all time was without a doubt ROBIN YOUNT.
Although Molitor also helped to build those Brewers, Yount was the main architect, foreman, AND the heart and soul of that Wisconsin franchise.
Having over 3,100 hits and leading that Brew Crew to their only World Series in 1982 supports my argument, I think.
BRAVES - Like the Dodgers, Giants, and Padres, there is only one painfully obvious choice here: HENRY AARON - "Hammerin' Hank".
He cemented his place as the classiest player in the sport's history as he was breaking Babe Ruth's home run record and enduring all that nasty racist hate mail and death threats, going through pure hell during late 1973 and early 1974.
His 755 dingers was the standard for 33 years until Barry Bonds broke it in 2007.
And on top of all that, he had over 3,700 hits, is still the all-time runs batted in leader with 2,297, and batted .305 for his career.
Not a bad way to put baseball in Atlanta on the map.
PHILLIES - This is another obviously clear choice: MIKE SCHMIDT, the greatest third baseman in history. Period.
He was an eight-time home run champ and a 10-time Gold Glove winner. The all-time Philly leader in nearly everything, he led those Philadelphians to their first world Championship in 1980.
And he did all of this while playing in front of fans considered by many as among the roughest and meanest in sports (along with the Oakland Raider Nation), in a stadium that by the end of his career was a crud-infested dump with horrible turf.
I mean, those "City of Brotherly Love" fans have booed Santa Claus. That should say something.
Anyone who did what Schmidt did in those conditions should be put on this list.
METS - If Darryl Strawberry had not gotten into so much trouble with drugs, alcohol, and jail, I may well have picked him as the greatest Met; he had that much promise.
As such, it was clearly TOM SEAVER who put New York City's Dodger/Giant replacement on the map.
"Tom Terrific" was a 300-game winner with a lifetime earned run average of 2.86 and over 3,600 strikeouts. His 25 wins for those Miracle Mets of 1969 after the team's first seven years as a pathetically lovable laughing stock on the level of Charlie Brown's baseball team, gave those Metropolitans from Queens the credibility they so badly needed.
NATIONALS / EXPOS - Since the Nationals are only in their fifth year in our nation's capitol, I'll pick this franchise's greatest player from their former home—Montreal, Quebec Province, Canada.
They were called the Expos then, and though they had their share of good players, notably Gary Carter, the guy that stands out to me, because of his leadership, is ANDRE DAWSON - "The Hawk".
Along with Carter, he put Les Expos on the map and led them to their best days in the early 1980s.
It was a real pity that he had to play in that awful-turfed monstrosity that was Le Stade Olympique, which proved once and for all that places built for Olympic track and field events and baseball did—and do not mix.
MARLINS - Like the Rockies, this club's only 16-years-old, and with the exception of 1997 and 2003 when they won the World Series, these South Floridians have been on wobbly legs, particularly financially.
It's a good thing they have a new stadium opening in a few years.
Gary Sheffield could easily be considered for the greatest Marlin, as he had big numbers and led those fish to their '97 triumph during his days in Miami, BUT...
I'm going to go with a guy who, while solid but unspectacular, played in Miami longer than anyone and helped set the cornerstones for that franchise.
When he signed a one-day contract last year to officially retire as a Marlin, that clinched his spot on this list: JEFF CONINE.
Well, there's my list of the National League's greatest players, by team. I'm sure that some of these picks will not be agreed upon, but that's OK. I welcome the debate.
Now that the Senior Circuit has been covered, I will soon commence with their junior counterparts, the original home of the designated hitter and the team that has won more championships than any other in sports: the American League.
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