The rules for this article were simple. The only players that I could include in this lineup are those who are not eligible because they are either too recently retired or still active. Mark McGwire is not on this list because he is currently Hall-eligible. Shoeless Joe and Pete Rose are not on this list because they are ineligible for other reasons.
Greg Maddux, P: Show me another sport where an unathletic, nerdy-looking guy who acts like a twelve-year old boy can be listed among the all-time greats, and I’ll politely remind you that chess isn’t a sport.
He wouldn’t intimidate anybody with a fiery glare a la Dave Stewart, he wouldn’t throw fastballs past too many guys, but he still managed to win four straight Cy Young awards and well over 300 games (and counting.)
My personal favorite Maddux memory comes from 2006. The girl I was dating bought me tickets to a Cubs game at Wrigley, and I got to see the man throw in person. More so than his impeccable control and one earned run that day, I’ll remember him somehow stealing a base. It was even more impressive considering that he stole second on a pickoff throw to first.
Ivan Rodriguez, C: Easily one of the two best catchers ever, the other being Johnny Bench. All he’s done is put up a .302 lifetime batting average, and will threaten the 3000 hit mark if he plays a few more seasons. He put up one of the best offensive seasons EVER by a catcher in 1999, with 35 HR, 135 RBI, and a .332 batting average.
Not only was he great on the offensive end, the man was a defensive stalwart, unlike contemporary Mike Piazza. A career .991 fielding percentage, and he’s thrown out just over 47 percent of would-be base stealers. That 47 percent is a few points better than Johnny Bench, with Pudge facing more attempted steals over his career.
Ken Griffey, Jr., OF: 1995, 2001-2007. These are the seasons that Griffey has missed a significant part of because of injury. Remove those seasons from his statistics, average his home run total from what remains. We get just over 38, but we’ll round up to 39 because he only played 127 games as a rookie. Also, he hit 40 home runs in 1994, but the strike shortened that season. He could have hit 60, but that’s an argument for another day…
Anyway, take his injury-shortened season home run totals, and replace them with the healthy average of 39. That would have given him 694 home runs entering this season, standing at 702 at the time of writing (adding real 2008 statistics.) Without losing most of eight seasons to injury, Griffey would most likely be passing Babe Ruth sometime in August. Stick around another two seasons, and he would likely pass Aaron and Bonds if healthy.
One of the sweetest swings in history, and the best all-around player of this generation. If you grew up in the 1990s, you grew up wanting to BE Griffey. Somewhere in my parents’ basement, there is a picture of me at the Hall of Fame, wearing an old Griffey jersey from his days in Seattle, holding one of Willie Mays’ gloves. He was my Willie Mays, that once-in-a-lifetime talent that you’ll drop everything to see.
Roberto Alomar, 2B: For three seasons, he and Omar Vizquel were one of the slickest double play combinations in history. Both were ‘Web Gems’ regulars. Alomar could hit, run and field. Hopefully he won’t be remembered for spitting on umpires, but for being a perennial All-Star and winning some rings in Toronto.
Edgar Martinez, DH: Forget the argument that DHs should not be put in the Hall because they only play half of the game well. Manny Ramirez doesn’t always field, and he’s an everyday left-fielder. Martinez could hit with the best of them, and would probably be between 2500-3000 hits if not for losing so many games to injury. And come on, the man was an absolute doubles machine.
Want more? Let’s compare his stats with somebody already in the hall.
Martinez: 2247 hits, 514 2B, 309 HR, 1261 RBI, .312 BA.
Player B: 3000 hits, 440 2B, 240 HR, 1305 RBI, .317 BA.
Player B was Roberto Clemente (total hits were a dead giveaway), and his numbers were achieved in almost 400 more games than Martinez. The man could produce, it’s all I’m saying.
Omar Vizquel, SS: We’re all well aware of his accolades as a fielder. Gold Glove every year from 1993-2001, .984 career fielding percentage, etc. But he is underrated as an offensive player. A .273 lifetime average is not bad, and he has more sacrifice hits than any current active player. The consummate team player, but he gets ignored to an extent because of playing in the same league as Jeter, A-Rod and Nomar for so long. Put him in the National League for his prime and he’s an All-Star every season.
Vladimir Guerrero, OF: baseball-reference.com gives a list of batters similar to Vlad through age 31. Here’s a sampling: Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Duke Snider, Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey, Jr., Manny Ramirez and Mickey Mantle. Jaw-dropping company.
Let’s forget the statistical comparisons for a minute here and just say this: nobody plays the game like Vlad. Nobody has been as successful as him with his same level of reckless abandon. In his prime, he was an unparalleled hitter and fielder. I remember a game in Montreal where he gunned down a runner at the plate from the right field corner on one hop. I don’t think the ball got higher than 10 feet off the ground for its entire 330-foot journey. The play wasn’t even close.
Manny Ramirez, OF: How has he never won an MVP? In 1999, he had 44 home runs with 165 RBIs and finished third to Ivan Rodriguez and Pedro Martinez. His numbers in 1998 were nearly identical to his 1999 season, and he finished sixth! Behind Mo Vaughn!
He’s made a career out of hitting home runs and befuddling fans. I can’t wait to hear his Hall of Fame induction speech. Will he be introduced by somebody who wins a bidding war on Ebay?
Chipper Jones, 3B: Chipper will probably approach 3000 hits and 500 home runs by the time he retires. While he might not actually achieve those milestones, coupling them with a .310 career batting average, an MVP award and 1345 career RBIs should be good enough.
This guy, along with our starting pitcher today, has been a critical part of the Atlanta Braves’ dominance of the NL East in my lifetime. Tough to strike out, would take a walk, and could hit the ball all over the place…Chipper is one of the good guys in the game of baseball and should punch his ticket to Cooperstown someday.
Jeff Bagwell, 1B: He might be one of the more controversial names on this list, and I struggled with choosing between him and Frank Thomas. The fact that he was loyal to a single team throughout his career while playing in relative obscurity means something to me. He didn’t bolt for a bigger payday, he wanted to achieve success in Houston.
He never won the World Series, but picked up just about every individual honor a player can hope for. MVP in 1994, when he was hitting .368 with 39 home runs and 116 RBI at the time the strike hit (I’ll never stop wondering what that season could have turned in to for so many players.) All-Star appearances, Silver Sluggers, and the Rookie of the Year. He was a feared hitter who escaped the allegations of the steroids era unscathed.
Honorable mentions: Rickey Henderson, Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson.