For over three decades, I've considered this time of year to be New Year's Day, rather than January 1st.
I can't think of any other way to describe the beginning of baseball season.
Inherited from my grandparents, my fondness for the game has evolved from feeling a child's excitement upon entering Dodger Stadium for the first time on my 11th birthday, to playing little league in my neighborhood park, to being in my forties and feeling like I'm eating comfort food whenever I catch a game on TV.
I finally feel it's high time that I present my choices for the best all-time baseball team.
This wasn't an easy team to select, as there were hundreds of stars and legends to choose from. To quote the MLB Network's Prime 9 show, this is meant to start arguments, not end them.
So get ready to vehemently disagree with me, as I name my starting eight (plus the manager, designated hitter and three pitchers) for my all-time club:
Catcher: Josh Gibson
He never played in the majors due to racism, but this Negro League immortal was, in my view, the best catcher ever, hitting over 970 homers in his lifetime while batting .362 for the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays. If he had been allowed to play in the bigs, people would have been saying: "Babe who?"
First Base: Lou Gehrig
Afterwards calling himself, "the luckiest man on the face of the earth," this pride of the Yankees took over for an injured player in 1925, and didn't leave the field for fourteen years, hitting 493 home runs while playing in 2,130 consecutive games—a record that wasn't broken until 1995 by Cal Ripken Jr. Gehrig even beat out Babe Ruth and his 60 home runs for Most Valuable Player honors in 1927.
Second Base: Jackie Robinson
Even if this iconic Brooklyn Dodger hadn't been a .311 lifetime hitter and led his teammates to six pennants and an epic World Series title in 1955, he would still be on this team for one reason—breaking the color line on April 15, 1947 and permanently changing this country.
Shortstop : Honus Wagner
Over 90 years after his career ended, Wagner is still ranked seventh all-time in hits, and is in the top 20 in runs scored and RBI. This Pirate is also an eight-time batting champion—I think that clinches him as the 20th century's first baseball star.
Third Baseman: Mike Schmidt
For all intents and purposes, no one really comes close here. He almost singlehandedly brought his Philadelphia Phillies to respectability with 548 home runs and ten gold gloves, and was one of the keys to their first world championship in 1980. That, and his three MVP awards, settles any argument over his inclusion.
Oufield: Ty Cobb
Although he was a miserable human being who everyone hated, no one can deny that this Detroit Tiger was arguably the best baseball player ever, and certainly the best of his day. Nobody has a higher career batting average than his .367, and only Pete Rose has more hits than his 4,191. This 12-time batting champ with the split grip was a fierce competitor who definitely earned respect, if not love.
Outfield: Willie Mays
If I had to choose one man as the single greatest man to ever play baseball, this "Say Hey Kid" from the San Francisco Giants would be the one. He was the best in every phase of the game: 660 homers with well over 3,000 hits and 2,000 runs scored.
Most of all, he played with a stylish flair and joy that made fans want to watch. His epic over-the-shoulder catch in the 1954 World Series was merely a feather in the cap.
Outfield: Babe Ruth
The Bambino. The Sultan of Swat. With his 714 home runs, his .342 lifetime average and his larger than life persona, Ruth virtually saved baseball after the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, while building the New York Yankees into the dominant empire that they continue to be today.
People who know nothing about the game or who otherwise hate it, know who Ruth is—he is that famous and transcends the sport that much.
Designated Hitter: Ted Williams
Yes, I know he was an outfielder who played long before the DH rule was adopted in 1973, but I just can't make an all-time team without this hitting genius. Baseball's last .400 hitter (.406 in 1941), this Boston Red Sox legend missed three full seasons due to World War II and still socked 521 homers, won seven batting crowns, and hit .344, good for sixth all time.
Pitchers: Satchel Paige
In my book, this man was the greatest pitcher to ever throw off a mound.
His modest statistics in the majors were only due to the racist color barrier that existed for the bulk of his career. He was the biggest star in the Negro Leagues along with Josh Gibson, who was his battery mate with the Pittsburgh Crawfords for a season in the 1930s.
Anyone who has a problem with his—or Gibson's for that matter—inclusion on this team does not know baseball.
With his all-time record of 511 victories, 749 complete games, and four seasons in which he won at least 30 games, MLB could not have found a better man to name its pitching award after. A full 100 years after he threw his last pitch, he is still considered the ultimate standard for his position.
The most incredible thing about this great Washington Senators hurler was that he won 417 games, had his (still) all-time record of 110 shutouts, and struck out his 3,509 batters for a Senator team that was pretty sorry, winning only one World Series during his 20 years on the mound.
Manager: Connie Mack
It was a tough decision as to who would manage this band of legends.
John McGraw was a championship skipper during the first three decades of the last century, his New York Giants being then what the New York Yankees are seen as now—a dynastic empire.
Casey Stengel won nine World Series crowns while managing his Bronx Bombers in the 1950s.
There could even be a case made for Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa, but Mack, while losing more games than he won overall because of his feast-or-famine style (though he did win his share of titles), has a longevity—54 years as the head of the then-Philadelphia Athletics—that I admire.
That's why he gets the nod here.
I know perfectly well that many immortals were left off this club, guys like Johnny Bench, Stan "The Man" Musial, Frank Robinson, Joe DiMaggio of the 56-game hitting streak (and being Marilyn Monroe's husband for a few months) and Henry Aaron.
Not to mention Robert Clemente, Sandy Koufax, and Nolan Ryan. Heck, even Roger Clemens, despite his PED allegations, should be considered for this club.
If I included everyone on this all-time team that was deserving, however, I'd be writing for at least a week. There were so many greats who played this game, my apologies if your favorite player isn't mentioned on this list.
In the meantime, I hope that this selection of legendary players helps to get you excited for what promises to be another great season of this American pastime.
Let's play ball!