Martin Luther King Day: The MLB's All-Time African American Lineup
In honor of Martin Luther King Day, and to honor African American players in the major leagues, I have compiled a nine player lineup of the greatest African American players in baseball history.
There were a number of tough decisions in naming the team, and the likes of Ken Griffey Jr, Joe Morgan, and Frank Thomas, among many others didn't make the cut.
So here it is, the starting nine African American players in honor of Martin Luther King Day.
Catcher: Roy Campanella
3x NL MVP
1969 Hall of Fame Inductee
Born November 19th, 1921, Campanella dropped out of school in 1937 at the age of 16 to start playing baseball for the Negro League team the Washington Elite Giants, and he did not make his big league debut until 1948, as one of the pioneers for integration in baseball.
As it stands, he is one of the greatest catchers to ever play the game despite playing only 10 seasons. Just imagine the numbers he would have put up had he had another eight or nine seasons in the league.
Once he did make it to the majors, however, he made quite a splash. He played in five World Series during his career, winning one, and he won the NL MVP in 1951, 1953 and 1955, as the Dodgers were the cream of the National League crop thanks to a slew of future Hall of Famers.
His 1953 season is arguably the best ever by a catcher, as he hit .312 BA, 41 HR, 142 RBI and his impressive playing career was rewarded with Hall of Fame enshrinement in 1969.
First Base: Eddie Murray
3x Gold Glove
2x Silver Slugger
1977 AL Rookie of the Year
2003 Hall of Fame Inductee
This was a tough choice that eventually came down to Murray and White Sox great Frank Thomas, and you really can't go wrong with either of them, but in the end, I went with Murray, because he was better for longer.
A model of consistency, Murray hit at least 20 HR and tallied at least 80 RBI in 16 and 17 seasons, respectively. Despite only leading the league in each category once, his years of impressive play place his career HR total at 25th overall and career RBI total at ninth overall and he has also played the sixth most games in big league history.
Perhaps most impressive of all, Murray is one of only four players to ever record 500 HR and 3,000 hits in his career, joining Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Rafael Palmeiro, and his impressive numbers made him a first ballot Hall of Famer in 2003.
Second Base: Jackie Robinson
1947 NL Rookie of the Year
1949 NL MVP
1962 Hall of Fame Inductee
Not to discount the career of Joe Morgan, but Robinson is clearly the choice at second base on this list, not only for his impressive play on the field but for the simple fact that he paved the way for everyone else on this list.
Robinson did not make his MLB debut until the age of 28, and he was immediately one of the best overall players in baseball, as he helped propel the Dodgers to six World Series appearances during his time with the team.
His abilities were on full display during the 1949 season, when he hit .342 BA, 16 HR, 124 RBI, 37 SB as won the batting title and took home the NL MVP in the process.
Overall, the impact that Robinson had on the sport of baseball makes him one of the most significant players to ever step onto the diamond, and he has been rightfully honored with the league wide retirement of his No. 42.
Third Base: Bill Madlock
This was a tough one, as the field is surprisingly weak to choose from. There are a pair of former Negro League players in Judy Johnson and Ray Dandridge who are in the Hall of Fame, but they never appeared in the major leagues. In the end, it came down to Madlock and former Brave Terry Pendleton.
Madlock broke into the majors with the Rangers, but was quickly shipped out of town in the deal that sent Fergie Jenkins out of Chicago. He followed up a third place finish in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in his first season with the Cubs by winning back-to-back batting titles in 1975 and 1976.
Despite this success, the Cubs dealt what seemed to be the perfect replacement for Ron Santo at third base to the Giants for an aging Bobby Murcer. He went on to play 11 more seasons, winning two more batting titles, while playing primarily for the Pirates.
Shortstop: Ernie Banks
1x Gold Glove
1977 Hall of Fame Inductee
Props to two of the greats of the 1980s and 1990s in Ozzie Smith and Barry Larkin, but this one belongs to Mr. Cub himself, Ernie Banks.
Banks may be the best player to never play in a postseason game, as he toiled for 19 seasons on some terrible Cubs teams, but nonetheless, he was one of the games most feared sluggers year in and year out.
From 1955-1960, Banks won a pair of MVP awards, with another three top-six finishes, hitting over 40 HR and recording over 100 RBI in five of the six seasons; he was at the top of his game.
Banks the first real power hitter at the shortstop position, and although he played more games at first base in his career, he was a shortstop in his prime and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977 as a shortstop.
Left Field: Barry Bonds
8x Gold Glove
12x Silver Slugger
7x NL MVP
Bonds took steroids, there is no doubt about that, and he tarnished not only his legacy, but also baseball's most hallowed of records, and many, myself included, still consider Hank Aaron to be the Home Run King.
However, even if you take the numbers Bonds posted prior to his steroid use (believed to have begun following the 1998 season), his career line would have been .270 BA, 411 HR, 1,216 RBI at that point. If you tack on six more seasons of what his season averages were at that point, his final career numbers would have been 603 HR and 1,780 RBI. So while the steroids made his numbers ridiculous, he was already Hall of Fame caliber prior to that.
Bonds gave baseball a black eye that it has struggled to recover from, but there is no denying he was one of the best to ever play the game, even without the steroids. So he gets the nod in left field, edging out Rickey Henderson.
Center Field: Willie Mays
12x Gold Glove
1951 NL Rookie of the Year
1979 Hall of Fame Inductee
Mays was the definition of a five-tool player, and he spent 20 seasons roaming center field for the Giants as one of the best players in baseball history. His power numbers were terrific, as he hit over 30 home runs 11 different times, leading the league four times, while also leading the league in steals four times as well.
Aside from his two MVP season, Mays also finished in the top 10 in MVP voting ten other times, as he was the premiere player in the National League throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
Right Field: Hank Aaron
3x Gold Glove
1957 NL MVP
1982 Hall of Fame Inductee
Aaron posted some of the best career numbers of anyone who has ever played the game, and in many people's eyes, he is still the rightful home run king. For all the long balls he launched, he never hit more than 45 in a season, while hitting at least 25 home runs 18 different times. He was a model of consistency throughout his career.
When all was said and done, Aaron ranked in the top five in Hits, Runs, HR, and RBI and even though he no longer holds the HR record, there is no question he is among the best players to ever play the game.
Starting Pitcher: Bob Gibson
9x Gold Glove
2x Cy Young
Gibson was arguably the best pitcher of the 1960s, and he was the definition of a gamer, as he compiled a 7-2 record in the World Series, including a 3-0 record with a 1.00 ERA in three starts during the 1967 series.
He also turned in arguably the greatest single pitching season in baseball history in 1968, when he went 22-9, 1.12 ERA, 268 Ks and won the MVP and Cy Young, as the season directly led to the changing of the mound height.