Willie Mays and the All-Living Baseball Team

Matt Goldberg@@tipofgoldbergCorrespondent IMay 10, 2011

Willie Mays and the All-Living Baseball Team

0 of 17

    Willie Howard Mays, the legendary "Say Hey Kid," just turned 80 on May 6, and his birthday was a time to celebrate the singular gifts and charisma of one of the greatest to ever play the game that so many of us love.

    Indeed, many consider Mays to be the greatest living ballplayer; some may even call him the greatest to ever play the game.

    This slideshow does not purport to enter that debate, although as much as I revere Mays, I don't understand how Babe Ruth does not walk away, or slug away, with greatest of all time.

    But let's get back on track.

    Who are, subjectively speaking, the greatest living ballplayers for each position?

    The following team also includes a four-man starting rotation (two lefties and two righties; we do not need a fifth man) and a relief pitcher. Just to ease my conscience for passing over some marvelous ballplayers, I added one extra infielder and outfielder.

    Still, as one may expect, I wish I could have made room for more.

    So let's pay tribute to some of the very best to ever do it and hope that they will be with us for many more years to come.

    Pictured (left to right) are (the late) Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays and Henry Aaron; talk about a legendary outfield!

Catcher: Johnny Bench

1 of 17

    DOB: 12/7/47

    MLB Career: 1967-1983 (all with the Cincinnati Reds)

    HOF Induction Year: 1989

    Some of His Many Awards: Rookie of the Year, 14-time All-Star, two-time MVP and 10 (consecutive) Gold Gloves

    Career Hitting Stats: .264 / .342 / .476;  389 homers and 1,376 RBI


    Comment: If you were designing the perfect catcher, you would want strength, leadership, intelligence, great hands and an accurate, rocket arm. If you were greedy, you would ask for a very good hitter.

    If you went crazy with your demands, you would ask for one of the three best power hitters of his time who was also the best defensive catcher of his era.

    In short, you would ask for Johnny Bench.


    Probable Runner-Up: Yogi Berra

First Base: Albert Pujols

2 of 17

    DOB: January 16, 1980

    MLB Career: 2001-present (St. Louis Cardinals)

    HOF Induction Year: Five years after he retires

    Some of His Many Awards: Rookie of the Year, three-time MVP, nine-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glover (not bad for his first 10 years)

    Career Hitting Stats: .330 / .423 / .620 with 415 homers, 1,252 RBI and 1,211 runs scored


    Comment: I was going to choose Hall of Famer Willie McCovey (the player, not the Cove), a great, powerful slugger for the Giants, but as great as McCovey was, he was not this awesome! 

    In his first 10 years, Albert Pujols has never scored fewer than 99 runs (in 2007), driven in fewer than 103 runs (in that same off year of 2007), finished lower than ninth in MVP balloting (other than 2007, he has never finished lower than fourth) or hit fewer than 32 homers.

    Even machines aren't this flawless, are they?

2B: Joe Morgan

3 of 17

    DOB: 9/12/43

    MLB Career: 1963-84

    HOF Induction Year: 1990

    Some of His Many Awards: 10-time All-Star, two-time MVP, five-time (consecutive) Gold Glover

    Career Hitting Stats: .271 / .391 / .427 with 268 homers, 1,133 RBI and 1,650 runs. Little Joe also stole 689 bases.


    Comment: Joe Morgan had the speed you might expect from a little guy, but he also had plenty of pop, launching more than 15 homers on nine different occasions. 

    Joe could beat you with his glove, with his arm, with his bat and with his intellectual approach to the game. 

    A confession, of sorts: I (and I seem to be in select company here) enjoyed him as a baseball analyst with the great Jon Miller. 

    Other great living second basemen include Roberto Alomar, Rod Carew and Ryne Sandberg; I'll still take the man who won back-to-back MVPs in 1975-76. Morgan did that despite great teammates, including Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez and George Foster.

3B: Mike Schmidt

4 of 17

    DOB: 9/27/49

    MLB Career: 1972-1989 (all with the Philadelphia Phillies)

    HOF Induction Year: 1995

    Some of His Many Awards: 12-time All-Star, three-time MVP, 10-time Gold Glover, eight-time HR champ

    Career Stats: .267 / .380 / .527 with 548 homers, 1,595 RBI, 1,506 runs and 174 stolen bases


    Comment: George Brett and Brooks Robinson were no slouches, but most baseball historians consider Michael Jack Schmidt the greatest player the hot corner has ever seen.

    The guy did it all exceptionally well and made it look easy to perennially win Gold Gloves and lead the league in homers.

SS: Cal Ripken, Jr.

5 of 17

    DOB: 8/24/60

    MLB Career: 1981-2001 (Baltimore Orioles)

    HOF Induction Year: 2007

    Some of His Many Awards: Rookie of the Year, two-time MVP, 19-time All-Star, two Gold Gloves

    Career Stats: .276 / .340 / .447, 431 homers, 1,695 RBI and 1,647 runs.

    And let's not forget 2,632.


    Comment: I thought hard about Ozzie Smith (who may be the best defensive infielder to ever play) but went with Ripken, who hit like an outfielder and still played a very strong shortstop.

    He was a great, new prototype hitter as a shortstop who regularly ranked high in fielding percentage and range factor.

    He was also rumored to  be a pretty durable player.

    Robin Yount, an early Ernie Banks and a clean Alex Rodriguez would have also been good choices.

LF: Stan Musial

6 of 17

    DOB: 11/21/20

    MLB Career: 1941-63 (St. Louis Cardinals)

    HOF Induction Year: 1969

    Some of His Many Awards: 24-time All-Star, three-time MVP, seven-time batting champ

    Career Stats: .331 / .417 / .559, 475 homers, 1,951 RBI and 1,949 runs


    Comment: Of the true all-time greats, it sometimes seems as if Stan "The Man" Musial is overshadowed by the likes of Williams, DiMaggio, Mays, Mantle and Aaron.

    For consistent excellence, very few have approximated Musial's achievements.

    Backup left fielders would include a clean Barry Bonds and a humble (?) Rickey Henderson.

CF: Willie Mays

7 of 17

    DOB: 5/6/31

    MLB Career: 1951-73

    HOF Induction Year: 1979

    Some of His Many Awards: Rookie of the Year, two-time MVP, 24 All-Star games, 12 (consecutive) Gold Gloves, four-time stolen base champ, four-time HR king

    Career Stats: .302 / .384 / .557, 660 homers, 1,903 RBI, 2,062 runs and 338 stolen bases


    Comment:  Willie Mays is considered by many to be the Greatest Living Ballplayer. There is no single stat that will prove this to be true, but it is also hard to argue the point.

    Mays is arguably the greatest pure talent to ever play the game. His stats, both offensive and defensive, will attest to this, and then there was that "it" factor he brought to almost every at-bat and signature basket catch and rocket throw.

    It is hard to put any other living center fielder in Mays' class. Defensively, a slimmer Andruw Jones was close. Hall of Famer Andre Dawson was a terrific all-around player when his knees allowed.

    Note:  Ken Griffey, Jr. deserves a mention here. He was, arguably, the best example of a five-tool player with the ability to almost match Mays' incandescent skills. He just missed my team, but he should also waltz into Cooperstown on the first ballot. Given the choice of the two, I'm guessing he'd opt for the latter.

RF: Hank Aaron

8 of 17

    DOB: 2/5/34

    MLB Career: 1954-76

    HOF Induction Year: 1981

    Some of His Many Awards: MVP (13 top-10 finishes), 25-time All-Star, three (consecutive) Gold Gloves, four-time HR king, four-time RBI champ, two batting tiles (11 top-five finishes)

    Career Stats: .305 / .374 / .555, 755 homers, 2,297 RBI, 2,174 runs and 240 stolen bases


    Comment: Hank Aaron would give Willie Mays a run (and perhaps top him) for the unofficial honor of Greatest Living Ballplayer. 

    Hammerin' Hank excelled at every phase of the game and was consistently brilliant.

    Two stats I love: Aaron hit exactly 44 homers (to match his uniform number) four times.

    Aaron only played in three postseasons but hit .362 (with an OPS of 1.116) with six homers and 16 RBI in 17 games. 

    Al Kaline and Frank Robinson had magnificent careers as right fielders, but not quite at Aaron's level.

Extra Infielder: Rod Carew

9 of 17

    DOB: 2/5/34

    MLB Career: 1954-76

    HOF Induction Year: 1982

    Some of His Many Awards: Rookie of the Year, MVP, 18-time All-Star, seven batting titles

    Career Stats: .328 / .393 / .429 with 92 homers, 1,015 RBI, 1,424 runs and 353 stolen bases


    Comment: Rodney Cline Carew was a lifetime .328 hitter who collected seven batting titles and 3,053 hits in his illustrious 22-year career.

    The great Panamanian, tobacco-chewing hit machine came up as a rangy second baseman but turned into an extremely good first baseman the latter half of his career.

Extra Outfielder: Frank Robinson

10 of 17

    DOB: 8/31/35

    MLB Career: 1956-76

    HOF Induction Year: 1982

    Some of His Many Awards: Rookie of the Year, two-time MVP (one in both leagues), Gold Glove, 14-time All-Star, one Triple Crown

    Career Stats: .294 / .389 / .537 with 586 homers, 1,812 RBI, 1,829 runs and 204 stolen bases


    Comment: When the all-time greats are discussed, you rarely hear Frank Robinson's name, but the man had a legendary career in his own right. 

    Among his many accomplishments were winning an MVP in both leagues, winning a Triple Crown in his first year (1966) in the AL, becoming a player-manager, and being the first African-American manager in MLB history.

    Robby was known as a ferocious competitor who never gave an inch. He led his league in getting hit by a pitch seven times, and he also led the NL in drawing intentional bases on balls four consecutive years.

Starting LHP: Sandy Koufax

11 of 17

    DOB: 12/30/35

    MLB Career: 1955-1966 (Brooklyn/LA Dodgers)

    HOF Induction Year: 1972

    Some of His Many Awards: Six-time All-Star, three-time Cy Young Award Winner, four-time strikeout king, five-time ERA champ

    Career Stats: 165-87, 2.76 ERA, 2,324.1 IP, 1,754 hits, 2,396 K / 817 BB


    Comment: He was Jim Brown without a movie career to go to, a master pitcher who found the strike zone as a 25-year-old and gave the baseball world six dominant seasons before having to quit because of arthritis.

    He had to retire at the absolute pinnacle of his career at age 30, and he did so as the two-time defending Cy Young Award winner (when it was still a combined NL/AL award), two-time leader in wins and strikeouts and five-time strikeout king.

    An aura of mystery and greatness is still attached to Koufax, who was the first pitcher to hurl four no-hitters. In the postseason, he was only 4-3 but did so with an 0.95 ERA and a WHIP of 0.825.

    Koufax was practically untouchable at his peak.

Starting RHP: Bob Gibson

12 of 17

    DOB: 11/9/35

    MLB Career: 1959-75 (St. Louis Cardinals)

    HOF Induction Year: 1981

    Some of His Many Awards: Nine-time All-Star, MVP, two-time Cy Young Award winner, nine Gold Gloves

    Career Stats: 251-174, 2.91 ERA; 3,884.1 IP, 3,279 hits, 3,117 K / 1,336 BB

    Comment: There may be a better (living) right-handed pitcher than Gibson (Greg Maddux? Roger Clemens? Juan Marichal?  Pedro Martinez?), but the Cardinals ace may be the single greatest postseason pitcher of the modern era and the type of intense competitor that you would want to take the hill for that must-win game.

    In three postseasons, No. 45 was 7-2 with a 1.89 ERA. In 81 innings (he started and completed three games in each of his three World Series), he yielded 55 hits and walked 17 while fanning 92.

    His 1.12 ERA in 1968 is one of the magical numbers in the sport.

    Here's a weird stat from 1968: Gibby had that impossibly low ERA and also threw 13 shutouts but only managed a 22-9 record.

    One of the greatest athletes to ever play the game, Gibson racked up nine consecutive Gold Gloves and also hit .206 with 24 homers.

Starting LHP: Steve Carlton

13 of 17

    DOB: 12/22/44

    MLB Career: 1965-88

    HOF Induction Year: 1994

    Some of His Many Awards: 10-time All-Star, four-time Cy Young Award winner, one Gold Glove, three-time strikeout king, one ERA title

    Career Stats: 329-244, 3.22 ERA, 5,217.2 IP, 4,672 hits, 4,136 K / 1,833 BB

    Comment: When "Lefty" was on, which was frequently, his slider was almost impossible to hit.

    Carlton spent his best years as a Phillie, earning four Cy Young Awards in an 11-year stretch.

    His greatest year was his first one in Philly (1972), a season in which he went 27-10 with a 1.97 ERA.

    In 346.1 IP, spread over 41 starts (with an amazing league-leading 30 complete games), Lefty fanned 310 while walking only 87.

    The most amazing thing about Lefty's 1972 season is that the Phillies went 59-97 that year; Carlton owned 46 percent of their wins!

    The great Randy Johnson just missed this spot.

    Update: Edward Charles (Whitey Ford), as a reader commented, deserves a mention as well. Yes, his amazing W-L percentage (.690) was partly the product of playing for a dynasty, but his ERA and ERA-plus numbers were quite impressive.  Could it be that the Chairman of the Board was actually underrated, at least in retrospect?

RHP: Tom Seaver

14 of 17

    DOB: 11/17/44

    MLB Career: 1967-86

    HOF Induction Year: 1992

    Some of His Many Awards: Rookie of the Year, 12-time All-Star, three Cy Young Awards, five-time strikeout king, three-time leader in wins, three ERA crowns

    Career Stats: 311-205, 2.86 ERA; 4,783 IP, 3,971 hits, 3,640 K / 1,390 BB

    Comment: The New York media called him "Tom Terrific," and he was that, and more.

    The man was pure class and polish, on the field and off, and certainly ranks among the five or 10 greatest right-handed pitchers to ever toe the rubber.

    Did the Mets really trade him in the middle of the 1977 season...for Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson, Pat Norman and Pat Zachry? Just checking.

Closer: Mariano Rivera

15 of 17

    DOB: 11/29/69

    MLB Career: 1995-present (New York Yankees)

    HOF Induction Year: Five years after retirement

    Some of His Many Awards: 11-time All-Star, four-time saves leader, five-time Rolaids Relief winner

    Career Stats: 75-55, 2.22 ERA, 1,165.2 IP, 898 hits, 1,064 K / 269 BB, 571 saves

    Comment: When you are considered by most baseball observers to be the best closer in the history of the game, it is hard not to award you a spot on the Greatest Living Ballplayers team.

    There are very few sure things in life, or in baseball.

    The closest thing to one is that Mariano Rivera will save at least 30 games (usually many more) and do so with an ERA around 2.00.

    In the postseason, he is even more of a sure thing. He has an 8-1 record and 42 saves with an 0.71 ERA.

    Mariano has compiled 571 regular season saves, exactly 30 behind all-time leader Trevor Hoffman.

Backup Closer: Rollie Fingers

16 of 17

    DOB: 8/25/46

    MLB Career: 1968-85

    HOF Induction Year: 1992

    Some of His Many Awards: Cy Young, MVP, seven-time All-Star, three-time saves leader

    Career Stats: 114-118, 2.90 ERA, 1701.1 IP, 1,474 hits, 1,299 K / 492 BB, 341 saves

    Comment:  Rollie Fingers was more than just the owner of a superb handlebar mustache; he was one of the greatest relief pitchers ever. Not quite Mariano, but close to his level.

    Although he spent his most famous years with those great Oakland A's teams of the early '70s, he won a Cy Young and an MVP in his first year with the Milwaukee Brewers (1981).

    In the postseason, Rollie's record was 4-4 with a 2.35 ERA and nine saves.

Any Exclusions, Arguments or Shout-Outs?

17 of 17

    We hope you enjoyed this tribute to the Greatest Living Ballplayers.

    This is one man's opinion, of course, and my team is:

    C: Johnny Bench

    1B: Albert Pujols

    2B: Joe Morgan

    3B: Mike Schmidt

    SS: Cal Ripken Jr.

    Extra Infielder: Rod Carew

    LF: Stan Musial

    CF: Willie Mays

    RF: Hank Aaron

    Fourth OF: Frank Robinson

    Starting Pitchers: Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton and Tom Seaver

    Closer: Mariano Rivera

    Backup Closer and Stylist: Rollie Fingers

    You are invited and encouraged to register your opinions below.

    For more information on Matt Goldberg’s new books (Wordapodia, Volume One and All That Twitters is Not Goldberg), as well as writing, speaking and interview requests, please e-mail: matt@tipofthegoldberg.com or contact him via his Bleacher Report homepage.