Willie Mays’ 80th birthday on Friday got me thinking. Baseball’s an interesting sport in that its top competitors often live into old age unlike, say, football which seems to take 20 years off the lives of its veterans. While a few elderly ballplayers like Bob Feller and Duke Snider have died in recent months, there is still at least one Hall of Famer over the age of 80 for nearly every position. Together, these men could comprise a dream team of sorts, even if I wouldn’t recommend this squad take the field today.
The follow lineup is strictly symbolic of how these men played during their careers, with their current ages in parentheses:
CF- Willie Mays (80): Mays could and should hit third, fourth, or fifth with his 660-home run power, though he gets the lead off spot since no one else on the team comes close to matching his speed. Mays might also be the best living Hall of Famer, though that’s fodder for another post.
RF- Monte Irvin (92): Who better to back up Mays than his mentor his rookie year with the New York Giants in 1951? Irvin was a Negro League star and elite contact hitter who’d have probably managed a higher peak batting average than .312 if he’d played somewhere besides the Polo Grounds that ’51 season.
1B- Stan Musial (90): Stan the Man, with his .331 lifetime average, 475 home runs, and seven batting titles, might be baseball’s best living hitter. Certainly, with Feller’s death in December, Musial is the greatest living ballplayer over 90. This earns him the nod at a position he played roughly a third of his career.
LF- Ralph Kiner (88): Playing in a pitcher’s park like Forbes Field, in baseball’s postwar period where hurlers were favored, Kiner managed to lead the National League in home runs each of his first seven seasons. If he played anytime in the last 20 years, his home run totals would be staggering. That being said, he seems a somewhat forgotten slugger to modern fans.
3B- Al Rosen (87): The only non-Hall of Famer on this team, Rosen may have been just as good at his peak. He became a regular player at 26 and played just seven full seasons, twice leading the American League in home runs and RBI and earning Most Valuable Player honors in 1953. Rosen walked away from baseball to take a sales job at 32, and one can only wonder what he might have done with a full career.
C- Yogi Berra (85): At first, my fear was that there were no great catchers over 80, that the rigors of the position made this impossible. Then I remembered Yogi, the three-time MVP and seemingly ageless Yankee legend. He’s not the greatest catcher of all-time, though with Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle long dead, Berra he may be the most famous living Yankee, one of the final remaining links to a classic era for the Bronx Bombers.
SS- Ernie Banks (80): Mr. Cub gets the nod at the position he spent the first half of his career at, a lithe superstar before becoming a broke-down first baseman in later years.
2B- Bobby Doerr (93): One of the final remaining men who played in the 1930s, Doerr was a nine-time All Star, great supporting teammate for Ted Williams on the Boston Red Sox, and a Veterans Committee selection to the Hall of Fame in 1986.
P- Whitey Ford (82): Ford, Billy Martin, and Mickey Mantle set a standard for carousing as Yankee teammates in the 1950s. Martin died in a drunk driving accident on Christmas Day 1989, and Mantle passed of liver cancer five years later, though Ford has lived into old age.