After watching a show Saturday discussing the five best outfield arms in Major League Baseball today, I began thinking about some great past arms. I began watching baseball in the mid 60’s and therefore can only discuss players from that era and those who followed. I’m certain I will leave out some great arms from baseball past and I know that some worthy names will be omitted. It is rare in today’s game that I notice an outfielder who can throw. Most highlight reels are filled with announcers pontificating with amazement over 250-foot throws which most middle infielders could have made. In my baseball day, it seemed that every team had at least one outfielder who no one ran against twice. These are five I remember in no particular order that stopped the running game in its tracks; five who symbolized what a great arm really was all about.
1. Ellis Valentine: Few south of the Canadian border will remember Valentine. Valentine patrolled right field for the Montreal Expos from 1975-1981. I have never seen a player with a stronger arm. He simply shut down the running game from first to third and from second to home. Few jogged down to first base after a single to right either. Valentine made a regular habit of turning a single to right into an outfield-to-infield putout for those runners who took a hit or extra base for granted. Then Expo manager Dick Williams quickly touted Valentine as having the best arm he had ever seen and compared the rookie to Roberto Clemente.
2. Jesse Barfield: Another right fielder who player north of the border. Barfield led the American League in assists three times. After his third straight season leading the league in assists, the opposition stopped trying to advance. He was especially adept at nullifying the sacrifice fly and turning doubles into singles and triples into doubles. Barfield threw out an astounding 152 runners in his 12 year career. Barfield was not only a strong armed outfielder, but an outfielder who was known for the accuracy of his throws. Cutoff men were usually reluctant to get anywhere near his rockets. Most simply had to duck out of the way.
3. Dave Winfield: I can remember fondly one pre All Star game outfielder throwing competition. The drill involved throwing to second base, then to third base and then to home plate. I can’t remember who else participated in this contest. I can only remember Winfield throwing to each base on the fly and virtually knocking down those players chosen to receive the baseball. I remember being glad it wasn’t me. Winfield was a pitcher when drafted but upon his promotion to the majors after signing with the San Diego Padres in 1973 but the Padres recognized his bat and wanted that arm in right field. Winfield never spent a day in the minors.
4. Raul Mondesi: Another right fielder and another right fielder with a cannon for an arm. Originally signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Mondesi played for several teams over the course of his somewhat checkered major league career. Mondesi had his detractors but no one doubted his arm. He was another outfielder in the Ellis Valentine tradition who could turn a routine one or two hop single to right into a footrace and a red alert for any first baseman who was looking elsewhere. He may have been one of those outfielders who necessitated the wearing of batting gloves for infielders.
5. Roberto Clemente: Had to include the great number 21. Clemente was the master at throwing base runners out trying to go first to third. I can remember many times Clemente digging a ball out of the right field corner with the runner already three or four steps past second going full speed towards third base. Clemente would reach down for the ball, spin and throw a one hopper to third on the corner of the bag. The runner and third base coach would look in disbelief as the ball arrived as if from out of nowhere and the tag for the out was put down. Clemente made a great play look routine time and time again
These are my favorite outfield arms from a time when a great throwing arm was one of the skills scouts cherished. In today’s game, great throws seem like more of an afterthought.