The 10 best Veterans Committee selections for the Hall of Fame

There are two ways to get inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  The first is to receive at least 75% of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America.  Players get a maximum of 15 years on the ballot before they’re no longer eligible, and even with that wide of a margin, getting in is sometimes no easy feat.  Joe DiMaggio needed three years to garner enough votes; 300-game winners Don Sutton and Phil Niekro each needed five.  And Bert Blyleven has just two tries remaining.

But those who miss the vote have a wide net to catch them:  The Veterans Committee.

I’ve said it before on this site, but it bears repeating.  Late, great Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray once wrote, “To get into the Baseball Writers’ wing of the Hall of Fame, you better be Babe Ruth.  Or better.  To get in the veterans’ wing, all you have to be is a crony.”

It seems like if the Veterans wing of the Hall of Fame were to disappear tomorrow, there wouldn’t be a huge number of worthy players left out of Cooperstown.  If the Writers wing is home to guys like DiMaggio, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, the Veterans section champions the Joe Gordons and Jim Bunnings of the sport– good players, sure, maybe nice guys too.  Gordon is even from my hometown of Sacramento.  But to say that he, Bunning and others belong in the same Hall of Fame as some of the game’s immortals makes it seem like less of a Hall of Fame to me.

The official task for the committee is to find players overlooked by the writers, and definitely, it has succeeded admirably there at times.  Especially in the early years of the Hall of Fame, when selecting from a huge number of players was a daunting task, the committee helped find forgotten players.

Here are the ten best players selected by the Veterans Committee:

1. Sam Crawford (1957): Arguably the best player the committee has put in the Hall of Fame.  In a career that took place entirely in the Deadball Era, Crawford had 2,961 hits, a .309 lifetime batting average and an all-time best 309 triples.

2. Tim Keefe (1964): Kind of surprising it took 25 years after the museum opened for Keefe to be inducted, as he won 342 games during his career.  He won 30 or more games six consecutive years, including 42 in 1886.

3. Sam Rice (1963): A similar player to Crawford.  In fact, I get the two players mixed up sometimes.  They both were speedy outfielders from the early part of the 20th Century with close to 3,000 hits and a batting average north of .300.  Rice is interesting in the sense that he had his first full season at age 27, following which he served in World War I. His career didn’t get going in earnest until he was 29.  Had he started sooner, he may well have gotten something close to 4,000 hits.

4. Ernie Lombardi (1986): Arguably the best hitting catcher of all-time, with two batting titles, though he had a hard time staying healthy and didn’t make the Hall of Fame in his lifetime.  There was a myth about him that he was bitter about it.

5. Addie Joss (1978): A latter-day, right-handed version of Sandy Koufax, Joss died at 31 in 1911.  As it stands, he finished 160-89 with a 1.89 career ERA.

6. Heinie Manush (1964): Hit .330 lifetime with 2,524 career hits, holding his own with contemporaries of his era like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Al Simmons.

7. Chief Bender (1953): Went 212-127 with a 2.46 ERA in his career.  Interestingly, he had a year, 1913, where he won 21 games and also had 13 saves.

8. Johnny Mize (1981): Not a terribly different player than Hank Greenberg, though it took Mize much longer after his career ended to make the Hall of Fame.  Like Greenberg, Mize rose to stardom in the 1930s and had his career interrupted by World War II.  Like Greenberg, Mize would probably have finished with close to 500 home runs if not for his service.

9. Stan Coveleski (1969): Went 215-142 with a 2.89 ERA lifetime.  Over the second half of his career when hitters ruled, beginning in 1921, he won at least 20 games twice.

10. Orlando Cepeda (1999): One of the few picks the committee has gotten right in recent years, this honored Cepeda, whose bid was delayed several years by drug problems.  Interestingly, the same thing is happening to Dave Parker right now, maybe Keith Hernandez too.

The All-Decade Team

P- Roy Halladay

I nearly chose Johan Santana, but reconsidered after comparing numbers.  Halladay had slightly more wins, two more All Star appearances, two 20-win seasons to Santana’s one, and, in the statistic that unexpectedly clinched it, five times as many complete games.  Randy Johnson gets third place, mostly for what he did at the beginning of the decade.

C- Ivan Rodriguez

For sheer talent, Joe Mauer wins overwhelmingly.  But I can’t justify naming him the best player in a decade he only had five near-full seasons in.  Rodriguez gets the nod for his defensive wizardy, offensive clout and what he did for the Florida Marlins in 2003.

1B- Albert Pujols

No contest.  The three-time MVP and eight-time All Star may be the decade’s best player.  I’d vote him best second baseman if I had to, since he played three innings there in 2008.

2B- Jeff Kent

Were it a five-year contest, the winner would be Chase Utley.  Were it a three-year contest, the winner would be Dustin Pedroia.  But we’re talking a full decade and for that, future Hall of Fame member Kent is the man.

3B- Alex Rodriguez

In a perfect world, Rodriguez would be the shortstop here.  And in a perfect world, he also wouldn’t have done steroids.  Faults aside, he still trounces the competition.  His 394 home runs are the most over the past nine seasons and he also won three MVP awards in that span.

SS- Derek Jeter

I’d probably give this to Hanley Ramirez if he had a few more seasons under his belt.  That guy’s electric.  But Jeter might still be most deserving.  His credentials include four Gold Gloves and just two seasons without an All Star appearance or a batting average above .300.  This says nothing of his class.

LF- Manny Ramirez

True, Manny won’t win any defensive awards.  But neither did Barry Bonds this decade.  And Manny stayed relevant all 10 years, while Bonds fizzled halfway through.

CF- Andruw Jones

The toughest choice here, especially considering how Jones has looked these past few years.  However, prior to 2008, he won the Gold Glove every year of the decade and was, for the most part, a comparable hitter to Carlos Beltran, the next-best center fielder.  Jim Edmonds is not far behind either man.

RF- Ichiro Suzuki

On the other hand, this is probably the easiest choice, next to Pujols.  Suzuki has won a Gold Glove every year of his career, has hit .350 or better four times and averages 231 hits for 162 games.  Count him as one of the few first-ballot Hall of Famers from this generation.

DH- David Ortiz

It’s a shame news emerged last year that Ortiz flunked a drug test in 2003.  Otherwise, he’s the kind of guy his position is designed for.

RP- Mariano Rivera

Were we, once again, measuring success over a shorter period of time, Jonathan Papelbon would win.  But for the decade, Rivera had an ERA below 2.00 six times, finished in the top five in Cy Young voting three times and, of course, had the most saves.

Manager- Terry Francona

Two World Series titles.  For the Red Sox.  The last man to do this?  Someone named Bill Carrigan.  When Babe Ruth played for the team.  I rest my case.

The “What If” Dream Team

I’ve been kicking around the idea lately of creating a dream lineup for the players I feel were held back from immortality by one misfortune or another.  These are the players who generally suffered some kind of catastrophic injury, left the game in shame, or died young.  Barring these fates, many if not most of the following men would have been Hall of Fame members.

They are as follows:

P- J.R. Richard: From 1975 to 1979, he averaged roughly 17 wins and 240 strikeouts per season.  Had his career not been cut short in 1980 by a stroke at age 30, he would probably have accumulated 250-300 career wins and earned a Hall of Fame plaque.

C- Ray Fosse: A poster child for the dark side of the All Star game, Fosse was just 23 and a bright young catcher for the Cleveland Indians when Pete Rose barreled into him to score the winning run in the 1970 contest.  Fosse was never the same thereafter.

1B- Nick Esasky: He really only had one good season, hitting 30 home runs for the Boston Red Sox in 1989, which earned him a large free agent contract.  Esasky played just nine games thereafter, however, having to retire in 1990 because of vertigo.  Alfred Hitchcock later made a film about this.  I think.

2B- Ken Hubbs: He was Rookie of the Year and a Gold Glove winner in 1962 at age 20, but died before the start of the 1964 season in a plane crash.

3B-Heinie Zimmerman: One of many players who was barred from baseball due to gambling in the early part of the twentieth century, Zimmerman is largely a forgotten name today.  However, had he not been thrown out of the game in 1919 at 32, the .295 lifetime hitter would have likely rounded out his career with something over 2,000 hits, perhaps enough for a Hall of Fame bid.

SS- Dickie Thon: He was never the same after missing most of the 1984 season after taking a beanball to the face.  The sponsor ad on his Baseball Reference page probably says it best: Just a Mike Torrez fastball away from the Hall of Fame, Dickie was a forgotten Astros great, and an inspiration to us all.

RF- Tony Conigliaro: Pretty much the same story as Thon, except it happened on the Red Sox in 1967.

CF- Lyman Bostock: A sweet hitting outfielder for the California Angels, Bostock got murdered in a drive-by shooting at the end of the 1978 season. Riding in a car with a woman he had met 20 minutes before, Bostock was shot by her jealous, estranged husband.

LF- Joe Jackson: He got banned for being apart of the Black Sox scandal that threw the 1919 World Series and aside from Pete Rose, is perhaps the best player not in the Hall of Fame. Funny how baseball works sometimes.  Babe Ruth was a preferred name at whorehouses across the country, Ty Cobb admitted late in life to killing a man in the street in 1912, and Barry Bonds will probably get into the Hall of Fame before federal prison, if he ever even gets convicted, but Jackson, a lifetime .356 hitter, has little to no shot at Cooperstown.

The Defensive Dream Team

In the spirit of this site, I now offer another “Best of” list, this time a lineup of players I would want, were I assembling a defensive dream team.  The number of Gold Gloves won by each player is listed next to their name in parentheses.

P- Greg Maddux (18) – Far and away the best defensive pitcher in the history of the game.  After Jim Kaat, who earned 16 Gold Gloves, the next best-pitcher has half as many Gold Gloves as Maddux.

C- Johnny Bench (10) – Ivan Rodriguez has more Gold Gloves, but Bench handled better pitching staffs.

1B- Keith Hernandez (11) – He has the most Gold Gloves of any first baseman and also had 2182 hits and a .296 lifetime batting average.  Hernandez never got more than about 11% of the vote for the Hall of Fame and dropped off the ballot after 2004, but could be a good candidate eventually for the Veterans Committee.

2B- Ryne Sandberg (9) – This was a toss up between Sandberg, Bill Mazeroski and Roberto Alomar.  I initially wanted to go with Mazeroski who was elected to the Hall of Fame a few years ago largely on the strength of his defense (that and hitting the winning home run in Game Seven of the 1960 World Series.)  I re-evaluated after seeing that Sandberg and Alomar had better, almost identical numbers.  I’m going with Sandberg, I guess, because I like him more than Alomar who seemed like something of a jerk.

SS- Ozzie Smith (13) – This, on the other hand, was no contest.  Smith did backflips along with all sorts of other acrobatics, has the most Gold Gloves of any shortstop and redefined the position.  He wasn’t called The Wizard for nothing.

3B- Brooks Robinson (16) – Another simple pick.  Who else was I going to choose, Mike Schmidt?  Highlight films were invented for guys like Robinson (and Smith.)

OF- Willie Mays (12), Roberto Clemente (12), Larry Walker (7) – Mays and Clemente were easy choices.  Mays probably has two or three of the all-time best catches in baseball history from his perch in center field, and Clemente won an equal number of Gold Gloves, with a cannon arm in right field.  I struggled to pick a leftfielder, though, and ultimately went with a second rightfielder, Walker.  My rationale?  I once saw Walker throw out a slow-footed Tim Wakefield at first from right.  In my opinion, right field is the toughest position in the outfield– anyone who plays there needs a great arm.  Any good rightfielder can do just fine in left, where defensive liabilities often wind up.  This was the case with Bonds late in his career, though as a young player, he was lights out in left.

Bench: Pre-steroids Bonds (8), Pre-injured Ken Griffey Jr. (10), Omar Vizquel (11), Rodriguez (13)

The 10 Most Overrated Hall of Famers

Several months ago, when this site was in its infancy, I wrote a post, “The 10 best players not in the Hall of Fame.” It remains my most popular post, by far, and has lead to other entries. When in doubt, I learned, the Hall of Fame makes for thought-provoking writing.

Today, I offer a new list. Let me preface this. Bill James used mathematical formulas, years ago, to make his own determinations in his book, Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame? I submit no such claim and, in fact, am deliberately not including his choices. There’s no sense in trying to compete with James, and I don’t know his methodology, sabermetrics.  It is one of those things I’ve meant to pick up but haven’t, like Spanish, HTML coding and guitar.  I also am putting a few players on in the hopes of stirring debate. I considered including Joe DiMaggio, but thought better of it.

Also, the following players aren’t necessarily the worst in Cooperstown. Some are, but most are simply guys who I feel got in unjustly, for one reason or another. Consider:

Jim Rice: He got in for what others did or, moreover, what he didn’t do. Probably. If it ever comes out that Rice used steroids, Cooperstown will have problems.

Bruce Sutter: After the floodgates opened on letting relievers in, Sutter was inducted. When I think of great relievers, I think Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, and from this generation, Mariano Rivera and maybe Trevor Hoffman. That’s it. I tend to be hard on relievers, just as I am on defensive stars and designated hitters. True Hall of Famers, in my book, are multi-faceted, game-changing players, the kid I’d pick first on the playground, no question.

Rube Waddell: I love reading about Waddell in Ken Burns Baseball, hearing how the child-like star pitcher could be distracted with puppies and lured from the mound by the sound of firetrucks. If there were a Hall of Fame for storied characters in baseball history, Waddell would be a first-ballot inductee. But the facts are that he won 197 games and drank himself out of the big leagues while he was still young. This wasn’t as funny when it happened with Dwight Gooden.

Dizzy Dean: Ditto.

Lou Boudreau: As noted here before, Boudreau was an extremely similar hitter to Orlando Cabrera. Cabrera belongs in no Hall of Fame, not even the Montreal Expos team Hall of Fame (which is probably in an airport restroom somewhere.)

Gaylord Perry: So, yeah, this choice might be controversial. After all, Perry won 314 games and reinvented himself many times. Among his generation, he was one of the very few best pitchers in the game. But he did it in part by cheating, throwing a ball that had more grease on it than an engine. Had Perry played a generation later, he’d have no shot at the Hall of Fame. Just look what’s happening to Roger Clemens.

Rabbit Maranville: When in doubt, Maranville is a name for angry supporters of a player who can’t get in the Hall of Fame, as in: “Why can’t Dale Murphy get in the Hall of Fame, if Rabbit Maranville can?” For good reason, as Maranville hit .258 lifetime. Granted, he was a solid defensive shortstop, but I’m generally against recognizing these sorts of players unless they’re Brooks Robinson, Ozzie Smith or Omar Vizquel.  Aside from all that, perhaps the biggest injustice is that the year writers voted Maranville in, 1954, they declined to induct DiMaggio.

Phil Rizzuto: As noted before, Rizzuto falls into a class of players I like to call, “If they played for the Washington Senators…” As in, if they had played for the Senators, they’d have no shot at the Hall of Fame. They can mostly be noted for holding down jobs for long stretches on hallowed clubs. Others in this class include Earle Combs, Pee Wee Reese, Tony Lazzeri, Lefty Gomez and Bill Dickey. If Gil Hodges gets in Cooperstown, he can be grouped here too. Rizzuto made his name playing shortstop for great Yankee teams in the 1940s and ’50s, in the same lineup as DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Rizzuto did an able job, seemed like a nice guy, and had a long career as a broadcaster after he retired. But he also hit .273 lifetime.

Dave Bancroft: Bancroft is in an opposite school to Rizzuto, one of those players who can mostly be noted for being the best member on really terrible teams. I don’t like this kind of recognition, just as I don’t think it’s right to have a token All Star from the Pittsburgh Pirates each year.

Tinker to Evers to Chance: I’ll group together these three– Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance– because they were a famed double play combination for the Chicago Cubs in the early twentieth century. Defensively adept though they may have been, none had more than 1,700 hits or hit .300 lifetime. Without each other, none would have made the Hall of Fame.

Tug Hulett and 10 other great baseball names

The news concerning the trade of Tug Hulett the other day prompted two reactions for me:

1) Who the hell is Tug Hulett?

2) Why haven’t I ever heard of a player with such a cool name?

Tug Hulett sounds like the name of a boat in an old Disney cartoon, a small, happy little vessel earnestly moving through choppy seas. Even if he doesn’t amount to much as a player — and at this point, he has 13 career hits — he could have a long career ahead of him in children’s programming, if he so chooses.

But I digress.

Tug Hulett is just the latest great name in baseball, a sport that over the years has seen some colorful monikers (like Tug McGraw.) Today, I offer 10 of those best names:

1. Van Lingle Mungo: My all-time favorite baseball name belongs to the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants hurler of the 1930s and ’40s. Sports columnist Jim Murray wrote that Mungo’s name seemed like something that could be sung by a sailor in the rigging of a banana boat. It also sounds like a dance step from the ’40s or a physical ailment or a new wave band from the ’80s.

2. Oil Can Boyd: A close second, Boyd got his nickname, according to Wikipedia, from his beer-drinking days in his hometown of Meridian, Mississippi, where beer is referred to as “oil.” He wins points for also having been bat-shit crazy, not that I’d expect anyone named Oil Can to be sane. I definitely wouldn’t want to come up against him in a street fight. The best man at his wedding was probably named Buckshot.

3. Kent Hrbek: The highest-ranking position player on this list, the stout Minnesota Twins first baseman had a name better-suited for WrestleMania or a children’s fairytale: “We tried to storm the castle but couldn’t overcome the Kent Hrbek.” Fifty years ago, he would have had a washing machine named after him.

4. Aloysius Travers: The hapless one-time Detroit Tigers pitcher makes this list as much because of his history as his name. A seminary student signed to pitch one game in the midst of a strike in 1912, Travers gave up 24 runs, the most in major league history and never played again. His name connotes the image of a school boy being pummeled by street toughs. You just don’t meet too many people named Aloysius anymore.

5. Yogi Berra: The only player to have a cartoon character named after him. I think.

6. Boog Powell: The Baltimore Orioles slugger comes from the Kent Hrbek school of having a name better suited for a 1930s strike breaker or “Flintstones” character.

7. Grover Cleveland Alexander: With probably the most regal name ever for a player, Alexander was dubbed for the president at his time of birth, Grover Cleveland. Baseball fan that I am, I get confused sometimes and think we had a president named Grover Cleveland Alexander.

8. Fernando Valenzuela: Like Van Lingle Mungo, this is another name that rolls off the tongue and echoes to be repeated. Just hearing the name makes me think of the Los Angeles Dodgers hurler twisted into a corkscrew position, a wild look in his eyes.

9. Rabbit Maranville: This sounds more like the name of a slick sports car than a baseball Hall of Famer.

10. Dummy Taylor: What makes this name so great is that Taylor, a New York Giants pitcher around the turn of the century, was actually deaf. Back in the day, there used to be all kinds of names like this: Frenchy, Whitey, Nippy. In our politically correct era, we just don’t see names like this anymore.

Prediction: 10 Veterans Committee picks

Months ago, I wrote about “The 10 best baseball players not in the Hall of Fame.” It remains one of my most-read entries and even got mentioned in a Mormon blog, since it included Dale Murphy. Were I really slick, I’d post the Top 10 Mormons not in the Hall of Fame. That’s a project for another time, though.

Today’s list features players I expect to be Veteran’s Committee picks sometime soon. Rather than simply reposting my old list, though, I will offer a couple of clarifications. First off, this list will not include Pete Rose, Joe Jackson and Hal Chase. Deserving though they may be as players, they remain long shots because of their involvement with gambling. If anything ever does happen, it will come from the commissioner of baseball, not the Veteran’s Committee.

The Veteran’s Committee is baseball’s fiefdom for those players not quite good enough to make the Hall of Fame fresh off their careers but able to gather sentimental appeal over time. While the Writer’s Association recognizes the Hank Aarons and Babe Ruths of baseball, the committee is for the Phil Rizzutos of the sport. There are probably dozens of these kinds of players who will one day be in the Hall of Fame. Here are ten worth considering:

1. Dom DiMaggio: At some point, committee members will awaken to the injustice surrounding DiMaggio, one of the game’s great gloves and not a bad bat either. It’s a shame it didn’t happen within his lifetime.

2. Johnny Pesky: This might seem a stretch, as Pesky had 1,455 career hits and just seven full seasons. However, if DiMaggio makes it to Cooperstown, Pesky might too. Here’s why. Pesky lost three prime seasons to World War II. In the season before and two seasons following his military service, Pesky averaged .330 and led the American League in hits each year. Barring WWII, Pesky would have had over 2,000 career hits which is usually enough to get the Veteran’s Committee talking.

Pesky would benefit from DiMaggio’s induction for a subtle reason, though. In 2003, David Halberstam came out with a well-received book, The Teammates, which described the friendship of Boston Red Sox teammates DiMaggio, Pesky, Bobby Doerr and Ted Williams. Doerr and Williams are already enshrined. If DiMaggio gets in, it would make sense to let Pesky in too.

3. Gil Hodges: Having just finished The Boys of Summer, I am putting Hodges on this list over Murphy. Murphy had slightly more career hits and home runs, but Hodges gets the nod for also being a World Series winning manager with the New York Mets. He gets a sentimental boost too because of his death from a heart attack, two days shy of his 48th birthday.

4. Urban Shocker: After my original post about the 10 best players not in the Hall of Fame, a reader suggested Urban Shocker. I agree. Not a regular starting pitcher until he was 28, he won 187 games, nearly all of them in a nine-season stretch.

5. Carl Mays: A fellow pitcher from Shocker’s era, Mays notoriously killed a batter with a pitched ball in 1920. He also had 207 career wins, a 2.92 earned run average and won at least 20 games five times.

6. Bobby Grich: A power-hitting second baseman, like Doerr, the two had similar career numbers.

7. Dave Parker: I wrote in May that Parker was a Veteran’s Committee pick waiting to happen, since he had better career number than Cooperstown members Jim Rice and Orlando Cepeda. I maintain my position.

8. Ron Santo: Another player the Veteran’s Committee seemingly exists for.

9-10. Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker: The Detroit Tigers double play combination were repeat All Stars, each getting over 2,000 career hits. Neither merited induction by the Writer’s Association, but they’re the sort of candidates the Veteran’s Committee loves: Earnest, consistent and baseball men all the way. If Rizzuto can make it into Cooperstown, Trammell and Whitaker should as well.

Top Five All-Time Baseball Giveaways

The news that the Toronto Blue Jays jettisoned right fielder Alex Rios in a waiver wire deal to the Chicago White Sox for – well – nothing, has prompted some thinking on my part.  In that the Blue Jays got, again, nothing for Rios, save for relief from his $60 million contract, I got to wondering about the other top giveaway trades in baseball history.


5. The city of Montreal gives the Expos to the city of Washington D.C. D.C should have at least made Montreal take Marion Barry in return.

4. The Boston Red Sox sell Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. Technically, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee got $120,000 when he sold Ruth to the Yankees in the winter of 1920, big money in those days.  But it went to finance a Broadway musical for Frazee and the Sox failed to win the World Series for 84 subsequent years.

Really though, this is a stupid transaction regardless of Ruth’s involvement, and it reinforces an important lesson Major League Baseball was forced to learn in the wake of the deal: Ballplayers should never be traded for musicals (or shitty ’80s sitcoms as the Expos realized after the disastrous Andre Dawson for “Who’s the Boss?” blockbuster.  Wait that never happened.)  From a simple business and marketing perspective, there’s rarely a good rate of return in these sorts of trades.  And in my book, even Matt Williams past his prime would be too high a price to pay for “Miss Saigon” or “Rent.”

3. Minor leaguer gets traded for 10 wood bats. This got a lot less funny when the player in question, John C. Odom, died of a drug overdose thereafter.

But on a lighter note…

2. George Costanza gets traded by George Steinbrenner for some fried chicken. Need I say more?

1. A Negro Leagues sports writer attempts to give Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard and Cool Papa Bell to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1937.  And never hears back. Gotta love that racist old time baseball.  Imagine how much that Pirates squad would have cleaned up during World War II.

The All Iconoclast Team: How They Did

In October 1992, Sports Illustrated published all-time Dream Teams. Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan were on the basketball team, alongside Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. Vince Lombardi coached the football team. I don’t remember too much about the hockey team (who really remembers hockey?), except it featured Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr. The baseball team had Dennis Eckersley and Mike Schmidt rubbing elbows with Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth.

It was an interesting concept and it’s given me an idea. I imagined a team full of characters, those ballplayers who defied comparison and blazed their own trail. I call it the All Iconoclast Team. Included are legendary drunks, cheats and Casey Stengel.

At starting pitcher, we have Satchel Paige, who had his own rules for staying young, a good thing since he’d be at least 103 if he were still alive today (109 if some sources are to be believed.) Paige believed in avoiding fried foods, because they “angry up the blood” and also said, “Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society— the social ramble ain’t restful.”

Paige used to bring his infield in, say he would strike out the side and do it. Here he has help. His catcher is Mike “King” Kelly, who inspired a rule change after substituting himself in mid-play to catch a foul pop. At second and third, respectfully, are Billy Martin and Pete Rose, the team leaders in beers drank and bets placed. Rounding out the infield are Jackie Robinson at first base and Alex Rodriguez at shortstop. Robinson of course breaks the team’s color barrier, while Rodriguez is the first openly gay hitter. I’m kidding, of course. Paige already broke the color barrier.

Backing up the infield, we have outfielders Ruth, Cobb and Jose Canseco. Cobb and Robinson discover an immediate, mutual animosity toward one another, each vowing to kill the other before the season’s end. Meanwhile Ruth inquires about going drinking with Martin and offers to take care of any fried foods Paige can’t handle. For his part, Canseco shakes up spring training by giving his new manager Stengel steroids. “Jose Canseco is going to make you young,” the former Athletics slugger tells the aged Yankee skipper as he injects him in a locker room toilet stall.

The following is a time-line of the team’s only season:

April 1: The season begins. Much like 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, the Iconoclasts begin on a tear, knocking out their opponent 18-1. The Tampa Bay Rays vow never to take part in such an exhibition again.

April 18: After beginning 8-0, the Iconoclasts lose their first game. Owner George Steinbrenner makes the first of many overtures about firing Stengel and promoting Billy Martin to player-manager.

April 19: Stengel inquires with Canseco about how he can get more steroids.

May 7: Back winning consistently, the Iconoclasts are having difficulty finding teams willing to face them. They destroy a Japanese All-Star squad and request to face the winner of the upcoming Little League World Series. Paige announces that when that day comes, he will call in his entire field and strike out every batter. The request goes unanswered.

May 18: Mike “King” Kelly is distraught after learning he’s been dead for 115 years.

May 29: It’s Free Bat Night at the Iconoclast’s ballpark (Veteran Stadium.) Tensions flare when Cobb goes into the stands after a heckler and receives a brutal miniature bat beating. Further trouble strikes later when Cobb learns that his $10,000 annual salary is less than 1/1000th of what Rodriguez earns.

June 4: Stengel confuses Rodriguez by attempting to speak Spanish, telling him, “Oye como va, Jose?”  Rodriguez just glares.

June 21: In a special match-up against the All Hapless Team, Rose re-enacts the thrilling conclusion to the 1970 All-Star Game by barreling, once more, into catcher Ray Fosse. “Ah nuts, we lose again,” Hapless manager Don Zimmer says.

July 16: Ruth films his first beer commercial, with Martin standing by. “They didn’t have this back in the Thirties,” an ecstatic Bambino tells Martin.

July 31: Amidst the madness that is his team, Robinson has quietly put together an outstanding, albeit infuriating season. Hitting .330, Robinson fumes when the trade deadline passes without any takers, even after Steinbrenner explains that All-Time squads rarely make deals.

August 14: Paige decides the social ramble is restful and that he can handle a small amount of fried foods.

September 6: With the season winding down, Canseco announces he will be penning a tell-all book. “You write about me, I’ll kill you,” Cobb tells him. “You kill him, I’ll kill you,” Robinson replies.

September 25: The final game over, Stengel sits in a hotel bar with a sportswriter, nursing a Scotch. “Let me tell you something,” Stengel intones. “I got a shortstop, kid from Miami doesn’t speak a word of English. My catcher is 142 years old. Babe Ruth cares more about Pabst Blue Ribbon commercials than this team. Can’t anyone here play this game? How the hell did I get addicted to steroids?”

The 10 best baseball players not in the Hall of Fame

1. Pete Rose: No surprise here. The all-time hits leader is easily the most-talented (and charismatic) player who doesn’t have a plaque hanging in Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, New York. Rose was banned from baseball in 1989 for sports betting, a shame, considering racists like Ty Cobb and Cap Anson are in Cooperstown.

2. Joe Jackson: Babe Ruth is said to have modeled his swing off “Shoeless Joe,” who owns the third best batting average all-time, .356. Alas, the Chicago White Sox great was also banned for gambling, in the wake of the infamous 1919 World Series that he helped fix.


3. Dom DiMaggio: Ted Williams had a pamphlet in his museum about why DiMaggio should be in the Hall of Fame. The Boston Red Sox centerfielder was a seven-time All Star, renowned for his defense. The knock was that he had a relatively short career. Then again, so did Sandy Koufax.

4. Dave Parker: This guy’s a Veteran’s Committee pick waiting to happen. If Jim Rice and Orlando Cepeda can get into the Hall, Parker should too. He had better career numbers than those players for hits, doubles, runs batted in, runs scored, and stolen bases. However, just like Cepeda delayed his Cooperstown bid by going to prison for drug trafficking, Parker likely hurt his chances with well-publicized cocaine abuse.

5. Bert Blyleven: The poor man’s Nolan Ryan, Blyleven had 3701 strikeouts and 287 wins over the course of his career. Much like Ryan, though, Blyleven also lost a lot of games, 250 overall to Ryan’s 292. Still, he probably has the best credentials of any pitcher not in Cooperstown.

6. Hal Chase: Yet another great player banned for gambling, Chase made a name for himself with outstanding defense at first base in the early part of the 20th century. However, he was so shameless in his association with gamblers, Ken Burns’ Baseball noted, that fans took to chanting, “What’s the odds, Hal?” when he played.

7. Stan Hack: A solid Chicago Cubs third baseman from the 1930s and ’40s, this Sacramento native had 2193 lifetime hits and a .301 lifetime average.

8. Ron Santo: Much like Hack, Santo was a good Cubs third baseman who may get into the Hall before too long through the Veteran’s Committee.

9. Dale Murphy: If character counts, Murphy should have been a first-ballot inductee. The Atlanta Braves outfielder and devout Mormon deserves a spot on the All-Time Nice Guy squad, being a throw-back player who never drank and instead did things like answer children’s questions in a regular newspaper column. He also hit 398 home runs and won back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards.

10. Dwight Gooden: Were it not for cocaine addiction derailing his career, this New York Mets phenom would have been on the inside track to Cooperstown. As it stands, his 194 victories are better than Hall of Fame hurlers Dizzy Dean and Koufax and all three pitchers had primes that lasted for similar, brief lengths.


Also check out the Tuesday feature, Does he belong in the Hall of Fame?