One man’s All-Star team after 30 years of covering baseball
BY DAN McGRATH For Sun-Times Media July 7, 2012 12:56AM
SAN DIEGO - 1986: First baseman Keith Hernandez #17 of the New York Mets fields a grounder during a 1986 game against the San Diego Padres at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Updated: August 9, 2012 6:23AM
Fifty-eight is the number in the corner of my Baseball Writers’ Association of America card. The number
descends as seniority rises. I was No. 476 when the card was issued, which means 418 former colleagues have met their maker, retired or moved on to a more reputable line of work since 1982.
A lot can happen in 30 years, including some pretty good baseball. In honor of A.J. Pierzynski, who was stiffed in All-Star balloting this year, here’s an All-Star team encompassing the 30 years I’ve been more or less licensed to cover my favorite game.
CATCHER: Gary Carter over the Pudge Brothers, Fisk and Rodriguez. It would be Johnny Bench, natch, but he had moved from behind the plate to third base when this poll opened. ‘‘Kid’’ Carter was the best I’ve seen at running a game, and he swung a dangerous bat with the game on the line.
FIRST BASE: Keith Hernandez. Eddie Murray has better numbers, but the 1980s Cardinals were a superb defensive team, and Hernandez was in the middle of everything they did, at bat and in the field. He won a batting title, a Most Valuable Player award and 11 Gold Gloves. He’d have lasted longer and done more if he’d taken better care of himself, but he sure was fun to watch.
SECOND BASE: Robbie Alomar by an eyelash over Ryne Sandberg. Both made far more impact offensively than second basemen usually do, and both were graceful, far-ranging fielders. Ryno had more power, but Alomar did everything else a little better.
SHORTSTOP: Derek Jeter. Can we stipulate his ‘‘deterioration’’ is a figment of some seamhead’s imagination? It comes down to this: With the game on the line, to whom do you want the ball hit? Whom do you want at the plate? Ozzie Smith brought fielding wizardry to the position, but Jeter is a better hitter with leadership intangibles that make him an obvious choice.
THIRD BASE: It has to be Mike Schmidt, right? Or Cal Ripken? A-Rod? Nope. I’m going with George Brett. By blending superior talent with maximum effort, he embodied how a winning ballplayer went about his business. His goose-bumps-inducing Hall of Fame speech revealed what drove him. Could he play. And, man, did he care.
LEFT FIELD: Barry Bonds. How could I? Simple: Before the cream, the clear and other things turned him into a linebacker-sized freak show, Bonds was the best player of his generation. Other than smile, there wasn’t a thing he couldn’t do on a baseball field. Off the field, not so much. I loved Rickey Henderson’s quirky skill set, but Bonds was the better ballplayer.
CENTER FIELD: Junior Griffey would be in the best-ever discussion if injuries hadn’t started messing with him before he was 31. Still, the body of work is Cooperstown-quality on the first ballot. Special mention to Jim Edmonds for those highlight-reel catches. And he really knew how to wear a uniform.
RIGHT FIELD: Andre Dawson. The 1987 National League MVP season he unveiled to Chicago was almost an anomaly because he had ravaged his knees on the wretched turf of Olympic Stadium in Montreal. Before that happened, he was viewed as the best all-around player in baseball. Tony Gwynn and his pea-shooter bat produced eight batting titles and a .338 lifetime average, but Dawson did more damage.
STARTING PITCHER: I hear the arguments for Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez and saw Jack Morris at his spit-in-your-eye best, but I like Greg Maddux. He could have done a little better in the postseason, but I rarely missed an opportunity to watch him pitch, live or on television. An artist at work.
CLOSER: It’s not just New York hype that offers Mariano Rivera as the best ever. Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter are worthy Hall of Famers, and Trevor Hoffman probably joins them: He was the career saves leader before Rivera overtook him. But Dennis Eckersley is my choice. During his seasons with the Athletics, it was game over once he stood up in the bullpen. In 1990, Eck had more saves (48) than baserunners allowed (45).