First published on March 21, 2017.
One of the best things about both baseball and opera is history. Fans of both sports, and trust me, opera is a vicious contact sport when done properly, have a wealth of statistics, clips, lore and legend to help them argue about just who is the greatest. Ironically, quite often there is an intersection of the two sports. I hang out on Twitter with some very knowledgeable baseball minds.
A true baseball fan is as hooked on the past as the present. I have an uncle by marriage who once told me I was not a true baseball fan until I chose a player his rookie season and followed him all the way to the Hall of Fame. Once that happened, the game would never be the same. He was right. I have the clippings of My Man Johnny from his rookie season all the way to the day he became Immortal. The game was never the same after he retired. It had lost some of its magic. Maybe I had grown up, but I don’t know about that. My Man had retired.
It has never been the same. Instead, the past is rooted in this beautiful golden rose colored haze of all that was, the home runs, the glory, and the greatest moment of my life occurred on October 21, 1976, when My Man hit his second of the game in the ninth. A few days later, Sports Illustrated came out with a cover How Good Are the Reds, with him hitting it. Typical, I taped a copy of the cover onto the mirror in my bedroom at my parents’. A few years ago, when they sold the house and my sister and I were back, packing up, I carefully cut the picture off the mirror and brought it back to New Mexico. One of my BFFs owns a frame shop. She mounted it on a mirror, then framed it with the appropriate red frame. Have recently moved, I’m getting ready to hang it by my desk.
One of the guys I follow on Twitter made a list of who he thought were the greatest. I challenged him to limit himself to one player, per position. Of course, I had to do the same thing. I’m not really listing them in any order.
- Catcher – Johnny Bench
- Right hand pitcher – Don Drysdale Left hand pitcher – Sandy Koufax
- Left – Ted Williams
- Center – Willie Mays
- Right – Hank Aaron
- Third – Brooks Robinson
- Second – Joe Morgan
- Short – Tony Kubek
- First – Pete Rose
- Manager – Sparky Anderson
There are reasons for not choosing Cal Ripken, Jr. and picking Tony Kubek instead. If you look at my infield, it is almost impenetrable. Both Koufax and Drysdale in their prime will not be allowing many runs. Anything that goes through the infield is probably going to be snagged. The outfield is massive power – overwhelming power. You have speed with Morgan and Rose. If anything I would add Bob Gibson as the third starting pitcher. If so, then Nolan Ryan would be the next logical choice.
This is heresy, but I do wonder about the legends of yesteryear. I think modern players may be greater. I’m still trying to figure out why the Babe is considered greater than Hammerin’ Hank. In my humble estimation, he is the greatest, period. I don’t think yesterday’s players are greater. In many ways, we just don’t know. It is rather obvious many of them were not in the same physical shape today’s people are. They were also dealing with the luxury of rail travel. No matter how common it is, jet lag obviously takes its toll on the modern guys.
There’s something else. One of my favorite Twitter people is Bob Kendrick, who is the president of the Negro League Museum, a national treasure. I’ve learned a heck of a lot from him. The Kansas City museum has a remarkable collection of old photos. One of the things I’ve noticed is the fact that the players from the old Negro League seem to be in better shape than their MLB counterparts. My problem, though, is once again, the men were legendary. But, how would they compare today when you add in the physical stresses of the jet age? I could be wrong and a Buck O’Neil is going to be a Buck O’Neil during any era.
Anyone who loves baseball knows it’s a good argument, for either side.