I spend a lot of my time on social media these days, and by doing such, find myself drawn into those personality quizzes. “What background character from The Simpsons Are You?” Or “What Color is Your Aura?”
I’ve become pretty good at just letting my eyes gloss over as I skim past them. Recently, however, was one that caught my eye and wouldn’t let go. The question posited was the following:
“Who is your favorite MLB players by position during YOUR lifetime…this is pretty tough if you’re a fan.”
I initially looked at it and assumed it would be a lot easier than it wound up being. Most of the “starters” were who I expected, but some of the competition was a LOT closer than I would have imagined. With the All-Star teams being announced today, in that same spirit, I present the Trippin’ Baseballs All-Time (so far) Team of My Lifetime.
C – Catcher was initially one of the more difficult positions for me to fill. Remember, we are looking to favorites, not necessarily “best.” I had almost settled for Mike Piazza, who once signed a baseball for me until I remembered another catcher who signed my baseball. The most beloved backup catcher in MLB history “Grandpa” David Ross. Ross always seemed to come through in the clutch, be it a meaningless Arizona spring game or Game 7 of the World Series. His presence and contributions during the Series certainly didn’t hurt his candidacy.
Runners up: Geovany Soto and Willson Contreras. Sense a theme yet? I promise the rest of the list isn’t ALL Cubs, but having a Rookie of the Year credit for the former and a World Series ring for the latter are pretty hard to argue against.
1B – First base was almost a slam dunk. Anthony Rizzo gets the nod here. Again, World Series credit, but here’s the thing. I’ve loved Rizzo since he was in the Red Sox system. I don’t know where I would have read his story, but I have an ex-roommate who was a diehard Red Sox fan, so I’m assuming he had something to do with it. When Rizzo was traded to the Padres, I told my brother to keep an eye on Rizz. That he would be a good one. (The rest of my family are Padre fans. I don’t know how to get them on the right (Cub) side.) In fact, I saw Rizzo’s last at bat as a Padre when he struck out against Andrew Cashner–who he would be traded for within a few brief weeks.Enough background. Anthony is an amazing team leader who is one of the type first basemen in the league. He stuck it out during the Cubs’ 100 loss seasons and led the team to the promised land in 2016 and for that, I salute you, Mr Rizzo. All that and I didn’t even touch on his amazing charity and community service work for sick children, a cause very close to my heart.
Runners up: Mark Grace and JT Snow. At my very first Cubs Convention ever I was an ill prepared, awkward 14 year-old. Unlike these days, there was a special pre-convention luncheon with many of the current and former players in a much less crowded setting than at the convention itself. At the time I had a PE and Study Skills teacher who had spent some brief time in the majors, which to me made him the coolest guy ever. He had also played baseball with Mark Grace at SDSU. When he learned I was going to the convention he told me to use his name if i got to meet Grace. I got my chance at this luncheon, and though its entirely possible Grace didn’t remember this guy at all, he was very kind to me and treated me like my teacher was his best friend who asked him to take care of me. It was a great experience. J.T. Snow was the Angels first baseman when I was working on a project for my church and contacted the Angels to see if they could set me up with something from him since his uniform number was significant to our pastor and the fact that he was an Angel tied into that. In addition to the item for the pastor (which I cannot, for the life of me think of) enclosed in the envelope was a signed card addressed to me. While I’m now sure that was courtesy of the PR/Community Relations Department, at the time I’d swear it was from Snow, himself. In other news, it broke my heart when he signed with the Giants. Still stings a bit.
2B – Second base was really no contest at all. For a long time my all-time favorite player was Ryne Sandberg…things may have slightly altered that ranking in the intervening years, but he is very strongly in my top-3 players of all time, which does have a certain amount of fluidity to it. I’ve already explained how i became a Cubs fan, in large thanks to the unknowing contributions of Mr Sandberg. I still collect his cards when I can find them and one year at the Cubs Convention I had the good fortune to get a jersey signed and had about 30 seconds to let him know what he meant to me. I think I managed to convey that without looking too stupid. Hopefully that won’t be the last chance I get to talk to him.
Runners up: Roberto Alomar and Javy Baez. I grew up in San Diego and was starting to get into baseball in a big way almost around the same time that Roberto Alomar was getting his first at bats with the Padres and I was a fan from the beginning. I even rooted for him in Toronto, which made me, more or less an ancillary Blue Jays fan. I remember hearing that he lived i the hotel that overlooked the field in the SkyDome (yes, SKYDOME! I don’t need no Rogers Centre) and thinking that was the coolest thing ever. Not that he would get to ever watch a ballgame from his apartment, but the idea of it all. I got to meet Robby a few weeks ago and while not overly chatty, he was perfectly pleasant and signed my ball and posed for a photo, so he’s aces in my book.
I liked Javy Baez when the Cubs drafted him and lot of those human interest stories came out and I learned about his MLB logo tattoo and his overwhelming confidence in himself. That hasn’t changed at all, but this year he has become a more complete ball player, and I only slightly hesitate when I claim that he has become one of the elite players in the league. If he is not a 2018 All Star I will riot,
SS- We finally reach one of the players that I didn’t ever get to see on regular basis, Cal Ripken. I do distinctly remember his chase to Gehrig’s consecutive games record. For the record-breaking game I know I made sure to get my tiny baby brother and hold him in front of the TV and told him what it was that he was watching and that it was doubtful that any of his friends could honestly tell him that they had seen the game as well. I have since learned a lot more about Ripken and read his autobiography and it’s nice to know that I was a good judge of character, even way back in my youth.
Runner up: Nomar Garciaparra. In the crop of young talented shortstops that all sort of burst onto the scene at the same time, including Derek Jeter and Miguel Tejada, I was always partial to Garciaparra. I’m sure part of it was his wacky name, but even more, he was a great 2 way player. He could hit up a storm and then go out and make some amazing plays in the field. In fact, I was so taken by “Nomah” that somewhere in the back of my closet is a #5 Red Sox jersey. I’m not overly proud of owning the jersey, since I now hate the Sox, if you could keep this just between us I’d appreciate it.
3B -Here’s the slam dunk. Easiest entry on the list, right? Welllll, not quite. I mean, once I got my head on straight yes it was simple, but initially one of my runners-up gave me a reason to step back and reexamine things. So yes, my third baseman is quite obviously my man-crush, Kristopher Bryant. I had a chance to meet Bryant after a USD alumni game and he couldn’t not have been nicer to the few of us waiting for him. He signed anything and everything with any inscription you wanted and posed for photos for everyone who wanted one. He was continued this benevolence to the fans even now as a bonafide superstar. The only difference is the size of the crowd and accessibility. Deep down he’s still just the kid from Vegas, playing in Chicago by way of San Diego. By the way, it also doesn’t hurt Bryant’s case that 4 of my siblings are USD alumni,.
Runner up: Ken Caminiti. Cammy was the Padres third baseman during their improbable World Series run in 1998. He was a creature of almost mythical tales. The Padres had a series in Mexico agains the Mets and something that Cammy had done (nothing in small measures) left him lying on the trainer’s table with IVs in both of his arms.yelled for a Snickers bar, downed the candy, proceeded to pull out the IVs and go out and hit 2 home runs. He was a “gamer” and the kind of player that ran out every ball like their hair was on fire. When we lost him to a suspected cocaine overdose (remember, nothing in moderation) I was heartbroken. He was playing for Houston and wasn’t the same ball player, but he played with the same intensity. I miss that.
OF -My main outfield consists of Tony Gwynn, Mike Trout and Steve Finley. I know, one of these things is not like the other. Gwynn is a genuine Hall of Famer. Trout is certainly building a career with an eye toward Cooperstown and title as an all time great, and then there’s Steve Finley. I loved Steve Finley as a Padre and hated him whenever he played for another team, which happened a lot. Finley was one of those scrappy ball players who always found a way to win, be it a walk, a home run or a highlight reel catch. He quietly went about his business but there was a fire that burned deep. Like Gwynn and Caminiti Finley was a keystone to the Padres teams I used to go and watch almost every Friday night in early high school.
Tony Gwynn should be obvious. If you were a kid in San Diego with even the most minimal interest in baseball and were born between 1975 and 1990 and Gwynn isn’t on your list of favorite players you have seen, there is something wrong with you. I’m not even going to sugarcoat that. You’re just wrong.
Mike Trout is quite possibly the most exciting player in the game today. Javy may give him a slight run for his money, but Trout has been doing it all longer and more constantly. I was at the game where Trout hit for the cycle and the palpable nerves and excitement when he came up only needing the home run to compete it was absolutely electric. I cant even begin to describe the feeling in the park when that ball left the field of play.
Runner up: Tim Salmon. Speaking of fishy-named Angels outfielders, one of my very favorites is Salmon. I wanted him in my starting lineup, but there was no one to remove to find a place for him. In fact, the runners up/bench players can probably thank the KingFish for their inclusion. I wasn’t going to make this list and completely leave Mr Salmon off. He came to the majors about the same time as JT Snow, which was when I decided to add the Anaheim Angels to my fandom. Timing worked out well.
DH -Vladimir Guerrero is one of the most fun players that I have ever seen play. Putting him at DH kind of cancels one of the most fun things about his skill set, which is his absolute cannon of an arm in right field. Again, around the time that Vlad was destroying the American League my ex-roommate and I were attending a lot of Angels games and Mr Guerrero was the most exciting guy on the field. He is a well deserved, if surprising (at least to me) second ballot Hall of Famer.
SP -Seeing Greg Maddux in anything other than a Braves or Cubs jersey was alway unsettling to me, yet thats how I saw him the most. As a Padre or Dodger. He may have bee older and lost a bit of spring in his step but he was still obviously the smartest guy on that field and an amazing pitcher. Of course with WGN and TBS being the cable behemoths that they were in my youth I had plenty of chances to watch him pitch for both Atlanta and Chicago. I loved that he looked nothing like a professional athlete and yet, he would go out to the mound and dominate all of the hulked up hitters of the mid-90s. I imagine he would throw a “Maddux” (compete game of under 100 pitches) and then go sit in his personal club chair in the clubhouse wearing a smoking jacket and read Tolstoy or something while sipping on tea in a china cup with his initials in the cup design. If I’m wrong, don’t tell me. I like my Greg Maddux fanfic as is.
Runner up: Andy Benes. One day soon I will get around to writing about the Padres coming to visit me in the hospital when I was 11. Benes was the big name of the group that came to visit. No Tony, sadly. The experience was surreal and actually served to cheer me up, in the exact way that most cloying hospital attempts to do so do the exact opposite. I always liked Benes, but now that we had a bond I had to root for him. Even at the end of his career when he became a godless Cardinal. That was hard.
RP -Here’s where I cheat a little bit. My choice for reliever is Kerry Wood, but I’m mostly including him for his work as a starter or closer. He did work as a middle reliever briefly so I can count him. My list, my rules. Kid K was supposed to be the miracle worker who brought a World Series to Wrigley Field. He wasn’t able to, and many of the villains in his story shared a dugout with Wood. His inability to bring a Series to the Friendly Confines was not due to lack of effort or heart. I’m happy to note that when the Cubs won it all in 2016, Kerry was a part of the organization and got his ring.
Runner up: Turk Wendell. When Cubs fans didn’t have much to look forward to, getting the ultra-superstitious Wendell into the game was one of those few bright spots. He wore “lucky” #13, refused to step on the chalk foul lines and chewed black licorice. Don’t worry though, he brushed his teeth in the dugout between innings. He was a solid reliever, but sometimes its fun just to have an oddball on the team to root for. Wendell isn’t going to be the last one that makes my list.
CP – Much Like Tony Gwynn, if you were of a certain age and a Padre fan, there was no way that you didn’t love Trevor Hoffman with every fiber of your being. If “Hell’s Bells” doesn’t give you chills and make you think of Hoffman you might be dead inside. When he was in line for save 479, to give him the all time most saves in history, my roommates and I watched the story of him getting 478 in the Padres second to last home game, turned off the tv, looked at each other and decided we were going to get in the car ad drive to San Diego for the game the next day. There was no guarantee that the Padres would win, or even that if they won there would be a save opportunity for Trevor, but dang it, if there was a chance, we’d be there. We all blew off work and Trevor rewarded our boldness with save 479. Luckily my manager at the time was a huge Padres fan and when I told what i had done, he just sort of rolled his eyes at me and I still had a job.
Runner up: Rod Beck. Beck, to me, was initially just the Giants closer. I had no feelings toward him, one way or the other (I hadn’t cultivated my hatred of the Giants and their fans yet.) Later, as his career was winding down the Cubs signed him as a cheap gamble. He lived in a trailer behind the outfield walls in Iowa and he would greet the fine folks of Des Moines in that trailer after games, cold brews in hand one for “Shooter” and one for whoever his new friend was. I love that story oh so much. Like Cammy, we lost Beck far too soon.
Manager- It’s really hard to not put Joe Maddon in this spot. How do you decline a man who brought the World Series to the North Side? I made it easy on myself. I didn’t. I know a lot of Cubs fans have issue with Joe constantly fiddling with lineups and some of his antics, but bottom line. Strip all of that away and he is a great manager. He takes chances and challenges things that are expected to be boiler plate to his advantage. I think Joe is a lot of fun and a very smart baseball man and a very smart man in general. Easily my favorite manager that I’ve ever watched.
Runners up: Bruce Bochy and Mike Scioscia. These guys were the keys to my second and third favorite teams as I was growing up. Now Bochy has moved to the Giants, which makes it really hard for me to root for him, but Scioscia is still here in Anaheim. Both are brilliant baseball men who have had many members of their staffs move on to managerial roles of their own (including Maddon under Mike Scioscia) which is the mark of a truly great leader and teacher.
There it is. My totally subjective, biased Hall of Fame–this round solely for players I saw play (or manage) in person. If this turns out ok, maybe there will be a meeting of the Veteran’s Committee and another installment. If that happens, please let me know the criteria you’d like to see the Committee to have to operate under. After all, its no fun just adding Willie Mays Bob Feller, Babe Ruth etc. Thin about it and if you’re out there please let me know!
Until next time,
Keep Trippin’ Baseballs!