Columnists, Sports

7th Inning Stretch: With no baseball to look forward to, I look back at the game’s greats

These are strange times. Nearly every sport has been cancelled, Tom Brady is a Tampa Bay Buccaneer and we might not see baseball until July, if at all. It feels like we’ve been social distancing for ages, when in reality it’s been roughly two weeks.

I don’t know about you, but this new dystopian reality left me nostalgic. That feeling was only exacerbated by the latest Twitter trend that temporarily consumed the baseball world:

Marc Carig of The Athletic ignited a debate of “what’s your must-win lineup?” The conversation evolved to other variations as well, including people’s all-time favorite lineups. Many writers, fans and even players weighed in.

Watching the lineups flood Twitter, I began to think of my own. What else is there to do?

Like many Boston sports fans born in the late 90’s, my love of baseball began in 2004. My first memories as a baseball fan are from the 2004 postseason, with an early 2000’s Montreal Expos game sprinkled in. And like many of my generation, my random and encyclopedic knowledge of the game is a result of hours scouring box scores in the newspaper and playing “MVP Baseball” on my GameCube.

Perhaps this is a factor of my nostalgia, my age or the undeniable imprint of “the steroids era,” but I contend that the late 1990’s into the 2000’s, the era of my baseball induction, is perhaps the greatest generation in baseball history. Misconduct aside, it was surely one of the most entertaining and talented.

With my old “MVP Baseball 2005” franchise on my mind, here is my lineup, a best-of-my-childhood edition:

Catcher: Ivan Rodriguez

First Base: Albert Pujols

Second Base: Chase Utley

Third Base: Alex Rodriguez

Shortstop: Derek Jeter

Outfield: Vladimir Guerrero

Outfield: Ken Griffey Jr.

Outfield: Ichiro Suzuki

Designated Hitter: David Ortiz

Pitcher: Pedro Martinez

Reliever: Mariano Rivera 

Catcher: Ivan Rodriguez

I was a bit torn here — Joe Mauer was a tempting choice — but Pudge’s numbers were just too impressive. In a 15-year span from 1992 to 2007, he was an All-Star 14 times with 13 Gold Gloves, seven consecutive Silver Slugger awards and the 1999 American League MVP. I can only imagine how many shelves Rodriguez needs to house all his trophies.

First Base: Albert Pujols

Pujols was always my favorite non-Red Sox player growing up. And his 2000’s may have been the most dominant decade of any hitter ever. Seriously. Pujols won Rookie of the Year in 2001, and only got better from there. Between 2001 and 2011, Pujols won three MVPs and finished in the top five another seven times, made nine All Star teams and averaged 40 home runs and 121 runs batted in over that span. 

Second Base: Chase Utley

In the days before Sox Dustin Pedroia and Yankee Robinson Cano battled for the position’s crown, Utley was the best second baseman in the big leagues. From 2003 through 2010, Utley averaged 22 home runs with 81 RBIs on his way to five straight All-Star selections and four consecutive Silver Sluggers.

Third Base: Alex Rodriguez

A-Rod certainly would not have a spot on my favorite lineup, but his numbers are undeniable. In a dominating stretch from 1996 to 2011, Rodriguez won three MVPs with 10 Silver Sluggers, 14 All-Star selections and an average of 39 homers and 117 RBIs. Plus, he even led the league in steroids.

Shortstop: Derek Jeter

I’m the captain of the Jeter-is-overrated fanclub. But, he earned his spot here nonetheless. Starting with his ROY in 1996, Jeter made 13 All Star teams through 2012, with eight top-10 MVP finishes and five Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers respectively. 

Outfield: Vladimir Guerrero

This Hall of Famer had a spectacular 16-year career, including a nine-year run with eight All-Star appearances, seven Silver Sluggers, one MVP and five other top-10 finishes. He had a cannon for an arm and could golf pitches in the dirt out of the park. His son Vlad Jr. has some big shoes to fill.

Outfield: Ken Griffey Jr.

Though Griffey’s prime had ended by 2000, I give him props for longevity: he played 22 years with 13 All-Star appearances, 10 Gold Gloves and seven Silver Sluggers. He hit 630 homers, and in addition to sharing a birthday with me, he won the MVP the year I was born. Coincidence? I think not.

Outfield: Ichiro Suzuki

Few players have defined a franchise like Ichiro. Or reached a level of first-name fame. Ichiro broke onto the scene in 2001, winning Rookie of the Year and MVP, and amassing a Gold Glove and All-Star spot every year from 2001 to 2010. He ended his career with more than 3,000 hits and one of the most iconic batting stances of all time.

Designated Hitter: David Ortiz

Where do I even begin? Big Papi re-defined the term “clutch,” putting the Red Sox on his back as they broke an 86-year championship drought. He finished top five in MVP voting in each of his first five seasons in Boston, and though 2016 falls outside of my self-policed time period, it is worth noting that Ortiz produced one of the greatest final seasons of any athlete ever. He is arguably the most important player in Sox history.

Pitcher: Pedro Martinez

You could make a case for Pedro Martinez as the best pitcher of all time. Postseason heroics aside, Pedro won three Cy Youngs and finished in the top five seven times in an eight-year span. During that period, he won 134 games and posted an earned run average below 2.40 six times. 1997-2004 Pedro was as dominant as the sport has seen, and there are those who believe that no pitcher should ever win MVP because Martinez was snubbed in ’99.

Reliever: Mariano Rivera

There’s no question that Mo is the greatest relief pitcher ever. He is the first player to ever receive unanimous election to the Hall of Fame, owns a likely insurmountable record of 652 saves, and he did it all mostly with one filthy pitch. He even finished top five in Cy Young voting five times, which is pretty telling for a pitcher who only topped 80 innings in a season twice in 19 years.

So there you have it. I would take that lineup to win any day, against any other era. And in this time without baseball now or in the foreseeable future, we are left with Twitter trends and nostalgic debates to keep ourselves entertained. 

If all else fails, I could always break out my DVD set of the 2004 ALCS and World Series.

One Comment

  1. Written like a stupid AL East fan. By the way, baseball was played before 1996. While you do spew a somewhat impressive stream of statistics, my impression is that you the only thing you know about playing baseball is what you have read in a book.