A Different Kind of All-Time Team

I’m going to depart from the traditional all-time team format for a minute. Instead of looking at the best players at particular positions, I want to highlight the players who had the most impact on the way the game is played. Some of these are the best, i.e. Babe Ruth, and others are clearly not, i.e. Charlie Comiskey. Some of these achievements are closer to the realm of legend than that of fact. Nevertheless, consider this a transformative all-time team:

CatcherJohnny Bench – His career began at about the same time modern catching gloves were invented. He popularized the one-handed style of catching, while he also put a premium on discovering the most efficient way to dispose of baserunners.
1st BasemenCharlie ComiskeyLegend has it, Comiskey was the original first basemen to play off the bag. He was also an influential manager, scumbag owner, and early supporter of the original Player’s Association.
2nd BasemenJackie Robinson – Hard to say how much he changed the playing of second base, but he sure changed the entire game of baseball.
Short StopCal Ripken, Jr. – Proved that shortstops did not have to look like Marty Marion, Ray Oiler, Mark Belanger, or Ozzie Smith. Ripken ushered in the age of big, power-hitting shortstops. It is tough to imagine Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, or Miguel Tejada without Ripken first.
3rd BasemenBrooks Robinson – Proved third basemen could do things never done before. Invented the play where a third basemen charges the ball, barehands it, and throws to first for the out. Now players run drills to practice the play.
Right FieldBabe Ruth – Similar to Robinson. Ruth made right field a bastion of home run. His biggest innovation was probably the introduction of the uppercut swing. Regardless, Ruth changed the game irrevocably by bringing about the Lively Ball Era.
Center FieldKing Kelly – We have large chunks of the modern rule book to make King Kelly‘s plays illegal. Legally, he supposedly invented the hook slide, the hit-and-run, and backing up first base by the catcher. Illegally, he was known to sub himself in during a pop fly and catch it from the bench. To stop this, now substitutions can only be made during timeouts. He also would allow runners to pass him on the basepaths, which is now an automatic out. He was also instrumental in the creation of the infield fly rule.
Left FieldTed Williams – Proved conclusively that defense was nearly irrelevant to the world of left fielders. Consider him an important first step on the path to Manny Ramirez. If you can hit, nobody cares about anything else.
Designated HitterDon Baylor – The first serious, in-his-prime player to spend most of his time at DH. Prior to Baylor, DH’s were mostly afterthoughts and often platooned. Baylor made the DH an integral part of the Angels lineup in the late 1970’s.
Starting PitcherTom Seaver – Gil Hodges and Pitching Coach Rube Walker invented the five-man rotation in large measure to save the arm of a young Tom Seaver. Unlike many pitchers of the 1970’s, Seaver never topped 300 innings in a season. He never led the league in starts or innings pitched.
RelieverBruce Sutter – The first true closer.
ManagerHarry Wright – The first manager.

Most of these players were great, though few were the absolute best. They did, however, dramatically impact the way we play the game today. Who else fits this criteria of transformative? Who else changed the way we play baseball?

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3 Comments on “A Different Kind of All-Time Team”

  1. Millsy Says:

    Awesome post here, PhD. I have no idea about the lore of this, but who was the guy that invented climbing the wall to rob a home run? Was that any sort of significant step in outfielding? Just a curiosity, as this is a fun topic.

    Maybe including Dennis Eckersley would be interesting. The first pitcher to show that starters can be transformed. Maybe without him, we wouldn’t have seen games closed by Derek Lowe and John Smoltz.

  2. sportsphd Says:

    Climbing the wall? My first guess would be Sam Rice. In the 1925 World Series he famously fell into the stands over the wall in right-center. He wrote a letter, opened after he died, stating that he really did make the catch. But it is a hard area to judge. Did Rice climb the wall to make the catch? I don’t know; there is no film.

    Walls have gotten taller in the last 50 years, and the addition of padding makes them more climbable. So the real answer is probably someone more modern. Al Gionfriddo makes a famous catch off of Joe Dimaggio in the 1947 World Series, but he literally reaches over the left field wall. No climbing necessary. The first modern example I can think of is Joe Rudi’s catch from the 1972 World Series. I can’t find any video online, but you can read about it here. He definitely climbed the wall to make the catch. Did he do it first? Probably not, but it is the oldest one I can think of where I know the wall got climbed.

  3. verdun2 Says:

    Fun list. Won’t argue with Sutter as 1st modern closer (1 inning save situation only), but back in 1957 the Braves brought up Don McMahon who in 400 some odd games started exactly 2 (both in 1963 with Houston). So there is precedent for a strictly bullpen man. And of course I know you, as a Twins fan, know about Firpo Marberry (not strictly a reliever).

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