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:
Catcher – Johnny 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 Basemen – Charlie Comiskey – Legend 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 Basemen – Jackie Robinson – Hard to say how much he changed the playing of second base, but he sure changed the entire game of baseball.
Short Stop – Cal 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 Basemen – Brooks 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 Field – Babe 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 Field – King 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 Field – Ted 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 Hitter – Don 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 Pitcher – Tom 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.
Reliever – Bruce Sutter – The first true closer.
Manager – Harry 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?