Last year, I posted on my Facebook account about my favorite major league baseball players by position. Now that the 2013 season is underway, I figured I could expand and expound…and change my lineup on occasion.
And, yes, several guys will be “batting out of order.”
CF: Lloyd Moseby, Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto’s inaugural season was 1977, our last year in Bel Air, Md. While I had already developed a borderline insane passion for the Baltimore Orioles just down the road, my brother, Pete, started following the Jays (I think because of their super-cool uniforms). For several years, the unis were the only thing cool about the franchise. They had the typical expansion team win-column woes and their stadium, Exhibition Stadium, was honestly better suited to the NHL Heritage Classic than baseball (when a franchise’s home debut needs a Zamboni to clear the snow, well…). But starting in the early 1980s and going through the early ’90s, the Jays were the very definition of a cool franchise. And Moseby (and, to me, Tony Fernandez) embodied that cool factor.
1B: Darin Erstad, California/Los Angeles Angels
To me, at least growing up, the anti-Moseby was Erstad, who I had the pleasure of watching in person at the University of Nebraska and on TVs later. Even in college, Erstad was a hustler, a grinder, a type of player who could carry a team on his back with a refuse-to-lose mentality in a sport where it’s extremely difficult to have one clutch player deliver again and again and again. Thankfully, major league success never watered down that approach, although he could have lasted two or three more seasons if he had bothered to find a lower gear.
RF: Eric Davis, Cincinnati Reds
Coiled power. That’s how I remember Eric Davis, who — like Erstad — had the unfortunate knack to get hurt a lot…but also had to battle colon cancer late in his career. Not only did he make a courageous comeback to knock out cancer, but he also returned to the field and played well enough to help the Orioles in the ALCS and win the Roberto Clemente Award in 1997.
LF: Bo Jackson, Kansas City Royals
Bo could do everything. What else needs to be said? The last true mythical baseball superhero — and I’m still waiting for time to see the 30 For 30 special.
C: Gary Carter, Montreal Expos
Ah, yes. The Kid…who played with a childlike joy unlike anybody I have seen. It was so sad to hear of inoperable brain cancer developing and eventually claiming his life, but nothing could dampen his spirit.
DH: Ken Singleton, Baltimore Orioles
There are players who don’t grab the limelight but, for whatever reason, turn into your favorites. Ken Singleton is that player for me. In the late ’70s, he wasn’t the driving engine of the Oriole powerhouses — but he developed into a major cog in the engine during those late-season drives which culminated with the 1983 title. He also played with such a grace and fluidity that I wanted to play right field for a long time…until I realized my arm was best suited for second base…and I didn’t have the talent to play anyway. Now he has to be a broadcaster for the Yankees. Of all jobs.
2B: Joe Morgan, Cincinnati Reds
Originally, I had Bobby Grich as my starter here…but Morgan, like Davis and Erstad, played with a demonstrable fire I’ve always admired in baseball. Say what you want to about Morgan the broadcaster, but Morgan the baseball player was unparalleled.
SS: Ozzie Smith, St. Louis Cardinals
I’m noticing something. Either I like my players with grit and determination, or I gravitate to those with grace and smoothness. Nobody, and I mean nobody, in baseball personified smooth like Ozzie Smith did at short.
3B: Bill Pecota, Kansas City Royals
Yes, George Brett got the headlines and deserved every accolade thrown his way. But the third baseman I identified with most was Pecota, who was a fan favorite at the Royals’ AAA club in Omaha. He just did things the right way, prepared hard, practiced hard, played hard and didn’t complain. In this age of superinflated egos (and contracts to match), that attitude needs to be highlighted more and more.
SP: Mike Flanagan, Baltimore Orioles
Man, it shook me when Flanny committed suicide. More than Palmer, Stone or even Scotty McGregor (a similar pitcher to No. 46, mind you), Flanagan was what I thought I might be as a pitcher only left-handed: having to mix pitches, mix speeds, mix locations, using a chess approach to his craft rather than a sledgehammer. He didn’t have the 95-mph fastball of some, but he used his brain extremely well.
SP: Dave Stieb, Blue Jays
Countering Flanagan was Stieb, who pitched with probably the biggest chip on a shoulder that I have ever seen. He constantly seemed to be pissed…pissed at life, pissed at the sport, pissed at the opposing team, pissed at whoever was in the batter’s box 60 feet down the road — and he was going to make them pay with every pitch. Everybody was gonna pay. I loved that approach.
SP: Nolan Ryan, Rangers
Simply the best pitcher of his generation. Talk about intimidation, too. Stieb had it, but nobody in the ’70s or ’80s could intimidate like Nolan Ryan could just by walking on the hill. And if that wasn’t enough, just ask Robin Ventura what an uppercut at 30 mph looked like up close and personal.
SP: Tom Seaver, Reds
Seaver reminds me of a combination of Flanagan, Ryan and Stieb, with the guile of Flanagan, burning competitive desire of Stieb and the stuff of Ryan. Why the Mets let him go in 1977 was beyond me — and why the Reds traded him back to the Mets still makes no sense.
RP: Dan Quisenberry, Kansas City Royals
Talk about guile. His fastball couldn’t break a window pane, but that submarine delivery was so effective that it not only saved his career but turned him into the closer of the early 1980s. His wit in the clubhouse also made him a joy to be around, I’m told. Like Carter and Flanagan, Quiz was gone far too soon.
Manager: Earl Weaver, Baltimore Orioles
The way it sounds, you pretty much knew exactly where you stood with the Earl of Baltimore each and every minute of the day. He could spout off without thinking (ask Terry Crowley) and you could argue his use of pitchers (Jim Palmer, anyone?), but he could motivate like none other in the dugout and inflame a fan base something fierce. Irascible? Yes. Dedicated? Absolutely. For well over a decade, Weaver was Baltimore and Baltimore was Earl Weaver.