Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

July 4, 2013

Baseball Debate: Aligning Stars of the Past 50 Seasons

Staff writers break last half-century into three eras

Aaron Snyder
The Independent

ASHLAND — Baseball and the Fourth of July go together like a piping hot bratwurst and an ice cold beer. Or, perhaps you prefer peanuts and Cracker Jack with a souvenir cup of fresh-squeezed lemonade.

As our 50 states celebrate their collective freedom as a country, three of the biggest baseball fanatics on The Independent’s staff take a look back at the sport’s last 50 seasons. Each handpicked his All-Star team from the particular era in which he grew up.

The teams consist of a starting lineup, including a designated hitter, a five-man starting rotation and a closer.

Also, as you’ll notice, we decided that we should avoid duplicates.

Editor Mark Maynard turned 7 in 1964, night editor Adam VanKirk was just 3 in 1980, and I, sports editor Aaron Snyder, was 10 years old when my favorite player, Barry Larkin, became the first shortstop in history to have a 30-30 season (30 home runs, 30 stolen bases) in 1996. I felt the need to mention Larkin now because I reluctantly left him off the ’96-present day team.

Before the fireworks shower over the night sky sparking ooh’s and aah’s, take a few minutes to peruse our lists of diamond favorites who provided a few ooh’s and aah’s themselves throughout their careers.

Discuss! Debate!

The Snyder Era (1996-now)

The two most challenging obstacles for me were the fact that I grew up in the “Steroids Era” and that the time frame presented some very close position battles.

I can’t promise that my players never touched performance-enhancing drugs, but I did manage to stay away from names like McGwire, Sosa, Palmiero and even A-Rod.

As for Barry Bonds, well, he didn’t need any extra help cracking into this lineup (I’m not saying he didn’t accept it, though).

Derek Jeter narrowly beat out Larkin at short. Miguel Cabrera, even though only about halfway through his career, edged Chipper Jones at the hot corner. Edgar Martinez earned the DH spot over Jim Thome. Ivan Rodriguez got the nod over Mike Piazza behind the plate, mainly for his defense.

I’ll put my lineup against any arm in major league history.

My worst hitter, in terms of batting average, accumulated 3,060 hits in his career (Craig Biggio).

My starting pitching does drop off slightly after No. 3, but Roy Halladay has thrown a pair of no-hitters and 300-game winner Tom Glavine was probably the best lefty in the game in his prime.

When it’s all said and done, I think you’ll be chalking up yet another save for Mr. Mariano Rivera.

SNYDER (1996-present)

THE ORDER    BA    HR    RBI    More

1. RF Ichiro Suzuki**    .321    109    679    *10 cons. 200-hit yrs.*, 10 GGs

2. SS Derek Jeter**    .313    255    1,254    3,304 hits, 13-time All-Star

3. LF Barry Bonds    .298      *762*    1,996    *7 MVPs*, *2,558 walks*

4. 1B Albert Pujols**    .321    488    1,483    3 MVPs, 99-plus RBIs 12x

5. CF Ken Griffey Jr.    .284    630    1,836    10 GGs (all in row), 56 HRs 2x

6. 3B Miguel Cabrera**    .321    347         1,208        Triple crown (’12), 100+ RBIs 9x

7. DH Edgar Martinez    .312    309    1,261    5 SSs, .418 OBP

8. C Ivan Rodriguez    .296    311    1,332    13 GGs, 7 SSs

9. 2B Craig Biggio    .281    291    1,175    3,060 hits, 668 2Bs, 285 HBP

THE STARTERS    W-L    ERA    More

Randy Johnson    303-166    3.29    4,875 Ks in 4,135 IP, 5 CYs    

Pedro Martinez    219-100    2.93    Sub-2 ERA 2x, 3 CYs

Greg Maddux    355-227    3.16    4 CYs, 5x IP leader, 18 GGs

Roy Halladay    201-104    3.37    2 CYs, 7x CG leader

Tom Glavine    305-203    3.54    2 CYs, 5x 20-game winner

THE CLOSER    Saves    ERA    More

Mariano Rivera    *635*    2.20    Sub-2 ERA 11x, *926 Gs finished*

THE MANAGER    W-L    Pct.    More

Joe Torre    2,326-1,997    .538    6 pennants, 4 WS titles

*=MLB record, **=Active

The VanKirk Era (1980-95)

In a decade full of Ronald Reagan, the Cold War and rock ’n’ rollers who teased their hair and dressed up like girls, thank goodness I had baseball growing up!

The big leagues in the 1980s were still pure for a youngster — and for baseball — before the juice and 500-foot home runs. They knew how to pitch, field, hit-and-run and take an extra base — all the “little things” — better than they do now; and better than the era before them (check Maynard’s era).

Because it certainly was a different game in my era, my team isn’t loaded with power hitters like Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey and Barry Bonds. In putting the 1980-95 lineup together, I thought less about hitting long balls and more about fielding a team that would max out on wins over a 162-game season.

Players are in spots in my lineup that simply make it work. And every position player on my team was a gold glover.

So bring it on! We’ll get Rickey Henderson (baseball’s all-time steals leader) on to lead off the game and steal second. Then we’ll follow that with a Tony Gwynn (career .338 hitter) opposite-field hit and be up 1-0 before an out is ever made.

Court is in for the cookie cutters!

VANKIRK (1980-95)

THE ORDER    BA    HR    RBI    More

1. LF Rickey Henderson    .279    297    1,115    *1,406 SBs*, *2,295 runs*

2. RF Tony Gwynn    .338    135    1,138    8 bat. titles, 15 All-Star

3. CF Kirby Puckett    .318    207    1,085    6 Silver Sluggers

4. 3B Mike Schmidt    .267    548    1,595    8x HR leader, 3 MVPs

5. DH Eddie Murray    .287    504    1,917    3,255 hits, *128 sac flies*

6. 1B Don Mattingly    .307    222    1,099    9 GGs, 442 2Bs

7. 2B Ryne Sandberg    .285    282    1,061    7 SSs, 9 GGs

8. SS Cal Ripken, Jr.    .276    431    1,695    *2,632 cons. Gs*, 2 MVPs

9. C Gary Carter    .262    324    1,225    5 SSs, 11-time All-Star

THE STARTERS    W-L    ERA    More

Roger Clemens    354-184    3.12    *7 CYs*, *20 Ks in game*

Dwight Gooden    194-112    3.51    24-4, 1.53 ERA, 16 CGs in ’85

Nolan Ryan    324-292    3.19    *5,714 Ks*, *2,795 BBs*, *7 NHs*

Fernando Valenzuela    173-153    3.54    Cy Young & ROY (’81), 20 CGs (’86)

Jack Morris    254-186    3.90    175 CGs, 242 IP/season avg.

THE CLOSER    Saves    ERA    More

Dennis Eckersley    390    3.50    Cy Young & MVP in ’92

THE MANAGER    W-L    Pct.    More

Tommy Lasorda    1,599-1,439    .526    4 pennants, 2 WS titles

*=MLB record

The Maynard Era (1964-79)

In my humble opinion, my era would be hard-pressed not to be called the best.

Not because I selected them but, as with any good team, you start with pitching. Who can do much better than Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Denny McLain, Tom Seaver and Jim Palmer? I mean, come on, how many runs could you possibly have to score?

If any of those guys ever got into trouble, we have the intimidating Goose Gossage waiting in the bullpen.

I could stop right there, but I won’t.

Those pitchers will be throwing to the best catcher in baseball history, none other than Mr. Johnny Bench. You will notice that my era is distinctly red in color, as in Redlegs. There’s Joe Morgan, Dave Concepcion and Pete Rose in the infield and a former Red, Frank Robinson, in the outfield. We also have Roberto Clemente and Hank Aaron in our star-packed outfield. Willie “Stretch” McCovey is over at first base and Don Baylor is the DH.

I’ve looked at the other rosters and they’re impressive. But for my money, with the kind of pitching that this era provides, we can’t be beat.

And when it comes to postgame press conferences, who is better than Sparky Anderson?

I rest my case.

MAYNARD (1964-79)

THE ORDER    BA    HR    RBI    More

1. 3B Pete Rose    .303    160    1,314    *4,256 hits*, 2,165 runs

2. 2B Joe Morgan    .271    268    1,133    689 SBs, 2 MVPs

3. CF Roberto Clemente    .317    240    1,305    3,000 hits, 12 GGs

4. RF Hank Aaron    .305    755      *2,297*    *6,856 total bases*

5. 1B Willie McCovey    .270    521    1,555    .515 slug.

6. C Johnny Bench    .267    389    1,376    43% CS, 2 MVPs

7. LF Frank Robinson    .294    586    1,812    .537 slug., 2 MVPs

8. DH Don Baylor    .260    338    1,276    267 HBP, 1 MVP

9. SS Dave Concepcion    .267    101    950    9 All-Star, 5 GGs

THE STARTERS    W-L    ERA    More

LH Sandy Koufax    165-87    2.76    2,396 Ks in 2,324.1 IP, 3 CYs

RH Denny McLain    131-91    3.39    Last 30-game winner (1968)

RH Bob Gibson    251-174    2.91    *1.12 ERA in 1968*, 2 CYs

RH Tom Seaver    311-205    2.86    231 CGs, 3 CYs

RH Jim Palmer    268-152    2.86    211 CGs, 3 CYs

THE CLOSER    Saves    ERA    More

RH Goose Gossage    310    3.01    9-time All-Star

THE MANAGER    W-L    Pct.    More

Sparky Anderson    2,194-1,834    .545    5 pennants, 3 WS titles

*=MLB record