Two weeks ago, with baseball season fast approaching, I thought we needed to do something special to kick off the 2007 campaign. We wanted to do something big, something lasting and something involving other members of this loosely-connected fraternity we call the sports blogosphere. With that in mind we emailed what we consider to be our favorite sites and asked them one question: Who is your favorite baseball player of all-time, and why? The results of this little project blew us away.
We only expected a few responses and we figured most would be repeats, naming the same few players over and over again. We were wrong. We received 37 entries from 27 different blogs and only two repeat responses. We got everything from journeymen to Hall of Famers. The responses were creative, informative and often passionate. The emails we got ranged from one sentence to seven paragraphs in length. Some were hilarious, some were heartfelt and others gushed on and on the way a 12-year-old kid would about his hero. Seriously, reading these was awesome.
We want to thank all the bloggers who participated and kept us constantly entertained. You guys took time out of your days and working on your sites to help us out and we can’t thank you enough.
OK, enough of the preamble, let’s get down to the list. First, here are some (unofficial) numbers about the group of players listed below. There are 10 Hall of Famers, 10 MVP winners, two Cy Young award winners and eight guys who spent their entire careers with one team. We’ve got 19 outfielders, 10 infielders, four pitchers, two catchers and both participants in the most lopsided brawl in baseball history. There are three dead guys, two Canadians and one moustache. Needless to say it’s an eclectic mix. Without further ado, in honor of opening day, we give you the sports blogosphere’s most beloved baseball players.
“Willie McGee was the perfect player for a 10-year-old to fall in love with. He was fast, but he didn’t seem fast; he ran all rubbery, arms and legs flapping everywhere, looking like he was gonna fall over. Yet he did it with grace. He had surprising power, considering he looked like he weighed about 115 pounds. Nobody looked worse striking out than Willie McGee; throw him a breaking ball at his feet, and he’d flail like … well, like a 10-year-old trying to hit a curveball. When this happened, you wondered whether or not Willie had selected the correct vocation.
But when he hit a ball in the gap and took off … God! That’s how I remember Willie; a line drive to the opposite field and then he was OFF. This was before steroid homer monsters, when everyone wanted to be like the Cardinals, a team based on speed, defense and hideously ugly Astroturf. Willie looked nothing like a ballplayer but was a great one, and as a 10-year-old kid who wanted to do nothing more than play baseball, that was exactly what I wanted to see. Ozzie Smith was the superstar, but it was Willie who had our hearts.” – Will Leitch, Deadspin
“At the pivotal fan-development age of 11 – and a budding Cubs fan – Sandberg had his awesome MVP year. I was hooked.” – Dan Shanoff
“My whole life, I’ve only met one person named Ryne. His parents, awestruck by the grace and efficiency with which Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg fielded his position, no doubt named their son hoping he, some day, would represent his family in fine baseball fashion.
Unfortunately, Ryne looked a lot like Louie Anderson and, on the first day of baseball tryouts, fielded about as gracefully. He was summarily laughed off the field; I think one of my buddies even threw an open can of Skoal mint on him. Not cool.
His namesake, however, was not so lacking for grace. Ryne Sandberg, purveyor of my childhood dreams, remains one of the best second basemen ever to play the game. What’s more, he inspired me (and a legion of kids like myself) to play second base, to tell our Little League coaches we didn’t mind not playing short, even if that’s who fielded most of the time. Too many beautiful childhood summers were spent inside watching Sandberg and Grace and Sandlot, but those days never felt wasted.
And unfortunately for fellow high school newspaper editor Ryne, Sandberg doomed him to a life of baseball dissatisfaction, never able to live up to the excellence his parents’ nomenclature implied. I really hated that guy; he was the Skip Bayless of our staff. One thing we could always agree on, though: Sandberg was the best. And so it remains. ” – Postman E, We Are The Postmen
“My favorite player of all time is the Dodgers version of Mike Piazza, because nothing draws a six year old to an all-star catcher more than a gnarly power stache!” – Tim Moore, Squeeze Play Sports
Cal Ripken Jr.
“I don’t cry during sporting events. But how could you not when he broke Gehrig’s record? Baseball is one of the few sports in which you grow up and still get a chance to see your childhood idol play. I was there at Metrodome when Cal hit his 3000th hit. The few thousand in attendance gave him a standing ovation, and goddamn it, no one was clapping louder than I was.” – I Dislike Your Favorite Team
“Though I was not around to appreciate him in his prime, my favorite player of all time was my father’s favorite player: Tony Oliva. Besides being an eight-time All-Star and three-time batting champ, Oliva is a great man on and off the field, which seems to be increasingly rare. He was one of baseball’s purest players and having the pleasure of meeting him a few times has been the highlight of my life as a Twins fan.” – Sooze, Babes Love Baseball
“Who else has boozed and caroused like him and still put up those monster numbers, all the while having a bad wheel? Other than the Babe, the Mick is the man.” – Scrap, Our Book of Scrap
“Big Mac was the man who made ‘chicks dig the long ball’. Before he broke (Roger Maris’) single season home run record, the sport of baseball was slowly dying (much like hockey today). He probably took performance enhancing drugs, but he probably was lured into doing so. I respect McGwire for the way that he has handled the controversy, as a gentleman, and wish him the best.” – Darren Heitner, Sports Agent Blog
“His style of play really struck a chord in a teenaged me. As a left-handed, dead pull hitting, platoon OF/DH, Champ had a swing that was tailor made for Tiger Stadium. Unfortunately, Summers often butted heads with Sparky Anderson, which led to a trade that absolutely devastated me. The best seasons of Summers’ career were spent with the Tigers, while making me a fan for life.” – Big Al, The Wayne Fontes Experience
“I grew up with the Royals (the good ones), so of course I love Brett and Bo, Sabes and Cone, etc. But I’ve always rooted for the understated glue guys, and Eisenreich had a couple good years where he made each at bat count. It was never flashy, but he got the job done. He also fought his way through Tourette’s Syndrome. He also looks like he could insert a quarter in each nostril, which is something I can identify with.” – Eric, The Extrapolater
“Nolan Ryan is my all time favorite ball player. And not consistent with my form, it isn’t because I want to have sex with him. (Because if that had been my reasoning, I would’ve picked Grady Sizemore. He and I would have beautiful children together.)
I grew up a Rangers fan in Arlington, Texas so I grew up watching him. When I was 5 my uncle took my cousin and I to see Ryan pitch his 6th no hitter and 300th win. I don’t remember much about it (I was only in kindergarten) but I have a picture of me during that game, decked out in my Rangers gear, and looking quite adorable.
And back when he was younger he was super hot. You could even call him the original panty creamer. With nicknames like “Mr. Intimidation” and “The Ryan Express” it’s pretty obvious to see why he used to rank high on a scale of one to sexy. That image of him with Robin Ventura in a headlock, hitting him as hard as he can also registers high on the badass scale. I mean c’mon, that’s one of the greatest fights in MLB history. And every girl wants a guy who she knows will be able to throw down if the situation arises. Or who looks like he might like it rough in the bedroom. Either way.” – Lauren, Girls Gone Sports
“It was nearly impossible to be a 12 year-old, left-handed first baseman with power in 1989 and not worship William Nuschler Clark Jr.: the stroke, the sneer, the swag. The Thrill had it all. Unfortunately, my childhood devotion carried over into young manhood and lost me a mustache bet.” – Jamie Mottram, Mr. Irrelevant
“When I was just beginning to follow baseball in the summer of 1988, he hit a ninth inning homerun over the Green Monster to beat the Royals. It’s one of my first real memories of the sport.” – Brian, One More Dying Quail
“He was the most fun part of the Blake Street Bombers — working the mullet at times, looking hockey defenseman mean (Canada native, naturally), and had the best sense of humor. Who else remembers when he was aiming for .400 when the All-Star Game rolled around? He flipped his helmet backwards, and moved to hit right-handed against Randy Johnson. Great stuff.” – Signal to Noise
“He proved to all “husky” kids that they too could win batting titles, single-handedly carry their teams to World Series titles, pose for “Wrecking Ball” posters, lose eyeballs and despite the subsequent depth perception issues, still have the ability to grope women in public bathrooms. RIP Kirby.” – Josh, Joe Sports Fan
“When I moved to Denver, the Rockies were just getting started, and the Blake Street Bombers were in vogue. A lot of people preferred Larry Walker or Dante Bichette, or even Vinny Castilla, but my guy was the Big Cat. He used Henry Mancini’s Pink Panther music for his at-bat music, which I thought was cool. And he was always smiling that big-ass over at first base. (He also) survived cancer.” – Eric, The Extrapolater
“It’s hard to top his talent both on and off the field. How many players do you know who changed their name from Joey to Albert, got fined for chasing Hannah Storm out of the dugout, tried to run over kids on Halloween, pegged a cameraman with a ball, punked Fernando Vina, got caught corking the bat (in the same year his OPS was over 1.100!), got sentenced to jail for using a GPS device to track his ex-ho, and hit 50 home runs and 50 doubles in the same season? There will never again be anyone like him.” – Larry Brown Sports
“The first game I ever went to, he hit one out and I was hooked on baseball and the Yankees for the rest of my life. I loved his sunglasses, the way his helmet seemed to float on his Afro, the way he corkscrewed himself into the ground with every epic swing and the way he saved his best for the biggest moments. Reggie was bigger than baseball and bigger than life.” – Josh Alper, The Feed
Keith Hernandez’s mustache
“Responsible for giving inspirational locker room speeches and known for sporting one of the grittiest game faces we’ve seen to date, this mustache was the first irreplaceable non-human game changer. Whether it be intercepting steal signs from opposing teams, or sheer intimidation through it’s glistening, magical presence, Keith’s man-stache brought a unique intangible to the table that only magnified what Hernandez himself brought to the game.
-Ray Knight never once looked directly at it, for fear that it would stray him from Christianity.
-Beat Sal Fasano in a pizza eating contest.
-Fathered WWF’s Jimmy Hart.” – The Sports Hernia
“His head has become so big that it is mitigating the greenhouse effect. A true environmentalist.” – Mini Me, WBRS Sports Blog
“There was always a bigger, flashier star, whether it be Sandberg, Dawson, or Sosa, but Grace won over the Cubs faithful with his blue collar working-man’s attitude and approach to the game. Even when he was railroaded out of town by upper management because Hee Seop Choi was “ready,” everyone still loved Grace. Grace had a great bat and a solid glove, but I think his most indelible legacy he left to the game was his coining the term “Slump-buster”. Just do a Google search if you don’t know what it means.” – Jake, Thunder Matt’s Saloon
“Luis looked more like a gas station attendant than a Yankee. He was slow and un-athletic, yet somehow always came up with a clutch hit for the Yankees in the postseason. A hero for the common man. Also, the image of Luis tripping over his own shoes while trying to throw someone out at first base might be my favorite play in baseball history.” – Just Call Me Juice
“The guy never finished a game with a clean uniform, even if he didn’t play. He’d get dirty celebrating a home run. I mean he’s white and he executed a straight steal of home, enough said. Plus he didn’t completely freak out when Phillips, McD and I chased him halfway around Jack Murphy Stadium so we could get him to autograph the ball he threw us in our “Eric Owens Fan Club” shirts.” – Booter (our resident legal expert)
Ken Griffey Jr.
“I was privileged enough to have a 30-minute conversation with him this past Winter in the Bahamas. Not only was he candid and sincere, but he carried the conversation. It was as if he actually enjoyed talking to me. Who knows, maybe he did.” – Mini Me, WBRS Sports Blog
“He had it all: unreal talent, marketability, a great video game, shoes, commercials, etc. He even robbed Lou in the movie Rookie of the Year. It’s a shame that injuries have hampered his prime. But when he was healthy, I’ve never seen a player like him.” – Ryan, Sportable
“Sure, he was a key piece of the first really good Yankees team of my lifetime, but he was so much more. O’Neill was the beginning of my jerk fetish among professional athletes that lived on through Charles Oakley and Jeremy Shockey and countless others. His childish antics were endearing if he was on your team and probably infuriating if he wasn’t. In short, he blazed the trail that A.J. Pierzynski now follows, except he was good at baseball and never wrestled David Eckstein in a steel cage. I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure he could kick Chuck Norris’s ass.” – Adam, Yelling Louder
“Ironic given I’m a lifelong Cubs fan and if I had to spend ten minutes in a room with the guy, I’d probably off myself. But here’s why: to me, A.J. is Chicago before it got homogenized and yuppified, when it butchered hogs instead of chefs who tried to serve fois gras. A blue-collar guy with an impossible-to-spell last name who talks tough and can make good on it, who doesn’t care what you think and won’t pretty things up to make you feel comfortable. Most of all, I love the guy cuz when you look at him, you know he’ll never, ever give up. He’s a constant reminder that running on three strikes, it’s what we Chicagoans do.” – Panger, Foul Balls
“The genius of Jason Bay is that he’s consistently an All-Star now on a team that, for lack of a better word, sucks. And he’s not a mercy pick like Tampa Bay’s representative. He earned it. He’s like Larry Walker on the Rockies before Todd Helton got there, he’s the only guy in the lineup anyone is afraid of. He never should have been traded away from San Diego. I miss his scent. I miss his musk. He and I should get an apartment together.” – McD
“He went about his business the right way. Ever since I watched baseball, I’ve looked up to him. The guy could have taken his money to play for another team but he stayed loyal to San Diego. He was a magician with the bat and everyday, you could count on him for a couple of hits. It’s a shame he never got a ring. I think he would have hit .400 if it wasn’t for the strike. If he had somebody to run for him, he could still hit .330.” – Ryan, Sportable
“I haven’t followed baseball particularly closely since the heyday of Andy Van Slyke. Watching overweight men run around in uniforms that are tantamount to pajamas just doesn’t hold as much appeal to me as you’d think it would. But I make exceptions for badasses. One such badass: Andy’s former teammate Doug Drabek.
Drabek played in Pittsburgh when I still lived there, and the exact same year that I moved to the suburbs of Houston, Drabek was traded to the Astros. In fact, he ended up living about 5 minutes away from me. Except whereas I lived in a four bedroom house, he lived in an almost $4 million dollar mansion. But I liked to consider him my neighbor, even if I was never invited to hang out at the bar he had installed in his pool.
Drabek’s son Kyle (GCL Phillies) was 3 years my junior, but he also attended my high school alma mater. Despite being jailbait, Kyle was totally hot and a star baseball player, football player, and a runner in high school. He was also a noted drunkard. Or in other words, my ideal man. If I’d had it my way, Doug might have been my father-in-law.
Aside from being my neighbor and siring talented and sexy offspring, Doug Drabek was also a Cy Young award-winning pitcher and a man whose mustache is still unparalleled in professional baseball to this day. How could I not love him?” – Mandy, Girls Gone Sports
“Rockin’ Robin was not only one of the most clutch hitters on those White Sox teams, he was the best defensive player too. Sure, I had to deal with seeing him receive the Noogie From Hell Beat down by Nolan Ryan, but to this day I stand by the fact that if Pudge Rodriguez had not been holding Robin from behind the whole time, he would have beaten the shit out of that old man. I still hate Nolan Ryan and the Human Bobble Head Ivan Rodriguez to this day because of it.” – Tom Fornelli, Foul Balls
“It always amazed me that Kenny was so fast that whenever he ran, his hat would just fly off his head. Only later did I learn that this was likely intentional, and not a residue of Kenny’s speed. But nevertheless, I loved Lofton and I continue to marvel that he’s been surprisingly productive these past few seasons.” – Alex, The Big Picture
“Jesus Christ, the quietest badass in baseball in about 30 years. The guy was so cool, so professional, and hit like no one else.” – I Dislike Your Favorite Team
“Rickey started the whole athletes referring to themselves in the third person deal — so every time you hear one of those references, we have Rickey to thank. Plus, he’s by far the all-time leader in runs and stolen bases, thanks in large part to his legendary third wheel (it’s no secret why he was faster than everyone else).” – Larry Brown Sports
“When you watch the Yankees, it’s all about ‘The Song.’ There is no more thrilling moment for a Yankee fan, or depressing one for the opposition, than to hear ‘Enter Sandman’ start and watch No. 42 jog in from the bullpen. He has class and courage, and it’s still a blast to watch him make big league hitters look like some guy swinging a bat for the first time on ‘Pros vs. Joes.’ ” – Ed Valentine, Valentine’s Views On Sports
“I was outside playing catch with my dad in August of 1991 and Wilson Alvarez was in the midst of throwing a no-hitter. As we listened to the game on the radio, Lance Johnson seemingly kept the no-hitter intact on a diving catch in center. Soon after, I made a similar diving stab and my dad started calling me “1-dog” after Johnson’s nickname. I couldn’t tell you any of his stats or much about the man himself; but I can tell you this: I never wore any other number.” – Postman R, We Are The Postmen
“Why a mediocre shortstop who’s had limited good years? The guy shows more heart and emotion on the field than most players and his blue-collar work ethic makes him a model for all young ballplayers.” – Zach, The Big Picture
“Aging, well off his Cy Young form, but still incredibly handsome and one of the first baseball players to model underwear. The idea that he is now over 60 boggles my mind.” – I Dislike Your Favorite Team
(The final entry is long, but well worth it.)
“Our favorite baseball player of all time was pitcher Rube Waddell. Ace hurler for the Philadelphia A’s at the turn of the century who really should have been born a century later and a few million dollars wealthier. Given the technology we have now, Waddell would have become a one man WMD program capable of leveling whole cities solo and becoming the sole topic of discussion on Baseball Tonight, the Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, and a meeting of the United Nations Security Council.
1.) Drinking. His legendary drinking must come first. Rube drank in the stands, the dugout, and in bars until minutes prior to games. He often donned the bartender’s apron himself and slung drinks for fans, and traded game balls for booze. Allegedly soused for most of his adult life.
2.) Domestic violence. Trained his dogs to attack his wife. The marriage, predictably, fell apart shortly thereafter. Also arrested for attacking his father-in-law, whom he seriously injured in a fight.
3.) Erratic behavior #1: Fascinated with fire trucks, Rube would often take off at the sight of one no matter what he was doing at the time. Waddell often disappeared for weeks at a time, including one three week stretch where Rube eluded the prying eyes of Pinkerton Detective Agency PIs hired by Connie Mack to track him down. Teammates found him underneath the team bus at the end of the spell, attempting to bench press the vehicle.
4.) Penchant for life-saving: saved numerous lives, including an incident where Waddell prevented a huge fire in a department store by carrying a burning oil stove out the door with his bare hands. Allegedly saved thirteen people over the course of his short life–and one log he mistook for a person floating in an icy river that he jumped off a boat at night to “rescue.”
5.) Erratic behavior #2: Wrestled alligators in a Florida circus in the offseason.
6.) Talent: led the league in strikeouts multiple times.
7.) Erratic behavior #3: Once nailed a steak to the wall of a restaurant to show his displeasure with the quality of the meat. Odder still is the question of why he had a hammer and nails on his person.
8.) Bad actor: acted in a stage show, and was chosen because he could throw villains really, really far.
9.) Bigamist. Once charged with this for accidentally overlapping marriages. No, we don’t know if attack dogs were involved.
10.) Erratic behavior #4: Passed out on the mound after giving up a home run.
11.) In his early career changed clothes walking across the diamond to the mound, something made doubly interesting by Rube going commando most of the time.
12.) Possibly retarded. Seriously; a lot of baseball historians think he was retarded.
For all of these reasons and more we love Rube Waddell, a man far too interesting for the 21st century.” – Orson Swindle, Everyday Should Be Saturday
Again, we can’t say thank you enough to all the bloggers who participated. We owe you guys big time. And to anybody reading this, feel free to add your favorite player to the comments section.