Professional baseball dates its origin to 1869. The game thereafter expanded in uncontrollable fashion. Various leagues and associations were formed. The dynamics of capitalism winnowed out losing ventures. By the early years of the 20th century things had settled, for the most part, into the two familiar leagues. In 1935 entrepreneurs in Cooperstown, NY formulated a business model to improve tourism. The Hall of Fame would honor the best players of the game while providing an attraction in the otherwise milquetoast town. It has certainly worked out well. The annual induction ceremony brings thousands to the area. The Hall itself does a brisk business.
The original five members selected to the Hall in 1936 are legendary. Most seamheads can name them without hesitation: Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Christy Matthewson, and Washington’s own Walter Johnson. It’s a sort of Mt. Rushmore of early baseball. That’s what happens when the selection process produces 5 inductees when poring over 67 years-worth of players. The Hall now inducts that many players for a single year and did just that in 2018. Not to minimize the accomplishment of any of the recent classes, but the bar for the first five was set significantly higher. The first class of inductees represents one player for every 13 years-and-change of early baseball. Since then some 201 players have been inducted representing 2.5 players EVERY year. What if we had a sort of “Ultimate HOF” where there was only one player selected for every 13 years of the game? How would that look? It is now 80 years since the original five were selected. That leaves us with six slots for a total of eleven. Who fills them?
One slot is a given: Jackie Robinson. His on-field accomplishments, as great as they were, pale in comparison to his pioneer role in breaking the Color Barrier. No other player in baseball has received the honor bestowed to Robinson: His number has been retired from every franchise. The players all wear his number on the anniversary of his first game April 15 every year. An Ultimate HOF without Robinson’s presence is unthinkable.
That leaves us with five slots to join Jackie Robinson and the original five. You are on the Selection Committee. From the thousands of players that have crossed the foul lines since the initial crop of inductees until the present you have to pick five for induction into the Ultimate Hall. To even things out over the years and to produce a balanced list here are the guidelines:
- Only players are eligible (No Managers, Umpires, Broadcasters, or Executives)
- One player must have retired before 1977 (mid-way point between 1936-2018)
- One player must have retired before 2000 (both may be before 1977)
- One player must have been primarily a Pitcher
- One player must have been primarily an Outfielder
- One player must have been primarily an Infielder/Catcher
- Active players are eligible
- Negro League players are eligible.
There are no right/wrong selections. It would be helpful, for discussion purposes, if you provided some basis for your selections. But, that is not mandatory.
Here is my list, in no particular order:
Gehrig’s playing prowess is often overshadowed by his legendary Iron-Man streak and his untimely demise by the disease which now carries his name. He was simply the best First Baseman in the history of the game. He AVERAGED 149 RBI a year. His average OPS was 1.080. He averaged over 200 hits and 110 walks a year. One of his two MVP years was the famed “Murderer’s Row” year of 1927. Ruth hit 60 homers. But, Lou won the League’s top honor.
One of the characteristics of this great career was high production throughout a long tenure. The 3-time MVP garnered 3630 hits over 22 years while missing 1945 for military service. Smooth and elegant in the field and on the bases Musial was a great athlete to watch in motion. Before the silliness of fan voting Stan the Man was selected to twenty All-Star Games.
The great shame of segregated baseball is that the best players available weren’t on the field together. Gibson was a powerful home-run hitting machine. Walter Johnson watched him during Grays’ games at Griffith Stadium and declared him able to start for any MLB team. It was another way of saying Gibson was the best Catcher in the game at the time. He played in the Negro Leagues, the Mexican League, and in Puerto Rico. Wherever he went batted baseballs left the premises shortly thereafter. In 1930 he was the first to clear the 457’ Center-Field fence at Forbes Field. He hit a ball completely out of Yankee Stadium to Center Field on September 27, 1930. He was an 18-year old at the time. By the time the wrecking ball went to work on The House that Ruth Built in 2010 Gibson’s feat had not been duplicated. He died painfully young at age 35. During an era where Catchers were Defense-first and cemented into the 8-hole Gibson’s presence in MLB would have revolutionized the position years before Yogi Berra did it.
“Lefty” gets overlooked in the discussion of all-time great pitchers for one reason: He did not like talking to the media. The Baseball Writers control a lot of the narrative about players. Carlton simply wouldn’t follow the established rule to kiss the rings. Despite that he won four Cy Young Awards over his 24-year career. He won 329 games. Many of them were with mediocre teams. In one of the more memorably bad trades in baseball history the Cardinals traded Carlton after his 20-win 1971 season to Philadelphia for Rick Wise. Carlton had demanded, gulp, $65.000. He responded in 1972 by winning 27 games; nearly half of the 58 games the team won all year.
The long list of great Center-Fielders is dominated by three names; Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Willie Mays. The nod here goes to Mays. His athleticism was simply amazing. There are thousands of fly balls caught in the outfield and dozens of fine running catches on web gem collections every year. But, there will always only be one “The Catch.” September 29, 1954. Mays hit 660 home runs while playing home games in unfavorable stadiums. The eclectic Polo Grounds gave him the opportunity to run Vic Wertz’s drive down some 460’ away in Center Field. But, it also stole home runs from him. The foul lines were short even by today’s standards, however at 258′ to Left and 280′ to Right. By the time the Giants went to San Francisco in 1958 Mays at 26 years-old had hit 177 homers. Some 483 more were coming. No one would confuse Candlestick Park with Camden Yards. The wind blew, the fog fell, and it was miserably cold. Hank Aaron was hitting balls out of the hot and humid “Launching Pad” otherwise known as Fulton County Stadium. Willie hit many of his in an over-sized freezer.
Who is on your list?