The All-Time One-Teamers
We've made it to March and although the baseball season is right around the corner, the story lines still don't get all that interesting. Sure, there are some good previews out there (we will be continuing our own series of them on Friday with the AL East), but for the most part it's this guy or that guy are in the best shape of their life or another Jon Heyman/Scott Boras ventriloquist act on the latest concerning the Manny Ramirez talks. Mercifully, the latter may have come to an end yesterday.
The off-season, a time to discuss and analyze comings, goings, acquisitions, trades, defections and the like, is coming to a close and to celebrate, it seems like as good a time as any to have a look at the very best players to have played their entire careers in just one uniform. We will take a starting eight plus a DH, a right-handed and left-handed starter and a relief pitcher.
Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter seem like good candidates to play their entire careers for the Yanks. Maybe Joe Mauer, the local boy, or the great Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals will play out their respective careers for one team, too. Perhaps Chipper Jones? But more and more, playing one's entire career for a single organization looks like a thing of the past. That's ok, too. Free agency has made baseball players rich, which strikes me as perfectly appropriate since the baseball players are the reason we watch and love the game. So this is not any sort of moral commentary, just a nod to the best players that never switched teams.
CATCHER: Johnny Bench, Cincinnati Reds
If Yogi Berra had not suited up four times for the 1965 Mets, would he have surpassed Bench here? You tell me:
G GC* OPS+ AVG OBP SLG Berra 2,120 1,699 125 .285 .345 .482 Bench 2,158 1,742 126 .267 .342 .476 * Games played at Catcher
Both are truly all-time greats and I am not sure how you would pick one or the other. It would have to come down to defense and from what I have read and heard, there was nobody better than Bench. Think having a good catcher helps? Both Berra and Bench were centerpieces on two of the great baseball dynasties of all time.
FIRST BASE: Lou Gehrig, New York Yankees
I used to own a lot of baseball history VHS tapes and watch them over and over again growing up. I can't remember if this was in one of those, or perhaps it was on an ESPN classic show about Gehrig or Cal Ripken. Anyway, someone on it says that the consecutive games streak devalues Gehrig's career while serving to inflate Ripken's. I came to believe this as gospel truth when I was 13 or so, and would regurgitate this nugget to anyone that would listen to me.
Well I still believe it to be the case about Gehrig but it is entirely unfair to Ripken. Anyway, did you know that Gehrig hit .340/.447/.632 for his career?!?! .340/.447/.632! The man slugged .765 in 1927! And the guy was an RBI machine despite having Babe Ruth (career .474 on-base) clogging the bases hitting in front of him! I find myself forgetting all of this sometimes, which is why I am always endlessly amused when I head back over to his B-Ref page. It's just unbelievable.
SECOND BASE: Charlie Gehringer, Detroit Tigers
Of note, he gets his strongest push for this slot from fellow Tiger, Sweet Lou Whitaker.
G OPS+ AVG OBP SLG Gehringer 2,323 124 .320 .404 .480 Whitaker 2,158 126 .276 .363 .426
THIRD BASE: Mike Schmidt, Philadelphia Phillies
George Brett is Schmidt's stiffest competition here, and it's actually a pretty interesting comparison if you want to just start tossing out numbers. They were contemporaries, and Brett played in about 300 more games, had 78 more triples, 257 more doubles, the same amount of RBI and more runs. He had 920 more hits and struck out 975 fewer times.
But here's where baseball gets really simple. Schmidt made outs less frequently, hit for way more power and had a better glove. Therefore, he was pretty clearly the superior player.
SHORTSTOP: Cal Ripken, Baltimore Orioles
Ripken featured the best of both worlds. He had a remarkable peak and also played more games than any shortstop in baseball history. Honus Wagner and Arky Vaughan may have had better peaks and if you want to count Alex Rodriguez as a shortstop, he was probably better, too. But taken together, peak and longevity, Ripken is right there among them as one of the all-time greats.
OUTFIELD (with one as DH):
The numbers speak for themselves here. I am going to line these four up and show your their career stats, just because they're so damn fun to look at.
G OPS+ AVG OBP SLG Musial 3,026 159 .331 .417 .559 Ott 2,730 155 .304 .414 .533 Mantle 2,401 172 .298 .421 .557 Williams 2,292 191 .344 .482 .634
This one is not all that close. Steve Carlton might have pushed Spahn but he bounced around towards the end of his career. Christy Mathewson might have done the same if it weren't for that one game he pitched for Cincinnati. He won the game, going all nine while giving up eight earned runs on 15 hits!
Walter Johnson pitched 5,914 innings at a 147 ERA+ clip. Spahn tossed 5,243 frames with a 118 ERA+.
RELIEF PITCHER: Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
Baseball Reference shows 85 relief pitchers who have tossed 1,000 innings. Of those, Rivera leads with a 199 ERA+. The next best is 146.
Ok, that's my team. If I missed anywhere or you have any other comments relating to guys toiling for their whole career with one squad, please do not hold back.