The Best I’ve Ever Seen

This is something I’ve been thinking about lately. I have selected the one person I believe to be the best ever at their position. Why create this list? Because I’m a huge baseball fan and I’m getting excited about the start of the season. My basic rule going in: I have only picked players I have seen with my own eyes, meaning in person.

If you think other players are better, say so. There’s a comment section at the bottom of this post. So, use it.

Here we go…

Pitcher (Starting): Tom Seaver, New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox, Boston Red Sox (1967-1986)

Strength, stamina, brains. Tom Seaver was an absolute warhorse on the mound. The singularly dominant force of his era, as he would have been in any era. Still remembered and loved. And a great ambassador for the game.

Pitcher (Reliever): Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees (1995-present)

At his peak, Rivera was as close to an automatic shut-down as is possible in baseball. Total command of his pitches and any situation in which he found himself. Definition of a ‘closer.’ Call him in from the bullpen and it’s over, baby. Fierce. Close seconds? Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers (points for the ‘stache), Brian Wilson (at his best, he’s fearsome).

Catcher: Johnny Bench, Cincinnati Reds (1967-1983)

As great at the plate as he was behind it. A huge part of the storied ‘Big Red Machine.’ Better, to my mind, than Piazza, Fisk, Carter. Had I seen Berra play in person, we might have had a contest.

1st Base: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (2001-present)

Pujols, still an active player, is a force to be reckoned with. He closely beats out the universally-beloved Willie McCovey.

2nd Base: Joe Morgan, Cincinnati Reds, Houston Astros, San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies, Oakland A’s (1963-1984)

Morgan earns this spot over Jeff Kent, although Kent was better at the plate, because of his brains, his fielding and his leadership.

3rd Base: George Brett, Kansas City Royals (1973-1993)

Tough competition here. Brett takes this position over Mike Schmidt mostly because I had the chance to drink with Brett once (in Chicago) and never did with Schmidt.

Shortstop: Cal Ripken, Jr. Baltimore Orioles (1981-2001)

Ripken’s longevity amazes still. His leadership, steadiness and abilities were something special. What’s that, Ozzie Smith was a defensive wizard? Sure. A-Rod? Jeter? Why don’t you just make your own list?

Left Field: Carl Yastrzemski, Boston Red Sox (1961-1983)

Only one generation removed from the legendary Ted Williams; had I seen Williams play in person, he’d be on this list. Playing his entire career in the shadow of the Green Monster, Yaz earned this spot. And, before anyone asks, Barry Bonds was a far distant second.

Center Field: Willie Mays, New York and San Francisco Giants, New York Mets (1951-1973)

What superlatives can you use? Which do you need? Mays was not only the greatest person I’ve ever seen play center field, not only the greatest person I’ve ever seen play baseball. Willie Mays was the greatest athlete I’ve ever seen play anything. No contest.

Right Field: Hank Aaron, Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers (1954-1976)

Aaron was the first person to break Babe Ruth’s home run record (without even the hint of performance-enhancing drugs) and was an All-Star every single year between 1955 and 1975. Speedy (in his earlier years) and powerful. Class act.

5 thoughts on “The Best I’ve Ever Seen”

  1. Great list, Brent. Can’t argue too vociferously with any of your choices — well, maybe one or two — but some of your runner-ups I don’t agree with. Or runners up.

    Can’t really argue with Tom Terrific. But my choice — Pedro — brings up the question of what do you mean by “best”? Career or at any given time. During his peak, Pedro was the best I ever saw, but he can’t match Seaver’s career. Or Bob Gibson’s. Or Roger Clemens’. I saw Seaver and Gibson with my eyes, but especially with Gibson, it was in his later years, and with Seaver, while I saw most of his prime, I was pretty young, so hard to compare with Clemens. Any of those guys is a good choice.

    Can’t argue with Mariano at all, but Brian Wilson does not belong in the runners up. He hasn’t had nearly the career, or been as dominant in the short term, of guys like Gossage, Sutter, Tekulve, Hoffman, Quisenberry. At this point Wilson’s a guy who’s had one great year and a couple of pretty good ones. There are dozens of guys like that.

    With you on Johnny Bench. For me, the runner-up in my lifetime isn’t any of the guys you mentioned, though they are next, but Ivan Rodriguez. Joe Mauer could end up on that list with sustained health, which seems unlikely.

    Pujols by a mile. My runner-up wouldn’t be McCovey but Jeff Bagwell, though again the caveat that with my own eyes, I only saw the tail end of McCovey’s prime and then his decline years. But I’m pretty familiar and I think Bagwell was a better player.

    Morgan by a mile too. The single statement in your piece I disagree with most vociferously is “Kent was better at the plate.” Not even close. Not within a country mile. You’re forgetting to account for era. Morgan is an inner-circle Hall of Famer *because of his bat.* Kent is a guy who might have an outside chance. Morgan is 14th all-time in Offensive Wins Above Replacement. Kent is 84th. Morgan led the league in OPS+ twice, was second once and fourth once. Kent was fourth once. Morgan had two seasons of OPS+ better than Kent’s best, and five better than Kent’s second best. Morgan is 22nd all time in times on base. Kent is not in the top 100. I could go on. I would take Bobby Grich as my runner up, and I think Lou Whitaker, Roberto Alomar and Ryne Sandberg are probably ahead of Kent. I might put Chase Utley up there too, though he’s about to get dinged on the longevity.

    Can’t argue with Ripken too much. Similar Pedro argument: I think A-Rod was better, but he played short for such a short time, and of course Ripken … Same goes for Yount. Without digging into stats, I wonder if Jeter was better than Ripken when it’s all said and done. Maybe not. Larkin and maybe Trammell in the conversation for runners up, along with Smith.

    Third base, OK, you had a drink with Brett, but Schmidt was the greatest of them all, not just in our lifetimes.

    Can’t argue with Mays and Aaron, though I suppose maybe a person who saw Mantle — I just missed him by a couple years — could argue the Mays part. I’d take Mays but Mantle has an argument. You probably saw him, but Mays was your hometown guy. I gotta go with Bonds over Yaz in left and it’s not close. And Rickey Henderson — who maybe you just forgot? — is also ahead of Yaz, and it’s also not close. Remember Bill James’ famous line when asked if he thought the still-active Rickey was a Hall of Famer? If you could cut him in half, you’d have two Hall of Famers.

    1. King, as usual, you’ve added so much to the discussion. I can’t take issue, really, with anything you’ve said about my 2nd place choices. Most were based more on my emotional connection to the player rather than his stats (which I know you know cold). I did get the chance to see some of these guys when they were still playing pretty much at prime levels and completely missed some others. The one oversight on my part was Rickey – if I were to do the list again, he’d be my guy. Honestly, I picked Yaz in a nostalgic spasm.

  2. Oh and why no runners up in the outfield? Mine would be Henderson in left, Griffey in center and Frank Robinson in right. I did lay eyes on Roberto Clemente as a young kid, and he was definitely as fun to watch as Mays, but I think Robinson was the better player by a fair bit. Al Kaline and Reggie Jackson deserve a mention in right, Manny Ramirez and Tim Raines in left and maybe Jim Edmonds in center, but they are all clear next-tier guys compared to the top two at each of those positions.

  3. I’m going to disagree with you changing your mind about Yaz. Carl Yastrzemski was by far a superior all around player than Henderson – so, not sure why you would change your mind. In the clutch, Yaz was the man and defensively, regardless how much faster Henderson was, Yaz was far superior in left field. Compile a list of Yastrzemski’s 22 most important games and his numbers are mind staggering, and there wasn’t a player in the history of the game that had a better year than Yaz did in 67.

  4. Mantle had the most ability of any player ever! Power and speed. He was basically a cripple. Aaron said the same thing.

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