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.

Looking for Real

What may seem like a short detour…

There’s one historic bar in the Union Square district of San Francisco (actually, there are hundreds, but I’m talking about one historic bar in particular), called The Gold Dust Lounge, that’s served drinks to a quintessential only-in-San Francisco crowd of sailors, businesspeople, visitors and neighbors for generations.  Its landlords have recently announced a plan to kick it out in favor of a national chain clothing store.

Now, The Gold Dust Lounge hasn’t been the city’s most popular bar for ages, but the plan pissed a lot of people off, resulting in petitions, protests, online and social media tempests, etc. The question is, why did all these people suddenly get interested in a bar few had ever been to, fewer still had been to in years?

I believe it’s because we’re in a state of national authenticity deficit. Everything we buy, eat, watch, or otherwise consume comes from some centralized corporate authority. Our cities are all filled with the same national chain stores and restaurants. We watch non-locally produced entertainment on movie and TV screens. Even amateur-generated online clips are seen by so many people and follow so few memes, they seem mass-produced.

We’re in a search for the authentic, for the real, wherever we can find it – and it seems downright offensive to shutter a real, honest-to-goodness bar so yet another national chain store that sells the same old jeans can move in.

Think about baseball – America’s self-declared pastime – for a second.

Attendance for Major League Baseball has declined for three straight years, while attendance at Spring Training has grown over the same period.

Those big, corporate-namesake stadiums, filled with untouchable millionaires, are drawing fewer of our fellow Americans.

At the same time, more people are going to Spring Training games, where a bit of baseball’s old vibe still exists. At Spring Training, it’s still possible to get close to players, talk with them before and after games, shake their hands, see them up close – the way fans used to in the majors but aren’t able to anymore.

It used to be that ballplayers would live in the town they played in. They’d be seen and known around the neighborhood. They’d stay with a team a long time. They’d be part of team (and town) identity. Whether playing at the Polo Grounds (or later, at Candlestick Park), or stickball with neighborhood kids in the street, Willie Mays was a real Giant.

If I were to advise baseball, or landlords for that matter, about growing a market in these times, I’d say, keep it real. Not that they’ve asked.