The MLB All-Star Game swept through St. Louis last night and all things considered it was a fun event. I bet a co-worker a Twix from the vending machine (that’s how we roll) that the NL would finally get back in the win column after a 12 year absence from being considered a competitive opponent in the Mid Summer Classic. Carl Crawford made the catch and won MVP honors. Mariano closed out another All Star Game. And after all was said and done, I was the loser of one candy bar and the World Series will begin in the American League ballpark again this year. Before I get on a long-winded rant about the absurdity of awarding something as meaningful as home field advantage in baseballās CROWNING CHAMPIONSHIP to an exhibition fantasy team that is an All Star roster, letās just politely move on to this weekās topicā¦
The All Star Rosters were selected by the fans, the managers filled out the rest of the roster, and predictably, there were a number of outcries to be heard about who was left off the roster, who didnāt belong in the first place, and the necessity for the Washington Nationals to even field a player in the game at all. Sorry, Nats fans, but itās a fair complaint. Until Steven Strasburg gets here that is. Any Nationals fan not aware of this young gentleman, should take a gander at this game. That’s right. 1 game. 23 strikeouts.
So, in the spirit of argument, letās take a look not at an All-Star Team exactly, but an All Position Team if you will. Combining the best of both teams, Iāve selected which active player is best at his position. Taking into consideration hitting, fielding and base running, your 2009 All Position Team is as follows. Get your seeing-eye glasses out for this one folks, itās a doozy.
Catcher: Joe Mauer. Mauer plays the most physically punishing position on the field, and at 6ā5 itās sort of ridiculous that he has to squat down behind the plate every game for the Twins. Heās well renowned as an incredible athlete, so perhaps one day heāll slide over to first base to finish out his career. This year, after missing time with a non-baseball lower back injury, Mauer made up for lost time by hitting .373 with 15 HRs and 49 RBIs. His career high for homers was 13 in 2006. It sort of makes you wonder if that surgery was performed by the same doctors that worked on the 6 Million Dollar Man.
First Base: Albert Pujols. To me he is simply Albert. There have been other Alberts (Einstein had a nice run, Fat Albert was okay) but Albert Pujols will likely go down as one of the greatest hitters in baseball history by the time it is all said and done. He hits for power, he hits for average, heās nearly impossible to strikeout, heās clutch, he plays an amazing first baseā¦the list goes on and on. He really does everything you could ask a player to do, and is generally one of the most feared hitters in all of baseball. This year, he rolled out of bed in April and decided he would attempt to accomplish his greatest statistical season yet. Heās hitting .332 with 32 HRs and 87 RBIs. Today is July 15th. In 2008, he hit 37 HRs and had 117 RBI and won the MVP so I donāt know what 3 letter anagram they can award him this year if he keeps this up. Just silly, silly numbers.
Second Base: Chase Utley. Thereās no way Iāll be able to hide my bias here, Chase is by far and away my favorite player in the game today because he plays like his shoes are on fire. Whether heās beating out an infield single, or barreling over a division opponentās catcher at the plate, heās always going 110 miles an hour. With his combination of power, speed, defense and leadership; he is exactly the kind of player Phillies fans go crazy for. If anybody can set up a candlelight dinner for Chase and me, that would be swell.
Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez. If Ramirez played for a New York, Boston or Los Angeles team, he would be the most popular player in baseball. He can do a little bit of everything. He has 30 homer pop, heās stolen 50 bases in a season, he plays the most demanding fielding position and heās only getting better. Florida was wise to sign him to a long term contract, after acquiring him from Boston in the Josh Beckett trade and he should be the centerpiece that the Marlins will build around while their young pitching rotation develops over the next few seasons. Also of note, my fourth grade teacher was named Ms. Hanley. But she couldnāt play ball like this guy.
Third Base: David Wright. Wright might just be the best all around third baseman in baseball. Once he figures out how to hit for power in that graveyard of a ballpark, heāll be back at the top of his game. Heās constantly seen on Web Gems, he regularly hits .300 with 30 home runs, 100 RBIs, and 20 or so stolen bases. He happens to play for the Mets, so for me, thatās about as far as I can go in terms of complimenting this amazing player. But Iām happy to provide this video as further proof. Do you have any idea how hard that would be to do?
Left Field: Ryan Braun. Following former greats like Al Rosen and Hank Greenberg, Braun has taken the nickname āThe Hebrew Hammerā to new heights. After the Brewers transitioned him from third base to left field, The Hammer has bashed his way to a Rookie of the Year Award, and added a Silver Slugger to his mantle last season. Heāll hit another 40 home runs this year because in the middle of a potent lineup that includes Prince Fielder and Corey Hart, itās not like you can exactly pitch around him.
Center Field: Torii Hunter. My favorite Torii Hunter moment ever came when he was playing against the White Sox one home game in Minnesota. Living in the Chicago area, Iāve grown up listening to White Sox broadcaster Hawk Harrelson calling games for the Good Guys for years and years. Hawk is a character, and to put it mildly, his calls of ācan of cornā āchopper two hopperā ādagnabbitā āsacks packed with soxā and other lovely colloquialisms can start to grind on the ears after a while. His most famous call comes on any White Sox home run. As the ball is heading out, he starts revving up his voice and just as the ball passes over the wall he cries, āYOU CAN PUT IT ON THE BOARRRRRRRRRRRRDā¦YES!ā Itās at once charming, and incredibly annoying. On this particular day, some White Sock (Sox? Socker? What is the singular of Sox?) letās say Paul Konerko, drove one to deep center. Hawk was ready to go. The sequence went as follows:
Hawk: That ball is deep, way back, YOU CAN PUT IT ON THE BOARRRRRRRRRDā¦
(Torii Hunter leaps up and makes an improbably difficult catch over the garbage bag wall in Minnesota)
Hawk: ā¦OHHHH NO! NO!
Best Hawk call of my life. Oh yeah, and Torii Hunter is great. Heās been a spectacular fielder since the day he stepped on a major league field. Now, entrenched as the Angels most reliable player, his hitting has developed to the point where he is a steady presence in the middle of the lineup, and from everything Iāve read about him, heās twice the person he is the ballplayer. So put one on the board for Toriiā¦yes.
Right Field: Ichiro. Ichiro is not really my kind of baseball player. His slap hitting style and the fact that heās already running out of the batterās box before the pitch gets to the plate just seems wrong to me, but his results are nothing short of incredible. Doubted throughout much of his professional baseball life in Japan and the US because of his small stature and unorthodox swing, Ichiro has proved he belongs in the Big Leagues with 4 seasons of .350 or higher averages, and stealing 30 or more bases in each of his 8 MLB seasons. Heās already got 1900+ hits and if he plays for 5 more years with the Mariners like he says he wants to, he could achieve the 3,000 hit milestone that so many players chase. The only difference is that heāll have done it starting at age 27 (after amassing 1200+ hits in his career in Japan) whereas most players start at 23 or 24.
Starting Pitcher: Tim Lincecum. Speaking of unorthodox, Lincecum is another player that looks a little different from what most people expect a Cy Young winner to look like. First of all, he stands at 6 foot whatever and 165 lbs, which is about right for an American 14 year old. Secondly, he contorts his body in the most bizarre way to ratchet the ball up to 97 mph with nasty movement. And thirdly, seriously, this guy looks like heās ready to compete in the X-games rather than take the mound and battle some of the strongest, fastest athletes in the world. But heās another player whoās results are tough to argue with. A Cy Young Award, a career 2.95 ERA, 35 wins and 564 strikeouts in just over two years of Major League service? If he stays on track, we could be talking about some pretty imposing numbers when we look back on his career as well as a pennant or two for the Giants.
Relief Pitcher: Mariano Rivera. Rivera will likely conclude his career as the consensus for greatest closer in the history of baseball. To be fair, weāve only counted Saves as a category since the 70ās and Rivera will probably not even hold the record for most saves in MLB history. But what he will have is the reputation as the most dominant post-season reliever ever. What is so remarkable is that he really only throws one pitch. His cut fastball is legendary. Everyone knows its coming. No one can hit it with much success. His 34 saves in 117 innings pitched with a record of 8-1 and an ERA of 0.77 will likely never be topped. He is a World Series MVP. Heās a 10 time All-Star. And if you picked out 10 people in a baseball stadium anywhere, (maybe not including Boston) and asked them if they could have one pitcher to close out a game for them, 9 people are choosing Mariano. The 10th guy will pick Rick āWild Thingā Vaughn. But the 10th guy will be wrong.
So there you have it. If youāve got ideas of your own, or want to tell me how wrong I am, do so in the comments section. The second half of baseball will be back in swing tomorrow, and before we know it the playoff battles will be upon us.
Item of the week is this throwback jersey that makes me long for mullets and mustaches.