THE GREATEST BASEBALL PLAYERS OF ALL TIME: AMERICAN LEAGUE
As the baseball season moves forward, I thought it would be fun to compose a list of the best players ever, according to team.
This list would not be just about who had the big numbers, but also based on the historical significance the player had.
So the time has come to discuss the greats of the American League, birthplace of the designated hitter; the home of red and white sox, green monsters, scoreboards that explode, and guys in pinstripes that everyone outside of their fan base seems to hate.
Let us go ahead and begin with Los Angeles' so-called "other" team, the...
ANGELS - Being Disneyland's neighbors, this club has had a VERY strong, loyal, and red following this decade, winning their division nearly every year and the World Series in 2002.
Standouts such as Garret Anderson and Tim Salmon have had the numbers for these halos from Orange County and were the leaders in their '02 triumph.
However, NOLAN RYAN is my choice here.
His "Ryan Express" 100 mile-an-hour fastball and four no-hitters during the 1970s put these Angels on the map, turning them from being mere stepchildren in the Dodgers' shadow to something to be reckoned with.
And he gave Gene Autry's franchise a badly needed face.
ATHLETICS - I'm picking two people from this franchise for this list: JIMMIE FOXX - "Double X" - from their Philadelphia days in the 1920s and 30s, and REGGIE JACKSON from their early Oakland days in the 1970s.
Those guys put their versions of the A's on the map in their towns more than anyone, Foxx with his over 530 home runs, 1,900 RBIs, and his lifetime average of .325, leading Connie Mack's A's to championships in 1929 and '30, plus the pennant in 1931.
"Mr. October" did even more to establish Charlie O. Finley's A's in the East Bay, leading those mustached green and gold guys to titles in 1972, '73, and '74, despite the fact that Finley was a cheapskate who treated his team like dirt.
The 1980s Bash Brother A's with Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire were cool and dominated the latter part of that decade, and Rickey Henderson got much consideration from me for this list, but...
Those 70s guys came first, which is why Jackson's my choice.
MARINERS - KEN GRIFFEY, JR. gets my nod as the greatest player ever in the home of Starbucks, grunge music, and that billionaire who owns Microsoft.
This son of an ex-Big Red Machine member gave this Seattle team a face that desperately needed one, playing in that ugly carpeted monstrosity that was the Kingdome. The fact that he hit close to 400 homers before he was 30 and made Spiderman-like catches on a regular basis in that dump didn't hurt, either.
Some have said that he saved that franchise and kept them in the Pacific Northwest.
RANGERS - My pick here is unique in that he was also my pick on another team in this league: NOLAN RYAN.
After he signed with the team at the end of the 1980s while already in his forties, he went on to throw his 6th and 7th no-hitters (more than anyone ever), reach an all-time record of 5,714 strikeouts, and give those Rangers from Arlington, Texas a face that never really had one.
Indeed, it was known more as a place where people fried in 110-degree heat daily before Ryan got there.
Who better to put baseball in the Dallas-Fort Worth area on the map than a man who personifies that Lone Star State?
He owns a huge ranch there today and is president of the team; how could I not choose him for this list?
TIGERS - Lots of greats have plied their trade in this Motor City, where cars are born (or were), and where Berry Gordy started his little record company with a friend named Smokey.
But when it comes down to it, only one guy deserves to be listed here: TY COBB.
Yes, I know that he was an extremely evil racist bigot who was the dirtiest player who ever lived; check out his 1994 movie starring Tommy Lee Jones sometime.
Despite the fact that everyone in baseball hated him, one can't deny that he put those Bengal cats from Detroit on the map - he had the highest batting average of all time at .367. He also had over 900 stolen bases and 4,191 hits, records that stood for decades. And he was the first man elected to the Hall of Fame.
He may have been a real bad guy, but we need to face it: He was a great, great player.
WHITE SOX - If it were not for that 1919 scandal where those eight Black Sox from Chicago's Southside threw the World Series for gamblers - see the movie Eight Men Out for further details - SHOELESS JOE JACKSON would have been my clear choice for this list.
He had the third highest batting average ever at .356 and was considered a tremendous five-tool player. Not bad for someone who was illiterate.
Since he was in on that fix, I'll go with someone who was a longtime White Sock and a Hall of Famer who carried those Sox through the 1950s and early 60s as they were trying to overcome that shame: LUIS APARICIO.
Harold Baines and Frank Thomas from the 1980s and 90s were great as well, but I just think of Aparicio more when I consider who had more of a historical impact with those guys with that exploding scoreboard.
INDIANS - This one took a bit of thought.
These people from Lake Erie's shores were, from the 1960s to the mid-90s, known more for their ineptness, their toothy Chief Wahoo caricature, and that Major League movie than for what little success they may have had.
Not to mention that pathetically decrepit "Mistake By The Lake" of a park that they played in.
The man that does come to mind is someone who threw blazing heat when he was not even 18 years old, and even led Cleveland to a championship in 1948: BOB FELLER.
Not only was he a legend as a pitcher, he served his country with distinction during World War II, enlisting in the Navy and seeing combat in the Pacific.
Sounds like a great American to me.
TWINS - If this organization were still playing in Washington, D.C., as they did as the Senators before moving to Minnesota's Twin Cities in 1961, WALTER JOHNSON would have been my clear-cut pick.
That "Big Train" won over 400 games with over 4,000 strikeouts for what was a pretty bad team.
Since we're talking about the Minneapolis-St.Paul version of this franchise, I'm going with a man who was the heart and soul of that club, who led them to their 1987 and 1991 world championships: KIRBY PUCKETT.
An electrifying center fielder and clutch hitter, Twins fans will forever remember that home run he hit to win Game 6 of that '91 Series, Jack Buck exclaiming, "We'll see you tomorrow night!"
Puckett epitomized what baseball should be all about. That's why I chose him over guys like Harmon Killebrew from the 1960s; Killebrew was a great slugger, but he never won a championship.
Puckett won two. Enough said.
ROYALS - GEORGE BRETT is my overwhelming choice here. No one else comes even remotely close.
A lifetime Royal with over 3,000 hits, batting well over .300 for his career, this guy was clearly the face of Kansas City and their ballpark with the outfield fountains during their glory years in the 1970s and 80s.
Like Mike Schmidt, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, and Steve Garvey, this third baseman was an icon of my childhood.
With the way these Royals have been playing the past couple of decades (their start this year notwithstanding), Brett could help this team now.
At least they will always have 1985 and the World Series that they won that year over their I-70 neighbors, the Cardinals.
RAYS (FORMERLY KNOWN AS DEVIL RAYS) - This club's only eleven years old, but did an amazing job in winning the pennant last year, overcoming the fact that they are in the same division as two of the sport's iconic franchises.
CARL CRAWFORD, one of their many good, young players, is worth mentioning because he has been in Tampa Bay for several years now and suffered through the bad times, but needs a few more years of standout play before I'll consider him the greatest (Devil) Ray ever.
Great as he is right now, the same goes for Evan Longoria.
BLUE JAYS - I thought a long time about who should be the greatest impact player that baseball's last Canadian link has had.
Guys like Dave Steib, George Bell, and Jesse Barfield gave these Jays their credibility in the 1980s, and those birds from Toronto did win back-to-back World Series in 1992 and '93.
Having stated that, the man responsible for the greatest moment in the history of baseball in Canada when his homer off Mitch Williams won that 1993 Series, even though he was a free agent who didn't come up as a Blue Jay, will be added here: JOE CARTER.
ORIOLES - It was a VERY tough decision between BROOKS ROBINSON, third baseman extraordinaire from the 1960s and 70s who, along with Frank Robinson and that underwear ad guy, Jim Palmer, gave those Baltimore birds their identity, and CAL RIPKEN, JR., the shortstop & 3rd baseman who did nothing more than break Lou Gehrig's unbreakable streak of 2,130 consecutive games played in 1995.
Since both of these men epitomized and defined that Oriole franchise, I felt that I had no choice but to pick them both.
RED SOX - This is one of the quintessential franchises in all of sports, complete with a ballpark that's a historical landmark and arguably the best fan base in baseball - the Red Sox Nation.
Some of the biggest legends have called Boston and Fenway Park home; Cy Young during their early days, Carl Yaztremski, and Carlton Fisk with his epic home run in the 1975 World Series that he waved and willed to be fair.
Not to mention Roger Clemens in the 1980s, plus Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, who led those Sox in breaking the Bambino's "curse" in 2004, winning the World Series for the first time in 86 years.
One man, however, eclipses all of those guys combined: THEODORE SAMUEL (TED) WILLIAMS - "The Splendid Splinter". "The Kid".
As baseball's last .400 hitter - .406 in 1941 - he was a straight-out genius in hitting. He was also a seven-time batting champ who hit .344 for his career, fourth on the all-time list. Plus he walked over 2,000 times.
And on top of all that, he served his country with great distinction as a marine pilot in two wars, even getting shot down in Korea during the war there.
By the way, he was a master fisherman, too.
YANKEES - Not only is this mortal Red Sox enemy New York City's elite team, not only is this baseball's elite team, this South Bronx franchise is perhaps the elite franchise in all of sports - and has been since the 1920s.
This is a true dynasty that fans from outside New York love to hate; what other sports team has had a Broadway musical and a movie dedicated to their defeat, and has had well-known films based on their stars?
Many household names have donned the navy blue pinstrpies, from Lou Gehrig to the guy who married Marilyn Monroe (Joe DiMaggio), to Mickey Mantle and his M & M buddy Roger Maris. Even Derek Jeter should be mentioned here, since he has kept the Yankee flame going strong with four world titles in a five-year span.
However, great as these men were, one man is the clear choice for the greatest Yankee.
This was a man who built the Yankee empire, so much so that the stadium that they opened in 1923 was called the house that he built. He almost literally saved the game and brought fans back after that 1919 Black Sox Scandal, who many have called the greatest player ever:
GEORGE HERMAN RUTH, JR. - "THE BABE".
Shall we go over his numbers?
He hit 714 home runs, including 60 in 1927, outhomering all of the other teams in the American League that year, with a career .342 batting average for his career.
But this former reform school kid from the Baltimore docks was much more than statistics...
He was larger than life, the ultimate at burning the candle at both ends, partying like Lindsay Lohan all night and blasting towering shots into the stands the next day. Kids loved him, not surprisingly since he was a big kid himself.
With all of this in mind, how on earth could I possibly NOT choose this legend?
Well, there they are, my list of the greatest baseball players of all time, according to the team that they played on.
I certainly hope it was interesting and a little thought-provoking, maybe causing a few debates and disagreements.
If nothing else, I hope this is a good way to commemorate our national pastime.
Here's to what I think is the greatest sport in the world. Play Ball!
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