All-Time All-Star Baseball, an obsession
I love baseball because it has such a rich and long history. After all, it is the only one of American professional team sports that has been running for over 100 years, which gives the game an almost mythic quality. Game film doesn't exist for most of its history, unlike the NFL or NBA.
And since I got into it as a kid, I liked to study the history of the game and make up teams based on the best players of the past. Collecting baseball cards helped me in this pursuit, and I would make up all-star squads of card to play dice baseball with, or some sort of wacky game I played by using three books as outfield walls, tape for bases, and a marble or a dice for a ball. It was a lotta fun, even though it was totally unrealistic. I remember the day Tommy Harper hit four home runs in one game like it was yesterday. Lotsa hitting in those old games!
But in junior high, a friend had Sports Illustrated's Superstar Baseball with the All-Time All-Star team sheets. I got stuck with the Tigers because I was absent when we picked teams. Anyway, it was a lot of fun playing games with realistic scores instead of the 22-18 games we had with good old dice baseball we got out of one of the Fireside Books of Baseball.
It also led me to pursue making my own teams of all-time greats in other table games I played over the years, and all of us baseball-crazed kids would spend the time arguing who belonged on what team. The Expos were only eight years old then, and my friend told me that Jim Fairey belonged on their team. (At the time, I didn't know who Jim Fairey was. Still don't.)
I still enjoy making these rosters because it keeps the game fresh and enjoins the present with the past. And you can't do it with any other sport. Nobody says, "Hey, I think Dallas Clark belongs on the All-Time Colts team," or "Paul Pierce has got to be in the Celtics All-Time starting lineup.
And why not? Because those sports have changed so much, changing rules, changing lengths of schedules, changing equipment,...so much so that comparisons don't matter. 1,000 yards for a running back now don't mean the same as they did even 10 years ago. Football has changed so much that statistics can't accurately compare the accomplishments of say, Bart Starr with those of Brett Favre. The measures of greatness keep changing.
And could the NFL and NBA teams of the 1950's have competed with the greats of today? Not likely. Players have gotten bigger, stronger, faster, leaner, smarter,....the games have changed so much that saying that Mel Hein, a Hall of Fame center for the New York Giants in the 1930's could play that position today when he weighed no more than 205 pounds is ludicrous. Could George Mikan have been so dominant today, facing Dwight Howard? Absolutely not.
But in baseball, the common measures are pretty much the same. A .300 average still means what it did 60 years ago. 20 wins is still the measure of success for a starting pitcher. Anybody who hits 40 home runs is still a slugger (steroid era excepted). The game has changed, of course, but not so much that we can't compare the present to the past. Many knowledgeable historians still think that Babe Ruth is the greatest player of all-time and he last picked up a bat 75 years ago. (That would be the equivalent of saying that Red Grange or Jim Thorpe was the greatest football player of all-time, or that Hank Luisetti was the greatest college basketball player ever.) Because the measures of greatness remain the same, baseball appears timeless, as if the real world hasn't affected it. And thus, we can make all-time teams.
Also, a baseball player's stats are basically of his own doing, and players can be measured against each other accurately. A footbal player who gains 1200 yards did so because his team's blockers allowed him to. Completely diffrent mindset. A basketball player who scores a lot of points for a bad team does so because he gets the ball all the time. As I've heard many times, baseball is like throwing nine golfers out there on the field. It's a team game played by individuals.
So, it is fun to argue who belongs where,...Mantle or DiMaggio in center for the Yanks? Hornsby or Frisch at second for the Cards? Piazza or Campanella behind the plate for the Dodgers? What is your all-time team for each franchise?
I will endeavor to supply mine with explanations, some statistics, and just some gut decisions. And some rules,...each player on any franchise that is at least 50 years old must have played five complete seasons with the team he is selected. (For the younger teams, three years is the limit.) Also, one player can appear on more than one team. And quite a few do.
So, join me on the baseball time machine, as I pick the greatest of all-time,...and maybe start some arguments,...now, back to Superstar Baseball. Got a hot game coming up with the Orioles and the Red Sox,...seeya!