News recently hit the web that the Texas Rangers have agreed to trade Michael Young to the Philadelphia Phillies. I have long thought that Michael Young was one of the most underrated and under appreciated players in the league, and although he is finally passed his prime, he will always be one of my favorite players and an All-American Ball Player. This Michael Young news reminded me of old middle school thoughts of who would be on my “All-American Ball Players” team.
To be considered for the All-American Ball Players team you must:
A) Obviously… be an American B) Have never represented another country in competition (e.g., Mike Piazza played for the Italian National Team) C) To limit the player pool to a reasonable size, they must have played at least one game in 2000 or later and D) Be a class-act, team player who personifies the spirit that makes baseball America’s favorite pastime. Being on this team is a combination of the MVP Award, Roberto Clemente Award, and the Medal of Honor… except this one is totally meaningless.
Unlike the NHL which is mostly Canadian and Eastern European or the NBA which has become a star driven league that promotes superstars over teams and slam dunks over smart passing and defense, Major League Baseball, I believe, is not short of American, role model athletes. (Retired players are listed with the team they are most well-known for, while active players are listed with their most recent team.) Enjoy, and be sure to tell me who I left out.
Catcher - Craig Biggio, Houston Astros: Although best known as a second baseman, Biggio was actually called up to the big leagues as a catcher in 1988. He won the Silver Slugger at the position in 1989 and played in the 1991 All-Star Game behind the plate. He did whatever the Astros needed of him though, moving to second base and making the 1992 All-Star game at his new position. Later, he’d move to Center Field to accommodate Jeff Kent, and then later to left field to welcome Carlos Beltran. He holds the NL record for most leadoff home runs with 50, but is better known for holding the modern-day record for hit batsmen with over 267. He never charged the mound. In addition to being a great player and teammate, Biggio won the 2007 Roberto Clemente award for sportsmanship and community involvement and is a lead spokesperson for the Sunshine Kids Foundation.
First Baseman – Todd Helton, Colorado Rockies: A Rockie lifer, Todd Helton is the face of a franchise if there ever was one. He is easily the greatest player in Colorado Rockies history, and was often forgotten on their bad teams of the late 90s. Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, Helton played quarterback for the Volunteers football team, and is just an All-American kind of guy. He earned five All-Star appearances, four Silver Sluggers (most of all MLB first basemen, three Gold Gloves, and two Roberto Clemente Awards.
Second Baseman – Jeff Kent, San Francisco Giants: Jeff Kent is the type of “don’t fraternize with the opponent” tough guy every team needs. He got in a fracas with Barry Bonds, the biggest villain in modern day baseball, and told him via the media to own up the BALCO scandal. He also got in a public argument with baseball doo-dad, Milton Bradley. I think that’s all pretty awesome, though not nearly as awesome as his record for the most home runs all-time for a second baseman… or his ridiculous porn stache. Jeff Kent is the best second baseman of my lifetime, and was an iconic tough guy who fought through injuries and was a true gamer.
Shortstop – Cal Ripken, Jr., Baltimore Orioles: This was the hardest position to pick, with Derek Jeter, David Eckstein, Jimmy Rollins, and Barry Larkin also receiving consideration. In the end, Cal Ripken Jr.’s workman-like reputation puts him over the top. Unlike Derek Jeter, who publicly mentioned his left-wing politics and who has been a stalwart in New York tabloids with dozens of women (not always to any fault of his own), Cal Ripken Jr. spent his whole career just going about his business…and going and going and going for two decades. His record consecutive games streak has a way of overshadowing his greatness during those games. He redefined the shortstop position with his 433 home runs, paving the way for other sluggers to play the position. He was so important to baseball and the fans, that in his last game Bill Clinton stopped by to say, “Cal, I just came by to see your last game … and to thank you for all you’ve meant to all of us who love the game of baseball.”
Third Baseman – Michael Young, Philadelphia Phillies: The quiet performer I mentioned from the outset earns this spot. The seven-time all-star has played for the Rangers his entire career. Traditionally a second sacker, he moved to shortstop to accommodate Alfonso Soriano. Years later, after becoming an elite shortstop and winning the 2008 Gold Glove, he moved again, this time to third base to accommodate Elvus Andrus. More recently, Adrian Beltre has pushed him to a utility/DH role, and now his days in Texas may be numbered. He was the hero of the 2008 All-Star Game and remains a role model of reliability.
Outfield – Ken Griffey Jr., Seattle Mariners: One of the most popular baseball players of the 90s, he hit 40 home runs in just 111 1994 games. His energy and fan following helped baseball recovery from the frustrating 1994 lockout, and while I was always bothered by his home run stare (which he was able to employ so often), there’s no doubting his greatness or importance to baseball.
Outfield – Paul O’Neill, New York Yankees: A consummate winner, O’Niell had over 130 hits on five different World Series teams. Unfortunately, his career year came in the strike shortened season of 1994, when he won the batting title, but his legendary years came in the seasons following when the Yankees won four World Series titles. He is affectionately known as the heart and soul of the Yankees 1990s dynasty. Today, the Yankee legend spends about a quarter of his time with various charities.
Outfield – Jim Edmonds, St. Louis Cardinals: It was a common debate, Andruw Jones or Jim Edmonds in center field? Most would say Andruw Jones, but I always took Edmonds’ side, and his eight Gold Gloves are a sign that it was a reasonable notion. He was a frequenter to Baseball Tonight’s Web Gems segment and made the over the shoulder catch as good as any (including Willie Mays). He wasn’t just about defense though, you can add 393 career home runs and a .376 career OBP to his eight Gold Gloves. He was one of the favorite outfielders of my childhood as his ability to give up the body and make amazing acrobatic plays fostered my love of baseball.
Designated Hitter – Frank Thomas, Chicago White Sox: One of the classic power hitters of the 90s, Frank Thomas, unlike the others, was never suspected of taking steroids, and in fact helped with the steroid investigation voluntarily. After playing collegiate baseball in the SEC as an Auburn Tiger, he was drafted 7th overall by the White Sox and spent the first 16 years of his career there. Affectionately dubbed, “The Big Hurt” for the hurt he put into the baseballs he would crush, Frank Thomas was one of the most feared hitters in baseball for years. A member of the 500 home run club, The Big Hurt, was a franchise cornerstone for the White Sox and likely the greatest DH of all-time. I still remember putting on my Back Yard Baseball team on my old Gameboy.
Starting Pitcher – John Smoltz, Atlanta Braves: John Smoltz was one of the best starting pitchers and one of the best closers of the 1990s. His love for golf is well-known, but is appreciation for America’s heroes is a little less well know. Along with Fred McGriff and Greg Maddux (honorable mentions) Smoltz has done charity work for military families in need. John Smoltz, along with Chipper Jones, is one of the most appreciated athletes in Atlanta.
Starting Pitcher – Mike Mussina, New York Yankees: Mussina was a fireballer for the Orioles, before the Stanford economics graduate signed a 6-year pact with the New York Yankees. With the Yankees, his velocity gradually dipped, but he was able to reinvent himself as a Maddux-esque control pitcher. He won seven Gold Gloves and called it a career after finally earning a 20 win season in 2008. His successful career has a tragic irony. He was within one out of a perfect game against Boston, until Carl Everett broke it up, and despite being a key player on some very good teams, the Yankees didn’t win the World Series until the year after he retired. He earned six top five finishes in Cy Young voting, but never won. In that vein, he is the #2 starting pitching on my All-American Ball Player team.
Starting Pitcher – Andy Pettitte, New York Yankees: The winningest pitcher in postseason history has spent nearly his entire career with the New York Yankees. He left New York after 2003 to play for the then National League Houston Astros. Against the weaker competition, Pettitte showed how great he really is by dominating batters across 222.1 innings with a 2.39 ERA in 2005. After the three-year hiatus, he returned to New York in 2007 and in 2009 closed out the ALDS, ALCS, and World Series, putting the Yankees back on top of the baseball universe. One of the most beloved pitchers in Yankee history. He has tried to retire to spend more time with his family, but his burning love for the game and for competition keeps bringing him back. Baseball will welcome him as long as he’ll keep coming back.
Starting Pitcher – Jamie Moyer, Seattle Mariners: He is now 50 years old, and the oldest starting pitcher to ever win a game. A crusty, veteran, seemingly since being a rookie, it was always amazing how he was so effective while pitching in the low 80s. There’s something intrinsically American about finding a way to succeed, despite being disadvantaged by something beyond your control. For Moyer, it was his velocity that was notably slower than his teammates and opponents. He pitched over 4,000 career innings, finding a way to win games for years upon years. He and his wife, Karen, are philanthropists with their work done through the Moyer Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping children in severe distress.
Starting Pitcher – Brad Radke, Minnesota, Twins: Born in Wisconsin, Radke was drafted my the Twins and stayed for his entire career. He surpassed 200 innings in nine of 12 seasons and was a cornerstone of the Twins franchise for over a decade. His quiet contributions go unnoticed as he was often on weak teams (he won 20 games on a 68 win team) or being overshadowed by Kirby Puckett or Torii Hunter. Towards the end of his career he was pitching–successfully–through serious shoulder injuries, which would eventually lead to his retirement. To see how much he really meant to his team, see this Twins fan’s blog.
Closer – Trevor Hoffman, San Diego Padres: Stepping out of the bullpen to AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells and throwing his patented change-up became the stuff of legends. Along with Mariano and Eckersley, he defined the modern-day closer’s role. (Watch his entrance video, if you don’t get chills you’re obviously a communist.) Hoffman played nearly his entire career for the Padres, for who he now serves in a front office role. Although he blew saves in some of his most visible games (e.g., 2006 All-Star game, 2007 one-game play-off vs. Rockies, and Game 3 of 1998 World Series) he is still one of the most iconic and successful closers of all-time.
I just couldn’t stomach leaving some of these cornerstones to mere honorable mentions, so here is the five man bench of the All-American Ball Players team:
Bench – Paul Konerko, Chicago White Sox: Paul Konerko quietly goes about his business, being the leader and star of the White Sox for the better part of a decade. He has hit 422 home runs and at 36, has a chance to join the elite 500 home run club. He has been with the White Sox since 1999, and is such a fixture you probably didn’t even know he played for the Dodgers and Reds for the first three years of his career.
Bench - Chipper Jones, Atlanta Braves: The face of the franchise and the most popular athlete in Atlanta for over a decade, his final season truly showed just how much of a legend he really is. Receiving applause from road crowds, even fans of the rival Mets, he is one of the most well-respected players in the game. He played his entire career for the Atlanta Braves and close to his whole career under the management of Bobby Cox. People forget how great his 1999 season really was. He hit .319 with a .440 OBP. He added 45 home runs, 110 RBI, and 25 steals and won the NL MVP and a Silver Slugger Award. The guy is a Hall of Famer, and a baseball stalwart. It’s sad to see him go…plus he called me his “buddy” when I got his autograph nine years ago.
Bench – Derek Jeter, New York Yankees: No explanation needed for the most iconic player in the game today, just well wishes for an injured ankle on the mend.
Bench – David Eckstein, Anaheim Angels: After not receiving a college baseball scholarship, Eckstein walked on to the Florida Gators and eventually played in the College World Series. After being drafted by the Red Sox in the 19th round, he was cut and picked up by the Angels. To build arm strength he practiced with the pitchers and eventually became a very solid defensive shortstop. He’d win a World Series with the Angels before moving to St. Louis where he was a World Series MVP on another Championship team. As a prize for winning that MVP award, he received a yellow Corvette, which he gave to his supportive brother. Of course, Eckstein is well-known for being one of the league’s shortest players, standing somewhere between 5″6-5″8. Eckstein is the classic story of determination and achieving one’s dreams despite all odds. His story of incredible work ethic and determination is a great example of the American dream. As a child, he was always my favorite “non-Yankee” and a true role model as I was often the smallest kid on the basketball court.
Bench – Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves: Born in Athens, GA, attended high school in the Atlanta suburbs, and has since been drafted by and stayed with his hometown team his entire career. He also played for the American team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Despite betraying my fantasy team last year, it’s hard to deny Brian McCann’s long stroke and nasty beard a spot on my All-American Ball Player team.
Honorable Mentions: Curtis Granderson, Sean Casey, Chris Davis, Mark Teixeira, Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman, Barry Larkin, Jimmy Rollins, Tino Martinez, Jim Thome, Jeff Francoeur, Torri Hunter, David DeJesus, Brett Gardner, Shawn Green, Jason Kendall, Ryan Braun, Fred McGriff, David Robertson, Tim Wakefield, Clayton Kershaw, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Roy Halladay, and Roy Oswalt.
These are the players are why I love baseball, and why baseball is America’s favorite pastime. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some deserving players, but I can’t include everyone. Please share your memories of these great players and who you think got snubbed.
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