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Golden Hall: Sixth Team

  This article is the latest in a series revealing the 100 players who comprise the newly-established Golden Hall.  For previous entries, see:

These nine players were voted by baseball writers and fans as the sixth-best possible starting lineup of all-time.

This particular lineup is 1960s and 70s heavy, with a majority of the players starring in these decades.  The team is rounded out with an underappreciated modern day home run king, an Ivy League deadballer, and twin stars of the pre-war New York clubs.

Enough teasing and time to reveal the results. Without further ado, Overtime Heroics presents the Golden Hall Sixth Team.

Pitcher: Sandy Koufax

For six seasons, Sandy Koufax was not impressive.  He routinely posted earned run averages north of 4.00, was often worse than the average player in runs better than average, and even led the majors in wild pitches one year despite pitching only 158.2 innings.  Then something clicked.

After leading the big leagues in strikeouts and fielding-independent pitching, the Brooklynite put together five of the best seasons in baseball history while starring for his transplanted hometown club.  He led the National League (and often the majors) in ERA five times, strikeouts three times, WHIP four times, and FIP five times.

Catcher: Carlton Fisk

Carlton Fisk is a man of mismatched sox.  He split his career almost evenly between the Red Sox and White Sox.  Fisk put together a stellar statistical performance. Starring as a catcher for both clubs, he racked up 2,356 hits, 376 home runs, and 68.4 wins above replacement. As a catcher, he led the American League in triples in 1972.  He earned MVP votes in seven seasons.

A proud New Englander, Fisk added new legends to the storied Red Sox-Yankees rivalry with two notable bouts of fisticuffs.  A World Series hero, Fisk nearly ended the Curse of the Bambino.  In the bottom of the twelfth inning on the brink of elimination, Pudge launched a ball down the line and was caught on abandoning all reason and by “waiving” the ball fair. 

His swing and belief paid off, and the Red Sox won the game.  His display of a full emotional commitment to winning changed the way baseball games are broadcast, with a newfound focus on the players themselves instead of the ball.  So it is altogether fitting that we honor Carlton Fisk in the Golden Hall.

First Base: Jim Thome

In the late twentieth century, statistics honed in on the player skills, performances, and talents that truly help baseball teams win.  Among other realizations, the perception of the importance of walks and home runs finally caught up with reality.  So in the twenty-first century, baseball clubs began developing, signing, and playing those individuals who performed best according to the sabermetric model. 

In terms of plate appearances, batters aimed for two positive outcomes (walks and home runs) while embracing a negative third (strikeouts).  Yet just before the sabermetric revolution, there was Jim Thome.

Thome is, in some ways, the modern version of the Natural.  Growing up amidst the cornfields of the Great Plains, he learned the national pastime and even imitated Roy Hobbs’s swing.  Yet, speaking to modern ignorance of the true value of ballplayers, Thome was a throw-away thirteenth round pick.  Teams simply did not understand the value that the prospect offered.

Nevertheless, the Illinoisan emerged as a star with Cleveland and five other teams over a 22-year big league career.  He ranks eighth all-time in home runs and in the top 100 in on-base percentage, wins above replacement, and fielding percentage (among first basemen). 

Reflecting his three-true-outcome approach, Thome hit a home run, walked, or struck out in nearly 50 percent of his plate appearances.  In fact, he ranks seventh all-time in walks and second in strikeouts.  Yet, statisticians proved Thome’s worth.  As a result, he is rightfully included in the Golden Hall.

Second Base: Eddie Collins

Eddie Collins was the turn of the century’s seemingly ideal man: Ivy League-educated, athletic, church-going.  In baseball, he competed honorably on the field, notably refusing to take part in joining his White Sox in throwing the 1919 World Series.  His play demonstrated his excellence. 

Collins collected 3,315 hits and an on-base percentage of .424.  Just getting on base was the beginning though.  Collins was a true threat on the basepaths, swiping 741 bases over his career.

His statistical accomplishments leave no doubt as to Collins the player’s inclusion in the Golden Hall.  Yet despite his role model persona, Eddie Collins continued a dishonorable legacy that harmed the game.  As general manager of the Red Sox, he hosted a sham tryout for Jackie Robinson, Sam Jethroe, and Marvin Williams in 1945.  This was a stunt.  A Boston city councilman put pressure on the club to integrate, and Collins and his staff engineered this ruse.  The Red Sox would be the last team to integrate, and only after Collins’s death.

Third Base: Brooks Robinson

I was never a particularly gifted athlete.  My confidence in swinging the bat was low, though my no-swing approach did enable me to get on base frequently due to the inability of most nine-year-olds to throw strikes consistently.  I did enjoy some success in my final year on the Waffle House Little League club as one of those rare boys who could throw over the plate just about every pitch.  I even made the All-Star team.  Yet translating that early strikeout rate to the next level proved elusive.  In my one pitching performance in Pony League, I surrendered eight runs in a third of an inning.  I was quickly relegated to third base for the remainder of the season.

What initially was an embarrassment turned out to be perhaps the greatest honor of my playing career.  You see, I played in Little Rock, Arkansas.  Historic Lamar Porter Field hosted all of our league’s games.  And no other than legendary third baseman Brooks Robinson got his start near the very bag that I now manned.

Robinson lived a quintessential Little Rock life.  His father played semi-pro ball and was a firefighter.  His mother worked in the State Capitol.  Robinson himself delivered newspapers on his bicycle and worked the scoreboard and grandstand at Lamar Porter.  He graduated from even-more historic Central High School and served in the military.

However, the Human Vacuum Cleaner achieved fame in a faraway place.  As third basemen for the Baltimore Orioles, he achieved a level of defensive prowess unmatched in the 163 years of organized baseball.  The hot spot is notoriously one of the most difficult defensive positions. Robinson is the all-time leader in defensive wins above replacement at the position and ranks third all-time of any position.  In fact, Robinson is comfortably surrounded by fellow Orioles greats Mark Belanger and Cal Ripken, Jr.  His defensive contributions and acceptable offensive output led Baltimore to two World Series titles and now his inclusion in the Golden Hall.

Shortstop: Ozzie Smith

The Sixth Team might just be the best defensive team in the Golden Hall (Jim Thome notwithstanding).  While Brooks Robinson ranks third in career defensive wins above replacement, the Wizard himself takes first.  Smith is the all-time leader in assists, 24th in fielding percentage, and finished in the top ten in fielding percentage in 15 different seasons.

Much like fellow Golden Haller Ron Santo, Smith was known for his on-field celebration of the game. Instead of a heel click, the Wizard performed a full backflip when the mood called for it. The Californian coupled his fielding and acrobatic prowess with a respectable offensive performance that combined places him 46th for wins above replacement among position players. 

Left Field: Pete Rose

Pete Rose knew how to play baseball. An All-Star at five positions, Rose could field, run, and hit with the best of them. The Ohioan is arguably the greatest hitter of all-time, as he leads all major leaguers in career hits. His regular-season prowess extended into the postseason. Rose ranks fifth for career win probability added in the playoffs on his way to two World Series victories.

Whereas fellow Cincinnati native and Golden Haller Barry Larkin represent the heroic side of the local boy making it on the hometown team, Rose takes the tragic side of the same tale. Larkin played with joy and shared his happiness with his teammates, fans, and even the opposing side. Charlie Hustle competed with a fierce determination admired by fans, viewed cautiously by teammates, and loathed by his opponents. From injuring Ray Fosse in the All-Star game to betting on baseball and receiving a lifetime ban, Rose personified greatness fallen.

Center Field: Joe DiMaggio

Tell Simon and Garfunkel we found him: Joltin Joe DiMaggio is in the Golden Hall. Fittingly on the same team as the all-time hits leader, the consecutive hits holder is one of the game’s legends.

The Californian first gained notice in the Pacific Coast League with the San Francisco Seals. In a sign of things to come, DiMaggio hit safely in 61 consecutive games. Three years later, he was in New York. Over the course of 13 big league seasons, the Yankee Clipper slashed .325/.398/.579, finished in the top ten in home runs in ten different seasons and won nine World Series. DiMaggio hit so well that he ranks 22nd in career OPS+.

Right Field: Mel Ott

Everyone’s favorite crossword puzzle clue completes the Sixth Team. The New York slugger would likely be better remembered today if his Giants had not moved to California. Nevertheless, his 511 home runs power him to Golden Hall status.

Ott’s story is one of perseverance. The Louisianan was rejected by his hometown New Orleans Pelicans. Dismayed but undeterred, he became a phenomenon on a local company team. At just 17 years old, he wowed his way onto the Giants, yet Ott rode the bench for two years before finally being given a chance to play every day. Ott more than earned this opportunity. He hit so well that he ranks among the best ever in the following career categories:

  • WAR (position players): 16th
  • OPS+: 22nd
  • Home runs: 25th
  • OBP: 27th

Conclusion

Agree or disagree?  Writers and fans will have an opportunity to vote again 2030.  In the meantime, let the debate commence!

Be sure to check out previous installments of the Golden Hall.  Look for the Fifth Team to be revealed soon.


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