These nine players were voted by baseball writers and fans as the fifth-best possible starting lineup of all-time. This article is the latest in a series revealing the 100 players who comprise the newly-established Golden Hall. For previous entries, see:
New and old are represented well in the Golden Hall Fifth Team. A Dead Ball ace takes the mound and is joined by his contemporary at second. The rest of the lineup is composed of modern heroes, including an active player and one with origins in the Far East. There is a shoutout to the Keystone State, with a third of this team’s honorees.
Enough teasing and time to reveal the results. Without further ado, Overtime Heroics presents the Golden Hall Fifth Team.
Pitcher: Christy Mathewson
A friend and I have long discussed writing a musical based on the life of "The Christian Gentleman." With numbers like "Big Six," "A World’s Series Shutout," and "The Gas, The Gas," it practically writes itself. Our chief limitation: neither of us particular likes musicals nor knows how to compose a ballad.
Enough with the comedic aside, you may be saying. More than 100 years after his last big league appearance, Christy Mathewson’s accomplishments have withstood the test of time. The Pennsylvanian posted a career 2.13 ERA and a lowly WHIP of just 1.058. On five occasions, Mathewson led the National League in strikeouts and six times in adjusted ERA.
Catcher: Mike Piazza
Mike Piazza has many people to thank for his success. His hard work and dedication were surely important, but it was his father’s connections and wealth that gave the young Pennsylvanian an opportunity to become a Golden Haller.
Ted Williams made house calls to the Piazza residence to help young Mike on his batting. No major league teams took an interest in the collegiate Piazza. His father asked his friend, Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, to pressure the front office to spend a late round draft pick on the then-first baseman. We do not know what talented player without connections never got his LA start because of this personal favor, but we do know that Piazza made the most of this opportunity.
After converting to catching, Piazza advanced through the ranks. Over the course of a 16-year career (almost all of which spent catching), Piazza slashed .308/.377/.545. He twice led his league in OPS+ and received most valuable player award votes in nine campaigns. And, of course, Roger Clemens threw his broken bat at Piazza during the 2000 World Series.
First Base: Frank Thomas
As a young boy in Arkansas in the 1990s, the Dallas Cowboys were all the rage. The team was owned by an Arkansan and former Razorback. Moreover, America’s Team won three Super Bowls and were led by a premier quarterback, Troy Aikman. So during a school sale where I could choose one poster to take home between Aikman and Frank Thomas, those present urged me to buy the former. Yet the decision was always easy for me: the Big Hurt came home.
Born a Chicagoan, I rooted for all teams Chicago. Though the Cubs were my favorite team, growing up in Arkansas spared me the rivalry and allowed me to root for the South Siders as my second favorite club. So Thomas happily adorned my childhood bedroom wall.
The Georgia-native posted prodigious numbers as both a designated hitter and first baseman. Thomas ranks 19th all-time in OPS+ and 20th in both OBP and home runs. He also won two MVP awards and received votes in nine other seasons. His career slash line of .301/.415/.555 belongs on a poster all its own.
Second Base: Nap Lajoie
After a millennium of grueling tyranny by hereditary tyrants and their aristocratic allies, the French people rose up en masse. They executed their oppressors and founded a republic. Yet a few short years later, a Corsican military officer was declared emperor. Napoleon Bonaparte employed propaganda, used violence, and circumvented the new democratic norms to seize power and alter underlying reality. About 100 years later, another Napoleon would be involved in a campaign using underhanded tactics to achieve personal victory. But instead of the battlefield and political arena, the diamond took center stage in a contest between Napoleon Lajoie and Ty Cobb for the 1910 batting title.
With a top-of-the-line roadster as prize, Lajoie and Cobb entered the final stretch neck and neck. Up .008 points on the last day of the season, the Georgia-native sat on the bench in an arguably cowardly attempt to maintain his lead. However, Lajoie’s coaches were ready to answer with their mischievousness as they readied for their doubleheader against the Browns. They attempted to bribe the official scorekeeper to give Lajoie a hit in the event of any close calls. As most baseball fans know, Cobb was hated by opposing players (and his own teammates, but that’s a story for another Golden Hall article).
It should come as no surprise that with no shot at the pennant, the Browns fielders chose to make it easy for Lajoie. They played deep and let balls drop that they might have otherwise been able to make a play on. The true result: baseball’s Napoleon edged out Cobb by .001 to claim the batting title. Yet the American League president apparently elected to double count one of Cobb’s games. The official result: Cobb was declared the winner though both men were honored.
Putting aside these Napoleonesque shenanigans, Lajoie is clearly an all-time great. The Rhode Islander ranks 23rd all-time in wins above replacement. In seven different seasons, he finished in the top ten in home runs. In 12 seasons he did the same in fielding percentage. This Napoleon’s reputation and accomplishments make him an easy Fifth Team Golden Haller.
Third Base: Wade Boggs
Repetition is often key to success. The idea of just doing again what one did a moment ago seems on the surface to be a simple task to accomplish. Yet the simplicity is deceiving. It takes a special talent to repeat the same activity 70, 200, or 3,010 times. Wade Boggs did just this. In reverse order, Boggs repeated success with 3,010 career hits, seven consecutive seasons of 200 or more hits, and 70 beers drank in a single day.
Perhaps living up to a Florida Man caricature, Boggs claims to have routinely consumed scores of beers during team cross-country flights. On one particularly (in)famous day, Boggs reportedly drank 70 beers (a feat attempted by the Gang).
More to his Golden Hall credentials, the Red Sox star made base hit after base hit. Along the way, he propelled his teams to two World Series appearances and rode a police horse in celebration. His career slash line of .328/.415/.443 is more than respectable. Moreover, he added fielding accomplishments to his batting with ten top ten finishes in fielding percentage among third basemen. Let"s raise a glass to Golden Hall Fifth Teamer Wade Boggs.
Shortstop: Robin Yount
It is a common experience as one ages to start comparing oneself to younger people. Mozart had composed ten symphonies by the time he was 12. Einstein published his theory of special relativity at 26. Robin Yount had played 242 major league baseball games by the time he was 20.
The Kid spent his entire big league career with the Brewers. Behind his MVP performance and leagues-leading hits, doubles, slugging, and OPS+, Milwaukee claimed its first major league pennant in a quarter of a century. With 3,142 hits and 77.3 wins above replacement, this Californian earned his way into the Golden Hall.
Left Field: Stan Musial
The leagues as distinct entities used to mean something more than they do today. The American League started not as an expansion to the already established National League, but rather as a rival competing for players, managers, and market share. There was no interleague play in the early years, and the World Series became the only time clubs from the rival circuits met in official play. Due to a combination of the reserve clause and other factors, players rarely switched leagues. So the competition within each league was consistent, and Stan Musial was the dominant National League player for decades.
Stan the Man retired as the career National League leader in hits, doubles, and runs scored. His 475 home runs helped lead his Cardinals to three World Series title. The Pennsylvanian’s prodigious output catapulted him into a record 24 all-star games. Musial ranks eighth all-time in wins above replacement, 15th in OPS+, 31st in home runs, and fifth among Golden Hall left fielders.
Center Field: Mike Trout
The Arkansas Travelers are a historic franchise. Notable players and personalities have graced the the team’s Little Rock diamond, including Tris Speaker, Jim Bunning, Bill Dickey, and Travis Jackson. But it was after their move across the river to North Little Rock that the greatest of them all donned the uniform. A minor point for even a minor club, but the local restaurant options changed for the players after the move. Among other choices is a Benihana, and this particular Traveler got lunch there before every home game (these are the perks of small town gossip and minor league legends).
Mike Trout spent 91 games with my hometown team. Due to Southern humidity and its location by the river, Dickey-Stephens Park regularly reduces longball output. A former Travelers manager once told me he advises players not to hit fly balls at home. Yet in his brief time with the club, Trout belted 11 home runs in a park with climatic conditions that makes it the opposite of Coors Field. I count seeing one of Trout’s minor league homers as one of my greatest baseball memories.
Of course, Trout’s minor league success translated into the majors. After just ten seasons, the New Jersey-native already ranks 81st in career WAR and is likely to climb near to the top before he hangs up his cleats. Behind three MVP awards, Trout has led the American League in on-base percentage four times, slugging three times, walks three times, and stolen bases once. A complete player, his fielding has also been at or near the top of the big leagues. Trout is an obviously wise choice for Golden Hall inclusion.
Right Field: Ichiro Suzuki
Many know of the Ichiro craze of 2001. The Japanese superstar known simply by his first name generated immense excitement in his home continent and newfound home. Reporters flocked, cameras clicked, and merchandise materialized. His rookie card was allegedly going for a high price on the relatively new Ebay, seemingly justifying at least one particular child’s over-purchase of 2001 packs.
Ichiro Suzuki more than met the hype. In his inaugural major league campaign, he earned Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player honors. He collected more than 3,000 hits, played through age 45, and swiped 509 bags. Suzuki broke the all-time single-season hits record by hitting safely 262 times (an average of 1.6 every game). Factoring in his NPB wins above replacement at a reduced level to take into account the more limited competition, Suzuki ranks 34th all-time with 96.7. After a 28-year career spanning two continents and four clubs, it was altogether fitting that Ichiro finished with his longest-tenured team in his home country in a sublime sendoff.
Do you agree or disagree? Writers and fans will have an opportunity to vote again in 2030. In the meantime, let the debate commence!
Be sure to check out previous installments of the Golden Hall. Look for the Fourth Team to be revealed soon.
Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images