The Golden Hall of Fame revealed its fourth team, those nine players voted the fourth-best at each position from the annals of MLB history.
These nine players were voted by baseball writers and fans as the fourth-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 of Fame. For previous entries, see:
The Fourth Team draws from just about every era of baseball. A practical scientist takes the mound and pairs with an outspoken advocate to complete the battery. They are backed up by an infield from every decade of postwar baseball. The outfield represents heroism, viciousness, and groundbreaking accomplishments.
Enough teasing and time to reveal the results. Without further ado, Overtime Heroics presents the Golden Hall of Fame Fourth Team.
MLB History: Golden Hall of Fame Fourth Team Revealed
Pitcher: Greg Maddux
The Professor’s clinical approach to each and every batter inspired praise. Rather than relying on a 100-mile-per-hour fastball or a devastating curve, Maddux applied pinpoint control to target batters’ known weaknesses. The result: 106.6 wins above replacement, a 1.143 WHIP, 3,371 strikeouts, and a World Series title.
The Nevadan finished in the top ten in ERA and ERA+ in ten different seasons. He did the same in WHIP and fielding percentage on nine occasions. Among pitchers, Maddux ranks eighth all-time in WAR. This meticulous pitcher easily earns his spot in the Golden Hall of Fame.
Catcher: Ivan Rodriguez
In 1898, the United States of America declared war against Spain under false pretenses and invaded Puerto Rico. For 21 seasons, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez played big league ball as an American citizen without representation. After completing his Golden Hall career, Rodriguez represents his commonwealth in advocating for true, full citizenship. If his major league accomplishments are any indication, Puerto Rican statehood could just happen.
The backstop dominated the diamond on the defensive end. Rodriguez threw out 46 percent of would-be base stealers and led the American League nine different seasons in the category. As with any great catcher, Pudge paired defensive prowess with offensive output. His 311 home runs, 2,844 hits, and 54.5 wins above replacement place him among the elite of his peers.
First Base: Miguel Cabrera
After a few successful years of semi-pro ball, the Providence Grays joined the National League. In their first year as a major league club, the team made the wise decision to snap up the versatile Paul Hines. He rewarded Rhode Islanders by winning the first triple crown in major league history. This feat has been repeated only 17 times, most recently by Miguel Cabrera.
The Venezuelan phenom started his professional career at just 16 years old with the Aragua Tigers. He was quickly signed by the Florida Marlins and won a World Series in his debut big league campaign. The rookie not only survived a heated encounter with Roger Clemens, but he also emerged victorious against the Rocket.
Over the next few seasons, Cabrera grew exponentially offensively and then maintained consistency at a high level. Though he did struggle defensively as an outfielder, leading to a move to the infield and ultimately first base.
Joining another Tigers team 2,423 miles away from his original Tigers, Cabrera continued his stellar performance in Detroit. He twice led the American League in home runs, doubles, runs batted in, on-base-plus-slugging percentage, and intentional walks. Cabrera even won the triple crown. MVP voters recognized his performance with back-to-back awards and votes in another seven campaigns (joining those from all five of his Marlins seasons).
Second Base: Joe Morgan
Nerds love baseball. Those inclined to academics and with less robust physical makeup tend to be drawn to the national pastime at a disproportionate rate. The history and statistical analysis prevalent to the game are obvious contributory factors. Yet there is another reason that drives nerdish devotion to baseball. Unlike basketball and football, success in this game is not as dependent on physical stature. Instead, even relatively small players can achieve success with the right combination of hard work and commitment.
At a mere five feet and seven inches, Joe Morgan fits the bill. His size did not limit his success in baseball. Despite his occasional reluctance to embrace sabermetrics, Morgan’s value is proven through four seasons of leading the National League in OBP and walks. On five occasions, the Californian placed in the top ten in wins above replacement and 14 times for fielding percentage. Contemporaries honored his accomplishments with back-to-back MVPs and votes in another five campaigns.
Third Base: Eddie Mathews
Only one franchise has won the World Series calling three different cities home. The Braves proved victorious in Boston (1914), Milwaukee (1957), and Atlanta (1995). Though fans rarely continue their devotion when a team leaves town, they might have continued their admiration for the only person to have played for the Braves in all three towns. Eddie Mathews excelled for the team, whether manning the hot corner at Braves Field, Milwaukee County Stadium, or Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
The Californian placed in the top ten in home runs in ten different seasons, wins above replacement nine times, adjusted OPS eight times, and fielding percentage 12 times. Multiple great single-season campaigns combined for a stellar career. Mathews ranks 22nd all-time in wins above replacement, 23rd in home runs, and fourth among third basemen according to the Golden Hall of Fame.
Shortstop: Alex Rodriguez
For more than a century, players had no right to govern themselves in baseball. A few rich men controlled baseball. This cabal decided to which teams players were assigned and for how long, took the vast majority of the wealth generated by the players’ labor and set the on and off-field rules by which all players had to abide. Sacrifices made by immortals like Curt Flood altered this dynamic, giving players a voice in creating the rules that would be enforced for and against them. You can call this the rebirth of democracy in baseball.
When players sometimes ignored the semi-official prohibition on steroid use in the 1990s, some leeway can be given. Players finally had a say, and the issue of steroids had not been fully discussed. Moreover, the owners looked the other way. Yet by the 2010s, players and owners alike had agreed to ban steroids. Congress had held hearings on the subject. Fans were overwhelmingly in favor of ending steroid use. Strict penalties were set for violation.
The rules were clear when Alex Rodriguez took steroids. Moreover, Rodriguez had a full voice in his union and benefited enormously financially from the shared power and monetary arrangements between players and owners. Rodriguez’s use of steroids makes his legacy complicated.
Even before his use of steroids, however, and taking into account his overall talent and performance, it is clear A-Rod ranks among the best of all-time. The Floridian won an MVP and received votes in six other seasons before returning to the team of his birthplace, the New York Yankees, where he won another two MVPs and votes in six more campaigns.
The lifelong American Leaguer led his peers in home runs five times and slugging percentage four times. He ranks fourth all-time in home runs and twelfth in wins above replacement. A-Rod coupled his offensive prowess with defensive adeptness at shortstop and third base. Among the former, Rodriguez ranks 32nd in career fielding percentage. He is a controversial pick certainly, but one that Golden Hall of Fame voters felt needed to be made.
Left Field: Carl Yastrzemski
Media pressure can be intense. Often early in a career, reporters will begin assigning an archetype to a player. Based on a few interactions and clubhouse gossip, these reputations can be cemented before the young man matures into his adult self. There are occasional changes to the narrative, and the best reporters view players not as narrow images but instead as full human beings with ups, downs, consistencies, and inconsistencies. But these reporters are few compared to the many, and some players cave under the spotlight or have momentary outbursts.
Following on the heels of another Red Sox left fielding legend who had his own difficulties with the press, the expectations for Carl Yastrzemski were outrageously high. The Splendid Splinter had become the archetype of Boston success. Nevertheless, Yaz rose to the occasion and arguably surpassed Williams at times.
The New Yorker wowed press and crowds alike with his deceptive defensive antics and offensive output. In multiple seasons, Yastrzemski placed in the top ten in critical categories: OBP (seven times), OPS+ (five), home runs (three), WAR (four), and fielding percentage (four). With great early performances and a steady last decade, Yaz ranks 23rd all-time in WAR and fourth-best among left fielders in the Golden Hall of Fame.
Center Field: Ty Cobb
Ty Cobb was perhaps the greatest position player at the time of baseball’s greatest popularity, and Cobb became famous enough in his own time that continues to reach ours. What made Dead Ball baseball popular is what made Cobb popular: contact hitting, aggressive baserunning, and competitive attitude. A partial return to that style of the game could help bring baseball back to its former level of popularity, and an examination of Cobb’s playing legacy may help get the powers that be to make some changes.
The Georgia-native broke into the big leagues after promoting himself arguably beyond his gameplay in the South Atlantic League (though his .326 batting average certainly showed potential). In the days before easy sharing of video, Cobb used pseudonyms to write an influential sports reporter extolling his minor league accomplishments. Ultimately this hype garnered the attention of the Detroit Tigers.
For 24 seasons, Cobb created runs, had more than his share in wins, and played Dead Ball to the fullest. He hit for contact, setting the major league hits record that would stand for decades. He ran the basepaths with abandon, setting an American League record that would do the same. Along the way, Cobb set the template for baseball photographs, incurred the ire of opposing players and teammates alike, and brutally assaulted fans. He was known to hurl racist invectives while also advocating for the integration of the big leagues.
Cobb left quite a legacy on the field. He led his league in runs five times, triples four times, doubles thrice, on-base percentage seven times, and OPS+ twelve times. Cobb ranks fourth all-time in WAR, and he is an obvious choice for Golden Hall of Fame inclusion.
Right Field: Frank Robinson
Writers and fans often engage in the timeless and sometimes tedious debate of what constitutes a most valuable player. Some argue that the MVP needs to come from a winning team while others contend the award is about individual accomplishment. There are those who advocate that players should lead in traditional statistical categories like batting average and wins; others embrace sabermetrics as the leading indicators of value. Some believe the best all-around player should receive the award; others argue for the leader in significant categories. For those looking for an answer to this discussion that incorporates all theories like the elusive quantum relativity, Frank Robinson might provide part of the solution.
Robinson won the MVP award in both leagues and, in the olden days, at the only nexus of the circuits, the World Series. In 1961 with the Reds, he finished fourth in wins above replacement, second in on-base percentage, and third in stolen bases while leading the club to the pennant. Five years later, the Californian was with Baltimore. He finished first in wins above replacement, home runs, on-base percentage. The Orioles went on to claim the pennant and win the World Series. In that four-game sweep, Robinson slugged two home runs (including what turned out to be the series-winning four-bagger), posted a 1.232 OPS, and was named the MVP of the series.
Robinson’s MVP awards in two different leagues and in the postseason indicate that a player who leads in both traditional and sabermetric categories on a winning team has an edge. This is not exactly surprising, and perhaps a certain shortstop on the third team will further steps toward the grand theory.
Agree or disagree with the makeup of the Golden Hall of Fame Fourth Team? 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 of Fame. Look for the Third Team to be revealed soon.
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