I will be writing two articles highlighting my All-Time Team comprised solely of individuals of African descent to play in the Major Leagues since it is Black History Month. This article will be focusing on my selections for the position player group and the second one will be centered around my selections for the pitching staff(starting rotation & bullpen). My criteria for selecting players will be based on advanced statistics such as WAR, OPS+, WRc+, ERA+, and others since I will be comparing players from different eras.
I will be including individuals who played most of their careers in the Negro Leagues since the Negro Leagues are now recognized as apart of Major League Baseball. I will be considering all individuals of African descent regardless of nationality and/or ethnicity, as black people throughout the African diaspora have contributed to the game of baseball throughout its history, in turn making it what it is at this very moment.
Black History Month: Catcher
Josh Gibson is my choice to be the starting catcher, and in my opinion, he is the greatest catcher in the history of baseball. Gibson is the consensus for the greatest black catcher to ever squat behind home plate, as teammates, opponents, and observers compared him to all-time great talents such as Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. While stories of Gibson’s past feats have been exaggerated, the sheer scale gives me the impression that he was still one of the best to ever do it.
Josh Gibson’s trademark was his tremendous power, with conservative estimates of his career home run total as a professional baseball player being around 600 home runs. That ability to hit for power is a rarity at any position, and the fact that Gibson was a full-time catcher magnifies his offensive value. Many individuals considered Gibson to be the greatest catcher of his time period, including Hall of Famers Satchel Paige, Walter Johnson, and Monte Irvin.
Frank Thomas is one of the greatest first basemen to ever play the game and one of the best hitters of all time as well. Thomas’ greatest asset was not his ability to hit for contact or power, it was his ability to get on base. Frank Thomas led the American League in On-Base Percentage four different times and was amongst the top ten in the statistic in eight different seasons. Thomas’ all-around ability as a hitter can be summed up in his career slash line: .301/.419/.555.
The two-time American League MVP winner has a 156 OPS+, a statistic that takes run environment and many other external factors into account to create a number that can tell how good of a hitter an individual is. 100 is average, and every number above or lower than 100 is a percentage point. Basically, Frank Thomas was 50% better than the average hitter for his entire career, and he played 20 years in the majors.
Joe Morgan is not just the greatest second baseman of African descent to play in the majors, he’s the greatest second baseman in the history of the game post-integration. Morgan was under-appreciated for most of his career because of the bias respected evaluators and casual fans had for batting average. Joe Morgan is the perfect example of a five-tool player, being able to hit for contact and respectable power for someone who was 5’7”. Morgan is also one of the greatest baserunners of all time, having almost 700 stolen bases and accumulating a large positive value as a baserunner throughout his career. Morgan was also an excellent defender, snagging five Gold Gloves during his illustrious career.
The “Little General” unfortunately passed away on October 11th, 2020, leaving behind an illustrious career as a professional baseball player and broadcaster. Morgan is most known for being the centerpiece that put the Cincinnati Reds teams of the 1970s, aka “The Big Red Machine” over the hump. Morgan was renowned for his leadership skills on and off the field, and for being a great ambassador for baseball. Morgan was always amongst the most productive individuals at second base from the beginning of his career in 1963 to his retirement in 1984, and his longevity is a testament to his abilities as a second baseman
Adrian Beltre is the greatest third baseman of African descent to play professional baseball and is also one of the greatest Afro-Latino baseball players of all time. Beltre was a prominent international prospect who began his soon to be Hall of Fame career with the Los Angeles Dodgers at the age of nineteen and was a productive full-time player until he retired at the age of 39. Beltre could hit for contact and power, always running strikeout rates well below league averages while hitting a lot of doubles and home runs. Beltre was also one of the best defensive third basemen during his time in the majors, which is remarkable when considering his unorthodox fielding mechanics.
Adrian Beltre is one of the greatest baseball players to hail from the Dominican Republic and one of the most beloved personalities in recent years. While many questions whether he should be in the Hall of Fame due to the inconsistencies early in his career, the stretch of elite baseball Beltre played in the 2010s should be enough to show he should be in Cooperstown. Beltre has 477 home runs, over 3,000 hits, and is second in games played as a third baseman which is a testament to his durability and consistency.
My selection to play shortstop is Derek Jeter, albeit begrudgingly because of his awful defense throughout his career. Jeter is a modern baseball icon, the last Yankee to wear a single-digit number, brought five World Series banners to the most iconic sports franchise of all time, amongst many other accomplishments. Derek Jeter is also the greatest position player in postseason history, earning the nickname “Mr. November” for his ability to perform in high leverage situations.
Jeter’s bread and butter was an opposite field-oriented hitting approach and the ability to take a walk. Jeter’s baserunning skills are a bit underrated in my opinion, as he was an effective base stealer and baserunner throughout his career. Despite Jeter arguably being the worst defensive shortstop in the history of baseball, he was still a productive player throughout his career.
Barry Bonds is my choice here, and honestly, I do not care whether anyone agrees or disagrees because he used steroids, or because of his personality. Bonds is the second greatest hitter ever after Ted Williams, one of the greatest baserunners of all time, and the perfect example of a five-tool player as he is one of the best defensive left fielders ever. There was nothing on the diamond that Barry Bonds could not do as well as any other legend, and I will die on that hill.
Seven MVPs, 12 Silver Sluggers, eight Gold Gloves, two batting titles, and a career on-base percentage of forty-four percent is an absurd resumé, and that is not even all of his career accolades. Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame, and he is also apart of the greatest father-son duo in MLB history.
Willie Mays is the obvious choice here as he is the first or second greatest defensive center fielder ever, the only individual that could be better than him is Andruw Jones. Mays is one of the greatest all-around talents to play in the MLB, putting up gaudy numbers while his home parks were two awful run environments in The Polo Grounds and Candlestick Park. The fact that Mays was able to put up such ridiculous offensive and defensive numbers while playing at these two venues known for suppressing power is a testament to his talent with the bat, as well as his ability to patrol centerfield.
Mays’ ability to steal bases and run the bases is excellent, as he was regularly among league leaders in stolen bases and runs scored during his prime. He was also an absolute media darling, as he was one of the most marketed baseball players of his time.
The recently departed Hank Aaron is my choice for right field due to his consistency of hitting for average and power, being an extremely effective baserunner, and also playing great defense in right field. It is well documented what Aaron faced as he pursued Babe Ruth’s home run record during an era where he or his family could have been harmed for his excellence on the diamond. Aaron is one of the greatest athletes of all time, and his consistency was mind-boggling especially when looking at how much pressure he faced later in his career.
Aaron’s resumé and longevity as an elite player speak for itself, and in my opinion, he should have his number retired throughout the MLB. He was the ultimate ambassador for the game and was an underrated front office executive.
My choice for DH is Frank Robinson, the only MLB player to win the MVP award in both leagues, Triple Crown winner, and the first black manager in MLB history. At the time of his retirement, he was fourth place all-time in home runs. Robinson was renowned for his leadership skills and his competitive spirit in between the lines and in the clubhouse.
Despite the reputation he garnered as “the angry black man”, Robinson was beloved on and off the field and known for being a great ambassador for the game. He held a position as an MLB executive for a long time before passing away last year. Robinson was primarily a right-fielder throughout his career, but due to Aaron being in RF I will have to put Robinson at the DH.
Jackie Robinson will be my utility player, due to him being able to play multiple positions because of his athleticism and adeptness with the glove. Despite starting his MLB career at the age of 28, Robinson was an above-average player for most of his career. A former Olympic level athlete and four-sport collegiate athlete, Robinson would have no hiccups being a super-utility player on my all-time roster. Robinson was also an elite baserunner and could serve as a pinch-runner in certain situations.
My fourth outfielder would be Rickey Henderson, who is known for his baserunning prowess but is often overlooked for his ability to control the strike zone and get on base. In his prime, Henderson also flashed some power to go along with his elite on-base skills. Henderson is one of the greatest personalities to ever grace baseball, and it would be really cool to include him amongst the others in my lineup.
My backup catcher would be Russell Martin, who does not get enough attention or credit as a baseball player in my opinion. In case you were wondering, Martin is of African descent, having a Black Canadian father and a white mother. Martin’s athleticism combined with his ability to perform offensively and defensively is rare for a catcher, and he’d be an excellent backup catcher behind the legendary Josh Gibson.
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