These nine players were voted by baseball writers and fans as the second-best possible starting lineup in MLB history.
The second team is primarily constituted by postwar, integration era stars. Some of these modern-day greats competed against and with each other, making it a bit easier to imagine just how strong this lineup would be on the field. They are joined by two prewar heroes, including arguably the greatest to have ever played the game in MLB history.
This article is the latest in a series revealing the 100 players who comprise the newly-established Golden Hall. For previous entries, see:
- The Bench
- Tenth Team
- Ninth Team
- Eighth Team
- Seventh Team
- Sixth Team
- Fifth Team
- Fourth Team
- Third Team
Enough teasing and time to reveal the results. Without further ado, Overtime Heroics presents the Golden Hall Second Team.
Pitcher: Cy Young
Wins have gone out of fashion as a measure of a pitcher’s success. There is a good reason for that. Even when a pitcher throws the best game of his career, he can still lose. He can not surrender a single earned run, but if his teammates commit an error to allow a run to score and fail to produce anything in response while at-bat, the pitcher is credited with a loss. This logic works both ways, devaluing losses as a useful metric, too. So for Cy Young, the all-time leader in wins and losses, we must look to other statistics to determine his Golden Hall value.
An innings machine, the Ohioan is the all-time leader and twice led the American League. In those innings, Young often wowed crowds and stunted the competition. He twice led his league in earned run average, shutouts seven times, and strikeouts twice.
As impressive as these traditional feats are, sabermetrics reveal Young’s true greatness. He led his league in adjusted ERA twice, fielding independent pitching eight times, walks plus hits per inning pitched seven times, and kept walks per nine innings low, leading 14 times. Young ranks first all-time in career pitching wins above replacement.
The year of the pitcher is often said to be 1968, with Bob Gibson as its leader. With pitching so clearly dominating hitting, MLB changed the rules for 1969. The strike zone was reduced and the pitching mound lowered. If 1968 had a precedent, 1892 would certainly be a contender, with Young serving in the Gibson role. Young’s speed proved so dominant that the National League moved the mound back five feet back (to its present 60 feet, six inches) in 1893. The difference was immediately apparent, with the league’s ERA jumping from 3.28 to 4.66, batting average from .245 to .280, and on-base percentage from .317 to .356.
Young performed well in playoff play, too. The workhouse led his ballclubs to victory in the 1895 Temple Cup and 1903 World Series. With stellar accomplishments throughout his long career, Young earned his keep in the annals of MLB history.
Catcher: Yogi Berra
As a teenager, I read a book that included (nearly) all of the silly but endearing Yogisms. My personal favorite was his response to “would you like your pizza cut into four or eight slices?” with “four, I don’t think I could eat eight.” Berra’s simple wisdom was also readily apparent on the field and propelled him to a high position in MLB history.
Berra was the steady, guiding hand during arguably the Yankees’ most dominant stretch, winning ten World Series and finishing runner-up another four times during his playing career. He played in more World Series games and has more plate appearances than any other player ever. Berra is first all-time in World Series hits, first in doubles, second in runs, second in total bases, second in runs batted in, third in walks, third in home runs, and does not rank among the top ten in strikeouts (only 17 in 295 plate appearances). Perhaps most famously, Berra led pitcher Don Larsen to retire all 27 batters for the only World Series perfect game in MLB history.
The Missourian excelled at defense, placing in the top ten in throwing out would-be base stealers in ten different seasons and nine times in fielding percentage. He led American League catchers a record six times in double plays and eight times in putouts.
Berra’s offensive production was likewise impressive. Just as in the World Series, he rarely struck out in the regular season while sending 358 pitches over the fence. He collected 2,150 hits and 704 walks for a total base count of 3,643. Contemporaries recognized him as a feared clutch hitter, and the press named him the most valuable player thrice and cast votes in his favor in another 12 seasons.
First Base: Albert Pujols
Only four players in MLB history have hit safely 3,000 times and slugged 600 home runs. This accomplishment displays in numerical simplicity two of the coveted five tools desired by every player. Albert Pujols accomplished this feat in 2018, essentially ensuring his inclusion in the Golden Hall.
Since making the move to Anaheim, it has been somewhat common fodder to make fun of Pujols’s contract considering his somewhat underwhelming stats. Not without reason: his LA slash line is just .257/.312/.448 and a mere 14.1 wins above replacement over nine seasons. But this focus misses the bigger picture: for 11 years in St. Louis, the Dominican might just have been the best player on the planet.
Pujols’s talent was so apparent in the spring training of 2001 that Mark McGwire insisted to manager Tony La Russa to add the prospect to the opening day roster (with Big Mac still at first, this meant Pujols would spend most of his inaugural campaign at third and in the outfield). The decision proved to be a wise one, as Pujols walked away as National League Rookie of the Year.
His next ten seasons at Busch proved equally impressive. In his decade-plus one with the Cardinals, Pujols collected 3,893 total bases, 445 home runs, 455 doubles, slashed .328/.420/.617 and posted an OPS+ of 170. He led the majors in runs scored five times, total bases, intentional walks, and OPS+ four times, and slugging percentage three times. Pujols was named MVP thrice and earned votes in every season as a Cardinal.
Even when including his lackluster Angels years and the fact that he is the career leader in grounding into double plays, the totality of his career easily explains why voters honored Pujols with such a high ranking in MLB history.
Second Base: Rogers Hornsby
In 1950s Chicago, children went on adventures. Riding bikes and walking around their neighborhoods, the kids enjoyed life and, sometimes, had direct access to sports legends. Sometime between 1958 and 1960, my dad had such an adventure. A friend of his heard tale of an old ballplayer from years before they were born who lived in an apartment several blocks away. They saddled up and bikes to this mysterious oldtimer, complete with the ball in tow. They entered the apartment building, knocked on the door, and asked the old man to sign their ball. He did, and they left. Only then did my dad ask his pal, “Hey, who was that?” The answer, “Rogers Hornsby.”
Hornsby spent a few of the last years of his life as a coach with his old Cubs team. Long before that twilight, The Rajah established himself as one of the greatest players in all of MLB history. Playing mostly for the Cardinals, Hornsby hit for power and contact. He still holds the record for the last highest single-season batting average at .424 and topped that off with a league-leading slugging percentage of .696.
Hornsby’s otherworldly offense was a must, as he struggled defensively. The second baseman posted a somewhat measly .958 career fielding percentage and committed a whopping 500 errors (30 or more in six different seasons). Hornsby’s bat never found a ballpark problematic: he hit .359 at home and .358 on the road. The Texan’s career slash line is an outstanding .358/.434/.577 with an adjusted OPS of 175. He led the National League in on-base percentage in nine different seasons, total bases seven times, doubles four times, and home runs twice.
Third Base: George Brett
What’s in a name? The first known name in human history is Kushim, a Sumerian merchant whose moniker was recorded on a grocery list while ordering supplies to make beer. Typically, people are named in honor of something. Sometimes a relative, other times a friend, a city, or an item. Occasionally, a child is named after a hero, even if the parents never met the namesake. We do not know about Kushim, but I once had a roommate named in honor of a certain Royals third baseman who is deservedly ranked as the second-best in MLB history.
The Californian played 21 seasons of Kansas City Royals baseball, excelling at the plate for the vast majority of them. After some initial struggles, Brett tweaked his approach. The changes paid off, as Brett earned an MVP award and votes in another ten campaigns. He led the American League three times in hits, triples, batting average, slugging percentage, and OPS+. Brett’s career regular-season slash line of .305/.369/.487 is outdone by his postseason performance of .337/.397/.627.
Shortstop: Cal Ripken, Jr
When I was around ten years old, I decided it was time to write to my favorite players and ask for autographs. Using a directory from Sports Illustrated for Kids, I penned quick letters to some of the best athletes of the 1990s. Most did not write back. Some just sent ads of their merchandise that I could buy. Cal Ripken, Jr. was different. Though clearly from his staff, Ripken obviously cared and wanted to ensure that fans had a positive experience. His response included a picture with a facsimile autograph, an Orioles bumper sticker, and a nice letter. The Iron Man won a fan for life, and it brings this author great joy that voters selected him as the second greatest shortstop of all-time.
Of course, the Marylander is best known for breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games streak. Yet his greatness lies in the reasons why his manager started him daily. Ripken led the majors among all positions in defensive wins above replacement three times and finished in the top ten another seven. He also ranks 18th in all-time fielding percentage among shortstops.
His offensive numbers complemented his defensive skills. Ripken belted 431 home runs, 603 triples, and collected 5,168 total bases (leading the majors in the latter category in his 1991 MVP season). He posted on-base percentages over .350 in seven different seasons. Ripken twice led in offensive wins above replacement and placed in the top ten on a couple of other occasions. Ripken ranks 24th all-time in cumulative wins above replacement and has earned his place in MLB history.
Left Field: Rickey Henderson
“If you could split him in two, you’d have two Hall of Famers.” – Bill James
Before the sabermetrics revolution, Rickey Henderson tore up the basepaths with abandon, creating a stolen base record far surpassing the next closest. He was recognized at the time as one of the greatest active players, receiving an MVP award and votes in seven other seasons.
After intelligent people applied a keener analysis of what is really going on in baseball, stolen bases dropped precipitously. The calculations simply bore out that, most of the time, attempting a steal was detrimental to winning. Yet, Henderson’s performance shows an exception to the rule while proving that sabermetrics can account for a generational talent like in other ways.
Sabermetrics may suggest on its face that steals should rarely be attempted. Yet this newer way of thinking also cuts in favor of Henderson’s talent applied to his particular style of play. For decades, baseball minds frowned upon the walk. Henderson, however, knew that getting on base, not how one gets on base, is what matters in creating runs (later borne out in sabermetrics analysis). The Californian set the career mark for bases on balls with 2,190 and led the American League in the category in four different seasons. Combined with more than 3,000 hits, Henderson posted a career .401 on-base percentage.
Once on base, the same sabermetrics analysis that would tell almost all runners to stay put would have told Rickey to run. Through his 1,406 steals and baserunning on 3,400 non-homer total bases, Henderson created 144 runs, including an incredible 17 runs in two different seasons. He complimented this with nine seasons of double digital fielding run creation. All in all, Henderson accumulated 111.2 career wins above replacement and a solid place in MLB history.
Center Field: Mickey Mantle
Mickey Mantle would have been a star in any era and with any team. He lucked out by playing exclusively for the New York Yankees as baseball first became a nationally-televised sport. This fame surely propels him to a higher view by many fans when ranking the all-time greats, yet his talent alone would warrant such high regard in MLB history.
The Oklahoman suffered a potentially debilitating leg injury in college and played with chronic pain throughout his career. Yet, of all his accomplishments, the fact that he stole bases at a success rate of 75 percent may be the most impressive. He stole 153 in total during a time when base stealing was in decline.
Mantle’s batting performance is surely what sticks in most fans’ minds. He posted a career slash line of .298/.421/.557. Mantle led the American League in OPS+ eight times, walks and runs scored five times, home runs and slugging percentage four times, and on-base percentage and total bases three times. Despite playing in an era with limited postseason berths, Mantle still ranks sixth in career playoff home runs with 16.
Mantle posted a career win above the replacement mark of 116.2. He was recognized by his contemporaries as the most valuable player three times and received votes in 11 other seasons. Writers and fans have honored him repeatedly for his place in MLB history, and now Mantle joins the penultimate echelon in the Golden Hall.
Right Field: Hank Aaron
When considering all arguments, crowning Henry Aaron as the true career home run king might just be the most defensible position to take. He obviously surpassed Babe Ruth, is far ahead of Josh Gibson’s confirmed 238 and adjusted 684, is a mere seven behind Barry Bonds and trails Sadaharu Oh by a count of 113. Aaron had these factors going for him during his career that the others did not:
- He played in the integrated major leagues.
- Baseball was still the nation’s most popular sport and drew the best athletes.
- He did not take performance-enhancing drugs.
Aaron’s talent, dedication, and consistency propelled him to hit 755 home runs against the best competition baseball arguably ever had to offer. And he accomplished this feat, breaking the previous record, in the face of millions who actively rooted against him and thousands who harassed him and his family with racist, terroristic threats.
Even if Aaron’s power-hitting was taken away, he almost surely would still stand among the greats in MLB history. Removing his home runs, Aaron still has more than 3,000 hits. With his 1,402 strikeouts, he posted a career on-base percentage of .374. Reconsidering his power, Hammerin Hank led the majors in OPS+ three times and had a career mark of 155. His career total base count is literally 12.3 miles in front of second place.
Aaron’s fielding and baserunning were and often rose to similar levels as his offensive output. His career tally of runs from baserunning is 44 and fielding 98. Aaron also swiped 240 bases at a success rate of 76.6 percent.
The Alabaman was consistent not only across the years but also across formats, including the already covered regular season and postseason. In three playoff series, Aaron slashed .362/.405/.710 with six home runs, 1.08 win probability added, and 36.5 percent championship win probability added. His Milwaukee Braves won two pennants, a division title, and the 1957 World Series.
The essence of Aaron’s greatness lies in both his consistency and his perseverance. The consistency enabled him to be an all-star and put up some of the best numbers year after year. The perseverance in the face of those racist threats as he neared the career home run record. Aaron was not driven by a desire to overcome that prejudice; the hate mail did not drive him. The threats against his family and the ugly invective hurled against him hurt him, just as they were evilly intended to do. Rather, Aaron kept at it because of the joy: the happiness that he could bring to those millions more who were rooting for him.
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 First Team to be revealed soon.
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