By Ryan Decker
Something stood out to me Sunday afternoon while watching part of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
When introduced before this year’s inductees, the great Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax was said to be the oldest living member of the Hall of Fame despite still looking like he could hurl it better than most, even at 81-years-old.
I got to thinking, What if you could assemble an all-star team of living HOFers?
After thinking about it some more, the list of great players still enjoying life is too expansive to make just one team. Instead, I decided to have the team consist of players and managers inducted from 2000 to yesterday.
For the team one player was taken for each position, including DH, and three starting pitchers and one closer make up the pitching rotation.
Players are listed in order by position with their class year in parentheses. A game day lineup is listed at the bottom.
Catcher – Ivan Rodriguez (2017)
“Pudge” is the first of two 2017 inductees that make this team.
Beating out greats like Mike Piazza and Carlton Fisk, you can’t get much better than Ivan Rodriguez when it comes to all-around catchers.
Defensively, Rodriguez is the cream of the crop. A winner of 13 Gold Glove awards (10 in a row), Pudge threw out over 45 percent of potential base stealers and has the best fielding percentage of any Hall of Fame catcher.
And at the plate, Rodriguez had eight consecutive seasons in which he hit .300 or better from 1995-2002. And after hitting at a .297 clip in ’03, he hit .300 and above in two of the next three years.
Rodriguez was also extremely durable, catching 200 more games than any other catcher in history.
First Base – Jeff Bagwell (2017)
Joining his Class of 2017 teammate is Jeff Bagwell.
Bagwell may be one of the most underappreciated players to have played in the last 30-plus years.
Run production can be synonymous with Bagwell, who had nine seasons of scoring 100+ runs and eight of driving in 100+ base runners. In 1997 alone, a quarter of his hits gave the Astros the lead.
Bagwell was also one of the best at getting on base any way possible. He reached base safely in nearly 88 percent of his career games, and over 90 percent of games in two separate seasons according to Ryan Spaeder.
Second Base – Craig Biggio (2015)
Teamwork is important to any team, and you’d be hard pressed to find a pair of teammates that gelled quite like Berkman and his longtime Astros teammate Craig Biggio.
Biggio enjoyed his best years as a second baseman, but his versatility of being able to go behind the plate or in the outfield certainly was a nod in his favor in helping him get on this team.
At the plate, Biggio could do a little bit of everything. He’s one of just 31 players in MLB history to club 3,000 hits and is fifth all-time in doubles (668 – the most by a right-handed hitter), while also stealing over 400 bases.
That stat line helped him become the first player in MLB history with at least 3,000 hits, 600 doubles, 400 stolen bases and 250 home runs.
Third Base – Paul Molitor (2004)
A lifetime .306 hitter, Paul Molitor would’ve been would’ve been the most well-known player on those Milwaukee teams if it wasn’t for some guy named Robin Yount.
According to Scott Lauber, Molitor is the only player post-1960 to tally 3,000 hits and 500 steals while finishing his career with an average at or above .300.
A seven-time All-star and four-time Silver Slugger, Molitor had 12 seasons in which he recorded 160 or more hits. Nearly 30 percent of his career hits went for extra bases.
Molitor is the weakest fielder on this team, but plenty makes up for it with all he can do at the plate and on the base path.
Shortstop – Cal Ripken Jr. (2007)
Joining Molitor on the left side of the infield is Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr.
Ripken was as dependable as they come, appearing in 2,632 straight games, and the first power-hitting shortstop, clubbing 345 of his total 431 long balls at the position.
Defensively, Ripken turned the third-most double plays, and piled up the eighth-most assists in the game’s history, all while committing far fewer errors than fellow Hall of Fame shortstops Honus Wagner, Pee Wee Reese, Ozzie Smith or Robin Yount.
A two-time MVP and a 19-time All-Star, Ripken was the “starting” shortstop on the MLB All-Century team. To go along with his power numbers, Ripken is amongst the Top 20 in hits and doubles.
Left Field – Rickey Henderson (2009)
Few players have put as much fear in opposing pitchers as Rickey Henderson did.
Henderson had three seasons of 100 or more stolen bases, and three more of 80-plus.
The only player in MLB history with over one thousand base swipes, Henderson not only owns the all-time record in that but in runs scored, too.
In order to steal all those bases and score all those runs, a player has to get on base a lot, which he did. The 10-time all-star has a lifetime .401 on-base percentage and 3,055 hits.
Center Field – Ken Griffey Jr. (2016)
Admittedly, picking this outfield was like taking candy from a baby – really easy and a little evil.
With that said, Ken Griffey Jr. is patrolling center field.
Griffey was a highlight waiting to happen in the field and had the purest, most picture-perfect swing the game has seen.
Junior led the league in long balls four times, including back-to-back 56-homer seasons in 1997 and ’98; his 630 career round trippers are sixth best all-time, and he’s also ranked in the Top 10 for most extra-base hits.
“The Kid” won a Gold Glove Award every season during the 90’s and was the youngest member of the All-Century team – an incredible honor.
Griffey averaged 126 games played per season but missed significant time in four seasons. Compiling the games missed in seasons that he did not play at least 126 games, he was injured for a little over two years of his major league career.
Taking his 30 HR per season average, had Griffey been healthy for those games, he would’ve likely finished his career with at least 696 homers – moving him into a tie with Alex Rodriguez for fourth all-time.
Right Field – Tony Gwynn (2007)
When you think pure hitters – players that could hit the ball all over the field and rarely got themselves out – Tony Gwynn should come to mind.
Gwynn’s hitting prowess puts him in rare company, and that’s if he has company at all.
The career-long Padre never had a season in which he struck out more than 40 times. He led the league in average eight times, including four straight seasons from ages 34 through 37.
During his 20-year career, Gwynn had seven seasons of 190 hits or more, and after tallying 200+ hit seasons four times between 1984 and 1989, he set a career mark in hits at the age of 37, when he collected 220 hits in ’97.
Oh, and had a strike not ended the ’94 season prematurely, Gwynn may have ended the season with a .400 batting average.
Designated Hitter – Frank Thomas (2014)
Frank Thomas may be the only true DH to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in the last 17 years, but who else would you want hitting in the middle part of the order?
Thomas was a power hitter that possessed a good hitter’s eye.
He clobbered 40 or more home runs in five seasons and had two other seasons of 38 and 39 long balls, this while only having three seasons of one hundred or more strikeouts, and ten seasons of 100-plus free passes.
Thomas, a lifetime .301 hitter, had four seasons in which he hit .330 or better and coupled that by leading the AL in on-base percentage four times.
According to Baseball Almanac, Thomas is one of just two players in baseball history to have more than five consecutive seasons with a .300 BA, at least 100 walks, 100 runs, 100 RBI, and 20 HR. The other is Ted Williams with six – one season fewer than Thomas.
Starting Pitchers – Johnson (2015), Martinez (’15), Maddux (’14)
I possibly have created the best four-man pitching staff in baseball history. OK, maybe you can create a better one, but this is pretty good.
In the three-man rotation is the flame throwing Randy Johnson, a pitcher in Pedro Martinez who was personified filth on the mound, and Greg Maddux who was as crafty as they came and had possibly some of the best command the game has ever seen.
Between the three starters are 12 Cy Young Awards, 26 All-Star appearances, 3 World Series championships, two pitching triple crowns, and 877 wins.
Martinez’s 1.054 career WHIP is the seventh best in the history of baseball, and while Johnson is the best of the triumvirate in terms of strikeouts – his 4,875 ranking second all-time – all three pitchers are inside the Top 15 for that stat.
Maddux and Johnson each had a pair of seasons in which they threw 10 or more complete games, and the former is arguably the best fielding pitcher in the game’s history, capturing 18 Gold Glove Awards.
Closer – Dennis Eckersley (2004)
Now we arrive at Dennis Eckersley, who (by default) is the best closer currently enshrined in Cooperstown. Even though it won’t be that way in a few years, after inductions of Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera, for now he’s the best.
Eckersley spent the first half of his 24-year career as a starter, before going to the bullpen, where he racked up all but three of his nearly 400 career saves.
In 1990, Eckersley earned 48 saves while posting an impressive 0.61 earned-run average. That season was only outdone by his Cy Young and AL MVP Award-winning season two years later when he successfully completed 51 save attempts, struck out 93 hitters and walked just 11.
The current Red Sox broadcaster is one of just two pitchers in MLB history with at least 150 wins and 150 saves, to which he has 197 wins and 390 saves.
Manager – Sparky Anderson (2000)
George Lee “Sparky” Anderson is the longest tenured HOFer to make the team.
Recently inducted managers certainly give Sparky a run for his money, but you can’t go wrong with the longtime Reds and Tigers skipper.
Anderson ended his managerial career with a better winning percentage than Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa or Joe Torre, and a better percentage of victories in the postseason than all three of those gentlemen.
A three-time World Series champ, Anderson took consecutive trips to the Fall Classic in the mid-70s with the Reds, and then another trip back in 1984 with a Detroit team that won 104 games in the regular season.
What set Sparky apart from the other eligible managers was that he managed largely before or just after the inception of major free agency spending in baseball. That was an advantage that the others had. Though it’s impossible to tell how many offseason moves would’ve paid off for Anderson’s Tigers, can you imagine today’s big-money spending mixed with his winning ways?
- Rickey Henderson, LF
- Tony Gwynn, RF
- Ken Griffey Jr., CF
- Frank Thomas, DH
- Jeff Bagwell, 1B
- Cal Ripken Jr., SS
- Craig Biggio, 2B
- Ivan Rodriguez, C
- Paul Molitor, 3B
- Randy Johnson