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The Ultimate MLB Team (Pt. 1): Lineup, Bench, & Manager

There is a Twin on this squad!

Willie Mays and Hank Aaron

Not long ago—ensconced in the teeth of winter and before the lockout’s lifting created a barrage of Twins transactions—I read The Baseball 100 by Joe Posnanski. I’d normally give a review, but I think a person will either read an 800-page baseball doorstop or they won’t, so suffice it to say I enjoyed the experience.

What Posnanski’s ranking tome really got me pondering, however, is the construction of my all-time MLB team: who cracks the starting lineup and rotation—who is relegated to the bench/bullpen—who pulls the levers in the dugout? After giving the topic more thought than any rationale individual should (isn’t that the point of baseball?!), I believe I have mentally assembled my 26-man roster of all-time talent.

These selections are based as if the team will be together for one season of play (as opposed to a single game or an entire career). I also won’t play anyone majorly out of position and want to construct a balanced roster for actual baseball team needs.

Let’s begin with the starting nine…

  • Ichiro Suzuki (CF): I know, I know—Ty Cobb & Willie Mays. In maybe the most controversial choice on the entire roster, Ichiro is leading off and playing center—a hill I’ll die on.
Seattle Mariners v Minnesota Twins
Fight me.
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
  • Jackie Robinson (2B): The combination of speed, power, athleticism, and mental toughness make Jackie an easy choice to hit near the top of the order.
  • Lou Gehrig (1B): You want a guy to knock in some runs? The Iron Horse, at your service.
  • Henry Aaron (RF): I consider Hammerin’ Hank to be the greatest ballplayer of all-time. The fact that you could strip the (legitimate) home run king of every long ball and he’d still have over 3,000 hits is the most mind-boggling stat in the history of the game.
Atlanta Braves
Prime Hammer
Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images
  • Babe Ruth (DH): Self-explanatory. Only not hitting cleanup for lefty-righty mix.
  • Josh Gibson (C): Some of the recently-unearthed Negro Leagues research has me convinced that Gibson was likely the best backstop of all-time. An Aaron-Ruth-Gibson middle of the order? As mighty as it gets.
  • Stan Musial (LF): Though Ted Williams may be the popular choice here, I give Stan the Man the nod due to his affable nature and clockwork consistency.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Man
Photo by Hy Peskin/Getty Images
  • Honus Wagner (SS): Deadball Era players can be hard to evaluate, but the sturdy infield general was perhaps the first baseball star to get equal praise for his bat and glove skills.
  • George Brett (3B): The Kansas City phenom’s extreme intensity—and supreme bat skills—give him the edge over Frank Robinson. The Posnanski book helped me identify Brett’s defensive acumen at the hot corner too.

Now to the superstars riding the pine pony…

  • Johnny Bench (C): Every team needs a backup squatter—a Gardy team would require 3-4!—and this core cog in the Big Red Machine could go as long as needed if called upon.
  • Willie Mays (OF): Seeing as how my allegiance to Ichiro pushes the Say Hey Kid to the bench, he can be the ideal outfield backup—able to play any position superbly.
Willie Mays on The Turf During Catch Attempt
Superman Willie
  • Oscar Charleston (OF): Another book I recently devoured—Oscar Charleston: The Life and Legend of Baseball’s Greatest Forgotten Player—convinced me that he’s on the short-list for fastest players ever. If one of the big boppers needs to be spelled for speed, Oscar is getting the call.
  • Rod Carew (IF): Though a Gehrig-Robinson-Wagner-Brett infield isn’t going to require many off days, Carew could fill in aptly anywhere in that mix. Plus, if ever a “lousy base hit” was absolutely needed, how many other guys would you trust more to get the job done?

In charge of this collection of superstar talent?

  • Bobby Cox (Manager): From 1991-2005, the Atlanta Braves never dropped out of first place in whatever division they happened to reside in—a truly remarkable feat. Cox’s ability to show equal amounts of fire and patience give him the reins.
Atlanta Braves v Los Angeles Dodgers
Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Coming in Pt. 2: A stacked starting five and a bully bullpen.