Team of the century
On the Hot Corner
The end of the century is near, in case you haven't noticed.
It seems like everyone and their mother are busy trying to formulate lists of greatest this and that of the century. Major League Baseball, not to be outdone, recently announced its list of its "All-Century team,"making a gallant ceremony during game two of the World Series.
Much has been made of Pete Rose's controversial selection to the list and Bud Selig decision to allow him to be a part of the ceremony. In fact, so much has been made, that the three most glaring omissions on the list have gone overlooked.
The All-Century team was riddled with ridiculous inclusions and equally abhorrent omissions to it. Consider that Mark McGwire, who hits homeruns but barely fields his position, made the team while Jimmie Foxx, an excellent fielder who hit a full 60 points higher and had 11 more homeruns this century than McGwire, was left off.
While it's hard to criticize Cal Ripken Jr.'s selection because of his dedication to playing everyday and his hall of fame stats, it's also hard to leave off Ozzie Smith, the man who was possibly the greatest fielder ever.
Frank Robinson was left off of the team despite hitting 586 homeruns, winning a triple crown and winning MVPs in both leagues, as was Joe Jackson who, despite being banned from baseball, hit .347 for his career and is regarded as one of the best "five-tool"players ever. Steve Carlton was left off of the team despite ranking second in all-time strikeouts and ninth in all-time wins.
While Major League Baseball tried to correct some of these grievous wrongs by adding five players after the voting was already over, they inexcusably excluded three men. The three stick out primarily because of the inclusion of Jackie Robinson to the team.
Jackie Robinson was fortunate enough to be the first black in the Major Leagues. That fact alone, however, should not guarantee a place on the team. His numbers are slightly worse than both Rod Carew and Nap Lajoie, and arguments can be made against Joe Morgan's exclusion as well.
Inarguably though, Robinson's status as the first African-American player and his hero status within an entire race of people was one of the predominant determining factors in his inclusion on the team.
It's confusing, then, to see Roberto Clemente excluded. Clemente was to Latin-Americans what Jackie Robinson was to African-Americans. Though he wasn't the first Latino in the majors, he certainly was the best.
He is widely considered the greatest all-around rightfielder of at least the last half-century. His arm legendary, his intelligence uncanny, Clemente was one of the few players equally capable of playing spectacular defense and offense. Though his untimely death cut him down in the prime of his career, his statistics still rate among the leagues best. What's more, Clemente's clubhouse presence made his Pirates team better and his service to his community is legendary. A more deserving player has never played.
Josh Gibson was unfortunate enough to die in 1947, the year that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. However, never has a hitter dominated a league like Gibson did the Negro Leagues in the years before blacks were allowed to play in the Major Leagues.
He hit approximately 962 homeruns in his 17-year career, including hitting 75 in one season, numbers even Babe Ruth can not match. His lifetime average of .391 would rank him far ahead of Ty Cobb's Major League-leading .367-lifetime average. Imagine averaging nearly .400 for 17 years. And yet, his lack of playing the Majors has unfairly left him off of this team.
Joe DiMaggio, one of the greatest hitters of all time, called Satchel Paige, "The best and fastest pitcher I've ever seen." DiMaggio wasn't alone in his praise.
Paige spent 22 years dominating the Negro Leagues pitching an astounding amount of innings. He once started 29 games in one month and won 104 out of 105 games in a calendar year. He once pitched 64 consecutive scoreless innings and won 21 consecutive games.
What's more, Paige was equally dominating in barnstorming games against Major Leaguers. There are tales of him striking out the first nine batters in a game and striking out as many as 22 total Major Leaguers.
Satchel did it in style too. He once waived his outfielders off of the field, sat his infielders down at their positions and then struck out the potential winning run with the tying run on second base. He even walked the bases loaded just so he could face Josh Gibson and then promptly struck him out.
Paige didn't break into the major leagues until he was 42 years old. He spent the next five years in the majors averaging 5.45 strikeouts per games and compiling an earned run average of 3.29. But Paige wasn't done at the age of 47. He made a return appearance in 1965 at the age of 59, striking out a batter and pitching three innings of scoreless baseball.
Can any other pitcher claim that?
Though Gibson's and Paige's statistics were racked up in the Negro Leagues, it's important to note that these leagues were not an inferior league like the USFL or CBA. In fact, many of the stars on this team began in the Negro Leagues. What's more they had to face each other, a daunting task for any player.
Arguably three of the most dominating players ever seen in baseball, these players were left off of the team because of bad timing and tragic deaths. No other reason can exist.
Clemente, Paige and Gibson should be on the team not because they're African-American or Latino, but because they deserve it.
All Sports Stories for Thursday, October 28, 1999