With the conclusion of the World Series, we’ve all now bore witness to the end of the first century of baseball in the Live Ball Era. The LBE started in 1920 — a season that saw the Cleveland Indians defeat the Brooklyn Robins to secure the World Series. The 1920 season can also be remembered for a few firsts: Rogers Hornsby’s first batting title, Babe Ruth’s first 50 home run season and 10+ WAR season; it was also the season George Sisler hit his long-standing MLB-record 257 hits. To celebrate 100 years of the Live Ball Era, all of us at Diamond Digest took a vote on the best players since 1920 to put together the All Star team for all of the Live Ball Era.
THE BATTING ORDER
CF : Mike Trout : 2011 – Present
As many of us here at DD would love to go on about, Mike Trout is on an aggressive pace to put together a career that may go down as the Greatest of All-Time. Having just turned 28 in August, he has already compiled 73.4 fWAR, en route to passing many well-known and beloved Hall of Famers. The scariest part: he hasn’t even been completely healthy, and might even be improving a little still. While the great Willie Mays makes a fantastic case, the young Trout will be holding down the top of the lineup as our starting Center Fielder.
DH : Ted Williams : 1939 – 1960
We can only wonder what could have happened if Williams didn’t leave for four years of his prime to serve in World War II, but in each of the two years prior and the two years following to the war, Williams posted a wRC+ above 200 and totaled 10.5+ fWAR. Even missing those four years in what would have been his prime, Williams finished his career with 130.4 fWAR, a 188 wRC+, and a slash line of .344/.482/.634. Given that Teddy Ballgame wasn’t the greatest fielder, and that there’s an immense quantity of legendary outfielders, he’ll be carrying the DH position behind Trout in the lineup.
RF : Babe Ruth : 1914 – 1935
” The Sultan of swat! The king of crash! The colossus of clout! The Great Bambino…BABE RUTH!! ..oh, my god YOU MEAN THAT’S THE SAME GUY?” – The Sandlot
What needs to be said here? If you don’t know baseball, you still know Babe Ruth. He’s the All-Time leader in fWAR and bWAR. He has a career 197 wRC+! He will be the cornerstone of this lineup. No questions asked.
LF : Barry Bonds : 1986 – 2007
The Home Run King is also responsible for the single-greatest season of baseball ever played. In 2004, Barry Bonds posted a famous 1.422 OPS that could potentially stand for another 100 years and beyond as the MLB record. He was intentionally walked an absurd 611 times in his career. The 2002 version of Barry Bonds posted an outrageous 244 wRC+. There’s not much else you could ask for in a clean up hitter.
1B : Lou Gehrig : 1923 -1939
I’ll be the first person to dipute the validity of RBI as a stat, but it’s absolutely ridiculous that Lou Gehrig had 7 seasons of 150 or more RBI. Gehrig’s career 1.080 OPS and 173 wRC+ are phenomenal. The writers of Diamond Digest want The Iron Horse to be our first-baseman.
SS : Alex Rodriguez : 1994 – 2016
The third Yankee to be named to our team, ARod had a controversial career to say the least, but after hitting 696 HRs, we’ve decided to bring him back to start at his natural position. He’ll be a reliable power bat in the six-slot of the lineup and, with a positive dWAR in every full season he played at SS, he’ll serve as a solid defensive option.
2B : Rogers Hornsby : 1915 – 1937
“The Rajah” spent his 23 seasons with the Cardinals, Giants, Braves, Cubs, and Browns. In 1922, at age 26, Hornsby won his first Triple Crown; it would be followed in 1925 with his second Triple Crown which would clinch his first MVP Award. In 1924 (his best season by fWAR), Hornsby maintained a K% of just 5.0%. With his unbelievable prime, Hornsby will be our second-baseman for this All Star Team
3B : Mike Schmidt : 1972 – 1989
Mike Schmidt batting eighth in any lineup is a little strange to think about. The legendary third-baseman collected 548 home runs in his career, en route to 106.5 fWAR — good for second among all third-basemen (Alex Rodriguez).
C : Johnny Bench : 1967 – 1983
As the All-Time leader in fWAR among catchers, Bench was an easy choice to be our starting catcher. In his 17 MLB seasons, Bench acquired ten consecutive Gold Gloves (1968-1977), two MVP Awards, and two World Series titles with the Cincinnati Reds. Bench is also tied for eighth among all catchers with at least 2500 PA’s in the LBE with a 125 career wRC+.
ON THE BENCH
C : Yogi Berra : 1946 -1965
Yogi Berra never really had any absurd seasons, but he was remarkably reliable behind the plate. From 1950 to 1956, Berra had a string of seven consecutive seasons with 5.2 fWAR or greater. Perhaps Berra’s greatest asset was his ability to put the ball in play, as he struck out just 414 times in his 8364 career plate appearances — good for a 4.9 career K-rate.
1B/OF : Stan Musial : 1941 – 1963
Stan “The Man” Musial was one of the best all-around hitters in Major League history. Similarly to players like Joey Votto, he was a very contact-focused hitter who had really good power, as well. In his 22 seasons, all with the Cardinals, Musial still remains in the All-Time top-10 of position player fWAR (6th), runs scored (10th), hits (4th), total bases (2nd), doubles (3rd), intentional walks (3rd), wRC+ (8th), and WPA (6th). Coming off the bench, the LBE leader in fWAR among first-basemen will be devastating, as he can also be plugged into the corner outfield.
SS : Cal Ripken Jr : 1981 – 2001
The Iron Man was so much more than just that. Nearly 20 years after his retirement, Rip still possesses the third-highest defensive rating among shortstops in the LBE, and broke open the door for tall people to play shortstop. Rip’s defensive prowess, along with his durability, would be essential on this team.
CF : Willie Mays : 1951 – 1973
If it weren’t for Mike Trout, Mays would have been a no-doubt starter on this team — even still, he finished just four votes short of Trout. The Say Hey Kid totaled four 10+ fWAR seasons, along with seven more seasons of 8 fWAR or more in his 23-year MLB career in which he carried a 154 wRC+. While his bat made him a Hall of Famer, Mays’ glove is what made him a legend.
LHP : Randy Johnson : 1988 – 2009
Randy Johnson may have been the single-most terrifying pitcher to face in baseball history. The 6’11” lefty struck out 28.6% of all hitters he ever faced, and still remains third among all pitchers with 1000 innings in the LBE in K/9 with 10.61 — a leaderboard that is mostly populated by pitchers from the past decade. The Big Unit, who compiled 110.4 fWAR and 303 wins in his career, will be our Ace on the mound.
RHP : Nolan Ryan : 1966 – 1993
The fact that Nolan Ryan never won a Cy Young Award is one of the biggest travesties of the game. Some of the MLB-records he holds are almost Gretzky-esque in magnitude compared to the mere mortals who’ve played the game as well: his 5714 career strikeouts stand with a 839 strikeout-sized chasm before Randy Johnson in second and his 2795 walks are 962 ahead of Steve Carlton’s 1833. Ryan also stands atop the career H/9 totals, allowing just 6.56 H/9 over his career (Clayton Kershaw is second with 6.79 H/9).
RHP : Pedro Martinez : 1992 – 2009
While it didn’t last very long, Pedro in his prime was possibly the single-greatest pitcher to have ever stepped on a mound. In 1999, Pedro put up a ridiculous 11.6 fWAR season — the highest single-season fWAR by a pitcher, ever. In that magical 1999 season, Martinez posted a K/9 rate of 13.20, which was a MLB-record at the time and has only been matched by Randy Johnson in 2001 and Gerrit Cole in 2019.
LHP : Clayton Kershaw : 2008 – Present
Clayton Kershaw has established himself as a no-doubt Hall of Famer when he decides to retire, but in the meantime, he’ll likely continue to be the MLB’s active leader in career ERA, shutouts, ERA+, FIP, WHIP, and H/9. Kershaw’s devastating 12-6 curveball has carried him to three Cy Young Awards, five NL ERA titles, and even an MVP Award. Even with some time left in his career, Kershaw has earned a spot in our rotation.
RHP : Greg Maddux : 1986 – 2008
“Mad Dog” never really threw heat — in fact, his fastball was barely in the low-90’s even in his prime — but he knew how to dominate batters with ridiculous break and accuracy that would send hitters spinning. In the mid-to-early-90’s, he was outright untouchable, bringing home four consecutive Cy Young Awards from ’92-’95 and posting 7.0+ fWAR each season from 1992 until 1998, and again in 2000.
Long Relief 1
RHP : Bob Gibson : 1959 – 1975
Falling just short of a spot in the rotation, Gibson will serve as our long reliever and emergency starter. His 1968 season is iconic for his absurd 1.12 ERA to go along with 13 shutouts and a 1.77 FIP, and its main contributing role to the MLB lowering the pitching mound the next winter. Though feared as a pitcher who would throw at hitters, Gibson only actually plunked 102 hitters, which ranks him 82nd All-Time. He pitched with an attitude that was rarely matched, and that’s a fire that could thrive in the bullpen.
Long Relief 2
LHP : Roger Clemens : 1984 – 2007
There’s a strong case to be made for Clemens to be in the rotation: he’s the leader among pitchers in the LBE for fWAR, in addition to accruing seven Cy Young Awards and two pitching Triple Crowns — the Rocket was phenomenal on the mound. With his 23.1% career K-rate and 3.09 FIP, Clemens will serve a similar role to Gibson on our staff.
RHP : Rich “Goose” Gossage : 1972 – 1994
Despite only starting for one season, there were five years where Goose finished in the top-five of Cy Young voting. Gossage wasn’t a perfect closer, but he was still a legendary reliever after posting seasons like his 1981, where he pitched 46.2 innings en route to a 0.77 ERA, a 465 ERA+, and a 0.771 WHIP.
LHP : Billy Wagner : 1995 – 2010
Despite his 5’10” stature, Wagner was known for bringing surprising velocity in the late innings. From ’02-’05, Wagner rattled off four seasons of dominance, posting WHIP’s of 0.963, 0.872, 0.766, and 0.837 while closing out 138 wins for the Astros and Phillies. Given the lefty’s 33.2% career K-rate, and .445 OPS against lefties, Wagner will be a solid specialist or middle relief candidate on this team.
7th Inning Setup
RHP : Trevor Hoffman : 1993 – 2010
Unfortunately for Hoffman, the vast majority of his 601-save career was overshadowed by Mariano Rivera. His 94.5% conversion rate on save opportunities is one of the best ever, and his 6.99 H/9 ranks seventh All-Time. The two-time NL Reliever of the Year will serve as our team’s 7th-inning go-to guy in the bullpen.
8th Inning Setup
RHP : Dennis Eckersley : 1975 – 1998
After serving the first 12 years of his career as a starter for the Indians, Red Sox, and Cubs, in 1987, Eck made his debut with the Oakland Athletics where he would make the move to the bullpen. Starting in the ’88 season, Eckersley became the most dominant closer of his era. In his 12 seasons of relief, Eck quickly put together 390 saves, including four seasons of 40+ saves.
RHP : Mariano Rivera: 1995 – 2013
Let’s start here: more men have walked on the moon than have scored against Mo in the playoffs. That doesn’t sound super impressive until you remember that Rivera has pitched 141 innings in the post-season — giving him a 0.70 ERA in his playoff career. Rivera also holds the MLB records for career saves (652) and ERA+ (205). Perhaps just as impressive, Rivera is also the only reliever in history with at least 30 fWAR (he has 38.6), which is remarkable, given that WAR is extremely fickle for relievers. Unanimously, the writers of Diamond Digest have selected him to be our closer.
“Remember kid, there’s heroes and there’s legends. Heroes get remembered, but legends never die. Follow your heart, kid, and you’ll never go wrong.” – Art LaFleur as Babe Ruth, The Sandlot
Featured Image: thesportsdaily.com