So you count the days from the last breath of a season to pitchers and catchers. And you dream up lineups in your sleep. Sorta like this one.
Catcher- Johnny Bench. He hit for power with 381 home runs. Fielded his position at a .990 clip over 17 seasons and won 10 gold gloves. On the rare occasion when an opposing player makes it to first base safely, Bench’s arm will insure that he stays put.
1st base- Lou Gehrig. For 17 seasons, the Iron Horse was more dependable than sunshine. His bat was mercury and his glove swept up grounders to the tune of a .990 career fielding percentage.
2nd base- Jackie Robinson. He was a tsunami in spikes. He was the ultimate two for one special, because if he got to first base it was a safe bet he was going to take second base with him. The maestro of one of the most exciting plays in the game- the steal of home plate. His .983 career fielding percentage is what I’m shopping for in my up the middle defensive game plan. His stats were short shrifted by the fact he didn’t get to the big leagues until age 28. A tough, gritty and principled player who retired rather than be traded to the hated rival Giants. He’s at the top of my lineup.
Shortstop- Ozzie Smith. He won 13 gold gloves, and he makes my up the middle defense the stuff of nightmares for opposing hitters. It’s not his offense I care about. It’s the idea that NORAD covers less space than Ozzie did.
3rd base- Brooks Robinson. A 16 time Gold Glove winner whose defense makes my infield as impenetrable as the White House bunker. He was no slouch at the plate, either. But defense is what I care about and that’s why Mr. Oriole is my hot corner special.
Centerfield- Willie Mays. ‘Twas a deep talent pool to choose from for my center field spot. But by placing Mays in the back yard with Ozzie and Jackie patrolling the front, I guarantee there would be crying in baseball. And it would be coming from the other dugout. Mays hit for power with 660 career home runs. He was a threat on the base paths. And if you were smart, you hit it anywhere but center field. Because if the seats didn’t get it, Willie probably was going to.
Right Field- Babe Ruth. Come on, it’s Babe Ruth.
Left Field- Ted Williams. This was the hardest decision for me. I was thisclose to going with Barry Bonds here. The sad truth is Bonds was a first ballot Hall of Famer back in ’98 when he became the first player in MLB history to reach 400 homers and 400 steals. This was before the junk changed the conversation.So left field goes to the Splendid Splinter. It’s not like I’m settling. Williams was a scientist at the plate who could count the stitches on a fastball before turning on it. His .406 average in 1941 remains the last time a player hit .400 in a season.