I was very fortunate to have grown up in an era when there were only 16 major-league clubs. There were eight teams in each league.
When I was eight years old I began seriously watching baseball. The American League teams included the New York Yankees, the Detroit Tigers, the Boston Red Sox, the Cleveland Indians, the Washington Senators, the Chicago White Sox, the Baltimore Orioles and the Kansas City Athletics. I was and always have been a Cleveland Indians fan.
The eight National League teams included the Philadelphia Phillies, the Brooklyn Dodgers, The New York Giants, the Milwaukee Braves, the Cincinnati Reds, the Chicago Cubs, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals.
One of the most important days in baseball took place May 28, 1957. That was the day the National League owners gave the New York Giants approval to move to San Francisco. They allowed the Brooklyn Dodgers to move to Los Angeles as well.
Those moves were earth shaking then and New Yorkers who were fans of those teams still regret it happened.
Of course, other moves have been made through the years. Franchises have changed owners and cities. The Milwaukee Brewers were the Seattle Pilots for one season. The Pilots could not survive financially and the troubled franchise was sold to a Milwaukee car salesman named Alan “Bud” Selig. Of course, that’s the same Bud Selig who served the game for years as the Commissioner. I highly recommend you take a few moments and research the background of the Seattle Pilots. It really is a fascinating story in MLB history.
THE POSITION PLAYERS I LOVE(D) TO WATCH
People often ask me what players I loved to watch? Please keep in mind this does not mean I feel these are, or were the best players in baseball. They are guys I love and loved to watch. In reality, the list could be much longer. These are the guys that really lit up my baseball life-and some still do.
Of course the minute I file this I’ll remember guys I have forgotten. And I know there are guys you think I should have included. I accept that.
I did get to see Clemente play the outfield for the Pirates. He had an amazing combination of tremendous athletic ability, power, a great batting average, terrific defensive ability and a wonderful arm. I saw him make acrobatic plays in right field and few players provided the excitement and thrills like Clemente. Clemente lost his life in a plane crash during a charitable humanitarian mission. I still think about how great he was as a player and as a human being.
Over the years I have come to forgive Mays for making the finest and one of the most difficult catches I have ever seen. He robbed Vic Wertz of extra bases at the huge Polo Grounds in New York by making a basket catch with his back to home plate. Mays could do it all. He made hitting a baseball, running and playing World Class defense look easy. He was probably the best all around, every category player I ever saw. Every skill came naturally to Mays. There have been few like him in the game.
Aaron had lightning fast hands and incredibly strong wrists and forearms. His bat speed and the manner in which his wrists and forearms controlled his at-bats allowed him to get terrific loft and backspin on his home runs. He could hit line drives that left the park in an instant. To me, Aaron remains the best wrist hitter I have ever seen. He went from a lanky rookie to a very well proportioned veteran with tremendous power.
He had 3771 hits in his career, the third highest in history.
The question remains in the minds of baseball fans. Is he the true home run champion or is it Barry Bonds? I’ll let you answer that. Aaron finished with 755 home runs.
I wonder what Mantle’s statistics would have looked like had he not had bad wheels and had his drinking not caught up with him? Mantle could run home to first in 3.5 seconds in his prime. Try that sometime. Major league average is now creeping up beyond 4.5 seconds. A switch-hitter, the pitcher always had issues dealing with Mantle from both sides of the plate. I loved watching him play in big games. He always seemed to have his best days against my Indians.
I used to love to watch Doby play CF for Cleveland. We don’t think about him that much in terms of great defensive players.
He was great. And, he could hit with power. He was a spark of an Indians team that was loaded with stars. He never really got the recognition he deserved for putting up with racial slurs as the second Black player in baseball. He was really, really good.
No team of my favorites would be complete without Williams. He may have been the best pure hitter ever to play the game. No, I didn’t see Babe Ruth. Cut that out, I’m no thaaaaaat old. Williams used to say when he hit the ball on the screws he could smell the wood burning on his bat. The greatest era of pitchers couldn’t figure him out. I’m just curious how he would do in today’s game? If a guy can hit, he can hit. Williams could hit.
MANNY RAMIREZ: OF-
Many pitchers tried to slip breaking balls past Ramirez. Forget it. Despite his ridiculous issues late in his career, Ramirez could torment pitchers with some of the loudest and most ferocious hits off his bat. He had wrists and forearms that were like those of Aaron. He bulked up late in his career, but when I first saw him he was a skinny kid with great hands. Still among the best I’ve ever seen day in and day out. Many Cubs players credit Ramirez with helping them become better hitters during his time helping young players in the Cubs organization.
Many have stated Trout is the next Mickey Mantle. That’s very possible. He may even end up being better. Trout does it all.
He has a terrific line drive approach at the plate. He likes the ball down in the zone and any pitcher that dares to go there is asking for trouble. A terrific outfielder, Trout is unafraid of walls, fences or any obstruction in his way to the baseball. There are new kids on the block who are very good, but Trout is the best in today’s game in my BASEBALL WORLD.
Harper is behind Trout in my WORLD, but he really isn’t that far behind. I watched him in person again last week. He doesn’t have the biggest lower body. It is his upper body and his forearms that generate amazing power to all fields. A true grit type player, Harper is often criticized for being arrogant. It’s confidence. He is very, very confident for good reason. His bat can be vicious and he can carry a team for a week or more at a time. A healthy Harper is very exciting to watch play. He’s very skilled at taking the ball to the opposite field. For good reason, Harper and Trout will always be paired together in conversations about great baseball stars of this era.
Berra was one of the original “bad ball” hitters. He would swing at pitches outside the strike zone and connect. He was a very tough out because he didn’t take many pitches and could foul off a pitcher’s best. Berra was a terrific shepherd to his pitchers and controlled the defense and the umpires from behind the plate. There was never a bigger character in the game than Berra. He made every game an adventure.
He was part of the great Dodgers teams that constantly battled the Yankees for supremacy. Campanella hit 41 homers and drove in 142 runs in one season. He was paralyzed in an auto accident in 1958, but he had already left his mark on the game.
He was among the great players that constantly challenged the Yankees to be the Kings of Baseball in a great era.
Along with Pete Rose, he may have been the biggest cog in the Big Red Machine. He was an outstanding hitter and a much better than average Hall Of Fame type catcher. He won two MVP awards and he could do it all. Bench is seen by many as the best catcher of all time. That argument can certainly be made on his behalf.
As an Indians fan, I would shudder every time the Big Hurt came to the plate. That’s what he did. He could put the Big Hurt on any team at any time. More than big, Thomas is huge. He makes the bat look like a pencil in his hands. He hit some of the highest and deepest home runs in both Comiskey Parks or whatever the name of the park is today. He was a true lumberjack of a hitter and deserving of his Hall of Fame status.
Here’s another guy that I’m still afraid of at the plate. Few people hit the ball as hard as Miggy. When he’s healthy, he can drive the ball to the deepest part of center field with ease. He makes hitting look easy and he’s a student of the pitcher. Time has robbed him of his health. He can’t run. But he’s still pretty dangerous with a bat in his hand. To me, he’ll go down as one of the great right-handed hitters in the history of the game
There isn’t anything Paul Goldschmidt can’t do playing baseball. When he’s hot he can carry a team. He hits for power and average. He steals bases and he plays Gold Glove first base.
He isn’t very outgoing and he doesn’t have a high octane “in your face” profile, but he’s a wonderful all around player. He’s clearly the best position player the Diamondbacks franchise has ever had. (Randy Johnson is their best pitcher ever). Goldschmidt is still a bit under the radar nationally.
RICHIE “DICK” ALLEN-1B-
This guy could scare any pitcher just by waving that huge bat in his hand. His line drives were vicious. He could smoke the ball all over the field and was a .300 hitter in his prime. He played for the Phillies as well as the White Sox and he finished his career by hitting a composite .292 with 351 homers in 7315 plate appearances. He always used one of the biggest and heaviest bats in the game. Man, could he hit.
The Cardinals edition of Pujols was more lethal than the Angels edition. A Most Valuable Player, it seemed the heart and spirit of the great Cardinals team left when he went to California. A better defensive first baseman than he is credited with being, Pujols suffered from very painful feet later in his career. He still scares pitchers and should be a first ballot Hall of Famer.
His rough and brutal treatment of people aside, Belle was fantastic to watch hit. It was a sad day when he left Cleveland to go play for the White Sox and the Orioles. There is a porch in left field at Progressive Field (Jacobs Field at the time) that has the scars and marks of Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez home runs. He was one tough out and one guy you wanted on your team. Belle’s stare was as menacing as his bat. In some ways, his offensive game was very similar to Dick Allen.
Carty was a career .299 hitter in 15 years of tormenting pitchers. Considered very big and very strong in that era of the game, Carty carried his 6-foot-3 frame as if he was a body builder. He had terrific bat control and used the entire field as if he were playing as a man against youngsters. He was something to watch, as he would instill fear in the opposition just by standing at home plate. He wore his wallet in the back pocket of his uniform during games.
Alomar was the best pure second baseman I have ever seen play the game. He was extremely smooth with very quick feet and soft, sure hands. He was a .300 career hitter with some pop in his bat and some speed. I will never forget watching the pure poetry of Alomar and Omar Vizquel as the middle-infield combination making double plays seem effortless for the Indians. Alomar’s reputation was tarnished when he spit in the face of an umpire, an unfortunate situation that I’m sure he regrets to this day.
Fox was my introduction to major-league baseball. I wanted to be just like him. In fact, my parents bought me a Nellie Fox model Wilson glove, which I still own. Sporting a big chew of tobacco in his jaw, Fox could hit, he could bunt and he could run. He was the White Sox table setter as they challenged my Indians year after year. His uniform was always dirty from sliding and rolling around on the ground.
I don’t know how this man does it. He is listed at 5-foot-6, 165 pounds but I think he may be shorter than that. All he does is hit for average, hit for power, steal bases and play terrific defense. He is no flash in the pan. Altuve is a Hall of Famer developing in front of our eyes. He has a career .317 batting average in parts of seven seasons. Can he keep it up? I don’t know, but I do know he’s among the best second basemen I have ever seen.
I hope Vizquel enters the Hall of Fame as an Indians player. He was magical at shortstop. When he first came up he couldn’t hit. He made himself into a hitter. That’s the comp I used when I described Didi Gregorius when Gregorius first arrived at the big league scene. He can play World Class defense and eventually, he’ll hit. Vizquel could bare hand ground balls, go to his left, right, in, and out better than anyone else I’ve seen. He and Robbie Alomar were unmatched as a dynamic mid-infield duo. Welcome to the Hall of Fame one day soon, Omar.
I do remember him very vividly, but I didn’t get to see all that much of him through mature adult eyes. I was young and he made a great impression on me with Nellie Fox at second base. Aparicio and Chico Carrasquel probably set the stage for all the wonderful shortstops we have seen from Venezuela, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and other countries. He was outstanding.
Quite simply, “The Wizard” was. He was acrobatic and very smooth at shortstop. I can remember plays he made that other shortstops would only watch as the ball traveled to the outfield. Like Aparicio before him, Smith showed the way for a smooth fielding defensive shortstop to make his way at the major-league level. In today’s game, almost every team boasts a fantastic defensive shortstop. But Smith still sticks out to me as among the very best I have seen.
Up until I watched Nolan Arenado, and to some extend Manny Machado, I had never seen a third baseman with the range, the soft hands and the arm strength of Brooks Robinson at third base. His ability to go to his right, plant his feet behind third base and throw out the runner with a step to spare was not matched during his era. He could hit with power. But in my WORLD, Arenado is a better all-around player. And to be better on defense than Robinson is saying something.
Every time I watch Arenado play I see him doing something I had never seen him do before. He’s an amazing, amazing athlete. He plays third base with the quickest hands, feet and reaction time I’ve ever seen. He has a cannon for an arm. And Arenado hits line drive home runs that leave the park in a flash. I think he’s still underrated because he plays in Colorado. He’s a great player and I’m grateful I get to watch him play.
What a player. This man is 43 years old and he can still hit a baseball. Ichiro is amazing. As fast or maybe even faster than Mantle, I clocked Ichiro at 3.52 going from home to first base when he was with the Mariners and I was scouting for them.
Ichiro has had seven seasons in the United States of 200 or more hits. His highest total was 262 in 2004. We often forget that Ichiro spent nine seasons in Japan before coming to Seattle in 2001. His bat control is amazing. I promise you Ichiro probably could have won a Home Run Derby in his prime. That’s how much power he had. He’s a great athlete with a gun for an arm from right field.
TONY PEREZ-1B, 3B
As steady and as consistent as any player I have ever watched, Perez drove in a remarkable 1652 runs in his 2777 games played. He was an amazing player with flare and pizzazz. He hit home runs and could smack a good share of doubles on a team that was one of the greatest offensive groups every assembled. Perez was the “go to” guy with runners on base. A great and still a bit undervalued Hall of Famer, teams feared Perez.
PETE ROSE-OF, 1B,3B
My list could never be complete without Pete Rose. Say what we will about Pete Rose and his gambling habit and about not coming clean until there were book royalties involved, Rose was incredible. He ate dirt for lunch and dinner. He drove in 1314 runs and got 4256 hits in his career, the most in major league history. Ty Cobb had 4189. Playing for the Reds, the Phillies and then the Reds again, nobody messed with Pete. He was tough as nails.
KEN GRIFFEY JR.-OF
If his swing wasn’t the sweetest I’ve seen, it was clearly one of the best. He had a slight uppercut that served him well. He finished with 630 home runs, 6th highest in history. The Hall of Famer was graceful in the outfield and was a fantastic defensive outfielder. Griffey hit over .300 for seven of eight seasons from 1990-1997. Kids still wear their caps backwards, a trademark of Junior.
Until Ortiz came along and took the reins as the Red Sox designated hitter, Edgar Martinez was the best DH I had ever seen until Ortiz. But Ortiz was even better. Put money on the table in the playoffs and/or World Series or need a performance in a do or die game and Ortiz would be the guy I’d want at the plate. The Red Sox and baseball miss him greatly. He was the heart and soul of the Red Sox Championships. He was the leader. And he could destroy pitchers. It was very unfortunate that the “shift” took some of the bloom off Ortiz’ rose and robbed him of some base hits. He beat the shift by adding uppercut to his swing and hitting the ball a long, long way over the heads of the infielders. And the outfielders. I loved watching Ortiz hit.
Derek Jeter, Frank Howard, Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Lou Brock, Jim Thome, Eddie Murray, Ricky Henderson, Adrian Beltre-all exciting and great to watch play the game.
NEXT WEEK: Pitchers I love(d) to watch
I’m very, very concerned about the length of baseball games. I implore the Player’s Association and Major League Baseball to cooperate and get rid of excessive trips to the mound by the catcher. Allow one trip per inning. Period. It really is getting ridiculous and fans are going to make baseball pay dearly for the length of games unless something drastic happens…and soon.
We are seeing fewer no waivers required trades because so many teams are still in contention for postseason baseball.
The trading may increase with the August waivers required deadline after the standings are sorted a bit.
Did you see the umpire throw Adrian Beltre out of a game because Beltre moved the on-deck circle? He was told stay in the on deck circle, so he moved the circle away from a direct line to the hitter. Why would the umpire throw him out? Why not just go over and tell Beltre to move?
I sure hope you’ll join me on our cultural/baseball trip to Cuba January 19-26, 2018. Once you step out of the airport and see those beautiful 1950’s cars in every color of the rainbow sitting in the parking lot you will know you have arrived in Cuba. What a fabulous place to visit. I learned so much last year and now…it’s your turn. Give yourself a treat. Come to Cuba and hang out with us.
For details and pricing on our educational trip to Cuba, contact me on email at BPleskoff@aol.com. Then I’ll see you on the airplane from Miami to Cuba.
Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff