A Twitter follower asked me to post a list of the five best players I played with in my 13 years in the Major Leagues. The one caveat, as I understood it, was that the players needed to be in the prime of their careers when we were teammates. So, here goes:
#5. Kent Hrbek. Seems like people most often remember him for his game-clinching Grand Slam HR in Game 6 of the 1987 World Series and his “tag” of Ron Gant in the 1991 World Series, but Hrbie had many, many clutch hits over his career, was a run-producer, anchored the Championship lineups as the cleanup hitter, and was possibly the most underappreciated great defensive first basemen in history. He should/could have won a Gold Glove—or several. Don Mattingly was the perennial winner during Hrbie’s career—and Donnie was fantastic. But…I will say that left-handed throwers have an easier time with the myriad of plays firstbasemen have to make, and consequently appear smoother than righthanders at the position. I can’t say that Mattingly should not have won the gold gloves that he did, but I will say that I believe Hrbie was, at the very least, his equal and should/could have won gold in any given year.
#4. Dave Winfield. I’m not going into statistics here. He’s a no doubt Hall of Famer for a reason. He could win games with his bat, his glove and his arm. And, he was a very good baserunner. He played at a very high level for a lot of years—and for that reason he’s virtually a tossup with #3 below. What I will say about Winnie from a personal standpoint is that when I played with him in NY what impressed me as much as his great ability was that he played hard all the time. He played hurt, he ran balls out. In short, with all that natural ability, he played the game the right way.
#3. Don Mattingly. Again, no doubt Hall of Famer. I actually played with Donnie Baseball just before his prime, but I’m including him because in my last year as a teammate of his, 1984, you could see it coming. 1984 began an incredible run of staggering run production and Gold Glove defense. Look up his stats from 1984 through 1989 and look at Hrs, Doubles and RBI. As Don Baylor would say, “Serious Damage!” 6 straight AllStar appearances, 5 straight Gold Gloves, 3 Silver Slugger awards and an American League MVP.
#’s 2 and 1: Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett. I’m sorry, I can’t rank these two. Two of the best to ever play the game.:
Carew: I hit in front of Rodney in 1977 and witnessed firsthand one of the best seasons a player ever had. He hit .388 with 100 RBI and played great first base. It was head-shaking almost every night—seemed like he got 2 hits a game. Anyway, 18 straight AllStar games (!), 7 batting titles. Astounding.
Puckett: In like manner, what to say about Puck that hasn’t been said. He carried us to the Division Title in the second half of 1987 with some of the most amazing offensive performances I’ve ever seen. We all know what he did in the 1991 World Series. 10 straight AllStar games, 6 Gold Gloves. More than that, though, he was one of the best teammates I was ever around—in all facets of the definition. He was a clubhouse delight, always stirring up something funny—and often times pointed. He was an example of how to play the game. He hustled, he talked, he was forever positive. He insisted that his teams play the right way—and he was the example.
So, that’s it. I played with a lot of other players who were terrific, as well, but were past their prime when we were teammates: Tony Oliva (wish I had played with him to see him firsthand in his prime), Carlton Fisk, Ken Griffey Sr. to name a few. I also want to make a sentimental tribute to Lyman Bostock whom I believe would have been on his way to being a real contender for this list when his life was tragically cut short. Lyman was a wonderful player and teammate.
You’ve noticed that I’ve done players only here. Maybe pitchers will be another list. This also made me think about the best players I ever played against, but in a career that spanned eras from 1975 to 1987 I don’t know how to narrow that list down. It couldn’t be five names, that’s for sure.
Let me know here or via Twitter @roysmalley5 if you have other potential discussion topics.