Finding Baseball’s Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan’s “The Last Dance” documentary has sparked intrigue and debate worldwide about who-if anyone-could live up to the astronomical standards he set in his fanatical pursuit of unparalleled dominance. Even within his own sport, the debate is contentious, so attempting to translate that to baseball makes for an choppy transition. But it is quarantine and we have time on our hands, so why not?

To give this debate some sort of structure, we must frame it within context. Therefore, a standard set of criteria will be used to evaluate a player’s similarity to “That Black Cat”, as Reggie Miller referred to Jordan throughout his career.

First, a player must have historical greatness. The player must have had a strong case as the league’s best for an extended portion of their career. Multiple championships are another critical resume builder here, though as one player has less of an impact on the game in baseball, more weight will be given to each championship a baseball player earns.

Secondly, they must embody Jordan’s peerless tenacity. Though it is too much to ask for a player to be as intense as Jordan, given that it was the most prominent attribute of a top five athlete in history, that will-to-win mindset that separates the legends of the game from the near-misses should be a prevalent part of a player’s makeup.

Thirdly, the player must have a significant cultural impact. Jordan’s fame went beyond the basketball court as commercials such as “I wanna be like Mike” or the movie “Space Jam” elevated him into another stratosphere of American pop culture. Furthermore, his Jordan brand apparel company gave him global recognition among non-sports fans and among people who never once saw him play.

With that, let’s look at some of baseball’s most heralded players and see how they stack up against MJ.

Michael Jordan, LF, Chicago White Sox/Birmingham Barons 

Michael Jordan has the significant advantage of actually being Michael Jordan. He covers the work ethic and cultural relevance criteria with flying colors. He sold out stadiums and single-handedly put his team on the national radar.

On the other hand, Jordan just barely cracked the Mendoza line with a .202 batting average in AA. So he falls just a tad short in the historical greatness category. Pair that with his career spanning 1.5 seasons, and unfortunately we must set Michael Jordan in the “Not Michael Jordan” pool of applicants.

Derek Jeter, SS, New York Yankees

Jeter’s case is a strong one, and perhaps it should come as no surprise given he is the Jordan brand’s most prominent athlete outside of MJ himself. Jeter’s unflappable confidence in the clutch and vast collection of iconic moments cement his mental toughness on par with Jordan’s legendary will to win. Paired with Jeter’s status as the star of the America’s most iconic sports franchise, his cultural relevance may not quite have rivaled Jordan’s at his peak but it is fair to say that Derek Jeter is the most famous baseball player of the past 30 years.

So Jeter is close, and his name is often mentioned as the easy equivalent of Jordan. The five rings help his case quite a bit, but unfortunately he still falls short in the historical greatness category. Jeter was fantastic, and an argument could be made that he is the greatest shortstop who ever played. But even in his own time, he was outperformed by his contemporaries and he failed to win even one MVP award. There were perhaps three seasons where he had a legitimate case- 1999, 2006, and maybe 2009-but still, he failed to bring home the hardware even once and there were plenty of players who were more deserving. So he falls a bit short in the historical greatness category. It’s tough to draw an exact parallel to who Jeter might be in the basketball arena, so I’ll muddy the waters a bit more and add a third sport to the mix. Jeter is more like David Beckham and less like Lionel Messi, who is more like Michael Jordan. And Ronaldo (Christiano to be clear) is LeBron, if that clears things up at all.

 

Barry Bonds, LF, Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants

If you were looking for a player whose teammates only tolerated them because they were that good, Bonds is your guy. He was nothing short of a you-know-what for most of his career, but his incredible production rendered his ornery disposition tolerable. By any metric Bond was the greatest hitter who ever walked the planet. The fear he inspired in opponents perhaps surpassed even Jordan himself. His dedication to his craft challenged the limits of the what was physically possible.

Bonds has the historical greatness covered, yet falls short even if you ignore the can of worms that is the steroid debate. His presence as a cultural icon didn’t match Jordan or Jeter, but he was certainly relevant enough to qualify by that criteria. The image of Bonds menacingly twitching a short bat wrapped with white tape, while his gold cross earring glimmered in the sun, may not be the same as Jordan leaping over Craig Ehlo with his tongue out or Jeter rising and firing across his body from the 5.5 hole, but should elicit recognition in any moderately invested sports fan.

No, where Bonds falls ultimately short is not in his lack of presence as an A-list celebrity nor his tarnished reputation on account of the BALCO scandal. The fact remains that Bonds didn’t win enough. Baseball’s Michael Jordan cannot be someone who made just one championship appearance and failed to deliver a ring. The Giants’ collapse in 2002 should not be attributed to Bonds-he terrorized the Angles pitching staff to the tune of a laughable 1.994 OPS-but many decry his weak throw home in the 1992 NLCS as a failure to deliver on a championship stage. Additionally, besides his titanic performance in that lone World Series performance, Bonds was a subpar postseason hitter, batting just .245 overall and failing to crack .280 in any other postseason series.

Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels

Trout is tough to evaluate because his career is still active. As baseball’s best active player, he deserves some discussion but even the most biased baseball fan would acknowledge that Trout is not in Jordan’s stratosphere.

Through his fault or that of Angels management, Trout’s national recognition is paltry. He has made the playoffs just once. His most iconic commercial is for Subway. Among Subway sponsors, he ranks pretty even with former Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard but behind the fictional golfer Happy Gilmore.

Trout is great, but this is a question that isn’t even really getting into at this point in his career. There’s an aura around players of Jordan, Jeter, or Bonds’ caliber. Trout isn’t there yet.

Mickey Mantle, CF, New York Yankees

There’s bound to be a lot of Yankees on this list-few other franchises sport a list of championships extensive enough to have enough players to qualify for this list.

Mantle was America’s goldenboy, beloved by the masses moreso than perhaps any other athlete in history. Mickey Mantle’s blond hair and easy smile leading the Yankees to the pennant year after year embodied the spirit of leave-it-to-beaver 1950’s America. His cultural relevance surpassed Jordan’s, and perhaps even that of fellow Yankees Joe DiMaggio and Babe Ruth.

Mantle qualifies as Jordan-esque in both his on-field performance and cultural relevance. In the history of the game, perhaps there were those better than the Commerce Comet, but in his prime he was easily as dominant as Jordan was.

Mantle’s case is robust-perhaps the closest of anyone on this list. But he remains woefully short in the category that made Jordan what he was-his mindset. Mantle is famous for quoting “If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.” He partied with abandon throughout his career and the years of neglect upon his body rapidly eroded his skills as he aged into his thirties. Jordan would never have let outside distractions prematurely sap his abilities in that way.

By the time he was 34, Mantle was a shell of himself – a once transcendental athlete gingerly plodding around like a old man. He retired just two years later. When Jordan was 34, he led the league in scoring – for the 10th time.

Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams

Each had what the other did not-DiMaggio the notoriety and championships, Williams the dogged drive to be great at all costs and a level of skill so incredible that his contemporaries brilliance paled in comparison.

Ted Williams being the greatest hitter to walk the planet is a valid hill to die on. His lack of championships exclude him from this discussion, no matter how aptly he fits the rest of the criteria.

As for DiMaggio, in all his greatness, there were simply some better. Williams – his greatest rival – outpaced him in every offensive category. Mantle followed him in centerfield and slugged an additional 200+ home runs. It’s possible that some were better than Jordan, but the debate is always contentious. For DiMaggio, it is conceded.

A few other contenders, and why they don’t measure up…

Stan Musial – a legendary ballplayer in his own right that often gets overlooked when discussing the greatest players to ever play the game. For whatever reason, he just doesn’t have the name recognition of a player like Jordan.

Lou Gehrig – Gehrig’s story is one of the most heartbreaking in sports. The image of Gehrig is of a stupendous ballplayer with a disarming grin and a quiet nature. That doesn’t jive with Jordan’s brand of killer instinct.

Albert Pujols – Pujols’ run as baseball’s most dominant hitter amidst the greatest offensive era of the sport deserves commendation. But Jordan would never allow himself to be seen this way, as the bloated apparition of a once elite player. He would have retired long ago, as he proved on three separate occasions.

Alex Rodriguez – A-Rod was probably as good at baseball as Michael Jordan was at basketball pre-roids, but it is hard to say because we don’t know when he began taking them. His uninspiring postseason performance and penchant for drama disqualify him from the debate.

Hank Aaron – Aaron was unbelievable, but his capture of the home run crown was a steady, measured pursuit that resembled a death by a thousand cuts rather than a meteor streaking across the sky. Just one championship to his name, he never achieved the fabled status of lesser players.

Willie Mays – Mays, too, has just one ring to his name. Though the do-it-all dynamo was brilliant throughout his career, his postseason performance was mediocre at best. The small sample size due to the old playoff rules makes this a slightly harsh criticism, but a valid one nonetheless.

If you could have blended DiMaggio and Williams, you would have had the perfect answer to baseball’s Michael Jordan. However, there’s only one player whose name echos in the halls of American history as Jordan’s does.

Babe Ruth, RF, New York Yankees

Recently on Jeoprady!, the answer was given “This player broke Major League Baseball’s Color Barrier.” One overly-eager contestant instantly clicked their buzzer and answered “Who is Babe Ruth?”

It was a rather cringeworthy moment, especially given that the contestant was a student at the University of Southern California, one of the nation’s most prestigious academic institutions. Thankfully, the next contestant was able to name Jackie Robinson as the correct answer without trouble.

That incident just goes to show how far Babe Ruth’s cultural impact is rooted in American society. That lady had likely never paid any attention to baseball in her life – Babe Ruth was probably the only name she knew.

Sure, Ruth let his body go in a way that Jordan never would have dreamed of. But his impact in elevating the game and shaping American culture was on par with His Airness.

Some may say Ruth would have struggled in today’s game. That’s probably true, but he was the type of athlete that would have been able to adapt had he been born in today’s era.

Still, the concerns raised by the fact that Ruth played quite literally 100 years ago are valid. Jordan had a freakish work ethic and Ruth didn’t give his body a second thought. Maybe he isn’t baseball’s Michael Jordan. Maybe no one is.

After all, he was one of a kind.

Seems Like the World Needs a Miracle Right Now. Here’s One…

July 20th, 1969.

There were two things that happened that day. Technically many things happened that day, but there are two that are relevant to our story.

In Quebec, Bobby Pfeil’s squeeze bunt scored Ron Swoboda to put the New York Mets ahead 4-3 on the Montreal Expos at Parc Jarry, the predecessor to Olympic Stadium.

Above Earth, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the surface of the moon.

If you’d asked a betting man at any point during the 1960’s which was more likely-a man landing on the moon, a feat not accomplished in all of human history, or the Mets winning more than a mere 60 games-they’d have told you to bet against the Mets.

Walter O'Malley : Dodger Stadium : Opening Day: April 10, 1962 ...

Chavez Ravine, 1960s

Eleven years earlier, New York had part of its heart and soul ripped from it when the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers departed  jam-packed streets of the Big Apple and headed west for the howling winds of Candlestick Park at Hunter’s Point and the sunlit valley of Chavez Ravine in the shadow of the San Gabriel Mountains.

The Yankees, the Dodgers, and the Giants had duked it out for supremacy not only in the city of New York but all of major league baseball for the majority of its existence. The rivalries were entrenched, the hatred deep-seated. With the possible exception of the Athletics in Philadelphia or the Cardinals in St. Louis, New York’s trio of franchises were the greatest the sport had to offer.

Following the “Electric October” of 1947, the first televised World Series and often considered among the best series ever played, where Bucky Harris’s Yankees narrowly edged Burt Shotton’s Dodgers (Durocher was suspended), a team from New York played in the fall classic every year up until the Dodgers and Giants left for California in 1958, with the exception of 1948, where the Indians edged the Boston Braves in six games. Though that was the lone blemish in a decade of New York baseball dominance, Boston still lost, so the season was not a total loss for New York fans.

The Yankees beat the Dodgers four times and the Giants once in the Series that decade spanning from 1947 to 1957, winning five in a row at one point and seven overall. The Dodgers, long-time little brothers despite dominating the National League, finally gave the Yankees their comeuppance in another all-time series in 1955. The Giants, for their part, took home a ring in 1954 behind the spectacular play of Willie Mays.

By 1958, however, the inter-city rivalry was nothing but a memory, the Yankees’ closest geographical competition being the historically pathetic Phillies, who didn’t even play in the American League.

New York City baseball in the 1950s was a microcosm of the country as a whole. Emerging relatively unscathed from World War II (at least compared to the other major players in Europe and the Pacific), it seemed as if the United States could do no wrong that decade. Eisenhower’s highway program connected the country like a neural network, dispersing trade throughout state borders and improving prosperity for nearly everyone as the economy boomed. America was the greatest country in the world-New York was the greatest city in America-and the Yankees, Giants, and Dodgers were the greatest teams in baseball.

Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays & Duke Snider Signed 19" x 14.5" "New ...

New York’s-and baseball’s-finest.

During the four years the Yankees presided as the sole team in New York, they managed to win two more championships, losing another in heartbreaking fashion, while the freshly christened Los Angeles Dodgers brought the World Series trophy to the West Coast for the first time in 1959.

One team, even one as great as the Yankees, wasn’t enough to satisfy New York’s thirst for baseball. At the request of Mayor Robert Wagner and following the rejection of his request for existing teams to move, attorney William Shea (sound familiar?) spearheaded an effort to found a third baseball league, known as the Continental League, and place a team in New York. The league had major traction, with owners set up and stadium locations set. Major League baseball, in response, set out to place expansion teams in the proposed cities. After some negotiating, they agreed to incorporate the Continental League teams as these expansion teams, provided that the teams provide their own funding for stadiums. This was a best-case scenario for Shea and the would-be owners. Rather than struggle as a fletching league in the shadow of a behemoth, they instead would be supported by the MLB, and Shea and Wagner’s ultimate goal of bringing a second team back to New York was realized.

They settled on the “Mets” after discarding names such as the “Skyliners” or the “Meadowlarks” (the personal choice of part owner Charles Shipman Payson, a former minority owner of the Giants who had opposed their move west). The name fit easily on sports pages and was quick to say. The working title for the team had been the “New York Metropolitan Baseball Club, Inc.”, and it seemed fitting. The colors of blue and orange were a natural fit as not only a homage to the Dodgers and Giants but as a tribute to the New York City flag as well.

The colors were the only thing that resembled the old guard of New York baseball when the Mets took the field at the decrepit Polo Grounds for the first time in 1962. Skipper Casey Stengel, the manager for many of those legendary 1950’s Yankees teams, was instead saddled with what is often considered to be the worst roster in baseball history.

Instead of Snider, Mays, and Mantle vying to be the best centerfielder in the city, fans watched the beloved “Marvelous Marv” Throneberry and his .244 batting average. Instead of duels between Don Newcombe and Whitey Ford, the Mets trotted out a pitching staff where just one member-Al Jackson-managed an ERA under 4.50. The team, as a whole, saved 10 games on the year. A good closer in today’s game saves more games than the team won for the entire year-40.

The team’s two best players were centerfielder and eventual Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn in his final season, and slugger Frank Thomas (not that Frank Thomas), who manned left. And while they didn’t recapture the speed and grace of their fore-bearers in the uniquely shaped confines of the now dilapidated Polo Grounds, their incompetence did lead to what is often considered one of the best stories in baseball history.

May 12, 1962: The first truly amazin' day in Mets history - Amazin ...

Pitcher Roger Craig and shortstop Elio Chacon being interviewed by the legendary Ralph Kiner. 

The 1962 Mets had a problem. Well, in reality, they had many problems, but only one that is pertinent to this story.

A characteristic of a bad team is a lot of errors, and the Mets were no different. They were especially prone to the embarrassing kind, with fielders running into each other an dying quail dropping in between three guys who could have easily caught it. Ashburn and Thomas were having particular issues with Venezuelan shortstop Elio Chacon, who spoke no English. A soft pop-up would float between them, where Ashburn would range over and yell “I got it, I got it”, in traditional baseball vernacular. Chacon, of course, speaking no English, had no idea what Ashburn was going on and on about, and this miscommunication led to an inordinate number of collisions and drops.

The seasoned Ashburn had made his way as a quick, intellectual ballplayer, and soon thought of a fairly obvious solution to the problem. Ashburn called a meeting between him, Chacon, and Thomas, and explained that they were now going to yell “¡Yo la tengo!” -Spanish for “I got it”-on fly balls in their area as to avoid the Three Stooges routine they had been employing thus far.

This seemed a fine solution, simple but effective.

The next day, however, the Mets learned that they were more subject to Murphy’s Law than Occam’s Razor.

The exact scenario for their new plan unfolded as a soft fly ball was lifted to shallow center. “Yo la tengo, yo la tengo” hollered Ashburn, and Chacon peeled off on cue as Ashburn settled under what should have been a routine can of corn. However, while the 170 pound Ashburn had avoided a collision with the 160 pound Chacon, he was instead walloped by the 6’3, 200 pound Thomas, who, speaking no Spanish and having missed the briefing earlier, had careened in from left field like a runaway train.

As the diminutive Ashburn and hulking Thomas picked themselves off the ground, a confused Thomas asked the irritated Ashburn: “What the hell is a Yellow Tango?”

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Casey Stengel in some new threads. 

The Mets fared better in 1963, only because they literally couldn’t have been any worse. It took them until 1966 to crack 60 wins, with poor old Casey Stengel, used to the dominance of the crosstown Bronx Bombers, helplessly asking “Can’t anybody here play this game?” as he failed to top 53 wins in a four year tenure as manager.

Despite the fact that the Mets had replaced two of baseball’s most successful franchises with the worst stretch of professional baseball in recent memory and perhaps ever, they were the darling of New York City. It was amazing-amazin’, really. New Yorkers, long beleaguered for their short tempers and high expectations, loved the Mets nonetheless. Fans turned out in droves, their attendance consistently ranking in the top ten.

Historical ineptitude creates a unique environment for stories like the time a fan called the newspaper to ask the score of the game that day. The newspaper informed him the Mets had scored an incredible 19 runs. After a pause, the fan asked “Did they win?”

In 1966, they selected catcher Steve Chilcott, who never made the majors, as the first overall pick, one spot ahead of Reggie Jackson.

1966 was a big improvement. At 66 and 95, they were just “regular bad” and not “historically bad”.

In 1958 California had robbed New York of baseball. Nine years later, the the debt was partially repaid in the form of the brilliant debut of USC star Tom Seaver. In perhaps the Mets first stroke of good luck ever, they were granted the rights to sign him in a lottery despite the Braves selecting him initially due to a dispute about drafting Seaver after the USC season had already started. Though the Mets slipped back down to 61-101, Seaver’s brilliance finally gave them their first true star player.

Though it was easy to poke fun at the Mets misfortunes, there was a glimmer of hope beneath the surface. In the past few years, they’d signed promising southpaw Jerry Koosman, flamethrowing righty Nolan Ryan, and speedster Cleon Jones. They’d flipped Jim Hickman and Ron Hunt for Tommy Davis, who hit .302 for them and was subsequently traded for Tommie Agee.

The 1968 lineup was completely toothless, resulting in a dismal OPS+ of 79. Yet the Mets had their best season ever on the backs of a pitching staff that was terrific throughout. In a reversal of that nightmarish staff on the 1962 squad, Ryan was the only starter with an ERA above 3, and he barely eclipsed it at 3.09. Seaver and Koosman, at 23 and 25, were the league’s best duo and among the greatest righty-lefty combos ever. The Mets had become something more than lovable losers-they were downright watchable, if still incredibly frustrating. The change was palpable. Instead of expecting a loss and being thrilled to stumble into a win, it was disheartening to watch the lineup blow a gem from the rotation. Suddenly, the Mets had expectations, no matter how tempered they might be. For the first time ever, they didn’t finish last in the National League. Instead, they finished 9th. Out of 10.

The Franchise Bids Farewell - Jeremy Lehrman - Medium

The Mets still stunk. Seaver sure didn’t. 

1969 got off to an inauspicious start. The Mets, despite their improvement in 1968, had still only eked out 73 victories. What’s more, attitudes around the country had stiffened throughout the 60s. When the Mets were inaugurated in 1962, the country was still riding high on the optimism and success of the 50s. It was fun to watch the lovable losers, root for the little guy, and hold an almost morbid fascination with the team that seemed to find new ways to lose every week.

By 1969, the glum hopes of the Mets matched the attitudes of a weary country battered by a decade of assassinations, civil unrest, and war. It was no longer fun to watch a team whose perennial failures mirrored day to day life a little too closely. Sports, and entertainment in general, serve as crucial parts of a society as an outlet from the suffering of the world. It was one thing to chuckle at the comical ineptitudes of a clueless Frank Thomas bulldozing Richie Ashburn, or a fan so jaded he was incredulous the Mets could win a game in which they posted 19 runs. It was another to have them serve as a reminder of the very same frustrations Americans were trying to escape.

They’d lost Dick Selma, who logged a sterling 2.75 ERA in ’68, in another expansion draft to the Padres before the season. They stumbled out the gate, winning just three of their first ten games.

Things weren’t better by the end of May, with the Mets still five games under .500. Facing the equally hapless Padres, the revamped lineup managed a meager two runs as they were shut down by Al Santorini, who twirled a complete game. It looked to be business as usual in Queens, with fans growing tired of the act.

The next day, May 28th, had Koosman on the bump facing Clay Kirby. The two were deadlocked in a pitchers duel from the first pitch, Koosman with the ball on a string. The Padres couldn’t touch Kooz, who just got stronger as the game went on. With 11 strikeouts through seven innings, Koosman trotted out for the 8th and promptly struck out the side, all swinging.

The lineup, however, looked to be the same old Mets. They managed seven hits against Kirby (compared to just four given up by Koosman), a 20 year old rookie in the midst of a 20 loss campaign, but zero runs. He even gave up three walks as the Mets got runners in scoring position with no outs three separate times and failed to capitalize.

The Mets went out with a whimper in the bottom of the ninth, leading manager Gil Hodges with a decision to make. Hodges, who sparred with the Yankees as part of the heart of the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers lineups in the 1950s, had actually played 11 games for the Mets back in  1963, struggled to keep his average above the Mendoza line, and promptly was traded so he could retire and manage the Washington Senators. He took over in ’68 and was thought of somewhat of a miracle worker for engineering a 12 game improvement and a developing a legitimately excellent pitching staff. Hodges stuck with his guns and sent Koosman out there for the tenth.

Roberto Pena led off the inning with a clean single to center, but Koosman didn’t flinch. He got Cito Gaston to pop-up and took care of it himself, then induced a lineout to Agee in center. Padres manager Preston Gomez was the fist to blink as he pinch-hit Ivan Murrell for Kirby. Koosman backwards K’d him, giving him 15 on the day.

Hodges pinch-hit for Koosman in the bottom of the tenth, but the Mets were again fruitless in their endeavors at the plate. Tug McGraw came out of the bullpen and blanked the Padres in the top of the 11th. Billy McCool (real name), who had stymied the Mets in the 10th, came back out for San Diego in the bottom of the inning. Cleon Jones bounced a routine grounder to short, but shortstop Tommy Dean flubbed it. McCool settled and struck out Ed Kranepool, but Gomez lifted him for Frank Reberger anyways. Swoboda singled to center, with Jones hustling from first to third. Jerry Grote was intentionally walked, bringing Bud Harrelson to the plate. In years past, Harrelson would have grounded into a double play and ended the inning. After all, that’s what the Mets did. They could never seem to stay out of their own way, shooting themselves in the foot at every possible juncture. After all, they could barely beat the expansion Padres, who would go on to finish the season with just 52 wins of their own.

But this team was different. No longer were they content to be the laughingstock of the league. No longer were they complacent enough to waste stellar performances like the one Koosman had turned in that day. That showed when Harrelson ripped a clean single up the middle, scoring Jones, and mercifully ending a game which they should have won five times over.

Jerry Koosman's No. 36 to be retired by Mets in June | Sports ...

Jerry Koosman was Seaver’s equal in 1969. 

That was the start of an eleven game winning streak for the Mets, unheard of in Queens. Excitement was starting to build in the city.

Those boys are really something, eh? They’re amazin’.

The team had stepped out of the shadow of the Yankees, who were stumbling through their most miserable half-decade since they traded for Babe Ruth. American icon Mickey Mantle’s hard lifestyle had reduced him to a shell of his former self, and he’d finally hung ‘em up after 1968. All anyone could talk was the Mets-the Amazin’ Mets.

The boys stayed hot as the weather grew muggy and their jerseys began to stick to them in the humid summer months. They kept playing well all the way up until July 20th, where they beat the Expos in Montreal, Armstrong and Aldrin went for a joyride on the moon, and they were given a much-needed week of rest at the All-Star break. Seaver, Koosman, and Jones were selected for the game.

1969 MLB Allstar Game. RFK Stadium. Red Schoendienst (Mgr) Matty ...

The Mets’ own Cleon Jones right there with Bench, McCovey, and Aaron. 

The Mets stood at 53-39 at the break, easily their best record at this point in the season in team history, but still five games behind the 61-37 Cubs, led by their own dynamite pitching staff and featuring a lineup with three Hall of Famers (Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, and Ron Santo). The Cubs featured a pair of familiar faces-Jim Hickman, who had endured the dreadful Mets teams before becoming a part of the sequence of trades that would land them Agee, and Dick Selma, who had been acquired by the contending Cubs from the rudderless Padres.

When they returned from the break, they appeared listless, staggering out to a 2-5 start where they got smoked 16-3, then 11-5 in a doubleheader in Houston on July 30th.

Same old Mets, I guess.

The Mets started Gary Gentry in the nightcap, who walked six guys and was gone before he could finish 3 innings. Ryan came in out of the bullpen to relieve him and promptly gave up a double to Johnny Edwards. Following the ego bruising of game one and with game two out of hand before the third, Cleon Jones didn’t feel much need to hustle after Edwards’ double to left, taking his time fielding the ball and relaying it to the infield.

In a moment that play-by-play broadcaster Ralph Kiner would extol for decades as the one that defined the season, Hodges limped out of the dugout and took a long, meticulous walk out to Jones in left to personally lift him for Swoboda. It was humiliating for Jones. Rather than yanking him from the dugout, or having one of the assistant coaches go out there, Hodges sent a clear and personal message about hustle. We are not those Mets, and you will not play for us if you are that type of player.

Will Gil Hodges finally be elected into the HOF? | Dutch Baseball ...The Trust Gil Hodges Had In his Players - Mets Insider Blog

Gil Hodges-stud first baseman, wily manager, and Daniel Craig doppleganger. 

The Mets were on fire, again. They won 20 games in August as the pennant race heated up. While the National League west was a dead heat, with five teams within five games of each other jostling for a playoff berth and only the lowly Padres out of contention 35 games back, the East was a two-horse race between the Cubs and the Mets. And despite their red-hot August, the Cubs had matched them, going on a tear of their own and leaving the standings exactly as they had been at the break, with the Mets five back.

Saying the Mets would need a “miracle” to make up five games in a month would be a stretch, but with the way the Cubs were playing, it didn’t seem like much of one. These were the Mets, after all-no matter what they did, it seemed like they always got the short end of the stick. They’d played with their hair on fire for a month and it was as if they had been running on a treadmill-they were no closer to catching the Cubs than they had been a month ago.

A one-month playoff race seemed to favor Chicago in every way. The Mets stars were still greenhorns-not one of their starting lineup was over 26. Seaver and Ryan-two of the greatest pitchers to walk the Earth-were just 24 and 22 respectively, and Ryan wasn’t even in the rotation full time. Hodges had managed the Senators for five years, and they had always been lousy. The Mets had never even finished a season over .500.

The Cubs in contrast, were composed of grizzled veterans. Banks, Santo and Williams were already legends of the game. Though Banks was on the decline, he was still an effective player and Santo and Williams were still in their prime. Their rotation, led by Jenkins and Selma, was more seasoned that New York’s, yet still young and looked to have plenty of juice for the upcoming playoff run. Instead of the unproven Hodges, the Cubs were managed by old war dog Leo Durocher, whose wisdom was matched only by his temper.

The Mets and Cubs were set to finish the season in a two-game series at Wrigley. It certainly looked like it would be the decisive series of the season.

Cubs Manager Leo Durocher Ernie Banks Ron Santo Billy Williams ...

Durocher with the heart of his lineup. The Cubs matched the Mets win for win in August.

The much anticipated season-ending series ended up being a dud. While the Mets roared through the finish line, outdoing themselves by winning an incredible 23 games in the month of September, the Cubs blew a tire while Durocher blew a gasket, and they limped into October having won a paltry 11 games in September. The teams split the series, the Mets winning an even 100 games and finishing a comfortable eight games ahead of the Cubs. For a team where it had been an accomplishment to not lose 100 games just three seasons prior and had only managed the feat twice before this season, it was exactly as they say-a miracle.

Yet another challenge faced the Mets as they secured their first ever playoff berth. The latest round of expansion, increasing the number of teams in Major League Baseball to 24, had led to a format change in the playoffs. Instead of the top team in each league going on to the World Series, 1969 would be the first year ever for the National League Championship Series, where the Amazin’ Mets would take on the old guard of the National League, the ageless Hank Aaron’s Atlanta Braves.

The Braves were another veteran team, led by Hall of Famers Aaron and Orlando Cepeda, and backed by the reliable Felipe Alou and Clete Boyer. Joe Niekro was their ace, six years Seaver’s elder but a longtime rival of his in the decades to come.

Still no one gave the Mets much of a chance. The Braves had emerged from the bloodbath in the NL West, while the Cubs’ collapse had practically handed the division to the Mets. The Braves featured eventual home run king Aaron, who was well on his way to passing the Babe, while the entire Mets infield had failed to hit 20 dingers combined. Cleon Jones finished third in the National League in batting average at a .340 clip, but the only other player to clear .300 was part timer Art Shamsky off the bench.

Game one was knotted at four apiece until Aaron reminded Seaver that this was still his league, homering off him in the bottom of the seventh to put the Braves ahead by one. Niekro faltered in the eighth however, with a rally led by Jones and Shamsky eventually getting out of hand when an two errors on J.C. Martin’s single leading to a five run inning and the Mets running away with it.

Koosman was uncharacteristically sloppy in Game two, but it hardly mattered as Atlanta starter Ron Reed was even worse. Agee, Ken Bosewell, and Jones homered as New York boat raced them 11-5.

In a repeat of that fateful day in July, Gary Gentry got off to a rocky start before he got the quick hook from Hodges for Ryan, who went the distance while Agee’s seven total bases paced the offense to a 7-4 lead. And just like that, the Mets were in the World Series.

Shea Stadium (137, B10208) - Stadium Postcards

Completed in 1964, no one expected Shea Stadium to host the World Series within the decade. 

No one could dismiss the Mets now, especially after they had made swift work of the favored Braves. Yet the odds were still stacked against them, as they faced the 109-win Baltimore Orioles.

The Mets weaknesses were obvious. They lacked power-only Agee managed more than 15 home runs, with 26, as well as offense in general. And they were inexperienced, brutally so. Most of the guys had no experience being on a winning team, much less a playoff one.

The Orioles, in contrast, had plucked the crown from the suddenly hapless Yankees and had staked a claim as the American League team of the ‘60s, winning it all in 1966 and putting together impressive campaigns in ’68 and of course 1969.

The lineup was fearsome, featuring inner-circle Hall of Famers like the Robinsons-Frank and Brooks, respectively. Speedy Paul Blair in center had a 20-20 season, and even second baseman (and future Mets manager) Davey Johnson, though four years ahead of the time he would hit an astounding 43 home runs despite never hitting more than 18 in any other season, was a dangerous ringer in the lineup. First baseman Boog Powell crushed 37 home runs and batted .307, finising second in the MVP. In fact, Brooks Robinson, in a down year, was actually their worst starter by OPS+. This mattered little in the playoffs. He was still Brooks Robinson.

The Orioles rotation was no slouch either. Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally, and another longtime Seaver rival in Jim Palmer headlined one of the finest rotations in baseball. They were supported by a terrific defense, anchored by the “Vacuum Cleaner” Robinson at third, often considered among the greatest defenders ever. Johnson, shortstop Mark Belanger, and Blair also took home Gold Gloves giving them an astounding four Gold Glove winners on one defense. The press was also impressed with the job the then-unknown rookie skipper Earl Weaver had done in his first full season.

Most pundits had the Orioles winning fairly handedly, per usual. The plucky Mets were fun, they penned in their sports columns. But the fairy tale had to end sometime.

If there was a game for the Mets to win, it would be Game one, people agreed. After all, Seaver was the best in the business, and as great as Cuellar was, no one could match Tom Terrific.

As it turns out, the one optimistic prediction for the Mets fell through. Seaver was roughed up, taking it on the chin while Cuellar was masterful in a one run complete game.

That settles it, disappointed fans gloomed. Don Buford’s first inning homer off Seaver had set the tone for the game from the outset, and maybe the entire series.

citybizlist : Baltimore : Fifty Years Later, Dave McNally's ...

Cuellar, McNally, and Palmer felt they could go toe-to-toe with Seaver, Koosman, and Gentry.

Game two was a matchup of ace southpaws Koosman and McNally. Each came out the gate tossing zeros. Frank Robinson hit a deep fly ball in the second, but Swoboda settled under it. Then in the third, Belanger hit a deep shot to center that looked like it had a chance to go until Agee snagged it short of the wall.

McNally got himself in a spot of trouble in the 2nd, walking Donn Clendenon, then inducing a fielder’s choice from Ed Charles before bouncing a wild pitch to send Charles to second. Jerry Grote flied out to end the threat.

The Mets struck first in the fourth. Clendenon, who seemed to see the ball well coming out of McNally’s hand, boomed a deep shot to the power alley in right. When the ball cleared the wall, he had himself an opposite field home run and the Mets were in the lead.

Koosman was dealing. He cruised through the sixth with a clean sheet-though he had walked Johnson in the second, there was still a goose egg in the H column for the Orioles.

Unfortunately for the Mets, McNally had settled quickly after the Clendenon homer. He made quick work of Swoboda, Charles, and Grote, then struck out the side in the fifth.

Paul Blair singled to lead off the seventh. Koosman carefully picked his way through Frank Robinson and Powell, leaving Blair at first with two outs while facing Brooks Robinson. Finally having cracked through Koosman’s shell, Baltimore decided to press their advantage as Blair jumped for second and slid in ahead of the throw. Brooks rose to the occasion and poked a single to center. The fleet-footed Blair was going on contact, and Agee had no play to make at the plate. It was tied up at one apiece.

It looked as if the Mets were once again to waste a great outing by Koosman. If it bothered him, he didn’t show it, with a 1-2-3 eighth. With two outs in the top of the 9th and McNally cruising, the game looked to be headed for extra innings at best and a walk off victory for the Orioles at worst. However, Ed Charles, Jerry Grote, and Al Weis strung together three straight singles to left and put the Mets back on top. Hodges put his faith in his co-ace, refusing to pinch hit for him so he could go out and finish the game in the bottom of the ninth.

After Koosman bounced into a routine 6-3, he took the mound in the 9th and retired Buford and Blair before walking Frank Robinson and Powell. Hodges’ leash was long, but not infinite. Ron Taylor came in, and in a tense at-bat with Brooks Robinson, induced a grounder to Ed Charles at third, who nabbed him at first by a step to close it out.

Game three was a yawner. Palmer got the nod for Baltimore, while Gary Gentry toed the rubber for the Mets. The Mets roughed up Palmer for five runs in six innings, while the Gentry-Ryan duo combined for a shutout, with Gentry picking up most of the legwork this time.

Game four was a matchup of the opener, but Seaver had his good stuff this time. Once again, Clendenon staked his starter to an early lead, and Tom was untouchable through eight. Eddie Watt relieved Cuellar after seven terrific innings, and didn’t miss a beat.

In the ninth, Seaver had to go through the heart of the lineup to finish the game. He got Blair to fly out, but Frank Robinson and Powell singled, sending Robinson to third. Now it was Brooks Robinson again, and he came through for the Orioles once more, clubbing a sinking liner to right. Swoboda-long favored by Hodges for his defensive prowess despite his meager abilities at the plate-made a terrific diving catch to record the out, but had no play to make as Robinson easily tagged and scored to tie the game. Watt gamed his way through the middle of New York’s lineup and it was on to extra innings.

Hodges rode his ace yet again-he seemed to only use relievers for Gentry, and usually only Nolan Ryan if anyone. Hodges was prepared to live and die by his young aces.

Seaver was shaky in the tenth, but gathered himself to strike out Blair and get out of the jam. Dick Hall came in for the Orioles to try to extend the game, but a funky double by Jerry Grote that was more hustle and borderline error by Don Buford got Shea rocking. Al Weis was intentionally walked to set up the double play. Thirty-two year old backup catcher J.C. Martin, who had batted a measly .209 on the year, stepped up to pinch hit for Seaver as Orioles pitching coach George Bamberger (Weaver had become the first manager to get ejected in the World Series arguing balls and strikes in the third) bought in Pete Richert.

Martin laid down a bunt and lumbered towards first. Richert scooped it up and whipped the ball over to first, where Davey Johnson was covering the bag. Richert’s throw, however, pegged Martin in the wrist and  pinch runner Rod Gaspar came around to score the winning run.

The Orioles claimed that Martin was running too far inside the first base line and therefore had interfered with Richert’s ability to make a play on the ball, meaning he should be ruled out and Gaspar sent back to third, but they were overruled.

Legacy of 1969 Mets: Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Nolan Ryan ...1969 Pitching Staff | Mets baseball, New york mets, Nolan ryan

Koosman and ace reliever Nolan Ryan. Few expected he would be baseball’s all time strikeout king. 

Game five at Shea was a madhouse. Here were the Mets, New York’s Mets, Queens’ Mets, up three games to one in the World Series with a chance to bring home a trophy. It would have seemed like a sick joke just two years ago, the team dredged in a cellar many felt they would never get out of.

It was Koosman and McNally once again. This time the Orioles were the ones who drew first blood, as McNally shockingly belted a two-run homer in the third, and Frank Robinson followed suit with a solo shot of his own three batters later.

Controversy arose in the sixth, as McNally bounced a slider in the dirt at the feet of Jones, which then skipped all the way into the Mets dugout. The Mets argued that it had hit Jones in the foot and held up a ball scuffed with shoe polish to prove it-the Orioles argued that it had merely bounced in the dirt.

Years later, Ron Swoboda would admit that the wild pitch skidded into the dugout and knocked over a bucket of balls. It was impossible to tell which one was the game ball, and Hodges grabbed a ball with a black smudge on it and used it as Exhibit A in his case. At any rate, whether that was the game ball or not, the umpires granted Jones first base. McNally, Weaver, and the Orioles were furious.

It proved consequential as Clendenon followed Jones and continued his hot streak by ripping a bullet over the left field fence. The stadium exploded as the Mets pulled within one.

Koosman set down the side in order in the top half of the seventh. It was getting tight now, with just three innings to go and the 8, 9, and 1 spots due up.

Veteran journeyman Al Weis was due up to lead off the bottom of the seventh. Another guy who flirted with the Mendoza line before it had even been invented, Weis was in the game as defensive specialist. Though he’d hit surprising well in the playoffs, everyone expected McNally to mow down the bottom of the lineup in short order. Weis shocked the world when he smacked a McNally fast ball high and deep to left, sailing over the wall into the shallow bleachers beyond, sending Shea nuclear. The stadium roared as the unlikely hero tied the game up.

Curt Motton pinch-hit for McNally, taking him out of the game. He grounded out weakly to Harrelson as part of a 1-2-3 inning for Koosman.

Eddie Watt was back in for Baltimore in the bottom of the eight, and promptly gave up a double to Jones, igniting the fans once again. The ever dangerous Clendenon rolled a grounder to third that failed to advance the runner. Then, Swoboda-another defensive specialist in a big moment at the plate-laced a double in the left-center field gap, easily scored the speedy Jones and putting the Mets just three outs away from the unthinkable. After an error by Powell bought them an insurance run, Koosman trotted back out for the ninth, facing the troublesome heart of the lineup one more time.

Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, and Brooks Robinson was about as intimidating a 3-4-5 combo you’ll find in baseball history outside of the Ruth-Gehrig-Literally Anyone With a Pulse division. Koosman had to go straight through them to achieve what was once impossible but clearly within reach-all they had to do was go out and take it.

Koosman walked Robinson to start, not risking anything with the feared slugger. Boog Powell grounded into a fielder’s choice. Chico Salmon came in to run for the sluggish Powell. Now, Brooks Robinson. A fly ball lofted to right, easy work for the steady Swoboda. Koosman needed just one more out from the sneaky powerful Davey Johnson. After a couple of off-speed pitches that Johnson didn’t bite at, Koosman came into the zone with a fastball. Johnson swatted it deep to left with good contact, as Cleon Jones drifted towards the warning track. But no further-he settled under it and squeezed the final out a few feet in front of the warning track, as jubilant fans stormed the field. The Mets, who had been born into the decade as lovable losers during Kennedy’s “Camelot” America, had emerged at the other side of the decade as champions in a much different country. A tired, worn, America, a world-weary America looking for hope somewhere. And they found it in the Miracle Mets.

1969 Miracle Mets: World Series run helped heal America 50 years ago

Amazin’!

Keeping Score-Nine Thoughts About the 2020 Season

The 2019-2020 off season was the most tumultuous one the sport had endured since the Mitchell Report scarred the legacy of not only some of baseball’s greatest sluggers but the character of the sport itself. The Astros cheating scandal, ignored and dismissed by the MLB despite several suggestions to look investigate, was blown wide open by whistle-blower Mike Fiers and the investigative journalism of baseball YouTubers and Twitter. The scandal itself was rocking, but the cleanup was completely botched by the unrepentant Astros leadership and the indifferent Commissioner Rob Manfred. Still though, the show must go on, as there are real MLB games being played in a month. Manfred is thanking his lucky stars for the passage of time and blog posts like this, which are focused on the season a-head and not calling for his.

 

1. Gerrit Cole and the Yankees win less than 100 games

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(CBS Sports)

The Yankees made sure that their World Series drought wouldn’t be continued due to a lack of spending when they inked Gerrit Cole to a record deal this off season, but injuries to fellow starters Luis Severino and James Paxton drop a once fearsome rotation to merely above average. Still though, the Yankees enjoyed a fantastic regular season without Severino last year or fellow Spring Training injury victim Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees backslide will have more to do with a regression to the mean for their motley crew of breakout stars from 2019 (Urshela, Tauchman, Ford, Voit) and an aging bullpen (29 year old Chad Green is the only core member under 30) than the injury storm that they seem to endure each season. The Yankees will still win 90+ games and contend for a title, but triple digits seems unlikely this year.

2. Their Former Crosstown Rivals win 105

Los Angeles Dodgers teammates Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts during a 2020 Spring Training workout at Camelback Ranch

(Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports)

Shocker, we’re not talking about the San Francisco Giants here. Los Angeles and New York have long been juxtaposed for their contrasting lifestyles and attitudes on opposite coasts as the two biggest cities and cultural centers of the United States. LA did the Yankees a favor getting superstar outfielder Mookie Betts out of rival Boston for the discount price of Alex Verdugo, prospect Jeter Downs, and the albatross contract of former ace David Price. Not to rub salt in the wound for Beantown fans, but Betts and Bellinger are the best lefty-righty duo in baseball since Manny and Big Papi terrorized the AL East fifteen years ago. With a dominant lineup, a healthy mix of fresh arms and veterans in their rotation, and a burning vengeance after it became public knowledge that the 2017 World Series was affected by the Astros sign-stealing (Clayton Kershaw threw over 50 off-speed pitches and got one swing and miss), the boys in blue will be both extremely talented and motivated.  The playoffs are anyone’s game, but a weak division and historic lineup should make this a fun summer in the City of Angels.

 

3. The Angels Finish under .500

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(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Even with Anthony Rendon bringing some much needed protection in the lineup for the super-human Mike Trout, the Angels still don’t have enough pitching to make any real noise in a cutthroat AL West. Just one starter-the current San Francisco Giant Trevor Cahill-logged 100 innings last year, and the improvements they made (adding Dylan Bundy and Julio Tehran) don’t move the needle. Not only do they have to contend with the A’s and Astros in their own division, but other AL teams jostling for a wildcard spot are sure to include the Red Sox, Twins, Indians, and Rays, all of whom tout robust lineups sure to be licking their chops to face the flimsy Angels staff.

4. Four teams win 80 games in the NL Central, but only one wins 90

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(Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

No division is more balanced than the National League Central, with three teams within spitting distance of each other and the young Reds right on their heels. What the Brewers have in superstar talent they lack in pitching. The opposite is true for perennial contender St. Louis. The Cubs collapsed down the stretch last season, but will always be in the mix with Bryant and Baez manning the left side of the infield at Wrigley. The Reds are intriguing-their rich farm system is starting to become Major League ready, and they signed slugger Mike Moustakas to play second base. There are no easy wins in the Midwest this season.

5. ← The Number of Games the Astros Will Miss the Playoffs By

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(The Spun)

This was about as bad an off-season a team has ever had coming off a pennant winning season. Their ace left, they went from media darlings to the most hated team in baseball overnight, and they completely botched the PR apology campaign. The Astros will get every team’s best shot, and endure a chorus of boos on the road in every ballpark. Psychological toll aside, the Astros got worse while every other team in the division (except maybe the Mariners) got better. The A’s young arms are finally healthy, the Rangers added Kluber, and the Angels added Rendon. There’s no rest for the Astros, though I guess they should have seen this coming.

6. The Phillies Win the NL East

Image result for bryce harper 2020

(Butch Dill /USA Today Sports)

This prediction is going out on a limb a little bit, especially for a team that finished fourth in the division last year. However, Philadelphia looks to be a different team this year with the addition of Zack Wheeler and a sure to be fired-up Bryce Harper following the Nationals’ World Series victory. Harper struggled a bit in his initial season in the City of Brotherly Love, batting a mere .260, but has had a full season to acclimate to his new environment and has a history of yo-yo-ing his batting average from over .300 to under .270. The Braves and Nationals got weaker with the departure of their star third basemen, and the Mets, while talented, never seem to be able to stay out of their own way. That confluence of factors has opened the door for the Phillies to grab a playoff berth and possibly even home field advantage.

7. Matt Chapman Wins AL MVP

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(D. Ross Cameron/ USA Today Sports)

It’s always been tough for the East Bay’s team to get national attention-even as one of baseball’s best teams the last few season, most national stories regarding the Athletics seem to focus on the drama surrounding their sub-optimal stadium situation. Despite that, Matt Chapman has simply become too good to ignore. As part of a strong contender for baseball’s best infield, Chapman has grown from defensive wizard to burgeoning slugger and full on MVP contender. The Astros cheating scandal has shed a brighter spotlight on both the often ignored AL West and the advanced metrics that measure Chapman as among baseball’s best. A deep playoff push would be instrumental in getting the young A’s some time in the limelight that they wholeheartedly deserve, but they may get there earlier than expected if Chapman keeps up his superstar level of play.

8. Minnesota Checks under Target Field for Yoan Moncada and the White Sox

CHICAGO - APRIL 17: Tim Anderson #7 of the Chicago White Sox throws his bat as he reacts after... [+] hitting a two-run home run in the fourth inning against the Kansas City Royals on April 7, 2019 at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Cleveland still has the superstar power in this division, but the Lindor trade rumors and penny-pinching attitudes from ownership may result in some uninspired ball this season. The Twins set home run records and added a top 30 position player in Josh Donaldson. It’s the White Sox, however, who command the most attention this spring as they enter the realm of heightened expectations. The stacked farm system they endured so much losing for is coming to fruition, and the early returns are that the suffering was worth it. Last season, former top prospect bust Lucas Giolito threw down the gauntlet for best pitcher in the American League, Tim Anderson won a batting crown, and Yoan Moncada turned the corner to form a dynamic Cuban one-two punch with veteran Jose Abreu. This team is important for baseball-rocked by scandal, battered by declining viewership, and often maligned as “boring” compared to player driven leagues such as the NBA, the White Sox are young, fun and most importantly, good. Stud prospect Eloy Jimenez was great in his rookie year. They have four more prospects ranked in the top 50, including consensus top five prospect Luis Robert, expected to debut this year. Anderson’s brash personality, combined with his electric play style, is exactly the type of player the MLB needs right now. The Sox may be a year away, but it’ll be a fun one nonetheless on the South Side.

9. Twenty Years after Jeter, A-Rod, and Nomar, Shortstops are Back in Style

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Correa and Lindor (NBC Sports)

It’s not as if the position has been thin on talent in recent seasons, but the position has ascended to another level last season and in projections for 2020. Currently, there’s six shortstops that could be argued as superstars-Lindor, Bogaerts, Story, Baez, Anderson, and Semien. Right on their heels are guys like Correa, DeJong, and Turner. Fernando Tatis Jr. and Bo Bichette are second year players who are in strong contention for All-Star spots this year. Tatis Jr. could easily win an MVP. Then there are guys like Rosario, Polanco, and Seager who are coming into their own. Counting defensive studs like Simmons, Iglesias, Crawford, and Swanson, the position is as deep as it has ever been, and maybe the deepest in baseball. Any team hoping to make a deep run in October needs a stud in the 6 hole.

What Every MLB Team is Thankful for in One Sentence

Happy Thanksgiving!

Image result for baseball field in the fall

National League West

Los Angeles Dodgers

MVP Cody Bellinger has yet to celebrate his 25th birthday and isn’t a free agent until 2024.

Colorado Rockies

Trevor Story and Nolan Arenado make up the best left side of an infield since Jeter and A-Rod.

San Francisco Giants

Watching games is great no matter how bad the team is thanks to the legendary duo of Kruk and Kuip.

San Diego Padres

How great Fernando Tatis Jr. is going to look at the All Star game next year in the retro jerseys.

Arizona Diamondbacks

The haul of prospects from the Goldschmidt and Greinke trades hopefully indicates that they’ll be out of the desert of mediocrity soon.

NL Central

St. Louis Cardinals

Jack Flaherty’s second half and the invincibility of Yadier Molina.

Milwaukee Brewers

Christian Yelich being the most likely candidate to put up baseball’s 5th ever 40-40 season.

Chicago Cubs

Javier Baez and Kris Bryant aren’t far behind Story and Arenado for best left side of the infield since Jeter and A-Rod.

Cincinnati Reds

Nick Senzel and Hunter Greene’s bright futures soothe the pain of watching Joey Votto’s decline.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Bryan Reynolds and Josh Bell forming a textbook top of the order.

National League East

Atlanta Braves

Their second power hitting, slick fielding, superstar phenom centerfielder in the past twenty years.

Washington Nationals

Are you kidding?

New York Mets

Jacob DeGrom pitching like the second coming of Tom Seaver.

Philadelphia Phillies

Joe Girardi bringing some much needed sanity to a city with pressure-cooker media and a team with big egos.

Miami Marlins

The weather.

American League West

Houston Astros

It may be the worst offseason ever for a pennant winner, but they did still win the pennant.

Oakland Athletics

Matt Chapman continuing the tradition of incredible third basemen in Oakland.

Texas Rangers

Globe Life Field, facing northeast and carpeted with artificial turf, will certainly be interesting if nothing else.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

This generation’s Mickey Mantle, and the best hitting pitcher since Madison Bumgarner/Babe Ruth, whichever you prefer.

Seattle Mariners

It’s never boring with Jerry DiPoto as General Manager.

American League Central

Minnesota Twins

The fact that only one starter failed to hit 20 home runs in a record setting season.

Cleveland Indians

On a serious note, Carlos Carrasco’s clean bill of health, which is bigger than anything between the lines.

Chicago White Sox

The South Sider’s youth movement has this team poised to be a big player in the American League in the next five years.

Kansas City Royals

They’re not the Tigers!

Detroit Tigers

Last time they were this bad (2003), they went to the World Series three years later.

American League East

New York Yankees

Everyone except Aroldis Chapman.

Tampa Bay Rays

The two-team wild card format, especially playing in this division.

Boston Red Sox

This team is too talented to be this mediocre-expect a regression to the mean next year.

Toronto Blue Jays

The 90’s All-Stars reboot (Vlad Jr. , Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio) looks promising so far.

Baltimore Orioles

Lamar Jackson.