[Mount Rushmore is a new weekly series wherein I propose a category and then nominate four items from that category to stand atop a hypothetical Mount Rushmore. The goal here is to foster some good-natured debate in seeking to answer an unanswerable question. Feel free to use the comments to propose your own quartet, discuss the merits of my own choices, and tell others just how wrong they are. I often no guidance on what criteria ought to be applied in answer the question other than that which I choose for myself. Half the fun is in debating the methodology itself. So without further adieu, let’s get it on!]
Baseball may not be the most exciting or popular game in America today, but it is undoubtedly our nation’s most storied sport. Despite the behemoth that is the NFL and various waves of ubiquitous NBA superstars, baseball remains America’s Past Time. So in thinking about a Baseball Mount Rushmore, I think about who are the people who need to be represented in order to tell the story of baseball. I’m limiting myself to players, even though arguments could be made for any number of commissioners, innovators, labor leaders, and coaches. Ultimately, the players are the ones who make the game what it is. And the game is where the stories come from. Here are my choices:
Babe Ruth: This one should be obvious. But in case it isn’t, he is the quintessential baseball legend. Figuratively and literally larger than life, he singlehandedly made the home run a viable offensive weapon. He is at the heart of the sports fiercest rivalry. He has almost as many nicknames as he does records — a fact immortalized in the instant classic “The Sandlot”. Try to talk about baseball without mentioning the Babe and you’ll quickly realize the fool’s errand you’ve started upon.
Jackie Robinson: Another no brainer. Robinson changed the game perhaps more than any other individual in the sport’s history. It’s not just that he broke the color barrier*. That he did it with such class, such grace, and otherwordly talent — he essentially left his detractors without a non-racist leg to stand on. For a long time, MLB refused to pull from the largest pool of talent that it could have. Robinson changed that.
Barry Bonds: This is going to be a controversial choice. But there is no denying the impact that Bonds had on the game of baseball. He was arguably the most talented individual to grace a ball field. What couldn’t he do? He could run, hit, field, throw. He hit for power, for average, and had one of the finest eyes — maybe the finest eye — the game has ever seen. Some will point to his alleged PED use as a reason for why he should be excluded. I couldn’t feel more differently. Don’t get me wrong: I am 100% convinced that Bonds used chemical enhancers to improve his body in such a way to make him a better ballplayer. But I’m not convinced he necessarily broke any rules given the vague and irresponsible way in which the sport’s powers approached PEDs. And baseball’s history is one of ill-gotten gains. Corked bats, amphetamines, Vaseline, designer drugs, pine tar… take your pick. Bonds was the best player before PEDs became rampant in the sport and was the best player afterwards. And his PED-fueled assault on the game’s history books and many of it’s most hallowed records forced the League to confront the issue head on. Rules were changed, people were jailed, and arguably the game’s greatest talent was effectively blackballed out of the game. You have to take the bad with the good with Bonds, but in 10, 20, 50 years, he’s going to be a name that will not be forgotten.
Curt Flood: This was the hardest spot on the mountain to fill. It feels strange not to have a pitcher represented, though I couldn’t land on one that felt integral to the history of the game. My heart wanted to put Teddy Ballgame here, but as monumental a figure as he was, I’m not sure he was a pivotal figure. I considered one of the Japanese imports — either Ichiro or Hideo Nomo — but I’m not sure the revolution they seem to have started has really taken hold yet; that chapter isn’t finished and may be more of a footnote depending on how everything ultimately breaks down. That leaves Flood. Flood’s challenge to MLB’s reserve clause — which was unsuccessful initially but eventually brought about sweeping changes that would reverberate throughout the sports world and change the landscape of baseball forever.
So there you have it: Ruth, Robinson, Bonds, and Flood. That’s my Mount Rushmore of Baseball. That is who I need to tell the game’s story. Who ya got?