Mount Rushmore – Baseball Edition

[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?

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
Share

39 thoughts on “Mount Rushmore – Baseball Edition

      • There was a time that the Dodgers haf the best closer in baseball and the Giants one of the worst. Whenever Eric Gagne came into a home game, the scoreboard would light up with GAME OVER. There was a joke going around that when Armando Benitez came in, it should say “Mission Accomplished.”

        (No politics.)

          Quote  Link

        Report

      • Eventually Gagne ended up with the Red Sox. At which point, fans became convinced he was on a mission to blow games in as excruciating a fashion as possible. I remember one game in particular. Well, I semi-remember it. His antics caused me to go from “enjoyably drunk” to “belligerent”. I punched a wall.

        I hate Gagne.

          Quote  Link

        Report

  1. I could make a case for Tommy John. He ushered in the era of players undergoing extreme medical treatments to recover from injury. Hard to throw out anyone from there.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  2. I like the way the question is framed-“telling the story” rather than simply “these are the four best.” Given that, my first thought was “Bonds better be there!” Hard to argue with any of those choices, although there’s something missing from a story of baseball in 2014 that doesn’t involve any Latin American/Hispanic players. Clemente? A-Rod (mostly for the labor relations stuff that Flood touches on;biggest contract ever, etc)?

      Quote  Link

    Report

  3. Given the parameters o your Rushmore, don’t you have to include Ray Chapman?

    Two of your players — indeed the two everyone seems to agree need to be there, Ruth and Bonds — don’t get there without Chapman.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • I had to Google who Chapman was. While the long-term impact of his passing was undoubtedly integral to the game, I’m not sure that it makes Chapman himself special. Were it not him, it would have been someone else. I think that matters. And I don’t think the same can be said for people like Flood and Robinson, whose actions took courage. Chapman was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

        Quote  Link

      Report

  4. 1 You’ve got a pitcher, and a great one,

    2. Curt Flood lost, and nothing changed. That slot should go to Marvin Miller.

    3. Baseball goes back a long ways. The National Association (deceased) was started in 1871 and the National League (still with us) in 1876, but your choices for the pivotal part of its story are from the 1920s and later. I’d add at least one older figure:

    Albert Spalding: the first well-known player to use a glove (and, of course, the founder of the most famous company to make them.)

    Harry Wright: innovator (creator of, for instance, the defensive shift) and founder of the first professional team.

    Cap Anson: also an innovator (spring training, base coaches), and the man most responsible for segregation. It would serve him right to have to spend eternity next to Jackie.

    4, Also, Willie Mays. Because he’s Willie Mays.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  5. And one nitpick about Bonds: he couldn’t throw that well. He made up for a weak arm by getting to the ball and getting his throw off quickly. Which, together with his speed and judgement of fly balls, was enough to make him a top-notch left fielder (through 1998, +13 dWAR and 8 Gold Gloves.) But when he got older and slower, he became a real defensive liability. I don’t blame the Giant for not resigning him in 2008, because he was no longer capable of playing in the field, but the fact that none of the 14 AL teams signed him as DH after he’d gone .276/.480/.565 with 28 HRs stinks of collusion.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  6. Sort of off topic but: I think my sweetie’s mom may be having a late-in-life romance with a player who probably wouldn’t adorn the Mt. Rushmore of baseball, but might be carved into the mountain honoring baseball broadcasters. They live in the same retirement community. It’ sweet.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  7. A couple of names that deserve consideration only because they were the first, or at least “first”: Ron Blomberg, the first player to be that abomination known as the DH, and Dennis Eckersley as the first true closer, the advent of which has made late inning baseball about as exciting to watch as the last couple of minutes in a basketball game. On 2nd thought, perhaps they belong on the Wall of Shame.

    Fun fact about Cap Anson, : He is still the all-time Cubs RBI leader. He played his last major league game in 1897, which just goes to show you how horrific the Chicago National League ball club truly has been for the last century and a quarter.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • Anson played for the Cubs for 22 years; it’s not that surprising he’d lead in some of the counting stats. And 1880 RBIs for one team is not bad. It would make him 12th lifetime. (Baseball-reference has him 3rd lifetime, because it includes his five years in the NA.)

      How about Andy Messersmith, first man to play out his reserve clause year and become a free agent?

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • Along with Dave McNally.

        In The Lords of the Realm it was reported that once the reserve clause was wiped out by the courts, Charlie Finley advocated for making all major leaguers free agents. He knew this would drive down salaries, but his fellow owners couldn’t let go of the idea of their “investment” in players developed in the minor leagues. As a result, Adam Dunn, a lifetime .240 hitter, and noted strike out king, is making $15,000,000 this year. Blech.

          Quote  Link

        Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *