I thought I’d take the time to reflect upon my favorite baseball players. The only rule I’m using is that I had to watch him play and remember him, so any Big Red Machine players are out. I’m sure I saw Johnny Bench play as a child, but I just don’t remember.
10. Paul O’Neill. I never really got over the trade. I never considered him a Yankee even though his best years were in pinstripes. He could have been one of the Reds greats if they’d have kept him. I have a picture of my family and me with him – I had to be in fifth or sixth grade and had a hideous perm, so that won’t be displayed on the mantle.
9. Derek Jeter. Maybe the one player whose entire career I followed, at least from Columbus on. Jeter’s one of those players who has that extra something that people who’ve never played competitive ball don’t understand, things like leadership and stepping up when things count. He’s played in the brightest spotlight and has never had a scandal. That’s something right there. He may not be the greatest shortstop in the game, but he’s good.
8. Ryan Zimmerman. This kid has a head on his shoulders and can be the next Brooks Robinson if he stays healthy. I can’t believe the Nationals haven’t signed him to a longterm contract yet.
7. Bret Boone. I liked him when he played for Seattle. I was thrilled when he came to Cincinnati. He was one of those players you can’t explain why you like, you just do. He was good, not great, but he was a big part of winning Reds teams and I was pretty sad when he left.
6. Sean Casey. Who didn’t like the Mayor? Nice guys are easy to love. It was pretty sad to see him retire this year. He’d make a great bat off the bench in Cincy.
5. Ryne Sandberg. Call it a WGN childhood. I loved Ryno. I had nearly every baseball card of his except the rookie cards – I only had the Fleer rookie card and spent a pretty penny on it back in the day. Maybe my Ryno love had something to do with the fact that my uncle got me a Sandberg Louisville Slugger when I first started playing Little League back in second grade. Sometimes you just develop an attachment to a player, but he was a pretty darn good one. I didn’t lose any love for him when his team got into that big fight with the Dayton Dragons last season.
4. Jose Rijo. 1990. The squirt gun. The Banana Phone pranks. What was there not to love about Jose? It was a bummer his arm didn’t love him, though. Bummer he might be in trouble, too.
3. Ken Griffey, Jr. Yes, yes, I have been hyper-critical of him in the last couple of years, and I even suspect that he had more of an impact on the Reds losing than we could imagine, but Junior was my favorite non-Reds player as a kid and my god, is that swing art. With time, I’ll forget all of the negative things about him, even the injuries, and remember him as the greatest centerfielder of my lifetime. I’ve already almost forgotten the bad and cannot wait to see him in a Mariners uniform again. I hope he hits forty out this year.
2. Barry Bonds. Yes, baseball’s all-time homerun hitter. But I don’t need to elaborate on why. I’ve written about it before. It’s just that I’ve never seen the atmosphere of a game change as it did when he came up to bat. There was electricity in the air. You just knew when he was going to hit one out.
1. Barry Larkin. One of the greatest shortstops in the history of the game. Born and bred in Cincinnati, Ohio. A pure Red.
Players who would have made this list but…:
Roger Clemens. I know, I know, it seems like a double standard loving Bonds and hating Roger. I used to love him, even as a Yankee. I remember taping a Clemens-Martinez matchup once and watching the game later. But the whole weirdness about his half seasons and his perceived craziness soured me to him. What can I say? You can’t help the way you feel. And I didn’t have the luxury to see him play on a regular basis like I did Bonds. Maybe it was the bleeding butt that turned me off.
Manny Ramirez. I loved Cleveland Indian Manny Ramirez. But then Manny became Manny, and the love stopped flowing.
Darren Daulton. Something about a guy who preaches that the end of the world is coming ruins the legacy.
Jose Canseco. Dude is just crazy. I loved him as a kid. But something about a rat just rubs me the wrong way.
I was surprised that there weren’t more Reds on my list when I really thought about it. I hope that one day I can rewrite this list and add Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Johnny Cueto, Edinson Volquez, and Homer Bailey to the list!