Watching MLB Network all the time has got me thinking about how great it would be if we could go back and watch some of the legends of the game play in real life. This was a difficult list to compile. Just think of the immortals who grace baseball’s history books, guys like Lou Gehrig and Ted Williams and Bob Gibson and Cy Young and so many others who didn’t make the list. Not one pitcher made my list, and I think that’s because so many of the greatest pitchers in the history of the game have pitched in my lifetime – Pedro, Roger, Ryan, Johnson, etc. I would have loved to see Satchel Paige pitch. He’s probably number 11.
10. George Wright – One of the Cincinnati Red Stockings founders, it was said that Wright was the best player in the game as the nation was recovering from the Civil War. If he hadn’t been part of the Red Stockings, he probably wouldn’t make this list. But he was. And I’d love to see him play without a glove.
9. Sadaharu Oh – Japan’s greatest homerun hitter, he would have hit five or six hundred homers in the Majors. The guy hit mammoth shots and pretty much made baseball a national pastime in Japan.
8. Jackie Robinson – Now here’s a guy I’d love to watch for his demeanor more than his play. A true American hero who had the courage to face social injustice, number 42 deserves all of the recognition he gets and more.
7. Babe Ruth – Wouldn’t he make everyone’s top ten list? And to know I saw games played in the stadium he built, well, that’s just something generations after mine won’t be able to say. How sad.
6. Joe Morgan – Joe was one of the greatest second basemen to ever play the game. It’s too bad my generation and younger have had to suffer through his broadcasts without ever having seen him play, tainting our idea of him. If anything, I’d love to watch Joe play to take the bitter taste of his broadcasting from my mouth.
5. Oscar Charleston – A guy whom many consider the greatest Negro League player ever, Charleston would have no doubt had his name in the MLB lights for eternity had our country never been sociopathically evil in its race perceptions. Charleston was a fan favorite but was famously known for his temper. Once he ripped the hood off a Klansman and dared him to speak. Awesome.
4. Willie Mays – The greatest centerfielder to ever play the game? Not many people argue with that. The greatest player ever? Hard to argue with that, too.
3. Pete Rose - I know I saw Pete play, but it was in his second stint with the Reds when he was past his prime, and besides, with the exception of remembering watching him hit 4192 on September 11, 1985 on television, I don’t remember him playing at all. I was only eight years old when 4192 hit the turf at Riverfront.
2. Johnny Bench – I may have seen Bench play a game, but I would have been under six years old, and he probably didn’t catch if I did see him. I wore number 5 as a catcher in my ballplaying days in honor of the greatest to ever don a Major League uniform.
1. Josh Gibson – Maybe the greatest player in the history of the game. The legend says he hit over 900 homers in his career, including one that left Yankee Stadium. Of course, there’s a lot of Paul Bunyan in that, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that he was very, very good. It can probably be said that he would have hit six or seven hundred in the Majors without any big blue ox to help him. To top it all off, he was a catcher. I love catchers! But social injustice killed him at age 35. He must have been heartbroken that he couldn’t play in the Big Leagues, and he turned to the drugs which caused the stroke that took his life just three months before Jackie donned the Brooklyn uniform for the first time.
If you could watch anyone, who would it be?