erik lundegaard

Saturday February 25, 2023

Exploding Birds

After counting down the top 100 players in baseball history and writing about the 50 greatest moments in baseball history (to be published in Sept.), Joe Posnanski is now in the midst of creating his very own Hall of Fame, the JoeBlogs Hall of Fame, where the goal is to honor the best and most legendary.

On the latter quality, he spills a few words. Legendary, he says, is...

...something that transcends the field, something that goes beyond the stats, something that isn't always easy to put into words or analysis. Our first class of 13 does not necessarily feature the players who are highest in WAR, though they are certainly all great players. Instead, I'm trying to choose people who in my view best represent that word, “legendary.” These are the players we still tell stories about, the players we will always tell stories about, the players who not only played the game at an exalted level but left us as fans feeling lucky to have seen them play the game. 

As for his first class?

  • C: Josh Gibson
  • 1B: Lou Gehrig
  • 2B: Jackie Robinson
  • SS: Honus Wagner
  • 3B: Mike Schmidt
  • LF: Ted Williams*
  • CF: Willie Mays
  • RF: Babe Ruth*
  • RF: Hank Aaron*
  • P: Sandy Koufax
  • P: Walter Johnson
  • P: Satchel Paige
  • WC: Branch Rickey*

Beyond the starting eight and three pitchers, Poz chooses two wild cards. Doesn't have to be a player, either. Could be a nonplayer who had a big impact on the game—like Branch Rickey. Oddly, though, if a player, Joe isn't letting us know who the starter is and who the WC is. This first class has four outfielders, including two right fielders. So is Aaron the wild card? Or Ruth? Or Teddy Ballgame, and you move Ruth to left? Feels like a cheat.

It's a good list, but his most recent player (Schmidt) also feels the least legendary. And it made me wonder if you need time and distance to create a legend. I mean, does “legend” work for contemporaries? Well, Ichiro a bit. Or Griffey. Or Pujols. Then I thought of a guy you could really tell a tall tale around and wrote the following in the comments section:

“You askin' about Randy Johnson? [Spit] Well, he was as tall as Paul Bunyan, with hair like a waterfall and a fastball that could kill birds in flight. One moment there would be a creature of God, and poof! Just a puff of feathers. His arms was so long he once tagged out a feller on first without leaving the pitching mound. Entire left-handed lineups sat on the bench when he pitched, and half of them retired from baseball rather than face him. Those that did trembled at the plate when they came across his fearsome visage.” 

I added: “I mean, only half that stuff is untrue.”

Another reader, piggybacking on that comment, did the same with Nolan Ryan. His recitation was more stats-conscious, less tall tale. I didn't disagree with him, but I responded with the line about Randy I should've used in the first place: Did birds explode when he pitched?

He really does seem out of an American fable: Pecos Bill, John Henry and Randy Johnson.

Posted at 01:45 PM on Saturday February 25, 2023 in category Baseball  
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