The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

The Best Players I Have Ever Seen (Live)

Tomorrow I will be purchasing a dozen tickets to a baseball game for a group of people I work with.  We will be going to a Greenville Drive (Single A Red Sox) minor league baseball game in early May.  I don’t get to as many games as I used to, and I haven’t been to a Major League baseball game in an embarrassingly long time.

Greenville Drive marquee sign

Greenville Drive marquee sign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Still, baseball is baseball, and Fluor Field here in Greenville is a nice facsimile of Boston’s Fenway Park, complete with a Green Monster of its own in left field.

This got me to thinking of all the players I’ve seen live over the years, in both minor league and major league baseball parks.  So, inevitably, I decided to make a list of the best players I’ve seen in person at each position since my first game at Shea Stadium in 1974.  I’ve included the year and the city in which I witnessed them play.

First Base:  Steve Garvey (Shea Stadium, 1974), Willie McCovey (Shea Stadium, 1977), Willie Stargell (Shea Stadium, 1979), John Olerud (Seattle Kingdome, 1993), Mo Vaughn (Fenway Park, 1998.)

I was lucky to have seen a pair of first baseman, Garvey in ’74 and Stargell in ’79, who would each win their league’s MVP award that season.

Second Base:  Dave Lopes (Shea Stadium, 1974),  Rennie Stennett (Shea Stadium, 1976), Dave Cash (Shea Stadium, 1976), Roberto Alomar (Kingdome, 1993).

Not a lot to offer here.  Alomar was just beginning to reveal his greatness in ’93.

Sorry, fellow Mets fan, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to add Felix Millan to this list.

Fenway Park on June 21, 2008

Fenway Park on June 21, 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Third Base:  Ron Cey (Shea Stadium, 1974), Mike Schmidt (Shea Stadium, 1976, ’77), Lenny Randle (Shea Stadium, 1977), Richie Hebner (Shea Stadium, 1979),  Butch Hobson (Fenway Park, 1979), Robin Ventura (Three Rivers Stadium, 2000).

One Hall of Famer and…Lenny Randle.  Hebner supplemented his income in the off-season by digging graves.  Ventura’s career WAR of 55.5 is right there with several HOF’ers, including Boudreau, Medwick, Herman, Kelley, Terry and Gordon.

Shortstop: Bud Harrelson (Shea, 1974), Larry Bowa (Shea, 1976, ’77), Nomar Garciappara (New Britain, CT, Double-A Minor League park, while playing for the Trenton Thunder, 1995), Nomar Garciappara (Fenway Park, 1998), Edgar Renteria (Portland, ME, Double-A Minor League park, Portland SeaDogs, 1995), A-Rod (Fenway Park,  1999).

Hadlock Field, Portland ME. May 12, 2007 Photo...

Hadlock Field, Portland ME. May 12, 2007 Photo by me, alcinoe 06:36, 25 September 2007 . . Alcinoe . . 1,100×768 (256 KB) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s some real talent to choose from there.  Renteria was just 18-years old when he had a breakout season playing up north for the Portland SeaDogs.  I watched him play there several times in ’95.  I also watched a very skinny Nomar lash a triple and make an outstanding defensive play in Double-A for the BoSox minor league team that same year. He was clearly the star of the show that day.

Catcher:  This is where mediocrity rules the day.  Jerry Grote or Steve Yeager in ’74?  (both fine defensive catchers), John Stearns (at Shea in ’78?)  Stearns set the N.L. record for steals in a season by a catcher (25).  How about Ed Ott (Shea, 1979) of the Pirates?

Charles Johnson of the Sea Dogs was a fine defensive catcher who could hit with some power.  He became the very first draft pick ever for the Florida Marlins in 1992.  I saw him play in Portland a few times in ’94 and ’95.

But I suppose I’ll have to take Jason Kendall who turned in a fine performance for the Pirates back in 2000 (Three Rivers Stadium.)  Ironically, Kendall broke John Stearns N.L. single-season stolen base record for catchers a couple of years earlier.

Three Rivers Stadium

Three Rivers Stadium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If I wanted to cheat, I would add Pudge Rodriguez and Mickey Tettleton, both with the Rangers, each of whom I saw play in Spring Training in 1996 down in Florida.

Outfield:  Jimmy Wynn (Toy Cannon came to Shea in ’74), Rusty Staub (Shea, several times throughout the mid-70’s), Dave Kingman (Shea, ’75 and ’76), Del Unser (Shea, 1975), Greg Luzinski (Shea, ’76, ’77), Lee Mazzilli (Shea, 1977-’81), Dave Parker (Shea, ’79), Freddy Lynn (Fenway, ’79)  Jim Rice (Fenway, ’79), Dwight Evans (Fenway, ’79), Bobby Bonds (Fenway, ’79), Ken Griffey, Jr. (Kingdome, 1993, Fenway Park, 1998), Jay Buhner (Kingdome, 1993), Joe Carter (Kingdome, 1993), Brian Giles (Three Rivers Stadium, 2000).

But Vladimir Guerrerro (Harrisburg Senators, Expos AA team, playing at Portland, ME, 1996) is responsible for my favorite jaw-dropping performance.  I watched Vlad take apart the Sea Dogs in a game in the summer of ’96 where he hit a ball so hard to straight away center field, that it was still rising slightly on a line over the raised, distant scoreboard, and it just kept going like a missile until it hit a clump of trees at the base of the railroad track up on an embankment beyond the stadium.

I’d never heard a ball hit that hard in my life.  Neither had anyone else in the park, for as young Vlad rounded the bases, the stadium was just stunned into silence.  It was as if a shotgun blast had just echoed around the park.  I remember turning to my brother after this homer and saying, “Looks like this kid’s got a pretty good future ahead of him, huh?”

Designated Hitter:  I think I’ve seen only about a half a dozen games in American League ballparks, but I have seen three of the best.

Carl Yastrzemski (Fenway Park, 1979), Paul Molitor (Kingdome, 1993), Edgar Martinez (Fenway Park, 1998).  Edgar did not play in the game I went to at the Kingdome in ’93.

Shea

Shea (Photo credit: Kethera)

Pitchers:  Don Sutton (Shea, 1974), Tom Seaver (Shea, 1975), Jerry Koosman (Shea, 1976), Randy Jones (Shea, 1976), Jerry Reuss (Shea, 1980), Dwight Gooden (on Rehab., pitching for Tidewater vs. Maine Guides, Triple-A, Old Orchard Beach, ME, 1987), Al Leiter (Kingdome, 1993), Roger Clemens (Fenway Park, 1996), Tom Gordon (Fenway Park, 1996), Pedro Martinez (Fenway Park, 1998), Al Leiter (Three Rivers Stadium, 2000), Josh Beckett (Hadlock Field, Portland, ME, pitching for the Double-A Sea Dogs, 2001).

So I got to see Al Leiter twice, seven year apart, pitching for two different teams (Blue Jays and Mets.)  I’ve seen five pitchers who have won Cy Young awards.

That’s it.  By my count, I’ve seen nine players who are already in the Hall of Fame.  I’ve also seen several others (A-Rod, Griffey, Jr., Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens) who certainly have a case for future HOF induction.  Also, players like Evans, Staub, Nomar and Edgar Martinez were all among the very best players of their respective eras.

But an entire generation of new, young players has emerged in the last few years, few of whom I’ve had a chance to go out and see perform live.

Guess it’s time to buy those tickets.

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8 thoughts on “The Best Players I Have Ever Seen (Live)

  1. beachpig on said:

    Bill, great list…I have had the pleasure of having some season ticket experiences with White Sox, Padres, Dodgers, and Angels, working for both the Angels and Padres and going to college in San Francisco, allowing for me to see some serious games in my life…I put together this list with some nicknames and anecdotes, hope you enjoy. Because I saw so many games, I couldn’t give you every exact date…but only did put them in if I saw them actually playing:

    From your list I’ve seen:
    1B:
    Olerud (Peanut) vs. Angels
    Vaughn vs. Angels
    I would include seeing: Big Hurt (my favorite) vs. Many; Albert Pujols vs. Padres, Dodgers; Bagwell, McGriff vs Padres; McGwire vs. Angels, The Thrill vs. Padres

    2B:
    Alomar vs. Angels multiple times, Knoblauch vs. Angels, Sandberg vs. Dodgers and in Chicago w/Cubs
    Biggio vs. Padres, Whitaker vs. Angels

    SS:
    Ozzie Smith vs. Dodgers, Padres; Nomar bunch, A-Rod vs. Angels; Larry Bowa w/Cubs, Jeter vs, Angels,
    Cal vs. Angels..funny story, some deaf kids kept signaling for him to throw them a ball during BP..when he didn’t and he turned around, they flicked him off…Classless!!

    3B:
    Robin Ventura vs. Angels, and many times in Chicago, Ron Cey vs. Pirates;
    Schmidt vs. Cubs, Brett vs. Angels, Chipper vs. Padres, Dodgers, Boggs vs. Angels, Matt Williams vs. Padres

    Catchers:
    Both Pudges: Fisk and Rodriguez vs. Angels, and many times w/White Sox for Fisk;
    Burrito Santiago: Padres, Piazza multiple times w/Dodgers(remembering going past his house once where he lived with Karros to impress a girl) and vs. Padres, Lance Parrish w/Angels mult times, Gary Carter vs. Cubs, Posada vs. Angels, Mauer vs. Angels.

    OF:
    Griffey Jr. vs Angels (Mariners/White Sox), Ichiro vs. Angels, Tony Gwynn (countless times and at doctors when I worked for Padres team doc, never talked to a professional athlete who after 15+ seasons, still approached the game with a kid’s view of it, pure love. He was awesome), Moisty Alou: vs. Padres, w/Cubs; Joey Belle vs. Angels, White Sox; Barely Bones w/Giants vs. Padres, Dodgers, and in the World Series vs. Angels; Tricky Henderson multiple times, Dave Winfield w/Angels, Sosa w/White Sox and Cubs; Andre Dawson w/Cubs, Vlad Guerrero w/Angels, Juan Gonzalez vs. Angels Kirby Puckett vs. Angels, Kenny Lofton vs. Angels, Jim Edmonds w/Angels and vs. Padres w/Cards, Bernie Williams vs. Angels, Andruw Jones vs. Dodgers, Padres, and w/White Sox.

    DH: Seen Edgar “Malt-o Meal” Martinez several times vs. Angels, Harold Baines, Paul Molitor vs. Angels, Big Papi vs. Angels, Chili Davis (remember him coming into the locker room to do some soft toss in between innings and smoking a cigarette while doing it, was embarrased to have looked up to this “athlete” at one time) and personal favorite Greg Luzinski

    SP:
    From your list: I’ve seen Seaver, took pitching lessons from Randy Jones in his backyard in SD, Seen Doc Gooden, Al Leiter, Clemens, Gordon, Pedro, Beckett, in addition…
    I’ve seen Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan pitch vs. Angels from behind the plate..Radar guns galore, so cool. Maddux pitch for Cubs/Braves and against Padres and Dodgers, Glavine and Smoltz vs. Padres and Dodgers, Mussina vs. Angels, Jack Morris vs. Angels. Fergie Jenkins w/Cubs, Seaver w/White Sox

    RP:
    Eckersley many times, Thigpen w/White Sox, Lee Smith w/Cubs, Quisenberry vs. Angels and White Sox, Bruce Sutter w/Cubs Goose Gossage vs Angels, Mariano Rivera vs Angels, Troy Percival w/Angels.

    Hall of Famers seen play live:
    Fergie Jenkins
    Tom Seaver
    Tommy Lasorda (never seen play but have met multiple times, saw coach and is a Fraternity Brother 🙂 )
    George Brett
    Nolan Ryan
    Robin Yount
    Carlton Fisk
    Dave Winfield
    Gary Carter
    Eddie Murray
    Dennis Eckersley
    Paul Molitor
    Wade Boggs
    Ryne Sandberg
    Bruce Sutter
    Tony Gwynn
    Cal Ripken
    Goose Gossge
    Rickey Henderson
    Andre Dawson
    Roberto Alomar
    Bert Blyleven (w/Angels and have eaten in his once open diner and played against his kid in High School)

    • Wow, I am in awe of your list! I can’t believe you’ve even gotten to know some of these guys a little bit. Most of those guys are just names on baseball cards to me. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. I’m glad you like this post. Come back for another visit. Always enjoy chatting about the game!
      Bill

  2. Well, you got me, Bill. Although I’m older, I haven’t been to as many live games as you. Best players I’ve seen live wouldn’t be nearly as deep (Yaz, Kaline, Drysdale, Boggs, Clemens, and Ryan Sandberg while still a Phillies minor leaguer). Good post and the nostalgia that happened when I tried to make my own list was worth the trip to your blog.
    v

  3. Say it aint so, Bill! No Keith at first base?!

  4. This Post Is GREAT!!!
    I Love It LOVE IT.
    I May Have To Do One Similar.
    Tho…
    …I’m Forced To Admit The BULK Of My Selections For “Seeing Live” Would MAINLY Be CARDINALS and ROYALS hahaha
    Well… And Some METS, CUBS and PIRATES. 😉
    Totally Cool Beans, Sir!
    -BRAD

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