By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
The Red Sox would have opened their home schedule today – and Opening Day lineups always have had a certain appeal. So under the circumstances, I thought I’d give you the best lineup I could assemble.
At least during my lifetime.
OK, so here are the parameters: First of all, we’re using 1980 as a cutoff because, prior to that, I don’t have a good enough memory of the player. We’re going to put a premium on players from this millennium, but the extra 20 years gives us wiggle room in the absence of an obvious candidate. And I’m not looking for the best statistical players, we’re looking for winners who would complement one another and build a great team.
With that in mind – and for lack of a better word – here’s is the Tony Mazz (Wet) Dream Team:
Starting Pitcher: Pedro Martinez
I know, you’re not surprised – and you shouldn’t be. Lots of pitchers won more games. Lots of pitchers lasted longer. But at his peak, Pedro was the best I’ve ever seen. Beginning with his 1997 season in Montreal, he went 118-36 with a 2.20 ERA over an eight-year span. The next-closest guy – Randy Johnson – had an ERA of 2.70, a half-run higher.) Pedro had power, he had finesse, he had balls and he had attitude. Nobody else really comes that close.
Closer: Mariano Rivera
Again, a no-brainer. Here’s the other thing: he was one of the most dignified, professional and gentlemanly players in the history of the game – at any position. You know the numbers, but they bear repeating: in 96 career postseason games for an organization that had seven World Series appearances, he had one loss, a 0.70 ERA and allowed two home runs in 96 innings. Nobody has ever been more automatic.
Catcher: Buster Posey
Truth be told, this was one of the tougher positions. Ivan Rodriguez may have been the most talented catcher of the last 40 years or so, but Posey was a more complete, better baseball player at his peak. Rodriguez had a cannon arm, but he has a poor reputation as a game caller. At his peak, Posey was a guy who could win a batting title, a Silver Slugger, a Gold Glove and, most important, a championship. When the Giants lost to the Cubs in 2016, they were 11-0 in previous playoff series with Posey behind the plate.
First Base: Don Mattingly
Wait … what? Yes, you heard me right. Mattingly had back problems that limited his production, but he was an absolute force at his peak – offensively and defensively. He was a doubles machine with home run power who could scoop loose change off the lanes of a bowling alley. You can have the muscleheads during the steroid era; I’ll take Donnie Baseball. And he would have threatened .400 at Fenway Park.
Second Base: Roberto Alomar
OK, so this gets a little corny but … when the baseball gods envisioned the perfect player, they imagined someone like Alomar. I’m not joking. Switch-hitter, magical fielder, power, speed, instincts and the ability to hit for average. And clutch. Was he a pure slugger? Hell no. Which is why I love him. How he only got 73.7 perfect of the vote on his first Hall of Fame ballot is beyond me. Maybe the best second baseman of all-time.
Third Base: Chipper Jones
OK, so I’m breaking my own rule here because I gave major consideration to George Brett. In fact, Brett vs. Jones is one hell of a discussion. It really is a coin flip. Jones wasn’t a great fielder – and neither was Brett – but he was the kind of comprehensive player who scared the hell out of you with his talent and instinct. The first time he switch-hit – in high school – he homered twice from the left side. Stud. And like Brett, gritty.
Shortstop: Derek Jeter
Again, there are guys who put up better numbers and individual years: Nomar Garciaparra, Alex Rodriguez and Troy Tulowitzki to name a few. But if you wanted to win a game or a series – or, more specifically, a championship – it’s hard to pick anyone else. (Honestly, I think I’d take Barry Larkin second.) Jeter was the consummate baseball player, even if he wasn’t the kind of slick-fielding shortstop that baseball traditionalists demand. Maybe the best ever at his position. And one of the best winners.
Left Field: Rickey Henderson
The obvious omission here is Barry Bonds, so I’ll be honest: I just couldn’t do it: Bonds was a bad teammate who was also regarded as one of the great chokers in history until he found the “clear” and the “cream.” Still, his talent was indisputable. Nonetheless, I went with Rickey who was, in many ways, every bit as selfish. But he was a terror in the playoffs that had the opposition constantly on its heels.
Center Field: Ken Griffey Jr.
Plain and simple: the best all-around player I’ve ever seen. Griffey was the rarest of the rare – a power hitter who could just as easily and deftly bunt for a hit. Meanwhile, he was a breathtaking defensive player who also produced in the clutch. And anyone who thinks he didn’t steal enough bases to be considered the GOAT never watched him run. He could fly. The LeBron James of baseball – but more clutch.
Right Field: Paul O’Neill
Maybe the toughest position to decide because, honestly, I was never a Tony Gwynn guy. (Sorry, but singles and walks don’t do it for me.) The overall competition at this position is thin, but O’Neill at Yankee Stadium was a beast. Is he a Hall-of-Famer? No. But he was a deceptively athletic batting champion and competitor whose postseason production was almost identical to that during the regular season. A winner.
Designated Hitter: David Ortiz
Honestly, this was a tougher decision than you might think – if only because Edgar Martinez was also a good choice. Truth be told, Martinez was probably a better hitter and he beats Ortiz in both batting average (.312 to .286) and on-base percentage (.418 to .380) – and he scared the opposition in key spots. But when you get right down to it, there may be no one from this era who was more like Reggie Jackson than Ortiz, the new Mr. October.
The Actual Batting Order
— Martinez, SP
You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.