Not all great baseball players have the fan-friendly attitude of Ty Cobb or Ted Williams. There have been players of great skill who could genuinely be described as “nice guys.” Here is a line-up of such individuals.
Pitcher: Christy Mathewson. Playing in an era when many players and managers (eg, John McGraw –Mathewson’s manager) smoked, drank, cursed, fought (physically with everyone including umpires) and had a variety of girlfriends, Mathewson stood apart from his contemporaries. “A Christian Gentleman” was the phrase frequently used to describe the Giants’ pitcher. He had none of the afore-mentioned “vices”. Plus, pitching 3 shutouts in a single World Series and winning 373 games in his career also aided to his reputation as a “winner” and a “nice guy.”
Catcher: Yogi Berra. You were expecting someone else? Who said: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.” “So I’m ugly. I never saw anyone hit with his face.” He won 3 MVPs and his New York Yankees won 10 World Series.
First baseman: Lou Gehrig. When Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs in a season, Gehrig had 20 more extra base hits and was the AL’s MVP. Eighty years after he left the game, he’s still the finest player ever at his position.
Second Baseman: Jackie Robinson. When Branch Rickey required Robinson to be “nice,” he was Rookie of the Year. Without restraint, he was the NL’s MVP. He changed the way the game was played and by whom.
Third Baseman: Brooks Robinson. He had 16 Gold Gloves. Who had more? Go ahead, guess. I’ll wait………………………………………………….Time’s up.
Shortstop: Honus Wagner. Still finest SS ever. 1909 World Series. Pirates v. Tigers. Wagner v. Cobb. Cobb, on first base, hollered to Wagner: “I’m coming down.” Wagner took the catcher’s throw, avoided Cobb’s spikes, and with the ball in his right hand, “tagged” Cobb out on the jaw. For the Series, Wagner hit .333; Cobb hit .231. The Pirates won the World Series. Plus, Wagner won 8 batting titles in his career.
Left Fielder: Stan Musial. (see above) Baseball Commissioner = “Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior. Here stands baseball’s perfect knight.” 24 times All-Star. 3 MVPs. 1948, Led league in 11 offensive categories; his 39 homers were one short. Career hits: 3,630; 1,815 at home; 1,815 on road. He hit everybody, everywhere. Off the field, he placed a harmonica.
Center Fielder: Willie Mays. At 16, he played in the Negro Leagues. At 20, he was Rookie of Year in NL. In his next full season, he was MVP. For his career, he was MVP twice; And finished in top 10 a dozen times. Had 12 Gold Gloves and hit 660 home runs ( while missing 2 years for military service). Ted Williams said: “They invented the All-Star game for Willie Mays.”
Right Fielder: Roberto Clemente. Nickname: “The Great One.” First Latin player in Hall of Fame. MVP in regular season and World Series. All-Star 15 times. 12 Gold Gloves. Second greatest player I’ve ever seen (behind Mays).
Mascot: Larry. Cleveland Indians’ mascot in early 20thcentury. He was a dog. (see Larry and his BFF, Jack, above) Toured with the team and participated in team warm-ups. Traveled with them by car and train. Tracked down foul balls and straw hats of fans. Met President Wilson –and chased a squirrel up a tree on White House lawn. Roommate of Jack Graney. Every team could use someone like Larry. “Arf,” Larry said in agreement.
That’s a team of great players who also lacked a downside (eg, drug use, inappropriate behavior). Leo Durocher was wrong when he said: “Nice guys finish last.” But, on his other side, Leo helped Robinson get started in Brooklyn and managed Mays in his early years.
The moral of my story: Great players can also be “nice guys” at the same time.