You remember. You toss your friend the bat, and after he grabs it, you put your hand above his hand. Then his hand above your hand until..."Eagle claws," you say, grasping the knob. "My pick." Then you take the best player on the field.
Once again, I have eagle claws. Only this time the field is crowded with a century of talent. I'll have to be ruthless, though my alltime baseball Dream Team will not be. Playing rightfield, the Bambino, George Herman Ruth. Yes, Hank Aaron leads all history in homers, but when was the last time you heard someone describe a clout as Aaronian? My next choice is Gehrig at first base. Easy. I now motion for Cobb to play left and bat leadoff (his .367 career batting average is the best ever). True, the Georgia Peach played most of his career in center, but I've got to start him in left because my center-fielder is Mays. In assorted say-hey seasons, Mays hit as high as .345, hit as many as 52 homers, drove in as many as 141 runs and stole as many as 40 bases. He also made the greatest catch ever. (If you have to ask, you shouldn't even be reading this.) Mays was so good, I don't feel guilty about snubbing the Yankees' Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Well, maybe a little guilty.
Catcher.... Tough call, but I'm going with Cochrane behind the plate. Black Mike's intangibles won me over (not to mention his .320 lifetime average). As for second base, well, Jackie Robinson wasn't just baseball's first black player; he was a great talent who could dominate a game with his bat, his speed and his sheer will to win. Schmidt would be the third baseman for his bat alone, but he was also a 10-time Gold Glove winner. Ripken, the shortstop who never stops, has put up some gaudy batting numbers and set new standards for fielding excellence (three errors in 1990).
As for the pitchers, I'll choose one righty, one lefty and one reliever. Was Mathewson (373 wins) a big-game pitcher? In the Giants' 1905 World Series victory over the Athletics, he pitched three shutouts in six days. My lefthander, Spahn, didn't win his first game until he was 25, but he won 363 before retiring and pitched no-hitters when he was 39 and 40. My stopper out of the bullpen is Eckersley; nobody's done it better.
The genius of my chosen manager, Stengel, is summed up in his spring training address to the '53 Yanks: "If we're going to win the pennant, we've got to start thinking we're not as good as we think we are." It'll be tough convincing these guys of that.
Left to right: Schmidt, Ripken, Cobb, Spahn, Stengel, Cochrane, Eckersley, Mays, Ruth, Robinson, Gehrig. Foreground: Mathewson.
LF: TY COBB, DETROIT TIGERS
2B: JACKIE ROBINSON, BROOKLYN DODGERS
RF: BABE RUTH, BOSTON RED SOX/N.Y. YANKEES
1B: LOU GEHRIG, N.Y. YANKEES
CF: WILLIE MAYS, N.Y./S.F. GIANTS
3B: MIKE SCHMIDT, PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
SS: CAL RIPKEN JR., BALTIMORE ORIOLES
C: MICKEY COCHRANE, PHIL. ATHLETICS/DETROIT
RHP: CHRISTY MATHEWSON, N.Y. GIANTS
LHP: WARREN SPAHN, BOSTON/MILWAUKEE BRAVES
RP: DENNIS ECKERSLEY, OAKLAND A'S
MGR: CASEY STENGEL, N.Y. YANKEES/METS