Player of the Decade (2000’s)

Albert Pujols

Also considered: Barry Bonds, Ichiro Suzuki, Alex Rodriguez

In the decade labelled by three letters, P.E.D., Albert Pujols (clean) stood above the rest. The former 13th round draft pick broke onto the scene in 2001 by running away with the Rookie of the Year award and finishing 4th in the NL MVP voting behind a guy that hit 73 home runs (Bonds), another that hit 64 (Sosa), and another that hit 57 and won the World Series (Luis Gonzalez). That was the last time that Pujols was going to sit that far back in the MVP voting again until 2007 (finished 9th even though he posted an 8.7 WAR).

What a decade Prince Albert had:

  • Nine seasons with an average over .300
  • Eight seasons with a .400+ OBP (.427 over the decade)
  • Seven seasons over 1.000 OPS (1.055 over the decade)
  • Nine 100+ RBI seasons
  • Eight 100+ Run seasons (99 in ’07)
  • Nine 30+ HR seasons
  • 2001 Rookie of the Year
  • Two Gold Gloves
  • Six Silver Sluggers
  • Eight All Star Selections
  • Three-time MVP
  • 2006 World Series Champion
  • 73.6 WAR
  • 8.2 WAR/year

(.334/.427/.628, 1,717 H, 366 HR, 1,112 RBI, 1,071 R)

*These numbers only reflect the seasons between 2000-09*

It’s somewhat unfortunate to see what has happened to Pujols since he left St. Louis for the bright lights of LA. It makes writing this a little bit strange knowing that he’s still playing. He’s not the same player out there. Gone are the consistent: 150 games, .330 avg, 40 HR, and 115 RBI seasons throughout the 2000’s. Maybe they were taken for granted. Not by him, but by us the fans. I remember having a sense of boredom with what he was doing. He made it seem so simple.

His eye at the plate was what I truly marveled at though (only his rookie season did he strikeout more times than he walked). The way he would spit on a breaking ball in the dirt as if to say, you thought THAT was going to strike me out? HA! But he also had a way of being selective within the zone. With the count in his favor he would lock into a portion of the plate where he could drive something. With two strikes Pujols would foul off pitch after pitch after pitch after pitch.. until getting the mistake and drilling it. It was the personification of two men testing their wills. Albert rarely lost. Even his outs were squared up. And in a game where failure is expected more times than success, I swear you could audibly hear crowds exhale when Pujols would get out on the road.

‘I consider myself a line drive hitter with power. I just try to put my best swing on the ball every time.’

My favorite story of Pujols greatness actually never happened on a baseball field. Don’t worry, I’m not gonna get all sappy here. I remember watching a special as a kid on Albert Pujols, can’t find any account for it now, but I stand by the truth of it. It was a machine that he had at his house that would fire tennis balls at 120mph. To make things more extreme than that already is, the balls were numbered. 1, 2, & 3 I believe. Each Sharpee’d number represented an area on the field. Albert then would have to hit the ball into that section. Can you even begin to imagine?

He is one of the really good guys in the game and a first ballot Hall of Famer, no doubt. He showed my generation that superstars don’t need needles and arrogance. And while it’s a shame to see his career dwindle quietly out on the west coast, there is some solace to take knowing how good he was for those eleven years under The Arch.

Well that wraps up my series. I hope you all enjoyed it. Maybe even learned a thing or two along the way? Feedback is always welcomed! Is there any decade would you have done differently?

Player of the Decade (1990’s)

Barry Bonds

Also considered: Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Thomas, Derek Jeter

If you know anything about me, this isn’t a shocking turn of events. Junior was terrific. He had it all. He was The Kid. But Barry Bonds was from a different planet. Bonds seemingly had two separate careers that fell pretty conveniently at the decade’s end. Now unfortunately I won’t get to gush over his 01-04 seasons here because this is focused on the 90’s but I do hope to give you an appreciation of the player he was before the scandals arose.

The really enjoyable part about this is that Bonds is the first player on the list that I’ve had the privilege to actually watch in my lifetime. So I’m not fully relying on: stories, highlight videos, or stats. I can actually recall some of my own memories of the man that flipped the sport on it’s scandalously large head for 15 years.

We’ll hold off the moral debate for a second and look at the decade in which he has been pretty unanimously deemed “clean” for:

  • Six seasons with an Average over .300
  • Nine seasons with a .400+ OBP (.434 over the decade)
  • Eight straight seasons over 1.000 OPS (1.036 over the decade)
  • Nine straight seasons with 28+ Stolen Bases (343 over the decade)
  • Eight 100+ RBI seasons
  • Seven 100+ Run seasons
  • Seven 100+ Walk seasons
  • Nine 30+ HR seasons
  • Eight Gold Gloves
  • Seven Silver Sluggers
  • Eight All Star Selections
  • Three MVP’s
  • 79.8 WAR

(.302/.434/.602, 1,478 H, 361 HR, 1,076 RBI, 1,091 R)

*These numbers only reflect the seasons between 1990-99*

The guy was a three time MVP before he turned 29. His worst non-injury (’99) or strike shortened (’94) season included: 25 HR, 116 RBI, 43 SB, a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger, and an MVP runner-up to a 2 WAR worse Terry Pendleton. Had he rightfully won that MVP he would’ve had two separate 4-straight MVP stretches in his career. And if that were the case there really wouldn’t be any debate to be had here. Also, quick shout out to Cal Ripken’s ’91 MVP that season (Check it out).

‘My career is an open book, but my life is not.’ -Barry Bonds

Barry never cared much for the media, and thus he was spun as an evil villain to the public the first chance they got. The whole era was tarnished because of the lack of institutional control. But let’s not forget Barry’s greatness along the way. The games he played were real. The jaws he dropped were real. The smiles he provided were real. The fans he brought back to the game after the strike were real. He was everything you could ever want out of a baseball player. The 7-time MVP had the ability to strike fear in opposing pitchers in a way we have only seen once before. He was the modern day version of Babe Ruth. And for that, I thank you Barry.

The first player I ever stopped what I was doing to watch, Barry Bonds, comes in as the tenth selection to my Player of the Decade team. Continue to check back in as I will continue revealing my final choice for my Team of the Decades.

Player of the Decade (1980’s)

Mike Schmidt

Also considered: George Brett, Wade Boggs, Rickey Henderson

The 80’s were tough. A bunch of really good players, but none that overwhelm you. Not talking about careers here. The careers of George Brett, Wade Boggs, Rickey Henderson, and Mike Schmidt were all fantastic. It just didn’t seem as though any of the elite players had their peak seasons all fall within the time-frame of the 80’s. Three out of Brett’s five best seasons came in the 70’s. Boggs didn’t make his debut until ’82. And Henderson won his lone MVP in ’90.

But let’s get something straight here, Mike ‘Jack’ Schmidt didn’t win my Player of the Decade by default. The man was good; really good:

  • Six Gold Gloves
  • Eight All Star selections
  • Five HR titles
  • Eight 30+ HR seasons
  • Five 100+ RBI seasons
  • Six OPS+ Titles
  • Eight .900+ OPS seasons (.925/season)
  • Averaged 93 RBI’s a season
  • Three NL MVP’s
  • One World Series (’80 WS MVP)

(.277/.385/.540, 1,287 H, 313 HR, 929 RBI, 832 R)

*These numbers only reflect the seasons between 1980-89*

The absolute craziness of this all is that of Schmidt’s best seasons, only TWO of the seven fell within the decade. Yet all three of his MVP’s were. This propels the sentiment that the 80’s were dominated by parity (both teams and elite players).

There was one thing Schmidt possessed greater than any other player of his time. Power. Schmidt’s raw power at the plate was unequivocally in a league of it’s own. His five home run titles boat-raced the competition and struck fear in the hearts of all opposing pitchers. Which ultimately led to 158 intentionally walks throughout the decade.

“There are things as a coach you can teach, but natural ability like the raw power [Schmidt] had is a rare gift you see maybe once in a lifetime. ” -Bob Wren, Schmidt’s Ohio University coach

But it wasn’t just power that made Mike Schmidt elite. He was exceptional in the “hot corner.” His ten career gold glove rank second to to Baltimore’s Brooks Robinson for most all-time at third base. And if you have anyone you can talk to about watching Brooks Robinson play defense, I highly encourage you to do so. Schmidt was one of those guys that just made everything look good. He was smooth, and would devour one-hop shots down the third base line with the utmost ease.

So Mike Schmidt, with his combination of power and defense, comes in as the ninth selection to my Player of the Decade team. Continue to check back in as I will continue revealing my choice of players each day. Tomorrow will be the 1990’s.

Player of the Decade (1970’s)

Johnny Bench

Also considered: Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Reggie Jackson

The top three players of this decade were all arguably from the Cincinnati Reds, better known as The Big Red Machine. And rightfully so as they played in the National League playoffs six out of the possible ten seasons (remember that only two teams would make it from each league back then). So to split the hairs of Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, and Johnny Bench is no easy task. Their overall team accomplishments were one in the same. But what really made Johnny Bench stand out was his power at the plate, and ability to completely dominate a game behind it.

“I don’t want to embarrass any other catcher by comparing him to Johnny Bench.” -Hall of Fame Manager Sparky Anderson

Like Sparky said, he’s in a class of his own for greatest catcher of all time:

  • Ten seasons of 100+ games caught (actually did it for 13 seasons in a row)
  • Five seasons of top ten OPS
  • Two Home Run titles (hitting 45 and 40)
  • Averaged 29 HR a season
  • Six 100+ RBI seasons
  • Averaged 101 RBI’s a season
  • 5.9 WAR average (defense not accurate in past WAR)
  • Ten Gold Gloves (!)
  • Ten All Star selections
  • Two MVP’s
  • Two World Series (’76 WS MVP)

(.267/.349/.491, 1,396 H, 290 HR, 1,013 RBI, 792 R)

*These numbers only reflect the seasons between 1970-79*

Those numbers don’t do service to the player that Johnny was. He transformed the position as a whole. He did it all. And he did it all extremely well. Most every record for a catcher, he held it at one point in time. Offensively or defensively. He blazed the trail for the likes of Carlton Fisk, Ivan Rodriguez, and Mike Piazza.

“I think the best defensive catcher of all time, probably Pudge [Ivan] Rodriguez. I think the best offensive catcher of all time, Mike Piazza. But I think the greatest catcher of all time? There’s no question, Johnny Bench.” -Pete Rose

Johnny Bench was the first catcher to catch the ball with one hand in order to protect his throwing hand. He also made the position athletic. He was quick. Cat-like. Bunts were no longer fielded only by the players in the field because he was pouncing on them before runners on base had taken their secondary lead. And he struck fear in all speed demons looking to steal with his unofficial 1.7 second pop times (catch to release time for catchers). Now unfortunately I wasn’t around to see him play, but if even half the stories I’ve ever heard were true, he’s one of the greatest ever play the game.

So Johnny Bench comes in as the eighth selection to my Player of the Decade team. Continue to check back in as I will continue revealing my choice of players each day.

Player of the Decade (1960’s)

Roberto Clemente

Also considered: Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Willie Mays

Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Frank Robinson are all worthy Hall of Fame players. Fantastic at what they did. But when I started this series I made sure to note that numbers wouldn’t be the only thing taken into consideration when selecting players. This is one of those cases where the numbers don’t win out. Roberto Clemente is the most impacting player and human that the casual fan has never heard of. I hope to change that a little bit today.

First let’s take a look at his numbers throughout the decade just to show he was a great player in his own right before we dive into him as a whole:

  • Nine seasons over .300 Average
  • Four Batting Titles
  • Led the decade as a whole for Batting Average
  • Seven seasons with 10+ Triples (led the league in ’69)
  • 175 outfield Assists
    • In 19 seasons, Carlos Beltran (active leader) has 139
  • Nine time Gold Glove winner
  • Nine time All Star
  • ’60 World Series
  • ’66 NL MVP

(.328/.375/.501, 1,877 H, 177 HR, 862 RBI, 916 R)

*These numbers only reflect the seasons between 1960-69*

Clemente was so much more than the numbers. When he came into the league, the native Puerto Rican was part of a glaring minority of Latino players. In 1954, only 3.7% of the Major League players were of Latin descent. As of 2012, Latin players made up 26.9% of the league. Roberto Clemente was the absolute main reason for this influx. Every Caribbean child grew up wanting to be him. And in no way is that an exaggeration.

Kids grew up taking sharp routes to a baseballs rolling in the corner so they could recreate his whirling throw back to the infield. They’d run so hard that their helmets didn’t stand a chance on the base paths. They loved the game they were playing. They loved the people they were playing it with. And all of those things still remain true about the Caribbean born players to this day. It’s more than a game to them. But yet somehow at the same time, they still have more fun than any other culture too. Baseball is everything for them. Clemente epitomized all of this joy the Latin culture has found in the game forever. Clemente was just the platform that gave the world a glance at it.

Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on Earth.

Unfortunately, we were all shorted on a great man’s life when a plane accident killed him in 1972. The plane was en route to delivering supplies to Nicaragua after a major earthquake had struck the country. In 1973 the MLB began giving out the Roberto Clemente Award. The award is “given annually to the Major League Baseball (MLB) player who ‘best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team’, as voted on by baseball fans and members of the media.” Everything that Clemente was.

Roberto Clemente comes in as the seventh selection to my Player of the Decade team. Continue to check back in as I will continue revealing my choice of players each day. Tomorrow will be the 1970’s.