It's fortunate personal computers and their use for rotisserie baseball format hadn't been invented when I was growing up, otherwise I might not have made it out of grade school.
Then again, most guys who grew up in the 1950s were the equivalent of today's fantasy baseball geeks, only we came by our knowledge using trading cards, various facsimile games that didn't really simulate real action, newspaper box scores and columns and, of course, radio, television (weekend games only, usually) and live action.
I've since come to love the modern fantasy game to the point where I've wasted countless hours I could have been doing something more productive. In keeping with this theme, I've concocted my personal all-time baseball team for this column.
Though some names will be well familiar and others semi-familiar, it's not necessarily strictly a team of players who I think were the best ever at their respective positions. Rather, I based this on things like players I rooted for growing up or met at some time in my life or had interesting experiences with (it helps to have driven a taxicab for 35 years in a Major League town and tended bar in another one) and some players I just admired from afar for their skills, competitiveness and/or grace.
So, here they are by position.
LF - Ted Williams, Boston Red Sox - Never got to see him play but I read "The Science of Hitting" at age 21 and it convinced me he was the real deal; "Summer of '49" only confirmed that for me. Walked up to him outside the Harbor Court Hotel in Baltimore the morning after the 1993 all-star game, stuck out my hand and said something dumb like, "Are you really the greatest hitter who ever lived?" "You think so," he replied with a wink. Surprised at how tall he was, and his grip was vise like, even for a man well into his 70s.
CF - Duke Snider, Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers - Most of the kids I grew up with wanted to be Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays or Richie Ashburn, who lived in our town. I wanted to be "The Duke of Flatbush." Why? Probably because I had an uncle named "Duke." Still, I think it would have been fine to be a player as good as Snider, which I obviously wasn't.
RF - Roger Maris, New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals - You've read enough of my columns about Maris and why I think those 61 homers in 1961 and his playing on seven pennant-winning teams in nine years makes him a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate. Sometimes numbers don't tell a player's true worth.
1B - Stan Musial, St. Louis Cardinals - Growing up I was fascinated by Musial. Maybe it was the swing or because he was left-handed and I'm not. He just seemed to be the best player in the National League year in and year out. He got the key hit in the 1962 All-Star Game — the only one I ever attended — and it left such an impression that when we had a chance meeting 20 years later, I began by reciting the play-by-play from that game. "Say, you're a real fan," he said, either bemused or stupefied.
2B - Red Schoendeinst, St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Braves - His numbers alone were good enough to merit HOF consideration, but this is another case of a guy who carried winning along with him wherever he played, and then when he coached and managed.
SS - Derek Jeter, New York Yankees - Let me say straight up that Cal Ripken is the best player of all time at this position. But Jeter is a major celebrity who transcends baseball, a game he's also been pretty darn good at playing. Despite the fame and adoration, he's really a low key, funny, down-to-earth guy. Most celebrities are anything but.
3B - Harmon Killebrew, Washington Senators and Minnesota Twins - I took his passing earlier this summer pretty hard. I remember when he came up to the big leagues and started hitting home runs at spacious Griffith Stadium. My Uncle Glenn, a diehard Senators fan, said Killebrew couldn't field or throw and probably wouldn't stick. I said he was destined to become a superstar. Case closed.
C – Mike Scioscia, Los Angeles Dodgers – A great competitor (and a pretty darn good manager) who just happens to come from my hometown, Springfield, Pa.
LHP - Sandy Koufax, Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers - OK, I bought into the mystique and the myth that he was the greatest - at least for five years. My only regret is he signed my best friend's program following the '62 All-Star game while I stood there holding our gloves, pennants and other junk. I think I was too dumbstruck to say anything.
RHP - Ferguson Jenkins, Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers - Far and away the best athlete I ever saw on a baseball diamond. He won 20 or more games six years in a row pitching in the bandbox that is Wrigley Field. Nobody has come close to stringing that many 20-win seasons together since.
RP - Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees - Most say he's the best there's ever been in this spot. I say you won't find a more polite, more well-mannered person in any professional sport.
DH - Mickey Vernon, Washington Senators and Boston Red Sox - Never actually saw him play and never met him, but he lived around the corner from our school, and one day some of us dropped by and asked his wife if we could see some of Mickey's memorabilia. Mrs. Vernon let me hold the silver bats her husband received for winning American League batting titles in 1946 and 1953. Unfortunately, there was no transference.
MANAGER - Danny Murtaugh, Pittsburgh Pirates - I saw Murtaugh manage his first big league game in 1957. A couple of years later, I went to work for a golf pro who had grown up with Murtaugh, so it wasn't unusual to find Murtaugh and his baseball playing sons hanging around the pro shop in the off-season, talking golf – not baseball. He won two championships leading teams that should have had no chance, one thing Orioles and Yankees fans could no doubt actually agree upon.
So there you have my team. Could they beat yours? Maybe yes, maybe no, but either way, it's fun to fantasize.