Real Fantasy Baseball

In preparation for the upcoming season, here at Baseball Reflections we have decided to do something to get us even more excited for the start of baseball than we already were. We are putting a different spin on fantasy baseball. The writers of BR.com will be submitting their all-time fantasy teams for readers to see and react to over the coming weeks. These are not necessarily teams built to win the most, but teams that have the writer’s favorite players throughout their life. One caveat to these teams is the writer had to see them play live either in person or on TV. That’s why Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and others won’t be showing up on the lists. Each writer will build a team complete with starters at each position, a five men starting rotation, bullpen and bench players.

My personal baseball fandom came to light in the 1990s so expect a lot of people from that era. Also keep in mind I grew up in Northeast Ohio as a Cleveland Indians fan, so if the team seems heavy on the Tribe, that’s why. I will explain why I was drawn to this individual player so much to include them on my dream team.

The Starting Position Players

Catcher: Ivan Rodriguez

Years: 21, BA: .296, HR: 311, RBI: 1332, 13 x All Star, 13 x Gold Glove, 7 x Silver Slugger, Hall of Famer

During my childhood, there was one catcher who everyone knew was the best. Everyone was scared of his arm. Everyone was scared of his bat. It was Pudge. This guy did it all against my favorite team and I still couldn’t root against him. There was no debate about who the best catcher was during the entire decade of the 1990s, none. He was it. Think about that, for an entire decade, he was the best player at the most demanding position.

First Base: Frank Thomas

Years: 19, BA: .301, HR: 521, RBI: 1704, 2 x MVP, 5 x All Star, 4 x Silver Slugger, Batting Title, Hall of Famer

During the 90s The Big Hurt was everywhere for young baseball fans. Walk into a card shop and he was on posters, cards, plaques and everywhere else. While his defense may leave something to be desired, he had a five year run of offense that is hard to rival. Plus, he seems like a really nice guy. I’ve never met him, but hey, he has an award winning smile during Fox’s post season coverage. Seems like a good locker room guy who also contributes in a big way. When I was a freshman at boarding school, the kid from Chicago who lived in my dorm had one poster on his wall: Frank Thomas. Our friendship started because of that poster.

Second Base: Roberto Alomar

Years: 17, BA: .300, HR: 210, RBI: 1134, Steals: 474, 12 x All Star, 2 x World Series, 10 x Gold Glove, 4 x Silver Slugger, ACLS MVP, All Star MVP

Technically he’s the first Indian on the list, but he played only 3 years of his 17-year career with the Tribe, so I’m not chalking this up to my Tribe obsession. He is no doubt the most complete second baseman of his era. Despite the whole spitting at the umpire thing that made me really upset as a child, he led a stellar career both in the field and at the plate. If he were playing today, gifs would constantly be made of his glove work at second base. His philanthropy since retiring just solidifies him as the top pick for this position on my team

Shortstop: Omar Vizquel

Years: 24, BA: .272, HR: 80, RBI: 951, Steals: 404, 3 x All Star, 11 x Gold Glove

When I sat down to make this team, this was the easiest position to pick. Omar is my favorite player of all time. Heck, my cat is named after him. I was enamored with him as a kid. His play in the field still amazes me. Think of Omar and it’s hard to picture anything other than him jumping with legs spread wide over a runner while throwing to first to complete the double play. He was also very involved in the community when he played in Cleveland, even taking classes at the local community college. He also played for 24 years. 24. That’s a quarter century. His Hall of Fam candidacy is widely debated as someone right on the fringe. I obviously hope he gets in, but there was no debate he was holding down the shortstop spot on this team.

Third Base: Cal Ripken Jr.

Years: 21, BA: 276, HR: 431, RBI: 1695, 2 x MVP, 19 x All Star, 2 x Gold Glove, 2 x All Star MVP, 8 x Silver Slugger, Rookie of the Year, World Series, Hall of Fame

Yes, I know Cal spent most of his career at short, but clearly I’m not moving my favorite player for him, so Cal holds down the hot corner on my team. When I was growing up, Cal was the player everyone’s parents loved. Maybe it’s because he went grey so early or because he showed up every night, but it was hard to find someone who disliked Cal. Clearly his Iron Man streak is incredible and I would love to be able to count on him being in my line up every day.

Left Field: Kenny Lofton

Years: 17, BA: .299, HR: 130, RBI: 781, Steals: 622, 6 x All Star, 4 x Gold Glove, 5 X Steals League Leader

As a Clevelander, Lofton was polarizing in the 1990s. It hurts to move him away from his traditional place in center field, but I just couldn’t keep him there. He did make the starting outfield on this squad though. Not only was he my brother’s favorite player, but he was also electrifying in the field and on the base paths. Indians love to remember his unlikely run from first to home in the playoffs against the Seattle Mariners. Many in Northeast Ohio couldn’t believe when he was dealt away to the hated Atlanta Braves for the 1997 season, but they were just as elated when he returned for 1998 and even more excited when he joined the club again in 2007 to help their run in the playoffs. An Indians Hall of Famer, Kenny still attends games at Jacobs Field many times during the season and often retweets fans who think he was shafted in the Baseball Hall of Fame vote.

Center Field: Ken Griffey Jr.

Years: 22, BA: .284, HR: 630, RBI: 1836, MVP, 10 x Gold Glove, 13 x All Star, All Star MVP, 7 x Sliver Slugger, Hall of Fame

The Kid. That’s all that needs said. Griffey Jr. is still to this day the coolest baseball player I’ve ever seen. Everything from the swagger to the backwards cap to him running down everything in centerfield. As a kid I had a separate section of one of my baseball card books dedicated to Griffey. During the home run chase of 1998, even before all of the steroid allegations about other parties were known, I rooted my heart out for Griffey to somehow take that grown. I would be remiss to say it still breaks my heart he left Seattle for Cincinnati. I get it, he has ties to the area and all, but I can’t help think his numbers would have been even better had he stayed in Seattle. Obviously that’s not enough for him to lose his swag and jump off of this roster though.

Right Field: Tony Gwynn

Years: 20, BA: .338, HR: 135, RBI: 1138, 15 x All Star, 5 x Gold Glove, 7 x Silver Slugger, 8 x Batting Title, Hall of Fame

Considered by many to be the best pure hitter of his generation, even though he played on the west coast, and usually after I went to bed, he still became one of my favorite players. His hitting no doubt helped, but anytime I saw an interview with him, he seemed to make the person doing the interviewer happier. Hard to not want a guy like that on your team especially when he brings it on the field and at the plate. I wish the Padres could have more post season success in his time. He certainly deserved it.

Starting Rotation:

Hideo Nomo

Years: 12, W/L: 123/109, ERA: 4.24, Rookie of the Year, 1 x All Star

Nomo is on my team purely because of his pitching motion. Obviously he was a great pitcher for a couple of years in 1995 and 1996, but my friends and I had so much fun imitating his pitching motion that I couldn’t leave him off.

Pedro Martinez

Years: 18, W/L: 219/100, ERA: 2.93, 3 x Cy Young, 8 x All Star, 5 x ERA Title, Triple Crown, All Star Game MVP, World Series, Hall of Fame

There was no pitcher in the American League I hated seeing face my team more than Pedro. His most dominant years from 1997-2000 were a four-year stretch that rivals any baseball has ever seen. He was purely unhittable. He was also a complete goofball, which I have a soft spot in my heart for as a fellow goofball.

Jaret Wright

Years: 11, W/L: 68/60, ERA: 5.09

This is the most Indians homer pick on my list so far. Remember this is my team, darnit! If Omar was my favorite position player, Jaret Wright was my favorite pitcher. I fell in love with him during the 1997 post season and never looked back. That Christmas, the #1 thing on my list was a ball signed by Jaret and I still have it to this day, although the signature is a little more faded than I would like. At the beginning of the 2000 season he was rehabbing with the Akron Aeros and my middle school was on the field surrounding the back of the pitcher’s mound during warm ups. Certainly one of my greatest baseball memories, to be that close to someone I considered a legend. Jaret’s career didn’t end up the way many hoped it would. He didn’t even make an All Star team, but few can say they played 11 years in the majors and even fewer would make someone’s all-time favorite player team.

Greg Maddux

Years: 23, W/L: 355/227, ERA: 3.16, 4 x Cy Young, 4 x ERA Title, 18 x Gold Glove, 8 x All Star, World Series, Hall of Fame

If there was one pitcher I hated to see the Indians face more than Pedro, it was Maddux. During his run of four Cy Young awards in a row in the mid-1990s, he mowed down everyone, including my Tribe in their first World Series appearance since 1954. Like many rivals, I hated him them, but I love him now. He seems to love to have fun and was consistently good over two decades.

Orel Hersheiser

Years: 18, W/L: 205/150, ERA: 3.48, 3 x All Star, Cy Young, World Series, World Series MVP, NLCS MVP, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, ALCS MVP

The Bulldog entered my life when the Indians acquired him for the 1995 season. After spending his entire career with the Dodgers, including his magnificent 1988 season, he came to Cleveland to help them try to win the Series and they came darn close in two out of his three years in town. While I was only two years old during his record breaking season in ’88, he’s not on the team because of that, but because of his time with the Tribe. He was also my Mom’s favorite pitcher for some reason. Still not sure why…

Bench:

Mo Vaughn

Years: 12, BA: 293, HR: 328, RBI: 1064, 3 x All Star, MVP, Silver Slugger

I don’t really know why, but both my brother and I were drawn to him despite him playing for the hated Red Sox. Heck of a bat to have coming off the bench.

Juan Gonzalez

Years: 17, BA: 295, HR: 434, RBI: 1404, 2 x MVP, 3 x All Star, 6 x Silver Slugger

Yes, I know he had a one year and one plate appearance career with the Indians, but honestly I was a fan while he was with Texas. He was one of the few players I bought a specific card from our local card shop of instead of waiting to try to get him in a pack. Back then $1.50 seemed like a lot for one card when I could get 10 for a dollar. Hence why he and few others got to stay in the hidey hole hear my bed.

Julio Franco

Years: 23, BA: 298, HR: 174, RBI: 1194, 3 x All Star, All Star MVP, 5 x Silver Slugger, Batting Title

Julio is on this list because his batting stance is so cool. And it helps that he played forever and still almost managed to have a career average of .300, but really it’s the batting stance.

Sandy Alomar

Years: 20, BA: .273, HR: 112, RBI: 588, Rookie of the Year, 6 x All Star, Gold Glove, All Star MVP

Sandy almost didn’t make the team until I realized I needed a backup catcher. Then he was the easy obvious choice. He’s a Cleveland Indian through and through and would be theoretically back playing with his brother again just like they actually did in Cleveland.

Barry Larkin

Years: 19, BA: .295, HR: 198, RBI: 960, Steals: 379, 9 x Silver Slugger, 3 x Gold Glove, MVP, World Series, 12 x All Star, Hall of Fame

The second baseball glove I ever had was a Barry Larkin signature glove. Ever since then he has been special to me. Always wondered what it would have been like to have Barry and Omar turning the double play.

Bullpen:

Jose Mesa

Years: 19, W/L: 80/109, ERA: 4.36, SV: 321, 2 x All Star

Unlike many Indians fans, I don’t blame Jose for losing game 7 of the 1997 All Star game. He was the first dominant closer I knew and thus, he makes the team. I loved how he would play with a red glove that would match the red on the Indians jerseys. He had one truly great year in 1995 when he finished second in Cy Young voting and fourth in MVP voting, as a closer.

Paul Assenmacher

Years: 14, W/L: 61/44, ERA: 3.53, SV: 56

This is another Cleveland Fan Boy pick. My friends and I would scream “AWESOMEACHER” whenever he would enter a game. Hard to turn down a memory like that. It also always seemed like he was throwing faster than he actually was. Maybe the batters saw it that way too.

Trevor Hoffman

Years: 18, W/L: 61/75, ERA: 2.87, SV: 601, 7 x All Star

Hard for anyone to argue with this pick. Arguably one of the top ten closers of all time. Seemed like a really nice guy and held an extremely consistently dominant career over two decades, all of which were played in the National League and the vast majority of which were played in San Diego. Despite his over 600 saves, he actually only led the league twice. He did finish in the top ten in Cy Young voting four times and receive MVP votes in five seasons as well.

Eric Plunk

Years: 14, W/L: 72/58, ERA: 3.82, SV: 35

Plunk is on this team because one of my childhood friend’s fathers told me a story about how he saw him play in the Minor Leagues for the Akron-Canton Indians before he went up to the big club. I always thought it was an awesome story until I realized the only time he pitched for them was a rehab stint in 1992. Kind of dampens the, “I saw him before he was great” story, but that’s not Plunk’s fault. When I think of relievers from my childhood, he’s always one of the first to pop up.

John Smoltz

Years: 21, W/L: 213/155, ERA: 3.33, SV: 154, Cy Young, World Series, NLCS MVP, Silver Slugger, 8 x All Star, Hall of Fame

Hard for anyone to argue with this selection. For some reason I don’t hate the members of the 1995 Braves team as much as I dislike the team as a collective, or as much as I despise the 1997 Marlins. Either way, Smoltz was one of the few who excelled in the pen and as a starter. I also love that he named his memoir “Starting and Closing.” Seems obvious, but many have messed up a good book title.

Eric Gagne

Years: 10, W/L: 33/26, ERA: 3.47, SV: 187, Cy Young, 3 x All Star, World Series

The Glasses. That’s why he’s on the team quite honestly. It’s the glasses. Steroid allegations and late career fall off aside, he was terrifying as a closer to me during his dominant years because of the glasses.

Just missed the cut:

Here are the players who I have been a fan of throughout my life who just missed the cut for making my team. In no particular order:

Ricky Henderson, Cecil Fielder, Tony Pena, Jack McDowell, Carlos Baerga, Albert Belle, Tim Salmon, Tom Glavine, Charles Nagy, Sammy Sosa, Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina, Bryce Harper, Travis Fryman

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