Last week, the baseball world lost one of its most prominent faces from the 1970s and 1980s when Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter succumbed to brain cancer.
Much of the commentary and remembrances about Carter focused, naturally enough, on the man himself and his personality. Many noted how much Carter seemed to genuinely love playing the game, as he always was willing to show his emotion on the field. He had enough natural joy and exuberance on the field that people liked watching him play because he seemed to have so much fun doing so.
Admittedly, Carter always had his critics during his playing days of people who thought his act was over-the-top or cloying. But his overall reputation was always as one of the good guys. By and large, people liked seeing Carter’s sense of thrill on the field.
There aren’t many players you can say that about. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying most men are unemotional or joyless out there. That would be inappropriate. But most athletes are more buttoned down with their emotions. To pick a random example, Derek Jeter will engage in the occasional fist pump or celebration, but he comes off more professional than joyfully exuberant in his demeanor.
The question comes up: Who else can you say played with sheer joy and exuberance? Surely Gary Carter isn’t the only one. Let’s figure this out: Who are the “Gary Carter All-Stars?”
A few ground rules as to who belongs:
- The key defining featuring is someone playing with joy and exuberance on the field. It’s people you want to see play because they seem to like playing so much.
- Let’s stick with prominent players if we can. They’re the ones we want to see.
- While going for players who are more emotional than most, you want people bringing a positive vibe. At lot of guys who are really emotional and joyful sometimes are really emotional and obnoxious other times. In his good moments, Carlos Zambrano fits the criteria so far, but—my oh my—does he ever have his bad moments.
- It’s not always possible to fill out a lineup as best you can. If the three best infielders out there are all shortstops, well, then improvise.
So, with those ground rules in mind, here are the Gary Carter All-Stars:
Catcher: Gary Carter
Well…yeah. Sure would be silly if I left the guy off his own team, right?
The man they called Kid.
First baseman: Ernie Banks
Though famous as a shortstop, Banks actually played more games at first base. Besides, there is tough competition at shortstop.
Banks was one of the sunniest of superstars in his career. Early on, the two-time MVP was famous for saying, “Let’s play two!” out of his joy of watching the game. Sure enough, he played every chance he could, at one point appearing in 717 consecutive games.
Even later in his career, when his knees were shot, Banks would try to play as often as he could, and more often than Cub manager Leo Durocher wanted him to. But Durocher didn’t dare pull him. In his autobiography, Durocher claimed that people loved Banks too much for him to be benched.
Second baseman: Rabbit Maranville
He’s another shortstop, but he also played some second base in his career and, frankly, I couldn’t find a real second baseman that I liked as much as Maranville.
Maranville was one of the game’s great characters. In the New Historical Abstract, Bill James provides a bunch of great stories about Maranville. He’d draw laughter from the crowd by imitating an umpire on the field during the game. He’d sit on a runner whom he had just tagged out at second. If Maranville was on base when a pitcher took too long to work, Maranville would do a pantomime routine that included leaning against an imaginary wall and then falling on the bag.
He had fun out there, and the crowds loved him for it. When his teams traded him or sent him to the minors, fans frequently protested, despite the fact that he couldn’t hit.
Shortstop: Ozzie Smith
I guess it’s the ultimate compliment to Ozzie Smith that he gets the nod over Banks and Maranville at shortstop. Smith was one of the most likable, perhaps the most likable player of the 1980s.
He was a great talent and supposedly a great person. And he certainly was a joy to watch on the field with his great fielding and penchant for backflips.
The wizard of Oz.
Third baseman: Damned if I know. Maybe Pete Rose. Maybe Ron Santo. Maybe someone else. I’m open to suggestions.
As noted up top, sometimes it’s tricky to fill out a lineup.
Want someone with exuberance and passion? Hey, Pete Rose was nicknamed “Charlie Hustle” because he was the sort of guy who would run to first base after drawing a walk. He was always in go-go-go mode, and fans liked that. Sure, some thought he was bush league, and the nickname was originally meant as a putdown, but then again, I can recall people thinking Carter was a phony.
The real problem with putting Rose here is that his unsavory side became more pronounced. Hey, the guy is banned from the game. That’s not quite the image we’re going for here.
Ron Santo was also a fiery, emotional sort. Famously, after every home victory during the 1969 season, Santo clicked his heels in triumph. He was a fan favorite when he played in Chicago.
Yeah, but he also has his downside for this team. A lot of guys thought he was bush league when he played, and his emotional nature rubbed a lot of guys the wrong way. He had a well-publicized clubhouse explosion in 1971 that manager Leo Durocher said was the angriest he ever saw someone in all his years in baseball.
Frankly, a lot of guys didn’t like him when he played. It’s possible that helped keep him out of Cooperstown for a while. He mellowed as he got older, and his subsequent image as broadcaster dominates his memory, but Santo isn’t quite a great fit, either.
But I don’t know who else would go in. There are some good guys who played third, some classy guys, but I’m stuck finding someone I like for this team. Maybe I’m missing someone.
For now, I’ll go with Rose. Some of the other players here also had their images take hits after their playing career. Maybe we’ll have Santo do color commentary on the radio for the team.
Left field: Willie Stargell
Memory time: As a young kid—I must have been seven years old—I remember watching a Cubs-Pirates game on TV. During the game, this big fat guy came to the plate for the visiting Pirates, and the Wrigley Field faithful erupted in cheers. I’d never seen that before, the hometown fans cheering for a visiting player.
It was Willie Stargell, of course. It’s possible it was his last game there. That’s always been my guess, given the level of applause for him.
Stargell always had a very likable image. He was team captain for the 1979 world champion Pirates, a club that promoted a feel-good vibe so heavily that the top of its dugout didn’t say “Pittsburgh” or “The Pirates” but “The Family” instead. Stargell once noted that the umpire didn’t say “Work ball!” at the start of every game but “Play ball!” He always kept that in mind on the field.
Center field: Willie Mays
Has anyone ever had a reputation for playing with such élan, natural grace, and joy as a young Willie Mays? The Say Hey Kid is the very definition of the sort of ballplayer who people want to see in part because he seems so lively and joyous out there.
As he’s aged, he’s reportedly become increasing bitter and cantankerous, but that initial blast of youthful enthusiasm he injected into the game ensures his spot here.
Right field: Kirby Puckett
He’s really a center fielder, but I ain’t kicking Mays out of center.
Remember how I noted that Ozzie Smith might have been the most likable player of the 1980s? His only competition is Kirby Puckett. He was so popular that the road around the Metrodome was named in his honor.
His public image took a huge hit in his post-playing career, with an ugly divorce and reports of domestic violence, but his playing days’ image is a perfect fit for this team.
Designated hitter: Babe Ruth
I don’t know if Babe Ruth found joy and exuberance from playing baseball as much as he found it in being Babe Ruth, but being a ballplayer was central to being Babe Ruth. He had charisma and an image so bigger than life than “Ruthian” has become an adjective.
If you want an actual DH, you might want to go with David Ortiz and maybe put Ruth on the mound. But Ruth belongs on this team, and if you’re going to put Ruth on it, you have to give him a bat.
Starting pitcher: Pedro Martinez
It’s tough to find pitchers for this list. Part of a pitcher’s job is to be the guy who stops things from happening. He’s something of an intimidator. I don’t mean that all pitchers are headhunters, but that you have to have a definite non-cuddly vibe out there. And if a pitcher is too exuberant after a big out, hitters can get really angry about it.
That said, Pedro Martinez also really seemed to enjoy playing baseball. He had a passion for it, and it showed, hence his inclusion here. That said, some of the other pitchers on this team aren’t as prominent as the position players because it’s harder for a pitcher to have that much emotion and still be as effective as he needs to be.
Pedro in Philly.
Starting pitcher: Mark Fidrych
He only had a brief bit of glory with the Tigers in the 1970s, but what a glorious stretch it was. His eccentricities, such as talking to the ball on the mound, just endeared the kid to many.
He also was so widely popular that his managers let him complete his starts rather than run the risk of widespread booing from the stands that would come from yanking him during a game. People loved them some Fidryich.
Starting pitcher: Jose Lima
How could you have this team and not include some Lima Time?
Starting pitcher: Lefty Gomez
Gomez is one of the great after-dinner speakers in baseball history, and there are a host of funny anecdotes about him, usually coming from him.
Here’s one example: In a Yankees-Indians came, Gomez came to the plate to face young Cleveland fireballer Bob Feller in the late afternoon. In the era before ballpark lights, Gomez brought up a lit match with himself to the plate. “What’s the matter,” the ump asked, “can’t you see Feller well enough?” “Sure,” Gomez replied, “I just want to make sure he can see me well enough.”
Starting pitcher: Rube Waddell
There are more Rube Waddell stories than there are Lefty Gomez stories. He truly was one of a kind. The stories portray him as some sort of overgrown man-child who wouldn’t even be able to function in modern-day society. He would run after fire engines and step off the mound to watch airplanes. He once left the team to wrestle alligators. Though he could be a headache, he never meant any harm, and people loved the star fastaballer, in part for his oddities.
Dizzy Dean might belong on this rotation, too. I originally intended to put him on but left him off in a borderline call due to one concern. Though the brash and bigger-than-life Dean has a great public image, that wasn’t always the case when he played. In 1934, he bolted the team to protest a fine, and the public was irate about it.
Dean normally popular as a player and became more popular afterwards when he worked as a broadcaster, but I wonder if we project all his post-career popularity during his career. Maybe not, maybe I’m over thinking things. He’s a good enough candidate to mention, but he’s not quite on the team.
Relief ace: Dan Quisenberry
He had a strong reputation as a funny and personable player during his heyday with the Kansas City Royals, so he makes this team.
Manager: Wilbert Robinson
He was so popular as a manager that the Brooklyn Dodgers were temporarily renamed the Brooklyn Robins in his honor. He liked to have little children crawl on the bench to add to the sense of happiness on the team. He wasn’t the greatest manager and probably doesn’t deserve to be in Cooperstown, but he was a widely liked man.
Coach/scout: Buck O’Neil
Joe Posnanski wrote a book about Buck O’Neil called The Soul of Baseball. Now, what does that tell you about the man? Many met O’Neil over the decades, and I don’t think anyone had a bad word to say about him. Tons of folks went away feeling he sure was something special. O’Neil easily could be the manager instead of Robinson, but this way I can put them both on the team.
References & Resources
The New Historical Abstract by Bill James provided the stories on Rabbit Maranville.
I had some trouble thinking up a second baseman, third baseman, and some pitchers, and so I asked for some help at Baseball Think Factory‘s forums. Among the primates offering suggestions were: scotto, Bernal Diaz, Handle’s Messiah, Lloyd Moseby, Paul D, Gold Star for Robot Boy and Urban Bovine Knievel. From them, I got the ideas of Ron Santo, Pedro Martinez and Jose Lima, as well as the suggestions for Dizzy Dean and David Ortiz. They also suggested a few others players I already had under consideration, such as Mark Fidrych.