Friday, December 29, 2006

All-Decade Team: The 1990's

Catcher: Because he is still performing more than adequately as a catcher, I give the nod to Pudge Rodriguez, over Mike Piazza. Pudge almost led the league in hitting in 2004, his first year with the Tigers, and thus came a whisker away from being the first catcher to lead the AL in hitting (Joe Mauer did it in 2006). League MVP in 1999, Rodriguez has combined hitting prowess and defensive supremacy for the better part of 13 seasons now.

First base: Frank Thomas. They didn't call him The Big Hurt for nothing. A ferocious hitter, Thomas was also very agile at the bag for a big man. Won the AL MVP award in 1993 and 1994. Belted 301 homers in the decade. From 1991 to 1998, Thomas scored at least 100 runs and had at least 100 RBI in each season. Phenomenal production.

Second base: Roberto Alomar. Smooth as silk at the plate, and with the glove. Outstanding production offensively. A career .300 hitter. Had 1,678 hits in the decade, and scored 138 runs in 1999. Two-time world champion with the Blue Jays.

Third base: Wade Boggs. You certainly can put him on the 1980's team, for that's where he had his best offensive years, but I place Boggs in this decade as a nod to his longevity. Another of those players who is thought of for his bat, but who was actually a very serviceable fielder as well. Yes, this seems like an all-AL team so far, but the AL did pretty much dominate the All-Star games and World Series in the decade, too.

Shortstop: Okay, here's an NL'er for you: Barry Larkin. The U-M grad, who was the league MVP in 1995, Larkin was The Sporting News' NL shortstop for eight of the decade's ten years. Helped lead the Reds to their upset World Series win (a sweep) over the A's in 1990. BA of just about .300 for the decade, including seven seasons eclipsing that mark in the '90's. Unheralded at times, but one of the game's best ever at the position.

Outfield: (left/center/right). Barry Bonds/Kirby Puckett/Tony Gwynn. Who wouldn't want this outfield on their team? While Bonds is under a cloud of accusations of steroid use, there's no denying his impact on the game, whether you like him or not. Puckett turned himself from a spray hitter with little power into a dominant leadoff hitter with tons of it. Brilliant defensively; artisan of one highlight catch after another -- usually denying someone a homerun. Gwynn was, perhaps, the greatest hitter in the NL post-WW II. A career mark of .338, Gwynn still managed over 1,700 hits in the decade, despite being slowed by injuries several seasons. Played 20 seasons, all in San Diego.

Starting Pitchers: Greg Maddux/Tom Glavine/Roger Clemens. If it wasn't for Clemens, I would have included John Smoltz and given the Braves a sweep. But you can't go wrong with this trio. Multiple Cy Young Awards. World Series appearances (and championships) and tons of divisional titles. Each pitcher, in his own way, set a standard. And each is still kicking it, which is even more amazing.

Relief Pitchers: John Franco, Trevor Hoffman. More National Leaguers. Franco was unusual, because he was a lefthanded closer, which is rare. Had 268 saves in the decade. Was still active in 2005, at age 45. Hoffman didn't debut until 1993, but in the seven years that he played in the 90's, he still managed 228 saves, including 53 in the Padres' NL Pennant-winning season of 1998. Why no Mariano Rivera here? He didn't break into the big leagues until 1995, and has had his best seasons in the 2000's.

Manager: Tough one here. But I'm going with Bobby Cox, whose Braves teams dominated the NL East, and should still be considered one of the best dynasties of all time, despite only winning one World Series. Cox's teams won the division in every year of the 1990's except 1990. Five World Series appearances in the decade. Joe Torre loses out, but barely. Torre's prowess, I believe, mainly occurred in the 2000's. The fact that he's lasted as long as he has in New York is incredible, considering his boss's fetish for canning managers.


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