Photo Courtesy of AJC
2021 marks the 152nd season of MLB baseball. In those 152 years, there have been thousands of guys who achieved their dreams of playing at the highest level, but there is a small percentage that stand out among the crowd. Along the way, we’ve been blessed with home run kings, flamethrowers on the mound, unforgettable characters and plenty of straight up ballplaying Jacks.
In this article, I’ll be going over my ideal 26-man roster, drawing all the way from year 1 to year 152 of the MLB. This is by no means who I think the 26 best players of all time are, or the best at each position. These 26 guys aren’t only legends for their career performance, but how they broke barriers and changed the game for our generation. I also omitted any players that were strongly connected to PED’s during or after their career, so you won’t be seeing Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, A-Rod, etc. This is my fantasy team I want to see take the field in 2022.
59.5 WAR, 2,150 H, 358 HR, 1,430 RBI, 30 SB, .285/.348/.482
I want the 3-time MVP, 13-time World Series Champ (10 times as a player) and 18-time All-Star as my starting backstop on the fantasy squad. Not only was he one of the best offensive catchers of all time, but he was the manager on the field for the most World Series titles of any player. My favorite thing about Yogi are his memorable “Yogisms”, a lot of which I say myself. How could you hate a guy that says stuff like “When you come to a fork in the road, take it”, “You can observe a lot just by watching” or “You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six”?
75.1 WAR, 2,048 H, 389 HR, 1,376 RBI, 68 SB, .267/.342/.342
Every team needs two solid backstops, and I’m going with the Reds’ legend Johnny bench to fill the second spot. The 14-time All-Star and 2-time MVP might be the best all-around catcher to ever step foot on a baseball field. Catching 100 or more games in 13 straight seasons from 1968-1980, he was the definition of durability. What people often forget about Johnny Bench was how much of a character the guy was. He was the star of “The Baseball Bunch” from 1980-1985 and was quite the celebrity during his playing years. The more stars we have on and off the field on this team, the better.
114.1 WAR, 2,721 H, 493 HR, 1,995 RBI, 102 SB, .340/.447/.632
The Iron Horse was a crucial part of the Yankees’ lineup from 1923-1939 and part of the “Murderer’s Row” teams in the late 1920’s. He held the record for most games played consecutively at 2,130 until Cal Ripken broke it 56 years later. Not only is he on the list for his prowess on the field, but his tragic death at 37 due to ALS brought awareness to a disease that was previously now widely known. If he hadn’t retired at 35 due to his deteriorating condition, I believe he would’ve easily been a member of the 3,000 hit and 500 HR clubs.
61.7 WAR, 1,518 H, 137 HR, 734 RBI, 197 SB, .311/.409/.474
Jackie Robinson makes this list not only because he was a great player in the field, but as we all know, he is the one that broke the color barrier in the MLB. I can’t possibly ever understand the courage and mental strength it took him not only to play while enduring atrocities from fans, opposing players and even his own teammates, but to play at such a high level while dealing with that. In only 10 seasons, he was a 6-time All-Star, MVP in 1949, two time SB leader and batting champion in his 1949 MVP season. He debuted at 28 years old, so I can only imagine what his career stats would’ve been if he’s started playing at 21 or even 24. He’s immortalized today with his number 42 retired by all 30 teams and has Jackie Robinson day on April 15 of every season. Jackie was a no-brainer for this team.
106.9 WAR, 2,234 H, 548 HR, 1,595 RBI, 174 SB, .267/.380/.527
This one was tough for me to pick, as George Brett was obviously a legend at the Hot Corner as well, but I give the edge to Schmidt because of his bat. He was one of the most powerful hitters to ever play the game, winning 8 NL home run crowns in his 18-year career. Not only was he a legend in the box, but he also picked up 10 Gold Gloves on his way to 12 All-Star games and 3 MVP’s. He wasn’t the best contact hitter of all-time, leading the NL in strike outs 4 times and tallying 1,883 over his career, but who cares? Chicks dig the long ball and we’ll definitely need some of those in attendance at these games. This is my “fantasy team” after all.
Cal Ripken Jr.
95.9 WAR, 3,184 H, 431 HR, 1,695 RBI, 36 SB, .276/.340/.447
One of the best shortstops ever, and arguably the best offensive shortstops to play the game, Iron Man gets the nod from me at shortstop. He shattered Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played at the 2,632 mark. That’s the main reason he’s on this list, as we need to have a shortstop I can trust to go out there and play his best every day. Although he wasn’t the best defensive shortstop by any means, winning only 2 Gold Gloves in 21 seasons, his ability to rake earned him 2 MVP’s, 8 Silver Sluggers and 19 All-Star Game appearances.
121.9 WAR, 2,654 H, 521 HR, 1,839 RBI, 24 SB, .344/.482/.634
The Splendid Splinter was a no-brainer to put in left field on my fantasy team. He was rumored to have 20/3 vision, which may seem far-fetched, but it could explain how he still manages to hold the all-time highest OBP at .482, a record I believe will never be broken. If he hadn’t missed the 1943-1945 seasons due to his military service, he would’ve easily eclipsed 3,000 hits and probably would be a member of the 600 home run club as well. The 1941 season where he hit .406 will go down as one of the best offensive seasons of all-time, not only because of the average, but he posted 37 HR’s, 120 RBI, a 1.287 OPS and 235 OPS+, all while tacking on 135 runs and only striking out 27 times. Including the 2-time Triple Crown winner was one of the easiest decisions I made while assembling this team.
156.1 WAR, 3,283 H, 660 HR, 1,903 RBI, 338 SB, .302/.384/.557
The Say Hey Kid was another no-brainer addition to the squad. Arguably the best all-around player ever, he was good for 20 All-Star games, 2 MVP’s and 12 Gold Gloves over his 23 year career. His defensive prowess is even more impressive when you remember he played in the Polo Grounds in the early part of his career. With those insane dimensions, you really would need a Willie Mays out there if you want to win games. I feel very comfortable throwing Willie out there for the 2022 season.
143.1 WAR, 3,771 H, 755 HR, 2,297 RBI, 240 SB, .305/.374/.555
The real home run king in my mind, Hammerin’ Hank is the final starter in the field for the squad. The guy that has an award named after him which is awarded to the best overall hitter in both leagues annually is getting the start without question. 23 All-Star Game appearances, an MVP and the most RBI of all-time could potentially explain why they named it named the Hank Aaron Award. A Presidential Citizens Medal and a Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest civilian honor) also go to show you how good of a guy Hank was.
182.5 WAR, 2,873 H, 714 HR, 2,214 RBI, 123 SB, .342/.474/.690
How can you write an all-time list without mentioning the Babe? He was the original guy who broke the game at the end of the Dead Ball Era and at the beginning of the Live Ball Era with his insane power at the plate. His home run record stood until Hank Aaron broke it, but his career slugging percentage mark of .690 still sits at the top. At times, he might’ve been more concerned about hot dogs and beer than fielding the baseball, which is why I have him in the DH spot. As long as you can still stand in the box and see the ball coming in, have as many dogs and brews as you’d like my man!
#1- Walter Johnson
164.8 WAR, 417-279, 2.17 ERA, 147 ERA+, 3,509 K, 1.061 WHIP
Walter Johnson obviously pitched in a completely different era and a starting pitcher’s role was much different than it is today, but his stats are still mind-blowing. He was the only player ever to record 3,000 or more K’s in his career until Bob Gibson in 1974. Although you could argue he got to that stat because of the massive number of innings he pitched, he was way ahead of his time and a ground breaker for generations of pitchers to come. The all-time shutout leader is the Ace of my staff.
#2- Randy Johnson
101.1 WAR, 303-166, 3.29 ERA, 135 ERA+, 4,875 K, 1.171 WHIP
I’m adding the Big Unit to the Dream Team not only because of his ability on the mound, but for the fear factor. If you tell me you’d like to tell me you want in the box with this badass on the mound, I’d kindly tell you you’re sadly mistaken. One of the most intimidating and effective pitchers of my lifetime, Randy knew how to embarrass a batter. Nothing exemplifies his career more than his appearance in the 1993 ASG when he faced John Kruk. My man Kruk (an All-Star that year) was barely strong enough to step into the box vs. the Unit, and we need that intimidation in our rotation. Give me the lanky lefty in the 2 spot.
#3- Pedro Martinez
83.9 WAR, 219-100, 2.93 ERA, 154 ERA+, 3,154 K, 1.054 WHIP
Pedro Martinez had an excellent career, and although he may have faded down the back end of his career, prime Pedro was without question as dominant as any pitcher ever. From 1997-2003, he had an ERA over 2.39 only once, and also claimed 3 Cy Youngs as well as 5 league ERA titles over that span. Listed at 5 ft 11 in and 170 pounds (although he was believed to be smaller) during his playing years, it’s very impressive how he was able to generate so much power and be so dominant with such a slight frame. I’ll take the bulldog Pedro in the #3 spot.
#4- Bob Gibson
89.1 WAR, 251-174, 2.91 ERA, 127 ERA +, 3,117 K, 1.188 WHIP
One of the most dominant pitchers of his time, Gibby was electric during his time in the big leagues. Not only was he an amazing pitcher, but he was a difference-maker in society. He, Bill White and Curt Flood started a civil rights movement that made all players allowed to be in the same clubhouse and hotel rooms, despite race. On the field, Gibson was one of the most powerful arms anyone had seen at that time. In 3 World Series appearances, led the Cards to 2 titles, capturing a WS MVP in each of those appearances. I want Gibby on the squad for his Postseason prowess and off the field importance.
#5 Greg Maddux
106.6 WAR, 355-227, 3.16 ERA, 132 ERA +, 3,371 K, 1.143 WHIP
Similar to Pedro, Maddux wasn’t the most effective over his 23-year career, but in his prime, he was nearly unbeatable. From 1992-1998, he only eclipsed a 2.36 ERA once, and was a part of a Braves dynasty that had one of the best pitching trios in himself, Glavine and Smoltz to ever play. He certainly wasn’t a strikeout pitcher, but his pitch-to-contact approach was extremely effective, netting him 4 Cy Youngs and 4 MLB ERA titles. It’s often forgotten he was probably the best defensive pitcher ever as well, claiming 18 Gold Gloves in his career. I want Greg rounding out the rotation not only for a change of pace, but for his dependability and technician-like approach on the mound.
Closer- Mariano Rivera
56.3 WAR, 82-60, 652 SV, 2.21 ERA, 205 ERA+, 1,173 K, 1.000 WHIP
Slotting in the greatest closer of all-time was probably the easiest decision I had to make for this team. The all-time leader in games finished, saves and ERA+ was an absolute horse for the Yanks in the 9th inning, only having an ERA over 2.85 twice in 19 years. His cutter is in the argument for greatest pitch of any pitcher ever. Every guy knew it was coming and still couldn’t hit it. Good luck making a comeback when I send Sandman to the hill.
Setup- Trevor Hoffman
28.0 WAR, 61-75, 601 SV, 2.87 ERA, 141 ERA +, 1,133 K, 1.043 WHIP
I’m putting the second best closer of all-time and previous career saves leader to pave the way for Mo. Although he wasn’t much of a flamethrower, Hoffman was still able to amass 601 saves with one of the best changeups ever. Known for his menacing look and hat pulled down low over his eyes, I can’t think of a better way to lead up to Sandman in the ‘pen.
Middle Relief- Dennis Eckersley
62.1 WAR, 197-171, 390 SV, 3.50 ERA, 116 ERA+, 2,401 K, 1.161 WHIP
Eck wasn’t a closer until the 1987 season when he joined the A’s, but from that point on, he was absolutely dominant. His unconventional sidearm delivery, pinpoint accuracy, and filthy sinker-slider mix made for one intimidating dude on the mound. Goose Gossage once said of him “he could hit a gnat in the butt with a pitch if he wanted to”. I’ll need that accuracy and sidearm mix-up for the ‘pen.
Middle Relief- Billy Wagner
27.7 WAR, 47-40, 422 SV, 2.31 ERA, 187 ERA+, 1,196 K, 0.998 WHIP
Billy the Kid might have been a smaller guy, standing at 5’10” in stature, but he could still reach up to 100 MPH with his sizzling heater. What most people don’t know about Billy is he was a born righty, but broke his arm when he was a kid and learned how to throw with his left. Now that you know that, his 100 MPH heater and all-time best 11.9 K/9 are a lot more impressive. Not only will that velo be useful, but we need the lefty in the ‘pen.
Middle Relief- Goose Gossage
41.2 WAR, 124-107, 310 SV, 3.01 ERA, 126 ERA+, 1,502 K, 1.232 WHIP
Goose wasn’t only the owner of some of the best facial hair to ever play ball, but he also pioneered the SU/CL roles with the Yankees in the late 70’s. He was known for really only throwing a fastball, which ranged from 98-102 MPH in his prime, but he employed pinpoint accuracy to get the job done. Goose will round out the short relief guys in the bullpen.
Long Relief: Clayton Kershaw
70.6 WAR, 178-78, 2.44 ERA, 158 ERA+, 2,557 K, 1.003 WHIP
The only active player to make the squad, Kersh is without question the best pitcher of this generation and a surefire Hall of Famer. He overcame control issues early in his career to claim 5 NL ERA titles, 3 NL strikeout titles, 3 Cy Youngs, and 1 pitching Triple Crown so far in his career, which doesn’t seem like is ending anytime soon. The second lefty arm in the ‘pen will be very valuable for the team.
Long Relief- Satchel Paige
I didn’t include career stats for Satchel because stats during his 18 seasons in the Negro Leagues were apparently not kept, but nonetheless I had to have him on the squad. The dude pitched professionally until he was 59 years old! Not only did he have one of the longest careers ever, but he was probably the best pitcher to ever play in the Negro Leagues. When you have guys like Joe DiMaggio and Bob Feller saying he’s the best they’ve ever seen, you’ll without question get a spot on my prestigious squad.
SS- Ozzie Smith
76.9 WAR, 2,460 H, 28 HR, 793 RBI, 580 SB, .262/.337/.328
The Wizard gets a spot on the team because of his defense. The all-time leader in assists and one time record holder for double plays by a shortstop, he was probably the best defensive shortstop to ever play. He wasn’t the best with a bat in his hands, but we already have more than enough sluggers. I’ll take a couple backflips and mind-blowing plays with him on the roster.
OF- Rickey Henderson
111.2 WAR, 3,055 H, 297 HR, 1,115 RBI, 1,406 SB, .279/.401/.419
You can’t have an all-time fantasy squad without the fastest guy to ever play the game on it. Widely regarded as the best leafoff hitter to ever play, everyone knows he swiped the most bags ever, but I feel like people often forget he’s also in the 3,000 hit club. We’ll definitely need Rick for a late-inning pinch runner or fill-in on an off day.
OF- Pete Rose
79.6 WAR, 4,256 H, 160 HR, 1,314 RBI, 198 SB, .303/.375/.409
You might have your opinions on Pete because of his past with the gambling scandal and all, but he’s still the all-time MLB hit leader. Charlie Hustle was known for always giving 110% on the field and was a crucial part of the Big Red Machine dynasty in the 70’s. If it were up to me, he’d be in the Hall of Fame, but I guess he’ll have to settle for a roster spot on my squad in the meantime.
OF- Roberto Clemente
94.8 WAR, 3,000 H, 240 HR, 1,305 RBI, 83 SB, .317/.359/.475
The first Latino-American player to be enshrined in Cooperstown rounds out the roster for the dream team. Not only was he an amazing hitter, but he was one of the best defensive right fielders of all-time with his cannon of an arm and 12 Gold Gloves. His passion for philanthropy is probably the most notable part of his legacy though, as the Roberto Clemente Award is now presented to one player each season who gives back to their community and leaves positive influences on those in it. I can’t think of a better overall person to have rounding out the team.
1278-1102 (.537), 1 World Series title (2016)
You might think this is a strange choice to have as the manager of my team, and you’re definitely right. I by no means think Joe Maddon is one of the best managers of all-time (he might not even be top 5 in 2021), but his strong belief in sabremetrics and eccentric personality gave him the edge in my mind. Almost none of the players on this team were around for the introduction of sabremetrics, so I’d love to see what happens when I let Joe get his hands on them. I could only imagine Joe trying to explain wOBA, wRC+, UZR, or even something as simple as WAR to some of the older cats on the team.