Mount Rushmore: National League Central
- 1B/SS Ernie Banks, 1953-1971
- SP Fergie Jenkins, 1966-1973, 1982-1983
- LF Billy Williams, 1959-1974
- 3B Ron Santo, 1960-1973
Banks (“Mr. Cub”), Jenkins and Santo were easy picks for me. All three are Hall of Famers. Banks spent his entire career with the Cubs, collecting over 500 home runs and 2,500 hits to go along with consecutive MVP awards in 1958 and 1959.
During his first stint with the Cubs, Jenkins won at least 20 games six different times while earning the 1971 Cy Young Award.
Santo, meanwhile, would spend all but his final year with the Cubs, winning five Gold Gloves at the hot corner while reaching the All-Star Game nine times.
The final spot gave me some pause, as I considered three players for it: Hall of Famer Billy Williams, Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg and Sammy Sosa. Sosa will always have a spot in my heart, as I’m a firm believer he and Mark McGwire helped save the game of baseball with their home run chase in 1999. Yet, I also recognize his numbers are tainted.
Ultimately, I went with Williams over Sandberg, as the outfielder had better overall numbers even though Sandberg collected more accolades.
- OF/1B Pete Rose, 196-3-1978, 1984-1986
- C Johnny Bench, 1967-1983
- 2B Joe Morgan, 1972-1979
- OF Frank Robinson, 1956-1965
Bench, the game’s greatest defensive catcher, was a no-brainer. For the most part, so was Pete Rose. Yes, he’s been banned from the game, but he shouldn’t be. He deserves to be enshrined in Cooperstown.
For Morgan and Robinson, I had a bit of digging to do, mainly because they didn’t spend as much time with the Reds as did the other player I was contemplating: SS Barry Larkin. Morgan’s time in Cincinnati was too dominant to pass, though, as he helped the team to consecutive World Series titles in 1975 and 1976, winning the MVP both of those years.
Neither Robinson nor Larkin won a World Series with the Reds, though both were on pennant-winning clubs. But Robinson’s numbers surpassed Larkin’s. Sure, the two were completely different players in completely different eras, but I’m giving the edge to Robinson, who averaged a higher WAR per season while with the Reds than Larkin.
- SS/CF Robin Yount, 1974-1993
- 3B/DH Paul Molitor, 1978-1992
Here’s the thing about the Milwaukee Brewers: last season and 1982 withstanding, they have not been a good franchise. Hence, only half of Milwaukee’s Mount Rushmore has been filled in. Granted, Young and Molitor–both Hall of Famers, both in the 3,000-hit club–were spectacular. But after them you’ve got…Rob Deer? Ryan Braun? Prince Fielder?
And as far as pitchers go–yikes. CC Sabathia had a memorable stint with the Brewers in 2008 that lasted all of 18 games. Zack Greinke got out of there as quickly as he could. Would-be Hall of Fame pitchers Rollie Fingers, Don Sutton and Trevor Hoffman all played for the Brewers as their careers were winding down.
For that matter, so did the (former? rightful?) Home Run King, Henry Aaron.
Maybe someday Christian Yelich’s face will be up there with Yount’s and Molitor’s.
- RF Roberto Clemente, 1955-1972
- SS Honus Wagner, 1900-1917
- LF/1B Willie Stargell, 1962-1982
- RF Paul Waner, 1926-1940
The first spot undoubtedly goes to Clemente, who died in a plane crash after the 1972 season and who collected exactly 3,000 hits during his Hall of Fame career.
Wagner gets the nod, too, as he’s the one exception to my rule of not picking anyone who played the majority or entirety of his career during the Dead-Ball Era. His numbers are too good and he’s too much of an influential figure in baseball’s history to put on the sidelines.
Stargell finished just shy of 500 career home runs, but he led the Pirates to multiple World Series titles during his career, the entirety of which he spent in Pittsburgh. Making seven All-Star squads, he also helped keep the franchise afloat after Clemente’s death.
With Paul Waner, I once and for all settle the greatest Pittsburgh debate: Paul or Lloyd? Paul. It’s always been Paul.
St. Louis Cardinals
- 2B Rogers Hornsby, 1915-1926, 1933
- SP Bob Gibson, 1959-1975
- 1B/LF Stan Musial, 1941-1963
- 1B/LF/3B Albert Pujols, 2001-2011
Really, an embarrassment of riches for the St. Louis franchise, from the Gashouse Gang through a dominant 1960’s squad, through a 1980’s team that reached three World Series, to Tony La Russa’s tenure, which stretched from 1996-2011 and included three trips to the World Series with two titles. The other four I considered for spots were shortstop Ozzie Smith, starting pitcher Dizzy Dean, third baseman Ken Boyer and left-fielder Lou Brock.
Much like Wagner with the Pirates, Hornsby is one of the key figures in baseball’s formative years, and he played the bulk of his career with the Cardinals. His numbers for that time-period are astounding.
Gibson led staffs that played in three World Series in the 1960’s, winning two. In the year they lost, 1968, he had one of the greatest years ever by a starting pitcher, going 22-9, completing 28 of the 35 games he started and leading the league in strikeouts with 268. He won not only the Cy Young, but also the MVP. Oh, and his ERA? 1.12.
Pujols is a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer whenever he decides to hang ’em up. (Which may be sooner than later.) During his first 11 seasons, all with the Cardinals, he slashed .302/.382/.554 to go with 445 home runs, 455 doubles, 1,291 runs and 1,329 RBI. He made the All-Star team nine times, won Rookie of the Year in 2001 before collecting three MVP awards, and also won the World Series twice, in 2006 and 2011.
But the best Cardinal of them all was Stan “the Man” Musial, who missed all of the 1945 season due to Military Service. He would finish his Hall of Fame career with 475 career home runs, 725 doubles, 1,949 runs scored and 3,630 hits. He won three MVP awards to go with three World Series titles (he was also the general manager of the World Series-winning 1967 squad), seven batting titles, and 24 (!)* All-Star Game appearances.
*MLB played two All-Star Games from 1959-1962.
All in 22 seasons. Each and every single one of them with St. Louis.