While I struggled with some of my selections as I was doing the NFL’s Best of the Decade, I really didn’t have that much trouble with most of my picks for baseball’s Best of the Decade. One of the reasons my decisions became more clear-cut is that I eliminated all those associated with performance enhancing drugs in the last ten years. That means that no matter now grandiose their statistics might be, you won’t see the names Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez or Miguel Tejada in this list. The future may provide us with additional information that will cast shadows on some of the names I do list but, for now, I will give them the benefit of the doubt.
As I sat down to think about this column, the first name that popped into my head, the player that stands out above all others, plays the position that is the best place to start so, let’s throw the old ball around the diamond and start with –
Let’s all say his name together- Albert Pujols. If there is anyone else who can be even remotely considered, I don’t know who that might be. Think about these stats for a moment: .314 avg., 34 home runs, and 127 RBI’s. And that was his WORST season during the decade. Pujols came onto the scene with a flourish and he hasn’t disappointed us since. On top of that, he plays a solid defensive first base. Not only is he my All-Decade first baseman, he is my Player of the Decade.
An argument could be made for several players at this position. Some may have better defensive skills, some may be better hitters, but none combine hitting, hitting for power, speed, and defense like Chase Utley of the Phillies. Utley has played in the majors in seven years of the decade and seems to improve each year. He has averaged over .300 and in the past three years, due to his remarkably short swing, developed more power because he can wait on the pitch longer than other players. In 2009, he stole 29 bases without being thrown out. Along with Jimmy Rollins at short, they provide the Phillies with great up-the-middle defense.
Just like with first base, there is a standout performer at this position that leaves all his competition in the dust. And even though he plays for the team I love to hate, the Yankees, I have to select Derek Jeter. It is hard for me to pull against Jeter as I pull against the Yankees because I think he plays the game the way it is supposed to be played. His hustling defensive play against the Oakland A’s a few years back where he cut off the throw from the outfield in foul territory and threw out the runner at home is still one of the most remarkable plays I’ve ever seen in baseball. Jeter is a winner.
Because I am excluding ARod, my choice has to be hometown hero Chipper Jones. If it weren’t for injuries, Jones could have some staggering total statistics but he loses so much playing time each year that his production totals are less than some of his contemporaries. I’m glad he plays for the Braves.
The trio I have roaming the outfield combines speed, great hitting, and power. Even though he is primarily a center fielder, I would have Carlos Beltran in left. Six times in the decade Beltran drove in 100 and scored 100 runs. Only Pujols and ARod accomplished that feat more. He has won six Gold Gloves and hit 41 home runs in 2006 for the Mets. The reason Beltran has to play left is that an even better defensive player and one of the best hitters the game has ever seen will play center. Ichiro Suzuki came to MLB from his homeland Japan and he has simply shown each year the rest of the league the art of hitting. He sprays the ball to all fields and can even jack it out of the park on occasion. And manning right field would be Vladimir Guerrero. For the decade he hit .323 with one MVP award. And even though he is a notorious free swinger, he has never struck out 100 times in a season.
Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins is the easy selection here even though he has only been in the majors for six years although a case might be made for Ivan Rodriguez or Jorge Posada. He has won three batting titles, a feat never accomplished before by a catcher, and he has won three Gold Gloves playing the most demanding position on the field. Brian McCann only wishes he could be like Joe.
Now before you start calling me a hypocrite, my selection, at this point in time, has only been accused of steroid use, not actually caught like the others I have deleted. David Ortiz is one of the best clutch hitters in the game. It seems he always comes through when the game is on the line. He almost single-handedly beat the Yankees when the Red Sox came back from a 3 games to 1 deficit to beat them.
One right-hander, one left-hander and one closer will round out the team. Roy Halladay gets the nod over Curt Schilling for the right-hander slot. Johan Santana edges out Randy Johnson for my lefty. But there is no doubt who the closer is. Mariano Rivera is not only the best of the decade, but the best of all time. Well, that’s it for my team. I think I could win some games with that bunch.
While this is primarily a sports column, I want to take a few lines to mention one of the best places to eat in town that is now opening at night. Casey’s Dawgs, in downtown Winder, is owned by Chris Humble and Suzy Hibbert. Many of you know about their lunch fare but Casey’s is now opening on Friday and Saturday night for dinner from 5-9. They will be serving their regular lunch menu but they are now also serving some great dinner food. Cindy and I went the other night and had a great pork loin dinner and his Italian Wedding Soup is to die for. Go check them out and tell them Randy sent ya.
Randy Blalock is a columnist for the Barrow Journal. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.