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The greatest baseball players I ever saw play the game, part one

May 29, 2013

By Doug Halberstadt
Sports Columnist

Memorial Day has come and gone, the temperatures have hit 90 degrees a time or two, and that makes me feel like I should be writing about baseball. Unfortunately, there isn’t much positive that I can come up with for the Cubs, Sox or Brewers. So instead, I’ve decided to compile an alphabetical list of the greatest players I can remember seeing play.

I was born in 1961, and my earliest memories of the game are from 1969. That’s the year the Cubs infamously crashed and burned at the end of the season. So, I’m basing this list on players I actually have memories of playing the game.

The letter “A” may have been the easiest of this entire list. Henry “Hank” Aaron is probably the greatest player I’ve ever seen play. I remember watching the Monday night game in April of 1974 when he broke Babe Ruth’s home run record while playing with the Atlanta Braves. He finished his career in Milwaukee, and retired as the all-time home run leader with a total of 755.

My “B” player is Ernie Banks. I think I have a special admiration for him because I grew up a Cubs fan. I can still recall Jack Brickhouse yelling “Hey, hey!” when Ernie hit his 500th home run at Wrigley.

Roberto Clemente edged out Rod Carew for the “C” spot. Both players had Hall of Fame careers and had completely different styles. I remember Clemente for his power hitting and fielding, and when Carew comes to mind, I immediately think of his base-stealing prowess.

Another Cub makes the list. Andre “The Hawk” Dawson is my “D” player. I always liked the way he quietly went about his business at the ballpark, and it seemed as if he was the only Cub who could hit homers even when the wind was blowing in at Wrigley.

The letter “E” was a little tougher, but I think I have to go with Dennis Eckersley. He’s my first pitcher on the list. I think of him with the Oakland Athletics, but I also remember him when he was with the Cubs and Red Sox.

I had another close call with the letter “F,” Carlton Fisk or Rollie Fingers? I went with Fisk, primarily because I saw more of his games when he played for the White Sox. Those two would have made a great battery, though.

Bob Gibson was the most dominating pitcher when I was a kid growing up. He earns the spot for the letter “G.” I remember in 1970 he compiled a 23-7 record. I hated when Chicago had to play St. Louis and Gibson was starting.

The ultimate baseball thief was undoubtedly Rickey Henderson. It seemed as if he were stealing bases every time he got a chance. In back-to-back seasons with Oakland, he had 100 or more stolen bases. He stole 130 in 1982 and swiped another 106 in 1983.

The only player who immediately came to mind when I was thinking of someone for the letter “I” was Jason Isringhausen. He’s another guy who pitched for the Cardinals whom I didn’t like when the Cubs had to face him.

Mr. October” Reggie Jackson was a no-brainer pick for the letter “J.” His Hall of Fame career with the Athletics and Yankees is indelibly etched in my baseball memory. His World Series heroics are legendary.

Harmon Killebrew was smacking balls out of the park on a pretty regular basis when I was a kid. He had 49 in 1969 and another 41 in 1970.

Barry Larkin played his entire career with the Cincinnati Reds. I think he was somewhat underrated at shortstop. He didn’t have the flair of an Ozzie Smith, but he was just as reliable up the middle, in my book.

Most kids my age who played the outfield in Little League baseball wanted to be just like Willie Mays. The guy caught everything hit his way and could hit equally as well. His running, over-the-shoulder basket catch is still one of the best of all-time.

That’s the first half of this column, “The greatest baseball players I ever saw play the game.” Look for the second half, N-Z, in another column soon.

Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.

From the May 29-June 4, 2013, issue

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