Anyone out there feel as cheated by the final regular position episode of The Lineup as I did? The segment on center fielders was really the only one worth doing; the winners at the other positions — Yogi Berra at catcher, Lou Gehrig at first, Jackie Robinson at second, Derek Jeter at short, Alex Rodriguez at third, and Babe Ruth in right — were all gimmes. And the selection of Dave Winfield in left was only made because the rules were slanted not to include the three best outfielders (i.e., one of the center fielders who didn’t get the number one nod).
As I predicted a few weeks ago, the winner for best center fielder in New York baseball history was Willie Mays.
I have no problem with that — I think Willie was better in his time than Joe DiMaggio was in his, and though Mickey Mantle was a better player than both during his peak years, I’ll accept the argument that injuries simply kept him from having enough peak years to merit a first-place finish ahead of Willie and Joe.
All right, then, no problem with Willie Mays in center. But what a way to make the selection! The five-man panel gave Mays and DiMaggio two votes each and Mantle one. (The Yankees’ Earl Combs really didn’t need to be in competition here; neither did Duke Snider, although Duke was very, very good and was, after all, the home run and RBI leader for both leagues in the 1950s.) Gary Carter, who cast the lone vote for Mantle, was allowed to break the tie by picking between Willie and Joe. Why, exactly? Because he didn’t think either one was as good as Mantle?
Why not simply have each of the five panelists rank each of the five nominees on a five-point scale and add up the points?
The silliest rationale for a vote came from Will Leitch, who couldn’t get it out of his head that “Mays played most of his games in Candlestick Park,” not in New York. That’s why he chose DiMaggio. For God’s sake, Will, Mays played 762 games in New York, more than enough to prove his greatness. If that wasn’t enough, why bother to nominate him in the first place?
Next week The Lineup selects the best New York pitchers ever. If I had to pick one, it would be Mariano Rivera, who is probably the most dominant Yankee next to Ruth. But since Mariano isn’t one of their 15 finalists — which is absurd — I’m going with Tom Seaver, who, I’ll argue if challenged, was better in his time than Christy Mathewson in his. Also, selecting Tom Seaver would give the final “best of New York” team one Met to go along with one Brooklyn Dodger (Jackie Robinson) and one NY Giant (Willie Mays). Plenty to debate here if you want to jump in before next week’s show.