Where’s the Suspense in Picking New York’s All-Time Baseball Lineup?


We just watched the second episode of MSG’s The Lineup, which airs Tuesdays at 10:00 p.m. and repeats throughout the week, and aside from the fun of watching clips of old ballplayers, we’re kind of wondering what the point is.

The Lineup‘s panel — former players Gary Carter and Sparky Lyle, Will Leitch of New York, the Elias Sports Bureau’s Steve Hirdt, and host Fran Healy — select the best players at each position in New York baseball history from the Yankees, Mets, Brooklyn Dodgers, and New York Giants. But so much of the show is a foregone conclusion that there’s no suspense.

Last week in the first episode, The Catchers, Yogi Berra beat out Roy Campanella, Bill Dickey, Roger Bresnahan, and Mike Piazza, among others as the field starts out with ten candidates, which is no surprise.

Berra was a better hitter in his time than Bill Dickey was in his, and while a very good argument can be made that Roy Campanella, at his best, was Yogi’s equal — they both won three Most Valuable Player awards — how is anyone going to trump Yogi’s ten World Series rings?

Last night’s segment, First Basemen, was even more of a given. There just isn’t a case to be made that Don Mattingly, Johnny Mize, Bill Terry or Keith Hernandez was in the same class as Lou Gehrig, so you pretty much know before the show who’s going to win.

The real problem, though, is that the concept is weak and the structure is slack. The order the candidates finish in isn’t made clear, and it would be interesting to know which panel members chose who for the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th spots. For instance, I would insist that Johnny Mize and Don Mattingly should be in contention for number two; at least that would have made for a lively discussion after everyone agreed that Gehirg was number one.

It’s also a problem that the panel isn’t very interesting. Healy is a congenial host, and Hirdt’s statistical expertise is welcome, but Lyle seems to be looking at his watch and wondering if he can make it to P.J. Clark’s before closing time. Carter won’t shut up or contribute anything besides telling us what a Gosh Darn Nice Fella every player was, and Leitch looks cross-eyed at the mention of anyone who played before 1980. In fact, the video talking head interviews — Ira Berkow, Bert Sugar, Dave Anderson, Maury Allen and George Vecsey — are considerably more interesting than the main panel.

Our guess is that The Lineup will have a hard time sustaining interest over the next few weeks since most of the lineup spots are ridiculously easy to pick. But if you’re desperately in need of something to do before the season starts, you can go on The Lineup‘s website to predict who the five candidates will be each week and takes quizzes to qualify for prizes.

Let’s save everyone some time: The best second baseman in New York baseball history (the subject of next week’s program) is Jackie Robinson. There isn’t anyone else even close to him, though to keep up interest someone will probably make a case that he “only” played five full seasons at second. There is no other argument on the subject.

And when it comes to shortstop, surely no one will suggest that Phil Rizzuto or Pee Wee Reese were more valuable than Derek Jeter. Third base? A shoo-in: Alex Rodriguez has played for six seasons and has won two MVP awards at third for the Yankees, more than all other New York third basemen combined.

The Babe, of course, gets right field; unless there’s some interesting hook regarding the other contenders, why even bother voting on that one? The first really interesting debate will be when they choose the other two outfield positions. Who at center field — Joe DiMaggio or Willie Mays? Our guess is DiMaggio because he was Willie’s idol and has nine World Series rings.

Then comes the intriguing question of whether one tries to choose a genuine left fielder or simply puts Willie Mays in left. Our guess is that it will be Mays. After all, how can you put together a New York All-Star team without Willie Mays? Also, without Mays, the team would not have any New York Giants in the starting lineup. This, of course, will shaft Mickey Mantle, who, at his peak was the equal or superior of DiMaggio and Mays — we’ll simply toss that out at you now and argue it at length when the episode on center fielders comes up.

This puts six Yankees in the eight regular positions, but how do you avoid that? No Met will make the team unless they do an entire rotation of starting pitchers. I’ll rank the top three now: Tom Seaver, Christy Mathewson and Whitey Ford. How about it, MSG — do I win something?