Sports Column | Les Winkeler: What GOAT really means

Sports Column | Les Winkeler: What GOAT really means

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I’ve never read a psychological profile of myself. But, I may have some masochistic tendencies.

That observation is based on my inability to steer clear of online sites naming, “The Greatest Baseball Players of All-Time" or, “The Most Underrated NBA Players of All-Time" or, a personal favorite, “The Worst Players Elected to the Hall of Fame.”

With no live sports on television, I find myself squirming through this worm hole with increasing frequency these days.

OK, I get it. Even among players elected to the Hall of Fame, there are the elite. Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and others are in a legendary category all their own.

But, “Worst Players Elected to the Hall of Fame”? Give me a break. What exactly is the point?

Every player in question reached the highest level of his profession – Major League Baseball. Beyond that, each player mentioned was considered one of the elite players of his time.

Although I cannot prove this point, I’m willing the bet the person writing the disparaging article never played professional baseball at any level. What’s more, I’d be willing to bet that person could neither throw or hit and 80 mile per hour fastball.

Another reason I despise the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) teams is they are nearly always skewed to a particular time period. Since the GOAT obsession is relatively new, most of the teams I see contain few players from the 20th century.

What GOAT really means is – These are the best guys I’ve seen.

I grew up in the 1960s. My GOAT team would look a lot different than someone 10-20 years older than me and radically different than someone 20 years younger than me.

On the other hand, I’d take this team to war against anyone: 1B, Willie McCovey; 2B, Pete Rose; SS Ernie Banks; 3B, Brooks Robinson; LF, Hank Aaron; CF, Willie Mays; RF, Roberto Clemente; C, Johnny Bench; SP, Bob Gibson; SP, Sandy Koufax; SP, Juan Marichal; SP, Warren Spahn.

That means I’d be bringing guys like Mickey Mantle and Carl Yastrzemski off the bench and using Mickey Lolich and Gaylord Perry as emergency starters. And, the bullpen? Wouldn’t need any closers. These guys finished what they started.

Would this team win every game? Of course not, it’s not the nature of baseball. And, that doesn’t mean I don’t think Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, Greg Maddux and Mike Trout are inferior players. My point is, greatness is transcendent.

There are, of course, other problems with GOAT teams.

The game has evolved over the years. Statistics are skewed by the style of play for each era. However, I find it hard to believe that Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, given today’s training and video advantages wouldn’t flourish in any period. Conversely, I’m guessing if Bryce Harper played in the 50s and 60s his strikeouts would plummet and his batting average would rise.

Statistics, and personal observation, are what we have to judge players from different eras. Neither, standing alone, give the full picture of a player’s true ability. Clemente had one of the greatest outfield arms I’ve ever seen.

Yet, his very ability limited the number of assists he had. Players would single down the right field line, take a big turn at first and then slam on the brakes when he fielded the ball – attempting to turn a single into a double was futile.

All of which makes me wish that I had had the opportunity to watch DiMaggio, Williams, Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson and players of the early 1900s play.

Baseball’s long history sets it apart from other American sports. No GOAT team can ever be definitive. They can only start arguments … which is another beauty of the game.

LES WINKELER is former sports editor for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at, onTwitter @LesWinkeler.



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