by Jacob Gurvis
Not very often in sports do we pause to appreciate the talent and legacy of our athletes. In baseball, “generations” of players come and go, but it is important to acknowledge the players who have defined decades of the game, and we don’t do this often enough.
The 1990s and 2000s were largely influenced by a large core group of stars, many of whom are sadly retired or are retiring in the near future. While every generation obviously has its stars and standouts, this particular generation deserves recognition, especially for their success during a changing baseball atmosphere (ie. the increase of cheating, etc.).
Since 2010, countless household-name, franchise players have retired. Yankees captain Derek Jeter is the latest to announce he will be retiring, and 2014 will be his final season.
Let’s review the top players from this dwindling generation of players, all of whom retired since 2010.
First, the pitchers: Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Roy Halladay, Trevor Hoffman, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Curt Schilling, and Tim Wakefield. Yeah, there are a lot of very good pitchers who have hung up their cleats in recent years. Clemens, Glavine, Halladay, Johnson, and Martinez have earned 19 total Cy Young Awards between them. Wow. Not to mention the best closer in history (Rivera) and some impressive playoff heroes in that small group.
Some pretty good infielders have retired as well. Nomar Garciaparra, Todd Helton, Chipper Jones, Jorge Posada, Ivan Rodriguez, Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, and Jason Varitek are all done playing. Rodriguez is almost definitely going to the HOF, and Thomas was inducted this year. Thome is on the top ten all-time home run list with over 600 (potential HOFer), and Jones is a no-doubter as well. Varitek and Posada will most likely not make the cut, but they were franchise players with incredible leadership skills. Helton should make it, as he is arguably the best Rookie ever.
Our next group is the outfield: Lance Berkman, Barry Bonds, Johnny Damon, Jim Edmonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Vladimir Guerrero, Gary Sheffield, and Sammy Sosa. Griffey is one of the best players in the last thirty years (and gets extra points for sharing a birthday with me), Bonds is the Home Run King (despite taking steroids), Damon brought Boston its first championship in 86 years, and the rest of those guys were all pretty talented. Not all of them are HOFers, but nonetheless, this is a deep group of players.
That being said, yes, there a few of these aforementioned guys who (allegedly) cheated in some form, including Bonds Clemens and Sosa. So despite their tainted legacy, the talent and pure numbers they produced are undeniable. There’s a difference between being a good ballplayer and being a good person. Yes, Bonds cheated his way to the top of the all-time home run list, an act I in no way condone. But at the end of the day, 762 home runs is 762 home runs.
It is important to also recognize those players who are part of this generation, who are still playing. Players like Carlos Beltran, Jason Giambi, Jeter, Paul Konerko, David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Alfonso Soriano, Ichiro Suzuki, and others also deserve recognition.
The past two decades have been defined by these gentlemen, and this class of players could be arguably the best group baseball has seen a long time. So, to all of you players who have treated our game well, when all is said and done, take a bow, because you are the best of the best.