My Most Favorite Baseball Players in the Whole Wide World, Part I

You’re in for another treat, as the day of lists and bullet points at NotGraphs continues. You’re welcome I’m so sorry.

Last week, “in these very electronic pages,” as the ever eloquent Chairman Cistulli likes to say, I mentioned that upon watching Melky Cabrera high-five Joe West, and then pick something off his bat and eat it, I had to make some changes to My Most Favorite Baseball Players in the Whole Wide World list. Well, what kind of writer basement-dwelling blogger would I be if I didn’t share said list with you?

Now, please keep in mind, I grew up, and remain, an ardent supporter of Toronto’s Blue Jays. I was a freshly minted 10-years-old when the World Series trophy began its two-year northern vacation in 1992. In celebrating Toronto’s back-to-back championships, I was so hopped up on sugar I might as well have lined up and snorted the stuff.

Part I, players 10 through six on the list, is below, and not as Blue Jays centric as Part II will inevitably be. Shall we? We shall.

10. Melky Cabrera

He high-fived Joe West. He picked something off his bat and ate it. You’re damned right that was enough, at this moment in time in the universe, to crack my top 10 list.

9. Kirk Rueter

I was enthralled by Rueter’s 1993 debut with the Montreal Expos, Toronto’s baseball cousins, whom I always kept a close eye on. Rueter didn’t allow an earned run in his first two career starts, and finished his dream rookie season 8-0. Back then, pitcher wins weren’t everything. They were the only thing. Though he spent the majority of his career in San Francisco, Rueter, the furthest from a power pitcher, was the reason I rocked, for a short period of time, a blue Expos hat.

8. Paul O’Neill

It’s funny, for as long as I can remember, I’ve always despised the New York Yankees. It’s in my contract as a fan of another team in the AL East. But I could never find it in me to hate Paul O’Neill. He played the game — wait for it — the right way. At least that’s what it always looked like. In the late 90s, O’Neill was the consummate Yankee; America at its finest. And watching him play game four of the 1999 World Series hours after his father died was about as emotional as baseball has ever been for me. There’s a reason no Yankee wears #21. And, let’s be honest, the brilliant Seinfeld cameo helped. O’Neill hit two home runs for little Bobby!

7. Tony Fernandez

It was always the way Tony Fernandez threw the ball, from short to first, the side-armed flick, that endeared him to me, and so many others. He could field like nobody else. So smooth. Even the way he held his bat was different. An influential part of the up-and-coming Blue Jays of the late 80s, even in departure, traded to San Diego with Fred McGriff for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter, Fernandez left his mark; the trade was the most crucial the Blue Jays have ever made. And Fernandez, for his part, always thought of himself as a Blue Jay. You could tell. It’s what made his return to Toronto in 1993 so special, as the Jays set out to repeat. In 48 games with the New York Mets to begin the season, Fernandez’s wOBA was a disappointing .293. After being reacquired by the Blue Jays, Fernandez, home again, hit .306 the rest of the way, with a .354 wOBA. Home, as they say, is where the heart is, yo. After winning the 1993 World Series, Tony was off on his way again, with stops in Cincinnati, New York, and Cleveland. Until he came home, to Toronto, again, for the 1998 and 1999 seasons. As much as Fernandez couldn’t get enough of Toronto, we couldn’t get enough of him. I’ll never forget June 1999, when, three months into the season, Fernandez flirted with .400. After a season in Japan, and a quick tour of Milwaukee in early 2001, Fernandez came back to Toronto again, a third time. It was only fitting. Fernandez had to retire a Blue Jay. Thanks for the memories, Tony.

6. Mark McGwire

The first non-Blue Jays jersey I ever purchased was a red, St. Louis Cardinals Mark McGwire one. It was the summer of 1998, when McGwire and Sammy Sosa were Chasing Maris. Like so many people, the home run brought me back to baseball, too. I ain’t mad at you, Mark.

This exercise, and the agonizing decisions that came with it, was a lot more difficult than I originally imagined. Who makes up the latter half of your top 10? Tell me in the comments below. Please? (I have to, I’m Canadian.)

And stay tuned for Part II, dropping in the coming days. And, one more thing: Follow me on Twitter. Why, you ask? I say: Why not?

Image courtesy LIFE, via — who else? — Google.

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Navin Vaswani is a replacement-level writer. Follow him on Twitter.

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Matt Collins

El Guapo Rich Garces has gotta be on the list. Just the definition of fat & jolly.

Joe P.
Joe P.

He’s on my list! Every year, my fantasy team sports the Handsome One’s moniker.