In the summer of 1999, baseball fans pitched their votes for Major League Baseball's All Century Team. Celebrated here with hundreds of photographs and deep statistical analysis, the 30-player squad spans the century, representing big leaguers from the golden age to the modern era. Prodigy Ken Griffey Jr. roams the outfield with legends Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, and Mickey Mantle, among others. Relative newcomers Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan are named to a pitching staff that includes Christy Mathewson, Cy Young, and Warren Spahn. Even the oft-injured slugger Mark McGwire makes the cut, riding his late 1990s home run bonanza to join Iron Man Lou Gehrig at first base.
No best-of compilation satisfies every criterion, but the All Century Team comes close, even recognizing omitted players who, statistically-speaking, merit inclusion. Editors Mark Vancil and Peter Hirdt devote a full-page spread to one such player, Greg Maddux, regarded as possibly the best pitcher ever:
Maddux's greatness has all the other trimmings one would expect: four Cy Young awards, four ERA titles, and seven All-Star nominations. He also has one you wouldn't expect: nine Gold Gloves. Still, history doesn't always reveal itself in real time. It's often left to later generations to identify greatness in hindsight.
In fact, it's All Century Team's commitment to identifying greatness that's most admirable. A wealth of statistics, crammed into every available margin space, ranks each player's performance against other 20th-century standouts. Decades of brilliant photography help quantify intangibles like glory and grit. And a series of evocative anecdotes reveals how a player's worth is measured in many ways. Satchel Paige remembers the lightning-quick James "Cool Papa" Bell: "One time he hit a line drive right past my ear. I turned around and saw the ball hit his ass sliding into second." Reggie Jackson calls pitcher Tom Seaver "so good that blind people come to the park just to hear him pitch." Notable for both its style and its substance, All Century Team is an all-century baseball book. --Rob McDonald