For use in season preview editions Baseball ’93
Undated (AP) _ Think back into baseball history and this is the kind of lineup most managers dreamed about:
Big bangers like Harmon Killebrew at first base and Mike Schmidt at third. A powerful catcher like Johnny Bench and a power pitcher like Bob Gibson. All- around All-Stars in the outfield like Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente, and a flashy shortstop like Luis Aparicio.
Oh, just a guy who could catch the ball, someone like Duane Kuiper, Doug Flynn or Horace Clarke. You know, someone who could bat eighth - or ninth - and bunt once in awhile, like Dick Green, Vern Fuller or Ron Oester.
Except for Joe Morgan, that’s how second basemen had been seen, ever since the days of Jackie Robinson. That is until real recently, when the most overlooked position on the field began taking on a new, offensive look.
This year, Roberto Alomar of Toronto and Carlos Baerga of Cleveland could bid to become the first second basemen to win the American League’s Most Valuable Player award since Nellie Fox in 1959.
There’s also speedy Delino DeShields of Montreal and Bip Roberts of Cincinnati, solid Chuck Knoblauch in Minnesota, improving Craig Biggio in Houston, and promising Bret Boone in Seattle and Carlos Garcia in Pittsburgh. Plus, Mike Bordick of Oakland batted .300 last season.
″There is a new breed, and I think Robbie Alomar is the leader of the pack right now,″ DeShields said. ″But, we’re not counting Ryne Sandberg in there. He’s already in the Hall of Fame.″
Sandberg would join Morgan as the only full-time second baseman to reach Cooperstown since Jackie Robinson. Rod Carew, although counted among the 13 second basemen in the Hall of Fame, played more games at first base.
Sandberg and Morgan, a two-time winner, are the only second basemen in the majors to win a league MVP award since 1960. That total of three MVP trophies is the fewest for any position in that span, one behind catchers.
″I think the mold has changed. I think Sandberg and Julio Franco had a lot to do with it,″ Baltimore’s Harold Reynolds said. ″It took guys like Cal Ripken and Alan Trammell to change the perception of shortstops by adding offense, and that’s what Sandberg and Franco did.
″Second basemen are more complete these days. There’s more power at the position. I feel like myself and Jose Lind are the last of the old breed, guys who had range and would slap the ball around,″ he said. ″Now, teams look for a guy who can field, hit for average and hit 20 home runs.″
Last year, Baerga became the first AL second baseman with 200 hits, 20 homers and 100 RBIs in a season. He also led the majors by taking part in 138 double plays at second base.
″Yeah, that’s because the Indians always have the bases loaded against them,″ jibed Atlanta second baseman Mark Lemke. ″Our pitchers never let anyone get on base.″
Alomar batted .310 and stole 49 bases. He was MVP of the AL playoffs, largely because of his home run against Dennis Eckersley.
″The biggest thing I see is that second basemen bring a lot more to the ballpark every day than they used to,″ DeShields said. ″In the past, second base was just a place to catch the ball.″
Look at Lou Whitaker, who has 209 career home runs. Or Steve Sax, with 1,915 lifetime hits and 437 steals.
Even when the AL had its Fab Four of Whitaker, Willie Randolph, Frank White and Bobby Grich in the 1980s, the crop of second basemen wasn’t nearly so rich.
But that was before many of today’s best second basemen began answering the key question: 2B or not 2B?
Sandberg started his major league career as a third baseman after playing shortstop in the minors. Baerga was a third baseman, DeShields was a shortstop, Biggio was a catcher and Roberts, until this year, played everywhere.
″I didn’t know where I would play in the majors,″ said the bulked-up Baerga. ″Robbie Alomar was ahead of me at second in San Diego.″
Alomar had always been a second basemen, just like his father, Sandy Alomar Sr.
″It’s the only position I wanted to play,″ said Roberto, who played briefly at shortstop in the Padres’ system.
Roberts, who batted .323 with 44 stolen bases, played all over for Cincinnati last season. In 1987, the Reds tried moving Barry Larkin to second base.
″It’s not the most comfortable feeling,″ Roberts said. ″But as I get a chance to work there, I’ll feel comfortable.″
Besides, it’s a transition that many players have made.
″If you look at a number of major league players, most of them are not in the positions they played in high school,″ Detroit general manager Jerry Walker said. ″In high school, your best players were at shortstop and pitcher.″
″It all goes in cycles,″ he said. ″It used to be that you wanted a second baseman who could catch the ball and turn the double play. When you look today, you see offense there.″
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