Selecting the All-Decade team
Pujols at first base, Jeter at shortstop, Bonds in left field, Ichiro in right field
It was quite a decade. In the 2000s, nine players joined the 500-home-run club -- nearly twice as many as any decade in history -- three joined the 600-home-run club, and Barry Bonds became the all-time home run leader. Four players joined the 3,000-hit club, two pitchers won their 300th game, and we welcomed the first two members into the 500-save club.
For the last 10 years, we have seen some of the greatest players in the history of baseball.
So, putting the steroid controversy to the side for the moment, here is the Team of the Decade:
Catcher: Joe Mauer
He hit .327 in the decade and won three batting titles, meaning he won as many batting titles in that period as all other catchers in baseball history have won combined. Mauer won the AL MVP in 2009, leading the league in slugging percentage and on-base percentage. Mike Piazza is the greatest hitting catcher of all time, but with the way the 26-year-old Mauer is going, we'll have to revisit that statement in 10 years.
First base: Albert Pujols
This was the easiest choice. In nine seasons, Pujols won three MVP awards in the decade, finished second three times and collected more MVP votes than any player in history other than Barry Bonds, Ted Williams and Stan Musial since MVP voting began in 1931. Pujols won his league's Triple Crown for the decade, joining Honus Wagner (1900s), Rogers Hornsby (1920s) and Williams (1940s) as the only players in history to do that. At this pace, Pujols someday will be considered the best first baseman ever and will join Babe Ruth and Williams as the three best hitters of all time.
Second base: Jeff Kent
We forget that the decade began with Kent's winning the NL MVP. Only Luis Castillo played more games at second base in the decade than Kent, who had five 100-RBI seasons and a 93-RBI season. Kent hit .300 in the decade, he led all second basemen with 216 home runs, he had 265 more RBIs than any second baseman, and only Chase Utley had a higher OPS (.902 to .889). Utley is the best second baseman now, and his numbers are terrific, but he played nearly 400 fewer games than Kent at second base.
Shortstop: Derek Jeter
He batted .317 in the 2000s and finished in the top 5 in the league in hitting in 2000, '03, '06 and '09. His 1,940 hits were the second most in the decade behind Ichiro's 2,030. He won four Gold Gloves, and two World Series rings. And as important as all the numbers, he ran hard to first base on every play of the decade.
Third base: Alex Rodriguez
It's an absolute push here with Atlanta's Chipper Jones, who will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. A-Rod didn't begin playing third until 2004 and played 185 fewer games at third in the decade than Jones, but from 2004 on, their numbers were nearly identical in several important categories: Rodriguez's OPS was .968, Jones' .965. A-Rod had 716 RBIs, Jones 715. A-Rod had 238 home runs, Jones 220. But the big difference is that Rodriguez won two MVPs at third base in the decade, and Jones didn't win any.
Left field: Barry Bonds
He won more MVPs -- four -- in the decade than any player has ever won in a career. He hit .322 in the 2000s and had by far the highest OPS of any player. He didn't play the last two years of the decade, but in the first eight years he was dominant.
Center field: Carlos Beltran
He played the most games in center field of any player in the decade. He hit 251 home runs, stole 256 bases, drove in 920 runs and won three Gold Gloves. His performance in the 2004 postseason for the Astros -- eight home runs, tying the record for the most homers in one postseason -- was one of the best in baseball history.
Right field: Ichiro Suzuki
He had the most hits in the decade (2,030), which he did in nine years, not 10. He became the first player in major league history to record 200 hits in nine straight years. He hit .333 in the decade, second to Pujols' .334. Ichiro won two batting titles and, in 2004, set the major league record for hits in a season with 262. He won a Gold Glove in all nine seasons that he played this decade. He stole 341 bases. In 2001, he won the Rookie of the Year and the MVP. Several times in the decade, he visited Cooperstown because he's fascinated by the Hall of Fame. The day he is eligible, he'll be in.
Designated hitter: David Ortiz
He led major league DHs in the decade in home runs (307, almost 100 more than the runner-up, Frank Thomas), RBIs (1,016) and slugging percentage (.554). There was really little competition, given that Ortiz was the only player with 3,000 plate appearances as a DH.
Right-handed pitcher: Roy Halladay
This was a close call over Roy Oswalt, Pedro Martinez and others. Halladay won the most games (139) of any right-hander in the decade. Among all pitchers, he had the most complete games (47) and shutouts (14), had the third highest winning percentage (.668), and was 11th in ERA (3.40) and 11th in innings pitched (1,883 1/3). He also won one Cy Young Award, and it's safe to say that no pitcher worked harder than Halladay.
Left-handed pitcher: Randy Johnson
He won an excruciatingly close call over Johan Santana. Johnson won three Cy Young Awards, most in the decade. He had the most strikeouts (2,182). He won the second most games (143) and had the second most shutouts (12). His winning percentage was seventh best (.647). His ERA (3.34) was 10th best. You just can't forget how the decade began, with three straight dominant, Cy Young seasons from Johnson.
Closer: Mariano Rivera
He had the most saves in the decade with 397. Of pitchers with at least 700 innings pitched in the decade, he had the lowest ERA (2.08), almost a run lower than that of runner-up Pedro Martinez. The decade cemented Rivera's spot as the best closer of all time.
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book "Is This a Great Game, or What?" was published by St. Martin's Press and became available in paperback in May 2008. Click here to order a copy.
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