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25 players, 25 countries: Baseball's All-Time World Team

March 19, 2017

The journey began with Roberto Clemente. It seemed to me that if you are going to put together the very best roster of 25 players born in 25 countries, you have to begin with Roberto Clemente, the greatest player to ever come out of Puerto Rico, the pioneer, the humanitarian,

The journey began with Roberto Clemente. It seemed to me that if you are going to put together the very best roster of 25 players born in 25 countries, you have to begin with Roberto Clemente, the greatest player to ever come out of Puerto Rico, the pioneer, the humanitarian, the hero.
You have to have Roberto Clemente on an All-Time World Team like this one. Spoiler alert: Roberto Clemente is not on my team.
Why isn't Roberto Clemente on my team? Simple: Because picking a roster like this requires making many sacrifices for the good of the team. In this case, Roberto Clemente is a right fielder. The rules for building this team are generally loose. Each player has to be born in a different country, that's all. And we are counting various territorial and constituent countries as their own (so Aruba and Curacao count separately, even though they're both part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands). The U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico also count as separate countries from the U.S.
But one thing we are firm about: You have to play the player at a position he played regularly.
And so, if you take Roberto Clemente … right field is filled. You can't take Japan's Ichiro Suzuki. You can't take the United States' Babe Ruth. You cannot take Canada's Larry Walker. I mean you can take them, but they won't start on your team. That's why I took Ivan Rodriguez from Puerto Rico instead of Roberto Clemente. Building a team like this -- which was inspired by the finals of the World Baseball Classic, baseball's signature international event -- means facing many such dilemmas. So here it is: My all-time 25-man roster where the only rule is that every player has to come from a different country.
My starting team
Catcher: Ivan Rodriguez (Puerto Rico)
Baseball's newest Hall of Famer was one of the greatest defensive catchers in baseball history and a good hitter.

What you give up: Taking Pudge means not taking Clemente, Roberto Alomar or Carlos Beltran.
First base:Joey Votto (Canada) 
Everyone knows Votto is good. What people might not appreciate is that among players with 5,000 career plate appearances, Votto ranks ninth all-time in on-base percentage, just behind Tris Speaker and a bit ahead of Mickey Mantle.
What you give up: Taking Votto means not taking Larry Walker.
Second base: Glenn Hubbard (Germany) 
Whew, this is where these choices begin to weigh in. Hubbard was a perfectly decent second baseman, decent defensively, good bunter, all that stuff. He's a real downgrade from Rod Carew, who I had on here during the first go-around. But taking Carew meant a major problem elsewhere. So Hubbard's here and he hits ninth.
What you give up: Nothing really. Max Kepler looks like a good young player.
Shortstop:Xander Bogaerts (Aruba) 
OK, here's where I started playing around with my team. My original plan was to put Venezuelan Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio here -- that clearly gives me a better team defensively -- but by doing that I really leave my pitching in a hole. So I'll have Boegarts here.
What you give up: Nothing.
Third base:Jose Cabrera (Venezuela)
Ugh, the defense on the left side of my infield isn't too spiffy. But this is how I had to do it to get my pitching going. And Miggy is an all-time hitter -- I'll just have to slug my way to victories.

What you give up: Taking Cabrera means not taking Aparicio, Felix Hernandez or Johan Santana.
Right field: Ichiro Suzuki (Japan)
Right field is the loaded position for this team. I would obviously love Ruth here … or Clemente, or Hank Aaron. But Ichiro is by far the best Japanese player in Major League history and I'm thrilled to have him hitting at the top of the lineup.
What you give up: Taking Ichiro means not taking Hideki Matsui or Yu Darvish.
Center field: Andruw Jones (Curacao) 
Another compromise -- no Willie Mays on this team. Jones might be the greatest defensive center fielder ever, he's certainly in the conversation, and he hit with pop. I think you make this move to make your overall team better.

What you give up: Taking Jones means not having Andrelton Simmons as a defensive wizard.
Left field: Barry Bonds (United States)
If you prefer a team without players heavily suspected of PED use, you can take Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Rickey Henderson or Carl Yastrzemski. There is no shortage of all-time great American left fielders. Bonds was the greatest player I ever saw personally, though we all know his story.
What you give up: The greatest pitchers in baseball history and Hall of Fame legends at every other position.
Designated hitter: Chili Davis (Jamaica)
This worked out nicely. Davis was one of the all-time great designated hitters, the very definition of a "professional hitter."
What you give up: Nothing.

My starting pitching staff
No. 1 starter: Pedro Martinez (Dominican Republic) 
Whew. I had to move heaven and earth to get Pedro. But … he's Pedro.
What you give up: Taking Martinez meant not taking Adrian Beltre to play third. It meant passing on Jose Pujols, Vladimir Guerrero and Juan Marichal, not to mention Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and Robinson Cano among others.

No. 2 starter: Bert Blyleven (Netherlands)
This was a nice gift -- getting an all-time great pitcher, while only giving up on Didi Gregorius and Win Remmerswaal. Blyleven's curveball is an all-time pitch.
What you give up: Nothing.
No. 3 starter: Luis Tiant (Cuba)
In my first run-through on this, I totally blanked out on Cuba -- terrible oversight. There are so many great players from Cuba -- Rafael Palmeiro, Tony Oliva, Jose Fernandez, on and on. But I'll take El Tiante for any big game.
What you give up: Oliva, Palmeiro, Tony Perez, Minnie Minoso, Fernandez.
No. 4 starter: Fernando Valenzuela (Mexico)
He was a really fantastic pitcher until he was 25. Why did he stop being fantastic then? Maybe it was the innings. Valenzuela led the league in innings pitched as a rookie (192 1/3 in a strike-shortened season) and over the next five years, the fewest innings he pitched was 257. Do you know how many pitchers have thrown 257 innings in a season the last decade? Zero.

What you give up: Bobby Avila was a fine infielder. Adrian Gonzalez spent some of his childhood in Mexico, but he was not born there.
No. 5 starter: Dennis Martinez (Nicaragua)
El Presidente won 245 games in his long and fruitful career, and at different times led the league in wins, ERA, complete games, shutouts and innings pitched.
What you give up: Nothing.
Bench players
Utility infielder: Edgar Renteria (Colombia) 
Taking Renteria meant passing on Jose Quintana -- the greatest pitcher to come out of Colombia -- for my fifth starter … but I think because of my decision to give Bogaerts the starting job at shortstop, I better have a veteran on hand in case the pressure gets to him.
Utility infielder: Horace Clarke (Virgin Islands)
He's a good guy to use as a pinch-runner.
Fourth outfielder: Bobby Thomson (Scotland)
"The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! And they're going crazy. They're going crazy. Woo-hoo!"
Fifth outfielder:Shin-Soo Choo (South Korea) 
I feel really good about my backup outfielders. Taking Choo means passing on reliever Byung-Hyun Kim, which, as you will see, was a difficult choice.
Backup catcher:Yan Gomes (Brazil) 
He's a defensive marvel. And in 2014, he hit 21 home runs.
Grant Balfour (Australia): He had four or five superb years in the bullpen, and has one of the greatest ever pitching names.
Moe Drabowsky (Poland): As Mike Royko once wrote, "Drawbowsky is still considered the best pitcher that Ozanna, Poland, ever produced."
Julio Bonetti (Italy): Bonetti pitched two years for the St. Louis Browns in the late 1930s. He's the second player born in Italy to play in the Majors (after Lou Polli) and he reportedly had a dazzling sinker. He didn't show it much in the big leagues, but he was better than Polli.
Bobby Chouinard (Philippines): He had a couple of good years with Arizona and Colorado.
Closer: Mariano Rivera (Panama)
OK, here's what I had originally: Kim closing out games. That way I could have Panama's Rod Carew at second base. I was all set to do it, figuring that while Kim had some rather famous blow-ups in his postseason career, he was a good reliever for four or so years -- lots of strikeouts -- and I figured that this team shouldn't have that many close leads to protect. But then I looked at the rest of my bullpen, and I thought about blowing game after game, and I switched it around to at least have Rivera at the end.

Bruce Bochy (France): Nice bonus, to have one of the all-time great managers be born in France. This means passing on pitcher Charlie Lea, but we have a future Hall of Famer to manager the ballclub.
Here were my toughest choices -- you decide:
Tough choice No. 1: Putting Hubbard at second.
As mentioned, I did this to shift things around and have Rivera close out games. My other option was to have Carew at second, but with Kim at closer.
Tough choice No. 2: The Cabrera-Martinez combination.
I gave up infield defense to get Pedro. My second option was to take a Beltre-Felix Hernandez combination instead. Beltre's spectacular defense, to go along with some good hitting is probably a better combination at third than Cabrera. But King Felix, as great as he is, doesn't quite reach the heights of Pedro.
Tough choice No. 3: Bonds
Whatever American you choose for this team, you are giving up a many other options. Obviously, as mentioned, I could have picked any number of other left fielders -- Williams, Musial, Henderson, etc.
But taking Bonds also limits key choices. For instance, I could have put Matsui in left and then put Ruth in right. Matsui is a downgrade from Ichiro, but he was an excellent hitter. And that way you get the Babe.
Of course with Matsui in left, I could have put Johnny Bench or Yogi Berra behind the plate and put Clemente in right.
I could have put Thomson in left, and that would have given me freedom to take any one of the greatest American pitchers for my roster. -- Walter Johnson, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Sandy Koufax, Warren Spahn, Christy Mathewson, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Roger Clemens, etc. Is Bonds worth more than the greatest pitcher ever?
These are not easy picks.
Tough choice No. 4: Bogaerts at shortstop
He's a terrific young player, but I'm putting a lot on the kid. I could have dropped Bonds and put Honus Wagner or Cal Ripken at shortstop and kept Bogaerts as a backup.
Tough choice No. 5: Jones in center
This has been the great American position, starting with Mays but then, I mean, Cobb, Speaker, DiMaggio, Mantle, Snider, Ken Griffey Jr., heck, Michael Trout. I could have dropped Jones, maybe picked up Simmons as a breathtakingly great defensive replacement at shortstop. But, in the end, these are the choices you make.

Joe Posnanski is a No. 1 New York Times best-selling author, an Emmy Award-winning writer and has been awarded National Sportswriter of the Year.