With its diligence and reverence for record keeping, baseball is often held up as an exact science. Ted Williams chose to play on the last day of the 1941 season because .39955 -- his batting average that morning -- was not actually .400. The discovery in 1977 of an overlooked RBI for Hack Wilson in his record 1930 season was akin to scientists finding a new element, and thus made sacred the number 191.
Yet so visceral is the appeal of the game that it also moves poets as much as it does mathematicians. "Poets," Robert Frost once exclaimed, "are like baseball pitchers. Both have their moments. The intervals are the tough things."
Baseball, in fact, is a good workout for both sides of your brain, which is why a bar stool has always been just as handy as a calculator when trying to figure out the game. Just ask us. We tried.
SI set out to pick an alltime All-Star team -- 25 players (seven starting pitchers, two relievers, two catchers, seven infielders and seven outfielders), one manager and two coaches -- by polling 22 expert writers, editors and analysts, including Bill James, Peter Gammons and more than a dozen current and former SI staffers.
What we wound up with was something much like Aaron Goodman's photo illustration on these pages: a fascinating blend of art and science. It's why the alltime leader in hits and the heir apparent to the alltime leader in home runs didn't make the cut. Pete Rose, for all his singles and manic drive, simply wasn't better than any of the outfielders or infielders on the dream team. (His gambling on baseball as Reds manager had no impact on this voter's opinion.) Barry Bonds, because of how his freakish late-career production has been linked to the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, has numbers that are not to be believed.
Such is the nature of baseball that the omission of some players from this roster is certain to provoke cries of despair, so let me throw out the first bawl: Warren Spahn over Randy Johnson? Please. The Unit blows away Spahnnie in most important pitching metrics as well as the rather less sophisticated playground test: If I were a captain choosing up sides, I'd pick Johnson (truth be told, Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez too) before I picked Spahn.
Likewise, the catching selections, Yogi Berra and Johnny Bench, are a little too traditional for my taste. Where are Josh Gibson, whose Ruthian prowess should not be diminished for having played in the Negro leagues when the major leagues wouldn't have him, and Mike Piazza, whose unequaled offense at the position more than makes up for his weak arm?
But, hey, that's just me. You're likely to find your own beef in what you see (and don't) in the greatest team picture of all time. A great baseball argument, and this one is mammoth, generates more disagreement than resolution. Such eternal debate is why message boards, watering holes and outfield bleachers exist.
Now, about the batting order that manager John McGraw should use for this team....