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Greatest Living Hitter is debated

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 14, 2002

A year after the Ted Williams Museum opened in 1994, a ceremony was held for the Hitters Hall of Fame where Williams honored the game's 20 greatest hitters.

The last to bat .400 in a season, Williams failed to include himself in a category that began with Babe Ruth and continued with Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Rogers Hornsby and Joe DiMaggio.

But when the Red Sox legend died July 5, the unofficial title of Greatest Living Hitter was passed on. To whom? That's debatable.

The first living player on that original list compiled by Williams is Stan Musial, a career .331 hitter in 22 seasons with the Cardinals. Ranked No. 7, Musial was followed by all-time home run leader Hank Aaron at No. 9 and Willie Mays, who appeared in 20 consecutive All-Star Games, at No. 10.

"If someone is the best ballplayer, it should be regardless if they're dead or living," Mays said last week in Milwaukee. "I think you've got to put it in that category. You can't just take one side.

"We don't have to be put into that category just because of age. I think we should be judged based on what we did in our time, not because we're up in age. I think that's wrong."

WHAT THEY THINK: During a news conference to announce the 30 greatest baseball moments last week, two key figures were conspicuously absent: Pete Rose and John-Henry Williams.

The first was expected, but Williams was scheduled to be in Milwaukee to be part of a pregame ceremony honoring his father. He showed for neither event and hasn't been heard from since the flap over his father's remains came to light.

"That's a family decision," said Carlton Fisk, who made the 30 moments list for his Game 6 homer in the 1975 World Series. "I just hope if he had any last wishes that they're being honored now."

Added commissioner Bud Selig: "Frankly that's a family matter. I'm sorry for what's going on."

SMALL MARKET ABERRATION: The Twins lead the AL Central. The Expos began the second half five games out of the wild-card spot in the NL.

Both were targets for contraction during the offseason, but neither can escape its economic woes through on-field performance, Selig said.

"People can use different statistics in different ways," he said. "Every time we have an aberration from the rule people say, "Aha! Isn't that interesting? Look at that the aberration.' In this case the Minnesota Twins are having a wonderful season. But the Minnesota Twins are already worrying how they can keep their team and know they can't under this system."

A CONFLICT OF INTEREST?: The Expos made their second significant trade in less than a month Thursday, acquiring Cliff Floyd from the Marlins. Selig reiterated last week that Montreal, which is owned by baseball's 29 other owners, is not allowed to increase its $39-million payroll.

"When we took the team over, was it a perfect solution? It was not," Selig said. "But I told (GM Omar Minaya, president Tony Tavares) they're independent. They're trying to improve their team.

"I remember in February everybody was saying, "Oh, they'll just be dumping players. This is going to be awful. They're not going to be competitive.' The antithesis has worked out. They've stunned everybody."

FANS FIRST: Reds pitcher Jose Rijo isn't his team's union representative, but maybe he should be.

"I lost $2-million during the strike of 1994, so I can talk about this," he said recently. "I don't care about that money. I care about the people outside of baseball who this affects.

"I'm thinking about the guy who makes $1,000 a month and is trying to feed his family and send his kids to college. He can't afford to come to baseball games now and that's not right. ... It is time for baseball people to stop thinking about themselves for once."

ODDS AND ENDS: Phillies manager Larry Bowa watched the All-Star Game with great interest. Reliever Vicente Padilla pitched the final two innings of the tie game. "I was rooting for it to end," he said. "I was hoping somebody would hit a home run or something." ... It's not likely that anybody would trade for Frank Thomas and pay him the $45-million owed through 2006. But the White Sox designated hitter, who was criticized by teammates for showing up late to a game recently, said he would waive a no-trade clause. Where would he like to end up? "Anywhere but Alaska." ... Royals GM Allard Baird got a two-year contract extension last week, but is under orders to trim the club's $50-million payroll before next season.

THE LAST WORD: "Every time we saw somebody in spring training who was a Red Sox fan they'd say, "We hope you learned something from the Patriots.' Yeah, I learned how to block. I learned how to run a football." -- Red Sox third baseman Shea Hillenbrand.

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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