While watching the World Baseball Classic, I couldn’t help but consider what this would have looked like in the past. Two hours later, I had come up with a provisional roster for the WBC if it had taken place in 1995.
I chose the year basically at random. The first WBC was in 2006, so I started out just going back a decade. But then I thought that it would make sense to have the first WBC in ‘95 (in the summer, say) as a way for the industry to apologize for the player’s strike.
I did the best I could to determine nationality for each roster, but it was difficult, as I was just going through Baseball Reference and clicking on players to find out their nationality. After I was nearly done, I found this tremendously helpful page at Baseball Almanac which shows a list of players’ nationality by year. It almost saved me a lot of trouble.
I combined the Baseball Almanac lists with a look at Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects (top prospects are typically a big part of the WBC) and a look at the top AAA players, thanks to Baseball Reference.
In general, I tried not to speculate about ethnicity. There were some people who I *thought* were Puerto Rican, even if their birthplace was New York, say. But unless I knew this for sure (or could confirm it), I thought it would be prudent not to err on the side of guessing someone’s ethnicity.
The one exception is the Italian team. There are a couple people on the team who would eventually play for Italy in the WBC, so I could confirm their eligibility. Other than that, I will admit to adding people to the list based upon their last names. I intend no offense if I have accidentally added a Hungarian or a Macedonian to the list of ballplayers of Italian descent.
I sorted the team into pools, based loosely on geography, but also in the interests of balancing good teams with poor ones. Here is my Pool A:
Anything other than a Team Japan romp would be an upset.
Key Players: Graeme Lloyd, Dave Nilsson, Craig Shipley
These were the only three Australian players in the majors in 1995. I’m sure there were more players in the minors (and in Australia), but I couldn’t find them. How does one identify an Australian name? I didn’t come across anyone named “G’Day” Jenkins or “Oy, Sheila!” Williamson, so I’ll leave it at that.
Key Players: ??
How old was Yao Ming in ‘95?
Key Players: Hideo Nomo, Ichiro Suzuki
I’d love to put together a full roster for Team Japan, but I just don’t know enough to do so. I thought about looking up the NPB All-Star teams for 1995 and throwing together some names, but that’s just sloppy. Let’s assume, then, that Team Japan is very good, with Nomo as their #1 pitcher and a young Ichiro leading off.
Key Players: Chan Ho Park
See comment about Japan.
Yes, the Dominicans are ridiculous favorites here.
Key Players: ???
There weren’t many Colombians in organized baseball in ‘95. Or if there were, they were still at the lower levels.
Key Players: Orlando Hernandez, ???
I’m assuming that, as in the current WBC, Cuban defectors would not be eligible. So no Livan Hernandez, although I believe Orlando was still in Cuba at the time. Don’t let my lack of knowledge fool you, though; the Cuban team generally does quite well in international competition.
TEAM DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Here’s why I started this project. My projected lineup and roster for the powerhouse Dominican team of 1995:
- 3B – Tony Fernandez
- SS – Alex Rodriguez
- RF – Sammy Sosa
- DH – Manny Ramirez
- LF – Moises Alou
- 1B – Jose Offerman
- CF – Vladimir Guerrero
- 2B – Quilvio Veras
- C – Tony Pena
This is pretty damn impressive. I should note that the Dominican had about 5 right fielders with a legitimate shot at making the team. A couple are on the bench, but I decided to move 20-year-old Vlad Guerrero (still just a prospect) to center, a move I think he could handle.
There’s a lot of balance here in terms of different offensive skills, and it would also be a pretty sweet defensive group. My only real complaint is that it’s so heavily right-handed. I decided to just go with it rather than trying to get cutesy with a left-handed hitter who otherwise didn’t deserve to start.
This is a very young group, but I really like the idea of Pena, as catcher, playing the role of elder statesman/unofficial coach.
- Pedro Martinez
- Ramon Martinez
- Jose Rijo
- Juan Guzman
The problem with most of the non-USA teams was getting depth in the pitching staff. That wasn’t a problem for the D.R., as you can see. Rijo and Ramon didn’t have the “household name” quality that Pedro possessed, but both were still very good at this point.
BENCH: Geronimo Berroa, Tony Eusebio, Felix Fermin, Stan Javier, Raul Mondesi, Luis Polonia, Jose Vizcaino
In constructing a bench, I tried to make it functional, rather than just picking 6 first baseman and a right fielder. So I went with Eusebio as backup catcher (a fine hitter) with Vizcaino and Fermin as backup infielders. If I had another DH spot, I’d put Mondesi there, but instead, he’s the first bat off the bench. Berroa was also a good hitter, and Javier was an all-around talent who gives the manager great flexibility.
BULLPEN: Pedro Astacio, Armando Benitez, Bartolo Colon, Jose Lima, Melido Perez, Mel Rojas
This isn’t quite as good as it looks, as most of these guys (Benitez, Colon, Lima) had not yet reached their peak. But I like Astacio as the shadow starter, and Benitez could still throw flame even at a young age. There were a couple other mid-level starters (Carlos Perez, for one) who just missed the cut.
Key Batters: Roberto Kelly, Ruben Rivera, Orlando Miller, Einar Diaz, Sherman Obando, Fernando Seguignol
Several decent parts here, but not any A-list talent, although Rivera was still considered an elite prospect in the Yankees system.
Key Pitchers: Mariano Rivera, Bruce Chen, Ramiro Mendoza, Rafael Medina, some guys you’ve never heard of
Mo is the prize here, although he would have still been a starting pitcher at this point. He is, none the less, a better bet than young Bruce Chen. And don’t act like you know who Rafael Medina is.
Venezuela is stacked with young talent, but then so is Puerto Rico.
Key Batters: Andruw Jones, Randall Simon, Hensley Meulens, Robert Eenhoorn, Ralph Milliard, Rikkert Faneyte
Key Pitcher: Calvin Maduro
Let’s hope that the Netherlands League itself was stocked with underrated talent. The Dutch West Indies were not as fertile in baseball talent as they would become.
Key Players: Dennis Martinez and some guys
TEAM PUERTO RICO
- 2B – Roberto Alomar
- DH – Edgar Martinez
- CF – Bernie Williams
- RF – Juan Gonzalez
- 1B – Carlos Delgado
- C – Ivan Rodriguez
- 3B – Carlos Baerga
- LF – Danny Tartabull
- SS – Wil Cordero
One through Six, this lineup matches anybody, including the Americans. Tartabull was finishing up at this point, and Wil Cordero was the only decent shortstop I could find. Baerga was still good, but I stuck him at third in the absence of a better option, leaving second to Robby Alomar and his terrific glove.
This is also a righty-heavy order, but Alomar, Bernie, and Baerga (all switch-hitters) are able to break things up somewhat.
Remember all the right fielders the Dominican Republic had? Yeah, there are about five catchers that could have made it onto team Puerto Rico. Conspicuous by his absence is a 23-year-old Jorge Posada.
- Jaime Navarro
- Ricky Bones
- Omar Olivares
- Jose Melendez
And here’s the problem. Navarro, Bones and Olivares were all mid-rotation guys at best, and Melendez was just a 29-year-old I found in Triple-A.
BENCH: Sandy Alomar, Jr., Joey Cora, Jose Hernandez, Javy Lopez, Orlando Merced, Rey Sanchez, Ruben Sierra
We’ve got great defensive coverage here, but not a lot of pop. Lopez and Sierra could be the first bats off the bench, depending on the platoon situation, which is nice. Merced wasn’t a bad hitter, I guess, and Jose Hernandez had some pop when he was making contact.
BULLPEN: Luis Aquino, Rafael Carmona, Roberto Hernandez, Angel Miranda, Rafael Montalvo, Bobby Munoz, Mike Perez
If you’ve heard of anyone on that list other than Roberto Hernandez, treat yourself to a cookie. That’s a list of mid-level prospects, cup-of-coffee guys, and Triple-A lifers. If Navarro gets lit up, this team is going to get mercy-ruled but quick.
- RF – Bobby Abreu
- 3B – Edgardo Alfonzo
- 1B – Andres Galarraga
- LF – Richard Hidalgo
- DH – Roberto Petagine
- CF – Roger Cedeno
- SS – Omar Vizquel
- 2B – Alvaro Espinoza
- C – Eddie Perez
A pretty impressive bunch, if young. Galarraga’s in his prime, but Abreu, Alfonzo, Hidalgo, Cedeno, and Petagine are all still prospects.
- Wilson Alvarez
- Omar Daal
- Giovanni Carrara
- Edwin Hurtado
This is not unlike the Puerto Rican team’s problem, except Venezuela at least has Alvarez, who is passable as an ace. But it thins out fast.
BENCH: Pedro Castellano, Raul Chavez, Carlos Garcia, Ozzie Guillen, Jose Malave, Robert Perez, Luis Sojo
Again, kudos if you’ve heard of anyone outside of Ozzie and Sojo. Chavez, at least, had a decent career as a backup in the majors.
BULLPEN: Tony Castillo, Kelvim Escobar, Rich Garces, Geremi Gonzalez, Felipe Lira, Dilson Torres, Ugueth Urbina
A few more recognizable names here. Still, most of the guys you’ve heard of hadn’t reached their peak yet.
USA all the way … assuming, of course, that nobody backs out.
Key Batters: Larry Walker, Matt Stairs, Nigel Wilson, Rob Butler
I debated adding Greg Gagne to the team, since his surname is French and he’s from New England. Surely his parents passed through Canada at some point … right?
Along the same lines, it is hard to spot a “Canadian” name. I did click on a lot of names that sounded French, but all I found were a bunch of guys from Louisiana.
Key Pitchers: Jason Dickson, Paul Quantrill, Kirk McCaskill, Ryan Dempster, Denis Boucher, Rheal Cormier, Paul Spoljaric
Much better! This is a serviceable pitching staff, although I’m not sure who the “ace” is here. I’m really fudging things by including Dempster, who was 18 years old and newly drafted in ‘95.
To reiterate: these are just names that sound Italian. If half of them turn out to be Cuban, I apologize.
- LF – F.P. Santangelo
- 2B – Randy Velarde
- C – Mike Piazza
- 3B – Gary Gaetti
- DH – Jeff Cirillo
- 1B – Jason Giambi
- RF – John Cangelosi
- SS – Gary DiSarcina
- CF – Carmine Cappuccio
Not a bad group at all! I like the power potential with Piazza-Cirillo-Gaetti-Giambi. Eight of the nine guys in this order all had significant major league careers. And no, I did not invent the most generically Italian name I could think of and stick him in center field. Carmine Cappuccio never played in the majors, but he did make it to the high minors.
Yet again, I’m plagued by too many righties in the heart of the order. I thought about bumping Giambi up to the #4 spot, but he was just a rookie in ‘95 and wasn’t really Jason Giambi yet.
- Tom Candiotti
- Frank Viola
- Scott Kamieniecki
- John Frascatore
OK, Kamieniecki is probably Polish or at least of Eastern European extraction. But it’s close enough.
BENCH: Rico Brogna, Ken Caminiti, Mike Gallego, Mickey Morandini, Mike Pagliarulo, Tom Pagnozzi, Joe Vitiello
This is actually one of the best benches in the whole tournament. Gallego may well be of Latin extraction, but dammit, I needed a shortstop.
BULLPEN: Mike Bertotti, Ricky Bottalico, Jim Corsi, Jerry DiPoto, John Franco, Rich Monteleone, Dave Righetti
I’m pretty sure Franco was issued honorary Italian citizenship by New York fans.
Key Batters: Not enough to form an actual lineup, but: Vinny Castilla, Fernando Vina, Ruben Amaro, Karim Garcia, Guillermo Velasquez, Benji Gil
Individual statistics from the Mexican Leagues weren’t available.
- Ismael Valdez
- Esteban Loaiza
- Armando Reynoso
- Fernando Valenzuela
Very competitive. And even if he’s not the fourth-best starter, you HAVE to have Valenzuela on this team. If you could get him to make a start in Mexico, that would make the whole tourney worthwhile.
BULLPEN: Juan Acevedo, Rigo Beltran, Elmer Dessens, Eddie Guardado, Teddy Higuera, Antonio Osuna, Rudy Seanez
Higuera was done by this point, so this spot is more honorary than anything. It’s funny that the best Mexican pitcher in baseball right now is Yovani Gallardo – also with the Brewers.
TEAM UNITED STATES
Man, I left out a zillion people.
- 2B – Craig Biggio
- 1B – John Olerud
- LF – Barry Bonds
- DH – Frank Thomas
- CF – Ken Griffey, Jr.
- RF – Albert Belle
- SS – Cal Ripken, Jr.
- 3B – Wade Boggs
- C – Chris Hoiles
I count two Hall-of-Famers and four more that deserve to go. The only non-elite player here is Hoiles, who was actually darn good there for a while. It’s worth noting that Boggs was already declining at this point, and I did consider replacing him with Robin Ventura, but in the end, I stuck with the Hall-of-Famer.
- Greg Maddux
- Roger Clemens
- Kevin Brown
- Randy Johnson
As Mel Allen would say, “How ‘bout that?”
BENCH: Jeff Bagwell, Rickey Henderson, Chuck Knoblauch, Barry Larkin, Kenny Lofton, Gary Sheffield, Terry Steinbach
Oh, the first basemen I cut from this team. I would have felt FINE putting Mark McGwire, Mo Vaughn, Will Clark, Fred McGriff, and Rafael Palmeiro on this team. Sacrifice!
I ended up keeping Bagwell over McGwire because of his superior glove. Also, they were both right-handed, and I couldn’t justify keeping the two of them, not with Frank Thomas (another righty) already on the roster as a DH.
There were a lot of good outfield choices here, and I hated cutting Paul O’Neill, Tony Gwynn, Tim Raines, and David Justice. But Sheffield could hit as well as any of them, was in his prime in ‘95, and could play third base if necessary.
I really like Knoblauch and Larkin up the middle. Rookie Derek Jeter was on the team at one point, but I ended up cutting him due to youth and defensive concerns.
I wanted to have a “jack of all trades” 25th man on the roster (well, I have 28 men on the roster, but work with me here) to fill multiple holes. I considered Tony Phillips and B.J. Surhoff, but in the end, I omitted them and went with the superstars.
BULLPEN: David Cone, Chuck Finley, Tom Glavine, Jeff Montgomery, Mike Mussina, Randy Myers, Curt Schilling
That’s a freakishly good bullpen. Can you imagine Curt Schilling as a closer? He would have been a pre-Kimbrel Kimbrel.
Lots of painful cuts here, too. I only went with two true closers, so Dennis Eckersley and John Wetteland missed the cut. And it killed me, as a Braves fan, to cut John Smoltz, but I wanted Glavine’s leftiness out of the bullpen.
Summary: “Second Team USA” would still be the best team in this WBC. Don’t believe me?
USA Second Team:
- CF – Kenny Lofton
- 2B – Chuck Knoblauch
- 3B – Gary Sheffield
- 1B – Jeff Bagwell
- LF – Rickey Henderson
- DH – Mark McGwire
- RF – Tony Gwynn
- SS – Barry Larkin
- C – Terry Steinbach
- David Cone
- Curt Schilling
- Mike Mussina
- Tom Glavine
And that, as they say, is that.