Recently, while perusing the treasure trove of stats on Baseball Almanac, a staggering number caught my eye: 20,463. That's the total number of players who have graced the Major League Baseball fields since its inception. Just let that sink in. Over twenty thousand unique talents, each with their own stories, skills, and moments of magic.

Now, let's embark on a thrilling thought experiment. Imagine possessing a time machine, allowing you to pluck any one of those 20,463 players from any era, in the very prime of their careers, and place them on your roster. The year is 2023, and as the General Manager with the coveted first overall pick in this fantasy draft, the weight of history is on your shoulders.

But how do we navigate this vast ocean of talent? Our selection hinges on several key criteria:

Historical Impact: The indelible mark a player left on the game.
Statistical Dominance: Not just the numbers, but their significance in the context of their era.
Influence on Team Success: Their contribution to championships and pivotal moments.
Iconic Moments and Legacy: Those unforgettable plays and the legacy they've etched in the annals of baseball.

With this framework in mind, we've decided to narrow our focus. We're selecting one pitcher and one hitter, each representing the pinnacle of baseball excellence. And, as a twist to this already tantalizing scenario, we've added a surprise element at the end that will surely stir debate among baseball aficionados.

Pedro Martinez: The Pitcher's Picasso

In the vast canvas of baseball history, few artists have painted the mound with as much flair, precision, and dominance as Pedro Martinez. When you're handed the keys to a time machine with the mission to draft the best pitcher in history, it's hard to look past the Dominican maestro.

Pedro's career, spanning from 1992 to 2009, was a masterclass in pitching. In an era dominated by hitters, where towering home runs were the norm, Pedro stood out as a beacon of pitching excellence. His 1999 and 2000 seasons with the Boston Red Sox are often cited as two of the greatest pitching seasons in the modern era. In 1999, he posted a 2.07 ERA with 313 strikeouts in 213.1 innings. The following year? An even more impressive 1.74 ERA with 284 strikeouts in 217 innings. And he achieved these numbers during the height of the steroid era, making them all the more remarkable.

But it wasn't just the stats that made Pedro special. It was his approach to the game. He was a tactician, dissecting batters with a surgeon's precision. His arsenal? A blazing fastball, a knee-buckling curveball, and a changeup that seemed to defy the laws of physics. He could outthink you, outclass you, and when needed, overpower you.

Pedro's battles with the New York Yankees, especially during the late 90s and early 2000s, are the stuff of legends. The intensity, the drama, the sheer will to win - it encapsulated everything that's beautiful about baseball. And who could forget the 1999 All-Star game, where Pedro struck out five of the six batters he faced, all of them future Hall of Famers?

Runner-up: Randy Johnson - The towering left-hander, with his menacing presence and lethal slider, was a force of nature on the mound. His perfect game, 4,875 career strikeouts, and five Cy Young Awards make him a close second.

Willie Mays: The Say Hey Kid's Symphony

In the orchestra of baseball legends, Willie Mays conducted a symphony like no other. If Babe Ruth was the power, Ted Williams the pure hitting, then Mays was the complete package. A maestro in the outfield and a dynamo at the plate, Mays was the embodiment of baseball excellence.

From his iconic over-the-shoulder catch in the 1954 World Series to his 660 career home runs, Mays dazzled fans and frustrated opponents in equal measure. But it wasn't just his on-field exploits that made him special. It was his joy, his passion, and his love for the game. Every time Mays stepped onto the field, it was like watching a kid in a candy store, eyes wide, heart full, ready to give it his all.

His versatility was unmatched. Need a home run? Mays could deliver. Need a stolen base? He had speed to burn. A clutch hit? He was your guy. And in the field? He patrolled center field with a grace and agility that made the difficult look routine.

Off the field, Mays was a trailblazer. He played during a time of significant social and racial upheaval, and his success helped pave the way for future generations baseball players. His impact on the game, both on and off the field, is immeasurable.

Runner-up: Babe Ruth - The Sultan of Swat, with his larger-than-life persona and prodigious power, changed the face of baseball. His 714 home runs, countless records, and charismatic personality make him an undeniable legend.

Shohei Ohtani: The Modern Marvel

20,463… few have promised to revolutionize the game as Shohei Ohtani has. A two-way sensation from Japan, Ohtani challenges the very fabric of baseball tradition. While the legends of yesteryears dominated in their respective roles, Ohtani is a rare gem that shines both on the mound and at the plate.

Imagine the prowess of Pedro combined with the batting finesse (and athleticism) of Mays, all wrapped up in one player. That's Ohtani for you. His fastball touches the high 90s, and his splitter is a thing of beauty. On days he's not pitching, he's launching balls out of the park with an ease that belies his age.

But why would one consider Ohtani over the likes of Martinez or Mays? The answer lies in versatility. In an era where specialization is often the key, Ohtani breaks the mold. He gives a team the flexibility of an ace pitcher and a middle-of-the-order bat, all in one roster spot. This isn't just about stats; it's about the strategic advantage he offers.

Consider this: With Ohtani in the lineup, a team can carry an extra reliever or a bench player, providing depth and options that others simply don't have. His presence changes the dynamics of roster construction, in-game strategy, and even contract negotiations.

However, it's not just about the numbers or the strategic edge. Ohtani brings an excitement, a buzz every time he steps onto the field. Whether he's on the mound, at the plate, or running the bases, there's an electric atmosphere, a sense that anything can happen. And in a sport that's often criticized for its pace, Ohtani is a shot in the arm, a reminder of why we fell in love with baseball in the first place.

Would I pick Ohtani over Martinez or Mays? It's a tough call. Pedro and Willie are legends, their places in history secure. But Ohtani offers something unique, something we've never seen before and might never see again. Let’s not forget he threw a complete game shutout and then hit two home-runs in the first and second games of a double header at the end of July! That sentence was literally unfathomable a few years ago.

The Timeless Debate: Legacy vs. Revolution

Baseball, at its core, is a game of history, statistics, and stories passed down through generations. When posed with the hypothetical of resetting the MLB and cherry-picking from a pool of over 20,000 players, the task becomes both exhilarating and daunting. The legends of the past, like Pedro Martinez and Willie Mays, have set standards so high that they've become the benchmarks for greatness. Their contributions to the sport are undeniable, and their legacies are etched in the annals of baseball history.

Yet, here comes Shohei Ohtani, a player who is not just challenging these benchmarks but is also redefining the very essence of a baseball player. His dual-threat capability is not just a testament to his talent but also a beacon for the future of baseball. A future where players might not be boxed into singular roles, where versatility could be the new norm.

So, who would you pick if given the chance? The legends who've proven their mettle time and again, or the revolutionary who's changing the game as we know it? It's a debate that has no right answer, but it's one that celebrates the beauty of baseball. A sport where history meets the present, and where every generation has its heroes.

As fans, we're just fortunate to witness these greats, past and present, play the game we so dearly love. Whether you're team Pedro, team Willie, or team Shohei, one thing's for sure: baseball is richer because of them. And as we look forward to another season, we can only dream of the stories yet to be written, the records to be broken, and the legends to be born.

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