Baseball, possibly alone among its peers, has one foot squarely in nostalgia while the other is just as firmly rooted in analytical analysis and forward thinking. The sport, possibly dwindling in popularity as its languid nature loses out to the more immediately gratifying sports of basketball and football, not to mention other non-athletic intrusions into our attention and time, has always seemed like a game that’s purposefully a half-step out of touch with reality — like it was made for sepia coloring and a George Cohan soundtrack.
Appropriately, the world of baseball fiction is filled with all kinds of iconic characters, from Charlie Brown to the entire cast of The Sandlot to the coach from both versions of Bad News Bears to examples that run all around the various strata and striations of American life. Maybe that’s the key: the indivisible association between baseball and a faded picture with one bent corner portraying some long-lost vision of Americana that’s gone to time. Or maybe it’s because Major League Baseball offers a really excellent narrative framing device for screenwriters, poets, and other storytellers. Perhaps even a dabbling of both.
What follows are the five best fictional baseball players of all time, forever. Some of them are famous based on (fictional) reputation. Some of them are men, myths, and legends blessed with the keys to the kingdom, minds for victory, and arms like cannons. They span every era of baseball history, from the earliest days of the game to the post-PED era it inhabits today.
5. Mighty Casey, designated hitter
Mighty Casey, hero of Mudville, is most famous for his most iconic moment of shame — a strikeout in what was alleged to be a go-ahead home run to put the Mudville Nine up for good back in 1888, after a single from Flynn and a surprising double from Jimmy Blake.
Casey, the designated hitter who was well known by the entire crowd of 5,000, surprised the entire lot of them by striking out. The game ended with a Mudville Nine loss, and the entire town was left joyless after the event, according to local poet Ernest Lawrence Thayer.
4. Roy Hobbes, right field
Compared to Casey’s singular blunder, the career of Roy Hobbes has got to stand taller as a triumph over adversity. Hobbes, who was on track to the majors in his youth, was waylaid by a pistol-wielding fan after a chance encounter on the way to a tryout with the Chicago Cubs.
After over a decade of extracurricular activities that remain shadowy to this day, Hobbes made his return to the MLB in 1939, at the age of 35. The result is the stuff of legend. While we wouldn’t want to spoil any of his natural abilities, we did find this archival footage of Hobbes at batting practice. It’s not too shabby:
3. Kenny Powers, pitcher
Sorry, Ricky Vaugh, but you’re out, and Kenny Powers is in. The game-changing 19-year-old who changed the game of professional baseball before becoming a tragic tale of the trappings of fame, Powers caught fire with the Atlanta Braves before bouncing around with the Seattle Mariners, the New York Yankees, and other less reputable stops in the minors and out of the country, each new team experiencing diminishing returns and an increase in attitude from the always temperamental pitcher.
Powers, who had his attempted comebacks documented in the HBO series Eastbound and Down over four seasons, wins a spot in the top five on sheer braggadocio and, in his prime, a heater that topped 100 miles per hour. While steroid rumors briefly followed him during his stint with the Braves, there’s no one else that comes close to Powers when he’s on top of his game, at least according to him.
2. Willie Mays Hayes, center field
Perhaps one of the strongest on-the-field performers in an unlikely cast of miscreants, has-beens, and major league might be’s, Willie Mays Hayes ran his way onto the Cleveland Indians in 1989, showing up to training camp in his pajamas and still clocking in faster than his teammates. Hayes, who famously bought 100 pairs of black gloves for each base he was going to steal in the 1989 season. A season which, we must note, saw the ownership attempt to field as poor of a roster as possible in an attempt to move the team to Miami. Instead, the team would finish with a hold on the first-place position in the American League East.
1. Crash Davis, catcher
And who better to keep any given team together than the ultimate glue guy? A longtime minor leaguer sent down to Single A explicitly to act as a mentor to the struggling Durham Bulls pitcher Ebby “Nuke” La Loosh, Davis deserves an inarguable spot on any given fictional roster, so we’ve got to award him top billing on this list. Plus, you know he’s going to give at least one speech or two. It’s always good to have someone who can orate.
So there we have it, the five best fictional baseball players of all time. They certainly put Mike Trout to shame. Poor Mike Trout. Maybe in a few years he’ll graduate to AmEx ads instead of Subway.