My first memory of wrestling is watching Hulk Hogan battle King Kong Bundy in the old school blue steel cage at Wrestlemania II. I was at the house of some family friends down the street. They had a bunch of the old LJN wrestling figures, and I remember them giving me Hulk Hogan to play with. I was hooked from that point on.
I started watching Hulk Hogan’s Rock N Wrestling Saturday morning cartoon. I was a Hulkamaniac in those early years.
Hulk Hogan got me interested, but he wasn’t the guy that got me hooked on wrestling. Hogan was an attraction, a larger than life superhero. But as I got older, the cartoonishness ran its course and I started to take interest in the excitement of the match going on inside the squared circle.
I was such an avid fan that I can even tell you when that transition took place. It was a promo leading up to the 1989 Survivor Series. Hacksaw Jim Duggan had assembled a team to take on the King’s Court, led by “Macho King” (formerly “Macho Man”) Randy Savage. Duggan cut a promo saying something like “Bret Hart is so good, not even he knows what his next move is.” That line always stuck with me. I thought to myself, “that’s a good point. The Hart Foundation always has the most exciting matches.”
That was the moment wrestling really changed for me. The lumbering giants like Hulk Hogan and Demolition now took a back seat to “Macho Man” Randy Savage, the Hart Foundation, and the Rockers. I watched the greats of the mid-to-late 90s and beyond, the athletes that influenced the next generation of talent, from the early days of their careers.
Talent is what kept me hooked on wrestling.
After reading Luke’s Starting Nine for wrestlers, I thought it would be fun to take my own stab at creating my own lineup of wrestling greats, with a slightly different angle (pun intended).
For Luke’s Starting Nines, he assigns spots in the lineup based on all-around greatness (the first and second hitters are consistent, the third and fourth hitters are the greatest of all, the 8th and 9th hitters tend to be underrated, etc.). I, on the other hand, assembled my Starting Nine based on the athletic attributes that each wrestler would bring to the table if these guys actually played on a baseball team.
In other words, I didn’t slot my guys based on their overall greatness. I slotted them based on what players with their skillsets could likely do on the diamond.
1. Shawn Michaels
I’ve been a Shawn Michaels fan since the beginning. I loved the Rockers, and I was devastated when Shawn Michaels turned on Marty Jannetty. Soon after breaking up the Rockers though, Michaels soon pivoted to becoming my favorite heel for the next couple of years as he blossomed into one of the all-time greats. He put on classic match after classic match. Shawn was so natural in the ring that even his final match was still one of the best matches of that year.
Is there anybody more dynamic to lead off this line up than “The Heartbreak Kid”? We are talking about a Rickey Henderson level leadoff hitter. Shawn Michaels is a five-tool talent. He’ll turn singles into doubles and doubles into triples. He’ll draw a walk and then steal second base. If you need some pop, he can swing for the fences too. Much like Rickey Henderson, Shawn Michaels would always be a threat to leadoff the game with a home run. The only downside of having Shawn Michaels on your team is the amount of pink jerseys you’ll be seeing in the crowd.
2. Stone Cold Steve Austin
Stone Cold Steve Austin is the greatest and most popular sports entertainment star of all time. He is a badass that got to do the coolest stuff. He threw The Rock’s Intercontinental Championship off a bridge, drove a beer truck out to the ring, repeatedly beat up his boss … he even delivered a Stone Cold Stunner to former president Donald Trump. His later career was much more dependent on hype and spectacle, but he could really go in the ring before his neck injury, a trait which elevated him to a level Hulk Hogan never attained.
Stone Cold would be the ideal number two hitter in your lineup. He’s a tough SOB, and tough SOBs make really good two hitters. Opposing pitchers have to worry about Shawn’s speed on the bases while facing down a snarling Stone Cold who is going to battle in the box, much like Paul O’Neill or Gary Sheffield. We’re talking old school baseball. Stone Cold is never striking out or giving away an at-bat. He would foul off pitch after pitch until he puts the ball in play. There’s no quit in Stone Cold, which is exactly what you want from your #2 hitter.
3. Kurt Angle
Intensity, Integrity, and Intelligence. Kurt Angle was an immediate star in the WWE. He was a tough and talented performer who put on great match after great match. His WWE career was unfortunately cut short due to personal issues. However, if you followed him at all in Impact Wrestling, you’d know he really elevated the careers of some young, talented guys that eventually made it to the WWE.
The most complete wrestler ever is going to bat in the three hole. He’s the most tremendously talented performer on your team. He looks like a natural, but the average fan doesn’t see how hard he works on his craft behind the scenes. And despite all the damage he can do, he’s somehow never voted to start the All-Star game because he plays so much of his career on a nothing team (TNA).
4. The Undertaker
I think the Undertaker’s long career in some ways negatively affects the way fans look at his career. The most recent seven or eight years of the Undertaker as an active competitor are the most recent memories of a lot of fans. That’s a bit unfair because in his prime, the Undertaker was the best “big man” wrestler in the world. After shedding the slow, plodding, lumbering persona of the zombie under the control of an urn, the Undertaker began to show us what he could do.
His feud with Mick Foley showed us that the Undertaker was an elite wrestler who was capable of stealing the show when he wasn’t bogged down with a big man who couldn’t move, like Giant Gonzalez or Kamala. We were fortunate to see Undertaker square off with all of the greats. Anyone who is anyone in WWE history had a great match with the Undertaker. And if they did not have a great match, it was always the other guy’s fault. I’m looking at you, Hulk Hogan.
The Undertaker is the biggest and most imposing threat on the team. A traditional power hitter, always at the top of the league in home runs and RBI. In his prime, he was one of the most all-around talented players in the game, comparable to a guy like Aaron Judge. Injuries and age slowed him over the last few years, causing a lot of fans say that he should be moved down in the lineup a la Miguel Cabrera. But fans from my generation remember him as arguably the greatest slugger of them all.
5. Rob Van Dam
One of a kind.
No other phrase could better describe Rob Van Dam.
Rob Van Dam is probably the most athletically gifted wrestler of all time. RVD had the most exciting matches on the show, especially when he was allowed to go all out. WWE stupidly and unnecessarily tamed him to fit their style, but before that he was the best in the game. His best ECW matches, including this ECW match against Bam Bam Bigelow, are all classics. I remember watching his first WWE PPV match at InVasion with a few friends that had never seen his ECW matches. Every single one of those guys was blown away as RVD and Jeff Hardy tore the roof off the arena during the ladder match. Everyone was convinced the WWE had their next star. That’s when we learned how willingly that company will sabotage itself.
Rob Van Dam provides protection for Undertaker in the lineup. You have to pitch to the Undertaker. You can strike out the Undertaker, but you ain’t mowing down RVD. Sports radio callers and podcasters like Bleacher Brawls are always arguing to move RVD up in the lineup, but much like the Billy Martin/Reggie Jackson Bronx Zoo situation, manager Vince McMahon will never do it out of pure spite.
6. Macho Man Randy Savage
I started as a Hulkamaniac, but I was all in on the Macho Man by the time I was 7 or 8. I didn’t care that he was supposed to be a bad guy. Dusty Rhodes looked like a tubby fool compared to the Macho Man during their feud leading into Wrestlemania VI. I was rooting for the Macho Man because the Macho Man was the coolest wrestler I had ever seen. The Macho Man was also the most intense wrestler I had ever seen. He lived up to his name; he was a savage.
The Macho Man slowed down his schedule for a few years as he wrapped up his WWE career. There was a time when seeing him wrestle was a special event. The Macho Man was the reason I started watching WCW Saturday Night on a regular basis. I would occasionally catch it on TBS if I happened to be at home at the right time. Once Savage made the jump to WCW, Saturday night wrestling became must see tv.
The Macho Man is the type of guy who would bat 3rd or 4th on any other team, but he gets moved down in this absolutely stacked lineup. That’s okay, brother, because the Macho Man is a team player.
7. The Rock
I bought a Brahma Bull tee shirt back in the late 90s. It became my go to shirt to wear under my jersey when competing in sports from that point forward. I wore that shirt under softball jerseys and hockey jerseys for years until it disintegrated. It was a badass shirt that made me want to run through a wall every time I put it on.
The Rock was the man in the late 90s. He had great catch phrases, some really good moves, and he was a favorite of mine for a short time. That’s the problem with The Rock. His career was too short. I don’t blame him for making the jump to Hollywood, but it holds him back a little. He’ll always be one of my favorites, but he’s not at the top of the list.
Batting a bit lower in the lineup than you would anticipate? That’s because the guy is rarely on the field. When he plays, he’s electric. The most electric man in baseball history. But he misses too much time. He’s missed entire seasons, even bowing out for a short retirement. He’s good enough to crack the lineup, but he needs to show some consistency if he wants to bat higher.
8. Scott Steiner
Surprised? I was a huge wrestling fan as a kid. Despite only watching WWE, I was aware that other promotions existed. I knew who the Steiner Brothers were because I would occasionally get one of those Bill Apter wrestling magazines that covered the other promotions besides just the WWE. I was really excited when I learned they had come to WWE, but I had never seen them wrestle. Once I did see them, wrestling changed for me forever.
The first time I saw a Frankensteiner, my mind was blown. It was such an athletic, devastating maneuver that nobody had ever seen in the WWE. Scott Steiner was a former amateur wrestler, which was cool. He was tremendously built, even back then before he became Big Poppa Pump. Scott Steiner was so much fun to watch in the ring with his crushing suplexes. He was so strong and agile, it made every match of his must-see. Heck, he was still doing Top Rope Frankensteiners in his 40s for TNA.
Scott Steiner earned his spot on the team through a spring training battle. He was a borderline guy to make this lineup, but he stepped up when he had the opportunity. Scott Steiner would be a big home run, walk, or strikeout guy, so Brian Cashman and his analytics nerds would love him. Scott Steiner is also an excellent guy to have on your team if the benches ever clear. Steiner would live for home plate collisions, as catchers would tremble upon seeing him come barreling toward home on close plays with no intention of sliding, just throwing a vicious shoulder tackle. However, GMs may have to have a replacement stashed in AAA for when they start testing for steroids.
9. AJ Styles
In the early days of TNA (now Impact) Wrestling, I did not follow it at all. I read all the trash talk and hate online about how stupid and awful TNA was until one day Luke told me that I have to watch TNA and check out this kid AJ Styles. Obviously, at first I argued with him. I said that was stupid and I would never watch that trash. Of course he watched TNA, that’s what Boston fans do. Also obviously, I heeded his advice. He was right.
AJ Styles was phenomenal. I’m watching AJ Styles do 450 splashes, diving over the top rope, and all kinds of other stuff every week that you could only see in WWE on pay-per-view events. AJ Styles was the evolution of Shawn Michaels, which I eventually learned made perfect sense since AJ Styles was a huge Shawn Michaels fan.
AJ Styles batting in the ninth spot makes him your second leadoff hitter. He could really could bat anywhere in the lineup, he’s dynamic with a full skillset. The main reason that AJ Styles is batting ninth is that he is the rookie of this starting lineup, being the youngest guy by far despite being a few years older than me.
Starting Pitcher – Bret “The Hitman” Hart
You might ask, John, what about Bret Hart? He was your favorite wrestler when you were younger. How does he not make your Starting Nine? I would say that’s a great question. Bret Hart is not in my Starting Nine because as I was thinking of where he would bat, I realized he wouldn’t bat at all. Instead, Bret “The Hitman” Hart would be my starting pitcher.
Bret Hart is the type of guy who has ice in his veins. He is everything you want in a big game pitcher. Bret Hart always brought it in the ring, never ever having a bad match. Even if his opponent for the night didn’t have his best stuff, Bret would find a way to bring out the best in him. Bret Hart legitimately had good matches with guys like Yokozuna, Papa Shango, and Isaac Yankem (before he became Kane).
Bret Hart is your starting pitcher, a true ace (not a Nick Pivetta “ace”). Bret Hart regularly goes seven plus innings in his starts, much like Gerrit Cole. Heck, Bret Hart can even give you ten innings if needed just like Jack Morris did in the 1991 World Series for the Twins. Bret Hart is the type of guy that would take the ball whenever needed and always give you a better performance than the opposing starting pitcher. Bret Hart would start Games 1 & 4 of the World Series, then come out of the bullpen on short rest in Game 7 to close it out. There is no other wrestler in history that would be the type of Ace pitcher that Bret Hart would be.