Sunday, June 6, 2010

Baltimore's All-Time Baseball Team

After dropping the 1st 2 games of a series in Toronto against the Blue Jays, 6-1 and 3-2, the Yankees salvaged the finale today, 4-3. Javier Vazquez pitched well again, and Robinson Cano's single broke a tie in the 8th.

The Yankees move on to Baltimore, starting a 3-game series on Tuesday night.

From 1972 to 2004, the Orioles' "territory" consisted of the entire State of Maryland, plus southern Delaware, all of Virginia, and a good chunk of West Virginia. And even some of south central Pennsylvania, as Gettysburg and York are actually closer to Baltimore than to Philadelphia. (See how important the Battle of Gettysburg was? If the Confederates had won... the Atlanta Braves really might have been "America's Team.")

But with Major League Baseball having returned to Washington, D.C., they now have the smallest territory by area in the majors. Unless you want to limit the Oakland Athletics to just the East Bay region, without considering that other parts of Northern California (I think they have a farm team in Sacramento) might also root for the A's.

Still, it's possible to put up a pretty good all-time team of players from "the Baltimore Area," which includes northern and eastern Maryland. Although people in the resort town of Ocean City may consider their town a "neutral zone" between the O's and the Nats. (The town also seems to be evenly divided between Ravens and Redskins fans.)

UPDATE: I based that paragraph upon my 1st visit, in 2006. This was a misjudgment: My 2016 visit showed that it's all Orioles and Ravens, even though Baltimore and D.C. are roughly equidistant from Ocean City.

One thing I found absolutely amazing is how many Maryland-born players played for one team or another called the Baltimore Orioles, from the 1890s National League powerhouse to the International League team of 1903 to 1954 (which won 7 straight Pennants in the 1920s and fed Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics for a few years), to the American League version that began in 1954. It’s not just the Ripken brothers: Jack Fisher, Steve Barber, Brady Anderson, and Tom Phoebus, who even threw a no-hitter for the Orioles in 1968.

The All-Time Maryland Baseball Team

1B Jimmie Foxx of Sudlersville, on the Eastern Shore. He hit 534 home runs. He was 2nd on the all-time list from 1940, when he passed Lou Gehrig, until 1966, when he was finally passed by Willie Mays. He was the all-time leader among righthanded hitters until Mays passed him as well, and not until 1973, when Harmon Killebrew passed him, was he no longer the leader among AL righthanders.

It's too bad that he lost most of his money due to drinking and bad investments, that he choked to death before he turned 60, and that he's now remembered mostly as the basis for the Tom Hanks character Jimmy Dugan in A League of Their Own. He deserved better.

And it doesn't help that the Oakland Athletics, while now hanging the 5 World Championship banners from their Philadelphia days, don't recognize that era's greats from their era. The Boston Red Sox have elected Foxx to their team Hall of Fame, but neither franchise has retired his Number 3.

Frankly, I don't think Mark Teixeira of Severna Park will ever take this position away from Double X, but that will hardly be his fault. Bob Robertson of Frostburg, a slugger with the 1970s Pittsburgh Pirates (he caught the last out of the '71 Series), also doesn't make it, but is worth mentioning.

2B Clarence "Cupid" Childs of Calvert County. Records being what they were then, a definitive town is not available, although he appears to have lived in Baltimore his entire adult life, which included a .306 lifetime batting average, and an OPS+ of 119, mostly in the 1890s with the Cleveland Spiders. He’s been dead for almost 100 years, but a case can be made for him for the Hall of Fame.

SS Cal Ripken Jr. of Havre de Grace. Tough choice, there. Of course, Hall of Fame, All-Century Team, Number 8 retired by Baltimore Orioles.

3B Frank "Home Run" Baker of Trappe, on the Eastern Shore. The 1st Marylander to be a superstar for Mack's A's, and by no means the last. Hall of Fame, but played before numbers were retired.

LF Lewis Pessano "Buttercup" Dickerson of Tyaskin, Eastern Shore. I had to go way back to find a suitable left fielder, to the Rutherford B. Hayes Administration. Buttercup -- I can't find an explanation for the nickname -- was good enough to reach the National League at age 19, to lead the League in triples at 20, and to hit .316 for the Worcester Ruby Legs at 22 in 1881.

He hit .315 in 1884, yet for some reason -- a reason apparently unknown to, which nonetheless provides dates -- he played his last game on June 1, 1885, just 26. In those days, before the invention of antibiotics, an illness easily treatable today could kill you, but he lived on until 1920, age 61. So whatever it was that ended his career, it didn't end his life.

Italian on his mother's side, he appears to be the 1st player of Italian descent to reach the major leagues, a title usually given to the later Ed Abbaticchio (who does appear to remain the 1st Italian-American professional football player).

I wanted to pick 1940s Yankee slugger Charlie Keller, but his home town of Middletown is in southern Maryland, and much closer to Washington than to Baltimore.

CF Chick Fewster of Baltimore. A fair hitter who played for the Yankees' 1st Pennant winner in 1921, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox for 3rd baseman "Jumpin'" Joe Dugan in 1922, and was the 1st batter at the original Yankee Stadium the following spring. He's best remembered now for his days with the Brooklyn Dodgers, where, in 1926, his baserunning blunder caused Babe Herman, a sensational hitter but a player to whom weird things happened, to double into a double play, due to the Dodgers having 3 runners -- Dazzy Vance, Fewster and Herman -- on 3rd base.

Brady Anderson is ineligible -- not just because he was almost certainly a steroid user, but because he was born in Silver Spring, making him a native of Washington's territory, and also because he grew up outside San Diego.

RF Babe Ruth of Baltimore. Hall of Fame, All-Century Team, Number 3 retired, Monument Park. "Babe's Dream" is the name of a statue of the young Ruth, just outside Camden Yards, roughly on the spot where once stood Ruth's Cafe, a bar owned by George Herman Ruth Sr., and where the Babe, George Jr., worked in the off-season. (While St. Mary's Industrial School was often referred to as an "orphanage," and it did take in orphans, the 7-year-old George Jr. wasn't one until after he reached the major leagues. The school was more of a cross between a vo-tech school and a reform school.)

How strong is this position for the Baltimore region? Al Kaline is also from Baltimore, collected over 3,000 hits, is the most popular player in the history of his franchise (the Detroit Tigers, who've retired his Number 6 and dedicated a statue to him at Comerica Park), and he doesn't make the starting lineup, unless you want to make either him or the Babe the designated hitter, forcing out a guy who should be in the Hall of Fame.

Nor does Baltimore native Ron Swoboda of the '69 Mets make this team. Nor does Chestertown native Bill "Swish" Nicholson, a slugger for the 1940s Chicago Cubs. Nor does Princess Anne native Dick Porter, a pretty good hitter for the early 1930s Cleveland Indians. In fact, it seems a little unfair that Baltimore and its environs are so loaded at right field, but considerably weaker at left and center.

DH Harold Baines of Easton, another Eastern Shore guy and another Marylander who played for the O's, although he's best remembered for his days (in 4 separate stints!) with the Chicago White Sox, who retired his Number 3 and dedicated a statue to him at U.S. Cellular Field. His usual position was right field, but he did DH a lot. He's eligible for the Hall of Fame now, and he should be in.

C Ernest "Babe" Phelps of Odenton. Wow, 9 position players, and 2 are fat guys nicknamed Babe. Phelps, who was also nicknamed "Blimp," was a .310 lifetime hitter, with an OPS+ of 125, and was one of the players that helped make the Brooklyn Dodgers respectable again after their "Daffiness Boys" days.

Unfortunately, he ran out of gas just before the Dodgers won a Pennant in 1941, and didn't play in the World Series. It is also unfortunate that catcher is a weak position for Maryland, but Phelps isn't a bad choice at all.

SP Lefty Grove of Lonaconing. This may be stretching it a bit, as Lonaconing is in the panhandle and thus could be seen as Washington territory. But there haven't been many pitchers in baseball history this good, and he did pitch for the IL Orioles before going on to the A's. Hall of Fame, All-Century team, but neither the A's nor the Red Sox have retired his Number 10.

SP Eddie Rommel of Baltimore. Perhaps the 1st great knuckleball pitcher, he was Grove's teammate on those powerhouse A's of 1929-31. He later became a respected umpire.

SP Vic Willis of Cecil County. Another whose exact birthplace isn't traced, he was a Hall of Fame pitcher for the Boston Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates at the turn of the 20th Century.

SP Geoff Zahn of Baltimore. Although he grew up in Toledo, Ohio, I wasn't satisfied with the other possibilities for a 4th starter, including Steve Barber, Jack Fisher, Moose Haas and Denny Neagle. Zahn was basically a .500 pitcher with the late 1970s Minnesota Twins, but in 1982 he won 18 to help the California Angels nearly win their first Pennant.

SP Tommy Byrne of Baltimore. Helped the Yankees win a few Pennants from 1949 to 1956. Later moved to Wake Forest, North Carolina, and was elected its Mayor. Due to his style -- a blazing fastball but also a little wildness -- he's probably better off as my reliever.

I wanted to put another former Yankee, early 1990s closer Steve Farr, in the bullpen, but he's from Cheverly, inside the Capital Beltway, making him a Senators/Nationals pick, if I ever decide to do that.

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