Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Seattle's All-Time Baseball Team

The Yankees come home to begin a 3-game series with the Seattle Mariners.

The Mariners' "territory" includes the entire States of Washington, Oregon and Idaho. If I find a player from western Montana good enough to make the Seattle team, I could assign him there instead of to the Colorado Rockies, whenever it is that I do theirs. But British Columbia, even though downtown Vancouver is less than 150 miles from Safeco and Qwest Fields and the Key Arena, is in Canada and is thus included in the Toronto Blue Jays' territory, and thus players from that Province are ineligible.

Seattle's All-Time Baseball Team

1B Harmon Killebrew of Payette, Idaho. Of the 26 big-leaguers to have been born in that State, most of the good ones have been pitchers, like Vernon Law, Ken Dayley and Jason Schmidt.

But "the Killer" -- he's always been a nice guy to teammates, opponents and fans, just not to fastballs -- hit 573 home runs, more than any American League righthander, and helped the Minnesota Twins to their 1st 3 postseason berths (1965 World Series, '69 and '70 ALCS, although they lost them all). They have retired his Number 3. His .256 lifetime batting average is the 2nd-lowest for any nonpitcher in the Hall of Fame, but his career OPS+ is an astounding 143. He had 8 40-homer seasons (in a pitcher's era), 6 times led the AL in home runs, and 9 times had 100 or more RBIs in a season (leading the AL 3 times). He hit more home runs in the 1960s than any player, more than Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron or Frank Robinson.

While his home park, Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota, is long gone, replaced by the Mall of America, a street name on the site remains: Killebrew Drive.

Honorable Mention to John Olerud of Bellevue, Washington. He survived a brain aneurysm in college (which is why he always wore a helmet, even in the field) to become a tremendous hitter (.363 for the AL batting title in 1993) and fielder for the 1992 and '93 World Champion Toronto Blue Jays. Also played in the postseason for the Mets (1999), his home-State Mariners (2000 & '01), the Yankees (2004) and the Red Sox (2005). Career OPS+ of 128, 2,239 hits, 255 home runs, 4 100 RBI seasons and 3 Gold Gloves.

Also, Honorable Mention to Jack Fournier, who had a .313 lifetime batting average and a 142 OPS+, and turned into quite the power hitter with the 1920s Brooklyn Dodgers, but who was traded away by the Chicago White Sox for... first baseman Arnold "Chick" Gandil of 1919 "Black Sox" infamy.

And to Earl Torgeson of Snohomish, who helped the 1948 Boston Braves and 1959 White Sox to rare Pennants for those franchises. And to Lyle Overbay of Centralia, a good hitter against most teams, and usually a very good one against the Yankees. And to Richie Sexson of Brush Prairie, who I'd like to make the left fielder on this team, but he didn't play there enough. And to John Jaha of Portland, Oregon. And... to Ken Phelps, who also came from Seattle and played for the Mariners, and who had a higher career OPS+ than the man the Yankees traded for him, Jay Buhner.

2B Ryne Sandberg of Spokane. There was a time when Spokane was home to 3 extraordinary athletes, who played against each other in the 3 major high school sports, and all achieved greatness in different big-league sports: Sandberg in baseball, Mark Rypien in football, and John Stockton in basketball.

Contrary to popular belief, the Philadelphia Phillies trading Sandberg and Larry Bowa to the Chicago Cubs for Ivan DeJesus was not a dumb deal, as, during the rest of Sandberg's career, the Cubs never won a Pennant, while the Phillies won 2 (including '83 with DeJesus). But Sandberg was the 1984 NL Most Valuable Player, a 10-time All-Star, an 8-time Gold Glove winner, and hit 282 home runs, nearly all of them as a second baseman, no mean feat even at Wrigley Field. (Remember, half the time, the wind is blowing in.)

Hall of Fame, Number 23 retired. His nephew Jared Sandberg briefly played for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Honorable Mention to Harold Reynolds of Corvallis, Oregon, and to Wally Backman of Beaverton, Oregon.

SS Johnny Pesky of Portland, Oregon. Longtime Boston Red Sox shortstop, should be remembered as a really good, hustling player, and not for one mistake (which isn't even all that clear on the film) in the 1946 World Series. Longtime Sox coach and scout, his Number 6 has been retired by the team.

3B Ron Santo of Seattle. He was a 9-time All-Star, won 5 Gold Gloves (probably would have won more if it weren't for Ken Boyer), had a career OPS+ of 125, and hit 342 home runs at a time when the only 3rd baseman with more was Eddie Matthews. All this with diabetes and a team that never won. Like Phil Rizzuto, Richie Ashburn and Herb Score, he's gone from being one of his club's most beloved players to its beloved broadcaster, but he still hasn't been let into the Hall of Fame. That is a disgrace. (UPDATE: He has now.)

Honorable Mention to Ron Cey of Tacoma, who hit more home runs as a Los Angeles Dodger than anyone until Eric Karros (though Duke Snider, Gil Hodges and Roy Campanella hit more for Brooklyn), won 4 Pennants and a World Championship, and also played third for the Cubs. And also to Scott Brosius of Milwaukie, Oregon, for his 4 Pennant-winning (3 World Series wins) seasons with the Yankees including big postseason home runs in 1998, 2000 and 2001.

LF Jeff Heath of Garfield. Though born in Canada, he was a Washington Stater, and an All-Star with the 1940s Cleveland Indians. He reached his only World Series with the 1948 Braves. Honorable Mention to LF Carson Bigbee of Waterloo, Oregon, who hit .323 and .350 in back-to-back seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and was a member of their 1925 World Champions.

CF Earl Averill of Snohomish. The Cleveland Indians retired the Number 3 of this Hall-of-Famer, one of the top hitters of the hitting-happy 1930s, but the only Pennant he won came with the Detroit Tigers in 1940. He played in the first 6 All-Star Games, including the 1935 Game at his home park, Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

His lifetime batting average was .318, his career OPS+ a fabulous 133, and despite not reaching the major leagues until the age of 27 -- like a lot of West Coast stars, he could then make more money in the Pacific Coast League, and starred for the San Francisco Seals -- hit 238 home runs. That doesn't sound like much now, even with his late big-league start, but at the time he retired in 1941, it was good for 14th all-time; today, Averill is 220th, and 14th place on the list is held by Manny Ramirez with a steroid-aided 554. Earl's son, Earl Averill Jr., also played for the Indians, and was one of the first stars of the Angels when they entered the American League (as the "Los Angeles Angels") in 1961.

Honorable Mention to Grady Sizemore of Everett, another Indians star at the position. And to Brian Hunter of Vancouver (Washington, not British Columbia) and Jacoby Ellsbury of Madras, Oregon. And to Dale Murphy of Portland, Oregon -- he did play a bit of right field, but I can't move him over.

RF Roy Johnson of Tacoma. Best of a weak field, he was a good hitter for the Tigers and Red Sox in the 1930s, and played for the Yankees in the 1936 World Series.

Honorable Mention, sort of, to Steve Whitaker of Tacoma. His career totals of 24 home runs and 85 RBIs should be a good season for a player who makes a team like this. The most notable things about him are that he tried to succeed Mickey Mantle as the Yankee center fielder, and that he became the 1st native of Washington State to play for a big-league team in that State, the 1969 Seattle Pilots, a team best known for being the subject, sort of, of pitcher Jim Bouton's "diary," Ball Four.

The team was so bad (How bad was it?), it went 64-98 and probably not even that good, and its owners lost so much money, it was moved after 1 season to become the Milwaukee Brewers. Thus the Pilots' moment in the majors was so brief, Ball Four feels more like a novel, a roman a clef of how ridiculous baseball and its establishment could be in that period, than a true story. Smoke him inside. Is it possible to drown yourself under a shower head? Steve, don't you need a little trim? Yeah, surrrre.

Utility Player: Steve Lyons, born in Tacoma, Washington, grew up in Beaverton, Oregon, so he counts. He played every position, including all 9 in one game (I think there's 3 others who've done that).

Not a great player -- his career highs were a .280 batting average, 5 homers and 50 RBIs, and no 2 of those in the same season -- and he never played in a postseason. In fact, in 1992, he played for both the Toronto Blue Jays and the Atlanta Braves, but both got rid of him before that year's World Series in which they opposed each other, and he ended up on the Montreal Expos. He both began (1985) and ended (1993) his career with the Boston Red Sox -- and people wonder why he's nicknamed "Psycho."

He went on to become a good broadcaster, although a controversial one. He's the Jimmy Piersall of his generation, and you can interpret that any way you want, although Jimmy was an excellent fielder in his day.

C Scott Hatteberg of Yakima. Not an especially good player, but a steady catcher and occasionally good hitter for the 1990s Red Sox and 2000s Athletics, and the other choices for a Washington State-born catcher are slim.

SP Sylveanus "Vean" Gregg of Clarkston. Reached the major leagues with the Indians in 1911 -- good timing, as their ace Addie Joss had just died of meningitis -- and won 63 games in his first 3 seasons. But he burned himself out, and was traded to the Boston Red Sox in 1914. That turned out to be good timing as well, as he helped them win the 1915 and '16 World Series.

SP Fred Hutchinson of Seattle. Starred with his hometown Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League, then was a teammate of Averill's on the 1940 AL Champion Tigers. Went into the service in World War II and, unlike Hank Greenberg, did not return in time to help them win the 1945 World Series. But did manage to win 77 games in his first 5 seasons back from the War.

Also the manager of this team, having led the Cincinnati Reds to the 1961 NL Pennant, and nearly won another in 1964 but had to leave the team late due to the cancer that would soon take his life. One of baseball's community-service awards, the Hutch Award, is named in his honor, and the Reds made his Number 1 the first they ever retired.

SP Mel Stottlemyre of Mabton. Born in Missouri, but almost a lifelong resident of the Evergeen State. Won 164 games for the Yankees, including 20 on 3 occasions and 2 in the 1964 World Series, before a rotator cuff injury ended his career at age 32. Went on to become one of baseball's greatest pitching coaches, first for the 1980s Mets, then for the 1996-2003 Yankee dynasty.

Has also spent two stints as a roving pitching instructor with his home-State Mariners. There must be something about Washington State that produces good pitching coaches, because it's also produced Mel's sons Todd and Mel Jr., Brad Arnsberg and Tom House (who, as a Braves reliever, was in the bullpen at Fulton County Stadium and caught Hank Aaron's 715th home run ball).

SP Mickey Lolich of Portland, Oregon. Won 17 games for the 1968 Detroit Tigers, plus Games 2, 5 and 7 of the World Series. Won 47 games in 1971 and '72, getting the Tigers back to the postseason. Unfortunately, he became the subject of one of those really dumb Met trades, when the Mets got him after the 1975 season for a still-in-his-prime Rusty Staub, who was great in Detroit before going to the Texas Rangers and back to the Mets; while Lolich was pretty much done. 

Nevertheless, won 217 games in his career, and at the time he retired, his 2,832 career strikeouts were tops all-time among lefthanders.

SP Tim Lincecum of Renton. "The Freak" looks like he's still in high school, but he sure doesn't pitch like it. The San Francisco Giant starter has, as of right now, these career major league stats: 48 wins, only 20 losses, an ERA of 2.93, an ERA+ of a whopping 150, a WHIP of 1.166, 793 strikeouts, and a strikeouts per innings pitched of 10.5. He's won the last 2 NL Cy Young Awards. And he just turned 26, so he should have, barring a medical or ethical calamity, at least a dozen good years left. 

Put it this way: Baseball-Reference.com already has him, on its "Hall of Fame Monitor," at 38, with a "Likely HOFer" at 100; and on its "Hall of Fame Standards" at 32, with an "Average HOFer" at 50. He should be on his way. All he needs now is a good team behind him.

Among starting pitchers, Honorable Mention to Larry Jansen of Forest Grove, who won 23 games including the Bobby Thomson Game for the New York Giants in 1951, and was also on their 1954 World Championship team. To Larry Christenson of Marysville, a star for the Phillies' near-dynasty of 1976-80. And to Bruce Kison of Pasco, who won 115 games, most of them for the Pirates, including 13 in their 1979 World Championship season. And to Adam Eaton of Snohomish, who played on the San Diego Padres' 2005 NL West Champions and the Philadelphia Phillies' 2008 World Champions, but is now a free agent and hasn't pitched this season.

RP Randy Myers of Evergreen. Appeared in only 10 games for the 1986 Mets, and didn't get into the World Series, but after the trade of Jesse Orosco, he became their closer, and nearly won a Pennant with them in 1988. After the 1989 season, the Mets traded him to the Cincinnati Reds, and he joined with Rob Dibble and Norm Charlton to form the "Nasty Boys" bullpen, pulling off upset wins for the NL West, the Pennant, and a sweep of the Oakland Athletics in the World Series.

Also appeared in the postseason with the Baltimore Orioles in 1996 and '97, under his former Met manager Davey Johnson. He gave up Bernie Williams' walkoff home run in Game 1 of the '96 ALCS, but, lucky for him, that game is remembered for another home run, Derek Jeter's game-tying blast that is remembered for the fan who almost caught it, Jeffrey Maier. Won another Pennant with the Padres in 1998, but again lost to the Yankees, and then rotator cuff surgery ended his career.

A 4-time All-Star, his 347 saves were 5th on the all-time list at the time he retired -- he's now 9th, having fallen behind Trevor Hoffman, his teammate on the '98 Padres; Mariano Rivera, his opponent on the '96 and '98 Yankees; and John Franco, whom the Mets got for him, so it wasn't a typically boneheaded Met trade.

Honorable Mention to Steve Olin of Beaverton, Oregon. In 1992, pitching for a terrible Cleveland Indians team, he went 8-5 with 29 saves, a 2.34 ERA and a 1.211 WHIP. He had 48 career saves and an ERA+ of 129, and he was only 27 years old at the close of that season.

The following spring, he was killed with teammate Tim Crews (and teammate Bob Ojeda was nearly killed as well) in a boating accident on an off-day during spring training. We'll never know how good he could have been, but his death may have stopped the Indians from winning the World Series in 1995 and 1997, and from at least getting into it in 1996 and 1998. Seriously, who would you rather have as your closer: The 1992 Steve Olin or the 1997 Jose Mesa?

No comments: