Thursday, July 22, 2010

Kansas City's All-Time Baseball Team

I'll get to the Yanks' game with the Royals tonight, tomorrow. And wrap up the Angels series as well.

Kansas City's "market" includes the western half of Missouri, the eastern 2/3rds of Kansas, the eastern 2/3rds of Nebraska, the southwest quadrant of Iowa, the northeast quadrant of Oklahoma, and the northwest quadrant of Arkansas.

With 6 States to sift through, this made KC the hardest market thus far to check. However, having all of these States in my database now, it makes it easier to go through the other big-league markets that overlap into those States (St. Louis, Colorado, Dallas, and the Cub half of Chicago -- Minnesota already having been done).

Kansas City's All-Time Baseball Team

1B Albert Pujols of Independence, Missouri. Born in the Dominican Republic, but grew up in President Harry Truman's hometown before crossing the State to star for the St. Louis Cardinals. In 10 seasons, he's made 10 All-Star teams. He has also driven in at least 100 runs every season. Lifetime batting average .331 -- same as Stan Musial, which is why he gets compared to Stan the Man, even getting the same nickname, "El Hombre."

His career OPS is 1.049, a sicko stat. Already has over 400 doubles, closing in on 400 home runs. He has already won 3 National League Most Valuable Player awards and come in 2nd twice. And he's only 30! By the time he's through, he could be the greatest offensive force the game has seen since Babe Ruth himself. Already, he's built up the kind of stats that have led to 4 of his 10 most similar batters according to -- Hank Greenberg, Johnny Mize, Ralph Kiner and Chuck Klein -- being in the Hall of Fame. And, by all accounts, he's a good guy, too. By the year 2027, expect to see him in the Hall and to see his Number 5 retired at Busch Stadium.

Honorable Mention to Dale Long of Springfield, Missouri. In 1956, the Pittsburgh Pirate homered in 8 straight games, a record that has since been matched, but not beaten. In 1958, with the Chicago Cubs, he played 2 games behind the plate, making him a rare left-handed catcher. (The only one since has been Mike Squires with the 1980 and ’81 White Sox.) He went to the Yankees and played on their 1962 World Championship team. Had a career OPS+ of 115.

Before I realized that Pujols qualified, I thought 1st base was a weak spot for K.C. Actually, the name John Mayberry came up, but it's John Jr., born in Kansas City when John Sr. was playing for the Royals. John Sr. doesn't qualify for this team, because he's from Detroit.

2B Ivan "Ivy" Olson of Kansas City, Missouri. (Gotta say it that way, although there were no viable candidates for this team specifically from Kansas City, Kansas.) He played more shortstop, but this was the best I could do, as he did start on the Brooklyn Dodgers' 1916 and '20 National League Champions.

SS Dave Bancroft of Sioux City, Iowa. If the Hall of Fame ever had to drop 10 members, "Beauty" Bancroft might be one of them. But he was the best shortstop in the National League in the late 1910s and the 1920s, playing for the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Giants and Boston Braves. He appeared in the World Series with the '15 Phils and the '21, '22 and '23 Giants.

Or maybe the Hall would have to drop Joe Tinker of Herington, Kansas. True, he was the shortstop of the Chicago Cubs' 1906, '07, '08 and '10 Pennant winners, winning the 1907 and 1908 World Series. And had there been an All-Star Game at the time, he would have been in it a few times. But, let's be honest: The only reason he's in the Hall is because of Franklin P. Adams' poem "Baseball's Sad Lexicon" (a.k.a. "Tinker to Evers to Chance").

3B Ken Boyer of Alba, Missouri. One of 14 children, and his brother Clete was himself an All-Star 3rd baseman with the Yankees, and their brother Cloyd was a big-league pitcher. He succeeded Stan Musial as the superstar and captain of the St. Louis Cardinals, and led them to an amazing run to the Pennant. In the 1964 World Series, Ken and Clete became the 1st brothers to oppose each other, and to homer, in a World Series. Ken's homer, a grand slam in Game 4, turned the Series around, and the Cards won.

His career OPS+ was 116, and his 282 home runs are a very good total for a 3rd baseman in that era. He wasn't quite at Hall of Fame levels, but the Cardinals retired his Number 14.

LF Zack Wheat of Hamilton, Missouri. For all the jokes about how the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s couldn't find a left fielder, Wheat was a great one for them in the 1910s and 1920s, including playing for the Dodgers in the 1916 and '20 World Series (though they lost both). He won the NL batting title in 1918, had a lifetime batting average of .317, an OPS+ of 129, and 2,884 hits -- awfully close to the magic 3,000, which would probably have gotten him better remembered today.

Honorable Mention to Fred Clarke of Winterset, Iowa. He starred for the Louisville Colonels in the 1890s and, like his teammate Honus Wagner, went to the Pittsburgh Pirates when the Colonels were folded into the Pirate organization. Lifetime batting average of .312, OPS+ of 132, 2,678 career hits. He also managed the Pirates to Pennants in 1901, '02 and '03, and the 1909 World Series, all while still playing.

CF Mickey Mantle of Commerce, Oklahoma. Though his short stay with the minor-league Kansas City Blues was a hard part of his life, geographically, he belongs in the Royals' area. All-Century Team, Hall of Fame, Monument Park, Number 7 retired, 500 Home Run Club. "Baseball has been really good to me," he told the fans on Mickey Mantle Day in 1969, "and playing 18 years in Yankee Stadium for you folks was the greatest thing that could ever happen to a ballplayer."

Very Honorable Mention to Richie Ashburn of Tilden, Nebraska. That Ashburn is second to anyone is "Hard to believe, Harry," but it's Mickey Mantle. Still, Rich (or "Whitey," nicknamed like Mickey's pal Edward Charles Ford for his very light hair) was, rightfully, the most beloved sports figure in Philadelphia history for his long career as a player and a broadcaster, elected to the Hall of Fame and his Number 1 retired by the Phils. "And a Happy Birthday to the Celebre's Twins, Plain and Pepperoni!"

RF Sam Crawford of Wahoo, Nebraska. "Wahoo Sam" is baseball's all-time leader with 309 triples. He batted .309, had a career OPS+ of 144, collected 2,961 hits (another one just short of 3,000), and, with Ty Cobb and Davy Jones (not the sailor or the Monkee), he formed one of the greatest outfields of the Dead Ball Era, winning 3 straight AL Pennants, 1907, '08 and '09 -- but losing all 3 World Series. Hall of Fame, but he played long before uniform numbers were worn.

C Walker Cooper of Independence, Missouri. He and his brother Mort were a major part of the St. Louis Cardinals’ 1942, '43, '44 and '46 Pennant winners, winning the World Series in all of those except ’43. An 8-time All-Star, he had a career OPS+ of 116 and 173 homers, an extraordinary total for a catcher in that era (although somewhat inflated by a few years with the New York Giants with the cozy confines of the Polo Grounds).

Honorable Mention to Darren Daulton of Arkansas City, Kansas. Okay, let's put aside his occult beliefs, and note that he was the heart and soul of the 1993 NL Champion Phillies. While injuries cut his career short, he did get a ring as Charles Johnson’s backup on the 1997 World Champion Florida Marlins.

And now for what has to be the most extraordinary pitching staff for any of these teams.

SP Walter Johnson of Humboldt, Kansas. I'm cheating slightly: His family moved to Fullerton, California, and he went to Fullerton High, which should place him on the Anaheim team. But they moved when he was 14, so he "became a ballplayer" in the Kansas City "market."

His 110 shutouts are the most all-time. His 3,508 strikeouts were the most all-time -- he held the career record from 1921 (surpassing Cy Young) until 1983 (surpassed by Nolan Ryan). His 417 wins are the most in AL history. And "the Big Train" did this for the Washington Senators, which hardly ever got into a Pennant race. They finally won Pennants in 1924 and '25, and after losing 2 games in the '24 Series, he came in in relief in Game 7, and ended up the winning pitcher. Neat piece of trivia: His final career appearance was not as a pitcher, but as a pinch-hitter -- he had a career OPS of .616, pretty good for a pitcher -- on September 30, 1927, the same game in which Babe Ruth hit his 60th home run of that season.

He then became manager of the Newark Bears, living in nearby Millburn, New Jersey. He went on to manage the Senators and the Cleveland Indians, without much success. One of the most decent men ever involved with the game, he sadly died of a brain tumor in 1946, only 59 years old.

Outside his former home park, Griffith Stadium, there was a monument to his memory, which was moved to Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland, where Johnson lived. Today, a statue of him is outside Nationals Park. He was one of the first inductees into the Hall of Fame in 1936, and in 1999 was named Number 4 on The Sporting News' 100 Greatest Players (the highest of any pitcher) and elected to the MLB All-Century Team. He retired before uniform numbers were worn, but he wore 28 and 25 as Senators manager and 10 as Indians manager.

SP Grover Cleveland Alexander of St. Paul, Nebraska. This is how great Johnson was: Alexander won 373 games, tied with Christy Mathewson for most in NL history, and yet he's only 2nd on this team. (Cy Young's 511 were split over both Leagues.)

Check out these numbers: 28, 19, 22, 27, 31, 33, 30. Those were Alexander's win totals for the 1st 7 seasons of his career. He also led the NL in strikeouts 7 times, and in ERA 4 times. His career ERA+ was 135; his WHIP, 1.121. He helped the Phillies to their 1st Pennant in 1915, and in 1916 -- as a right-handed pitcher at Baker Bowl where lefty hitters had a 280-foot right-field fence, he threw 16 shutouts, a record. His 90 shutouts were second only to Johnson.

Sadly, serving in World War I shellshocked him, triggered epilepsy, and exacerbated his alcoholism. He went on to the Chicago Cubs, and the St. Louis Cardinals picked him up in 1926 and won the World Series. After winning Game 6, the 39-year-old "Pete" (not sure why that was his nickname) celebrated hard, and was hungover when he was called into to pitch the 7th inning of Game 7 with the bases loaded. He struck out the Yankees' Tony Lazzeri, perhaps the most famous strikeout in baseball history (unless you count the Mighty Casey of Mudville).

Sadly, both men were epileptics who died young. Alexander's drinking damaged his health, and he died in 1950, drinking doing him in at just 63 -- just like Mantle.

In 1952, Ronald Reagan played him in the film The Winning Team. Alexander did live long enough to be elected to the Hall of Fame, and while he played before uniform numbers were worn, the Phils put a "P" notation on the outfield wall, first at Veterans Stadium and now at Citizens Bank Park.

SP Carl Hubbell of Meeker, Oklahoma. The 1st NL Player to have his number retired, the Giants retired his Number 11. He was known as King Carl and the Meal Ticket, and in the 1930s, along with Dizzy Dean and Satchel Paige, he was one of the 3 best pitchers on the planet.

He won 253 games, and had a lifetime ERA+ of 130 and a WHIP of 1.166. He started the 1st 2 All-Star Games, and, in the 1934 Game, at his home park of the Polo Grounds, he struck out 6 batters in 2 innings -- including, in succession, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin, fellow Hall-of-Famers all. In 1933, he won 23 games and led the Giants to the World Championship. The Giants won Pennants again in 1936 and '37, and over those 2 seasons Hubbell won 24 straight games. More than anyone, even Whitey Ford, this is the greatest lefthanded pitcher in New York baseball history.

SP Bob Feller of Van Meter, Iowa. "Anybody who says sports is war has never been in a war," Lieutenant Robert William Andrew Feller, U.S. Navy, World War II, has taught us. But his 266 wins, 2,581 strikeouts and 3 no-hitters were amazing when you consider he lost 4 seasons -- at ages 23, 24, 25 and 26 -- to the fight against Nazi fascism and Japanese imperialism.

In 1936, he struck out a then-record-tying 17 batters in a game -- and he was 17 years old. In 1938, at 19, he fanned a new record of 18. (It would be 31 more years before a pitcher got 19 in a 9-inning game.)

He was the greatest pitcher of his generation, but, like Johnson, his team wasn't up to his level. The Indians nearly won a Pennant in 1940, won the Series in 1948, and a Pennant in 1954, but while Feller did get a ring in '48, he never won a Series game, unlike Johnson. Hall of Fame, Number 19 retired, museum in his honor in Van Meter.

SP Bob Gibson of Omaha, Nebraska. You wanna tell Bob Gibson he's the 5th starter? He might understand, but he wouldn't appreciate being told.

The ace of the St. Louis Cardinals was the MVP of the 1964 and '67 World Series, winning Game 7 both times. In Game 1 in '68, struck out 17 Detroit Tigers, although he ended up losing Game 7. That season, 1968, he went 22-9, with a record low ERA for the post-1920 Lively Ball Era, 1.12. (So how did he lose 9? The Cards didn't hit much for a Pennant-winner.) His ERA+ that year? 258. It doesn't seem possible. So he wasn't just taking advantage of "the Year of the Pitcher": Even by the standards of 1968, he was beyond great.

He is considered the most intimidating pitcher of his generation. He won 251 games, 128 ERA+, 1.188 WHIP, and was the 1st NL pitcher, the 2nd overall, to strike out over 3,000 batters. (With Johnson dead, this meant that, from 1972 to 1978, Gibson had struck out more batters than any living person.) He even presaged Charles Barkley by a generation, by telling a reporter, "Why do I have to be a role model for your kid? You be a role model for your kid."

Hall of Fame, All-Century Team, Number 45 retired, statue in his honor outside the new Busch Stadium. Recently co-wrote Sixty Feet, Six Inches: A Hall of Fame Pitcher and a Hall of Fame Hitter Talk About How the Game Is Played, with Reggie Jackson.

That's 5 Hall of Fame starters, who were ranked 4th (Johnson), 12th (Alexander), 31st (Gibson), 36th (Feller) and 45th (Hubbell) on The Sporting News' 1999 list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players -- respectively, ranked 1st, 3rd, 10th, 12th and 15th among pitchers on that list. If "Good pitching beats good hitting," this team may be damn near unbeatable.

Honorable Mention to a 6th HOFer, Charles "Dazzy" Vance of Hardy, Nebraska. He struggled, not becoming a big-league regular until 1922 when he was 31. But he really made up for lost time, winning 86 games for the Brooklyn Dodgers over his 1st 4 seasons. He might have been the fastest pitcher of the 1920s, dazzling NL hitters (and thus the nickname).

He won 197 games, and struck out 2,045 batters. Imagine if he'd found his control at age 22. His ERA+ was 125. Although the Dodgers did not retire his number (or any numbers until well after they moved to Los Angeles), he is in the Hall of Fame.

Here's how good this rotation is: Al Orth, Smokey Joe Wood, George Pipgras, Mel Harder (the Indians retired his Number 18), Walker's brother Mort Cooper, Rudy May, Rick Sutcliffe and Cliff Lee. All of those guys geographically qualified for this team, and none of them come close to making it.

RP Tom Henke of Kansas City, Missouri. Hard to imagine a rotation of the Big Train, Alex, King Carl, Rapid Robert and Hoot, with Dazzy ready to step in if necessary, needing relief. But "the Exterminator" saved 311 games, and the Toronto Blue Jays have never reached the postseason without him. With him, they did so 5 times, including their 1992 and ’93 World Championships. Career ERA+ of 157, WHIP of 1.092.

MGR Casey Stengel of Kansas City, Missouri. Charles Dillon Stengel got his nickname from his hometown, "Kay Cee," which became "Casey." His runner-up could be his Yankee successor, the late Ralph Houk of Lawrence, Kansas. The aforementioned Fred Clarke; Billy Southworth of Harvard, Nebraska; and Bobby Cox of Tulsa, Oklahoma could also qualify. That's 3 managers in the Hall of Fame (Stengel, Clarke and Southworth), a 4th who will be (Cox), and a 5th who should be (Houk).

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