Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Houston's All-Time Baseball Team

The Yankees have now split the first 2 games of their 4-game series against the Detroit Tigers, losing 3-1 on Monday night and winning 6-2 last night. Tonight, Dustin Moseley against Jeremy Bonderman.

The Mets have also split the first 2 out of 4, against the Houston Astros, at what was once known as Enron Field, but such a hitters' park that it was nicknamed Ten Run Field.

When the Yanks played an Interleague series against the Astros at the old Yankee Stadium in June 2003 -- the one where 6 Astros combined to no-hit the Yanks but the Yanks took the next 2 games and the series -- John Sterling turned to his broadcast partner at the time, Charlie Steiner, and said, "You know, Charlie, I hear that, at Minute Maid Park, the balls are juiced." And Steiner said, "Ah, that's just pulp fiction."

Houston’s All-Time Baseball Team

For some reason, the Astros' regional team, featuring players from South Texas and Southern Louisiana, is far less stacked than the Dallas/North Texas/Rangers regional team. But they should be able to hold a few teams down with some incredibly accomplished pitching.

1B Will Clark of New Orleans, Louisiana. Will the Thrill was a 6-time All-Star, and finished 2nd to teammate Kevin Mitchell in the 1989 National League Most Valuable Player balloting, as they led the San Francisco Giants to their first Pennant in 27 years. He was the MVP of the NL Championship Series that season. He won a Gold Glove in 1991, but was best known for his hitting. He led the NL in games, plate appearances, RBIs and walks in 1988, in runs scored in 1989, and total bases and slugging percentage in 1991. He reached the postseason with the Giants in 1987 and ’89, and nearly again in ’93; he did so with the Texas Rangers in 1996 and ’98, and was on track to do it in ’94 when the strike hit; and made it one more time with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2000. He had 4 100-RBI seasons, and finished with a lifetime batting average of .303 and a mighty OPS+ of 137. And he was popular, liked by his teammates and loved by his fans.

So why is he not in the Hall of Fame, for which he’s been eligible since 2006? He is in the College Baseball and Mississippi Sports Halls of Fame, due to his heroics at Mississippi State University. But injuries dogged him from 1992 onwards, and he finished with just 2,176 hits, including 440 doubles and 284 home runs – very nice, but not Cooperstown numbers. He was only 34 when he had his last season of more than 507 plate appearances and 36 when he hung ‘em up. He now works in the Giants’ front office. In a 1994 interview, when asked to sum up his experiences in the game, he wisely said, “Expect the unexpected in baseball. There ya go, buddy!”

Honorable Mention to Cecil Cooper of Brenham. Having traded first baseman George “the Boomer” Scott and outfielder Bernie Carbo to the Milwaukee Brewers, the Red Sox got them back for the 1977 season by sending Cooper to the Brewers, after 3 years of him platooning at first with Carl Yastrzemski (who, of course, is better known as a left fielder). Big mistake, as Scott’s weight and Carbo’s drug use ballooned, while the chant of “Coooooooop” could be heard at Milwaukee County Stadium for the next 11 seasons. He remains the team’s all-time 1st baseman, having made 4 All-Star teams, won 2 Gold Gloves, and having 4 100-RBI seasons. He won American League Pennants with the 1975 Red Sox and 1982 Brewers, and led the AL in doubles in 1979 and ’81 and in RBIs in 1980 ad ’83, also in total bases in 1980. In a 1979 game against the Yankees, he hit 3 home runs, making a 9-year-old kid in Central Jersey (me) wince in pain all 3 times. (The Yanks always had trouble with the Brewers until they were moved to the NL in 1998, and Coop especially hit well against them.) Lifetime batting average .298, OPS+ 121, 2,192 hits, 415 doubles, 241 homers. He recently managed his hometown Astros, although was fired late last season and is currently out of baseball. This was a very close call between Clark and Cooper, and I think the reason I chose Clark is because I saw more of him, and due to Coop’s pounding of the Yankees I wanted to see less of him.

Honorable Mention to Lance Berkman of New Braunfels. Now a Yankee, he put up some big seasons for his hometown Astros, including 5 All-Star seasons and 6 100-RBI seasons. He led the NL in doubles in 2001 with a whopping 55, in RBIs in 2002 with 128 (also 42 homers), and in doubles again in 2008 with 46. Currently, at age 34, his lifetime batting average is .296, his OPS+ is 145, 1,655 hits, 379 doubles, and 326 home runs (peaking at 45 in 2006). And he won a Pennant with the Astros in 2005. So why do I not have him ahead of Clark and Cooper? Because Clark had to hit in Candlestick Park, and Cooper had to hit in Milwaukee County Stadium (and, before that, in Fenway Park as a lefty), while “Fat Elvis” spent all but his first Astro season (that at the hitter-unfriendly Astrodome) at Enron Field (a.k.a. “Ten Run Field”), now Minute Maid Park (where, Yankee broadcaster John Sterling says, “the balls are juiced” – to which Charlie Steiner said, “That’s just pulp fiction”). If Berk’s career numbers become overwhelming, I may redo this one; for now, he’s behind the Thrill and Coop.

2B Chuck Knoblauch of Bellaire, Texas. What? The Knob-blockhead? The guy with the worst 2nd-base arm of all time? Surely, I can’t be serious! I am serious, and don’t call me “Shirley.” Knobby was Rookie of the Year with the World Champion Minnesota Twins in 1991, a 3-time World Champion with the Yankees, a 4-time All-Star, a Gold Glove winner (yes, in 1997), had a .289 lifetime batting average, hit 322 doubles and 64 triples despite his career ending at age 33 due to his psychosomatic throwing problems affecting his hitting too, and 407 stolen bases. He’s been listed in the Mitchell Report, which provides only the word of Brian McNamee; and has pled guilty to a misdemeanor assault against his soon-to-be ex-wife. Despite his talent, he seems to have been unsuited to a life in the public eye.

SS Pete Runnels of Lufkin, Texas. I had to stretch this a bit, as he played more at 1st base and more at 2nd base, but he did play 463 games at short, mostly for the Washington Senators before becoming the starting 2nd baseman and then 1st baseman for the Red Sox. He won the AL batting title in 1960 and ’62, and made the All-Star Team in each year and also in ’61.

3B Dave Chalk of Del Rio, Texas. Am I kidding you? This guy has a .252 lifetime batting average, an OPS+ of 85, topped out at 56 RBIs for the 1975 California Angels, and played his last full season at age 27 and his last big-league game at 30. Maybe so, but he made the All-Star Team in 1974 and ’75, and that’s more than I can say for any other South Texas third baseman.

LF Ron Gant of Victoria, Texas. Hit 321 homers in a 16-year career, starting out with the Atlanta Braves. Won Pennants with them in 1991 and ’92, and also reached the postseason with the Braves in ’93, the Cincinnati Reds in ’95, the St. Louis Cardinals in ’96 and the Oakland Athletics in 2001.

Honorable Mention to Carl Crawford of Houston. It’s too soon to put him ahead of Gant, but he’s already a 4-time All-Star, a .295 career hitter, a 3-time AL leader in triples, a 4-time AL leader in stole bases – 401 total – and has 1,427 hits, and has led the Tampa Bay Rays to the 2008 AL Pennant and has them tied for first in the AL East at the moment, and he’s only 28. He’s a free agent after this season, and if he signs with, say, the Yankees, it could take him from potential Hall-of-Famer to realizing that potential.

CF Clarence “Cito” Gaston of Corpus Christi, Texas. A rookie with the expansion San Diego Padres in 1969, he was an All-Star for them in 1970 with a .318 batting average, 29 homers and 93 RBIs. But he never approached those numbers again, struck out too much, and was last a regular at age 29 and last played in the bigs at 34. Still, he’s the best of a bad lot, and having won the World Series with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992 and ’93, he’s also the manager of this team as well.

Honorable Mention to Juan Pierre of Alexandria, Louisiana. He's only 32, but has already stolen 527 bases. Lifetime batting average .298, 1,842 hits (twice led the League), and a member of postseason teams for the Florida Marlins (2003 World Champions) and Los Angeles Dodgers (2008 and '09 NL West Champions). Now with the Chicago White Sox.

RF Mel Ott of Gretna, Louisiana. From August 28, 1937, when he passed Rogers Hornsby with his 302nd career home run, to May 4, 1966, when later Giant Willie Mays hit his 512th, Ott was the NL’s all-time home run leader. Until May 19, 2001, he remained the all-time NL home run leader among lefthanded hitters, and that record was broken by another Giant – albeit Barry Bonds, so take that with a mine of salt. His 511 home runs led to the NL home run leadership trophy being named the Mel Ott Award.

Of course, due to the short right-field fence at the Polo Grounds, a lot of Ott’s 511 homers were cheap ones. He hit 323, or 63 percent of his total, at home. This also means that he has more home runs hit in New York City than any other player – ahead of Mickey Mantle with 270 and Babe Ruth with 266. But he wasn’t just a guy who had the gift of the Polo Grounds. He was a genuinely great hitter, making 12 All-Star Games (missing the first in 1933 but then making every one until 1945, although that one was cancelled). Lifetime batting average .304, OPS+ 155 (so he wasn’t just a product of the homer-happy 1930s, either), 2,876 hits, 488 doubles (as well as the 511 homers), and 9 100-RBI seasons. That includes 8 in a row, a feat matched in the NL only by Mays, Chipper Jones, Albert Pujols and, uh, Sammy Sosa. In the 1933 World Series, his top of the 10th-inning home run gave the Giants Game 5 and the title, against the Washington Senators. He also played for the Giants in the ’36 and ’37 World Series, losing to the Yankees.

He managed the Giants from 1942 to ’48, but the manager of the arch-rival Brooklyn Dodgers, Leo Durocher, didn’t like his style: “Look at Ott. He’s a nice guy, and they’ll finish 8th for him. All nice guys, and they’ll finish 8th.” With 8th place then being last, this got turned into the phrase most often identified with the bastard Durocher: “Nice guys finish last.” Durocher made his point when he was hired to replace Ott, and managed the Giants to the 1951 Pennant and the 1954 World Championship. But Durocher was despised, and Ott was popular. Hall of Fame, Number 4 retired by the Giants.

Honorable Mention to Ross Youngs of Shiner, Texas, whom Ott replaced as the Giants’ right fielder. He arrived in 1917, became the Giants’ starting right fielder in 1918, and it seemed like he would never stop hitting. He topped out at .356 in 1924, a season in which the Giants won their 4th straight Pennant, including winning the 1921 and 1922 World Series. He led the NL in doubles in 1919 and runs scored in 1923. Known as “Pep” for his hustle, manager John McGraw called him his favorite player – an honor he gave to only one other, his former pitcher Christy Mathewson.

Unfortunately, like Matty, Youngs would die, well, young. In 1925, he began to suffer from nephritis, a kidney disorder also known as Bright’s disease. He still managed to hit .306 in 1926, but played his last game on August 10 of that year, and died on September 25, 1927, just 30. “Lifetime” batting average .322, OPS+ 130, and in just 9 full seasons got 1,491 hits including 236 doubles. He could have been a member of the 3,000 Hit Club if he’d played until he was 40. He played before uniform numbers were worn, but he is in the Hall of Fame despite playing just 10 seasons, the minimum barring special cases. (I wonder if one would have been made for him, as it was for Addie Joss, dead of meningitis on the eve of his 10th season?) The Giants were unlucky to lose Youngs, but they were lucky that Ott was about to arrive, and I wonder if either of them would have moved to left or center field? Think what a lineup the Giants could have had with both of them, as well as with Bill Terry, Frankie Frisch, Travis Jackson, Fred Lindstrom, Emil “Irish” Meusel and George “Highpockets” Kelly.

I could give an Honorable Mention to Jay Buhner of League City, Texas, what with his 310 career home runs, 124 career OPS+, and 4 trips to the postseason with the Seattle Mariners. (They've never reached it without him.) But he really, really fits the steroid profile: A so-so player until age 26, then one of the game's top sluggers from 26 to 32, then injuries curtailed his career and he was done at 36. Is this just bitterness because the Yankees traded him for Ken Phelps, and for the 1995 ALDS? Hell no: If we hadn't gotten rid of Buhner, we never would've gotten Paul O'Neill. And Buhner never won a Pennant, with the Yanks getting in the way in 2000 and '01, his last 2 seasons.

DH Daniel Joseph “Rusty” Staub of New Orleans, Louisiana. He was known as Rusty for his hair, while playing for his “hometown” Colt .45’s/Astros (the team’s name was changed in 1965), and in 1969 became an original member of the Montreal Expos, whose Francophone fans loved him for his hitting, and his own French-Canadian ancestry (Quebecois who got forced into Louisiana were called Acadians or “Cajuns”), and called him “Le Grand Orange.” He moved on to the Mets, helping them win the 1973 Pennant, but a shoulder injury while making a catch in the World Series may have cost them. The Mets foolishly traded him to the Detroit Tigers in 1976 for a washed-up Mickey Lolich, but wisely got him back in 1981, where he became the game’s top pinch-hitter. The only players to hit major league home runs before their 20th birthday and after their 40th are Staub, Ty Cobb and Gary Sheffield – curiously, all played for the Tigers, although only Cobb hit both as a Tiger and Sheffield hit post-40 homers as a Tiger.

Rusty is not in the Hall of Fame, but a case can be made. His lifetime batting average is just .279, and he has “only” 292 home runs. But he spent most of his career in pitchers’ parks such as the Astrodome, Montreal’s Jarry Park, and Shea Stadium, and only spent 3½ years at hitter-happy Tiger Stadium. His OPS+ is 124. He collected 2,716 hits, 499 of which were doubles. He is the only man to collect at least 500 hits with 4 different teams. He was a 6-time All-Star. His last really productive season was at age 34, but he was still capable of hitting .296 as a pinch-hitter at 39. According to Baseball-Reference.com, of his 10 Most Similar Batters, 2 are in the Hall (Tony Perez and Brooks Robinson), 3 more should be (Harold Baines, Al Oliver and Dwight Evans), and the other 4 are worth consideration (Dave Parker, Luis Gonzalez, Steve Garvey and Garret Anderson).

Rusty has been a Met broadcaster, and as a result of his connections to great food cities – French-influenced New Orleans and Montreal, barbecue-happy Houston and Detroit, and of course New York – he is perhaps the greatest cook ever to play in the majors, and for years, his restaurant Rusty’s, at 1271 3rd Avenue at East 73rd Street, was a mainstay for sports personalities and fans until it closed in 1991. The Expos retired the Number 10 for both him and Andre Dawson (though the franchise, now the Washington Nationals, has put it back into circulation), and the Mets elected him to their team Hall of Fame.

C Jerry Grote of San Antonio, Texas. From 1969 to 1977, both starting catchers in New York wore Number 15. Grote was not as good as Thurman Munson, but after a couple of cups of coffee with his hometown Astros in 1963 and ’64, he became a Met in 1966 and made 2 NL All-Star teams – not easy in the era of Johnny Bench. He helped the Mets win the 1969 World Series and the 1973 Pennant, and then helped the Dodgers win Pennants in 1977 and 1978. He was never a great hitter, although he did bat .295 for the Mets in 1975. He’s the best of a bad bunch for South Texas catchers.

Honorable Mention to James Raleigh "Biz" Mackey of Eagle Pass, Texas. No, not the rapper Biz Markie. Biz Mackey was one of the stars of Negro League baseball, producing a lot of hits and handling pitchers for the Hilldale Daisies (no, I'm not making that up) of Philadelphia in the 1920s and the Baltimore Elite Giants in the 1930s. As player-manager of the Elite Giants, turned a chubby, half-black/half-Italian teenager from the Nicetown neighborhood of Philadelphia into a Hall-of-Famer: Roy Campanella. In the 1940s, as player-manager of the Newark Eagles, managed such legends as Leon Day, Ray Dandridge, Willie Wells, Larry Doby and Monte Irvin.

Elected to the Hall of Fame in its making-up-for-lost-time election of Negro Leaguers in 2006, long after the elections of all the other players I mentioned in this paragraph -- and long after his own death in 1965. But he did get his due: In 1959, when the Dodgers held Roy Campanella night to raise money for Campy after his paralyzing car crash, Biz was introduced as Campy's mentor, and 93,103 people at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum -- the largest crowd in baseball history -- gave him a standing ovation, even though most had never seen Roy play (he got hurt before the move to L.A. could be completed) and had probably never heard of Biz. Biz' grandson, Riley Odoms, was an All-Pro tight end for the Denver Broncos and a member of their 1977 AFC Championship team that lost Super Bowl XII.

SP Ted Lyons of Vinton, Louisiana. Yankee manager Joe McCarthy said that if he’d pitched for the Yankees, he would have won 400 games. Maybe not that many, but pitching for a Chicago White Sox team that never once in all his 21 seasons got anywhere close to first place, he won 260 against 230 losses. He won 20 3 times, and had a 1.089 WHIP at age 38 and a 14-6 record and a 2.10 ERA at 41. He pitched a no-hitter in 1926, in just 1 hour and 7 minutes. Early in his career, his out pitch was what he called a “sailer” – an early version of the cut fastball. After a 1931 injury, he used a knuckleball and a variety of curves. Hall of Fame, Number 16 retired, statue in his honor at the White Sox' U.S. Cellular Field.

Legend has it that, while serving in the Army in World War II – despite already being over 40 – his Army baseball team faced an Army Air Force team that included Joe DiMaggio, and he said, “I joined the Army to get away from DiMaggio, and here he is!”

SP Nolan Ryan of Alvin, Texas. You could say that he pitched from 1970 to 1993 and did not win a single Pennant in all that time. And you could say that he choked in the 1980 and 1986 NLCS – both times, for his hometown team, no less. And you could say that he never won a Cy Young Award (just missing in 1973 and ‘74). And you could say that, despite being one of the fastest pitchers of all time, he is the all-time leader in walks with 2,795, and that his 292 losses (3rd all-time, and easily 1st among post-1920 Lively Ball Era pitchers), his .526 winning percentage, his 1.247 WHIP, his 3.19 ERA and 112 ERA+ are not especially impressive.

Or you could say that he helped the Mets win the 1969 World Series, as the winning pitcher in Game 3. And that he won 324 games. And that he is far and away the all-time leader with 5,714 strikeouts, 7 no-hitters, and 6.6 hits per 9 innings pitched. And that he also struck out 383 batters in 1973, still the single-season record. And that he struck out 19 batters in a game 4 times (although “only” 1 of those was without extra innings). And that he made 8 All-Star teams. And that he helped the Mets, California Angels and Astros, all teams with troubled histories, reach the postseason. And that he did a lot of pitching for mediocre teams, but still pitched well – emblematic of this was 1987, when the Astros were under .500, so that, while he led the NL in both ERA and strikeouts, he went 8-16. And you could say that his arrival across the State with the Texas Rangers in 1989 led to the franchise building what’s now called Rangers Ballpark, saving them from being moved. And you could say that, now that his bid to buy the team from bankrupt outgoing owner Tom Hicks has been accepted, he has saved the Rangers a second time.

And you could say that he has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. And that the Angels have retired his Number 30, and the Astros and Rangers his Number 34, and the Rangers have a statue of him outside the ballpark. And that a highway outside Houston and another adjacent to Rangers Ballpark are both named the Nolan Ryan Expressway – a variation on his nickname “the Ryan Express,” itself a variation on the name of the film Von Ryan’s Express. Ryan’s record is as big and as varied as the State of Texas itself, and he may be the State’s most celebrated living athlete – quite a feat for someone who didn’t play college or pro football.

SP Ron Guidry of Lafayette, Louisiana. As a rookie in 1977, he went 16-7 for the Yankees, also winning Game 4 of the World Series. In 1978, the Yankees made it back-to-back World Championships, for many reasons, none more than Guidry having maybe the best season any pitcher has ever had, considering that this was well into the Lively Ball Era. He went 25-3 – 27-3 counting the postseason, winning the clinching Game 4 of the ALCS and Game 3 of the World Series. He set a record for highest winning percentage for a 20-game winner, .893. He had a 1.74 ERA – an ERA+ of 208. His WHIP was 0.946. He pitched 9 shutouts, including 3 2-hitters in September, 2 of those against the Red Sox in that classic season-long Yanks-Sox duel. He struck out 248 batters, still a Yankee record. This included 18 Angels on June 17, still a Yankee record and a record for AL lefties until Randy Johnson broke it. That night, fans began to stand and clap on 2 strikes, starting a New York baseball tradition that Met fans think was started in 1984 for Dwight Gooden. Of his 25 wins, 16 came after a Yankee loss. If he had gone .500, 14-14, the Yankees would have finished 4th; with that 25-3, they won 100, the last being the Playoff to win the Division at Fenway Park, the Bucky Dent Game. And they gave the AL MVP to Jim Rice of the Sox? No player has ever defined “Most Valuable” in a single season the way the Gator did in 1978.

“Louisiana Lightning” (a nickname Yankee broadcaster Phil Rizzuto gave him on the 18-K night, but one he didn’t like, preferring “Gator”) led the AL in ERA again in 1979, with 2.78, going 18-8 for a troubled Yankee team. He won 20 again for the Yanks in 1985, going 22-6 and leading the AL with a .786 winning percentage. But, at 34, that was his last good season, and he only won 16 more games. He finished at 170-91, with a 3.29 ERA, a 119 ERA+, a 1.184 WHIP, 1,778 strikeouts, 4 All-Star berths and 5 Gold Gloves. Good enough for a Plaque in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park and the retirement of his Number 49. Baseball-Reference.com’s HOF Monitor has him at 106 of 100 (which should mean he gets in), but their Hall of Fame Standards has him at 38 of 50 (which means he shouldn’t). Their 10 Most Similar Pitchers to him include 2 HOFers, Sandy Koufax and Lefty Gomez, plus the still-active Tim Hudson and Roy Halladay, and such legends as Eddie Lopat, Bret Saberhagen, Jimmy Key, John Candelaria, Dave McNally and Don Newcombe. I’d love to say he belongs, but he doesn’t quite make it.

SP Roger Clemens of Spring Woods H.S. in Houston. He was born in Dayton, Ohio, and grew up in nearby Vandalia, so he should be in with the Cincinnati Reds’ all-time regional team, but he did play high school ball in South Texas, and he does identify with that State, not Ohio. I seriously debated not putting him on this team, because he truly has become a thoroughly unlikable person. Some, remembering him as a headhunter with both the Red Sox (beaning Derek Jeter) and the Yankees (beaning Mike Piazza), would say he always was one. But until we can get better evidence of his steroid use than just the word of Brian McNamee, he’s eligible, both for this list and, in 2013, for the Hall of Fame.

And what an eligibility: 354 wins, only 184 losses. 3.12 ERA, 143 ERA+, a 1.173 WHIP. 4,672 strikeouts, formerly 2nd on the all-time list behind his childhood hero, Ryan. Gained his 4,000th strikeout and his 300th win on the same night, June 13, 2003, against the St. Louis Cardinals at Yankee Stadium. Won 7 Cy Young Awards, in 1986, ’87, ’91, ’97, ’98, 2001 and ’04. Won the AL MVP in 1986 as he went 24-4 and the Red Sox won the Pennant. Finally got his ring with the Yankees in 1999, and again in 2000, plus Pennants in 2001 (starting the season 20-1 before finishing 20-3) and ’03, and with his hometown Astros in ’05. Struck out a new major league record 20 batters in a 1986 game, then did it again in 1996. (The record has since been tied, but not broken.) Led a League in wins 4 times, in winning percentage 3, in ERA 7, shutouts 6 and strikeouts 5. Was already enough of an icon by 1993, at age 30, that his name was used as a standard for power pitching in the film Little Big League. And, lest any Red Sox fans still think of him as a traitor for going to the Yankees for the money, let the record show that Sox GM Dan Duquette let him go after the 1996 season, in which he went 10-13 at age 33, saying Clemens was “in the twilight of his career.” The change of scenery was first to Toronto, then to New York, and he wanted the rings as much as the money, and he got them. He went 18-4 at age 41 and had a 1.87 ERA at 42.

Whether any of that, especially his post-Boston renaissance, was due to performance-enhancing drugs, is as yet unproven. What is proven is that, until we have more than the word of a man who is, himself, a lying weasel desperate to stay out of legal liability, Roger Clemens was, by statistical measures, one of the greatest pitchers who ever lived. You don’t have to like him. You don’t even have to respect him. But this is my choice for the all-time South Texas baseball team, and I’m putting him on. For now.

SP Andy Pettitte of Deer Park, Texas. Born in Louisiana (Baton Rouge) like Guidry, grew up in the suburbs of Houston like his idols Ryan and Clemens. As a Yankee, is currently 203-111, an ERA+ of 114, 11 postseason appearances, 7 Pennants and 5 World Series rings. Counting his 3-year interlude with his hometown Astros, he is 240-137, a winning percentage of .637, an ERA of 3.87, an ERA+ of 117, a WHIP of 1.355, 13 postseason appearances, a record 18 postseason wins (against 9 losses), 8 Pennants and 5 rings. Of all pitchers with more wins, only these have a higher career winning percentage: Clemens, Lefty Grove, Christy Mathewson, John Clarkson, Randy Johnson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Mike Mussina and Jim Palmer. (It’s interesting that Clemens, Johnson and Mussina have been his teammates. CC Sabathia, whose percentage is slightly higher at the moment and who may end up with more wins, is also now a teammate.)

Now 38 years old, Andy has hinted that he may retire after this season, which would make him eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2016. Baseball-Reference.com has him at 121 on its HOF Monitor (in) and 42 on its HOF Standards (out). Of their 10 Most Similar Pitchers, 3 are in. (Catfish Hunter, Juan Marichal and Dazzy Vance. That list also includes former teammates Kevin Brown, Dwight Gooden, David Wells and David Cone.)

Very Honorable Mention to Andrew "Rube" Foster of Calvert, Texas. Considered the best black pitcher of the 1900s and 1910s, the top black manager of the 1920s, founder of the Chicago American Giants (1911) and the Negro National League (1920). He was black baseball's Al Spalding, but exposure to a gas leak in 1925 left him physically and mentally ill, and he died in 1930, just 51 years old. He was the first "pioneer or executive" elected to the Hall of Fame based on service to black baseball.

Josh Beckett of Spring, Texas is now 30 years old, albeit injured at the moment, and his career record is 109-70, plus 7-3 in postseason play including World Championships with the 2003 Florida Marlins and the 2007 Red Sox – though both of those are tainted due to steroid use by his teammates (although not, as far as we know, by him). His career ERA+ is 113, his WHIP 1.234, his strikeout total 1,398. He could end up on this team, but for now, I have to give “Super Punk” a Dishonorable Mention.

RP Keith Foulke of Huffman, Texas. Has reached the postseason with the White Sox in 2000, the Oakland Athletics in 2003 (going 9-1 with a league-leading 43 saves), and the Red Sox in 2004 and ’05. In the 2004 World Series for the Sox, was the winning pitcher in Game 1, pitched 2 innings in a non-save situation in Game 2, 1 inning in a non-save situation in Game 3, and closed out Game 4 to get the save and the clincher. That Series is tainted, but don’t blame Foulke: As far as we know, he’s innocent. But knee and elbow injuries have kept him out of the majors for all but one of the last 4 seasons. He’s 37, and spent 2009 with the Newark Bears, so it’s not impossible that he could return, but don’t count on it.

Honorable Mention to Norm Charlton of Fort Polk, Louisiana and Houston’s Rice University. Formed the “Nasty Boys” bullpen with Randy Myers and Rob Dibble, leading the Cincinnati Reds to the 1990 World Championship. Also reached the postseason with the Seattle Mariners in 1995, 1997 and 2001, and the Braves in 1998. A career total of just 97 saves means he's not the closer on this team, although he did post a 112 career ERA+.

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