Monday, August 9, 2010
New England's All-Time Baseball Team
A.J. Burnett had "tightness in his lower back." That might be a euphemism for "The Red Sox scared the shit out of him." Dustin Moseley stepped in and gave us a great start. Alex Rodriguez did play, and Derek Jeter picked up his 2,873rd and 2,874th career hits, passing Babe Ruth on the all-time list.
Somehow, I get the feeling that, if someone had told the Babe that, one day, 3,000 hits would be considered a big deal, he would have gotten the extra 127 hits he would have needed. In fact, it's amazing how many great hitters did not get 3,000 hits: The list includes the Babe, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams and Frank Robinson.
A-Rod now has 2,635 hits, and he looks like a good bet to get to 3,000, too. Of course, the all-time hits leader is Pete Rose with 4,256, and he is a reminder to be careful when using the word "bet" when talking about baseball.
Anyway, the Yankees have now taken 2 out of 3 from The Scum in this series, with a 4th to be played this afternoon at The Stadium II at 2:05. Phil Hughes starts against Jon Lester.
If "Red Sox Nation" has borders -- and, as I've said before, we really need to deport some people back within those borders -- those borders contain the following States in their entirety: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
Connecticut is usually included in the New England region. However, not all of Connecticut is in Red Sox territory. Connecticut has 8 Counties, and Fairfield and Litchfield are absolutely in the New York Tri-State Area. Middlesex, New London, Tolland and Windham are part of Red Sox Nation. The wild card is New Haven County, with the city of New Haven, including Union Station (the terminus of the Metro-North Commuter Railroad's New Haven Line) and the campus of Yale University being kind of a "Romulan Neutral Zone" between Yankee/Met territory and Red Sox territory.
I've often joked that Connecticut is divided by what I call the Bristol Line, which goes from the northwest corner of the State, curving through Torrington, Bristol and Waterbury, before going down the Quinnipiac River into New Haven, New Haven Harbor and Long Island Sound.
Bristol is the home of ESPN's studios, 121 miles from Fenway Park and 100 miles from Yankee Stadium, yet their Red Sox bias seems so obvious to most Yankee Fans that we call it NESPN -- a combination of ESPN, Entertainment & Sports Programming Network (the "E" allows it to show events that are not real sports, such as golf, auto racing and "mixed martial arts"); and NESN, New England Sports Network.
Fortunately, having to decide who from New Haven County should be on the Red Sox territorial team, and who should be on the Yankees' or Mets' territorial team, proved unnecessary. While Yale has produced some great baseball players, there haven't been a whole lot of really good players from New Haven County. The best one that I could legitimately put in Red Sox Nation was Jack Barry, the shortstop, and least-heralded member, of the inaptly named "$100,000 Infield" of Connie Mack's 1910-14 Philadelphia Athletics dynasty. There is one New Haven County native in the Hall of Fame, but he played most of his career for a New York team and will thus be eligible for either the Yanks' or Mets' territorial teams, which I will get to last in this series, at the end of the season.
New England's All-Time Baseball Team
I didn't find anyone from Maine, with the slight exception of one of the guys I've mentioned for the bullpen. Nor any players who grew up in Vermont, although I did nominate one who was born there.
Strangely, this team, very solid at most positions, doesn't have an overwhelming pitching staff. It's got 3 starters in the Hall of Fame, and one more who maybe should be, but 2 of those starters pitched in baseball's Bronze Age, if not its Stone Age, so it's not clear that they would have been stars in the modern era.
In fact, of the 8 nonpitchers, only one played after 1937. So this really is an "all-time" team, but not really an "all times" team. Still, I wouldn't overlook the talent, even that part of it that played in the Administrations of Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison and William McKinley.
1B Jeff Bagwell of Killingworth, Connecticut. (That's in their Middlesex County, definitely on "the Boston side of Connecticut.") The Red Sox could have had this local guy, who was actually born in Boston. But, with Wade Boggs at 3rd base and Mo Vaughn at 1st, they thought he wasn't necessary. On August 30, 1990, they traded him to the Houston Astros for reliever Larry Andersen.
Now, they did need bullpen help, and they did win the Division that season, so it's not nearly as bad a trade as everyone thinks, 20 years on. Besides, if the Sox had kept Bags, would they have ever gotten David Ortiz?
Bags reached the Astros in 1991, the season after the trade, and was their regular 1st baseman for 15 years. His career OPS+ was 149, he collected 2,314 hits including 488 doubles and 449 home runs (easily the Astros’ all-time leader). He won the National League's Rookie of the Year award in 1991 and its Most Valuable Player award in 1994, and nearly did so again in 1997 and 1999.
Six times he batted .300, peaking at .368 in 1994. Eight times he had at least 100 RBIs, peaking at 135 in 1997. Without him, the Houston Colt .45's/Astros franchise has played 27 seasons and reached the postseason 3 times, with no postseason series wins to its credit; with him, 15 seasons, 6 trips to the postseason, and their 1st Pennant in 2005.
He is now the Astro'’ hitting instructor, his Number 5 has been retired, and he becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame this coming January. He will probably get in, as the best of the rest of 1st-time-eligibles are Larry Walker and the steroid-tainted Rafael Palmeiro and Juan Gonzalez... and also the clean (as far as we know) Tino Martinez, John Olerud and Al Leiter.
2B Napoleon "Nap" Lajoie of Woonsocket, Rhode Island. (Woonsocket was an Indian tribe in the era.) Also known as Larry, he starred for the Philadelphia Phillies in the late 1890s before jumping to the newly-formed American League in 1901. That year, he won the AL's 1st Triple Crown. Depending on whose figures you believe, he either batted .422 for the highest average in AL history, or batted .426 for the highest average in either league since 1894. (See the outfielders.) Due to an injunction the Phillies got that prevented him from playing within the city limits of Philadelphia, he was traded to the Cleveland Blues, who made him player-manager and were renamed the Naps in his honor. (After he retired, they became the Indians.)
In a particularly dead part of the Dead Ball Era, he had 4 100-RBI seasons. Lifetime batting average .338 (5 batting titles, including, famously, a somewhat tainted one in a race with Ty Cobb in 1910), OPS+ 150, 3,242 hits, 657 doubles, 163 triples, 82 homers (good for the era), and 1,599 RBIs (great for the era). Never managed a Pennant winner, but in 1908 got the Indians to within half a game of the Detroit Tigers. (No, I don’t know why the Tigers didn’t make up their 154th game.) One of the earliest inductees into the Hall of Fame.
Honorable Mention to Davey Lopes of East Providence, Rhode Island, a slick-fielding speedster who starred for the Dodgers before becoming one of the game’s top coaches and briefly the manager of the Brewers.
Honorable Mention to Jerry Remy of Somerset, Massachusetts, who gave the Red Sox a few good years before becoming one of their broadcasters. As the fan-elected "President of Red Sox Nation," RemDawg has become Boston's answer to Phil Rizzuto in New York, Richie Ashburn in Philadelphia, Herb Score in Cleveland, Ron Santo in Chicago and Mike Shannon in St. Louis.
Honorable Mention to Frank Grant of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 2006 in an attempt to find overlooked black players who had been unable to play in the segregated pre-1947 major leagues, he may have been the 1st great black baseball player. Playing from 1886 to 1903 for teams in Buffalo, New York and Philadelphia, he may, due to length of time and segregation, have been the most-forgotten great player ever.
SS Walter "Rabbit" Maranville of Springfield, Massachusetts. In 1914, he helped his "hometown" Boston Braves go on a "Miracle" run and win the World Series. He remained one of the NL's best sortstops through the 1910s and ‘20s, leaving the Braves in 1921 and returning in 1929, staying long enough to play on their truly awful 1935 squad. Never a great hitter, but he did get 2,605 hits, including 380 doubles and 117 triples, and his 291 steals were good for the era. He is in the Hall of Fame.
3B Harold "Pie" Traynor of Somerville, Massachusetts. For a long time, was considered by many the best 3rd baseman of all time, mainly for his glove. There was no Gold Glove award in the 1920s and ‘30s, but his bat is quite capable of speaking for itself. He batted .320 lifetime, peaking with .366 in 1930, and had 2,416 hits and 7 100-RBI seasons, despite playing his home games at spacious Forbes Field.
He helped the Pittsburgh Pirates win the 1925 World Series and the 1927 Pennant. He was the NL's starting 3rd baseman in the 1st 2 All-Star Games, 1933 and '34. He also managed the Pirates, and nearly got them a Pennant in 1938. (But see the catchers below.) Hall of Fame, Number 20 retired.
Honorable Mention to two New England guys who went on to star not for the Red Sox, but for the Yankees: Robert "Red" Rolfe of Penacook, New Hampshire, who starred on the Yanks' 1932-43 teams, and was named by Yankee broadcaster Mel Allen as the best 3rd basemen he ever saw; and Mike "Pags" Pagliarulo of Medford, Massachusetts, who kept them in the 1985-88 Pennant races with his great glove and lefty power.
LF Joe Kelley of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Starred with the Baltimore Orioles and Brooklyn Superbas (the Dodgers-to-be) of the 1890s (along with fellow Hall-of-Famer Wilbert Robinson of Bolton, Massachusetts, who nearly makes this team as a catcher or a manager), and then with the Cincinnati Reds of the 1900s. Batted .317 lifetime, OPS+ of 133, 2,220 hits despite having his last full season at age 34. Won Pennants in Baltimore in 1894, '95 and '96, and in Brooklyn in 1899 and 1900.
CF Hugh Duffy of Cranston, Rhode Island. A "hometown hero" who starred with the Boston Beaneaters (forerunners of the Braves) in the 1890s. In 1894, he was long believed to have batted .438, the highest batting average ever; a later check of the facts revealed it was in fact .440. Lifetime he hit .326, with a 122 OPS+, 2,293 hits and 8 100-RBI seasons, despite not having a full season after age 32. He helped the Beaneaters win Pennants in 1891, '92, '93, '97 and '98. Hall of Fame.
RF Tommy McCarthy of Boston, Massachusetts. He also played with the 1890s Beaneaters, and he and Duffy were known as the Heavenly Twins. Batted "only" .292 lifetime (not that great in that era), and last played at age 32, so he may not belong in the Hall of Fame. So why is he in it? Well, 4 times, he batted .300, had a pair of 100-RBI seasons, and stole 468 bases, which is great in any era.
Honorable Mention to Tony Conigliaro of Revere, Massachusetts. From April 16, 1964 to August 18, 1967, Tony C was the pride of the Boston metro area. He was just 22 years old, and already had 110 home runs for the Red Sox, including an AL-leading 32 in 1965.
Then, on August 18, 1967, he was hit in the head with a pitch from California Angels pitcher Jack Hamilton, damaging his batting eye. He missed the '67 run-in and World Series, and the '68 season. He came back strong in '69 and '70, but his eyesight began to fade, and despite a later comeback attempt, he was, as the U.S. version of Fever Pitch said, finished at 26. There's a lot more to say about Tony C, but this is not the time or the post for it.
C Gordon "Mickey" Cochrane of Bridgewater, Massachusetts. What, not Carlton Fisk, born in Bellows Falls, Vermont and raised in Charlestown, New Hampshire? (Hall of Fame, Number 27 retired by the Red Sox and Number 72 retired by the White ones, who've also dedicated a statue of him at U.S. Cellular Field.)
Nor Rich Gedman of Worcester, Massachusetts and the '86 Red Sox? Not even Charles "Gabby" Hartnett of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, a Hall-of-Famer who backstopped the Cubs to 4 Pennants, including the great comeback and 20-game winning streak of 1935, and the comeback of 1938 when, as player-manager, he hit the "Homer in the Gloamin'" to put them in 1st place to stay?
No, as loaded as this position is for New England, none of those was ever considered the greatest catcher ever. Cochrane was, until surpassed by Bill Dickey (and then by Yogi Berra and possibly Johnny Bench). No Gold Gloves in those days, but regarded as a great-fielding catcher. Batted .320 lifetime, 128 OPS+.
He led the Philadelphia Athletics to Pennants in 1929, ’30 and '31, then was sold to the Detroit Tigers when Connie Mack needed a lot of cash, and led the Tigers to Pennants, as both manager and catcher, in '34 (MVP despite Lou Gehrig winning the Triple Crown) and '35. World Champion 1929, 1930 and 1935. Sadly, his career was ended in 1937 when Yankee pitcher Irving"Bump" Hadley (another Massachusetts guy, from Lynn) beaned him. Like Tony C, never really recovered, although he did live on until 1962.
Neither the A's (2) nor the Tigers (3) have ever retired his number, but the Hall-of-Famer has been honored by the Phillies with election to the Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame, and the Tigers with National Avenue, which ran behind the third-base stands at Tiger Stadium, being renamed Cochrane Avenue. And in 1931, at the end of the A's dynasty, a young Oklahoma zinc miner named Elvin "Mutt" Mantle named his son after the great A's catcher. Fortunately, as the son said in his own Hall of Fame induction speech, he wasn't named Gordon Mantle. He was named Mickey Mantle.
SP Tim Keefe of Cambridge, Massachusetts. It's hard to judge how good a pitcher was if he played his last game in 1893, the year the distance from the pitcher's mound to home plate was moved from 50 feet to 60 feet, 6 inches. He starred for the New York Giants, winning 42 games in 1886, and pitched them to NL Pennants in 1888 and ’89. He finished 342-225, with an ERA of 2.63 (127 ERA+, meaning he was great compared to the other pitchers of his time), and a fine WHIP of 1.123.
But in that 1893 season, having gone 19-16 with a 2.36 ERA in 39 starts for the Phillies the year before, he dropped to 10-7 with a 4.40 ERA in just 22 starts. The new distance probably doomed him, but then, he was 36. He is in the Hall of Fame.
SP John Clarkson of Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was 4 years younger than Keefe (although didn't live nearly as long, dying in 1909 at age 48), so they may have known each other well. Clarkson also benefited greatly from the 50-foot pitching distance. Nevertheless, he had a fine career record of 328-178, with a 2.81 ERA (134 ERA+), a WHIP of 1.209, and won NL Pennants with the Chicago White Stockings (the franchise that became the Cubs, not the AL's White Sox) in 1885 and '86, and with the Boston Beaneaters (Braves) in 1891.
With that shorter distance, he started 70 games in 1885, completed all of them, and won 53; in 1889, he started 73, completed all but one, and won 49. But in 1893, the first season of the sixty-and-six distance, he dropped from 17-10 to 16-17, and then to 8-10, and was done at age 32. Still, he is in the Hall of Fame.
SP Jack Chesbro of North Adams, Massachusetts. Happy Jack was a man. A man who won 49 games for the Pennant-winning Pittsburgh Pirates in 1901 and '02, then was part of the league-jumping that made the AL's solid footing possible. In 1903, as the first ace of the New York Highlanders (the team that became the Yankees), went 21-15.
Then, in 1904, he went 41-12, the most wins any pitcher has ever had under the 60-and-6 distance, although it should be noted that this was the Dead Ball Era, when there were not going to be any real home run threats, so pitchers didn't have to throw so many hard pitches and thus could pitch longer.
But he's best remembered not for any of those 41 wins, but for the 12th loss, as his 9th-inning wild pitch cost the Yankees the run that lost the opener of a final-day doubleheader to the Boston Puritans (Red Sox), clinching the Pennant not for Chesbro's employers but for his hometown team. He remained a terrific pitcher despite some not very good Highlander teams, but by 1909, age 35, was burned out, pitching one last game… for the Red Sox. He finished 198-132, with a 2.68 ERA. He is in the Hall of Fame.
SP Wild Bill Donovan of Lawrence, Massachusetts. He had cups of coffee with the Brooklyn Superbas (Dodgers) in their 1899 and 1900 Pennant seasons, then won 25 games with the 1901 Superbas (who didn't win the Pennant). He went an amazing 25-4 for the Detroit Tigers in 1907, and that doesn’t include a performance in a September 30 game against the Philadelphia Athletics that was called due to darkness after 17 grueling innings, a game that, while the A's didn't lose it, pretty much exhausted them and ensured they wouldn't win the race.
The Tigers won 3 straight Pennants, 1907, '08 and '09, and over those seasons Donovan went 51-18 with an ERA of 2.17. He finished 185-139, 2.69 ERA, 1.245 WHIP. But he is not in the Hall of Fame, and, according to Baseball-Reference.com, of the 10 most statistically similar pitchers, only 1 is in: Chesbro.
SP Tom Glavine of Billerica, Massachusetts. He had a superb record of 305-203 in the majors, and is the only pitcher to win his 300th game in a Met uniform. Don’t remind Met fans of that, though: Greg Prince of the blog Faith and Fear In Flushing calls him the Manchurian Brave. Glavine went 244-147 for Atlanta, and just 15-10 for Flushing, including the disastrous 2007 season finale, before returning to the Braves for 1 more season.
He had 5 20-win seasons for the Braves, and helped them reach the postseason season every year from 1991 to 2002 – except for 1994, of course. He pitched on 5 Pennant winners with the Braves (1991, '92, '95, '96 and '99) and nearly another with the Mets (2006). He was also an All-State hockey player at Billerica High School, but he chose his pro sport wisely. The Braves have retired his Number 47. He will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2014, not that Met fans care.
Honorable Mention to Wilbur Wood of Belmont, Massachusetts. The great knuckleballer went 164-156 for his career, and with an ERA+ of 114, I have to wonder what he could have done if he didn’t spend most of his career with mediocre teams. He pitched most of his career with the White Sox, getting into Pennant races in 1967, '72 and '77, but most other years they were mediocre. Won 106 games in just 5 seasons, 1971 to '75, including 24 each in '72 and '73. (In '73, went 24-20; the only pitcher since to both win and lose 20 in the same season was, you guessed it, another knuckleballer, Phil Niekro.)
He started at least 42 games in each of those 5 seasons, and we may never see another pitcher start 40 in a season unless they raise the mound back to its pre-1969 height of 15 inches. Unfortunately, his string of workhorse seasons ended in 1976 when Ron LeFlore of the Detroit Tigers hit a comebacker that broke his kneecap. Wood retired after 2 more seasons. He was one of the few players ever who threw lefthanded but batted righthanded.
RP Jeff Reardon of Dalton, Massachusetts. "The Terminator" didn't earn that nickname early in his career, because he didn't get the job done for the Mets. But then, how many save chances did the Mets give him from August 25, 1979 (his debut) until May 29, 1981, when they traded him?
They sent him to the Montreal Expos, with Dan Norman (the 4th-best of the 4 guys they got for Tom Seaver), for former All-Star Ellis Valentine, and this was yet another BMT: Bonehead Met Trade: Valentine spent the rest of his career battling injuries, while Reardon retired as the major leagues' all-time leader with 367 saves – 357 of them after leaving Flushing Meadow.
He had a career ERA+ of 122 and a WHIP of 1.199. He reached the postseason with the Expos in 1981, the Twins in 1987 (getting the final out of the World Series), the Red Sox in 1990 and the Braves in 1992. He just missed in 1994, as he closed his career with the Yankees, but the strike hit and that was it. He is eligible for the Hall of Fame, but I don’t think he’ll make it.
The all-time New England bullpen is pretty strong: Setting up Reardon can be Stu Miller of Northampton, Massachusetts; Steve "Bedrock" Bedrosian of Methuen, Massachusetts; Rob Dibble of Southington, Connecticut; and Bob "Steamer" Stanley of Portland, Maine, who went on to pitch for the Red Sox. Of course, he did give up the actual winning homer in the 1978 Playoff, to Reggie Jackson, and then throw those 2 fatal pitches toward Mookie Wilson in 1986.
This is where Red Sox fans point out that, while Stanley was born in Maine, he actually went to high school in... Kearny, New Jersey. But do either the Yankees or the Mets want to claim him for their territorial teams? We may be crazy, but even the Mets aren't that stupid!
MGR Connie Mack of East Brookfield, Massachusetts. Born Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy, he said he shortened his name so it would fit into a box score. It's hard to connect him to any city other than Philadelphia, even though, with his suits that never changed with the time and his thin, taciturn face and "Lace Curtain Irish" accent, he seemed like an old-time New England schoolmaster.
A good catcher in the 1880s, he managed in the big leagues for 56 years, the last 50 with the Philadelphia Athletics from 1901 to 1950. Why so long? Because he was always at least a part-owner of the A's, and was sole owner from the early 1930s onward. Like George Steinbrenner, he built one dynasty, 1910-14, messed it up, and then built another, 1929-31. Unlike Steinbrenner, however, he messed up the second one, too, and both times over money: He had to dump salary because of the 1914-15 Federal League, and he lost all his savings in the 1929 stock market crash.
But his A's won 9 Pennants and 5 World Series: 1910, 1911, 1913, 1929 and 1930. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1937, its second class, while he was still an active owner and manager. After his increasing senility led to a family squabble that forced him out as manager and active owner, his sons were broke and forced to sell the team. But the Phillies remained in Shibe Park, renamed it Connie Mack Stadium, and erected a statue of him that now stands outside Citizens Bank Park.
I take Connie over Leo Durocher of West Springfield, Massachusetts. Although Leo was a winner, he was also a deeply evil man. Connie Mack may have been cheap, even when he didn't have to be, but he was a generous soul, and was beloved, known as the Grand Old Man of Baseball.