Thursday, August 26, 2010

San Diego's All-Time Baseball Team

The San Diego Padres have already had their last series of the season against the Mets -- unless the Mets go on another "miracle" run and face the National League Western Division-leading Padres in the Playoffs. But the Padres start a series not that far from me tonight, against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

Last night, playing at their (relatively) new home, PETCO Park, the Padres lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks. They were wearing throwback uniforms, copies of their 1978-79 uniforms.

In 1978, the Padres had 4 future Hall-of-Famers on their roster: Gaylord Perry, a member of the 300 Wins and 3,000 Strikeouts Club, who that season became the oldest Cy Young Award winner (39, a record since broken) and the first man to win it in both Leagues; Rollie Fingers, the first man with 300 saves; Dave Winfield, a member of the 3,000 Hit Club who hit 465 home runs; and Ozzie Smith, who stole 580 bases and became the most renowned (though not the best) defensive shortstop ever. 

But they won only 84 games and finished 4th in the NL West, because the Division then had the Los Angeles Dodgers in the middle of a superb era, the Cincinnati Reds near the end of their Big Red Machine era, and the San Francisco Giants having their best season between 1971 and 1987.

To make matters worse, they were playing in a cavernous football stadium in the middle of nowhere (San Diego/Jack Murphy/Qualcomm Stadium, and this was well before a light rail line was built out to Mission Valley), and their uniforms were hideous. Steve Garvey, then a Dodger and later a Padre (but not, as the joke eventually went, my Padres), said, "In Los Angeles, I looked at myself in the mirror, and I looked like an America flag. Here, I look like a taco." (A little latent anti-Hispanic bigotry there, Steverino?)

The Padres had the aforementioned Hall-of-Famers, and also 3,000 Hit Club member Tony Gwynn. They've got a loyal fan base and a terrific new ballpark in downtown San Diego, one of the most beautiful cities in America. They've have won Pennants in 1984 and 1998, and NL West titles in 1984, '96, '98, 2005 and '06, and are leading the NL West again in 2010. If they hold their lead, currently at 6 games, it will be their 9th postseason appearance in 42 seasons, a little better than once every 5 seasons -- a proportion bettered only by the Yankees, Dodgers (in L.A. only), Braves (in Atlanta only), Athletics (in Oakland only), Diamondbacks and Twins (in Minnesota only). But they've never won a World Series. In fact, their record in postseason games is 12-22 -- just 1-8 in World Series play.

This is a franchise with some things to be proud of. And the city's/region's all-time native team is pretty good, too, with a few good third basemen, a deadly left fielder, and some serious dealers on the mound.

But note that, while he played only for the Padres in the majors, and played both baseball and basketball at San Diego State University, Tony Gwynn was born in Los Angeles and grew up in adjacent Long Beach, and is thus geographically ineligible for this team.

His son, Tony Gwynn Jr., grew up in the San Diego suburb of Poway while his father played for the Padres, and now plays for the Padres himself. So he's geographically eligible... but, given that his career OPS+ is 79 (as opposed to his father's mighty 132), and that he's 27 and thus not likely to significantly improve, I think we can rule out Tony Jr. for this squad.

San Diego's All-Time Baseball Team

To be geographically eligible, a player has to have grown up in San Diego County or Imperial County, California.

1B Adrian Gonzalez of Chula Vista. Since joining the Padres in 2006, his OPS+ of 137 has already led them to 1 NL West title, and they appear to be heading to another. He's had 157 homers in the last 5 years, and 2 100-RBI seasons (and had 99 in a 3rd), 3 All-Star berths and 2 Gold Gloves... and you probably didn't even know any of this until now. That's what playing in San Diego, rather than up the coast in L.A., will get you. Unless the Padres win the Pennant.

Honorable Mention to Eric Karros, born in Hackensack, Bergen County, New Jersey, but grew up in San Diego and went to Patrick Henry High School. He was NL Rookie of the Year in 1992, had 5 100-RBI seasons, and hit 284 homers, 270 of them with the Dodgers, making him the all-time leader for the Los Angeles portion of the team. (Duke Snider remains the overall franchise leader, hitting 371 for Brooklyn, 18 for Los Angeles, 14 in 1963 for the Mets and 4 in 1964 for, of all teams, the Giants, totaling 407.)

In spite of this, Karros was never named to the NL All-Star Team. He's now a studio analyst for Fox Sports' baseball broadcasts.

2B Bret Boone of Placentia. (That's "Placentia," not "Placenta.") His big-league debut, on August 19, 1992 with the Seattle Mariners, made his family the first 3-generation family in Major League Baseball.

Batting-wise, he's the best in the family so far: 2 .300 seasons, 9 seasons with at least 25 doubles, 252 home runs, 3 100-RBI seasons (leading the American League with 141 in 2001), and 3 All-Star appearances. While not quite the fielder his father Bob was behind the plate, he did win 4 Gold Gloves.

He helped the Reds win the 1995 NL Central title and the Braves the 1999 NL Pennant, then went back to Seattle and was the biggest bat in their 116-win AL West Championship season in 2001. He will be eligible for the Hall of Fame next year, but I don't think he'll make it. But the Mariners have a team Hall of Fame, and he should go into that.

SS Alan Trammell of Kearny High School in San Diego. It takes a lot to play 20 years in Detroit. Ask Al Kaline, Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio and Steve Yzerman. Like them, Tram did it in style. He was a big force in the Tigers' revival from the age-related collapse of the Kaline-era team, and helped the win the 1984 World Series (he was the Series MVP) and the 1987 AL East title, while keeping them in the Pennant race nearly every year from 1983 to 1993, averaging 92 wins a season from 1983 to 1988.

He appeared in 6 All-Star Games, won 4 Gold Gloves, had an OPS+ of 110, 2,365 hits, 412 doubles, 185 homers (pretty good for a shortstop of the 1980s), a .333 batting average in postseason play, and was one of the last really good shortstops before Cal Ripken changed the perception of the position from a skinny, often short guy who was there mainly for his glove to a big one with power.

The Tigers have not officially retired his Number 3, which was previously worn by Hall-of-Famer Mickey Cochrane and another All-Star shortstop, Dick McAuliffe, but neither have they given it back out, except for when Trammell was a coach and then manager (with considerably less success). On's Hall of Fame Monitor, where 100 = a "Likely HOFer," he's at 118, and that's just for his hitting. But on their Hall of Fame Standards, where the "Average HOFer" is at 50, he's at 40.

He's been eligible for the Hall since 2002, and his longtime double-play partner Lou Whitaker a year longer than that. By all rights, both should be in. Maybe if Tiger broadcaster Ernie Harwell, also a songwriter and poet, had given the pair a memorable poem, like the one that got "Tinker to Evers to Chance" all in at the same time.

3B Graig Nettles of San Diego H.S. Played for Billy Martin in both Minnesota and New York -- and not only survived, but thrived. With a .248 lifetime batting average, he'll probably never get into the Hall of Fame, but his career OPS+ was 110. While he did play home games at Yankee Stadium for 9 full seasons and Metropolitan Stadium and Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium for 1 each, he also played 3 at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, 2 at Shea Stadium (while Yankee Stadium was being renovated) and 3 at Jack Murphy Stadium for his hometown Padres. 

He appeared in the postseason 7 times, 5 with the Yankees (1976, '77, '78, '80 and '81) and 1 each with the Twins (1969) and Padres (1984). He made 6 All-Star Games. He hit 32 home runs to lead the AL in 1976, and hit 37 in 1977 (although Jim Rice hit 39 to league the League). His 2,226 career hits included 390 homers.

He received only 2 Gold Gloves, but had to compete against Brooks Robinson for them for the 1st half of his career and George Brett (with whom he famously had a fight in Game 5 of the '77 ALCS) for much of the 2nd half. His spectacular plays in Game 3 turned the '78 World Series around, and got the Yankees their 2nd straight title. He helped his hometown team win their 1st Pennant in 1984.

As I said, he's not in the Hall of Fame. The Yankees retired his Number 9 after he left -- but for Roger Maris. He doesn't yet have a Plaque in Yankee Stadium's Monument Park, although he did get a YES Network Yankeeography. Still, he was the greatest Yankee 3rd baseman until Alex Rodriguez arrived. And he's a member of the San Diego Hall of Champions.

Honorable Mention to Troy Glaus of Carlsbad. He's having a good rebound year with the Braves, but is better-remembered as an Anaheim Angel, helping them win the 2002 World Series. At age 33, he currently has 320 home runs.

Honorable Mention to Ray Boone of Herbert Hoover High School in San Diego. A rookie with the 1948 Cleveland Indians, he got into just 7 games that season, but one was in the World Series, so he got a ring. With the Indians and Tigers, he had 4 20-homer seasons, 2 100-RBI seasons (leading the AL with 116 in 1955), and made 2 All-Star teams.

And he became the patriarch of MLB's 1st 3-generation family, living to see his son Bob become one of the great catchers, and his grandsons Brett and Aaron both become ballplayers who, shall we say, had their moments. Speaking of which...

Honorable Mention to Aaron Boone of Villa Park. (Why he went to Villa Park High School and brother Bret went to Placentia High School, I don't know.) Statistically speaking, he's the least accomplished of the 4 members of his family to make it to the bigs so far. But he did help the Reds reach their last postseason berth (sort of, the 1999 Wild Card play-in game that they lost to the Mets), and he had 2 20-homer seasons.

On July 31, 2003, the Reds traded him to the Yankees. He did next to nothing for the Yankees in August and September, and most of October. Then he hurt his knee in the off-season, and he was gone. He missed the entire 2004 season, but came back in 2005. He needed open-heart surgery in 2009, and still came back sooner from that than Jose Reyes did from a hamstring pull.

He has now retired, but there are those 2 big homers he hit as a Yankee in one week, the second in the World Series, although he was 2-for-20 in that Series otherwise. But the moment of 12:16 AM on October 17, 2003 is one that will live forever. Thank you, Aaron.

Honorable Mention to Hank Blalock of Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego. He also hit a big home run in 2003, winning the All-Star Game for the AL. Too bad it ended up not helping the Yankees in the Series, the home-field advantage being ignored by the Marlins. A solid slugger for the Texas Rangers, he has battled injury for a while, including this season with the Tampa Bay Rays. They may make the Playoffs, but chances are he won't be available. Still, at age 29 he's already got 153 homers.

LF Ted Williams of Herbert Hoover H.S. in San Diego. No, he wasn't "the greatest hitter who ever lived." Babe Ruth was, and Ted was the first to admit it. But he got his wish: People pointed at him and said he was the greatest.

He had a .344 lifetime batting average, highest of any player whose career began after 1917. He had an OPS+ of 190, higher than anyone in history except Babe Ruth. He appeared in 17 All-Star Games, including a walkoff homer in 1941 and a memorable one off Rip Sewell's blooping "eephus pitch" in 1946 at his home ground of Fenway Park. He collected 2,654 hits, including 525 doubles and 521 home runs, despite missing 3 seasons (at age 24, 25 and 26) due to World War II and most of 2 others (at age 33 and 34) in the Korean War (where he was a Marine pilot, in a squadron with future astronaut John Glenn, and got shot down and nearly killed).

He won 6 batting titles, including a .406 at age 23 in 1941 that is still the last .400 average in the majors, and a .388 at age 39 in 1957 that is the 2nd-highest for a full season since 1941. He won 2 Triple Crowns, in 1942 and 1947, and 2 Most Valuable Player awards, in 1946 and 1949. (When Ted deserved the MVP and when he didn't is a debate for another time.) Andhe  had 2 of the best nicknames ever: The Splendid Splinter and Teddy Ballgame.

Hall of Fame, All-Century Team. Statue outside Fenway Park. He wrote the book on hitting -- literally: The Science of Hitting (published 1969) remains the best book ever written on the subject. Check out this excerpt. And his Ted Williams' Hit List (1995) is as good a book on the history of great hitters as we're ever likely to have, at least until someone provides a thoughtful way of looking at the steroid era.

He inspired writers as varied as novelist John Updike (Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu) and scientist Stephen Jay Gould (The Extinction of the .400 Hitter). And if that wasn't enough of a legacy, his work for the Jimmy Fund of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute turned it from a local charity in Boston into a nationally-known powerhouse for helping sick children.

Somewhat Honorable Mention to Kevin Mitchell of Clairemont High School in San Diego. He helped the Mets win the World Series as a 24-year-old rookie left fielder/3rd baseman. Just 45 days after that Series ended, on December 11, 1986, they traded him to his hometown Padres for left fielder Kevin McReynolds. I joke a lot about "the Curse of Kevin Mitchell," but the Mets have not only had close calls and failures, but they've come in some bizarre ways.

Anyway, the Padres didn't benefit much from Mitchell, either, trading him to the San Francisco Giants, where he helped them win the NL West in 1987 and then, in an MVP season, the Pennant in 1989. But he would never approach his '89 performance again, and as his weight rose, his performance dropped. At age 30 he had his last season of 400 plate appearances. His career OPS+ was 142, but he finished with just 234 home runs. At least we can be sure that Dwight Gooden was making up that cat story...

Honorable Mention to Brian Giles. Not the mediocre infielder for the 1980s Mets and Indians. This one, whose brother Marcus was also an All-Star, has a 136 OPS+ and 287 home runs, and reached the postseason 3 times with the Indians and twice with his hometown Padres. He announced his retirement prior to 2010 spring training, but at 39 I wouldn't rule out a comeback.

CF Adam Jones of Samuel Morse High School in San Diego. Not to be confused with the criminal football player also known as "Pacman," this is the defending center field Gold Glove winner for the Baltimore Orioles. He's just 24 and already has 68 career doubles, 16 triples and 48 homers. He also plays really well against the Yankees, which pisses me off. But although it seems early to put him on this list, I didn't find another CF who was good enough -- despite finding a bunch of good LFs.

RF Clifford Carlton "Gavvy" Cravath of Escondido. The 1st native of the San Diego area to reach the majors, with the 1908 Red Sox, while playing back home he hit a ball that killed a seagull -- in Spanish, un gaviota. "Gaviota" became "Gavvy."

He starred for the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League and the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association, before finally becoming a big-league regular at age 31 with the 1912 Phillies. He won 6 home run titles, hitting 119 in just 7 full seasons at the tail end of the Dead Ball Era. He had 3 100-RBI seasons. He helped the Phillies win their 1st Pennant in 1915. Career batting average .287, OPS+ 151!

He last played in the majors 90 years ago, last played in the high minors 88 years ago, and died 47 years ago, but he's on the Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame at Citizens Bank Park, and really should be considered for Cooperstown.

C Bob Boone of Crawford H.S. in San Diego. A 5-time All-Star and 7-time Gold Glove winner, he reached the postseason 7 times, 5 with the Philadelphia Phillies (including catching Tug McGraw's strikeout of Willie Wilson to finish their 1st-ever World Championship in 1980) and 2 with the then-California Angels. His 2,225 games behind the plate are a record for an NL catcher, and his major-league record has been surpassed only by Carlton Fisk and Ivan Rodriguez (cough-steroids-cough). He is a member of the Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame.

Bob is also the manager of this team, almost by default, for getting the Kansas City Royals to their last 2nd-place finish in 1995. The only other managers from the San Diego area are Williams (who did get the Washington Senators to a winning record in 1969), Cravath, Bob Skinner, his son Joel Skinner (neither made this team as a player), and current A's manager Bob Geren (though he does have them in 2nd place as of this writing).

SP Jim Wilson of San Diego. The San Diego State graduate had some rotten luck: He debuted with the Red Sox in 1945, pitched just 1 game in their 1946 Pennant season, and didn't make it to the World Series roster, and then got stuck with 3 failed franchises: The St. Louis Browns, Philadelphia Athletics and Boston Braves.

He stayed with the Braves in their move to Milwaukee, but was traded back to the Browns, by that point the Orioles, before the 1957 Pennant. Went to the Chicago White Sox and had his best season with them in 1957, going 15-8 and helping them finish 2nd, but only pitched one more year before the Sox released him -- and then won the Pennant the next year. Still, he went 86-89 for mostly lousy teams, and made 3 All-Star squads.

SP Don Larsen of Point Loma High School in San Diego. Does a 3-21 pitcher ever have any hope? Larsen did, after the 1954 season, when he got traded to the Yankees along with Bob Turley in the biggest MLB trade ever, 18 men switching teams. In 1956, Larsen went 11-5 and helped the Yankees win the World Series. Especially in Game 5, when he put up the greatest pitching performance ever: A perfect game, against the powerful Brooklyn Dodgers. It's still the only no-hitter in postseason history.

He also helped the Yanks win the Pennant in '55 and '57 and the Series in '58. After the '59 season he was sent to the Kansas City Athletics as part of the deal for Roger Maris. He came back to haunt the Yankees by winning a game against them for the Giants in the 1962 Series. His career record is just 81-91, but take away '54 and an awful 1-10 season for the A's in 1960, and he was a strong 77-60.

SP Mark Langston of San Diego. Three times, he led the AL in strikeouts, but the Mariners didn't want to pay his salary, so they traded him -- to the Montreal Expos, for an as-yet-unknown Randy Johnson, among others. He went 12-9 as a rent-a-pitcher for the Expos, and then they let him get away to the Angels, whom he gave 8 seasons, becoming perhaps their 2nd-best starter ever after Nolan Ryan.

He helped his hometown Padres win the Pennant in 1998, then thought he had Tino Martinez struck out in Game 1, before giving up a tremendous grand slam. He was signed by the Indians afterward, thinking they were going to face the Yankees in the postseason again, and thinking, "The Yankees can't hit lefthanders, especially in the postseason." (This idea by the Indians also didn't work the next few years with Chuck Finley.) Langston was 38 and done, but he did win 179 games and strike out 2,464 batters.

SP David Wells of Point Loma High School in San Diego. What are the odds of 2 pitchers from the same high school both pitching perfect games for the same major league team in the same ballpark? It happened at Yankee Stadium on October 8, 1956 to Don Larsen, and against on May 17, 1998 to David Wells. Larsen was a thin righthander, Wells the prototypical "portly portsider."  But both were a bit eccentric (nicknamed Gooney Bird and Boomer, respectively), and both liked their booze.

Larsen was basically a pitcher who was as good as his support. Wells, on the other hand, was a big reason why 6 different teams reached a total of 11 postseasons with him: The 1989, '91 and '92 Toronto Blue Jays (1992 World Champions); the 1995 Cincinnati Reds; the 1996 Baltimore Orioles; the 1997, '98, 2002 and '03 New York Yankees (1998 World Champions, including Game 1 where he beat his hometown Padres); the 2005 Boston Red Sox; and the 2006 Padres. Overall, he was 10-5 with a 3.17 ERA in postseason play. Career record of 239-157. He'll probably never get into the Hall of Fame, but he was a winner.

SP Cole Hamels of Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego. He's just 26, but already 55-44 in the majors, with a fine WHIP of 1.185. In his first 3 full seasons, the Phillies won 3 Division titles, 2 Pennants, and the 2008 World Series, in which he was MVP. Despite injuries that have limited him to 7-10 this season, his ERA is just 3.47 -- an ERA+ of 119, just below his career figure of 121. Write his season, and the Phils', off at your peril. And if he can stay healthy, he'll win a lot more games. Which brings me to...

Honorable Mention to Mark Prior of University High School in San Diego. In 2003, just 23 years old, he went 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA, 245 strikeouts and a 1.103 WHIP, and helped his team reach the NLCS. His future seemed limitless. Unfortunately, his team was the Chicago Cubs. Having won Game 2 against the Marlins, Prior was pitching in Game 6 when the Steve Bartman incident happened, and the Cubs went from 3-0 up to 8-3 down. Fellow Cub phenom Kerry Wood looked like he might win Game 7, but...

It was all downhill from there for both of them (although Wood is now a setup reliever with the Yankees, so there's hope for him). Both were stricken with injuries, and Prior last threw a pitch in the majors in 2006, shortly before his 26th birthday. Career record, 42-29, ERA+ of 124. He tried a comeback with his hometown Padres, but didn't get back to the majors. He's now with the Orange County Flyers of the independent (non-major-league-affiliated) Golden Baseball League. He's 30. Can a comeback possibly happen?

Note that San Diego native Stephen Strasburg is not on this team. Not after 12 starts, just 68 innings pitched. And, since he's most likely going to be out until the start of the 2012 season, it might be a long time before he gets on it.

RP Heath Bell of Tustin. He didn't reach the majors until he was 26, and didn't become a full-time closer until he was 31. But, pitching for the Padres, he led the NL in saves last season with 42 and is leading this season with 37 so far. He's currently 5-0 with a 1.84 ERA. He's not going to make Padres fans forget Trevor Hoffman, but if they hold on and win the NL West, they'll certainly remember him forever.

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