Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cincinnati's All-Time Baseball Team

I realize this has nothing to do with tonight's Game 4 of the ALCS. I realize that I said I would do a piece on the firing of Casey Stengel, and its effects on the Yankees, on the 50th Anniversary of the event, which was yesterday. And I realize that the Reds have already been eliminated from the Playoffs, as I was hoping to be able to post this while they were still in it.

But I do want to get this out of the way. After this, there will be only 2 teams' regional all-time teams left to do. The New York teams.

Cincinnati's All-Time Baseball Team

This team consists of players from the southern half of Ohio. The dividing line is pretty much the northern edge of Interstate 270, the "beltway" around the State capital of Columbus. The State House is 107 miles from Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark, and 142 miles from Jacobs Field, or whatever the Indians are calling it now.

This team also includes players from southern Indiana, except for that little southwestern tail, and from Kentucky, except for its westernmost part – those belong to the St. Louis Cardinals' region. It also includes southern West Virginia, with the northern part belonging to Pittsburgh and the eastern Panhandle region going to Washington, D.C. – although the only player from the Panhandle good enough for me to even consider for the D.C. regional team was John Kruk.

What does this Cincinnati All-Time Team have? Good contact hitting. Good power hitting. Good starting pitching, although most of it is old-time -- or even "old-tyme." A little weak in the bullpen, though, and I'm not sure about the catcher, mainly because he hasn't played a game in 113 years (and has been dead for 104).

Still, this should be a team that would do well by the Queen City of the Midwest. (Not to be confused with Seattle, which is known as the Queen City of the Northwest. As far as I know, there's no "King City" anywhere in the U.S., although New York is known as the Empire State.)

1B Al Oliver of Portsmouth, Ohio. He actually played a little bit more center field, but try cracking the starting lineup at that position on this team. He finished 2nd to Ted Sizemore for National League Rookie of the Year in 1969, but had a far better career than any of the others in the top 5 in the vote, making 7 All-Star Teams.

He won the World Series with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1971, and also helped them reach postseason play in 1970, '72, '74 and '75, nearly helped the Pirates to do so in '73 and the Texas Rangers do it in '78, and got there in his final season with the 1985 Toronto Blue Jays.

He led the NL in batting, hits, doubles, total bases and RBI in 1982 as a member of the Montreal Expos. He was also, starting with the '78 Rangers (after wearing 16 for the Pirates), the 1st player to regularly wear the Number 0 – not as a zero, but to represent an O for Oliver.

He batted .303 lifetime, OPS+ 121, and had 2,743 hits. Of all players eligible for the Hall of Fame but not yet in, only Harold Baines and Vada Pinson have more hits. On Baseball-Reference.com's Hall of Fame Monitor, where a "Likely HOFer" is at 100, he's at 116; on their "Hall of Fame Standards," where an "Average HOFer" is at 50, he's at 40.

 On their "Most Similar Batters," his top 10 included HOFers Zack Wheat, Roberto Clemente (his Pirate teammate), Joe Medwick and Enos Slaughter. (And another Pirate teammate who's not in, Dave Parker.) He belongs.

Honorable Mention to Charlie Gould, the only member of baseball's 1st openly professional team, the 1869-70 Cincinnati Red Stockings, who was actually from Cincinnati, or even anywhere near it.

 He was one of the Red Stockings who moved east to form the Boston Red Stockings -- forerunners of today's Atlanta Braves -- and led the National Association in triples in 1872, as the Red Stockings won the first of 4 straight Pennants. That was the only Pennant Gould won as a member of a pro league, as he was gone the next season.

In 1876 and '77, he played with the new Cincinnati Red Stockings of the National League, but they went out of business after the 1880 season, before a new team with the name formed in the American Association in 1882 and joined the NL in 1892. That team is the one that became today's Cincinnati Reds.

 So if you hear a Reds fan tell you his team is "the oldest team in professional baseball" -- he's wrong. In a manner of speaking, the Braves are, even though they've only been in their current city since 1966, which was roughly 100 years after the original, amateur, version of the Cincinnati Red Stockings was formed.

2B Billy Herman of New Albany, Indiana. A 10-time All-Star, he batted .304 lifetime with a 112 OPS+. He helped the Chicago Cubs win Pennants in 1932, '35 and '38, and the Brooklyn Dodgers in '41, although he never won a World Series. (His injury late in '41 was a big reason why the Dodgers didn't win that one.)

He led the NL in doubles in '35 and in triples in '39. He had 2,345 career hits, including 486 doubles and 82 triples. Hall of Fame, and a member of the Cubs' Walk of Fame outside Wrigley Field, although they've never retired a number for him. (He wore several, wore 4 the most.)

SS Barry Larkin of Archbishop Moeller High School in Cincinnati. A true hometown hero, he turned down free-agent offers from other teams to stay with the Reds. He was a 12-time All-Star, the 1st time at age 24 and the last in his final season at 40 – and it wasn't an honorary thing, either, as he batted .289 that season.

He helped the Reds win the 1990 World Series, and got them into the postseason again in 1995 and '99 (and had them in 1st place in the NL Central when the Strike of '94 hit). He also won 3 Gold Gloves, and the 1995 NL Most Valuable Player award. He had a lifetime batting average of .295, OPS+ 116, 2,340 hits including 441 doubles and 76 triples.

He is now eligible for the Hall of Fame. What does Baseball-Reference.com say? HOF Monitor 118 (that would be a yes), HOF Standards 47 (that would almost be a yes). Similar Batters including HOFers Ryne Sandberg, Joe Cronin and Pee Wee Reese (who I'll get to in a moment) – also Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, both of whom I think should be in, and Roberto Alomar, some people's choice to go in (but not mine). Put him in. The Reds appear to be waiting until his election to retire his Number 11, but it has not been given out since he retired as a player.

UPDATE: He was elected in 2012, and the Reds retired his number.

Very Honorable Mention to Harold "Pee Wee" Reese of Lousville, Kentucky. Played for the Triple-A Louisville Colonels, then a Boston Red Sox farm team, and legend has it that the Sox sold him to the Brooklyn Dodgers because Sox manager Joe Cronin was insecure about losing his own place as the Sox shortstop. Big mistake? Not really, because the Sox did have Johnny Pesky coming up.

He wasn't short: He was 5-foot-10. Rather, he got his nickname from his childhood prowess at marbles, which were often called "peewees." Reese was the best shortstop in the National League in the 1940s and the 1st half of the 1950s – no mean feat in an era with Marty Marion and later Alvin Dark around.

A 10-time All-Star, he helped the Dodgers win 7 Pennants and nearly made it 11. He wasn't a great hitter, but he did manage 2,170 hits during his career, 330 of them doubles and 80 of them triples. He stole 232 bases, leading the NL in steals in 30. Not an easy thing to do when your teammate is Jackie Robinson.

Which brings us to Pee Wee's most important legacy: As Dodger captain, and also as a white Southerner, he let it be known that Robinson would be accepted and that anyone who wouldn't accept him was gone – and, after that 1947 Pennant-winning season, that included Southerners Dixie Walker and Eddie Stanky, despite both having been quite popular on the team and with Dodger fans. It was the right, move, not just morally but competitively.

In May 1947, when the Dodgers were in Cincinnati – across the river from the Southern State of Kentucky and in many ways more Southern than Midwestern – Pee Wee heard so many nasty words from the stands at Crosley Field, from fans of the Reds, the team he had grown up rooting for, that he called time out, walked from his shortstop position to Jackie's at 1st base, and put his arm around Jackie for a brief chat.

What he said to Jackie isn't recorded, and it doesn't matter. What matters is what this gesture said to the crowd: "I'm a white Southerner, and this black man is my teammate, and I'm too much of a gentleman to call you a bunch of dumb fucking rednecks in any other way."

The moment is recreated in a statue of the men outside MCU Park, home of the minor-league Brooklyn Cyclones. Pee Wee is in the Hall of Fame, and the Dodgers retired his Number 1.

3B Mike Schmidt of Dayton, Ohio. He grew up at a time when the Reds' top player was Frank Robinson, so he wore Robinson's Number 20 with the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies have retired this number, elected him to the Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame, and erected a statue of him outside Citizens Bank Park. In 1983, when the team celebrated its 100th Anniversary, they held fan balloting for their all-time team and their all-time greatest player. Schmidt was chosen their all-time greatest player. And he still had 159 homers and an MVP award to go!

Schmidt was an All-Star 12 times – including being voted the starting 3rd baseman on the NL team in 1989 after he'd already announced his retirement. He stayed true to his principles by not playing, but also stayed true to the fans who chose him by flying out to Anaheim and appearing in uniform for the event.

His career OPS+ was an astounding 147. He had 2,234 hits, including 408 doubles, 59 triples, and 548 home runs – more than any 3rd baseman in history, more than any righthanded hitter of his generation, and more than any National Leaguer of his generation. (Only Reggie Jackson, in that generation, topped him among lefties and American Leaguers.) He led the NL in homers 8 times, in RBIs 4 times, had 9 100-RBI seasons, and in 1980 hit 48 homers for a new team record that stood until Ryan Howard hit 58 in 2006. NL MVP in 1980, '81 and '86. And he wasn't just a great hitter: He won 10 Gold Gloves. He is most people's pick for the greatest 3rd baseman ever.

He helped the Phillies reach postseason play 6 times in an 8-year span from 1976 to 1983, winning the 1980 World Series (both regular-season and Series MVP) and the 1983 Pennant. In addition to the awards from his team, he was elected to the Hall of Fame and the All-Century Team. He’s a Hall of Fame person, too.

LF Frank Howard of Columbus, Ohio. At 6-foot-7 and 280 pounds, it's easy to see why they called him the Monster. He looked more like a football player, or at least a basketball player. In fact, he played them and baseball at The... Ohio State University. Called up too late to help the Los Angeles Dodgers win the 1959 World Series, he was NL Rookie of the Year in 1960, and helped the Dodgers win the 1963 Series before being traded to the Washington Senators, where he became known as the Capital Punisher.

He led the AL in homers in 1968 and '70, and nearly did so in '69 except that his predecessor as D.C.'s biggest bopper, Harmon Killebrew, hit 49 for the ex-Senators, now the Minnesota Twins, to Howard's 48. Howard also led the AL in total bases and slugging in '68, total bases in '69 and RBIs in '70. When the Senators moved to become the Texas Rangers after the '71 season, he hit the last home run in team history.

Traded to the Detroit Tigers late in '72, he helped them win the AL East. A 4-time All-Star, career OPS+ 142, 382 home runs. He did slow down at age 34 and retired at 36, making him look like he fit the steroid profile, but at his size he, wouldn't have needed 'em if offered.

Baseball-Reference.com has him at "only" 61 on their HOF Monitor and 26 on their HOF Standards. And none of his 10 Most similar Batters are in. So it doesn't look like he’ll get in. Still, at the time he retired, only Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Killebrew, Jimmie Foxx and Ernie Banks were righthanded hitters with more career homers. He is honored with a statue outside Nationals Park, and is listed on the Washington Hall of Stars display at the park.

CF Ken Griffey Jr. of Archbishop Moeller High School in Cincinnati. At this position, the Cincinnati team is loaded. They can also call on Earle Combs of Pebworth, Kentucky, a Hall-of-Famer who preceded Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle at the position for the Yankees, winning 4 Pennants and 3 World Series before a skull fracture against the unpadded outfield walls of the time prematurely ended his career.

Then there's David "Gus" Bell of Louisville, Kentucky, who helped the Reds win the 1961 Pennant and whose son David "Buddy" Bell and grandson David Bell (apparently no nickname) also played in the majors. Then there's Jimmy Wynn of Taft High School in Cincinnati. The Toy Cannon was stuck in the Astrodome, but still hit a lot of home runs, including a memorable blast in his hometown in 1967, onto the Mill Creek Expressway (Interstate 75) just beyond the left-field wall at Crosley Field.

But they all have to take a back seat to Junior, who, like his father Ken, was born in Donora, Pennsylvania (also the home town of Stan Musial), but grew up in Cincy while his father played there. He just retired this season, and barring steroid revelations (I seriously doubt he used them) or any other kind of ethical calamity, will be elected to the Hall of Fame on his 1st try in 2016.

He was a 13-time All-Star, a 10-time Gold Glover, the 1997 AL MVP, a 135 career OPS+, 2,781 hits including 524 doubles and 630 home runs – 4th-best all-time among honest men – plus 1,836 RBIs. 8 100-RBI seasons. 7 40-homer seasons, 4 in which he led the AL, twice hitting 56, the most in an AL season since Roger Maris' 61 in '61.

He led the Seattle Mariners to their 1st 2 postseason berths, as 1995 and '97 AL West Champions, and in particular his '95 run saved Major League Baseball in the Pacific Northwest, as a ballot initiative passed that got Safeco Field built. He had 398 homers before his 30th birthday. He was being hailed as the new Willie Mays.

Unfortunately, injuries were never far away, and he became the new Mickey Mantle instead. Only once did he top 30 homers after age 30, and never again had 100 RBIs. Either he or Barry Bonds, also the son of a good-but-not-quite-great major leaguer, was the best player of his generation. Griffey's reputation took a bit of a hit, but as the revelations about his contemporaries, including Bonds, began to pile up, Griffey began to look a lot better. Aside from his comeback with the M's the last 2 seasons, his Number 24 has not been given back out, and will surely be retired by the team. He deserves a statue outside Safeco. It, and the team, wouldn't be there now if it wasn't for him. (UPDATE: He was elected to the Hall on the 1st try, and his number was retired.)

Honorable Mention to Oscar Charleston of Indianapolis, Indiana. Since we don't have reliable statistics from the Negro Leagues, and since those leagues were probably, at best, made up of mostly Triple-A-quality  players, it's hard to say how good he was. But what we do have tells us that, in 53 exhibition games against all-white teams of major leaguers, he batted .318 with 11 homers. 53 x 3 = 159, a full season today, so that's .318 and on a pace for 33 homers.

So, had he played in the majors, he would probably have been as good as they came. He also managed the Pittsburgh Crawfords to a few Pennants… while still playing for them, at close to 40 years old, which attests to both his durability and his quick mind. Baseball historian Bill James calls him the 4th-best player ever. If only we could know for sure what he could do.

RF Sam Thompson of Danville, Indiana. This guy goes back to Cleveland. The Presidency of Grover Cleveland. In 1887, he led the Detroit Wolverines to the NL Pennant, leading the league in batting, hits, triples, RBIs (166, a record for the time), slugging and total bases. But the Wolverines couldn't maintain it, and had to sell him to the Philadelphia Phillies. He led the NL in homers in 1889 and '95, hits and doubles in '90 and '93, and RBIs in '94 and '95.

He retired after the 1898 season, but came back for 8 games with the new Detroit team, the AL's Tigers, in 1906 at age 46. Lifetime batting average .331, and an OPS+ of 146, so he was great by the standards of his own time, not just benefiting from the era's pitching conditions, especially since he was great both before and after the 1893 move-back from 50 feet to 60 feet, 6 inches. He is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame.

Honorable Mentions to Chuck Klein of Indianapolis, Indiana, another Phillies slugger in the Hall of Fame; Paul O’Neill of Columbus, Ohio, who helped his home-State Reds win the 1990 World Series before bringing his "Warrior" mentality to the Yankees for 4 more titles; and David Justice of Covington, Kentucky, right across the river from Cincinnati, who was a big part of the Atlanta Braves' revival in the 1990s, winning 4 Pennants and the 1995 World Series, and then helping the Indians win the 1997 Pennant and the Yankees win the Series in 2000 and the Pennant in 2001.

C William "Buck" Ewing of Hoagland, Ohio. Think Thompson went back a long way? Ewing debuted in 1880, during the Administration of Rutherford B. Hayes. He played his best years with the New York Giants, winning NL Pennants in 1888 and '89, and then helped the Cleveland Spiders win the Temple Cup in 1895, before closing his career with his hometown Reds in 1897.

(The Temple Cup was a trophy given to the winner of a postseason series between the NL's 1st- and 2nd-place teams from 1894 to '97. Because the 2nd-place team won in every year but 1896, people lost interest, and the Cup was withdrawn, although it's now on display at the Hall of Fame. Imagine if baseball had kept it, and treated it the way the NHL treats the Stanley Cup. Would we now be hearing Yankee Fans ask, "How many Temple Cups has your team won?" Ironically, no current team has ever won one, unless you count the 1894 Cup won by the Giants, who are now in San Francisco.)

Ewing may have been the best player of the 1880s, and pretty good in the 1890s, too. His lifetime batting average .303, OPS+ 129. He was also the 1st player ever to hit 10 home runs in a season, in 1883. He could play any position. Seriously: 636 games at catcher, 253 at 1st base, 235 in the outfield, 127 at 3rd base, 51 at 2nd base, 34 at shortstop and 9 pitching. And he was regarded as a good fielder at all of them.

He died in 1906, age 47, and in 1939, when the Hall of Fame held an election to determine which 19th Century players were worthy, they chose Ewing, Cap Anson, Old Hoss Radbourn, Al Spalding, Charles Comiskey and Candy Cummings – although Spalding and Comiskey had credentials as executives that exceeded their impressive records as players, and Cummings got in mainly because he invented the curveball, which he probably hadn't actually done. And Anson was also a pretty good manager. So Ewing was the only one elected mainly as a player.

Honorable Mention to an even earlier player: Cal McVey of Indianapolis, Indiana. Like Charlie Gould, he was a member of the 1869-70 Cincinnati Red Stockings, and was one of the ones who formed the Boston Red Stockings. Unlike Gould, he stuck with them through the entire length of the National Association, winning Pennants in 1872, '73, '74 and '75, leading that league in hits and RBIs twice each.

Like some of those Red Stockings, including Al Spalding, he went back west to form the Chicago White Stockings, forerunners of today's Cubs, and won the 1st NL Pennant in 1876, before returning to the NL's Cincinnati Red Stockings in their final 2 seasons, 1878 and '79.

SP Amos Rusie of Mooresville, Indiana. "The Hoosier Thunderbolt" was probably the fastest pitcher of the 1890s. He was just 29-34 for the New York Giants in 1890, but was only 19 years old. And he did strike out 341 batters. Over the next 4 seasons his win totals were 33, 32, 33 and 36. So the 1893 increase of the pitching distance from 50 feet to 60 feet, 6 inches appears not to have affected him at all.

(Unlike Gus Weyhing of Louisville, Kentucky, who I considered for this team, since "Cannonball" won 264 games in the majors, but was 177-124 before the move-back and just 87-108 after it, making him a great pitcher from age 21 to 25 but a mediocre one fro 26 to 32 and basically then being done.)

Rusie led the NL in wins once, ERA twice, and strikeouts 6 times. He held out for the entire 1896 season in a dispute with Giants owner Andrew Freedman, who was a real piece of work. He returned in 1897 and won 28 games.

Having been hit in the head by a line drive in 1898, he did not appear in a game in 1899 or 1900, and was traded by the Giants to the Cincinnati Reds. Before the trade, made on December 15, 1900, he was 29 years old and had won 246 games. After the trade, he appeared in just 3 games and won none. The man he was traded for? He was 20, and had appeared in 6 games and won none; he went on to win 373. His name was Christy Mathewson. This may have been the most lopsided trade in baseball history. Nevertheless, Rusie was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977, having died in 1942.

SP Mordecai Brown of Nyesville, Indiana. For the record, Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown was named “Centennial” because he'd been born in 1876, was nicknamed "Brownie" because of his last name, was nicknamed "Miner" because he'd been one, and was nicknamed "Three Finger" (or "Three-Fingered") because of a farm accident which cost him his index finger and damaged the others.

So unless you are dumb enough to not count the thumb, he actually had 4 fingers on his right hand, not 3. But the damage, particularly with the way it twisted his middle finger, left him with a grip that gave him a curveball and a change-up matched by few others in baseball history.

It took until age 26 for a big-league team to give him a chance, in 1903, and moving to the Chicago Cubs in 1904, it was between him and Christy Mathewson as to who was the best pitcher in the NL for the next few years. In fact, they opposed each other 24 times, and Brown won 13, Matty 11. 

Brown won 20 or more games 6 times, 25 or more 4 times, peaking at 29-9 in 1908. Six times he had an ERA under 2.00, and 5 times he had a WHIP under 1.000. In 1906 he had a 0.934 WHIP, and a 1.04 ERA, still the lowest in the NL since the 1893 mound-distance moveback.

Thanks in part to his pitching the makeup game, forced by New York Giant Fred Merkle's "Boner," that gave the Cubs the 1908 Pennant, he won Pennants in 1906, 1907, 1908, 1910, and, with the Chicago Whales of the Federal League, in 1915. He made 3 starts for the Cubs in the 1907 and 1908 World Series, all shutouts. Those 2 remain the only World Series the Cub franchise has ever won. (UPDATE: Finally, that is no longer true.)

His career record was 239-130 for an outstanding .648 winning percentage, a miniscule 2.06 ERA (and an ERA+ of 139, so he wasn't just taking advantage of the Dead Ball Era), a 1.066 career WHIP, and 55 shutouts. He also pitched in relief a lot for his era, including in the 1908 title-decider, collecting 49 saves, although that statistic was unknown at the time. Too bad, because his 13 saves in 1911 were a major league record at the time. He died in 1948, and was elected to the Hall of Fame a year later.

SP Carl Mays of Liberty, Kentucky. He would probably be in the Hall of Fame if he were not the only pitcher in major league history to have thrown a pitch that led to a player's death. On August 16, 1920, pitching for the Yankees against the Cleveland Indians, the submarine-style hurler struck Indian shortstop Ray Chapman in the head, at a time when batting helmets did not exist. Chapman got up, told Yankee catcher Wally Schang, "I’m all right. Tell Mays not to worry," started toward first base, and then collapsed. He never regained consciousness, and died the next day.

Mays lived another 51 years, and insisted to the end that he hadn't tried to hit Chapman, who was, before the beaning, known for ducking into pitches. The ball rebounded back to Mays, and from the sound, he thought Chapman had hit the ball, and he'd thrown it to 1st, which suggests he was telling the truth when he called it an accident.

But people wanted to say Mays did it on purpose, because he already had a reputation for nastiness, treating teammates and team management badly. It's what got him traded from the Boston Red Sox to the Yankees during the 1919 season. This was the 1st of the Yanks-Sox transactions that Sox owner Harry Frazee made to dismantle the 1912-18 Sox champions and, for all intents and purposes, make the 1921-28 Yank champions, highlighted, of course, by Babe Ruth.

Mays was a member of 6 Pennant-winning team,s 3 in Boston, 3 in New York, and pitched for the 1915, '16, '18 and '23 World Champions. He peaked in 1921, going 27-9. His career record was 208-126, for a .623 winning percentage. His ERA was 2.92, his ERA+ 120, and his WHIP 1.207.

Is that good enough to get him into the Hall of Fame? According to Baseball-Reference.com, their HOF Monitor has him at 114 of 100, and their HOF Standards has him at 41 of 50. Their 10 Most Similar Pitchers including 3 HOFers: Stan Coveleski, Chief Bender and Jack Chesbro. Maybe, already not being a nice guy, Mays still wouldn't be in if Chapman were still alive at his death. Of course, being white, he was no relation to Willie Mays, but a cousin a couple of times removed, Joe Mays, pitched for the Minnesota Twins a few years ago.

SP Jesse Haines of Clayton, Ohio. One of the players who turned the Cardinals from St. Louis' 2nd team into one of baseball's 1st teams, he was 210-158, won 20 on 3 occasions, and helped the Cards win Pennants in 1926, '28, '30, '31 and '34, winning the World Series in '26 (he started Game 7 but developed a blister, leading to Grover Cleveland Alexander's famed strikeout of Tony Lazzeri, but Haines was still the winning pitcher), '31 and '34. By the time of that last win, Haines was 40 and was not an integral member of the "Gashouse Gang." He is in the Hall of Fame, although often considered one of the lesser-deserving members.

SP Jim Bunning of Southgate, Kentucky. Forget his lunacy (or was it senility?) as a Republican Senator from his home State: This guy could pitch. One of the few pitchers to throw no-hitters in both Leagues, the graduate of Cincy's Xavier University did it in the American for the Detroit Tigers in 1958, and in the National League with a perfect game for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1964.

He only had 1 20-win season, going 20-8 with the '57 Tigers, but won 19 on 4 occasions, including 1964 when it was almost enough to get the Phils the Pennant. Unfortunately, manager Gene Mauch overused him down the stretch, and that's one of the reasons for the '64 Phillie Phlop. Bunning was traded away in 1968, but came back in 1970, and was the winning pitcher in both the last game at Shibe Park/Connie Mack Stadium (October 1, 1970) and the first game at Veterans Stadium (April 10, 1971) – both over the Montreal Expos.

He won 224 games, had an ERA+ of 114 and a WHIP of 1.179. It took a while for him to get into the Hall of Fame, by which point he'd already been in the U.S. House of Representatives for 10 years. He was elected to the Senate in 1998, but chose not to run for re-election this year. It's just as well: Next week he turns 79.

Honorable Mention to Ferdie Schupp of Louisville, Kentucky, whose 0.90 ERA in 1916 is the lowest in big-league history with at least 100 innings pitched (albeit just 140), and who went 21-7 for the 1917 Giants, helping them win the Pennant.

And to Paul Derringer of Springfield, Kentucky, who helped his "hometown" Reds win the 1939 Pennant and 1940 World Series, winning 223 games and being inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame; Carl Erskine of Anderson, Indiana, the curveball master who became one of the Brooklyn Dodgers' "Boys of Summer," helping them win 6 Pennants and the 1955 World Series (still alive at age 83, "Oisk" won 122 games, 4 in Los Angeles and the rest in Brooklyn); and Lew Burdette of Nitro, West Virginia, who starred for the Milwaukee Braves, winning 203 games, including 3 against the Yankees in the 1957 World Series (this after the Yanks traded him away, albeit getting the valuable Johnny Sain in the deal).

RP Joe Nuxhall of Hamilton, Ohio. Okay, he was mostly a starter, but I couldn't find a reliever I liked anywhere in the vast Cincy geographical range. In 1944, 2 months before his 16th birthday, World War II had left the Reds' organization so bereft of healthy arms that he was called up, and became the youngest player in major league history. He pitched 1 game, 2/3 of an inning, and got rocked, allowing 2 hits and 5 runs for a 67.50 ERA. He might not have been distraught, or had the Reds' organization dismayed by this performance, but he didn't appear in another big-league game for 8 years.

But once he did, he was ready. From 1952 to 1966, ages 23 to 37, mostly for the Reds (he was traded away in 1961 but got back a year later), he won 135 games, losing 117, and had 19 saves. He actually led the NL in shutouts in 1955, albeit with 5.

After retiring, he became a Reds broadcaster, teaming up with Marty Brennaman to form one of the most beloved broadcasting teams ever. The youngest man ever to appear in a big-league game began to refer to himself as "The Old Lefthander," and was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame. He died in 2007, age 79.

MGR Miller Huggins of Cincinnati, Ohio. A graduate of the University of Cincinnati and its law school, he was a pretty good player despite his size (5-foot-6, 140 pounds), playing 2nd base for the Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals, batting .304 in 1912 and leading the NL in walks 4 times. He managed the Cardinals from 1913 to 1917, and was then hired to run the Yankees, leading them to their 1st 6 Pennants, a pair of three-peats: 1921, '22, '23, '26, '27 and '28, winning the World Series in '23, '27 and '28.

On September 25, 1929, aged only 50 but always looking much older, he died of a blood disorder that probably could have been cured with today's medicine. On May 30, 1932, between games of a Memorial Day doubleheader, the Yankees dedicated a Monument to him, on the field in front of the flagpole at Yankee Stadium. This was the beginning of what became first "the Monuments" and then, after the 1973-76 renovation, "Monument Park."

From 1925 to 1961, the Yankees' spring training home was at Crescent Lake Park in St. Petersburg, Florida. In 1931, they renamed it Miller Huggins Field, using it as a practice facility while "real games" were played at Al Lang Field. When the Yanks moved across the State to Fort Lauderdale in 1962, the expansion Mets took it over, and renamed it Huggins-Stengel Field, using it until opening their Port St. Lucie complex in 1989. In 1964, Miller Huggins was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

GM Wesley Branch Rickey of Flat, Ohio. He invented the farm system, allowing the St. Louis Cardinals to become the dominant team in the National League between 1926 and 1946. Moving on to the Brooklyn Dodgers, he made them into the dominant team in the NL between 1947 and 1956. This was due in large part to an even greater innovation than the farm system, which saved teams a lot of money on scouting: He reintegrated the game, bringing in Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe and others. He moved on to the Pittsburgh Pirates, and helped them build into the 1960 World Champions. In all, the teams he built won 16 Pennants (and nearly 7 others) and 8 World Series, ranging from 1926 to 1960.

He was first involved in professional baseball in 1903, when Theodore Roosevelt was President, movies were new and didn't talk, there was no radio broadcasting, certainly no television, hardly anyone had an automobile, the airplane was a few months from being invented, the World Series was first played, and baseball was played in stadiums with wooden grandstands and no lights, with no major league teams south of the Potomac and Ohio Rivers and none more than 2 miles west of the Mississippi River.

He was last involved in professional baseball at his death at age 84 in 1965, when Lyndon Johnson was President, color TV was in vogue, the Space Age was underway, baseball was integrated, the majors stretched from coast to coast, and there was a team in the South, playing day games and night games under a dome.

And along the way, he changed baseball more than any person before (except for the game's original builders) or since. And he changed it for the better, even if he was often cheap: It was said he had money and he had players, and he didn't like to see the two mix. But he was one of baseball's great men.

And finally... Dishonorable Mention to Pete Rose of Western Hills High School in Cincinnati. You blew it, Pete. You thought you were bigger than the game. No, you weren't. Babe Ruth was bigger than baseball. Jackie Robinson was bigger than baseball. That's it, just those 2 guys. Pete Rose was never bigger than baseball. Now, he is far smaller than it.

No comments: