Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Arizona's All-Time Baseball Team

While the University of Arizona and Arizona State University have produced many great baseball players, this list only includes players who were trained (if not necessarily born) in Arizona or New Mexico -- plus El Paso, Texas, which is 429 miles from Phoenix but 747 miles from Houston.

And the lineup that this produces is far lesser than a Wildcats/Sun Devils team would be. Or even, by this point, an all-time Arizona Diamondbacks team.

22. Arizona's All-Time Baseball Team

Each of these players is from Arizona, rather than New Mexico or the El Paso area, unless otherwise stated.

1B Paul Konerko of Scottsdale. Having just turned 38, the Chicago White Sox slugger has announced his retirement at the end of this season. He comes into it with 434 home runs, a 119 OPS+, and 6 100-RBI seasons (nearly 7). He's a 6-time All-Star, and has helped the Pale Hose reach the postseason 3 times, including the 2005 World Championship.

2B Ian Kinsler of Oro Valley. After 8 years with the Texas Rangers, he was traded to the Detroit Tigers, even-up for Prince Fielder. A 3-time All-Star, he has 156 home runs. He got the Rangers into the 2010, '11 and '12 postseasons. Whether he can do the same for the Tigers remains to be seen.

Honorable Mention to Mark Grudzielanek of El Paso, Texas. Grudz only made 1 All-Star team and only won 1 Gold Glove, but he's got a .289 lifetime batting average, over 2,000 hits, and in 1997 led the NL in doubles with 54. Although best remembered as a Montreal Expo, he reached the postseason with the Chicago Cubs in 2003 and the St. Louis Cardinals in 2005.

SS J.J. Hardy of Tucson. Now 31, James Jerry Hardy has twice been named an All-Star and twice a Gold Glove.  In 9 years, mostly with the Milwaukee Brewers and the Baltimore Orioles, he's got 158 home runs, including 77 the last 3 seasons.

3B Jack Howell of Tucson. He hit a few home runs for the California Angels (as the Anaheim team was officially known) in the 1980s, including, famously, a broken-bat shot at the old Yankee Stadium.

LF Billy Hatcher of Williams. An All-Star with the Houston Astros, he helped them win the National League Western Division in 1986. With the Cincinnati Reds, he was the MVP of the 1990 World Series, going 9-for-12 in the 4-game sweep of the Oakland Athletics.

CF Hank Lieber of Phoenix. He reached the New York Giants in 1933, too soon to be included on the roster of a team that won the World Series, but he did play in the 1936 and ’37 Series that the Giants lost to the Yankees. Three times an All-Star, his best year was 1935, when he batted .331 with 22 homers and 107 RBI -- and, oddly, led the NL in both hit by pitch and grounding into double plays. He went off into World War II at age 31, and never again appeared in a professional game.

Honorable Mention to Cody Ross of Carlsabad, New Mexico. The best hitter ever to grow up in the Land of Enchantment, he now plays for the Diamondbacks. He's got 203 doubles and 130 home runs in 10 seasons.

He was not, however, the best player born in New Mexico. That would be Ralph Kiner, and the runner-up is Vern Stephens. However, these 2 star sluggers of the late 1940s and early 1950s left New Mexico as children and grew up in Southern California, Hall-of-Famer Kiner in Alhambra and All-Star Stephens in Long Beach. Fred Haney, who managed the Milwaukee Braves to the 1957 World Championship, was also born in New Mexico but grew up in Los Angeles.

RF Andre Ethier of Phoenix. About to turn 32, he's a 2-time All-Star, a Gold Glove winner, the holder of a .288 lifetime batting average and a 123 OPS+. In 8 years, he's hit 264 doubles and 141 home runs despite playing all his home games at pitcher's paradise Dodger Stadium. He's helped Los Angeles win 4 NL West titles.

C Tom Pagnozzi of Tucson. Not a great hitter, but he won 3 Gold Gloves with the 1990s Cardinals. Ron Hassey, another Tucsonian, is the backup (as he was so often), which shows you that the State is a little weak at the position.

UT Rex Hudler of Tempe. Gotta love Rex the Wonder Dog, who played every position in the major leagues, except catcher and pitcher. Too bad he couldn’t hit at any of them, batting .261 lifetime with a 92 OPS+. He played 281 games at 2nd base, 123 in left field, 65 each in center and right field, 47 at shortstop, 38 at 1st base, and 11 at 3rd base.

I don't know if this is a record for a uniform number shift, but in 1985 Rex wore Number 56 for the Yankees, and in 1986 rose all the way to Number 1 for the Orioles. He's now a broadcaster for the Kansas City Royals.

SP Alex Kellner of Tucson. He once won 20 games for the Philadelphia Athletics.  He did it for that franchise after 1932 (in 1949, to be precise), so, yes, it's a big deal. He was an All-Star that season, and finished 2nd to Roy Sievers in the AL Rookie of the Year voting.

SP Jim Palmer of Scottsdale. In Game 2 of the 1966 World Series, he pitched a shutout for the Orioles against the Dodgers -- beating Sandy Koufax, in what turned out to be Koufax' last game. He also won World Series games in 1970, '71 and '83 -- making him the only pitcher to win World Series games in 3 different decades.

He won 268 games in his career, and once said he didn't want to win his 300th while Earl Weaver was still the Baltimore manager, since Earl would take credit for it.  But Thomas Boswell, who covered the Orioles (the closest MLB team to D.C. from 1972 to 2004) for The Washington Post, once said that Palmer wouldn't have won 50 games in the majors if it wasn't for Weaver. (I'm not sure: He'd already won 23 before Weaver managed a game in the majors.) He won 20 games in 8 different seasons. He made 6 All-Star teams, won 3 Cy Young Awards and 4 Gold Gloves. His career ERA+ was 125, his WHIP 1.180.

Hall of Fame, Number 22 retired by the Orioles. When The Sporting News announced its 100 Greatest Baseball Players in 1999, he came in at Number 64. He did this in spite of his background: Two years ahead of him at Scottsdale High School was future Vice President Dan Quayle.

SP Gary Gentry of Phoenix. In 1969, as a rookie, he won 13 games for the Mets. On September 24 of that season, he tossed a 4-hit shutout against the Cardinals at Shea Stadium -- the Mets knocked future Hall-of-Famer Steve Carlton out of the box with 5 runs in the 1st, no less -- to clinch the NL Eastern Division title, the first-ever postseason berth for the Mets after their first 7 seasons -- as New York Post sportswriter Leonard Schecter put it in his book about the team, 7 years of bad luck evening out in one year.

Gentry also started and won Game 3 of the World Series. Unfortunately, he suffered an elbow injury, only won another 33 games in the majors, and was done at age 28, finishing at 48-49. Still, it’s enough to get him on this team.

SP John Denny of Prescott. He struggled with the Cleveland Indians, but he won the 1983 NL Cy Young Award, leading the Philadelphia Phillies to a Pennant -- a rare occurrence before 2008. He finished 123-108.

SP Gil Heredia of Nogales. He won 15 games for the Oakland A’s in 2000, as they won the AL West and nearly interrupted the Joe Torre Yankee dynasty. But he got hurt, only pitched one more season and was gone, finishing at 57-51. He was not related to Dominican Republic native Felix Heredia, who gave me some agita with the 2004 Yankees.

Honorable Mention to Matt Moore of Moriarty, New Mexico. He won't turn 25 until mid-June, but considering all of these starters except Denny, he's very likely to be in this rotation if I were to do this list again next year. He's gone 29-15 in 2 full seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays, making the All-Star team last year with a 17-4 record. He's helped the Rays reach the 2011 and '13 postseasons.

RP Duane Ward of Farmington, New Mexico. Probably the best pitcher to come from that State. The setup man for the Toronto Blue Jays in their 1992 World Championship season, he succeeded Tom Henke as the closer and won another Series with them in 1993, also making the All-Star team that year with 45 saves. But he developed tendinitis, and appeared in only 4 more major league games, his career effectively over at age 30, with 121 saves. Still, he's on this team ahead of...

Somewhat honorable mention to Lerrin LaGrow of Scottsdale. In the 1972 AL Championship Series, pitching for the Tigers, he hit Bert Campaneris of the A's on the foot. Campaneris responded by throwing his bat back at the mound. LaGrow ducked, and wasn’t hurt. He then went on to 8-19 and 7-14 seasons for the Tigers as the team got old in a hurry. The White Sox converted him to a reliever, and he kept them in the 1977 AL West race for a while. He was also with the Phillies when they won the 1980 World Series, but wasn't on the postseason roster -- indeed, that inning where he hit Campaneris was the only postseason inning of his career.

A few of years ago, my work resulted in me having to contact LaGrow’s office. He’s now a real estate agent and business broker in Scottsdale. How can I put this politely... I still think Campaneris overreacted, but I understand why he did it. LaGrow is not a nice person. But, for a little while, he was a good pitcher, saving 54 games.

MGR Solly Hemus of Phoenix. Actually, he grew up in San Diego, but this is a default, since he's the only man born in Arizona to have ever managed in the majors. And I'd rather not put him here, because of accusations of racism against him while he managed the Cardinals from 1959 to 1961.

Solomon Joseph Hemus was a decent player, spending 11 years in the majors, mainly as a utility infielder for the Cardinals in the 1950s. His best year was 1952, when he batted .268, hit a career-high 15 home runs, had 52 RBIs, and led the NL with 105 runs scored. If he lives to this coming April 17, he'll be 91.

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