Tuesday, March 18, 2014

San Diego's All-Time Baseball Team

In 1978, the San Diego Padres had 4 future Hall-of-Famers on their roster:

* Gaylord Perry. He was already a member of the 3,000 Strikeouts Club, and would become a member of the 300 Wins Club. That season, he 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, eventually a member of the 3,000 Hit Club and a hitter of 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 Padre), said, "In Los Angeles, I looked at myself in the mirror, and I looked like an American flag. Here, I look like a taco." (A little latent anti-Hispanic bigotry there, Steverino?)

The Padres had the aforementioned Hall-of-Famers, and later had 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. They've had 8 postseason appearances in 45 seasons, better than once every 6 seasons -- a proportion bettered only by the Yankees, Dodgers (in L.A. only), Braves (in Atlanta only), Athletics (in Oakland only), Arizona Diamondbacks, Twins (in Minnesota only), Tampa Bay Rays and Nationals (in Washington 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 3rd basemen, some good outfielders including perhaps the best player who ever played left field. The pitching, however, is a bit inconsistent: Capable of great performances, including in the postseason, but not totally reliable.

Note: 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, so he's geographically eligible... but, given that his career OPS+ is 74 (as opposed to his father's mighty 132), and that he didn't play last season and is now trying to hang on with the Philadelphia Phillies, I think we can rule out Tony Jr. for this squad.

24. 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. And, since San Diego is the closest MLB city to Hawaii and the PCL's Hawaii Islanders were a Padres farm team from 1971 to 1982, I'm including Hawaii in their region as well. This is an area with a combined population of about 4.7 million people.

1B Adrian Gonzalez of Chula Vista. Since signing that huge contract with the Red Sox, his reputation has taken a big hit. He's with the Dodgers now, and has added last year's National League Western Division title to the one he won with his hometown Padres in 2006. His lifetime batting average is .294, OPS+ 135, 235 home runs, 6 100-RBI seasons (and had 99 in another), 4 All-Star berths and 2 Gold Gloves. He turns 32 in May, so he's got a chance to build up his career stats to Hall of Fame level.

Honorable Mention to Eric Karros, born in Hackensack, 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 is eligible for the Hall of Fame, but I don't think he'll ever make it. But the Mariners have a team Hall of Fame, and he should go into that.

SS Alan Trammell of Kearny H.S. in San Diego. It takes a lot to play 20 years in Detroit. Ask Al Kaline, Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio, Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom. 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) and briefly for Gary Sheffield.

On Baseball-Reference.com'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 Standardsm, 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, they'd have gotten in.

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. He hit 390 home runs, and while he did play home games at the old 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.

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). Made 6 All-Star Games. Hit 32 home runs to lead the AL in 1976, and hit 37 in 1977 (although Jim Rice hit 39 to lead the League). His 2,226 career hits included 390 homers. Received only 2 Gold Gloves, but had to compete against Brooks Robinson for them for the first 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 second 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 first 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 Bob Elliott of El Centro. Not to be confused with the comedian of the same name who starred with Ray Goulding (himself a Boston baseball fan, but for the Red Sox rather than Elliott's Braves) in a long-running radio comedy team, and became the father of comedian Chris Elliott. This Bob Elliott -- who I originally had with the San Francisco team, as he was born there, but he grew up in El Centro, in Imperial County -- was a 6-time All-Star with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Braves. OPS+ of 124, 2,061 hits, 6 100-RBI seasons. 1947 NL MVP, and helped the Braves win their last Boston Pennant in 1948.

Honorable Mention to Troy Glaus of Carlsbad. He was only 34 when he retired, but hit 320 home runs and had a 119 OPS+, despite playing most of his home games in Anaheim, helped the Angels win the 2002 World Series, and also reached the postseason with the 2004 Angels, the 2009 St. Louis Cardinals and the 2010 Braves. In 2000, he led the American League with 47 homers. He had 4 100-RBI seasons and just missed 2 others.

Honorable Mention to Ray Boone of Herbert Hoover H.S. 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 first 3-generation family, living to see son Bob become one of the great catchers and 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 H.S. and brother Bret went to Placentia H.S., 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 a 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 H.S. 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, a weird series of injuries ended his career before he turned 30. He hit 153 home runs, but should have had a chance at many more.

LF Ted Williams of Herbert Hoover H.S. in San Diego. Yes, that photo above is Ted Williams wearing a San Diego Padres uniform, although it's the Padres of the Pacific Coast League, the team the National League club replaced in 1969. It was taken in 1937, and he was either 17 or 18 (depending on whether the photo was taken before or after August 30).

No, he wasn't "the greatest hitter who ever lived." Babe Ruth was, and Ted was the first to admit it, in his 1995 book Ted Williams' Hit List. But he got his wish: People pointed at him and said he was the greatest. They have a pretty good case.

A .344 lifetime batting average, highest of any player whose career began after 1917. An OPS+ of 190, higher than anyone in history except Ruth. 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. 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 with a .406 average at age 23 in 1941, 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. 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 not is a debate for another time.) And had 2 of the best nicknames ever: The Splendid Splinter and Teddy Ballgame.

His Number 9 was the first ever retired by a Boston sports team. Hall of Fame, All-Century Team. Statue outside Fenway Park.  When The Sporting News announced its 100 Greatest Baseball Players in 1999, he came in at Number 8.

He wrote the book on hitting -- literally: The Science of Hitting, published in 1969, remains the best book ever written on the subject. Check out this excerpt. And 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.

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, had a 136 OPS+ and 287 home runs, and reached the postseason 3 times with the Indians and twice with his hometown Padres.

Honorable Mention to Carlos Quentin of University H.S. in San Diego. Now playing for his hometown Padres, he's a 2-time All-Star, and has 150 home runs in what amounts to 6 full seasons. He's 31, so he could build that up.

Somewhat Honorable Mention to Kevin Mitchell of Clairemont H.S. 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 the 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, Mitchell and his hometown team didn't benefit from being reuinited, so they traded him to the 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 Dwight Gooden has since admitted that he made up that cat story...

CF Adam Jones of Samuel Morse H.S. in San Diego. Not to be confused with the criminal football player also known as "Pacman," this is the 2-time Gold Glove winner for the Baltimore Orioles. He's just 28, but he already has 174 and 140 homers. He also plays really well against the Yankees, which pisses me off.

Honorable Mention to Shane Victorino of Wailuku, Hawaii. Sorry, Sid Fernandez and Benny Agbayani (who both wore Number 50 with the Mets in honor of the 50th State), but he is now the greatest baseball player ever to come from the Aloha State. Known as the Flyin' Hawaiian, he is a 2-time All-Star, a 4-time Gold Glove, twice led the NL in triples, and has now won World Series with the Phillies (2008) and the Red Sox (2013). To give you an idea of how big that is: In 9 combined seasons with him, the Phils and BoSox have won 2 World Series; in 225 combined seasons without him, they've won just 8.

I also could have chosen Brady Anderson of Carlsbad. Sure, he was a 3-time All-Star. Sure, he was a 3-time All-Star. Sure, he had a 109 career OPS+. Sure, he had a 109 career OPS+. Sure, he had 1,661 hits, including 338 doubles and 210 homers. And, sure, he helped the Orioles nearly reach the Playoffs in 1989 and got them there in 1996 and 1997. But...

Look, here's his home run totals from 1992 to 2000: 21, 13, 12, 16, 50, 18, 18, 24, 19. Can you pick out the season in which Brady Anderson used steroids? Cheater!

RF Clifford Carlton "Gavvy" Cravath of Escondido. The first 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 PCL and, like Ted Williams (and also Willie Mays), 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 first Pennant in 1915. Career batting average .287, OPS+ 151! He last played in the majors 94 years ago, last played in the high minors 92 years ago, and died 51 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. Since I have his father Ray, and his sons Bret and Boone, on this team, I might as well have him, too. A 5-time All-Star and 7-time Gold Glove winner, he reached the postseason 7 times, 5 with the 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 former Yankee catcher and A's manager Bob Geren.

SP Ewell Blackwell of Bonita. Known as the Whip because of his pitching motion, he went 22-8 for the Cincinnati Reds in 1947. That included 16 straight wins. The 8th was a no-hitter, and in the 9th he almost tied teammate Johnny Vander Meer's record of back-to-back no-hitters, but with 2 outs to go, a ground ball through his legs, which he couldn't get to because of his height and thin frame, was scored a hit.

Due to injury, he only had 2 other big seasons, 17-15 in 1950 and 16-15 in 1951. He was then traded to the Yankees and helped them win the 1952 and 1953 World Series. And the Reds elected him to their team Hall of Fame.

SP Don Larsen of Point Loma H.S. in San Diego. Does a 3-21 pitcher ever have any hope? Larsen did, after the 1954 season, when the Orioles traded him 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 World Series history, and one of only 2 ever pitched in postseason play.

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 briefly haunt the Yankees by winning a game against them for the Giants in the 1962 Series. His career record was 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 David Wells of Point Loma H.S. 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 Larsen, and again on May 17, 1998 to David Wells.

Larsen was a thin righthander, Wells the prototypical "portly portsider." But both were a bit eccentric and both liked their booze. Larsen was basically a pitcher who was only 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.

A 3-time All-Star, he had a career record of 239-157, a 108 ERA+, and a WHIP of 1.266. He'll probably never get into the Hall of Fame, but he was a winner.

SP Cole Hamels of Rancho Bernardo H.S. in San Diego. At age 30, he's already slowed down a little, but he's still pretty accomplished. He's 99-74, with an amazing WHIP of 1.141 and a nifty ERA+ of 123. He's helped the Phillies win 5 Division titles, 2 Pennants, and the 2008 World Series, in which he was MVP. If he can stay healthy, he'll win a lot more games. Which brings me to... 

SP Mark Prior of University H.S. 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. 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 several teams, including the Yankees (as did Wood, who did pitch a few times in Pinstripes) and his hometown Padres, but didn't get back to the majors, ending his career with just 106 MLB appearances. He finally announced his retirement late last year, and is now working in the Padres' front office.

Honorable Mention -- already -- to Stephen Strasburg of Santee. He missed most of the 2011 season due to injury after a spectacular start to 2010, so, in order not to have a repeat of pitchers like Prior and Wood, the Washington Nationals limited him to 159 innings in 2012. He made the All-Star team with a 15-6 record, and they reached the postseason for the first time since 1981, when they were the Montreal Expos. But they didn't let him pitch in the postseason. I wonder what they would have given to have him pitch just 1 inning -- specifically, the top of the 9th in Game 5 of the NL Division Series against the Cardinals. It might have made Washington's first Pennant since 1933.

He's only 29-19, but his ERA+ is 132, and his WHIP is 1.073. He's only 25. I hope the Nats aren't so skittish about him that they screw him up, like the Yankees did with Joba Chamberlain. It is possible to be too cautious.

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, led the NL in saves in 2009 with 42, and while it wasn't enough to lead the League the next season, he saved 47.

Now with the Tampa Bay Rays, he's got 168 career saves. It's worth remembering the Mets traded him, after the 2006 season, to the Padres, along with Royce Ring, for Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson. In 2007, and again in 2008, the Mets missed the Playoffs by 1 game despite leading the NL East going into September. Gee, you think they could have used Heath Bell, if not as the closer, then at the very least as a setup man for Billy Wagner? Another bonehead Met trade.

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