Friday, March 14, 2014

Seattle's All-Time Baseball Team

The Mariners' "territory" includes the entire States of Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Had I found a player from western Montana good enough to make the Seattle team, I would have assigned him there instead of to the Colorado Rockies.

But British Columbia, even though downtown Vancouver is less than 150 miles from Safeco and Qwest Fields and the Key Arena, is in Canada and is thus included in the Toronto Blue Jays' territory, and thus players from that Province are ineligible.

29. Seattle's All-Time Baseball Team

A mighty bat at first base, slick fielding in the rest of the infield. The outfield (with one exception) and catcher aren't great, but there's some good pitching.

All players listed below are from the State of Washington, unless otherwise stated.

1B Harmon Killebrew of Payette, Idaho. Of the 28 big-leaguers to have been born in that State, most of the good ones have been pitchers, like Vernon Law, Ken Dayley and Jason Schmidt. But "the Killer" -- he was always been a nice guy to teammates, opponents and fans, just not to fastballs -- hit 573 home runs, more than any American League righthander, and helped the Minnesota Twins to their first 3 postseason berths (1965 World Series, '69 and '70 ALCS, although they lost them all).

They have retired his Number 3. His .256 lifetime batting average is the 2nd-lowest for any nonpitcher in the Hall of Fame, but his career OPS+ is an astounding 143. He had 8 40-homer seasons (in a pitcher's era), 6 times led the AL in home runs, and 9 times had 100 or more RBIs in a season (leading the AL 3 times). He hit more home runs in the 1960s than any player, more than Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron or Frank Robinson.

While his home park, Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota, is long gone, replaced by the Mall of America, a street name on the site remains: Killebrew Drive. When The Sporting News announced its 100 Greatest Baseball Players in 1999, he came in at Number 69.

Honorable Mention to John Olerud of Bellevue, Washington. He survived a brain aneurysm in college (which is why he always wore a helmet, even in the field) to become a tremendous hitter (.363 for the AL batting title in 1993) and fielder for the 1992 and '93 World Champion Toronto Blue Jays. Also played in the postseason for the Mets (1999), his home-State Mariners (2000 & '01), the Yankees (2004) and the Red Sox (2005). Career OPS+ of 128, 2,239 hits, 255 home runs, 4 100 RBI seasons and 3 Gold Gloves.

Honorable Mention to Jack Fournier, who had a .313 lifetime batting average and a 142 OPS+, and turned into quite the power hitter with the 1920s Brooklyn Dodgers, but who was traded away by the Chicago White Sox for... 1st baseman Arnold "Chick" Gandil of 1919 "Black Sox" infamy.

Honorable Mention to Earl Torgeson of Snohomish, who helped the 1948 Boston Braves and 1959 White Sox to rare Pennants for those franchises.

Honorable Mention to Richie Sexson of Brush Prairie, who I'd like to make the left fielder on this team, but he didn't play there enough. A 2-time All-Star, he hit 306 home runs, and 6 times had at least 100 RBIs, reaching the postseason in 1998 and '99 with the Cleveland Indians, but playing his best years for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Honorable Mention to Ken Phelps, who also came from Seattle and played for the Mariners, and who had a higher career OPS+ than the man the Yankees traded for him, Jay Buhner.

2B Ryne Sandberg of Spokane. There was a time when Spokane was home to 3 extraordinary athletes, who played against each other in the 3 major high school sports, and all achieved greatness in different big-league sports: Sandberg in baseball, Mark Rypien in football, and John Stockton in basketball.

Contrary to popular belief, the Philadelphia Phillies trading Sandberg and Larry Bowa to the Chicago Cubs for Ivan DeJesus was not a dumb deal, as, during the rest of Sandberg's career, the Cubs never won a Pennant, while the Phillies won 2 (including '83 with DeJesus). But Sandberg was the 1984 NL Most Valuable Player, a 10-time All-Star, an 8-time Gold Glove winner, and hit 282 home runs, nearly all of them as a second baseman, no mean feat even at Wrigley Field. (Remember, half the time, the wind is blowing in.)

Hall of Fame, Number 23 retired. He has now returned to the Phillies as their manager. His nephew Jared Sandberg briefly played for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Honorable Mention to Joe Gordon of Portland, Oregon. He reached the major leagues in 1938, while Buster Crabbe was starring in the Flash Gordon movie serials, so, naturally, Joe was nicknamed Flash. (As would be much later relief pitcher Tom Gordon.) He was a 9-time All-Star, a 6-time Pennant winner and a 5-time World Champion (1938, '39, '41 and '43 Yankees, '48 Cleveland Indians), a 4-time 100-RBI man, and the 1942 AL MVP.

He hit 253 home runs, an astounding number considering that he was a 2nd baseman, and a righthanded hitter at the pre-renovation Yankee Stadium and then Cleveland Municipal Stadium, and that he lost 2 years to serving in World War II, and retired at age 35 before becoming a manager. He finally got into the Hall of Fame long after his death, and the Indians have honored him in their Heritage Park.

Honorable Mention to Wally Backman of Beaverton, Oregon. The popular 2nd baseman of the 1986 World Champion Mets, it's easy to forget that only once did he have over 500 plate appearances.

Honorable Mention to Harold Reynolds of Corvallis, Oregon. A 2-time All-Star and a 3-time Gold Glove with the Mariners, he led the AL with 60 stolen bases in 1987 and with 11 triples the next year. He is now Fox's go-to baseball analyst.

SS Johnny Pesky of Portland, Oregon. Like Gordon, he came from the Rose City and reached the majors in 1938. The longtime Boston Red Sox shortstop should be remembered as a really good, hustling player, and not for one mistake (which isn't even all that clear on the film) in the 1946 World Series. As a longtime Sox coach and scout, he became known as "Mr. Red Sox," and his Number 6 was retired by the team.

3B Ron Santo of Seattle. He was a 9-time All-Star, won 5 Gold Gloves (probably would have won more if it weren't for Ken Boyer), had a career OPS+ of 125, and hit 342 home runs at a time when the only 3rd baseman with more was Eddie Matthews. All this with diabetes and a team that never won.

Like Phil Rizzuto, Richie Ashburn and Herb Score, he's gone from being one of his club's most beloved players to its beloved broadcaster. Also like Rizzuto and Ashburn, it took too long to get him into the Hall of Fame. Unlike Rizzuto and Ashburn, he did not live long enough to see it. He did, however, live long enough to see the Cubs retire his Number 10.

Honorable Mention to Ron Cey of Tacoma, who hit more home runs as a Los Angeles Dodger than anyone until Eric Karros (though Duke Snider, Gil Hodges and Roy Campanella hit more for Brooklyn), won 4 Pennants and a World Championship, and also played for the Cubs.

Honorable Mention to Scott Brosius of Milwaukie, Oregon, for his 4 Pennant-winning (3 World Series wins) seasons with the Yankees. He hit home runs in all 4 World Series he played in, and his dingers in Game 3 in 1998 and Game 5 in 2001 were huge.

LF Jeff Heath of Garfield. Though born in Canada, he grew up in Washington State, and was an All-Star with the 1940s Indians. He reached his only World Series with the 1948 Braves, oddly losing to the Indians.

Honorable Mention to Carson Bigbee of Waterloo, Oregon, who hit .323 and .350 in back-to-back seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and was a member of their 1925 World Champions.

CF Earl Averill of Snohomish. The Cleveland Indians retired the Number 3 of this Hall-of-Famer, one of the top hitters of the hitting-happy 1930s, but the only Pennant he won came with the Detroit Tigers in 1940. He played in the first 6 All-Star Games, including the 1935 Game at his home park, Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

His lifetime batting average was .318, his career OPS+ a terrific 133, and despite not reaching the major leagues until the age of 27 -- like a lot of West Coast stars, he could then make more money in the Pacific Coast League, and starred for the San Francisco Seals -- hit 238 home runs in the majors. That doesn't sound like much now, even with his late big-league start, but at the time he retired in 1941, it was good for 14th all-time.

Earl's son, Earl Averill Jr., also played for the Indians, and was one of the first stars of the Angels when they entered the American League (as the "Los Angeles Angels") in 1961.

Honorable Mention to Dale Murphy of Portland, Oregon. He might be the right DH for this team, but, while he did play a little right field, he didn't play enough there, so I can't move him over and make him the starter. But in Ronald Reagan's first term, he was the best player in baseball, winning the NL MVP in 1982 and '83, and was the face of the Atlanta Braves in their initial TBS Superstation "America's Team" years. Injuries shortened his career, though, and with 398 home runs, he's not getting into the Hall of Fame. The Braves have retired his Number 3, though.

Honorable Mention to Grady Sizemore of Everett, another Indians star at the position. Despite his career being cut short by injury at age 29, he made 3 All-Star teams and won 2 Gold Gloves. In 2006, he led the AL with 53 doubles.

Honorable Mention to Jacoby Ellsbury of Madras, Oregon. Now a Yankee, he spent 7 years with that lot up I-95, batting .297, nearly winning Rookie of the Year in 2008, nearly winning the MVP in 2011, and stealing 241 bases, including an AL-leading 52 last season.

RF Roy Johnson of Tacoma. Best of a weak field, he was a good hitter for the Tigers and Red Sox in the 1930s, and played for the Yankees in the 1936 World Series.

Honorable Mention, sort of, to Steve Whitaker of Tacoma. His career totals of 24 home runs and 85 RBIs should be a good season for a player who makes a team like this. The most notable things about him are that he tried to succeed Mickey Mantle as the Yankee center fielder, and that he became the first native of Washington State to play for a big-league team in that State, the 1969 Seattle Pilots, a team best known for being the subject, sort of, of pitcher Jim Bouton's "diary," Ball Four.

The Pilots were so bad, going 64-98 and probably not even that good, and its owners lost so much money, it was moved after one season to become the Milwaukee Brewers. Thus the Pilots' moment in the majors was so brief, Ball Four feels more like a novel, a roman a clef of how ridiculous baseball and its establishment could be in that period, than a true story. Smoke him inside. Is it possible to drown yourself under a shower head? Steve, don't you need a little trim? Yeah, surrrre.

Utility Player Steve Lyons, born in Tacoma, grew up in Beaverton, Oregon, so he counts. He played every position, including all 9 in one game (I think there's 3 others who've done that). Not a great player -- his career highs were a .280 batting average, 5 homers and 50 RBIs, and no 2 of those in the same season -- and he never played in a postseason. In fact, in 1992, he played for both the Toronto Blue Jays and the Atlanta Braves, but both got rid of him before that year's World Series in which they opposed each other, and he ended up on the Montreal Expos. He both began (1985) and ended (1993) his career with the Boston Red Sox -- and people wonder why he's nicknamed "Psycho." He went on to become a good broadcaster, although a controversial one. He's the Jimmy Piersall of his generation, and you can interpret that any way you want, although Jimmy was also an excellent fielder in his day.

C Scott Hatteberg of Yakima. Not an especially good player, but a steady catcher and occasionally good hitter for the 1990s Red Sox and 2000s Athletics, and the other choices for a Washington State-born catcher are slim.

SP Sylveanus "Vean" Gregg of Clarkston. Reached the major leagues with the Indians in 1911 -- good timing, as their ace Addie Joss had just died of meningitis -- and won 63 games in his first 3 seasons. But he burned himself out, and was traded to the Boston Red Sox in 1914. That turned out to be good timing as well, as he helped them win the 1915 and '16 World Series. 

SP Mel Stottlemyre of Mabton. Born in Missouri, but almost a lifelong resident of the Evergeen State. Won 164 games for the Yankees, including 20 on 3 occasions and 2 in the 1964 World Series, before a rotator cuff injury ended his career at age 32. Went on to become one of baseball's greatest pitching coaches, first for the 1980s Mets, then for the 1996-2003 Yankee dynasty. He has also spent two stints as a roving pitching instructor with his home-State Mariners.

There must be something about Washington State that produces good pitching coaches, because it's also produced Mel's sons Todd and Mel Jr., Brad Arnsberg and Tom House (who, as a Braves reliever, was in the bullpen at Fulton County Stadium and caught Hank Aaron's 715th home run ball).

SP Mickey Lolich of Portland, Oregon. Won 17 games for the 1968 Detroit Tigers, plus Games 2, 5 and 7 of the World Series. Won 47 games in 1971 and '72, getting the Tigers back to the postseason. Unfortunately, he became the subject of one of those really dumb Met trades, when the Mets got him after the 1975 season for a still-in-his-prime Rusty Staub, who was great in Detroit before going to the Texas Rangers and back to the Mets; while Lolich was pretty much done. Nevertheless, he won 217 games in his career, and at the time he retired, his 2,832 career strikeouts were tops all-time among lefthanders.

SP Jon Lester of Tacoma. Has overcome cancer to win, thus far, an even 100 games, against just 56 losses. He's already a 2-time All-Star and a 2-time World Champion with the Red Sox, and he just turned 30.

SP Tim Lincecum of Renton. "The Freak" looks like he's still in high school, but he sure doesn't pitch like it. The San Francisco Giant starter has, as of right now, these career major league stats: 89 wins, an ERA of 3.46, an ERA+ of 113, a WHIP of 1.243, 1,510 strikeouts, and a strikeouts per 9 innings pitched of 9.6. He's won 2 NL Cy Young Awards, and appeared in 4 All-Star Games and on 2 World Championship teams.

He's struggled the last 2 seasons, but he doesn't turn 30 until June, so he should have, barring a medical or ethical calamity, at least 7 or 8 good years left. Put it this way: already has him, on its "Hall of Fame Monitor," at 64, with a "Likely HOFer" at 100.

Among starting pitchers, Honorable Mention to Larry Jansen of Forest Grove, who won 23 games including the Bobby Thomson Game for the New York Giants in 1951, and was also on their 1954 World Championship team; Larry Christenson of Marysville, a star for the Phillies' near-dynasty of 1976-80; and Bruce Kison of Pasco, who won 115 games, most of them for the Pirates, including 13 in their 1979 World Championship season.

RP Randy Myers of Evergreen. Appeared in only 10 games for the 1986 Mets, and didn't get into the World Series. But after the trade of Jesse Orosco, he became their closer, and nearly won a Pennant with them in 1988. After the 1989 season, the Mets traded him to the Cincinnati Reds, and he joined with Rob Dibble and Norm Charlton to form the "Nasty Boys" bullpen, pulling off upset wins for the NL West, the Pennant, and a sweep of the Oakland Athletics in the World Series.

Also appeared in the postseason with the Baltimore Orioles in 1996 and '97, under his former Met manager Davey Johnson. He gave up Bernie Williams' walkoff home run in Game 1 of the '96 ALCS, but, lucky for him, that game is remembered for another home run, Derek Jeter's game-tying blast that is remembered for the fan who almost caught it, Jeffrey Maier. Won another Pennant with the Padres in 1998, but again lost to the Yankees, and then rotator cuff surgery ended his career.

A 4-time All-Star, his 347 saves were 5th on the all-time list at the time he retired -- he's now 9th, having fallen behind Trevor Hoffman, his teammate on the '98 Padres; Mariano Rivera, his opponent on the '96 and '98 Yankees; and John Franco, whom the Mets got for him, so it wasn't a typically boneheaded Met trade.

Honorable Mention to Steve Olin of Beaverton, Oregon. In 1992, pitching for a terrible Indians team, he went 8-5 with 29 saves, a 2.34 ERA and a 1.211 WHIP. He had 48 career saves and an ERA+ of 129, and he was only 27 years old at the close of that season. The following spring, he was killed with teammate Tim Crews (and teammate Bob Ojeda was nearly killed as well) in a boating accident on an off-day during spring training. We'll never know how good he could have been, but his death may have stopped the Indians from winning the World Series in 1995 and 1997, and from at least getting into it in 1996 and 1998. Seriously, who would you rather have as your closer: The 1992 Steve Olin or the 1997 Jose Mesa?

MGR Fred Hutchinson of Seattle. Starred as a pitcher with his hometown Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League, then was a teammate of Averill's on the 1940 AL Champion Tigers. Went into the service in World War II and, unlike Hank Greenberg, did not return in time to help them win the 1945 World Series. But he did manage to win 77 games in his first 5 seasons back from the War.

As a manager, he led the Cincinnati Reds to the 1961 NL Pennant, and nearly won another in 1964 but had to leave the team late due to the cancer that would soon take his life. One of baseball's community-service awards, the Hutch Award, is named in his honor, and the Reds made his Number 1 the first they ever retired.

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