Thursday, March 27, 2014
The New York Mets' All-Time Regional Team
Rule 1. Did the player have a connection – either playing, coaching, managing or front office – to the Yankees? If so, he’s theirs. Did he have a connection to the Mets, the old New York Giants, or the old Brooklyn Dodgers? If so, he goes on the Mets’ team. This qualification supersedes all the others. If he had a connection to neither, move on to...
Rule 2. Did the player ever publicly state that he rooted for a particular team while growing up in the New York sphere of influence? If so, and it was the Yankees, he’s theirs; if it was any of the NL teams, then he goes to the Mets’ team.
Example: Al Leiter's career both began and ended with the Yankees, but he grew up on the Jersey Shore as a Met fan, and pitched his best years with the Mets, so he qualifies for the Mets' team. In contrast, Willie Randolph grew up in Brooklyn as a Met fan, and did play for the Mets near the end of his career, and even managed the Mets to a Division Title; but, because he played so long for the Yankees, he qualifies for the Yankees' team. Only Rule 1 can supersede this rule.
If the player's childhood preference is not publicly known, move on to...
Rule 3. Is the player nonwhite? If so, then we get into a tricky area. Spike Lee wrote in his book Best Seat In the House – admittedly, more of a basketball memoir – that he was a Met fan until 1977, when Reggie Jackson became New York’s first black baseball superstar since Willie Mays. Then he, and (he says) a lot of black guys, who previously considered the Yankees a racist organization, switched sides. (That the Mets had been in the process of getting their 1969-73 Pennant winners broken up by greedy general manager M. Donald Grant, had just dumped Tom Seaver, and had crashed to last place may also have had something to do with it.)
So, figure up until 1977, any black or Hispanic kid in the Tri-State Area who liked baseball would have been much more likely to root for the Mets (and, before that, either the Dodgers or the Giants) than the Yankees.
Since 1977 – 18 = 1959, any nonwhite player not already qualifying under Rule 1 or Rule 2, that's the demarcation line. If he was born in 1959 or earlier, he goes to the Mets’ team. If he was born in 1960 or later, he remains up for grabs.
Now we get into geography. Remember, it’s not necessarily where a player was born, it’s where he was trained to play ball – i.e., if he played in City youth leagues or for a City high school, he qualifies for the Yanks’ or Mets’ team even if he was born in, say, the Panama Canal Zone, like Rod Carew. And, of course, for any of these parts of the area, the preceding rules, if applicable, overrule geography. Let’s start with the City:
Bronx: Yankees. Home Borough.
Queens: Mets. Home Borough.
Brooklyn: Dodgers’ home Borough, and now home to a Met farm team, so, Mets.
Staten Island: Home to a Yankee farm team, so Yankees.
Manhattan: Giants’ home Borough, but in this case it doesn’t make much of a difference. That’s a neutral zone, so, up for grabs.
Long Island, both Nassau and Suffolk Counties: Since that’s where a lot of the Dodger fans went in the Fifties and Sixties, and their kids were likely to grow up as Met fans, and the newspaper Newsday treats the Mets as Long Island’s home team, Mets.
Parts of New York State along Interstate 87, from Westchester County all the way up to the Canadian border: Yankees. Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess Counties all have Metro-North access to Yankee Stadium, and the Yankees once had a farm team in Albany.
Central New York: Syracuse used to be a Yankee farm team, so, Yankees.
Southern Tier: Binghamton used to have a Yankee farm team, but for many years now has a Met farm team, so, Mets.
Western New York, including Buffalo: The Buffalo Bisons, as they were in the Mets’ first era, were recently the Mets’ Triple-A farm team, although they are now that of the Toronto Blue Jays. So despite Buffalo being closer to Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and even Toronto, this region, including Rochester, goes to the Mets.
Connecticut: Fairfield, Litchfield and New Haven Counties have Metro-North access to Yankee Stadium, so, Yankees. Since Bobby Valentine of Stamford is covered under Rule 1, there no need to make an exception for him here. Of course, some parts of New Haven County are given over to the Red Sox’ regional team.
New Jersey: Here’s where it gets tricky. It’s not exactly definitive. In the old days, the stereotypical Yankee Fan was either a rich guy from Westchester or a boorish, drunken Italian guy from New Jersey’s Bergen County who came over the George Washington Bridge. The old Newark Bears were a Yankee farm club, and the new Bears were once owned by former Yankee Rick Cerone. But there are a lot of Met fans in the State as well. The Trenton Thunder are a Yankee farm club now, but Trenton is closer to Philadelphia than to New York, making the Princeton-Trenton corridor a sort of neutral zone. So is much of the Shore region, particularly from the Manasquan River (dividing Monmouth and Ocean Counties) on south. So, let’s leave New Jersey up for grabs, unless a player qualifies under Rule 1, 2 or 3.
Let me also, now, do a best players by Borough or County:
Manhattan: Lou Gehrig of the High School of Commerce. George Wright of the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings also grew up in Manhattan (his brother Harry Wright was a bit older and grew up in England). Whitey Ford, Hank Greenberg and Jim Palmer were also born in Manhattan, but none of them are generally associated with the Borough. Aside from Gehrig, the only Hall-of-Famer who played high school ball in Manhattan was Rod Carew of George Washington H.S. in Washington Heights. Manny Ramirez would have joined him as a G.W. grad in the Hall -- if he hadn't ruined his reputation by getting caught as a steroid cheat, that is.
Bronx: Hank Greenberg of James Monroe H.S. Frankie Frisch of Fordham Prep and Fordham University -- hence "the Fordham Flash" -- is also a Hall-of-Famer.
Brooklyn: Sandy Koufax of Lafayette H.S. Mickey Welch, and Waite Hoyt of Erasmus Hall H.S. were also Brooklyn ballplayers in the Hall of Fame. Phil Rizzuto was born in Brooklyn but grew up in Queens. Joe Torre of St. Francis Prep is now in the Hall, but wasn't a better player than Koufax.
Queens: No Hall-of-Famer has ever been born there, but Phil Rizzuto grew up there and went to Richmond Hill H.S. Whitey Ford grew up in Long Island City and Astoria, although, like Gehrig, he attended a vo-tech high school in Manhattan, in his case Manhattan School of Aviation. Whitey is a better choice for "Best Baseball Player From Queens" than Rizzuto.
Staten Island: No Hall-of-Famers. Born in Scotland, but living in Richmond County since the age of 3, the best ballplayer to grow up there has been Bobby Thomson of Curtis H.S.
Long Island, Nassau County: No HOFers, so their best is Frank Viola of East Meadow.
Long Island, Suffolk County: Carl Yastrzemski of Bridgehampton is their only HOFer.
Westchester County: No HOFers, so their best is... Ralph Branca of Mount Vernon. So the 1951 Pennant was decided by Westchester's best ever against Staten Island's best ever. Thomson swings for Curtis... The Warriors win the Pennant! The Warriors... Yeah, right. But I don't think Branca's Mount Vernon Knights, which also produced Denzel Washington and a slew of great basketball players like Gus Williams and Ben Gordon, would have taunted them with: "Warriors! Come out and play-ay!"
New Jersey, Bergen County: Johnny Vander Meer of Midland Park, although he was born in Prospect Park in Passaic County. Eric Karros was born in Hackensack, but before he could reach high school the family moved to San Diego.
Essex County: Monte Irvin of East Orange, a Hall-of-Famer.
Hudson County: Johnny Kucks of Dickinson H.S. in Jersey City.
Hunterdon County: Jack Cust of Flemington, although he attended Immaculata H.S. in Somerset County's Somerville.
Mercer County: Al Downing of Trenton Central. This would ordinarily have put him in the Phillies' region, but he did pitch 9 years for the Yankees, and was their first black pitcher. Of course, years later, he gave up Hank Aaron's 715th career home run. It doesn't bother him: He wanted Hank to break the record, and it had to happen against somebody, and it did insure that Al would be remembered.
Middlesex County: Joe Medwick of Carteret. A County Park stretching across Carteret and the neighboring Avenel section of Woodbridge is named for the Hall-of-Famer.
Monmouth County: John Montefusco of Long Branch.
Morris County: Don Newcombe of Madison Borough, and Jefferson H.S. in Jefferson Township. Although the school is in Morris County, it competes in the Sussex County Interscholastic League, so that it plays schools better matched to its enrollment.
Ocean County: Al Leiter of Berkeley Township (postal address: Bayville) and the town's Central Regional H.S.
Passaic County: Larry Doby of Paterson and Eastside H.S. Their arch-rivals are John F. Kennedy H.S., and in case you've ever wondered, up until 1963, they were known as Central H.S.
Somerset County: Joe Lis of Somerville and Somerville H.S. Easily the best player the County has ever produced, he wasn't a star in the majors, but he was a success as a youth and American Legion coach.
Sussex County: Russ Van Atta of Augusta.
Union County: Jeffrey Hammonds of Scotch Plains and Scotch Plains-Fanwood H.S.
Warren County: Charlie Berry of Phillipsburg. Hardly as accomplished in his sport as P-burg native and Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Jim Ringo was in his, Berry had the misfortune to arrive at first the Boston Red Sox in 1925, and then the Philadelphia Athletics in 1934, shortly after both teams stopped winning Pennants. But he went on to become an esteemed umpire.
So here we go. The Mets get this ranking due to having won 2 World Series, 2 other Pennants, and reached the postseason 3 other times. Hard to believe they're in the top half of MLB, but, that's by my own measure. I made the rule, I have to stick to it.
15. New York Mets' All-Time Regional Team
This is a much stronger team than an actual Mets all-time team, with a Hall-of-Famer at every position... except the man I've chosen for right field, and he's no weak link. Of course, if a certain goofball who played left and right in his career hadn't gotten caught... but it's too late for him now.
1B Rod Carew of Manhattan. He was born in the Panama Canal Zone, but grew up in Washington Heights and went to George Washington High School. He was the best contact hitter of the 1970s.
Hall of Fame. 3,000 Hit Club. Number 29 retired by both the Minnesota Twins and, as they were known while he played for them, the California Angels. When The Sporting News announced its 100 Greatest Baseball Players in 1999, he came in at Number 61.
Honorable Mention to:
* Roger Connor of Waterbury, New Haven County, Connecticut, a Hall-of-Famer for the 1880s New York Giants and one of baseball's earliest true sluggers. Somebody had to have the record for most career home runs before Babe Ruth broke it, and it was Connor, with 137. Yes, 137. He is also credited with the first grand slam, the first home run hit with the bases loaded in major league play, in 1881.
* Dan Brouthers of Troy, Renssalaer County, New York, the city across the Hudson River from Albany where the Giants started, a Hall-of-Famer who hit .342 lifetime and helped the Detroit Wolverines win the 1887 NL Pennant. Brouthers had the career home run record before Connor surpassed it, with 106.
* Frank McCormick of Manhattan, NL Most Valuable Player and a World Champion with the 1940 Cincinnati Reds.
Dishonorable Mention to Mo Vaughn of Pawling, Dutchess County, New York. Steroids.
2B Frankie Frisch of The Bronx. The Fordham Flash. Hall of Fame. When The Sporting News announced its 100 Greatest Baseball Players in 1999, he came in at Number 88. He was once baseball's all-time hit leader among switch-hitters, since surpassed by Pete Rose and Eddie Murray. He won the 1921 and '22 World Series with the Giants, and was player-manager of the 1934 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Number 3 has not been retired by either team. Fordham Prep's Frisch Field is named for him.
After his managing days were over, Frisch became a broadcaster for the Giants, known for his mournful expression, "Oh, those bases on balls!" A heart attack in 1956 led to him missing the rest of the season, enabling a recently released Yankee to get his first broadcasting experience. That's right, Frankie Frisch is the "huckleberry" responsible for the transformation of Phil Rizzuto from slick-fielding, slap-hitting shortstop to "Holy Cow"-ing, storytelling broadcaster.
If you don't consider that a downside to Frisch's legacy, you may be aware of this one: As a member of the Hall of Fame's Committee on Veterans, he pushed for the election several former Giant and Cardinal teammates of dubious worthiness. These included Giants Rube Marquard, George "High Pockets" Kelly, Dave Bancroft and Ross Young; and Cardinals Jesse Haines and Chick Hafey. Personally, I don't have a big problem with any of them being in the Hall, although Marquard and Kelly are marginal, Youngs' stats aren't especially amazing due to his early death, and Hafey's due to an illness that cut short his career though not his life. Often, 5 of these 6 men (though not everyone agrees on which should not be included) are derided by baseball history experts as "the Frisch Five." But there is no doubt that they were at least worthy of consideration, and that Frisch himself belonged.
Honorable Mention to:
* Charlie Sweasy of Newark, of the 1869-70 Cincinnati Red Stockings.
* John Alexander “Bid” McPhee of Massena, St. Lawrence County, New York, a Hall-of-Famer with the 1880s and '90s Reds.
* Tim Teufel of Greenwich, Fairfield County, Connecticut and the 1986 World Champion Mets.
* Craig Biggio of Kings Park, Suffolk County, a member of the 3,000 Hit Club and a certain future Hall-of-Famer with the Houston Astros.
SS George Davis of Cohoes, Albany County, New York. A Hall-of-Famer with the 1890s Giants and 1900s Chicago White Sox, he was a member of their 1906 World Champions. He batted .295 lifetime, 121 OPS+, 2,665 hits, and 10 seasons of at least 80 RBIs, 3 of 100, an astounding number for a shortstop in the pre-1920 Dead Ball Era.
Not a whole lot of honorable mentions worth, well, mentioning. Probably the best one would be Bobby Valentine of Stamford, Fairfield County, Connecticut. No, he won't be the manager of this team, and he actually played several positions, but shortstop more than anything else. It was as a Dodger outfielder that a broken leg curtailed his career, but he's probably still the greatest player produced by Fairfield County in the last 100 years.
In spring training 1979, he was cut by Met manager Joe Torre; 21 years later, he would have a shot at revenge in the 2000 World Series. He wouldn't get it, but get this: The man Torre put on the roster in place of Bobby V was Mike Jorgensen -- who ended up replacing Torre as Cardinal manager in 1995!
3B Jimmy Collins of Buffalo. He won NL Pennants with the Boston Beaneaters (Braves) in 1897 and '98, then jumped leagues and was both 3rd baseman and manager for the Pilgrims (Red Sox) when they won the first-ever World Series in 1903 and the AL Pennant in 1904. Until Brooks Robinson started thrilling fans in the 1960s, Collins was usually considered the greatest 3rd baseman in American League history.
Honorable Mentions to:
* Fred Waterman of Manhattan, of the 1869-70 Cincinnati Red Stockings. He bore a striking resemblance to author Edgar Allan Poe, who died in 1849, before baseball could take off -- but did live for a time in The Bronx.
* John McGraw, his rival for best 3rd baseman in the NL in the 1890s. More on McGraw later.
LF Carl Yastrzemski of Bridgehampton, Suffolk County. Not just the best player ever to come from The Hamptons, but the best player ever to come from Long Island, maybe even including Brooklyn and Queens. Hall of Fame. Number 8 retired by the Red Sox. 3,000 Hit Club -- in fact, he was the first player to collect at least 3,000 hits and hit at least 400 home runs in AL play. His 3,419 hits are the most of any player whose career began after 1954 except for Pete Rose. 1967 AL MVP and Pennant, and until Miguel Cabrerra did it in 2012 he was the last man to win the Triple Crown in either League. When The Sporting News announced its 100 Greatest Baseball Players in 1999, he came in at Number 72.
Strangely, the last NLer to win the Triple Crown is also a left fielder for this squad, but I'll make him the DH, in spite of the fact that the NL still doesn't use the DH, and in spite of a fine catch he made in the 1941 World Series.
In fact, as thin as this team is at shortstop, it is absolutely loaded at left field. Which is ironic, considering that the Brooklyn Dodgers, it was joked, had great players everywhere but left field. Check out these other Honorable Mentions:
* Andy Leonard of Newark, and the 1869-70 Cincinnati Red Stockings.
* Jim "Orator" O'Rourke of Bridgeport, Fairfield County, Connecticut, who won Pennants with the Boston Red Stockings of the National Association in 1873, '74 and '75; the same team in the NL in 1877 and '78; the Providence Grays in 1879; and the Giants in 1888 and '89. He batted .360 at age 39, and .304 at 41. He came back to play one game, the Pennant-clinching game, for the Giants in 1904. He was 53, and was still playing regularly for the Bridgeport team in the Connecticut League, an independent league he founded and ran. He still played in that league until he was 60. Hall of Fame.
* Monte Irvin of East Orange, Essex County, New Jersey, although born in Alabama. A lot of people thought he should have been the first black player in modern baseball. He led the Newark Eagles to the 1946 Negro World Series title. He and Hank Thompson, called up on the same day in 1949, were the first black players on the Giants. He helped them win the NL Pennant in 1951 and the World Series in 1954. Like Jackie Robinson, he stole home on the Yankees in the World Series, in '51; unlike Jackie, the film conclusively shows that he was safe. In 1951, he was in left, Willie Mays in center, and Thompson in right, becoming the first all-black outfield in the majors. He is the only player elected to the Hall of Fame based at least in part on Negro League activity who is still alive. He is 91. Though he never played a major league game in San Francisco, the Giants retired his Number 20 in 2010, and invited him to throw out the first ball before Game 1 of the World Series.
* Tommy Davis of Brooklyn. He starred at Boys High School, and later said he'd signed with the Dodgers so he could stay in Brooklyn -- and then they moved. In 1962, he led the NL in batting, hits and RBIs as the Dodgers lost a Pennant Playoff with the Giants; he, not record-setting base-stealing teammate Maury Wills, should have been the NL MVP that year. In 1963, he won the batting title and the World Series with the Dodgers. A broken ankle in '65 ruined his career, although the Dodgers won the Series that year anyway. He became a player who kept getting picked up by teams, but also kept getting traded away by them. He also played in the postseason for the Oakland Athletics in 1971 and the Baltimore Orioles in 1973 and '74. In spite of his injury, he still batted .294 lifetime with 2,121 hits.
* Willie Wilson of Summit, Union County, New Jersey. The Kansas City Royals have never reached the postseason without him; with him, they made it 7 times. He led the AL in triples 5 times, in stolen bases with an amazing 83 in 1979, in hits and runs in 1980 (setting a then-MLB record with 705 at-bats), and batting in .332. He helped the Royals win their first Pennant in 1980, but struck out 12 times in the World Series against the Phillies. Both his regular-season at-bats record and his WS strikeout record would be broken by current Phillies: The former by Jimmy Rollins in 2007, the latter by Ryan Howard in 2009. He hit 13 inside-the-park home runs, the most of any Major League player playing after 1950. Unfortunately, he and then-Royal teammates Vida Blue, Jerry Martin and Willie Aikens became the first active ballplayers to serve time, pleading guilty to cocaine charges in exchange for lighter sentences; Wilson and Aikens returned in time to help the Royals win the 1985 World Series. A member of the Royals' Hall of Fame, he has since become a minor league manager.
Dishonorable Mention to Manny Ramirez of Manhattan. It's not just the steroid use. It's pushing an old man -- and, unlike Pedro Martinez, he pushed one that was working for his own team. It was acting like the rules didn't apply to him. I don't care how good a hitter he was, and how many home runs he hit -- and he was, perhaps, the best righthanded hitter of my lifetime. He blew it.
CF Larry Doby of Paterson, Passaic County, New Jersey -- although he was born in South Carolina. A sensational all-around athlete at Paterson's Eastside H.S. He was Irvin's teammate on those powerful 1946 Newark Eagles, and the first black player in the American League. With the 1948 Cleveland Indians, he became the first black man to homer in, and the first one to win, a World Series. A 7-time All-Star, including in 1949, when, along with Dodgers Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe (more about him momentarily), he became one of the first 4 black All-Stars in the major leagues -- in the game played, appropriately enough, at Ebbets Field. Hall of Fame. Number 14 retired by the Indians.
Honorable Mentions to:
* Lipman Emanuel Pike of Manhattan. "Lip" was the first Jewish player of any renown, and for a long time was regarded as "the first professional baseball player" -- at least, the first man known to have been paid to play baseball, in 1866 for the first team to bear the name of the Philadelphia Athletics. (Whether he actually was the first is now in dispute.) He bounced around in those freewheeling days before the institution of the reserve clause, but he played locally for the Brooklyn Atlantics, the Irvington Baseball Club (Essex, NJ; not Westchester, NY), the New York Mutuals and, toward the end of his career, the original New York Metropolitans of the American Association (and, yes, they were sometimes called the "Mets" for short). He was probably the best player of the 1860s and '70s, but he has never been elected to the Hall of Fame. Dying of heart disease in 1893, aged just 48, probably didn't help his legacy, as by the time the Hall opened in 1939, not only could he not speak up for his own cause, but hardly anybody who saw him play was alive to tell about him.
* Billy Hamilton of Newark. "Sliding Billy" was the Rickey Henderson of his day -- without the overweening ego. He had a lifetime batting average .344, OPS+ 141, led his league in runs scored 4 times, walks 5, steals 5 and hits once. His 914 stolen bases, from 1888 to 1901 (I've seen him credited with 937, but Baseball-Reference.com says 914 so I'll go with that) were an all-time record until surpassed by Lou Brock in 1977, and only Henderson has also surpassed it. He starred with the Phillies, batting .403 as part of an all-.400-hitting outfield with Ed Delahanty and Sam Thompson in 1894 (but they finished 4th, 18 games out), and is in their Hall of Fame at Citizens Bank Park. He won NL Pennants with the Beaneaters/Braves in 1897 and '98. He died in 1940, age 74, and in 1945 became the first New Jerseyan elected to the Hall of Fame.
* Tommy Holmes of Brooklyn, and that Borough's Brooklyn Technical H.S. (a.k.a. "Brooklyn Tech"). He starred for the Boston Braves in the 1940s, and his 37-game hitting streak in 1945 was the longest in NL play between 1897 and 1978. That season, he led the NL in hits, doubles, home runs, total bases and slugging percentage. He helped the Braves win the Pennant in 1948, their last in Boston. He was a player-manager for the Braves before closing his career with his hometown Dodgers in the 1952 World Series. He batted .302 lifetime, OPS+ 122. He later served for over 30 years as a Met scout. Not to be confused with the man of the same name who wrote sports for the Brooklyn Eagle and the New York Herald Tribune. Red Smith, his colleague at the Trib, called that Tommy Holmes "the best baseball writer of his time, possibly of all time."
RF Ken Singleton of Mount Vernon, Westchester County. You may now know him as a Yankee broadcaster, but he grew up as a Met fan, and the Mets were his first team in the major leagues, in 1970. Just before the 1972 season, the Mets included him in a trade package to the Montreal Expos for Rusty Staub -- a rare good trade for the Mets, but a good one for the Expos, too. But the Expos made a big mistake after the 1974 season, trading him and Mike Torrez to the Orioles, the best player going north of the border being a broken-down Dave McNally.
Kenny made 3 All-Star teams, had a 132 career OPS+, hit 317 doubles and 246 home runs, and had 3 100-RBI seasons, despite playing his entire career in pitcher's parks. In 1973, his performance put the Expos in their first-ever Pennant race. He finished 3rd in the AL MVP voting in 1977 and 2nd to Don Baylor in 1979, a year in which the O's came within 1 win of a World Championship. He hung on long enough to play for their 1983 World Champions, and in both Pennant seasons he led the AL in intentional walks.
* Al Reach of Brooklyn. He helped the original Philadelphia Athletics win the first professional Pennant, in the National Association in 1871. Along with Albert G. Spalding, he became one of the first great suppliers of sporting goods (eventually selling A.J. Reach & Company to Spalding). He was one of the founders of the Phillies franchise in 1883, although that was over 120 years before they really became a Met rival, so forgive him for that if you're a Met fan.
* Jeffrey Hammonds of Scotch Plains, Union County, New Jersey. He reached the postseason with the Orioles in 1996 and '97, the Reds (sort of) in '99, and the Giants in 2003.
Dishonorable Mention to Bobby Bonilla of The Bronx. It may be hard to ignore his "Make yo' move" rant of 1993, and he is certainly a steroid suspect, having that "roid rage"-like incident and having played for the much-juiced 1996 Baltimore Orioles. He helped the Pittsburgh Pirates win the NL East in 1990, '91 and '92, and the Florida Marlins win the 1997 World Series. Don't count on him reaching the Hall, though, and not because of any steroids he may have used: A .279 batting average, 287 homers, 2,010 hits... these are not Cooperstown numbers.
DH Joe Medwick of Carteret, Middlesex County, New Jersey. In 1937, with the Cardinals, he became the last player to win the Triple Crown in the NL, and was also NL MVP that season. Somebody once said that he was called "Ducky" because of the way he walked, and "Muscles" because no one dared to call him "Ducky" to his face. (Of course, like another former Cardinal and Dodger, Harrison-born Joe Stripp, and the Camden-born boxer born Arnold Raymond Cream but known professionally as Joe Walcott, he was known as Jersey Joe.)
Traded to the Dodgers in 1940, he was on a pace for over 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, but he got beaned that year, and was never the same again. This inspired Dodger president Branch Rickey to give all his players batting helmets, leading to all of baseball adopting them. He still hit 205 home runs and got 2,471 hits. He helped the Dodgers win the 1941 Pennant that established them, pretty much until October 2010, as a better team than the Giants. Hall of Fame. Number 7 not retired by the Cardinals, for whose 1934 World Champions he played (and infamously got thrown out of Game 7 -- for his own protection!), but it should be. When The Sporting News announced its 100 Greatest Baseball Players in 1999, he came in at Number 79.
Although Irvin and Doby grew up in the Garden State, the only men in the Hall of Fame who were born in New Jersey are Hamilton, Medwick and Salem's Leon "Goose" Goslin -- one from North Jersey, one from Central Jersey, one from South Jersey.
Met fans won't like me including a designated hitter on their team, what with their fixation on the National League as somehow being holy, or at least more "pure" than the American League, in part because of no DH. But it's my list; if you don't like it, make your own.
I considered Edgar Martinez for the DH slot, as he was born in Manhattan and was as much a "Yankee Killer" as any hitter in the modern era. However, his parents split up when he was a toddler, and he grew up in Puerto Rico, making him geographically ineligible for this team.
C Mike "King" Kelly of Troy, Renssalaer County. Geographically, he would go on the Yankees' team, but he closed his checkered career with the Giants in 1893, so he goes on the Mets team. He might have been the best player of the 1880s, and probably the most colorful player of the 19th Century.
He won Pennants with the Chicago White Stockings (forerunners of the Cubs) in 1880, '81, '82, '85 and '86. At which point, coming off a .388 season, was purchased by the Beaneaters (Braves) for $10,000, a record price for the time. At least for a while, he was worth it, but his drinking, his weight and his health (in those pre-antibiotics days) caught up with him.
According to legend, he is the source for baseball's substitution rule: He saw a foul pop from the dugout, and yelled, "Kelly now catching for Chicago!" and caught it. With no rule against it at the time, the umpire called the batter out, and the rule was then changed so that a player couldn't enter the game in mid-play. He played every position at least once, including 11 games as a pitcher. He had a lifetime batting average .308, OPS+ 138. Stolen bases were not an official stat until 1886, but in 7 full seasons thereafter, he stole 368, so he probably had twice as many as that: Over 700.
Just 35 when he played his last game, he was dead a year later. Still, he's in the Hall of Fame, and his former Chicago teammate and manager Cap Anson lamented that he threw away a chance to be remembered as the greatest player of all time.
If you want a 20th or 21st Century catcher, I'm afraid you're out of luck, unless you want to go with Brad Ausmus of Cheshire, Connecticut, who is, at the least, the greatest catcher the Houston Astros have ever had.
Michael Francis Welch of Brooklyn. "Smiling Mickey" won 307 games for the Troy Haymakers/New York Gothams/New York Giants in the 1880s and '90s. He was also an outfielder, and is credited as the first pinch-hitter, in an 1889 game.
He died in 1941, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973. At the induction ceremony, his widow and Roberto Clemente's sat next to each other, holding their husbands' copies of their plaques. I'm not sure how old Mrs. Welch was, but she looked about 90 years old (which would have made her young enough to be Mickey's daughter, so she was probably not his first wife); Vera Clemente, if she was the same age as her husband, would have been almost 40, but sitting next to Mrs. Welch she looked about half that.
Warren Spahn of Buffalo. He is the winningest lefthanded pitcher of all time with 363, and the winningest pitcher of either hand in the post-1920 Lively Ball Era. He won the 1948 NL Pennant with the Boston Braves (with Johnny Sain formed the not-quite-fairly-named rotation of "Spahn and Sain and two days of rain"), and the 1957 World Championship and 1958 Pennant with the Milwaukee Braves.
He was the all-time strikeout leader among lefthanders until surpassed by Mickey Lolich in 1975. Hall of Fame. Number 21 retired by the Braves. He lived long enough to be elected to the All-Century Team in 1999. "He should be," said fellow electee, fellow southpaw and fellow Empire Stater Sandy Koufax, "because he pitched for most of the century." That same year, when The Sporting News announced its 100 Greatest Baseball Players, he came in at Number 21 -- the same as his uniform number.
Don Newcombe of Jefferson, Morris County, New Jersey. A teammate of Irvin's and Doby's on the 1946 Newark Eagles, he was the first black pitcher to be a regular starter in the majors and the first to start a World Series game. He was a World Champion with the Dodgers in 1955, going 20-5 and hitting 7 home runs. He was the first-ever Cy Young Award winner and NL MVP in 1956, going 27-7 -- only 2 pitchers since have matched those 27 wins (Denny McLain's 31 in 1968, Steve Carlton's 27 in 1972).
Missing nearly 3 years due to the Korean War, and heavy drinking, cost him his chance at the Hall of Fame -- he had his last good season at age 33 and was out of the majors a year later -- but he did win 149 games against just 90 losses for a fine .623 winning percentage. He had a career ERA of 3.56, but an ERA+ of 114, and a career WHIP of a nice 1.203. He later quit drinking and became a substance-abuse counselor.
Now 87 years old and living in the Colonia section of Woodbridge, Middlesex County, he, along with Carl Erskine, is still one of the men to turn to for doing interviews about the Brooklyn "Boys of Summer." His son Donald Jr. briefly played in the Dodger organization in 1984.
Johnny Podres of Witherbee, Essex County, New York -- that's way Upstate, not far from the Canadian border, not the Newark-based Essex County in New Jersey. He did what no other Brooklyn Dodger ever did: Pitch and win the clinching game of a World Series, on October 4, 1955, 2-0 over the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. He was named the Series MVP (the first time the award was officially given) and Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year. He missed the 1956 season due to military service, and actually did better for the Dodgers in Los Angeles than in Brooklyn. He led the NL in ERA and WHIP in 1957 and in winning percentage in 1961. He pitched for World Series winners in 1955, '59, '63 and '65 -- in fact, the Dodger franchise was not the last man standing without him on its roster between 1900 and 1981.
Arm trouble meant that he'd never win more than 7 games in a season after age 30. He finished his playing career in 1969 with the expansion San Diego... Padres. (Yes, pronounced the same way.) He went 148-116 for his career, and became one of baseball's best pitching coaches, helping the 1987 and 1991 Minnesota Twins and the 1993 Philadelphia Phillies win Pennants.
Sandy Koufax of Brooklyn. He didn't learn how to control his fastball and curve until 1961, when he was 25. But when he did, he gave baseball 6 of the best years any pitcher ever had. He pitched 4 no-hitters, including a perfect game in 1965. Pitched on World Series winners with the Dodgers in 1955, '59, '63 and '65. He struck out 15 Yankees in Game 1 in '63, then a Series record for any pitcher, and still one for lefties. He pitched shutouts in Games 5 and 7 in '65, after losing Game 2 and missing Game 1 because it fell on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. He won the NL MVP in 1963, Cy Young Award in '63, '65, '66 -- remember, one Cy was given for both leagues at the time.
He retired after the 1966 season, shortly before his 31st birthday, due to a circulatory problem in his arm. 165-87 for his career, ERA 2.76 (0.95 in World Series play, only Mariano Rivera has beaten that), ERA+ 131, WHIP 1.106, 2,396 strikeouts in only about half a career. He was the youngest-ever inductee into the Hall of Fame (36), Number 32 retired, All-Century Team. When The Sporting News announced its 100 Greatest Baseball Players in 1999, he came in at Number 26.
Because of his fabulous numbers, his ethnicity, his early departure, and his DiMaggio-esque pursuit of privacy, he is one of the few living baseball greats to truly have a mystique. Now 78 years old and apparently well, there will be quite the outpouring of sorrow when he dies.
Yes, that photo above is a recent one of Sandy Koufax, helping out Jon Niese of the Mets during spring training. Koufax went to Lafayette High School in Brooklyn, where he was a classmate of Met owner Fred Wilpon.
Honorable Mentions to:
* Jim Creighton of Brooklyn. Arguably the first famous baseball player, a snap of his wrist in an 1859 game produced the invention of the fastball. He also invented a pitch he called the "dew-drop" -- the first changeup. In 1862, playing for the Excelsior Club of Brooklyn, he was the game's best hitter and its best pitcher. He was on his way to being the Babe Ruth of the Civil War era. He was 21 years old. He should have still been playing into the 1880s. But he died on October 18, 1862, just days after beginning to feel severe abdominal pain shortly after playing a game. It's not clear what the cause of death was; reports have ranged from a ruptured bladder or spleen to an infected hernia to appendicitis. He was buried under a stupendous monument in Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery. Buried nearby would be his former Excelsior teammate...
* Asahel "Asa" Brainard of Albany. The pitcher for the 1869-70 Cincinnati Red Stockings, his success led to teams calling their best pitcher "our Asa." And so a great pitcher became known as an "ace." He also played 2nd base and the outfield. He pitched on until 1874, and died of tuberculosis in 1888, age 47. (Did I mention that medicine in those days left a lot to be desired?)
* William Arthur "Candy" Cummings of Brooklyn. Another Excelsior, he claimed to have invented the curveball in 1867. He may not have been the first to throw it in an organized game, but that claim alone got him into the Hall of Fame. Despite this dubious distinction and his equally dubious election, he was a pretty good pitcher in the National Association of the 1870s, but didn't last long in the NL. Unlike Creighton, Brainard, and Charles Ebbets of Dodger ownership and ballpark-building fame, he is not buried in Green-Wood. But he did live on until 1924, long outliving Creighton and Brainard, and nearly Ebbets.
* Charles Gardner "Old Hoss" Radbourn of Rochester. The man who sponsors his Baseball-Reference page does so under Radbourn's own name, claiming, "Gaze below at the statistical flibberdigab that supposedly represent the greatness that was my career. But these numbers are useless: there are no columns for pints consumed, harlots bedded, or blades brandished." Edward Achorn recently published a book about Hoss' most amazing season, titled Fifty-Nine in '84. There is some dispute as to who should have been credited as the winning pitcher in one of Hoss' games in the Providence Grays' 1884 Pennant-winning season, so some sources credit Hoss with 59 wins, some with 60.
His career record (if you presume the total of 59 for 1884 is correct) was 309-194, for a .614 percentage, a 120 ERA+ and a 1.149 WHIP. Drinking finished his career at age 36 and his life at age 42 in 1897, but his exploits were remembered enough that, when the time came in 1939 for the Hall of Fame voters to first consider 19th Century players, he was elected. It's not clear whether he would have been just as great after 1893, with the pitching distance extended from 50 feet to 60 feet, 6 inches, or in throwing all overhand. So I can't make him one of the starters on this team. What he would think of that, I don't care. What's he gonna do, plunk me from beyond the grave? (Said grave is in Bloomington, Illinois, a few steps from 1950s Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson.)
I'll tell you who would plunk someone for disrespecting him like that...
* Sal Maglie of Niagara Falls. Called "Sal the Barber" because his headhunting resulted in some "close shaves," ironically he preceded Roger Clemens in another regard, being one of those pitchers who tended not to shave on the day he started, thus looking more menacing. He was known for having a nasty curveball. His Hall of Fame chances were ruined by his 1946 defection (over money) to the Mexican League. When his suspension was lifted in 1950, he was already 33, but he led the NL in ERA, and over the next 3 seasons, including the Giants' 1951 Pennant season (23-6), he went 59-18. He helped the Giants win the World Series in 1954, but tailed off the next year and was traded to their Series opponents, the Cleveland Indians.
He had enough left in 1956, at age 39, to go 13-5 for the Indians and then, after a trade, to the Brooklyn Dodgers, whose fans probably hated him (for his headhunting) more than any Giant except their manager, Dodger turncoat Leo Durocher. In another irony, this symbol of Dodger fans' hatred for the Jints pitched the last Brooklyn Dodger no-hitter that season -- and had a perfect game going himself in Game 5 of the World Series, until Mickey Mantle homered in the 4th. Maglie went the distance and lost to Don Larsen, who kept his perfect game. The next year, he completed his tour, pitching for the Yankees in '57 and '58 before going to St. Louis and retiring with a record of 119-62 -- which probably should have been more like 180-90 had he not gone to Mexico.
Later, he became one of baseball's top pitching coaches, though immortalized in Ball Four by author Jim Bouton, who grew up a Giant fan and idolizing Maglie, as a very nasty man who didn't consider the knuckleball a real pitch. The minor-league stadium in his native Niagara Falls is now named for him.
* Al Leiter of Berkeley Township, Ocean County, New Jersey. Along with his brother Mark, who also pitched in the majors, he grew up as a hardcore Met fan, yet he made his big-league debut with the Yankees. In 1989, the Yankees traded him to the Blue Jays for Jesse Barfield. Jesse was a good guy who had some power left, but this trade was a big mistake: Al won 7 major league games before the trade, 155 after it. Injuries kept him off the Jays' 1992 World Series roster, but he was a big reason why they won it in 1993. For the Marlins, he pitched a no-hitter and helped them win the 1997 World Series. He was the ace of the Met staff when they won their last Pennant in 2000, but was famously left in too long in Game 5 of the Series, losing the game on his 142nd pitch, to Luis Sojo.
His 95 wins are 6th all-time among Mets. He returned to the Yankees to close his career, and while it didn't make a difference in the series, his last game was a fine relief effort in the 2005 ALDS. He now works for both the YES Network and the MLB Network. He is eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame, but with a career record of 162-132, and an ERA+ of 113, I don't think he's going to make it.
Joe Black of Plainfield, Union County, New Jersey. Actually, his greatest distinction is that he was the first black man to be the winning pitcher in a World Series game, starting and winning Game 1 of the 1952 Series for the Dodgers against the Yankees, before starting and losing both Game 4 and Game 7. After the season, he was named NL Rookie of the Year. Prior to arriving in Brooklyn, he helped the Baltimore Elite Giants (with future Dodger teammate Roy Campanella) win 2 Negro League Pennants.
After his retirement, spurred on by Jackie Robinson, he successfully worked to ensure that retired Negro League players were included in baseball's pension system; then he helped another teammate, Ralph Branca, ensure that said players would be helped by Branca's charity, the Baseball Assistance Team (BAT).
John Franco of Brooklyn. Like Koufax, Met owner Fred Wilpon, and talk-show host Larry King, he graduated from Lafayette High School. Sadly, while no high school has produced more big-leaguers (21), the City's Board of Education has targeted it for closing (though this has been so for years, and it remains open for the moment).
Franco's luck hasn't always been good: He was traded from the Cincinnati Reds to his boyhood team, the Mets, after the 1989 season, for, among others, another lefty reliever, Randy Myers. In 1990, after seasons in 1985 through '88 that would have won the NL Central title (but put them 2nd in the NL West of the time), the Reds won the World Series; the Mets finished 2nd in the NL East, the 7th straight year they'd finished at least that high, but began to collapse the next season.
Still, when they returned to contention in 1998, Franco was a big reason why. The Mets won the Wild Card in 1999 and the Pennant in 2000, and in Game 3 of the Subway Series against the Yankees, Franco was the winning pitcher -- the only Met to win a World Series game since Roger McDowell won Game 7 in 1986.
He started out wearing Number 31, but when Mike Piazza arrived in 1998, Franco him have the number and switched to 45, the number of his hero, another famed Met lefty reliever, Tug McGraw. He almost pitched until his age matched his number (as did another Met lefty reliever, Number 47, Jesse Orosco), and in his last season, 2005, he helped the Houston Astros win their first Pennant (although he was not on the postseason roster). His career record is 90-87, his ERA is 2.89, and his 424 saves are an all-time record for lefthanders, and he held the record for all NL pitchers until surpassed by Trevor Hoffman.
Jim Johnson of Endicott, Broome County, New York (outside Binghamton). The closer for the Orioles, he's led the AL in saves each of the last 2 years, totaling 101. Above all other players, he is the reason the Orioles have hope of breaking the New York-Boston-Tampa Bay stranglehold on the AL East the next few years.
Honorable Mention to Buffalo natives who appeared in The Natural when it was filmed in their hometown: Sibby Sisti, an infielder for the Boston Braves in the 1940s who played on their 1948 Pennant winners and played the Pittsburgh manager in the film's final-scene Playoff game; and Phil Mankowski, an infielder for the Detroit Tigers and the Mets, who played a New York Knights player in the film -- as did 1980 AL Rookie of the Year "Super Joe" Charboneau of the Cleveland Indians, a native of Belvidere, Illinois.
MGR John McGraw of Truxton, Cortland County, New York. As a 3rd baseman for the old NL version of the Baltimore Orioles, he won Pennants in 1894, '95 and '96, batted .334 lifetime, led the NL in walks and runs scored twice each, and was basically a manager on the field who invented the "inside baseball" that would dominate the next 30 years of play. He collected 1,309 hits in what amounted to just 10 full seasons in the majors, cut short by injury.
As a manager, he led the New York Giants to 10 NL Pennants, in 1904, '05, '11, '12, '13, '17, '21, '22, '23 and '24, and World Series wins in 1905, '21 and '22. Just 5-foot-7 and 155 pounds, he didn't care for the nickname "The Little Napoleon," and really hated the nickname "Muggsy."
In 1933, McGraw and Connie Mack were named the opposing managers in the first All-Star Game; in 1937, they were the first men elected to the Hall of Fame as managers. His players and teammates who, themselves, became Pennant-winning managers include Hugh Jennings, Wilbert Robinson, Frankie Frisch, Bill Terry and Casey Stengel; their proteges include Leo Durocher, Yogi Berra, Dick Williams, Walter Alston and Billy Martin; theirs can be extended to recent managers Lou Piniella, Willie Randolph and Joe Torre. McGraw's influence has been diluted with the passing of the decades, but his imprint is still on the game.
A plaque in his memory was placed on the center field wall at the Polo Grounds after his death in 1934, and the San Francisco edition of the Giants places an "NY" notation for him (and for his favorite player, Christy Mathewson) with their retired numbers.