Friday, March 14, 2014

Washington D.C.'s All-Time Baseball Team

And now, as promised, my updates for each Major League Baseball team's "all-time regional team." That is to say, the best players at each position from their metropolitan area -- or "market," if you prefer.

I will post starters at every position, and Honorable Mentions where I think it's merited -- from those, you may select a designated hitter. I'll post 5 starting pitchers, in chronological order rather than by effectiveness; at least 1 relief pitcher, and a manager. And for the post's photograph, I'll show the player I believe to have been the best ever to have come from the area.

I'm going in ascending order of achievement -- meaning that a team's actual history and the talent on the team you'll see presented may not match.

All statistics that you will see for active players are through the 2013 season.

I begin with the Number 30 MLB team in terms of on-field success, the Washington Nationals. Granted, they've only been around since 2005 -- but even if you count their years as the Montreal Expos, and include their strike-shortened seasons of finishing first in the National League Eastern Division, they're still not ahead of anyone. All 4 teams that have debuted since 1977 have won at least 1 Pennant, and even the Mariners, who debuted that year and haven't won a Pennant, have been to more postseasons (and that's even counting the Expos as 1994 NL East Champions and therefore "qualifying for the postseason").

30. Washington D.C.’s All-Time Baseball Team

The metro area here is the District of Columbia, southern and western Maryland, the West Virginia panhandle, and all but the panhandle of Virginia.

This team has a little bit of power, and a little bit of speed. The rotation is a little shaky, but that may change in the next few years. The bullpen? Um... Actually, compared to the regional all-time teams elsewhere in the Northeast -- Boston, Philadelphia, neighboring Baltimore and especially the two New York teams you'll be seeing -- this is easily the weakest.

1B George McQuinn of Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington. A 6-time All-Star, he had the misfortune to play most of his career with the St. Louis Browns, with whom he batted .324 in 1938 and .316 in 1939. From 1938 to 1944, he averaged 16 home runs and 84 RBIs for that sorry franchise, which later became the far more-respected Baltimore Orioles. In 1944, the Browns won their one and only American League Pennant, mainly because the traditionally stronger teams had lost more men to the war effort.

In 1947, he was acquired by the Yankees, and gave them a .304 average, 13 homers and 80 RBIs, and he was a big part of their World Championship team. He played one more season before retiring with a .276 average, a 110 career OPS+, 1,588 hits including 315 doubles, 64 triples and 135 homers.

2B Tony Womack of Danville, Virginia. An All-Star as a rookie with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1997, it was the first of 3 straight seasons he led the NL in stolen bases: 60, 58 and 72, very big numbers for the homer-happy post-Strike of '94 era.

Traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks, he helped them reach the postseason in 1999, 2001 (his 9th-inning single helping to beat the Yankees and win the World Series) and 2002. After that, he bounced around, reaching the postseason with the Chicago Cubs in 2003 (disaster), the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004 (Pennant, but swept in the Series), and the Yankees in 2005 (he forgot how to hit), before running out the string with the Cincinnati Reds and back to the Cubs in 2006. Not much of a hitter, but stole 363 bases and was a good fielder.

SS Maury Wills of Cardozo H.S. in Washington, D.C. Probably the best player ever born in the District, he redefined baserunning. A process that began with Jackie Robinson in 1947 and was accelerated in 1959 by Chicago’s Pennant-winning “Go-Go White Sox” was thrown into overdrive by Wills in 1960, beginning a string of 6 straight seasons in which he led the NL in stolen bases. In 1962, he broke Ty Cobb’s 1915 record of 96 steals in a season, with 104, a record that would stand for another 12 years. He was named NL Most Valuable Player that season.

In 1965, he stole 94. He helped the Dodgers win Pennants in 1959 (beat the White Sox in the World Series), 1963 (swept the Yankees), 1965 (beat the Minnesota Twins) and 1966 (got swept by the Orioles), and they just missed a Pennant in his MVP year of 1962 (tying the San Francisco Giants for first but losing a Playoff).

But his ego, and drinking and drug problems, led to hit exit after the ’66 season; that and the retirements of Sandy Koufax and Jim Gilliam ended the Dodgers’ first great era in California. He didn’t have a great career: His lifetime batting average was .281, his OPS+ a mere 88, and “just” 2,134 hits.

Yes, he stole 586 bases, but that’s not a great qualification: There are 10 players with more in the Lively Ball Era (1920-onward): Rickey Henderson, Lou Brock, Max Carey and Joe Morgan are in the Hall; but Tim Raines (222 more), Vince Coleman (166 more), Willie Wilson (82 more), Bert Campaneris (53 more), Kenny Lofton (36 more) and Otis Nixon (34 more) are not; and Juan Pierre (28 more, the current active leader) is not yet eligible.

On Baseball-Reference.com, their Hall of Fame Monitor, where a “Likely HOFer” is at 100, Wills is at 104 (appropriately enough, and that means he should get in); but on their Hall of Fame Standards, where an “Average HOFer” is at 50, he’s at just 29 (meaning he doesn't even come close). Of his 10 “Most Similar Batters,” Dave Bancroft, Johnny Evers and John Montgomery Ward are in; but Larry Bowa, Steve Sax, Don Kessinger, Donie Bush, Kid Gleason and Roger Peckinpaugh are not; Luis Castillo is not yet eligible, but who’s kidding who. Wills makes this team, but he’s only getting into the Hall of Fame by buying a ticket.

Honorable Mention to Granville “Granny” Hamner of Richmond, Virginia. Until Jimmy Rollins came along, it was a tossup as to whether Hamner or Bowa was the best shortstop the Philadelphia Phillies have ever had. A 3-time All-Star, he set a major league record with 157 games played in 1950 – all 154 regularly-scheduled games and 3 made-up rainouts, a record that wouldn’t be breakable until the expansion to a 162-game schedule in 1961. With Richie Ashburn, he formed a fine double-play combination that held with the Phils from 1948 to 1958, when they were both traded. He was a member of the Pennant-winning “Whiz Kids” of 1950, batted .300 in 1958 (and just missed in 1954), had a surprising (for a Fifties shortstop) 71 homers from 1950 to 1954, and 4 times topped 80 RBIs for the Fightin’s. He is a member of the Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame. His brother Wes Hamner also briefly played for the Phils.

3B Don Money of La Plata, Maryland. A 4-time All-Star, he became a potent hitter for the Milwaukee Brewers, helping them to rise to respectability in the late Seventies. He began to decline, though, and by the 1982 Pennant season, Paul Molitor was making Money more of a DH, and he only played one more season. Still, they wouldn’t have gotten there without him.

Honorable Mention to David Wright of Chesapeake, Virginia. He is now the Mets' all-time leader in hits, with 1,558. Lifetime batting average, .301; OPS+, a nice 137; home runs, 222, and 5 100-RBI seasons, despite playing his home games in pitcher's parks Shea Stadium and Citi Field. A 7-time All-Star, and a 2-time Gold Glove. And he's only 31. So what's stopping me from putting him ahead of Money? Easy: Team success, or lack thereof. He's only been to the postseason once, in 2006, and in the 7 biggest games of his life, the NLCS, he batted .216.

Honorable Mention to Ryan Zimmerman of Virginia Beach, who played in the same Little League at the same time as Wright, and also the brothers B.J. and Justin Upton. Nearly the NL Rookie of the Year in 2006, in 2009 he was an All-Star and a Gold Glove. In each of those seasons, he topped 100 RBIs. He's only 29, but he's already the greatest player in Washington Nationals history -- if you don't count their Montreal years, and if you remember that it's a little soon to count Stephen Strasburg as such.

Honorable Mention to Ernest Judson "Jud" Wilson of Remington, Virginia. A star in the Negro Leagues, mostly with the Baltimore Black Sox in the Twenties and the Philadelphia Stars in the Thirties, he was also a Homestead Grays teammate of Josh Gibson, who suggested that Wilson might have been the better hitter (if not the more powerful one); and briefly a Pittsburgh Crawfords teammate of both Gibson and Satchel Paige, who called him one of the two toughest hitters he ever faced, along with Charles "Chino" Smith. Wilson was one of the "overlooked" Negro League players elected to the Hall of Fame in 2006. Yet another for whom it's too bad we don't have full statistics to peruse or film to view, to get an idea of how good he really was. Chances are, he was better than Money, Wright or Zimmerman.

LF Charlie Keller of Middletown, Maryland. The University of Maryland graduate was known as King Kong Keller because he was big, strong and hairy. Not to his face, mind you: He hated that nickname.

And he could back it up, too: From 1939 to 1943, he was one of the best hitters in the game, averaging 99 RBIs. From 1940 to 1943, he averaged 25 home runs. In 1939, he scored the winning run in Game 4 of the World Series, enabling the Yankees to sweep the Cincinnati Reds; it became controversial because, intentionally or otherwise, he kneed the Reds’ Hall of Fame catcher Ernie Lombardi in the groin, stunning him momentarily and causing him to lose the ball, enabling Joe DiMaggio to score an additional run. After spending 1944 and most of ’45 in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II, he came back with a vengeance in 1946, hitting 30 homers with 101 RBIs. He was just 29 and looked like he was headed to the Hall of Fame.

But a back injury put an end to that. He still managed to give the Yankees some production, forming one of the greatest outfields ever with DiMaggio and Tommy Henrich. They won the World Series in 1939, 1941, 1943, 1947 and 1949. But after that last one, his injuries made the Yankees give up on him at age 32. He played 3 more years, including a brief comeback with the Yanks, but after 189 homers and 5 All-Star Games in 6 full seasons, he was done. Still, he had a career batting average of .286 and a mighty 152 OPS+. He returned to Maryland and trained racehorses at his Yankeeland Farm. His brother Hal Keller had a spell as the catcher for their “hometown” Washington Senators.

Honorable Mention to Curtis Pride of Silver Spring, Maryland. He can see you applaud this selection, but he can’t hear it. He starred in baseball, basketball and soccer for John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring, and played basketball rather than baseball at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. Despite his deafness, he played in the majors from 1993 to 2006, batting .250 as a reserve outfielder, including a .300 average, 10 homers and 31 RBIs in 95 games with the 1996 Detroit Tigers. He briefly played for the Yankees in 2003, but despite playing for them, the Boston Red Sox and the Atlanta Braves in a successful era for each, his only postseason appearance was with the Angels in 2004. There were a few deaf players in the late 19th and early 20th Century, mostly called “Dummy” because “dumb” then meant mute rather than stupid, but Pride is the only hearing-impaired player to make an impact in the last 100 years.

CF Al Bumbry of Fredericksburg, Virginia.   The AL Rookie of the year in 1973, "Bumblebee" played all but his last season with the Orioles, making just 1 All-Star Team (1980), but was the leadoff man on 4 postseason teams, just missing 4 others.

Lifetime batting average .281, led the AL in triples in 1973, had at least 29 doubles 3 times, collected 205 hits in 1980, stole at least 22 bases 5 times with a peak of 44 in 1980, and was a member of the 1979 Pennant winners and 1983 World Champions.

Honorable Mention to B.J. Upton of Norfolk, Virginia -- whose real name is Melvin Emanuel, and I can't find a reference as to how he got those initials. Now with the Braves after having helped build the Tampa Bay Rays' ill-attended rise to power, he's stolen 244 bases in what amounts to 8 full seasons.

RF Jim Lemon of Covington, Virginia. He may have looked like a lemon in leading the AL in strikeouts 3 straight seasons, but considering he was a Washington Senator, playing his home games in Griffith Stadium with its distant fences, he was one of the best power hitters in the game in the late Fifties. He led the AL in triples in 1956, and from that season through 1960, 5 years in a tough ballpark, he hit 141 home runs. In 1960, he made his one and only appearance in the All-Star Game, and was also one of 3 Senators to appear on the TV show Home Run Derby. (The others were Harmon Killebrew and Bob Allison.)

Strangely, the move of the team to become the Minnesota Twins, in the far more hitter-friendly Metropolitan Stadium, did him no favors, as his production declined. However, he was subject to injuries, and had his last productive season in 1961, the team’s first season as the Twins, and was done at 35. He seems to have fit the “steroid profile,” but there were no steroids in baseball in those days.

He later returned to Washington to manage the new Senators, the franchise that became the Texas Rangers in 1972, although he wasn’t exactly a “local” guy: Covington is 230 miles from D.C., in the Shenandoah Valley hard by the West Virginia State Line.

Honorable Mention to Michael Cuddyer of Chesapeake, Virginia. An All-Star last season for the Colorado Rockies, he had previously made it once with the Twins, whom he helped to the Playoffs 6 times.

Honorable Mention to Justin Upton of Norfolk, Virginia. Younger than B.J. by 3 years, he's already the better player, having reached 2 All-Star Games with the Diamondbacks before joining B.J. on the Braves. In what amounts to 6 full seasons, he's already hit 135 home runs, despite playing most of his home games in Phoenix's Chase Field, which isn't exactly conducive to slugging.

C Randy Hundley of Bassett, Virginia. He spent most of his career with the Cubs, winning a Gold Glove in 1967, making the NL All-Star Team in 1969, and showing surprising power for a Sixties catcher. Unfortunately, he’s probably best known as a player for the Cubs’ ’69 “September Swoon,” including the game at Shea Stadium where Tommie Agee scored the winning run, and Hundley turned to the umpire, screamed, and jumped about as high as a man wearing catching gear can to protest. The replay showed, yes, Agee was out, but that’s Cubs luck for you. (That was September 8: The next day was the Black Cat Game.)

Randy went on to found the first “baseball fantasy camp” at the Cubs’ spring training grounds in Scottsdale, Arizona, and still runs it today. His son Todd, like his father, was born in Martinsville, Virginia, but grew up in the Chicago suburbs while his dad played for the Cubs, graduating from Fremd High School in Palatine, Illinois, and, while a good player in his own right (202 home runs, All-Star berths with the Mets in 1996 and ’97), he is geographically ineligible for this team, and I can’t take him ahead of Jim Sundberg for the Cubs’ all-time regional team. Maybe ahead of Tom Haller for the White Sox edition, but you can't put a Hundley on a White Sox team!

SP Guy Harris “Doc” White of Washington, D.C. This Georgetown University graduate and actual medical doctor starred for the White Sox from 1903 to 1911, helping them win the 1906 World Series with an 18-6 record, leading the AL in ERA with 1.52 and WHIP with 0.903. A year later, he went 27-13. The Sox tailed off a bit in 1912, taking him down with them, and his career record was 189-156. But his career ERA+ was 113, and his WHIP was 1.121.

SP Eppa Rixey of Culpeper, Virginia. Despite all their success over the years, the Cincinnati Reds have only one pitcher in the Hall of Fame, with their cap on his plaque, and a lot of people don’t think Rixey belongs, either. After helping the Phillies win their first Pennant in 1915, he went to the Reds in 1921 and put together seasons of 19, 25, 20, 15, 21, 14, 12 and 19 wins before tailing off. His career record was 266-251, 87-103 (but a 2.83 ERA) for the Phils and 179-148 with the Reds. His ERA+ was 115 and his WHIP 1.272.

SP Steve Barber of Takoma Park, Maryland. One of the “Baby Birds” who helped the Orioles reach their first Pennant race in 1960, as a 22-year-old rookie. He won 18 the next season and 20 just 2 seasons later, in 1963, making the All-Star Team and becoming the first Baltimore pitcher to win 20 in a major league season in 64 years. In 1966, he went 10-5 with a 2.30 ERA to make another All-Star Game, as the O’s won their first Pennant and World Series.

But 1967 was the year it all went wrong. On April 30, he was removed from a game against the Tigers with 2 out in the 9th inning after having given up 2 runs despite having not surrendered a hit. Stu Miller got the final out to complete the no-hitter, although the Orioles lost 2-1. Then he hurt his elbow, and was traded to the Yankees.

Today, he’s probably best remembered for being with the expansion Seattle Pilots in 1969, where Jim Bouton would record in his diary Ball Four that Barber said, “My arm’s not sore, it’s just a little stiff.” He hung on until 1974, finishing 121-106, with a 105 ERA+. Fred Talbot of Fairfax, Virginia, on the other side of the Capital Beltway, was a teammate of Barber’s on those ill-fated ’69 Pilots, but doesn’t make this team.

SP Joe Saunders of Falls Church, Virginia. Won 17 games for the Anaheim Angels in 2008 (making the AL All-Star Team), 16 more in 2009, losing just 7 and helping them reach the postseason each time. Seasons of 9-17 in 2010 and 11-16 with a bad Mariner team last year have dropped his career record to 89-81. But he has reached the postseason with 3 different teams: The '08 and '09 Angels, the '11 D-backs and the '12 O's.

SP Justin Verlander of Goochland, Virginia. Just 31 years old, he’s already won 137 games against just 77 losses, with an ERA+ of 127 and a WHIP of 1.191. In 2006, he was the AL Rookie of the Year, helping the Tigers win the Pennant. In 2011, he went 24-5 to win not just the AL's Cy Young Award, but it's MVP, joining Hal Newhouser, Denny McLain and Willie Hernandez as Tiger MVP pitchers. He nearly won another Cy in helping the Tigers win the 2012 Pennant.

He has now made 6 All-Star Teams, and is arguably the best pitcher in the game today. He may even be the best D.C.-area player -- although Goochland is 126 miles south of Washington, making it much more a suburb of the State Capital of Richmond than it is of the Nation's Capital. But, for now, Eppa Rixey, from 70 miles away in Culpeper, is the only area player in the Hall of Fame. (Oddly, there is a Strasburg on the D.C. side of Virginia, but Stephen Strasburg is not from there.)

RP Billy Wagner of Tazewell, Virginia. In the regular season, he was as good as relievers come. His career record was 47-40, he had a 187 ERA+, a 0.998 WHIP, and 422 career saves – only Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, Lee Smith and John Franco have more, and only Franco (by just 2) does among lefthanders. He was a 7-time All-Star.

But it was in the stretch drive and in the postseason where he became a liability. His Houston Astros won NL Central titles in 1997, ’98, ’99 and 2001, but won just 2 postseason games in that stretch, with Wagner losing an NLDS game in ’97, blowing a save (but getting the win anyway) in another in ’98, and getting shelled in another in ‘01. He almost reached the Playoffs with the 2005 Phillies. He came within a run of the Pennant with the 2006 Mets, but Yadier Molina had other ideas. (That wasn’t Wags’ fault, but a 3-run blowup in the 9th in Game 2 of that NLCS was.) His ineffectiveness was a big reason why the Mets blew that big lead in 2007, and his injury was a big reason why they blew a September lead in 2008 as well.

In 2009, he got back to the postseason with the Red Sox, but got shelled in 2 ALDS games against the Angels. His postseason ERA was 10.32, his WHIP 1.941. In 2010, he had a renaissance with the Atlanta Braves, helping them reach the postseason, although he barely pitched in it, and retired thereafter. In spite of his enviable regular-season performances, I don't think he'll ever make the Hall of Fame.

Picking a manager for this team is hard. Probably the best manager ever from the District was Charles N. "Pop" Snyder, who led the Cincinnati Red Stockings (for whom he was also the catcher, and forerunners of today's Reds, not the "first professional team" of 1869) to the first American Association Pennant in 1882, but it was a verrrry different game back then.

The best manager from the D.C. side of Maryland was probably Ray Miller, and while he was a great pitching coach, he wasn't a very good manager. The best from Virginia may have been Lemon, while managing the new Senators. Jim, that is, not Bob.

I could, of course, go with Maury Wills, who managed the Seattle Mariners late in 1980 and early in 1981, but that would require me to be as fried on cocaine as he has since admitted he was at the time. No thank you. I'll stick with Jim Lemon, unless we can get Randy Hundley to put his fantasy-camp leadership to good use.

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