Entering the National League as the expansion Montreal Expos in 1969, there was tremendous hope North of the Border. Or at least I suspect there was. However, in 36 seasons in Montreal, the Expos only reached the playoffs once. All Expo fans, and almost all fans of a certain age, remember what happened. With the series tied at two games apiece, Fernando Valenzuela and Ray Burris engaged in a pitcher’s duel to decide it. The score stood tied at one after eight innings. Expo great Steve Rogers, he of exactly one relief appearance until that point in his career, asked into the game. Woodie Fryman was closing games for Montreal late that year, and he had an outstanding campaign in 1981 with a 1.88 ERA. But he was pummeled by Los Angeles the day before. They also had a young Jeff Reardon, he of the 1.30 ERA after a May trade with the Mets. But he had been destroyed by the Dodgers in the first game. Perhaps it’s not surprising that manager Jim Fanning didn’t have a lot of faith in those two. And of course he trusted Steve Rogers.
As you probably know, Rogers allowed a game winning home run to Rick Monday. The Expos would never make the playoffs again, the 1994 work stoppage when they may have been baseball’s best team haunted them until their move south.
Gary Carter (55.6) has the most WAR in franchise history, though he played the most important games of his career with the Mets. Tim Raines is second (48.9), and like Carter, he did a second tour in Canada before hanging ‘em up. It was collusion, pretty much, that took Andre Dawson (48.1) out of Montreal. It’s too bad he never got back. When I think of great Expos, I also think of Tim Wallach (36.8), but he went out west for a few seasons after 13 with Montreal.
Steve Rogers: The best pitcher in franchise history and fourth best overall with 45.1 WAR, Rogers was sort of a poor man’s Dave Stieb. Though he was a five-time All-Star and three times finished in the top-5 in Cy Young voting, he was an underrated hurler. He never won 20 games, and he actually led the NL in losses twice, once while accumulating 4.8 WAR on the mound. In his salad days of 1975-1983, he trailed only Phil Niekro and Steve Carlton in WAR among NL pitchers.
Ryan Zimmerman: For whatever reason, I don’t really associate Zimmerman with this franchise, though he’s sixth on the all-time list with 36.5 WAR. He started his career in 2005, the first year the team played in Washington, and he’s still at it, having a bit of a renaissance last year at age 32. He’s signed for this year and next, so I suppose there’s a shot he retires a National after 2019. What I think is more likely is bouncing around to two or three more teams in a couple of seasons of sporadic play.
Bryce Harper: Now I do think of Harper as a National. His 26.1 WAR rank him ninth in franchise history. The guy has been a bit of a disappointment thus far, though he’s only going to be 25 this year. Yeah, there’s time. Of course, there’s virtually no chance he’ll be on this list a year and a month from now. By this time next year he will have signed the richest contract in baseball history.
Stephen Strasberg: Also a bit of a disappointment, perhaps, Strasberg ranks right behind Harper with 24.9 career WAR. Did you know that he’s never won more than 15 games in a season? Did you know he’s only qualified for three ERA titles in his career? He’s going to be paid in excess of $38 million in 2019 and can opt out after that season with four years and $100 million left on his contract. Assuming health, I think he’ll take his opt out. A guy who’s just 31 can pretty easily top $100 million on the open market. Maybe he and the club will renegotiate.
I want to say Larry Walker or Dennis Martinez or Pedro Martinez. Expo fans probably want me to say Vlad Guerrero or Rusty Staub. But I’m not going to do anything strange here. I feel pretty confident saying the proper Expo/Nat Rushmore is Gary Carter, Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, and Steve Rogers. Sometimes it’s fine just to take the top-4 on the all-time franchise list.
And this makes #30. We’ve finally finished with the Rushmore series, one that I know I’ve enjoyed writing even if readership hasn’t been as great as I might like. Sometimes that’s going to happen. If you’ve been reading right along or only here and there, thanks for your support!
An expansion team in 1977, it took until 1982 for the Blue Jays to not finish last. But by 1985 they made the playoffs, and they won the World Series in 1992 and 1993. By now, they’re getting to a point where they’re almost at .500 as a franchise, which is no easy task for a team that was more than 150 games under just three years in.
For whatever reason, Dave Stieb and his 57 Blue Jay WAR made four starts for the White Sox in 1993. Roy Halladay had his best years in Philadelphia. Jose Bautista was all over the place before finding a home up north. Tony Fernandez was shipped to the Padres in the McGroff/Alomar/Carter deal, and he played for five teams on top of that. Carlos Delgado was a Marlin and a Met. Jimmy Key was a Yankee and an Oriole. The list keeps going with one guy after another who played for other teams. When I got to Lloyd Moseby and his 25.9 WAR as a Jay, I thought I had my first honoree. Nope. I guess I blocked out his two years in Detroit. Even though Ernie Whitt, #21, had negative combined WAR at his three other stops, those 294 trips to the plate still count. This is not going to be a pretty Rushmore.
Kevin Pillar: Yep, the defensive whiz is the single best player ever to play for the Jays and only the Jays. At 12.1 career WAR, he’s only tied for 24th among Blue Jay offensive players. Yet, he’s the only one not to play elsewhere. Pillar can’t hit, as his -39 career Rbat shows, but his 65 Rfield shows that he’s a great defender. Of course, it’s only a matter of time until he plays for another team.
Marcus Stroman: It has taken Stroman just 95 career games to reach 10.9 career WAR and become the best Blue Jay hurler ever not to play for another team. Promising in 2014, injured in 2015, struggling in 2016, it was 2017 during which Stroman became a star. He has plenty of time to move from his tie for 15th among Jay pitchers all-time. If he comes close to repeating, he’ll be in the top-10 after 2018.
Luis Leal: From 1980-1985, Leal was about a league average pitcher, finishing his relatively unknown career with a 51-58 record and 10.8 WAR. For a bit of trivia, he was the starter when Len Barker pitched a perfect game for the Indians in 1981.
Ricky Romero: For a minute there, it seemed like Romero might turn into something. Through three years in the major, he had 42 wins and 11.6 WAR. Things went south at some point in 2012 though. There was no injury. It’s just that his mediocre K rate dipped and his dangerously high BB rate rose. Those events in combination made a baseball career unsustainable. He didn’t pitch again in the majors after 2013 and has just 9.7 WAR to show for his career.
Dave Stieb: With nine Blue Jay WAR on Halladay, Stieb is the best player in Jay history, and it’s not really close. Because he never won more than 18 games in a season and only won 176 in his career, he is an incredibly underrated pitcher. But at his 1982-1985 peak, he was far and away baseball’s best pitcher with 29.4 WAR. The only other hurler in the game within ten WAR of Stieb over those four seasons was Mario Soto at 22.2. And if we expand our range of seasons to 1980-1985, again, Stieb leads all of baseball, and he leads all but Steve Carlton by more than ten WAR. How about we expand some more. From 1979-1990, a period of twelve years, Dave Stieb posted 55.7 WAR. Roger Clemens is next at 46.3. Then Bert Blyleven at 41.3. Not a single other pitcher is within 17 WAR. Last one – since 1974, Stieb is fifth among AL pitchers in WAR.
Jose Bautista: He was nothing before he became a Blue Jay. Then in 2010 he exploded for an MLB-leading 54 homers. He’s hit over 200 more since then and made six straight All-Star teams. Whether it’s the 2015 playoff bat flip or the possibly related punch he took from Rougned Odor, Jose Bautista is who I think of when I think of the 21st century Blue Jays.
Tony Fernandez: Fourth on the Jays all-time WAR list, Fernandez makes the Toronto Rushmore because he put up 37.3 WAR in 1450 games with the Jays but only 7.7 in over 700 games elsewhere. Of course, if he never left Toronto, what’s below would not have happened.
Joe Carter: That’s right. On an analytics-oriented blog, we pay tribute to Joe Carter with a place on the Blue Jay Mount Rushmore. In his seven years in Canada, Carter averaged 29 HR and 105 RBI. He also averaged less than 1.2 WAR. He had a mediocre power bat and an incredibly important lineup spot. That explains the runs batted in. Check out the .308 on base percentage in Toronto and the 104 OPS+ for signs that he really wasn’t a very good player. Oh, but he did hit a home run, one of the most famous in baseball history, to get his face etched on this fake edifice. With the Jays trailing by two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning of the sixth game of the World Series, Mitch Williams walked Rickey Henderson, induced a fly out from Devon White, and gave up a single to Paul Molitor to set the stage for Carter. Tom Cheek called it. “Touch ‘em all, Joe. You’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life.”
Our final Rushmore installment, the Washington Nationals, is next week.
In our latest, and nearly final, Mount Rushmore article, it’s the Frisco Nine. Of course, San Franciscans hate it when we easterners call it Frisco, which kind of makes it fun. But, frankly, Frisco trips off the tongue in a way that Ess-Eff or San Fran just doesn’t. So they can take their Rice-a-Roni and go home if they don’t like it! Except that home for the Giants turns out to be—wait for it!—the east. Where those people call the city Frisco. The circle is now complete. Now I am the Master (Melvin).
In contemporary Giants lore, guys like Barry Bonds, Matt Williams, and Will Clark would likely end up on the monumental hillside. Maybe not Mike LaCoss, though. Before them roamed, uh, Giants such as Willie Mays, Juan Marichal, Daddy Bonds, and Willie McCovey. Back in the eons gone very far by, Sir Timothy Keefe and Smilin’ Mickey Welch would be chiseled in next to Roger Connor and George Stacy Davis. Because, the fact is that the Giants have produce a massive load of great players over the years, many of whom stayed in town for a very long time.
But we’re only interested in the guys who stayed for their entire careers. That means no William Howard Mays, no Barry Lamar Bonds, no William Nuschler Clark, and no one who spends a lot of time washing their truck. Still, this is a pretty great group. Curiously, they were all teammates as well.
Mel Ott leads the lifelong Giants pack with 108 WAR. This famously nice guy didn’t treat pitchers very nicely. Five hundred eleven times he lost the ball they were using to play catch with. Not very sporting at all when you look at it. I hope he at least offered them appropriate financial remuneration for the replacement cost of each horsehide. Woulda been the decent thing to do, donchaknow.
Then there’s Carl Hubbell, who, like Ott among hitters is both the Giants’ third all-time most WARiest pitcher ever and the leader among those who wore only the Gothams’ liveries. He’s obviously a strange man, much like Ott. Hubbell apparently wanted his hand to be permanently twisted in a strange manner, so he learned to throw one of history’s greatest screwballs such that by the end of his career, he’d accomplished the strange feat. It did require almost 3600 innings to get the full effect.
Memphis Bill Terry was a pretty good manager, but is better known for hitting .401 in 1930. I’m not being facetious when I write that hating .401 in 1930 wasn’t that big a deal. Why? Because his .401/.452/.619/1.071 quadruple slash line only generated a 158 OPS+, which was only fourth in the league. If you hit .401 and slug .619 (a .218 ISO to boot), you kinda expect a little better. Well, tell that to Hack Wilson (177), Babe Herman (169), and Chuck Klein (159). Or for that matter over in the AL where Babe Ruth (211), Lou Gehrig (203), Al Simmons (175), and Jimmie Foxx (161) also outpaced Terry. That’s a rough go. Of course, that got me to wondering…how highly do most .400 hitters place in OPS+? Here’s a list sorted by batting average:
So to tally this up, there are 16 1sts, 6 2nds, 4 3rds, 1 4th, 3 5ths, 1 6th, 0 7ths, 2 8ths, and 1 9th. That means that 47% of .400 hitters finished 1st in OPS+, and 76% of them finished in the top three. But the problem here is that some seasons have more than one .400 hitter. For example, the entire Phillies outfield of 1894 each hit .400 and so did their fourth outfielder (the immortal Mr. Turner). They can’t all lead the league. So
Now, this time we have a pool of 22 seasons, among which a .400 hitter eighteen times led in OPS+. That’s 82 percent of the time. In 91 percent of instances, the .400 hitter ranked first or second. And so Bill Terry in 1930 and Jesse Burkett in 1896 hold the dubious distinction of having the only OPS+ rankings outside the top two in a season where atleast one batter who qualified for the title hit .400. Don’t believe the hype, I guess.
Lastly, we have a man who would today be called T-Jax, shortstop Travis Jackson. Back then, however, they called him “Stonewall.” The interesting pair of ironies being that in today’s more culturally respectful time, you’d never nickname a player “Stonewall,” particularly not a white player. But the double irony is that were Jackson a player in New York in the early 1970s, that sobriquet would have taken on added meaning due to the Stonewall Riots of 1969 when folks in New York’s gay community spontaneously rioted in response to the NYPD’s busting up gay bars. Times change. So do nicknames. Just like they should.
All of my snark and irony aside, I have no bone to pick with the G’nts. In fact a lot of personal faves were Giants. I’ve always had a little What-If crush on Robby Thompson, one of the great unsung players of the late 1980s and early 1990s. And there’s Buster Posey who, in a couple years, will supplant Jackson—until the catcher leaves as a free agent, of course. I’ve also had a fascination with George J. Burns (not Tioga George Burns) who I keep hoping will look a lot better once the play-by-play data comes out on his baserunning. And who doesn’t like Laughing Larry Doyle? The sad sack second sacker who couldn’t field his way out of a wet paper bag but who kept on hitting for years on end. If he’d been stuck instead at first base, he’d have an outside shot at a HoME career.
So, true believers, that’s Rushmore for today. We have left only the Wastreal Naxpos. I mean the Moshington Exponals. I mean the team that should have been renamed upon its move as The Washington Grays. Too bad, MLB, you missed an obvious win there.
MLB’s second try at putting a franchise in Washington, these Senators lasted from 1961-1971. Since then, they’ve been the Texas Rangers. And though the club has cycled through a bunch of stars, they haven’t had a tremendous amount of success overall. Their best clubs lost the 2010 World Series to the Giants and the 2011 Fall Classic to the Cardinals. In that one they were up three games to two and up two runs heading to the bottom of the tenth. But Darren Oliver and Scott Feldman allowed two runs in the tenth, and then Mark Lowe gave up a David Freese solo homer to start and finish the eleventh.
The Rangers have had a ton of guys play for other teams. Pudge Rodriguez and his 49.9 TEX WAR put up 18.5 elsewhere. Rafael Palmeiro had 44.4 for the Rangers and 27.2 elsewhere. The best year of Adrian Beltre’s great career was with the Dodgers, and he has more WAR outside of Texas than in it. Buddy Bell, Jim Sundberg, and Charlie Hough played for three other teams. Texas foolishly shipped Ian Kinsler to Detroit for Prince Fielder. Toby Harrah, Kenny Rogers, Juan Gonzalez, and Frank Howard played elsewhere too. And Yu Darvish fell off the Mount with a deadline deal to the Dodgers.
Elvis Andrus: Ranked #11 in Ranger history with 28.8 WAR is their current shortstop who’s signed to a very good contract. Eight years and $118 million seemed like a ton when they signed him, and it got worse because Andrus never became a superstar. However, salaries have escalated enough that a 2.5-3.0 WAR shortstop is worth the $15 million they’re giving to Elvis. And 2017 might have been his best season, which is good and bad for Texas. I suspect he’ll opt out of $73 million after next season and fall off the Ranger Rushmore.
Rusty Greer: A pretty forgettable guy, I think, Greer ranks #16 in career Ranger WAR at 22.3. His aging curve is really normal, getting to the majors at 25, peaking at 27, and losing a little each year until he was basically done at 32. Greer hit .111 without an extra base hit or an RBI in three ALDS losses to the Yankees. On the positive side, he did save Kenny Rogers’ perfect game with a diving catch.
Roger Pavlik: Perhaps my favorite thing about this project is that is reminds me of players like Pavlik, those who would otherwise be lost to time but are actually among the best in history to never play for another franchise. Pavlik, a righty starter, posted 10.6 career WAR for the Rangers from 1992-1998. He won 47 games, good for 19th in the history of the franchise. He also represented the Rangers in the 1996 All-Star Game, allowing two runs, including a Ken Caminiti home run, in his two innings.
Matt Harrison: Harrison totaled 9.1 WAR in his 2008-2015 career, all with the Rangers, obviously. He really made it as a starter for only two years, totaling over 10 WAR on the mound in 2011 and 2012. For the rest of his career, he was below replacement level. Like Pavlik, he made one All-Star team, this in 2012. He allowed a home run to Melky Cabrera and triples to Rafael Furcal and Ryan Braun, giving up three runs in his inning.
My Ranger Rushmore
Pudge Rodriguez: He leads the Rangers in WAR, is one of the handful of best catchers ever, and performed better in Texas than everywhere else combined.
Nolan Ryan: The Dallas Morning News calls the signing of the 42-year-old Ryan in 1989 one of the top five moments in Ranger history. So who am I to disagree? He totaled over 15 WAR in five years from ages 42-46. In 2008 he became team president, and in 2011 he was named CEO. He held both titles until he left the Rangers in October of 2013. And his is the only number the Rangers have ever retired among those who have played for them.
Buddy Bell: One of the game’s most underrated players ever, he’s also an incredibly underrated Ranger. And why wouldn’t he be underrated. His career overlapped with parts of the careers of Brooks Robinson, Wade Boggs, Ron Santo, and Paul Molitor. And he was pretty much an exact contemporary of Mike Schmidt and George Brett. Further, he was a glove-first third sacker who played for four teams but never once made the playoffs. He never topped 20 homers, never scored 90 runs, and drove in more than 83 just once. He has no Black Ink to speak of, hit just .279 for his career, and was caught stealing waaaay more than he was successful. Oh, and he was an awful manager. So at this point you must be thinking his inclusion on the Ranger Rushmore is just flat wrong. Well, I don’t think so. With my conversions, here’s how I measure his six full seasons as a Ranger: 6.3, 7.5, 7.6, 6.3, 5.0, 5.5. That’s a superstar.
Jim Sundberg: Rafael Palmeiro, Adrian Beltre, and Ian Kinsler all had more WAR as a Ranger, but they also had significant careers elsewhere. Sundberg started with the Rangers in 1974 and finished with them in 1989. In between he made a pair of All-Star teams and won six Gold Gloves in Texas. He’s actually a borderline HoMEr too. While you can’t just do such a thing, giving Sundberg just one 6-win season on top of what he did would possibly be enough.
In seven days, it’ll be the San Francisco Giants turn.
Whoops! I read SFG as SDG (even though the BBREF abbreviation is SDP), and so Gene Richards became a lifelong Padre in my eyes, when in fact, he spent his final go round the league with Giants. I’ve updated below.
The San Diego Padres’ monicker was appropriated for my third-year little league team’s name. Sadly, for me, however, it’s not an entirely positive association: 1 hit for the whole year (a line single to left field), and I left a game because I was fearful of being hit by a pitch for a second time. It hurt, and I was nine. That said I’m kind of wistful about their old burrito rainbow uniforms, and I still remember the Kurt Bevacqua bubble-gum blowing blowing contest baseball card. He was on the Brewers during for his epic bubble, however, he was a 1984 Padre, and I rooted for the Padres over the Tigers because…because…I dunno, I was nine. Besides that and visiting old Jack Murphy Stadium and digging the palm trees behind the outfield fence, I can’t say the Pads have mattered much. They’ve got more World Series appearances than the Mariners, Rays, and ExpoNats combined, sure, but they’ve gone 1-8 in those two series. Blech.
The Padres are nearly fifty years old, with their 3611-4201 record (.462 winning percentage), they’re only one 590-0 streak from .500 as a franchise. They’ve had some great players pass through town, but they’ve generally been run like a low to mid market team, complete with fire sales, threats to relocate, and multiple bad ownership groups. Let’s see if we can find some good news.
Of course, Mr. Padre, himself, Tony Gwynn, tops the list of players who spent their whole career in Southern-Southern California. His 68.8 WAR more than doubles up Dave Winfield’s 31.9, and, of course, Big Dave left San Diego behind to sign the most contentious free agent contract ever with the Big Stein. But as we cast about for other lifelong Pad Persons, the list gets short pretty fast because the San Deegans have done as little as any non-Loria team to retain their star players over the years.
Next up is Gene Richards. If you had him in your Hall of Miller and Eric Mount Rushmore office pool, take a bow. You’ve got to have been with the Padres since nearly the begging to remember him. Pretty good player, a left-field/center-field type with real good speed, not too much pop, but enough that they couldn’t knock the bat out of his hands, and about 60 walks a year. Perfect leadoff starter kit good for three or four wins a year until it wears out around age 30.
Then it’s Tim Flannery. He was the subject of a fun SI piece many years ago about his fascination with gloves. Flannery was the kind of career utility infielder of the sort that feels absent these days. This is just me saying this without doing any research, but I sense that with rosters so crunched by all the relievers in the game, teams can’t afford to carry a Tim Flannery anymore. Not that they don’t have utility guys, but they tend to be young, minimum salary guys. Why carry a five- or ten-year veteran with his commensurate salary as a fill-in? But again, I’m just blowing smoke, and I’m probably wrong. But the thing is, the Padres rostered both Tim Flannery and fellow utilitymeister Randy Ready for several years….
Next? Get ready for it…Manuel Margot. All two seasons and 3.1 WAR of him.
Finally, it’s the Mike Darr show. He and his 2.5 WAR assume the fourth slot on the Padres’ Mount Rushmore. Sadly, Darr was killed at age 25, though, in a macabre sense, it’s probably why in San Diego he fits the premise of this series of articles. This isn’t the most inspiring of Rushmores, obviously.
My Own Rushmore
If I were designing a shrine to favorite Friars, Kurt Bevacqua would be on it. I would also include Andy Ashby, one of the few pitchers to strike out the side on nine pitches, a so-called immaculate inning. He was the 15th in NL history and the 24th ever at the time of his immaculation. Granted it was with the Phils, but Ashby came into his own in San Diego, so I don’t feel so bad about. As much grief as Ken Caminiti gets about his PED use and his sad, early death related to drugs, we shouldn’t forget how amazing he was for the Padres. There was the whole taking fluids for dehydration and still playing down the stretch. And there was this play that I still can’t believe happened. Lastly, we have Juan Eichelberger. Why? With a name like that, why not?
The new guys are fun to chart here, but they’re not easy. I don’t envy the amount of work Eric has had to do since he’s had to deal with three of the four newest franchises. From their first year of 1998 through 2007, the Rays only finished as high as fourth once. The next year they went to the World Series, losing to the Phillies in five games. From there, they remained competitive for five years before falling back toward the bottom of the AL East of late.
There isn’t a whole lot of greatness in this team’s history to see go elsewhere. Ben Zobrist, second in career Ray WAR, had to make money in free agency. Same with Carl Crawford and David Price. There’s not a lot of greatness ever to have a sustained run in Tampa thus far. Only five guys have even reached 20 WAR in Tampa.
Evan Longoria: There can be little doubt that Longoria at 50.0 WAR is the greatest player in Ray history. The guy in second place on has 72% of his WAR, he leads the team in almost all major counting stats. Of course, he’s no longer a Ray, and he’ll fall off Tampa’s Rushmore on Opening Day in a few months. If he remains healthy, which he very much has been over the last five years, it’s likely he becomes the first real Rays Hall of Famer.
Kevin Kiermaier: Would you have known that he’s fourth in Tampa history in WAR? I bet not. Kiermaier checks in at 21.5, though he has only played more than 2/3 of a season once. And he has a bat that’s just a shade above average. But his glove is incredible. An outfielder with more dWAR than oWAR is quite strange, and it’s how a player who we hardly know is fourth in franchise history in WAR.
Desmond Jennings: When I think about guys who have failed in the last decade, Jennings is right near the top of my list. He came from the minors with speed and what seemed to be a plus bat. While we should have known the speed would fade, we thought the bat would develop. It never did, and Jennings has never posted even 3.5 WAR in a year. Last February he signed with the Reds. They released him before the season began, and he was picked up by the Mets. He stunk in AAA, was released in June, and is more likely to fall off this list because he and his 13.2 WAR are passed than because he plays for another team.
Chris Archer: With a career record of 51-63, Archer is the best pitcher in Ray history not to play for another team. What, you were thinking Andy Sonnanstine? After getting off to a strong start as a rookie in 2013, Archer took a small step forward the next year before breaking out in 2015. The last two years, he’s been more of a guy who’d take the ball every five days rather than a star, but teams need guys who will pitch 200+ innings. A strong season out of Alex Cobb next year might see Archer displaced. Still, it’s a fine honor for as long as it lasts.
Ben Zobrist: Though he didn’t reach the majors until 25 or become a regular until 28, Zobrist is the closest thing we’ve seen to Tony Phillips since Tony Phillips. And to remember what a compliment that is, don’t forget that Phillips is in the HoME. Zobrist is trying to put together a HoME career of his own, and though he looks like he’ll fall a little short, with 36 WAR he’s second in franchise history and belongs here.
Carl Crawford: If you saw what Crawford did in Boston or Los Angeles, you might forget how dynamic he was for a time in Tampa. He led the league in steals and triples four times each, and he generally made pitchers go crazy. An outstanding defender, his final season in Tampa saw him as legitimate MVP candidate, though the voters correctly got the trophy to Josh Hamilton. Let’s just remember Crawford and his 35.5 WAR as a Ray.
Joe Maddon: I considered David Price for this slot, and I even considered etching Evan Longoria’s face a second time. But I went with Maddon, the man whose novel and laid back style led the Devil Rays to two consecutive last place finishes followed by an AL pennant for the “Devil”-less Rays in 2008. Sure, they were beaten by the Phillies in five games with three losses of the one-run variety, but that season put the team on the map. They’d go on to two more playoff runs before Maddon and his 754 Tampa wins moved to the Cubs in 2015. There are other decent calls, of course, but I’m happy to stick with this one.
The San Diego Padres are on deck.
Why is it that St. Louis is never written Saint Louis? Not even in more formal venues when it seems most appropriate? I have no idea, but while the styling of the official name of the Gateway to the West remains a mystery, it’s not so difficult to identify who the greatest players in Cardinals’ history were. Jim Hart, Neil Lomax, Roy Green…. Oh, wrong league.
When we’re talking about the constellation of stars around the St. Louis nine, we’re talking about Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Rogers Hornsby, Johnny Mize, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, Albert Pujols, and Joaquin Andujar. Amiright?! So many amazing players have played in the mound city that you’d think the team had won even more championships than they have. We can thank Branch Rickey for a lot of those titles, of course. Whitey Herzog for some others. Walt Jocketty and John Mozeliak for still others. And the poor schmuck who took the rap for the whole organization in the databasegate scandal. Then again maybe Jeff Lunhow should have a used a stronger password than IhateDonDenkinger85?
But for all the decades of highly competitive baseball the Redbirds have churned out, how many of those homegrown stars stayed in the nest their whole career?
That’s where we come in. In our Rushmore series, we’re asking what baseball native sons would each team’s fans put on their own mountainside monument? The catch is that the players had to have played their entire careers, in this case, in a Cards uniform. Preferably the polysester, skin-tight, sansabelt unis of the 1980s. The ones where if Willie McGee turned to profile you couldn’t see him, and that were, let’s say, less than flattering on Whitey Herzog. What four players would grace the side of the metaphorical mount?
Stan Musial: Duhhhh. Merely one of the 20 or so greatest players ever. The trick is that he’d be shown with the mouth organ he entertained fans with in his later years. A hard question, though, is what position he’d occupy on the mountain? He played left, center, and right fields a considerable amount during his career.
Bob Gibson: Also, duhhhh. Certainly one of the top 20 to 30 pitchers of all time. We’d have to be careful with his likeness. “Warning: Don’t look into Gibson’s eyes too long due to potential permanent fear damage.” With Gibbs’s intense stare, if I were the US government, I’d put laser cannons or missile silos inside the mountain that launched straight through the simulacrum of his pupils.
Yadier Molina: Pictured with the mask on? Or pictured with the mask propped up on his forehead and scalp while he makes yet another of his innumerable visits to the mound?
Adam Wainwright: You know, this guy was one whale of a pitcher. It’s super sad to see his career derailed by injuries because he was building a HoME-worthy resume right up until his arm gave out. I hope he’s got something left in the tank, but entering his age-36 season, that’s wishcasting. We’ll be lucky if he returns to league-average performance.
If it were up to me, and I got to choose four dudes to pop onto the mountain, I’d start with Ozzie Smith. Why? Because Ozzie was just plain interesting. Yeah, he brought joy and backflips and stuff to the field, but he’s the answer to a great thought experiment: What if a player could do everything except hit for power and average? Ladies and gentleman, Ozzie Smith is here to tell us that a fellow could have a Hall of Fame career without excelling at either of those particular aspects of the game. Speaking of interesting, there’s old Joaquin Andjuar who we mentioned earlier. How many switch-hitting pitchers have you encountered in your stroll through baseball’s statistical history? That, and he was quite a character. Maybe that’s why I thought of Andujar every time my college roommate and I mixed ourselves a Turkey Hill Raspberry Iced Tea with Joaquin’s Rum. Which, by the way, you’ll find in the very back of the bottom shelf of the worst liquor store in the diciest neighborhood of your locality. Max Lanier gets the third face on the hill. I’ve always had something of a soft spot for him. He got a raw deal from MLB, and I’ve wondered many times whether between some strange inability to catch on with a minor-league team in 1935 and 1936, the war and his blackballing from the game (due to jumping to Mexico in the 1940s), he lost a near-borderline Hall-level career. He only tossed 200 innings twice, but his career is so broken up that it’s hard to say whether he was fragile or what. Also, he threw lefty because he broke his natural, right, throwing arm as a youth. Lastly, it’s Dizzy Dean. He’s kind of the Joe Namath of MLB: southern, boasted but backed it up, and really good for a relatively short time. Dean was also very colorful in front of a microphone with hilarious corn-pone humor, malapropisms, and grammatical and syntactical distortions that drove English teachers batty. Which is better than Joe Namath, who the last time he was in front of a microphone sexually harassed a female reporter in front of tens of thousand of onlookers in person and millions more worldwide tuning into ESPN coverage of a Jets game. I’ll take “he slud into third” anytime over “I want to kiss you.”
That does it for the Cardinals. Tune in next time when Miller looks for some Rays of hope in Tampa Bay
Now more than 40 years old, it seems strange to call the Seattle Mariners one of baseball’s newer teams, but they are. Getting started in 1977, the first time they didn’t finish in the bottom half of the division was their 1995 ALCS loss. They’ve made it that far two other times since, in 2000 and 2001 losses to the Yankees. The latter was particularly painful because that club won 116 games in the regular season. Of teams at least as old, only the San Diego Padres have been as historically poor as the Mariners. Given all of the talent Seattle has had over the years, it’s a bit of a surprise they’re historically so bad.
Ken Griffey leads the team in career WAR, but he spent a decade outside the great northwest. Ichiro is clearly a Mariner, though he continues to accumulate plate appearances elsewhere. Randy Johnson might feel like a Mariner, though he had only one season of innings less in Arizona. Alex Rodriguez not so much, but he’s sixth in team WAR.
Edgar Martinez: I’d say a moniker of Mr. Mariner would be fitting for the guy second in team WAR with 68. He never played for another team in the majors or minors. On his eighth ballot last year, Edgar reached 58.6% of the vote. Here’s hoping the writers figure it out either this year or next. He belongs in the Hall, in spite of his time at DH. One of my favorite right handed swings ever.
Felix Hernandez: He’s been around forever, and he’s still just 31. Is he starting to break down? Maybe. But he has some years to reinvent himself and keep pushing toward a Hall of Fame career. In the minds of many voters, the fact that he has reached 15 wins only three times will hold him back.
Kyle Seager: On one hand, you think he can’t be here. On the other, he’s actually eighth in Mariner history in career WAR with 25 and counting. He wasn’t supposed to be a star, and I really don’t expect his run to last much longer. But he was quite good for a while, ninth among AL positions players in WAR for half a decade from 2012-2016.
Hisashi Iwakuma: In the top-20 in team history in WAR, the Japanese righty just finished his sixth season in Seattle and posted 2+ WAR every year before this one, including his signature 2013 campaign when it was 7.0.
Ken Griffey: Edgar might be Mr. Mariner to me, but Griffey still leads things off here. Sure, he was outside of Seattle for a decade, but his time in Seattle topped his time out of it 70.4 WAR to 13.1. From 1990-2000, he was the game’s best player other than Barry Bonds. That’s a pretty incredible run.
Ichiro Suzuki: There’s nothing to say about him that hasn’t already been said, really. I’m just happy he’s continued to produce a bit since leaving Seattle so I don’t get in a fight with the entire baseball loving community for thinking he’s a borderline Hall of Famer.
Felix Hernandez: It’s not that tough a call between the King and the Big Unit. Johnson was at his best elsewhere, and Felix hasn’t ever been elsewhere. If he doesn’t leave Seattle, there’s a shot he challenges Griffey as the best in franchise history.
Check out the NL’s greatest franchise, the St. Louis Cardinals, next week.
Typically pirates were gibbeted by the authorities. But instead of hanging Pittsburgh Pirates, today we’ll celebrate the most swashbuckling Bucs of them all by pretending to put their face on the side of Mount Rushmore.
Before we get going, I find it a little hard to believe that anyone felt in their heart that Pittsburgh’s history of high seas criminality made Pirates the obvious nickname. It’s about 130 miles from Lake Erie for Pete’s sake. Tampa Bay Buccaneers? Bad ass. That Florida Gulf o’ Mexico joint crawled with badass pirates just waiting to shiver someone’s timbers. But the Burgh? Where they have lake effect snow? I guess Pittsburgh Pirates had alliteration, and by gum, that’s apparently enough for the likes of we baseball fans. As the thieves of the oceans might put it, “Case ‘a rum, case ‘a rum.”
All kidding aside, the Pirates have hosted plenty of wonderful players over their 130+ year history. In some seasons they even dressed them in uniforms that didn’t look like someone had smeared mustard all over a black lab. Cake hats, baby. Cake hats! Naturally, one of my favorite all-time Pirates is Dock Ellis who famously tossed a no-hitter while tripping on acid. I’m getting a contact high just thinking about what went through his mind that day. Richie Zisk. I just like saying “Richie Zisk.” It’s like Richie Rich only with irony instead of Irona. And who can forget Kent Tekulve, who looked like a bespectacled yellow wax bean in those amazing uniforms.
OK, let’s get to it. The rule of the game is that we can’t put anyone on Mount Y’aRushmore who didn’t play their whole career in Steel City. You say, that disqualifies the great Hans Wagner! I say, no problem! I give you Roberto Clemente. I’ve said before that Clemente was miscast as a right fielder. With his outstanding athleticism, he could have easily handled centerfield and been a credit on defense. As it is, his off the charts defensive numbers seem like the stuff of Earl Weaver Baseball. Basically the only time he wasn’t the best right field glove in the game was before and after his career. Then you add an excellent bat, and there be treasure.
You say, our rules disqualify the great Paul Waner! I say, Willie Stargell! One thing I like about the Pirates Rushmore is that in Clemente and Stargell we have a couple guys who people can look up to. Not just because they are looking upward (metaphorically) and a (metaphorical) mountainside, but because both of these guys carried themselves with integrity on the diamond, and in Clemente’s case even more so off the field. One thing about Stargell. Seats in ballparks all around the National League had been painted gold to signify the longest homer in the park’s history. I bet Stargell did that deed in a third of those stadia. (He said, not having any idea whether it’s true, and anyway, the league only reached 12 teams in Stargell’s career, so that’s, what, three fields. Maybe so, maybe so.) Rob Neyer wrote upon Stargell’s death that the frequently repeated line that Pops would have hit 500 homers if he’d played in some other park besides Forbes Field was misguided. That we would should celebrate what the man did, not what he coulda done. Sticks with ya, you know?
You say, Barry Bonds! I say…well, Andrew McCutchen. Nothing wrong with Cutch, but…. Well at least the formerly bedreaded centerfielder isn’t, shall we say, touchy like Barry. Again, we see here a role-model player, a guy we can be proud to memorialize.
You say…uh, Bob Friend? I say, well, Sam Leever. Another gentleman, at various times “The Goshen Schoolmaster” led the league in winning percentage thrice, ERA, ERA+, shutouts, saves, and innings pitched. He won 20 games four times with just one losing season, at 21-23. He earned his sobriquet because he taught for several years before signing a pro contract. It kept him out of the game until he was 25 and out of the majors until 26. It might also have saved his arm from the kind of collateral damage that pitchers endured back before the turn of last century.
A Rushmore of My Own
If I had a Rushmore of Pirates to build in the Black and Gold Hills, you can bet that Clemente would be on it. And Tekulve and Ellis too. The sacred and the profane and the just plain old Tekulve. Lastly, I’d stick the face of Max Carey on that monument. I’ve become kind of a Carey fan these last several years. His interesting mix of Ichiro-like skills, many not-quite fully documented, have made him an interesting unicorn to hunt. I’m impressed by a guy with a stolen base rate that’s something like 20 points better than his leagues, who had a good arm, played an amazing centerfield, and could draw a walk. He’s the kind of player who got the most of out the skills he had, despite not being blessed with the big bad talent of power hitting.
So, me hardies, we’ve reached the end of another Mount Rushmore ditty. Tune in next time when Miller takes on the Green and Gold instead of the Black and Gold.
An original American League franchise, the A’s played in Philadelphia from 1901-1954, moved west to Kansas City from 1955-1967, and have called Oakland home for half a century, since 1968. When you think of great A’s, perhaps it starts with Connie Mack, their leader for 50 years. If you think of a player, there’s little doubt you can picture him in another uniform as well. They’ve had a few mini-dynasties and have won nine World Series, third all-time. Yet, they’re below .500 as a franchise, which speaks volumes about the sell-offs and the down time.
The guys it’s not include virtually everyone you’d ever think of. Eddie Plank, their WAR leader, went to the Federal League and then to the Browns. Rickey Henderson played for nearly everyone else. Jimmie Foxx and Lefty Grove had nice careers for the Red Sox, Eddie Collins for Sox of another color. Sal Bando was a Brewer. Al Simmons and Reggie Jackson played for a bunch. The list goes on and on. No American League team to date has had as odd and uncertain a Rushmore as the A’s. Oh, and it’s not Sonny Gray either, though it would have been if he had only had a season-ending injury at the end of July. Strange how that works.
Eddie Rommel: Rommel is not where things turn odd. He’s 8th all-time in A’s WAR. He was an excellent starter at his most valuable. And he was also one of the game’s first great relievers, coming out of the pen at least eleven times every year in his career. The way this star was leveraged suggests Mack was way ahead of his time in terms of pitcher usage. Or maybe it says he wasn’t wise enough to get the most innings out of his best pitchers. Whatever the case, let it sink in that Rommel and his 50.1 WAR is the best player in franchise history never to play for another.
Dick Green: You can be forgiven if you’re not very familiar with the career of Dick Green, he of an earth shattering 16.0 WAR. Green has three rings though, and you don’t. After a strong World Series in 1972, he began to stink up the joint in the playoffs. For two years he went 4-51, good for a batting average of .078. Let’s be clear, the A’s won in spite of his bat. At least he had a nice glove.
Steve McCatty: My memory has McCatty the third best starter in the Mike Norris, Rick Langford, Matt Keough, Brian Kingman group. Whatever his status, he was forced to endure the torture induced by Billy Martin’s need to win every game, just like the others. The fact that he’s on this list is shocking since he has only 9.5 career WAR. To be honest, the fact that he never played for another team is pretty surprising too. He had a .500 career record, an ERA south of 4.00, and a second place finish in the Cy Young voting. He’s 63 years old now. Maybe he has grandkids. If he does, he’ll get to brag. Good for him.
Rollie Naylor: I like running across guys I’ve never heard of. There are thousands of guys I’m unfamiliar with, of course, guys who only had a cup of coffee and who essentially none of us know. But Naylor pitched over 1000 innings. His best year by WAR was 1920. He put up 3 wins with a 10-23 record on the mound. Overall he totaled 8.1 WAR in his career. If Matt Chapman has an outstanding 2018, Naylor is off this list. This project is so strange!
Connie Mack: The guy managed the A’s for most of their first half-century. Not only that, he won five World Series. If he paid some of his talent those years, perhaps they’d be on this list rather than him.
Eddie Plank: His 76 WAR in Philadelphia are most in franchise history. And the significance of his non-A’s career pales in comparison to what he did for Mack’s boys. The rings in 1911 and 1913 are nice. His pitching in the 1913 World Series was especially nice, hurling 19 innings in two games and giving up only two runs. Because almost his entire career took place over a century ago, we may forget just how great Gettysburg Eddie was at the top of his game.
Rickey Henderson: Yes, he played for seven other teams, but he seemed to keep returning to Oakland. He’s second in WAR for the franchise, and one of the best ever to play the game.
Chief Bender: I thought of a lot of guys for this last spot. Ultimately, I wanted someone with three rings. Sal Bando wasn’t very good in the playoffs. Bert Campaneris was, but less good than Bender. Reggie Jackson didn’t play in the ’72 World Series. Home Run Baker produced less WAR for the franchise. Catfish Hunter lagged quite a bit behind. Taking Bender and his 47 WAR was a tough call. In his last six years before jumping to the Federal League, Bender posted a 109-39 record, good for a .705 winning percentage. To be honest, I’m only about 10% sure he’s the right call here. But he’s my call.
Check back in one week for the Pittsburgh Pirates.