The Astros are the first “new” team on the AL side of the ledger, getting their start from 1962-1964 as the Colt .45’s before becoming the Astros for good in 1965. They were an NL squad for most of their existence before coming to the AL in 2013. They lost in the NLCS three times, and their best season to date was a World Series loss, a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of the 2005 White Sox. Perhaps 2017 will be their best?
As one of the newer teams, there are probably a bunch of you out there who can name the top four players in club history. Two of those guys, however, played elsewhere. Jose Cruz began with the Cards and finished with the Yanks. Cesar Cedeno, Lance Berkman, and Roy Oswalt had three other stops. For Jim Wynn and Joe Morgan, it was four others. Larry Dierker pitched in eleven games for the Cardinals, and Bill Doran finished his career in Cincinnati and Milwaukee.
We’re moving pretty far down the list at the point, yet there are four career Astros who put up more WAR than the great J.R. Richard. The guy who is 18th in career Houston WAR pitched only five full seasons, but he was electric, twice fanning over 300 batters in a season. In 1980, four months into what might have been his best year to date, he suffered a stroke and would never pitch again.
Jeff Bagwell: Perhaps of all players on any team’s Mount Rushmore, Bagwell is fairly well known for not being an Astro. The Red Sox flipped their third base prospect to Houston for middle reliever Larry Anderson toward the end of the 1990 season. He was a star immediately, posting 4.8 WAR in his first season and never falling below 3.7 until his final campaign in 2005. With 79.6 WAR, he’s the best Astro ever.
Craig Biggio: He and Doggie Miller are the only two players ever with at least 50 games at catcher, second base, and center field. Only he and Tris Speaker have a season with 50 doubles and steals (1998). And he’s one of only six to lead his league in doubles and steals the same season (1994). His 3000 hits got him into the Hall, and his 65.1 WAR put him second on this list.
Don Wilson: With 27.9 WAR, Wilson is twelfth all-time among Astros. He pitched the first indoor no-hitter and the first artificial turf no-hitter against the Braves in 1967. Wilson was at his best in 1971, posting 6.1 WAR and making his only All-Star team. He was at his worst early in 1975. Still just 29 years old, Wilson was found in the passenger seat of his car, dead from carbon monoxide asphyxiation. While the death was called an accident, there is speculation that it was either a suicide or a homicide. One month after the incident, the medical examiner ruled it an accident, and the case was closed. To read more about Wilson, check out Matthew Clifford’s SABR biography of the Astro hurler.
Jose Altuve: The little guy is already 14th on the all-time Houston list. He’s just 27, and he keeps producing excellent numbers, likely reaching the top-10 next year. He’s led the AL in hits three years running, and he owns two batting titles. I don’t have tremendous faith that a guy his size will hold up to produce a HoME-level career, but I wouldn’t have expected he’d reach even this level of performance. We shall see.
I’m going straight WAR.
Jose Cruz: While I contend that Rick Reuschel is baseball’s most underrated player ever, Jose Cruz might be second. The Astrodome and what we think a corner outfielder should look like absolutely killed him. Let’s make a few comparisons to other eras and parks using the great Neutralized Batting Stat tool at BBREF to look at what I’m saying.
HR BA OBP SLG ==================================== Actual 165 .284 .354 .420 2017 Astros 174 .288 .357 .426 Neutralized 180 .296 .367 .437 1997 Astros 180 .299 .371 .440 2000 Rockies 231 .349 .424 .515
Cesar Cedeno: He was such a unique player in a lot of ways. In the 1970s, the only player who could match him homers and steals is Joe Morgan.
Up next will be the Los Angeles Dodgers.
This is the Colorado Rockies’ installment of our Mount Rushmore series, but one wonder’s if the conceit gets a little fuzzy when we’re dealing with a team named after a mountain range. Wouldn’t the Rockies locate their version of Mount Rushmore on Mount Estes or Pike’s Peak, or any of the zillions of 14ers in the state? But despite the failure of this metaphor to adequately address the team’s nickname, we will carry on.
The Rox have only been at things for a quarter of a century. They still haven’t managed to hire someone to figure out how to win and how to keep players healthy in the thin air of the purple mountains majesty. But they have had their moments, including a World Series appearance in 2007. But with such a short lifespan, they don’t exactly have a long list of heroes to choose from. There’s the Toddfather, Todd Helton, of course. Larry Walker won his MVP at altitude. Current sensation Nolan Arenado is a really impressive player. There’s also a lot of Vinny Castilla and Dante Bichette in the franchise’s past, which is, perhaps, why the Rockies seem to be ever looking toward their future. Toward a day when they solve the riddle of baseball in an oxygen- and moisture-reduced atmosphere.
Sermons on the Mount
The Rockies have tried every which way to assemble talent, including the dubious practice of scouting for religious values. Their Mount Rushmore isn’t too bad for such a young team, despite what’s often seemed like a stagnating front office.
Todd Helton: The former Tennessee Vol’s quarterback ironically played first base. You’d think he’d have been an outfielder if he had a good arm. Well, he wasn’t. Instead, he played first base better than dang near anyone in the game. Of course, Helton, also did great work in the batters box. It being Colorado and all, it can be hard to see his value through a Coors-induced haze, but he created 405 more runs than an average batter through age 32, about 40 a year. He hardly missed a game doing so. Things went south after that with injuries wrecking his bat. He limped over the 60 WAR line, but he’s got a credible Hall case. If you don’t overdo the Coors. He’s clearly the Rockies’ franchise player.
Nolan Arenado: What an exciting young player! He’s got Brooks Robinson’s glove and a very good bat to go with it. Actually, his hitting his improving with age. Now just 26 years old, he’s entering his likely peak years and isn’t eligible for free agency until 2020. He’s earned 25 WAR as of this writing, and could end up with 40 or 50 in a Rockies uniform before the siren song of free agent moolah calls to him. Or the Rockies trade him because they won’t commit to him long term. Or he starts turning into an injury pincushion like former teammate Troy Tulowitzki.
Charlie Blackmon: Blackmon kind of came out of nowhere a few years back and settled in as an everyday player. He’s below average glove and baserunner, so his value is primarily tied to his ability to hit well for an up-the-middle guy while faking centerfield reasonably well. Now age 31, he’s going to start slowing up quickly, but if his newfound power is real, he can add +25 runs to the ledger, and that’s plenty enough to play in a corner.
Trevor Story: The good news about your fourth Rushmore face having only 4.3 WAR is that he’s only in his second year, and there’s plenty of room to grow. The bad news is that three-quarters of that value was last year. Story placed fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2016. While he’s running and fielding better than last year, his bat seems to have gone backwards. He’s walking more often, but his isolated slugging has regressed by 100 points from last year. His BABIP is not really at fault. It’s down a bit but not much. He is striking out a little more, but he’s also walking more. Instead it looks like he’s banging the ball into the ground more often. That’s driving down his line drive rate, so when he puts the ball in play, he’s not doing so effectively. He’s also hitting about two-thirds as many homers per fly ball. In other words, he’s not barreling the ball up very well so far in 2017. The team promoted Story aggressively, and it’s possible that the league caught up to him over the winter, and he’s been unable to adjust so far.
Now, if I had to name my personal all-time favorite Rockies, I’d have to start chiseling Bruce Ruffin’s face onto the mountainside. But then, that’s mostly because I’m an old Phils watcher. But I like Larry Walker a lot, and I definitely include him. Arenado and I share a birthday, so mark him down too. And Ellis Burks who is one of my wife’s favorites and, she tells me, is very cute. Hey, happy wife, happy life…happy Rushmore.
The 1935, 1945, 1968, and 1984 World Series winners are one of baseball’s historic franchises. And they have great players who have spent their entire careers in the Motor City. While some Rushmores are really interesting and nearly impossible to figure, there are some of you out there, perhaps many, who name the Tiger Mount Rushmore without tremendous consideration.
Well, in spite of the greatness of Ty Cobb, our rules say the 967 plate appearances and 6.3 WAR at the end of his career in Philadelphia preclude him from inclusion here. Hooks Dauss is 19th on the all-time Tiger WAR list with 39.2 WAR, and he never played for another team. A solid pitcher for a long time and a star in 1915 and 1923, Dauss isn’t actually close to making it. One spot ahead of Dauss is HoMEr Bill Freehan with 44.7 WAR, all for Detroit. He’s not terribly close either. Surprisingly, #13, Justin Verlander isn’t either despite over 50 WAR. A spot ahead of Verlander as of this writing is Tommy Bridges with 51 WAR. He had eleven seasons of over 3 WAR on the mound, and he doesn’t make it either. Neither does two-time MVP Prince Hal Newhouser, 8th in WAR for Detroit. Wow, the Tigers have a lot of contenders. That’s because their top-four are so great.
Al Kaline: Would we look at Kaline’s career differently if eight of his grounders snuch through the infield? If the wind blew one of his fly balls out? Mr Tiger, in spite of 92.5 career WAR, is underappreciated among greats. Maybe that’s because his career batting average dipped to .297. Or maybe because he never hit 30 homers and finished his career with 399. Plus, he missed 500 career doubles by just two. I can’t imagine what would have happened without those eight hits that got him to 3,007. The 45 voters who didn’t think he was deserving of the Hall in 1980 might have grown by some. But not to the 370 voters who didn’t find Ron Santo deserving. Wow!
Charlie Gehringer: The Mechanical Man helped the Tigers to the title in 1935, won the MVP Award two years later, and hit .320 for his career. Since the time his career began in 1924, only Joe Morgan has totaled more WAR among second basemen.
Lou Whitaker: Sweet Lou has it tough. He’s not the best second baseman in Tiger history. Charlie Gehringer is. He may not be the best keystone player in his own infield. Many would give that distinction to Alan Trammell. And he’s not even the best second baseman outside the Hall. That’s Bobby Grich. But his exclusion from the Hall is outrageous. In his one time on the ballot, he was soundly beaten by an inferior middle infielder, Dave Concepcion. He was crushed by an inferior Tiger, Jack Morris. Two guys were voted in on their first ballot when Lou appeared, Dave Winfield and Kirby Puckett. If I had a franchise and could guarantee it the talent of just one of the three, I’d happily choose Lou Whitaker.
Alan Trammell: I don’t think I feel quite as badly for Trammell being outside the Hall as Whitaker. Trammell at least had fifteen chances to Whitaker’s one. Was it the difference between being a white shortstop and a black second baseman? Well, um, maybe. He was an All-Star six times to Whitaker’s five. He won four Gold Gloves compared to Whitaker’s three. He won the 1984 World Series MVP, while Whitaker won the 1978 AL Rookie of the Year. Whitaker homered more, scored more runs, drove in more runs, had a higher OBP, and a higher SLG, and had more WAR. Don’t get me wrong, the fact that Alan Trammell isn’t in the Hall is a joke. Had he begun in New York in 1995 rather than Detroit in 1977, we’d call him one of the best ever.
This is the hardest choice I’ve had thus far.
Ty Cobb: A reader remarked after my introductory post to this series that while it might be okay to exclude Roger Clemens from the Red Sox Rushmore because Sox fans aren’t fans of the Rocket, doing so with someone like Willie Mays would just be silly. While I don’t mind if these posts are a bit silly, he inspired my inclusion of this section. And Cobb is clearly the best Tiger ever.
Lou Whitaker: I could have copped out and offered Lou Trammell or Alan Whitaker, but I had to make a choice. I pick Whitaker mainly because the media hasn’t. And he was a great, great player who belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Come back next Friday for the Colorado Rockies.
Look, first of all, when the Reds carve out their Rushmore, they’ll need to be sure they also write the Queen City’s name on the thing. Is it nn-n-t? Nn-n-tt? N-nn-t? N-nn-tt? N-n-t? N-n-tt? Who can keep it straight? At least with Mississippi, there’s a rule for the consonants in the follow-on syllables: always use two and stick an i between them.
But I digress. Our topic today is The Reds’ turn in our ongoing Friday Mount Rushmore series. Seems pretty easy to guess what faces contemporary fans would blast into rocky edifice. Billy Hatcher, Billy Hatcher, Billy Hatcher, and Billy Hatcher. When you bat .750 in the World Series you win its MVP and never have to buy a drink in Ohio again AMIRIGHT? Well, no, maybe we could make room for Jose Rijo who was the actual winner of the 1990 World Series MVP with a sparkling 0.59 ERA in his two starts. So Hatcher, Hatcher, Rijo, Hatcher.
I suspect that today’s fan has forgotten both of those fellows and is likely to want the faces of Barry Larkin and Johnny Bench up there too. I’d bet there’s even a fair amount of Pete Rose partisans too. (God knows why. I mean, have you seen him on Fox baseball telecasts? A-Rod’s a smart guy, but Rose makes him look like a Rhodes scholar…and I don’t mean Arthur Lee Rhodes either.) And I’d bet we’d round it out with a little Joseph Leonard Morgan action. Now that I think about it, all four of those Redlegs were baseball TV personalities. Larkin on MLB network, Rose as mentioned (with perhaps the weirdest live blooper ever), Little Joe infamous for his many fireable offenses as an ESPN commentator, and Johnny Bench for The Baseball Bunch. What, you’d forgotten about the Bunch? (My favorite episode appears to encourage stationing brick walls in the middle of the infield, which the Yankees actually implemented from 1995 to 2014.)
Of course, the Reds Mountain Flushmore is pretty gruesome. There’s Rose, of course, as well as bigoted slur-tossing, Hitler apologizing, and penny-pinching owner Marge Schott. Former GM Bill DeWitt isn’t as bad as those two, but assessing Frank Robinson as “not a young 30” and dealing him was, in a word, stupid. Like titanically stupid. And Eddie Cicotte. You know, because of the plot to throw the World Series, which tarnished the Reds’ championship.
But enough of this. We have rules here, unlike the spelling rules in Cincy, and the rules for a given team’s Mount Rushmore are thus: They spent their whole career with the team, and they finished among the top four in BBREF’s WAR for their career among such players.
Of course, we can’t include the likes of Rose (who has the most WAR in a Reds’ uniform of any MLB player ever with 77.8), Morgan, Frank Robinson (obviously), nor Billy Hatcher under our ruleset. But a couple fellows we’ve already mentioned make the grade.
Johnny Bench (74.9 WAR): That’s a pretty good catcher. If you asked me, and you didn’t, Bench was probably the single most important member of the Big Red Machine. How many teams have their catcher batting cleanup? The team started with a massive advantage over everyone else in the NL. The guy played more often than the typical catcher, hit like a first baseman, played outstanding defense, and was above average in handling pitchers. Now about that last one. Game-calling and pitcher handling have been studied by Max Marchi, and I rely on his findings. But I suspect that Bench, in tandem with Sparky Anderson, helped manage the Reds’ staff. The squad didn’t truly have a stud pitcher until it swapped for Tom Seaver in 1977. Anderson seemed to juggle a patchwork and injury-prone rotation with the fastest hook in the league, and you don’t do that by arguing with your catcher about whether a guy has anything left in the tank. But that’s just my guess. The Reds went to the big dance with Joe Morgan, and they went without him. Ditto George Foster. They didn’t go to the World Series with Tony Perez until Bench arrived. Same for Rose. You get my drift.
Barry Larkin (70.2): On the field, the only thing Larkin couldn’t do with consistent greatness was hit for power. The one year he hit 30 homers, he won an MVP. However, the one weakness in his game was a propensity for injury. I blame it on the hard turf at Riverfront Stadium, but whatever the reason, he missed more time than Johnny Bench usually did. That’s the only thing that kept him from being Derek Jeter with a good glove.
Bid McPhee (52.4): McPhee is probably remembered best today as the last important infielder to eschew a glove. He didn’t really need it anyway because he was an outstanding gloveman. Er, handman. Uh, let’s just say he had great hands. But he was on the first team in franchise history (1882 in the then-major American Association), and he stuck around for 18 years. He probably could have hung on longer if he’d wished to. He was still an average player at age 39. Probably his hands hurt. By the way, McPhee is among the least likely players to lead the league in home runs. His eight paced the AA in 1886, and represent 15% of his career 53 roundtrippers.
Now some of you are breathlessly anticipating our final selection. You’re thinking, hmm, it’s not Bruce Beryeni, nor is it Pokey Reese…. You’re probably thinking: DAVE CONCEPION! But no. At least not for now. It all depends on the future of:
Joey Votto (51.4): For all the absolutely lame talk in the area papers about how Votto doesn’t drive in enough runs (what is this, 1960-friggin’eight or something?), Votto has for years now been the axle around which the Reds’ offense turns. When he hits, their offense works, when he doesn’t, it doesn’t. The reason why is this simple: .424. That’s Votto’s career on-base percentage through July 24th when I’m actually writing this article. If you go to a Reds’ game, there’s roughly a 42% chance that Joey Votto will reach base in a given plate appearance. Think about what the means to an offense. The average hitter in Votto’s leagues has a .332 on-base percentage. If an average player bats 600 times during the season, he’ll be on base 199 times. Votto would reach 254 times. Votto bats third for the Reds, almost always does. So Votto, batting third, gets on 55 more times in front of your cleanup hitter than the average batter would. Fifty-five freaking times. Once every three games, your badass cleanup hitter will get one more shot to hit a bomb with at least one runner aboard. Stick that in your RBI pipe and smoke it.
So, now Dave Concepcion and his 39.9 career WAR. After him it’s a long way down to Long John Reilly (a teammate of McPhee’s) and his 24.4 WAR.
For my own little Mount Redsmore, I’d go in a couple other directions. First off, I have a little man crush on Heinie Groh. Yeah, that came out wrong, didn’t it. First off, I’m a retrospective fan of Heinie Groh’s. He’d make my Reds rock wall of fame. I’ve also always dug Jose Rijo. Man, like just one or two more seasons, and he’d be a HoMEr. Same goes for another odd-ball choice of mine, long-time Red Mario Soto. Last, of course, I’d reserve for Schottzie II. Schottzie I was overrated.
Because they came so close but didn’t pull through last season, the 1948 and 1920 champs have the longest current drought in the game. Known as the Blues in 1901, the Bronchos in 1902, and the Naps from 1903 through 1914, the Indians are the only team, I believe, whose Rushmore all played the same position. And much to my surprise, they’re the third best team in AL history in winning percentage.
By WAR, the greatest Indian ever is Nap Lajoie. However, he played parts of eight years with AL and NL Philadelphia clubs. Second on the Indian list is Red Sox great Tris Speaker. And fourth is another who played for the Red Sox, Lou Boudreau. Stan Coveleski is fifth on the Indian list, but he played for the A’s, Sens, and Yanks. Kenny Lofton and Jim Thome also put up great numbers while in Cleveland, but they both played everywhere. Earl Averill held on with the Tigers and Braves, and Joe Sewell was a Yankee for three years.
Al Rosen is the best hitter in Indian history never to play elsewhere, posting 32.6 WAR over seven full seasons before retiring because of issues with his back and legs. He’s 23rd in Indian history in WAR, but that’s not enough. There were four Cleveland pitchers who topped him, making them the only team without a hitter on their Rushmore.
Bob Feller: Rapid Robert was a hit after joining the Indians at age 17 in 1936. If we replace the three seasons and the one partial season he missed due to WWII with the average of the two years before and the two full years after he left, he moves from 63.6 WAR to an insane 84.4 WAR. That would move him from a tie for 144th with Richie Ashburn and Billy Williams to 53rd, just ahead of Pedro Martinez and Ken Griffey. I’m not saying this would have happened, just giving an idea about what might have been.
Bob Lemon: With 48.8 WAR, Lemon is the sixth best Indian ever. Of course, less than 77% of Lemon’s value was on the mound. He was truly an excellent hitter, adding 0.6 WAR to 1.9 WAR every year from 1947-1956 at the plate. From 1948-1950 he averaged six homers and 22 ribbies with a .334 OBP. With just pitching value, there are only two years when he threw like an All-Star. He’s in the Hall, which is quite a surprise given that Hall voters must look at pitcher offense less than I do, and Lemon is only 117th all-time among pitchers, right between Frank Viola and Ron Guidry.
Mel Harder: Eleventh on the all-time Indian WAR chart, Harder was a better pitcher than Lemon, putting up 47.9 WAR on the mound but giving back 4.2 at the dish, for 43.7 total WAR. During his 1932-1935 peak, he trailed only Carl Hubbell and Dizzy Dean in WAR among hurlers. Expanding things to 1939, and only Lefty Grove also gets past him. We’re looking at a star here.
Addie Joss: With similar star power to Harder, Joss nevertheless is in the Hall. Tied with him on the Indian WAR list with 43.7, Joss and his 160 wins are in the Hall due to a 1.89 career ERA. Even though he played only nine seasons, the 1977 Board of Directors passes a special resolution to waive the ten-year rule for him. There was no good reason for that decision. BBREF neutralizes Joss’ career ERA at 2.88, still a fine number, but c’mon. Imagine 170 wins and a 2.88 ERA in the last fifty years. Such a pitcher would have no chance at the Hall. If he pitched in the run environment of, say, 2004, his ERA would be 3.75. Kevin Brown pitched around that time. He finished with 211 wins and a 3.28 ERA, and he hasn’t sniffed the inside of Cooperstown.
My Indian Rushmore
Nap Lajoie: Yes, he had a significant enough career with the A’s, but he’s Cleveland’s all-time leader in WAR, and he had nine of his ten best years by WAR with the Indians.
Lou Boudreau: I’m not going to hold his short period of time in Boston against him. Speaker played in Boston too, but he had quite a significant career there. Each of Boudreau’s ten best seasons were with Cleveland.
Kenny Lofton: I’m skipping a couple of guys on Cleveland’s all-time WAR list to get to him, namely Stan Coveleski and Bob Lemon. My favorite Lofton memory is how he ran the bases like a brilliant madman in the 1995 playoffs, tripling twice and stealing 11 bases in the ALCS and WS.
Tune in next week for a look at the Cincinnati Reds.
The Cubs don’t exactly have a storied history. More like they have several stories, some of which are storied, some of which are nightmarish, and many of which are the tedious tales of merely another boring losing year.
In 1945, Cubs’ fans, coming off yet another World Series appearance would likely have named a Mount Rushmore (with no limitations like ours) that included the gonfalon Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance trio and Adrian Constantine Anson, himself. The key drivers on a dynasty that produced history’s (then) winningest team, plus the titanic figure of the 19th Century game. (Race relations back then were a little different, and few were likely to decry the latter’s inclusion for his part in the drawing of the color line.)
Flash forward 70 years, and things looked quite different. No World Series appearances, a 100+ year championship drought. Goats, black cats, pennant race flameouts, and a thousand other humiliations beset the Second City ursine nine in the meantime. The heroes, though many had achieved precious little. Whose Mount Rushmore likenesses would better describe this time of aimless wandering? The greats of that supposedly cursed epoch who donned Cubbie blue? Or the College of Coaches?
Today, that little patch of the Black Hills would, perhaps, proudly display the proud faces of Theo Epstein, Kris Bryant, Joe Maddon, and Anthony Rizzo. Or whichever four Bruins felt right in the joyful hangover that accompanied the capture of the 2017 President’s Trophy.
But we have rules here, and many of the aforementioned fellows fail to meet them! We demand one thing and one thing only: loyalty. If you left the team, you’re not a real Cub. No stone-carved face for you! Loyalty and top performance. So two things, actually. Loyalty and top performance and lollypops. Yes, that’s three things, but nothing happens here with lollypops.
So who are the great bears of men who will cast their proud stares down from Mount Cubsmore?
Lets see, Cap Anson? Well, no, because he played for two teams in the National Association who weren’t the Cubs or their immediate predecessors the Chicago White Stockings. Ron Santo! No, he took a brief turn about the AL with the Southside squad. Oh, I know, Billy Williams! They guy never, ever missed a game for like 3,000 straight seasons. Uh, actually, he ended up with the A’s for a couple years. (Stump your friends with that one!) Ooh, ooh, Tinker to Evers to Chance who went to Cincy, to Boston, and to New York. Gotta be Mark Grace, right? Well, there was that little stint in the desert from ages 37 to 39. OK, OK, here are the actual guys who qualify for Cubsmore: Adolpho Phillips, Mike Harkey, Jerome Walton, and Mark Prior. No wait, wrong spreadsheet. (Hey, at least I didn’t include Ken Hubbs in that joke…oh, I just did.) Well, here we go….
Ernie Banks: Well, he is Mr. Cub after all. He has the record for homers by a Cub who didn’t play in the silly ball era, and because he always wanted to play two, the team made double the money. Banks and this next guy have almost exactly the same career value.
Stan Hack: The little remembered Hack was a wonderful leadoff hitter for the Cubs for a long time in the 1930s and 1940s. If he were a good fielder, he might well be in the Hall of Miller and Eric. It’s still possible that pay-by-play might prove him worthy of the honor, but it seems rather unlikely. Still, this guy is very much a member of the Hall of the Very Close to the Hall. If the team could have cloned Hack after Ron Santo left, they’d have won a lot more games and maybe even a playoff series or two.
Charlie Hollocher: This guy is virtually unknown today for his play, but was a fine shortstop of roughly All-Star caliber. That is, until the unrelenting pain from an undiagnosed intestinal disorder destroyed his sanity. He retired from baseball with 23 WAR’s worth of work behind him. Unfortunately what lay in front of him was much worse. Despondent and depressed by the unremitting agony in his gut, he eventually shot himself in the throat, ending his life at age 44.
Bill Lange: Here’s another hard-luck case, though of a different sort. Lange was very fast and a good centerfielder. He had a fine all-around game and was twenty-eight years old when, as Bill James tells it in the New Historical Baseball Abstract, Lange asked for a woman’s hand in marriage. But her father thought baseball an undignified means by which to support his daughter and the family to come. Thus did the institution of marriage rob the institution of baseball of a pretty good ballplayer. In the event, Lange rang up 23 WAR in 7 seasons, which, to put into perspective, would be worth at least $150 million on today’s free agent market.
Who are my personal favorite Cubbies of all time? The four guys I’d toss up on that mountainside? Carlos Zambrano for sure. Good, good pitcher with twenty-four career homers, and lots of cray-cray. I’m also a retro-fan of Hippo Vaughn. That whole double-no-no game with Fred Toney and all. Or a no-no-no-no if you prefer. Also, Doug Dascenzo, right? 64 OPS+, but a perfect ERA+ with zero runs allowed in 5 innings pitched. And finally, the hardest-luck great pitcher around, Rick Reuschel. He pitched amazingly well for amazingly bad Cubs teams whose horrible infield defense must have demoralized the sinker balling righty, and whose Friendly Confines punished the few mistake pitches he made. Actually, I would carve a special face on the other side of the mountain too: Mike Schmidt who would have hit 2,000 homers if he’d played his home games at Wrigley Field. Schmidt played 138 games in Chicago, batting 611 times. He crushed 50 roundtrippers and had an OPS over 1.000. That’s in a span of time when the National League notched a .729 OPS. In 1980 alone, he hit .447/.500/1.211 with 8 homers and 16 RBIs in 9 games. In fact, he had more total bases (46) than plate appearances (42).
Next time out, Miller will chisel the likenesses of the crosstown Pale Hose.
The Chicago White Sox, winners of the World Series in 1906, 1917, and 2005, have been called the Chicago White Sox throughout their history, never changing city or nickname, though they were sometimes called the White Stockings until 1903. Given that they’ve only won three times, I tend to think of the Sox as an unsuccessful. However, they’re either tenth or eleventh among active franchises in all-time winning percentage (very close to Pittsburgh, tenth or eleventh depending on when you read this).
It’s quite possible that White Sox fans miss stuff from three-quarters of a century ago, so the first name a lot of people think of when thinking about the the South Siders is Frank Thomas. But the Big Hurt is third in White Sox WAR, and he finished his career in Toronto and Oakland. Next on Chicago’s straight Rushmore doesn’t make it because he played twelve of his 25 seasons with the Philadelphia A’s. He’s one of the absolute greatest players in history, posting more WAR than Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, or Mickey Mantle. I think he’s the most overlooked, super-stud in baseball history, Eddie Collins. Ed Walsh won 40 games in 1908, has the best ERA in baseball history, and is fifth in White Sox WAR. However, he pitched four times for the 1917 Dodgers. Wilbur Wood posted one win and provided no value for the Red Sox and Pirates over parts of five seasons before moving to Chicago. Eddie Cicotte, Mark Buehrle, and Billy Pierce pitched elsewhere. Nellie Fox, Minnie Minoso, Robin Ventura, and Luis Aparicio got time with other teams too. Chris Sale was on the mountain until this March. No longer.
Luke Appling: With 74.5 WAR, it’s easy enough to call Old Aches and Pains the greatest player in White Sox history. For my money, the 1936 and 1943 batting champ is the eighth greatest shortstop ever, ahead of the likes of Larkin, Ozzie, and Jeter.
Ted Lyons: Forgettable for some, Lyons posted 71.6 WAR in his career. In terms of straight pitching, that’s 37th all-time. I rank him 41st. While little about his record really jumps out at you, he trailed only Lefty Grove in WAR among American League pitchers for half a century form 1920-1970.
Red Faber: Sixth all-time for the White Sox, Faber was an absolute stud in 1921 and 1922, and a solid pitcher throughout most of his other eighteen campaigns, totaling 64.8 WAR in his career. He’s in the Hall and probably deserves it. He’s one of the last pitchers in the HoME and possibly deserves it. Two claims to fame are being the last legal spitballer in the American League and being one of the clean Black Sox. Could it have been fortunate for his legacy that he was out for the World Series with what might have been the Spanish Flu? I don’t know.
Jim Scott: Let me introduce you to Jim Scott and his 26.a career WAR. Well, that won’t be easy since I’m not certain I had heard of Scott before this project. He was a pretty decent pitcher, going 107-114 with what appears to be a sparkling 2.30 ERA from 1909-1917. WAR tells a better story. He was excellent both in 1913 and 1915, quite good in 1911, and pretty useful a couple of additional times. He helped the Sox get to the 1917 World Series, which they won, but Faber and Cicotte pitched all but two innings, and Scott wasn’t called upon for those either. He did become a National League umpire. That’s kind of interesting. In fact, only Scott, Lon Warneke, and Eddie Rommel put up 20+ WAR as players, umpired more than one season, and played their entire careers after the formation of the American League.
My White Sox Rushmore
Frank Thomas: The Big Hurt is easily the best White Sox player of my lifetime. During the first eight years of a player’s career, only Thomas, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams posted a line of .300/.450/.600 or better. That’s it.
Ed Walsh: The 18 innings for the 1917 Dodgers won’t keep him off my Rushmore. Despite trailing Eddie Collins in White Sox WAR, Walsh and Thomas make it because they didn’t have the impact elsewhere that Collins did. Sorry Eddie.
On deck next week, it’s the Chicago Cubs.
In the late 20th Century, TBS liked to call the Braves “America’s Team.” Well, they are America’s oldest team with continuous operation since the inaugural 1871 National Association season. And they are tied with the Athletics for America’s most wanderlusting team, having now called three different cities home. They are certainly America’s Atlanta baseball team. Maybe Ted Turner and the gang simply meant that they belonged to America. In which case each of the then 26 or 28 teams could be duly carry this sobriquet. With the Canadian teams expanding the definition to North America, perhaps. But let’s not get technical.
So you’d figure that with such a long history, the Braves’ Mount Rushmore would have the faces of many, many famous “local” heroes. Depending on what local means to whichever city you rooted for them in. Of course there’s Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Phil Niekro, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Warren Spahn, John Smoltz, all lifetime members of los Bravos. Where will we chisel all their faces? Que? You say none of those guys played their entire careers for the Boswaunta Brave Red Bean Dove Rustlers? Don’t be ridiculous….
Of course this hypothetical interlocutor I’m jabbering with is right. All of those fellows played elsewhere. If we had a Rushmorian monument for the Braves, Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn, and Phil Niekro would grace its face. But they didn’t. In fact, by our rules which require a one-team career, our maximalist relief sculpture would include:
This somehow doesn’t seem befitting whichever version of “America’s Team” you prefer. But here’s something we can do. This is the Mount Rushmore just for the Milwaukee Braves. Anyone who played all their games from 1953 through 1965 as a Brave in Brewtown is eligible. Here’s your winners:
Of course, that’s all the Mays/Mayes out there since Willie, Joe, and Carl are Mayses, not Mays. And we have Jacob May, a young outfielder playing second, Lee Maye at third with all six of his career games there, and Pinky May at shortstop thanks to his one career game there. But these are the tough hypothetical choices we must make. And our co-managers, Eddie Mayo and Mayo Smith, might want something different.
But getting back to the Braves, who would be on my personal Braves Rushmore? Pascual Perez heads this list for sure. He was that rare breed, a zany righty starting pitcher. You never knew whether he might have no-hit stuff, nothin’ stuff, or just might pull some crazy stunt like throwing between his legs to pick off a runner. Of course, there’s Rick Camp whose exploits we mentioned above. I’m also something of a Wally Berger fan. He wasn’t just the only star of the 1930s Bees, he was the sun around which the team revolved. He was the only offense they had, and he was exceptional. Sadly his career ended too early thanks to shoulder woes, but just another All-Star level season or a few more years as a regular might have pushed him into the HoME. Lastly, there’s George Wright. The one who is in the HoME. Entirely forgotten by nearly everyone except the 8,000 or so people in the country who are rabidly in love with baseball’s long and curious history. The first great player in the sense that we identify it today as someone worthy of a plaque. A player with great individual seasons, a great (if in his case short) career, and widespread acclaim as the game’s top-most shelf talent.
My team, the Red Sox, were the inspiration for this project, this week in our third installment. I wanted to find a way to etch four faces, none of them being Roger Clemens’. And we’ve done that with this project, requiring that only players who spent their entire careers with the Red Sox can grace the mountain. Boston has had an AL franchise since the league began in 1901, though they were known as the Boston Americans for the first seven years. Let’s see who will represent the 8-time champs and owners of the second best record in AL history.
Well, clearly Roger Clemens and Wade Boggs left Boston. They’re third and fourth in Red Sox WAR. Other greats, Cy Young and Tris Speaker, had extensive careers with different Cleveland franchises. At age-39 Dwight Evans had a decent bat for a season in Baltimore, and David Ortiz spent parts of six seasons in Minnesota before they made the mistake of dumping him. Pedro won a Cy Young Award in his final season in Montreal and a K/BB title in his first year as a Met.
It’s also not Jim Rice (47.4 WAR) or Rico Petrocelli (39.1 WAR), two all-time great Red Sox who have been bested by four others for status among all-time great solo Sox.
Ted Williams: The Kid won a dozen OBP titles and might have had his two greatest seasons immediately before and immediately after he returned from the service. If we give him the average of the two years before he left and the two after he returned for the three years he was away, his 123.1 WAR would turn into 154.6. He’d move from 14th in history to 6th, topped by only Ruth, Cy, the Big Train, Bonds, and Mays. If we do the same for the time he missed for Korea, he’d be up to 165.2 WAR, passing Mays and Bonds, and within a hair of Walter Johnson.
Carl Yastrzemski: We know that Yaz won the triple crown in 1967 putting up an insane 12.4 WAR. What we don’t think of is his 1968 season when he totaled 10.5 WAR, yet finished just ninth in MVP voting, behind two guys with less than half of his value, Frank Howard and teammate Hawk Harrelson. Excluding Ruth, Bonds, Mantle, Mays, and Williams, only ten hitter seasons ever top Yaz in 1968, his second best campaign. He finished with 96.1 career WAR.
Dustin Pedroia: Just this season, Laser Show has moved into the top-10 in Red Sox WAR. At age-32 and signed through 2021, he feels like someone who will end his career in Boston. He seems sure to pass Papi, Pedro, and Speaker on the Sox list. Whether or not he can move further up will have everything to do with health. The same goes for his HoME case. The Hall will like the MVP, Rookie of the Year, and rings in 2007 and 2013. But second base is a stacked position. Robinson Cano is better. Chase Utley will look better upon retirement. And it’s not unlikely Ian Kinsler will too. Jose Altuve’s story is still to be told. It’s going to be fascinating to see how the next three seasons play out for Pedroia.
Bobby Doerr: Helping to make Pedroia’s Hall case is Doerr. He’s also a Red Sox second baseman, he’s in the Hall, and Pedroia passed him in career WAR this season. In addition to his Hall credential, Doerr is just barely in the HoME. He wasn’t until Retrosheet published more data to show that his double play proclivity wasn’t as bad as we thought. Once we saw the update, it made his career numbers look better than they had before more detail was uncovered. As of now, Doerr is 24th on my second base list. Pedroia is 31st, passing Lonny Frey this season. It’ll be interesting to see if Pedroia can top the nine-time All-Star and 1946 World Series star when it’s all said and done.
Pedro Martinez: Those who are about my age can appreciate that we live in lucky baseball times. We got to watch Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, and Clayton Kershaw at their best. For me, Pedro tops them all. One of my favorite Pedro stats is that from 1998-2003, Pedro’s first six years in Boston, he posted a 2.26 ERA while the rest of the AL sat at 4.65, more than double Pedro’s number.
Dave Roberts: Yes, he played only 45 regular season games in Boston and totaled only 0.3 WAR. Yes, I know he doesn’t belong here. But in the 2004 ALCS with the Red Sox trailing the Yankees 3-0 in the series and 4-3 in the game, with Mariano Rivera on the mound in the bottom of the ninth inning, Roberts pinch ran for Kevin Millar after a walk, stole second, and scored. If he didn’t steal that base, maybe, just maybe, it would have all been different. That game changed my life and the lives of many Red Sox fans. And it’s my Rushmore. I can be a little jealous.
Next week, we look at the Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta Braves.
So our pal Miller had a fine idea: Whose faces would be on the Mount Rushmore of each team. I’ll be your guide through the National League’s Black Hills, and since we’re going alpha by city, we’ll start in Arizona.
The only catch with our Rushmore series is that each face of the franchise has to be someone who only played for that team. Which leaves a club like the Arizona Diamondbacks, extant not quite 20 years as of this writing, in a bit of a pickle. If not for that little hitch in the rules, why they’d be chiseling in the faces of Randy Johnson (51.2 BBREF WAR) WAR, Luis Gonzalez (29.9),…and Curt Schilling (25.4). Well, I’m sure Alex Jones will have a conspiracy theory about our choosing not to include guys with right-wing radio shows. (Hint: It’s the Deep State!)
But, in fact, we decided this is an honor for faithful, loyal soldiers. In which case, things get a little, uh, weird for a team still in early bloom of its flowering. The primary candidates for Snake Mountain are, on offense:
Moundwardly there’s Brandon Webb (31.5), and, well, uh, Patrick Corbin’s 4.5 WAR. And that’s about it. At least for another few years.
So, for the moment, on June 14th, 2017 at 9:50 PM, it’s these guys…until one or more split or get split: Paul Goldschmidt, Brandon Webb, A.J. Pollack, and David Peralta.
Frankly, there’s not a ton to say about these guys that you don’t already know since most are of very recent vintage. Goldschmidt is Bagwellesque, right down to the surprising steals and excellent glove. He’s not quite Bagwell’s equal, but he’s in that mode, and his athleticism bodes well for a lengthy and productive career. Every time I see his name, I imagine Dame Shirley Bassey singing “Gooooooooooooldschmidterrrrrrr.” But, you know, that’s just how I roll.
Webb is a-not-so-old favorite of mine. In fact, if the fates played fair, he’s still be pitching in the big leagues. Webb had this absolutely vicious sinking fastball threw, nearly 1200 innings from age 25 to 29, walked off the mound in his first start of 2009, and never threw another pitch in anger again. Total bummer. Wonderful pitcher who could use that dead, if rapid, fish to avoid the thin-air proclivities of the run-drenched high-desert environment.
As for the others I’ve mentioned, I invite you on the journey of a decade or more as we discover what the future holds for them and the many other players supporting the D’Backs youth movement.
What if we want to take the Dead Presidents approach, however, and force ourselves to only use retirees who were Hooked on Phoenix their whole career? You know what, go ahead and grab a beer or some garlic knots and a Sunny D. I’m going to be a few minutes. It’s OK, I’ll have the answer by the time you get back. Well, and if you need a pee break, might as well go for it. I mean, don’t get into the latest episode of Fargo or anything. I won’t be that long.
[Trawls through BBREF’s Play Index with increasingly hangdog expression and red, bleary eyes.]
Pretty cool, huh?!
That leaves one other question we like to answer. Who would our personal Mount Rushmore for the team be? Well, The Big Unit has to be on there. In fact, I’d gladly use him for all four faces. He’s just awesome no matter what team he played for. Obviously, I’m something of a Brandon Webb partisan. And there was that one great year of Junior Spivey (2002 for those who may have misplaced that particular memory). For a franchise this young, I’m going to bend the rules a little. Because doesn’t this ring a bell? “Reached on E1 (throw to 2B) (Bunt); Dellucci to 2B.” So my fourth for the AZ Rushmore is none other than Mariano Rivera.