The Mets are second banana in the Big Apple, which gives their fans a certain gloomy mentality. But who can blame them. Though the team has made four World Series and won two of them, the in-between stages have come with their fair share of awful. The 1962 Mets set records for awful. After their surprising 1973 NL flag, the Mets drifted into the Craig Swan era. After their 1986 super team Bucknered the Red Sox, drugs and other issues turned into The Worst Team Money Can Buy then Dallas Green turning Generation K into Generation Nay. After their appearance in the Subway Series of 2000 came the Omar Minaya Mess.
Still, through it all, Mets fans have had a lot of fun and actually good players to root for. Tom Seaver, Mike Piazza, Gary Carter, David Cone, and even those two years of Eddie Murray among many others. Homegrown stars Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden shone brightly until a cloud of cocaine obscured them. But let’s not forget favorites Marvelous Marv Throneberry and Ed Kranepool, loved for very different reasons. And, Mookie Wilson for hitting that lovely ten hopper.
If you wanted to name the four greatest Mets ever, you could do a lot worse than Tom Terrific, Captain America, Dr, K, and the Straw Man. Longtime members of the team who led it to glory, or at least the NLCS. But for our purposes in the Rushmore series, we’re asking which fellows that only played for the Amazin’ Mets make the cut.
It turns out that among all players to play only for the Mets, David Wright leads the way in career value. With 50 WAR to his credit, it’s not really that close. He’s been the face of the franchise for the better part of the decade. If back and neck issues end his career after another the next back surgery he undergoes, we’ll close the books on a guy who is close to a HoME level player and any Mets current Mets fan can proudly call one of their own.
Jacob DeGrom is the next highest man on this list at just over 17 WAR, which goes to show you how poor of a job the Mets have done over the years at retaining their most valuable players. Because DeGrom is a Met, his arm will probably fall off next year. Matt Harvey‘s already has. His face would currently appear on the cliffside with his 10 WAR.
That leaves our final spot on Mount Mets to…Juan Lagares! That’s what an 84 OPS+ and a glove of 100,000 caret gold can do for you.
I did part of my growing up in Orange County (New York’s Orange County, that is). I was 11 when the Mets won the 1986 World Series. What an exciting team! All that young talent. And then I watched as it all got pissed away. It wasn’t only that coke did in Gooden and Strawberry. Gary Carter got old, fast. Keith Hernandez wasn’t far behind. Kevin Elster didn’t quite pan out. Dykstra for Samuel. Davey Johnson out, and Buddy Harrelson in. Frank Cashen retired and Al Harrazin taking over. The whole thing went sliding away into 59-103. So my Mount Rushmore is dominated by those mid-1980s players that the rest of the league loved to hate. I actually hate some of them in an off-the-field kind of way. Lenny Dykstra, for example, appears to have practically no moral fiber in him, but I loved to watch him play, and his run in the 1986 postseason was truly amazing to watch.
El Sid, Sid Fernandez, is up there too. Look, dude, was el plumpo, but had that crazy delivery where the ball appeared to shoot out of his elbow. He didn’t throw all that hard, but because hitters couldn’t see the ball coming out of his hand, his fastball seemed to have five more MPH on it (he was always called “sneaky fast”). Better yet, his breaking stuff came out of nowhere to paralyze hitters. He was one helluva pitcher, and he could hit a little too, which made it fun because he’d be this big, blue blotch running around the bases in his warmup jacket.
I watched Vin and Joe on game of the week religiously, and the Mets were on all the time in those days. It feels in memory as though Vin Scully was always saying with sinewy warning, “Here comes Keith Hernandez.” Which in his delivery sounded like Keither Nandez. Watching Hernandez tearing in on a bunts like Pickett’s Charge was amazing. I always wondered whether he had any fear of the opposing hitter swinging away and lining one of his eye socket. Of course, the one stat we can always remember Hernandez for? The Game Winning RBI! He was routinely among the leaders, as his 1985 Topps All-Star card proves.
Finally, and by no means least most, Roger McDowell and Jesse Orosco. They are really one person in my mind because one of them pitched in nearly every Mets game, often going more than an inning, setting one another up, depending on the match up, and both pretty goofy. McDowell putting his uniform pants on his head is a classic, and I love that Orosco was the guy who put black shoe polish in Kirk Gibson’s hat, famously pissing the outfielder off so much that the Dodgers won the World Series (or something like that).
Love ’em or hate ’em, that was one fun team to root for. Now as a Phils Phan, I disavow this time in my life, but, hey, we all make mistakes as kids….
The Twins have had a storied, though not necessarily all that impressive, history. Among those who have been around since 1901 or earlier, only the Orioles have a worse record as a franchise than the Senators/Twins. From 1901-1960, they were the “first in war, first in peace, last in the American League” Washington Senators who won only the 1924 World Series. Since 1961, they’ve been the Twins, and have had a somewhat more successful run, winning in 1987 and 1991.
Rod Carew, the team’s second best player left for the riches of California when he became a free agent. Harmon Killebrew played 106 games in Kansas City. And Sam Rice played 97 in Cleveland. Overall, this has been a remarkably stable franchise for one that hasn’t been too good.
In the top-24 in Twin/Senator history area a pretty incredible six guys who don’t make the list. Ossie Bluege, a third baseman from the 1920s and 1930s, is 23rd on their list. Though he played 13 seasons in which he topped 300 trips to the plate, only twice did he top 3 WAR. Shortstop and third baseman Cecil Travis played in the 1930s and 1940s and is 21st in franchise history in WAR, and he was particularly good from 1937-1941, 13th best among position players over those years. Kent Hrbek is 14th all-time in the team’s history. Ten times he hit 20 homers. Seven times he reached 3 WAR. And twice he won a World Series. Clyde Milan, a center fielder from 1907-1922, is 13th all-time in MIN/WAS WAR. I rank him right with Dom DiMaggio among center fielders, eleven times reaching 2+ WAR. And finally, Tony Oliva ranks 11th in franchise WAR. He led the AL in hits five times, doubles four times, and batting average three times. During his 1964-1971 prime, he was the ninth best position player in the game. Each of the best eight are in the HoME.
Walter Johnson: He’s the best player in baseball history who only played for one team. His career WAR having nothing to do with pitching is the same as Cesar Geronimo, better than Lyman Bostock or Wally Backman.
Kirby Puckett: Smiling is powerful, really it is. Same with batting average and World Series moments. During his career, he was a good player, not a great one. Only twice did he reach 5 WAR. Post-career, Puckett had a number of struggles, but we don’t seem to remember those. Of course, we remember the home run in the 1991 World Series. We love the .318 batting average too. As many chances as I can, I like to remind folks that I rank Puckett behind Chet Lemon, Willie Wilson, Brett Butler, and Johnny Damon in center field. You may not, which is fine. They’re close. But I have no doubt they’re close. And that means Puckett is no Hall of Famer, no matter how much he smiled.
Joe Mauer: Catchers break. Mauer is another in a long line of examples. The good news for Mauer is that when he was at his best, he was truly great, posting five seasons of at least 5 WAR. His 2009 MVP season was absolutely the best of his career. It was one that produced a triple slash triple crown, a pretty amazing achievement for a guy with only one season over 13 homers in his career. What happens after next year when Mauer becomes a free agent is anyone’s guess. I don’t think he’ll be valuable enough to give full-time at-bats. But I expect someone will start him if he wants. We’ll see.
Brad Radke: An underrated pitcher at a time when a lot of pitchers were underrated. He only topped a dozen wins three times. He had a career record of 148-139, and he has a 4.22 career ERA. Of course his record wasn’t great; the Twins weren’t always great when he pitched, and he got a little unlucky. And if you like a shiny ERA, Radke pitched at exactly the worst time in history. Neutralized stats at BBREF give him a 3.39 career mark, one that feels much more in line with his talent. In a world where Herb Pennock is in the Hall of Fame, it wouldn’t be disgusting to induct Radke too. Of course, that says more about the mistake that was Pennock than about Radke.
Rod Carew: Each of his seven batting titles and his MVP were in Minnesota. From 1973-1977 he hit .358, which I suppose is a modern equivalent to Rogers Hornsby hitting .402 from 1921-1925. He’s also on one of my all-time favorite baseball cards.
Harmon Killebrew: All Killer did was hit homers. While that’s not precisely true, of course, the statement does have merit for the six-time home run king, 1969 MVP, and guy on the outside of the HoME looking in. Yes, his bat was worth 487 runs, which is good for 43rd ever. Of course, he gave back 78 because of defense, 77 more because of his position, 27 because he grounded into a lot of double plays, and another 24 because he was super slow on the bases. He’s still good, but 115th in WAR is no 43rd with just the bat. He so clearly belongs on this list though.
Joe Mauer: It’s him or Puckett since I’ll go with a modern guy over Sam Rice. Mauer is still sort of producing, and by the time you read this, he’s likely to be ahead of Puckett in career WAR.
Check out the New York Met Mount Rushmore next.
I’ve long been a sucker for the Brew Crew’s ball-in-glove logo. The visual pun tickles me. Although, much like the logo des les Expos, it took me years to figure it out. Although I don’t personally consume alcohol anymore, I nonetheless remember with a rosy hue the days of my imbibing and similarly visiting Milwaukee’s many breweries for tours and, of course, free tastings of beer.
Which reminds me of a story that has to do with Milwaukee, baseball, and beer. Each in its way.
When they graduate from college, the more well to do classically roam Europe to soak up the civilized life. Others, more impelled by their dreams of making a difference, find the summer internship that will launch their world-changing careers. Still others prefer to start the hunt for a job so that they might move out of their parents’ home. I chose to climb into a late-1980s four-door Jeep with two other smelly twenty-two year olds to unzip the DNA of America on the double helix of the blue highways of our fair nation.
We zipped right away from the east coast having grown up there and explored it extensively already and soon found ourselves in Iowa. In fact, in a flash of insight, we decided to stop in the farmy hamlet of Lost Nation, Iowa with the intention of finding suitable grounds for one of the many Wiffle Ball games we would that summer contest as well as the answer to the riddle of its name.
In my memory, the sunny, dusty little town lay about three hours from anywhere and ten minutes from nowhere. But this tiny town played hosted to our Wiffling exhibition with the good and quiet grace that so many small towns in the breadbasket of America would show us that summer. In other words, they didn’t know we were there.
Until we revealed ourselves at the local bar. Wiffle Ball will work you up a good sweat, and we sought the cooling comfort of a pint of the local’s finest. Many small, midwestern towns boast truly broad streets, almost unfathomably wide by the standards of our east-coast experiences, and our eyes felt bleached from simply looking up and down the tarmac and around at the few blocks of buildings that counted for the town’s center. The mid afternoon sun seemed to glare off everything around us. So as we opened the door to the local beer joint, we were hardly prepared for the visual adjustment it required. Our eyes dilated crazily, and we put our hands to our eyebrows, trying to suss out the place.
The cold air we’d hoped for was there, and a lot more locals than we’d figured. Midday in Lost Nation was a good time to drink with fellow farmers. An air-conditioning unit droned, classic rock blared from speakers stuck up in a couple corners, but the sound of pool balls cracking against one another stopped as we three sweat-drenched strangers elbowed up to the rail. The locals appraised us, while we tried to ignore the fact that they were appraising us. So we did what any intelligent individual would do: We ordered a beer. A bottled beer in this case because we didn’t like the frat-party swill on the tap.
Eventually, remembering our mission, one of us got up enough hoppy courage to approach a clutch of the townsfolk seated across the room. While the perspiration got by fun condensed on our skins, their raiments spoke the visual language of labor. Teeshirts whose many washings couldn’t scrub away not only the sweat of hard work but the stains of a work done with the Earth itself, the dirt, the loam, the manure, the bleach marks of fertilizers. Warily the table’s occupants summoned one of their number from elsewhere in the room. The thirty-something man who approached had the sun-cracked crows feet of a ballplayer from before the advent of flip-down sunglasses. You know, the way a thirty-five year old outfielder looks in his photos like a fifty-five year old. This despite a ball cap faded from fire-engine red to a pinkish tint he’d have never paid for. Facial hair covered his cheeks not fashionable in the way that younger people today enjoy that big-beard look, but in the way of those for whom shaving is an inconvenience best dispensed with, especially when the alternatives to hirsuteness are the seasonal burn of sun or wind. Where the legs of his jeans met the hips stood lines of bold relief where sun and dirt had faded and browned the crest of the wrinkles and left the troughs relatively blue. Grease and oil blackened spots on the outer thigh of the pant legs.
And so we asked how did Lost Nation get its name? There was no one answer. Might have been Carrie Nation comin’ through with her axe on her crusade to dry out the county or the country. There was also an old story about a local Indian tribe picking up stakes and disappearing one day. It was hard to know to for sure. But that led to one thing conversational thing or another, and soon the whole crew were introducing us to family members and making us feel at home.
The kicker was that they ordered us that beer on tap. We’d seen smelled the basements of enough fraternity houses to know that beverage’s quality by its prevalence among the drink-to-get-obliterated-and/or-laid crowd. But we couldn’t decline, even politely. But the first sip was fuller bodied than we could remember this brand ever tasting. It didn’t smell bad, and it had flavor notes going down that had never been there before in our experience. It was an enjoyably potable despite our recent experience with it. Of course, we’d never had it from the tap before. Nor had we ever drank it so close to its home. We expressed our amazement and delight, and our new friends gave us knowing smiles. And so, dear reader, if you drink, and if you enjoy a frosty beer, and if you are in Iowa, take a chance on Old Milwaukee, as long as it’s on tap.
Of course all of that storytelling has more to do with Milwaukee brewers than the Milwaukee Brewers. So let’s get to the point here. Truth is, we kind of needed to fill some space. The Brewers’ history is relatively short, and their pockets shallow. They’ve developed some All-Star players and even a couple Hall-level talents, but not as many as you’d like. In fact, ever since Harvey’s Wallbangers in the early 1980s, they’ve been, mostly, really boring. They’ve also failed to retain virtually any of their signature talents over an entire career. Robin Yount is the one massive exception to that statement. It was Yount’s finally arriving as a complete player that ultimately drove those Wallbangers to the World Series. Harry Dalton did a great job stockpiling talented young veterans, and Paul Molitor’s emergence, of course, pushed the team a long way, but when your starting shortstop goes from banjo hitter with a glove to to a middle-of-the-order threat with annual 20-homer/10-triple/40-double potential, you start winning a lot more ballgames.
Sadly the aforementioned Molitor didn’t finish up with Milwaukee. Perhaps he was driven away by the stench of Bud Selig’s cigars, presumably lit from letters he wrote to fellow owners in support of collusion, if not $100 bills. But another Brewer’s infielder did stick around, Jim Ganter. Or “Gumby” if you prefer. He was cut from the exact same cloth as his direct contemporary, Glenn Hubbard: Great glove at second, not much help at the plate. As a lefty swinger, at least Gantner avoided a lot of double plays. But Ganter is exactly the kind of player that winning teams need. Not everyone in your lineup is a superstar, so you need regulars who can give you two wins while playing a lot so that some replacement-level scrub isn’t.
Now Teddy Higuera wasn’t boring. He was a Mexican breaking-ball artist who threw Uncle Scroogie as well or better than Fernando Valenzuela. Arm troubles ended Higuera’s career prematurely but Higuera had a great six-year run from 1985 to 1990 with 31.7 WAR and 20.6 WAA. The more ballyhooed Fernando’s best six years (not even consecutive ones) were worth 28.7 WAR and 15.2 WAR. Inning for inning, at their best Higuera outperformed the more famous Tinseltown lefty. It’s just sad that Teddy wasn’t discovered earlier (he was a 27-year-old rookie) and got hurt.
Lastly, we have an active player, Ryan Braun. His homophonically appropriate last name explains much of his success with 300 homers on his resume as of this writing. Braun arrived as a terrible third baseman (-32 Rfield, yes, -32) with a fielding percentage below .900. But he worked hard to make himself a good left outfielder. He has -13 career Rfield, which means that as an outfielder, he’s racked up +19 runs. This shouldn’t be terribly surprising. Braun is athletic and owns 192 steals at a decent 78% success rate, and he’s hit at least six triples in five different seasons. No matter how much you may dislike the whole mid-stream scandal, performance enhancing drugs will not turn you into an asset in the field. That’s because speed isn’t everything, so any increases in athleticism that could come from sports drugs aren’t causal here. Look at people like Lonnie Smith or Luis Polonia. Fast, athletic guys with tin gloves. Fielding requires the ability to take good routes to the ball, to keep your head in the game, and to make good real-time decisions. No steroid can make your smarts bigger.
They’ve been the Los Angeles Angels (1961-1964), the California Angels (1965-1996), the Anaheim Angels (1997-2004), and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (2005-2017), which is the silliest team name of all time. And that’s coming from a guy familiar with the Negro League’s Indianapolis Clowns. The Angels won the only World Series they got to, a seven-game struggle against the Giants in 2002.
Because Mike Trout got hurt, Chuck Finley is still the best player in Angel history, but since he pitched for the Indians and Cardinals, he can’t make it. It can’t be Jim Fregosi, though he’s third, and it can’t be Nolan Ryan, though he’s fifth, since they were traded for each other. Brian Downing started and ended elsewhere. Jered Weaver has stunk things up in San Diego this year. Bobby Grich was actually more valuable in Baltimore. The list goes on. There’s a lot of guys who don’t make the Angel Mount we have to dig deep to find the trio that joins Trout.
Mike Trout: There’s little to say about him that hasn’t already been said. Luckily for us, he has about fifteen years left during which he’ll do so, so much more.
Tim Salmon: The 1993 AL Rookie of the Year is known as Mr. Angel by some, a title you might think should go to Trout. But Trout is bigger than the Angels. Let’s let Salmon keep the nickname. For his career, Salmon and his 40.5 WAR are roughly equivalent to Hall of Famer Chuck Klein, though Salmon clearly isn’t a Hall of Famer.
Scot Shields: When you have to go to a middle reliever with just 12.4 career WAR for your third guy, you know you’re in trouble. Shields was a wonderful pitcher from 2002-2008, pitching lots of games and lots of innings. But he’s Scot Shields. He’s a middle reliever. Is there really a lot more to say?
Gary Disarcina: I would rank Disarcina, Angel from 1989-2000, behind Fregosi, Erick Aybar, Dick Schofield, David Eckstein, and maybe even Dave Chalk among Angel shortstops. Yet, with 11.2 WAR and an OPS+ of just 66, Disarcina makes this list. He’s 14th all-time in Angel hits and 18th in runs. He stole 47 bases in his career and was caught 44 times. I suspect this is the last time I will write a word about him.
Kole Calhoun is close. If he’s back in the majors by the time you read this, he might supplant Disarcina.
Chuck Finley: The all-time Angel leader in WAR didn’t win enough games, only 200, to get the Hall consideration he deserves, but the guy was great at times with three seasons of 7+ WAR and another four at 4+. During the decade from 1989-1998, he trailed only Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, and David Cone in WAR. However, he also trailed Randy Johnson, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz in wins. If he pitched for the Braves rather than the Angels, I think he’d be in the Hall of Fame.
Nolan Ryan: I’m bypassing a guy with more Angel WAR, Jim Fregosi, and two of my favorites, Brian Downing and Bobby Grich, to give Ryan this honor. Somewhat to my surprise, Ryan each of his best four years with the Angels, though none of the next four were in California. Ryan’s signature strikeout seasons all came with the Halos, whiffing 300+ five times in six campaigns from 1972-1977
On deck next week is the Milwaukee Brewers.
For a team with two world titles in just a 25-year history, you’d think the Miami (nee Florida) Marlins would have a somewhat storied collection of heroes. Instead they merely have a collection of stories. Mostly with punch lines. Or a line of people you’d like to punch. For example, Wayne Huizenga, Jeff Loria, and Bud Selig.
On the field, however, the team has had one constant. No monument to great Fish would be complete without him. And I mean Billy the Marlin. He’s been there, grinding away since the very beginning. No symbolizes the Marlins like Billy. Well, that’s because he’s their only mascot, and mascots are symbols, but you get the point. Then there’s Mr. Marlin, Jeff Conine. Eight years he spent in (then) Marlin stripes. The Marlins have seven days of Mike Piazza’s career to trumpet. We could continue down this Merrie Melodies memory lane, but let’s cut to the chase.
The way we’re playing this game, we ask, what four players who spent their whole career with the team would have their faces on its monument. Now Billy is not a player so that DQs him. Well, and that his nose would probably be impossible to carve into the hillside. But anyway, I kind of feel like a sandcastle would be more like it, don’t you?
Giancarlo Stanton and his 34 WAR are the Marlins’ all time leader in value. He’s the first fishy to hit fifty roundtrippers too. Actually, only 20 Marlins have even hit 50 in a season while wearing the south florida togs. Stanton’s one of only two fellows to hit 150 with the team, and the only to reach 250. He currently has a 104 homer advantage over Dan Uggla, and is on such a heater right now that it might be a 150 homer lead by the end of September. OK, maybe not.
Our second face in the sand: Christian Yelich. He’s still just 25 years of age, but this former first round pick (#23, not a bad job of scouting) has already racked up 17 WAR and counting. Dude isn’t amazing at anything on the field, but he’s good at everything: 120 OPS+, good for a couple runs of baserunning and DP avoidance each year, a slick left fielder. He may be a tad stretched in centerfield this year, but his lower than average defensive value is exactly matched by the extra positional value he picks up in centerfield, so he’s doing a good job faking it.
In fact, the entire Marlins outfield is in play here. Marcel Ozuna is our third man with 13 WAR. The Marlins wisely flipped the two of them in the outfield. Ozuna, whose speed has diminished quickly as his body fills out, wasn’t a credible centerfielder any longer, but his big bat plays in left field, and he’s a major defensive asset there with +11 defensive runs through August.
Of course, this being the Marlins, and until Jeffrey Loria’s out the door for good, and maybe even then, we can’t really expect these three to remain in the school. The same sadly can’t be said for Marlin #4, Jose Fernandez. The dynamic young hurler’s early demise makes him a forever Marlin with his 14 WAR. It’s entirely possible that by the beginning of next season, or sometime during 2018, the Marlins will do their usual file-sale thing, leaving Fernandez as the most value Miami-only player. That would be sadly symbolic in too many ways.
Now, here’s the part where I get to tell you whose face I would include were I the sandcastelan. I’d start with Dontrelle Willis, whose smile and enjoyment of the game always made him a good watch. Interestingly, Willis was a great hitter (for a pitcher), and his 4.1 offensive WAR scores 28th among all Marlins hitters. You know your team is young and conducts a lot of fire sales when…. Next up Quilvio Veras. I don’t know why, I just always liked Q’s game. Walks, steals, switch hitter, fun! Shame he was always hurt. Gotta take A.J. Burnett. Dude had nipple rings and the best curve since Bly. Finally, el Pulpo! Antonio Alfonseca and his six-fingered hands. I don’t think the extra fingers did a lot for his pitches because they were diminutive and did not touch the ball. I’d love to know how a regular-sized sixth digit would effect a pitcher’s arsenal. More important, however, he and I share a birthday. Go team Aries!
The Kansas City Royals burst onto the scene, relatively speaking, in 1969 with a fourth place finish. Two years later they finished second before starting a mini-dynasty from 1976-1981, going to the playoffs five times in six tries. They won the World Series in 1985 and again in 2015. Of note to me and perhaps nobody else, their best eight single-season home run totals are by eight different guys: Steve Balboni, Gary Gaetti, John Mayberry, Dean Palmer, Danny Tartabull, Jermaine Dye, Bo Jackson, and Mike Moustakas.
Well, none of the guys mentioned above make it. Neither does Kevin Appier, who played for three teams before finishing his career back in Kansas City. Amos Otis was a great Royal, but he began with the Mets and ended with the Pirates. Willie Wilson is fourth in KC history in WAR, but he finished with the A’s and Cubs. Bret Saberhagen pitched for three other teams. Mark Gubicza stunk up the joint for the Angels twice.
Salvador Perez has around 18 career WAR, is already in the top-24 in Royal history, is just 27, and is signed for the next four years. I can see him getting into the top-10 before his contract ends. And if he does, he’d make the Royal Rushmore. As it is now, he’ll have to wait.
George Brett: Mr. Royal, if there ever were one, posted 88.4 WAR in his career. He’s the third or fourth greatest third baseman ever, hit .390 and won the AL MVP in 1980, and three times led the league in slugging despite never topping 30 homers. His rookie card is one of my favorite ever.
Frank White: The second baseman is seventh in WAR in Royal history at 34.7. His career overlapped quite a bit with that of Lou Whitaker, and he always reminded me of a poor man’s Whitaker. The truth is, they’re almost nothing alike. Aside from playing second base for only one team in the AL from the 70s to the 90s, the only real similarity is that they both began their runs in the majors without much home run power only to hit 20+ on multiple occasions after they matured.
Alex Gordon: Signed for two more years after this one, it looked like Gordon and his 32+ WAR could have passed Frank White.Of course, his bat quit a couple of years ago, and his glove is no longer enough to compensate. Also, there’s a real shot he ends his career elsewhere. Gordon was a huge prospect who struggled for four seasons before putting things together in 2011. He was at his best from 2011-2014, where the only position players he trailed in WAR were Trout, Cano, McCutchen, Miggy, and Beltre.
Dennis Leonard: Leonard, he of 26.3 WAR, was the starting pitcher in the first game I ever saw live, April 20, 1979, at Fenway Park. Dennis Eckersley is the first guy I ever saw pitch, George Brett is the first guy I ever saw bat, and Carl Yastrzemski is the first guy I ever saw homer. I don’t remember these things, but through the magic of BBREF, I can look it up. For half a decade from 1977-1981, he was tenth among pitchers in WAR. He also won 20 games three times, thanks in decent part to a fine offense behind him.
Kevin Appier: Despite the guy listed a bit below, I’m going to call him the best Royal pitcher ever. Here’s how he and Saberhagen look on the mound in their top Royal seasons by pitcher WAR. Though close early, I think it’s fairly decisive in Appier’s favor.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 ============================================= Appier 9.2 8.1 6.0 5.6 5.2 4.6 4.5 Saberhagen 9.7 8.0 7.3 5.1 3.8 3.6 2.0
Willie Wilson: I took him over Amos Otis because he has a ring, probably because I watched him play more, and because was he incredibly exciting. From 1979-1983 Wilson hit 15 home runs, 12 of them inside the park. Perhaps the greatest of those dozen was this one, where he led off the game against Mike Torrez, made it 1-0 in the bottom of the first, and Torrez and Royal Dennis Leonard put up goose eggs the rest of the way. Then again, I don’t think it can top this one from a couple of months earlier. The Yankees and Royals were tied at eight in the bottom of the 13th. Wilson led off the inning and hit a sprint-off homer.
Bret Saberhagen: He’s historically underappreciated despite two Cy Youngs. He was sometimes great and always good when healthy. I forgive his useful seasons in New York and put him here because of his dominant 1985 World Series where he gave up one run in two complete game victories to win his only ring.
Up next, it’s the Miami Marlins.
Bud Selig used to talk about “crown jewel” franchises. The Yankees, the Red Sox, the Cardinals, probably the Cubs and the Giants, maybe even the Braves. And, of course, the Dodgers. Teams with long histories, lots of championships, or at least lots of World Series appearances, and generally a lot of great teams. A dynasty or three probably. Oh, and very large franchise valuations. Can’t forget that.
As the Dodgers close in on yet another NL West crown and make a run at the Cubs and Mariners here in 2018, it’s an interesting moment to reflect. Under the names Atlantics, Grays, Grooms, Bridegrooms, Superbas, Robins, and Dodgers, and in Brookly and Los Angeles, the club has won 6 World Series, captured 22 NL flags, and appeared in the post-season 30 times. They’ve won 10,758 games and lost 9,667 (through Friday, August 19th, 2018) for a .527 winning percentage. They could go oh-for-the-season for six years and still not drop below .500. The Dodgers broke the color line. They made the move that opened the west coast up to MLB and sparked expansion. That’s a lot of stuff. And in a way, if we had to pick four Dodgers to represent the history of the organization, we might choose Jackie Robinson and three non-players: Branch Rickey, Walter Alston, and Walter O’Malley.
We would certainly not choose Frank McCourt or Fox, ownership types who played fast and loose with the Dodger brand, and in the latter case sullied it with the kind of rich, entitled, and amoral behavior we’ve come to know all too well in recent times.
But the franchise is once again built the Dodger Way by using outstanding scouting and development to assemble a core of homegrown talent (Clayton Kershaw, Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, and Kenley Jansen) second to none in the game. But while today’s Dodgers do defy the O’Mally regimes distaste for free agents, they are making good use of their money by picking up another Dodger tradition. Like Branch Rickey toolkit they’ve dived into analytics to find edges beyond scouting. Despite losing out in the October scrum umpteen years running, they may be the best run franchise in baseball at this moment. It’s a good time to be a Dodgers fan.
I find it difficult to imagine Dodger faces stuck up on a mountain in the Black Hills. Whether in Brooklyn or LA, this has always felt like a team of urbanites to me, whether of the working class type back east or the dazzling type in Cali. So let’s imagine instead that their faces appear on the hills behind the stage of the Hollywood Bowl or perhaps etched into the Echo Cliffs of Santa Monica. Or at least someplace fans could see them while stuck in traffic on the 5 or the 101.
Or maybe suspended from the Brooklyn Bridge because three of these guys spent most of their career winning pennants with Dem Bums.
Don Drysdale nearly all his work in LA. He was a durable horse while he lasted, but was done at 32. Nonetheless, he left behind 61 WAR as a pitcher plus another 6 as a hitter. His 1965 season is kinda famous among pitcher-hitting lovers for a .300/.331/.508 triple slash and a 140 OPS+. But the guy hit 29 homers in his career, so at least the 200 ISO in 1965 wasn’t exactly a stone-cold fluke. Combined, his 67.2 WAR just edge out this short-time teammate…
Pee Wee Reese didn’t get a great shake from the BBWAA. But then, they didn’t know much back in the 1960s and 1970s about the relative value of all the little things that Reese did well. Yeah, he only hit .269 (99 OPS+), but because that batting average was accompanied by 1210 walks and a .366 OBP, he ended his career 31 runs above the average NL batter. Reese then chipped in +43 runs of good baserunning and +117 defensively. A 99 OPS+ hitting shortstop with a gold glove? Heck if Ozzie Smith hit as well as Reese, he’d have been worth roughly another 15 wins and would have accumulated 90 WAR, about as much as Al Kaline or Wade Boggs. In the event, however, Reese had a brilliant career with three years in the middle stolen by Hitler that probably cost him 15 to 20 WAR. He ended up with 66.4 anyway.
P.W. Reese barely edges out Duke Snider, but alas, the Flatbush’s nobleman spent a couple seasons with the Giants and Mets. So our third face on the monument to Dodgerdom is Jackie Robinson, himself. I think it was Bill James who pointed out just what an interesting player Jackie was. Looking only from the baseball side, Robinson could do damn near anything on the diamond. He excelled at every position he played, especially second base, but also first base, third base, and left field. At the plate he racked up 261 runs above average in just ten seasons through a combination of a .300+ average, a .400+ OBP, and an isolated slugging percentage 13% above the league average. Robinson also ran the bases as well as anyone from his time (+30 runs in just ten years), and even had positive value for staying out of twinkillings as a batter. He was absolutely lethal in innings 7–9, hitting .344/.439/.523, all well above his career averages. Late and close: .341/.446/.545. For good measure, he even led the league in sacrifice hits twice. Robinson did not play catcher or centerfield, and he did not pitch in the big leagues. And he was a crummy pinch hitter in a mere 55 PA (.156/.264/.222). But he did everything else superbly despite having relatively little high-level baseball experience for a 26-year-old prior to breaking the color line. He played in 1945 with the famed Kansas City Monarchs, spent a year in the Dodger’s minor league chain, then debuted in 1947. That’s it. Remember, he was a football, track, and swimming star at UCLA. In fact, baseball was his fourth sport. So the next time someone talks about how amazing an athlete Bo Jackson was (and, yes, he certainly was), drop Jackie’s name into the discussion. Because it’s entirely possible that Jackie was a better athlete than Bo, who never had nearly the success on a baseball diamond that Jackie did.
Number four and climbing (just two WAR behind Jackie’s 60) is the best active pitcher on the planet, Clayton Kershaw. In fact, on April 3rd of this year, Kershaw became a Hall of Famer. You might not have realized it at the time. Very little was said. When he threw his first pitch that day in Chavez Ravine against San Diego, Kershaw became active in his tenth MLB season. That qualifies him for the Hall of Fame, and, barring a gambling or steroids scandal, there is no way that Clayton Kershaw will fail to get his plaque. Sure, his record as of today is just 141–62, a very low total of wins for a Hall starter. Sure he’s only tossed 1901 innings so far. Sure his post-season resume isn’t amazing. But the same folks who vote for the Hall have voted him the Cy Young Award winner three times, its runner up once, its third place finisher another time. They voted him the MVP as well. Kershaw has led the league in wins twice, in ERA a startling four times consecutively, shutouts twice, and strikeouts thrice. He struck out 301 batters in a mere 232.67 innings in 2105 at age 27. He’s led in ERA+ three times, WHIP four times, and his career K/BB rate is an amazing 4.16. He’s racked up 57.3 WAR, which turns out to be about 6.8 per the 227 innings he’ so far averaging per season so far in his career. A mortal lock for immortality. Everything else no is gravy.
Kershaw is the best pitcher in Los Angeles Dodgers’ history, which will go down with Koufax fans about as well as a handful of gravel, but take an actual objective look. Koufax’s legacy rests on six seasons, for only four of which he pitched a full workload. Kershaw has six seasons at a full, modern baseball workload. But he’s also got another four seasons of outstanding pitching (plus one average one at age 20). Koufax had no other outstanding seasons. Look at the leaderboards and awards. Kershaw already matches Sandy’s three Cy Youngs and MVP, and actually has more Cy Young support than Koufax (who matches up with more MVP support). Koufax led in strikeouts four times, Kershaw so far “only” three, while finishing second by one in a fourth year. Koufax led in complete games twice and shutouts three times. Kershaw has matched both of those. Kershaw has led his league twice in games started, Koufax did just once. While Koufax led his league five straight times in ERA, he finished first only twice in ERA+. Kershaw, as mentioned, led in ERA four times, and is currently leading the NL while on the DL. He’s also won out in ERA+ three times and is currently leading the NL there as well. (As of this writing, he’s about 20 innings short of qualifying for the league lead and is expected back to the rotation shortly.) To put this comparison in perspective, Clayton Kershaw’s career ERA is 2.34 and his career ERA+ is 162 in 1901 innings. Koufax’s were 2.76 and 131. Yes, it’s true that Kershaw benefits from modern shutdown bullpens. And the Dodgers’ relief corps in Kofuax’s salad years weren’t exactly bums. During his six-year stretch of dominance, his bullpen blew only 9 potential wins, but the team saved him from 21 losses (per BBREF’s Wlst and Lsv stats on Koufax’s Advanced Pitching Stats page for Sandy). Compare over the same period to teammate Don Drysdale. Then pen blew 14 of his games, and he was spared a loss in 25 contests. Johnny Podres was with the club from 1961–1965, and the team blew 11 wins and picked him up 22 times. By the way, Kershaw in his career has had 27 wins blown by his pen and 26 times been saved by his team from a loss.
So basically, looked at with some distance, Clayton Kershaw owns the best pitching record the Los Angeles version of the Dodgers have ever had. You can quibble around the edges if you want to, but his main competitors are Sandy Koufax, whose case we’ve discussed at great length and Don Drysdale whose case against Kershaw would rest on simply having more seasons in the uniform, but whose performance record simply can’t stand up against the Claw’s. But there’s also Dazzy Vance to consider from the Brooklyn iteration. Vance racked up a few more WAR in his 11 years at Ebbets Field. He dominated leaderboards like few others. Seven straight strikeout titles. Four times leading in pitching WAR. Three ERA titles, twice leading the league in victories for iffy teams. Four shutout titles. Three ERA plus titles. Plus an MVP award. Kershaw may well have already bested Vance, but it’s a lot closer than the other two, and I’ll wait until the chickens have fully hatched to make this call definitely for Kershaw.
If I were making my own little monument to the Dodgers, I’d have Kershaw up there for sure. And I’d have Jackie too. Dazzy Vance, totally. Then I’m caught between Jim Gilliam, the Tony Phillips of his day; Davey Lopes with his crazy-good baserunning; and Babe Herman who just had a lot of crazy about him. I guess I’ll take Lopes since he was the baserunning coach for my Phils during their run as the most amazing running team around in the late 2000s.
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.