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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Thursday, July 01, 2004
The Baseball Lifers
Joseph looks at the best of baseball’s one-team players, Part 1 of 2.
Several weeks ago, in the Lounge, there was a trivia question to which the answer was Bill James, the pitcher for the 1914 Miracle Braves, not the writer. In the ensuing discussion someone mentioned that James was probably the best player to ever spend his entire career with the Braves. In doing some research to see if that was indeed true, I decided to try and come up with the best lineup for each franchise, made up of players who spent their entire career with that one team.
I have limited the full lineups to the original eight franchises from both the American and National leagues. The expansion teams don?t have a long enough history to make creating a full lineup worthwhile; also, I have completely disregarded the last two rounds of expansion teams entirely as they have not been in existence long enough to have players with careers at this point. I have somewhat arbitrarily used a three year minimum to eliminate those players who came up, played for a few months and then disappeared. For position players I have used OPS+ as a ranking tool and I have used ERA+ for pitchers. These measures are adjusted for the different eras and are easily available. All of the numbers quoted are taken from Baseball-Reference.com.
Here are the National League lineups. For teams/franchises that have gone by several different names over the years, I will be referring to them by the current name in the interest of continuity. The same thing is true for teams that have relocated (i.e. Braves); all iterations (Boston/Milwaukee/Atlanta) will be treated as one team.
Dodgers - It is a toss-up between the Dodgers and the Giants as to who has the strongest lineup of ?exclusives? in the NL. The Dodgers had more of their careerists play together so they get the nod. There are quite a few good players who didn?t make the cut (Drysdale, Jim Gilliam, Carl Erskine, Wes Parker). Not much wonder why they were winning all of those pennants in the late forties, early fifties.
1B - Del Bissonette (5 yrs/119 OPS+) 2B - Jim Lefebvre (8 yrs/104 OPS+) SS - Pee Wee Reese (16 yrs/99 OPS+) I grew up watching Pee Wee on the Game of the Week 3B - Jackie Robinson (10 yrs/132 OPS+) C - Roy Campanella (10 yrs/124 OPS+) OF - Carl Furillo (15 yrs/113 OPS+) OF - Harry Lumley (7 yrs/133 OPS+) OF - Johnny Frederick (6 yrs/117 OPS+) I had never heard of either Lumley or Frederick but Lumley actually managed Brooklyn to 6th place in 1909. Frederick had an OPS+ above 100 every year he played (1929-34); I don?t know if he got hurt or what happened. P - Sandy Koufax (12 yrs/131 ERA+)
Cardinals - This has nothing do with the article but the Cards were my father’s favorite team and I grew up listening to Harry Caray do the St. Louis games on radio. For people who only remember him from the Cubs telecasts on WGN, well let’s just say by that time Harry had lost a little off of his fastball. When he was broadcasting the Cardinals he was truly on top of his game.
1B - Stan Musial (22 yrs/159 OPS+) 2B - Specs Torporcer (8 yrs/90 OPS+) Supposedly one of the first players to wear glasses SS - Whitey Kurowski (9 yrs/125 OPS+) Really a third baseman but did play a few games at short; a better player than many people realize; retired young due to a couple of arm injuries. 3B - Pepper Martin (13 yrs/113 OPS+) C - Bill Delancey (4 yrs/122 OPS+) Only played in 4 years over a 9 year period. The alternative would be Tom Pagnozzi who wasn’t much of a hitter (80 OPS+) OF - Ray Blades (10 yrs/124 OPS+) Only a regular for 3 years OF - Terry Moore (11 yrs/98 OPS+) OF - Austin McHenry (5 yrs/124 OPS+) Died at 26 of a brain tumor P - Bob Gibson (17 yrs/127 ERA+)Giants - The one team that comes close to matching the Dodgers position for position in the all-time list of exclusive team members. When I first started researching this I assumed that Christy Mathewson would be the pitcher for the Giants; however on September 4, 1916 Mathewson pitched the final game of his career as a member of the Cincinnati Reds. He ?scattered? 15 hits and pitched a 10-8 complete game victory over the Cubs, earning the last of his 373 victories. Mathewson had been traded to Cincinnati earlier that year so that he could manage the Reds. Maybe Cincinnati was caught short of pitchers or maybe Mathewson was just trying to lead by example; in any case that was his last appearance in an official major league game.
1B - Bill Terry (14 yrs/136 OPS+) 2B - Robby Thompson (11 yrs/105 OPS+) SS - Travis Jackson (15 yrs/102 OPS+) 3B - Jim Davenport (13 yrs/90 OPS+) C - Harry Danning (10 yrs/104 OPS+) OF - Mel Ott (22 yrs/155 OPS+) OF - Mike Tiernan (13 yrs/138 OPS+) 1887-89, There aren’t as many 19th century players on this list as I thought there might be OF - Ross Youngs (10 yrs/130 OPS+) Another player who died young P - Carl Hubbell (16 yrs/130 ERA+)Cubs - Alter you get past Banks and Hack, there isn?t much there. You would have to be a die-hard fan indeed to be familiar with all of these players.
1B - Ernie Banks (19 yrs/122 OPS+) 2B - Don Johnson (6 yrs/83 OPS+) Played in a World Series, which is more than a lot of these players can claim SS - Charlie Hollocher (7 yrs/110 OPS+) He played in one too 3B - Stan Hack (16 yrs/119 OPS+) For years a lot of people claimed that Pie Traynor was the best third baseman to have played in the NL before Mike Schmidt, Hack must have been invisible C - Elvin Tappe (6 yrs/41 OPS+) OF - Denver Grigsby (3 yrs/89 OPS+) OF - Bob Will (6 yrs/79 OPS+) OF - Bill Lange (7 yrs/124 OPS+) 1893-99 P - Carl Lundgren (8 yrs/112 ERA+) 1902-09Pirates - Nobody added to this list since Stargell retired in 1982; there isn’t anyone on the current roster who would be likely to make the list either, outside of Jason Kendall.
1B - Willie Stargell (21 yrs/147 OPS+) 2B - Bill Mazeroski (17 yrs/84 OPS+) Deserves (& gets) credit for his fielding SS - Gene Alley (11 yrs/88 OPS+) Honus Wagner began his career in Louisville 3B - Pie Traynor (17 yrs/107 OPS+) Traynor is a player whose numbers don?t look quite as lofty using OPS+. He had a career .320 BA but he played in an era when batting averages were high. Taken in context he is just above league average for his career. C - Jack Shepard (4 yrs/85 OPS+) The Bucs have gone through a lot of catchers OF - Roberto Clemente (18 yrs/130 OPS+) OF - Pooch Barnhart (9 yrs/100 OPS+) Only really a regular in 1925, apparently had good speed (61 triples in 3048 PA) OF - Carson Bigbee (11 yrs/96 OPS+) P - Sam Leever (13 yrs/123 ERA+) 194-100 W-L, in an era when hurlers pitched more often and recorded more decisionsPhillies - Mike Schmidt and not much else. The Phillies are one of those teams, that for most of their history, seemed to exist for the sole purpose of serving as opposition for the good teams in the league. They have turned it around now but it remains to be seen if any of the current group of Phillies remain in Philadelphia for their entire career.
1B - Pancho Herrera (3 yrs/110 OPS+) Lost his job to Roy Sievers and then disappeared 2B - Terry Harmon (10 yrs/69 OPS+) Never a regular but managed 10 years anyway SS - Heinie Sand (6yrs/77 OPS+) Your typical light-hitting SS; was the regular for 6 years and then was gone 3B - Mike Schmidt (18 yrs/147 OPS+) C - Bill Atwood (5 yrs/63 OPS+) OF - Ron Jones (4 yrs/128 OPS+) Never was a regular OF - Fred Osborn (3yrs/92 OPS+) Had one good year (1908) as a regular, then was terrible the next year and was never heard from again OF - Heinie Mueller (4 yrs/92 OPS+) Really an infielder but played some in the outfield P - Charlie Ferguson (4 yrs/121 ERA+) He went 99-64 over those 4 years (1884-87) and then his arm promptly fell off. The modern era hurler is Larry Christenson (11 yrs/98 ERA+). I learned a valuable lesson from Christenson’s record back in my SOM days; a pitcher can win a lot of games (19-6 in 1977) and still not be especially valuable (98 ERA+).Reds - The Reds are somewhat unusual in that three of their careerists played in the 19th century. Whether it was philosophical or financial, Cincinnati’s management was ill-prepared to deal with free agency when it arrived in the 1970’s [Blame Dick Wagner -DS]. This hastened the breakup of one of best teams of that era and helps to explain perhaps why more ‘Machinistas’ aren’t on this list.
1B - John Reilly (10 yrs/128 OPS+) I had never heard of him before researching this article. Was supposedly only 32 when he stopped hitting and was gone from the NL. You see this type of thing with numerous players from that era and have to wonder if 19th century birth records in the U.S. were as accurate as those currently presented from the Dominican. 2B - Bid McPhee (18 yrs/106 OPS+) Another 19th century star, one of the last fielders to play without using a glove, and no, I don?t know if he was an early proponent of the Moises Alou skin toughening regimen. SS - Dave Concepcion (19 yrs/88 OPS+) 3B - Ron Oester (13 yrs/87 OPS+) Mainly a second baseman but did play a little at third C - Johnny Bench (17 yrs/126 OPS+) Not much doubt about this one OF - Bug Holliday (10yrs/125 OPS+) Another 19th century player (1889-98) OF - Harry Craft (6 yrs/85 OPS+) Was the first manager of the Astros (Colt .45s) and did about as well as could be expected, with what he had to work with OF - Fred Odwell (4 yrs/97 OPS+) 1904-07, was a 31 year old rookie and didn?t last long P - Mario Soto (12 yrs/108 ERA+) 100 winsBraves - The peregrinating Braves are another team that has seemed to mostly exist to fill out the schedule and give the good teams someone to play. While they have had a good run of success lately, and had a few good years in Milwaukee as well; for most of their history the Braves have been bad. Like most bad teams they have shuffled through players on a frequent basis, sort of like me with my roto teams, trying to find somebody who can actually play the game.
1B - Tommie Aaron (7 yrs/75 OPS+) Unfortunately for him there wasn?t a very equitable distribution of baseball talent in his family 2B - Rod Gilbreath (7 yrs/75 OPS+) SS - Billy Urbanski (7 yrs/80 OPS+) He was born in Linoleumville, NY; that doesn’t have anything to do with his career, that is such a cool place name to write or say 3B - Sibby Sisti (13 yrs/79 OPS+) For someone who was basically a slow, singles hitter, he managed to hang on for a long time C - Biff Pocoroba (10 yrs/87 OPS+) Speaking of names that are just fun to say; Biff is his given name. Somehow the man was just destined for a career in sports, as opposed to being, say, a Supreme Court Justice. Ironically enough for a team with few enough long-term careerists Pocoroba could have a platoon mate, Bruce Benedict (12yrs/71 OPS+); their careers did basically overlap. OF - Butch Nieman (3 yrs/116 OPS+) The years were 1943-45 so I am guessing the real players came back from the war and he sank back into obscurity OF - Joe Connolly (4 yrs/138 OPS+) Had three really good years as a semi-regular, played less the fourth year and then was gone OF - Chet Ross (4 yrs/99 OPS+) Was the regular left fielder for a couple of years and then lost his job P - Bill James (4 yrs/126 ERA+) 26-7 in the 1914 pennant yearAstros - When you get into the expansion teams the pickings start to get pretty slim. The best players to spend their entire career in Houston are a pair of pitchers, J.R. Richard (10 yrs/108 ERA+/107-71) and Don Wilson (9 yrs/109 ERA+/104-92). Sadly, both men saw their careers cut short by tragedy; Richard via a stroke and Wilson taking his own life after the 1974 season. Position players who have spent time exclusively with Houston have been few and far between; probably the best is catcher Tony Eusebio (9 yrs/92 OPS+). After that there really isn?t much at all other than part-timers like OF Mark White (3yrs/84 OPS+) or IF Bert Pena (153 AB/46 OPS+). If Craig Biggio or Jeff Bagwell retires without changing teams, they would move to the top of this list in a big hurry.
Mets - Ed Kranepool (18 yrs/97 OPS+) and not too much else in the way of careerists. Ron (No Relation to Gil) Hodges managed to spread 1426 AB?s over a 12 year period, with an 88 OPS+, not too bad for a backup catcher. Bruce Boisclair put up a 94 OPS+ in 5 seasons of part-time play in the 1970?s. Twin’s manager Ron Gardenhire makes this list (5yrs/62 OPS+), as does Casey Stengel’s favorite Met, Rod Kanehl, who earned 843 PA in 1962-64 at a 60 OPS+ and never played in the majors again. Probably the best pitcher to hurl exclusively for the Mets is Bob Apodoca who recorded a 124 ERA+ in his five years of mostly bullpen duty in the mid-seventies.
Expos - Well, there’s Steve Rogers (13 yrs/116 ERA+), and then there is? After Rogers there’s a notable lack of Expo lifers. There is the legendary Coco Laboy (5 yrs/77 OPS+), original Expo, who was fairly decent his first year and declined steadily ever after. We can’t forget Anthony (Razor) Shines who somehow managed to get 81 major league at bats over a five year period despite putting up a 25 OPS+. To put that in perspective, Dodger right hander Don Drysdale had a 45 OPS+ in over 1300 plate appearances and I know that he is far from being the best hitting pitcher of all time.
Padres - I have never been to San Diego but everyone I know who has ever lived or visited there assures me that it is a fabulous place; beautiful beaches, wonderful climate, the whole nine yards. That must explain why Tony Gwynn (20 yrs/132 OPS+) never considered leaving the Padres. About the only other career Padre who played very much is Tim Flannery. He was never really a regular but managed an 11 year career at an 85 OPS+. Of course we can’t forget Doug “Eyechart” Gwosdz, fabled in song and story; he caught in 84 games over a four year period in the early 1980?s, putting up a 28 OPS+. The late Mike Darr put up a 93 OPS+ in the three years he played before getting killed in an automobile accident. Probably the best pitcher to spend his entire career as a Padre would be Mike Corkins; who lasted from 1969 through 1974 and recorded a 81 ERA+.
Yes, I know the Brewers are in the National League, but any lifetime accomplishments occurred while they were in the AL so they will be covered in that installment.
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