Posts Tagged ‘Jim Kaat’

50 Years On: the Team on the Rise

August 6, 2015
Al Worthington baseball card

Al Worthington baseball card

Between 1936 and 1964 the New York Yankees absolutely dominated the American League. They won every pennant but a handful. Detroit won two (1940 and 1945), Cleveland had two (1948 and 1954), St. Louis (1944), Boston (1946), and Chicago all got one (1959). All the others belonged to New York. That streak came to an end fifty years ago at the hands of a very unlikely franchise; a franchise that seldom won much of anything, the Washington Senators/ Minnesota Twins.

The 1965 Twins were new to Minnesota, having moved from Washington in 1961. They finished seventh in 1961, moved to second in 1962, dropped back to third the next season, then slid all the way to sixth in 1964. In 1965 they finally broke through, winning the AL pennant by seven games over the White Sox with the Yanks collapsing all the way to sixth, 25 games out of first. That was fifty years ago and that makes it as good a time as any to look at both teams.

The Twins went 102-60 in 1965. It was a pitching era dominated by great hurlers, especially in the National League. That being said, Minnesota won with their hitting. The team led the AL in runs, hits, doubles, and average. It came in second in triples, total bases, OBP, slugging and OPS. They were fourth in home runs and stolen bases. By contrast, the pitchers ranked in the middle of the pack in most stats. Their high was third in ERA (and in earned runs allowed) and the low was seventh in strikeouts. They did manage to finish second in saves, which was still a new stat and not viewed the same way we view it today.

The manager was Sam Mele. He was Minnesota’s first manager, taking up the reigns in 1961. He lasted through 50 games in 1967. His overall record was 524-436 and the Twins were his only managerial stint. After being fired, he ended up working for the Red Sox until his retirement.

The pitching staff was, as mentioned above, not the heart of the team, but it was sufficient to put a pennant on the flag pole in Minnesota. Four men started more than 12 games. Jim Kaat started 42 of them. He went 18-11 with an ERA of 2.83 (126 ERA+ and a BBREF WAR of 0.4). His WHIP was 1.248. He led the team with 154 strikeouts, but gave up more hits than he had innings pitched. He could also hit a little, racking up a home run, nine RBIs and a .247 average (an OPS+ of 63). The ace was another Jim, Jim “Mudcat” Grant. He was 21-7 with an ERA of 3.30 (ERA+ of 108 and a 2.7 WAR). Another Jim, this time Perry, started 19 games. He went 12-7 with a 2.63 ERA (136 ERA+ and 2.5 WAR). Veteran Camilo Pascual was 9-3 in 27 games, all starts, had an ERA of 3.35 (107 ERA+ and 0.7 WAR) and struck out 96. Dave Boswell was 20 and Jim Merritt was 21. Both started a few games and ended up with ERA+ numbers over 100.

The bullpen, which was set up differently in 1965 than today, was led by Al Worthington. He had 21 saves, a2.13 ERA, and a team leading ERA+ of 168. He got to the big leagues in 1953, didn’t do much as a starter, and by 1959 was in the bullpen. In 1965 he was 36 with three more good seasons still ahead of him (including an AL leading 18 saves in 1968).

Earl Battey did the bulk of the catching with Jerry Zimmerman as his primary backup. Battey was a decent catcher (his caught stealing rate was a league leading 48%) who hit reasonably well. In 1965 he hit .297, walked more than he struck out, had six home runs, and 60 RBIs. His 3.2 WAR was sixth on the team. Zimmerman hit .214.

The normal infield consisted of Don Mincher, Jerry Kindall, Zoilo Versalles, and Rich Rollins from first around the horn to third. Shortstop Versalles had a career year hitting .273 with a 115 OPS+ and 7.2 WAR. It got him the AL MVP award. He led off for Minnesota and stole 27 bases while being caught only five times. Hidden in an OBP of .319 are 122 strikeouts, about three for every walk he took. Mincher was a bopper who hit .251 with 22 home runs (fourth on the team). Both Kindall and Rollins were mediocre hitters, who by World Series time were spending a lot of time on the bench. Kindall hit all of .196 and was replaced by Frank Quilici, who at least hit .200 (actually .208). Rollins’ problem was simple; he had to make room for Harmon Killebrew. Killebrew was hurt during the year and Rollins replaced him. When “Killer” returned, Rollins was bench material. Killebrew was problematic at best at third. Never much of a fielder (to call the arm “scatter arm” is to do a grave injustice to “scatter armed” infielders everywhere), Killebrew played third like he should have been a first baseman (or an outfielder, or a designated hitter, or…), but the Twins needed the bat and Mincher was at first. Killebrew hit .269 with 25 home runs in 400 at bats. He had 75 RBIs and 72 walks (to go with 69 strikeouts) and put up an OPS+ of 145 to go with 4.3 WAR (third on the team). In other words, it was your normal Harmon Killebrew year.

The outfield was the domain of five men: Bobby Allison, Jimmie Hall, Tony Oliva, Joe Nossek, and Sandy Valdespino. Both Allison and Hall had power. Each hit at least 20 home runs (23 for Allison, 20 for Hall) while Valdespino was a superior fielder. The star was Oliva. He hit a league leading .321 to win his second consecutive batting title. His 185 hits also led the AL. He had 16 home runs and 98 RBIs to go 107 runs scored and 283 total bases. His OPS+ was 141 and his WAR 5.4. Other than the players listed above, no player appeared in more than 25 games.

The Twins made a run at the World Series title, ultimately losing in seven games to the Los Angeles Dodgers. In both 1966 and 1967 they finished second, then slid to seventh in 1968. They rebounded in 1969 to win the first ever American League West title. They would lose a playoff to Baltimore three games to none. They would repeat in 1970, again losing the playoff to Baltimore, then fall back to third and ultimately fail to make another playoff until the 1985 season when they finally won a World Series, the first since the team was in Washington all the way back in 1924.

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2015 Veteran’s Ballot: the Pitchers

November 10, 2014

And now the final installment of my take on the 2015 Veteran’s Ballot. Today I look at the pitchers. As with the other two posts, the disclaimer about me seeing all of them play is still in effect.

Jim Kaat

Jim Kaat

Jim Kaat arrived in the Major Leagues in 1959 as a left-handed pitcher with the Washington Senators. He moved with them to Minnesota and became their lefty ace. He made the All Star team twice, won 20 games once with the Twins (a league leading 25 in 1964) and was a member of the 1965 pennant winning team. He went to Chicago (the White Sox) in mid-1973, stayed through 1975 (and made the All Star team that season), then went to Philadelphia where he helped the Phillies to a couple of division titles. In 1979 he moved to the bullpen becoming a relief specialist. He won a World Series with the Cardinals in 1982 becoming in the process the oldest pitcher to appear in a World Series game (I’m not sure if that’s still true). He retired in 1983 at age 44 and as the last active Washington Senators player. He went into broadcasting and has done both the World Series and the College World Series. For his career he was 283-237 (.544%) with 2461 strikeouts (1.259 WHIP) and an ERA of 3.45 (ERA+ of 108). His Baseball Reference.com WAR is 45.3 with a peak of 7.8 in 1975. Part of his problem with receiving Hall of Fame consideration is that his most famous game is the seventh game of the 1965 World Series. He lost it 2-0 to Sandy Koufax. It’s tough to be considered great when your most famous game is one you lost.

Billy Pierce

Billy Pierce

Billy Pierce was an 18-year-old phenom when he arrived in Detroit in 1945. He got into five games, then went back to the minors for 1946 and 1947. He was back in Detroit for 1948 and remained in the big leagues through 1964. He stayed with Detroit through ’48, then was sent to Chicago (the White Sox not the Cubs) in 1949. There he became a seven time All Star, winning 20 games twice. He led the AL in wins, strikeouts, ERA, and losses once each. In 1959 the ChiSox made the World Series for the first time since 1919. He pitched in three games, all in relief, without giving up a run (Detroit had also made the Series in 1945, but Pierce did not pitch). The Sox lost in six games. In 1962 he was traded to the Giants where he promptly won 16 games and helped lead the team to its first ever West Coast World Series (and the team’s first since 1954). He lost one game (3) and then won game six against Whitey Ford to set up the final game, which San Francisco lost. He pitched two more years then retired. For his career he was 211-169 (.555%) with 1999 strikeouts (couldn’t you gotten just one more, Billy?), and an ERA of 3.27 (ERA+ of 119). His WAR is 53.1 with a peak of 7.1 in 1952 (a year he did not make the All Star team). He was considered an innings eater (averaging 225 with Chicago) who could occasionally come out of the bullpen (he has 32 saves, 12 in years where he did his major work out of the bullpen).

Luis Tiant

Luis Tiant

Luis Tiant is the son of a major Cuban pitcher of the 1940s. Tiant, Sr. joined Minnie Minoso as one of the stars of the 1947 New York Cubans Negro World Series champions. So the son was destined to be a pitcher. He hit Cleveland in 1964 and had his breakout year in 1968 when he led the American League in ERA. Then his career tanked for three years. He led the AL in losses and in walks with 129 (the only time he had more than 82 walks). He wandered through Minnesota to Boston, where things turned around in 1972 when he picked up his second ERA title. He won 20 games three times in Boston (once in Cleveland), made the All Star team in 1974 and 1976 (and in 1968), led Boston to its first AL pennant since 1967, and picked up two wins in the 1975 World Series.  He started to slide in 1978 and was finished in 1982 at age 41. For his career he was 229-172 (571%) with 2416 strikeouts, an ERA of 3.30, and an ERA+ of 114. His WAR is 66.1 with a peak of 8.4 in 1968. Today he is probably most famous for his unorthodox delivery which saw him turn his back to home plate as he wound up and for the 1975 performance. Unfortunately, he’s also got that three year gap that is difficult to explain. He apparently got hurt, but taking three years to recover certainly harms his Hall chances. Although this should not effect his Hall chances one way or the other, during the off season Tiant played in the Venezuelan League throwing a no hitter and pitching well enough to make the Venezuelan Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009.

So, my take. By this point I’ve got one vote left (remember the Vet’s Committee people get 5 votes each). Frankly, I’m not certain any of these deserve Hall of Fame induction. If someone put a gun to my head and told me I had to vote for one, I guess I’d take whichever one the guy with the gun insisted upon, but wouldn’t be overly happy about it.

Shutting ’em Out in Game 7: Apex

October 3, 2014
Zoilo Versalles

Zoilo Versalles

 

The 1965 Minnesota Twins were on the verge of winning the first World Series in Minnesota history. The team, which just a few years ago were the Washington Senators, had never taken an American League pennant since moving to Minneapolis. The last time the team tasted postseason was 1933, when they’d lost to the Giants. The only time they’d ever won it all was 1924. So for the team this was new territory. They were home to play game seven against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Standing in their way was Sandy Koufax.

The Twins lineup for 14 October had Don Mincher at first, Frank Quilici at second, MVP Zoilo Versalles at short, and Hall of Fame third baseman Harmon Killebrew. The outfield was Cuban refugee Tony Oliva in right, Joe Nossek in center, and Bobby Allison in left. Earl Battey was catching 18 game winner Jim Kaat. Al Worthington and Jim Perry (Gaylord’s brother) were available in the bullpen. Killebrew, Mincher, and Allison all contributed 20 or more homers to the team with Versalles slugging 19. Oliva was two-time batting champion and led the AL in hits. Despite a couple of exceptions (Quilici and Nossek both hit less than .220) it was a reasonably formidable lineup.

And it had to face the most formidable pitcher in 1965 baseball. Koufax was 26-8 with a National League leading ERA, eight shutouts, and a record-setting 382 strikeouts. He was also coming off a perfect game in September. Unfortunately for the Dodgers he was also pitching on two day’s rest, rather than his normal rest. He had around him a team that was dead last in the NL in home runs. They were also in the bottom half of the league in average, slugging, OBP, OPS, doubles, triples, and hits. They did lead the NL in stolen bases and didn’t strike out a lot. The lineup for game seven saw Wes Parker at first, Dick Tracewski at second, Maury Wills at short, with utility man Jim Gilliam at third. If you’ve been following this series of posts, you’ll remember Gilliam was critical in game seven of 1955. The outfield was Lou Johnson, Willie Davis, and Ron Fairly from left around to right, and John Roseboro did the catching.

The Dodgers put a man on in the first, but failed to score. In the bottom of the first, Koufax got out of the inning by striking out two after having walked two. In the second he struck out two more, then gave up his first hit in the third, a single to Versalles. Then he struck out two more to end any threat. In the top of the fourth, Lou Johnson led off with a home run. Fairly followed with a double, then came home on a Parker single. That took Kaat out of the game and brought in Worthington who got out of the inning without further damage.

The score was still 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth, when Quilici doubled (Koufax’s second hit allowed), and pinch hitter Rich Rollins walked.  A pair of grounders got him out of it. The Dodgers had a couple more scoring chances but failed to touch home. Koufax pitched well into the bottom of the ninth. Oliva led off the inning with a groundout, then Killebrew singled. Koufax proceeded to strike out both Battey and Allison to end the game and the Series. On two days rest, Koufax had pitched a three hit shutout with 10 strikeouts. He’d also allowed three walks, but only one after the first inning. He was named World Series MVP (for the second time–1963).

For both teams the 1965 World Series was an apex. The Twins managed to win a couple of more division titles after divisional play began in 1969 but didn’t get back to the World Series until 1987. They won that one and the one in 1991. In both cases they won all four home games and lost all three road games. For their history the Twins are 0-9 on the road and 11-1 at home. Game seven of 1965 is the only home loss by a Twins World Series team.

For the Dodgers it was also an ending. They won a pennant in 1966, but lost the Series to Baltimore. They won a couple of more pennants later, but didn’t notch another World Series championship until 1981. They’ve won once since (1988).

It was also the apex for Koufax. Over the years the 1965 Series has become his defining moment, and game seven his defining game. Other games, like his perfecto or his 15 strikeouts in game one of the 1963 World Series, are somewhat well-known, but it is the seventh game of 1965, along with his Yom Kippur stand (also in the 1965 World Series) that have become his trademark moments. He had one more great year in 1966 then retired. He made the Hall of Fame on his first try.

 

 

The International Man of Mystery

March 25, 2014
Jack Quinn while with Brooklyn

Jack Quinn while with Brooklyn

Some really good players have short, intense careers. Others have long careers that were never sterling. Then there’s Jack Quinn, who had a long career with sterling moments and a lot of questions about his initial years.

Jack Quinn was born somewhere under some name and that’s about all historians can agree upon. A number of sites have him born in Stevfurov, Austria (now Slovakia). Others have him born in Jeanesville, Pennsylvania or Mahoney City, Pa. Another bunch show his birthplace as Wilkes Barre, Pa. Still others pick St. Clair, Pennsylvania. The year varies between 1883 and 1885. Finally, there’s the question of his name. He shows up as Jan Pajkos, as John Quinn Picas, and as John Picas Quinn. His Wikipedia page picks the Slovakia site and 1883 as does Baseball Reference.com. His SABR biography accepts Slovakia and 1883 but chances his birthdate from 1 July to 5 July. It also indicates that the first four editions of Baseball Encyclopedia give four difference places and four different dates. So I’ll start by saying I have no idea when or where he was born, but 1883 in Slovakia seems to be the building consensus, so it works for me. For what it’s worth, he was elected, in 2006, to the Polish-American Hall of Fame, which might do a job on “Quinn” as his original last name, but who knows.

Where ever he was born and when ever, he came out of the Pennsylvania coal country a pitcher on local semi-pro teams. By 1907 he was in the minors as a spit-balling pitcher with good control, an excellent spitter, and a good enough fastball to pick up interest among the big league scouts. In 1909 he made his debut with the New York Highlanders (now the Yankees), winning the game and going 9-5 for the season. The next year he was 18-12, then fell off for the 1911 and 1912 seasons. He spent 1913 with the Braves then went to the Federal League for both 1914 and 1915. With the Baltimore Terrapins he went 26-14 and then 9-22, the 22 leading the Feds in losses for 1915.

With the folding of the Federal League, Quinn went back to the minors for 1916 and 1917. In 1918 he went back to the Majors, settling in with the White Sox where he went 5-1 over six games. But there was a question as to who retained his rights. New York claimed that although Quinn pitched for the Federal League, his American League rights were retained by his last “real Major League” team, them. League President Ban Johnson agreed and Quinn went back to the Yankees for 1919. He remained there though 1921. He did well in 1919 and 1920, but by 1922 he was 37 (more or less) and spent much of that season in the bullpen. He got into the 1921 World Series, taking the loss in relief in-game three. After the Series he was traded to the Red Sox for a couple of younger arms.

He stayed with Boston into 1925, serving about equal time as a starter and a reliever. He went 45-54 with 14 saves. Midway through the season he was sold to the Athletics for the waiver price and remained in Philadelphia through 1930. He was now 41 (give or take). He had good years with the A’s going 18-7 in 1928 at age 45 (again more or less). In 1929 he got into his second World Series, starting game four. He was 46 (we think), the oldest man to start a World Series game. He was shelled, but the A’s won when the team  scored 10 runs in the seventh inning to pull out a 10-8 victory. He spent 1930 mostly as a reliever and  pitched only two innings in Philly’s World Series victory. Now at 47 (I guess)  he became the oldest man to ever relieve in a World Series game. For what it’s worth, Jim Kaat was 43 when he relieved in the 1982 World Series. Some believe that, because Quinn’s age is in dispute, he (Kaat) is the oldest man to pitch in a World Series.

Released at the end of the Series, Quinn caught on with the Dodgers in 1931. He stayed two years working almost entirely as a reliever (he started one game). He led the National League in saves in both 1931 and 1932 (as the save statistic wasn’t invented until much later, he never knew that). His 1931 total of 15 was an NL record that lasted until 1948. He was released after the 1932 season and signed with Cincinnati. He got into 14 games then was let go. He was 49 (give or take) and through. At his retirement, he had 57 saves, second to Firpo Marberry. He pitched a little in the minors as late as 1935. He was (depending on who you believe) 51. He died in April 1946.

Over a career lasting 23 years (at least we agree on the number of years he pitched) Quinn went 247-218 (a .531 winning percentage), struck out 1329, walked 860, gave up 4238 hits and 1837 runs in 3920 innings pitched. His ERA is an unexceptional 3.29, but his ERA+ is 114. In World Series play he is 0-1 with an 8.44 ERA. As a hitter, his average is all of a buck-84, but he did have eight home runs and 113 RBIs. His Baseball Reference.com version of pitching WAR is 59.

Quinn is one of the more unusual players ever. Not only did he pitch for 23 years, a major feat in itself, he was never a particularly great pitcher. In an era when wins were the most important statistic, he had 20 once (26 in 1914) and that in a marginal upstart league. He had 18 wins twice (eight years apart) and eight years with a losing record (although one of those years he went 0-1). Does that sound like a man who would have a 23 year career? He was, however, a pretty fair reliever (just over half his games pitched are relief appearances), but that wasn’t the same as it is today in the age of the “closer”. Is he someone the Hall of Fame has overlooked? Not in my opinion, but I supposed someone could make a case for him.

 

Congratulations Ron Santo

December 5, 2011

Just saw the the Hall of Fame Veteran’s Committee has elected Ron Santo to the Hall. He becomes the 47th person to play for the Cubs to enter the Hall and the fourth member of the 1969 second place Chicago team to make it (Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins, Billy Williams are the others). Congratulations to Santo. I only wish the voters had brought him on board while he still lived. This is the first time since his death that he appeared on the ballot. Damned shame.

For your information, Jim Kaat finished second.

Thoughts on the Upcoming Veteran’s Committee Vote, III

November 9, 2011

1954 Allie Reynolds baseball card

Previously I’ve given my thoughts on the everyday players who are listed on this year’s Veteran’s Committee ballot for the Hall of Fame. Now it’s time to look at the pitchers. There are three on the Ballot: Jim Kaat, Allie Reynolds, and Luis Tiant. As with the everyday players, each pitcher has significant issues that have kept him from the Hall.

With 283 wins, Kaat has the most of this year’s trio. In fact of players not in the Hall of Fame and eligible Kaat has the fourth most wins. He’s behind Tommy John and two 19th Century pitchers Bobby Matthews and Tony Mullane (and Matthews pitched for far back he never stood on a mound). Kaat also has three 20 wins seasons (only one of which led the American League). But that’s the only time he led his league in any major category. He was only occasionally his team’s ace and by this point is probably most famous as the losing pitcher in the seventh game of the 1965 World Series, losing to Sandy Koufax who threw a shutout on two day’s rest (that happens). Further, Kaat pitched much of the end of his career in relief, becoming, in 1982, the oldest man to ever play in a World Series game (I’m not sure if that’s still true). And it’s this longevity that is much of Kaat’s problem. His numbers look pretty good, but they are longevity numbers and many Hall of Fame voters like gaudy peak numbers that Kaat just doesn’t have.

Luis Tiant was always a personal favorite of mine. As mentioned in the paragraph on Minnie Minoso, Tiant’s dad pitched in the 1947 Negro League World Series, so his son had quite a pedigree. For his career the younger Tiant had 229 wins, putting up 20 or more four times. He never led the AL in wins, but did lead in losses in 1969. He picked up ERA and shutout titles in 1968 (the year before leading the AL in losses). He got to a World Series with Boston in 1975 and won two games for a losing team. In many ways his problem is that he has too much of an up-and-down career. He wins 20, follows it with losing 20. He  has the big drop off at the end of his career that a lot of people have, but in the middle there are three seasons with less than 10 wins.

Allie Reynolds played back in the 1940s and 1950s, first for Cleveland, then for Casey Stengel’s Yankees. He was, according to a Stengel biography, Casey’s favorite pitcher because he could both start and relieve. Reynolds put up 182 wins with a .620 winning percentage. He won 20 games once, led the AL in ERA and walks once, led in strikeouts and shutouts twice, and went 7-2 with four saves in the World Series. Reynolds has three problems among Hall of Fame voters. One is the paucity of wins for a team that went to the World Series year after year while he pitched. Secondly, in many ways his replacement was better; a guy named Whitey Ford. You can of course argue that Ford replaced any one of the three early 1950s stalwarts of the Yankees staff (Reynolds, Eddie Lopat, and Vic Raschi), but Ford was better than any of them and I think that hurts Reynolds Hall of Fame chances. Finally, the 1950s Yankees teams are the teams of Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Yogi Berra, not the pitchers (with the exception of Ford). It’s not a team remembered because of Reynolds, and that, too, hurts his chances.

There’s the list, three solid pitchers with good numbers and flaws. Would I vote for any or all of them? Not this time I wouldn’t. We’re left now with the two executives (neither of which has an old ball card to feature at the top of the article). I’ll take a look at them with a few comments next time.

2011 Veteran’s Committee Ballot

November 3, 2011

Just saw the Veteran’s Committee Ballot for the upcoming Hall of Fame vote. Here’s the list alphabetically: Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Allie Reynolds, Ron Santo, and Luis Tiant. There are also two executives listed: Buzzy Bavasi and Charley Finley. Anyone with 75% of the 16 voters (12) gets in. The blurb specifies that three recently retired managers: Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, and Joe Torre will be on the 2013 Veteran’s ballot, not this year’s ballot. Voting will be 5 December. Will weigh in on who I’d vote for in a few days (probably Monday or later) after I’ve thought it over. Just wanted to get the list out to anyone who reads this.

A Franchise Best

May 20, 2011

Griffith Stadium, home of the Washington Senators (and the Homestead Grays)

The loss of Harmon Killebrew and SportsPhD’s comment about Killebrew being the greatest Twins player got me to thinking. In some ways SportsPhd is right, but if you look franchise-wise (in other words all the way back to 1901) the answer has to be Walter Johnson. So that brings up the question of an All-Twins/Senators team. The slash is there to remind everyone that for much of their history, the Twins were in Washington. So I decided to figure one out for myself and share it with a breathlessly waiting world. Now I’m no Twins expert so I’m willing to admit that this list is probably flawed. It fact, it may be greatly flawed. It was also put together quickly with only a couple days reasearch. So you might want to take it with the proverbial grain of salt. But, it’s my best shot on short notice.

Now the caveats. This is a little easier because I decided to look for only a starting lineup plus a rotation and a manager. If you try to put together a 25 man roster you notice just how weak the Twins/Senators have been at certain positions (like thrid base). That’s actually fairly common. Try it with your own favorite team and see how quickly you start asking yourself “Do I really want to put this guy on the team?” Because the Senators were formed in 1901 there is no need to discount 19th Century players. Also, you’ll notice that the Twins have more players making this team in a shorter period than the Senators. Frankly, the Twins have been better than the Senators, so I’m not concerned with the percentages here. Feel free to come up with your own players and disagree with my selections.

Infield: Almost from the beginning, first base was the biggest hurdle for me. There have been a lot of good Twins/Senators first basemen: Joe Judge, Mickey Vernon, Kent Hrbek, Justin Morneau. None of them are really at the very top of any chart concerning great first basemen. OK, that means none of them are Lou Gehrig, but none of them are particularly close either. Ultimately I went with Hrbek because he was a solid first baseman, his 3-2-3 double play in game 7 of 1991 was one of the greatest plays by a first baseman I ever saw (and the Ron Gant body slam was a play for the ages) and he could hit well. I’m fairly sure that Morneau is probably (“fairly sure” “probably”, how’s that for certitude?) better, but until he can stay healthy and put in enough years I have to go with Hrbek. Second, short, and third are all fairly easy with Rod Carew, Joe Cronin, and Gary Gaetti being obvious picks.

Outfield: I was able to pick a left, center, and right fielder without having to double up on right fielders and drop a left fielder or some such thing. Kirby Puckett in Center Field is an obvious choice and for me Tony Oliva gets right field over Sam Rice. Yeah, Rice has a longer career, but Oliva’s is better, but over a shorter period of time. Old time Senator Goose Goslin get left field for this team. Did you know that Goslin is the only player to appear in every Washington Senators World Series game?

Catcher/DH: You know this is going to be Joe Mauer don’t you? If you think I need to justify that, you haven’t been paying attention to the American League. DH is where I put Killebrew. He wasn’t much of a fielder, but was best at first. I thought long  and hard about him there and if I was certain I was leaving out a great player, I’d move Killebrew to first. 

Starters: Of course this list begins with Walter Johnson, but you guessed that already, right? It’s amazing how far the drop from the team’s best pitcher to its number two is when Johnson is your number one. The rest of the list is good enough, but somehow just completely pales when compared. It’s also a little strange to see such an uneven list when you try to find five starters. I went with (alphabetically) Bert Blyleven, Jim Kaat, Camilo Pasqual, Johan Santana. I have some reservations about both Pasqual and Santana. Pasqual’s numbers don’t look all that great if you just stare it them, but if you recall how awful some of his teams were, he gets better quick. And Santana just wasn’t there very long, but when he was  he was great.

Relievers: If the quality of starters is uneven, Twins/Senators relievers are amazingly good. There’s a long tradition of quality relievers going all the way back to Clark Griffith and the early years of the franchise. I took Firpo Marberry because he was one of the first truly great relievers and went with Rick Aguilera as the other one. I sort of miss putting in Jeff Reardon or Joe Nathan, but I like the other two better.

Manager: Tom Kelley was easy for me. Bucky Harris won in 1924, lost in 1925. Cronin was in charge in the 1933 loss, and Ron Gardenhire hasn’t won yet. So Kelley’s two wins are double anyone else in franchise history.

As a rule I’m not a big fan of these kinds of lists; there are just too many variables for me, or anyone else, to consider all of them. You inevitably leave off someone you shouldn’t and look like a total fool (trust me, Idon’t need a lot of help with that anyway). They are, however, kind of  fun.  So remember that when you look this over and go “What was he thinking?”  or rather “Was he thinking?”

One-Trick Pony

December 23, 2010

In keeping with the animal theme that seems to be have started around here, I want to write about one-trick ponies. A one-trick pony is a circus horse that can only do one thing. He can do it really well, but doesn’t do anything else well. He still gets to be in the show doing that one trick. Baseball and its Hall of Fame are full of this kind of player.

In one sense all pitchers are essentially one-trick ponies. Their job is to pitch (and do that job only every second, third, fourth, or fifth day depending on the era). A closer is even more so, because his job is to pitch to one (and sometimes two) innings worth of hitters. Some of them, like Babe Ruth or Walter Johnson can hit some. No body cares. They are there to pitch and if they hit some, well, that’s great icing on the cake. Some of them, like Jim Kaat or Greg Maddux, field well. No body cares. They are there to pitch and if they field some, well, that’s great icing on the cake. Some, like Lefty Gomez, don’t do either well. No body cares. If they don’t field or hit well no body pulls them from the starting lineup because they can’t field a bunt or hit a curve. Can you imagine the following conversation? “Sorry, Lefty, you won’t start today because you can’t field a bunt.” Neither can I.  And almost by definition American League pitchers of the last 40 years can’t hit because of the designated hitter rule.

There are also guys who have great gloves and no sticks. Bill Mazeroski (who was an OK hitter, but nothing special), Rabbit Maranville, Nellie Fox (who had the one great year with a bat), and Bobby Wallace come instantly to mind. It seems that baseball always finds a way to get them into the lineup. I exclude catchers who don’t hit well, because most of them do a number of things well (like throw, block the plate, move to fouls, control the tempo of the game, etc.).

And then there are the sluggers who seem to always find a batting order spot. I mean guys like Harmon Killebrew, Ralph Kiner, Ted Williams, and Orlando Cepeda. All of them hit, and all of them were less than sterling in the field (and I’m being generous here).  Despite the greatness of Williams and the others, they are simply another bunch of one-dimensional players.

All of which brings me to Edgar Martinez, an excellent example of a one-trick pony. What he did was hit and hit well. His knees gave out and he couldn’t field, but he could still hit.

You know what Killebrew, Kiner, Williams,  Cepeda, Mazeroski, Maranville, Fox, Wallace, and Gomez have in common besides being one-trick ponies? They’re also Hall of Famers (and Maddux will be). This is not a plea to put Martinez in the Hall, although I would vote for him, but to acknowledge that the reason many people say he shouldn’t be in (“All he could do was hit.”) is an invalid reason for excluding a man from the Hall. There are already a lot of guys in the Hall who could only do one thing, so excluding Martinez because he could only do one thing is silly. Maybe he should be excluded. Maybe his numbers aren’t good enough. Maybe he doesn’t have the proper leadership skills or the proper moral character and thus should be excluded. Fine by me, exclude him. Just make sure you do it for the right reasons.