By Dan “Chas” McCloskey
If I can tear you away from that March Madness thing for just a few minutes–or more–I thought a little baseball discussion piece would be fun.
This one is inspired by an article written by Craig Calcaterra on Hardball Talk, but my idea takes on a slightly different twist. That is, I want to discuss who is the greatest living former player for each major league team.
This is an exercise where Wins Above Replacement (WAR) comes in handy, because I’m not interested in determining who is the greatest living player who happened to play–even for just a season or two–for each team. Instead, I want to measure greatness by what each player contributed to the team in question.
But, I’m mentioning WAR here only to say that I used it as a starting point. From there, I also considered what each player means to their former team. So, in some sense, I’m considering who we might consider “the face of the franchise.” Or, put another way, who would be the team’s perfect candidate to throw out the first pitch at their home opener.
So, let’s get started, by running through the teams alphabetically. Of course, I’m looking to hear what the rest of the pine has to say. Let me know if you have other ideas.
Arizona Diamondbacks – Gotta go with Randy Johnson, and his four consecutive Cy Young Awards, here.
Baltimore Orioles – Uh…yeah, Cal Ripken.
Boston Red Sox – Thank goodness Carl Yastrzemski is still living. Otherwise, I might have to listen to some of you nominate Jim Rice for this distinction. So, while I’m at it, here are my top five living former Red Sox:
1. Carl Yastrzemski
2. Roger Clemens
3. Wade Boggs
4. Dwight Evans
5. Pedro Martinez
Chicago Cubs – They don’t call Ernie Banks Mr. Cub for nothing.
Chicago White Sox – Frank Thomas is a pretty easy choice here. Oh, what the heck…how about another top five list:
1. Frank Thomas
2. Billy Pierce
3. Minnie Minoso
4. Wilbur Wood
5. Robin Ventura
Cincinnati Reds – Wow! This is a tough one. I’ll take Johnny Bench, but I think this team warrants another mini-list:
1. Johnny Bench
2. Pete Rose
3. Joe Morgan
4. Frank Robinson
5. Barry Larkin
Cleveland Indians – This is a tough one, now that Bob Feller has passed away. Since there’s no one that really fits the bill of “face of the franchise,” I’m going to go with Kenny Lofton, believe it or not.
Colorado Rockies – Larry Walker is the only player truly worth considering.
Detroit Tigers – Another easy one, Al Kaline.
Florida Marlins – Help me out here. The options are pathetic. I guess for face of the franchise, maybe I should go with Jeff Conine.
Houston Astros – Jeff Bagwell, suspicions and all.
Kansas City Royals – This one’s a no-brainer, George Brett.
Los Angeles Angels – Another tough one. If you like traditional stats, it’s either Garret Anderson, Tim Salmon, Chuck Finley or Nolan Ryan. WAR likes Jim Fregosi, but it also likes Finley and Ryan. So, I’ll take the Hall of Famer, Nolan Ryan.
Los Angeles Dodgers – With Duke Snider’s recent passing, I guess the torch gets passed to Sandy Koufax.
Milwaukee Brewers – I’m a bigger Paul Molitor fan, but the edge goes to Robin Yount for having played his entire career with the team.
Minnesota Twins – This one’s up for debate, but I’m going with Rod Carew over Harmon Killebrew.
New York Mets – Tom Seaver, without a question.
New York Yankees – Part of the reasoning for adding the word former to the title was to not have to decide between Derek Jeter and Yogi Berra. Among retired Yankees, Yogi is the easy choice, but I think these guys warrant a top five as well:
1. Yogi Berra
2. Whitey Ford
3. Willie Randolph
4. Bernie Williams
5. Ron Guidry/Andy Pettitte
Oakland Athletics – Rickey Henderson, hands down.
Philadelphia Phillies – Michael Jack Schmidt over Steve Carlton.
Pittsburgh Pirates – Since Casey pointed out my error, that Willie Stargell is no longer with us, I’m going to have to go with Barry Bonds.
San Diego Padres – I don’t think you could really make a case for anyone other than Tony Gwynn.
San Francisco Giants – Say Hey, Willie Mays, over his godson.
Seattle Mariners – I’m tempted to say Edgar Martinez, but I’ll go with the less controversial choice, Ken Griffey Jr.
St. Louis Cardinals – Stan “The Man” Musial over Bob Gibson.
Tampa Bay Rays – Another reason I used the former description was because I was expecting the focus to be on retired players. But, when it comes to this team, there’s really no choice other than Carl Crawford. Let me know if you’ve got a better idea.
Texas Rangers – All of a sudden, this exercise is more complicated than I realized. Among former players, I would definitely go with Ivan Rodriguez, but if being retired is a criterion, then I might have to pick Rafael Palmeiro. I wouldn’t invite him to throw out the first pitch at the home opener, though.
Toronto Blue Jays – I’m going to go with a player I consider to be very under-rated, Dave Stieb.
Washington Nationals – Of course, the Nationals’ history includes that of the Montreal Expos, so I’ll take Gary Carter over Tim Raines and Andre Dawson.