Greatest Living Former {insert team’s name here}

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.

Atlanta Braves – There’s some serious competition, but it’s pretty hard to argue with Hank Aaron.

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.

13 Responses to "Greatest Living Former {insert team’s name here}"

  1. Casey   March 20, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    Didn’t Willie Stargell pass?

  2. Smitty   March 20, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    Since you are interrupting March Madness – I’ll play along.. But I am interrupting opening day with the Masters. πŸ™‚

    For Boston – does Johnny Pesky get any consideration? Not so much for what he did on the field, but what he has done off the field for the organization?? Not saying he is the greatest, but should be in the conversation.

    Here are my thoughts for a couple of others:

    Cleveland – I had Jim Thome typed in until I saw retired is part of the criteria.

    Toronto – Could John Olerud be in the conversation?

    Los Angeles Dodgers – Yeah Sandy Koufax, but isn’t Orel Hershiser right there?

    Houston Astros – Craig Biggio??

    I think Tampa should be exempt from this exercise.. πŸ™‚

  3. wally   March 20, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    Cubs – Would Ryne Sandberg challenge Banks? Billy Williams?

    White Sox – isn’t Dick Allen in there somewhere or did I forget he’s 6 ft under?

  4. Chas   March 20, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    Casey is correct. I forgot that Willie Stargell’s no longer alive. I’ll go with Barry Bonds instead.

    Smitty –

    There are still a lot of living former Red Sox who are way better than Johnny Pesky. Do you think I care what he did for the organization? πŸ˜‰

    For Cleveland, it was either Lofton or Thome, so because I’d prefer that the players be retired, I went with Lofton, but Thome would be a good choice too.

    Wally –

    Dick Allen only played three years with the White Sox.

  5. wally   March 20, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    Good point. Geez he sure was great those 3 years, but oK.

  6. Chas   March 20, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    Craig Biggio would be #2 to Bagwell on my Astros list.

    For the Dodgers, I’d take Don Sutton second, probably Hershiser third.

    Chicago Cubs:
    1. Ernie Banks
    2. Ryne Sandberg
    3. Fergie Jenkins
    4. Billy Williams
    5. Sammy Sosa
    6. Rick Reuschel

    Went to six because I wanted to throw Reuschel on there.

  7. Smitty   March 20, 2011 at 9:46 pm

    What team would Greg Maddux fall under?? Cubs? Braves?

  8. Chas   March 21, 2011 at 8:34 am

    Smitty –

    Unlike the Mt. Otsego series, where we took each player and considered his entire career at the position where he played the most, for this I only looked at the portion of the player’s career with the team in question. So, for instance, if I was doing top 5 lists for every team, Barry Bonds would be #1 for the Pirates (since Willie Stargell died almost a decade ago, and apparently I didn’t know, or forgot, that) and #2 for the Giants (thank God for Willie Mays).

    Maddux would be considered for both teams as well. He played 10 seasons with the Cubs and 11 with the Braves, but he really only had five good seasons with the Cubs. Two were early in his career, before he became a star, and three were late, when he was solid, but not spectacular. If the Cubs list didn’t include four Hall of Famers who played most, if not all, of their careers with the team (and a fifth player who was HOF-caliber), Maddux may have cracked that list.

    He is, however, #3 on my Braves list:

    1. Hank Aaron
    2. Phil Niekro
    3. Greg Maddux
    4. John Smoltz
    5. Tom Glavine

    Before you question why Niekro is ahead of Maddux, he did play twice as long with the Braves. But, I suppose that ranking would be debatable.

  9. Dan   March 23, 2011 at 8:10 am

    How about Joe Carter for the Blue Jays?

    Albert Belle for the Indians??

    Who did Nolan Ryan play longest with?? I think of him as an Astro and feel he had a few of his no-hitters with them. I might be, and probably am wrong.

  10. Chas   March 23, 2011 at 9:18 am

    Dan –

    Joe Carter is definitely a name that would come to mind, and he did give the Jays one of their greatest moments. But, a case for him would really only be based on the power numbers he put up for them (in just 7 years), so I’d take Carlos Delgado long before I’d take Carter. Here are the career HR and RBI leaders for the Jays:

    HR:
    1. Carlos Delgado – 336
    2. Vernon Wells – 223
    3. Joe Carter – 203
    4. George Bell – 202
    5. Jesse Barfield – 179

    RBI:
    1. Carlos Delgado – 1058
    2. Vernon Wells – 813
    3. George Bell – 740
    4. Joe Carter – 736
    5. Lloyd Moseby – 651

    In that Craig Calcaterra article that I referred to, he mentions Belle as one of the Indians options. Belle is similar to Carter, but clearly more dominant. The thing is, WAR causes you to look beyond the players who just put up gaudy offensive numbers, but couldn’t do anything else. Belle was a terrible fielder at a relatively easy position, and not a good base runner either. I think Lofton is very under-rated: a good all-around player with–and this is going to be a little controversial–a legitimate Hall of Fame case.

    Ryan played 9 years with the Astros and 8 with the Angels, but he was much better with the Angels than with the Astros. He was age 25-32 with the Angels and 33-41 with the Astros. Had a few good years with the ‘Stros, but the Angels are the cap he should be wearing in Cooperstown…but they gave him a choice, and he’s from Texas, so he chose the Rangers, a team he didn’t play for until he was 42. Ridiculous.

  11. Dan   March 24, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    Chas,

    You da man.

    Couldn’t ask for a better response.

    Much appreciated.

    I didn’t realize all of that Nolan Ryan stuff. Wierd.

  12. Rey   April 4, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    Chas – good discussion piece. Sorry it’s taken me so long to contribute. Obviously I have to make mention of the Indians here. I saw many games in person since they were at Municipal, and I have to say that Lofton is someone you have to see live to appreciate as much as similar players. Everytime he got on base the crowd stood in anticipation. I remember being there against the Mariners when he bunted his way on. He stole second then third on the next two pitches. Base hit brought him in. As a fielder, wow – he was amazing. I am THRILLED you think he’s a HOF case; there was another post I wanted tomention him and his case but was afraid I’d be chastised. The only other player I can think of is Sandy Alomar, Jr. Even got the MVP of the all-star game held at the Jake in 1997, a great year for Cleveland except for Jose Mesa.

  13. Chas   April 6, 2011 at 9:43 am

    Rey- I was waiting to hear what you had to say about the Indians.

    Lofton is somewhat similar to Tim Raines, and I think he’ll get about the same level of support for the HOF, or maybe a little less, even though he might deserve a little better.

    As with Raines, it’s the stats-minded folks who will be beating the drum for him, while there will be old schoolers saying he doesn’t look, smell or feel like a Hall of Famer. Support will build over time and he may eventually get his due. I’m not sure. He may benefit (compared to Raines) from turnover in the ranks of the voters (younger, more stats-oriented writers becoming eligible, while the crusty old Murray Chasses of the world retire or pass on). It will be interesting to see.

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