Thoughts from the Dugout: Franchise Four

franchise fourMLB usually tries to come up with some kind of gimmick to make the All Star Game more palatable marketable less void of purpose entertaining. In years past, this has included the All Century team and granting the winner of the exhibition contest home field advantage for the World Series. (Just ask Kansas City how that worked out last year.)

This year, the promotion is that fans will vote on the Four Greatest Players in the history of each of the four respective franchises. In addition, fans will vote on the Four Greatest Old Timers, the Four Greatest Negro Leaguers, and the Four Greatest Living Players.

As a devoted fan of the game’s history, I naturally couldn’t help but play along. Without further ado, my selections for each team are listed below. Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments section below.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Right away, we see the problem inherent in this particular gimmick – while this contest includes lauded historically great teams like the Yankees and (ugh) Cardinals, it also includes the expansion teams, which have the collective history of a pet rock. Fortunately, the Diamondbacks have that great World Series team to bank on, so it’s easy to pull notable names like Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling into the fray as all-time Diamondback greats. After that…well, there’s worse selections than Luis Gonzalez and Matt Williams

Atlanta Braves: The Braves, on the other hand, are an example of a team that made this exercise challenging in some respects. There’s a lot of history tied up in the Atlanta/Milwaukee/Boston franchise – though in the end, it was easy to select Hank Aaron, Greg Maddux, and Warren Spahn as all-time Braves. Rather than lean pitching heavy, I sided with personal favorite Chipper Jones over Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, as well as historical great Eddie Mathews. (Hey, you can only pick four!)

Baltimore Orioles: Unsurprisingly, there are no St. Louis Browns on here (they might be the worst franchise in baseball history, as far as wins are recorded). While Baltimore has a rich history, it wasn’t too hard to select an all time list here. My votes were for Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken Jr (duh), and Eddie Murray over Jim Palmer, solely because Eddie Murray might somehow actually be underrated for his career.

Boston Red Sox: Boston, as a franchise, is a bit of an oddball. Yes, they’re one of the most storied franchises in baseball. However, much of that story is centered around how terrible they were for so long. Consequently, players like Cy Young, Ted Williams, and Carl Yastrzemski were easy choices because they stand out so much. It felt essential to pick one player from their glory days in the 00’s-present, and while I wrestled with Pedro Martinez for a long while, in the end I sided with David “Big Papi” Ortiz for two reasons: he’s the only player alive with three World Series rings won in Boston, and he’s played for the Red Sox twice as long as Pedro did. Hell, Pedro played for Boston only one more year than Babe Ruth did.

Chicago White Sox: See Boston re: franchise history of being terrible. I went with the easy choices of Eddie Collins and Frank Thomas first. I followed that with Luis Aparicio to represent the Go-Go Sox. After that, I utilized the write-in vote that was offered for every team to select “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. I interpret this exercise as one to choose the greatest and most significant players in franchise history – no matter what they did on the field. (It’s hard not to notice that several teams shied away from certain recent…tarnished players, shall we say.) Jackson was one of the greatest hitters of his time – and might’ve ranked among the all-time greats were it not for his actions which altered the sport forever. For that alone, he deserves notoriety on this list. (waits to be tarred and feathered by Sox fans)

Chicago Cubs: See Boston & White Sox re: franchise history, only without the silver lining of a World Series. But! But! There’s a solid history of excellent players on the North Side, and if you’re great here, you’re a legend forever. This was a set of mostly easy choices that sprawled over several eras – Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Ryne Sandberg, and Billy Williams. (Sammy Sosa just missed the cut, if only because Billy was a better all-around hitter.)

Cincinnati Reds: A storied franchise, but one fortunately stocked with the greatest team ever assembled, from which I drew three choices: Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, and Pete Rose. Barry Larkin made the list because not everyone could be from the Big Red Machine, and also because I’m horrendously biased, and also because he’s one of the best shortstops to ever play the game.

Cleveland Indians: Another bout of toughies. Tris Speaker and Nap Lajoie represent the senior days, Bob Feller represents the last team to win a championship, and Jim Thome represents the glory days of the 90’s team that just missed the cut as an all-time great. (Note: you might notice a trend where I try and spread the wealth over the entirety of a franchise’s history, rather than lumping a bunch of players together (my Reds excepted, because Big Red Machine). Yes, this was intentional. Yes, it was easy, because the players usually transcend time. Yes, I’m still a sucker for great stories from Ken Burns’s Baseball.)

Colorado Rockies: A toughie, because…well, there’s not a lot to pick from here. So I threw some darts and got Larry Walker, Todd Helton, Dante Bichette (because why not, hell, who else represents Colorado baseball history?), and Troy Tulowitzki (our second active player!).

Detroit Tigers: Ty Cobb and Hank Greenberg were easy choices. So was Al Kaline. I went with Alan Trammell over Charlie Gehringer because Trammell might be one of the best players not within the Hall of Fame, and this felt like a good sympathy vote, and I went with him over Miguel Cabrera because, you know, Trammell actually won a World Series.

Florida Marlins: LOL! MARLINS LOL JOSH BECKETT LOL JEFF CONINE MIKE LOWELL LOL WRITE IN DONTRELLE WILLIS LOL LOL.

Houston Astros: Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio were easy choices. J.R. Richard was fun because of nostalgia. Nolan Ryan makes his first team here (more on that later). Other than that…hey, look, they’re in first place now!

Kansas City Royals: There’s really two eras to choose from here. With that in mind, I picked George Brett, Bret Saberhagen, and Dan Quisenberry from the great teams of the 80’s, and Alex Gordon from the current hey-day. Sue me for recency bias.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Speaking of recency bias, all of these players suited up post 1990, which really says a lot about the lack of history in Anaheim. Tim Salmon, Garrett Anderson, Chuck Finley made the cut, with Mike Trout coming in over Vladdy and Nolan. Trout gets it because a) he’s amazing, and somehow still getting better, and b) those guys make teams elsewhere.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Another difficult decision, but not too hard once you look at it closely. Anyone who doesn’t vote for Jackie Robinson hates anything nice in the world. Sandy Koufax and Roy Campanella make the cut as well. For the more recent teams, I went with Fernando Valenzuela over Steve Garvey, Don Drysdale, Duke Snider, and my beloved Clayton Kershaw, though if Kershaw continues to be the Greatest Pitcher of My Generation, Fernandomania would be the first one out.

Milwaukee Brewers: Um… I plead incompetence, so here’s resident Recorder Brewers fan J.’s choices: Robin Yount, Paul Molitor (with reluctance), Cecil Cooper, and Teddy Higuera (write-in). Also, J. might be drinking heavily right now in despondency.

Minnesota Twins: Walter Johnson represents the Washington Senators, and may still possibly be the greatest pitcher ever. Harmon Killebrew and Kirby Puckett stand for the glory years, and Joe Mauer is a potential Hall of Famer who is still active. Apologies to Bert Blyleven, Rod Carew, Jim Kaat, and Tony Oliva.

New York Mets: Tom Seaver is there for the Miracle Mets, while Dwight “Doc” Gooden represents the ’86 team, along with Gary Carter (the other double dipper on my list. Mike Piazza rounds out the other New York team – one with a fair bit of history of its own.

New York Yankees: Babe Ruth. Joe DiMaggio. Mickey Mantle. Derek Jeter. I could’ve chosen the other four, and the list would still be good. The Yankees are just criminally unfair.

Oakland A’s: Jimmy Foxx was the inspiration for Tom Hanks character in A League of Their Own – and was also a damn good hitter. Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter make the list as part of that great early 70’s team, and Rickey Henderson might be the greatest leadoff hitter ever. Not a hard choice for a team that surprises in so many ways.

Philadelphia Phillies: Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton were the easy ones here. Richie Ashburn was a good player on some bad teams. Chase Utley is still kicking. Unfortunately, the Phillies are another team that was perpetually terrible for much of the 20th century, so…slim pickings.

Pittsburgh Pirates: The Bucs, on the other hand, are rich with history. Honus Wagner is in the discussion for greatest player ever. Roberto Clemente is a legacy who, while not on par with Robinson in terms of influence, is almost as universally beloved. Willie Stargell was a dominant slugger, as was Ralph Kiner. Like the A’s, this was a set of easy choices.

San Diego Padres: Tony Gwynn, Trevor Hoffman, Dave Winfield, uhhhh….Jake Peavy? Not a lot to choose from here, so I guess that’ll do? Adrian Gonzalez merited consideration, but he’s played a lot of his career for other teams for which he’s still doing great, so he’s out. That leaves Peavy, who once won a Cy Young Award for the Padres.

San Francisco Giants: Christy Mathewson is another one of those all time greats, as is Willie Mays. It was a toss up between Willie McCovey and Buster Posey, but I went with Posey because he’s got three rings as one of the leaders of the modern day Giants. And there’s no denying it, say what you will, but Barry Bonds is one of the best to ever play the game, steroids or no steroids.

Seattle Mariners: The original Seattle Pilots left town to become the Brewers. The team that replaced them has four times the legacy of the Brewers. Sometimes life is not fair. For Seattle fans, Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, and Ichiro Suzuki represent a proud history, while Jamie Moyer pitched his best years for a team that won 116 games in 2001.

St. Louis Cardinals: I hate to say it, but the Cardinals were my toughest group to pick from. There’s just – so many good players here. Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, and Albert Pujols make the list, but a first four out of Lou Brock, Dizzy Dean, Red Schoendienst, and Ozzie Smith would easily supplant the final four of at least four other teams on this list.

Tampa Bay Rays: At first glance, the Rays are the Marlins of the American League (minus the two World Series titles). At second glance, this wasn’t a bad group to choose from. Granted, it’s based off of recent years, but Carl Crawford, Ben Zobrist, David Price, and Evan Longoria are all worthy candidates – and all are still kicking and relevant in baseball today! So there’s a first!

Texas Rangers: Nolan Ryan makes his second team here because he is Texas Rangers baseball. Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez is another Hall of Fame-caliber catcher whose glory days came with this club. Had things worked out differently in Game Six and/or Seven of the 2011 World Series, there would be a statue of Josh Hamilton out front of the Rangers ballpark. Meanwhile, Adrian Beltre has quietly built a case as the best third baseman of our generation. Not a bad group at all.

Toronto Blue Jays: Roberto Alomar is the only Hall of Famer in this group, but he could someday be joined by Roy Halladay, who was one of the best pitchers of the past decade – and mostly in Toronto! Meanwhile, Carlos Delgado was a cruelly underrated slugger in the late 90’s and early 00’s, who was robbed of a run at 500 home runs and Hall of Fame glory by a brutal hip injury. And as far as glory goes, Jays fans will always have Joe Carter’s walk off home run to win the ’93 World Series.

Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals: I refuse to pick any Nationals for this team…partly because only Ryan Zimmerman might have a case as a legacy player for the current D.C. team. Before they were stolen away, though, the Montreal Expos had a rich and vibrant history of their own. (For those uneducated in all things Expos baseball, I highly recommend Jonah Keri’s wonderful Up, Up, and Away.) Picking this team was hard, because the players on this list mean so much to those fans in Montreal – they’re like the Cubs of Canada. Gary Carter is in the Hall, as is Andre Dawson. Tim Raines should be in the Hall of Fame. And someday, so too should be Vladimir Guerrero.

There you have it. Debate away as to whether I know my stuff, or if I forgot somebody. Which I did, I guarantee.

Travis J. Cook

Travis J. Cook

Travis J. Cook is the Editor-in-Chief and one of the original founders of the Addison Recorder. He writes about baseball, movies, and music, among other topics. He resides in a hole in the ground near Wrigley Field.

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