A-Rod or Griffey? Ruth or Gehrig? Each Franchise's Greatest Players, Part 1
With baseball on my mind, and murmurs in the national media regarding Manny Ramirez’s place in the Boston Red Sox pantheon, I decided to make a list; a list of each franchise’s single greatest batter and pitcher. Here are the rules that I have set myself:
1. Only a player’s statistics and achievements while he wore that franchise’s uniform count.
2. The team’s success will be weighed with his overall statistics.
3. It is hard to gauge the overall worth of players from the Dead Ball era, but I will do my best.
4. Character counts and try not to let scandal play too large a role in deciding who makes the list
All right, here goes, American League first (with the National League to follow):
Baltimore Orioles/St. Louis Browns
Batter: Cal Ripken, 1981-2001.
This was a surprisingly tough one. Frank Robinson’s brief Oriole career was a spectacular one, including a Triple Crown and 4 World Series appearances. Eddie Murray was a rock for the O’s in the 1980’s. And Browns’ star George Sisler put up some of the sickest numbers of his time (a .420 average in 1922). But this is one of those instances where contributions to the franchise and to the game outweigh all others. Cal is the franchise leader in games, runs, hits, home runs, and runs batted in. And his power numbers are among the best ever for any shortstop. Add in two MVP awards and a certain record, and Cal’s the man.
Pitcher: Jim Palmer, 1965-1984.
More of a no-brainer. Palmer won 3 Cy Young Awards and played on all 3 Oriole World Series winners.
Boston Red Sox
Batter: Ted Williams, 1939-1960
I am among those who consider Ted the greatest hitter of all time. So he’s the Red Sox best. One number (and there are so many to choose from)? Okay, it’s not .406, but how about his Offensive Win Percentage: .857. Offensive win percentage, basically, is an estimate of a team’s winning percentage if all nine batters were Ted Williams. So, in a 154 game season, the Sox would have gone 132-22.
Pitcher: Cy Young, 1901-1908
Okay, so Roger Clemens gets a lot of attention here, as did Pedro Martinez (whose dominance is easier seen from a broader historical perspective). Martinez is eliminated because his tenure with the Red Sox was so short. Young is the Red Sox all-time leader in wins and strikeouts. And Young did pitch in a completely different era and probably wasn’t as good a pitcher, as we currently consider them, as Clemens is. But he won 192 games and a World Series in 8 years, with a Red Sox ERA of 2.00. And they named an award after him.
Chicago White Sox
Batter: Frank Thomas, 1990-2005
In his prime, Thomas was as dangerous a hitter as Williams. Eight straight years with 100 runs, 100 RBI, and 100 walks, and an average of 36 home runs and an OPS that never dipped below .860 until he was injured in 2001. Shoeless Joe gets a lot of consideration here, but he was only with the Sox for five years, and, though he batted .382 in 1920, never won a batting title. Luis Aparicio, too, gets attention here.
Pitcher: Ed Walsh, 1904-1916
Walsh is the all-time career leader in ERA, and was pitched the Sox to their huge upset World Series title in 1906.
Batter: Tris Speaker, 1916-1926
A fantastic defensive player, a wonder on the bases, and one of the most disciplined hitters of his time. He is Cleveland’s all-time leader in many categories. He was also the manager when the Indians won the World Series in 1920.
Pitcher: Bob Feller, 1936-1956
Absolutely unhittable (especially on Opening Day, 1940, at age 21) and he would tell you so. But Feller was truly remarkable. In addition to 2 other no-hitters, the record until Koufax came along, and a pitching Triple Crown, he threw 36 complete games in 1946, the most of any pitcher since 1920, AND he hadn’t pitched a full season in five years at that point. Look him up.
Batter: Ty Cobb, 1905-1926
This pains me, as I have always held Hank Greenberg in the highest esteem. But – Cobb’s numbers - highest batting average ever, stolen base monster, much better power hitter than given popular credit for – show him to be the best player of the dead ball era, and he certainly could have competed in today’s game. Read Wesley Ficks for a more heartfelt, in depth, perspective.
Pitcher: Hal Newhouser, 1939-1955
Yes, his career stats aren’t that impressive (but no Tigers’ pitchers are). But he did win back-to-back MVP awards, the only pitcher to do so in 1944-45. And his 1946 season might have been better. He won the Triple Crown in 1945.
Kansas City Royals
Batter: George Brett, 1973-1993
He is the Royals’ career leader in every major batting category and the franchise’s only Hall of Famer. Done.
Pitcher: Bret Saberhagen, 1984-1991
Because of the above with Brett, this is really tough. Saberhagen was the hero of their only World Series victory and won 2 Cy Young Awards in his 8 years as a Royal.
Los Angeles Angels
Batter: Garrett Anderson, 1994-present
So many great hitters have spent part of their career with the Angels (Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson, Vladimir Guerrero) but Anderson is the guy who has performed at the highest level for the longest time with the franchise.
Pitcher: Troy Percival, 1995-2004
A-ha, a reliever! Chuck Finley had a good run with the Angels, and Nolan Ryan was a strikeout machine (more on Ryan and others below), but no pitcher was as dominant as Percival. He has 316 saves and only gives up 6.03 Hper9IP. Plus he was lights-out in 2002, racking up 7 saves in the Angels 11 postseason wins.
Minnesota Twins/Washington Senators
Batter: Harmon Killebrew, 1954-1974
I originally had Kirby Puckett here, but changed my mind after I saw that Killebrew won 6 home run titles between 1959-1969 - during one of the golden ages of pitching. And 573 home runs is a titanic number.
Pitcher: Walter Johnson, 1907-1927
Apparently one of the nicest men ever to play the game, he might be the best right-handed starter of all time. How about 36-7, 1.14 ERA, 243 K in 1913? And in 1916 he threw 369.2 innings and didn’t surrender a single home run. And his 110 shutouts are the most of all time.
New York Yankees
Batter: Babe Ruth, 1920-1934
Yes, DiMaggio was such an exquisite winner, and Gehrig is one of the finest stories in the history of the game, but Babe Ruth practically invented modern baseball. He is the game’s most transcendent and mythological figure. And career averages of (over a 162 game season, as baseball-reference.com calculates it) .342-46-143 with 141 runs scored are remarkable.
Pitcher: Mariano Rivera, 1995-present
This is probably the most controversial of all of my picks, but Rivera’s continued dominance, especially in the postseason, and his key role in the Yankee’s success (postseason series in every year of his career) makes him the choice. The strongest contender is Whitey Ford, whose all-time winning percentage and low ERA enhance his chances. But Rivera’s Adjusted ERA+ (197) is the highest of all time (though he is a reliever, as will be covered below), which means that his career era is, essentially, half of the average all-time ERA, with some park adjustments. That’s flat out mastery.
Oakland/Kansas City/Philadelphia Athletics
Batter: Jimmie Foxx, 1925-1935
Probably the greatest right-handed power hitter of all time, Foxx’s 1932 season was out-of-this-world (.364-58-169-1.218 OPS) and he won the Triple Crown in 1933. He was the best hitter on a team with two other HOF batters (Cochrane, Simmons).
Pitcher: Lefty Grove, 1925-1933
Between 1928-1933, Grove averaged a 25-7 record, with an ERA of 2.67. He won two Triple Crowns and an MVP award, and was the key pitching member on one of the most dominant teams in history, the 1928-1932 A’s, which won 2 World Series, 3 pennants (over an equally impressive Yankees squad) and averaged 101 wins per year.
Batter: Ken Griffey, Jr., 1989-1999
It’s sometimes hard to remember how good Griffey was when he was a Mariner. He was on pace to pass Ruth, and many people thought he would be the player who passed Maris. Certainly, years like 1997 (.304-56-147) were evidence of his greatness.
Pitcher: Randy Johnson, 1990-1998
The Big Unit won his first Cy Young Award with the Mariners and averaged 293 strikeouts a (full) season with Seattle.
Tampa Bay Rays
Batter: Carl Crawford, 2002-present
For a franchise that has had no success in its brief history, Crawford is the best batter. It is tempting to put in rising star Evan Longoria, but that would be cheating. And Crawford has averaged 76 RBI, 15 triples, and 53 stolen bases in his career.
Pitcher: Scott Kazmir, 2004-present
On baseball-reference.com, Kazmir is the only player on the career list for pitching categories. His career ERA of 3.53 is pretty solid, as are his two All-Star appearances.
Texas Rangers/Washington Senators
Batter: Juan Gonzalez, 1989-1999
Alex Rodriguez clearly had the best seasons of any Ranger, but there were only three and the team wasn’t good. Gonzalez’ Rangers were a fearsome offensive force, with him driving in tons of runs, that couldn’t get past the Yankees in the postseason. He hit 40 home runs 5 times – he averaged 42 home runs over 162 games for his career - with Texas and his MVP year in 1998 was incredible (.318-47-157).
Pitcher: Charlie Hough, 1980-1990
Hough averaged about 15 wins per year as a starter for the Rangers. He is also the franchise leader in wins, innings pitched and strikeouts.
Toronto Blue Jays
Batter: Joe Carter, 1991-1997
Carter’s statistics are surprisingly (to me) good and the Jays’ success while he was the leader makes him the clear choice. He was a consistent 30-100 guy with the Jays, and finished 3rd in MVP voting in 1992. And there is the World Series-winning home run in 1993, a Series that he played outstanding in.
Pitcher: Roy Halladay, 1998-present
Dave Stieb is the Blue Jays’ career leader in most categories, but I would argue that he was only close to a dominant pitcher in two seasons. In Halladay’s last six seasons, he has been one of the best pitchers in the league. He’s durable (leads the league in complete games almost every year), difficult to hit (an ERA just over 3.00 as a starter), and more highly regarded than Stieb (1 Cy Young Award, 2 other top-five finishes).
Asterix: There are a handful of great, Hall-of-Fame players whose career is not defined by any particular team and who, therefore, are not on this list. They probably would, honestly, if they had played longer on any of those teams. They include: Roberto Alomar, Rod Carew, Roger Clemens, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Reggie Jackson, Frank Robinson, Alex Rodriguez, and Nolan Ryan. I will make a similar list of players who were primarily National League players next week.
That’s the list. All of the statistics come from the wonderful baseball-reference.com.
The National League comes next week.
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