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The Forgotten Star of Every MLB Franchise

Doug MeadCorrespondent IJanuary 7, 2017

The Forgotten Star of Every MLB Franchise

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    Throughout the history of every MLB team, there have been players who have been synonymous with their particular clubs—Hank Aaron for the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves, Willie Mays for the New York/San Francisco Giants and Babe Ruth for the New York Yankees, among others.

    However, throughout each team’s history, there has always been a player who has been forgotten through the years, mainly due to the fact that they weren’t the primary stars. Often playing in the background and providing complementary help to their teams, many of their names have been forgotten through the years.

    With this article, Bleacher Report will bring back to mind those players that often helped catapult their teams to greatness, through their consistent efforts each and every game while letting other stars take the spotlight for them.

    Here then is our list of the forgotten great players in each MLB franchise.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Steve Finley

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    The Arizona Diamondbacks certainly do not have a long history, having only been in existence for 14 seasons. However, the D-Backs made their mark early, reaching the playoffs in only their second season, and reaching and winning the World Series in just their fourth season.

    While most fans remember the heroics of pitchers Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling during their world championship run in 2001, along with the performance of Luis Gonzalez, many forget the contributions made to the team by another man—center fielder Steve Finley.

    When Finley signed as a free agent with the Diamondbacks in December 1998, he was a veteran outfielder with 10 years under his belt with three different teams. However with the D-Backs, Finley became a steady presence in center field, hitting 69 home runs in his first two seasons, winning Gold Glove awards in each season.

    Finley was a guiding hand for the 2001 D-Backs team during that magical season, and in the playoffs, Finley was otherworldly, hitting .365, including a .368 against the New York Yankees in the thrilling seven-game World Series.

Atlanta Braves: Dale Murphy

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    It’s hard to look back at the career of outfielder Dale Murphy and think that he’s a forgotten star. However when looking back at the Braves franchise over the years, Murphy’s name is not often mentioned as one of their all-time greats.

    Murphy won back-to-back NL MVP awards in 1982 and 1983, had six seasons with over 30 home runs and was a five-time Gold Glove Award winner who could play all three outfield positions with ease.

    From 1982-1988, Murphy was easily one of the most feared right-handed hitters in the National League, yet he gained little support for Hall of Fame induction.

Baltimore Orioles: Paul Blair

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    When fans think of the strong Baltimore Orioles teams of the late 1960s and early 1970s, they generally think of Frank and Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell and the great pitching staff that produced four 20-game winners in 1971.

    However, one man left his mark in Baltimore not so much for his great bat, but his terrific defense in center field—Paul Blair.

    Blair was an absolute rock in center for Baltimore, winning eight Gold Glove Awards during his career while playing in the shadows of a team loaded with stars.

Boston Red Sox: Dwight Evans

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    When right fielder Dwight “Dewey” Evans started his career with the Boston Red Sox in 1972, he was a young 20-year-old with a rifle arm and a wild swing, along with a batting stance that he would change several times throughout his career.

    While other stars such as Carlton Fisk, Fred Lynn, Jim Rice, Wade Boggs and Butch Hobson provided the main offensive spark, Evans supplied the great defense in right along with a consistently steady bat that never had an established spot in the lineup. In 1986, Evans was the leadoff hitter to start the season and hit the first pitch of the season for a home run off Detroit Tigers pitcher Jack Morris.

    Evans also made the game-saving catch in the sixth game of the 1975 World Series, robbing Joe Morgan of a potential extra-base hit and firing the ball back to first to double up Ken Griffey to end the inning. Carlton Fisk would later hit the game-winning home run in the bottom of the 12th.

Chicago White Sox: Luke Appling

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    As a shortstop for the Chicago White Sox from 1930-50, Luke Appling never appeared in a World Series, playing his entire career for perennially bad teams. On only six occasions during his career did Appling even play for a .500 team or better.

    However, if Appling were playing in the modern era, he would be the prototypical leadoff hitter. Hitting over .300 in 15 out of 16 seasons, Appling was famous for fouling off pitches and working up the pitch count. His lifetime on-base percentage of .399 is tops among all shortstops, and Appling’s .388 batting average in 1936 is the highest recorded by a shortstop in the 20th century.

Chicago Cubs: Ron Santo

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    Like Luke Appling before him on this list, Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo never made it to the World Series in his 14 seasons with the Cubs, and often played in the shadow of shortstop Ernie Banks.

    However, Santo excelled at Wrigley Field, and despite playing his entire career with diabetes, which later in life caused the amputation of part of his right leg, Santo became one of the best third baseman of his generation.

Cincinnati Reds: Vada Pinson

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    For the first 11 seasons of his career, Vada Pinson patrolled center field for the Cincinnati Reds while being often overlooked playing alongside the great Frank Robinson in right field.

    However, Pinson made his mark with the Reds, leading the league in triples twice (1963, 1967), in doubles twice (1959, 1960) and garnered MVP votes in five different seasons.

Cleveland Indians: Bob Lemon

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    Starting pitcher Bob Lemon played for the Cleveland Indians for 13 seasons—however for much of his career, he was overshadowed by Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller.

    However, Lemon was nonetheless a terrific pitcher in his own right, leading the American League in victories on three occasions and registering 20-win seasons seven times.

    Lemon was also a picture of durability, leading the AL in complete games five times.

Colorado Rockies: Todd Helton

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    The Colorado Rockies have only been in existence for 19 seasons, and first baseman Todd Helton has been with them for 15 of those seasons.

    While the hot-hitting Rockies teams of the 90s featured sluggers Andres Galarraga, Vinny Castilla, Dante Bichette and Larry Walker, Helton was the rock at first base through it all, and today, at 38 years of age, Helton is still getting it done, with a .313 batting average and ranking third on the team with 65 RBI.

Detroit Tigers: Norm Cash

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    The great hitting Detroit Tigers teams of the late 1960s featured stars such as Al Kaline, Bill Freehan, Denny McLain, Mickey Lolich and Jim Northrop. For 15 seasons, first baseman Norm Cash was the anchor at first base who provided plenty of punch as well.

    Cash led the league in 1961 with a .361 batting average, along with 41 HR and 132 RBI. In any other year, Cash would have been worthy of MVP consideration; however up against the record-setting home run year of New York Yankees right fielder Roger Maris, Cash’s season was largely overlooked.

    Cash had 11 seasons of 20-plus home runs and was a four-time All-Star who was the anchor of the Tigers infield throughout the 60s and early 70s.

Florida Marlins: Jeff Conine

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    First baseman/outfielder Jeff Conine holds a very unique distinction. During his 18-year that ended in 2007, he is the only man to have played for the Florida Marlins in their very first game as an expansion team (1993) and on both World Series-winning teams (1997, 2003).

    Conine became known as Mr. Marlin, and although he was never the star of the show, Conine’s presence with the Marlins was a major contributing factor in both world championships.

Houston Astros: Jim Wynn

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    When Jim Wynn was signed as a free agent in 1962 by the Cincinnati Reds, he thought he would living out a lifelong dream of playing for his hometown team, having played his high school ball at nearby Taft High School.

    However, the Houston Colt 45s, a new expansion, drafted Wynn from the Reds in November of that same year, and Wynn’s dream was denied. However, that didn’t stop Wynn from making his mark in professional baseball.

    Wynn was one of the early stars for the Houston franchise that later became the Astros, putting up his best season in 1967, with 37 HR and 107 RBI, and anchoring the outfield for the Astros for the first 11 years of his career.

Kansas City Royals: Amos Otis

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    Center fielder Amos Otis played for parts of two seasons with the New York Mets before being traded to the Kansas City Royals in December 1969 for third baseman Joe Foy.

    Otis manned center field for the Royals for the next 14 seasons, and while his career was overshadowed by the likes of George Brett, Frank White, Darrell Porter, Willie Wilson and Hal McRae, Otis was a key figure on Royals teams that made the postseason five times between 1976-81.

    Otis was a slick fielder as well, winning the Gold Glove Award three times, and led the league in stolen bases in 1971.

Los Angeles Angels: Bobby Knoop

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    Playing for the Los Angeles/California Angels from 1964-69, second baseman Bobby Knoop may not have wowed fans with his offensive production, but his defense was second to none for a brief time, winning the Gold Glove Award for three consecutive years from 1966-68.

    Together with shortstop Jim Fregosi, the two formed a formidable middle infield combination for the Angels and teamed with Fregosi to become only the third middle infield combo to win Gold Glove Awards in the same season (1967).

Los Angeles Dodgers: Duke Snider

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    For 16 seasons, center fielder Duke Snider anchored the outfield for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, posting five consecutive 40 home run seasons between 1953-57 and was instrumental in helping the Dodgers win their first-ever World Series championship in 1955.

    Playing with greats such as Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, Sandy Koufax, Don Newcombe and Gil Hodges, Snider was a model of consistency throughout his career as a Dodger and was selected as a National League All-Star seven times between 1950-56.

Milwaukee Brewers: Jim Gantner

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    For his entire 17-year career, all of them with the Milwaukee Brewers, second baseman Jim Gantner never won any awards, was never selected to an All-Star team and never won a Gold Glove. However he was a steady presence on the great Brew Crew teams of the early 1980s and represented the city of Milwaukee with style and dignity.

    While playing alongside greats such as Paul Molitor, Robin Yount and Cecil Cooper during the 80s, Gantner was the quite yet steady one, consistently hitting around .270 each season and providing stellar defense up the middle.

Minnesota Twins: Tony Oliva

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    Minnesota Twins right fielder Tony Oliva was an eight-time All-Star and three-time batting champion during his 15-season career, yet despite his stellar play, was never inducted into the Hall of Fame.

    For most of his career, Oliva was overshadowed by fellow Twins Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew, yet Oliva was a consistent and productive hitter throughout his career while leading the American League in base hits five times.

    Maybe someday the Veterans Committee of the Hall of Fame will wise up and open up the hallowed halls to Oliva once and for all.

New York Mets: Ron Darling

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    While fellow New York Mets pitchers Doc Gooden and Sid the Kid Fernandez got more attention, starting pitcher Ron Darling wasn’t so bad himself during the Mets’ great teams of the mid-to-late 1980s.

    During a five-year stretch between 1984-88, Darling was a model of consistency with an overall record of 72-38 and a 3.37 ERA during that stretch.

    Darling’s clutch performance in Game 4 of the 1986 World Series allowed the Mets to even up the series at two games apiece.

New York Yankees: Tony Lazzeri

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    As the second baseman for the New York Yankees from 1926-1937, Tony Lazzeri put up numbers that would have made him a star on any other team.

    However, playing with the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, Lazzeri was the third wheel for the Yankees. But what an incredibly productive third wheel he was. Lazzeri totaled seven seasons of 100-plus RBI and was selected to the very first All-Star team in 1933.

Oakland Athletics: Ken Holtzman

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    Ken Holtzman was already a grizzled veteran at the age of 26 when he joined the Oakland Athletics before the 1972 season, having played seven years already with the Chicago Cubs.

    While Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue and Rollie Fingers generally got all the press for the great A’s teams of the early-to-mid 1970s, Holtzman was an absolute model of consistency and durability, winning over 18 games in each of his first four seasons and never starting fewer than 39 games.

    Holtzman was also money in the bank when it counted, registering a record of 4-1 with a 2.55 ERA during the A’s run of consecutive World Series victories from 1972-1974.

Philadelphia Phillies: Larry Bowa

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    From 1970-1981, there may not have been a more steady shortstop than Larry Bowa of the Philadelphia Phillies.

    A Gold Glove Award winner twice during his career, Bowa retired after leading the NL six times in fielding percentage and recorded the highest fielding percentage for a career ever by a shortstop (.980).

    Together with Mike Schmidt from 1976-1981, the two formed a formidable defense on the left side of the infield for the Phillies.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Pie Traynor

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    For 17 seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, third baseman Pie Traynor worked hard to improve as a third baseman and as a hitter, taking tips from Rabbit Maranville regarding his fielding and from Rogers Hornsby regarding his hitting.

    The hard work paid off, as Traynor became one of the best third baseman of his era. While the Waner brothers, Paul and Lloyd, were rocks in the outfield for the Pirates, Traynor was the anchor in the infield.

San Diego Padres: Randy Jones

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    Starting pitcher Randy Jones, the pride of Chapman University in Orange, Calif., was selected by the San Diego Padres in the 1972 MLB Draft and made his debut for the Padres one year later.

    In 1974, Jones had an awful season, posting a record of 8-22 with a 4.45 ERA. Undaunted, Jones made a complete turnaround the following two seasons, posting back-to-back 20-win seasons and captured the Cy Young Award in 1976.

    Jones injured a nerve in his throwing elbow at the end of the 1976 season and never again captured the success of those two years. However he became one of the most popular Padres in their brief history, and his number 35 was retired shortly after he retired in 1983.

San Francisco Giants: Monte Irvin

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    When Monte Irvin finally broke into the major leagues with the San Francisco Giants two years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, he was already 30 years old. However he quickly made his presence known with the Giants, leading the National League with 121 RBI in his second full season in 1951 and leading the Giants with a .454 batting average in the World Series against the New York Yankees.

    While teammate Willie Mays got more press, Irvin was a steady presence for the Giants until 1955, showing his versatility in playing all three outfield positions along with first base. His number 20 was officially retired by the Giants in June 2010.

Seattle Mariners: Jay Buhner

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    When right fielder Jay Buhner was traded by the New York Yankees a week before the trade deadline to the Seattle Mariners in 1987, they were unsure what to expect at the time. In limited action with the Yankees, the 23-year-old Buhner had yet to show a whole lot of promise.

    However in Seattle, Buhner became a steady presence for the next 13-plus seasons, putting together a string of seven straight 20-home seasons between 1991-1997, including 40-plus home runs seasons from ‘95-‘97.

    Playing behind stars Ken Griffey, Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Edgar Martinez, Buhner especially excelled during the playoffs, with a career .304 postseason batting average.

St. Louis Cardinals: Curt Flood

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    Throughout the 1960s, the St. Louis Cardinals were consistently at the top of the National League standings, making three trips to the World Series (1964, 1967, 1968) with stars such as Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Orlando Cepeda and Roger Maris.

    However, one player was an anchor in the outfield during that period—center fielder Curt Flood.

    Flood became one of the best center fielders in baseball, winning seven straight Gold Glove Awards between 1963-1969. Flood was also an excellent hitter, ending his career with a .293 batting average.

Tampa Bay Rays: Aubrey Huff

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    In the Tampa Bay Rays’ very short history, there have only been a few players who have made their mark in team history. While current stars James Shields, David Price and Evan Longoria are starting to make their mark, one player in the mid-2000s provided a consistent offensive punch for the Rays—first baseman Aubrey Huff.

    From 2002-05, Huff blossomed in his role, hitting over 20 home runs each season, hitting over .300 twice and driving in over 100 runs twice.

Texas Rangers: Nelson Cruz

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    For the past three seasons, right fielder Nelson Cruz of the Texas has steadily provided a consistent offensive threat, with 81 home runs and continuing to provide another offensive threat along with more popular players Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Adrian Beltre.

    In 2011,Cruz became only the third player in MLB history to hit a home run in the first four games of a season besides Willie Mays and Mark McGwire.

Toronto Blue Jays: Tony Fernandez

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    When shortstop Tony Fernandez broke into the majors with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1983, fans saw a young 21-year-old who would go on to become one of the slickest fielding shortstops in the American League.

    In 1989, Fernandez set an all-time record with the highest fielding percentage ever recorded in a season by a shortstop (.992).

    While Fernandez will always be remembered in Toronto for his defensive prowess, he along with Fred McGriff were traded to the San Diego Padres before the 1991 season for Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar, the two primary pieces that helped the Blue Jays win the World Series in back-to-back fashion in 1992-93.

Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos: Steve Rogers

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    Pitching his entire career with the Montreal Expos, starting pitcher Steve Rogers became the winningest pitcher in franchise history, despite never winning 20 games in a season or featuring what would be considered a blazing fastball.

    Rogers was an integral part of the Expos 1981 team that made it to the NLCS, eventually losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Rogers was 3-1 with a 0.98 ERA in the only year he ever performed during the postseason.

     

    Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle. Follow Doug on Twitter, @Sports_A_Holic.

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