Alone on the pedestal

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve given you a team consisting of players who were the second best from wherever they were from. That was fun to put together, but it relied heavily on medium-to-large cities. I thought about it and decided I wanted to do something with more of a small town focus. So this week and next, I’ll present you with a team that consists of the best players at each spot who are also the only players from their towns.

You will find that this team is more uneven than the last one. It would still be a great team, but the dropoff at the end of the roster is sharper and the players at the top are better than was the case with the last team. It also skews old. If I’ve learned one lesson from this column it is this: If you want to be a great outfielder, you should be born in a small town.

Here are our position players listed from most to least WAR (Baseball-Reference flavor). As before, players need to have played half their games at a position to be considered. That includes the various outfield positions.

CF – Willie Mays, 156.2 WAR from Westfield, Ala. So, we start with maybe the greatest player ever. That’s a good start. The best thing about having Mays (aside from his awesomeness) is that he pushes Ty Cobb to the bench. I bet Cobb would love that, the jerk.

RF – Mel Ott, 107.9 WAR from Gretna, La. I don’t know about you, but I find there are certain players who I know are good—I mean, if you say Mel Ott, I think “Hall of Fame”—but it doesn’t really sink in unless I stare at the numbers, and wow was Ott good: 511 homers, a .414 career on-base percentage. Just spectacular. He topped seven WAR six times.

1B – Jimmie Foxx, 97.4 WAR from Sudlersville, Md. Everyone knows about Foxx. He’s not as good as the first baseman on our last team (a Mr. Lou Gehrig, if you’ll recall), but the list of better players is short. It is interesting to look at how the fates influence our views of players. Foxx is famous, but he’s not super, duper famous. But what if, I don’t know, three more balls had gone over the fence in 1932. We’d know him at least as well as Maris, and probably better because he was a better player than Maris.

SS – George Davis, 84.5 WAR from Cohoes, N.Y. Our first deadballer! Davis was an excellent shortstop for the Spiders, Giants and White Sox back at the dawn of baseball. He hit for power (relative for the time), he got on base (.362 OBP), and he stole bases (613 career steals). Inasmuch as we can measure this, he also seems to have been a good fielder. Quite the all-around player. And oh, what a mustache!

LF – Fred Clarke, 67.8 WAR from Winterset, Iowa. And speaking of deadballers, Fred Clarke will hang out in left for us. His hitting numbers are a bit better than those of Davis, but then, left field is easier than short, isn’t it? Even though he played when Louisville had a major league team and baseballs were made from old, sweaty socks, Clarke’s career .816 OPS would have been almost 100 points above average for a left fielder last yeear.

3B – Home Run Baker, 62.4 WAR from Trappe, Md. You want old ballplayers? We’ve got old ball players. I’ll confess to being pretty tickled when Home Run Baker showed up. Everyone knows about him, I think. He was a premier slugger when that meant something different, but he was still playing when Babe Ruth happened. In any case, he was a great player and has a nine-win season under his belt.

C – Mickey Cochrane, 52.1 WAR from Bridgewater, Mass. One of the great pre-World War II catchers. You probably know that already. We’re quite happy to have him on the team.

2B – Larry Doyle, 45.3 WAR from Caseyville, Ill. A non-Hall of Famer closes out the starting lineup. I find it interesting that on both of these teams, second base has been the hardest slot to fill. Doyle is the fourth deadballer in our eight-man starting rotation. He did play his entire career after 1900, though. So there’s that.

Bench:
OF – Ty Cobb, 151.4 WAR from Narrows, Ga.
OF – Tris Speaker, 134.1 WAR from Hubbard, Tex.
IF – Dan Brouthers, 79.4 WAR from Sylvan Lake, N.Y.
IF – Derek Jeter, 71.6 WAR from Pequannock, N.J.
C – Buck Ewing, 47.7 WAR from Hoagland, Ohio (a slight fudge here, but Ewing did play nearly half his games behind the plate)

What I find really interesting about this team is how well-balanced it is despite the early-century quality. We do have some sluggers and we have a lot of guys who can get on base. The lineup would be easy enough to construct.

Next week, it gets really interesting with the pitching staff, which has a pretty good surprise on it (at least, I think it’s a good surprise). Stay tuned.

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Comments

  1. Jason Linden said...

    Shoot! You’re right. Winters, TX showed up right next to Winters, CA on my spreadsheet and read them as one town. That’s a bad mistake. Terribly sorry.

    Also, regarding Crawford, there are a lot of outfielders very, very high on the career WAR rankings who qualify for this team, but someone has to play short is Davis goes down.

  2. abarnold2 said...

    I know the bench is already crowded — and I’ve got no complaints — but is there room for outfielder Sam Crawford of Wahoo, Nebraska and his 71.1 WAR?

  3. Randy said...

    Jeter was born in Jersey, but moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan when he was four years old and spent most of his life there until signing with the Yankees.

    I would recommend another Michigan native, Jim Northrup, who was born in Breckenridge, then lived in St. Louis, and then attended Alma College before playing pro ball for the Detroit Tigers. All of those places are in Michigan, and he didn’t leave until he played with the Expos in Orioles in 1974.

  4. Bob Rittner said...

    Carlton Fisk was born in a small town (Bellows Falls) in Vermont (under 4000 people) and went to high school in a small town (Charlestown) in New Hampshire (under 5000 people). I don’t know if any other ball players came from either town, but if not, I think he is the catcher on this team.

    I am using Baseball Reference as my source. It gives him 68.3 WAR for his career. (FanGraphs has the same WAR for him.)

  5. Bob Rittner said...

    What about Charlestown NH. Apparently he considered that his home town. He was born in VT because the closest hospital was there but grew up across the border. In fact, here is the opening paragraph of his SABR biography project (at BP):

    “Born in Bellows Falls, Vermont, on December 26, 1947, Carlton Fisk embodies traditional New England values like pride, ruggedness, and individuality. That was what Boston Red Sox public relations director Dick Bresciani was trying to capture in 1997 when he wrote that Fisk was a “native of Vermont” on his original plaque for the Red Sox Hall of Fame. But the greatest baseball player ever born in Vermont—and the man responsible for perhaps the most dramatic moment in New England sports history—doesn’t consider himself a Vermonter. Fisk grew up on the other side of the Connecticut River in Charlestown, New Hampshire, a town of less than 1,000 inhabitants – it just so happened that Bellows Falls had the nearest hospital. So in a display of traditional New England stubbornness, Fisk insisted that his plaque be re-cast (at a cost of $3,000 to the Red Sox) to delete the Vermont reference and reflect that he was raised in New Hampshire.”

    Is there another major leaguer from Charlestown? If not, would the rule for identifying a player’s home town for this list exclude him?

  6. Jason Linden said...

    I was just coming to comment on the Fisk thing, but I see someone beat me to it.

    I did this by birthplace, but there are other ways.

    Mostly, I’m just glad I didn’t miss on Fisk. That would have been two big errors. There were a lot of cases like his, though. One great player and one guy who barely made it. There are some brothers and fathers & sons who ruin things for each other, too.

  7. Roy in Omaha said...

    I think it is pretty safe to predict that Grover Cleveland Alexander of Elba, Nebraska (population 214) is going to be on the pitching staff as will Bob Feller of Van Meter, Iowa (population 1094).

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