Tim Wakefield All-Starsby Chris Jaffe
February 27, 2012
I imagine if you tried hard enough, you could come up with an All-Star team based on the attributes and characteristics of every player out there. Lately, it seems like I’m trying to prove just that.
Last week here at THT, I wrote a column, “Gary Carter All-Stars,” that fielded a team of guys who played with the same zest and passion as the recently departed Hall of Fame catcher. The funny thing is, that wasn’t my original column idea last week.
No, originally I was going to write a column on the Tim Wakefield All-Stars. After all, Wakefield had just announced his retirement from baseball, and so it seemed like a good time to look back and create a team of guys like him. Then I realized that his departure from the game wasn’t as important as Carter’s departure for this planet, and so I came up with Carter’s crew.
But the Tim Wakefield All-Stars is still a nice idea, so let’s look at that today. We’re looking for a team-load of guys like Wakefield. Okay, so what kind of player was he?
Well, he was distinctive. Wakefield was never a great player, but he was a good player for a long time. He made only one All-Star team, in 2009 at age 42. That was a weird selection in a year he was rather middling. It was clearly some sort of lifetime achievement pick. He never led the league in any stat you want to lead the league in. (He led in losses once and HBP twice). Wakefield is a guy who had an ERA+ between 93 and 116 every season but one from 1996 to 2009. That’s what you call consistent.
Yet, despite never being the big arm, Wakefield lasted forever. He ended up with 200 wins and is the all-time Red Sox franchise leader in numerous categories.
Long-lasting quality: Tim Wakefield
So what we’re looking for is a team full of guys who: 1) lasted a long time despite 2) never being that great, but 3) were a quality player for virtually the entire time. The Tim Wakefield All-Stars then are the Energizer Bunnies of B-quality players.
So, without further dilly-dallying, here is the team:
Catcher: Rick Dempsey
Dempsey has one claim to fame, the most career WAR by a catcher in the All-Star Game era who never actually earned a selection to an All-Star Game. He had 23.8 WAR in his career but never appeared in the midsummer exhibition game. WAR isn’t the end-all and be-all of stats, but that does justify his place on this team.
Dempsey was well regarded enough to play an ungodly long time—24 seasons—but you can’t ever really call him a star.
First base: Mickey Vernon
Vernon might be the most forgettable position player to appear in games in four decades (1939-60). He did win a pair of batting titles, but those seasons stick out as flukes. For instance, his .353 mark in 1946 was 85 points more than he’d hit the year before and 88 points over where he ended up in 1947. Then again, even Wakefield had a couple of really strong seasons.
Alternate possible selections at first base: Bill Buckner, Stuffy McInnis, Ron Fairly, and Joe Kuhel.
Second base: Tony Phillips
Tony Phillips is the answer to a neat trivia question: In the All-Star Game era (1933-onward), who has appeared in the most regular-season games without ever earning an All-Star Game nod? It’s Phillips and his 2,161 career games played. Man, even Ron Fairly had a pair of All-Star selections.
Phillips had a weird career arc. He was okay in his 20s but really developed as a hitter in his 30s. Thanks to a large number of walks and some adequate power, he was still a good hitter at age 40, his final season in big-league ball.
Shortstop: Omar Vizquel
What a strange career arc he’s had. He’s never been much of a hitter, but he was always well regarded on the field. Seriously, back in 1989, would anyone have guessed he’d be the last position player from that decade still around? That’s doubtful. Heck, there’s an old Simpsons episode where the punch line is someone trying to trade Bart an Omar Vizquel baseball card. (Haha, who’d want a baseball card of that guy?)
Yet, he’s still around. He’ll turn 45 years old in two months, and he doesn’t intend to quit yet. Not only is he one of the only men to play in four decades, but he’s one of the very few men to play in 100 or more games in a season in four different decades. He’s stolen a base in four different decades. He’s played in more games than any other non-American-born athlete.
That’s a nice little career he’s carved out for himself.
The Ancient Wonder of the Infield.
Third base: Gary Gaetti
Bill James once said aging follows a fairly predictable pattern. The guys with the longest careers are the guys who were the best in their primes. You don’t see an average player stick around for 20 years plugging out 150 hits a season. That just doesn’t happen.
Gary Gaetti did his damnedest to prove James wrong. He played for 20 seasons—18 of them as a starter—but was never that great. Well, he had a nice 1988 campaign, belting 28 homers and posting his only .300 batting average. Mostly, though, he was just ungodly consistent.
Outfield: Al Oliver
On the one hand, Oliver doesn’t really belong on this team. Playing at a time when batting average was king, Oliver was a career .303 hitter. Though he didn’t have much power, he had enough to belt over 500 doubles and once lead the league in RBIs.
Yeah, but when filling out an outfield, you’re going to end up with guys who could hit some. It’s almost impossible for an outfielder to last that long unless he brings something to the plate.
Oliver had a nice average, but was fairly one-dimensional. He stole 84 bases versus 64 caught stealings. Despite having nearly 10,000 career plate appearances, he had fewer total walks than Bernie Carbo. He did lead the league in RBIs (and batting average) in 1982, but that was clearly a career year. Though he could hit for average, his teams kept trading him.
Oliver was a nice player for a very long time but never really a great player, hence his inclusion here.
Outfield: Rusty Staub
Rusty Staub is 12th on the all-time games played list. The 11 guys in front of him are 10 first-ballot Hall of Famers and Barry Bonds. He could hit and was durable, but there are a lot of guys you can say that about. Most didn’t end up with 2,951 games played.
Staub led the league in only three stats: 1) twice in games played, 2) once in doubles, and 3) twice in GIDP. A guy who plays forever with a doubles title as his outstanding achievement belongs on this team.
Outfield: Chili Davis
Davis is the sort of guy who did a lot of things well but nothing great. He belted 350 homers, but his single-season high was “only” 30 (which he achieved at age 37). He batted .274, which is nice but not great. He also had 1,194 walks and 242 doubles. It was all nice and resulted in a 19-year career with a 120 OPS+. But Davis was very easy to miss completely unless you were paying attention. He’s probably better remembered for having the odd name Chili than for his on-field career.
Designated hitter: Harold Baines
He’s the ultimate Captain Good Enough. Baines was a solid and dependable hitter year-in, year-out for two decades. In fact, he won an All-Star Game selection during his 20th season in the bigs.
But Baines was never that great. He had power but never belted 30 homers in a season. He could hit but never got 200 hits in a season. He had a little bit of speed when young, but not much, and then he messed up his knees and had none. He stole a total five bases in his last 15 years.
But he was always a quality hitter. He had 19 consecutive seasons as a regular starting with an OPS+ in triple digits. There aren’t many you can say that about, but you can say it about Baines.
Starting pitcher: Tim Wakefield
Well, duh. The team is named after him.
Starting pitcher: Jamie Moyer
Let’s not kid ourselves. It’s called the Tim Wakefield All-Stars, but by the standards of the squad Jaime Moyer is a better Tim Wakefield than Tim Wakefield. Moyer has lasted a bizarrely long time as a quality pitcher and can’t even use the knuckleball as an explanation like Wakefield can for the durability over the years.
Moyer intends to keep pitching until there's no one else left.
Starting pitcher: Jack Quinn
Quinn had an all-time odd career arc. He started with the Yankees, and after a good beginning, washed out. Quinn moved to the burgeoning Federal League, and when it folded ended up in the minors. Instead of disappearing, he returned in his mid-30s, and then proceeded to be a good pitcher for a bizarrely long time.
From his return at age 34 in 1918 until 1932, when he was 48 years old, Quinn posted a superior park-adjusted ERA every year without fail. He was never great, but he was always good. And he lasted long enough to post 247 wins.
Starting pitcher: Milt Pappas
As he’ll be the first to tell you, his final career win-loss record is a dead ringer for Don Drysdale. Whereas Drysdale was 209-166, Pappas finished at 209-164. Yeah, but Drysdale packed it all in 14 seasons, which includes eight All-Star selections, a pair of 20-win seasons, and three strikeout titles, among other things. Pappas never won more than 17 games in a season, and the only stat he ever led the league in was wild pitches.
Still, Pappas was a good pitcher, and a pretty damn good-hitting pitcher, but not really a great pitcher. Pappas was the first pitcher to post 200 career wins without ever having a 20-win campaign.
Starting pitcher: Jerry Reuss
There’s a bunch of guys you could pick for the last slot. There are many guys right around 200 wins without having a great season. Aside from Reuss, there’s Doyle Alexander, Joe Niekro, Claude Osteen, and Earl Whitehill.
Reuss has that nice combination of performance that's good enough to make the list without being too good. He was better than Alexander but wasn’t as good in his best seasons as Osteen. Reuss had a pair of 20-win season en route to 220 career wins.
Reliever: Todd Jones
Does any other reliever’s career do more to de-legitimize the save stat than Todd Jones? He has 319 career saves, which is 15th most all-time, yet his ERA+ is 111. Sure, ERA+ is centered at 100, so Jones is above average, but he’s only barely above.
And it’s not like he had a fabulous peak (like Jose Mesa) weighed down by some dreadful stretch. Yeah, he had his good years and bad years, but he was fairly consistently a good reliever without necessarily being a mind-blowing one. There’s a reason why he only made one All-Star Game appearance. He was good enough to keep the closer's job for a long time but hardly ever great.
Manager: Bucky Harris
Harris was a good manager for a very, very long time. He ended his career third all-time in managerial wins despite having a losing record. He remained third in wins until Sparky Anderson passed him about 20 years ago.
It isn’t really Harris’ fault his record was below .500. He just happened to manage a lot of under-talented Senators teams. But while he might be the best manager to have a losing record, that’s a heck of a qualifier there.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.