All-time two-first-names teamby Greg Simons
June 18, 2013
This concept isn't that complicated, and it's not going to advance sabermetrics by leaps and bounds. It's just a bit of fun for fun's sake. The first step is to identify players with last names that also work as first names. The second step is to determine which of these players is the best at each position.
Sounds easy, right? Well, there are two issues to consider. One is how to identify the best players. If forced to choose, do you want a slugger or a defensive stud? A long-term solid starter or pitcher who was an ace for only a brief period? Fortunately, there are enough players to select from that this predicament is minor.
Where things get more confusing is figuring out what last names are considered first names. William is a first name, but Williams isn't, so Teddy Ballgame won't make the cut. Women's names count. Yes, major league ballplayers (to this point) have all been male, but a first name is a first name, regardless of gender, and this allowance helps populate the team with some of the game's very best players.
In a similar vein, some names now are considered first names that weren't in the past, and there's one name in particular that deserves special mention. It's usage as a first name opens up the range of player candidates nicely. We'll see what that name is shortly. But for now, let's dig in.
When trying to determine a position's best player, this may be the easiest call. I've never heard of any couples naming their kid Bench, Fisk, Berra or Piazza, so Gary Carter earns the honor. An 11-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner, Carter was a terrific player who handled pitchers for the Expos and Mets over the bulk of his 19-year career.
He displayed excellent power for his position, averaging over 24 home runs person during an 11-year stretch and finishing his career with 324 long balls. Despite playing a position that requires frequent days off, Carter led the league in RBI in 1984 with 106 amidst a stellar .294/.366/.487 campaign in which he also launched 27 long balls. That was one of four seasons with 100 or more RBI.
Carter wasn't a great average hitter, as few catchers are, but he took enough walks to boost his on-base percentage to a respectable .335. Combining that with his thump, he posted a 115 OPS+ during his time in the bigs. His competition for this spot may be weak, but Carter's performance makes his a worthy member of the roster.
Other well-known Carters: Okay, I don't know any really well-known Carters, but I once had a pastor with that name. See if you recognize one of these guys.
Honorable mentions: Bill Dickey and Jason Kendall.
Things get a little contentious here, as a debate can be had about what qualifies a player for a position. (You also could argue about whether Gehrig and Anson are first names, but Curt Schilling's son and Potsie Weber don't provide a large enough sample size to convince me to allow those names.)
I have a strong interest in pre-1900 baseball, including playing vintage base ball using the rules, clothing and terminology of the times. However, I have difficulty reckoning the stats of those early days with more modern numbers. Was Roger Connor really the best first sacker with two first names? From 1880 to 1897, he hit .316/.397/.486 for a 153 OPS+, and he contributed 138 home runs when such gaudy displays of power often were looked upon with disdain.
Still, the rules and level of competition were such that a solid comparison between then and now is sketchy. So, while I'll acknowledge that Connor was a terrific ballplayer, I'm going with a different choice for this spot.
Eddie Murray is a Hall of Famer just like Connor, and his stats certainly support his candidacy on this team. He batted .287/.359/.476 for a career OPS+ mark of 129. His 504 homers put him second only to Mickey Mantle among switch-hitters, and Murray drove in 1917 runs while scoring 1627.
His initial big league campaign earned him Rookie of the Year honors, and he was good enough with the leather when he was young to garner three Gold Gloves. Eight All-Star nods and nine top-11 MVP finishes—including back-to-back runner-up seasons in 1982 and '83—put the finishing touches on Murray's resume.
Other well-known Murrays: Everyone's favorite blogger, the infamous Murray Chass (I refuse to provide a link) and the dog from "Mad About You."
Honorable mentions: Roger Connor, Bill Terry, and Will Clark.
With Robinson Cano's emergence as a superstar, he not only is climbing up the leader board of top second sackers, his first name—given in honor of Jackie Robinson—has made several prominent players eligible for this squad. (Yes, I disqualified Lou Gehrig earlier despite Curt Schilling naming his son after the Iron Horse, but let's wait until the younger Schilling reaches the majors before granting a waiver on the name.)
Jackie Robinson was a terrific player and a man of impressive character, but his relatively short career doesn't match up to the premiere two-first-names player at his position.
It's very difficult to argue that this should be anyone other than Joe Morgan. After receiving two cups of coffee in 1963 and '64, Morgan hit the ground running as a 21-year-old keystoner in 1965, leading the league in walks while finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting. His amazing patience and bat control led to a lifetime strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1015:1865. Yep, Morgan walked close to twice as often as he went down swinging.
His fantastic all-around game included:
- 18 seasons of double-digit steals, including eight years with over 40 swipes, a single-season high of 67 in both 1973 and '75, and a grand total of 689 steals, 11th all time
- 13 seasons with double-digit homers (peaking in 1976 with 27)
- 10 All-Star appearances
- eight seasons scoring 100-plus runs
- two MVPs (in 1975 and '76) and three other top-10 finishes
His triple-slash line of .271/.392/.427 may seem impressive only in the second category, but overall it yielded a 132 OPS+. Morgan was a vital cog in the Big Red Machine and one of the most complete players in big league history.
Other well-known Morgans: Morgan Ensberg and Morgan Fairchild. Also, this seems like a good opportunity to remind everyone about Morganna, the Kissing Bandit.
Honorable mentions: Jackie Robinson, Joe Gordon, Jeff Kent, and Billy Herman.
Brooks Robinson earned his Human Vacuum Cleaner reputation with his 16 Gold Gloves, and he was awarded the 1964 American League MVP. He's clearly a deserving Hall of Famer, but there's one hot corner player better in this competition—George Brett. While Brett didn't have the defensive chops of Robinson, he has just enough of an edge in the other components of the game to come out ahead.
While Brett earned only a single Gold Glove, he matched Robinson with an MVP award, and Brett also came in second in the voting two more times and third once (Robinson also had one second-place and two third-place finishes). The home run advantage goes to Brett, 317-268, as do the RBI (1,596-1,357) and runs scored (1,583-1,232) categories. There's no contest in stolen bases, with Brett's 201 dominating Robinson's 28.
Yes, the eras these two men played in were different, but Brett's .305/.369/.487 line translates to a 135 OPS+, well ahead of Robinson's 104 mark based on his .267/.322/.401 totals. Baseball-Reference's WAR give Brett a 10-point edge, 88.4 to 78.4, and I concur that Brett takes the title in this close contest.
Other well-known Bretts: Brett Butler, Brett Favre and Bret Michaels
Honorable mentions: Brooks Robinson, Dick Allen, and Bob Elliott.
Nope, the existence of Vaughn Eshelman isn't quite enough to make Arky Vaughan eligible. However, Wallace Shawn and his famous quote (along with others named Wally) resonate enough for Bobby Wallace to merit consideration, though his turn-of-the-century career and therefore incomplete numbers make evaluating his total contribution difficult.
Delving deeper into the shortstop list, we find Pee Wee Reese. His first name was actually Harold, but when was the last time anyone ever called him that? The Brooklyn Dodgers spark plug was another of those all-around solid talents. Reese topped out at 16 homers in 1949, and he only once stole 30 bases (leading the league with that total in 1952), but he sure knew how to work a walk, as his .269/.366/.377 triple-slash numbers evince.
Reese also crossed the plate 1,338 times despite missing three seasons due to military service. The 10-time All-Star earned MVP votes in 13 of his 16 major league seasons, finishing in the top 10 eight times. He was on seven squads that appeared in the World Series, though the Dodgers only came out on top in one of their seven meetings with the Yankees during his tenure.
He may not be the most impressive member of this roster, but Reese was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veteran's Committee in 1984, and the Little Colonel is a fine addition to this team.
Other well-known Reeses: Reese Witherspoon, and I had two co-workers each with a child named Reese, one boy and one girl.
Honorable mentions: Bobby Wallace, Travis Jackson, and Cecil Travis.
Pete Rose is not only the best left fielder fitting our needs, his name also is a sentence unto itself. (And no, I'm not letting Henderson Alvarez make Rickey Henderson eligible. Hey, it's my list.)
Rose really could have qualified for this team at five different positions, as he played more than 500 games each in left field and right field and at first, second and third bases.
What's there to say that's not known about Rose? We're all familiar with his 4,256 hits to go along with the most games played and plate appearances marks. He won the 1963 NL ROY award and the NL MVP a decade later and was a top-10 vote-getter for that award 10 times. Rose made the All-Star team in 17 different seasons and won Gold Gloves in 1969 and '70, though he was primarily a right fielder in those campaigns.
His willingness—and ability—to play wherever he was needed, and to do so with a burning passion that earned him the nickname "Charlie Hustle," endeared Rose to his teammates, management and fans, particularly those in his home town of Cincinnati, where he achieved his greatest glory.
How much did Rose love the game of baseball? This quote says it all: "I'd walk through hell in a gasoline suit to play baseball." You want a guy with that much desire and intensity on your team.
Other well-known Roses: Red, American Beauty (what an awful movie), and this lady.
Honorable mentions: Fred Clarke, Joe Kelley, Sid Gordon, and Frank Howard.
This one took some digging. There's no Mays-, Cobb- or Mantle-level players to choose from, and we finally get to our first non-Hall of Famer (among those eligible). He's no slouch, and he may be better than a few Hall of Fame center fielders, so it's with pleasure that Fred Lynn is appointed to the roster.
The first—and until Ichiro Suzuki crossed the Pacific, the only—player to win the MVP and ROY awards in the same season, Lynn may rarely, if ever, have reached that height again, but he certainly was a heck of a ballplayer. He also earned an All-Star nod (one of nine total) and a Gold Glove (one of four overall) in his initial season of 1975. Solid performances followed for the next three years until 1979, when Lynn posted a line of .333/.424/.637, leading the league in all three categories and in OPS+ at 176.
After a trade from the Red Sox to the Angels prior to the 1981 season, he slumped badly in his first campaign in California, but he bounced back to again produce steady numbers across the board. Lynn had a freakish seven-year run from 1982 to 1988 in which he hit 21, 22, 23, 23, 23, 23, and 25 home runs.
Lynn's career totals of 306 long balls, 1,111 RBI, 1,063 runs and a 129 OPS+ highlight that he was a strong player for a long time. He falls short of Hall of Fame worthiness, but he's an asset to this team.
Other well-known Lynns: Lynn Swann, Lynn Redgrave, Loretta Lynn, and my uncle. (You don't want links to those last three.)
Honorable mentions: Willie Wilson, Hack Wilson, Torii Hunter, Mike Cameron, and Amos Otis.
I have to choose? Seriously, Frank Robinson doesn't merit more than a passing mention in this discussion, and he was awesome. But when the competition has last names of Ruth and Aaron, you're out of luck.
Unfortunately, I have to say the same about Hank Aaron. Despite being a consistently stellar ballplayer for two decades, I have to give the nod to the guy who revolutionized the game.
Babe Ruth hit homers when homers weren't cool, but he did so with such gusto and flamboyance that he made them cool. When he retired with his 714 home runs, only two other players—Gehrig and Rogers Hornsby—had even 300.
A full list of Ruth's accomplishments would take too long and mostly be retelling things everyone already knows. Still, various seasons throughout his career—when they only played 154 games—produced 60 homers, 171 RBI, 177 runs scored, batting averages topping .370, on-base percentages over .500, slugging marks over .800, and OPS+ values above 220. In fact, his career OPS+ was 206!
Oh, yeah, and there's the fact that he began his career as a pitcher, going 94-46 with a 122 ERA+. In two World Series, he went 3-0 with a 0.87 ERA. The man simply can not be topped.
Other well-known Ruths: Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the book of the bible, and Baby Ruth.
Honorable mentions: Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson,Reggie Jackson and Shoeless Joe Jackson.
Beginning his career in a low-scoring environment but finishing in a significant higher-scoring one, Grover Cleveland "Pete" Alexander held his own for the better part of 20 years. Not surprisingly, he was at his best in his late 20s, when his physical talents and mental prowess were at their combined peak.
From his age-24 rookie year in 1911 through his seventh season, Alexander threw over 300 innings each year and won between 19 and 33 games. An all-but-lost year in 1918 was followed by a return to form for a couple more seasons before he tapered off into merely very, very good for another decade.
All told, Alexander won 373 games with a .642 winning percentage, throwing 5,190 innings with a 136 ERA+. He completed 437 of the 600 games he started, and he finished off another 80 in relief, retroactively being credited with 32 saves. His 90 shutouts are second all time behind Walter Johnson, though his 2,198 strikeouts (3.8 K/9) demonstrate how the game has changed.
He had one of the longer full names in baseball history, but giving him the nod as the ace of this squad took a very short time.
Other well-known Alexanders: Alexander the Great, Alexander Hamilton, Alexander Graham Bell. (Yes, I'm running out of good links. Sorry.)
Honorable mentions: Oh, forget the honorable mentions; these guys round out the phenomenal rotation: Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, Gaylord Perry, and Tommy John.
The clear leader in saves of two-first-name relievers is John Franco with 424, including 11 seasons with 28 or more. The only closers ahead of him on the saves list are Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman,and Lee Smith, and he is two saves ahead of Billy Wagner for the lead among southpaws.
Franco was a four-time All-Star who recorded a 138 ERA+ in 1,245.2 innings. He managed to win 90 games, including 12 in 1985, despite never starting a single game.
We're talking about a reliever on a squad with this starting pitching staff, so it's not like he'd throw many innings. Still, if the need arose to slam the door shut at the end of the ballgame, Franco would be an excellent choice.
Other well-known Francos: Franco Harris is the only one that comes to mind, but this catch is more than enough to make up for his lack of colleagues.
Honorable mentions: Tom Gordon, Stu Miller, and Joe Nathan.
References and Resources
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
Greg Simons finally, sadly has conceded that he won't have an MLB playing career. However, in his dreams, he's still the second coming of Ozzie Smith. Please don't wake him up, though you can e-mail him at gregbsimons AT yahoo DOT com.