Now that we are well into the sixth month of the year, I can unveil the All-June squad, the team making up the best of the best born this month. As the loyal among you know, this is the latest in a series of creating the best team from each month, with the grand comparison between all months coming this December.
As usual, the rule remains that to qualify for any position a player must have played 50 percent or more of his games there. This has the unfortunate side effect of ruling out some players who bounced around the diamond for most of their careers—for this month, Harmon Killebrew—but is necessary to establish that any player at a position could truly play there. With that out of the way, let’s begin:
Catcher: Bill Dickey
I was trying to figure out what to say about Bill Dickey—which included a whole Shakespeare/Christopher Marlowe thing which was both too long and too clever by half—before I finally realized that the solution was staring me in the face: Bill Dickey was Yogi Berra before Yogi was. Of course, he wasn’t all Yogi; he didn’t, so far as I know, have a great gift for Malaprop. But that’s why he’s the proto-Yogi. Like Yogi, Dickey played for the Yankees (he even wore number eight—Berra would later wear it as tribute to his mentor) and like Yogi, he was a catcher. Dickey was also an excellent hitter; his 1936-39 peak featured a 144 OPS+, and was widely regarded as a strong defensive player with a powerful arm. Finally, although Berra would end up winning 10 World Series titles, the proto-Yogi was no slouch in that department himself, winning seven titles over the course of his career.
|Jim Edmonds, showing off his swing (US Presswire)|
First Base: Lou Gehrig
Some pretty good first basemen were born in June, including Carlos Delgado, Mark Grace and—if you like your first baseman of the defensive sort—Doug Mientkiewicz. But none hold a candle to the Iron Horse. In fact, the collective WAR of the three men just listed is still less than that of Gehrig. He remains the all-time June leader in runs, triples and RBI and is second for doubles and home runs.
Second Base: Ian Kinsler
Just eyeballing the past teams, I think Kinsler, who is just shy of 850 games played as you read this, is the least experienced position player to make a team. And taking nothing away from the longtime Ranger, who at age 30 still has time to add to his value, second base is a rather uninspired group. Other contenders for the keystone include Mark Ellis , Dave Cash and Mark Grudzielanek. Luckily for the June team, they have a Hall of Famer (or Hall of Famer to be) everywhere else in the infield.
Third Base: Wade Boggs
A great hitter, and criminally underappreciated during his peak, Wade Boggs won five batting titles, including four in a row from 1985-1988. Only seven men won more batting titles, and (perhaps more impressively) only five men—Ted Williams, Barry Bonds, Ruth, Hornsby and Cobb—led the league in on-base percentage more frequently than did Boggs. For good measure, he was a 12-time All-Star and, my personal favorite Boggs moment, rode a police horse around Yankee Stadium after winning the 1996 World Series. Hard to top that.
Shortstop: Derek Jeter
Jeter completes what is, I realize now, a rather Yankee-heavy infield. In fact, everyone except Kinsler played at least 600 games for the Bronx Bombers and among those players, only Boggs played for anyone else. Even more so, Jeter and Boggs were teammates for all or part of three seasons (1995-97), which included one World Series title while Dickey and Gehrig played together for a dozen years.
Left Field: Billy Williams
Perhaps this is just my own blindness, but it seems to me that Billy Williams never quite gets the recognition he deserves as the third member of the Cubs pitiable triumvirate along with Ernie Banks and Ron Santo, and whose misery culminated in their collapse late in 1969. Banks, of course, is “Mr. Cub” the man who will forever be imploring us to play two. Santo, meanwhile, spent years as a Cubs broadcaster to further associate himself with the team. Williams, meanwhile, spent all but the last two seasons of his career with the Cubs, and his name is all over their franchise leader boards, often just behind that of Banks. Nonetheless, Sweet Swinging Billy from Whistler simply does resonate as a Cub the way his contemporaries do.
Center Field: Jim Edmonds
Speaking of ballplayers who are underappreciated, we come to Jim Edmonds. “Jimmy Baseball” may have some of the strangest award voting numbers in baseball history. In 2002 he batted .311 with a 158 OPS+ and won the Gold Glove for his play in center field. Nonetheless, he finished seventeenth—seventeenth!—in the MVP voting. Among those judged more valuable than Edmonds that year was Junior Spivey, who played in fewer games, hit 10 points lower and had an OPS more than 115 points worse, despite playing in a better offensive environment. The mind fairly boggles. It will be interesting to see if the lack of respect for Edmonds carries over to the Hall of Fame voting. Though he is a borderline selection, one wonders if sportswriters will remember only his great diving catches and forget that he could do all that while hitting like a first baseman.
|One of June’s many Yankees: Andy Pettitte (US Presswire)|
Right Field: Ken Singleton
Our Yankee connections continue here, as Singleton has been a Yankee broadcaster since 1997. Once described by Bill James as “the ultimate Earl Weaver player, quiet, functional and nearly flawless,” Singleton switch-hit, drew walks, hit for good power and was a solid if unspectacular defensive outfielder. He unquestionably lacks the star power of some his teammates, but one could go a long way with a team of players like Singleton.
Starting Pitchers: Carl Hubbell, Andy Pettitte, Eddie Cicotte, Dizzy Trout, Jack Chesbro
This is a genuinely weird mix of names. It’s also a serious contender—with January—for the worst starting rotation to date. Of course, the problems don’t start at the top. Owner of two great nicknames, “King Carl” and “Meal Ticket,” Hubbell won 253 games in his career, including a five-year stretch in the mid 1930’s when he went 115-50 for the Giants with a 2.52 ERA. You all know about Pettitte, of course, who is as I write these very words trying to add to his career numbers while facing the Mets.
I’m sure fans of other months will enjoy having Eddie Cicotte to shout at, since as one of the key figures in the fixing of the 1919 World Series he certainly is no saint. On the other hand, when he was on the up-and-up, Cicotte was often a terrific pitcher, never more so than in 1917 when he won 28 games with a league-best 1.53 ERA, and then allowed just four earned runs in 23 innings in the World Series.
A distinguished member of my “All-Fish” team, Dizzy Trout was just 33-44 the first four seasons of his career, despite a strong 3.71 ERA. After being classified 4-F because of a hearing impediment (just like George Bailey) Trout established himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball. From 1943 to 1946 he won 82 games and did so with a sparkling 2.48 ERA. He was even better in the 1945 World Series, his 0.66 ERA deserving of better results than a 1-1 record. Finally, Jack Chesbro earned his spot on the team thanks to his own incredible peak; in the early days of baseball the spitballer won 130 games in five seasons while averaging—averaging!—331 inning a year.
Closer: Doug Jones
Doug Jones, as I think I’ve mentioned before, remains the last pitcher to record more than 30 saves in a season while also pitching 100 or more innings without making a single start. As late as age 42, he was still pitching 100 innings in relief—he is one of just four men to do that at 40 or above—and finished his career with more than 300 saves, five All-Star appearances and a lifetime 3.30 ERA. Those numbers perhaps look a bit unimpressive compared to some closers, but Jones must receive credit for being a product of his time.
Manager: Wilbert Robinson
Known to one and all as “Uncle Robbie,” Robinson won two pennants and nearly 1400 games during his 19 years as a manager. So popular was he, in fact, that the Dodgers franchise was known as the Brooklyn Robins, in honor of their skipper, for his time there. Despite sometimes unkind names for the team—they were sometimes known as the “Daffiness Boys” for their defensive shortcomings, Robinson’s teams were rarely outright dreadful—he never finished last in Brooklyn, and once ended up in sixth place despite a better than.500 record, and won 90 or more games three times.