Here is another in my continuing series of creating the best team from players born in each month. When we reach December, we will see which month reigns supreme. If you would like to check out the previous squads, they can be found at the links at the end of the column.
As usual, the rule remains that to qualify for any position a player must have played 50 percent or more of his games there. It is true that this rule excludes some great players—Babe Ruth and Pete Rose, among them—but that’s the standard set, and it will remain forever thus.
Catcher: Yogi Berra
There’s not a lot of other great catching talent in May—the second best is probably Jim Sundberg, who was more workmanlike than great—but it doesn’t really matter as few men (arguably none) could knock Yogi Berra from a starting job. Berra is a three-time American League MVP; all won during the 1950-1956 period when he never finished lower than fourth in the MVP voting. Yogi remains in the top-five all-time among catchers for home runs, runs, hits and the all-time leader in catcher RBI. And of course, if individual accomplishments aren’t enough, he was part of 10 World Series winners and 14 American League champions.
First Base: Jeff Bagwell
Excluded from the Hall of Fame owing to the combination of an under appreciation for his greatness and an embarrassing PED-related smear campaign, Bagwell nonetheless remains one of the great first baseman to ever live. A slugger with a career 149 OPS+ who hit just shy of 450 home runs in his career despite playing in the cavernous AstroDome, Bagwell was also a Gold Glove first baseman and twice stole 30 bases at a better than 70 percent rate.
|He might be Mr. October, but Reggie plays for the May team (US Presswire)|
Second Base: Eddie Collins
Last month I declared Rogers Hornsby one of the greatest hitting second baseman of all-time. For an all-around player at the keystone though, the title of the greatest player would have to go to Eddie Collins. The 1914 American League MVP—he finished second two other times and would have even more accolades had the award existed his whole career—Collins was not quite the hitter Hornsby was, but a far superior defensive player who stole nearly 800 bases in his career.
Third Base: George Brett
In case you haven’t noticed, the all-May team is ridiculously stacked in the infield. Brett is probably not the greatest third baseman to ever play, but he is comfortably in the top five. That’s also true for Berra, while Collins—as I mentioned—can lay real claim to the greatest ever at his position title. And if Brett ends up unavailable or in need of a day off, the all-May team can call upon a man generally considered the greatest defensive third baseman to play the game, Brook Robinson, to fill in.
Shortstop: Miguel Tejada
This never really occurred to me until just now, but Miguel Tejada has rather had a Zelig-like career, touching on nearly every major baseball story of the last decade. Tejada was a member of the A’s team which served as the basis for Moneyball, even being portrayed in the movie by fellow big league shortstop Royce Clayton. Tejada would also find himself caught him in Major League Baseball’s PED scandal, ultimately pleading guilty to lying to Congressional investigators about their own inquiry into whether Rafael Palmeiro had perjured himself when testifying before Congress. Finally, in 2008 an ESPN interview revealed that Tejada was actually two years older than he had previously claimed. Add in that Tejada left the small-market A’s for a big money contract with Baltimore, and it is easy to see how the story of baseball in the 2000’s could be told entirely through his career.
Left Field: Al Simmons
Another in the veritable parade of Hall of Famers run out by the May team on offense, Simmons is probably the most obscure. That should not take away from his greatness. A two-time batting champion—including 1931 when he hit .390—Simmons was a key member of Connie Mack’s great A’s teams of the late 1920’s. Simmons was often at his best in the postseason, batting .333 with a 1.048 OPS during with six home runs while playing in the World Series for the Philadelphia A’s. For good measure, Simmons was nicknamed “Bucketfoot Al” for his stride towards third base when batting.
Center Field: Willie Mays
You may have heard of this guy. It takes some doing for a team with names like Eddie Collins and George Brett to have its unquestioned best player in center field, but when the center fielder is Willie Mays, that about settles it. Of course, that also settles who will be playing center field on this team despite the presence of three Hall of Famers (Earle Combs, Edd Roush, Earl Averill) and Kenny Lofton.
I will spare you all reciting Mays’ almost endless list of accomplishments and say only that Mays was elected on the first ballot to the Hall of Fame, a well-deserved honor, even if 23 Hall voters that year inexplicably choose not to vote him.
Right Field: Reggie Jackson
You may also have heard of this guy. And if you haven’t, it is not for lack of effort on his part. Winner of five World Series titles, the 1973 AL MVP award and slugger of 563 home runs, perhaps no player was better at manipulating the media in his time than Reggie Jackson. Of course, it helps that when it came time to walk the walk, Jackson (owner of a 1.1212 OPS in the World Series) could do it.
Right field belongs to Jackson, but like center field, there is real talent behind him. Tony Gwynn is also a May birthday and while Manny Ramirez is primarily a left fielder for his career, he did play more than 900 games in right. The team thus has some real options for the days when Reggie doesn’t take the field.
Pitchers: John Smoltz, Roy Halladay, Rick Reuschel, Ed Walsh, Hal Newhouser
Assuming Bagwell someday earns his election to Cooperstown, all of the starting nine for the all-May team, save Miguel Tejada, will be so enshrined. And that’s a good thing, because the starting rotation for their square is, as these teams go, nothing special. That’s not to speak ill of these pitchers, but their rotation doesn’t compare to the ones run out by teams like March or April.
|The Man Who Would be Ace: is Roy Halladay May’s best ever pitcher? (US Presswire)|
Hal Newhouser earned election to Cooperstown by the Veterans Committee in 1992. His election was largely on the strength of his three-year stretch from 1944 through 1946. After having gone a collective 25-42 the three years previous, Newhouser exploded and won a total of 80 games in the three years, doing it with a 1.99 ERA. For his career, he finished with more than 200 wins and a 130 ERA+. Ed Walsh is the only other May pitcher in the Hall, and the numbers of “Big Ed” reflect just how different a time he pitched. A spitballer, Walsh twice threw more than 400 innings in a season and averaged 375 in the six periods (1907-1912) that makes up his prime. Among pitchers with 1000 career innings, Walsh’s 1.82 is the lowest ERA of all-time.
Roy Halladay has never thrown anything like the raw inning totals of Ed Walsh, but he has been a modern-day equivalent averaging more than 235 innings pitched since 2006. And like Walsh, he has done it while being hugely effective, winning the 2010 Cy Young award and not finishing below fifth in the voting since ’06. John Smoltz never quite had a run as good as Halladay’s, but he was no slouch himself. His own Cy Young season, 1996, would fit right in with Halladay’s recent run: 24-6, 253.3 IP and a 2.94 ERA. Last, but not least—well, sort of least—is Rick Reuschel. “Big Daddy” won 214 games in his career, including 36 at age 39 and 40 in San Francisco—only Phil Niekro won more games at those ages.
Reliever: Francisco Cordero
Granting that we’ve not unveiled all the teams yet, but this has an outstanding shot at being the weakest player on any team. Relievers in general figure to be the weakest players on the team—the relatively modern nature of the role means there’s a lot fewer to choose from—but Cordero isn’t even an especially great reliever. His list of most similar players is largely composed of second-tier closers like Armando Benitez and Rod Beck. Nonetheless, May is fallow ground for relievers and Cordero earns this spot ahead of names like Joakim Soria, Jose Mesa and the marvelously named Al McBean.
Manager: Bobby Cox
The all-time leader in ejections will bring his fiery style to lead the all-May squad. Of course, the reason Cox was able to accumulate all those ejections was because he was simultaneously accumulating many, many wins. Today he ranks fourth all-time on the managerial win list—behind only Connie Mack, John McGraw and Tony LaRussa—and led his teams to the playoffs 16 times. It is true that Cox’s team sometimes struggled in the postseason (16 trips led to just one World Series title) but the wins and his four Manager of the Year awards speak for themselves.