At long last, we reach the final month of constructing the All-Month teams. Come December, we shall compare the teams month-by-month to determine, truthfully, who has the second best squad besides September’s juggernaut. Before we can begin the evaluation, it is only fair to give November its due.
As I have been saying for the past 11 months, let’s first review the rules: the rule is that to qualify for any position a position player must have played 50 percent or more of his games there. This has excluded some great players throughout the year (Babe Ruth, for one) but it remains a necessary evil to ensure everyone is slotted into a spot they actually played. Having dispensed with that, let’s move on to the team itself:
Catcher: Ivan Rodriguez
There are some good catchers born in November, including Hall of Famer Roy Campanella and 11-time All-Star Bill Freehan. Despite this, there should be no doubt that this spot belongs to Pudge Rodriguez. The 1999 American League MVP won 13 Gold Gloves—no catcher has more—and made 14 All-Star games in his career. While the ’99 MVP would have been better awarded to Derek Jeter or Pedro Martinez, Rodriguez did have a brilliant season, slugging 35 home runs, stealing 25 and ranking seventh in total bases despite coming to the plate just 630 times.
|November’s Pudge behind the Plate (US Presswire)|
First Base: Norm Cash
If one believes that Rodriguez will someday earn Hall of Fame induction—and his numbers certainly merit it, although there are some performance enhancing drug issues—then November and December have produced six Hall of Fame catchers: Rodriguez, Campanella, Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Gabby Harnett and Josh Gibson. They have also produced zero Hall of Fame first baseman, which goes a long way to explaining why Norm Cash is starting for the all-November squad.
The 1961 batting champion, and slugger of nearly 400 home runs, Cash is no slouch. Nonetheless, when his fellow first baseman are names like Gehrig, Murray and Pujols, “Stormin’ Norman” does seem to come up a bit short.
Second Base: Dick McAuliffe
A longtime Detroit Tiger, McAuliffe is a player who suffers in large part from the era in which he played. If you neutralize McAuliffe’s career to a neutral American League park with the 2012 run environment—itself not a great one—his career OPS jumps from .746 to .755. Put McAuliffe’s 1966 in the 2000 American League run environment and it translate to a .310/.412/.580 line, which compares favorably to the line put up by MVP second baseman Jeff Kent.
Of course, I don’t want to overstate things; McAuliffe did have a relatively short career and no amount of run-environment adjustment will make years like 1971 (when he hit .208/.293/.379) look good.
Third Base: Bob Elliott
Alias “Mr. Team,” and the 1947 National League MVP, Elliott was the subject of this column I wrote back in 2010. To summarize briefly: Elliott was born in San Francisco, made his Major League debut in 1939 and was exempt from service in World War II, possibly because of repeated head injuries suffered during his early career. Became a far better after turning 30 and being traded to Boston, won his MVP award and ended his playing career in the late ‘50s. Elliot then managed briefly (58-96 for the Kansas City A’s in 1960) and died young in 1966.
Shortstop: Bobby Wallace
Wallace is likely one of the more obscure Hall of Famers—he was elected by the Veterans’ Committee in 1953. He is something of a questionable choice for the Hall, nearly a fifth of his career was before the 20th century and his value is more tied to the length of his career (2,383 games across 25 seasons) rather than the strength of any single-season performance. (Indeed, until Omar Vizquel broke the record this past May, Wallace was the oldest man to play in a Major League game at short.)
Nonetheless, Wallace does deserve credit for his longevity and is widely known as a brilliant defensive shortstop. Combined with his occasional strong seasons at bat—like 1901 when he hit .324 for St. Louis.
Left Field: Joe Medwick
You could go one of three different ways here—maybe four—but for now I’m sticking with Medwick. For one, he was nickname “Ducky” which is pretty incredible for a Hall of Fame player. More seriously, he played 17 seasons and was a lifetime .324 hitter, including a league-leading .374 in 1937. In fact’ 37 was Medwick’s best season; he won the MVP while leading the league in not only average but also runs, hits, doubles, homers, RBI and total bases.
Of course, one could arguably select “Indian” Bob Johnson for this spot. Johnson played just 13 seasons, but accumulated nearly as many plate appearances as did Medwick in his career. He also managed to accumulate nearly as much value, in large part because he was far better at drawing a walk (he averaged 93 per 162 games, compared to Medwick’s 36) and hitting home runs.
Another good choice would be Minnie Minoso. Minoso did not play a full season until he was 25, but was obviously ready at that time, posting a .922 OPS (151 OPS+) while leading the American League with 31 stolen bases. Depending on how one credits Minoso for his Negro League career—in his final Negro League season at age 22 Minoso hit .403 with a 1.053 OPS—he might be the pick.
Finally, if one is projecting into the future, Ryan Braun may yet end up as the all-November left fielder.
Center Field: Joe DiMaggio
November is spoiled for choice in center field. In addition to DiMaggio—about whom more momentarily—November is the birth month of 1985 NL MVP Willie McGee, and the increasingly well-traveled but unquestionably talented Johnny Damon. Were DiMaggio’s greatness not what it is, this spot would instead belong to neither of those men, however, instead falling to Ken Griffey, Jr. Himself winner of the MVP award, Griffey led the AL in home runs four times, appeared in 13 All-Star games and won 10 Gold Glove awards.
Nonetheless, on this team, he is still relegated to backing up The Yankee Clipper. Despite missing three full years of his prime to military service—and retiring at age 36 despite remaining an above-average hitter—DiMaggio found the time to win three MVPs awards and two batting championships. He was an All-Star in his rookie season, his final season and every one in between. There are many great center fielders born in November, but there can be no doubt that Joltin’ Joe reigns supreme.
|Mariano Rivera, shutting the door for Team November (US Presswire)|
Right Field: Dwight Evans
So do you like peak value, or do you like a continued level of consistent performance? That is what the debate between Dwight Evans and Sammy Sosa comes down to. Baseball-Reference defines a season of 5 WAR or better as All-Star level In his career, Sosa had six of those seasons—including his insane 2001 year (.328/.437/.737 with 64 HR). Evans had just three years at that level.
(This is reflected in the “real world” as well: Sosa went to the All-Star game seven times, Evans just three.)
On the other hand, Sosa’s six All-Star caliber represent, by WAR, nearly two-thirds of his value. He has eight seasons (including, in fairness, some with cup of coffee length) with a WAR of one or fewer. Evans, meanwhile, had just five seasons with a WAR of one or fewer. Sosa had his last good year at age 33, whereas Evans remained a useful piece until he was nearly 40.
For me, Evans durability and consistency wins him the day. Still, it’s a close-run thing.
Starting Pitchers: Walter Johnson, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Curt Schilling, Bob Feller
That’s a pretty great pitching staff. In fact, it is a serious contender for the best pitching staff of any month. Walter Johnson, of course, is a pretty good ace, being that he is a serious contender for the title of greatest pitcher ever. In a 21-year career, Johnson won 417 games overall, and posted some truly astonishing seasons. In 1913 Johnson won 36 (a league-leading total and career high) with an MLB-best 1.14 ERA. In 346 innings that season, The Big Train had a WHIP of just .780 and won the MVP Award after earning the victory in exactly 40 percent of the Senators’ victories that season.
There are many months for which Tom Seaver would be the unquestioned ace. In November, the three-time Cy Young Award winner will instead have to settle for the number two spot. Of course, that’s a pretty good guy to be running out at number two. A 12-time All-Star, Seaver was first or second in the league in wins seven times in his career.
It is true there’s a lot of context to Bob Gibson’s incredible 1968 season: a high mound, a low offense environment and all the rest. Nonetheless, it is still incredible to think that nearly within the last couple of generations, there was a man who not only topped 300 innings in a season, but did it while allowing just 38 earned runs all season. For sake of comparison, during Roy Halladay’s brilliant 2008 season (20-11, 2.78 ERA), he allowed 76 earned runs—twice Gibson’s total.
Although you’d never know based on his position as baseball’s grumpy old man, Bob Feller was once one of the great young phenoms in baseball history. From his MLB debut at age 17 through age 22, Feller won 107 games with a 3.18 ERA and nearly 1,250 strikeouts—no pitcher won or struck out more at the age same. Of course, Feller was no slouch upon his return from service in World War II, winning another 159 games to complete his Hall of Fame career.
Finally, we come to Curt Schilling. Though he lacks the outstanding résumés of his rotation-mates in November, Schilling is still a great pitcher. Though his relatively low win total of 216 wins may make his Hall of Fame election something of a battle but Schilling other numbers—including more than 3000 strike outs and, of course, an outstanding postseason history—make him a worthy member of the all-November team.
Closer: Mariano Rivera
I think we’re all sick of my fawning for Rivera—he’s really great though, really—so I’ll just refer you to this column, which sums it up nicely.
Manager: Mike Scioscia
This might be the first time that I have a question about picking a manager. In 13 years at the helm of the Angels, Scoscia has led the team to the playoffs six times, averaged almost 90 wins, won two Manager of the Year awards and the 2002 World Series.
On the other hand, Gene Mauch was also born in November. Over his career Mauch won more than 1900 games and had four 90-wins teams. Ultimately, I gave the nod to Scoscia, who has managed just half as many games as Mauch, but already won nearly 60 percent of the latter’s total.
I freely concede, though, that this is a largely subjective thing, so if you prefer to imagine November managed by Mauch, I suppose I wouldn’t object too much.