October, needless to say, has a tough act to follow in September. While no one is passing up that month for quality, the race for second is on. October is the home of virtually all of baseball’s great postseason memories, so let’s see if it is also the birth month of great players.
Per usual, the rule is that to qualify for any position a player must have played 50 percent or more of his games there. In October, this rules out Rod Carew—albeit on the merits at his position, rather than the lack of any position holding fifty percent for his games. With that bit of unpleasantness out of the way, let’s continue:
Catcher: Gene Tenace
It occurs to me as I was writing this entry that while the all-month teams are pretty good, they would face strong competition from the collection of players who appeared on The Simpsons. Tenace, who had a brief cameo in the 17th season episode, “Regarding Margie,” would probably lose out on the catcher’s spot to Mike Scioscia (a two-time guest star!) but you could do far worse than Tenace. Twice the league leader in walks, he played on four World Series winning teams, and earned the MVP honors after batting .348 with four home runs in the A’s victory over the Reds in 1972. As if his home run power were not enough, it was his sixth inning double that broke a 1-1 tie and gave the A’s a lead they would never surrender.
First Base: Jimmie Foxx
October is not lacking for first baseman. In addition to Double X, who is the second-best October player and well-deserving of this spot, October saw the births of the aforementioned Carew, Mark McGwire, Keith Hernandez, Bill Terry and Fred McGriff. That group has more than 1400 home runs, two Hall of Famers, two MVP awards, two Rookie of the Year awards, and 12 Gold Glove Awards. And that’s the guys who couldn’t make the team!
|Robinson Cano (US Presswire)|
Second Base: Robinson Cano
With Carew ineligible, second base is, almost comically so, a competitive position for the October team. In addition to Cano, the other two contenders are Jim Gilliam and Placido Polanco. A longtime Dodger—he played 14 years with the team in both Brooklyn and Los Angeles—Gilliam was never a great hitter. He could take a walk though (he led in the league in 1959) and also deserves credit for time spent in the Negro and minor leagues.
Nearing the end of his career, Polanco is nearly a lifetime .300 hitter, and one of just two men to win a Gold Glove at two positions. (Polanco won two at second and another at third; the other is Darin Erstad.) Nonetheless, the spot goes to Cano who is the best hitter of the bunch: he is already the October 2B leader in home runs, will likely hold the top spot in doubles soon. With much of his career still ahead of him, this spot is Cano’s to lose.
Third Base: Eddie Mathews
While second base is a battle between a number of almost equally qualified candidates, third base has no such issues. Of course, there are few months that can feature a player at third the equal of Mathews. A 12-time All-Star, he slugged 512 home runs in his career, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1979.
Shortstop: Joe Cronin
For some months, Cronin would be a fine choice as the manager. He won nearly 1,250 games in his career as a skipper, including the 1933 and 1946 American League pennants. Instead, he will have to “settle” for a position at shortstop. There’s no shame in that for Cronin who twice led the American League in doubles (and triples once as well) and finished his career as a better than .300 hitter and seven-time All-Star.
Left Field: Goose Goslin
With the Nationals clinching a playoff spot—and probably, by the time you read this, the National League East—there has been much talk of how that will be the first postseason baseball in Washington DC since 1933. This team actually has a pair of notable connections to that Senators’ squad, which lost the World Series in five games to the Giants. In addition to shortstop and manager being the just-discussed Joe Cronin, one of their regular outfielders was Goose Goslin. (Goslin actually primarily played right field that season, though he was more of a left fielder by trade.) A Hall of Famer, Goslin was a lifetime .316 hitter—he won the 1928 batting title after hitting .379—and remains in the top 25 all-time for triples. He is one of only four players—the others are Stan Musial, Rogers Hornsby, and Lou Gehrig—with at least 500 doubles, 200 home runs and 150 triples, an impressive testament to his all-around power.
Center Field: Mickey Mantle
Of course, Goslin had impressive all-around power, but Mickey Mantle was just in another league. There’s an incredible number of ways to look at Mantle’s greatness. You could take the opinions of his contemporaries: one player said Mantle was such a powerful batter that he hit “the ball so hard, he [knocked] the spin off it” such that catching “a liner from him is like catching a knuckleball.” You could look at the opinion of the press, who elected Mantle to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, voted him three MVP Awards and wrote lines saying that “the imprint of baseball greatness is upon Mickey Mantle just as surely as the portrait of Thomas Jefferson graces the current three-cent stamp.” Or one can simply look at Mantle’s numbers: 536 career home runs, which includes four seasons leading the league. Mantle also led the league, variously, in runs (five times), walks (five times), and OPS+ (an astonishing eight times). There are some great players on this team, including a number to come on the pitching staff, but none greater than The Commerce Comet.
Right Field: Ichiro Suzuki
This is a really, really tough spot. On the one hand, there is Ichiro Suzuki. After hitting no less than .342 during his seven season as a full-time player in Japan—including twice batting .385 or better—Ichiro came to the United States and immediately won both the Rookie of the and Most Valuable Player awards. He led the league in hits seven times, won two batting titles, broke the single-season hits record, stole more than 450 bases and has won 10 Gold Glove Awards.
On the other hand, there is Hall of Fame Dave Winfield. A first ballot Hall of Famer and 12-time All-Star, Winfield recorded 465 home runs and more than 3000 hits in his career, and won seven Gold Gloves of his own. There is no real “wrong” answer here, but since the key is finding the best player—not just the owner of the best MLB career—it seems likely that Ichiro’s Japanese career is enough to just eek out the big Minnesotan for the right field spot.
Starting Pitchers: Pedro Martinez, Juan Marichal, Kevin Brown, Jim Palmer, Whitey Ford
I wish I could explain why some months end up running out good but not great pitchers like Jon Matlack and Frank Tanana but October has Hall of Famers Jim Bunning and Mordecai Brown—“Three-Finger” to his friends—sitting on the bench. October makes for great pitchers, I suppose.
This is a pretty good starting rotation, as you can probably guess from the names of players who couldn’t crack the list. Martinez will be in the Hall of Fame come the 2015 election, with a well-deserved spot. Martinez led the league in ERA five times—often by comical margins, as in 200 when his 1.74 ERA was nearly two full runs better than that of second place Roger Clemens. In fact, the distance between Martinez’ ERA and that of Clemens was greater than the distance between Clemens and Scott Schoeneweis, who had the third worst-qualifying ERA that year.
A countryman of Martinez, Marichal could be the ace for a lot of teams. During his mid-‘60s peak, he average—averaged!—289 innings with a 2.34 ERA. From 1963 through 1969 he won 154 games, with no pitcher within 20 games of that total. For good measure, he posted a career 1.50 ERA in the postseason, albeit in limited action.
Barring some love for the Veterans Committee, it seems unlikely Kevin Brown will see the Hall of Fame without buying a ticket. And though as a Yankee fan, I’m loathe to defend him, it has to be said that Brown deserved better than falling off the ballot with just 12 votes. At his peak, Brown was an outstanding pitcher: durable—he topped 230 innings seven times—and effective—twice leading the league in ERA.
Of course, if you’re talking about durable and effective at his peak, Jim Palmer should be in the conversation. The lifelong Oriole—after his career, he has broadcast for the team for years—led the league in innings pitched four times, and threw more than 275 innings seven times, just missing an eighth. Of course, Palmer earned the right to throw all those innings with his performance, finishing with a career 2.86 ERA and 268 wins, including 20 or more eight times.
|All-October RF Ichiro, doing his thing (US Presswire)|
Finally, we come to the Chairman of the Board. Ford’s career numbers—236 wins, 2.75 ERA in just under 3,200 career innings—may not impress compared to those posted by Three-Finger Brown, who he beat out for this spot. Ford earns in for a few reasons: for one, he deserves credit for two seasons (1951 and ’52) spent in military service after his outstanding 1950 rookie year. For another, Ford was an impeccable postseason performer as his lifetime 2.71 ERA in October makes clear. Finally, Ford merits special praise given that it appears Casey Stengel often saved him to pitch against contenders, which means his numbers are all the more impressive.
Closer: Trevor Hoffman
Like July’s Billy Wagner, Hoffman somewhat suffers in his career simply for not being Mariano Rivera. It was Rivera who took the all-time saves record from Hoffman, and while Rivera’s postseason heroics are much covered, Hoffman’s playoff career is ordinary at best. Of course, not being Mariano Rivera doesn’t mean Hoffman was not an exceptional closer. In 1998, Hoffman was brilliant, throwing almost 75 innings of 1.48 ERA baseball, saving 53 games and allowing just three runs in save situations all year. Hoffman may not be Rivera, but October could far worse for having him close out their games.
(And speaking of my just-devised October makes great pitchers theory, Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley was also born this month. Eck started a small enough proportion of his games to qualify for the closer spot, but is edged out by Hoffman.)
Manager: Tony LaRussa
As I mentioned earlier, October has a man with a pretty good pedigree as a manager playing shortstop. Despite this, there’s no doubt that this spot belong to LaRussa. In his just-ended career, he won six pennants and three World Series titles. For good measure, he also led his teams to four 100 win seasons, and 12 first place finishes. Had LaRussa continued managing this year, he would have passed John McGraw for the second most managerial wins all-time; nonetheless, at more than 1,000 wins ahead of the nearest active manager (Jim Leyland), LaRussa’s place is secure.