As you surely noticed, I have been building up these columns to an end point where I can compare and contrast the different squads to see which was best. Unfortunately, September has gone and made an absolute mess of that plan. I can’t with a straight face claim the September squad—as you’re about to discover—is anything but the best team. So it looks like come December everyone will be competing for second place. In the interim, we can all wonder what it is about a September birthday that apparently promotes such greatness.
As ever, the rule is that to qualify for any position a player must have played 50 percent or more of his games there. September does have some talented players who, in reality, would play away from their “natural” position to get themselves into the line-up, but no truly great players who are excluded on the grounds of a career spending bouncing around the diamond. On that note, let’s begin:
Catcher: Mike Piazza
An argument can be made, although I’m not a subscriber to it myself, that Piazza is the greatest catcher in Major League history. At the very least, he is unquestionably the greatest hitting catcher the game has ever seen. He is the all-time leader among backstops in home runs, slugging percentage, and OPS. Despite having fewer than 7800 plate appearances—fewer than many of his fellow catchers—he is comfortably in the top 10 in hits, runs, and batting average. Six of the top 15 home run seasons from a catcher are Piazza’s, and no catcher has ever bettered his 1997 season (.362/.431/.638, 40 HR, 185 OPS+) at the plate.
|The all-September end of game battery (US Presswire)|
First Base: Rafael Palmeiro
Given the choice, the all-September manager would probably play Frankie Frisch here, as The Fordham Flash—a middle infielder by trade—almost certainly could have handled the position. Nonetheless, the rules are clear and thus Palmeiro is the choice. Raffy clearly did not go out on a high note, ending his career with a positive PED test after giving some apparently perjurious testimony to Congress. I think it is safe to say that’s not exactly going to replace Ted Williams hitting a home run as anyone’s dignified exit. Leaving it aside though, Palmeiro, whether artificially aided or not, was a terrific hitter and he remains one of just four men with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs.
(If one is especially hardcore about avoiding players with the PED-taint, this spot belongs to Orlando Cepeda.)
Second Base: Joe Morgan
No position, on any team, I believe is as ridiculously talented as is second base for September. The top seven players by Baseball-Reference’s WAR statistic includes five Hall of Famers. Ryne Sandburg, who is a great player, a legitimate Hall of Famer and a serious contender to be listed as one of the 10 best second baseman who ever lived, is the fourth best keystone sacker born in September. In addition to Morgan—even greater as a player as would eventually become terrible as a broadcaster—September saw the birth of the aforementioned Frisch and Nap Lajoie.
Third Base: Mike Schmidt
You might be beginning to see what I mean about September dominating the competition. Here we come to yet another player with legitimate claim to being the best all-time at his position. A three-time MVP, Schmidt leads all third baseman in homers and OPS+, won 10 Gold Glove Awards (only Brooks Robinson has more) and did it all while sporting a truly outstanding mustache.
Shortstop: Robin Yount
Given that Yount famously moved to center field in the middle of his career, I was actually surprised to see him qualify at shortstop. As it turns out, he makes it with room to spare, having nearly 125 games worth of clearance. And while the runner-up at short for the September team—Phil Rizzuto—is no slouch, he’s also no Yount. For his career, the longtime Brewer recorded more than 3,100 hits, won the MVP Award twice (in 1982 and 1989) and was a career .344 hitter in the postseason. All of this helped him earn a spot in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1999.
Left Field: Tim Raines
Eminently deserving of a spot in the Hall of Fame, of course. I’ve written a fair amount about Raines before, particularly that he was cursed to play most his career contemporaneous to Rickey Henderson who offered all of Raines’ skills—and more. This gives Raines something in common with the all-September center fielder, another worthy Hall of Fame who was only the third best man at his position in his own city. At least Raines can take comfort in knowing that Rickey was born in December.
Center Field: Duke Snider
If I knew prior to writing this section that Snider was known as “The Silver Fox,” I had forgotten; that’s an awesome nickname. It occurs to me now that I could do a column of the best players at each position to never win an MVP award, Snider would certainly be a contender for the center field place. He came close—finishing just five points behind teammate Roy Campanella in 1955—but never won. It was not for lack of performance on Snider’s part though: the Dodgers’ center fielder led the league, variously, in hits, runs, homers (he average 41 from 1953 through ’57), walks, on-base and slugging percentage, and total bases. At the time of his retirement in 1964, only Mays and Mantle had hit more homers as a center fielder.
Right Field: Roger Maris
Among position players, Roger Maris is probably the weakest member of Team September. But that really just goes to show the strength of the team. Maris is a four-time All Star. He won back-to-back MVP awards and, of course, held the single-season home run record for decades. Maris is not a Hall of Fame worthy player, despite occasional calls to the contrary, but when it comes to manning right field for September, there is no shame is being the least among great talents.
|All-September third baseman Mike Schmidt (US Presswire)|
Starting Pitchers: Randy Johnson, Gaylord Perry, Robin Roberts, Red Faber, Urban Shocker
There may be no more different, though great, pitchers, the dual aces of the September team. Johnson was a huge man, at his peak throwing, almost exclusively, a mid-90’s fastball, and a diving slider that Bill James and Rob Neyer ranked as the second best of all-time. Perry, though tall, was nowhere near Johnson’s height, and relied on an assortment of pitches, most famously his spitball. But whatever their differences, both were incredibly successful. Johnson’s resume is well-known, his supremacy best shown by leading the league in strikeouts nine times. Perry was never quite that level of dominant, but he won a Cy Young award at age 39 and made an All-Star team a year later, finally drying off the spitball with 314 wins.
On some month’s teams—January and July, for example—Roberts would be the ace. For September, he is a very impressive number three. From 1950 when he burst onto the scene as a member of the Whiz Kid Phillies, to 1955, Roberts led the National League in wins, shutouts, complete games, strikeouts and ERA. He ended his career with 286 wins, and was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1976.
Per Baseball-Reference.com, only four players have reached the Major Leagues with a first name of “Urban.” And, incredibly, two of them are starters on the September team. The first is Urban “Red” Faber: winner of 254 games across a 20-year career with the White Sox. A spitballer, Faber missed out on playing in the tainted 1919 World Series owing to arm trouble and a case of the flu. He returned to form in the years after the “Black Sox” disgrace, winning 69 games from 1920 through 1922, while leading the league in ERA the latter two years. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1964. Meanwhile, his fellow Urban, Shocker, pitched less than 2,700 innings in his career but still won 187 games, including 71 in the same period that Faber won his 69.
Closer: John Franco
It seems hard to imagine a player more underrated than John Franco. Still the all-time leader among lefties in saves, and behind only Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, and Lee Smith in the standings, Franco’s career 138 ERA+, in nearly 1250 innings, is 17th all-time. Franco is not that good, of course, but is relatively comparable to Smith. Despite this, Smith recently crossed the 50 percent barrier among Hall of Fame voters, while Franco dropped off the ballot after just one year. The truth of the matter is that neither deserves enshrinement, but the gap between them is not nearly as large as popular conception would have it.
Manager: Tommy Lasorda
Of late—and somewhat of his own doing—Lasorda has become something of a punch line. There were those bizarre series of ads, featuring a tuxedo clad Lasorda, trying to convince depressed sorority girls and men in trees to watch postseason baseball, and that clip (repeated endless on ballpark blooper reels) of Lasorda being knocked ass-over-tea kettle while coaching the All-Star game. Despite all this, Lasorda remains a man with nearly 1,600 career wins, two World Series titles, along with two other pennants. Given the talent he’s working with in September, Lasorda should be able to guide them along.