The vintage baby pictures quiz (volume 2)

As you may recall from our first installment, the concept we’re recognizing here is as follows: When presented with a snapshot of a familiar adult from when he or she was in diapers, sometimes we can clearly see the resemblance, and sometimes we can’t. The same is true of prominent major league players, when viewing only their minor league statistics.

Presented below are the complete minor league stats of some big league stars—well, most of them were stars, anyway—from various decades past. Your challenge is to guess who each player is.

The answers are at the bottom of the article. No fair peeking!

Questions

Just who are these two young speed demons?

Player No. 1

Year Age  League  Class    Pos       G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB   SO  SB   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
1956  17  North.    C      1B-P     75  277   35   77  11   5   2   23   31   56  16 .278 .355 .375  .730
1957  18  Calif.    C     OF-1B    135  569  165  209  40  20  20   97   79   73  53 .367 .445 .613 1.058
1958  19  P.C.L.   AAA    OF-1B    124  475   92  163  28   8  11   77   42   53  37 .343 .401 .505  .906

Player No. 2

Year Age  League  Class    Pos       G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB   SO  SB   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
1959  19 Three-I    B       OF       7   30    5    4   0   0   0    1    ?    ?   2 .133   ?  .133    ?
1959  19  Calif.    C       OF     117  513  135  187  40  16  15   90   53   66  33 .365 .437 .593 1.030
1960  20  P.C.L.   AAA      OF     147  624  126  216  43  26  12   75   31   44  30 .346 .384 .556  .941

Here are a couple of infield prospects from the early 1970s who looked as though they could hit a little. Who are they?

Player No. 3

Year Age  League  Class    Pos       G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB   SO  SB   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
1970  19   NYP      A     SS-3B     66  234   44   63   5   1   6   29   32   46  16 .269 .363 .376  .739
1971  20  East.     AA    S-2-3    112  376   62   88  14   2  10   37   53   77  12 .234 .339 .362  .701
1972  21  East.     AA    2B-3B     42  131   29   43  13   3   4   26   17   25   5 .328 .424 .565  .989
1972  21   A.A.    AAA    3B-2B     26   61    7   13   3   0   1    9    9    7   1 .213 .310 .311  .621
1973  22  P.C.L.   AAA    2-3-O    123  491  119  166  22   7  22   90   56   72  17 .338 .404 .546  .950

Player No. 4

Year Age  League  Class    Pos       G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB   SO  SB   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
1971  18  Pion.   Rookie  SS-3B     68  258   44   75   8   5   5   44   32   38   3 .291 .369 .419  .788
1972  19  Calif.    A     3B-SS    117  431   66  118  13   5  10   68   53   53   2 .274 .349 .397  .746
1973  20   A.A.    AAA    3B-OF    117  405   66  115  16   4   8   64   48   45   3 .284 .352 .402  .754
1974  21   A.A.    AAA      3B      16   64    9   17   2   0   2   14    6    1   1 .266 .329 .391  .719

Here are two southpaws who were obviously stud prospects as teenagers. Both became stars in the majors, but one of vastly more magnitude than the other. For which one would you predict the better career? Bear in mind that the minor league classification “A-1″ was equivalent to today’s Double-A.

Pitcher No. 1

Year Age  League  Class      G   IP    W    L    H   HR   BB   SO   ERA  WHIP
1939  18  Texas    A-1      11   27    1    1   26    ?   20   14  4.67  1.70
1939  18  Evngl.    D       25  163   14    5  102    ?   54  212  2.37  0.96
1940  19  Texas    A-1      32  228   20    7  200    ?   82  169  2.88  1.24
1941  20  Texas    A-1      25  194   20    3  142    ?   62  151  1.16  1.05

Pitcher No. 2

Year Age  League  Class      G   IP    W    L    H   HR   BB   SO   ERA  WHIP
1940  18   Pony     D       12   66    5    4   53    ?   24   62  2.73  1.17
1941  19 Three-I    B       28  212   19    6  154    ?   90  193  1.83  1.15
1942  20  East.     A       33  248   17   12  148    ?  130  141  1.96  1.12

All right, it’s going to get tougher now.

Coming up side-by-side in the same organization, for obvious reasons stardom was universally predicted for this keystone pair. (Class AA in 1939-1940 was the highest minor league level, what we now know as Triple-A.) Yet these two would never play together as regulars in the majors, and while one would go on to the Hall of Fame, the other would experience a largely frustrating baseball career and eventually land in prison. Who are they?

Player No. 5

Year Age  League  Class    Pos       G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB   SO  SB   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
1937  17   A-M      D       2B     127  456  109  153  25  10  10   83   60   49  23 .336 .433 .500  .933
1938  18  Pied.     B     2B-SS    132  498   85  161  36   9   9   73   49   58  12 .323 .381 .486  .867
1939  19   A.A.     AA      2B     155  580  110  193  44  15  24  107   45   61  12 .333 .378 .584  .962
1940  20   A.A.     AA      2B     154  566   92  173  38  10  16  112   71   73  23 .306 .383 .493  .876

Player No. 6

Year Age  League  Class    Pos       G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB   SO  SB   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
1937  18  Bi-St.    D       SS      67  284   53   88  17   5   5    ?   24   21   6 .310 .364 .458  .821
1938  19  Pied.     B     SS-3B    112  446   97  150  24  10   9   58   33   34  26 .336 .379 .496  .875
1939  20   A.A.     AA      SS     135  503   99  159  21   6   5   64   36   27  33 .316 .354 .412  .766
1940  21   A.A.     AA      SS     148  579  124  201  28  10  10   73   48   33  35 .347 .394 .482  .876

Which of these two fireballing young lefties became the bigger star?

Pitcher No. 3

Year Age  League  Class      G   IP    W    L    H   HR   BB   SO   ERA  WHIP
1981  18  Pion.   Rookie    11   76    5    1   43    1   28  131  1.54  0.93
1982  19 Fla. St.   A       12   85    8    1   38    3   38  137  1.91  0.89
1982  19  P.C.L.   AAA      13   88    6    5   76   13   52   86  5.42  1.45
1983  20  Texas     AA      24  153   13    4  111   11   96  209  2.82  1.35
1984  21   I.L.    AAA      17  106    6    5   69    2   63  123  2.56  1.25
1985  22   I.L.    AAA       5   35    4    1   17    2   21   42  2.04  1.09

Pitcher No. 4

Year Age  League  Class      G   IP    W    L    H   HR   BB   SO   ERA  WHIP
1985  20   NYP      A        8   27    0    3   29    2   24   21  5.93  1.96
1986  21 Fla. St.   A       26  120    8    7   89    3   94  133  3.16  1.53
1987  22  South.    AA      25  140   11    8  100   10  128  163  3.73  1.63
1988  23   A.A.    AAA      20  113    8    7   85    6   72  111  3.26  1.39
1989  24   A.A.    AAA       3   18    1    1   13    0    9   17  2.00  1.22

These three were all righthanded batters, and all center fielders at this stage; all would eventually become corner outfielders. Each would blossom into a home run slugger at the major league level. Who are they?

Player No. 7

Year Age  League  Class    Pos       G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB   SO  SB   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
1941  18  East.     A       OF     141  509   94  142  23   7  11   66   89   86  16 .279 .381 .417  .797
1942  19  East.     A       OF     141  483   84  124  27   7  14   75   87   70   4 .257 .369 .429  .797
1943  20   I.L.     AA      OF      43  144   22   34   6   2   2   13   31   25   4 .236 .369 .347  .717

Player No. 8

Year Age  League  Class    Pos       G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB   SO  SB   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
1955  20  Pied.     B       OF     122  446   55  114  15   2   5   49   55   92  17 .256 .333 .332  .665
1956  21  Sally     A       OF     122  344   47   80  10   6  12   55   46   80  10 .233 .335 .401  .736
1957  22   S.A.     AA      OF     125  395   56   97  14  11   2   38   59   62   9 .246 .341 .352  .693
1958  23   S.A.     AA      OF     150  525   84  161  28   9   9   93   80   72  10 .307 .396 .446  .841

Player No. 9

Year Age  League  Class    Pos       G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB   SO  SB   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
1968  19    NW      A       OF      72  253   47   70   9   5   3   30   28   20   3 .277 .364 .387  .751
1969  20  Calif.    A       OF     121  449   68  144   5   8  14   85   37   59   1 .321 .389 .461  .850
1970  21  P.C.L.   AAA      OF     114  403   54  124  18   6   8   66   41   57   1 .308 .377 .442  .819

Each of these young righthanders put together an individual season of mind-boggling dominance in the low minors, yet neither was nearly as overwhelming in his other minor league seasons. Remember, Class A-1 was what would soon become AA, and in 1941 class AA was the equivalent of Triple-A in later years. Who are these guys?

Pitcher No. 5

Year Age  League  Class      G   IP    W    L    H   HR   BB   SO   ERA  WHIP
1938  21   A-F      D       38  273   25    6  143    ?  125  418  1.25  0.98
1939  22  Texas    A-1      11   63    3    5   57    ?   41   38  3.43  1.56
1939  22  Evngl.    D       24  173   13    5  137    ?   73  129  2.60  1.21
1940  23  Texas    A-1      33  203   12   11  170    ?   92  142  3.50  1.29
1941  24   I.L.     AA      33  204   12   12  164    ?   76  204  3.22  1.18

Pitcher No. 6

Year Age  League  Class      G   IP    W    L    H   HR   BB   SO   ERA  WHIP
1951  20  Pion.     C       22  127    3   11  113    3  113  100  4.25  1.78
1952  21  Calif.    C       43  300   28    4  250    ?  144  351  2.85  1.31
1953  22  Texas     AA      11   52    3    1   59    8   27   42  5.36  1.65
1953  22  West.     A       22  162   10    9  139    4   66  114  2.44  1.27
1954  23  Texas     AA       9   22    0    1   20    ?    7   13  5.32  1.23
1954  23   I.L.    AAA      30  172   12    6  179    5   70   73  3.19  1.45

These two shortstops were in the same organization, and would compete head-to-head for the big league starting job. One of them would go on to become a major league All-Star, while the other would struggle with his hitting (his best OPS+ in his three seasons as a regular was 93), and never really establish himself. Who are they?

Player No. 10

Year Age  League  Class    Pos       G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB   SO  SB   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
1950  18   O-I      D       SS      70  250   31   60  14   3   2   34   38   50   0 .240 .334 .344  .678
1951  19  West.     A       SS     149  508   49  117  20   2   5   53   48   76   2 .230 .295 .307  .602
1952  20  West.     A       SS     155  526   61  134  25   4   5   68   83   91   5 .255 .360 .346  .706
1953  21           (In Military Service)
1954  22           (In Military Service)
1955  23   A.A.    AAA      SS     145  542   72  136  35   3  19   74   55  106   0 .251 .318 .432  .750
1956  24   A.A.    AAA      SS      86  294   30   79  18   0   3   36   29   51   0 .269 .330 .361  .691
1957  25   A.A.    AAA      SS      81  318   48   91  26   4   4   35   15   30   3 .286 .318 .431  .748

Player No. 11

Year Age  League  Class    Pos       G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB   SO  SB   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
1954  19   Pony     D       SS     125  440   92  126  23   4   9   85   94   98   7 .286 .413 .418  .832
1955  20  North.    C       SS     123  452  133  175  28   7  28  111   84   43   6 .387 .481 .666 1.147
1956  21  Texas     AA      SS     148  482   84  128  23   1  22   90   98   81   8 .266 .389 .454  .844
1957  22   A.A.    AAA      SS      52  150   21   33   9   1   2   15   26   27   4 .220 .341 .333  .674
1958  23  P.C.L.   AAA    SS-3B    122  427  104  151  43   4  31   88   82   71   0 .354 .456 .691 1.147
1959  24  P.C.L.   AAA    SS-1B     41  146   12   38   3   2   4   16   11   28   0 .260 .314 .390  .705

Both of these lefties won a Cy Young Award. Neither is in the Hall of Fame.

Pitcher No. 7

Year Age  League  Class      G   IP    W    L    H   HR   BB   SO   ERA  WHIP
1968  18   Mdw.     A       24  152    8   11  102    4   80  231  2.49  1.20
1969  19  South.    AA      15  104   10    3   80    2   52  112  3.20  1.27
1970  20   A.A.    AAA      17  133   12    3   88    8   55  165  2.17  1.08

Pitcher No. 8

Year Age  League  Class      G   IP    W    L    H   HR   BB   SO   ERA  WHIP
1971  20  Appal.  Rookie     7   47    2    2   34    1   27   61  2.11  1.30
1972  21 Fla. St.   A       15   66    2    4   53    2   50   61  3.82  1.56
1973  22  Carol.    A       20  101    7    6   85    4   70   97  2.86  1.53
1974  23  East.     AA      37   77    2    4   80    5   53   79  5.26  1.73
1975  24   I.L.    AAA      42   62    6    5   46    0   37   76  2.90  1.34
1976  25   I.L.    AAA      22   40    5    1   16    0   13   50  0.68  0.73

Each of these young righthanded musclemen was the all-or-nothing poster boy of his generation. None would succeed as a big league slugging star. Who are they?

Player No. 12

Year Age  League  Class    Pos       G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB   SO  SB   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
1941  18 Wis. St.   D       OF     104  409   92  135  29   5  31  117   40  111  15 .330 .390 .653 1.043
1942  19 Three-I    B       OF     117  373   91  113  18   3  33   91    ?    ?   7 .303   ?  .633    ?
1943  20  East.     A       OF      31  114   14   28   6   0   5   25   18   18   1 .246 .346 .430  .776

Player No. 13

Year Age  League  Class    Pos       G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB   SO  SB   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
1958  18  Sally     A       OF      25   88   13   18   2   2   2   10   13   33   0 .205 .317 .341  .658
1958  18  Carol.    B       OF      65  244   36   55  13   1  10   29   36   84   5 .225 .336 .410  .746
1959  19  Texas     AA      OF      13   36    5    8   2   0   0    1    4   15   2 .222 .300 .278  .578
1959  19  North.    C       OF     120  429   98  128  18   9  35  114   76  119   7 .298 .413 .627 1.040
1960  20   I.L.    AAA      OF      18   50    4   13   3   1   1    4    6   22   1 .260 .339 .420  .759
1961  21   I.L.    AAA      OF      10   22    0    2   1   0   0    3    4   10   1 .091 .222 .136  .359
1961  21   S.A.     AA      OF     121  419   61  104  17   7  20   73   62  149   8 .248 .345 .465  .810

Player No. 14

Year Age  League  Class    Pos       G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB   SO  SB   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
1970  19 Fla. St.   A     1B-OF    114  373   42   92  20   6   9   64   40   83   2 .247 .318 .405  .722
1971  20 Fla. St.   A       OF     141  488  105  159  28   6  33  110   90  129   6 .326 .446 .611 1.057
1972  21   I.L.    AAA      OF      49  171   22   39   5   1  11   37   25   62   0 .228 .345 .462  .807
1972  21  South.    AA      OF      80  292   54   79  19   4  23   70   34  103   0 .271 .358 .599  .957
1973  22   I.L.    AAA      OF     144  515   96  127  25   5  39  108   69  197   1 .247 .345 .542  .887
1974  23   I.L.    AAA    OF-1B     25   90   11   25   9   0   5   16    7   31   0 .278 .361 .544  .905
1975  24   I.L.    AAA    OF-1B    113  362   51   77   7   5  17   50   54  133   1 .213 .329 .401  .730
1976  25   I.L.    AAA      OF      78  269   46   61   9   2  19   55   42   92   1 .227 .340 .487  .827
1977  26   I.L.    AAA      DH       5   12    1    3   1   1   0    0    0    5   0 .250 .250 .500  .750
1977  26   A.A.    AAA    OF-1B     45  160   21   37   9   1  11   31   21   53   1 .231 .324 .506  .830

Player No. 15

Year Age  League  Class    Pos       G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB   SO  SB   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
1988  17  G.C.L.  Rookie    OF       9   26    3    4   0   0   0    0    1    9   1 .154 .185 .154  .339
1989  18  G.C.L.  Rookie    OF      48  160   23   38   6   2   1   19   19   42  16 .238 .318 .319  .637
1990  19  Calif.    A       OF      99  331   48   72  13   1   9   40   25  135  17 .218 .272 .344  .617
1991  20 Fla. St.   A       OF      61  206   18   52  11   2   7   42    7   69   9 .252 .277 .427  .704
1992  21  Texas     AA    OF-1B    101  380   60  106  23   1  24   66   16  111  13 .279 .308 .534  .842
1992  21  P.C.L.   AAA      OF      25   95   11   20   7   0   2   10    6   42   1 .211 .257 .347  .605
1993  22  P.C.L.   AAA      OF     125  482   88  143  31   4  26  100   35  143   6 .297 .344 .539  .884
1994  23  P.C.L.   AAA      OF     107  388   93  134  19   4  37  105   53  116   6 .345 .424 .701 1.125

The name of each of these righthanders summons forth an image straight out of Agatha Christie: a monocled aristocrat taking tea and crumpets in the conservatory.

Pitcher No. 9

Year Age  League  Class      G   IP    W    L    H   HR   BB   SO   ERA  WHIP
1958  19  North.    C       17  128    9    5   97    6   48  111  2.35  1.13
1959  20  Texas     AA      41  191   10   11  218   20   69  119  4.05  1.50
1960  21  P.C.L.   AAA       1    1    0    0    1    1    0    0  9.00  1.00
1960  21  Texas     AA      31  188    9   13  164   12   77  120  2.82  1.28
1961  22  P.C.L.   AAA      33  219   16   10  208   13   61   95  2.55  1.23
1962  23  P.C.L.   AAA      22  156   10    7  128   11   56  136  2.48  1.18
1963  24  P.C.L.   AAA       1    9    1    0    3    0    1    7  1.00  0.44

Pitcher No. 10

Year Age  League  Class      G   IP    W    L    H   HR   BB   SO   ERA  WHIP
1962  18 Fla. St.   D       11   65    7    2   34    2   19   69  0.97  0.82
1962  18   I.L.    AAA       3   13    1    1   18    2    5    6  5.54  1.77
1963  19   I.L.    AAA       4   10    0    1   13    2    3   13  6.30  1.60
1963  19 Fla. St.   A       20  140   12    5  110    3   59  135  3.41  1.21
1964  20  South.    AA      21  139   10    6  124    5   42  149  3.11  1.19
1964  20  P.C.L.   AAA      11   57    5    5   40    6   34   49  3.16  1.30
1965  21  P.C.L.   AAA      32  122    8    6  104   13   42  112  2.95  1.20

Coming up in the same organization a generation apart, each of these young shortstops had “can’t miss star” written all over him. Both would soon encounter—no, that’s too much of a hint, I won’t tell you that. Both would eventually—nah, I won’t give you that one either. You’re on your own! Who are these extremely colorful guys?

Player No. 16

Year Age  League  Class    Pos       G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB   SO  SB   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
1949  18   E.S.     D       SS      71  304   56   69  14   3   4   30   40   62  26 .227 .307 .332  .639
1950  19   Pony     D     SS-3B    123  518  146  163  34   5  23  122   51   70  63 .315 .380 .533  .913
1951  20  East.     A       SS     137  546   94  149  28   2   9   70   24   74  25 .273 .301 .381  .682
1952  21   S.A.     AA      SS     153  613  107  190  32   7  17   91   25  111  14 .310 .334 .468  .802
1953  22   A.A.    AAA      SS      81  320   57   96  14   4  23   63   21   50  12 .300 .349 .584  .933
1954  23   A.A.    AAA      SS      73  268   54   78   9   6  17   53   28   44  14 .291 .361 .560  .921

Player No. 17

Year Age  League  Class    Pos       G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB   SO  SB   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
1968  18  Pion.   Rookie  OF-SS     62  224   62   63  14   4   6   26   39   27  20 .281 .408 .460  .868
1969  19  P.C.L.   AAA    SS-OF    111  402   61  104  19   5   3   35   32   57  34 .259 .318 .353  .671
1970  20  P.C.L.   AAA    SS-2B    146  621  122  211  39  16  14   80   47   51  29 .340 .391 .522  .913
1971  21  P.C.L.   AAA      SS       7   30    7   10   2   0   1    2    3    6   3 .333 .382 .500  .882
Answers

Player No. 1: Vada Pinson

Player No. 2: Willie Davis

Yowza, were these two prospects impressive! Pinson immediately became a star in the majors, but never a superstar, and he distinctly faded in his late 20s. Davis spent a long time figuring how to hit consistently in the majors; after the way he’d torn the minors apart, for much of his career there was an aura of disappointment around him. Davis hit 26 triples at the Triple-A level in 1960; that is an utterly astonishing feat.

An odd thing about Pinson is that blazing fast and slightly built as he was, he arrived in pro ball as a first baseman, and it took the Reds organization a year to figure out that maybe that wasn’t the optimal position for him.

Player No. 3: Bill Madlock

Player No. 4: George Brett

Seven big league batting titles between them, but neither bagged one in the minors. Brett, of course, greatly credited Royals batting coach Charlie Lau with helping change his batting approach and making him the line-drive-hitting superstar he became. Yet Madlock’s minors-to-majors stats transformation is more significant: It’s Mad Dog who clearly appears to have changed into a far more contact-oriented, gap-to-gap style hitter at the major league level. Brett, though he eventually showed more power in the majors than he had as a young minor leaguer (not just for home runs, but for doubles and triples too), was a put-the-ball-in-play type from the very start.

By the way, Lau’s book The Art of Hitting .300 is a terrific read. It’s easy to see why Lau was so popular and influential as a coach. In every page he comes across as a great teacher: passionate, intelligent, and sensitive.

Pitcher No. 1: Howie Pollet

Pitcher No. 2: Warren Spahn

Through his age-25 season, Pollet was a two-time major league All-Star, with a big league record of 41-21 and an ERA+ of 165. At the same age, Spahn (who’d spent a larger chunk of World War II in military service than Pollet) was 8-5 with a 110 ERA+. Spahn, of course, would wind up with the staggering total of 363 major league wins, while Pollet would struggle with arm trouble and complete a good-but-not-great 131-116 career.

Player No. 5: Jerry Priddy

Player No. 6: Phil Rizzuto

Priddy, powerful as well as smooth, was by far the more impressive athlete between this pair of Yankee prospects. However, the Yanks already had a pretty doggone impressive young athlete handling second base—Joe Gordon—while Rizzuto’s path to the regular shorstop job was cleared by the decline of the veteran Frank Crosetti. Initially in 1941, Yankees manager Joe McCarthy opted to make room for Priddy by converting Gordon to first base, but he didn’t stick with that plan for very long, instead quickly demoting Priddy to utility infielder.

Priddy wasn’t shy about expressing his displeasure with the arrangement, and consequently was sold to Washington. Spending the rest of his career toiling mostly for second-division American League clubs, Priddy was generally excellent, but he never developed into the major star it appeared he would. Most certainly, he never gained anything close to the fame accorded Rizzuto, the darling of New York fans and media. Priddy, always a tough customer, was convicted of extortion in the 1970s.

Pitcher No. 3: Sid Fernandez

Pitcher No. 4: Randy Johnson

Fernandez seems to be almost forgotten already, but at the time there was understandable expectation that he would become a big star. Few pitchers have ever dominated the minor leagues the way he did at ages 18-22; I was among those who considered the Dodgers insane for having traded Fernandez away, at the age of 20, for a couple of mediocrities. While he didn’t ever achieve tremendous success in the majors, Fernandez was very good, a whole lot better than Carlos Diaz and Bob Bailor.

The Big Unit, on the other hand, was a good prospect, but hardly a great one. His fastball was obviously terrific, but his control was seriously problematic. Johnson’s extreme and steady improvement, in his late 20s and on and on into his 30s, is something no one could have anticipated.

Player No. 7: Ralph Kiner

Player No. 8: Bob Allison

Player No. 9: George Foster

Home run power is a talent that often develops in a hitter’s mid-to-late 20s, but very rarely does it burst forth as dramatically as it would for this trio.

Pitcher No. 5: Virgil Trucks

Pitcher No. 6: Larry Jackson

Low minors or not, a season like those doesn’t just grab your attention, it squeezes it in a vise. Each would become a solid major leaguer, but not a big star.

Player No. 10: Eddie Bressoud

Player No. 11: Andre Rodgers

Clearly, the Giants can be forgiven for seeing Bressoud as little more than utility infielder material, while expecting tremendous things from the former cricket player Rodgers.

Few have ever found the step from minors to majors to be quite as daunting as it was for the Bahamian. Perhaps the Giants were impatient with Rodgers, and didn’t give him as full a shot as a major league regular as he needed to gain confidence, but for whatever reason he would spend his big league career alternating flashes of brilliance with extended periods of erratic struggle. Bressoud, on the other hand, was a late bloomer who surprised everyone with three consecutive top-notch seasons for the Red Sox in his early 30s.

Pitcher No. 7: Vida Blue

Pitcher No. 8: Ron Guidry

Blue simply overwhelmed minor league hitters, in much the same manner as he would overwhelm major league hitters in 1970-71. His career and Dwight Gooden’s share so many similarities.

Guidry, on the other hand, wasn’t an especially impressive prospect. He spent much of his minor league career doing something he never did in the majors: struggling with his control. When he finally made the big leagues to stay at age 25, the realistic upside for Gator was to be a good reliever.

Player No. 12: Pat Seerey

Player No. 13: Dave Nicholson

Player No. 14: Jim Fuller

Player No. 15: Billy Ashley

One of the great beauties of the sport is the precarious risk-reward tradeoff it presents to batters, between simply putting the ball in play and hitting it with real authority. A gifted few, of course, have the ability to do both, but for the vast majority of hitters, maintaining an acceptable balance is a never-ending challenge. Case studies such as these four may serve to illustrate just what a narrow margin of error has been braved by successful high-strikeout sluggers, from Ryan Howard to Mark McGwire to Mike Schmidt to Mickey Mantle, and indeed all the way back to Babe Ruth.

Pitcher No. 9: Gaylord Perry

Pitcher No. 10: Ferguson Jenkins

The long careers of these two big, tall, hard-throwing Hall of Fame righthanders display many points of similarity, and one is that neither was dominant in the minors.

Player No. 16: Don Zimmer

Player No. 17: Bobby Valentine

It was not one, but two horrible, life-threatening beanings that forever thwarted the progress of Zimmer, and for Valentine it was a grotesque leg fracture incurred when leaping against an outfield fence. Maybe it’s just the old fart in me, but I often wonder if many young fans even realize that these high-profile managers/coaches/celebrities were once players at all, let alone extraordinarily talented young players.

Admittedly, squaring the image of the bald, rotund, comical figure of “Popeye” Zimmer with that of an abundantly gifted young athlete isn’t easy.

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