This annotated week in baseball history: April 18-April 24, 2010

On April 23, St. George’s Day will be celebrated around the world. In honor of the man himself, Richard presents the All-George Team, the best of the best of those who share their name with the dragon slayer.

I am admittedly no religious scholar, but it seems hard to believe that there could be many saints with a better back story than that of St. George. Although even the Catholic Encyclopedia now concedes that his martyrdom and a very rough timeline is “all that can safely be affirmed about St. George, despite his … pre-eminent renown both in East and West,” legends do not die easily. According to myth, it is St. George who slew the dragon, and in doing so saved either a town, or a princess (or both) and inspired an untold number of depictions of the slaying.

Among other things, St. George is today the Patron Saint of England, Georgia—the country, not the state—Moscow, horsemen, scouting and (somewhat less charmingly) sufferers of skin disease. Given the disparity that exists on such a list, rather than try to construct a team of those watched over by St. George, I will instead bring you the All-George Team.

Ground rules: The players must have been known as George during their playing careers. Thus George Herman Ruth and George Thomas Seaver, while obviously qualifying on their merits, are not eligible. (If you give the Georges everyone with their name, they might be the best of the name teams; they’d also get George Kenneth Griffey Jr. and a few others.) All players must be listed at their primary position, defined here as playing at least half their games there. And let’s begin.

Catcher: George Gibson

A Canadian (another country with strong ties to Gibson’s namesake saint), Gibson spent 14 years in the major leagues, first for Pittsburgh then the last couple with the Giants. Never an overwhelming hitter, Gibson’s main strength was his durability. In 1909 he played 150 games at catcher, still the 10th-highest total from the pre-162-game-schedule era and easily the highest of the deadball period. In addition to ability to stay behind the plate, “Moon” (so christened after either his round face or a minor league team) was regarded as an excellent defensive catcher.

The King of the Georges (Icon/SMI)

First base: George Sisler

A Hall of Famer and, until recently, holder of the single-season hit record with 257 in 1920. It will not shock you to learn that Sisler hit .407 that year, making it one of two seasons when he batted .400 or better and one of six when he had 200 or more hits. Both totals would likely be higher had Sisler not begun suffering vision problems after his age 29 season; he had hit .361 over his career to that point, but managed “just” .320 thereafter.

Second base: George Grantham

Nicknamed “Boots,” which is always what you want to see from a guy in a key defensive position, Grantham was a lifetime .302 hitter who spent most of his career in Pittsburgh along with stops for the Cubs, Reds and Giants. Grantham showed surprising power for a second baseman, putting up double digits in doubles, triples and home runs in 1929 and 1930. Today, his 122 OPS+ puts him easily in the top 25 among those players with at least half their games at second base.

Third base: George Brett

According to Baseball-Reference—which I never doubt—Brett was nicknamed “Mullet.” I have never heard this before, and it might be the lowlight of Brett’s career. Luckily for Brett, he has a fair number of highlights to balance that out. In addition to three batting titles (including one when he hit .390) Brett led the league at various times in doubles, triples, hits, on-base and slugging percentage, and total bases. Brett won a Gold Glove, the 1980 MVP Award and the ’85 ALCS MVP, and he was a 13-time All-Star.

Shortstop: George Davis

Davis is the third, and final, Hall of Famer on the team, and the most distant in time from the present day. Born just a few years after the end of the Civil War, he made his debut in 1890 for the Cleveland Spiders but would spend most of his career with the Giants and White Sox. During his time in New York, Davis put up five seasons with a 130 or better OPS+. For the Giants he averaged a remarkable .860 OPS. For good measure, Davis was a key member of the “Hitless Wonder” White Sox who upset the Cubs in the 1906 World Series.

Left fielder: George Foster

Foster was the winner of the 1977 NL MVP Award, a five-time All-Star, the only player to hit 50 or more home runs in the ’70s—which is even more impressive given no one did it in the ’80s—and a crucial cog in the Big Red Machine. But today his legacy is in large part tainted by the time he spent once he left the Reds. Signing a huge contract with the Mets, Foster failed to live up to expectations, albeit probably unrealistic ones given he was 33 at the start of the deal. He compounded this by alienating himself from teammates and ultimately accusing the team of racism when it released him. Hopefully the presence of his fellow Georges will allow Foster’s talents to shine without the attitude.

Center field: George Wright

No, this isn’t Hall of Fame, 19th-century George Wright; it’s Texas Ranger George Wright. And, as the saying goes, he hasn’t heard of you, either. Wright did have some strong seasons at the beginning of his career, earning low-level MVP support in 1983. But he basically stopped hitting thereafter and is on this team thanks largely to the dearth of George-named center fielders.

Right field: George Selkirk

Selkirk is, after Fred Flintstone, the most famous person ever nicknamed “Twinkletoes.” He earned the nom de baseball for his style of running on the balls of his feet, and it apparently stuck with him his whole career. Selkirk played just nine years, all for the Yankees, but hit over .300 five times and was a valuable contributor to the 1939 Yankees, one of the greatest teams in history.

We’ll save the all-George pitching staff for another day, and instead leave just the lineup. Hopefully, it is one to make their namesake saint proud.

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  1. Bob Berlo said...

    The best CF George is George “Piano Legs” Gore, who played mostly for the Cubs & Giants in the 1880s. He hit .306, with an OBP of .386 (which includes a few season when it took more than 4 balls to make a walk).

  2. Richard Barbieri said...

    Gore is a much better choice, I was just searching widely enough for nineteenth century players. We can put him in there in lieu of Wright.

  3. Red Nichols said...

    Thanks for including George Gibson, of whom all Cdn bezbol fans are proud.  Backstop for the ‘09 Bucs, and battery mate of the splendid Babe Adams who won 3 games against Cobb’s Tigers in the Series that year.  .

  4. Josh said...

    I undestand why you didn’t include him. It’s more interesting to pick someone else. But it’s worth mentioning why you left out George Herman Ruth.

  5. Vorp Opiescu said...

    Now that all of Canada has expressed appreciation for George Gibson, I feel kinda bad for wondering whether Jorge Posada might have made the list at catcher.

  6. Richard Barbieri said...

    Even without Canadian appreciation, I don’t think Posada qualifies. Georges are Georges and only that, someday I should give the Jorge’s their proper due but my position is that Jorges aren’t Georges.

  7. Juancho said...

    Just my guess, but I’d figure the “John” all-stars to be the best, since John was the most common name for men born in the 20th century in the US. It’s dropped in popularity over the last 25 years, but is still often given to babies.

    “Johnny” and “Jack” ought to count as “John” if they’re diminutives or nicknames. If they’re the person’s legal given name, they shouldn’t. “George” doesn’t have that problem, since there aren’t any derivatives.

  8. Vorp Opiescu said...

    someday I should give the Jorges their proper due

    Okey-doke, Richard.  You’ll have three pitchers (de la Rosa, Julio, and Sosa; maybe Campillo), two catchers (Posada and Fábregas), and five other players with any kind of career to play the other seven positions (Cantú, Orta, Piedra, Roque, and Velandia).  No other Jorge has appeared in more than 26 major-league games.

    As you can tell, there aren’t enough Jorges for an all-Jorge team.  I figured Posada could get an honorable mention or something, since he’s the only Jorge who even approaches any of the Georges you’ve listed.  (Apparently Orta was an even worse second baseman than George Grantham.)  Here endeth the pro-Jorge appeal.

  9. Bob Rittner said...

    Does George Steinbrenner own the team? He could bounce back and forth between George Stallings and George Bamberger to manage his team and still have a few Georges to fill in the spaces in between their tenures.

  10. Kahuna Tuna said...

    However, the ground rules don’t allow Big Stein to hire George “Sparky” Anderson to manage the team.

  11. Phil Coffin said...

    He may not have been better than George Gore, but George Altman sure was better than George Wright. He had some good seasons in the major leagues in the 1960s, then hit more than 200 home runs as a star in Japan.

  12. Kahuna Tuna said...

    True, Phil, but only about a quarter of the MLB games that Altman played in the outfield were in center.

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