On April 28, 1788 the state of Maryland ratified the US Constituion, becoming the seventh state to do so. In honor of its joining the Union, Richard creates the All-Maryland team.
Generally, when I set out to write these columns constructing a team out of a conceit that ranges from the relatively sane—like today’s—to the frankly crazy, I prepare to be, shall we say, disappointed. Although these teams occasionally turn out to be decent, more often than not they end up with mediocre (or worse) players manning important positions and would be challenged only by the ’62 Mets for sheer ineptitude.
I expected, truthfully, the all-Maryland team to be a fairly impotent one. Maryland is a small state, home to fewer than six million people as of the 2010 census, so I was not confident that its long history could make up for low numbers. As it turns out, I was wrong, albeit pleasantly surprised to be so.
On that note, I present the all-Maryland team. For today, the player must be slotted into a position he played regularly. Thus, token appearances in center field or at short are not allowed, but players who saw significant time somewhere—even if not the majority of their career—are permissible.
Catcher: Babe Phelps
You may have never heard of Phelps, who played just 11 seasons and only topped 100 games three times. But he was a solid player behind the plate, making three straight All-Star games, 1938 through 1940. Strangely, none of those years were Phelps’ best, that coming in 1936 when he hit .367 for a truly dreadful Brooklyn Dodgers team.
First Base: Jimmie Foxx
If this list were restricted to active players, Mark Teixeira would be here, but when drawing on the all-time list, there is no question that Double X marks the spot. Foxx was a dominating hitter who bashed as many as 58 home runs in a season and drove in as many as 175 runs. A three-time MVP, he won two World Series—batting a collective .344 in 18 Series games—and made nine All-Star teams. At the time of his retirement, Foxx ranked second all-time in homers, fourth in RBI and third in OPS.
Second Base: Cupid Childs
This one might be cheating a little bit, although Childs played 13 seasons and finished with respectable numbers, including an 805 OPS and more than 200 doubles and 100 triples. But he did so while playing only two seasons in the twentieth century. This does throw some serious doubt on the numbers, but Childs was born in Maryland, and I can’t bring myself to kick someone off the team who is not only known as “Cupid” but played for teams named, among other things, the Orphans, Quakers and Perfectos.
Third Base: Home Run Baker
People occasionally try to demonstrate how clever they are noting that “Home Run” Baker only hit 96 home runs in his career, and never more than 12 in a season. But of course, that entirely misses the adjustment one has to make for a player’s era. Though Baker’s homer totals are low by modern standards, he led the league four times in a row and placed in the top ten nine times in his 13-year career. And of course, Baker’s home run prowess was enhanced by his slugging in the 1911 World Series when he hit two homers in the six-game series, helping lead the Athletics to victory.
|Maryland has produced many great athletes, but none connect like this man. (Icon/SMI)|
Shortstop: Cal Ripken, Jr.
Although Maryland has produced better players, including some of this team, no one is more identified with the state than Cal.
The son of long-time Orioles coach Cal Ripken, Sr., the Iron Man was born, raised, educated, and married in Maryland. And of course, he spent his entire distinguished Major League career with the hometown Orioles.
Ripken’s connection to the state continued after his retirement: He owns a minor league team in Aberdeen, and a section of highway near Baltimore was renamed “Cal Ripken Way.”
Left Field: Babe Ruth
Ruth is better known as a right fielder, I imagine, but he did play more than 1000 games in left. There’s little to say about Ruth that hasn’t already been said, but he is clearly the greatest player ever to emerge from Maryland in any sport. (Although Michael Phelps is a close second.) The greatest testimony to Ruth’s impression on the state of Maryland is that despite never having played a single major league game for a Maryland team, a statue of Ruth now stands outside Camden Yards.
Center Field: Brady Anderson
Unless Brady Anderson cures cancer—and maybe even if so—he’s going to be known as the guy who hit 50 home runs in a season and is assumed by pretty much everyone to have used performance enhancing drugs to do so. Whether he was on the juice or not, it remains one of the great fluke seasons of all-time. Anderson’s highest home run total in any other two seasons combined is just 45, and his 50-homer year represents nearly a quarter of his career HR output. Anderson was a solid player in other years, though, and his spot on this team is well-earned.
Right Field: Al Kaline
And here’s the reason that Ruth is playing left for this team. Kaline is not in Ruth’s class as a hitter, of course, but he’s still a Hall of Fame-caliber player. A member of the 3000 hit club, Kaline made the All-Star team in 15 different years, and won the batting title in 1955, hitting .340 that season. A career-long member of the Tigers, Kaline saved maybe his best performance for the biggest occasion, hitting .379 with four extra base hits and eight RBI in the 1968 World Series.
Pitcher: Lefty Grove
Incredibly, Maryland has a legitimate claim to not only baseball’s greatest offensive force in history, but maybe its best pitcher. Grove led the league in ERA nine times, sometimes doing so in comically dominant fashion. In 1931, Grove put up a 2.06 ERA in 288 innings, completing 27 of the 30 games he started and winning 31 games. The season before, Grove pulled off the neat trick of leading the league with 28 wins and nine saves while appearing in 50 games. For good measure, Grove won the pitcher’s Triple Crown both those years.