On April 8, 1946, James Augustus Hunter was born. Thanks to the machinations of Charlie Finley, he would be known to the wider world as “Catfish.” Richard looks back on Hunter, and the rest of the “All-Sea Creature Team.”
There are a lot of different ways to assemble a team. A general manager might look to build a team around power, speed, defense, or—in the grand Jeffrey Loria tradition—just go for the cheapest possible options.
There are even more options in creating an all-time historical squad. One can go for home run champions at every position, or imagine a team constructed entirely of Ozzie Smith-style defensive whizzes.
Or, if you’re like me and frankly a bit hard up for something to fill your inches this week, you could construct a team staffed entirely by those players who share their name—either given by parents at birth or wits later in life—with a sea creature.
Catcher: Fred Walters. Known, for reasons lost to history, as “Whale” Walters. The obvious implication is that he was (ahem) a large man, but he’s listed at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, which is big but not to the extent that would ordinarily justify being labeled “Whale.” (Sidney Ponson is listed at 6-foot-1, for example, and the last time he saw 210 on a scale it was flying by on the way to 260. No one calls him Whale.)
In any case, Walters played only one season, in 1945, and came to the plate less than 100 times, batting just .172. That’s weak, even for a catcher, but until someone decides to give Johnny Bench an oceanic nickname, he’s our guy.
First base: Chris Lindsay. The first of many players to be dubbed “The Crab,” Lindsay spent two seasons with the Tigers in the early part of the 20th century. Lindsay was not much more of a hitter than Walters, especially considering he’d be manning a traditionally offensive-minded position.
Nonetheless, Lindsay did once rank ninth in the league with 25 sacrifices in 1906, so perhaps the team can exploit that skill somehow.
Second base: Johnny Evers, another “Crab,” this one far more famous and successful than his partner on the right side of the infield. While there is some truth to the idea that Franklin Pierce Adams (who wrote the famed “Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance” poem) made Evers a Hall of Famer, he was a fine player. Evers won the 1914 MVP Award and is a career .316 World Series hitter.
He was also a terrific ass, frequently getting into fights with both opponents and teammates. Evers famously didn’t speak to double-play partner Joe Tinker for many years, so pairing him with another crab at first base is a risk but one the team will have to take.
Third base: Shad Barry. Born John C. Barry, his nickname must come from something having to do with the fish, though whether it is a supposed resemblance or not I couldn’t say. Barry was a contemporary of his fellow infield mates, and a versatile player, seeing time all around the diamond save the battery. Over a 10-year career, Barry played for seven teams and finished with a career 94 OPS+.
Shortstop: Oyster Burns. Playing his entire career in the 1880s and ’90s, Thomas P. Burns was generally Tom or Tommy during his career; the “Oyster” nickname came into common usage later. (There’s another Tom Burns in that era, which might explain it.)
Our Burns was largely an outfielder in his career—Bill James ranked him as one of the top 80 right fielders of all-time—but did see some time at short. Since this team is in desperate need of a shortstop, and some offense (Burns was a career 134 OPS+ hitter), he’ll fill the hole nicely.
Left field: Jesse Burkett. Another “Crab” on what I am beginning to suspect might be a team with chemistry issues. Even worse, Burkett was the sort of ill-tempered fellow who could dish it out but couldn’t take it. That doesn’t figure to go over great with his equally crabby teammates.
That’s a chance any team would be willing to take to have a talent like Burkett. The team’s second Hall of Famer, he was a career .338 hitter. He led the league in hitting three times, twice going .400. Despite last playing in 1905, he remains in the top 50 all time in runs, hits, single, triples and times on base.
Center field: Tim Salmon. Salmon holds the distinction of being one of only two players on the team to share his actual name with a sea creature, rather than a later nickname. Salmon is one of the best players to never make an All-Star game, at least since they started holding them regularly. He was actually more a right fielder, but will slot into center with his combination of a solid batting eye and 20 to 30 home run power.
Right field: Kevin Bass. The second player with a given fish name, Bass spent much of his career with the Astros, but bounced around enough to play for four additional teams. His best season came in 1986, when he hit 20 home runs (a good total for the Astrodome) and made the only All-Star team of his career.
He was never that good a hitter in a full season again, but was a decent defensive right fielder and nicely completes the outfield, which is clearly the offensive strength of this team.
Pitcher: Catfish Hunter. Most people know the story of how Jim Hunter got his nickname: Charlie Finley invented a story about how the young Hunter had once run away from home and, when found, had caught two large catfish and was in the midst of reeling in a third.
Hunter is the team’s third Hall of Famer and while he wasn’t exactly a Hall of Fame-caliber pitcher (224 wins, 3.26 ERA) he was a very good starter for a while. From 1971 through 1975, Hunter won 111 games against just 49 losses with a 2.65 ERA.
So there it is, your All-Sea Creature Team. There’s some talent on this team, a few Hall of Famers, a couple of other All-Star level players. But there are also some dire spots, so even .500 might be a stretch. Unless they could play their games under the sea. No home field advantage like that.