This annotated week in baseball history: Sept. 13-Sept. 19, 1853

It is more than 130 years between the birth of Jake Goodman and that of Delmon Young, which is a very, very long time. While it might be a stretch to say neither Goodman nor Young would recognize the game played by the other, the differences are profound.

Goodman made his debut in May of 1878 for the Milwaukee Grays. At that time, St. Petersburg—home of Tropicana Field, where Delmon Young made his first home appearance—was not even incorporated as a city. And of course, Delmon Young plays in a domed stadium that can seat more than 40,000 people, a far cry from Goodman’s home ground of Eclipse Park, which was open-air and had room for just 6,000 fans.

But they are connected in baseball, and connected through the men they played with. With that in mind, let’s look at the players who form the historical path from Goodman to Young:

Jake Goodman played with George Creamer

Goodman was a first baseman, he played only two seasons (and just 70 games) in leagues eventually granted major league status. He did succeed in hitting a home run during that time—his one homer put him in a multiple way tie for fifth in the National League in 1878—but was generally not much of a hitter.

Teammate George Creamer, meanwhile, had a rather longer career despite being no more of a hitter. Creamer played exactly 500 games and hit just .215, although as a second baseman he could get away with such lackluster offense.

George Creamer played with John Clarkson

Now we’re getting into some talent. Clarkson is a Hall of Famer who won 328 games in his career, (I did once describe him as “arguably the most obscure 300-game winner in history”), often in the sort of great bunches that characterize 19th century ballplayers. In 1885 he won 53 games, which is still the second largest single-season total ever; he also holds the fourth (49 in 1889) and 42nd (38 in 1887) places all-time in that category.

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Harold Baines contemplates his place in historical chain from Goodman to Young (Icon/SMI)

Clarkson and Creamer played together on the Worcester Ruby Legs in 1882. The team went 18-66, which translate to 35-127 in a 162-game schedule, but is a terrific team name.

John Clarkson played with Bobby Wallace

Another Hall of Famer, Bobby Wallace had one of the longest careers in major league history at 25 seasons. Only Nolan Ryan (27), Tommy John and Deacon McGuire (both 26) played in more seasons. Wallace debuted at age 20 with the 1894 Cleveland Spiders in a 12-team National League that had teams in Louisville and Baltimore. By the time he played his final game for the Cardinals in 1918, the league was down to eight teams; Lousville lost its major league team in 1899 and hasn’t seen one since.

In that time, Wallace, racked up more than 1,000 runs, 2,300 hits and almost 400 doubles. The latter two numbers were good for the top 20 all-time when he retired. Wallace was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1953.

Bobby Wallace played with Charlie Grimm

Known as “Jolly Cholly,” which provides an interesting contrast to his rather gloomy last name Grimm spent six years with the Cubs as a player, five as a player/manager and then all or part of eight more as a exclusively a manager.

Although not a bad player (he was a lifetime .290 hitter and batted over .300 five times), Grimm is most remembered for his time as a manager. He is the last man to lead the Cubs to a pennant, has more wins than any other 20th century Cubs’ skipper, and is in the top 40 all-time for both wins (1287) and winning percentage (.547) among managers.

Charlie Grimm played with Phil Cavarretta

And speaking of long time Cubs, it’s Phil Cavarretta! Born in the Windy City, Cavarretta spent his whole career there, the first 20 years for the Cubs before moving to the South Side for the last two years of his career. Cavarretta’s longevity served him well and he remains among the top 10 all-time for the Cubs in games, hits, runs, triples and RBIs.

But Cavarretta was more than just a player who stuck around for a long time to accumulate numbers. For Grimm’s pennant winning 1945 team, he hit .355 to lead the league, drove in 97 runs and won the MVP award.

Phil Cavarretta played with Minnie Minoso

Minoso is sort-of cheating on lists like this, but he helps to cover a huge amount of time, thanks to his gimmick pinch hitting appearances in 1976 and 1980 when he was age 50 and 54 respectively. Those do allow him to claim he appeared in a major league in five different decades, a rare accomplishment. Only an edict by Major League baseball prevented him from becoming unique in playing in six different decades.

Minoso was also a good player in his best days. He was a three-time Gold Glove winner in the outfield, made the All-Star seven times and finished with a lifetime 130 OPS+. Minoso also seemed to play with a target on his back; he led the league in being hit by a pitch 10 times.

Minnie Minoso played with Harold Baines

You’ll note the enormous jump in time here from guys like Grimm and Cavarretta, who were part of pennant-winning Cubs team, to Baines who wasn’t even born until almost 15 years after the Cubs last played in the World Series.

Thanks to a series of knee problems, Baines played most of his career as a designated hitter, taking the field just twice (both in 1997) in the final nine seasons of his career. Baines is sometimes mentioned as a Hall of Fame caliber player—he probably is not, and his lack of true milestones (he is close to both 3,000 hits and 400 home runs, but achieved neither) will likely keep him out.

Harold Baines player with Greg Norton

Well, someone had to be the worst modern player in the chain and unfortunately Greg Norton is it. Still plugging away at age 36—he has hit a brutal .145 for the Braves this season—Norton has played parts of 13 seasons for six separate major league teams, and twice as many minor league ones. While Norton’s accomplishments on the field are not much to speak of, one can at least admire his determination.

Greg Norton played with Delmon Young

And here we are at last with Delmon Young. Young has taken a major step backwards this year for the Twins, making their trade for him—in which they gave up Matt Garza—look all the more foolish.

Nonetheless, Young is still almost a full year younger than, for example, Melky Cabrera and has a higher career OPS. So it is possible, especially with Garza not building off of his 2008 success, that the Twins might yet emerge looking smart from this deal.

For their sake, they should hope Young begins to emulate Minnie Minoso or Bobby Wallace, and not follow the example of Greg Norton.

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Comments

  1. Bob Rittner said...

    A fun essay.

    I think there can be some debate about calling Norton the worst modern player in the chain. As brutal as he has been in 2009, his OBP is still higher than Delmon’s, .330-.289! Of course, Norton has far fewer plate appearances which may mitigate the comparison either way depending on your perspective.

    Since 2006 when Delmon arrived, also keeping in mind their very different roles and opportunities, Norton has had OBPs of .374, .358, .373, .330 while Young’s have been .336, .316, .336, .289. And as for OPS+, Norton’s are 130, 89, 114, 39; Delmon’s are 108, 91, 102, 80.

    Although neither is a good defender, Norton at least has the advantage of versatility, able for short periods to fill in adequately at all 4 corner positions. Delmon is simply a poor left fielder who can play RF badly also.

    Young still has a more promising future and great natural talent, and as a regular until this year has more chances to contribute to his team’s success, but I am not sure he is really the better player yet or in the recent past.

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