On Sept. 9, 1850, the state of California was born. To celebrate the birthday of a state that has produced more major leaguers than any other state, and more players than all foreign countries put together, Richard creates an all-California team.
Before we get to anything else, in case you didn’t hear, according to BaseballReference.com, home run No. 250,000 in major league baseball history was struck by Gary Sheffield off Oakland’s Gio Gonzalez on Monday. It was, appropriately, a grand slam.
One problem with creating an “All-(Something)” team is a lack of players. This is especially problematic when it comes to players on the bottom (or right) of the defensive spectrum: catcher, shortstop, that kind of thing. (Also, pitchers, although you can usually turn up at least one of those, especially from the 1890s when two-way players were far more common.)
Creating the All-California team presents the opposite problem. California has produced a truly huge number of major league players, more than 1,800. That’s more than any other state or territory, and more than all the other countries in the world combined. There is a wealth of players for me to choose from. That’s good.
What’s bad is that this will almost certainly prompt disagreements from readership. Actually, that’s okay. What’s worse than disagreements from readership is agreement from readership that I really dropped the ball and obviously should have selected Player X instead of Player Y.
But it’s my name on the column, so I will bear the risks—unless you really hate something, in which case it was John Brattain’s fault—and brave forward.
Manager: Frank Chance: This is an easy start. Although Chance was at his best an excellent player, he was not quite good enough to beat out our team’s first baseman. The only real competition at managing comes from Billy Martin. Chance won nearly a thousand games at a winning percentage of almost .600. He also won four pennants and two World Series titles. The “Peerless Leader” will run the squad.
Catcher: Gary Carter: The first Hall of Famer on the team, Carter is one of the top 10 catchers of all time. Unlike Chance, Carter had the opportunity to play in his native state—he was born in Culver City—including a season each with San Francisco and the Dodgers.
First base: Keith Hernandez: Born in San Francisco, “Mex” played 17 years in the major leagues. Hernandez won two championships, split the 1983 MVP award, and posted a 128 OPS+ while being widely known as one of the best defensive first baseman of all time. Chance, himself a strong defensive first baseman, would no doubt admire his first baseman.
(You could put Mark McGwire here; he was a better player all things considered than Hernandez. But I’m not getting into that debate.)
Second base: Joe Gordon: Like Hernandez, Gordon was an MVP and World Series champion. Gordon won five titles in six tries, hitting .500 in the 1941 World Series. Gordon was a lifetime 120 OPS+ hitter and noted for being especially smooth on the double-play pivot.
Shortstop: Joe Cronin: Another San Franciscan, Cronin was a shortstop who played most of his career in Boston. A Hall of Famer, he was a 119 OPS+ career hitter, especially talented at reaching base, finishing with a .390 career OBP, 30 points above league norm during his times.
Third base: Stan Hack: A tough choice here between Hack and the wildly underrated Darrell Evans, but I’m going with Hack because I can always get behind someone nicknamed “Smilin’ Stan.” Hack was a strong hitter and a good player, although probably the weakest of the California infield. That’s far more of a commentary on the strength of the California team—the Raisins?—than it is on Hack. (I’m tempted to put Jeff Kent here, but that’s rather cheating, even if Kent does have 157 career games at third.)
Left field: Ted Williams: Now here’s an easy choice. There’s nothing I can say about Williams that hasn’t been already said. Williams won two MVP awards and the Triple Crown twice. He was the last man to bat .400. The San Diego native is arguably the greatest hitter ever. Hitters like Williams figure to make Chance’s job rather easy.
Center field: Joe DiMaggio: And speaking of easy choices, here’s Joe DiMaggio. Like Williams, DiMaggio’s accomplishments—a .325 lifetime average, 56-game hitting streak, nine World Series titles—are well known. California, it’s worth noting, is lousy with outfielders. Were Williams and DiMaggio to be unavailable, Chance could use Barry Bonds—a great player even before he met Victor Conte—and Duke Snider.
Right field: Tony Gwynn: And speaking of lousy with outfielders, here’s another. And while Gwynn is not on the level of Williams and DiMaggio (few were) he was nonetheless an outstanding hitter. Gwynn won eight batting titles, and finished with a career .338 average. Gwynn’s .394 in the aborted 1994 season is the closest any man has come to hitting .400 since his left field counterpart managed it.
Pitcher: Tom Seaver: He was arguably, depending on how much one thinks of the advancing level of competition with the passing of time, the greatest pitcher of all time. Seaver won 311 games against just 205 losses, won the Cy Young award three times and the ERA title three times, appeared in eight All-Star games and finished second in the 1969 MVP vote.
Not that it needs to be said, but this would be a pretty dominant team. The squad features Hall of Famers across the outfield and two Hall of Fame infielders, with the other two being former MVPs. The pitcher is thought by many to be the best who ever lived. And while Chance is in the Hall of Fame for his talents as a player, his managing record would also merit inclusion.
Now it is true that California should have such a fantastic squad given the huge number of major league players the state has created. Nonetheless, as Arnold and Californians everywhere celebrate their state’s birthday, they should nonetheless be proud of the roster it can produce.