My wife has family in Pennsylvania. We’ve been married for five years and have two kids, and so last summer, it seemed time that I, um, meet them. The resultant road trip form Kentucky to Pennsylvania was generally uneventful. It did, however, take us past Donora, Pa. I, of course, repeated to my wife the well-known fact that Ken Griffey Jr. was born there, but is second to Stan Musial among native Donorans. My wife, good sport that she is about my nerdery, actually took interest.
The point of the above paragraph is that it set me to thinking about what a team would look like if I exclusively grabbed players who were the second best players from their places of birth. I had no idea what I’d get going in. I thought Griffey could be the lone standout among a bunch of scrubs. I thought it might be a solid, but unspectacular team. I did not, however, anticipate the cornucopia of all-time greats you are about to experience.
Yes, some of this is the result of big cities, but it seemed hard to figure out an arbitrary cutoff, and surprisingly, quite a few of these guys are not from huge cities. Several cities (Boston and Philadelphia come to mind) that haven’t produced what you’d expect by way of major league talent.
Let’s get to the roster. I’ll do the position players today and the pitching staff next week. (Oh, and by the way, this was compiled using Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR with one notable exception that you’ll see about next week).
Starters (from highest WAR to lowest)
First base: Lou Gehrig, 112.5 WAR, birthplace: New York. Okay, I warned you about the big city thing. The real kicker is that he loses out to Alex Rodriguez, who nobody likes, but who was born in New York and has been very good. I can’t imagine anything I can say about Gehrig that is new, but I will point out that he had a career OPS of 1.080. It boggles the mind.
Third base: Mike Schmidt, 106.6 WAR, birthplace: Dayton, Ohio. So we’re starting the team with the best first baseman and the best third baseman of all-time. Not a bad start. Dayton is actually a perfect example of what I was talking abut earlier. It’s certainly not a big city, but we wouldn’t really call it a small town, either. Schmidt gets beaten out here by another crowd favorite, Roger Clemens. Ohio, by the way, has produced a lot of awesome ballplayers.
Right field: Al Kaline, 92.7 WAR, Birthplace: Baltimore. The Hall of Famers just keep on coming, don’t they? For the outfielders, I did require that they played the majority of their games in that spot. Kaline, by the way, loses out to a little player by the name of Babe Ruth. Sometimes a guy just can’t catch a break. On a totally unrelated note, my wife spent the first nine years of her life there and on the aforementioned road trip we swung down to see her dad and I saw my first game at Camden Yards. Fine ballpark.
Center field: Ken Griffy Jr., 83.6 WAR, Birthplace: Donora, Pa. The inspiration for the column comes in fourth. That’s right, Ken Griffey Jr. is the fourth best player on our team. Interestingly, Donora has produced four major leaguers: Musial, both Griffeys, and someone named Steve Filipowicz who was just good enough to get not quite 200 plate appearances over three years during World War II while “generating” one win below replacement. So, just for the record, the four major leaguers from Donora generated WARs of 128.1, 83.6, 34.7, and -1.0. It feels like that should mean something.
Shortstop: Ozzie Smith, 76.6 WAR, Birthplace: Mobile, Ala. When I was researching this, Alabama and Ohio really stood out as producing a lot of high-quality major leaguers, especially relative to population. Anyway, Ozzie is second to Hank Aaron among those born in Mobile, which also produced Willie McCovey, Amos Otis, and Jake Peavy. This spot particularly hurts me because he just beats out a favorite player from my youth who will be on our bench.
Catcher: Yogi Berra, 59.3 WAR, Birthplace: St. Louis. Suddenly, we’re got a pretty big drop. Berra, obviously, is among the greatest catchers ever, though, and we’re thrilled to have him on the team. He loses out to 19th century star Pud Galvin.
Second base: Chase Utley, 58.2 WAR, birthplace: Pasadena, Calif. Utley is the first player on our team who isn’t already in or guaranteed election to the Hall of Fame. But, he does have a case and he’s still playing. He probably won’t be second long as he loses out to Darell Evans by just 0.3 WAR. Still, for now, he’s our man.
Left field: Minnie Minoso, 50.1 WAR, birthplace: Havana. Minoso loses out to Rafael Palmeiro on our list, and Palmeiro is so far ahead of him, that it’s doubtful Minoso would have passed him even with more early-career playing time. I should also note that there are several outfielders ahead of him, but he’s the first left fielder on our list who is the second best player from his birthplace. Interestingly, Manny Ramirez is well ahead of him and a left fielder, but only the third best player from his town, which also produced Albert Pujols and Adrian Beltre.
And on the bench: