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Who’s the greatest living player for each team?

Mar 16, 2011, 1:34 PM EDT


Dan Shaughnessy has a column up about Carl Yastrzemski and what he’s doing these days. It’s a good read and I recommend it.

But more interesting to me than the column itself, however, is a passing line Shaughnessy uses: “Fifty years after his rookie season, the greatest living Red Sox player …” That has sparked a fun debate over at Baseball Think Factory, with some agreeing that Yaz is the Greatest Living Red Sox Player and others arguing for Pedro Martinez or Roger Clemens.

There are a couple of different ways to go with that, because you have to decide if “Greatest Living ___ Player” means greatest while in the uniform — which certainly favors Yaz — or greatest overall who ever happened to wear the uniform, which means you can count Clemens’ Blue Jays/Yankees/Astros years and Pedro’s time with the Expos. And then, of course, you have to make some logical cutoff, or else you’re saying ridiculous things like “Wade Boggs is the greatest living Devil Ray” or “Willie Mays is the greatest living Met.”

My view: Yaz takes it, because I think you really should have an extremely large portion — like monstrously large — of your career value with the team in question to get that made-up title.  Plus I think that, with a friendly nod to John Thorn, the stats shouldn’t be the be-all, end-all of such a designation given that it’s primarily a fun fan exercise as opposed to actual history or scholarship.  Yaz is the Red Sox as far as I’m concerned. The contenders for that title excelled elsewhere and didn’t carry the banner for the team in quite the same way.

And now, since I’m bored, I’m going to try — very quickly — to guess who should get the title of Greatest Living Player for each team.  Which, for the record, I’m doing with almost zero analysis and almost 100% gut.  Let’s argue about it. I will probably change my mind on a bunch of these if pressed:

Yankees: Derek Jeter. He’s the Captain. And count the rings, baby. Yogi Berra actually may be a less controversial choice, however.
Red Sox: Yastrzemski, reasons noted.
Rays: Has to be Carl Crawford, doesn’t it? I don’t think anyone else is in the conversation until Longoria gets a few more years under his belt.
Blue Jays: Roberto Alomar may have played in too many other places. Dave Stieb? Yeah, I’ll go with Stieb.
Orioles: Ripken, in probably the easiest choice on the list.

Tigers: Al Kaline has held this title since Ty Cobb died I think. May be the longest-tenured to hold the title.
White Sox: Frank Thomas, though I feel like there’s some old timer who is still alive that I’m forgetting.
Royals: George Brett, and he may actually be an easier call than Ripken.
Twins: Hmm. Lots of good choices here. I think Killebrew has to be the man, though. Carew is defensible.
Indians: This is hard now that Feller is gone. It might actually be either Manny or Albert Belle. Which should at least make the Greatest Living Player banquet pretty interesting.

Angels: Another toughie for me. Jim Edmonds, unless you think he had too much time in St. Louis. Tim Salmon? Yikes.
Athletics: Rickey says that Rickey would like a custom made “Rickey is the Greatest Living Oakland A” t-shirt made, please. Said Rickey.
Mariners: Ken Griffey, Jr. What, you were expecting Alvin Davis? And is Alvin Davis still alive?
Rangers: I think for political purposes we have to say Nolan Ryan, but it’s probably actually Pudge Rodriguez in terms of value.

Braves: Hank Aaron, in another easy choice.
Mets: Tom Seaver
Phillies: Mike Schmidt, though if you listen to Phils fans who didn’t follow the team until 2008, you’d think it was “Chooch!”
Marlins: Do they still call Jeff Conine “Mr. Marlin?” And even if they do, does it matter? Hanley Ramirez has to be getting close to the legit title.
Nats: Because they have mostly rejected their Expos heritage, they are not allowed to use Raines or Dawson. This I command. They can have the Livan Hernandez they deserve.

Cubs: Ernie Banks is the Cubs’ Yastrzemski. Discuss.
Cardinals: Does any team have a better 1-2 punch for this list than Musial (current) and Pujols (on deck)?
Brewers: Robin Yount, because Molitor excelled elsewhere too long. I need to find some other list for Rob Deer, though, because he rules.
Astros: Jeff Bagwell, unless someone has “suspicions” that he wasn’t really an Astro. That’s how this works, right?
Pirates: Pretty soon there won’t be any living Pirates who ever finished above .500. For now I guess it’s Dave Parker.
Reds: A ton of choices here. I’ll go with Joe Morgan, though I’ll accept arguments for Rose and Bench based on longevity and more homogeneously Reds career, respectively.

Giants: Say Hey! And actually, the Mays-Bonds combo may rival the Musial-Pujols one depending on how we define “greatest.”
Dodgers: Harder than you’d think. Their good teams were always populated by lots of good players, not one mega-stud. Koufax? Dare I say … Garvey? Help me people.
Padres: Has to be Tony Gwynn.
Rockies: Todd Helton may be the most boring Greatest Living Player for any team.
Diamondbacks: Randy Johnson probably is the one Greatest Living Player who did the most good stuff for other teams. But you’ll have that when you’ve only been around since 1998.

Argue away, folks.

151 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. amhendrick - Mar 16, 2011 at 2:50 PM

    Aaron + Maddux ain’t too shabby as a 1-2 punch, maybe better that Musial/Pujols.

    • BC - Mar 16, 2011 at 3:47 PM

      Or Aaron and Eddie Matthews.

      • rje49 - Mar 16, 2011 at 4:59 PM

        Eddie Mathews died, just about 10 years ago.

      • Utley's Hair - Mar 16, 2011 at 5:08 PM

        BC, put down the Ketel One and read the obituaries more often.

      • BC - Mar 17, 2011 at 11:19 AM

        Hey, I don’t keep track of dead people.
        And in 2001 I was a newlywed, so I was distracted (ergo missing out on Stargell and Matthews).

    • solidzac - Mar 16, 2011 at 4:25 PM

      Am I the only one who doesn’t understand how these thumbs up/down are being given out? Saying that Hank Aaron and Greg Maddux were good players deserves nine down votes? What?

      • The Rabbit - Mar 16, 2011 at 4:36 PM

        Am I the only one who doesn’t understand how these thumbs up/down are being given out?
        No, you aren’t alone. Actually, I don’t even understand why this feature exists on this site….but I’m old and don’t know how thoughtful debate and interaction is encouraged by the promotion of “thumb clicks” either. Must be a marketing thing.

      • cur68 - Mar 16, 2011 at 5:27 PM

        Hey Rabbit & solidzac; I think I’ve said this before to Rabbit but I agree; these “negative thumb” jobs people hand out? Bush league. I can understand a +thumb but those downers are so random I can’t fathom it. Someone actually downed a couple of the positive comments on the Louis Salazar post & yes, one of those comments being downed was mine, but what was so objectionable about the statement ‘LOL’ at the banner the A’s have hung on their clubhouse entryway for Louis? Anyhow, I agree that Maddux and Aaron WERE good players. Hell they were GREAT players and remain deserving of discussion for best ever on their teams. So a thumb up from me.

  2. searchlight5 - Mar 16, 2011 at 2:51 PM

    Great topic. Aaron, the one I disagree with most is Nolan Ryan for the Rangers. He didn’t join TX until he was past 40. He had a few great *days* there (the no hitters and, of course, the fight with Robin Ventura), but his greatest *years* were with the Angels, definitely. He gets my Angels vote.

    Carew for the Twins, definitely, followed by Killebrew and Mauer. Give Joe a few more years, though, and he’ll be at the top.

    • pauleee - Mar 16, 2011 at 3:47 PM

      Exactly, Ryan is a no-brainer for the Halos.

    • spudchukar - Mar 16, 2011 at 3:58 PM

      As great as Mauer’s potential appears to indicate, after Carew and Killebrew, Tony Oliva still reigns, until Mauer does it for a few more years. Still, Zoilo Versalles rocks.

    • ThatGuy - Mar 16, 2011 at 4:28 PM

      If you go by career stats than it is Carew, but if you go by tenure with the Twins and impact after its definatly the Killer. They were both monsters playing for the Twins, but Harmon has had much more of an impact and presence with the Twins since retirement.

  3. Mike Luna - Mar 16, 2011 at 3:09 PM

    The dig about Bagwell had me rolling.

    As for the Rangers, Nolan Ryan is the only current HOFer and the only player that has his number retired. No doubt Pudge is headed that way, but Nolan had 2 no-nos, his 300th win, his 5000th SO, he’s the owner, and the Prez.
    So, you’ve got to give it to Nolan right now, even though Pudge was in Texas longer and meant more as a player.

    Or maybe we just shut our eyes and give it to Kenny Rogers.

  4. largebill - Mar 16, 2011 at 3:53 PM

    For the Indians it has to be Albert Belle. No slight intended towards Thome, Vizquel, Ramirez, Sabathia, Lee, Sizemore, etc, etc, but Belle was an absolute monster in the mid-90’s. In a strike shortened season he managed to put up 52 homers and 50 doubles! Pitchers were terrified of him. Not in a “maybe I’ll pitch around him” Barry Bonds kind of scared. No, they were scared of him in a “He might kill me” kind of way. The entire Indians line up benefited from how he frightened pitchers.

    Separately, for the commenter who claimed the Indians greatest living pitcher is a 30 year old pitching for the Yankees: I thought Gaylord Perry was retired.

    • BC - Mar 16, 2011 at 4:06 PM

      Or Luis Tiant. Unless of course he’s dead, too. (I seem to be good at suggesting dead people in this thread).

      • largebill - Mar 16, 2011 at 5:36 PM

        Tiant is alive. I thought of listing him and a few others, but settled on just going with Gaylord since he won one of his two CY with CLE and is in HoF.

      • BC - Mar 17, 2011 at 11:21 AM

        Perry has Tiant beat by like 100 wins as well, even though he pitched until he was like 55. As sick as some of Tiant’s years were in Cleveland, I’d probably go with Perry as well.

  5. uyf1950 - Mar 16, 2011 at 4:00 PM

    I want to throw 3 names names out there for at least honorable mention.
    For the O’s – Brooks Robinson
    For the Brooklyn Dodgers – Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella (both careers were relatively short but certainly worth note).

    • mercyflush - Mar 16, 2011 at 4:08 PM

      um… is Jackie Robinson alive?

      • BC - Mar 16, 2011 at 4:17 PM

        Died in the early 70’s. I think Campenella might be dead as well.

      • uyf1950 - Mar 16, 2011 at 4:44 PM

        There alive in spirit. Does that count? All right I screwed up, sorry.

      • BC - Mar 17, 2011 at 11:22 AM

        It counts. I’ve listed like 17 dead people in this thread.

  6. professor59 - Mar 16, 2011 at 4:08 PM

    Ripken a no-brainer? Did Frank Robinson die? Oh, only 6 years in Baltimore? Give me Jim Palmer, then. 268 wins, and he didn’t have an entire organization praying he would retire for ten years.
    – Ripken hater, duh

    • schmedley69 - Mar 16, 2011 at 10:18 PM

      I agree. Ripken really wasn’t that good the second half of his career. The Streak took on a life of it’s own and overshadowed Cal’s weaknesses. The Robinsons, Palmer and Eddie Murray were probably better overall players than Ripken, IMO. And let’s nor forget about Kiko Garcia.

  7. bigharold - Mar 16, 2011 at 6:24 PM

    ” Derek Jeter. He’s the Captain.”

    Wrong, .. by a lot! Just because Jeter is my favorite current Yankee doesn’t mean he’s greater than Yogi. Sure Jeter is the Captain but that title was somewhat retired during Berra’s time so that doesn’t count.

    “And count the rings, baby.”

    Berra appeared in 14 WS and won 10, including 5 in a row from 49 to 53 which beats Jeter hands down there. And, Berra is a 15 times AS who won the MVP three times not to mention leading the Yankees to the WS as the Manager in 64, (and the Mets in 73). And, Berra’s position, defensively, is every bit as demanding as SS.

    “Yogi Berra actually may be a less controversial choice, however.”

    He’s also the better choice which takes noting away from Jeter. I think Jeter is the greatest Yankee of this era and I made sure that the first BB tee my son ever got was a #2 but Berra is the man. And, it’s not close.

  8. achester99 - Mar 16, 2011 at 7:15 PM

    I have charts ranking the best players for every franchise, and I got so excited to give my 2 cents that I registered for wordpress.

    Yankees: Yogi (over Jeter)
    Red Sox: Yaz
    Rays: Crawford
    Jays: Delgado over Stieb. Alomar only played 5 seasons in Toronto.
    Orioles: I understand that Ripken is the correct answer, but how can Craig call it the easiest pick on the list? JIM PALMER!?!?!

    Tigers: Kaline (over should-be HOFer Alan Trammel)
    ChiSox: Frank Thomas, and it’s not close. He’s the greatest White Sox ever. Who else? Ed Walsh? Luke Appling? Eddie Collins? Nellie Fox?
    Royals: Brett, and this one is easy. Next closest is Frank White.
    Twins: Killer over Carew
    Indians: Craig forgot about Jim Thome! And this isn’t close. Thome played 10 seasons in Cleve versus 7 for Manny and Belle, and his stats are much better (though all 3 had an OPS+ of over 150 in Cleveland — wow).

    Angels: I go with Troy Percival, who has become completely forgotten. Jim Edmonds only played 5 seasons for the Angels. Garret Anderson would probably be second, followed by Chuck Finley, Nolan Ryan (his 8 prime seasons), and even Jim Fregosi before we get to Salmon.
    A’s: Rickey over McGwire and Reggie.
    Mariners: Griffey. Though don’t forget about the Big Unit.
    Rangers: Pudge gets the slight nod over Raffy and Juan Gone for me in the juice-off. Nolan Ryan played 4 1/2 seasons at the end of his career and totaled 51 wins, and yet Craig doesn’t mention him for the Angels?

  9. achester99 - Mar 16, 2011 at 7:17 PM

    And NL:

    Braves: Of course it’s Hank Aaron. But with Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Niekro, Dale, Chipper, etc., they’re stacked with living should-be HOFers.
    Mets: Seaver. One of the eastiest picks. (Doc? Piazza? Koosman?)
    Phillies: Schmidt over Carlton.
    Marlins: Probably Hanley, though this is one of the toughest, because of all the guys who played 4-5 solid years there then left (Sheff, Miggy, D-Lee, Dontrelle, Burnett, Beckett, Penny…)
    Nats: Whatever, I’m including the Expos, and I’m giving it to Vlad over Raines and Dawson. People forget how laughably ridiculously comically dominant he was in Montreal. And they’ll probably still have forgotten when he’s up for the HOF.

    Cubs: Mr. Cub, but don’t forget about Sandberg and Sosa, and what about Billy Williams??
    Cards: Musial now, Pujols someday (hopefully not too soon). But what about Bob Gibson? Musial:Gibson:Pujols = Elizabeth:Charles:William. Which makes Ozzie … ?
    Brewers: Yount.
    Astros: Bags, then Biggio, Berkman … Oswalt?
    Pirates: Bonds’ 7 seasons in Pitt were more dominant than Parker’s 9.
    Reds: Gotta be Johnny Bench, then Rose. Morgan played in Houston longer (though not better). And they are stacked after that: Frank Robinson, Tony Perez, Barry Larkin …

    Giants: Willie over Barry always. McCovey edges Marichal for the bronze.
    Dodgers: Duke Snider just left the building, leaving Koufax all alone. Don Sutton would probably be next.
    Padres: Gwynn. Easily the easiest pick.
    Rockies: Helton over Larry Walker
    D-Backs: Unit

    Sorry for the long posts!

    • largebill - Mar 17, 2011 at 9:04 AM

      Don’t apologize. Long posts are acceptable if interesting/informative. Don’t agree with all, but all were well thought out.

    • mercyflush - Mar 17, 2011 at 10:27 AM

      Musial:Gibson:Pujols = Elizabeth:Charles:William. Which makes Ozzie …

      … Fergie…

    • BC - Mar 17, 2011 at 11:25 AM

      I’d take Kiner over Bonds in Pittsburgh. (And as I stated somewhere else in this thread, yes, he’s alive).

      • achester99 - Mar 17, 2011 at 11:31 AM

        Holy Hell, are you serious? Well, if Kiner is alive, I definitely agree with you.
        They both played 7 full seasons. Here are their numbers:
        Kiner: 1095 games, 754 runs, 301 HR, 801 RBI, .972 OPS, 157 OPS+
        Bonds: 1010 games, 672 runs, 176 HR, 556 RBI, .883 OPS, 147 OPS+
        Not even close…

      • fribnit - Mar 21, 2011 at 6:13 PM

        Yep, Ralph is alive, heard him on the Mets broadcast this weekend. Yes, he should be the Pirates greatest living player

  10. Four Sides - Mar 16, 2011 at 7:19 PM

    I’d throw in Chipper Jones for discussion with the Braves.

    I’m more partial to Roy Halladay or even Pat Hengten for the Blue Jays over Stieb. Halladay has thrown nearly 2000 innings for Toronto, won a Cy Young, All Star game starter, etc. A lot of people remember his near no-hitter on his second career start (8 2/3 no hit ball).

    Of course, he may turn into Mr. Phillie if he manages to do even half of what he did in 2010 (one no hitter, one perfect game, Cy Young) and come up with a World Series ring or two before he’s done.

  11. vikesfansteve - Mar 16, 2011 at 8:30 PM

    Angels Reggie Jackson or Carew

  12. largebill - Mar 17, 2011 at 9:07 AM

    Do this exercise every few years and you’ll get markedly different results. Hopefully more changes are due to great performances among young players than losses through attrition.

  13. Detroit Michael - Mar 17, 2011 at 9:20 AM

    I’d go with Jim Fregosi as greatest living Angel:
    – Debuted with them in 1961, so he’s got the Ed Kranepool / Jeff Conine distinction of being with the franchise from its inaugural year
    – Much better than one remembers. He actually leads Angels’ players in rWAR
    – Invovled in iconic trade for Nolan Ryan
    – Made his managerial debut with the Angels, again cementing his connection with that franchise.

    Odd that a franchise 50 years old doesn’t have a more clear candidate.

  14. highpointer - Mar 18, 2011 at 1:43 PM

    Yogi was with the Yankees from 1947 until 1964, when they appeared in the World Series in 15 out of those 18 seasons. He holds the record for most World Series championship rings earned by a player with 10. He won three MVP awards so he was clearly recognized as one of the best players in the game by his peers during his career, and he played until he was nearly 40 years old. He is still living but is now at the very advanced age of 85 years old, so it would be great to honor him as Greatest Living Yankee while still alive, as he greatly deserves this honor based on his career performance and contributions to the game. When he passes, then Jeter (currently age 36) will assume the honor.

    You write, “Randy Johnson probably is the one Greatest Living Player who did the most good stuff for other teams.” While Randy Johnson did play a little longer with the Mariners, and became established as a great pitcher for that time, he had the majority of his best seasons with the Diamondbacks. He won four consecutive Cy Young Awards (1999-2002) and he should have won the award in 2004, as he was 16-14 with a 2.60 ERA and led the league in strikeouts with 290 at age 41 for a team that finished with an abysmal 51-111 record. He also pitched a perfect game and had one of the greatest World Series pitching performances in 2001 when he came out of the bullpen in Game 7 to earn the series-clinching win one day after winning Game 6. Thus, the Big Unit earns the honor as Greatest Living Diamondback.

    Each team’s history is different, as some teams have been around longer than others. New York State is one of our nation’s first 13 states and New York City has been the nation’s largest city for over 200 years. On the other hand, the city of Phoenix was founded about 140 years ago and the State of Arizona is the youngest of the 48 contiguous states. Thus, the history of the New York Yankees, like the city and state that it represents, is long and very well established, while the history of the Arizona Diamondbacks is a lot shorter but has been relatively well accomplished since its recent founding, representing the history of a young and vibrant state and metropolitan area.

    • fribnit - Mar 21, 2011 at 6:11 PM

      the MVP award was then, as it is now, voted on by the sports writers so the MVP is not an indication that Berra was recognized by his peers are a great player, though I am sure his peers did think he was a great player

  15. bdebeljuk - Mar 18, 2011 at 3:53 PM

    Love the article!

    Def Yogi over Jeter.
    I agree with Kofax for Dodgers but Hershiser’s 1988 was ridic, he’s at least in the convo.
    Steve Carlton in the Phillie’s convo, I agree with your pick though.
    Tony Gywnn def Hoffman probably #2
    Larry Walker #2 for Rockies, love the Todd Helton joke!
    Pete Rose is my #1 Red, and I believe he should be in the HOF, but that’s another convo…Frank Robinson over Morgan? Maybe..had to google that to see if he was alive.
    Indians I agree with Albert Belle..he could bash
    I’m surprised there is so much discussion about the Braves, I know they have had great players and all but Hank Aaron is by far the best. One of greatest to play the game, if not THE greatest.

    Someone mentioned the thumbs up and down, I like them as part of comment threads just for the ease of saying I agree/disagree.. Instead of typing WHY I agree/disagree, I guess I’m all for easier things…no i’m not a big fat,lazy guy. Ok, I am lazy.
    On another note..GO CARDS!

  16. jetersusedjersey - Mar 18, 2011 at 6:43 PM

    I have to agree with most of this list. Its solid. The Angels are the one team you missed on Craig. IT has to be Ryan or Brian Downing.

  17. takemytalentstosoutheuclid - Mar 19, 2011 at 9:35 AM

    For the Indians I would say Vizquel, or maybe Eckersley. Vizquel easily tops Thome and Belle in my book from modern era guys. Not the glamorous power numbers, but the best glove I have ever seen, and he lasted longer with the Tribe than any of the others in discussion. He’s the only one of them that can, and probably will, still be an everyday contributor in the bigs.

    Eck only played three years here, but we did draft him, and he spent 6 total years in the organization.

    • fribnit - Mar 21, 2011 at 6:09 PM

      Maybe Luis Tiant?

  18. mitchbaseball - Mar 19, 2011 at 12:41 PM

    I would go with Rod Carew over Jim Edmonds as greatest living Angel

  19. tcco007 - Mar 19, 2011 at 6:30 PM

    I would propose Reggie Jackson for the A’s. He lead them to 2 titles before being nicknamed “Mr. October” in NY.

    • fribnit - Mar 21, 2011 at 6:08 PM

      Three titles (he did miss on series with an injury but he led the team there)

  20. fribnit - Mar 21, 2011 at 6:07 PM

    I don’t have an argument for any but the Yanks and the Reds:
    Yanks: Berra. on of the two greatest catchers of all times (by most measures) more world series rings than anyone in history, three MVP awards

    Reds: Bench, the other of the two greatest catchers of all time

  21. themiddle54 - Mar 22, 2011 at 1:58 PM

    Craig, I think you missed some slam-dunks.

    Yankees–Rivera. No brainer, frankly. The defining player in all of history at one position. The single best pitch–his cutter–in probably all of baseball history, better than Pedro’s changeup, than Bob Feller’s fastball. Easy, easy pick.

    Red Sox–Clemens. Clemens 74.8 WAR as a Red Sox in only 13 seasons, to 88.7 WAR for Yaz in 23 seasons. And he’s the greatest living starting pitcher. Only reason to cast a vote for Yaz is that he was a lifelong Red Sox and sentiment is outweighing objectivity. Clemens only needed 2.5 more seasons in Boston to have given them more production than Yaz in 60% of the time. Easy pick here too I think.

    Pirates–Bonds. 50 WAR as a Pirate. Only 32 for Parker. Bonds had over 1K fewer PA in Pittsburgh. Bonds > Parker as a Pirate by a laughable margin. More than 50% more wins added in about 20% less playing time = you’re #1 with a bullet.

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