Jun 6, 2011, 11:03 AM EDT
Your weekly Power Rankings, with the continuing caveat that, man, there is not a ton of difference between the bulk of the teams in major league baseball this year.
There are clusters of six and seven teams, really: good teams, occasionally good teams, schizophrenic teams, bad teams, etc. Within those little ranges of six or seven teams, man, just pick ‘em. It’s made for a very frustrating Power Rankings compilation process this season, I can tell you.
So this week, something different: The rankings are the same as they would be — argue about them as you will — but rather than say something random about each team, I’m just gonna pick my favorite player from each team’s history.
This has nothing to do with whether they were the best or not, or whether they were good people or anything. It’s merely about how much I liked to watch that dude play or, if I didn’t get to see him actually play, what I could gather about it from history. I did this kind of exercise once several years ago on my old blog. Enough of the answers have changed that I think it’s OK to revisit it again.
1. Cardinals (2): Ozzie Smith. The man was magic. Whenever I hear someone make the case for Omar Vizquel as a defense-first shortstop for the Hall of Fame, I can’t help but think that they don’t appreciate just how much of a difference there is between most defense-first shortstops and Ozzie.
2. Yankees (5): I could be cute and go with Jim Bouton or some other big personality, but I have to be honest with my six-year-old self and say Ron Guidry. It has everything to do with when I became aware of what was really going on in baseball. He was the gold standard of American League pitchers there for a couple of years when I was waking up (and watching AL ball almost exclusively) and, as such, is really the only Yankees player I can say that I liked a ton more than simply admired (though I have admired many). Mattingly might be second.
3. Phillies (4): Terry Mulholland. It has very little to do with him as a player and everything to do with him as an idea. Of a workaday guy who bopped around forever and who — based on zero knowledge of what his life is actually life — I like to pretend is the most normal, unassuming ballplayer around. A guy who knows his limitations but doesn’t let it bother him. I sort of idealized players like this for many years when I was lost in the professional wilderness of the law, trying to reconcile the fact that I was no superstar with the fact that, for better or worse, this is how I made my living. He could be listed with a bunch of teams, of course, but when you say “Terry Mulholland” I tend to think Phillies first.
4. Rangers (13): Mickey Rivers. I saw him in Tiger Stadium a bunch of times when he was with the Rangers. I seem to recall some big hits, but I may just be conflating them with the legend of craziness that surrounds him. I have good thoughts for him though, and given how many not-so-inspiring types have worn a Rangers uniform in the past, he stands out. You could talk me into Nolan Ryan if I’m tired and my contrarian defenses are down.
5. Red Sox (7): Carl Yastrzemski. One of those guys who was talked about as a legend while I was still able to watch him play as an impressionable young kid. Of course, when I was actually watching his game he was past his prime and sort of ossifying in front of my eyes, so there’s obviously a lot of historical noise at work here.
6. Giants (3): Will Clark was my go-to answer for the Giants for years because, even though word was that he was something of a jackass, I just loved to watch him hit more than anyone else. Tim Lincecum may have passed him though, for more or less the same reason (I just love to watch him pitch). It’s really close. Maybe the fact that Lincecum isn’t supposed to be a jerk is a tie-breaker?
7. Brewers (10): Paul Molitor. There was nothing about his game I didn’t like, at least once he stopped spending half his year on the disabled list.
8. Indians (1): Andre Thornton? Joe Charboneau? Mike Hargrove? Probably someone of that vintage. When I was a kid and would watch/listen to a lot of Tigers games, they were talked about as the dangerous threats on those weak Indians teams but they never really posed much of a threat. That afforded me the opportunity to admire them without having it get all muddled up by anger at them doing damage against my rooting interest at the time.
9. Diamondbacks (17): Randy Johnson by default, though get back with me in a few years to see how much more Justin Upton has grown on me by then.
10. Blue Jays (11): Jesse Barfield. It’s all about the arm. Watching him just doing long toss in the outfield before a Tigers game once was almost a religious experience.
11. Braves (12): Gregory Alan Maddux. Guile and intellect over brute strength is a dynamic I’ve been fond of ever since I stopped growing when I was 14. And, not coincidentally, that’s almost exactly the time I became aware of Greg Maddux.
12. Tigers (16): Alan Trammell. My boyhood hero. And because I don’t believe in athletes-as-heroes anymore, the only ballplayer hero I ever had or will ever have. The genesis of these feelings? Mostly because he played the glamor position on what was my favorite team as a young boy, but there’s a vaguely personal reason too. I’ve written this before, but I’ll write it again: as a really young player, he made his in-season home on Inkster Road in Redford, Michigan, two doors down from my grandmother’s house. At least that’s what my uncle, who still lived at home and drank Stroh’s all day told me. Once when we were visiting my grandmother, my brother and I walked to the house in which Trammell was rumored to live and knocked on the door. A woman in her 20s answered it. We presumed it to be his wife or girlfriend or something. We asked if Alan Trammell was there, but she said no. At the time we assumed that he had already left for batting practice. In hindsight I realize that it might not have actually been his house, and that the woman, while taciturn to the point of being misleading, was technically telling the truth. Back then, though, we just liked to assume that Alan Trammell lived on Inkster Road, two doors down from my grandmother.
If anyone knows this for sure, please let me know, because I would like to apologize to the now 50-something-year-old woman who we bothered that day. No one likes a groupie.
13. Marlins (8): Charlie Hough, but that’s mostly because I haven’t liked many Marlins ever and at least he threw a knuckleball.
14. Rays (6): Not a lot to choose from here, but probably Carl Crawford because, hell, what isn’t there to like about Carl Crawford? Oh, stop it. It’s not like you pay his salary.
15. Mariners (18): Ichiro. He’s unique and fun to watch and anyone who says that they don’t like his game is someone you don’t need to be spending too much time around anyway.
16. Reds (9): Eric Davis. I was convinced as a teenager that he was the second coming of Willie Mays. There was no player that I would rather watch in the mid-to-late 80s than Eric Davis.
17. Angels (14): I don’t know that I’ve ever had a favorite Angel. Rather, I have always idealized this notion of California baseball, and for reasons that aren’t important the Angels have always epitomized that for me. Sunny days, laid back baseball. I can’t really explain it too well. Mike Witt and guys of his vintage and ilk probably do the best, though.
18. Pirates (21): I sometimes think Dave Parker because of the arm and the rep and all of that, but I never really got to see it. Yes, I’ve seen video of his great throws and took note of him in the 1979 World Series and various All-Star Games, but by the time I became aware of Parker — really aware of Parker — he was killing his career with cocaine and cheeseburgers and stuff. Pittsburgh-era Barry Bonds was someone I watched a hell of a lot more and appreciated a hell of a lot more for obvious reasons.
19. Rockies (15): Aesthetically speaking I hate the Blake Street Bomber type, so there was really no Rockies player I truly grooved on before Troy Tulowitzki. When Carlos Gonzalez is playing well I like him more, but I don’t know how sustainable that is for favorite player purposes.
20. Mets (19): There are more Mets players that I’ve liked in my life than most Braves fans will admit to. I loved watching Darryl Strawberry play. I loved watching Doc Gooden pitch. I had this irrational love of David Cone for a long time, but it disappeared by the time he made it to the Yankees. Ultimately, though: Mookie Wilson. Even before we knew he was a sociopath, I used to hope that Lenny Dykstra would get shipped to Siberia simply because Mookie seemed like such a pro that it galled me that some tobacco chewing showboat would get playing time at his expense. And, not for nothing, my daughter’s nickname is Mookie.
21. Dodgers (27): The last time I did this I cheated and said Kirk Gibson. He had an iconic moment, but do you really think of him as a Dodger, let alone someone you can call “your favorite Dodger?” I’m going with Fernando Valenzuela. Dodgers fans can tell me who I’m missing, but from a distance it doesn’t seem like there were a ton of Dodgers in recent years who seemed like they were having a lot of fun out there. Fernando seemed like he was having fun.
22. White Sox (23): This is another instance where the player whose accomplishments I most admired as a White Sox — Frank Thomas — don’t really translate to enjoyment, as such. Watching Frank Thomas play was kind of boring. He sat and waited for a baseball he could kill and he killed it. Which is fantastic for him, but kind of boring, really. I’m going to reach back and pick a guy I never saw play but who I read enough about to where I can’t help but like him: Dick Allen. Who wasn’t a White Sox player long — and heck, may have been a 1970s version of Frank Thomas in some ways — but who made enough of an impression that it’s hard not to smile.
23. Athletics (20): Rickey. He could probably make the list as a Yankees and Blue Jays player too if I was inclined to go in that direction. Nothing about his game I didn’t like. He even caught lazy fly balls cool. And it was all the better when your little league coach cited him as an example of someone you don’t want to be like. Because even then I knew that the little league coach was full of it. If he misjudged Rickey Henderson so badly, I could feel comfortable that he misjudged me too and that I should have been playing more often (note: that last part might not be an accurate assessment).
24. Orioles (24): Eddie Murray. I always felt like he was overlooked, lost somewhere between the Robinson/Robinson/Palmer Orioles and the Ripken Orioles, even though he was a critical part of the latter. How is his profile in Baltimore? Is it high enough? That’s something I wonder. It should be high.
25. Nationals (25): I’m punting and going with Tim Raines. Sorry, Nats, you gotta earn it with some more history. I do like Ryan Zimmerman, though, so give it a couple of years.
26. Padres (28): I should say Tony Gwynn, because I really enjoyed watching him hit and saw him hit often. My answer for years, though, was Kurt Bevacqua. Yes, for kind of dumb reasons. Like the baseball card of him blowing that record setting bubble, even though he was a Brewer when he did that. Or because there was a feature story on him in Sports Illustrated in 1985 that made him seem like a total nut.
27. Royals (22): George Brett. He was easily the most feared player who came into Tiger Stadium year-in, year-out when I was going to a lot of Tigers games in the late 70s and early 80s. Loomed way larger than any Tigers player or any other player in the game at the time, at least to me. I feared him, yet admired him. So sure, maybe it’s just a giant case of Stockholm Syndrome or something.
28. Cubs (26): I’ve learned enough about him in the past couple of years — and have suffered though enough of his color commentary — that I don’t have a tremendously great impression of Mark Grace the man. But I did enjoy watching him play when he was with the Cubbies. I’ve always had a weakness for contact hitting first basemen even though I know that I should know better.
29. Astros (29): I’m going to reproduce what I wrote about this a couple of years ago because I still feel pretty much the same way:
Joe Niekro. Not just because he threw a knuckleball. No, it has everything to do with the old “baseball brothers” card that Topps put out at some point in the 70s. On the card I’m remembering, Phil Niekro had a calm and peaceful expression on his face, inspired — in my childhood mind at least — by the knowledge that he was a better pitcher than the sour-faced little brother on the other half of the card. I was the little brother in my family, and while my desire to play sports always outshone my brother’s, his talent was greater. I got over it of course, but I know the feelings behind that sour face. I know that they’re none too healthy. I want to go back and tell the 1970s Joe Niekro to just let it go, because if you don’t become comfortable with who you are.
He, of course, would tell me that I was a crazy idiot if he were alive to do so, I’m sure. But hey, we feel what we feel.
30. Twins (30): As I’ve repeated often, there aren’t many Twins players I feel good about. Basically everyone on those Tom Kelly teams can go to hell as far as I’m concerned because, no, there are some things you never let go of, and watching them beat the Braves in 1991 — and to a lesser extent that last Tigers team I cared about in 1987 — pretty much soured me on them all. Fair? No, but it’s my blog and I don’t have to be fair here. Rod Carew is my answer. Because he was awesome.
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