Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hall of Fame: Walter O'Malley

Walter O'Mally was inducted into the Hall of Fame last weekend, so I thought it would be worthwhile to profile him for those who may not know his contribution to baseball.

A bankruptcy attorney by trade, he ran the trust that controlled the Dodgers in the 1940s, then purchased a stake in the club with co-owner Branch Rickey. O'Malley took over completely by 1952 after a power struggle forced out Rickey.

He soon became the most hated man in the history of Brooklyn when he airlifted the Dodgers from the New York borough to Los Angeles, a maneuver the Brooklyn faithful have never forgiven.

O’Malley was one of the first owners to recognize the potential of television, making the Dodgers perhaps the most watched team in America in the 1950s. He saw the untapped potential of the West Coast and convinced Giants owner Horace Stoneham to move their clubs to California with him. And he wielded tremendous influence over league officials during a time of a weakened commissioner’s office.

When he came to L. A., he demanded and received a sweet deal that included 300 acres of choice land just a few miles from downtown. There, he built Dodger Stadium using his own money—the better to make a profit from concessions and parking.

The biggest difference between O’Malley and most of the other owners was always the fact that O’Malley made his living from baseball while his brethren treated baseball as a hobby. This put O’Malley a step ahead at all times and helped him cement a huge legacy that included the once-profitable team that plays ball in front of three million paying fans every year.

After O’Malley’s death in 1979, control of the club shifted to his son Peter O’Malley, who continued at the helm until the sale of the club to News Corp. in 1997.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Hall of Fame conspiracy?

The Nation published article you have to read about the snubbing of Marvin Miller from the Hall of Fame. It recounts Miller's rise and accomplishments as the leader of the players union, and it describes the outrageous machinations that not only kept him out of the Hall, but also led to the selections of two of Miller's most frequent adversaries: Bowie Kuhn and Walter O'Malley:

In 2007, the veterans committee failed to pick Miller again. This time, however, he received 63 percent, 12 percent short of the magic number. He was the only candidate to earn a majority of the votes. That year, former commissioner Bowie Kuhn received only fourteen votes.

That tally for Miller was obviously too close for comfort for baseball's establishment, concerned that he would probably reach the three-quarters threshold in the next vote. Later that year, the Hall of Fame board carried out a coup. They changed the rules and transformed a democratic voting process into a conspiracy of cronies. They created a twelve-member committee, responsible solely for considering baseball executives, with nine votes required for selection. The much smaller group included seven former executives, two Hall of Fame players, and three writers. When that group met last December, the ballot they considered included ten people, eight of them former team owners or executives as well as Kuhn and Miller. Miller only got three votes. Three people received enough votes to gain entry into the exclusive club. Walter O'Malley, who owned the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers from 1950 to 1979, received nine votes. Barney Dreyfuss, who owned the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1900 to 1932, earned ten votes. Kuhn, baseball commissioner from 1969 to 1984, also received ten votes.

Now Miller says he doesn't want to be inducted to the Hall of Fame. I don't blame him.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Hall of Fame Induction: Bowie Kuhn

Continuing my series of posts on the latest Hall of Fame inductees, today I'll talk about Bowie Kuhn, the one-time commissioner of baseball.

Inducted posthumously over the weekend, Kuhn presided during perhaps baseball’s most dramatic and controversial period: the free agency era. At his election to the post in 1968, Kuhn was working at the New York law firm that served the National League. As commissioner, his legal training would be called upon often.

The dismantling of the reserve clause, coming soon after the landmark Supreme Court case Flood v. Kuhn, defined his tenure—as did the 1981 players’ strike that canceled 52 games.

Kuhn made lots of enemies: He suspended Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle from participating in any baseball-related functions because of their associations with Atlantic City casinos; he made several shortsighted decisions that helped facilitate the downfall of the reserve clause; he handed down suspensions to powerful owners George Steinbrenner and Ted Turner; he allowed the TV networks to schedule all World Series games at night; and he created a controversial playoff system for the 1981 strike-torn season that angered fans and owners.

His tenure was, in fact, marked by more losses than victories, and owners ousted him in 1984 when they decided they wanted a businessman-CEO to lead a restructured baseball “corporation” into the future—which led to the selection of Peter Ueberroth as commissioner.

One of his frequent adversaries, Charlie Finley, had this to say when Kuhn resigned: “If Bowie Kuhn had a brain in his head, he’d be an idiot."

Kuhn was the ultimate stuffed shirt, and all you have to do is read Marvin Miller's great memoir, "A Whole New Ballgame," to see that Finley's assessment is close to the mark. In fact, the Veterans Committee needs to be reconstituted again if it thinks it did a good job with this selection. First of all, Kuhn himself is hardly worthy of induction. He pretty much pissed off everyone in baseball, and lost every battle he fought with the players union. He could have reached out to Miller and formed a partnership with the players, but he didn't.

Second, Kuhn died in March 2007. The Veterans Committee waited until months later to announce his selection. If they really felt he belonged, they would have inducted him years earlier. I think it's a joke when the VC waits until AFTER people die to select them. They snubbed Buck O'Neil so often that, now that he's dead, he's almost sure to receive the honor.

And third, the VC chose Kuhn and snubbed the person who really did a lot for baseball from that era: Marvin Miller. I'll blog about Miller at a later date, but suffice it to say that he changed baseball and all of sport -- which to me is the definition of Hall of Famer.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Hall of Fame Induction: Goose Gossage

This weekend, the Baseball Hall of Fame will induct four new members: pitcher Goose Gossage, manager Dick Williams, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, manager Billy Southworth and team executives Barney Dreyfuss of the Pirates and Walter O'Malley of the Dodgers.

Today I'm going to start a series of posts evaluating their qualifications for the Hall of Fame. First up, Gossage.

A devastatingly effective relief pitcher, Gossage helped redefine the role of closer in the 1970s and early 1980s with his menacing stare, goofy mustache, and 100-mph fastball. He saved games through pure intimidation, daring hitters to stand in the box against him. Few ever felt comfortable.

With relief specialization a recent phenomenon in baseball, it has been interesting to watch how Gossage was treated by Hall of Fame voters. He totaled 310 saves with nine teams, and at his peak, he was the best in the game; his 1981 strike-shortened season—0.77 ERA, 20 saves in 32 games—is one of the top 10 seasons ever posted by a reliever. But until this year, it wasn't enough to get him into the Hall. In 2005, the Hall select Bruce Sutter, while many historians and analysts believed they should have selected Gossage instead.

This year, I think Gossage was helped by two factors: (1) Sutter's election paving the way and reminding voters that they may have picked the wrong relief ace. And (2) the lack of any super-qualified candidate. Next year, the greatest player on the ballot will be Rickey Henderson, a sure-fire Hall of Famer. If Henderson had been on the ballot this year, he might have taken the spotlight away from Gossage.

In my opinion, Gossage belongs. I think anybody who followed baseball during his career thought of Gossage as one of the greatest ever at his craft, which is the kind of thing that should qualify you for the Hall.

You can read an exhaustive Wikipedia entry about this year's balloting here.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

On this date...

On July 24, 1983, George Brett went insane after his home run was disallowed in what became known as the Pine Tar Incident. I had a long post about this last month.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

More on Hall of Famers

A post-script to yesterday's post about the low number of Hall of Famers in last week's All-Star Game...

There are several HOF-bound or HOF-track players in baseball today who simply didn't get selected to this year's game:

1. Greg Maddux
2. Ken Griffey Jr.
3. Frank Thomas
4. Sammy Sosa (retired?)
5. Mike Piazza (retired this year)
6. Pedro Martinez
7. Tom Glavine
8. Randy Johnson

HOF-Track or HOF-bubble
9. Jim Thome
10. Ivan Rodriguez
11. Jeff Kent
12. Todd Helton
13. Vladimir Guerrero
14. Gary Sheffield
15. John Smoltz
16. Curt Schilling
17. Mike Mussina
18. Omar Vizquel

In past years, maybe these players would have been selected. There are more teams (30) in baseball now than ever, so more teams who have to send a player. On the other hand, there are more roster spots on the All-Star teams than ever, so they might cancel each other out.

In any case, rest assured that the current baseball era will be well-represented in the Hall of Fame come the next decade or two.

Monday, July 21, 2008

All-Star Research

When I was doing the All-Star Game research, I started counting Hall of Famers. The 1970 game featured 18 Hall of Famers, which I thought was a lot, but then I discovered another one with 18 HOFers. So it got me wondering, how many HOFers play in a typical All-Star Game? And was last week's game "typical" in that we probably watched X number of HOFers?

Time to bring out the spreadsheet and

I'm not going to research every single game. Rather, I'll take them at 5-year intervals, starting in 1935, and count the HOFers on each roster. A couple of notes:

- I'm not including players who were elected mainly as managers (e.g. Leo Durocher)
- Instead of 1945, when players were at War, I counted 1946
- For some more recent games, I included players who are retired or close to retirement and have already punched a ticket for the Hall of Fame (e.g. Rickey Henderson, Ken Griffey Jr., Maddux, Bonds, etc.)
- I didn't count Pete Rose, but if you want to, go ahead.

Here's what I found:
1935: 19
1940: 14
1946: 12
1950: 18
1955: 17
1960: 17
1965: 16
1970: 18
1975: 16
1980: 14
1985: 13
1990: 12
1995: 13
2000: 7
2005: 2

The numbers show that, historically, the typical All-Star game features around 15 to 18 Hall of Famers. So how does that translate to last Tuesday's game? Let's take a close look at the rosters and project out about 20 years. Here's my take:

HOF Lock: If they retired today, they'd be selected...
1. Alex Rodriguez
2. Mariano Rivera
3. Manny Ramirez
4. Ichiro Suzuki

HOF Track: If they keep doing what they're doing, they'll be selected...
5. Derek Jeter
6. David Ortiz
7. Chipper Jones
8. Albert Pujols

HOF Possibility: They're still a long way, but they're heading in the right direction...
9. Francisco Rodriguez
10. David Wright
11. Hanley Ramirez

(That last group is really hard to identify. Basically, I chose players who have already had several great seasons and are still young enough to post big career numbers.)

So I count 11 potential Hall of Famers in last week's group, which is on the very low end of the historical spectrum. Does that mean today's players aren't as good? Or that the Hall of Fame has selected a number of players who don't deserve induction?

I lean toward the latter explanation. There are some players (Red Schoendienst, Bobby Doerr, Joe Medwick) who basically got elected because of close friendships with members of the Veterans Committee. (But that's for a separate post.)

Anyway, it's an interesting exercise, at least to me.

Does anyone still care about the All-Star game?

Sorry it's taken me a week to finally finish this post about the All-Star Game, but here goes.

Last Tuesday's game ranks up there with the greatest All-Star Games of all time, but for my money, I'd choose the first All-Star game of 1961 as the greatest ever. You can read my blurb about the game here. (Remember, back then they played two All-Star Games per season, in a pathetic attempt to generate more revenue for baseball.)

If you're interested in reading more about the All-Star spectacle, I'd suggest The Midsummer Classic by David W. Vincent, Lyle Spatz, and David W. Smith, SABR members all. You can get it used for $1.01 from

Thursday, July 17, 2008

More All-Star Game stuff

Yesterday I started a long comment about the All-Star Game, wondering if this year's was the greatest ever. In surveying the field, I didn't actually answer the question, but I'll get to that soon.

First, I want to finish my survey of All-Star Games to focus on the greatest games before 1950. In my next post, I'll compare them and let you know which one I think was the greatest.

1941: AL 7, NL 5
In the midst of one of the greatest baseball seasons of all time came a great All-Star Game. The NL held a 5-2 lead with two outs in the eighth inning, but then Dom DiMaggio drove in his brother Joe with a single to make it 5-3. In the ninth, Joe D. drove in a run on a groundout to bring the Americans within one. Then Ted Williams came up with two on and two outs and slammed a three-run jack against Claude Passeau for the game-winner.

1936: NL 4, AL 3
Rookie Joe DiMaggio came to the plate with the tying run on second base, but Lon Warneke got him to fly out to end the game.

1934: AL 9, NL 7
It ended up a wild slugfest, but it started out with one of the greatest pitching performances of all time: in the first inning, NL hurler Carl Hubbell struck out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Jimmie Foxx in succession, then followed that up by striking out two more future Hall of Famers, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin, the next inning. After Hubbell was replaced, the AL batters teed off and scored all nine of their runs in the 4th, 5th, and 6th innings.

1933: AL 4, NL 2
The highlight of the first All-Star Game came when the aging Babe Ruth smacked a two-run home run to give the AL a 3-0 lead in the third.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Was that the greatest All-Star Game ever played?

Last night's game featured key home runs and dramatic strikeouts, top-notch defensive plays and ugly errors, great pitching and great hitting, and extra, extra innings. You probably already know how it ended. If right field had been manned by a strong-armed outfielder, they might still be playing. Instead, Corey Hart's rainbow-like throw arrived a split-second late to nail Justin Morneau at the plate and the American League had its 11th straight victory (not including the infamous tie of 2002).

How does it stack up against other great All-Star Games? Well there's a lot to choose from, but here are some other great games going back to 1950 and their highlights:

1994: NL 8, AL 7 (10)
Fred McGriff smacked a one-out, two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth against closer Lee Smith to tie the game, then the Nationals won it in the 10th on a run-scoring double by Moises Alou.

1987: NL 2, AL 0 (13)
A classic pitchers duel with no runs scoring until Tim Raines hit a triple to drive in both NL runs.

1979: NL 7, AL 6
A bases-loaded walk in the top of the ninth to Lee Mazzilli drove in the winning run, but Dave Parker was the star with two outfield assists -- one at home in the 8th, the other at third in the 7th.

1972: NL 4, AL 3 (10)
Joe Morgan drove in the winning run on a single in the bottom of the tenth after the Nationals tied it in the 9th.

1970: NL 5, AL 4 (12)
The AL entered the ninth with a 4-1 lead, but a homer, three singles, and a sacrifice fly by the NL tied the score and sent the game to extra innings. The game stretched to the 12th, when three consecutive 2-out singles gave the NL another victory.

1967: NL 2, AL 1 (15)
The longest game in All-Star history, a tense pitchers duel in the midst of a great pitchers era. Tony Perez slammed the game-winning homer in the top of the 15th and 22-year-old rookie Tom Seaver shut down the AL in the bottom of the inning.

1961 (1st): NL 5, AL 4 (10)
A wild one at Candlestick Park. The famous moment came when Stu Miller committed a wind-aided balk in the 9th.* The AL trailed 3-1 in the 9th, but tied it up thanks to Miller's balk and an error by 3B Ken Boyer. The AL took the lead in the top of the 10th on Boyer's second error, but in the bottom of the tenth, the NL struck back with two runs courtesy of the four best outfielders of their generation: Hank Aaron singled, Willie Mays doubled him home, Frank Robinson was hit by a pitch, and Roberto Clemente singled in Mays for the winning run. How awesome would it have been to be there!

*He was not "blown off the mound," as you read in some accounts. A gust of wind came up and caused Miller to move a bit, and the umpire called the balk. Here's what Miller said years later: "Before I threw a pitch, I went into a stretch position and then there was an extra gust of wind and I just wavered a bit." Read this story for more details.

1957: AL 6, NL 5
The AL scored three in the top of the 9th to make it 6-2, but the NL charged back to score three runs in the bottom of the inning. Gus Bell was thrown out at third base by Minnie Minoso for the second out of the inning, and Gil Hodges lined out to end the game with the winning run on second base.

1955: NL 6, AL 5 (12)
The Americans blew a 5-0 lead by allowing two in the 7th and three in the 8th. Stan Musial slammed a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 12th.

1950: NL 4, AL 3 (14)
Ralph Kiner tied the score in the top of the ninth with a home run, and Red Schoendienst homered in the 12th to win it.

(I'll tackle the greatest pre-1950 games later.)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The All-Star Game

Today is the All-Star Game, so it's time for a little history lesson:

Chicago Tribune sports editor Arch Ward came up with the idea for the All-Star Game in 1933, just in time for an aging Babe Ruth to hit the first All-Star home run in a 4-2 AL victory played at Comiskey Park.

Baseball’s version is, I think, the best of all major sports’ all-star games, but it has had its share of controversy, most of which has involved the selection of players. For the first 14 years, all players were chosen in a poll of major league managers. In 1947, league officials decided to let the fans select the eight-man starting lineup (excluding pitchers) in league-wide balloting. But in 1957, a Cincinnati newspaper printed an all-star ballot with Reds players marked at every position and encouraged fans to mail it in, which resulted in the selection of seven Reds to the lineup (the other player was Stan Musial). The commissioner’s office became incensed at the abuse of its system, an abuse that was practically inevitable because the league had failed to put any controls on the voting. Two of those Reds were replaced with Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, and thereafter the league decided to hand over the selection of all-stars to a poll of players, managers, and coaches.

In 1970, the league decided to return the vote to the group for whom the game is supposedly dedicated: the fans. Even so, every year complaints arise that “deserving” players have been left off the team while popular stars who have been injured, slumping, or otherwise “unworthy” are annually selected. But the point of the All-Star game is to select not the player who is having the best half of a season but rather the player who is a “star,” and part of being a star is being popular among fans. Sure, the voting could be modified a little bit to be more fair to great players who toil for bad teams with low attendance. But there’s no reason to get upset about these things.

This year, as King Kaufman pointed out, however, there is very little argument about the players. Maybe we're finally getting it right.

One fact that gets trumpeted every year around July is that the NL once had a stranglehold on All-Star Games, winning the Midsummer Classic 21 out of 23 tries from 1963 through 1985. The reason for the dominance can almost certainly be traced to the fact that the NL was the first league to really embrace black and Latin players. Think of the stars from the 1950s through the 1970s: from Robinson (both Jackie and Frank) to Mays to Aaron to Gibson to Morgan to Bench, with a little Mantle and Koufax thrown in there. Most of those players are black or Latin, and most played in the National League.

Over the last two decades, however, the AL has gotten more than even. In fact, beginning in 1986, the AL has won 17 All-Star games, the NL just four (with one tie).

This year, the AL is favored again, but it's impossible to make a prediction, so I won't.

Friday, July 11, 2008

MLB for iPhone: A Review

A few weeks ago I blogged about the new MLB At Bat application for iPhone. I promised a review when it came out.

It came out, and it's very cool.

I upgraded my existing iPhone with the new 2.0 software (which is free for all iPhone users), and immediately shopped the iTunes App Store to find MLB At Bat. It costs $4.99, which covers the service at least through the 2008 season and post-season.

What does it do? It gives you near-real-time scores of every baseball game, every day. But that's no big deal. The cool thing is that it gives you video highlights of every game, DURING the game -- usually a few minutes after the plays happen.

So in yesterday's Oakland-Seattle game, I was able to watch Jack Cust's and Kurt Suzuki's 9th-inning home runs within a few minutes of the events occurring. It was really awesome.

Now it's not perfect. I waited and waited for the program to pick up the highlights of Emil Brown's game-WINNING home run and they never did it. Also, the performance of the video left a lot to be desired. I thought I was in a pretty good Wi-Fi hotspot, but the videos kept starting and stopping. I don't know who's responsible -- MLB or the WiFi provider -- but it can get a little frustrating.

Also, I wish the program provided more than just scores -- ball/strikes, runners on, etc. -- would be helpful. And if you want to see a box score, you have to tap a little link that opens the box score in the Safari web browser.

I would imagine that those features will be added in a version 2 of the application. Even without those features, $4.99 is a bargain.

What about next year? Continuing major league baseball's proud tradition of screwing over its most loyal fans, I would imagine that the price will go up considerably next year. My prediction is that it'll cost $4.99 per month, or $19.99 per season, with the post-season costing extra.

Until then, it's my belief that MLB At Bat is a great deal and a great reason to buy yourself an iPhone 3G. Good luck getting one.

Link: Buy MLB At Bat in iTunes

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Back to the Hall of Fame

Continuing my discussion of the Hall of Fame, which inducts Goose Gossage and a bunch of old-timers later this month, I want to talk about Cooperstown, the small town in New York in which the Hall of Fame sits.

Cooperstown is supposedly the place where Abner Doubleday invented the game in 1839. We know now that the Doubleday Myth is a lie, but that shouldn’t detract from a fan’s appreciation of Cooperstown as a tourist attraction.

The place is named after its most famous resident, James Fenimore Cooper, author of The Last of the Mohicans. The story of how Cooperstown got the Hall of Fame is interesting because it illustrates once again (as if such illustration is necessary anymore) how the simple desire for money can affect history.

The idea belonged to a man named Alexander Cleland, who worked for a nonprofit foundation established by the heirs to the Singer Sewing Machine Company. Cooperstown had long been a resort community, but it, like the rest of the world, was hit hard by the Great Depression. Cleland suggested to the Clark Foundation, whose namesake lived in the town, that a museum based on baseball history would be a great way to attract tourists and spice up the local economy.

As author Bill James points out in his book Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?, Cleland projected that such an establishment could draw “hundreds of visitors a year.”

He was only off by a factor of a thousand.

With the backing of major league baseball and some money from the Clark Foundation, the Hall of Fame opened in 1939, steadily gaining in popularity so that today, 350,000 fans (well, about 300,000 fans and 50,000 bored spouses and children) pass through its gates. Which is no easy task, by the way, because the town is in a remote part of New York—at least four hours from New York City.

The Baseball Hall of Fame website makes it easy to plan your trip. Do it.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

More on Honus Wagner

In my last post, I rated Honus Wagner as the greatest Pirate in team history, and called him one of the top five ballplayers of all time.

Other than Babe Ruth, I don't know for sure who I would list among the other top ballplayers. Probably Willie Mays, Walter Johnson, and Barry Bonds. Or maybe Roger Clemens instead of Johnson. I don't know. There are dozens of ways to crunch the numbers and each would come up with a different result.

What I want to talk about here is, why Honus Wagner? He played so long ago, when the game was so different, that it seems odd to believe that a bow-legged shortstop from 100 years ago remains one of the greatest players of all time.

The way I look at it is, how much did he help his teams win and how much better was he than his contemporaries? And by that measure, Wagner is near the top of the list.

Let's take Wagner's best year, 1908, as an example. You can check out his stats at, but here are the highlights:

BA: .354 (1st)
OBP: .415 (1st)
SLG: .542 (1st)
OPS: .957 (1st, obviously)
Runs: 100 (2nd)
Hits: 201 (1st)
Total Bases: 308 (1st)
Doubles: 39 (1st)
Triples: 19 (1st)
HR: 10 (2nd)
RBI: 109 (1st)
Runs Created: 126

And so on, and so on.

You can see that, other than batting average and triples, none of the raw totals Wagner produced in 1908 would lead the league in 2008. But let's see what the league as a whole did in 1908:

BA: .239
OBP: .299
SLG: .306
OPS: .605

How much better than those averages was Wagner?

BA: 48% better
OBP: 39% better
SLG: 77% better
OPS: 58% better

Now let's see what a 2008 player would have to hit in order to match what Wagner did in 1908?

BA: To hit 48% better than the league average, a batter would have to hit .381
OBP: .457
SLG: .724
OPS: 1.181

I'm not saying that Wagner would reach those numbers if he were playing today (we can't know). I'm saying that his 1908 season is roughly equivalent to a batter today reaching those numbers. By comparison, those numbers are better than anything Albert Pujols has done, better than Alex Rodriguez, better than David Ortiz.

In fact, only a few players in history have achieved those numbers, people like Ruth, Gehrig, Hornsby, Williams, Mantle, and Bonds.

(And I haven't even factored in Wagner's stolen bases.)

Now, I cherry-picked Wagner's best season for this comparison, but his entire career is filled with seasons almost as good.

But regardless, what we have is one of the greatest offensive performers of all time, playing the best shortstop, on one of the best teams of his era.

It would take a lot of convincing before I would stop revering Honus Wagner.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Best Ever: Pittsburgh Pirates

I was going to continue my discussion of the Hall of Fame, but a loyal reader asked me to take on the Pittsburgh Pirates, his favorite team. So here we go with my continuing feature on the best ever position players and pitchers for each franchise.


The Contenders: Honus Wagner, Paul Waner, Roberto Clemente (with apologies to Arky Vaughan, Willie Stargell, Barry Bonds)

Though they haven't been any good for over 15 years, this is a franchise that has won nine pennants and five World Series, so the Pirates' all-time team is pretty loaded. In fact, let me present to you my picks for the all-time Pirates positional lineup:

C: Jason Kendall
1B: Stargell
2B: Bill Mazeroski
3B: Pie Traynor
SS: Wagner
OF: Clemente, Waner, Bonds or Ralph Kiner (depending on whether you consider Bonds a Pirate or a Giant)

Bench: Vaughan (he played some 3B and OF, but was mainly a SS and can't beat out Wagner), Brian Giles, Tommy Leach, Fred Clarke, Lloyd Waner, Max Carey, Dave Parker

But who's the greatest? It really is no contest. Honus Wagner is not only the greatest Pirate of all time, he's one of the top five players of all time. Don't know much about Wagner? As a fielder, Wagner was the greatest of his time. As a hitter and baserunner, only Ty Cobb was better. As a positive clubhouse influence, he was unmatched. He was more beloved by fans than anybody until Babe Ruth. He was friendly with rookies and veterans alike, and he maintained his humility despite his fame.

“If I had a choice of all players who have played baseball,” long-time Yankee boss Ed Barrow, who guided Babe Ruth’s career, once said, “the first man I would select would be Honus Wagner.” And legendary manager John McGraw said: “I consider Wagner not only as the number one shortstop, but had he played in any position other than pitcher, he would have been equally great at the other seven positions. He was the nearest thing to a perfect player no matter where his manager chose to play him.”

The selection of Wagner in no way denigrates the achievements of Paul Waner and Roberto Clemente, both among the greatest right fielders of their time. Waner, for those unfamiliar, was a hitting machine in the 1920s and 1930s. He didn't have much home run pop, but only because Forbes Field during his era was positively unfriendly to home runs. Not only was Waner a terror at the plate and in the outfield, he could also attack the bottle. There is a famous story that he quit drinking one year at the request of his manager. By midseason, however, he was batting just .240, so the skipper brought him some liquor, and Waner’s batting stroke returned.

Clemente, you probably already know about. He also was a hitting machine, and his fielding skills and throwing arm are legendary. Most long-time fans can tell stories about the amazing things Clemente could do in the outfield, like throw out a runner at home from the warning track on one bounce, or gun a runner at third on the fly from the right-field corner. He was that good and that memorable.

The Winner: Wagner

Note: In terms of talent, Barry Bonds might surpass both Waner and Clemente, but he played only six years with Pittsburgh and for these purposes, I consider him a Giant.


The Contenders: Deacon Phillippe, Wilbur Cooper, Bob Friend

This is a much more difficult selection to make, which probably explains why the Pirates haven't won more pennants during their history. None of the three contenders is in the Hall of Fame. Cooper is Pittsburgh's all-time leader in wins with 202, while Friend has 191 and Phillippe has 168.

Phillippe was one of the pitching aces of the Honus Wagner-era great teams during the first decade of the 1900s, winning four pennants.

Cooper never played with a winner, joining the Pirates three years after their 1909 pennant and being traded the year before they won the 1925 World Series.

Friend, meanwhile, joined the club in 1951 during the club's absolute nadir and led the club's resurgence in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He won 20 games only once, but he was consistently better than the league average for over a decade.

The Winner: I'm going to go with Bob Friend. On the surface, Cooper's stats are better, but I think that, when you adjust for the playing conditions (4-man rotation, air travel, etc.) and the quality of competition (the NL in the 1950s was a much tougher place to pitch than the NL of the 1910s and 1920s), Friend comes out on top.