Monday, April 7, 2008

Playing Favorites: American League

Thinking about which Giants jersey I'd get got me thinking of my favorite players. That, in turn, got me thinking of whether I have a favorable opinion of enough players to where I could conceivably buy a jersey for every team and still feel good about it. So here's my list of my favorite players for each team, limited to my baseball-watching lifetime (roughly 1978-present), why I like them, and whether I'm deep enough in like with the guy to justify buying his jersey.

After putting the list together, I noticed a couple of things. First, I'm realizing that almost all of my favorite AL players played when I was living in Michigan and watching or listening to the Tigers all the time, and all of my NL players are post-1986 guys I saw after adopting the Atlanta Braves. This shouldn't be surprising, but I was surprised all the same for reasons that are unclear.

Second, I was struck by how random one's admiration for a player truly can be. Many of these are guys I took a shine to based on not much more than a single game or a couple of games, and sometimes even less than that. I'm too lazy to analyze it too deeply, but I think that this phenomenon has a lot to do with the statboy vs. traditionalists divide, with the latter believing that the former actually love the players they hold up as the best, when in reality they are simply acknowledging their effectiveness at putting runs on the board. If I have to swear allegiance to one side over the other I'd go with the statboys, but there aren't a ton of sabr-crushes on this list. At least not as many as you might think.

Anyway, here's the list, AL today, NL tomorrow:


Yankees

Favorite:
Because Rickey Henderson seems far more appropriate as an Athletic, I'll go with Ron Guidry.
Why: He was pretty much the gold-standard for pitchers among the elementary school set in my day, all of it based on 1978, of course.
Would I buy his jersey: Nah. With no names on the backs, most people probably wouldn't know that the 49 was for Louisiana Lightning, and I'd hate for people to think I was just some random Yankees' fan.

Red Sox

Favorite:
Carl Yastrzemski
Why: While he was past his prime by the time I became aware of him, Ernie Harwell used to go on and on about him, and if Harwell thought someone was the bees knees, so did I.
Would I buy his jersey: Close call. while the name-free, bandwagon team thing applies equally to the Red Sox, Yaz's number 8 is far more recognizable than Guidry's 49. At the very least, I'd have to wait until the current Sawx trend has died down a bit.

Blue Jays

Favorite:
Jesee Barfield
Why: The arm. I went to a Tigers-Jays game once when I was a kid and remember watching his warm-up throws before the game and immediately realizing that Chet Lemon and Lynn Jones were not as good as I thought they were.
Would I buy his jersey: Yep.

Orioles

Favorite: Eddie Murray
Why: Today? Because he was amazing and is still underrated in my mind. Back when I was a kid? Growing up near Detroit, I felt sorry for him that he would always toil under the long shadow cast by the other, far more famous (at least locally) Eddie Murray.
Would I buy his jersey: I think so. I can't think of a single reason why I wouldn't be proud to be thought of as a Murray fan.

Rays

Favorite: Mark Hendrickson
Why: He was the unsung workhorse of the best team in the [Devil] Rays' history.
Would I buy his jersey: No. Besides Hendrickson himself, his mom, and possibly Lou Piniella, no one even knows a guy named Hendrickson ever played for the Rays. As a result, everyone would think I was one of those pathetic losers who put his own name on his jersey.

Tigers

Favorite:
Alan Trammell. A close second to Greg Maddux as my favorite player of all time, and my undisputed childhood favorite.
Why: Originally it was because, 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, occasionally worked as a roofer, and drank Stroh's all day told me. Once when we were visiting, my brother and I walked to the house in which he was rumored to live and knocked on the door. A woman in her 20s answered it. We asked if Alan Trammell was there, but she said no. At the time we assumed that he had already left for batting practice or something. 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. In later years he was my favorite because he played what I considered to be the glamor position on my favorite team and played it damn well.
Would I buy his jersey: Oh yes. Maybe even this afternoon.

Indians

Favorite: Andre Thornton
Why: Harwell always used to play him up as the One Who Should Be Feared whenever the Indians were in town. Unlike other scary putatively opponents, however, (like, say, George Brett) I have no recollection of him ever doing any serious damage (and his splits reveal he didn't, in fact, hit the Tigers well). The result is that easily-affordable respect and admiration one often has for an opponent who turned out to be more easily vanquished than originally feared.
Would I buy his jersey: Not until I move away from Ohio. I mean, I'm not a slave to the notion that a jersey must be obscure or ironic in order to be safely worn, but there are a lot of Indians jerseys floating around Columbus.

White Sox

Favorite: Carlton Fisk. Sorry Red Sox Nation, but you have to realize that people under 35 are more likely to think of Pudge as a White Sox.
Why: I'm not really sure, because I don't ever remember him doing anything notable when I was a kid. It's a pretty low bar with the White Sox, though. They've had many more players that I've admired -- like, say, Frank Thomas -- than I actually liked.
Would I buy his jersey: I think so, if only because it would probably grind the gears of Red Sox fans.

Royals

Favorite: Despite the fact that he simply abused Detroit -- traumatically ruining at least a couple of games I went to in person when I was, like, seven or eight years-old -- I eventually forgave George Brett and came to love him.
Why: He simply did everything right, and as fascist as it feels to say this, excellence breeds admiration.
Would I buy his jersey: Sure. Probably only in blue though, because he's burned into my consciousness as a destroying invader.

Twins

Favorite: I've not liked a damn thing about the Twins in my lifetime. They ruined the 1987 Tigers season. They ruined the 1991 Braves season. For most of my life they have played in an ugly-ass dome that, in my view, has done more to ruin baseball than anyplace north of St. Petersburg. I hated Puckett, Hrbeck, Viola, Brunansky, Gaetti, Gagne, and Gladden, and I've never taken much of a shine to anyone since. Accordingly, for this pick, I'll bend the rules and go with Rod Carew who, even though I don't ever recall playing in a Twins uniform, was with the team in 1978, and I basically remember the 1978 season.
Why: Like Guidry was for pitchers, Carew was the gold-standard for hitters when I was young. .388 was an almost magic number among members of my posse.
Would I buy his jersey: Yes, but only because he never wore the style that the DomeTwins wore.

Angels

Favorite: Mike Witt
Why: There was a time in the mid 1980s when I had this notion that there would be nothing better than to be an Angels' season ticket holder. I can't remember why, exactly, but I'm sure it had something to do with watching a game on TV in which shirtless fans stretched out in a half-full stadium, drinking beer and soaking up the sun as I shivered or melted back east, depending on the month. I still feel this occasionally, as I am guilty of a young starlet's idealization of California from time to time. Anyway, Mike Witt was pretty darn good back then, and my fuzzy feelings for California were channeled into him and, to a lesser extent, Brian Downing.
Would I buy his jersey: Probably not, as I am never pleased to be reminded of my naive longings, even if I have a lot of trouble getting rid of them.

Mariners

Favorite: Ichiro. A rare current player.
Why: He's really, really fun to watch. I saw him in person for the first time last summer when the Mariners and I were in San Diego at the same time. He went 2-4 with a couple of RBI. The first hit was an infield single, and man did he fly.
Would I buy his jersey: I think so. At least I can't think of a reason why I wouldn't.

A's

Favorite: Rickey Henderson
Why: Because he was fast. Because he was scary-good. Because he was Rickey.
Would I buy his jersey: I'm on record saying I hate the A's uniforms, but I'd probably make an exception in this case.

Rangers

Favorite: Mickey Rivers
Why: Just an all-around entertaining human being, even if a lot of that entertainment comes at his own expense. I remember him playing in Tiger Stadium once -- I was watching on TV, not in person -- and he got like 4 or 5 hits in one game. The Tigers' TV announcers -- Al Kaline and George Kell -- went on and on about him. While their word didn't carry a fraction of the weight with me that Harwell's did, I came away with the notion that Rivers was some titanic figure striding across the baseball landscape. Cut me some slack. I was probably seven or eight years-old.
Would I buy his jersey: Yeah, I think I would, even though, among those in the know, a Mickey Rivers jersey denotes something of a hipster quality I don't much care for.

That's it for the AL. National League tomorrow. In the meantime, please feel free to use this as a shopping list in the event that you feel it necessary to repay me for the year's worth of free content I have provided you. I take a large. Shirts can be shipped to me at my law firm.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mike Atwater Witt pitched a perfect game against Charlie Hough on the last day of the 1984 season.

How can a normal person hate Kirby Puckett? Especially considering that his career was brought to an early end by the failure to smoke lots of marijuana? (kind of).

The greatest Royal ever is Steve Balboni.

Craig Calcaterra said...

Maybe hate is too strong a word, but I can no more like him after he hit that home run in the 11th inning of Game 6 in the 1991 World Series than Red Sox fan can like Bucky Dent or a Royals fan can like Chris Chambliss.

Anonymous said...

Loved Alan Trammell. Just like your devotion to Ernie Harwell, I similarly held my dad's opinion in high regard. Despite being a Red Sox fan, my father would go on and on about Trammell ("He's just so... good"). That was enough for me. My dad was right: Trammell was good - real good.

Josh Wilker said...

"you have to realize that people under 35 are more likely to think of Pudge as a White Sox."

That's a good point, and after all Fisk does have a statue at Comiscular. But I think, more than any other HOFer besides maybe Mazeroski, Fisk lives on in the minds of casual fans via his One Big Moment, which occurred when he was on the Red Sox.

I very much agree with "anonymous" that Steve Balboni was the greatest Royal. He was also the greatest Mariner and Yankee. Now I wish I had a Balboni jersey.

Craig Calcaterra said...

Josh -- true about the casual fans. Heck, due to pure repetition I think even the first mental image I get of Fisk these days is the home run. When I try to think of him catching or just during an ordinary at bat, though, I think 72, and "SOX" emblazoned across his chest in polyester. Of course, I'm probably a bit more than a casual fan.

BTW: as your comment popped in, I was reading your Landreaux post and got this strange sensation that you were spying on me. Weird.

64cardinals said...

Anyone who thinks Balboni is the greatest Royal ever is something I can't write here. Try Frank White!

He's the greatest Royal ever.

Poser's!!!!

Tracy said...

If you get the Fisk White Sox jersey, which one would it be?

The traditionalist would go for the current model, but I'd snap up one of the 1981-vintage jerseys with the collars.

Josh Wilker said...

In the Hall of Fame list of catchers , Fisk's "primary team" is listed as being the White Sox, but he's shown wearing a Red Sox cap in the adjoining picture and, of course, in his plaque. I think he chose the latter, however.

Craig Calcaterra said...

Tracy: I have to go with the 1981 version. I think the rule has to be that you can't wear a jersey style the player honored never wore.

Josh: According to BR, Fisk had 1200 more plate appearances for Chicago than Boston. Just not as many famous ones, I guess.

As for the Hall of Fame, though, I'd feel really weird if he had on a White Sox cap, and can't imagine that even White Sox fans would think such a thing would be appropriate. He is a Red Sox player first and foremost, even if my memories and the stats suggest otherwise.

Dude said...

as a life-long Tigers fan, I can understand your appreciation of Trammell. for me though, my favorite Tiger will always be Chester Lemon. the way his ill-fitting cap always came off in the field, as he chased after fly balls and his head first slides into 1st base were both inspirational to a younger version of myself - to the point that I would frequently re-enact them in the back yard

Anonymous said...

I own one jersey: Rod Carew's Twins #29. My brother sent it to me for my 40th birthday; the best present he's ever given me. I was 10 the summer of Carew's magical .388 season and lived about an hour away from Bloomington's Metropolitan Stadium. I can still clearly recall the game against the ChiSox when he went over .400 for the first time on a give-away weekend day game. I can't see myself ever wearing the number of any player who played after I was about 20 when the word 'hero' had been changed, but I treasure this one from a hero of my youth.

Anonymous said...

Page 2 has a (somewhat funny) listing of rejected team t-shirts. http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=aleast/080407
Maybe you should buy all of those and not worry about buying an MLB jersey

Anonymous said...

link didn't post right, but it's in ESPN's P2, shouldn't be hard to find

Jeff J. Snider said...

I thought they should have got Steve Balboni to play the opposing first baseman in "Major League" instead of Pete Vuckovich. I mean, I'm pretty sure the director just told Pete, "Go in there and act like Steve Balboni."

I love this idea for a post, by the way. I may do the same thing over on my own site. If I do, I'll come back here and post a link.

drpaisley said...

Sorry, 64Cardinals, I have to go with Hal McRae as the greatest Royal ever.

Jeff J. Snider said...

I did go ahead and borrow this idea. My AL list can be found right here, if anyone is interested. Thanks for the great idea, Craig.