Thursday, November 29, 2012

13 Players You May Not Remember from the 1990's but Should

The first decade of the new millennium was full of controversy due to the players' use of performance enhancing drugs.  The final decade of the 1900's was full of controversy because of labor strife and rising salaries.  Just as in the 2000's the focus of the media was on the negative, while the positive was pushed to the back burner.

The decade saw an improvement in video and television quality that allowed us to see everything clearly and led to some historical moments that you can visualize in your mind with just the slight mention of a name: Joe Carter, Cal Ripken, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Jim Abbott, Albert Belle.  These names have definite moments associated with them and we saw all of them more clearly than ever.

The 1990's started with one of the biggest upsets in history as the Reds dethroned the dynasty in Oakland in a 4 game sweep.  The following year provided the greatest World Series in history as two underdogs faced off (both teams had been in last place the year before) in a classic 7 game battle that ended in a 1-0 extra inning.  (See previous article: Greatest World Series Moments: The Greatest Game Ever part 2).  The great moments continued the next two years as the World Series title flew north to Canada and left the borders of the US for the first time in history.  The second World Series title in Toronto was won on an iconic home run by Joe Carter (sorry Phillies fans).

That was where the fun ended.  1994 started off as a season for the ages.  Jeff Bagwell, Matt Williams, Ken Griffey, Jr, Fred McGriff and Frank Thomas were chasing Roger Maris and Tony Gwynn was trying to become the first .400 hitter since Ted Williams in 1941.  The Expos were dominating the National League while the White Sox were threatening to dominate the American League.  The Yankees were set to make the playoffs for the first time since 1981 and Cal Ripken was moving steadily towards breaking an unbreakable record.  The great season never came to a conclusion.  The owners locked the players out shortly after the All Star Break as the collective bargaining agreement ended.  Wars, assassinations and natural disasters could never cancel a World Series before but the greed of owners and players did.

After a delay to the start of the 1995 season, including serious considerations on whether or not to use replacement players, the game came back.  With the return of the game came interleague play, 6 divisions (3 in each league) as opposed to the 4 that had been in place since the 1960's and an extra round of playoffs.  Instead of 2 division leaders in each league reaching the playoffs, there would now be three division winners and a wild card.

The second half of the decade was dominated by the Braves, Yankees, and Indians.  Starting in 1991 one of these three teams (and several times both) would be involved in every World Series through the end of the decade.

There was also plenty of growth and movement in the league.  At the start of the decade the National League had two divisions of 6 teams each.  In 1993 the Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins joined the NL and made two seven team divisions.  When the three division play began in 1995 Detroit was in the AL East and Milwaukee was in the AL Central.  When Tampa Bay joined the AL East and Arizona joined the NL West in 1998, Milwaukee moved to the NL Central and Detroit moved to the AL Central.  The movement is almost enough to make your head hurt trying to figure it all out. 

The 1990's  had some great trades that benefited organizations for years to come.  The Red Sox traded for Pedro Martinez from Montreal.  The Yankees traded for Paul O'Neill from the Reds and the Cardinals traded for Mark McGwire from the A's.  On the other hand one trade came to be viewed as the worst trade in the history of the game.  Just after the new year in 1991 the Baltimore Orioles traded three young players, Steve Finley, Pete Harnisch and Curt Schilling to the Houston Astros.  Finley played for another 12 years, made the all star team several times and helped the Padres, Diamondbacks, Dodgers and Angels reach the playoffs and helped resurrect a Houston franchise that was a mess.  Harnisch made several all star teams and helped the Reds reach the NLCS in 1995.  Schilling went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Astros, Phillies, Diamondbacks and Red Sox.  In return the Orioles received firstbaseman Glenn Davis. Trouble was they already had three firstbaseman on the roster that the fans loved, Randy Milligan, Sam Horn and David Segui.  Davis played only 49 games that first year because of back problems, never completely recovered and never made any major contributions to the team.

The end of the decade saw complaints that the batters had too many advantages and the pitcher's were losing the right to pitch inside leading to higher home run totals.  The start of the decade was different.  1990 saw seven no-hitters, including one by Nolan Ryan and 1991 saw another seven, with yet another by Nolan Ryan.  The conversation at that point was how to stop pitchers from dominating the game.

The decade had two moments that will forever be remembered.  One for the negative connection that would come about just a few years later.  The other for the demonstration it made that some players still did respect the game and played for the fans.

1998 was the year of the home run.  9 players hit 45 or more home runs.  As the season started it looked like Roger Maris's record would be chased by McGwire and Griffey.  Suddenly in late July a new, relatively unknown, contender showed up.  Sammy Sosa, who had not hit more than 40 home runs in a season, hit 66 in 1998.  Between the years 1990-1993 he hit a combined total of 66.  McGwire, on the other hand, started bashing home runs as a rookie.  In 1987 he hit 49 home runs, a rookie record, and he had chased Maris's 61 home runs in the previous two seasons.  In 1998 McGwire hit 70.  As the Yankees and Braves dominated the standings fans fell in love with the two stars.  Several years later they were both identified as steroid users (and Sosa also got caught with a corked bat).

The greatest moment of the decade came when Cal Ripken, Jr broke Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played.  Ripken had not only played continuously, he revolutionized the shortstop position.  When Ripken entered the league he was a thirdbaseman.  A shortstop was traditionally seen as a small, quick, nimble player who had to move smoothly around the bag so he could avoid the runners barreling into secondbase to break up a double play.  Ozzie Smith was the prototype.  Earl Weaver decided to experiment and move the tall, thick, slower Ripken to shortstop in 1982.  As a shortstop Ripken won a rookie of the year award, 2 MVP's (he received MVP votes in 9 other seasons, including coming in 3rd in 1989) and made 19 consecutive All Star Games.  If not for this move Jeter, Nomar and ARod would never have been given a look at shortstop.  They would have been dismissed as too big to play there.  As the league tried to recover from the strike disaster Ripken was forced onto a national stage and did what Orioles fans had seen him do for years.  He came to the park early and signed autographs, he gave interviews after the game, he signed more autographs and gave more interviews.  The night that he tied the record he was giving interviews and signing autographs until 2 am.  He got up the next morning to take his son Ryan to his first day of school.  He then went to the ballpark early, signed autographs, gave more interviews and played the game.  In the record breaking game he hit a home run and was forced by his teammates to take a celebratory lap around the field.  In typical Ripken style he shook hands with as many fans as he could.  The pressure on Cal to be the savior of the game was tremendous.  He didn't have to do anything different.  He just acted like a Ripken:  he did everything with class.

Although the names of Ken Griffey Jr, Rickey Henderson, Jose Canseco, Frank Thomas, Joe Carter, Roberto Alomar, Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens, Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken and Nolan Ryan will be the names that are remembered thirty, forty, fifty years from now (or more), every decade has tremendously talented, successful players who make wonderful contributions to the success of their teams, organizations and the league as a whole. Unfortunately many of the players who fall into this category will be forgotten, overlooked and generally ignored. Here are 13 players* from the decade you may not remember but you definitely should:

Sandy Alomar, Jr.

Career Teams: San Diego Padres (1988-1989), Cleveland Indians (1990-2000), Chicago White Sox (2001-2002), Colorado Rockies (2002), Chicago White Sox (2003-2004), Texas Rangers (2005), Los Angeles Dodgers (2006), Chicago White Sox (2006) and New York Mets (2007)
All Star Appearances:  1990, 1991, 1992, 1996, 1997 and 1998
MVP Voting: 1997 (14th)
The San Diego Padres made some big trades during the late 1980's and early 1990's.  Most of them ended up working out better for the other team.  Sandy Alomar, Jr was the perfect example.  The Padres traded Alomar, Chris James and Carlos Baerga to the Indians in exchange for Joe Carter.  It was a nice trade for the Padres, who turned around a few years later and shipped Carter and Roberto Alomar (Sandy's brother) to the Blue Jays.  Cleveland was a baseball graveyard at the time and Carter was one of their few bright spots.  In a seeming gift to San Diego, Cleveland used this trade to begin turning their fortunes around.  Alomar won the Rookie of the Year in 1990 and made the all star team in 1990, 1991 and 1992.  The position of catcher during the decade was dominated by Pudge Fisk at the beginning and by Pudge Rodriguez in the middle and end of the decade.  Alomar was consistently under rated as a hitter, as a fielder and most importantly as manager of the pitching staff.  The Indians went from a team fighting to stay out of last place every year to a team fighting to win the World Series and Alomar was a key in that group.  The Indians came to within a few innings of winning the World Series in 1997.  During the three rounds of that postseason, Alomar hit 5 HR, including two in the World Series, and drove in 19.

First Base:
Hal Morris

Career Teams: New York Yankees (1988-1989), Cincinnati Reds (1990-1997), Kansas City Royals (1998), Cincinnati Reds (1999-2000) and Detroit Tigers (2000)
All Star Appearances: None
MVP Voting: 1994 (15th)
Playing firstbase in the Yankees minor league organization in the 1980's was not fun.  Unless you were traded there was no chance to play when you had to compete with Don Mattingly every year.  Luckily for Hal Morris, the Reds were interested in a good firstbaseman.  In 1990 he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting behind David Justice and Delino DeShields.  He wasn't the award winner but he had a great rookie season hitting .340.  The Reds had a great year as a team upsetting the heavily favored Oakland A's.  Morris hit poorly in the World Series but had a great deal to do with them beating the Pirates in the NLCS as he hit .417.  Morris was having his best season ever in  1994 when the strike wiped everything out.  The Reds made the playoffs again in 1995 and in the first ever Divisional Playoff series Morris hit .500.  First base in the National League at that time was dominated by Will Clark and Mark Grace so Morris was never truly recognized nationally for the strong contributions he made.

Second Base:
Mariano Duncan

Career Teams:  Los Angeles Dodgers (1985-1987 and 1989), Cincinnati Reds (1989-1991), Philadelphia Phillies (1992-1995), Cincinnati Reds (1995), New York Yankees (1996-1997) and Toronto Blue Jays (1997).
All Star Appearances: 1994
MVP Voting: 1985 (23rd)
Mariano Duncan played in the major leagues for 12 years and played for five teams.  With the exception of Toronto in 1997 (he only played 32 games there) his teams made the playoffs at least once in every stop of his career.  As a rookie in 1985 he was a big reason the Dodgers were able to fight the Cardinals in one of the classic playoff series of all time.  He hit only .222 with 4 hits in the series but two of those were doubles and one a triple.  He also came in third in Rookie of the Year voting behind Vince Coleman and Tom Browning.  Duncan remained with the Dodgers, though he was not part of the 1988 World Series Championship team, and was traded to the Reds at the trade deadline of 1989, just a month before the Pete Rose decision was announced.  Duncan made a big impact on the 1990 team, hitting .304, leading the league with 11 triples and adding a great defensive leadership.  His steady glove and the powerful bat of Eric Davis led the Reds to a World Championship.  At the end of the 1991 season he became a free agent and moved on to the Phillies for the 1992 season.  The Phils had big expectations that season but the season deteriorated quickly on opening day when Lenny Dykstra broke his wrist on opening day.  Duncan hit only .268 that season but did knock 40 doubles and stole 23 bases. During the next magical season Duncan was a quiet, steady guiding force.  Although Mickey Morandini was the everyday second baseman and Duncan split time at Shortstop with Juan Bell, Kim Batiste and Kevin Stocker,  Duncan also played 65 of his 124 games at secondbase.  Duncan had some big hits that postseason and some even bigger defensive plays.  He hit .345 in the World Series and had 3 triples in the playoffs.  His path took him back to the Reds for 1995 as Cincinnati advanced to the NLCS.  Duncan again played a big role going 2-3 in the 2 games he appeared including a stolen base.  The Reds fell short against the eventual World Series Champion Braves and Duncan moved on to the Yankees.  New York had not had a true, solid everyday secondbaseman since Willie Randolph but Duncan stepped up.  In 109 games Duncan hit a tremendous .340.  In a lineup including Wade Boggs, Tim Raines, Darryl Strawberry, Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neil, Tino Martinez and a young Derek Jeter, Duncan was the forgotten man in New York but he was a steadying influence in the hectic Yankee clubhouse.  He struggled in the World Series hitting only .053 but the Yankees would not have been there without him as he drove in three runs against Texas in the opening round.  Duncan was replaced in 1997 by Luis Sojo and eventually was moved to Toronto for a minor leaguer.  Duncan was not always recognized by the press but his influence in the clubhouse was unavoidable.

Chuck Knoblauch

Career Teams: Minnesota Twins (1991-1997), New York Yankees (1998-2001) and Kansas City Royals (2002)
All Star Appearances:  1992, 1994, 1996 and 1997.
MVP Voting:  1994 (20th), 1995 (17th) and 1996 (16th).
Knoblauch's reputation at the end of his career was not good.  Yankee fans remember Knoblauch for the wrong reasons.  In the 1998 playoffs against the Indians, Knoblauch covered first on a bunt by the Indians' Travis Fryman.  As Knoblauch waited for the throw Fryman was nailed square in the back by the throw and the ball rolled down the first base line.  Knoblauch immediately ran to the umpire and berated him because Fryman may or may not have been inside the base path.  As Knoblauch ranted and the ball rolled free, Enrique Wilson stumbled around third and scored the eventual winning run and Fryman, who had attempted to sacrifice himself, stood on third.  The image of Knoblauch growling at the ump is seared in the mind of Yankees fans and unfortunately it has marred what was a great coup for the Yankees at the time.  Knoblauch won the Rookie of the Year award in 1991 as part of Twins team that won the greatest World Series of all time.  (See previous article: Greatest World Series Moments: The Greatest Game Ever part 2).  The Twins could not continue the winning ways and as they slipped farther in the standings, Knoblauch continued to improve.  Although the Twins signed aging stars like Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor and Terry Steinbach, Knoblauch remained the bright spot on the team.  To obtain Knoblauch before the start of the 1998 season the Yankees had to give up four players and cash, one of the players was a highly regarded pitcher named Eric Milton, who would go on to a decent career,  including an all star appearance in 2001.  In Knoblauch's first year in New York his average slipped to a career low of .265 but he scored 117 runs and hit a career high 17 HR as the 1998 Yankees became one of the greatest teams in history.  Regardless, Knoblauch's gaffe against Cleveland became the identifying focal point of his career.  It was his Bill Buckner moment.  One dumb mistake that overshadowed a borderline hall of fame career to that point.  Knoblauch kept plugging along and had a great World Series against the Padres, hitting .375 and a home run in the 4 game sweep.  Always known as a great fielder to this point, Knoblauch started making some odd throwing errors on routine throws to first.  It was a few erratic throws at first but they started to become more consistent.  The odd part was he could dive to stop a ball, get up and rush a throw to firstbase with no problem.  It was the routine, everyday, batting practice ground balls that caused the problems.  He made 26 errors in 1999 (double his 13 from the year before) and 15 errors in 2000 in a part time role.  He could never regain his throws and with Alfonso Soriano coming to the majors Knoblauch started his movement to Leftfield and DH.  Knoblauch was released after the 2001 season and played a part time role for the Royals in 2002.  The career that had been on track for the Hall of Fame had derailed.

Tony Fernandez

Career Teams:  Toronto Blue Jays (1983-1990), San Diego Padres (1991-1992), New York Mets (1993), Toronto Blue Jays (1993), Cincinnati Reds (1994), New York Yankees (1995), Cleveland Indians (1997),  Toronto Blue Jays (1998-1999), Milwaukee Brewers (2001) and Toronto Blue Jays (2001).
All Star Teams:  1986, 1987, 1989, 1992 and 1999.
MVP Voting: 1986 (14th), 1987 (8th), 1988 (26th) and 1989 (19th)
The early years of the 1990's was one of the best generations of shortstops:  Ripken, Vizquel, Ozzie Smith, Ozzie Guillen, Larkin.  The second half of the decade was just as good with young shortstops:  Jeter, Garciapara, A-Rod.  The one name forgotten in both the first and second half of the decade is Tony Fernandez.  Tony entered the league just as the league doormat in Toronto was starting to dust itself off.  The Blue Jays made the playoffs in 1985 for the first time, almost made it in 1987 and made it again in 1989.  Each time Fernandez had a strong playoff series but couldn't advance past the first round.  The Blue Jays decided to rebuild the team after the 1990 team.  George Bell went to Chicago while Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff were shipped to the Padres for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter in one of the greatest movements of talent ever.  The trade led to two World Series titles for Toronto and disappointment for the Padres.  Fernandez had two strong years in San Diego, including a 1992 all star appearance, but the team could get nowhere as the Braves, Dodgers, Giants and Reds battled for the top spots.  After the 1992 season San Diego unloaded much of their high priced talent and sent Fernandez to the Mets in exchange for D.J. Dozier ( former two sport star who played Full Back for the Minnesota Vikings).  Fernandez played only part of the year with the Mets because he was traded to Toronto.  Although Paul Molitor got the MVP of the series and Joe Carter became a legend, Fernandez drove in 9 runs to help beat the Phillies.  It would have been a great career to that point but it wasn't over yet.  After a brief stop with the Yankees in 1995 ( he hit only .237 in the first ever wild card playoff series) and a year outside of baseball he moved on to Cleveland.  Although there was no Comeback Player of the Year Award yet, Fernandez would have won it.  Fernandez hit  .286 with 21 doubles and 11 Home Runs.  He had one more magic moment left in his bat.  In the final game of the 1997 ALCS, the Orioles had mounted a late series push to make the World Series.  With game 5 tied in the late innings Fernandez fouled a pitch off his foot.  He limped around home plate a few times and told the trainer he was fine.  He was right.  He hammered the next pitch for a home run to pound in the final nails in the Orioles coffin.  Fernandez made a final All Star appearance for Toronto in 1999.  He was never listed with the greats of the era but Fernandez was constantly on winning teams.

Third Base:
Kelly Gruber

Career Teams:  Toronto Blue Jays (1984-1992) and California Angels (1993)
All Star Appearances:  1989 and 1990
MVP Voting:  1990 (4th)
Kelly Gruber was an up and coming star as the 1980's ended.  His first full year in Toronto was 1987.  He had a decent season but it didn't compare with what was to come.  The Blue Jays surged to prominence in two waves.  The first wave (1985-1989) was led by Dave Stieb, George Bell, Fred McGriff, Tony Fernandez and Tom Henke.  As these stars were shipped off, aged or dealt with injury the Blue Jays quickly rebuilt.  The second wave came quickly after (1991-1993).  They brought in Dave Winfield, Dave Stewart, Devon White, Jack Morris, Rickey Henderson, Joe Carter, Paul Molitor and Roberto Alomar.  One of the few home grown stars to span both waves was Kelly Gruber.  Gruber's best year was the season in between the two great waves.  As the Blue Jays lost a battle with the Red Sox for first place that went down to the last three games of the year, Gruber was the leader of the Jays.  He hit .274 and 31 HR, many of them down the stretch, as he carried the team.  Gruber contributed greatly to the World Series Champion 1992 Jays, although he struggled in the playoffs.  Following the 1992 series Gruber became a hotly sought after free agent, yet, oddly Toronto failed to make a big offer.  Gruber signed a big contract with the Angels.  Gruber showed serious signs of shoulder trouble and the Angels argued that they had bought damaged goods.  Gruber played only 17 games for California before leaving the game for good.  Had he stayed healthy Gruber could have been one of the great thirdbaseman of the decade.

Ellis Burks

Career Teams: Boston Red Sox (1987-1992), Chicago White Sox (1993), Colorado Rockies (1994-1998), San Francisco Giants (1998-2000), Cleveland Indians (2001-2003) and Boston Red Sox (2004).
All Star Appearances:  1990, 1996
MVP Voting: 1990 (13th), 1996 (3rd) and 2000 (15th)
The Boston Red Sox were in transition when Ellis Burks became a full time player.  They were also recovering from the pain of losing the 1986 World Series.  Dwight Evans and Jim Rice were aging and Dave Henderson would only be in the Boston outfield for half of the 1987 season.  It didn't take long for the Red Sox to rebuild.  They had a strong young crop of players such as Jody Reed, Mike Greenwell and Burks.  Although the Red Sox struggled as a team in 1987 the young players gave hope for the future.  Greenwell and Burks specifically helped carry the Bosox to division titles in 1988 and 1990.  His numbers in those two playoff years were poor but that was more likely due to the strong Oakland pitching staff and less Burks' poor play.  He moved on to the White Sox for the 1993 season and helped the White Sox reach the playoffs for the first time in 10 years.  His team again ran into a new dynasty, the Blue Jays.  Although they lost in 6 games, Burks hit .304 with a home run and 3 RBI and scored four times.  His stay in Chicago was short.  He moved on to the new Colorado Rockies organization.  The first year there was the strike shortened 1994.  When baseball returned so did Burks and he had never played better.  The Rockies shocked everyone by securing a playoff spot and although much of the attention went to Dante Bichette, Vinny Castilla and Andres Galaraga, Burks was truly the driving force of the team.  If 1995 was a good year, 1996 was his best.  The rest of the team slumped but Burks hit .344, stole 32 bases, hit 42 home runs and scored a league leading 142 runs.  Burks moved on to San Francisco for two years and then to Cleveland for three seasons.  Every stop had a playoff appearance, unfortunately, every stop had a first round exit.  Burks never did make the World Series.  In February 2004 he went back to his roots and signed with the Red Sox.  The 2004 Red Sox eventually won the World Series but in a crowded outfield with Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, Gabe Kapler and Trot Nixon and with David Ortiz set at DH Burks only saw action in 11 games and was left off the postseason roster.  Burks played for 18 seasons, made major contributions to 5 different organizations and came up just short of winning a ring.

Kenny Lofton

Career Teams: Houston Astros (1991), Cleveland Indians (1992-1996), Atlanta Braves (1997), Cleveland Indians (1998-2001), Chicago White Sox (2002), San Francisco Giants (2002), Pittsburgh Pirates (2003),  Chicago Cubs (2003), New York Yankees (2004), Philadelphia Phillies (2005), Los Angeles Dodgers (2006), Texas Rangers (2007) and Cleveland Indians (2007)
All Star Teams: 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999
MVP Voting: 1993 (15th), 1994 (4th), 1996 (11th) and 1997 (26th)
If you look just at the career path of Lofton it would appear that he was a player no one wanted.  He played for 11 teams in a 17 year career.  What is lost in the constant movement is that everyone wanted Lofton and most of the teams that wanted him were playoff contenders.  In 17 years his teams made the playoffs 11 times.  7 times his teams reached the championship series.  Twice they made the World Series and once (the 2002 Giants) came within one game of the World Series Championship.  The teams that he played on are among the greatest of the last 20 years (1995 Indians, 2002 Giants, 2003 Cubs and 2007 Indians.  Lofton was a key part of all of them.  In last weeks article, 12 Players You May Not Know From the 2000's but Should, I mentioned that most great teams had a "motor guy".  Lofton was the top motor guy of the 1990's.  From 1992-1996 he led the league each year in stolen bases.  He also was one of the best centerfielders of the decade, routinely making highlight plays look easy, and winning four gold gloves.  Each stop he made he played with players who got bigger headlines:  Belle, Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Bonds, Jeter, Thome, Ramirez.  Yet the RBI numbers of all of the sluggers he played with would have been significantly smaller if he hadn't gotten on base and distracted the pitcher as the best base stealer of the decade.  He may not be voted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot but Lofton certainly made a big enough impact to get quite a few votes.

Jay Buhner

Career Teams: New York Yankees (1987-1988) and Seattle Mariners (1988-2001)
All Star Appearances:  1996
MVP Voting:  1995 (4th), 1996 (17th) and 1997 (19th).
Frank and Estelle Costanza sat in their living room soaking in the "death" of their son George.  The tragic news had been delivered by George's boss, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner.  As Steinbrenner comforted Estelle with nice words of her son's work performance, Mr. Costanza could only ask one question.  "What the hell did you trade Jay Buhner for?  He had 30 home runs and over 100 RBI's last year.  He's got a rocket for an arm.  You don't know what the hell you're doing."  It was a question that most Yankee fans were asking in the mid 1990's.  Buhner played little in the two partial seasons he played with the Yankees.  In fact he played only 32 total games for the Yankees and hit only 3 home runs.  Before he was traded for Ken Phelps ("Steinbrenner" told Mr. Costanza his people "liked Ken Phelps' bat.") Buhner hit only .188 in 1988.  Actually it took Buhner about 6 seasons in Seattle before he really became the player his potential had always showed he could be.  When the Mariners needed Buhner the most he stepped up.  1995 in Seattle was a crossroads season.  The Mariners had never made the playoffs and could rarely be considered competitive.  As 1995 hit the All Star Break, Seattle had little to look forward to and the owners started discussing moving the team to another city.  The Angels had jumped out to a huge division lead.  Worst of all, the one player who was given the task of leading the Mariners to a playoff spot, Ken Griffey, Jr., had broken his wrist while making another spectacular play in late May and was out until August.  During that time one player stood out as the man who carried the Mariners.  His average may have been below .250 and he struck out over 100 times (120) but he hit 40 HR's, drove in 121 and seemed to always be in the right place at the right time.  Whether it was making a diving catch, hitting a game winning HR or using the strongest arm in the AL to gun down a runner, Buhner carried the team.  The Mariners caught fire just as the Angels stumbled and tied for first on the last day of the season.  Buhner went 1-4 and scored one of the Mariners' 9 runs in the one game playoff blow out that allowed them to move on to the first ever ALDS.  Buhner continued his tremendous season in the ALDS hitting .458 with a double and a home run.  The 1995 season is known as saving baseball in Seattle and Buhner was the unexpected savior.  Buhner continued to help the Mariners as Griffey, Randy Johnson and Tino Martinez moved on to better teams but injuries slowed his production.  Regardless, due to his carrying of the team on his back for that one great season, Buhner will be a Mariners legend for life.

Starting Pitcher:
Jimmy Key

Career Teams:  Toronto Blue Jays (1984-1992), New York Yankees (1993-1996) and Baltimore Orioles (1997-1998)
All Star Appearances:  1985, 1991, 1993 and 1994
MVP Voting:  1993 (11th) and 1994 (6th)
Cy Young Voting:  1987 (2nd), 1993 (4th) and 1994 (2nd)
According to the current perception of recent history the 1992 Blue Jays were pitched to victory by Jack Morris and Todd Stottlemeyer, the 1996 Yankees won because of Andy Pettite, Dwight Gooden and David Cone, and the 1997 Orioles dominated the AL because of Scott Erickson and Mike Mussina.  The forgotten man in all of these great teams was Jimmy Key.  He never won 20 games in a season, he never struck out 200 batters and his ERA's were often well above 3.00 but none of these teams would have dominated the way they did without Key's performance.  In 1992 he won two of the Blue Jays World Series games and in 1996 he was 1-1 in the World Series for the eventual champion Yankees. 

Middle Reliever:
Ramiro Mendoza

Career Teams:  New York Yankees (1996-2002), Boston Red Sox (2003-2004) and New York Yankees (2005)
All Star Appearances:  None.
MVP Voting:  None
Cy Young Voting:  None
The 1990's saw the development of middle relievers to a point never imagined even 20 years before.  Sparky Anderson (See previous article: Top 10 Managers of All Time) was the first manager to change pitchers at the drop of a hat but no manager ever managed a bull pen better than Joe Torre (LaRussa was possibly a rival) and no one did a job better and more quietly than Mendoza. When relief pitchers are mentioned in future generations Mariano Rivera will be the first name mentioned (and rightfully so).  But just as Jimmy Key was a forgotten starter on the Yankees playoff teams at the start of the most recent dynasty, Mendoza was the forgotten reliever.  Rivera always got the save but the connection between the starting pitcher and Rivera was usually Mendoza.  He pitched in anywhere between 39 and 62 games with the Yankees on the World Series years yet never had more than 6 saves.  Few middle relievers receive recognition and Mendoza was no exception.  When he became a free agent in 2002 he signed with Boston.  There was no bigger rivalry at the time than Red Sox-Yankees.  Mendoza filled the same role in Boston although with less success.  He did not appear in the 2003 playoffs and had limited exposure in the 2004 Boston run to the World Series (he had only 2 innings pitched and was charged with a loss).  After the 2004 season Mendoza had shoulder surgery and signed with the Yankees again.  By this time Rivera's set up man role had been filled and Mendoza's shoulder wasn't quite what it had been.  He appeared in one final game late in the year and gave up 2 hits (one a home run), 2 runs and had an ERA of 18.00.

Lee Smith

Career Teams:  Chicago Cubs (1980-1987), Boston Red Sox (1988-1990), St. Louis Cardinals (1990-1993), New York Yankees (1993), Baltimore Orioles (1994), California Angels (1995-1996), Cincinnati Reds (1996) and Montreal Expos (1997)
All Star Appearances: 1983, 1986, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995
Cy Young Voting: 1983 (9th), 1991 (2nd), 1992 (4th) and 1995 (5th)
MVP Voting:  1983 (18th) , 1988 (21st), 1991 (8th) and 1994 (14th).
When Lee Smith entered the league, the role of a relief pitcher was still a questionable one.  Few teams knew how to use a bullpen the way we would term "properly".  Starters were expected to pitch 200+ innings a year and they were certainly expected to pitch at least seven or eight innings.  Most relief pitchers at that time were viewed as below average pitchers who were not skilled enough to pitch a full game.  Smith was one of the first true closers in the game.  The 1990's are remembered as the era of Dennis Eckersley, Rob Dibble, Randy Myers, John Franco and the rise of Mariano Rivera but Lee Smith was truly the dominant closer.  Smith rarely had less than 30 saves in a year and in 1993 he set a single season record with 47 saves (since broken as closers are now used upwards of 60 games a year).  When he retired in 1997 with 473 saves he was the all time leader.  Trevor Hoffman of the Padres and Mariano Rivera have since passed Smith but it is unlikely anyone will knock Smith from the third spot.  The closest active player on the list is Francisco Rodriguez who is 150 saves behind.

Designated Hitter:
Harold Baines

Career Teams: Chicago White Sox (1980-1989), Texas Rangers (1989-1990), Oakland Athletics (1990-1992), Baltimore Orioles (1993-1995), Chicago White Sox (1996-1997), Baltimore Orioles (1997-1999), Cleveland Indians (1999), Baltimore Orioles (2000) and Chicago White Sox (2000-2001)
All Star Appearances: 1985, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1999
Cy Young Voting: 1982 (20th), 1983 (10th), 1984 (13th), 1985(9th)
I mentioned last week that, along with Edgar Martinez, there are two men who make me stop and think when I complain about the DH. (See previous article: 12 Players You May Not Know from the 2000's but Should) Harold Baines is a great example of a career that would have been missed if the DH was abolished.  When the DH was introduced in the early 1970's teams didn't quite know what to do with it or what type of hitter to use.  Harold Baines was the perfect DH.  He couldn't play the field (not because he was a poor fielder but because he had repeated knee surgery and the constant punishment on his legs was too great) but he could hit.  Certain career landmarks make players a "sure hall of famer" (300 Wins, 500 Home Runs or 3000 hits).  Baines finished his 22 year career with 2866 hits, 384 HR, 1628 RBI and a .289 career average.  Not a guarantee for the Hall of Fame but considering he defined the position that no one quite knew how to define, he certainly should get some consideration.  Baines never won a World Series but the years his teams made the playoffs it would be hard to say he didn't help them.  He played in a total of 8 playoff series.  In five of those series he hit .350 or better and hit 5 career playoff home runs and drove in 16 career playoff RBI.  Another criteria that is often used during the Hall of Fame voting is to determine if you were  "the best at your position for an extended period".  Baines has been retired for 10 years and he is still the best ever at his position.

* Author's Note:  Just as last week, and as may be seen in the next few weeks as we move through this series of articles, I did my best to keep this to one player per position, however, because I felt it was important to show the impact of Mariano Duncan on several World Series teams as well as give a more accurate historical perspective of Chuck Knoblauch's career than has become the general perception, second base has two players.  I also broke the Pitcher's position into three positions (starter, middle reliever and closer) as the pitcher's position has developed into several separate positions.  Also, there are several players on this list who were suspected of or admitted to using performance enhancing drugs.  As there were no rules against the use of these at that time and the use of these was fairly pervasive in the league during the decade, leading to the current testing program, I did not mention this issue in their descriptions.  This is not a comprehensive list of players who fall into this category from this era, it is simply my choice of players who best represented their position and have become forgotten.  Your list is probably different.  Email me yours or leave a comment.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Life of Marvin Miller

Marvin Julian Miller
April 14, 1917-November 27, 2012

Babe Ruth had just completed the greatest offensive season in the history of the game.  He had demolished every record known to mankind, single handedly saved the game from the Black Sox scandal and made the owners of the game millionaires by drawing unheard of numbers into the stadiums.  Thanks to those amazing feats Babe Ruth received a "generous raise" of $10,000.  For the season of 1921 he would now earn $30,000.  The greatest player to ever step on a baseball diamond (we can debate later) capped out his earnings at $75,000 in 1932.  As unbelievable as the offensive numbers that Ruth put up, the owners of his generation found Ruth's salary demands even more unbelievable.  During the great depression Ruth was asked if he felt odd that he made more money than Herbert Hoover.  Ruth's answer:  "Why shouldn't I make more than him?  I had a better year than him didn't I?"  Ruth had a habit of not quite remembering anyone by name (he called Benny Bengough, the Yankees backup catcher, "that googles guy") so it is quite possible that he really believed Hoover was a player in the league.  Regardless, Babe Ruth made less in his prime than the average player makes in the league today.

On Tuesday, November 27, Marvin Miller, the man who organized the players union passed away.  There is no one in the history of sports who had the impact that Miller had.  He never threw a pitch, swung a bat, caught a fly ball, made an error, ran a team, hired or fired a manager, or had an affiliation with any specific organization.  His impact was deeper than an agent fighting with a general manager over another incentive clause.  Marvin Millers impact on the game may never be able to be calculated.

The players of his eras idolized him.  The owners hated him.  By organizing the players union, Marvin Miller, not an athlete, not a manager but an economist, changed the way players careers are formed and the way teams are created.

This past season Carlos Lee of the Astros was able to veto a trade to the Dodgers because he decided it was not right for his family.  That was because of Marvin Miller.  This off season, teams will be tripping over each other to throw money at Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke.  That's because of Marvin Miller.

Prior to the union there was no contract negotiations for players.  You were paid what you were told you would be paid.  There was no choosing what team you wanted to play for. You signed with one team and you played for that team until you were told you were traded or told your services were no longer needed.  You did not appeal suspensions.  You served the suspension and paid your fine because the league told you that was your punishment.

Miller created the players union in 1966.  Within ten years he had fought the owners to a frazzle and undone nearly 100 years of one sided agreements.  He helped Curt Flood fight a trade to Philadelphia that he didn't approve and took his case to the Supreme Court.  He helped Catfish Hunter get out of a bad contract that was not being fulfilled by the A's making him the first ever free agent.  He convinced Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally to play an entire season for their teams without a contract and used their status to topple the "reserve clause"  that had stood since the beginning of the league.

Most people would be satisfied with those achievements but Miller kept fighting for the players.  In the 1980's the owners had a "gentleman's agreement" not to bid on each other's free agents.  This wold stop star players from jumping from team to team and would keep the owner in Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Montreal from trying to outspend owners from New York and Los Angeles.  Miller found out and sued the owners for restricting the free market on players.

The entire structure of sports was changed all because one man convinced the players that they were stronger together than as individuals.  The players had tried it before but not until the powerful mind of Marvin Miller did the players make a move that allowed us to experience the game that we know today.
When Angels fans cheer Ryan Madson or Braves fans cheer B.J. Upton in their new uniforms this year, they can thank Marvin Miller.

Sadly, few people recognize his name and even fewer recognize his wide reaching and long lasting   contributions to the game of baseball and sports in general. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

12 Players You May Not Know from the 2000's But Should

It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.

The decade of 2000-2010 was a roller coaster for baseball.  With some great trends that you may not have noticed and some terrible scandals no one could avoid.

In those ten years no team won back to back World Series and only two teams won more than one (the Yankees in 2000 and 2009 and Red Sox in 2004 and 2007).   The decade saw "newer teams" like the Diamondbacks, Angels and Marlins win the World Series and the Rockies, Astros, Rangers and Rays reached the World Series for the first time.  Some of the most memorable playoff moments in the history of the game took place: Rick Ankiel melted down on the mound in the 2000 NLDS, Luis Gonzalez's extra inning game winning hit in game 7 of the 2001 World Series ended one of the best World Series of all time, the miracle Angels used the power of a bizarre mascot and rallied from a 3 games to 2 deficit to stun the Giants, Aaron Boone stuck a dagger in the heart of the Red Sox in 2003 and the Red Sox got revenge the next year, the White Sox won their first World Series since 1917 (which quietly was a longer drought than the Red Sox had ended the year before), the Cardinals and Tigers squared off in a classic rematch of a World Series that stretches back to 1934, the Phillies and Rays played a World Series game that took 3 days and ended the Phillies 28 year drought, the Phillies and Yankees introduced replay to the World Series, Roy Halladay pitched the first postseason perfect game since 1956 and the Giants ended their own playoff drought winning their first World Series since moving to San Francisco.

The decade started with the first "Subway Series" since 1956 as the Yankees beat the Mets, continuing their domination of the history of the game.  The story of the decade quickly became ending long struggles to reach the top and the breaking of curses.  The Red Sox, White Sox, Angels, Phillies, Cardinals and Giants all ended droughts of 20 years or more (two of them stretching back to the 1910's). 

The decade was also a decade of comebacks.  The 2003 Tigers won only 43 games (that means out of 162 games they lost 119), one of the worst records in history.  Just three years later they were in the World Series.  The 2003 Red Sox blew a late 7th Game lead in the ALCS and fell behind 3 games to 0 in the 2004 ALCS then stormed back to win it all.  Three years later, the 2007 Red Sox did the same.  Those  2007 Red Sox faced a Rockies team that won 14 of their last 15 games to force a one game playoff with the Padres and then fought their way into the World Series.  In the process, they knocked off the up and coming Phillies, who themselves had rallied from seven games back on September 12 to topple the Mets.

The decade saw the revival of some long dormant rivalries as the Yankees-Red Sox, Dodgers-Giants, Phillies-Mets and Tigers-White Sox rivalries boiled over.  It also saw the birth of new rivalries that got heated as Cardinals-Astros, Angels-Athletics, Yankees-Rays and Red Sox-Rays battled each other throughout the decade.

Despite all the fun, exciting great stories in the decade, the focus of the sports world was on the steroids scandal that grew larger and larger through the decade.  As two of the most respected players in the history of the game, Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn, stepped away from the  game in 2001, the league was struggling to hide the dirty gigantic secret.  At the start of the decade the league was dominated by players like Giambi, Bonds, McGwire, Palmeiro, Clemens, Pettite and Ramirez.  By the end of the decade each of them would be suspected, implicated or outright caught using steroids.  The game fought to move on and rid the game of steroids and repair the damaged reputation while Bonds was toppling the most revered record of all time.  It could have been one of the best moments of all time but it became an embarrassment.  As Bonds prepared to pass Hank Aaron the talk was not about Bonds taking his position among Ruth, Aaron and Mays, it was about whether or not the commissioner would even be on hand to witness it and whether it would be recognized as a true record.

Although the names of Bonds, McGwire, Clemens, Jeter, ARod and Griffey will be the names that are remembered thirty, forty, fifty years from now (or more), every decade has tremendously talented, successful players who make wonderful contributions to the success of their teams, organizations and the league as a whole.  Unfortunately many of the players who fall into this category will be forgotten, overlooked and generally ignored.  Here are 12 players* from the decade that you may not remember but you definitely should:

Victor Martinez

Career Teams: Cleveland Indians (2002-2009) Boston Red Sox (2009-2010) and Detroit Tigers (2011-Present)
All Star Appearances: 2004, 2007, 2009 and 2010
MVP Voting:  2004 (21st), 2005 (18th) , 2007 (7th), 2009 (21st) and 2011 (16th).
The position of Catcher is known for being a defensive stronghold and the most important position on the field.  The catcher is involved in every pitch of every at bat.  In between pitches he's flipping through his mental catalog of what pitch this guy can hit, where he hits it to, who's on base and what type of pitch does he like to run on.  The mental focus on defense usually leads to lack of focus at the plate and lower averages.  The 2000's seemed to confirm this theory with AL Catchers like Posada and Varitek.  Good hitters but not threatening to win a batting title.  Victor Martinez (and Joe Mauer in Minnesota) broke this mold.  Between 2005 and 2011 Martinez hit .300 in all but one season, including .330 in 2011.  Martinez's best year was 2007.  Hitting .301, 40 doubles and 25 home runs the Indians took a 3 games to 1 lead over the Red Sox.  Martinez hit .455 in the three Indians wins but only .188 in the four losses as the Red Sox stormed back and went on to their second World Series win in 4 years.  Martinez moved on to Boston in 2009 but struggled to help the Sox.  In 2011 he helped Detroit reach the ALCS.  He missed all of 2012 due to injury.  His bat in the Tigers lineup may have made a difference in the World Series.  He is expected back for 2013 and should be a great help to the Tigers as a DH.

First Base:
Richie Sexson

Career Teams: Cleveland Indians (1997-2000), Milwaukee Brewers (2000-2003), Arizona Diamondbacks (2004), Seattle Mariners (2005-2008), New York Yankees (2008)
All Star Appearances: 2002 and 2005
MVP Voting: 2003 (12th) and 2005 (15th)
The first base position during the decade of 2000-2010 was full of amazing talent.  Giambi, Palmeiro, Teixeira, Thome, Howard, McGwire, Fielder, Konerko.  It seemed that every team at some point in the decade had a hall of fame or MVP caliber first baseman.  Sexson was brought up by the Indians in 1998 to help fill in for an injured Jim Thome and immediately got noticed by pounding the ball.  His high strikeouts caused him to be a slight liability but he had several years of near 100 walks to offset the K's.  From 2001 to 2004 he was a borderline superstar but it was difficult to gain attention during an era when there were first base all stars everywhere and he was playing on a poor Milwaukee team.  After 2004 he became a free agent.  The Seattle Mariners had money to burn and hired Mike Hargrove to manage the team then signed Sexson and Adrian Beltre to fit in with established stars like Bret Boone and Ichiro.  Despite the high payroll Seattle failed miserably and all blame fell on Sexson and Beltre.  The most amazing thing about looking at the Seattle roster of these years are the young players who would later be stars: Felix Hernandez, Raul Ibanez, Shin Soo Choo, Greg Dobbs, George Sherrill, J.J. Putz and Rafael Soriano.  It's less disappointing that the high priced free agents didn't perform and more disappointing that nearly all the young talent was gone within 5 years.

Second Base:
Brian Roberts 

Career Teams: Baltimore Orioles (2001-Present)
All Star Appearances: 2005 and 2007
MVP Voting:  2005 (18th)
The first decade of the new century was an embarrassing disaster for the Baltimore Orioles.  The decade started with the retiring of the face of the organization when Ripken stepped away.  It went down hill from there.  For the first few years they could at least thank the baseball gods that Tampa Bay would finish behind them and they would chase Toronto for third.  After 2007 it was clear that they were the worst team in the league (proof enough is the 30-3 loss to Texas near the end of 2007).  For one brief half season in 2005 they were competitive and battled for first place.  Then as Rafael Palmeiro became a punchline in 2005 the decade hit a horrible downward spiral.  The Mitchell report that came out on steroid use listed numerous O's as steroid users including Palmeiro, Tejada, Jay Gibbons, Chris Richards, Jason Grimsley and Brian Roberts himself.  Through all this turmoil Brian Roberts was the spark plug of the team.  Roberts is not known for power but is routinely near the top of the league in steals (leading the AL with 50 in 2007) and is a great defensive second baseman.  Injuries slowed Roberts in the last few years and sadly when the O's finally made the playoffs in 2012 second base was a rotating position.  Roberts played only 17 games in 2012 as the organization he represented his entire career, through the dark years, had their best year since 1997.

Jose Vidro

Career Teams:  Montreal Expos (1997-2004), Washington Nationals (2005-2006) and Seattle Mariners (2007-2008)
All Star Appearances: 2000, 2002 and 2003
MVP Voting: 2002 (23rd)
The term "baseball graveyard" is a term that has floated around for over a century.  It refers to an organization that is in such bad shape that, regardless of how talented you are, your services are pointless.  The Houston Astros and Miami Marlins are currently referred to as a "baseball graveyard".  During the decade of 2000-2010 no team represented the league's graveyard better than the Montreal Expos.  After the player strike of 1994 the Expos fortunes took a nose dive.  Like any team, even with a terrible organization, there are bright spots.  Jose Vidro shone brighter than many players on better teams.  In looking at the three All Star appearances it would be easy to say that he only made it because every team has to be represented but Vidro's numbers are impressive and he even started the All Star game for the National League in Milwaukee in 2003.  Not known as a power hitter Vidro did have some nice power years, hitting 24 HR in 2000 and 19 in 2003 and he hit above .300 six times.  When the Expos moved to Washington in 2005 Vidro moved with them but was slowed by injuries.  He was traded to Seattle in 2007 and hit .314 for the Mariners.  His injuries continued to slow him and midway through 2008 he was released by the Mariners.  While most middle infielders are either great hitters or great fielders Vidro was both.  He never made more than 11 errors in one year.

Short Stop:
David Eckstein

Career Teams:  Anaheim Angels (2001-2004), St.Louis Cardinals (2005-2007), Toronto Blue Jays (2008), Arizona Diamondbacks (2008) and San Diego Padres (2009-2010).
All Star Appearances:  2005 and 2006
MVP Voting: 2002 (11th) and 2005 (21st)
Great teams often have "motor guys" or "slump busters", players who seem to be wind up toys with high energy that never stop moving.  Usually these are not superstars but are guys who somehow find a way to spark the team when everyone else is slumping.  The 1988 Dodgers had Mickey Hatcher, the 1993 Phillies had Dave Hollins and two World Series teams had David Eckstein.  In 2001 he came in 4th in the Rookie of the Year voting (4th was no shame as he fell in behind Ichiro, who also won the 2001 MVP, C.C. Sabathia and Alfonso Soriano).   The Angels had spent 8 years building a team high in potential but even higher in underachieving.  With star players like Tim Salmon, Garrett Anderson, Darren Erstad, Troy Percival and Kevin Appier, Eckstein was an after thought.  When the Angels finally made the playoffs in 2002 no one expected much, especially facing the five time defending AL Champs, the Yankees in the first round.  Eckstein did well in the first round hitting .278 as the Angels stunned New York.  He improved in the ALCS against the Twins hitting .287 and finally .310 in the World Series as the Angels surprised everyone, including the Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent led Giants.  Eckstein scored 6 runs in that series.  The postseason often makes household names out of small time players, though they normally disappear quickly, remembered only by students of the game.  Eckstein was fortunate to get the opportunity again.  After leaving the Angels he landed in St.Louis in 2005 and made a huge impact.  The Cardinals reached the playoffs and beat the Padres in the first round with Eckstein hitting .385 in the series including 3 runs, 4 RBI and 1 HR.  The Cardinals lost in seven games to Houston in the NLCS and Eckstein hit only .200, though he scored 5 runs.  The Cardinals came back in 2006 and Eckstein led the way as they won the World Series.  Hitting .364, 3 doubles, 3 runs and 4 RBI Eckstein was named the MVP of the World Series.  He bounced from team to team after leaving the Cardinals but always made a major impact and improved the morale of the team.  Although they couldn't quite hold on, Eckstein made a strong contribution to the San Diego run at the playoffs in 2010.  He may not be a hall of fame player but it is not possible to tell the story of the World Series in the decade without his name.

Hank Blalock

Career Teams:  Texas Rangers (2002-2009) and Tampa Bay Rays (2010)
All Star Appearances: 2003 and 2004
MVP Voting:  2004 (18th)
Fans who only started following the league in the last 5 years may find it hard to believe but the Texas Rangers were a struggling franchise for a very long time.  The reputation of the organization in the 1980's was a team that did well in the first half of the season but melted when the summer heated up.  That reputation softened a little bit when the team made the playoffs in 1996, 1998 and 1999, though their record was 1-9 in those three playoff series.  The Rangers struggled to reclaim their identity through the early 2000's finishing no higher than third from 2000 to 2006.  As the decade moved on the Rangers had a powerful lineup with Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez, Michael Young and Mark Teixeira but they could never really improve in the standings.  The forgotten man in the powerful lineup was Hank Blalock.  Like nearly everyone else on this list, Blalock will never be confused for a Hall of Famer but he certainly represented the organization well as everyone of the above listed pieces of the powerful lineup, except Michael Young, moved on to other teams.  Despite playing with some future Hall of Famers, Blalock became a big name in the game of baseball.  In 2003 he made his first All Star Game.  Going into the bottom of the 8th of that game the NL led by 2 runs.  The NL brought in Eric Gagne, that year's contribution to  the "greatest closer ever" conversation.  The AL cut the lead to 1 .  With 2 outs and a 2-0 count Gagne tried to sneak a back door slider past Blalock.  Hank waited on it and crushed it for the game winning home run.  Hank made the All Star game again in 2004 and participated in the Home Run Derby.  His numbers began to slip in 2005.  Similar to the recent treatment of Josh Hamilton, the Rangers fans love affair with Hank started to fade.  Although he said nothing about it, he may have started experiencing the first symptoms of a nerve syndrome that caused him a lot of pain.  He had several trips to the DL and the Texas press had rumors sending him to nearly every team.  A move from third base to first base did not have the effect that was hoped.  He was released after the 2009 season and signed with the Rays.  In the 2010 playoffs the Rays lost to the Rangers in the playoffs but Blalock was not in either dugout.  He had been released in July after playing only 26 games with Tampa Bay.  Despite major contributions to the Rangers in the lean years Blalock never got to play in a playoff game. 

Dave Roberts

Career Teams: Cleveland Indians (1999-2001), Los Angeles Dodgers (2002-2004), Boston Red Sox (2004), San Diego Padres (2005-2006) and San Francisco Giants (2007-2008).
All Star Appearances: None
MVP Voting:  None
Dave Roberts never made an All Star team and never received an MVP vote but tell a Dodger or Red Sox fan that Dave Roberts was an insignificant player in the history of the majors and you will be looking for a fight.  Similar to David Eckstein further up on this list Dave Roberts was a "motor player".  As a very good Dodgers team chugged toward the playoffs in 2004, Roberts, at the top of the lineup, was driving the train.  At the trade deadline Dodgers fans were shocked when fan favorites Roberts, Paul Lo Duca and Guillermo Mota were shipped away.  Roberts was sent to the Red Sox where he played in a few games and made a slight impact but with a packed outfield Roberts got little playing time.  In the league championship series Roberts became a late inning pinch runner as the Red Sox limped their way to being swept in embarrassing fashion by the Yankees.  That is until Roberts got the motor running.  Down a run in the bottom of the ninth and 3 outs away from the end of the year Roberts stole second.  It was a close play but Roberts seemed to always light a spark when needed.  As he stood on second base clapping his hands and yelling "Let's Go" at the Sox dugout, Bill Mueller stepped in and stroked a single to right field.  Roberts came around to score, tying the game.  As he crossed the plate his energy seemed to ignite the Red Sox.  They not only won that game they won the next three, including 2 in New York, and four more against the Cardinals to win their first World Series since 1918.

Garrett Anderson

Career Teams:  California/Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (1994-2008), Atlanta Braves (2009) and Los Angeles Dodgers (2010)
All Star Appearances:  2002, 2003 and 2005
MVP Voting:  2001 (21st), 2002 (4th), 2003 (14th)
In 1995 the Angels made the playoffs (technically) for the first time since 1986.  Well, it was a one game playoff against the Mariners to see who would win the division.  They lost...badly.  Although they collapsed down the stretch, the Angels future looked bright with players like J.T. Snow, Tim Salmon, Jim Edmonds and Anderson.  Anderson finished second in Rookie of the Year voting to Marty Cordova of the Twins.  As the 1990's ended the Angels failed to live up to their potential and as they made poor free agent signings, changed ownership and traded away Edmonds and Snow, it appeared they may be heading into a rebuilding phase.  2002 changed the history of the Angels organization and the story of baseball history as the Angels won an improbable World Series over the Giants.  Few contributed more to the Angels win than Anderson.  For many years Anderson was the face of the Angels.  Although the Anaheim and LA press ridiculed his fielding on an almost daily basis at times, Anderson was the team leader and the compass of the Angels.  Troy Glaus was the MVP of that 2002 series but in the deciding 7th game Anderson went 1-4 with a double and drove in 3 of the 4 Angels run.

Pat Burrell

Career Teams: Philadelphia Phillies (2000-2008), Tampa Bay Rays (2009-2010), San Francisco Giants (2010-2011)
All Star Appearances: None
MVP Voting: 2002 (14th) and 2005 (7th)
When the Phillies drafted Burrell they may as well have marketed him as Saint Patrick.  He was routinely referred to as the savior of the franchise.  He did not have the best speed  and was not a perfect fielder (he wasn't the worst either) but he could hit.  The Phillies are currently viewed as a dynasty in the NL East but until 2007 they were viewed as the team that always got close to making the playoffs but couldn't quite get in.  That was until 2007 when they stormed back in late September to overtake the imploding Mets.  The Phillies got every one's  attention in 2008 when they won the World Series for only the second time in their 100+ year history and Burrell was a big part of that team.  One of the great images of that postseason was Jimmy Rollins and Pat Burrell, the two stars on the team who had played together through all he tough years and come up short, celebrating together at the pitcher's mound in Los Angeles as the Phillies advanced to the World Series for the first time since 1993.  He struggled in the 2008 World Series and had only 1 hit (.087) but it was a big one.  With Game 5 tied after a bizarre two day rain delay Burrell stepped up to start the 7th.  He drove a 1-1 pitch to the weird angles in LF-CF of Citizens Bank Ballpark and stood on second with a double.  He was removed for pinch runner Eric Bruntlett, who scored the winning run on Pedro Feliz's single back up the middle.  Burrell's career seemed over after a poor 2009 with the Rays and a slow start to 2010.  In May of 2010 he was released by the Rays and signed by San Francisco.  The Giants appeared to just be collecting discarded, aging, spare parts from other teams but Burrell hit 18 HR for the Giants and drove in 51.  The Giants of 2010 surprised everyone, including Burrell's phormer phriends in Philadelphia, and won the World Series.  Burrell came back in 2011 but he just couldn't hit the way he used to and had a .230 average and only 7 HR in 92 games.  Burrell was a free agent after the 2011 season but hung up his spikes for good.  He will be remembered forever by two of the classic teams as a player who brought them long awaited World Series wins.

Starting Pitcher:
Brandon Webb

Career Teams:  Arizona Diamondbacks (2003-2009)
All Star Appearances: 2006, 2007 and 2008
MVP Voting: 2007 (17th) and 2008 (17th)
Cy Young Voting: 2006 (winner), 2007 (2nd) and  2008 (2nd)
His career was short and his numbers were not hall of fame character but it is mind boggling that Webb is not mentioned more as one of those "could have been" players.  He came into the league in 2003 as the Diamondbacks began to sell off the pieces of their World Series team.  He won 10 games and lost 9 as a rookie but was third in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Dontrelle Willis and Scott Podsednik.  The sophomore curse struck in 2004 as he struggled with control.  He walked more than he struck out and he lost more than he won with a bad Arizona team.    In 2006 Webb won the Cy Young award leading the league with 16 wins and 3 shutouts.  He came in a distant second in the 2007 voting to Jake Peavey of the Padres and in 2008 he should have won the Cy Young leading the league with 22 wins but lost out to Tim Lincecum. Arizona made the playoffs in 2007 and Webb won one game as the Diamondbacks beat the Cubs in the first round but lost his second playoff game against the Rockies as Colorado completed one of the great comebacks in league history to reach the World Series.  Webb appeared to be one of the future dominant pitchers in the game but on opening day 2009 he experienced shoulder pain and left the game after only 4 1/3 innings pitched.  Webb went on the DL and several shoulder surgery's later he was released by the Diamondbacks.  He tried a comeback with Texas but after one poor minor league appearance he was released.

John Smoltz

Career Teams:  Atlanta Braves (1988-2008), Boston Red Sox (2009), St. Louis Cardinals (2009)
All Star Appearances:  1989, 1992, 1993, 1995, 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2007.
MVP Voting: 2002 (8th), 2003 (18th), 2004 (21st)
Cy Young Voting:  1996 (Winner), 1998 (4th), 2002 (3rd), 2006 (7th), 2007 (6th)
Everyone knows John Smoltz.  He retired after the 2009 season with 213 wins and in 2014 when his name is on the Hall of Fame ballot it would be embarrassing if he is not voted into the Hall of Fame on the first try.  So why is he on a list of forgotten players?  Everyone knows Smoltz was part of the great Braves teams from 1991-2005 but few people remember that for a few years he was actually the closer of the team.  He didn't want the role but he was great at it.  Smoltz returned after missing the 2000 season and worked out of the bullpen saving 10 games.  Bobby Cox saw the potential and moved him into the new role for the 2001 season.  In the three years he worked as the full time closer he saved 55, 44 and 45 games.  After those few seasons he went back to being one of the best starters in baseball for a few more years.

Designated Hitter:
Edgar Martinez

Career Teams: Seattle Mariners (1987-2004)
All Star Appearances: 1992, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2001, 2003
MVP Voting: 1992 (12th), 1995 (3rd), 1997 (14th), 2000 (6th), 2001 (16th).
There are a lot of people who don't like the Designated Hitter, myself included, and would like to see it gone from the game.  Yet, anytime I start to say something against the DH two names come to mind: Edgar Martinez (you'll have to wait until next week for the second name.  I'm sure you're all as excited as I am.)  There has never been a Hall of Fame Designated Hitter because the voters feel that the player does not contribute enough to the overall game.  If any DH deserves to make the Hall of Fame it is Martinez.   Martinez was a two time batting title winner in 1992 (.343) and 1995 (.356).  While Ken Griffey, Jay Buhner, Alex Rodriguez and Ichiro got the attention Martinez quietly went about his work getting hit after hit.  If his .312 career average and 2247 career hits aren't enough to prove what a great player he was this may put it into perspective.  In All Star competition a DH is not used if the game is being played in a National League park.  Of the seven All Star appearances for Martinez three of them were in games that his position was not even used.

* Author's note:  I tried to choose one player from each position.  Traditionally the game is defined as having only 9 positions but in the current era it would be hard to define a relief pitcher and starting pitcher as the same position and the traditional 9 positions excludes the Designated Hitter.  Because Jose Vidro and Brian Roberts both perfectly exemplified the player discussed in this article it was impossible to choose between them so they are both represented.  You may see this happen again as this series of articles progresses.  These are my choices  for the forgotten players of the 2000-2010 decade.  It probably differs from your choices.  Email me yours or leave a comment.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Top 10 Managers of All Time

The job of a major league manager is hard enough on a daily basis.  Put yourself in the shoes of Jim Leyland, the Tigers manager, during Game 1 of this year's World Series.  A week ago you were celebrating sweeping the Yankees to advance to the World Series.  You had this series set up perfectly with the best pitcher in baseball, well rested, starting Game 1.

In the top of the fifth you're already behind 3-0.  Verlander hasn't pitched horribly.  He gave up a home run in the first with two outs and two strikes.  In the third he had two outs and two strikes when the ball hits the third base bag allowing a runner to reach second on what is normally a ground ball out.  The next batter has two strikes and fights off every good pitch Verlander makes, then loops a hit to score two runs.  Verlander has thrown 98 pitches and is due up this inning. 

As you pace the dugout, hands in your pockets to fight off the chill in the San Francisco air,  you need to make a decision.  Do you accept that this is not Verlander's night, pinch hit for him in the hope of jump starting your offense and trusting a bullpen that has been shaky for the last month?  Or do you trust that Verlander can hold the Giants long enough for Jackson, Young, Cabrera and Fielder to get you right back into this?  Regardless of what you choose, one outcome is certain:  you'll have to explain this to the world in a few minutes and many of them won't accept your explanation.

As the manager you have to make the decision to sit your overpaid superstar, who is 0 for the last 24, for the good of the team.  Every move you make is torn apart and critiqued within moments.  Every move you decide not to make is pointed to as the one move everyone is certain would have won the game. 

If having to explain every minor decision isn't hard enough, imagine you have to defend decisions that aren't yours.  Players try to steal without permission and get caught.  Batters decide they can sneak in a bunt in for a base hit and ruin a scoring chance.  This all falls on the manager and no manager who wants the respect of his players would ever blame the player publicly for this.  The manager silently takes the blame.

It is a lonely job.  A job that you accept knowing that you have a shelf life.  Earl Weaver managed the Baltimore Orioles from 1968 to 1982.  Since he left the team after the 1982 season the Orioles have had only one manager last more than two years.  That would be their current manager Buck Showalter who has been there for 2 1/3 years.

What makes a manager great?  A manager has to be able to make the tough decision to sit a star player who is slumping or to tell a legend that someone younger can do the job better and be able to back up the decision with confidence.  A manager has to deal with a fan base that rebels when the ownership refuses to pay the star players big money and leaves them with a shallow talent pool  but Olympic sized expectations.  A manager has to deal with his own success and the perception that because you have made the playoffs five years in a row you have to make it a sixth year in a row or the year is a failure and you are the reason.

A manager has pressure from five sides:  the players, the owners, the press, the fans and themselves.

Despite all of these pressures some thrive in the job.  Here are the ten I consider the best of all time*:
10.  Earl Weaver:

Teams Managed:  Baltimore Orioles 1968-1982
Years in Playoffs:  1969, 1970, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1979
World Series Appearances:  1969, 1970, 1971, 1979
World Series Victories:  1970
Manager of the Year: 0 (Manager of the year was not awarded until 1983)
Earl Weaver was best known for arguing with umpires and being a cranky old man.  What he is also known for is winning.  Weaver developed "the Oriole Way", an organization wide philosophy that taught fundamentals from rookie ball all the way through to the big league team.  He also was a great judge of talent and use of the entire roster through player platoons.  During his time in Baltimore he managed hall of fame players such as Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer and Cal Ripken.  His run of success nearly ended on a high note.  In 1982, his Orioles made a late season run to catch the Brewers in the AL East race.  The season came down to a four game series head to head in Baltimore.  The Orioles had to take all four to win.  They came up just short.  Weaver was also known for using foul language.  During a particularly tough stretch for the Orioles batters, Weaver went on a dugout tirade.  One player approached Earl and said "Earl, I'd like to see you walk with the lord." Weaver froze, stared down the player and said: "I'd f---ing like to f---ing see you walk with the f---ing bases loaded."

9.   Dusty Baker

Teams Managed:San Francisco Giants (1993-2002), Chicago Cubs (2003-2006), Cincinnati Reds (2008-Present)
Years in Playoffs: 1997, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2010, 2012
World Series Appearances: 2002
World Series Victories: 0
Manager of the Year:  1993, 1997, 2000
It seems blasphemous to think that one of the great Dodger players of the 1970's and early 1980's started his managing career as a Giant.  Although it has been a short managerial career compared to some other managers on this list, Baker has turned around three of the traditionally strong organizations in the history of the game.  Between 1958 when the Giants moved to San Francisco and 1993 when Baker took over, there were few bright years in the bay area.  Baker turned the rarely playoff bound Giants into a consistent force in the NL West pushing them one game short of a World Series ring.  After leaving the Giants he led the Cubs to their first playoff series victory (and if not for a fateful inning to their first World Series) since 1945.  Since leaving the Cubs he has turned the Reds into a two time playoff team in the NL Central (and they appear set to dominate the division for quite some time).  For some reason he doesn't seem to have the support of the Reds fan base but they will surely recognize his importance when he is gone.

8.   Joe Torre

Teams Managed: New York Mets (1977-1981), Atlanta Braves (1982-1984), St. Louis Cardinals (1990-1995), New York Yankees (1996-2007), Los Angeles Dodgers (2008-2010)
Years in Playoffs: 1982, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009
World Series Appearances: 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000,  2001, 2003
World Series Victories: 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000
Manager of the Year: 1996, 1998
It may be hard to believe that Torre is not higher on the list.  The criticism of Torre was always that he had an unlimited budget to work with and anyone could win with the talent he was given.  That may be true but he certainly did more with less in 1982 in Atlanta and 2008 and 2009 with the Dodgers.  Torre's critics claim that he sat back and watched the Yankees win but Torre was constantly working his magic.  It takes a special manager to juggle the egos of David Wells, Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens and any other random overpaid, under performing player Steinbrenner decided to drop on him.  Many of his coaches have gone on to become successful managers including Willie Randolph, Lee Mazzilli and Don Mattingly.

7.   Bobby Cox

Teams Managed: Atlanta Braves (1978-1981), Toronto Blue Jays (1982-1985), Atlanta Braves (1990-2010)
Years in Playoffs: 1985, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2010.
World Series Appearances: 1991, 1992, 1995, 1996 and 1999.
World Series Victories: 1995
Manager of the Year:  1985, 1991, 2004 and 2005.
Sometimes a manager has a good group of players who are used to being told they can't win.  It's up to the manager to change the culture of the organization.  When Cox took over in Toronto they were in a division with the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, Tigers, Brewers and Indians.  At the start of every season they would be predicted to finish 6th if they were lucky (it was a dismal time for the Indians as well).  Cox changed all that and took Toronto to the playoffs for the first time in the history of the poor organization.  The Jays were one win away from reaching the Series when the 1985 Royals did what they do best and rallied (see the previous article Greatest World Series Moments: The Most Controversial).  1985 was the first year the LCS round was a best of seven as it had always been best of five.  The joke has always been that the Blue Jays didn't realize the series kept going after they reached three wins.  When Bobby Cox took over for Russ Nixon as manager of the Braves midway through the 1990 season, few thought the last place team had enough talent to get out of the cellar within the next ten years.  (See the previous article Greatest World Series Moments: Greatest Game Ever 2) Over the next 20 years Cox would continually develop players and recognize talent to fit into the Braves system.  Growing talent like David Justice, Ron Gant, Steve Avery, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Javy Lopez, Kevin Millwood and Chipper Jones he was also adept at finding small time players like Rafael Belliard, Mark Lemke, Jeff Blauser, Ryan Klesko and Alejandro Pena to fill roles.  Along with this he had the ability to find talent that had been discarded by other teams and resurrect their careers.  Among the long list are Terry Pendleton, Lonnie Smith, Sid Bream, Charlie Leibrandt, Mike Deveraux and Walt Weiss.

6.   Al Lopez

Teams Managed: Cleveland Indians (1951-1956), Chicago White Sox (1957-1965 and 1967-1969)
Years in Playoffs: N/A. (Yearly playoffs did not begin until 1969.  Until then the league winners would advance straight to the World Series)
World Series Appearances: 1954 and 1959
World Series Victories: 0
Manager of the Year: 0 (Manager of the year was not awarded  until 1983)
Probably one of the most forgotten great managers of all time.  Lopez was forced into an awkward position in taking over the Indians.  He replaced a fan favorite in Lou Boudreau and was dropped into a brewing feud between the Indians' GM Hank Greenberg and the Cleveland press.  Lopez rewarded Greenberg in 1954 by leading what many consider one of the top 10 teams of all time, the 1954 Indians.  Cleveland set the mark for most wins in a season but were swept out of the World Series by Willie Mays and the Giants in one of the greatest upsets of all time.  Lopez moved on to the White Sox and led them to their first World Series appearance since the 1919 Black Sox scandal.  Lopez was the first major league star to come out of the Tampa, FL area leading the way for players like Tony LaRussa, Lou Piniella, Tino Martinez and Luis Gonzales.  Why is he this high on the list when he only reached two World Series?  Compare the years he reached the World Series with the manager at number 4 on the list.  Lopez may not have the career wins of some of the people left off the list but he truly was the perfect example of getting more out of less.

5.   Sparky Anderson

Teams Managed: Cincinnati Reds (1970-1978), Detroit Tigers (1979-1995)
Years in Playoffs: 1970, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1984
World Series Appearances: 1970, 1972, 1975, 1976, 1984
World Series Victories: 1975, 1976, 1984
Manager of the Year: 1984
Sparky may not have been an all star player but he was one of the brilliant strategists in the history of the game.  Anderson managed a short list of hall of famers (Bench, Morgan, Perez) and a long list of people who should be in the hall of fame (Griffey Sr, Concepcion, Trammell and Morris).  He also became the first manager to win a World Series in both the American and National League.  Sparky also managed three of the greatest teams in the history of the game:  1975 and 1976 Reds (see previous article Greatest World Series Moments: The Greatest Game Part 1) and 1984 Tigers.  His biggest contribution to the game was his use  of the bullpen.  Known as Captain Hook because of his habit of quickly pulling a pitcher, he was the first manager to truly use every pitcher available in every game.  Anderson is well known for his entertaining sound clips.  After the 1976 World Series he told the press that Thurman Munson was a great catcher "but don't never do no one the disservice of comparing 'em to Johnny Bench." (It's amazing that someone who can use that many double negatives in one sentence can pronounce disservice). In the 1984 World Series he told Kirk Gibson that Goose Gossage wasn't afraid of him.  "He don't wanna walk you."  Then, when Gibson hit a three run home run Anderson was yelling like a little kid: "No, don't walk 'im!  Don't walk 'im!"

4.  Casey Stengel

Teams Managed: Brooklyn Dodgers (1934-1936), Boston Braves (1938-1943), New York Yankees (1949-1960) and New York Mets (1962-1965)
Years in Playoffs: N/A  (Yearly playoffs did not begin until 1969. Until then the League winners advanced directly to the World Series)
World Series Appearances: 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1960
World Series Victories: 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1956, 1958
Manager of the Year: N/A (Manager of the year was not awarded until 1983)
The "Old Perfesser" was a jumbled up mess to the outside world but somehow managed to get the most out of his players.  It was like watching an episode of Mr. Magoo.  No one could explain it but somehow he succeeded. He was the first manager to successfully use a platoon system by switching right handed hitters vs left handed pitchers and left handed hitters vs. righties.  He was also unbelievably good at playing hunches.  He once decided to switch the rightie vs lefty system and played a Hank Bauer vs a right hand pitcher.  Bauer usually only played when lefties were pitching but he got a hit in each of his first three at bats.  When the other team brought in a lefty Stengel sent up Gene Woodling, who usually only hit agains righties. Woodling was furious at having sat the whole game and now only hitting against a lefty.  Bauer was furious at not getting a shot to get a fourth hit.  Stengel's explanation to Woodling:  "You'll play your position and do whatever the hell I tell you."  Stengel's explanation to Bauer:  "You ain't no 1.000 hitter.  And you're not a .500 hitter.  In fact, Mr. Bauer, you ain't even a .333 hitter.  So you had your 3 hits for the day and that's all it was gonna be.  That was your quota."  Stengel was fired after the Yankees lost the 1960 World Series in seven games.  Stengel was fired because he was seventy years old.  He told a reporter "I'll never make that mistake again."  He then took over the comical 1962 Mets.  When preparing for the expansion draft a reporter asked where you need to start building a team.  Casey's answer was a catcher, "otherwise you'll have to chase the ball the way to the backstop."  Before he passed away Casey would routinely attend old timers games where he once said "it's wonderful to meet so many friends I never used to like."

3.  Connie Mack

Teams Managed:  Pittsburgh Pirates (1894-1896), Philadelphia Athletics (1901-1950)
Years in Playoffs: N/A (Yearly playoffs did not begin until 1969. Until then the League winners advanced directly to the World Series)
World Series Appearances: 1905, 1910, 1911, 1913, 1914, 1929, 1930, 1931
World Series Victories: 1910, 1911, 1913, 1929, 1930
Manager of the Year: N/A (Manager of the year was not awarded until 1983)
It is definitely not a typo.  Connie Mack managed the A's for 50 years.  Many experts would probably place Mack at either number 1 or 2 on the list.  The reason I did not place him higher was due to the long stretches of truly terrible years between the World Series appearances.  Mack's golden years came in two separate eras.  The first was the era of the "$100,000 Infield" of Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, Jack Barry and "Home Run" Baker as well as the great pitching of Eddie Plank, Eddie Rommel and Jack Coombs.  The second era in the late 1920's to early 1930's included the great teams of Al Simmons, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Cochrane and Lefty Grove.  (See previous article Greatest Player Never to Win a World Series) Unfortunately, after he disbanded his 1914 World Series team (there are varying explanations why) he struggled to make enough money to rebuild.  He often signed great talent but had to sell them to other teams (usually Boston or New York) to offset another year in the red.  He finally rebuilt the team in the late 1920's but the Great Depression forced him again to sell off his stars.  From 1932 until the A's jumped to Kansas City there were few highlights.  Mack was the first manager to shift the position of his players in the field on a pitch by pitch basis.  He would stand on the top step of the dugout and waive his scorecard to direct his players into position.

2.  Tony LaRussa

Teams Managed: Chicago White Sox (1979-1986), Oakland Athletics (1986-1995), St.Louis Cardinals (1996-2011)
Years in Playoffs: 1983, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2011
World Series Appearances: 1988, 1989, 1990, 2004, 2006, 2011
World Series Victories:  1989, 2006, 2011
Manager of the Year: 1983, 1988, 1992, 2002
LaRussa went out on top but he started at the bottom.  He took over a White Sox team in 1979 that had not made the postseason since Al Lopez (see number 6) led the "Go-Go White Sox" to the World Series in 1959.  The organization was in a tail spin but LaRussa got them back on track and by 1983 had them in the playoffs.  His White Sox team had Carlton Fisk and a young Harold Baines but few other stars, yet LaRussa guided them to a division title.  He was so highly regarded for his work in Chicago that the A's immediately fired their own manager and hired LaRussa when LaRussa left the White Sox in mid season 1986.  While in Oakland, LaRussa built a team that became one of the greatest of all time.  It combined aging greats like Don Baylor, Dave Parker and Willie McGee with young future greats like Canseco, McGwire and Terry Steinbach.  He also had a habit of claiming players that others had given up on and turning them into stars like Carney Lansford, Dave Stewart, Mike Moore, Bob Welch and Dennis Eckersley.  After taking Oakland to the playoffs in 4 out of 5 seasons (including 3 Series appearances and one Series win) LaRussa moved on to St.Louis where he replaced Joe Torre (see number 8)  as the Cardinals manager.  He had an immediate impact and took St.Louis  to a 3-1 NLCS lead over the Braves.  The Braves, led by Bobby Cox (see number 7) came back and won that NLCS.  He continued his ability to identify young talent like Albert Pujols and Rick Ankiel and resurrect players that others had given up on like Jim Edmonds, Larry Walker and David Eckstein.  During his 16 years in St.Louis they reached the playoffs 9 times, reached the World Series 3 times and won it twice.

1.  John McGraw

Teams Managed: Baltimore Orioles (1899, 1901-1902), New York Giants (1902-1932)
Years in Playoffs: 1908 (there was a one game "replay" at the end of the season because the Cubs and Giants were tied.  In one of he most famous moments in the history of the game, a regular season game was declared a tie game because of a protest by the Cubs). 
World Series Appearances:  1905, 1911, 1912, 1913, 1917, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1924.
World Series Victories:  1905, 1921, 1922
Manager of the Year: N/A (Manager of the Year was not awarded until 1923)
Few people in baseball history were as polarizing as John McGraw.  The list of players and managers who had long running feuds with "Mugsy" is like a  hall of fame roster.  Tinker, Evers, Chance, Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Frankie Frisch, Rogers Hornsby and Bill Terry all despised the man (some of them even played for him). His supporters are equally as impressive.  Christy Mathewson, Fred Lindstrom, Fred Merkle, Ross Youngs, Mike Donlin, Fred Snodgrass and a million others. The man himself was a paradox.  When he died his wife found a list of African American players he secretly wished he could have signed to play for the Giants, yet at the same time he carried a piece of string that had been used in a lynching as a good luck charm.  He was easy to hate.  There are rumors galore that he was involved in attempts to bribe other teams into throwing a few late season "meaningless games" the Giants' way.  He owned several pool halls with his business partner, Arnold Rothstein, the big money behind the Black Sox scandal.  Regardless of his personal life he was by far the most consistently successful manager in the game.  Connie Mack may have had two distinct eras of success but McGraw was constantly at the top of the league.  His list of World Series appearances could have at least three more years.  In 1904 his Giants won the National League but McGraw chose not to enter the World Series because he didn't feel he had to jeopardize his championship by playing "an inferior" American League.  In 1908 his team had one more regular season win than the Cubs but the Cubs protested a technicality and the game was ruled a tie.  When the season ended the teams were tied and played the first ever one game playoff, won by the Cubs.  In 1919, the year that would end in the Black Sox scandal, McGraw's Giants had a late season collapse.  Oddly, when the punishment from the gambling investigations came out McGraw lost his thirdbaseman and firstbaseman to life time bans.  No one who knew McGraw would ever accuse him of throwing games.  Anyone near him after a loss would tell you it wasn't pretty.  He also could have had two more World Series wins.  In 1912 one game was called a tie because of darkness (there was no night baseball at the time).  Game 8 was played in Fenway parking giving the Red Sox an extra home game, which they won.  McGraw argued that should have been played at the Polo Grounds.  In 1924, if it weren't for some supernatural assistance (see previous article Greatest World Series Moments: The Most Supernatural) he would have won another title.  Regardless of all the controversy McGraw was flat out the best manager of all time.

*Author's Note:  In choosing this list I not only took into consideration the amount of wins by the manager but the consistency of winning, the amount of teams that were led to the playoffs as well as the state of the organization when the manager took over.  I also took into consideration any major long lasting impact on the game. It was only the top 10 so I did leave off many great managers like Lou Piniella, Frank Chance, Bucky Harris, Tommy Lasorda, Walter Alston, Hughie Jennings, Wilbert Robinson and quite a few others.  This is my list.  I am certain your list would look different.  I'm anxious to hear who you would put on yours.  Email me yours at baseballeras (at) gmail (dot) com or leave me a comment in the box below.