Five 'All-Century' players not included
An old philosophy professor once said, "Dead philosophers aren't here to defend themselves." The implication was that those who were going to teach the subject had the duty to represent them fairly and defend their doctrines honorably.
As a panelist for the "DHL Presents MLB Hometown Heroes" program, I felt the same way about deceased and retired players. If, even as brief guardians of the game's history, we got it right, players long gone would smile and thank us if only they could. I think roughly 140 of the 150 picks (about 95 percent) that the panel and individual clubs turned over to the fans for a final vote were correct.
DHL Presents Major League Baseball Hometown Heroes, a three-part series airing on ESPN, will reveal the 30 men whom fans believe most embody the legacy of their franchise's history. The program will be broadcast at the following times:
• Tuesday -- 7-8 p.m. ET
Click here for the list of nominees
Some choices seem like a foregone conclusion. Babe Ruth, still the game's standard bearer 58 years after his death, should win over fellow New York immortals Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra. Ted Williams, the most astute mind ever to analyze a pitcher, should emerge as the preeminent Bostonian. Arguably the most statistically persistent player of the last 50 years, Hank Aaron should be the Bravest. Maniacal or not, Ty Cobb rules Tigerland.
The panel -- and individual clubs, which had the last word -- included among its 150 candidates some obvious deceased players to choose from. These included can't-miss players whose lives have long since passed from playing fields into mythology -- including Ruth, Williams and Cobb. But others less mythical and just as deserving were overlooked.
Consider: Despite the panel's recommendations, five top-shelf Hall of Famers who made the "All-Century Team" seven years ago were missing from the final list of candidates because their former clubs did not choose them. Here is my ranking of the grandest omissions, starting with position players.
Hornsby is the undisputed king of second basemen. No one at the position even approaches his .577 slugging mark, .434 on-base percentage and 1.021 OPS (on-base plus slugging). Ranked relative to his era, Hornsby's OPS makes him the fourth-greatest hitter of all time.
He hit .358, the second-highest career average to Cobb's .367. Moreover, he hit .402 (and slugged .690) over the five-year period from 1921 through 1925. As player-manager, he was heroic enough: He led St. Louis to its first world championship over Ruth and company in 1926. Even if Hornsby had been nominated, I suspect more modern players such as Stan Musial or Bob Gibson might have topped him on votes. Still, the "Rajah" deserved our remembrance.
The Cardinals did elect Albert Pujols, who looks like the real thing. But I would let the 26-year-old cool his heels for a time. Let him sustain his run of excellence and creep up on Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx as one of the great first sackers before we anoint him for immortality. Either Gibson, Lou Brock or Ozzie Smith could have vacated a seat for Hornsby, too.
Last week much ado was made of how David Ortiz eclipsed Foxx's Boston record of 50 home runs in a season. Broadcasters said nary a word about Foxx, who once belted 58 homers in a season for the Philadelphia A's. Is this all that lies ahead for "The Beast"? Will he be relegated to a dependent clause in someone else's sentence, a kind of historical footnote to another's achievements? It cannot happen.
While the Oakland offices rightly included Foxx's Philadelphia teammate, Lefty Grove, they inexplicably left off Foxx, whose .609 career slugging average ranks fourth (behind Ruth, Williams and Gehrig) and who knocked in 100 runs 13 times in a row, a feat equaled only by Gehrig.
I have no problem with Grove, Reggie Jackson, Rickey Henderson and Catfish Hunter. But under no circumstances should Double-X ride the pine to make room for Dennis Eckersley on the list of A's greats. He hit 415 home runs to lead the 1930s. With Foxx and mates Al Simmons and Mickey Cochrane, the A's supplanted New York in 1929 as the team to beat. Foxx remains second only to Gehrig among all first basemen.
Could Mathews, who died just five years ago, be forgotten already? Mathews is no worse than the third-best third baseman of all time. Mike Schmidt is the consensus choice as tops at the position. Putting George Brett ahead of Mathews won't draw much protest. But no one else at third base other than Schmidt surpasses Eddie and his 512 home runs.
Mathews hit 40 home runs four times and played for the Milwaukee team that beat the Yankees in the 1957 Series and took them to seven games in 1958. Warren Spahn, the left-handed record holder with 363 wins, and Aaron had to make the Braves' best five, but Mathews -- who played for the Tribe in Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta -- easily leaps past third baseman Chipper Jones, not to mention other nominees John Smoltz and Phil Niekro.
The Minnesotans forgot their Washington, D.C., roots. Although the Twins rightly selected 1960s home run leader Harmon Killebrew, who played his first seven years as a Senator, Killebrew hit 475 of his 573 home runs as a Minnesota Twin. And if they did remember the Senators, how could they leave out Johnson?
"The Big Train," the most famous Senator save Kennedy, won 417 games for a city affectionately known as "first in war, first in peace and last in American League." In 1924, at age 36, Johnson and Hall of Fame mate Goose Goslin led the Senators to their only world championship. Johnson topped the league in wins and ERA and earned his second MVP award. He won 20 more in 1925 and the Senators again made the series.
One of the original five elected to the Hall of Fame in 1936 (along with Ruth, Cobb, Honus Wagner and Christy Mathewson), Johnson was omitted while Kent Hrbek was included. Since Kirby Puckett was nominated, the Twins already had a representative from their two title teams, making Hrbek dispensable.
The other omitted pitcher from the original five Hall inductees was Mathewson. Sure, the Giants had a tougher lineup to crack: Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal and Mel Ott. But Mathewson should have edged Ott, the Giants' 5-foot-9 slugger who hit 323 of his 511 home runs (63 percent) at the lefty-friendly Polo Grounds.
Mathewson might be one of the top five hurlers ever. He pitched three shutouts in the 1905 series, ensuring the Giants' victory. He won 373 games, all but one with New York, between 1900 and 1916. Heroic? Matty joined a chemical warfare unit in France during WWI, got a whiff of gas and later contracted tuberculosis. He was just 45 when he died in 1925.
In addition to these historic omissions, the Expos-cum-Nationals, besides including Gary Carter and Rusty Staub, omitted Expo and borderline Hall of Famer Tim Raines, who gave way to Brian Schneider, Jose Vidro and Livan Hernandez.
That Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Juan Gonzalez did not draw nominations is likely attributed to the anti-steroids sensibility of the times, although only Palmeiro has tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
No doubt my arguments will invite counterarguments. But that too is what the Hometown Heroes program is all about.
Ken Shouler has written three baseball books and served as a panelist for the "DHL Presents Major League Baseball Hometown Heroes" project. You can reach Ken at email@example.com.
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