Tomorrow I will be purchasing a dozen tickets to a baseball game for a group of people I work with. We will be going to a Greenville Drive (Single A Red Sox) minor league baseball game in early May. I don’t get to as many games as I used to, and I haven’t been to a Major League baseball game in an embarrassingly long time.
Greenville Drive marquee sign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Still, baseball is baseball, and Fluor Field here in Greenville is a nice facsimile of Boston’s Fenway Park, complete with a Green Monster of its own in left field.
This got me to thinking of all the players I’ve seen live over the years, in both minor league and major league baseball parks. So, inevitably, I decided to make a list of the best players I’ve seen in person at each position since my first game at Shea Stadium in 1974. I’ve included the year and the city in which I witnessed them play.
First Base: Steve Garvey (Shea Stadium, 1974), Willie McCovey (Shea Stadium, 1977), Willie Stargell (Shea Stadium, 1979), John Olerud (Seattle Kingdome, 1993), Mo Vaughn (Fenway Park, 1998.)
I was lucky to have seen a pair of first baseman, Garvey in ’74 and Stargell in ’79, who would each win their league’s MVP award that season.
Second Base: Dave Lopes (Shea Stadium, 1974), Rennie Stennett (Shea Stadium, 1976), Dave Cash (Shea Stadium, 1976), Roberto Alomar (Kingdome, 1993).
Not a lot to offer here. Alomar was just beginning to reveal his greatness in ’93.
Sorry, fellow Mets fan, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to add Felix Millan to this list.
Fenway Park on June 21, 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Third Base: Ron Cey (Shea Stadium, 1974), Mike Schmidt (Shea Stadium, 1976, ’77), Lenny Randle (Shea Stadium, 1977), Richie Hebner (Shea Stadium, 1979), Butch Hobson (Fenway Park, 1979), Robin Ventura (Three Rivers Stadium, 2000).
One Hall of Famer and…Lenny Randle. Hebner supplemented his income in the off-season by digging graves. Ventura’s career WAR of 55.5 is right there with several HOF’ers, including Boudreau, Medwick, Herman, Kelley, Terry and Gordon.
Shortstop: Bud Harrelson (Shea, 1974), Larry Bowa (Shea, 1976, ’77), Nomar Garciappara (New Britain, CT, Double-A Minor League park, while playing for the Trenton Thunder, 1995), Nomar Garciappara (Fenway Park, 1998), Edgar Renteria (Portland, ME, Double-A Minor League park, Portland SeaDogs, 1995), A-Rod (Fenway Park, 1999).
Hadlock Field, Portland ME. May 12, 2007 Photo by me, alcinoe 06:36, 25 September 2007 . . Alcinoe . . 1,100×768 (256 KB) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There’s some real talent to choose from there. Renteria was just 18-years old when he had a breakout season playing up north for the Portland SeaDogs. I watched him play there several times in ’95. I also watched a very skinny Nomar lash a triple and make an outstanding defensive play in Double-A for the BoSox minor league team that same year. He was clearly the star of the show that day.
Catcher: This is where mediocrity rules the day. Jerry Grote or Steve Yeager in ’74? (both fine defensive catchers), John Stearns (at Shea in ’78?) Stearns set the N.L. record for steals in a season by a catcher (25). How about Ed Ott (Shea, 1979) of the Pirates?
Charles Johnson of the Sea Dogs was a fine defensive catcher who could hit with some power. He became the very first draft pick ever for the Florida Marlins in 1992. I saw him play in Portland a few times in ’94 and ’95.
But I suppose I’ll have to take Jason Kendall who turned in a fine performance for the Pirates back in 2000 (Three Rivers Stadium.) Ironically, Kendall broke John Stearns N.L. single-season stolen base record for catchers a couple of years earlier.
Three Rivers Stadium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If I wanted to cheat, I would add Pudge Rodriguez and Mickey Tettleton, both with the Rangers, each of whom I saw play in Spring Training in 1996 down in Florida.
Outfield: Jimmy Wynn (Toy Cannon came to Shea in ’74), Rusty Staub (Shea, several times throughout the mid-70’s), Dave Kingman (Shea, ’75 and ’76), Del Unser (Shea, 1975), Greg Luzinski (Shea, ’76, ’77), Lee Mazzilli (Shea, 1977-’81), Dave Parker (Shea, ’79), Freddy Lynn (Fenway, ’79) Jim Rice (Fenway, ’79), Dwight Evans (Fenway, ’79), Bobby Bonds (Fenway, ’79), Ken Griffey, Jr. (Kingdome, 1993, Fenway Park, 1998), Jay Buhner (Kingdome, 1993), Joe Carter (Kingdome, 1993), Brian Giles (Three Rivers Stadium, 2000).
But Vladimir Guerrerro (Harrisburg Senators, Expos AA team, playing at Portland, ME, 1996) is responsible for my favorite jaw-dropping performance. I watched Vlad take apart the Sea Dogs in a game in the summer of ’96 where he hit a ball so hard to straight away center field, that it was still rising slightly on a line over the raised, distant scoreboard, and it just kept going like a missile until it hit a clump of trees at the base of the railroad track up on an embankment beyond the stadium.
I’d never heard a ball hit that hard in my life. Neither had anyone else in the park, for as young Vlad rounded the bases, the stadium was just stunned into silence. It was as if a shotgun blast had just echoed around the park. I remember turning to my brother after this homer and saying, “Looks like this kid’s got a pretty good future ahead of him, huh?”
Designated Hitter: I think I’ve seen only about a half a dozen games in American League ballparks, but I have seen three of the best.
Carl Yastrzemski (Fenway Park, 1979), Paul Molitor (Kingdome, 1993), Edgar Martinez (Fenway Park, 1998). Edgar did not play in the game I went to at the Kingdome in ’93.
Shea (Photo credit: Kethera)
Pitchers: Don Sutton (Shea, 1974), Tom Seaver (Shea, 1975), Jerry Koosman (Shea, 1976), Randy Jones (Shea, 1976), Jerry Reuss (Shea, 1980), Dwight Gooden (on Rehab., pitching for Tidewater vs. Maine Guides, Triple-A, Old Orchard Beach, ME, 1987), Al Leiter (Kingdome, 1993), Roger Clemens (Fenway Park, 1996), Tom Gordon (Fenway Park, 1996), Pedro Martinez (Fenway Park, 1998), Al Leiter (Three Rivers Stadium, 2000), Josh Beckett (Hadlock Field, Portland, ME, pitching for the Double-A Sea Dogs, 2001).
So I got to see Al Leiter twice, seven year apart, pitching for two different teams (Blue Jays and Mets.) I’ve seen five pitchers who have won Cy Young awards.
That’s it. By my count, I’ve seen nine players who are already in the Hall of Fame. I’ve also seen several others (A-Rod, Griffey, Jr., Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens) who certainly have a case for future HOF induction. Also, players like Evans, Staub, Nomar and Edgar Martinez were all among the very best players of their respective eras.
But an entire generation of new, young players has emerged in the last few years, few of whom I’ve had a chance to go out and see perform live.
Guess it’s time to buy those tickets.
Posted in Baseball History
, Baseball Memories
, Baseball Players
, Red Sox
and tagged Carl Yastrzemski
, Fenway Park
, Green Monster
, Greenville Drive
, John Olerud
, John Stearns
, Lenny Randle
, Major League Baseball
, Rennie Stennett
, Richie Hebner
, Shea Stadium
, Willie McCovey
Is the Wrong Red Sox Player in the Hall of Fame?
Here’s a comparison of a pair of Red Sox players, one who is in the Hall of Fame, another who never came close to induction. The better player in each category is highlighted in bold print:
Player A: On Base Percentage – .360
Player B: On Base Percentage – .352
Player A: Slugging Percentage – .484
Player B: Slugging Percentage – .502
Player A: OPS+ 129
Player B: OPS+ 128
Player A: Doubles – 388
Player B: Doubles – 373
Player A: Home Runs – 306
Player B: Home Runs – 382
Player A: 20+ Home Run Seasons – 10
Player B: 20+ Home Run Seasons – 11
Player A: Total Bases – 3,352
Player B: Total Bases – 4,129
Player A: Grounded Into Double Plays – 149
Player B: Grounded Into Double Plays – 315
Player A: Walks – 857
Player B: Walks – 670
Player A: Times Struck Out – 1,116
Player B: Times Struck Out – 1,423
Player A: WAR – 49.9
Player B: WAR – 47.2
Player A: Gold Gloves – 4
Player B: Gold Gloves – 0
Player A: All Star Games – 9
Player B: All Star Games – 8
Player A: MVP Awards – 1
Player B: MVP Awards – 1
Admittedly, any statistics one chooses to use will be at least somewhat arbitrary. Still, I believe I have included a broad selection of useful statistics (as well as awards and honors), to make a legitimate comparison between these two former teammates possible.
Player A trumps Player B in the following nine categories: On Base Percentage, OPS+, Doubles, GIDP, Walks, Times Struck Out, WAR, Gold Gloves and All Star Games.
Player B trumps Player A in the following four categories: Slugging Percentage, Home Runs, 20+ Home Run Seasons (again close), and Total Bases.
Player B, Jim Rice, played his entire career in a Boston Red Sox uniform, benefiting from the friendly hitting environment of Fenway Park for 16 seasons.
Player A, Fred Lynn, played his first half-dozen seasons in a Red Sox uniform, then went west to play for the Angels (in a less hitter-friendly environment), and spent time in Baltimore and Detroit before finishing up in his final season in San Diego.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that if their career histories were reversed, and Lynn got to stay in Boston for the entirety of his career, while Rice was sent packing at age 28 to less hitter-friendly locales, Lynn might be in the Hall of Fame today, while Jim Rice almost certainly would not.
I am not arguing that either Lynn or Rice should be in the HOF. In fact, I wouldn’t select either as a member. But, clearly, the difference between their respective careers is not nearly so great as one might imagine. Basically, one choice would be about as good as the other, though I might give a slight edge to Freddy Lynn.
Finally, it should also be noted that yet another Red Sox outfielder who played alongside Lynn and Rice — Dwight Evans — probably has a better HOF case than either of his outfield mates. Evans hit more home runs, drew more walks, had a higher on-base percentage, scored more runs, and had a higher career WAR than either Lynn or Rice.
Perhaps some future Veteran’s Committee will reexamine the careers of both Lynn and Evans, and present each with a HOF plaque of their own.