Friday, March 25, 2011

Greatest Living Retired Player for Each MLB Team

This one is inspired by an article written by Craig Calcaterra on Hardball Talk, but my idea takes on a slightly different twist. While that article was simply about identifying the greatest living player for each team, I'm more interested in narrowing it down to include only retired players.

I originally posted this on Pickin' Splinters, so I've incorporated some of the feedback I received there, as well as on Twitter, and some of my comments in response to that feedback.

This is an exercise where Wins Above Replacement (WAR) comes in handy, because I'm not interested in determining who is the greatest living player who happened to play–even for just a season or two–for each team. Instead, I want to measure greatness by what each player contributed to the team in question. So, WAR helps me to compare Player A's five very good seasons with Player B's ten pretty good seasons, for example.

But, I'm mentioning WAR here only to say that I used it as a starting point. From there, I also considered what each player means to their former team. So, in some sense, and only in some of these cases, I'm considering the "face of the franchise" factor.

Of course, some of these evolved into top 5 lists, basically because I couldn't resist. So, let's get started, by running through the teams alphabetically:

Arizona Diamondbacks – Gotta go with Randy Johnson, and his four consecutive Cy Young Awards, here.

Atlanta Braves – There's some serious competition, but it's pretty hard to argue with Hank Aaron. Still, here's my first top five list:
  1. Hank Aaron
  2. Phil Niekro
  3. Greg Maddux
  4. John Smoltz
  5. Tom Glavine
Baltimore Orioles – I was called out on Twitter, by one of the few people I interact with there who I'm actually friends with in real life, for so dismissively choosing Cal Ripken over all the other living Orioles greats. Although that didn't change Ripken's standing, it inspired another top fiver:
  1. Cal Ripken
  2. Brooks Robinson
  3. Jim Palmer
  4. Eddie Murray
  5. Mike Mussina
Boston Red Sox – Thank goodness Carl Yastrzemski is still living. Otherwise, I might have to put up with people nominating Jim Rice for this distinction. So, while I'm at it, here are my top five living former Red Sox:
  1. Carl Yastrzemski
  2. Roger Clemens
  3. Wade Boggs
  4. Dwight Evans
  5. Pedro Martinez
Chicago Cubs – They don't call Ernie Banks Mr. Cub for nothing, but there are quite a few worthy contenders who are former Cubbies:
  1. Ernie Banks
  2. Ryne Sandberg
  3. Fergie Jenkins
  4. Billy Williams
  5. Sammy Sosa
Chicago White Sox – Frank Thomas is a pretty easy choice here. Oh, what the heck…how about another top five list:
  1. Frank Thomas
  2. Billy Pierce
  3. Minnie Minoso
  4. Wilbur Wood
  5. Robin Ventura
Cincinnati Reds – Wow! This is a tough one. I'll take Johnny Bench, but I think this team warrants yet another mini-list:
  1. Johnny Bench
  2. Pete Rose
  3. Joe Morgan
  4. Frank Robinson
  5. Barry Larkin
Cleveland Indians – This is a tough one, now that Bob Feller has passed away. Since there's no one that really fits the bill of "face of the franchise," I'm going to go with Kenny Lofton, believe it or not.

Colorado Rockies – Larry Walker is the only player truly worth considering.

Detroit Tigers – Another easy one, Al Kaline.

Florida Marlins – This was a difficult one for completely different reasons. Based on WAR, the candidates are Luis Castillo, Cliff Floyd, Mike Lowell, Jeff Conine, Gary Sheffield and Kevin Brown. I guess for face of the franchise, I'll  go with Jeff Conine.

Houston Astros – Jeff Bagwell, with Craig Biggio a close second.

Kansas City Royals – This one's a no-brainer, George Brett.

Los Angeles Angels – Another tough one. If you like traditional stats, it's either Garret Anderson, Tim Salmon, Chuck Finley or Nolan Ryan. WAR likes Jim Fregosi, but it also likes Finley and Ryan. So, I'll take the Hall of Famer, Nolan Ryan.

Los Angeles Dodgers – With Duke Snider's recent passing, I guess the torch gets passed to Sandy Koufax.

Milwaukee Brewers – I'm a bigger Paul Molitor fan, but the edge goes to Robin Yount for having played his entire career with the team.

Minnesota Twins – This one's up for debate, but I'm going with Rod Carew over Harmon Killebrew.

New York Mets – Tom Seaver, without a question.

New York Yankees – Part of the reasoning for adding the retired criterion was to not have to decide between Derek Jeter and Yogi Berra. Among retired Yankees, Yogi is the easy choice, but I think these guys warrant a top ten list (I'm sure someone will have something to say about this one):
  1. Yogi Berra
  2. Whitey Ford
  3. Willie Randolph
  4. Bernie Williams
  5. Ron Guidry
  6. Andy Pettitte
  7. Graig Nettles
  8. Don Mattingly
  9. Roy White
  10. Mel Stottlemyre
Oakland Athletics – Rickey Henderson, hands down.

Philadelphia Phillies – Michael Jack Schmidt over Steve Carlton.

Pittsburgh Pirates – I'm going to have to go with Barry Bonds.

San Diego Padres – I don't think you could really make a case for anyone other than Tony Gwynn.

San Francisco Giants – Say Hey, Willie Mays, over his godson.

Seattle Mariners – I'm tempted to say Edgar Martinez, but I'll go with the less controversial choice, Ken Griffey Jr.

St. Louis Cardinals – Stan “The Man” Musial over Bob Gibson.

Tampa Bay Rays – Hmmm...since Julio Lugo hasn't officially retired (I don't think), the candidates are Fred McGriff, Rocco Baldelli and Roberto Hernandez. I kid you not. Again, back to this "face of the franchise" distinction, I'll go with Baldelli.

Texas Rangers – All of a sudden, this exercise is more complicated than I realized. Among former players, I would definitely go with Ivan Rodriguez, but since being retired is a criterion, then I'll have to pick Rafael Palmeiro.

Toronto Blue Jays – I'm going with a player I consider to be very under-rated, Dave Stieb.

Washington Nationals – Of course, the Nationals' history includes that of the Montreal Expos, so I'll take Gary Carter over Tim Raines and Andre Dawson.


  1. Cool list. I'd go with Raines over Carter.

  2. Thanks William. I would have loved to choose Raines, but when I looked at the WAR numbers, Carter has a 52.6 to 46.5 edge, and while WAR accounts for the importance of the catching position, it doesn't adjust for the playing time disadvantage of the position. So, this widened the gap, making me believe that Carter produced quite a bit more value for the franchise than Raines. Plus, he is their first Hall of Famer.