Friday, June 15, 2012

Walter and Kirby and Me

While I'm in the process of trying to get back on track with the All-Time Teams series, I thought I'd take a moment to write about an issue germane to the discussion.

There's a fantastic relatively new baseball blog called High Heat Stats, which has become one of my favorites. They've been doing a series of posts on the "Mount Rushmores" of each individual franchise*, in the process asking their readers to vote on what four heads belong on each franchise's monument. Notice I said franchise, not once, but twice (OK, technically that was the third). Normally I would have used team the second time, because it would read better. But, there's a reason I chose to emphasize franchise that I'll get to in a moment.

*I honestly thought some of these posts might help to inform my all-time team player selections, but in general, the votes don't go deep enough to help with some of the more difficult decisions.

For the Mount Rushmore of the Minnesota Twins, I voted for Walter Johnson, Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett. The first three were no-brainers. Honestly, I can't imagine anyone taking such an exercise seriously and not voting for these guys. I took Puckett over Bert Blyleven (and a host of other somewhat worthy candidates) for the fourth spot, partly because he was a career Twin and because he seemed to represent a little of the intangible "face of the franchise" measure.

When I looked at the early voting results, I was surprised to see that Puckett had received greater support than Johnson up to that point, and I commented as such. To which another reader replied, "More people know who Kirby Puckett is than Walter Johnson."

{scratches head}

I'll just let that soak in for moment.

Let me remind you this is not a comment thread on This is a pretty obscure baseball blog that's mostly oriented towards history and, more obviously, statistics. I know Walter Johnson is not quite as well known as Cy Young—mainly because they named an award after the latter—but we're not talking about Kid Nichols here.**

**Personally, I think Kid Nichols should be a household name, but I get that the turn-of-the-century Hall of Famer is not as universally known as one of the Hall's original five inductees. Walter Johnson, that is, who along with Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner and Christy Mathewson was part of the Hall's inaugural class of 1936. Ever hear of those guys?

But, not to get too far off the main subject here, I chose to leave this curious comment alone, but another reader addressed it by saying, "I don’t think that’s true; what I do think is that since Johnson never played for the 'Minnesota Twins' per se, there is somewhat of a disconnect for more casual fans…though the readership here isn’t exactly the casual fan."

That sounds more like it. Which brings me to my real point. The author of these posts has emphasized, just as I've tried to in my series, that it's the entire history of the franchise being considered for these distinctions. But, somehow many people still have this disconnect between what they've seen and what they only have statistics and what's been written about players to go on. I suppose this is know, to each his own and all that jazz.

But, I ask you this? When it was determined what presidents' heads would be carved into the real Mount Rushmore, was it taken into consideration that no one alive at the time the idea was conceived had ever seen Washington and Jefferson lead the country? Obviously not.

So, why would anyone conceive of a Mount Rushmore celebrating the entire history of a franchise without giving equal weight to the players from a century ago as to the players from a decade ago?

Doesn't make much sense to me. So, I'll reiterate that my emphasis is on the entire history of each franchise. If they came into existence in the 19th century, then 19th-century players are fair game. Because, honestly, with the increased accessibility to baseball statistics on the internet, it's pretty easy to get to a point where I can honestly say there is no player good enough to be considered among a franchise's greatest ever whom I'm not familiar with. Let alone one of the five greatest pitchers of all-time.

"I'm wheels, I am moving wheels
I am a 1952 studebaker coupe."

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