Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Top 106 Baseball Players: #97 - Charlie Keller

Charlie Keller

The first player of many to spend the majority of his career with the Yankees to make this list is Charlie Keller, who is not well-known, and was often overshadowed during his playing career as well due to sharing the outfield with Joe DiMaggio.

Keller broke into the majors in 1939, and made an immediate impact. He posted an average of .334 that season, and walked 81 times in only 111 games, while the Yankees won the pennant and reached the World Series.

He was the star of the World Series, leading the Yankees in runs, hits, triples, home runs, RBI's, and batting average, and he became the first rookie ever to hit 2 home runs in a World Series game, a feat that has been matched 3 times since. It was probably the best performance by a rookie in World Series history, and the biggest reason he made this list.

In 1941, the Yankees returned to the World Series, with Keller again playing an important role, finishing #2 in the league in home runs and #4 in walks. He again led the team in hits, runs, and RBI's in the World Series, and also had the most doubles, and the Yankees beat the Dodgers in 5 games.

American was getting into World War II at this point, and by 1943 many players had left the league to join the troops, and Keller ended up being the best player in the AL that season, finishing #1 in walks, #2 in home runs, #5 in runs, and #6 in RBI's, and the Yankees made it back to the World Series, which they won despite Keller struggling for once.

He spent the next season and a half in the Marines, returning once the war ended, and though he played several more seasons, he never quite reached the production level he was at before he enlisted.

While his peak period was much shorter than that of most players on this list, he played at the same level as Joe DiMaggio for several years, and outplayed him by far in 2 World Series victories, so he deserves to be remembered for his contributions to the Yankee dynasty.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Top 106 Baseball Players: #98 - Dan Brouthers

Dan Brouthers

Dan Brouthers was known as the first great slugger in baseball, and he is one of just a handful of players from the 19th century to make this list, due to having 12 straight seasons of leading the league in at least one major statistical category.

As was the case with most players back then, Brouthers' career was very nomadic. He played for 10 different teams in his 19 seasons, with his longest tenure in one city just 5 years, which ended when the Buffalo Bisons folded following the 1885 season.

That stretch in Buffalo was the best of his career, as he led the league in slugging percentage all 5 years, while also leading in batting average and hits twice, and triples, homers, and RBI's once each. He reached his peak batting average of .374 in 1883, and he never hit below .300 in his career.

After Buffalo folded, he was sold to the Detroit Wolverines, where he led the league in doubles 3 straight years, along with slugging percentage and runs scored twice and home runs once. In 1887 the first "World Series" was played, but it was just an exhibition series between the top 2 teams and wasn't considered to be of any importance, and Brouthers appeared in just one of the 15 games.

Detroit folded after the 1888 season, and he was purchased by the Boston Beaneaters, where he led the league in batting average and times hit by a pitch (14), but he left after the season to form a new league with many other players who had just formed the first-ever baseball players union, of which he had been voted vice president.

The new league lasted just two seasons, and he returned to the NL with the Brooklyn Grooms, where he had his best individual season. He led the league with 197 hits, a .335 average, 124 RBI's, and 282 total bases, and probably would have won the MVP if it existed at that point.

Even more than 100 years later, he is still #8 all time in triples, and his career batting average of .342 ranks ninth among all players. He was the all-time leader in home runs from 1887-1889, a distinction held by only 10 players in history. When the old-timers committee was created for the Hall of Fame, he was in the first class elected by that group, and there is no doubt that it was well deserved.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Top 106 Baseball Players: #99 - Frankie Frisch

Frankie Frisch

Frankie Frisch was one of the great players in the early days of the sport, and his competitiveness helped his teams reach the World Series 8 times in his career, coming away with 4 victories.

He is one of the few players ever to never play in the minor leagues, instead being brought straight to the New York Giants in 1919 at the age of 21 from Fordham University, where he was a 4-sport star. In just his third season, he led the Major Leagues in stolen bases, a feat he would match twice more in his career.

In addition to leading the league in steals, he also led the team to the World Series that year, where they beat the Yankees in 8 games (it was a best of 9 series that year), and a repeat title the following season, this time taking out the Yankees in 5 games. Frisch went 8 for 17 in that Series, his best career World Series performance.

He showed his all-around prowess over the next couple of seasons, in which he led the league once each in runs scored, hits, total bases, putouts, and strikeout average, and those two seasons ended in the World Series as well, though they lost in those appearances.

Near the end of the 1926 season he had a falling out with Giants manager John McGraw after McGraw berated him in front of the entire team for missing a sign, and he walked out on the team for a while, before returning to finish out the season with the understanding that he was leaving. After the season he was traded to Saint Louis for Rogers Hornsby.

During his time in Saint Louis, the Cardinals reached 4 World Series, while the Giants only made it once. He led the league in steals in his first season there, and in 1931 was awarded the NL MVP when he did it again. While they did get to 4 World Series and won 2 with Frisch on the roster, he did not play well in his Cardinal World Series trips.

There are two facets of Frisch's game that stand out above the others. For 15 consecutive seasons, from 1920 to 1934, he finished among the top 7 in the league in stolen bases, and was in the top 5 in 14 of those seasons. His strikeout rate was also remarkably low, with 13 seasons in which he was among the ten lowest in the league in strikeouts per at-bat, and he is still #13 all time in that stat, with only one strikeout per 33.5 at-bats in his career, never totaling more than 28 in a season. Taken all together, he had a great career that deserves to be remembered.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Top 106 Baseball Players: #100 - Todd Helton

Todd Helton

Todd Helton was one of the best players in all of baseball for a few seasons after the turn of the century, and when he retired after 17 seasons with the Colorado Rockies, he owned just about every batting record in the franchise's history.

During his rookie season of 1998, Helton led all rookies in batting average, home runs, RBI, total bases, and extra base hits, and led all NL rookies in hits and runs. He came in #2 in the NL Rookie of the Year vote behind Kerry Wood, who had an amazing season pitching for the Cubs.

Two years later, he had his very best season, and very nearly won the Triple Crown, leading the league in batting average and RBI, along with doubles, total bases, and extra base hits, but ended up with only 42 homers, 7 behind Barry Bonds for the lead. He was also just the 5th player in history to record 200 hits, 40 homers, and 100 RBI's, runs, extra base hits, and walks in a single season, along with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, and Hank Greenberg, all of whom retired before 1950, and still somehow only finished 5th in the MVP voting.

The following season he reached his career high with 49 home runs, which tied the Rockies' franchise record, and surpassed 100 extra base hits again, becoming only the third player ever to do that twice in a career, joining Lou Gehrig and Chuck Klein, and he was the only one to do it in back-to-back seasons. His great season was overshadowed by Barry Bonds hitting 73 home runs, but Helton was definitely one of the top players in the league at only 27 years old.

Helton kept his batting average over .300 for 10 consecutive seasons to open his career, and he had at least 35 doubles in each of those seasons as well. For 6 straight seasons, from 2000 to 2005, he finished in the top 4 in the league in batting average. He is #19 all-time in doubles, and is also among the top 100 all-time in batting average, runs, hits, total bases, home runs, RBI's, and walks.

Despite his excellent regular season numbers, Helton only made the playoffs twice in 17 seasons, and in the 2007, when the Rockies reached the World Series, Helton struggled, getting only 9 hits in 41 at-bats during the playoffs, and his career playoff batting average (.211), is significantly lower than his regular season average (.316)

He may not have been a great playoff player in limited opportunities, but when you look at the whole of his career, he was a great hitter who also had power, he performed at a very high level for a long time, and he was robbed of an MVP that he definitely deserved.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Top 106 Baseball Players: #101 - Lance Berkman

Lance Berkman

Lance Berkman was known as one of the members of the Houston Astros' "Killer B's" lineup early in his career, and while the other two are already in the Hall of Fame, Berkman is the one who has a World Series ring and a place on my list of the greatest players of all time.

Berkman reached the big leagues in 1999, and although he had played first base all his life, was placed in the outfield because Jeff Bagwell was already the starter at first, and wasn't going anywhere soon, so he spent the first 6 years of his career playing in an unnatural position, but it was worth it to get his bat in the lineup.

During his 12 seasons as an Astro, he reached 30 doubles 7 times, 30 home runs 5 times, and a .300 average 4 times, and also led the league in RBI's once. Houston was a perennial contender, and made 3 playoff runs, each time getting one step farther than the previous appearance, culminating in a World Series trip in 2005, where they lost to the White Sox. Berkman was the lone Astro star who played well in the Series, getting 5 hits, 5 walks, and 6 RBI in the four game sweep, while Bagwell and Biggio combined for 5 hits, 1 walk, and 1 RBI.

His production began to decline in 2009, and midway through 2010 he was traded away to the Yankees, where he played mostly DH, which still didn't help the aging star, and he was released at the season's end.

He signed on with the Saint Louis Cardinals, where he experienced a renaissance, batting .301 with 31 homers and making the All-Star team for the 6th time, which earned him the Comeback Player of the Year Award. He also helped the Cardinals win the World Series that year, and he wasn't just along for the ride. He led all players in the series with 11 hits, posting a .423 average, and played a major role in game 6, when he hit a home run in the first inning, scored a run with 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth to help send the game to extra innings, then earned an RBI in the bottom of the tenth to tie the game again.

It would be the last hurrah for Berkman. He played two more seasons, but spent far more time on the disabled list than on the field, which prompted him to retire in 2013. At the time, he was #4 all time in home runs among switch hitters, behind Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray, and Chipper Jones. Throughout his career, he always played at another level in the playoffs, and as a result he was able to become a champion before he retired.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Top 106 Baseball Players: #102 - Mickey Cochrane

Mickey Cochrane

Mickey Cochrane was one of the best catchers in the Major Leagues during the late 1920's and 1930's, winning 2 MVP's, 3 World Series and 5 pennants during a 13-year career behind the plate.

He broke into the majors in 1925 at age 22 and made an immediate impact, performing so impressively that he replaced Cy Perkins, one of the best catchers in the league, as the team's starter early in his rookie season. He finished the season batting .331, a number he would surpass several times in his career.

He was known as a great leader and a star on defense, which were obviously taken into account in 1928, when he was awarded the AL MVP award despite batting only .293 and hitting only 10 home runs in a season in which Babe Ruth hit 54.

The following season the Athletics reached the World Series, and Cochrane was the star, leading all players by reaching base 13 times in only 22 plate appearances, and Philadelphia beat the Cubs in 5 games. The A's repeated the feat the following season, and Cochrane was just as good, reaching base 10 times in the series and hitting 2 homers, the most of any player in the Series.

The team attempted a 3-peat the following year, but struggled offensively and fell in 7 games in a rematch with Saint Louis. Just 7 years into his career, he already had 2 World Series rings and had come very close to another, and had an MVP as well. After 2 more seasons in Philadelphia, Detroit traded for him in order to install him as a player-manager.

Under Cochrane's leadership, the Tigers immediately rose to the top of the league, and he was awarded another MVP, even though Lou Gehrig won the Triple Crown that year. The Tigers played in the World Series that season, then took home the title the next year, with Cochrane leading the team on the field and in the dugout.

He missed most of the following season after a nervous breakdown, then was hit in the head by a pitch in 1937, fracturing his skull and ending his career. Forced into retirement at age 34, he held the mark for highest career batting average by a catcher (.320) until 2009, when he was surpassed by Joe Mauer.

Despite having his career cut short, Cochrane was a proven leader and winner, reaching the World Series 5 times in his career and winning it 3 times. He also proved his skill as a manager, coaching his team to the Series at age 31, and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1947, becoming only the third catcher to join that club.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Top 106 Baseball Players: #103 - Rusty Staub

Rusty Staub

Rusty Staub is yet another example of a player who played at a high level for a long time but never quite achieved superstar status. He played 23 seasons in the Major Leagues for 5 different teams, and was remarkably consistent from 1966 to 1978, recording between 145 and 186 each season in which he was healthy.

His career began slowly following his call up to the Major Leagues just after his 19th birthday, with a few disappointing seasons that made people question the relatively large salary he was earning. He finally started to fulfill his promise in season 4, and by season 5 had become an All-Star, leading the league with 44 doubles while batting .333 for the season.

After a couple of good seasons, he still wasn't gaining popularity in Houston, but his big break came with a trade to expansion Montreal before the 1969 season. He was instantly popular in Montreal, and he helped out by taking French lessons in his spare time, as well as performing well on the field, hitting 29 and 30 homers in his first two seasons in Canada.

After three seasons up north, the Mets put together a trade for the star player, hoping to get to the playoffs. He broke his hand and missed half of his first season in New York, but the following season they were able to make a huge late-season push to reach the postseason, where Staub played some of the best baseball of his career.

He hit three home runs in the ALCS against Cincinnati before separating his shoulder making a catch against the wall in the 11th inning of game 4, which caused him to miss the final game of the series, which his team still won, earning a trip to the World Series. Despite being unable to throw overhand during the Series, Staub batted .423 with 11 hits and 6 RBI, but the Mets lost to Oakland in 7 games. It would be his one and only career trip to the playoffs.

He remained a solid player for several more seasons, even after yet another trade, this time to Detroit, before finally making his way back to New York to finish out his career. After hitting one home run in his final season, he became one of 4 players in history to hit a home run in both his teens and his 40's, and the other 3 players are all ahead of him on this list.

Perhaps the best part of Staub's game was his patience at the plate. He was among the top 10 in times reaching base 8 different times, and walks and on-base percentage 6 times, with a total of over 4000 times reaching base in his career, which is #44 all-time. He never received even 8% of the vote on the Hall of Fame ballot and is no longer eligible, but even though he was never a dominant player, he was very good for a very long time, and deserves to be remembered among the best players of all time.