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December 23, 2005
The All-Cheated-on-Their-Birthday Gifts Team
Someone had to do it and you had to figure it was going to be me. What is that, you ask? Why, line up the all-born-on-Christmas Team, of course! What follows are the best players at each position who were born on December 25, Christmas day. You have to figure that any day with three Hall of Famers to its credit has got itself a pretty good team regardless of who else fills out the roster. At the very least, they could certainly take on the All-Boxing Day team which features Ozzie Smith and Carlton Fisk.
Catcher: Quincy Trouppe, born 1912; (1952) Because of his race, Trouppe spent the majority of his career outside of the major leagues. (If you're ever thinking life is being unfair to you, just remember that Trouppe was not in the majors and Greek George--another Christmas baby catcher--was.) Aside from the Negro Leagues, he also played extensively in the Mexican League where he excelled. He finally got a cup of coffee with the Indians in 1952 at the age of 39. Earlier this year, Baseball Think Factory had a fairly long thread discussing the merits of his career. Trouppe is not one of the 30 Negro League players eligible on the ballot currently before the Hall of Fame. You can read a poem about him by his son, Quincy Troupe, Jr. His autobiography, 20 Years Too Soon was published in 1977 and is very rare and expensive.
First base: Walter Holke, born 1892; (1914-1925) Holke is one player who seems to have been strangely unaffected by the dawning of the Live Ball era in 1920. Although it coincided with the prime of his career, he actually was more of an offensive threat before the introduction of the souped-up sphere than after it. 1920 was also the year they started keeping track of caught stealing. This, too, was unfortunate for Holke as, from that point forward, he logged a 29 for 79 record on the basepaths.
Second base: Nellie Fox, born 1927; (1947-1965) Whenever one puts together one of these contrivance teams, it never fails to happen: one position is totally overloaded while a couple of positions are sucking wind. In the case of the Christmas team, the bountiful position is second place. In addition to Hall of Famer Fox, there are also Manny Trillo and Joe Quinn. Quinn played just enough shortstop to qualify as the best Christmas baby at that position. Fox's best year was 1957 when he posted a WARP3 of 10.5. He is more famous for his second-best season (1959) when he led the White Sox to their first American League pennant in 40 years with a WARP3 of 8.6. An incredibly durable player in his prime, he played in 1,083 games from 1953 to 1959.
Third base: Jim Doyle, born 1881; (1910-1911) What is a one-shot wonder doing on an all-time team? For one thing, there aren't a lot of third baseman Christmas babies. For another, Doyle's departure was not his doing. Before he could begin his sophomore season, he was killed by appendicitis. As the replacement for perennial trivia question answer Harry Steinfeldt, Doyle was arguably the best third baseman in the National League in 1911:
Player, Team: WARP1
BaseballLibrary.com has a note that a benefit indoor baseball game was played for Doyle's family on December 14, 1914 and that $2,000.00 was raised. That's a pretty impressive figure. I sure wish indoor baseball would make a comeback and push aside these upstart indoor winter sports basketball and hockey.
Shortstop: Joe Quinn, born 1864; (1884-1901) A dearth of shortstops leads us to Quinn to fill this position. Primarily a second baseman throughout his long career, he did play 135 games at short, almost half of which came with Boston in 1889. Quinn was the first major leaguer born in Australia. The big league debut of the next one--Craig Shipley--came over 100 years later. Quinn was, arguably, the team MVP of the 1899 Cleveland Spiders. (Pause for chuckling.) He was also the man left holding the bag as their manager.
Outfield: Rickey Henderson, born 1958; (1979-2003) If someone had told you five years ago that a position player in his late forties would someday sign a two-year contract, I think we all would have assumed it would be Henderson, and not Julio Franco. No mind, this will just get him into the Hall of Fame sooner. Henderson is a member of baseball's ultra-elite Five Thousand Club. It numbers only seven men, unlike the ever-crowding 3,000-hit and 500-homer clubs. The Five Thousand Club is reserved for those players who reached base 5,000 times in their careers via hit, walk and hit by pitch (although none of them need the HBP to make the club). They are:
It so happens that the three best Christmas baby outfielders played left field:
Outfield: Jo-Jo Moore, born 1908; (1930-1941) Moore was one of the most respected players of the 1930s, playing in six of the first eight All-Star Games. He finished third in the MVP voting in 1934, although his own teammate, Mel Ott, had a .341 EqA to his .300 and a 12.9 WARP1 to his 7.7 yet finished fifth in the voting behind even another Giant, Travis Jackson. The following year was arguably Moore's best and he failed to register a single MVP vote while no fewer than five of his position-playing teammates did. Two of them, Ott and Hank Leiber, were better, but Jackson and Gus Mancuso certainly were not. It's good to know that there is continuity in the 70 years of MVP voting.
Outfield: Ben Chapman, born 1908; (1930-1946) Here are two book ideas I've kicked around for a long time. One is about people who are famous for achievements early in life but then blow their historic reputations by screwing up later on (Think Marshal Petain). The other book would be called One Thing and would be about people who are well-known for just one item. It would be a series of small bios offering up their other achievements. Ben Chapman belongs in both books. Chapman had some excellent seasons with the Yankees early in is career, especially the years 1931-1933. If he played today, however, his nickname would be Chapped Ass, a play on his name and temperament. What he is best known for is being one of Jackie Robinson's prime tormentors when Robinson broke the color line in 1947 (although it was widely reported he had yelled racial remarks at a Jewish fan in 1934). Chapman was so awful he offended the much-more hardened sensibilities of the day and got himself fined by the league. That his achievements as a player are forgotten are his own fault, of course. They do exist, though, and he is one of the best three outfielders born on Christmas Day. That he failed to emulate the man for whom the day is named was the undoing of his reputation.
Pitcher: Pud Galvin, born 1856; (1875-1892) It was around the time Galvin was born that Americans began to get into the Christmas tree thing big time. You're probably aware that real candles were used on trees back then and no tree was complete without a bucket of water sitting next to it in case of fire. By the time Galvin threw his first professional pitch, Christmas had been a federal holiday for five years. Manufactured tree ornaments and tinsel made their debut around the time of his debut as well. While Galvin's career was flourishing in the 1880s, electric tree lights were introduced and caroling and baking became a part of the Christmas tradition. While certainly not the consumer holiday it has long since become, much of what we know as modern Christmas celebration was well in place by the time Galvin left the big leagues in 1892. He came to a sad end, dying broke at the age of 45. This is my cheesy way of leading into saying we should remember the less fortunate this time of year.