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September 8, 2011
The Lineup Card
9 Forgotten Players from Defunct Franchises
1) Harry Heitmann, Brooklyn Robins
2) Mike Hegan, Seattle Pilots
Hegan's greatest claim to fame, however, is that he was the greatest player in Seattle Pilots history. OK, the Pilots played only one season as an American League expansion team in 1969 before Bud Selig bought them out of bankruptcy court and relocated them to Milwaukee, where they became the Brewers. And Hegan played in just 86 games and had 334 plate appearances. Still, he led the Pilots in WARP (3.2), VORP (30.8), and True Average (.332) while hitting .292/.427/.461. And if advanced metrics aren't your thing, then consider that Hegan was one of two players to represent the Pilots at that year's All-Star Game at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington along with Don Mincher, who played first base in 1969 while Hegen played in the outfield. Yes, the 64-98 Pilots had two All-Stars! Hegan had 3.5 WARP for the Brewers in 1970 but then faded into the background as a bench player. He’ll always have 1969, though, and forever holds the title as the best Pilot there ever was. — John Perrotto
3) Francis Beltran, Montreal Expos
4) Bobo Newsom, Washington Senators
Less than a year after breaking in for good with the St. Louis Browns in 1934, he was purchased by the Senators, the first of Newsom’s five stints in Washington—more terms than FDR, as Bobo was fond of saying. He and Clark Griffith were the Burton and Taylor of their generation, as that first honeymoon was the only one that saw Newsom play a full season with the Senators while Bobo wore out his welcome often enough to play for multiple teams in eight different years, including two more stints with the Browns and time with the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, and Philadelphia Athletics. He also pitched for the Cubs, Red Sox, and Yankees, but his season in the sun was 1940 when he went 21-5 for the Tigers and overcame the death of his father to win two World Series games before going the distance but losing a memorable Game Seven. Tales of Bobo finishing games after fracturing his kneecap on a comebacker and his jaw on a throw from third base speak to his competitiveness, and his 211-219 career record illustrates both his own talent and that which his teammates often lacked. When your club was going nowhere, it was entertaining to have someone as quotable as Bobo Newsom around—at least for a while. —Ken Funck
5) Charlie Bennett, Detroit Wolverines
The casual fan will have no clue who this career .256 hitting catcher was, but the true Detroit Tigers fan will. They will know because the first field built at the iconic corner of Michigan and Trumbull was named Bennett Park in honor of the Wolverines catcher. The honors for Bennett would continue as he would throw out the first pitch on Opening Day for the Tigers for the first 26 years that the team played ball at “his park” until his death in 1927.
Not every light-hitting catcher gets remembered, and even fewer get Ballparks named for them, but Charlie Bennett is the exception. He invented the chest protector, mastered the glove, and christened the historical baseball shrine that would become Tiger Stadium.—Adam W. Tower
6) Clyde Milan, Washington Senators
Milan (pronounced “millin”) played from 1907 to 1922, spending his entire career with the Senators. He was overshadowed by the great Walter Johnson (whom Washington catcher/scout Cliff Blankenship “discovered” during a trip to watch Milan) and played for some terrible teams, including the 1909 squad that went 42-110. If Milan was overshadowed, though, he didn't seem to mind; he and Johnson spent 14 years as roommates in the big leagues.
A younger brother, Horace, briefly played alongside Clyde in 1915 and 1917. Another brother, Frank, was a stage actor who appeared in the The Petrified Forest with Humphrey Bogart in Bogart's final Broadway role.
Milan served as player-manager in 1922, leading his team to a 69-85 record. He then managed in the minors for a few years before returning to Washington in 1928 as a coach. After a subsequent eight-year run managing in the Southern League, Milan again returned to Washington as a coach in 1938, where he remained until he died of a heart attack in March 1953 after hitting fungoes to infielders during spring training.
In nearly 2,000 games, Milan batted .285/.353/.353 and collected exactly 2,100 hits. He led the American League in stolen bases in 1912 and 1913, breaking the 40-steal mark in five different seasons. Milan's career total (495) places him 38th all time (tied with Willie Keeler), behind Paul Molitor and ahead of Omar Moreno.
Among current players, Milan's closest comp is Juan Pierre, but accounting for context, Milan was much better. Going back a little further, Willie Wilson isn't a terrible analog, although Wilson lacked Milan's on-base skills. Poor-man's Brett Butler? That isn't quite right either. However you choose to view him, Milan was a fine ballplayer (ranked 35th in the New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract among center fielders) that often gets overlooked due to his terrible teams and more famous teammates (Johnson, Sam Rice). —Geoff Young
7) Carl Furillo, Brooklyn Dodgers
As a teammate, a talent evaluator, and a thinker, Furillo might have slipped even further down the list. Despite some attempts at image rehabilitation, the Pennsylvanian is remembered for having initially opposed Jackie Robinson’s arrival in the majors. He described a young Sandy Koufax as “some Jew kid who’ll never learn to pitch as long as he has a hole in his ass,” suggesting either that he wasn’t much of a scout or that Koufax underwent a radical anatomical realignment after 1960. He also inspired manager Charlie Dressen to intone, “All ballplayers is dumb, but outfielders is the dumbest” after striking out three consecutive times on the same pitch. Still, when he wasn’t sidelined by injury, Furillo numbered among the best of the “Boys of Summer” by virtue of a fearsome bat with little platoon split to speak of (despite the belief of his first manager, Leo Durocher—who later broke Furillo’s finger in a brawl—that he couldn’t hit righties) and an arm that earned him both the nickname “The Reading Rifle” and a favorable comparison to Clemente’s from Vin Scully. —Ben Lindbergh
8) Bob Cerv, Kansas City Athletics
In three-plus seasons with the A’s, Cerv found regular playing time, hitting 75 home runs. And in an era when a one-time “career year” did not raise questions about performance-enhancing drugs, Cerv put together a memorable 1958 season. In 141 games, he crushed 38 home runs and produced a slash-line of .305/.371/.592—good enough for a place on the American League All-Star team, fourth place in the AL MVP vote, and an impressive WARP of 7.3. Within two years, the A’s had shipped him back to New York, where he returned to a reserve role and helped the Yankees make back-to-back World Series appearances. Cerv closed out his 12-year career with the Houston Colt 45s, but his 38 home runs in 1958 remain a record for a Major League player in Kansas City. —Jeff Euston
His career straddling a changing game, George J. was the cleanup hitter for the pennant-winning 1913 Giants and the leadoff man for the champion 1921 club. He was the same player in 1921 that he had been in 1913, but in the interim the lively ball had come in and Burns’ skill set, which focused on talking walks and stealing bases, suddenly looked more like it belonged at the top of the order. For a player who has been mostly forgotten, Burns (career .287/.366/.384) had a ton of black ink: he led the National League in runs scored five times, walks five times, and stolen bases twice. In the ’21 World Series, the last of Burns’ three, he hit .333/.389/.515 in eight games. Burns died in 1966, George H. in 1978, leaving Nathan Birnbaum with a monopoly until his passing in 1996.—Steven Goldman