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January 30, 2012

The BP Broadside

Jorge Posada and the Third-String Yankees

by Steven Goldman

Jorge Posada and the Third-String Yankees
I was asked on the radio last week where Jorge Posada ranked as a Hall of Fame candidate. I responded that he was the third-best catcher in Yankees history in career value, which proved to be a good, not-quite-off-the-top-of-of-my head guess (when someone asks you to rank the presidents, you can play it lose as long as you start with George Washington and not Warren Harding, but when it comes to ballplayers you have to know your Berra-Dickey do-re-mi). I became curious as to just how good the third-best team in a team’s history might be. Part of the fun of following baseball is making lists, and this seemed to be a good excuse to make one.

If we ranked each position by career WARP, how far down would we have to go before we reached a team that wouldn’t win the pennant every year? Would Jorge still get his share of rings?

Team

1B

2B

3B

SS

1st

Lou Gehrig (105.1)

Tony Lazerri (56.3)

Alex Rodriguez (47.6)

Derek Jeter (60.6)

 

Team

OF

OF

OF

C

P

1st

Babe Ruth (136.9)

Mickey Mantle (116.2)

Joe DiMaggio (80.9)

Yogi Berra (66.6)

Whitey Ford (36.2)

Though he’s not a “true Yankee” according to many A-Rod tops the list at a position at which the Yankees have historically been light. This is not a great defensive team, particularly in the infield—Gehrig and Jeter were more bat than glove, Lazzeri was known for “smart” defensive play, not range—but would score so many runs and pitch so well that it would win 120 game easily.

Team

1B

2B

3B

SS

2nd

Don Mattingly (37.7)

Willie Randolph (41.6)

Graig Nettles (42.9)

Gil McDougald (34.4)

 

Team

OF

OF

OF

C

P

2nd

Roy White (57.3)

Bernie Williams (53.5)

Charlie Keller (39.9)

Bill Dickey (55.7)

Red Ruffing (47.7)

I cheated a bit in listing Gil McDougald as a shortstop, but he was a multi-position star who had his most value while playing in the middle infield. This team has two outfielder who couldn’t throw but an incredible defensive infield. Roy White is one of the most underrated hitters because he played from 1965 to 1979, a period in which even his very best seasons look kind of so-so, as do his career .271/.360/.404 rates. He was a .290 true average guy, though, which puts him about on a par with fellow switch-hitter Williams. Charlie Keller is a hitter who has always fascinated me. He came up as an all-fields hitter with great patience and hit .334/.447/.500. His manager, Joe McCarthy, told him he had to pull the ball if he was going to stay in the big leagues. From then on he hit more home runs, up to 33 a year, and still walked a ton, but he last 50 points of batting average and developed a bad back. This team, too, is winning the pennant going away.

Team

1B

2B

3B

SS

3rd

Jason Giambi (22.1)

Joe Gordon (34.9)

Clete Boyer (22.4)

Phil Rizzuto (28.5)

 

Team

OF

OF

OF

C

P

3rd

Earle Combs (34.7)

Rickey Henderson (30.5)

Tommy Henrich (28.3)

Jorge Posada (46.8)

Andy Pettitte (44.3)

Here is Jorge. Strange to see Jason Giambi this far up, but the Yankees had a ton of turnover at first in the years between Gehrig and Don Mattingly—they had some very god seasons by first basemen in that time, from Nick Etten during the war, to George McQuinn after and Moose Skowron in mid-1950s to early 60s, but there weren’t any great careers… The infield, other than Giambi, is again airtight, and the outfield is potent, with speed at two positions. Combs, whose career was significantly shortened by collisions with concrete walls, would be a force in the age of warning tracks and padding. At first it didn’t seem as if a team whose most valuable pitcher was Andy Pettitte could win a pennant, but the Yankees did it in 1996.

Team

1B

2B

3B

SS

4th

Bill Skowron (18.6)

Robinson Cano (28.0)

Red Rolfe (16.9)

Roger Peckinpaugh (24.3)

 

Team

OF

OF

OF

C

P

4th

Paul O’Neill (28.1)

Tom Tresh (28.2)

Dave Winfield (27.0)

Thurman Munson (46.1)

Ron Guidry (34.9)

When Posada retired, I saw someone say (it might have been at the ol’ Pinstriped Bible), “he was no Thurman Munson.” My thought was, “No, he was better.” He wasn’t the glove Thurm was in his prime, but he was a more consistent hitter who was much better at getting on base. Of course, Posada was actually allowed to take a rest every now and again, whereas the Yankees pushed Munson out on the field close to every day with the result that he had lost most of his offensive value to injury in the couple of seasons before his tragic early death… This is still a very good team, but it has little speed and a defense that’s just okay—Peckinpaugh’s shaky glove altered the outcome of two World Series and he didn’t have a Jeter-like bat to make up for his error-prone ways. It would be competitive in most years, but wouldn’t be a lock.

Team

1B

2B

3B

SS

5th

Wally Pipp (16.3)

Snuffy Stirnweiss (24.8)

Home Run Baker (16.0)

Tony Kubek (17.3)

 

Team

OF

OF

OF

C

P

5th

Roger Maris (26.6)

Bobby Murcer (25.2)

Hank Bauer (25.1)

Elston Howard (29.9)

Bob Shawkey (31.9)

I think we’ve finally found the place where the team doesn’t win. The Yankees did win a pennant (1922) when Sailor Bob Shawkey was their best starter, but everyone else would have to have their peak year, rather than their typical year, for this team to score. It’s still a good team, but the real Stirnweiss wasn’t the MVP type he was during the war (.309/.385/.476 with 22 triples and 10 home runs in 1945, for example) was more likely to hit .250/.350/.330 with seven triples and three home runs. Baker was a great hitter for the A’s, less so, after an abortive retirement, with the Yankees. Kubek hit in his rookie year, but not so much after. Murcer had some seasons that rank with almost anyone’s (see 1971 and 1972) but not enough like them. And we know about Maris’s peak year.

I’m not going to write about the sixth string team, which would include Mike Mussina, Hideki Matsui, Ben Chapman (I wonder if Chapman would have had a problem playing next to Matsui? Probably),Reggie Jackson, Tino Martinez, Wade Boggs, and no middle infield, but even that team wouldn’t be too bad.

What would be more interesting than this little exercise to place Posada would be to apply the idea of strings to a team that has had more ups and downs, like the Red Sox, or even a team that has been mostly down, such as the Mariners. How many strings would you have to go down before you got to Bob Kearney and Domingo Ramos?

The Sidebar to 1987 that Ate Cleveland
When I wrote about the 25th anniversary of 1987 a couple of weeks back, I had originally envisioned writing a quick sidebar about the music of that year. It grew and grew and threatened to dwarf the actual baseball stuff, so I put it off until I had another landing spot. First, here are the Billboard top ten singles for the year, with my comments on what is mostly an execrable pile of dross:

Song

Artist

  1. Walk Like an Egyptian

The Bangles

Sounds a bit like a novelty song now. They had more quality hits in songs by Prince, Paul Simon, and Kimberly Rew.

  1. Alone

Heart

Still bombastic after all these years. I admit I not only never got Heart, I’m pretty sure they play “These Dreams” on the elevator to Hell.

  1. Shake You Down

Gregory Abbott

One of those languid enticements to lovemaking that used to crop up with regularity. I assume they still exist now, but with more yelling.

  1. I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)

Whitney Houston

Watch any movie from this period. They all have a song that was produced and arranged exactly like this one. At five minutes long, it’s the perfect length for the credits, too.

  1. Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now

Starship

The soulless offspring of a great band. Revolutionaries end in banality, because even the Volunteers of America need cash. Apparently sprung from the soundtrack to the Kim Cattrall film “Mannequin,” which is all kinds of appropriate.

  1. C’est La Vie

Robbie Nevil

Even as pop, like a meal where the main entrée is Diet Coke.

  1. Here I Go Again

Whitesnake

I find this song catchy, but because I think too much, I have often wondered where the sentiment gets you. “If you’re not wastin’ no more time” because you were “born to walk alone,” presumably the waste of time is other people. That seems to cross the bridge from admirable independence to unhealthy alienation.

  1. The Way It Is

Bruce Hornsby

Sticks out on this list both in style and subject matter, except perhaps for the discordantly funky bass, a concession to the era that didn’t need to be made. One of the most dour songs ever to be a number one hit. Unsurprisingly, I still like it.

  1. Shakedown

Bob Seger

Another soundtrack escapee, this one from “Beverly Hills Cop II.” It sounds like it belongs there, too. Seger did better material in a straight rock vein. One common formula for a hit is to find a catchy phrase, say, “Shakedown, breakdown, takedown,” and ride it into the ground without really saying anything. This has been true since Stephen Foster, if not earlier. In 1929, the great Ring Lardner wrote a play about novelty songwriting with George S. Kaufman (“June Moon”) in which all the Tin Pan Alley songwriters are desperate for “another ‘Paprika’.” “Paprika” = “Shakedown.”

  1. Livin’ on a Prayer

Bon Jovi

Growing up near Sayreville, New Jersey during the 1980s, it was hard to escape Bon Jovi. I remember his appeal being principally to tween girls. If that sounds dismissive, it just reflects my feelings at the time; as this list suggests, I never had much use for MOR rock. However, on re-listening for the first time in years (I am always disturbed by the non-sequitur that is the chanting Tiki heads from Disneyland during the song’s introduction), I am surprised to note that, like “The Way It Is,” “Prayer” seems to be working on the idea that, heading into the end of the Reagan era, it wasn’t quite morning in America. Indeed, the stock market crashed that October and the economy followed it down. I suppose this is what passed for protest rock in the 1980s, unless you count Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”—which was misinterpreted and misappropriated.

I have managed to forget most of the above, even the ones I remember; the exceptions are the inescapable “Here I Go Again,” which seems to bubble to the surface every few years, and “The Way It Is,” which I rarely listen to but remains a pleasantly sulky memory. Here are some songs from that year I continue to spin with some regularity:

Song

Artist

Litany (Life Goes On)

Guadalcanal Diary

A good band from Georgia that got deselected in favor of R.E.M., as if the alternative scene could tolerate only one for the decade (maybe the B-52s had filled the quota). Guadalcanal Diary only occasionally sounded like their contemporaries from Athens. Their output was uneven, but they wrote hooky, synth-free songs, and, in this once instance, achieved the anthemic.

Finest Worksong

R.E.M.

Exhuming McCarthy

R.E.M.

Two from one of R.E.M.’s best early albums. “The One I Love” and “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” are better known. They are fine songs in their own right, but these speak louder to me, the former as a simple exhortation to get to work, the latter as a catchy political comment that is still applicable—and I love the horns on both.

Vanishing Girl

The Dukes of the Stratosphear

XTC had just hit its peak with “Skylarking” and still had enough creativity left over to go undercover as the 60’s-inspired Dukes. I can’t place precisely which psychedelic-era band “Vanishing Girl” is a tribute to, I just know it’s catchy. I confess I didn’t discover the Dukes side project until years later—I was too busy listening to “Skylarking” over and over again.

These Important Years

Hüsker Dü

The opening track from the final Hüsker Dü album, by Bob Mould, natch. “Expectations only mean you really think you know what’s coming next, and you don’t.” As I went through high school sideways, this summed up how I felt watching classmates plan the rest of their lives.

World Shut Your Mouth

Julian Cope

I’ve not got much to say about it except that all these years later, it’s still catchy.

Alex Chilton

The Replacements

Can’t Hardly Wait

The Replacements

Allmusic calls “Pleased to Meet Me” the “last true Replacements album,” and that seems fair given the band was at the midpoint between punk, pop gloss, and dissolution. The homage to the great, strange Alex Chilton is, appropriately, one of the catchiest things they ever recorded.

Ship of Fools

World Party

I’ve always had a hard time listening straight through any of the World Party albums: Karl Wallinger is usually good for three excellent songs per album but after that things start to blend together for me. I usually gravitate towards 1990’s “Goodbye, Jumbo,” which contains “Way Down Now” and “Put the Message in the Box,” but this Greenpeace anthem with its chorus of “save me from tomorrow” might be better than both.

Got My Mind Set on You

George Harrison

Okay, as Weird Al Yankovic pointed out, this song is just six words long. I concede it is not the deepest thing that Harrison ever recorded, but that’s not so bad, because when Harrison tried to get deep, he got clumsy and inscrutable. The simpler George gave us “Here Comes the Sun” and “All Things Must Pass” (the song, not the album), and so I find this cover represents the more benign aspect of the Beatles’ Janus.

 

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

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