Monday, January 26, 2015

The All Bat/ No Glove American League All-Star Team

There are numerous qualities a ballplayer needs to make it in the majors. Few players excel in every department. For instance, Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson--despite his penchant for dramatic homers--was a liability in the field. "Let's face it," teammate Sparky Lyle commented in his book, The Bronx Zoo, "Reggie's a bad outfielder. He has good speed to the ball, but the catching part is shaky." To be certain, the designated hitter rule has helped prolong the careers of many players like Reggie. But even before the AL started using designated hitters, there were plenty of players who made a living off of swinging the bat...Enough to fill an All-Star team.

Here are my nominees for the American League's All Bat/ No Glove All Time All-Stars.

Jose Canseco: Canseco had both power and speed, becoming baseball's first 40/40 man in 1988. What he didn't have was a glove to go with it. He provided one of the most spectacular bloopers of all time when he misjudged a fly ball that bounced off his head and over the fence for a home run. He was allegedly offered a pro soccer contract shortly after the incident. When his defensive ineptitude could be ignored no longer, he was used primarily as a DH. Forty-six percent of his lifetime appearances were in that capacity. Still, his career error total is among the top 100 for right fielders.

Reggie Jackson: Jackson was aware of his defensive shortcomings, commenting: "The only way I'm going to win a Gold Glove is with a can of spray paint." Manager and nemesis Billy Martin was acquainted with the slugger's weaknesses as well, telling reporters one day: "It's not that Reggie's a bad outfielder. He just has trouble judging the ball and picking it up." Most people know Jackson as "Mr. October," a nickname bestowed upon him for his postseason heroics. When he retired, his 563 regular season homers were among the top totals of all time. But he was always a little scary in the outfield, finishing among the top three in errors during nine seasons. The low-light of his defensive career came during a nationally televised game at Fenway Park, when Martin pulled him off the field for not hustling after a bloop hit by Jim Rice. Rice ended up with a double. Jackson ended up with a tarnished reputation.

Smead Jolley: Jolley had one of the greatest player names of the 1930s. In sixteen minor league seasons, he hit .367. In four campaigns with the White Sox and Red Sox, he hit .305. The reason he didn't stay in the majors longer was his abominable fielding. Cardinals coach Johnny Riddle remarked that Jolley looked "like a kid chasing soap bubbles" in the outfield. Numerous legends exist about Jolley's fielding exploits--none of which can be confirmed. According to one popular story, he committed three errors on a single play. According to another, he fell flat on his face coming down the steep left field embankment at Fenway Park (known to contemporaries as "Duffy's Cliff"). A verifiable fact, Jolley averaged one error per every 9 outfield assignments, which would have put him on pace to shatter any error record ever established.

Wally Schang: Schang's career began in the Deadball Era and extended into the offensive renaissance of the 1920s/30s. During his nineteen seasons in the majors, he hit .280 or better on ten occasions, frequently leading AL backstops in numerous offensive categories. His lifetime on-base percentage is second only to Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane among catchers. He also had the distinction of being the first switch hitter to homer from both sides of the plate in a game. Schang often earned glowing praise from contemporaries for his defense. One contemporary remarked that: "Just to watch him was an education in the art of catching." It's true that he was equipped with a strong arm behind the plate, but he was lacking other defensive attributes. He finished among the top three in errors committed nine times and also led the league twice in passed balls. His 223 lifetime errors as a catcher currently place him among the top forty of all time in that dubious category.

Mo Vaughn: Nicknamed "Hit Dog," Vaughn was a staple at first base for the Red Sox and Angels from 1993-2000. He averaged 35 homers and 111 RBIs per year during that span, capturing an MVP Award in '95. But throughout his career, the hulking first-sacker struggled defensively. One writer remarked that a pop fly for Vaughn "was an adventure." A 1996 Red Sox spring training report cited him as a defensive weakness. The headline read: "The Balls Should be Flying--But Will Any be Caught?" Plenty of balls eluded Vaughn over the years as he led the league in errors seven times--a major league record. What boggles the mind is that he played in just 175 games as a designated hitter.

Chuck Knoblauch: Knoblauch never had any difficulty with the offensive side of the game. After capturing Rookie of the Year honors in '91, he became one of the premier lead-off men in the American League, stealing 30 or more bases in six of eight seasons between 1992 and 1998. In '96, he hit .341 and led the league with 14 triples. Though he captured a Gold Glove the following year, he later developed a puzzling inability to throw to first base (sometimes referred to as "The Yips" or "Steve Blass Disease"). One of his errant throws sailed into the stands and hit a fan in the head. During a game on June 16, 2000, he voluntarily left the game after making three throwing errors in six innings for the Yankees. He never recovered and was subsequently moved to left field. 

Luke Appling: Appling was nicknamed "Old Aches and Pains" for his incessant griping about various physical ailments. During his twenty years in the majors, he won a pair of batting crowns while finishing among the top ten in batting average eight times. But Appling's glovework left something to be desired. In the minors, he was known as "Kid Boots" for his poor fielding. Between 1933 and 1939, he led the American League in errors four times. Despite his defensive shortcomings, he set a major league record with 2,153 consecutive games played at shortstop. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1964.  

Edwin Encarnacion: A ninth round pick in the 2000 Amateur Draft, Dominican standout Encarnacion was a late-bloomer. After putting up middling numbers in his first few seasons, he has suddenly emerged as one of the Blue Jays' top sluggers with three consecutive 30-homer seasons from 2012-2014. Primarily a third baseman, Encarnacion's shoddy glovework has confined him to the role of a DH. 'Jays manager John Gibbons gave him a trial at first base in 2014, but he continued to disappoint. In 674 games at third base, Encarnacion has fielded his position more than 20 points below the league average--Yikes!        

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