Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Greatest Players From Each Franchise (Part II--AL Central)


Napoleon Lajoie
In examining the body of evidence, most of the players who had the greatest impact in Cleveland are figures from the dim and distant past. Lajoie played so long ago that the proper pronunciation of his name (Lah-zhuh-way) has been largely forgotten. He got his start with the Phillies in the nineteenth century and, seduced by a more lucrative contract offer, defected to the American League during its inaugural campaign. He led the league in nearly a dozen offensive categories before a dispute of ownership sent him to Cleveland. Between 1902 and 1913, Lajoie won four batting titles and exceeded the .350 mark at the plate on six occasions. His .426 average in 1901 has not been surpassed since. He was so successful in Cleveland that the team was actually renamed after him. They were known as the Naps until 1915. Defensively, Lajoie was among the best in the majors. His quick reflexes, exceptional speed and sure hands drew lavish praise from contemporaries. "He plays so naturally and easily that it looks like lack of effort," Connie Mack once observed. Lajoie was the first second baseman elected to the Hall of Fame in 1937.


Nellie Fox
Fox was somewhat diminutive in stature, bu his value to the club was immense. "I hate to play a single game without him," said manager Marty Marion. "It's like trying to run an auto without spark plugs." A spirited team leader, Fox was a pest to opposing teams. "That little feller, he ain't so big, but he's all fire," griped Yankee manager Casey Stengel. "He's caused me more grief than any other player on the White Sox." From 1951-1961, Fox was a member of the All-Star team every year. An exceptional defensive second baseman, he captured three Gold Gloves. He reached the pinnacle of his career in 1959, when he led the Sox to their first World Series appearance in four decades. He hit .375 in a losing cause and was later named AL MVP. Surprisingly, he was eliminated from the primary Hall of Fame ballot in 1984, gaining entry via the Veterans Committee.


Kirby Puckett
Puckett's career was somewhat brief--cut short by glaucoma that left him essentially blind in one eye. But during his twelve seasons in the majors, he accomplished a lot. A lifetime .318 hitter, he gathered more than 200 hits on five occasions. He proved his worth defensively by capturing six Gold Gloves in center field. His tireless efforts propelled the Twins to a pair of World Series titles--the only championships in post-Senators history. Puckett's warm, engaging personality made him immensely popular among fans. GM Andy MacPhail contended that "If he had been playing in New York or Los Angeles, they would be building statues to him."


George Brett
Though a host of great players have passed through Kansas City since the team was established in 1969, the club's greatest period of success coincided with the career of George Brett. Sabermetricians have come up with a statistic known as Wins Above Replacement, in which a complex and mysterious formula is used to determine how much better a player is than another player who would typically replace him (Don't worry--most normal fans don't understand it either). Brett's WAR score is nearly twice as much as the next worthy Kansas City hero. From 1974-1990, he was arguably the best third baseman in the league. He made thirteen consecutive All-Star appearances while claiming an MVP Award and a Gold Glove. In 1980, he flirted with the .400 mark into early-September before finishing the season at .390. He still holds the all time records for most consecutive games with 3 or more hits (6) and most decades with a batting title (3--He won it in 1976, 1980 and 1990). He retired with 3,154 hits--among the top twenty totals of all time. Throughout his career he was the face of the franchise. "He was always the guy," said Royals broadcaster Denny Mathews. "He was so mentally tough, he accepted being the guy." Brett remained "the guy" even after his retirement when he aspired to the position of team VP.


Ty Cobb
While Miguel Cabrera has assembled an impressive batch of statistics over the past several years, there is little doubt who the greatest player in Tigers history is. Among the fiercest competitors of all time, Cobb captured twelve batting titles in a thirteen-year span. He exceeded the .400 mark at the plate during three seasons and retired with the highest batting average of all time at .366. He is the current holder of multiple records including most seasons with 10 or more triples (17) and most games with 5 or more hits (14). When teammates failed to drive him in, he often stole his way around the bases--sometimes announcing his intentions to opponents beforehand. He stole home 54 times during his career. With a menacing persona, he made plenty of enemies over the years, but he had his share of advocates as well. Tris Speaker once said; "The Babe was a great ballplayer, sure, but Cobb was even greater. Babe could knock your brains out, but Cobb would drive you crazy." Describing his life experience to a writer, Cobb once said: "I had to fight all my life to survive. They were all against me. But I beat the bastards and left them in the ditch." 

No comments:

Post a Comment