Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Greatest Players From Each Franchise (Part IV--NL East)


Tom Seaver
After working his way rapidly through the minor league system, Seaver posted 16 wins in his major league debut with the tenth place Mets. Baseball writers were so impressed, they named him Rookie of the Year. Over the next eleven seasons in New York, "Tom Terrific" would capture three Cy Young Awards and appear on ten All-Star rosters. Slugger Reggie Jackson once commented of Seaver's greatness: "Blind people come to the park just to hear him pitch." Seaver injected life and respectability into a woeful franchise, leading the Mets to a pair of World Series appearances. He compiled a 2.70 ERA in Series play. He tossed five one-hitters with the Mets and came within two outs of a perfect game in July of '69. In April of 1970, he struck out ten consecutive batters--a major league record. He averaged 17 wins per season during his time in New York.


Tim Raines
The Nationals are a young team--established in 2005--and to find a suitable candidate I had to journey back to the days of the Expos. Though the Expos produced several Hall of Famers, my choice for greatest player in franchise history is on the cusp--for now anyway. In 2016, Raines received his highest percentage of Hall of Fame votes to date (69.8%) and, with six years of eligibility to go, he may end up being enshrined. From '81-'87, Raines was a member of the All-Star team every year. He led the league in steals for four straight seasons and captured a batting title in '86 with a .334 average. Though he never received a Gold Glove, a careful examination of his defensive stats suggests that he was robbed. He posted the highest fielding percentage among players at his position (LF) six times. After a highly publicized battle with cocaine addiction, Raines cleaned himself up and turned his career around. He lasted more than two decades in the majors. His 808 career steals are fifth on the all time list.


Luis Castillo
Though the Marlins have been around since 1993, few players have stuck with the club long enough to put up impressive numbers. In terms of longevity and consistency, my vote for best franchise player goes to Luis Castillo. After spending three straight seasons bouncing up and down from the majors to the minors, Castillo finally found a permanent home in Florida. The Dominican native had a breakout year in '99, hitting .302 in 128 games while stealing 50 bases. He would lead the league twice in steals. Castillo spent portions of ten seasons with the Marlins altogether, compiling a highly proficient .293 batting mark while averaging 28 steals per year. A solid defensive player, he captured three consecutive Gold Gloves at second base. His efforts led the Marlins to a World Series title in 2003. Traded to the Twins in '06, he finished his major league career with the Mets.


Hank Aaron 
Aaron is not only the greatest player in Braves history, but he is among the most gifted athletes ever to grace the diamond. In a time when racial prejudice still ran deep, he carried himself with quiet dignity while assembling one of the most impressive careers ever. Given the fact that the only player to surpass him was a known PED abuser, Aaron remains the all time home run leader in the minds of many. He still holds records for RBIs, extra-base hits and total bases. During his twenty-three seasons in the majors, he was named to the All-Star team twenty-one times. He hit .362 in postseason play. A model of consistency, he scored at least 100 runs in thirteen straight seasons. From 1955-1970, he gathered no fewer than 150 hits each year--the longest streak of its kind. He finished his career with 3,771 hits, which is third on the all time list. 


Mike Schmidt
When assessing the franchise history of the Phillies, one can't ignore the contributions of pitchers Pete Alexander and Robin Roberts. Alexander captured three straight triple crowns and led the club to a World Series berth in 1915. Roberts logged six consecutive 20-win seasons and was a key member of the 1950 pennant-winning squad. But nobody put the franchise on the map like Mike Schmidt. From 1974-1986, Schmidt won eight home run crowns and three MVP awards. A gifted defensive player, he captured nine straight Gold Gloves. Of all the third basemen in the Hall of Fame, Schmidt is the leader in homers, RBIs and slugging percentage. His contributions led the Phillies to six postseason berths, including the first world championship in franchise history. Schmidt was MVP of the 1980 Series, hitting .381 with 6 runs scored and 7 RBIs. Teammate Pete Rose once remarked: "Mike Schmidt is the best player in the National League today. There's no question about that. He honestly doesn't realize how much ability he has." When Schmidt retired in 1989, a New York Times writer commented: "No other third baseman has ever done what he did with both his bat and his glove. Not Brooks Robinson, not Eddie Mathews, not Pie Traynor." A statue erected in Schmidt's honor stands outside Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.

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