Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Greatest Players From Each Franchise (Part VI--NL West)

Randy Johnson
Johnson is also among the greatest Mariner players in history. During his ten seasons in Seattle, he won 130 games and captured four strikeout titles. He landed in Houston after getting off to a slow start during the ’88 campaign. Unable to meet his salary demands, the Astros let him go before the ’89 slate. Johnson spent eight of his prime seasons with the Diamondbacks, compiling a 118-62 record with a 2.83 ERA. He averaged 260 strikeouts per year while helping the club to three postseason appearances, including the only World Series title in franchise history. Johnson was co-MVP of the Series—sharing the honor with Curt Schilling. By the time he retired in 2009, the towering left-hander (6-foot-10) held numerous all-time records. His 4,875 lifetime strikeouts are most for a southpaw.

Todd Helton
Offense has always been an intrinsic feature of Coors Field and, when Helton becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame, he will have his share of detractors. Still, the talented first baseman put up some of the best numbers in franchise history. A lifetime .316 hitter in seventeen seasons, he logged a .372 average during the 2000 campaign with 59 doubles and 147 RBIs. Despite those tacky numbers, he finished fifth in MVP voting that year. A multi-dimensional player, Helton won three Gold Gloves during his career. He helped the Rockies to their only World Series appearance in 2007. His .333 batting mark (highest among Colorado regulars) could not prevent a sweep at the hands of the Red Sox. Helton currently holds franchise records for runs scored, hits, total bases, doubles, homers and RBIs.

Willie Mays
Warren Spahn blamed himself for Mays’s complete domination of National League pitching. “He was something like zero for twenty-one the first time I saw him,” Spahn reminisced years after the fact. “His first major league home run was off me and I’ll never forgive myself. We might have gotten rid of him forever if I’d only struck him out.” Mays eventually found his groove and captured Rookie of the Year honors in ’51. Twelve Gold Gloves and Twenty All-Star selections would follow. A five-tool player, Mays hit for power and average, ran the bases exceptionally well and had unparalleled defensive skills. During his 21 seasons with the Giants, he hit .304 with 646 homers and 1,859 RBIs. He holds franchise records for total bases, doubles and extra-base hits (among others).

Tony Gwynn
Gwynn spent his entire twenty-year career with the Padres, helping the club reach the postseason three times. Gwynn was a .371 hitter in two World Series. During the regular season, he compiled a more modest .338 mark. He was an eight-time batting champion and fifteen-time All-Star. Proving he was a well-rounded player, he won five Gold Gloves and stole 30 or more bases four times. Opposing pitchers dreaded facing him, especially Al Leiter, who once commented, “The only way to pitch Tony is to throw the ball down the middle and hope he hits it at someone.” Elected to the Hall of Fame in 2007, he died seven years later at the age of fifty-four—a victim of cancer.

Zack Wheat
The Dodgers have had so many great players over the years—especially during the ‘50s, when Ebbets Field was home to Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella and Jackie Robinson. But from a purely statistical standpoint, the most productive Dodger player retired long before “The Boys of Summer” took the field. An obscure historical figure, Zack Wheat spent eighteen seasons with the Dodgers from 1909-1926. During Wheat’s career, the club carried three different names--the Superbas, Dodgers and Robins. Wheat was the team’s brightest star for well over a decade. A writer from Baseball Magazine once remarked that “What Lajoie was to infielders, Zack Wheat is to outfielders, the finest mechanical craftsmen of them all.” Wheat led players at his position (LF) in fielding percentage twice and remains among the all-time leaders in putouts, assists and double plays. He was pretty good with a bat too, establishing franchise records for hits, doubles, triples and times on base. He led the Dodgers to their first two World Series appearances and reached base eighteen times in twelve games. Had he played alongside the aforementioned luminaries, the Dodgers would likely have captured several more world championships.     

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