Thursday, February 19, 2009

25 Players Remembered Fondly

This post is Rob Neyer's fault and Josh Borenstein's fault. First, Mr. Neyer mentioned in his Wednesday Wangdoodles a facebook fad where kids (or people) were making lists of 25 things about themselves. His link list includes two bloggers who have taken the plunge themselves (linked here and here).

So that was percolating a while inside the Fan and then went and read Josh's new post about Jews who have finished a year over .400 OBP by rank. It's a cool list, if he hadn't of mentioned an "honorable mention" section which lists Ron Bloomberg. Ah! Ron Bloomberg! One of the Fan's all time favorite players! A real goof who was the odd combination of Hebrew with a southern accent. If you read the Fan's comment on Josh's post, then you'll have an idea how much old Bloomberg meant to a childhood.

So, with thanks to the two gentlemen above (you may not thank them after reading this), the Fan gives you his list of 25 Players Remembered Fondly. Though the Fan tries to show impartiality and keeps the FanDome about all teams and all of baseball, the list is a bit top heavy with Yankees. That was the hometown team and that just the way it is. Here they are:

1. Got to start with Ron Bloomberg. First of all, the man was fashioned in appearance like Dudley Dooright. He was tall and strong and handsome. He swung harder than any player before or since. And more often than not (when he was on), he crushed line drives all over the place. He was the very first DH and rightly so. His glove was made of iron. Who else in baseball would have dropped a throw to first (where he was playing) that ruined a triple play and later explained that he was so excited because he had never seen a triple play. He could bang, but he made 13 errors at first base in only 95 games. What fun memories! See his statistics here and he has a book out, so see that here.

2. Juan Marichal. Marichal captured the imaginations of kids everywhere from the Fan's generation with his high leg kick, his natural smile and his fearless knack of winning and winning and winning. He won 20 games six times in seven seasons and bookended that run with two 18 win seasons. That meant he was in the All Star game every year so we got a good look at him many times. The man's stats are amazing.

3. Mike Schmidt. When the Fan was a kid, the most magical times of the year were three glorious weeks when the Fan's mom would take her three kids to Wildwood, NJ. She would rent the top floor of this wonderful, old Italian couple named the Tropeas. We saved our money all year long for the boardwalk and no family member loved the beach more than the Fan. After getting up around 7:00 A.M. to get to the beach at 8:00, the Fan would wait for a half hour for that sing-song: "New York Daily News, Daily News Here," and thus would get the morning box scores. The same sing-song would apply to the later paper, the Philadelphia Daily News, which would also be purchased because it had the later box scores. It was because of this affiliation that the Fan became enamored with Michael Jack Schmidt, from his first really poor year right up until he retired a Hall of Famer.

4. Ron Guidry. Ron Guidry was the everyman for Yankee fans. He was scrawny, yet threw smoke and learned a wicked slider from Sparky Lyle and had one of the greatest pitching years of all time in 1978. He had some injury trouble which affected his stuff, but he still gutted it out to win 20 or more games two other times, which made us appreciate him even more.

5. Greg Nettles. Nettles came to the Yankees when they were pretty bad and stayed through the glory years of the late 70s. He hit a lot of meaningful homers but it was his defense and sharp wit which made him a Yankee legend. No one will ever forget his diving stops in the World Series, but he also coined some great lines. His most famous was for Sparky Lyle when the Yankees signed Goose Gossage. Lyle had just completed a fantastic year when Gossage came on board which prompted this Nettles classic: "He went from Cy Young to Syonara."

6. Sparky Lyle. Okay, we've mentioned his name twice already, so he's got to get in here. One of the few relief pitchers ever to win the Cy Young, the man was a monster coming out of the bullpen. And the Fan isn't talking the closers of today who average around 70 innings a season. Lyle would come in for 137 innings a season and just end the game. It was over. He never struck a lot of guys out, but he got the job done time and time again. And he was so much fun to watch with his beard and black mane of hair. It was a buzz like no other at the time.

7. Johnny Bench. The guy was bigger than life. With his Big Red Machine strapped on his shoulders, he became the matinee idol of fans all over the country. Okay, so the Reds had a lot of good players (Rose, Perez, Morgan), but Bench was the king. And man was he big!

8. Rickey Henderson. The Fan has already waxed poetic on the man, so there is no sense going through it again. The man was one of the ten best players of all time and was just as exciting to watch as he was to hate if you were an opposing fan. He was excitement.

9. Bo Jackson. Bo Jackson probably had as much of a physical gift as any man who ever lived. He could run like a deer, he was as strong as an ox and he excelled in both MLB and the NFL. And for a while, he was the most talked about, most jazzed up athlete in the world. Who can forget the Nike "Bo Knows" commercials. He had it all until he needed a hip replacement and he still came back and played baseball fairly well with a bionic hip! He was superman.

10. Mel Stottlemyer. When the Yankees of the Fan's youth were as terrible as they were, Stottlemyer was the anchor or the light in a sea of darkness. He was such a great pitcher and very much overlooked as a hurler in his career. He won 20 or more games three times on teams that came in fifth, fifth and fourth respectively. He also hit 7 homers and was one of the better fielding pitchers of his time. He was our hero.

11. Willie Mays Aikens. Aikens had a World Series to remember in 1980 when he captured our imaginations. That World Series, he became the only man to hit two homers in a game twice during the same series. It was tragic when his career was derailed by drugs. But he was fun to watch.

12. George Brett. You can't mention the Royals without mentioning George Brett. He was another everyman that seemed like a great guy you'd want to have a beer with. He never seemed like that great an athlete, but boy could he hit. And his run ins with the Yankees were never to be forgotten. And we'll also never forget the year he flirted with .400 and batted .390 with a 1.180 OPS! And if you go to the link, check the bottom of that page for his post season batting stats. He was a killer.

13. Nolan Ryan. You had to love Nolan Ryan. He was this good old country boy who threw harder than anyone ever threw. Before there was Roger Clemens, there was Ryan and he had crazy stuff for the longest time ever. He just pitched and pitched and pitched for decades. Some of his records may never be broken. Boy was he fun to watch. And that one time when a batter didn't like being hit with a pitch went to the mound and found himself in a headlock by Ryan and got pounded. Yup, Ryan was our kind of guy.

14. Satchel Paige. Paige was a legend that never left us as kids. His best years left behind in the Negro Leagues, Paige made his major league debut at the age of 42. Four years later, at the age of 46, he went 12-10 with an ERA of 3.08. And then to finish the legend forever, he pitched in a game in 1965 at the age of 61 with Kansas City and pitched three scoreless innings, giving up only one hit. What an amazing story.

15. Ed Kranepool. His homer was the first the Fan had ever seen and thus he holds a special place as the bond that passes from father to son that exemplifies baseball. Kranepool was never that great a player, but he joined the franchise Mets full time in 1963 and became their first matinee idol. And he remained a fixture for fifteen years and right through their miracle World Series win when the phrase, "You gotta believe!" was born.

16. Rick Dempsey. Dempsey was the perennial catcher for the great pitching staff of the Orioles' glory years. He was a terrible hitter, but he apparently handled the pitching staff perfectly. But what made Dempsey a Fan favorite was the way he used to make fun of his manager, Earl Weaver, and the special memories he provided for fans of all teams when he "performed" during rain delays by running the bases in his stockinged feet on top of the tarp. It was hysterical and a real crowd pleaser. He appeared in major league games for 23 seasons, remarkable for a catcher who couldn't hit his way out of a paper bag.

17. Don Mattingly. Mattingly was the best player in baseball for four years until his back problems derailed his career. But for that four years, it sure was a fun ride. One of the best fielding first basemen ever, he was a hero to every New York fan and tragically ended his career the year before the Yankees started their run of four World Series titles in five years.

18. Joe Pepitone. Before there was a Joe Namath, there was another Broadway Joe and he was Joe Pepitone. One of the first men to ever use a blow drier to style his hair, he was a New York legend that never lived up to his skills as a baseball player. He was all style and a real ladies man and larger than life in a city that made him that way. He wasted his career until a couple of decent years in Chicago saved him somewhat. Wasted career or not, we kids loved him. And so did the Fan's sister.

19. Fernando Venezuala. How did this pudgy guy from Mexico ever steal so many hearts in the game of baseball? Fernando Mania was bigger than life and hard to explain to young fans that didn't live through it. We never quite believed his age and the Fan still doesn't believe he was 20 when he first came to the Dodgers in 1980. But for a string of five years, we found the guy was no fluke. He really could pitch.

20. Oil Can Boyd. Dennis Ray Boyd was about the goofiest pitcher that ever put on a Red Sox uniform. He could really pitch (before he got hurt), but he could also spark controversy and fits of laughter at what he would say from time to time. How about this classic after a game in Cleveland was troubled by a thick fog: "That's what they get for building a park on the ocean." A recent story was published that he wants to make a comeback at the age of 49. In his reasoning, "If Satchell Paige could do it, so can I."

21. Mark Fidrych. You'll have to read the Fan's recent post on Fidrych if you have no idea who this is talking about. The Fan wishes you could have all seen it.

22. Mickey Mantle. Mickey was the Elvis of baseball. He was the Fan's first hero and the last. He was everything to this kid from New Jersey. The Fan wore #7 in his P.A.L. baseball days and switch hit to be like the Mick. The most special memory? It was Mother's Day and we went to our favorite restaurant (The Emerson) to celebrate the event. The Fan wasn't allowed near the bar, but had to go to the bathroom. The Yankee game was on television above the bar and the Fan stopped just long enough to watch the legend, Mickey Mantle hit is 500th home run.

23. Phil Neikro. The Fan has a special place for knuckleball pitchers. From Hoyt Wilhelm to Wilber Wood, they just capture the imagination. For one, you don't have to be a special athlete to throw one, so you can look like the garbage man down the street to be successful and Neikro certainly looked like that. He was just an average Joe (no, that was his brother) who had a special pitch and he transformed that into a 24 year career that lasted until he was 48 years old. And he waffled his way into the Hall of Fame with 318 career wins. Plus, as a man who won 20 games in a season and lost twenty games in the same season, you can't get much better than that!

24. Tony Conigliaro. Tony had two things going for him. First, he was a stud Italian who could really mash the ball. He was dashing and handsome and we couldn't help love the guy. Secondly, his career was crushed with one pitch that mangled his eye and his career. We loved him before and we loved him more after. And he almost made it back. He was a Shakespearean Tragedy if ever baseball had one.

25. Derek Jeter. The Fan has to admit to his man crush here. Jeter has been the man to the Fan for as long as he's been in the big leagues. For his amazing moments during the World Series run to the way he carries himself to the respect he garners from his peers around the league. He just is the kind of player the Fan would have dreamed about being. It hurts when his fielding is bashed and the Fan guesses that it is deserved. But he is today's hero and will always be so.

If you made it this far and finished this book of a post, thank you for your patience and for your indulgence. It certainly was kind of you to take this long trip with the Fan.


Josh Borenstein said...

Great list, William. Must have felt good to make it. Some thoughts.

I've always wondered how good Satchel Paige was in his prime.

Still can't believe Nolan Ryan never won a Cy Young. I know he walked a lot of batters, but... 383strikeouts. Kind of speaks for itself.

I also love knuckleballers.

Jeter deservedly gets knocked for his defense, but he has made some tremendous plays in the past. And how can you not like that jump throw? I used to practice it all the time when I was a kid.

Josh Borenstein said...

Also, percolate is an awesome word.