Yastrzemski

Who’s the greatest living player for each team?

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Dan Shaughnessy has a column up about Carl Yastrzemski and what he’s doing these days. It’s a good read and I recommend it.

But more interesting to me than the column itself, however, is a passing line Shaughnessy uses: “Fifty years after his rookie season, the greatest living Red Sox player …” That has sparked a fun debate over at Baseball Think Factory, with some agreeing that Yaz is the Greatest Living Red Sox Player and others arguing for Pedro Martinez or Roger Clemens.

There are a couple of different ways to go with that, because you have to decide if “Greatest Living ___ Player” means greatest while in the uniform — which certainly favors Yaz — or greatest overall who ever happened to wear the uniform, which means you can count Clemens’ Blue Jays/Yankees/Astros years and Pedro’s time with the Expos. And then, of course, you have to make some logical cutoff, or else you’re saying ridiculous things like “Wade Boggs is the greatest living Devil Ray” or “Willie Mays is the greatest living Met.”

My view: Yaz takes it, because I think you really should have an extremely large portion — like monstrously large — of your career value with the team in question to get that made-up title.  Plus I think that, with a friendly nod to John Thorn, the stats shouldn’t be the be-all, end-all of such a designation given that it’s primarily a fun fan exercise as opposed to actual history or scholarship.  Yaz is the Red Sox as far as I’m concerned. The contenders for that title excelled elsewhere and didn’t carry the banner for the team in quite the same way.

And now, since I’m bored, I’m going to try — very quickly — to guess who should get the title of Greatest Living Player for each team.  Which, for the record, I’m doing with almost zero analysis and almost 100% gut.  Let’s argue about it. I will probably change my mind on a bunch of these if pressed:

Yankees: Derek Jeter. He’s the Captain. And count the rings, baby. Yogi Berra actually may be a less controversial choice, however.
Red Sox: Yastrzemski, reasons noted.
Rays: Has to be Carl Crawford, doesn’t it? I don’t think anyone else is in the conversation until Longoria gets a few more years under his belt.
Blue Jays: Roberto Alomar may have played in too many other places. Dave Stieb? Yeah, I’ll go with Stieb.
Orioles: Ripken, in probably the easiest choice on the list.

Tigers: Al Kaline has held this title since Ty Cobb died I think. May be the longest-tenured to hold the title.
White Sox: Frank Thomas, though I feel like there’s some old timer who is still alive that I’m forgetting.
Royals: George Brett, and he may actually be an easier call than Ripken.
Twins: Hmm. Lots of good choices here. I think Killebrew has to be the man, though. Carew is defensible.
Indians: This is hard now that Feller is gone. It might actually be either Manny or Albert Belle. Which should at least make the Greatest Living Player banquet pretty interesting.

Angels: Another toughie for me. Jim Edmonds, unless you think he had too much time in St. Louis. Tim Salmon? Yikes.
Athletics: Rickey says that Rickey would like a custom made “Rickey is the Greatest Living Oakland A” t-shirt made, please. Said Rickey.
Mariners: Ken Griffey, Jr. What, you were expecting Alvin Davis? And is Alvin Davis still alive?
Rangers: I think for political purposes we have to say Nolan Ryan, but it’s probably actually Pudge Rodriguez in terms of value.

Braves: Hank Aaron, in another easy choice.
Mets: Tom Seaver
Phillies: Mike Schmidt, though if you listen to Phils fans who didn’t follow the team until 2008, you’d think it was “Chooch!”
Marlins: Do they still call Jeff Conine “Mr. Marlin?” And even if they do, does it matter? Hanley Ramirez has to be getting close to the legit title.
Nats: Because they have mostly rejected their Expos heritage, they are not allowed to use Raines or Dawson. This I command. They can have the Livan Hernandez they deserve.

Cubs: Ernie Banks is the Cubs’ Yastrzemski. Discuss.
Cardinals: Does any team have a better 1-2 punch for this list than Musial (current) and Pujols (on deck)?
Brewers: Robin Yount, because Molitor excelled elsewhere too long. I need to find some other list for Rob Deer, though, because he rules.
Astros: Jeff Bagwell, unless someone has “suspicions” that he wasn’t really an Astro. That’s how this works, right?
Pirates: Pretty soon there won’t be any living Pirates who ever finished above .500. For now I guess it’s Dave Parker.
Reds: A ton of choices here. I’ll go with Joe Morgan, though I’ll accept arguments for Rose and Bench based on longevity and more homogeneously Reds career, respectively.

Giants: Say Hey! And actually, the Mays-Bonds combo may rival the Musial-Pujols one depending on how we define “greatest.”
Dodgers: Harder than you’d think. Their good teams were always populated by lots of good players, not one mega-stud. Koufax? Dare I say … Garvey? Help me people.
Padres: Has to be Tony Gwynn.
Rockies: Todd Helton may be the most boring Greatest Living Player for any team.
Diamondbacks: Randy Johnson probably is the one Greatest Living Player who did the most good stuff for other teams. But you’ll have that when you’ve only been around since 1998.

Argue away, folks.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.