On the surface, it’s a great idea. Major League Baseball wants you to vote online for the top four players in the history of each franchise, with the votes to be announced at the All Star Game this summer in Cincinnati. They’re calling it the “MLB Franchise Four Campaign.” They give you eight choices for the “most impactful players per franchise.” Voting can be done at MLB.com/FranchiseFour.
For some teams, it’s very simple. Check the Yankees. You chose four from the list of Babe Ruth, Lou Gherig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Just give me the first four on the list and I’m good. But cases can be made for the other four.
Closer to home, the Oriole candidates are Cal Ripken, Eddie Murray, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Boog Powell, Dave McNally and Paul Blair. The first five are Hall of Famers, so there’s some deciding to do when you get to number four. But like the Yankees, all those on the list, played all or most of their career in the city that the team resides in. The Yankees have always played in New York and while the Orioles were once the St. Louis Browns, there’s nobody significant who carries over.
Not so here in Washington where the Nationals have only been residents for a decade after moving from Montreal. Yes we’re offered Ryan Zimmerman, but the other seven choices are all Montreal Expos – and you can argue some of the seven aren’t even thought of as Expos. It’s an outrage!
Here’s the other seven: Rusty Staub, Gary Carter, Steve Rogers, Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Vladimir Guerrero and Dennis Martinez. Staub and Carter played many years with the Mets, Dawson won an MVP with the Cubs and Martinez was as much an Oriole as he was an Expo.
Oh, and it gets worse.
Frank Howard, the greatest home run hitter in the history of D.C. baseball, is listed as a Texas Ranger, where he played only a year. Heck, for those of my generation, “Hondo” is the most beloved D.C. player of all time. And even more of a travesty, Walter Johnson is listed as a Minnesota Twin. What!? Johnson pitched for the Washington Senators from 1907 to 1927. He won 417 games, 110 by shutout. In 1913, Johnson went 36-7, 11 by shutout with a 1.14 ERA. That may be the greatest pitched season in history and Johnson may be the great pitcher ever. He spent his entire career in Washington, never pitched a game in Minnesota and may not have even visited the state – ever! He died long before the original Senators moved to Minneapolis.
There are other cases like this. Roy Campanella and Jackie Robinson are listed as Los Angeles Dodgers, even though each played his whole career in Brooklyn. Same deal with the San Francisco Giants, whose list includes Christy Mathewson and Mel Ott, even though both played only in New York. And how about the A’s? They made stops in Philadelphia and Kansas City before landing in Oakland. Their choices include Jimmy Fox, Lefty Grove and Al Simmons – all Philadelphia players. Reggie Jackson is also on the A’s list, even though many remember him best as a Yankee.
I know it would make baseball fans in Montreal angry, but I would tweak the list to make it city specific. If you want to do one for Montreal, even though they no longer have a team, fine. But please, don’t ask me to accept Rusty Staub or Dennis Martinez as a Washington baseball player. And for God sakes, don’t make Frank Howard a Texas Ranger. It’s bad enough the lone star state stole our team in 1971, don’t steal the expansion Senators biggest star.
Here would be my four most impactful players in D.C. baseball history:
Walter Johnson – not just the greatest baseball player in D.C. sports history, he’s the greatest athlete.
Frank Howard – There’s a statue of him in front of Nationals Park. Is that D.C. enough for you?
Ryan Zimmerman – An obvious choice. He’s been a part of the team since year one and is considered the face of the franchise.
For the last one, I need to hedge. Here are my two choices:
Ian Desmond – Now in his sixth season as the Nats starting shortstop, he’s won the Silver Slugger award the last three years as the best hitter at his position. He’s hit 20 or more homers each of those years and is a solid fielder. He’s also the only link to Montreal that the Nats still have. The Expos drafted him before their last season in Montreal in 2004.
Dick Bosman – He was a starting pitcher on the expansion Senators from 1966 until they left after the ’71 season. He went 49-49 with a 3.26 ERA here. Not eye-popping numbers. But realize he played on really bad teams. The one good year the expansion Senators had, 1969 when they finished 10 games over .500, Bosman went 14-5 with a 2.19 ERA.
If pushed, I guess I would go with Desmond because – HE ACTUALLY IS A WASHINGTON NATIONAL.
Yeah, I can hardly wait until July when all the fans in Minnesota celebrate Walter Johnson as one of the greatest Twins of all time. Oy.