Major League Baseball recently unveiled a pretty cool initiative, “The Franchise Four”, a fan vote to determine each franchise’s four most important players. Along with the most important Negro Leaguers, Pioneers, and Greatest Living Players, MLB will unveil each team’s “Franchise Four” at the All-Star Game this summer in Cincinnati.
I think this is a great idea. Not only do baseball fans love a good argument (see the Pete Rose debate and each year’s Hall of Fame ballots), this is a great way to celebrate the game’s history at the Midsummer Classic.
As something of a baseball geek, I’m going to take some time in the weeks to come to give you my vote for each franchise’s best players. I’m beginning with two of the league’s most storied teams, the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.
New York Yankees Franchise Four
This is really not a tough call. The Yankee ballot, as you might imagine, is loaded with great players. I’m pretty sure that recency bias will put Derek Jeter in the Yankee four, but that means one of these all-time greats is going to be left out. Jeter is a winner and one of the game’s best role models of gamesmanship and hustle, but take a look at the ballot and tell me who you’d leave out to put him in.
- Babe Ruth
- Lou Gehrig
- Mickey Mantle
- Whitey Ford
- Mariano Rivera
- Joe DiMaggio
- Yogi Berra
- Derek Jeter
Here are my four Yankee greats.
- Babe Ruth. This is the definition of a no-brainer. Even if he never picked up a bat, he probably would be in the Hall for his pitching prowess. But that bat: .342avg, 714HR, 2213RBI. The game’s greatest.
- Lou Gehrig. The best first baseman to ever play the game. Personified toughness. .340 lifetime average, 493HR.
- Joe DiMaggio. 15 years ago, I had lunch with a friend and his father, a man that played in the majors in the 1940s. I asked him the best player he ever played against. Without hesitation, he said, “DiMaggio.” Smooth. Graceful. Effortless. Made excellence look easy. My friend’s dad said he still had marks on his chest from a DiMaggio line drive. 60 years after the fact, he told the story with a smile. It’s amazing the pipeline of Yankee greats from Ruth through the Mantle-era.
- Mickey Mantle. This sort of exercise is tailor-made for Mantle enthusiasts to extol the Mick’s greatness. I’d be shocked if he’s not on the list.
My gut is that the final fan-vote will favor Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, and Jeter. That’s a shame, because DiMaggio belongs on this Mt. Rushmore.
Boston Red Sox Franchise Four
Another incredible collection of players. I was a little surprised to see Rice’s inclusion on the list over Wade Boggs, given Rice’s long, circuitous route to Hall enshrinement. But that’s really splitting hairs. There are really three no-brainers here, but the final spot will be interesting. You have a couple of players (Fisk and Pedro) whose career numbers were compiled with other clubs, so I’m not sure how the final vote will net out.
Here are the nominees:
- Carl Yastrzemski
- Carlton Fisk
- Pedro Martinez
- Ted Williams
- Dwight Evans
- Cy Young
- Jim Rice
- David Ortiz
At any rate, here are my four greatest BoSox players:
- Ted Williams. Universally recognized as one of the two or three greatest hitters to ever play the game. We can all imagine what his final numbers would be had he not sacrificed five prime years to serve in the U.S. military. An iconic figure and a shoo-in as the greatest Boston player ever.
- Cy Young. When the award for excellence in your field is named after you, I think your inclusion on a list like this is self-explanatory. The record that figures to stand longer than any other is Cy’s 511 career wins. Sure, he pitched in the deadball era, but that doesn’t matter. He’s here.
- Carl Yastrzemski. The phrase “professional hitter” might’ve been coined with Yaz in mind. The final no-brainer among Boston players.
- David Ortiz. I really wrestled with this. You could easily make a case for someone else here (like Fisk or Pedro), but I’m going with Ortiz in spite of my feelings about his “position” as a career designated hitter. For 40+ years, that’s the way the game has been played, so there’s no sense in penalizing Big Papi by excluding him from the Red Sox Franchise Four. In addition to his regular season body of work, Ortiz defies the sabermatrician objection to the use of the term “clutch” in the postseason. The bottom line is that he’s been the constant in Boston’s decade-long stretch of (mostly) success. Plus, he’s the current face of the franchise.
I have a pretty good feeling that these four will get the call in July as well. Maybe Fisk edges Papi, but I doubt it.
I’d love to know your thoughts on my vote. I’ll be posting more Franchise Four posts throughout the spring and summer.