Tag Archives: history

On Weird Records

Baseball fans keep statistics on almost literally everything. We have to account for every out, every play, every baserunner and every run, no matter how obscure the source of each. Moreover, baseball fans love to celebrate statistical records: Pete Rose’s 4,256 hits, Barry Bonds’ 762 home runs (or Hank Aaron’s 755 if you prefer) and so on.

Among those celebrated records, some, like Cy Young’s 511 wins and Rickey Henderson’s 1,406 stolen bases, are considered unbreakable. That’s with good reason: the game would have to change completely for either of those to even be remotely within reach. Others, like Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, aren’t impossible to break, but they represent such incredible efforts that I doubt they’ll fall within my lifetime.

Not every unbreakable record is so famous, though. Some are only known to dedicated fans. Some are so silly that they’re almost unknown.

That doesn’t make them any less remarkable, though. Read on for some of baseball’s strangest, most unbreakable records.


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On the Dregs of Cooperstown

As part of my previous piece on the BBWAA, I mentioned some of the most questionable choices the writers have made for the Hall of Fame. In so many ways, the Hall is more about the fringe members (and non-members) than the inner-circle guys, and the fact of the matter is that there are plenty of players (and non-players) who probably ought to be thrown OUT of the Hall.

So, that’s my mission today – to create an “All-Star” team of players, managers and executives who don’t belong in Cooperstown.

A brief disclaimer: None of the players I’m going to mention were, in any sense of the term, bad. They all played at least 10 seasons in the major leagues, and they all had their moments of greatness. They deserve to be recognized and celebrated. I just don’t think they were good enough to be even borderline Hall of Famers.

For the most part, I used the baseball-reference.com version of WAR to compile this list. Exceptions are noted.

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On Baseball Players by State, 1-10

One of my favorite features of baseball-reference.com is the Bio section, which breaks major league players and managers down by their places of birth. In the spirit of America’s pastime, I’m using this data to review each U.S. State’s contributions to the big leagues, in order of statehood.

Note that because of the limitations of the database I’m using, only men who actually played or managed in the Major Leagues are listed here. I’d love to include great executives, writers, broadcasters and Negro League players, but I don’t have reliable birthplace information for them.

Without further ado, on to the first 10 states!

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On Great Teams

Baseball teams just don’t win like they used to.

Well, that’s not entirely true. In the aggregate, teams are winning exactly as many games as they always have, since every game has to have a winner and a loser. Some teams win more than others, of course, and some win or lose a lotmore than others. In the last eight years, what we’ve seen is a serious decline in the teams at the upper extreme. Winning 100 games is much harder now than it was a decade ago.

I find myself thinking about 100 wins today because the Red Sox just lost their 63rdgame of the season. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not likely to mean much; the Sox still have the best record in the league. However, it means that for the second straight year, no team will win 100 games.

Does this matter? Objectively, no, but baseball fans love round numbers. On some level, we know that the difference between a guy who hits 39 homers and a guy who hits 41 is almost nothing, yet we celebrate the 41-homer guy much more because he crossed an arbitrary threshold. For pitchers; the difference between 18 wins and 20 is tiny, yet there’s a mystique attached to the 20-game winner that the 18-game winner doesn’t have. Likewise, there’s very little difference between a 98-win team and a 100-win team, but that three-digit number carries some special significance in our minds.

What happened to the 100-win team?

Let’s go back to the beginning of the Wild Card era. In 1995, the Cleveland Indians* were the only team to win 100 games. That’s a bit misleading, as the 1995 season was only 144 games long; still, no other team in either league was on pace to win 100 in a full-length season.

*That Cleveland team was absolutely stacked. The lineup was deep enough to bat Jim Thome sixth and Manny Ramirez seventh. Albert Belle hit 50 home runs and 50 doubles – speaking of round numbers – and somehow lost the MVP to Boston’s Mo Vaughn. I guess the voters figured Belle’s team was good enough to make the playoffs with or without him, and they may have had a point; the Indians won their division by 30 games.

In 1996, no team won 100 games, though the Indians came about as close as possible with a 99-62 record (one game was rained out). In 1997, the Braves won 101. A year later, threedifferent teams won more than 100 games, led by the Yankees with an incredible 114. The others were the Braves (106) and the Astros (102).

What happened? The main culprit, it seems, is the 1997 expansion, which lowered the overall quality of competition by adding two new teams to the league. It also helped that the defending* world champion Marlins blew up their entire roster; they were the worst team in the big leagues, behind even the expansion teams, with 108 losses.

*There needs to be a better term than “defending world champions” for the 1998 Marlins, since they quite clearly did nothing of the sort. The most common antonym for “defending” is “attacking,” but considering the Marlins traded away their four best offensive players, that doesn’t seem terribly appropriate either. I think I’ll refer to them as the “retreating world champions” from here on out.

In 1999, two teams won 100 or more. Amazingly, the Diamondbacks did it in only their second season in the league, finishing at 100-62. The Braves did it again with 103 wins.

2000 was a bit of an anomaly by the standards of the time with no 100-win teams and no 100-loss teams. The next year, though, the Mariners set a Major League record with 116 wins, and the Oakland Athletics somehow managed to win 102 in the same division. The A’s remain the only team in the Wild Card era to win 100 games and not win their division (the 1993 Giants and 1980 Orioles did it in the pre-Wild Card era).

Then, in 2002, things went insane. Three different teams, the Braves, Yankees and Athletics, won 100 or more. The same thing happened a year later as the 2003 Yankees, Braves and Giants all hit triple digits. In 2004, the Cardinals and Yankees did it.

In all, we saw ten 100-win teams in just four years and fifteen in the span of seven. The game had changed, or so it seemed..

Then in 2005, the Cardinals won exactly 100, which seemed almost mundane after the previous four seasons. For the next two years, no team won 100 games. The Angels won 100 in 2008, the Yankees broke through with 103 in 2009, and the Phillies won 102 two years later. That’s it.

Put another way, in the eight seasons from 1997 to 2004 (yay, arbitrary endpoints!), there were sixteen 100-win teams. The complete list:

1997: ATL (101-61)
1998: NYY (114-48), ATL (106-56), HOU (102-60)
1999: ATL (103-59), ARI (100-62)
2000: None!
2001: SEA (116-46), OAK (102-60)
2002: ATL (101-59), NYY (103-58), OAK (103-59)
2003: NYY (101-61), ATL (101-61), SFG (100-61)
2004: STL (105-57) NYY (101-61)

In the eight seasons from 2005 to 2012, there were four.

When I started working on this piece, I assumed that the 100-win teams owed their success to the really badteams that they had the opportunity to play against. Certainly there’s some truth to that. The Yankees, for instance, benefited greatly from having the Devil Rays as punching bags throughout their run. The NL teams all had plenty of games against the hapless Pirates. The Tigers rather famously lost 119 games in 2003, a performance so bad that another perennial cellar-dweller, Kansas City, actually managed to post a winning season by beating up* on Detroit.

*That’s not entirely fair to the Royals, as they also posted winning marks against Cleveland (13-6), Minnesota (11-8) and Texas (7-2). Still, their 14-5 record against the Tigers played a big role in their 83-79 finish.

That’s all well and good, but we’ve seen plenty of terrible teams from 2005 on as well. The Devil Rays were still awful in ’05, ’06 and ’07. The Nationals were a laughingstock for several years. The Royals went back to being bad and stayed that way until this season. The Mariners had some horrendous seasons. The Pirates, of course, didn’t stop being terrible until this year. The Astros and Marlins have lost 100 already, and the season isn’t even quite over.

In the past eight years, we’ve only seen four 100-win teams, but we’ve seen eleven 100-loss teams, plus two more this year. Would-be dynasties have had their share of opportunities to rack up cheap victories.

Another possibility is the high-flying offensive environment of the late ’90s and early aughts. When everybody’s scoring and allowing more runs, the differences between the good teams and bad teams get bigger. That’s very likely a factor, but it’s not the only factor.

A bigger culprit, I think, is the way teams have handled free agents.

Free agency in baseball has been around since 1972, but I’d argue that it reached its peak two decades later. That was when the greatest pitcher on the planet and the greatest position player on the planet hit the market at the same time.

In 1992, Barry Bonds was the National League MVP for the second time in his career. He led the league in OPS for the third straight season, took home his third Gold Glove and third Silver Slugger, scored 109 runs, belted 34 homers and stole 39 bases. His dominant performance led the Pirates to their third straight NL East title. He was 27 years old.

That same year, then-Cub Greg Maddux made the leap from very good young pitcher to dominant ace. He led the league with 20 wins and 268 innings pitched, posted a sparkling 2.18 ERA and took home his first Cy Young Award; for good measure, he also collected his third Gold Glove. He was 26.

The baseball world had never seen anything like it. Two superstars, both just entering their prime years, were available to the highest bidder. For nothing more than money, all 26 teams had a shot at a player to build around.

Bonds signed with the Giants for six years and $43.75 million, which seems almost laughable today but was a record then. Maddux went to the Braves for five years and $28 million, which again was a very large contract at the time.

Six years later, the game’s most dominant left-hander was set to hit the market for the first time. Randy Johnson’s path to stardom was a little rockier; for several years he was an average- to above-average pitcher who struck out a ton of batters but also gave up far too many walks. As he got older, though, he learned to find the strike zone with more consistency, and in 1993 he broke through with a league-leading 308 Ks. Two years later, he became the first Mariner to take home a Cy Young Award. Two years after that, he won 20 games for the first time in his career.

In 1998, with free agency coming, the Mariners traded him to Houston, where he proceeded to spend two months mowing down the entire National League. He started 11 games, won 10 of them, posted a 1.28 ERA and helped the Astros put the finishing touches on their 102-win season. Between Seattle and Houston, he led the Majors with an incredible 329 strikeouts.

In the off-season, he signed a four-year contract worth over $52 million with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

While the Mariners watched one of the greatest left-handers in the history of the game develop, they also witnessed the rise of a Hall of Fame-caliber infielder. After short stints in Seattle as a teenager, Alex Rodriguez burst onto the scene by winning a batting title as a 20-year-old in 1996. For the next four years he was one of the game’s top players, flashing Gold Glove caliber defense at shortstop while hitting like a first baseman.

In 2000, Rodriguez was set to hit free agency at the ripe old age of 24. He ended up in Texas on a 10-year contract worth $252 million; at the time, that was far and away the richest contract in sports history.

Of course, the Rangers found themselves unable to pay Rodriguez a few years later, and so they sent him to the Yankees by trade in the 2003-04 off-season.

In 2001, Jason Giambi was arguably the most feared hitter in the American League. After winning the MVP the year before, he followed up by blasting 38 home runs, leading the league in walks and OBP for a second straight season and making his second straight All-Star squad. He was also just 30 years old, still at his offensive peak.

The small-market A’s couldn’t afford to keep him, of course. He signed a seven-year, $120 million contract with the Yankees.

In the span of less than a decade, five legitimate superstars, including four inner-circle Hall of Famers, had changed teams at the peaks of their respective careers. What happened?

The 1997 Braves won 101 games. Greg Maddux was worth 7.8 wins above replacement (WAR).

The 1998 Braves won 106 games. Maddux: 6.6 WAR.

The 1998 Astros won 102 games. Randy Johnson: 4.3 WAR.*

The 1999 Diamondbacks won 100 games. Johnson: 9.2 WAR.

The 2002 Braves won 101 games. Maddux: 4.4 WAR.

The 2002 Yankees won 103 games. Jason Giambi: 7.1 WAR.

The 2003 Giants won 100 games. Barry Bonds: 9.2 WAR.

The 2003 Yankees won 101 games. Giambi: 4.8 WAR.

The 2004 Yankees won 101 games. Alex Rodriguez: 7.6 WAR.**

*That’s Johnson’s WAR in his 11 games as an Astro. Including his pitching for the Mariners earlier in the year, he posted a 5.8 mark on the season.

**Giambi was on this team as well, of course, but he was injured and contributed essentially nothing. On the year, he posted -0.1 WAR.

With the possible exception of the ’98 Braves, those nine teams, statistically, would not have reached 100 wins without their superstar free agents. Between them, these five players were responsible for more than half of the 100-win teams in that historic stretch from 1997 to 2004.

Now, acquiring a superstar domestic free agent certainly isn’t the only way to build a 100-win team. The Athletics and Cardinals both did it with homegrown players and trade acquisitions. The ’98 Yankees and ’01 Mariners were historically great because they started with outstanding homegrown cores and added big-time free agents (in New York’s case) or an incredible Japanese import (in Seattle’s case) to make that final push.

It’s possible to build a 100-win team that way, but everything has to break right. The Athletics, for instance, had six outstanding players (Eric Chavez, Miguel Tejada, Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and the aforementioned Giambi) hit their stride all at the same time; that required tremendous skill on the part of GM Billy Beane and also some pretty incredible luck. The Cardinals likewise enjoyed the peaks of Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen and struck gold with a historic run of dominance from Albert Pujols.

It’s much, much easier to build a competitive core and then acquire a free-agent (or free agent-to-be, or recent free agent on a huge contract) superstar to push it over the top, as the Astros did with Johnson and the Yankees did with Giambi and Rodriguez. Alternatively, you can sign a superstar free agent and find the pieces to fill in around him, as the Braves did with Maddux.* The Giants essentially mixed the two approaches; they became a 100-win team immediately after signing Bonds, took a step back, then built around their superstar to become a dominant force in the early ’00s.

A final option is to do what the Diamondbacks did: build a fantastic team entirely out of free agents and salary-dump trade acquisitions. It’s really incredible how quickly they assembled that ’99 squad, though of course they hadn’t been around long enough to build it any other way.

The trouble with all these approaches is that they only work if superstars are hitting free agency. Today, they aren’t.

In the past 12 seasons, 17 different players have won MVP awards. Of those, only seven have changed teams at all since winning their awards. Only four of those changed teams through free agency: Miguel Tejada, Vladimir Guerrerro, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. Only one, Tejada, made the jump while still at his peak.

Former Cy Young winners have moved around quite a bit more, but again they’ve typically hit free agency in the twilight of their careers. Pedro Martinez had one good year left when he signed with the Mets. Randy Johnson was 41 and rapidly losing effectiveness when he became a Yankee. Barry Zito crashed and burned as a big-ticket free-agent signing in San Francisco.

In the past 10 years, only two pitchers have won Cy Young awards with teams they joined as free agents, and they were Roger Clemens and Bartolo Colon way back in ’04 and ’05. Likewise, only one free agent signed* in the last decade years has won an MVP with his new club: Vladimir Guerrerro in ’04.

*Here I’m excluding players who reached free agency but ended up returning to their previous teams

A few high-caliber players are still switching teams via free agency, but they’re almost exclusively pitchers. CC Sabathia’s story was remarkably similar to Randy Johnson’s; he won a Cy Young with his original club (the Indians) was traded midseason to a National League team (the Brewers), dominated for two months and signed a lucrative free-agent deal with a different squad (the Yankees). Sabathia’s former teammate, Cliff Lee, also changed teams as a free agent a few years after winning his Cy Young. Both have been effective since (though CC just wrapped up the worst season of his career), but they’re exceptions, not the rule.

Of course, players like Maddux and Bonds were exceptions in their day, but today they’d be impossibilities. Look at the young and youngish players who’ve taken home hardware in the last five years:

Buster Posey: Signed through 2021
Ryan Braun: Signed through 2019
Joey Votto: Signed through 2023
Justin Verlander: Signed through 2019
Felix Hernandez: Signed through 2019
Joe Mauer: Signed through 2018
Dustin Pedroia: Signed through 2021

That’s six MVPs and two Cy Young winners (Verlander won both awards) locked up through their primes and beyond. Another, Clayton Kershaw, is almost certain to get a long-term extension from his team before he hits free agency, and we haven’t even looked at Evan Longoria and Troy Tulowitzki and Andrew McCutchen (who may well win an MVP this year) and a half-dozen other young stars on very long-term contracts.

If Greg Maddux, Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds came up today, it’s certain that they’d either sign long-term extensions with their original teams or get traded to teams that could afford to extend them. There’s no way to get a player of that caliber on the open market now.

Free agency isn’t dead, of course. In the American League in particular, a half-dozen free agent acquisitions (Shane Victorino, Adrian Beltre, Hisashi Iwakuma, Hiroki Kuroda, Bartolo Colon and David Ortiz) are playing at All-Star levels. In the NL, the Pirates and Nationals are benefiting greatly from the Russell Martin and Jayson Werth signings, to say nothing of the dozens of former free agents who are now useful role players and regulars.
Still, there’s no longer an easy way to get a superstar. That may not have killed 100-win teams, but they’re back to being a rare breed, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

On Baseball’s Bird Brains

Don’t ask me why, but baseball fans love to honor the history of the game. I can’t offhand think of any more entertaining way to celebrate that history than assembling an all-time team, especially one that’s put together for totally frivolous reasons.

Almost from its inception, baseball has been associated with birds. Today, three teams (the Blue Jays, Cardinals and Orioles) are named after types of birds. The most successful team in the history of the sport, the (bleh) Yankees, actually started their history as the original Baltimore Orioles. Moreover, dozens upon dozens of major league players have shared their names or nicknames with birds.

Here, I’ve endeavored to create a full 25-man roster (plus GM and coaching staff) consisting entirely of bird namesakes.

The rules for eligibility are simple. To qualify for the team, a player must share a first name, last name or nickname with either birds in general or a particular type of bird; a nickname is noteworthy enough for inclusion if it appears on the player’s Baseball-Reference page. To qualify at a field position, a non-active player must have at least 400 games played in the major leagues (or, in one case, the Negro Leagues) at said position. There’s no equivalent games or innings minimum for pitchers.

With that in mind, on to the All-Bird Team!

Starting Nine

Catcher: George “Birdie” Tebbetts – One of the  joys of putting together a team like this is discovering great baseball men who have been mostly forgotten by history. Birdie Tebbetts is our first such man, a very good catcher for the Tigers before and after World War II and a very good manager, scout and executive after his playing career ended. Though he was no slugger, Birdie found his way onto four All-Star rosters thanks to his excellent defensive reputation and respectable batting averages.

First Base: Jake “Eagle Eye” Beckley – Two positions, two players I’d never heard of before assembling this team. Beckley was one of the best hitters in the turn-of-the-century big leagues, a star first baseman for the Pirates, Reds and others. Over the course of 20 seasons, he racked up 2,934 hits (this was before anyone cared about reaching 3,000), a total that was second only to Cap Anson at the time. More than 60 years after the end of his career, he was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame via the Veterans’ Committee.

Second Base: Dustin “Muddy Chicken” Pedroia – Now, here’s someone I know! The first active player on the squad, Pedroia has already picked up a Rookie of the Year award, an MVP, four All-Star nods, two Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger and a World Series ring in his career at the keystone. He’s one of the top second basemen in the league, and he’s likely to remain so for years to come.

Third Base: Robin Ventura and Ron “Penguin” Cey – Third base was the first really difficult decision in assembling this squad, as these two boast rather similar careers and similarly avian names. Ventura, of course, was an excellent all-around player with great contact skills, some power and top-notch defense in his prime. Cey’s raw numbers don’t look quite as great, but when adjusted for his lower-scoring era he actually comes out better with the stick (121 vs. 114 OPS+), albeit a little worse with the glove. The All-Bird manager will likely maximize production at the hot corner with a lefty-righty platoon.

Shortstop: Robin Yount – If third base was one of the toughest choices on this team, shortstop is likely the easiest. Yount needs no introduction as a two-time MVP, member of the 3,000 hit club and deserving first-ballot Hall of Famer. He also famously moved to the outfield midway through his career, but as we’ll see, this squad has little need for his talents out there.

Left Field: Turkey Stearnes – Besides being a collection of some of the greatest talents in baseball history, the pre-integration Negro Leagues were absolutely packed with great nicknames. One of the best belonged to Norman Thomas Stearnes, who earned his unusual moniker by flapping his arms as he rounded the bases. In spite of his oddball behavior – he was known to occasionally talk to his bats – Stearnes was feared throughout the league for his powerful bat. He hit a Negro League-record 176 home runs against top competition and hundreds more against barnstorming teams, and he batted over .400 three different times.

Center Field: Tris “The Grey Eagle” Speaker – Widely known as one of the greatest players of all time and rightly so, Tristram E. Speaker starred for the Boston and Cleveland teams of the early 20th century. With the Red Sox, he teamed with Duffy Lewis and Harry Hooper to form the famed “Million-Dollar Outfield.” After being dealt to the Indians in one of the worst trades in major league history, he remained one of the top players in the game for the better part of a decade, finishing his career with over 3,500 hits and a sharp .345 batting average. His 792 doubles represent one of baseball’s most unbreakable records.

Right Field: Andre “The Hawk” Dawson – Right field has likely the least accomplished starter in this outfield, but fortunately for the Bird-men, the weakest link is still a Hall of Famer. The Hawk’s career accomplishments include eight All-Star appearances, eight outfield Gold Gloves and an MVP award earned in spite of playing for a last-place Cubs team in 1987. A noted power/speed threat, Dawson was the third player to join the 300-300 club and wrapped up his career with 438 home runs and 314 stolen bases.

Designated Hitter: Leon Allen “Goose” Goslin – No, the DH rule didn’t exist during Goslin’s career, but on this team, he has to play somewhere. Besides, as his position’s all-time leader in errors, he’d likely relish the chance to stay off the field. Fortunately, his bat more than made up for the occasional defensive miscue, as Goose helped the Senators to a world title in 1924 and hit a league-leading .379 four years later. His career .316 batting average ranks in the top 75 all-time, and he made the Hall of Fame by way of the Veterans Committee in 1968.

Lineup: On a team that’s this loaded, the batting order doesn’t matter all that much. Still, I’d maximize production with the following lineup card:

DH Goslin
CF Speaker
2B Pedroia
LF Stearnes
SS Yount
1B Beckley
3B Ventura/Cey
RF Dawson
C Tebbetts

It seems strange to have the designated hitter leading off, but Goslin’s high batting averages and good eye made him one of the best on-base threats of his era, and he was far from a liability on the basepaths. I’m a firm believer in having the best hitter on the team bat second, and Tris Speaker certainly fits the bill. Pedroia would get on base plenty in front of the team’s big boppers, Stearnes and Yount, and Beckley acts as a secondary leadoff hitter for the bottom of the order. With the platoon advantage, Ventura and Cey provide balanced offense in the seven-hole, and Dawson is right there to drive them in. Tebbetts is far and away the weakest hitter on the team, but he’d still get on base enough to set things up for the top of the order.

The Bench

Outfielder: Joe “Ducky” Medwick – Medwick completes a rather loaded pasture for the all-Bird team, as all five outfielders are in the Hall of Fame. In his prime with the Cardinals, he was among the NL’s top hitters, leading the league in a pile of offensive categories in 1937 and remaining a force to be reckoned with for several more years. His career was derailed, however, by a beanball from former Cardinals teammate Bob Bowman just six days after Medwick was traded to Los Angeles. Though he was never quite the same player again, Ducky still managed to rap out 2,400 hits and earned his trip to Cooperstown in 1968.

Infielder: Jay Bell – While he’s a bit of a step down from the men he’s backing up, longtime Pirates shortstop Jay Bell was a fine player in his own right. Though he was primarily known for his fielding, topped by a Gold Glove award in 1993, Bell rises above the pack of utility infielders with bird-based names thanks to his offense. Throughout his career, he hit for respectable averages, took plenty of walks and found occasional power, as evidenced by his 38 home runs in the high-flying 2001 season. His league-average 101 OPS+ is quite impressive for someone who played nearly his entire career at short.

Catcher: Jay “Nig” Clarke – Apparently, it was pretty common for dark-skinned players in the pre-integration era to be nicknamed “Nig,” for reasons I won’t explain in detail here. A backstop who provided pretty decent offense for his era and shared his given name with a type of bird, Clarke had two big moments in his career: He hit eight home runs in a minor league game in 1902, and he caught Addie Joss’ perfect game in 1908. Still, he’s on the team by default – other than Tebbetts, Clarke is the only qualified catcher with a bird-based name. That makes a certain kind of sense.

Pitching Staff

The Ace: Robin Roberts – Until the ageless Jamie Moyer passed him by way of sheer longevity, Roberts’ most famous accomplishment may have been his record 505 home runs allowed. It takes an excellent player to set an all-time record, even in a negative category, and Robin Roberts is certainly no exception. The Phillies ace led the league in games started every year from 1950 to 1955 and pitched over 300 innings every year. Pitching for some terrible squads left him just short of the vaunted 300 win club, but he was still elected to the Hall of Fame in 1976.

Number Two: Jay Dean – Wait, who? Odds are you know this guy by his nickname: Dizzy. Though his career basically consisted of five and a half seasons, those seasons represented one of the greatest stretches of pitching in baseball history. With the Cardinals, Dean led the league in strikeouts four times, complete games three times and wins twice while racking up 36 WAR. Despite the brevity of his career, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1953, just six years after he threw his last pitch.

(I did consider adding Dizzy’s brother, Paul “Daffy” Dean, to this squad, but ultimately decided that if he qualifies for his nickname, so does every player named Donald, Huey, Dewey or Louie. Sorry, Paul.)

Number Three: Jered Weaver – Besides helping me find some underrated and not-so-underrated baseball players from the annals of history, making this list has taught me that there is, in fact, a type of bird called a weaver. Per Wikipedia: “The Ploceidae, or weavers, are small passerine birds related to the finches.” Hence, the younger Weaver brother, owner of the 2010 AL strikeout title and recipient of Cy Young votes in three consecutive seasons, more than qualifies for this team. Though he’s having a bit of a down season by his own high standards, the Angels hurler likely has a few more good years left to solidify his place as the third-best bird-named pitcher in history. I won’t be shocked if he passes Dean by way of longevity.

Four and Five: Mark “The Bird” Fidrych and Paul Byrd – It’s tough to think of two more disparate pitchers than the men who fill out the starting rotation on this team. The Bird burst onto the scene as a rookie phenom with the 1976 Tigers, leading the league with a 2.34 ERA and pitching an incredible 24 complete games. Sadly, he hurt his arm midway through the next season and was out of baseball completely by the end of 1980. Paul Byrd, meanwhile, had a long and unspectacular career to match his avian rotation-mate’s short and spectacular one. Known for his utter aversion to bases on balls, the Louisville native racked up 109 wins in parts of 14 seasons and stayed a tick above league average with a 103 ERA+.

Closer: Rich “Goose” Gossage – One of the top firemen of the 1970s and 80s, the Goose intimidated hitters wherever he went. From his younger days of pitching 100 or more innings out of the bullpen to his mid-career stretch as a more modern closer, Gossage racked up 310 saves and struck out over 1500 batters. As a testament to the number and quality of innings he pitched, he reached double digits in wins four different times and finished his career with an impressive 124, all but nine of which were earned out of the bullpen. The BBWAA honored him with election to the Hall of Fame in 2008.

Setup: Clay “Hawk” Carroll – Owner of one of baseball’s most ubiquitous avian nicknames, Carroll was a closer in the old-school mold. From 1966 to 1975 he pitched more than 90 innings every year, receiving MVP votes in two seasons and setting an NL record in 1972 with 37 saves. As good as he was during the regular season, Carroll saved his best work for October: He had a sparkling 1.39 postseason ERA and pitched nine shutout innings over four appearances in the 1970 World Series.

Setup: Jay Howell – An effective reliever for the Yankees, Dodgers and Athletics in the late ’80s, Jay Howell was a three-time All-Star who chipped in 155 career saves. Though he picked up a World Series ring with Los Angeles in 1988, Howell’s most noteworthy moment of the postseason came when he was ejected from the NLCS for having pine tar in his glove. He returned for the Fall Classic itself, taking the loss in Game Three but earning a save in Game Four en route to the championship.

Setup: Phil “The Vulture” Regan – Like so many  firemen of his era, Phil Regan began his MLB career as a struggling starter before finding himself in the bullpen. In 1966, he hurled 116.2 innings for the Dodgers, picking up 21 saves and 14 wins. Regan was so good at collecting wins in late-inning situations that teammate Sandy Koufax started calling him “The Vulture,” a nickname that earns him a place as the team’s only scavenger.

Bullpen: Doug Bird, Tim Byrdak, Aaron Crow – A fine reliever and spot starter for the Royals  in the late 1980s, Doug Bird started 100 games, finished 199 and picked up 60 saves. Longtime lefty specialist Tim Byrdak, most recently of the Mets, will reprise that role here as the lone avian southpaw. Finally, young Royals reliever Aaron Crow is the team’s second and last active player, bringing his heavy sinker and impressive 9.0 career K/9 rate.


Manager: Earl Weaver – Appropriately, the skipper for this squad is known for his work with the Baltimore Orioles on top of owning an avian surname. Owner of four AL pennants and one World Series ring, Weaver is widely considered one of the game’s greatest managers, and he earned his call to Cooperstown in 1996. In addition to his rather… colorful vocabulary, Weaver was known for his extensive use of stats, and he famously built his teams around “pitching, defense and the three-run homer.”

Pitching Coach: Art Fowler – Forever associated with fiery manager Billy Martin, Art Fowler followed his good friend to seven coaching stints with five different teams. Wherever he went, Fowler was among the game’s more highly regarded coaches, and he helped Ron Guidry to his Cy Young-winning season in 1978.

Hitting Coach: Mickey Hatcher – I’ll admit that Hatcher’s qualifications for this team are shaky at best, but the only noteworthy hitting coach with a more worthy name is the aforementioned Jay Bell, and he’s already on the team as a player. Birds lay eggs, eggs hatch, and that’s good enough for me. Hatcher’s credentials include almost 12 seasons coaching for the perennially successful Angels, including the 2009 squad that set a franchise record with 883 runs scored.

Executive: Frank Wren – Atlanta’s current is one of the more respected front-office men in the game today, and his handiwork speaks for itself. Taking control after disappointing 2006 and 2007 seasons that saw the team’s long run of dominance atop their division come to an end, Wren presided over a reloading process that brought the Braves back to contention in just his second year at the helm. Though they’ve run hot and cold throughout the year, Wren’s Braves are currently well in the lead for the NL East title, which would give them their third playoff berth in four seasons.