Day Three: "Who Was Your Favorite Player Growing Up?"
Part Three of a Three-Part Series
Today's column concludes the opening series of the launch of the Baseball Analysts. We would like to thank all of our guests for their time and participation in what has turned out to be a fun discussion of a very popular and dear topic to all of us baseball fans.
Interestingly, only three players received more than one vote out of a total of 39 respondents. Carl Yastrzemski was named as the favorite player five times. Tim Raines won the hearts over three participants -- all of whom grew up in Canada. And Tom Seaver was the number one choice by two New Yorkers.
Boston Red Sox players gathered ten votes, while the New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs had five each. The New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers had four apiece, and the Montreal Expos three (thanks to the "Rock"). The only other team that had more than one pick was the St. Louis Cardinals with two.
At the risk of small sample size, it comes as no surprise that the list of teams -- with the exception of the now defunct Montreal Expos -- are pretty much the most popular ones then and now. Geographical biases were even minimized. There was a cross-section of west and east coast respondents as well as those from the midwest. Why else would I ask Bill James to participate in such a poll other than to get some balance in this survey?
With that, we'll start off Part Three with one of Bill's neighbors. You go, Joe.
Joe Posnanski, Kansas City Star: "Duane Kuiper. Watching him made me feel like I could play second base for the Cleveland Indians, too. After all, he only hit one more home run than me.
"I remember listening to the home run on the radio, against Steve Stone, wind-blown, just fair over the right-field wall. My recollection is that Herb Score, the announcer said, 'Fly ball to right, it has a chance, is it foul? No, it's gone. Home run.' He sounded as surprised as I felt. My favorite call for Kuiper though was Joe Tait's, 'Grounder to second. Kuiper bobbles, gobbles, picks it, throws it, gets it!' I also remember that Kuiper's jersey was always dirty."
I asked Joe if he had ever come into contact with Kuiper. "Amazingly, no. I know Duane is a broadcaster in San Francisco. But I've never met him. My football hero was Brian Sipe and my basketball hero was Austin Carr and I've never met either of them. Maybe I'm avoiding them -- who wants to be disappointed?
"I don't have any special memorabilia of Kuiper's, but I do have a Jim Kern autographed baseball. Jim Kern was my very first autograph. I remember he had to go back to the dugout, and I pleaded with him and cried, and he came back and signed. Unfortunately, I was about eight years old, and I didn't know you shouldn't have people sign with pencil. By the time I got back to my seat, I couldn't even SEE his autograph. It broke my heart. Many years later, I wrote the story, and a Royals marketing guy got me a baseball signed by Kern. It says: 'Joe, here's your autograph. Stop whining. Jim Kern.' I cherish that ball."
Ron Rapoport, Chicago Sun Times: "Detroit Tigers outfielder Johnny Groth was my favorite player growing up. He had a couple of good seasons just when I was getting interested in baseball."
Rapoport remembers "that it appeared he might be a big star, but it didn't work out that way. A good lesson for a young boy to learn." Ron never came into contact with him nor collected any baseball cards or autographs of his favorite player.
Tracy Ringolsby, Rocky Mountain News: "My favorite player growing up? Willie Smith, outfielder/reliever with the Los Angeles Angels."
What made you like him, Tracy? "He was left-handed and was versatile. He'd pitch in relief or start in the outfield. I remember his versatility the most. I got his autograph in the bullpen at Chavez Ravine."
Ken Rosenthal, The Sporting News: "Ron Swoboda. I grew up on Long Island and was seven years old when the Mets won the 1969 World Series. Swoboda hit a home run in the first game I ever saw. For some reason, I just took a liking to him. Maybe it was because I thought his name sounded cool!"
Rosenthal remembers "his great catch in the '69 World Series" the most. He never came into contact with Swoboda and doesn't have any special memorabilia of him. "But I was a HUGE autograph collector as a kid -- had more than 1,000. I would write letters to players on every team. The Orioles and Mets were both good about sending autographed pictures back, as I recall."
Is there anybody out there who can say they never wrote such a letter to a player? I remember writing to Johnny Bench during the summer of his first MVP season. I think I still have the carbon copy of the typed letter I sent. That means more to me than the black and white photo with the facsimile signature that I received back in the mail.
Christian Ruzich, All-Baseball: "Bill Buckner. He was a left-handed first baseman, just like I was, played for my favorite team, and was one of the only good players on that team."
What do you most remember about Billy Buck, Christian? "He had bad knees, hit for a high average, and rarely struck out."
Did you ever come into contact with him? "No, but I was at the game in 1989 when the Cubs moved into first place for good, and sat down the left field line at Wrigley with a guy whose name was Bill Buckner."
Do you have any special memorabilia? "Nope. Used to have an autographed baseball, but lost it in the fire."
Alan Schwarz, New York Times/Baseball America: "My favorite player was Carl Yastrzemski. One of the first games I ever listened to on the radio was the one where he got his 3,000th hit, against the Yankees. For some reason I always rooted for him after that.
"Yaz seemed like a quiet, classy fellow who took his craft seriously. I admired that." Did you ever come into contact with him? "Not as a kid. I have interviewed him several times as a journalist, though.
"I collected baseball cards pretty seriously as a kid in the early '80s, and made sure to have all of his cards, even his rookie card, which was pretty expensive. I still remember buying it for $47 and having it complete my collection."
Joe Sheehan, Baseball Prospectus: "Chris Chambliss was my favorite player when I was very young, then Don Mattingly from about 1983 on.
"Don't remember why with Chambliss...the only resemblance to me as a player was that we both batted left-handed. I remember him as a classy, quiet guy on the late 1970s Yankee teams. I can still remember the night he was traded to the Blue Jays.
"Mattingly...I can remember latching onto him even when he came up at the end of '82, and wanting him to get more playing time in '83. He just screamed 'hitter,' and I would eventually adopt his crouch at the plate.
"Both were the quiet centers of some very turbulent Yankee teams. Mattingly always seeming to come up with a big hit when we needed one (even though I know now that's a memory trick). His explosiveness out of the crouch, before the bad back ruined him."
Asked if Joe had met either player, "No, not yet. Saw Chambliss at the winter meetings, and just couldn't go up and say, 'hi.' I was never a collector, but I do have a couple of framed Mattingly pics in my office -- including this 'Hit Man' poster from his peak. And Sophia got me an autographed baseball for our anniversary a few years back."
Now that is an understanding wife. Let's just hope that Joe didn't give her a Chambliss autographed baseball in return!
Bill Simmons, ESPN.com: "Freddie Lynn was my favorite player because he was the coolest player on the Red Sox. Nobody else was close.
"I remember the diving catches the most. . .he made about 500 of them his rookie season. And he used to spray the ball off the wall. It's funny, I remember nothing about actually seeing him play other than his 3-HR/10-RBI game in Detroit, which I vividly remember for some reason."
Did you ever come into contact with him, Bill? "Yes. I met him at All-Star Weekend two years ago. Wrote a whole column about it."
Do you have any special memorabilia? "Yeah, I keep his rookie card in my wallet (the one when he was Topps All-Rookie). . .it's been in every wallet I've had since I was 16, like a good luck charm. He autographed it for me in Chicago and was genuinely flabbergasted when I pulled it out of my wallet. I've been afraid to take it out of my wallet for 15 years because I didn't want to anger the Karma Gods. So I left it there. It's in TERRIBLE shape."
I can relate to Bill's story. I have a 1959 Jim Gilliam baseball card that was torn and so heavily taped that I felt an obligation to keep it. I think that particular card meant more to me as a kid than a perfectly centered card with four sharp corners.
Bryan Smith, Baseball Analysts: "My favorite player was Glenallen Hill. I watched a highlight of Hill hitting a home run, and you would swear he was a superstar. As a minor leaguer, Hill looked as if he'd be breaking strikeout records in the majors, but it turns out the only record he would own is farthest home run out of Wrigley. He was as intimidating as they come at the plate. His face alone in the batter's box would make young children cry.
"Simply put, his name is synonymous with power. It will be hard to ever forget the highlight of him hitting a baseball over the rooftops at Wrigley. That and his face during his stance. The latter still gives me shivers."
Did my partner ever come into contact with Hill? "No, but I'd definitely like to thank him for getting Candy Maldonado out of dodge."
As far as special memorabilia goes, Bryan told me, "Not really, but I do have a Bo Jackson autograph. And it's quite possible no human has ever seen both players in the same room at the same time."
Studes, Hardball Times: "I didn't have a hard core favorite, but probably Tom Seaver, with a close second to Roberto Clemente. Casey Stengel is my all-time favorite baseball personality.
"I pretty much became a baseball fan when Seaver was first promoted to the majors, and he seemingly made the Mets contenders single handedly. The psychological transformation of the Mets from losers to winners was incredible, and he was credited with being the guy who wouldn't settle for losing anymore. One of my favorite all-time baseball memories is the near no-hitter he threw against the Cubs in 1969 (the one Jimmy Qualls broke up).
"Clemente was just amazing to watch. Grace on the field. Awesome arm. Great hitter. Always dignified. I just loved seeing him on the field and watching him play. I lived in West Virginia from 1969-1973 and watched the Pirates all the time. Casey Stengel was Casey Stengel. Say no more.
"Besides the Qualls game, I most remember Seaver's RC Cola commercials with Meredith McRae (the blonde from Petticoat Junction), with Seaver singing. He couldn't sing, but who cared? Meredith McRae! Remember, I was an adolescent at the time. I have no specific memory of Clemente. My respect for him is based on the impact he made every time he stepped onto the field.
"I think you know that Cooperstown is like a second home to me. Spent all my summers there, etc. My Dad was having lunch at the Otesaga one day (with Ed Stack, the Director of the HoF at the time) when he saw Casey Stengel eating lunch at a table. Knowing I was a huge Met fan, Dad asked Ed if they could get Casey's autograph for me. They went over and asked him and he graciously signed the Otesaga lunch menu for me: 'To David, Best of Luck, Casey Stengel' That is my most prized baseball possession."
TangoTiger: "Tim Raines. The little guy on the team (like me), great speed. The game would often revolve around him.
"To the extent that I believe in clutch hitting, Tim Raines was the clutchest player of all time. Well, my lifetime anyway. He was forced to sit out until May, and I was watching his first game back, against the Mets, on the Game of the Week. And he took over the game. At bat after at bat, he was getting better and better, to cap the game with a grand slam in extra innings. Vin Scully was in awe at the end of the broadcast, the way he sounded with Kirk Gibson in the World Series in '88.
"And Raines just kept going that week. In his first four games, he came to bat 20 times, got on base 11 times, with 3 HR, 8 runs, 7 ribbies, and just two steals. And, of course, that great All-star game, won by Raines. He ended that year with 26 IBB, even though he missed one month. Late in the season, I remember how teams would constantly give him the 'unintentional intentional' walk.
"He was to me what Barry Bonds is to today's fans. A guy so feared by other teams, but who other teams did not want to admit their fear so blatantly, that they would throw pitches a foot outside, even though they knew this guy was the smartest hitter around and would not be fooled. I'm sure I can't prove any of this clutch stuff -- and that most of my research tries to separate (though recognize) the human element from the results -- but in the case of Raines, I don't care. My bias on Raines has been shaped growing up in Montreal as a teenager, and that's the way I like to keep it."
Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated: "Tom Seaver. I had the same first name, I was a big Mets fan and he could flat-out deal on the mound.
"I remember the famous drop-and-drive pitching motion, which came to be mimicked often in whiffle ball games."
When I asked Tom if he had ever come into contact with Seaver, he responded, "Several times. First, I met him outside the Mets clubhouse after a game around 1969. Later, as a baseball writer, I saw him at the 1986 World Series when he was with the Red Sox, some time later when he made a brief comeback try with the Mets, and now in his role as a broadcaster.
"The poster that hung in my room is long gone. I have several Seaver baseball cards, but that's because I've kept all the cards I collected as a kid."
Darren Viola, Baseball Primer: "My favorite player throwing up was. . .Mickey Mantle, of course! Why? Ahhh. . .the calming symmetry of the double initials, from my deep fascination of Superman's involvement with Lori Lemaris, Lois Lane, Lightning Lad, Lyla Lerrol, Lex Luthor, Light Lass and Lana Lang. . .which eventually led into this whole Roger Repoz craze.
"One of the first packs of Topps Baseball Cards I can remember opening (from Herman the Germans' Grocery Store circa '59-'60), I pulled a Mantle card. It was the only name I sort of recognized, seeing that I wasn't hep to the underground coolness vibe of a Vito Valentinetti just yet, so I showed it to my pop and asked him about this Mickey Mantle. My Red Sox lovin' dad said, 'Haa! Mickey Mental. He's no Ted Williams!'
I'll let Darren, the man known to Primates as Repoz, tell us if he ever came into contact with Mantle. "A few times at the Yankee Stadium's penal institution holding cell -- known as The Kinney Parking Lot. His good looks in bad clothes, the command in his voice as he shooed us away, the swiftness in which he rolled up his window on us kids, the deftness in which he avoided the gravity adjusted beehive hairdo jabs of his wife Merlyn, the manly handling of his flashy Cadillac as it screeched into the unlit Bronx with kids hanging on like strung-out wedding cans -- it all added to his mystique.
"I used to have a full-length Mantle poster on my closet door in the early '60s, until my evil brother (Marvel over DC, Pepsi over Coke, Beatles over Stones, Curly over Shemp, Sonny Fox over Chuck McCann, Boys over Girls, Education over Beer, Collecting Tropical Fish over Baseball Cards) saw fit to tear it up one summer day. Did you know that an orange Elston Howard batting donut will cause an attached plastic guppy hatchery to completely sink!! Neither did I!!
"But I still have my 'Deep Well, Action Anchored Web, The Finest in the Field,' Mickey Mantle Rawlings MM5 glove from 1961! Of course, it is now held together by staples, shoelaces, Wonder Bread tie twisters, a 24-gauge wire running through it -- and undying faith. It has now taken on all the allure of my 6th grade honey, 'Face-Braces' Sherri Ann Peterski -- wadda sight!"
Jon Weisman, Dodger Thoughts: "My favorite player was Pedro Guerrero for the most part, with a nod to R.J. Reynolds and a wink at Manny Mota.
"Pedro was perhaps the first real prospect I was aware of rooting for before the major leagues, and then actually coming up and making it, and making it big. And boy, could he hit. I didn't care that he couldn't field, because he could just mash. And he never really got the respect that he deserved, I don't think -- except from Bill James."
As far as memories go, Jon recalls "lots of things. I can still remember a picture of him in the paper as a rookie at second base, of all places. He had a great World Series in 1981, which James explained should have earned him the World Series MVP by himself. I vividly remember the excitement of his 15-homer month in June 1985. I can remember him wrenching his back in the process of hitting a home run, and taking so long to struggle around the bases that Vin Scully speculated in the middle of his cringing home-run trot whether they would bring in a pinch-runner.
"I can remember the little finger-wiggle he would do for his wife in the stands after he crossed home plate following a homer. He was generally a happy guy on the field in my memory. I remember how devastated I was when he broke his ankle in Spring Training '86. He had one more great year after that, but then got traded for John Tudor in the middle of the Dodgers' 1988 season, before the World Series.
"The whole thing with his drug arrest and then getting off because of his low IQ -- it was depressing, and I had trouble believing it, or at least didn't want to."
Jon hasn't had any contact with Guerrero, but he has something to remember him by. "The Dodgers put out a commemorative poster in late 1985 to celebrate his 15-homer month, which I believe was then a record but no longer. I believe the poster is rolled up and in a tube somewhere in a closet with other posters from my youth."
Ahh, rolled up posters. I bet all of us have at least one of those lying around a closet or up on a shelf or in a box in the garage. Let's face it, nobody wants to dismiss their childhood heroes and memories. Favorite player growing up? Hmmm. Have any of us really grown up yet?
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]