An All-Christmas Team
Anyone who was born on or within a few days of Christmas has sad tales to share of feeling cheated by "one gift for two days" childhood presents. What kind of treats have been given to fans on December 25? This roster of Christmas babies includes three Hall of Famers along with a smattering of All-Stars and everyday players.
No need to save the best for last, as the All-Christmas team appropriately leads off with Rickey Henderson (born 1958) in left field. His career numbers - 1410 stolen bases (a whopping 472 ahead of second-place Lou Brock's 938 SB), an all-time best 2295 runs scored, 2190 walks (second only to Barry Bonds) and 3055 hits - are jaw droppers.
What else did Rickey do? How about three years of 100 or more steals (including a record 130 in 1982)? A dozen seasons as the league's leading basestealer includes topping the American League with 66 swipes in 1998 at age 39. Then there's 13 seasons with 100 or more runs scored, seven seasons with more than 100 walks (along with leading the AL four times) plus a quartet of 95 to 99 bases on balls and four 20-plus home run seasons. The Hall of Fame had to do some serious editing when they created Henderson's bronze plaque.
Rickey played in the majors until just three months before his 45th birthday, and he closed with a 3 for 3 mark in stolen bases during a late season stint with the Dodgers in 2003. He was also one of the handful of position players who batted right-handed and threw from the left side.
How about a textbook old-school number two hitter following the best leadoff man in history?
A basestealer couldn't ask for a better partner than Nellie Fox (1925). Taking a pitch to let Henderson steal a base wouldn't have been a problem for the White Sox star, as he has been baseball's toughest strikeout in the past 75 years. It was a thankless job that Fox excelled at when he batted behind the speedy Luis Aparicio.
The left-handed hitting Fox never struck out more than 18 times in a season, and he had 10 years averaging less than a K every 50 plate appearances. With 2663 career hits, a .288 lifetime average and six seasons of .300 or better and a four-time American League season hit leader, Fox would be well equipped to get on base for the heart of the order when Henderson didn't.
Although he wasn't known for drawing walks, "Little Nell" had a knack for getting to first base. He led in American League in singles eight times (1952 and 1954 to 1960) while making the AL's top 10 list in batting average in eight seasons. Fox's 2161 singles puts him at 27th place in baseball history.
The 1959 American League Most Valuable led the White Sox to the franchise's first pennant since the 1919 Black Sox scandal. Fox earned MVP honors with what was a fairly typical season by his standards - a .306 average along with just 2 HR and a career-high 70 RBI. One of Nellie's most impressive feats took place in 1959, as he avoided striking out in 98 consecutive games. The fateful whiff came on a called third strike tossed by Whitey Ford. Close Fox friend and long-time roommate Billy Pierce says the pitch was well off the plate and that the umpire's call even surprised Ford.
A three-time Gold Glover (1957, 1959 and 1960), Fox was known for his sure hands, quick release and skill in turning the double play. With a streak of 798 consecutive games at second base (most ever for that position), Fox's durability and toughness made him hugely popular on Chicago's blue-collar south side where the vast majority of White Sox fans reside.
Known for his bottle bat, small stature and ever-present wad of chewing tobacco, the last characteristic of Fox's image played a role in his death from cancer at age 47 in 1975. After just missing with 74.7 percent of the vote in his final year of Hall of Fame eligibility in 1985, Fox was admitted to Cooperstown by the Veterans Committee in 1997.
Unfortunately, there are no suitable candidates for a starting shortstop on the All-Christmas team, but three-time Gold Glove second baseman Manny Trillo (1950) could do an adequate job on the left side of the infield. That's because Trillo had one of the strongest arms ever displayed at second. With a .263 lifetime average and 1562 career hits, the four-time All-Star provides some production at the bottom of the order.
Switch-hitting Walter Holke (1892) gets the first base job largely by default. That's because Holke's career OBP of 89 for four National League teams is well below average, especially at a position usually reserved for big hitters. To his credit, Holke had 1278 career hits and a .287 average to offset his lack of power, run production and patience at the plate (just 191 walks in 4456 ABs).
1923 appears to be Holke's banner season at first glance, at he hit .311 with 7 HR, 70 RBI and 31 doubles for the Phillies. Those numbers were boosted by playing half his games in the tiny Baker Bowl with a live ball. In reality, Holke did a better job with the New York Giants and Boston Braves in the dead ball seasons of 1917 and 1919.
Third base has a pair of lefty hitters for the Christmas babies roster. Tom O'Malley (1960) spent most of his career shuttling between AAA and the majors from 1982 to 1990. He finished with a .256 career average, 13 HR and 131 RBI in 1213 ABs (466 games) for six different teams.
O'Malley's career took off when he went to Japan in 1991. As a valued member of the Yakult Swallows and Hanshin Tigers, O'Malley hit .300 or better with power (20 or more HR) for six consecutive seasons. Note to clubhouse man: Make sure O'Malley gets pregame meals of sushi and udon for peak performance.
Like O'Malley, Gene Robertson (1897) has a middle of the pack major league resume. The 5'7" St. Louis native played on and off for the hometown Browns from 1919 to 1926 before being traded to the Yankees. Robertson spent 1927 with St. Paul fo the American Association before joining the Yankees for 251 at-bats (just six strikeouts) and nine more plate appearances in the 1928 World Series.
A .280 lifetime average (615 for 2200) with gap power gives Robertson an edge over O'Malley. Frank Ellerbe (1895) played 3B for three American League teams from 1919 to 1924, but the righty swinger's lack of patience at the plate (.268 BA, .306 OBP) and below average power makes him better suited for spot duty.
Ben Chapman and Jo-Jo Moore (both born in 1908) round out a solid starting outfield. Chapman led the American League in stolen bases four times (1931-33 and 1937). The right-handed swinger had a.302 career average with 1958 hits. Even though he wasn't a slugger (90 career HRs), Chapman came through with seasons of 122 and 107 RBI for the Yankees in 1931 and 1932. The three-time All-Star also had six other campaigns of 80 to 98 RBI.
The World War II talent shortage allowed Chapman to extend his big league career, but as pitcher. He went 8-6 with a 4.39 ERA (84 ERA+) for the Dodgers and Phillies in 1994, 1945 and for a single appearance in 1946.
Moore made the National League All-Star roster five times and spent his entire career (1930-41) with the New York Giants. A left-handed hitter, Moore had 200-hit seasons in 1935 (201) and a career-best 205 hits in 1936. With just 247 strikeouts and 348 walks in 5427 career at-bats (1615 hits, .298 lifetime), Moore was one of many old-time players who seldom struck out while not working the count for walks.
"The Gause Ghost" got his nickname from his hometown of Gause, Texas. Moore died at age 92 on April 1, 2001.
Our Christmas catcher had just 10 major league at-bats, but that cup of coffee wasn't due to any lack of ability on his part. Quincy Trouppe (1912) was one of the better Negro League receivers. Like other players who were stymied by the color barrier, Trouppe spent much of his career in Latin America in addition to bouncing around from team to team in the U.S. Negro circuit.
At age 39, Trouppe backed up Jim Hegan for a few weeks with the Indians in 1952. He appeared in six games at had a single and a walk in 10 at-bats before being sent to Ottawa of the International League. He wasn't in the same class as Josh Gibson, but Trouppe had the ability to be a starting major league catcher if he had been given the opportunity at a younger age. Trouppe easily stands out from the glut of weak-hitting backup catchers (Chris Krug, Greek George, Marty Pevey, Frank Baldwin) who share a December 25 birthday.
Hall of Fame pitcher James "Pud" Galvin made numerous adjustments during a big league career that spanned from 1875 to 1892. He pitched underhand and overhand just 50 feet from the plate.
The 5'8" "Little Steam Engine" was an iron man even by 19th century standards. Galvin went 37-27 in 66 starts for Buffalo Bisons in 1879, as he appeared in all but 12 of the team's games. He pitched "only" 458.2, 474 and 445.1 inning in the next three seasons before tossing a record 656.1 innings (76 games, 46-29, 2.72, 117 ERA+) in 1883 and followed that up by going a career-best 46-22 with a 1.99 ERA (158 ERA+) in 636.1 IP in 1884.
Seasons of 20-35 in 1880 and 16-26 in 1885 reduced Galvin's career record to 365-310 for a .540 winning percentage. This is a guy Bert Blyleven ("My goal was to be the workhorse of the staff") could appreciate. You're our number one starter, Pud, but you'll have to adapt to being 60 feet 6 inches from the plate with a mound (wasn't used until the 1890s). How will the workaholic Galvin adjust to having four days off between starts? He has been a Hall of Famer since 1965.
Ned Garver (1925) fills the 2 slot nicely. The 86-year old pulled off one of the most impressive pitching accomplishments in history when he went 20-12 with the last-place 1951 St. Louis Browns. Since the perennially inept Browns were 52-102, Garver was responsible for 38.5 percent of the team's victories. The Brownies went just 32-92 (.258) when Garver didn't receive a decision.
Did Garver get the Cy Young Award? That honor didn't exist until 1956, so Garver had to settle for a second-place finish behind Yogi Berra in the MVP voting. A career record of 129-157 with mostly losing teams is a poor way to judge Garver's skill. His career ERA of 3.73 and 112 ERA+ is a more accurate indicator. Garver swung the bat well enough to see occasional duty as a pinch-hitter. His career stats include seven home runs, 180 hits and a .218 average.
This rotation screams for a lefty, and Lloyd Brown (1904) is it. The Beeville, Texas native went 91-105 with a 4.20 ERA (105 ERA+) in a big league career than lasted from 1925 to 1940. 1930 to 1932 was the peak of the southpaw's career, as Brown went 16-12, 15-14 and 15-12 with the Senators. A career-best 3.20 ERA was good for fourth place in the AL in 1931. The 5'9" Brown was tagged with the nickname "Gimpy" in what was obviously a much less politically correct and sensitive era.
Welsh-born Ted Lewis (1872) pitched in the majors from 1896 to 1901. He went 21-12 with a 3.85 ERA (116 ERA+) for the 93-39 (.705 winning percentage) 1897 Boston Beaneaters. Lewis followed that up with a career-best 26-8, 2.90 (127 ERA+) in 1898 for Boston. Lewis spent his entire big league career in the city. His final season came during the American League's debut in 1901. The 5'10" righty went 16-17 with a 3.53 for the Boston Americans, later known as the Red Sox. A 94-64 career record with a 3.53 ERA (113 ERA+) is definitely better than average for a number 4 starter.
Charlie Lea (1956, recently died on November 11) should be dependable at the back of the rotation. The right-hander went 62-48 with a 3.54 ERA for an injury-shortened career with the Expos and Twins. A 15-10, 2.89 ERA (seventh in the NL) performance with Montreal in 1984 was good enough to provide Lea with his only All-Star appearance.
Hideki Okajima (1975) is the closest thing to a potential closer on the All-Christmas team. The Japanese-born Red Sox lefty reliever has a U.S. career record of 17-8 with a 3.11 ERA and six saves in 261 games and 246.1 IP. Journeymen such as 19th century hurler George Haddock (born in 1866 and 95-87, 4.07 from 1888 to 1894), Eric Hiljus (1972, 8-3 and a 4.79 ERA in parts of four seasons with the Tigers and A's) are in the mix for long and middle relief.
So is Jack Hamilton (1938), who is notorious for beaning Tony Conigliaro. The wild righty had a 32-40 career mark, and his 4.53 ERA is quite high for the offensively eager 1960s. Mike Blyzka's major league record (3-11, 5.58) is unimpressive, but his two seasons included playing for the final St. Louis Browns squad in 1953 and the first-year 1954 Baltimore Orioles.
Team depth is pretty ordinary. Wallace Johnson (1956) gives the Christmas squad a capable pinch-hitter who also displayed enough speed (19 SB) to pinch-run when needed. As a switch-hitter, a manage could insert Johnson into any situation. Nearly 60 percent of Johnson's career knocks (86 of 145) came off the bench.
Bill Akers (1904) played around the infield for the Tigers and Braves from 1929 to 1932, and he's a utility infielder with more pop in his bat (11 HR, 69 RBI, .261, .349 OBP) than average. Ruben Gotay (1982) and Rich Renteria (1961) provide competition for Akers.
Since America is in a significant recession, costs need to be managed. That's why former White Sox and Pirates manager Gene Lamont (1946) gets to back up Trouppe behind the plate in addition to running the squad. Lamont may not see much playing time, as the one indispensable member of the roster is also a backup catcher - and he was born on December 9. How could this happen?
What would the all-Christmas team be without Steve Christmas? The lefty-hitting catcher played 24 games with 37 ABs (.162, 1 HR, 7 RBI) in three small cups of coffee with the Reds, White Sox and Cubs from 1983 to 1986. With that name, it doesn't take a December 25 birthday to earn a roster spot on the all-Christmas team.