Greatest Players to Wear #11-20

The 4th of 5 installations, based in part on the MLB Network episode that ranked players by jersey number.  In many cases I’ll agree with their choice, but sometimes, I have to disagree.  Let’s keep rolling, as we count down:

#20 – Wow – 9 teams have retired the number 20, for 8 different players – 6 of whom are Hall of Famers!  No offense to Monte Irvin (a Negro Leagues star), or Pie Traynor (a career .320 hitter with the Pirates in the ’20’s & ’30’s), or Don Sutton (the 324-game winner who never won a Cy Young, & only had 20-wins once), but there are 3 other HOFers who wore #20 that stand out from the rest.  We’ll start with Lou Brock, whose #20 was retired in ’79 by the Cardinals.  Had Rickey Henderson never come along, we’d be a lot more impressed with Brock’s 938 stolen bases.  He led the league in stolen bases 8 times, and in runs scored twice.  He was also an integral part of 3 NL Champions, and 2 World Series champions, as he hit .391 in the postseason.  Frank Robinson’s numbers are gaudy, which explains why his jersey was retired by both the Orioles (in ’72) and the Reds (in ’98). 586 career home runs (9th all-time), 1,812 rbi’s (20th all-time).  2 MVP awards (as well as 4 more top-5 finishes), and Rookie of the Year in ’56.  12 All-Star games, and 1 Gold Glove in 21 seasons, make for a great career, even though he only led the league in home runs once, rbi’s once, and OPS 4 times.  But, I have to agree with MLB Network here, as they gave the award to probably the greatest third baseman in the history of the game – Mike Schmidt.  Schmidt’s offensive numbers aren’t quite up there with Robinson’s – 548 home runs, 1,545 rbi’s.  But he won 3 MVP’s, and appeared in just as many All-Star games in 3 fewer seasons.  Additionally, Schmidt won 10 Gold Gloves, second only to Brooks Robinson all-time at third. Plus, Schmidt led the league in home runs 8 times, rbi’s 4 times, and OPS 5 times – all a part of why his number was retired in ’90 by the Phillies.

#19 – Five teams have retired this number, and we have 3 HOFers contending for the title.  Not that Billy Pierce (all-star pitcher for the White Sox in the ’40’s & ’50’s) or Jim Gilliam (all-star infielder for the Dodgers in the ’50’s & ’60’s) didn’t have fine careers.  But, there’s a reason they aren’t in the Hall.  And, this is another place I have to disagree with MLB Network.  Their choice is Robin Yount, whose #19 was retired in ’94 by the Brewers.  I agree that Yount was a fantastic shortstop and center fielder, and that the ability to switch between the two takes great skill.  His 3,142 hits puts him in the HOF (though spread out over 20 seasons gives him an average of just 157 per year, giving him a career .285 average).  And, yes, he won 2 MVP awards, but what else did he win?  Only 3 All-Star game appearances, 1 Gold Glove, and 3 Silver Sluggers in 20 seasons.  If he wasn’t consistently one of the best of his day, is he really the best to wear the number?  Especially considering who the other choices are.  Our runner-up is going to be Tony Gwynn, whose number was retired in ’02 by the Padres.  In 20 seasons (only 16 of which were full time), he was a 15-time All-Star, 5-time Gold Glove winner, and 7-time Silver Slugger winner.  He never won an MVP, but he played on some terrible teams, that only made the playoffs 3 times.  He led the league in hits 7 times, on his way to 3,141 career hits (a 182-hit average per year that he played full-time).  He led the league in batting average 8 times, on his way to a .338 career average.  And, before you accuse him of just being a singles hitter, don’t ignore his .459 career slugging pct.  It’s not power-hitter numbers, but it’s still higher than a lot of guys (including Yount).  And, add to all this the fact that Gwynn never struck out.  From 1984 (his first year playing full-time) through 1999 (his last year to play at least 100 games), he averaged just 24 strikeouts per season!  That’s better than some of the greatest hitters in the history of the game (DiMaggio, Williams, Cobb, Rose, etc.)!  But, I think Gwynn is still the second on this list to Bob Feller.  Feller’s number was retired in ’57 (the year immediately after he retired) by the Indians.  266 wins, 2,581 K’s, and 8 All-Star games is impressive.  But, consider this – Feller lost nearly 4 seasons due to World War II, from the ages of 23-26.  He led the league in wins and strikeouts each of the 3 seasons leading up to 1942, and for the 2 seasons following 1945.  In fact, he led the league in strikeouts 4 seasons prior to the war, and 3 seasons after, including an incredible 348 K’s in 1946.  If you went with just his average season for the 4 he missed all or part of (24 wins, 258 K’s), his win total would be around 380 (top 5 all-time), and his strikeout total would be around 3,500 (top 10 all-time).  And you could almost certainly add 4 more All-Star appearances to his resume.  As it is, he led the league in wins 6 times, ERA once, K’s 7 times, and WHIP twice.  They didn’t start giving out the Cy Young award until the year after Feller retired.  But, based on where he finished in the MVP voting (where he finished in the top 5 four times), he would have won the Cy Young each of the 3 seasons leading up to the war.  Imagine if Feller had 4 Cy Young awards, 380 wins, and 3,500 K’s.  We’d be talking about him as though he were one of the top 2-3 pitchers of all time.

#18 – Two teams have retired this number, but neither player is a HOFer, or even a perennial All-Star.  The Reds retired Ted Kluszewski’s (a 4-time All-Star with 279 home runs and a .498 career slugging pct.) number in 1998.  The Indians retired Mel Harder’s #18 (4-time All-Star pitcher with 223 wins) in 1990.  And, for some unknown reason, MLB Network awarded Bill Russell with the title of greatest ever to wear this number.  Russell was a career .263 batter and 3-time All-Star with the Dodgers in the ’70’s & ’80’s.  I’m afraid my choice is none of the above.  I’ll go with Moises Alou.  Six All-Star game appearances, 2 Silver Sluggers, and finished 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting in ’92.  He has a career .303 batting average, .516 slugging pct., 2,134 hits, and 332 home runs.  He won’t have his number retired, and won’t be in the HOF.  But, he’s still probably the best #18 in history.

#17 – Only one player has ever had his #17 jersey retired – and it happens to be a Hall of Famer.  The clear choice here has to be Jay Hanna Dean.  Or, Dizzy Dean, as most everyone knew him, whose jersey was retired in ’74.  He was the ace starting pitcher of the “Gashouse Gang” St. Louis Cardinals in the ’30’s, and led them to a World Series championship in 1934.  His career was cut short by a toe injury that led to a change in his mechanics which led to an arm injury.  But, he won 20+ games 4 consecutive years from ’34-’37, won the MVP in ’34, and came in 2nd in ’35 & ’36.  He also led the league in strikeouts each year from ’32-’35.  Dean was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1953.

#16 – I’m going to say MLB Network officially lost their minds on this one.  Dwight Gooden??  Seriously?  Yes, from ’84-’86 he was fantastic.  Rookie of the Year in ’84 and Cy Young in ’85 – one of the greatest single pitching seasons ever.  Great start.  But, after the ’86 season, the drug problems began, which were soon followed by injury problems.  After the ’86 season, Gooden only appeared in one All-Star game in parts of 13 seasons.  And, Gooden never won a single postseason game, going 0-4 with a 3.97 ERA in 9 starts.  I can sympathize with guys whose careers were interrupted because they fought for this country, or because of injuries caused by freak accidents.  But, when drugs are a part of the equation, I have no sympathy – that’s the player’s own fault.  So, moving on, there are 3 Hall of Famers whose #16 jersey has been retired, and all three were also pitchers.  Ted Lyons won 260 games, but only went to 1 All-Star game, and had a career 3.67 ERA an 1.35 WHIP – which explains why he also had 230 losses (a mediocre .531 win pct.).  He won 20 games just 3 times in 21 seasons, leading the league in wins twice, and WHIP once, but never led any other significant pitching category (other than losses once and hits allowed twice and wild pitches once!).  I’m very confused about how this guy got in the HOF in ’55, and why the White Sox retired his jersey in ’83.  Our runner-up is Hal Newhouser who only won 207 games, but led the league in wins 4 times, ERA twice, strikeouts twice, and WHIP once.  He appeared in 6 All-Star games, and won back-to-back MVP awards in ’44 & ’45 (and finished 2nd to Ted Williams in ’46), leading the Tigers to the World Series championship in ’45.  His number was retired in ’97 by the Tigers.  But, the clear choice here has to be Whitey Ford.  Ford may have only won 236 games in his 16 seasons, but his .690 win pct. gives him an average 162-game record of 17-8!  He also boasts an impressive 2.75 career ERA.  He won the Cy Young in ’61, and was a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs, as his ERA was just 2.71 and his WHIP was 1.14 as he helped lead the Yankees to 6 World Series championships.  The Yankees retired his #16 in 1974.

#15 – There’s only one player in history to have his #15 retired.  Still, some would point to the likes of Dick Allen to be crowned champion of #15.  Allen won Rookie of the Year in ’64, and MVP in ’72.  But, only appeared in 7 All-Star games in 15 seasons, and never won any other honor.  And, in his sole playoff appearance, he hit a paltry .222.  Meanwhile, a contemporary of his was able to accomplish just as much, or more, in a tragically shortened 11-season career.  Thurman Munson was a great catcher, whose #15 was retired immediately by the Yankees when he was killed in a plane crash mid-season in 1979.  His power numbers aren’t going to line up with guys like Allen (just 113 career home runs), but he was a career .292 batter, and is still the only Yankee to ever win both Rookie of the Year (’70) and an MVP (’76).  Munson was also the captain of 3 American League champions, and 2 World Series champions.  And, Munson had as much to do with their playoff success as anyone, as he hit .357 with an .874 OPS in the playoffs – and was even more impressive in the 3 World Series, as he hit .373 with a .909 OPS!

#14 – This is a terribly difficult call to make.  First of all, 7 teams have retired #14, and there are 4 HOFers on the list.  Let’s move quickly through those who don’t make the first cut:  Kent Hrbek (jersey retired in ’95 by the Twins – All-Star first baseman who helped them to 2 World Series championships); Ken Boyer (jersey retired in ’84 by the Cardinals – 7-time All-Star, won the MVP in ’64, leading the team to a World Series championship the same year); Gil Hodges (jersey retired in ’73 by the Mets – 8-time All-Star & 3-time Gold Glove winner who, strangely, only appeared in 65 games for the Mets during his 18-year career, but helped the Dodgers to 7 World Series appearances, and 2 Championships in ’55 & ’59); Larry Doby (HOFer, jersey retired in ’94 by the Indians – broke the color barrier in the AL the same season as Robinson in the NL, and went on to 7 All-Star games in 13 seasons); Jim Bunning (HOFer, jersey retired in ’01 by the Phillies – 7-time All-Star, won 224 games and struck out 2,855 batters in 17 seasons with the Tigers & Phillies in the ’50’s & ’60’s); and Jim Rice (HOFer, jersey retired in ’09 by the Red Sox – 8-time All-Star, won the MVP in ’78, 382 career home runs).  You’ll notice that’s 6 who didn’t make the cut who have had their #14 retired.  It comes down to 2 guys – one HOFer who’s #14 is retired, and another who may never get into the Hall.  As strange as it may sound, I’m going to give my runner-up to the all-time hit king – Pete Rose.  I know, I know it’s ludicrous.  But, consider some other facts about Rose’s career (aside from the fact that he broke the cardinal rule about gambling) – yes, he’s the all-time hit king, but did you know his career batting average is just .303? Compare that to .366 for Ty Cobb, .305 for Hank Aaron, .331 for Stan Musial, and .345 for Tris Speaker (the rest of the top 5 on the all-time hit list).  Rose isn’t just the career leader in hits, he’s also the career leader in games played, plate appearances, and at-bats. For example, he played in over 500 more games than anyone else in the top 5, with the exception of Aaron, who he still outpaced by nearly 300 games.  That adds up to over 1,500 more at-bats than Aaron, and no less than 2,600 more at-bats than anyone else in the top 5.  I’m not going to hold it against Rose as far as being an all-time great, and he deserves the title of “Hit King”.  But, if you look at how much longer it took him, and the fact that the only other statistic of Rose’s that stands out is being 2nd on the all-time doubles list, it’s not quite as impressive as some other players.  For a guy that has more hits than anyone else in history, you’d expect his batting average to rank him higher than 154th all-time.  And, his OBP for his career was just .375 – 187th all-time.  And, unlike Tony Gwynn (see #19), Rose was mostly a singles hitter – his career .409 slugging pct. ranks him 689th all-time (even Ichiro’s is .422!).  And, while he led the league in hits 7 times, he only won 3 batting championships, and 1 MVP.  And, with the “Charlie Hustle” nickname everyone gave him, you’d expect more than 198 stolen bases, and you certainly wouldn’t expect him to have been thrown out nearly half the time (caught stealing 149 times).  Sorry, Reds fans, but if I’m putting together a baseball team, I’d rather have a guy whose average 162-game season consisted of just 28 fewer hits than Rose, but also would slug 33 home runs, knock in 105 rbi’s, with an .830 OPS.  Ernie Banks gets my vote here.  512 career home runs and 1,636 rbi’s for a Gold Glove winning shortstop, who also won back-to-back MVP’s, is hard to beat.  

#13 – Only one player has ever had this number retired – Dave Concepcion, the All-Star shortstop for the Reds. They retired his number in ’07, after he was an integral part of the Big Red Machine, during which he went to 11 All-Star games, won 5 Gold Gloves and 2 Silver Sluggers.  But, no MVP, and never leading the league in anything other than GIDP means you aren’t likely to make it into the Hall of Fame.  Our winner, however, will almost definitely be in the Hall – Alex Rodriguez.  Most people only want to remember the guy who has played 3B for the Yankees, and has had 94 errors there in 8 seasons, and who has hit .260 in the playoffs.  But, people forget how great he was as a SS in Seattle, before he ever signed the first $250 million contract.  In 5 full seasons in Seattle (which isn’t exactly a hitter’s ballpark), his average season was 37 home runs, 115 rbi, .315 avg., and .956 OPS.  He also went to 4 All-Star games, won 4 Silver Sluggers, and finished in the top 3 in MVP voting twice.  That’s just his first 5 years in the league!  Granted, he has admitted to some steroid use prior to the increased attention to testing, and the most likely scenario is that started in Texas (just take a look at the scrawny kid playing SS in Seattle from ’96-’00).  It may have carried over some into his days as a Yankee, but the fact that he won an MVP well after the league’s tougher steroid policies were enforced, says a lot about the caliber of player he is.  Even if you dismissed his gaudy numbers from ’01-’06, and said that during the prime of his career he would have continued to average 37 home runs, instead of the 46 he did average, he’s still going to be approaching 600 home runs by 2012, and another healthy 5 seasons (when he’ll be 40), are going to lead to a very reasonably shot at 700.  Whether you think he deserves the 3 MVP’s or the 14 All-Star appearances, he’s clearly the best to ever wear #13.

#12 – There’s really no competition here.  The only other guy to have #12 retired is Wade Boggs, by the Rays in  2000 – but, see #26 for more info there.  The choice here has to be one of the greatest second basemen of all time – Roberto Alomar.  To me, the debate over the greatest all-around second baseman of all time comes down to Alomar & Sandberg.  Alomar has one more Gold Glove (10), but a lower career fielding pct. (.984).  Alomar has several more stolen bases (474), but several fewer home runs (210).  Sandberg won an MVP, and several more Silver Sluggers, but Alomar has the better career batting avg. (.300) and OPS (.814).  That’s a debate that could rage on for hours, but there’s no debate over who the best to wear #12 is.  And, the Blue Jays (who he spent more time with than any other franchise – 5 years), paid great tribute to him when they retired his number in 2011.

#11 – Five teams have retired this number, and only one isn’t in the Hall of Fame (Jim Fregosi, whose #11 was retired in ’98 by the Angels).  Paul Waner (Pirates, ’26-’40; jersey retired in ’07; MVP in ’27, 3-time batting champ, and 3,152 hits) was inducted in 1952, but is 4th on our list.  Sparky Anderson (Reds, ’70-’78 & Tigers, ’79-’95, who retired his jersey in 2011) had a great run with the Big Red Machine (4 NL Pennants & 2 World Series titles), and a decent run with the Tigers (1 World Series title), but had some rough years in Detroit, too.  So, he’s 3rd on our list as one of only 10 mangers with 2,000+ wins (2,194 ranks 6th all time).  Our runner-up is Luis Aparicio, whose #11 jersey was retired in ’84 by the White Sox.  Aparicio led the league in stolen bases each of the first 9 seasons he was a pro, on his way to 506 career stolen bases.  He also appeared in 10 All-Star games, and won 9 Gold Gloves at shortstop.  But, ahead of the rest at this number is Carl Hubbell.  Who?  I barely knew the name before doing this post, but now I see why MLB Network chose him.  Hubbell pitched from ’28-’43 for the New York Giants, and won 253 games with a 2.98 career ERA, and 1.17 career WHIP.  He led the league in wins 3 times, ERA 3 times, and WHIP 6 times.  And, while his strikeout totals weren’t awe-inspiring, he still led the league in K/BB ratio 5 times.  And, to top it all off, he won the MVP in ’33 & ’36, leading the Giants to a World Series title in ’33.  Oh, and in 6 starts in the postseason he was 4-2 with a 1.79 ERA and 1.03 WHIP.   

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