The state of Idaho has only produced 30 major league players – tied for 5th fewest in the nation. But, compared to other states with similar representation in the majors, The Gem State has had significantly better representation in the All-Star Game.
Jason Schmidt pitched most of his career for the Giants and Pirates. He appeared in three All-Star games, and had two seasons in which he finished in the top 4 in Cy Young voting (including a runner-up finish in 2003). Larry Jackson pitched primarily for the Cardinals and Cubs in the ’50’s and ’60’s. He appeared in 5 All-Star games, and finished runner-up for the Cy Young in ’64.
But, the obvious choice here is the man whose All-Star appearances represent more than half the total for the entire state…
Harmon Killebrew – the Payette, Idaho native appeared in 13 All-Star games, won an MVP in ’69, and had five more top-5 finishes in MVP voting. Killebrew led the league in HR’s six times, leading to a career total of 573.
If I were to suggest you rank the states based on the total number of major leaguers they have produced, how high would you expect the state of Illinois to rank? I don’t know about you, but it surprised me that The Prairie State has produced the 4th most major leaguers in the country, with 1,060.
With all that production, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that the state has produced some very good players. Before we even get to the Hall of Famers, there are names like Bret Saberhagen, Fred Lynn, Curtis Granderson, Ben Zobrist, and Gary Gaetti.
Now take a look at some of the all-time greats from Illinois… Red Schoendienst, Kirby Puckett (one of my all time favorites), Lou Boudreau, Jim Thome, Robin Yount, and Robin Roberts. But, once again, even with all of these excellent players, the choice for the greatest from the state was actually quite easy.
Rickey Henderson – how great of a base stealer was Rickey? He led the league with 66 stolen bases in 1998 … at the age of 39! That was just one of 12 seasons in which he led the league. He’s also the all-time leader in career runs scored, was a 10-time All-Star, and won an MVP in 1990.
While the state of Indiana has produced 8 Hall of Famers … every one of them at least started – if not finished – their career prior to WWII. Lots of dead-ball era guys from Indiana – Max Carey, Sam Thompson, Sam Rice, Ed Roush, and Amos Rusie.
But, there are some other very recognizable names from the “Crossroads of America.” Don Mattingly, Kenny Lofton, Scott Rolen, Gil Hodges, and Tommy John are among the names of players that were very good – just not quite Hall of Fame material. And, it was tough not to consider picking either Lofton or Rolen, since their career WAR is at the top of the list even ahead of all the HOFers. But, ultimately, I went with…
Mordecai Brown – “Three-Finger” Brown was the ace of a staff that led the Cubs to 4 of 5 World Series from 1906-1910. Not only did this Nyesville native win nearly 65% of his decisions, he led the league in saves 4 times – actually led the league in both saves and shutouts in 1910! Ty Cobb called Brown’s curveball “the most devastating pitch I ever faced.”
Outside of the players who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, the state of Iowa doesn’t really have much to brag about. I mean, rounding out the top-10 players from Iowa are names like Mike Boddicker, Hal Trosky, and Kevin Tapani. And, then, of the six Hall-of-Famers to come from the Hawkeye State, five of them at least began their careers during the dead ball era.
That being said, I think honorable mention here goes to Cap Anson. The man played 27 years of professional baseball. He was a part of the very beginning of the National League in 1876, and was easily the best hitter of his era (he hit over .300 for 15 straight seasons). When he retired, he owned the game’s record for hits (3,081 – the first to ever cross the 3,000 hit threshold), doubles, runs, games, and at-bats.
But, the best player from the state of Iowa, in my opinion, is the one Hall of Famer that did not play during the dead ball era.
Bob Feller – Feller lost nearly 4 full seasons to military service during WWII, and they were right in the prime of his career. He led the league in strikeouts for 4 consecutive years, leading up to his service time, and then led the league in strikeouts again for the next 3 full seasons he played after returning. Had they had the award, he undoubtedly would have also won 3 consecutive Cy Youngs leading up to his time in the military.