As we are going in alphabetical order, it just so happens that we have come upon two states that are heavily invested … in college basketball. Not exactly baseball-rich states. And, to be totally honest, it shows.
Only two professional players from The Sunflower State have appeared in as many as three All-Star Games: Darren Daulton and Bill Russell (no, not that Bill Russell). Outside of these two, there are really only three players of note.
Johnny Damon is actually 2nd in career WAR (according to Baseball Reference). He certainly deserves some credit for being an integral part of two World Series championship teams. He was a 2-time All-Star, and a clubhouse leader. The other name of note is the only other Hall-of-Famer, aside from the one chosen as the best. His name was Joe Tinker. He played shortstop for the Chicago Cubs during the early days of the 20th century. He was a part of the fabled Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance double-play combo.
But, far and away, the best from the state of Kansas is…
Walter Johnson – some regard this Humboldt native as the greatest pitcher to ever play the game. He holds the career record for shutouts with 110, he’s second on the all-time wins list with 417, is 12th in career ERA (2.17), and he won two MVP awards, while playing for a lot of less-than-exciting Washington Senators teams.
The state of Kentucky has produced marginally better talent at the major league level when it comes to total volume. Paul Derringer appeared in 6 All-Star Games; Travis Fryman appeared in five. There’s also the likes of Bobby Veach and Carl Mays who played before there was an All-Star game, and had reasonably respectable careers.
But, Kentucky can’t lay claim to one of the game’s elites, the way Kansas can. There are three Hall-of-Famers from the state, though. Earle Combs was the lead-off hitter and centerfielder for the “Murderers Row” Yankees. Jim Bunning retired with the 2nd most career strikeouts (2nd only to Walter Johnson), and is one of only two pitchers to win 100 games and strike out over 1,000 in both leagues – leading to 9 All-Star game appearances.
But, the best player from The Bluegrass State can do one better than that…
Pee Wee Reese – born and raised in Louisville, Reese was a shortstop for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He appeared in 10 All-Star games, and likely would have appeared in more, had he not lost 3 prime years to WWII. While he never won it, Reese finished in the top 10 in MVP voting an impressive eight times.
In spite of the fact that Louisiana sits right in between Kansas and Kentucky, when it comes to the quantity of major league players produced, the quality of players to come from Louisiana far outshines either of the two basketball states. Before we even get to the Hall of Fame caliber players, we have names on the list like Andy Pettitte, Will Clark, Ron Guidry, Rusty Staub, and Vida Blue.
The Pelican State has also produced 5 Hall of Fame players. Lee Smith, who was the career saves leader when he retired. Bill Dickey was an 11-time All-Star as a catcher for the Yankees team that won 7 rings with him behind the plate. Ted Lyons pitched for 21 seasons with the White Sox and won 260 games. There’s also Willard Brown, who only played one season with the St. Louis Browns in 1947. But, he was a force as the centerfielder for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. He was also the first African American to hit a HR in the AL.
But, despite all of these great players, when it came down to the absolute best from Louisiana, the choice was clear.
Mel Ott – the Gretna native was a power-hitting force for the New York Giants in the ’30’s and ’40’s. Amassing 511 career HR, Ott led the league in HR six times, was a 12-time All-Star, and helped lead the Giants to 3 NL pennants, and one World Series Championship in 1933.