The 5 best shortstops in Yankee history

6 04 2016

This continues a series on the best Yankees at different positionsToday: shortstop.

1, Derek Jeter

My Derek Jeter rookie card

My Derek Jeter rookie card

This call couldn’t be easier.

I’ve already made the case that Derek Jeter is baseball’s best shortstop ever.

I’ve already noted that he’s one of the best players ever at any position.

I’ve already shown that his post-season performances amount to a full season, one of the best seasons ever, facing some of the best pitchers ever.

I’ve already noted that Jeter and Mariano Rivera are the best teammate tandem in baseball history.

What more can I say? He’ll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, close to a unanimous choice despite the strong anti-Yankee bias of voters.

If Ozzie Smith, Cal Ripken Jr., Honus Wagner and Ernie Banks had been Yankees, this would at least be a contest. And Jeter would still win.

2, Phil Rizzuto

Phil Rizzuto's autograph on a ball belonging to my son Mike.

Phil Rizzuto’s autograph on a ball belonging to my son Mike.

Phil Rizzuto is a pretty easy choice for this spot, too. Until Jeter is eligible, the Scooter is the only Yankee shortstop in the Hall of Fame. He played all 13 years of his career for the Yankees (with a three-year break for military service during World War II). He played all but two of his 1,649 career games at shortstop. He was the MVP in 1950. He was a five-time All-Star. He contributed to seven Yankee World Series championships and is sixth all-time in World Series games played, eighth in hits with 45, fourth in walks with 30 and tied for third in stolen bases with 10.

Rizzuto was the best American League shortstop of his time.

3, Bucky Dent

My Bucky Dent bobblehead.

My Bucky Dent bobblehead.

In my ranking criteria, I note that special moments are important to me. And few moments stand out more in Yankee history than Bucky Dent‘s home run to take the lead on Boston in the 1978 one-game playoff. He continued his hot hitting in the World Series, going 10-for-25 with 7 RBI and winning the Series MVP award.

Dent was an All-Star two of his six Yankee years. Based on regular-season performance, he wouldn’t rank this high and might not even make the top five. But Yankee shortstops are pretty tightly bunched behind Jeter and Rizzuto, and Dent’s October performance in 1978 pushes him ahead of the pack.

I have to give my wife, Mimi, some credit here: Earlier in the 1978 season, on July 3, Dent was coming to the plate in a game against the Red Sox. She liked his name and predicted he’d hit a homer. I condescendingly informed her that he was a singles hitter (he hit just 40 homers in his career and just five that season). But two of the homers were against the Red Sox: the one Mimi called in July and the one that propelled the Yankees into the post-season in October.

I generally don’t like sideline interviews before and during games. They are far more filled with clichés than insight or humor. But my favorite such moment was when Steve Lyons interviewed Dent during a Yankees-Red Sox playoff game (in 2003, I’m guessing). Lyons told Dent that he thought Red Sox fans might not know his real middle name, so Lyons asked what it was. Dent deadpanned “Earl.”

I don’t hold his awful 1989-90 managing tenure against him, but don’t look for him in my ranking of best Yankee managers.

4, Tony Kubek

Tony Kubek had a better post-playing career as a broadcaster than Dent had as a manager. But this is a ranking of shortstops, and I give Dent the nod based on his October 1978 play. But you could easily rank Kubek third.

He played nine years for the Yankees, compared to just six for Dent. But Dent played exclusively at short, 694 games. Kubek played more games at shortstop for the Yankees (882), but also played 145 games in the outfield and 55 at third base.

Kubek was a better hitter for the Yankees (.266 to .237) with more power (he hit 14 homers in 1960, and Dent never reached double figures in a season).

Kubek was a three-time world champion and three-time All-Star, one more than Dent on each count.

But Kubek hit .240 in 37 World Series games. Dent hit .349 in 12. Kubek’s career advantages in the regular season are not enough, in my view, to offset Dent’s spectacular play when it mattered most.

Kubek’s most memorable post-season moment was the bad-hop groundball that hit him in the throat in Game Seven of the 1960 World Series. It was a potential double play, but instead it left two runners on base with no outs in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Pirates went on to score five runs that inning, taking a 9-7 lead and setting the stage for Bill Mazeroski’s Series-winning homer after the Yankees tied the game in the top of the ninth. The bad hop wasn’t Kubek’s fault, but Dent’s big moments in the Red Sox playoff game and against the Dodgers in the World Series place him ahead of Kubek.

5, Frankie Crosetti

Frank Crosetti's autograph (just above a Whitey Ford autograph) on a ball belonging to my son Tom.

Frank Crosetti’s autograph (just above a Whitey Ford autograph) on a ball belonging to my son Tom.

You could also rank Frankie Crosetti third or fourth. With 17 seasons as a Yankee, eight of them as the starting shortstop, and many more years coaching, Crosetti’s Yankee tenure seemed endless. His playing career spanned from the late years of Babe Ruth’s career to the early years of Yogi Berra’s.

Crosetti was a two-time All-Star, but was relegated to a backup role in 1941, Rizzuto’s rookie season. He led the league seven times in getting hit by pitches and in 1938 led the A.L. with 27 stolen bases. But Crosetti was a weak hitter, .245 for his career and twice leading the league in strikeouts. Though the Yankees won six of the seven World Series he played in, Crosetti hit only .174.

I feel comfortable ranking Dent and Kubek ahead of Crosetti, because they were better, but he played almost as many games at shortstop for the Yankees as the two of them combined. So he gets the fifth spot on the list.

The rest

The Yankees didn’t have a lot of great shortstops. Mark Koenig started four years, including for the great 1927 Murderer’s Row Yankees and hit .319 one year. Everett Scott was even more unremarkable as a three-year starter earlier in the ’20s. Leo Durocher, better known as a manager (but not for the Yankees), played two seasons at shortstop for New York.

You’d have to be a hard-core Yankee fan to remember the nine starting shortstops who filled the gap between Dent and Jeter. I couldn’t until I looked them up.

Joe Sewell, a Hall of Fame shortstop, finished his career with Yankees (1931-33), but he had moved to third base by then.

Update: Stuart Warner pointed out on Facebook that I omitted Tom Tresh. I liked Tresh as a young Yankee fan, but correctly remembered that he played more outfield than shortstop (only 351 games, including 1962, when he was an All-Star and Rookie of the Year. He doesn’t belong on the top-five list, but definitely among “the rest.”

Comparing shortstop traditions

There’s not a clear team with the strongest shortstop tradition, but the Yankees are in contention.

The Pirates (with Honus Wagner, Arky Vaughan and Rabbit Maranville) and Orioles (Cal Ripken Jr.Luis Aparicio and Bobby Wallace when they were the St. Louis Browns) each have more Hall of Famers at shortstop than the Yankees, even if you count Jeter before his election makes it official. The Giants had 19th-Century shortstops George Davis and John Ward, plus Travis Jackson, one of the most outrageous examples of how easy Hall of Fame selection has been for players from the 1920s).

The White Sox (Aparicio and Luke Appling), Cubs (Joe Tinker and Ernie Banks) and Indians (Lou Boudreau and Sewell) each match the Yankees with two Hall of Fame shortstops (counting Jeter).

I’m not going to study the other teams’ shortstops who didn’t make it to Cooperstown, but I’d guess the Pirates (who also had 1960 MVP Dick Groat) might have the best tradition, with the Yankees ranking about fifth.

Ranking criteria

I explained my criteria in the post on first basemen, so if this seems familiar, it’s because I cut and pasted that explanation here, then adapted it for shortstops.

If a player is in the Hall of Fame (Rizzuto) or bound to get there (Jeter), that carries considerable weight with me.

I rank players primarily on their time with the team, so Jeter, Rizzuto, Kubek and Crosetti stand out not just for their great careers, but because all their time was spent with the Yankees. Aparicio made it to Cooperstown and had Hall of Fame seasons for both the Orioles and White Sox, so he counts heavily for both teams, but not as heavily as Jeter or Ripken, who spent their full careers with one team. And Aparicio wouldn’t count much for the Red Sox, because his career was in decline when he reached Boston at age 37.

I value both peak performance and longevity, but peak performance more. That’s why Kubek finished ahead of Crosetti. Measures of peak performance, such as MVP awards and leading leagues in important stats, will move a person up my list. Rizzuto is the Yankees’ only shortstop MVP, but Jeter was too far ahead of him in other respects for that to matter and led the American League twice in hits and once in runs.

Few ballplayers actually matter in the broader culture beyond baseball, but Jeter did (maybe Dent, too) and that counted for them.

Time at the position is important, too. Banks had his best years at shortstop, so he counts heavily for the Cubs there, but he actually played more games at first base, so you can’t count his full career.

Post-season play and championship contributions matter a lot to me. I should add that I don’t consider those to be the same thing. Kubek and Crosetti contributed to more championships than Dent, but Dent played better in the post-season.

This factor didn’t play into any of these decisions, but if two players were dead even at a position for the Yankees, I would have moved the one with the better overall career ahead. For instance, if Dent and Kubek had been equal as Yankees, Dent’s four years with the White Sox, including one year as and All-Star and finishing second for Rookie of the Year another, would have broken the tie.

Special moments matter, too. Dent’s special moment, combined with the excellent World Series that followed, was a difference-maker here, separating him from both Kubek and Crosetti.

Who was best?

I wish the Polldaddy version with WordPress let you rank, rather than just voting for the best. I think I know how this will come out if people vote seriously:

Rankings of Yankees by position

Starting pitchers

Catchers

First base

Second base

Third base

Left field

Center field

Right field

Designated hitter

Relief pitcher

Manager

Other rankings of Yankee shortstops

Uncle Mike’s Musings

Source note

Unless noted otherwise, statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.





The 5 best second basemen in Yankee history

5 04 2016

This continues a series on the best Yankees at different positions. Today: second base.

1, Tony Lazzeri

I tried to talk myself out of Tony Lazzeri at second base, because I kept wanting someone to be better. He’s not even a top 10 all-time second baseman. But he’s a Hall of Famer (albeit from the ’20s and ’30s when that was easier than any time since). And he played second base 12 years for the Yankees. Willie Randolph played 13 and I loved Randolph, but Lazzeri had more hits, homers and RBI as a Yankee, and a higher batting average.

Lazzeri topped 100 RBI seven times and scored more than 100 runs twice (Randolph never topped 100 in either category). Lazzeri topped .300 in batting five times, including a .354 performance in 1929. He was a bona fide member of Murderer’s Row and clearly the best Yankee second baseman ever, somewhat to my surprise.

He anchored the Yankee infield for five world-champion teams, bridging the Ruth and DiMaggio years. This is an easier call than I anticipated.

2, Robinson Canó

I also expected Robinson Canó to rank lower on this list. I was surprised to see he had played nine years as a Yankee, but not surprised to see that he topped 100 RBI three times, scored 100 runs four times and hit over 200 Yankee homers. I don’t know if he’s going to make the Hall of Fame, or if he should, but he got his career off to a Hall of Fame start playing in New York.

He also earned two Gold Gloves with spectacular, if not always consistent, defense. I tried to push the other guys on this list above Canó because he kind of disappointed me with his post-season play (he was awful in the 2009 World Series and hit only .222 in 51 post-season games). But his regular-season play pushed him up here and even gained him consideration for No. 1.

3, Willie Randolph

I moved Randolph into third place because he played the position strongly on offense and defense for the Yankees for 13 years. He was great at drawing walks (1,005 for the Yankees, including a league-leading 119 in 1980). I think Randolph illustrates that I don’t argue for Hall of Fame election for every good Yankee player. Yes, he was better than some 1920s infielders in the Hall of Fame, but they don’t belong there and neither does he.

Lou Whitaker and Frank White were better contemporary second basemen in the American League. But Randolph was a cornerstone of the Yankee champions of 1976-81, when they won two World Series, two more A.L. championships and a fifth division title. He was a six-time All-Star and absolutely belongs on this list.

4, Joe Gordon

Joe Gordon had to wait a while to get into the Hall of Fame not just because of anti-Yankee bias and the voters’ bias in favor of longevity. He also had to wait because he was the odd beneficiary in 1942 of the writers’ bias against Ted Williams. Gordon had an outstanding year: hitting .322 with 18 homers, 103 RBI and great defense for the pennant-winning Yankees. But Williams won the Triple Crown that year: .356, 36, 137. Williams also led the league in runs (141), walks (145), total bases (388), on-base percentage (.499!), slugging (.648) and OPS (1.147). You know what Gordon led the league in? Strikeouts (95) and grounding into double plays (22). It was probably the most ridiculous MVP vote in history when the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voted Gordon the MVP over Williams. But that wasn’t Gordon’s fault.

He didn’t have Hall of Fame career numbers, but he sacrificed two prime years to serve in the military during World War II. And he was an All-Star five straight years before going into the military and four straight years after coming back. How many players who were All-Stars nine straight seasons aren’t in the Hall of Fame? And it probably would have been 11 if the war hadn’t interrupted his career.

Gordon would rank ahead of Randolph based on his full career, but he played only seven years for the Yankees (he was traded to the Indians after the 1946 season for Allie Reynolds, who should join him in the Hall of Fame).

Gordon hit well in only two of his six World Series, but he helped the Yankees to four world championships and the Indians to their last title, in 1948.

In another interesting swap, Gordon went from the Indians to the Tigers in 1960 for Jimmy Dykes in a rare trade of managers.

5, Bobby Richardson

EPSON MFP image

My autographed photo of Bobby Richardson

Bobby Richardson may have the biggest disparity between regular-season hitting and World Series hitting of anyone who played substantial World Series time. He was a good player, making seven All-Star teams, leading the league with 209 hits in 1962 and finishing second to Mickey Mantle in the MVP vote that year. But he was only a .266 career hitter, with 34 homers and 390 RBI in 12 seasons, all with the Yankees.

In October, though, Richardson was something special. He set hitting records that still stand in three different World Series:

  • In 1960, he drove in a record 12 runs, also scoring eight and hitting two triples and a grand slam (tying a record he still shares; no one has hit a second World Series grand slam). His 11 hits were one short of the record. He was the only World Series MVP ever from a losing team.
  • In 1961, his nine hits tied a record for a five-game series that he still shares.
  • In 1964, he set a record that he still shares with 13 hits in a World Series.

Bobby Richardson StoryHe hit only 4-for-27 in the 1962 World Series, but that Series is still best remembered for his spectacular Game Seven catch of a Willie McCovey line drive, with Matty Alou on third with the tying run and Willie Mays on second with the winner. While his stellar hitting in other Series was far better than his regular-season hitting, the defense was no surprise: 1962 was the second of five straight Gold Glove seasons for Richardson.

Who else in World Series history set offensive records in three series and made a Series-saving defensive play in a fourth, all in a five-year stretch? If you were compiling an all-time World Series team, Richardson has to be your second baseman.

I’ll disclose a bias here: Richardson was my childhood baseball hero, even above Mickey Mantle. I met him in the 1970s, when he came to a baseball event in Stanton, Iowa, and I was an editor in nearby Shenandoah. That’s where I got the autographed photo.

The rest

Billy Martin's autograph on a ball belonging to my son Mike.

Billy Martin’s autograph on a ball belonging to my son Mike.

I tried to get Billy Martin onto this list, but he played only seven years (three playing 100 or more games) for the Yankees. His only All-Star season was 1956. He hit .333 in World Series play, had a spectacular game-saving catch of his own and still shares the record for 12 hits in a six-game World Series (1953).

Alfonso Soriano was spectacular in three years at second for the Yankees, leading the league in 2002 with 209 hits, 128 runs and 41 stolen bases (not to mention 39 homers and 102 RBI). But he played second base for the Yankees for just two years. And he was mostly horrible in the post-season, striking out 11 times against the Red Sox and nine times against the Marlins in the 2003 post-season. He didn’t play long enough at second for the Yankees or well enough in October to push Richardson off this list.

Chuck Knoblauch had a career to compare with some of the players on this list, if you count his Twin years, and he hit well for the Yankees and contributed to three World Series titles (plus a fourth with the Twins). But you just can’t overlook the throwing problems (26 errors in 1999 and 15 in part-time play in 2000) that forced the Yankees to move him to left field.

Speaking of throwing problems, Steve Sax had two All-Star years at second base for bad Yankees teams. Sax’s throwing problems were years earlier with the Dodgers. He played well at second for the Yankees, but not long enough to rank in the top five.

Gil McGougald's autograph (along with Hank Bauer's, Ed Lopat and Eddie Madjeski.

Gil McGougald’s autograph (along with Hank Bauer’s, Ed Lopat and Eddie Madjeski.

Gil McDougald might lead a list (if I ever make one) of Yankee utility players. He played his full 10-year career for the Yankees, making five All-Star teams. But he can’t rank very high at any position, having played 599 games at second, 508 at third and 284 at shortstop. He had only five seasons with 100 or more games at any one position, two at third base, two at second and one at shortstop. If you were ranking all-time Yankees at all positions, he might pass up some people on this list, but not just ranking second basemen.

Jerry Coleman was an All-Star in 1950, but played only 572 games at second base. He topped 100 games in only four of his nine seasons, all with the Yankees. He’d rank below McDougald both as a second baseman and a utility fielder.

With bigger stars all off to war in 1944-45, Snuffy Stirnweiss led the American League twice each in hits, runs and stolen bases and in 1945 added titles in batting, slugging and OPS. But he wasn’t as good with the major leagues at full strength. His only All-Star year, 1946, he played more at third base than second. He was a significant contributor to the 1947 champions, but became a part-time player after that.

Luis Sojo deserves special mention. In parts of seven seasons with the Yankees, he did not play 100 games in a season even once, so he was never more than a part-time player. But Yankee fans will always appreciate his clutch 2000 post-season (9 RBI in 14 games). Similarly, Brian Doyle never played even 40 games in a season for the Yankees. But when Randolph was injured for the 1978 post-season, Doyle hit .391. He was 7-of-16 with 3 RBI and 4 runs in the World Series, a pretty good place to play the best baseball of your career.

I also must mention Horace Clarke, who followed Richardson at second base. He anchored the position from 1967 to 1973, horrible years for the Yankees. He was a good fielder but a bad hitter. I call the drought between the 1964 and 1976 World Series teams the “Horace Clarke years,” which probably isn’t fair to him. But the Yankees weren’t very good then, and neither was he.

Other teams’ second base traditions

The Yankees are not a contender for the best tradition at second base. The Cardinals (Rogers Hornsby, Frankie Frisch, Red Schoendienst) and Cubs (Johnny Evers, Billy Herman, Ryne Sandberg) both were the primary teams of three Hall of Fame second basemen, including someone who’d make most top-10 lists (Hornsby, Frisch, Sandberg). And the Cubs got Hornsby for an MVP season and three more years.

The White Sox (Eddie Collins and Nellie Fox), Indians (Nap Lajoie and Gordon), Reds (Joe Morgan and Bid McPhee), A’s (Collins and Lajoie) and Giants (Frisch and a year of Hornsby) each matched the Yankees with two Hall of Fame second basemen.

I haven’t researched this deeply enough to be confident with rankings (that might be a future post), but I see the Cubs at No. 1 here and the Yankees about fifth.

Ranking criteria

I explained my criteria in the post on first basemen, so if this seems familiar, it’s because I cut and pasted that explanation here, then adapted it for second basemen.

If a player is in the Hall of Fame (Lazzeri), that carries considerable weight with me.

I value both peak performance and longevity, but peak performance more. Canó didn’t play at second for the Yankees as long as Randolph, but Canó’s peaks were higher.

I rank players primarily on their time with the team, so Lazzeri and Richardson stand out not just for their great careers, but because all their time was spent with the Yankees.

Frisch made it to Cooperstown and had Hall of Fame seasons for both the Giants and Cardinals, so he counts heavily for both teams, but not as heavily as Sandberg does for the Cubs, because he played most of his career and all of his great seasons in Chicago.

Time at the position is important, too. If Soriano had stayed with the Yankees and moved to left field (as he did when he moved to the Nationals in 2006, two years after the Yankees traded him to the Rangers), his performance in left field would only be a tie-breaker, not a big factor.

Post-season play and championship contributions matter a lot to me. I should add that I don’t consider those to be the same thing. Lazzeri contributed to five Yankee world championships, to three for Richardson, so that’s an advantage for Lazzeri. However, Richardson played better in the post-season (Lazzeri was good, but you don’t find him among all-time leaders, let alone record-holders, in World Series batting).

If two players were dead even at a position for the Yankees, I moved the one with the better overall career ahead. For instance, Gordon’s play for the Indians (and his Hall of Fame election) helped me place him above Richardson for fourth place.

Special moments matter, too. If someone had been tied with Richardson on other factors, that catch to save the 1962 World Series would have given Richardson the final spot on the list.

Who do you think is best?

Rankings of Yankees by position

Starting pitchers

Catchers

First base

Shortstop

Third base

Left field

Center field

Right field

Designated hitter

Other rankings of Yankee second basemen

Uncle Mike’s Musings

Tyler K. Patterson, Fan Graphs

Andrew Mearns, Pinstripe Alley

ChristopherJ

Source note

Unless noted otherwise, statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.





The 5 best first basemen in Yankee history

4 04 2016

Last year I wrote a series about Yankee starting pitchers that included a ranking of the top 50 starting pitchers.

That series was interrupted by the death of Yogi Berra, which prompted a post on the Yankees having a far greater tradition at catcher than any other team (I didn’t actually rank the top Yankee catchers initially, but I’ve added a ranking to make the post fit into this series).

So I thought then I should open this baseball season (Yankees open this afternoon against the Astros) by going around the diamond, reviewing the Yankees’ tradition at each position and ranking the top five Yankees. I’ll review the top five, then review where Yankees rank among other teams in our tradition at that position (catcher’s not the only one where the Yankees are the best). Then I’ll explain my ranking criteria. Today: first base.

1, Lou Gehrig

The best first baseman in Yankee history is an easy call: Lou Gehrig, probably the best first baseman in baseball history.

Gehrig leads all Yankee first basemen in career homers, RBI, hits, runs, batting, slugging and nearly every important statistical category, and has the best single-season totals in several categories, too. He’s the only first baseman in the Hall of Fame who was primarily a Yankee. He’s the only Yankee first baseman to win a Triple Crown. And then there’s the consecutive-game streak. He led his league more times in homers (three times) and RBI (five) than all the other Yankee first basemen combined. And on and on. This is an easy call.

2, Don Mattingly

Don Mattingly is clear choice for No. 2 on this list. With 13 years as the Yankees’ starting first baseman, he’s second only to Gehrig and second in most career or single-season offensive categories, too. He’s the only Yankee first baseman other than Gehrig to win an MVP award or lead the league in batting, RBI or hits. In baseball history, only Keith Hernandez has more Gold Gloves at first base than Mattingly’s nine. Though not primarily a home run hitter, Mattingly holds or shares the records for most grand slams in a season and most consecutive games with a homer.

As I’ve noted before, Mattingly was superior to most of his contemporaries who are in the Hall of Fame. Only the Hall of Fame voters’ biases in favor of longevity and against Yankees are keeping him out of Cooperstown.

3, Tino Martinez

Here’s where the choices get a little murkier. Tino Martinez, Chris Chambliss, Jason Giambi and Mark Teixeira each played the position for the Yankees for seven years, and Moose Skowron played it for nine. Skowron has the most All-Star selections for the Yankees (5), Giambi the most homers (209), Teixeira the most Gold Gloves (three) and Chambliss hit the walk-off homer that made the Yankees American League champions in 1976 after a post-season absence of 12 years.

But I go here with Martinez, who led the group with Yankee RBI (739) and stacks up well with the rest in most other hitting numbers. Only Skowron could match Tino’s four world championships with the Yankees. Only Teixeira, with league-leading totals of 39 homers and 122 RBI in 2009, almost matched Martinez’s best season (44 homers and 141 RBI in 1997). Both Teixeira and Martinez finished second in MVP voting their best Yankee years.

And Martinez had some pretty special post-season homers, too.

4, Moose Skowron

Skowron’s regular-season stats don’t stand out among the other competitors here. But damn, he hit eight World Series homers (tied for seventh all-time) and drove in 29 RBI (sixth). Championship performance means a lot to me.

5, Mark Teixeira

I give Teixeira the nod here, based on that 2009 season (and his role in returning the Yankees to championship status that year). Chambliss won two world championships with the Yankees and Giambi had a nice run without any World Series titles. But Tex is a little better than either of them in my view. Plus he’s still playing, with plenty of opportunity to move up to third or fourth on this list.

The rest

My autographed Joe Pepitone card

My autographed Joe Pepitone card

Joe Pepitone, who played eight years at first for the Yankees and was a three-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner, and Wally Pipp, who played 11 years before losing his job to Gehrig, are the best Yankee first basemen I haven’t mentioned yet.

Joe Collins started at first base for the Yankees of the 1950s, but was never an All-Star, never hit 20 homers or drove in 100 runs (or even 60) and never hit .300. He contributed to five Yankee championships, but hit only .163 in World Series play. I’m not sure I’d include him on a list of 10 best Yankee first basemen.

Several Yankee first basemen had their best years with other teams: Hall of Famer Johnny Mize, Felipe Alou, Bob Watson and Giambi. Center fielder Mickey Mantle spent his final two years at first base.

Hal Chase’s SABR biography by Martin Kohout calls him the “most notoriously corrupt player in baseball history,” so I’m not going to dwell on him here. He was also a New York Highlander (before they became the Yankees), and I’m ranking the best Yankees.

Grand slams

You don’t want to face a Yankee first baseman with the bases loaded.

Gehrig held the career record for grand slams with 23, until he was finally passed by Alex Rodriguez (who, I should note, has played first base for the Yankees in two games). Giambi, with 14 grand slams, makes the top 20 all-time. Martinez, with 11, and Teixeira, with 10, are also on the all-time leaders list.

As noted before, Mattingly shares the record of six grand slams in a season with Travis Hafner (an Indian most of his career, including when he set the record, but he finished as a Yankee, exclusively as a DH).

Martinez, Pepitone and Skowron all hit World Series grand slams.

Who has the best first-base tradition?

While the Yankees likely have the best first baseman ever, I don’t think I can claim they have the best tradition of any team at first base. The best tradition would probably be the Giants or Cardinals.

Johnny Mize's autograph on a ball belonging to my son Mike.

Johnny Mize’s autograph on a ball belonging to my son Mike.

The Giants have had six Hall of Fame first basemen: Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Bill Terry, Johnny Mize, George Kelly and Roger Connor. The Cardinals have had four Hall of Fame first basemen: Cepeda, Mize, Jim Bottomley and Stan Musial (who mostly played outfield, but played more than 1,000 games at first, more than at any outfield position, and he played primarily at first in his 1946 MVP season). Add certain Hall of Famer Albert Pujols and Mark McGwire, who had Hall of Fame numbers but is being kept out of Cooperstown because he used performance-enhancing drugs. Each team also had some pretty good first basemen in the Skowron-Martinez range who won’t make the Hall of Fame: Hernandez, Bill White and Jack Clark for the Cardinals (Clark played longer for the Giants, but was an outfielder then), Will Clark and J.T. Snow for the Giants, to name a few.

Even if you concede my point that Mattingly belongs in the Hall of Fame, and count Bottomley and Kelly as among those marginal players from the 20s who don’t belong in the Hall, both the Giants and Cardinals were the clear leaders here. I’d probably give the edge to the Cardinals, but I could go either way here. The Yankees are contending for third place with the A’s, Tigers and Cubs.

Ranking criteria

If a player is in the Hall of Fame (Gehrig) or should be (Mattingly), that carries considerable weight with me.

I rank players primarily on their time with the team, so Gehrig and Mattingly stand out not just for their great careers, but because all their time was spent with the Yankees.

Cepeda and Mize both made it to Cooperstown and had Hall of Fame seasons for both the Giants and Cardinals, so they count heavily for both teams, but not as heavily as Gehrig and Mattingly, who spent their whole careers for one team, or McCovey, who had all his great seasons as a Giant, though he didn’t finish up in San Francisco. Mize doesn’t get as much credit in Yankee rankings for being in the Hall of Fame, because he didn’t play like a Hall of Famer for the Yankees.

I value both peak performance and longevity, but peak performance more. If Martinez, Skowron and Teixeira had played as long at first base for the Yankees as Mattingly, his MVP award and league titles in batting, RBI, hits and doubles still would have given him the second spot on this list.

Few ballplayers actually matter in the broader culture beyond baseball, but Gehrig did and that counted for him, too. C’mon, Gary Cooper played him in a classic movie, “Pride of the Yankees,” and the disease that killed him is known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Time at the position is important, too. Musial played great years at first base. Mantle didn’t. A-Rod doesn’t get consideration based on just two games at first.

Post-season play and championship contributions matter a lot to me. I should add that I don’t consider those to be the same thing. Martinez and Skowron both contributed to four Yankee World Series championships, so they’re dead even in the first level of championship contributions. But Skowron also contributed to three American League champions who didn’t win the World Series and Martinez played on one, so Moose gets a bit of an advantage there. Skowron also hit eight homers in the World Series, to just three for Martinez. But I still credit Martinez for his nine total post-season homers. I give Skowron the edge in post-season play, since he didn’t have the opportunity to play extra rounds. If Martinez didn’t have a sizable advantage in regular-season play (five 100-RBI season to none for Moose), Skowron would have moved ahead of him based on championship contributions and post-season play. But championship contributions and post-season play were sizable advantages that pushed Moose ahead of Teixeira, Giambi and Chambliss.

This factor didn’t play into any of these decisions, but if two players were dead even at a position for the Yankees, I would have moved the one with the better overall career ahead. For instance, Teixeira’s great seasons with the Rangers (or Giambi’s with the A’s) would be a tie-breaker if either had been tied with another player based on Yankee years.

Scandals are a secondary factor here. I didn’t eliminate Giambi from consideration because of his use of performance-enhancing drugs. But if I were ranking a top 10, the combination of Giambi’s drug use and Chambliss’ clutch homer would have offset Giambi’s stronger regular-season performance, so Chambliss would be sixth.

Special moments matter, too. If Chambliss were dead-even with someone based on other criteria, that 1976 pennant-winning homer would push him ahead. Look for Bucky Dent to rank a notch or two higher than he otherwise might when I rank the shortstops.

How would you rank them?

The free version of Polldaddy doesn’t let me ask you to rank them. I’ll be surprised if anyone seriously disagrees with me on the first pick. But I thought I’d do a poll with each post in this series, so tell me whether you agree with the Gehrig poll or prefer someone else:

Rankings of Yankees by position

Starting pitchers

Catchers

Second base

Shortstop

Third base

Left field

Center field

Right field

Designated hitter

Other rankings of Yankee first basemen

Steve Goldman of Bleacher Report

Uncle Mike’s Musings

Source note

Unless noted otherwise, statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.

 





The Royals’ greatest moments of championship seasons

3 04 2016

My Royals-fan sons and I exchanged some emails heading into Opening Day, spurred by two excellent pieces on the Royals:

  • A New York Times interactive package that tracked down the people (mostly Met fans) in a photo reacting to Eric Hosmer’s slide into home with the tying run in Game Five of last year’s World Series, with audio clips recalling their reactions to the play. Making the piece especially enjoyable for Royal fans was the fact that the two non-Met fans interviewed were George and Leslie Brett. I highly recommend reading and listening to it (unless you’re a Met fan).
  • Rany Jazayerli‘s post on the best five moments of the 2014-15 Royals. This is the detailed, emotional conclusion of an excessively long series (I think it was about the 150 best moments or something like that). I recommend it for Royal fans, but no one else would read it all. We all did, though.

(If you missed my World Series posts last year, I am a lifelong Yankee fan who took my sons to Royals games in the 1980s when they were young. I failed to make Yankee fans of them, but they all grew up to be passionate Royal fans. While my loyalties remain with the Yankees, I developed a strong secondary fondness for the Royals and enjoyed the past two Octobers along with my sons, especially last year’s World Series victory. We went to Game Two together in 2014.)

Each of the boys weighed in by email, after reading the two pieces, on their own favorite 2014-15 moments. With their permission, I am using their emails here, adding some links and videos. I’ve done a little editing to use full names on first references and such, and adding some context in parentheses for non-Royal fans who don’t recall them all as vividly as we do, though I tried to keep that to a minimum. I doubt you’re going to read this if you don’t get most of the context.

Mike’s favorite 2014-15 Royal moments

This section comes from my oldest son Mike, whom I promised in 1985 to take to the World Series the next time the Royals made it:

My personal top 5 is:

5. Hosmer scoring (the World Series Game 5 tying run that prompted the Times story).

4. Omar Infante home run (Game Two in 2014, the game the four of us attended together).

3. Lorenzo Cain scoring from first on a single (scoring the winning run in Game Six, clinching the 2015 American League Championship Series over Toronto).

2. Wade Davis striking out Wilmer Flores (final out of the 2015 World Series).

1. Salvy’s walk-off (Salvador Pérez winning the 2014 wild-card game in the 12th inning, the Royals’ first post-season win in 29 years)

Tom’s favorite 2014-15 Royal moments

Tom Buttry

Tom Buttry

Tom had just turned 3 when the Royals won the 1985 World Series, but went to lots of Royals games with me the next six years, before we moved away, and became a lifelong fan. Tom made lots more choices than Mike:

Honorable mentions, in roughly chronological order (I didn’t embed videos of the honorable mentions, but the links below take you to videos):

The first time we tied the A’s in the 2014 wild-card game, the parade of stolen bases against Oakland, the second time we tied the A’s, Mike Moustakas’ and Eric Hosmer’s home runs in Anaheim, Jarrod Dyson gunning down an Anaheim baserunner, Billy Butler stealing a base, Alcides Escobar hitting a traditional home run to my delighted surprise, Wade Davis mowing down the heart of the Orioles’ lineup in the bottom of the eighth, Alex Gordon and Moose hitting homers in extra innings against the Orioles, Cain’s amazing catches in Baltimore, Escobar’s double against Baltimore, Salvy’s double against Hunter Strickland, Kelvin Herrera getting an at-bat in the World Series, Yordano Ventura destroying the Giants in Game six, Hosmer’s game-icing home run in Houston, Johnny Cueto destroying the Astros in Game five, the comeback on David Price, the lineup destroying R.A. Dickey, Cueto mauling the Mets in Game 2, running Jacob deGrom from Game 2, buying a round for a bar full of people (only doesn’t make the list because it didn’t directly involve a Royals player).

And here are Tom’s 15 most memorable Royal moments of 2014-15:

15. Moose’s railing catch (if we’re stripping plays of their context, this play is one of the top two, but the series was already fairly well in hand, so it appears at the end of the list).

14. Kendrys Morales’ ground ball getting past Carlos Correa. This should probably be higher, but I was still in the afterglow of the wedding and not quite back into full-on baseball mode.  The comeback against the Astros is one of the two most remarkable team-wide feats the Royals pulled off in a single game, and this was definitely the payoff moment.

13. Escobar’s inside-the-park homer (Esky. Magic.)

12. Gordon’s triple (this is a tough one… the what-ifs and having our hopes crushed on the next play can’t be totally removed, but while the play was happening, I was elated.  If we had pulled it off last year, this moment would combine with the winning play to create the no-doubt greatest moment in Royals history, surpassing Game 6 in 1985.)

11. Wade Davis allowing the tying and winning runs to get into scoring position, just to see what it’s like. I’ll admit that for a moment I thought it was possible that Wade Davis was mortal.  That an hour’s rest was too much even for him.  Then he struck out Ben Revere and got Josh Donaldson to ground out and all was right with the world. (In our email exchange, Joe shared a Kansas City Star story by Rustin Dodd about Wade’s “escape” in that game.)

10. Christian Colón tying the game against Oakland, the third time we tied that game and got the winning run on base. (Included in the video with No. 9.)

9. Hosmer’s triple. One could argue this was the moment the identity of the team was defined.  We had already come back to tie the A’s twice, only to fall behind yet again, and again showed everyone that this team refuses to die.

8. Cain scoring from first. Stripped of context, this probably tied Moose’s catch as the most impressive single play with smart, aggressive base-running coupled with Cain’s amazing speed.  I don’t want to diminish the context, but the plays above it were either in the World Series, or the walk-off of the most exciting game in the history of baseball, so this is only #8.

7. Gordon’s home run. I remember actually being terrified of the Mets before Gordon tied the game.  Earlier in the game, they had managed to come back on us, despite Esky Magic.  We had made the dumb mistake that put the other team ahead.  Gordo’s homer reminded me that we’re the Royals and we’re the team that comes back to win, not someone else.

6. The final out: Great, amazing moment when it became official, but we all knew Davis wasn’t blowing a five-run lead … which is an odd feeling after years of being a KC sports fan.

5. The top of the 12th: Colón go-ahead, Cain clearing the bases. In my memory, these plays are really linked. Colón put us three outs away, Cain put the game out of reach and started the celebration.

4. Daniel Murphy error/Moustakas go-ahead run. Combining multiple plays in the same half-inning again. Early in the game, I noticed that the bulk of the Mets’ fans around me couldn’t tell the difference between me saying MOOOOOSE! and their booing him — though the guys right next to me could tell and were friendly enough to find it funny.  So not only were these two plays together really important, I actually got to loudly celebrate without getting crap thrown at me.

3. Infante home run. Good call, Mike.  The company we were in gave this moment its importance.  The payoff moment of going to Royals’ and Chiefs’ games since together since we were children.

2. Hosmer’s dash. I agree with Dad, this was the championship moment.  As awesome as the actual final out was, this is the defining play of the Royals’ championship.

1. Salvy’s walk-off. I know logically the wild card game of the season they didn’t win shouldn’t be #1, but after a lifetime as a beaten-down KC sports fan, winning that game was honestly the most joy I ever felt as a sports fan. This is just an instance where the moment that really kicked off this run meant more than the climax.

Joe’s moments

Joe didn’t compile a list of great memories, but weighed in with three observations in separate emails. On a memory his brothers didn’t mention:

I feel like the 2014 Game Two go-ahead Billy Butler single makes the list for me. When they went to the pen I ran to the bathroom and watched the play from the entryway, then charged up the stairs to our seats high-fiving the entire way.

What I did not recall until I watched the inning again was that the Giants used five pitchers that inning. Big play in the game. Great base-running from Cain. Not the double or the homer, but the go-ahead run, a good play and a good memory.

Also, I had not listened to Reynolds’ commentary. Solid gold. Strickland throws two pitches (a foul and a strike to Salvi) and he says “I think they have figured out the problem with Strickland.” He then talks up his ability against right handlers.

Strickland’s next four pitches:

  • Wild pitch
  • Double in the gap
  • Ball
  • Homer in the bullpen.

Nailed it, Harold.

When Joe sent that, I looked for a YouTube clip of the broadcast of the inning. Couldn’t find it, but here’s the full game:

Joe also weighed in on two plays from the 2015 World Series:

And the scouting report told them to make Lucas Duda throw the ball and to make Murphy field it. Both spot on. I don’t know that the scouting report said either would be in such a big spot.

Joe’s reaction to Rany’s list of the top five moments:

I have always thought that Cain scoring from first should be up there. Rany had it close, but MLB network had a list of this years playoff that it didn’t make. (As I recall 40 clips). Probably not top 5, but 6 or 7.

My response:

If it’s top 5 plays, Cain’s dash makes the top 5 (and Wade’s strikeout of Flores doesn’t). But if you’re ranking moments, not plays, the championship moment has to be up there (I might have put Hos No. 1, because that was the championship). Either way, Cain’s dash was fabulous, pushed down the list only because there were so many great ones.

Update: Joe sent along a link from the Star’s Sam Mellinger, on the players recalling some of their favorite moments.

Dad’s moments

Mike, Tom, Joe and me, Game Two of the 2014 World Series, back in our old seats

Mike, Tom, Joe and me, Game Two of the 2014 World Series, back in our old seats

While I started the discussion by sharing the New York Times story, I didn’t weigh in nearly as much on the ranking of great Royal moments of the past two years. The best for me dealt with my sons more than they dealt with the Royals. And my joy focused on experiences that were too extended to call “moments”:

  1. Attending World Series Game Two in 2014 with the boys (all of whom are in their 30s now, so I should stop calling them “boys,” but, you know, I’m their dad), but I already wrote about that.
  2. Texting like crazy with the boys through all the other games, especially last year’s clincher.
  3. Enjoying Game Two and Game Four in 2015 vicariously through Mike, who went to Kauffman Stadium for one and Tom, who wore his Moustakas jersey in Citi Field for the other.
  4. Enjoying how the joy from the last two falls has endured, as in this email exchange months later as another season approaches. If the Royals have to wait another 29 years for post-season play or another 30 years for their third World Series crown, they will savor this the whole time. And I don’t think it will be that long (though I didn’t think so in 1985 either). Even if these Royals turn into a dynasty with multiple championships, these first two years will always be the most special.

To me, the moment of the last two seasons (outside the family context) was Hosmer’s dash home. As I said in our email string about the Met fans’ reactions:

I like how they all blame it on Duda, and he did make a bad throw, but Hosmer forced him to make a good throw. And a good throw wouldn’t have been enough. Catchers can’t block the plate any more, so it doesn’t just take a good throw, it takes a good throw, a good catch, a sweep tag of a guy who’s behind the catcher and hanging onto the ball when a guy’s sliding into your glove. Hos made it happen, and the Mets didn’t execute the first thing they needed to do to nail him, but even with a good throw, they don’t necessarily get the out.

I especially loved the contrast to last year, when the Royals didn’t force the Giants to make a play and stopped Gordon at third with the tying run. I don’t disagree with everyone who said it was probably the right call for third base coach Mike Jirschele to hold Gordon. But it also would have been the right call by the same reasoning for Hosmer to hold at third. Sometimes champions make a play by forcing the other team to make a play when they’re not expecting it. Sometimes surprise, hustle and pressure make a good player make a bad throw (or drop a good throw or miss a tag). If Hosmer’s hustle hadn’t erased the pain of losing with the tying run at third base, the what-if of holding Gordon would have taunted and haunted Royal fans forever. Now we can just laugh at the what-ifs of Hosmer’s dash for home. There’s no what-if, just what happened: Hosmer made a great play.

The boys covered the other Royals’ post-season moments well, but I had to remind them of the Pete Rose photobomb during the rain delay.

The Royals’ best 1985 moments

The boys covered 2014-15 well enough (except for the Pete Rose omission) that I decided to add some 1985 moments. I’ll confess I didn’t work as hard as Tom (or Rany) in analyzing each and deciding their order. But here are some special moments from the 1985 championship run.

Since the memories from 30-plus years ago aren’t as fresh, I’ll provide more detail and context than my sons did. First we’ll review some moments from the first 12-plus games of the post-season, then review Game Seven and Game Six’s fabulous ninth-inning comeback.

Before Game Six’s ninth inning

Frank White’s homer

Frank White’s fifth-inning, two-run homer (following a Brett single) gave the Royals a 4-0 lead with Bret Saberhagen on the mound in Game Three of the World Series. After losing the first two games of the Series in Kansas City, the Royals desperately needed this game. Lonnie Smith’s two-run double in the fourth gave the Yankees the lead, but White’s homer felt bigger. Back then the designated hitter was used in alternating years, rather than in American League parks, so Hal McRae had been reduced to a pinch-hitter the whole series, a huge disadvantage for the Royals. Manager Dick Howser used White, who had 22 regular-season homers, in McRae’s clean-up spot. When he gave the Royals a 4-0 lead, that felt insurmountable with Sabes pitching. And it was. The Royals won, 6-1, with Sabes going the distance, and the Series was suddenly competitive.

Buddy Biancalana


Buddy Biancalana put the Royals ahead early in Game Five of the World Series with a single off Bob Forsch. The Royals were trailing 3-1 in the Series and tied 1-1 after the first inning. Biancalana, whose hitting was so weak David Letterman lampooned him with a “Buddy Biancalana Hit Counter,” singled home Jim Sundberg and later scored on Willie Wilson’s triple. That 3-1 lead was all Danny Jackson needed, pitching a five-hit complete game and winning 6-1. The other key moment in that game was when Jackson got Tito Landrum to pop up to Brett in foul territory to end the third inning with the bases loaded.

Jim Sundberg’s triple

Jim Sundberg’s bases-loaded triple off Dave Stieb in the sixth inning of Game Seven of the American League Championship Series put the Royals in control. The Royals were leading 2-1, and Dick Howser had lost confidence in his closer, Dan Quisenberry.

For the second day in a row, Howser had outmaneuvered Toronto manager Bobby Cox, starting a righthander (Mark Gubicza in Game Six, Bret Saberhagen in Game Seven) so that Cox, who rigidly platooned his designated hitters, would start Al Oliver, who had punished Quiz in the ninth and 10th innings of Games Two and Four with two hits and three RBI, beating the Royals in both games. The Royals had no left-handed relievers in the post-season, but Howser used lefty starters Bud Black and Charlie Leibrandt out of the bullpen, prompting Cox to pinch-hit right-handed DH Cliff Johnson for Oliver.

Even with Oliver out of the game, the 2-1 lead didn’t feel comfortable. But Sundberg’s triple scored Hal McRae, Pat Sheridan and Steve Balboni. That 5-1 lead suddenly felt safe. And it became 6-1 after Frank White singled in Sundberg. Quiz entered the ninth inning with a 6-1 lead and two men on base, and Oliver not available to hit. Quiz induced groundouts from Damaso Garcia (that one scored a run) and Lloyd Moseby, and the Royals were headed to the World Series.

Charlie Leibrandt

Charlie Leibrandt’s five perfect innings to start Game Six were a pretty amazing string of moments. He had lost a heart-breaker in Game Two (I was in the stands, chanting “Char-lie!” as we waited for a final strike that never came). To start Game Six so strong meant a lot, even if Danny Cox was matching Leibrandt scoreless inning for scoreless inning.

The perfection didn’t last. Leibrandt gave up two singles in the sixth inning, but induced a double-play ground ball from Ozzie Smith to get out of the inning. After a perfect seventh, Leibrandt finally gave up a run in the eighth and left the game, trailing 1-0. We’ll have more on Game Six later, but Leibrandt’s stellar start deserves mention here.

George Brett

Every time Brett came to the plate in Game Three vs. the Blue Jays was a special moment. He kept the Royals in the American League Championship Series. They started the series with two losses, so they needed to win this game. Brett hit a solo homer in the first inning and scored the Royals’ second run in the fourth, doubling and then scoring on a Frank White sacrifice fly.

The Royals fell behind 5-2 when Toronto chased Bret Saberhagen from the game in the fifth inning. A Sundberg homer in the bottom of the fifth closed the gap to 5-3, but Cox stayed with starter Doyle Alexander. After Willie Wilson opened the sixth inning with a single, Cox inexplicably stuck with Alexander. Brett homered again, tying the game. Brett also scored the winning run in the bottom of the eighth. He singled, moved to second on a bunt and scored on a Steve Balboni single.

Brett was 4-for-4 with two homers, 11 total bases, four runs scored and three RBI. He scored or drove in five of six runs in a 6-5 victory that kept the Royals in the series. If it wasn’t the best post-season game any player had in Royals’ history, it’s a contender.

In Game Six, Brett faced Alexander in the fifth inning, tied 2-2 with no one on. Again, Cox left Alexander in the game and again Brett took him deep. Alexander was a good pitcher, who won 194 regular-season games. Two years later, the Tigers traded a young prospect named John Smoltz to Atlanta to pick up the veteran Alexander for the stretch run. He went 9-0 for the Tigers, but again melted down in the post-season. He was 0-5 for his career in the post-season, but no one owned him like Brett did.

Game Seven

Three Game-Seven moments from the 1985 World Series deserve mention here:

Darryl Motley’s second-inning homer with Steve Balboni on base gave the Royals a 2-0 lead, and, with Saberhagen pitching, you thought that might be enough (and it was).

Whitey Herzog and Joaquín Andújar got ejected in the fifth inning, as the Royals were taking command, running up their lead to 11-0 before the inning ended. The Cardinals played the worst Game Seven in history, still fussing about the ninth-inning call the night before.

With an 11-0 lead still with two outs in the ninth inning, Brett halted play briefly to confer with Saberhagen. The Royals’ longtime star told the young pitching star that he’d better turn toward third base after the final out. And moments later, Brett and Bret embraced after Motley squeezed the final out on a fly ball to right.

Ninth inning, Game Six

This was a string of magical moments, each linked to the others. It started, of course, with one bit of luck. But champions take advantage of breaks, and the Royals relentlessly took advantage of two breaks in their amazing ninth-inning comeback. I’ll replay the moments in order:

Bad call

Motley was announced as a pinch-hitter for Pat Sheridan, opening the inning against left-handed reliever Ken Dayley, who pitched the eighth after seven strong innings from starter Danny Cox. Cardinals Manager Whitey Herzog countered with right-hander Todd Worrell, a rookie who had emerged late in the season as the Cardinals’ closer. Howser then sent in Jorge Orta, a left-handed platoon DH during the regular season, to pinch-hit for Motlety. Orta singled to first baseman Jack Clark, beating out the throw to Worrell covering first. Well, he didn’t actually beat it out. Umpire Don Denkinger blew the call. But bad calls are part of baseball. As I noted in a post last year, the call didn’t cost the Cardinals the World Series. The plays that followed — good plays by the Royals, bad plays by the Cardinals — moved that tying run around the base paths, with the winning run moving along behind.

Bonesy

The next hitter was Balboni, a feast-or-famine hitter who homered a Royals record (still) 36 times in the regular season, but struck out a league-leading 166 times. Bonesy popped up in front of the Royals’ dugout. Clark misjudged the ball, and Bonesy got another chance. The power hitter sent a single between third base and shortstop to advance Orta to second base. Backup shortstop Onix Concepcion, representing the winning run, pinch-ran for the lumbering Balboni.

Blown bunt

This next moment wasn’t so good, but it continues the narrative and puts the man who scored the winning run on base: Jim Sundberg went up to bunt, which would have put the tying run on third and the winning run in scoring position. But Worrell fielded the bunt quickly and fired to third, where umpire Jim McKean finally called Orta out on another close play.

Hal McRae

I don’t know whether Howser was planning to let Biancalana hit and try a squeeze bunt to bring home the tying run if Sundberg’s bunt had succeeded. Or maybe he would have pinch hit Dane Iorg, knowing the Cardinals would walk him to keep an inning-ending double play in order. But I can’t imagine Howser would have sent one of the Royals’ most dangerous hitters ever, Hal McRae, up to take an intentional walk, not even late in Mac’s career. With runners at first and second and one out, the man who led the league in RBI just three years earlier was the logical pinch hitter. But Porter allowed a passed ball on a 1-0 count, accomplishing what Sundberg’s bunt didn’t, and Mac got the intentional walk anyway, loading the bases.

John Wathan, a catcher but the holder of the all-time record for stolen bases by a catcher (36 in 1982), went in to pinch run for McRae. That would give the Royals more speed to break up a double play at second (but Mac was pretty good at breaking up double plays). Oddly, Howser didn’t pinch hit for his slow catcher who represented the winning run. Sundberg, who was 34, had not stolen a base all season. He stole only 20 in 16 seasons. But he stayed at second base, representing the winning run.

If you’re keeping track, the Royals by this time have used three pinch hitters (only one of whom actually swung the bat) and two pinch runners. With one more pinch hitter to come.

Dane Iorg

Iorg, whose brother Garth was on the Blue Jays team the Royals beat to reach the World Series, was a former Cardinal who joined the Royals in 1984. In 10 major league seasons, he never played full-time, topping 100 games just twice, peaking at 105 games with the 1980 Cardinals.

Iorg hit just .148, 4-for-29, as a pinch hitter for the Royals in ’85, just .223 in 64 games for the full season. He wasn’t Howser’s go-to pinch hitter. Or anyone’s. For his career, he was just .245 as a pinch hitter.

But he was one of the best post-season hitters ever. He got nine hits in 17 at-bats for the Cardinals in the 1982 World Series. He didn’t play at all in the National League Championship Series, but he platooned at DH in the World Series, sizzling against the Brewers’ right-handed pitchers.

In fact, in his three previous post-season series, Iorg had never hit below .500. He was 1-for-2 for the Royals against the Tigers in 1984 and against the Blue Jays in ’85. His only previous plate appearance in the ’85 World Series was a pinch-hit fly-ball out to end Game One.

Howser needed someone to pinch hit for Quisenberry, so Iorg grabbed a bat. And on a 1-0 pitch, he lined a single to right field, bringing Concepcion home easily to score the tying run, with Sundberg sliding in safely just ahead of the tag for the winner. And in four career post-season series, Iorg always hit .500 or better.

For all of Brett’s many heroics over the years, Iorg and Sundberg together delivered the greatest moment in Royals’ history. Until 2015. Now I put Iorg/Sundberg dead even with Eric Hosmer, each moment with a Royal belly-sliding into home plate.

And a 1980 moment

As a Yankee fan and blogger, I hesitate to add this, but since we included some moments from an American League championship year, I’ll include one from 1980, the other year the Royals made the World Series but lost:

And one from 1976

This is a Yankee blog, after all, so maybe we need to end with a Royals’ post-season moment before any of my sons were born:

Starting tomorrow, I’ll shift my attention back to the Yankees, starting a series on the best five Yankees ever at each position.

I hear the Royals and Mets play again tonight. Play ball!