My Team: Choosing My Dream Team from My Forty Years in Baseball

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9780743275132: My Team: Choosing My Dream Team from My Forty Years in Baseball
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Mantle or Mays? A-Rod or Jeter? Biggio or Morgan? Clemens, Maddux, and Randy Johnson -- or Pedro, Palmer, and Carlton? These are questions baseball fans can spend endless hours debating. Former All-Star pitcher and National League Manager of the Year Larry Dierker has his own opinions, and he shares them in My Team, his fascinating discussion of the greatest players he has seen in his four decades in the major leagues.

Dierker selects twenty-five players for My Team and another twenty-five for the opposition, the Underdogs, or "Dogs." There are two players at each position, five starting pitchers, and four relievers. (When your starters are the likes of Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, and Juan Marichal, you don't worry about bullpen depth.) All are players that Dierker has played with or against or watched in his years as player, coach, manager, and commentator. Each athlete must have played at least ten years in the major leagues to qualify, and players are judged on their ten best seasons. Leadership skills and personality -- critical components of team chemistry -- are highly valued.

So how is it possible to select two teams composed of outstanding ballplayers from the past forty years and not have room for Sandy Koufax, Reggie Jackson, Carl Yastrzemski, or Cal Ripken Jr.? Dierker explains his choices, analyzing each position carefully, always putting the team ahead of the individual player. He provides statistics to back up his selections, and often relates personal anecdotes about the players. (From his first All-Star Game in 1969, Dierker offers a wonderful anecdote about Hank Aaron, by then an All-Star veteran.)

My Team may start more debates than it settles, but Dierker's insights, and his passion for the game, will enlighten and fascinate true baseball fans.

Mantle or Mays? A-Rod or Jeter? Biggio or Morgan? Clemens, Maddux, and Randy Johnson -- or Pedro, Palmer, and Carlton? These are questions baseball fans can spend endless hours debating. Former All-Star pitcher and National League Manager of the Year Larry Dierker has his own opinions, and he shares them in My Team, his fascinating discussion of the greatest players he has seen in his four decades in the major leagues.

Dierker selects twenty-five players for My Team and another twenty-five for the opposition, the Underdogs, or "Dogs." There are two players at each position, five starting pitchers, and four relievers. (When your starters are the likes of Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, and Juan Marichal, you don't worry about bullpen depth.) All are players that Dierker has played with or against or watched in his years as player, coach, manager, and commentator. Each athlete must have played at least ten years in the major leagues to qualify, and players are judged on their ten best seasons. Leadership skills and personality -- critical components of team chemistry -- are highly valued.

So how is it possible to select two teams composed of outstanding ballplayers from the past forty years and not have room for Sandy Koufax, Reggie Jackson, Carl Yastrzemski, or Cal Ripken Jr.? Dierker explains his choices, analyzing each position carefully, always putting the team ahead of the individual player. He provides statistics to back up his selections, and often relates personal anecdotes about the players. (From his first All-Star Game in 1969, Dierker offers a wonderful anecdote about Hank Aaron, by then an All-Star veteran.)

My Team may start more debates than it settles, but Dierker's insights, and his passion for the game, will enlighten and fascinate true baseball fans.

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About the Author:

Larry Dierker pitched for the Houston Astros from 1964 to 1976. He made his debut on his eighteenth birthday and in his first inning struck out Willie Mays. In 1969 he became the Astros' first 20-game winner. He was named to the National League All-Star team in 1969 and 1971. As a pitcher he remains the franchise career leader in innings pitched and complete games, and is second in wins. After doing color commentary on Astros' radio and television broadcasts, Dierker managed the team from 1997 to 2001. He led Houston to a first-place finish in four of these five seasons. In 2004 he returned to color commentary. He is the author of This Ain't Brain Surgery: How to Win the Pennant Without Losing Your Mind.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction

Twenty-Five Good Men

For many years, avid baseball fans engaged in what were called "hot-stove league" sessions. These meetings were nothing more than informal fan forums. Each fan would express an opinion on such topics as which players were the most valuable, which league was the best, which pitcher had the best fastball or curve, and anything else that might come up. Is Pedro Martinez as good as Bob Gibson was? These meetings still happen, but sometimes there is no meeting place except a website. SABR (The Society for American Baseball Research) meetings are sometimes held without a human voice. Each member (known as a sabermetrician) participates on the web whenever it is convenient. It's a far cry from sitting around a hot stove during the winter.

Sometimes, a group of friends or fans would start what is called a Rotisserie League under an agreed-upon set of rules for drafting players and allotting points for each player's accomplishments. This became popular and, as you might expect, a lot of folks started gambling on the outcome. Now, it isn't necessary to organize anything. You can sign up for a league and its website will put you on a team and keep score. The broadcasters and writers for almost every team form a league each year and put a bob or two on the outcome, so the badinage continues throughout the summer in the press box.

When I was an eighteen-year-old rookie, I participated in what amounted to a traveling hot-stove league with the Astros. It was called a press caravan, but it was more like a medicine show. Several of us Astros players traveled through Texas and Louisiana in January to get the outer-market cities primed for the upcoming season. Our goal was to get a bunch of somnolent Lions Club members to come to a few ball games in Houston. So what if we were a last place team, an expansion team with no real chance to win a pennant? We still needed fans. One time, in Tyler, Texas, I spotted a guy snoozing through our speeches. I couldn't blame him. We were not the best players and we were even worse speakers.

But even a middling, cellar-dwelling player was important to a few of the attendees. Real baseball fans are everywhere, even in the remote Piney Woods of East Texas. We always took questions from these folks at the end of our spiel. Oftentimes I was asked what it was like to face Willie McCovey or Pete Rose. Sometimes, we were asked to predict who would win the pennant or offer an opinion on who was the best hitter, Willie Mays or Hank Aaron. On the bus, between cities, we talked about these things ourselves. Each year there was another caravan, offering more hot-stove-type sessions. I loved them.

About halfway through my thirteen-year pitching career, we stopped going on these PR trips. I was tired of them at that point anyway. When we cranked them up again in the 1980s, I was halfway through my broadcasting career. As a broadcaster I was the MC of these events, then became the featured speaker when I took over as manager in 1997. I managed the Astros from '97 to 2001 and we won our division in four of those five years, which made it a lot easier to promote the team.

After a few years in the broadcast booth, I started writing a column for the Houston Chronicle. Many fans told me they enjoyed reading it, and a few asked when I was going to write a book. "When I retire," I said. Well, I retired in 2001 and wrote This Ain't Brain Surgery about things I had done during my baseball career in Houston. Now, I am back in the booth, and have done just about everything you can do in professional baseball. I have pitched, sold tickets, broadcast, and managed. I have been involved in the building of the team, working with the general manager on free agent signing and trade opportunities. This was no hot-stove baloney. This was the real thing.

So I got to thinking about my own all-time team. I wondered if I could come up with twenty-five guys who would be practically unbeatable. I jotted down a few names. Then I compared them.

During the off-season, I usually do a few radio shows for the Astros. They have a weekly show called Astroline. And, of course, the local sports talk shows always want a guest when something big happens in the off-season. One thing that almost always comes up is an analysis of who are the best players at each position in the history of the sport. As much as I know, I don't feel comfortable comparing Ty Cobb to Ken Griffey Jr. or Alex Rodriguez to Honus Wagner. I do think I can compare Griffey with Willie Mays, however. And those two guys span more than fifty years of the sport. I started thinking about the best ballplayers I have ever seen and decided to pick my all-time team -- that's how this ball got rolling. Before it stopped, I had to consider how many players and pitchers to select and how to arrange them. I thought it would be easy to write about the guys I have seen. All I'd have to do is look at the hitting statistics and consider the fielding, running, and throwing, based on firsthand knowledge. I knew this would lead to some debate, but I thought I could select a team that would be almost impossible to beat. This was my first mistake.

In reality, there is always another team that can beat you. Put the American League All-Stars of the sixties up against Sandy Koufax in his prime and they might not be able to score a run. No matter which pitchers I choose, there will be many whom I do not choose who could beat my guys on any given day! Who was the best pitcher, Juan Marichal or Jim Palmer? If I choose Barry Bonds and Frank Robinson as my left fielders, Billy Williams or Rickey Henderson could be the star of the game for the other team. I am living proof that any good pitcher can beat any team on a given day. Though I didn't even come close to posting Hall of Fame numbers, I did beat Koufax, Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry, Phil Niekro, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, Don Sutton, Nolan Ryan, Fergie Jenkins -- Hall of Famers all -- and a few other good pitchers who did not make it to Cooperstown. I supposed, starting out, that I could field a team that would win maybe 80 percent of the time. Now that I have looked at the stats, I think My Team would be lucky to play .600 ball. But I still think I can pick a team that is better than any you could pick from my leftovers, even though my leftovers are mostly Hall of Fame players, or will be soon. As I worked through the list, trying to separate the wheat from the chaff, I realized that there wasn't any chaff. For that reason, I have constructed an opposing team that I call the Dogs, short for Underdogs. This team is filled with players I could easily have chosen for My Team. To make it a little tougher for myself, I have even selected a manager for that team, a guy who foiled me more than once when I was managing. Once I selected the Dogs, I still had Hall of Fame players left over. This process was much more difficult than I thought it would be.

One of the biggest challenges I faced was evaluating American League players. Because I have been in the National League throughout my career, there are some American League players whom I have seen only on television. Players like Robin Yount, who spent his entire career in the American League and went to Arizona for spring training, are not as familiar to me as those who trained in Florida or played in a lot of postseason games. When I felt the need to get another perspective on a player, I consulted players, managers, and scouts who saw him more often. Limiting the field and consulting other experts made it easier for me to defend my choices. Now that I have finished my research, I feel that I can truly say that I know what I'm talking about. That doesn't mean I'm right. Someone else who has seen the same players will have a different opinion. That's what kept the hot stove burning in the winters of my youth, and keeps the rotisserie turning in the age of computers and sabermetricians.

Criteria for My Team

Oftentimes, a player needs a couple of years in the major leagues to reach his potential, but the great ones usually last a long time. Eligibility for My Team will arbitrarily require every position player and starting pitcher to have at least ten good years. Because relief pitchers generally have a shorter shelf life than starting pitchers, I am only requiring them to have eight good years. Most great players have very high totals in such categories as home runs and RBI in their prime years, but their batting stats will show a great decline in the last few years. They are household names and fan favorites and, even when their production drops, they are still good enough to make the starting lineup. The same thing often applies to a pitcher's ERA. The best are still good enough to win games even after they lose the zip on their fastballs.

Some of the greatest players of all time, like Sandy Koufax, Dizzy Dean, and Don Mattingly, have had short careers, which can work against them if they had a few average seasons. In forming My Team, I will concentrate on each player's prime years and not discredit him if he has several lackluster seasons at the beginning and end. A few players, like Carlton Fisk, have long but checkered careers. They end up with ten good years, but don't show the kind of consistency that you find in the truly great hitters and pitchers. Most of the guys I am considering have at least eight good years back to back.

I have included a player from the past at each position to provide a historical perspective. In my opinion, it is impossible to accurately evaluate a player you have never seen. Sure, you can look at his numbers, but numbers are comparable only among players of the same era. Before 1920, the game was played with a relatively dead ball. For this reason, none of the players hit many home runs. This is why you can't compare Ty Cobb to Willie Mays or Christy Mathewson to Tom Seaver. I do believe, however, that direct comparisons of players from 1920 on are relevant to some extent. These guys might be lumped into a category o...

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