Many regular Bauxites may not be aware, since legitimate NBA basketball comes to Toronto so infrequently, but there's a little series going on in Texas and Michigan right now called "The NBA Finals." In honour of that annual reminder that good defense almost always really does beat good offense, at least in hoops, we examine the possibilities of a Baseball Hall of Names paying homage to the greatest players of The Association.
But how to do this? Originally, I thought to compare the list of men in the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY with the list of those enshrined in the Hoop Hall in Springfield, Mass., but there are 258 men in the former and, coincidentally enough, 258 men (and women) in the latter, and that seemed an onerously large number of names for very little return -- the occasional David and Brooks/Jackie/Frank Robinson, the intermittent Magic and Walter/Judy/(eventually Randy) Johnson.
So what to do?
... Well, we'll start with the list of the 50 Greatest NBA Players as publicly named in 1996.
Then we'll add in another 14 active players who didn't make the cut nine years ago, but who might well have a chance to crack future similar lists (if I've missed someone here, please let me know!); listed alphabetically:
Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Jason Kidd, Tracy McGrady, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Gary Payton, Amare Stoudemire, Dwyane Wade, Yao Ming
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (or Lew Alcindor for that matter), Nate Archibald, Paul Arizin, Dave Bing, Bob Cousy, Clyde Drexler, Julius Erving, Kevin Garnett, George Gervin, John Havlicek, Allen Iverson, Jason Kidd, Pete Maravich, Tracy McGrady, George Mikan, Dirk Nowitzki, Hakeem Olajuwon, Robert Parish, Dolph Schayes, John Stockton, Amare Stoudemire, Wes Unseld, Lenny Wilkens, James Worthy, Yao Ming
We will only use each name once, so as to not overload our team with Johnsons, Millers and Russells; the only exception is where there is actually more than one basketball Hall of Famer with the same name, but this only occurs once, with the Malones (Karl and Moses) and that seems unlikely to have a huge effect on our baseball roster.
What follows, then, is a list of the remaining 39 of the "50 Greatest +14," a parenthetical note on how many major league players (not just Hall of Famers) have shared that name, and a note on the one best candidate from that list, which ranges from the one guy (a pretty good DH, incidentally) sharing a name with Elgin Baylor to the 38 men named Thomas and the 93 Millers, 91 Johnsons and 90 Joneses.
Occasional notes are also included where appropriate, including "true namesakes," those rare times when a player shared both a first (given) and last (family) name.
- Charles Barkley (4)
Of the quadrant of Barkleys who have donned big league uniforms, the best is probably 2B/1B/OF/C Sam Barkley, who hit .258 for the Toledo Blue Stockings, St. Louis Browns, Pittsburge Alleghenys and Kansas City Cowboys from 1884-89.
- Rick Barry (7)
Sorry, Mr. Bonds, last names only, remember? And we run into our first (almost) true namesake with Rich Barry, a .189-hitting OF with the 1969 Phillies; but the best Barry (okay, get it overwith -- he was Barry, Barry good) was probably 2B/SS Jack Barry who managed a .243 batting average for the A's and Red Sox from 1908-19.
- Elgin Baylor (1)
Elgin Baylor is very high up the list of these Top 50+14 hoopsters, so it's fitting that a fine, near-Hall-of-Fame quality plsyer in DH/OF Don Baylor, shared his name -- Don prefaced his up-and-down managing career by hitting .260 with 338 homers, the '79 AL MVP award and, believe it or not, just one All-Star selection, also in 1979.
- Larry Bird (4)
Larry was a Legend, and Doug was Decent. RHRP Doug Bird amassed a 73-60 mark and 60 career saves over 11 seasons, best remembered as a Kansas City Royal.
- Kobe Bryant (6)
Ron Bryant never quite matched his namesake's notoriety -- not that that's a bad thing -- and the LHSP left baseball with a career record of just 57-56, but oh that 1973 season! Despite an ERA of just 3.52 (ERA+ 108), Bryant slapped together a 24-12 season for San Francisco; this followed a 14-7 '72 season but preceded a 3-15 '74 and the Giants then flipped him to St. Louis for Larry Herndon and Bryant never won another game. Though Ron did capture the '73 Sporting News NL Pitcher of the Year, he finshed a distant and deserving third in the Cy Young voting, behind 19-11 Tom Seaver and 14-10/31 save Mike Marshall, proving that sometimes the voters aren't blinded by gaudy win totals.
- Wilt Chamberlain (5)
Okay, so if we're to believe Wilt The Author (Put his book on your shelf next to Jose Canseco's, and not just alphabetically), he almost never struck out -- and OF Wes Chamberlain, the best of a weak lot of five MLB Chamberlains, racked up plenty of K's (249 versus just 77 BB in 1269 career AB). Wasn't he s'posed to be a phenom or somethin'?
- Dave Cowens (1)
OF Al Cowens had one truly great year -- he actually finished second in the 1977 AL MVP voting, where his .312/23/112 was outpaced by some guy named Carew hitting .388. It was the only time in Cowens' career that he received even a single point in MVP balloting, but he had a nice .270/108/717 13-year career and was once traded for Rance Mulliniks.
- Billy Cunningham (9)
Honestly, you'd think there'd be more Cunninghams in MLB history; maybe we think of it as a more common name than it is because of Happy Days. Anyway, 1B/OF Joe Cunningham was a 1959 All-Star for the Cardinals and hit .291 over a dozen years in the 1950s and 1960s.
- Dave DeBusschere (1)
Here's the only case we'll run into where the only MLB namesake of one of the NBA's 50 greatest players is actually, literally himself. The only DeBusschere in big league history was a RHSP who went 3-4 for the 1963 White Sox while pulling double duty with the Detroit Pistons and who later won two rings with the Knicks.
- Tim Duncan (8)
Here we have two overwhelmingly mediocre candidates, each of whom made one All-Star team; it will depend on whether we need a backup catcher like Dave Duncan, who hit .214 over 11 years but made the '71 All-Star team, or a versatile utilityman who did pretty much everything except catch, in Mariano Duncan, who hit .267 over 12 years but made the ill-fated 1994 All-Star game.
- Patrick Ewing (5)
So who needs Dave Duncan? We know our starting backstop, unless we come up with an NBA great named "Bench" or "Berra," is going to be Buck Ewing, considered the greatest catcher of the 19th century, the first receiver elected to the Hall of Fame, and the man tied with Cap Anson for the most Hall of Fame votes received in the first election.
- Walt Frazier (3)
The best we can do to match up a namesake for Clyde is RHRP George Frazier, who was 35-43 with 29 saves with the Cardinals, Yankees, Indians, Cubs and Twins from 1978-87. Cub fans remember him fondly as part of the Mel Hall/Joe Carter/Don Schulze package that brought Rick Sutcliffe and the 1984 division title to Wrigley.
- Hal Greer (1)
Just one Greer in MLB history, but he was a good one -- even though he never made an All-Star team, Rusty Greer was a .305 career hitter over nine seasons, a fine defender, and any Texan will tell you, the leader if not officially captain of the three Ranger division champs of the late 1990s.
- Elvin Hayes (7)
Hayes is another name where you might think you'd get a ton of quality choices; that'd be wrong. The best of the seven Hayeses was catcher Frankie, and shame on you for not ever having heard of this seven-time All-Star. At 6'0" and 185#, Hayes was nicknamed "Blimp," which should make plenty of the rest of us feel pretty terrible, and hit .259 with 119 homers over 14 seasons. After debuting as the youngest player in the majors at age 18 in 1933, he was out of baseball by age 32 and died at age 40.
- LeBron James (17 but no All-Stars)
No evidence exists that either could calculate OPS or write well enough to explain it 75 years before sabermetrics became popular, but the two best Jameses of the 17 who've made The Show were both RHSP named Bill James. "Big Bill" H. James was 65-71 in his career, which lasted from 1911-19, and cracked double digits in victories thee times; pitching from 1913-19, with a suspicious three-year gap that looks like a stint in WWI was "Seattle Bill" L. James, who was 37-21 career, but his 26-7/1.90 mark made him the ace of the 1914 Miracle Braves and earns him the spot over his big league namesake. They were never teammates, but both finished up in 1919 in Beantown, Seattle Bill with the Braves and Big Bill with the Sox.
- Magic Johnson (97)
This is one of those decisions no manager wants to make but every manager would love to be faced with. We can't even stop to consider Negro League great and Hall of Fame 3B Judy Johnson; rather we're left with the impossible choice -- to go with arguably the greatest RHSP of all time, in Walter Johnson, or arguably the greatest LHSP of all time in Randy Johnson? Nice choice to have to make. We examined this conundrum at some length in the long-ago All-Johnson Hall of Names team, and the bottom line is, lefties always take precedence, so we'll leave the Big Train at the station and settle on the Big Unit.
- Sam Jones (90)
We've also gone down the road of forming a full All-Jones Hall of Names team some time back; do we want a closer, like Todd or Doug? Or a fleet and powerful CF like Andruw? In fact, we'll settle on a 3B, though admittedly one who had to move to DH in the aforementioned All-Jones team and out to LF to make the later Hello, Larry squad ... that's right, it's Larry "Chipper" Jones, perhaps headed to the Hall of Fame himself one day.
- Michael Jordan (17)
The jokes here are too easy. Yes, there actually was a Mike Jordan who played the outfield for the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys, in his only major league season, and for that legitimately terrible team (they were 28-108), he compiled a batting average of .096 in 125 AB, marking up a seasonal OPS+ of minus 3. The punchline, of course -- all together now -- "He still had a better major league career than Michael Jordan the basketball player." The irony here is that the best Jordan of the 17 who did make it to the majors (Michael not being among them) was another two-sport star, in former Pro Bowl NFL cornerback and All-Star LF Brian Jordan, who had compiled a .284 batting average and 178 big league homers heading into 2005.
- Jerry Lucas (5)
Always pleased to find a quality lefty for the bullpen, and LHRP Gary Lucas was 29-44 with 63 saves from 1980-87.
- Karl Malone (6)
Let's face it, the best of all the Malones we could add to this team would be RHRP Sam "Mayday" Malone of the Boston Red Sox -- except, oh yeah, he was fictional (Cheers fans no doubt had already raised that objection, though) ... so the best of the rest is probably RHSP Pat Malone, who fashioned a career mark of 134-92 from 1928-37; he entered the majors with a bang, going 60-32 for the Cubbies from 1928-30, then just 74-60 the rest of his career, and he was out of baseball by age 34.
- Moses Malone (6)
The second-best actual real, live Malone baseball player? Probably C/1B Fergy Malone -- told you the pickings were somewhat slim -- who hit .274 from 1871-76 and for one game in 1886. Except for a 47-game stint with the 1874 White Sox, Malone spent his entire career in Philadelphia -- playing, at various times, for the Athletics, the Keystones and the Whites, but never for the Phillies.
- Kevin McHale (4)
Poor Kevin; first he has to watch the T-Wolves collapse every year and now he has to come to terms with the fact that the best McHale to reach the majors was RHSP Marty McHale who rung up a less than glamorous career mark of 12-30 from 1910-16 for the Red Sox, Yankees and Indians.
- Reggie Miller (93)
Who's the best of nearly 100 Millers to make the majors? Frankly (actually, Frank Miller was a decent RHSP, going 52-66 from 1913-23), although we went with C Damian Miller in our All-Beer team a while back, since we passed up Todd and Doug Jones, we're gonna need somebody at the back end of the bullpen. That leads us to former All-Star RHRP Stu Miller, who finished his career at 105-103 with 154 saves.
- Earl Monroe (6)
Current OF Craig Monroe won't get a flashy nickname like "Pearl" (nothing cool rhymes with "Craig"), and it's worth noting that BBRef lists one of his most similars as the aforementioned Wes Chamberlain, so he doesn't look to have all that much going for him. It truly does appear that the baseball-playing Monroes are, roughly speaking, swine among Pearls.
- Steve Nash (4)
The temptation here is to call on Nobel Laureate and mathematical savant John "Beautiful Mind" Nash to keep stats for this team, but there is a pretty decent RHSP out there in Jim Nash, who boosted his 68-64 career mark over .500 to stay by posting a 12-1/2.06 mark as a 1966 rookie with the Kansas City A's.
- Shaquille O'Neal (3)
Shaq, the Big Aristotle, would be quite a weapon crowding the plate; he might rack up a 1.000 OBP just with HBPs and still get banged up less than he does every night in the paint. The best of the three MLB O'Neals is RHSP Randy, who was 17-19 from 1984-90, mostly with the Tigers.
- Gary Payton (1)
Gary Payton is The Glove; will Jay Payton ever be The Gold Glove? It's hard to say and seems unlikely, but he has managed a .285 mark with 77 homers through 2004.
- Bob Pettit (3)
Here we find another true namesake, in UTIL Bob Pettit, who played everywhere but SS and hit .240 for the 1887-91 Chicago Cubs and original Milwaukee Brewers. But the best of the trinity of Pettits to make the majors was LHRP Leon Pettit. who was 8-5 with three saves for the '35 Washington Senators.
- Scottie Pippen (1)
Pretty certain that Scottie wouldn't have bought into the nickname, but RHSP Harold "Cotton" Pippen managed a 5-16 record, mostly for Detroit, from 1936-40.
- Willis Reed (14)
In another irony, you can make a pretty good argument that the best MLB namesake for Willis Reed was RHSP Ron Reed, a 1968 All-Star who compiled a 146-140 mark in the majors. Ron Reed, of course, was also an NBA forward from 1965-67 as the sixth man for DeBusschere's Detroit Pistons. But we'll go instead with another RHSP, a two-time All-Star in Rick Reed, who appears to now be out of baseball, taking a career record of 93-76 with him.
- Oscar Robertson (16)
First baseman Bob Robertson never lived up to the Stargell/Clemente hype he received as a young ballplayer, but did manage to crank out 115 homers to go with his .242 average from 1967-79.
- David Robinson (29)
As with the Johnsons, it's nice to have options -- we need a 2B? Hall of Famer Jackie. A 3B? Hall of Famer Brooks. A slugging OF? Hall of Famer Frank. We're going to end up going with Jackie to fill out the infield, but it's also worth nodding to another true namesake, San Diego OF Dave Robinson, who hit .273 from 1970-71.
- Bill Russell (13)
Here's the only case where a true namesake seems likely to make the team, and in fact, the starting lineup. Three men with the surname Russell have been MLB All-Stars -- RHSP Jack "Please no Terrier jokes" Russell (a 1934 All-Star despite a 5-10 record that wasn't bad by his career 85-141 standards); RHRP Jeff Russell ( a two-time All-Star with 186 career saves); and our starting SS, Bill Russell, who was a three-time All-Star and totaled 1,926 hits over 18 seasons, all with the LA Dodgers.
- Bill Sharman (1)
OF Ralph Sharman hit .297 in 13 games for the 1917 Philadelphia A's.
- Isiah Thomas (38)
There have been plenty of Thomases to crack major league rosters, but far and away the best has been 1B/DH Frank E. Thomas, who entered 2005 with a career .308 average and 436 homers.
- Nate Thurmond (1)
Nate Thurmond, the greatest basketball player ever to come out of Bowling Green State University (sorry, Antonio Daniels, you have quite a ways to go), spawns LHRP Mark Thurmond, who like Cotton Pippen, was a product of Texas A&M. Mark's 40-46 record makes him the third-winningest Aggie to reach The Show, behind Rip Collins and Doug Rau. Not a Roger Clemens -- really, even a Greg Swindell -- in the bunch.
- Dwyane Wade (5)
Another LHRP to expand our bullpen options -- Jake Wade was 27-40 for six teams over eight seasons between 1936-46. Among his BBRef most similars are Joaquin Benoit, Jason Grimsley and Tanyon Sturtze, and that should tell you pretty much all you need to know.
- Bill Walton (4)
Jerome Walton was the 1989 NL Rookie of the Year He still holds the rookie record for consecutive game hitting streak at 30. But yeah, that was pretty much the highlight of his career which somehow spanned 10 years with six clubs.
- Jerry West (10)
Ten choices, but not really very many good ones -- we'll nominate OF Sam West, a four-time All-Star who hit .299 with 75 career homers from 1927-43, mostly for the Senators and Browns.
Red Auerbach, Chuck Daly, Bill Fitch, Red Holzman, Phil Jackson, John Kundla, Don Nelson, Jack Ramsay, Pat Riley, Lenny Wilkens
Now, it won't surprise you to learn nobody named "Popovich" has managed in the big leagues, but only three men named Brown have done so, none with great success: Freeman Brown managed the 1882 Worcester Ruby Legs to a 9-32 mark (they finished 18-66 overall, so he was actually above average); Mordecai Brown was a Hall of Fame pitcher, but just 50-63 managing the 1914 St. Louis Terriers of the Federal League (and they finished 62-89, so he, too, was above average); and Tom Brown, while a pretty good 19th century OF with 1,951 career hits, was just 64-72 in parts of two seasons at the helm of the 1897-98 Washington Senators.
Not a lot of help there. So let's get recursive, flip things upside down, and see if any of baseball's top managers shared a name with anyone who ever coached in the NBA ... and lo and behold, a couple of Hall of Famers, two of the five winningest managers ever, land in our dugout -- #3 Sparky Anderson (LaDell Anderson was 115-53 with the 1972-73 Utah Stars of the ABA) and #4 Bucky Harris (Del Harris was 556-457 from 1980-99 with Houston, Milwaukee and the LA Lakers).
So, we have leadership for this special Hall of Names sports crossover edition ... in fact, there's a perfect name for our team, as we now meet the roster of ...
THE CROSSOVER DRIBBLES
**indicates Hall of Famer
* indicates All-Star
*(*) indicates likely future Hall of Famer
MGR: Sparky Anderson**
Bench Coach: Bucky Harris**
C Buck Ewing**
1B Frank E. Thomas*(*)
2B Jackie Robinson**
SS Bill Russell*
3B Chipper Jones*(*)
LF Brian Jordan*
CF Jay Payton*
RF Al Cowens
DH Don Baylor*
C Frankie Hayes*
IF Mariano Duncan*
IF Jack Barry
OF Rusty Greer
1B/OF Joe Cunningham*
UTIL Sam Barkley (2B/1B/OF/C)
RHSP Pat Malone
LHSP Randy Johnson*(*)
RHSP Rick Reed*
LHSP Ron Bryant
RHSP Jim Nash
CL-R Stu Miller*
LHRP Gary Lucas
RHRP Doug Bird
LHRP Jake Wade
LONG-L Mark Thurmond
So Bauxites -- catch, square, shoot. How does this team run up the score even more?