Baseball's Hall of Names: November's "Team Topaz"

Monday, November 29 2004 @ 04:26 AM EST

Contributed by: Mick Doherty

As the November comes to a close, and the U.S. holiday weekend bleeds into the Yule time, it's that time again ... we have just enough November left to squeeze in the Batter's Box All-November team, a squad made up entirely of players born in the month of November.

If you're waiting for the obvious choice of Hall of Famer Turkey Stearnes for this squad's mascot, forget it ...

... he was born in May. And while two other players allowed their nicknames to settle on "Turkey," Gross was born in February and Tyson -- no kidding, there was a Turkey named Tyson! -- was born in December. Still, after the September Morns and October Misters, we'd almost inevitably have to go with a team name of "November Turkeys." Almost. Instead, we'll recognize the month's birthstone and move hurriedly on to lineup formation.

Unfortunately, unlike players honored in and by other months, there is no November equivalent to Don August, June Greene or Lee May in the annals of baseball history -- the closest we get is "The Mad Russian," Lou Novikoff, who, alas, was born in April.

November's All-Hall Team
We'll start by using a precedent established with the February team and look at the Hall of Famers born in November. Frankly, this is probably the weakest "All-Hall" team we've yet encountered. That's going to change over the next decade as Sammy Sosa, Ken Griffey Jr., Pudge Rodriguez and possibly Gary Sheffield and Curt Schilling tote their Topaz-encrusted birthstone rings to Hall induction ceremonies. But we can probably build a full squad without these not-there-yet ringers.

The outfield looks solid; that's November-born Joe DiMaggio patrolling CF, flanked by LF Stan Musial and RF Joe Medwick. Other than 19th-century .400 hitter Hugh Duffy (who hit an astonishing .440 in 1894), those are the only options but who's complaining? Sosa and Griffey will be along soon enough. Duffy will look good on the bench, too, as he played every position but pitcher throughout his career, racking up a career BA of .324 and OPS+ of 122.

Freddie Lindstrom, who has career comps including George Brett and Roberto Clemente, could also play some OF, though he was primarily a 3B. He'll likely be anchored to the bench behind Pie Traynor at the hot corner, anyway. The rest of the infield could include questionable Hall of Famers Travis Jackson or Rabbit Maranville at short, with Bid McPhee, widely regarded as one of the greatest defensive second basemen of the 19th century, throwing the ball to ... what? No first baseman?

Okay, then, Duffy moves in at LF, and Musial -- who played more than 1,000 games there for the Cardinals, after all -- mans 1B.

Another option at shortstop is Bobby Wallace, who spent 25 years in the big leagues, mostly with the Cardinals and Browns, compiling a career BA of .268 -- but he also pitched 57 times, including 48 starts, racking up a 24-22 record with a career ERA+ of 125. Versatility matters on a shallow team like this one.

There's just the one catcher, but he's a three-time MVP, and the pitching staff, with a boost from Wallace, looks to be in pretty good hands, especially when Schilling comes on board.

What about management for this team? Well, Bucky Harris may have been a borderline Hall of Famer -- he won the World Series in his first year, 'then the AL Pennant in his second with the 1924-1925 Senators, then got back to (and won) just one more series in 28 additional years of managing, with the 1947 Yankees -- but he'll have to do. Harris will have the financial backing of owner Clark Griffith and the stern, who's-gonna-argue leadership of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis looking over his shoulder.

The All-November All-Hall team, then:
MGR Bucky Harris
C Roy Campanella
1B Stan Musial
2B Bid McPhee
SS Travis Jackson
3B Pie Traynor
LF Hugh Duffy
CF Joe DiMaggio
RF Joe Medwick
DH Freddie Lindstrom

RHSP Walter Johnson
LHSP Lefty Gomez
RHSP Tom Seaver
RHSP Bob Feller

IF Rabbit Maranville
IF/RP Bobby Wallace

Sidebar: October's All-in-the-Family Notes
You might have noticed a couple of entries that double as clear candidates for our monthly stroll down the avenue of familial connections. That DiMaggio bloke had a couple of big league brothers, Dom and Vince, while that other center fielder, not yet eligible for the All-Hall team, even hit back-to-back homers with his eponymous father, Ken Griffey Sr., once upon a time.

But that's hardly everyone worth mentioning. Given all the possibilities in a three-generation family, is it any surprise that both the Boones (with Bob, son of Ray, father of Bret and Aaron) and the Bells (Gus, father of Buddy and grandfather to David and Mike) are represented? The younger versions of Dick Schofield, Mike Bacsik, Pete Rose and Pedro Borbon were all November arrivals, as was the annually-retiring Mel Stottlemyre, dad to both Mel Jr. and former Jay Todd.

The most interesting family connection is probably twin brothers Claude Jonnard, a right-handed reliever and Clarence "Bubber" Jonnard, a catcher; they were never teammates in their journeyman careers, and so never formed a twin battery which, unless I am mistaken, has never happened in major league history. But half of the greatest -- okay, at least winningest -- brother combination ever, Joe "brother of Phil" Niekro, was a November baby. So were Justin "Son of Chris" Speier, Adam "son of Dave" LaRoche, Jason "son of Steve" Grilli, Nick "son of Steve" Swisher, Robb "son of Dick" Nen, Tito "father of Terry" Francona, Dick "son of George" Sisler and Tom Paciorek, who had two brothers, Jim and John, also make big league rosters.

Sidebar: November's Jays
We've already seen some significant November Jay connections -- Stottlemyre and Speier jump to mind -- but there have been plenty of others worth noting. Of course, there have been many other Toronto rosterites born in November, but here are just a few that will likely stir a trip down memory boulevard:

Paul Quantrill ... Lloyd Moseby ... Homer Bush ... Randy Knorr ... Pat Hentgen ... Mark Eichhorn ... Mark Whiten ... Guillermo Quiroz ... Shawn Green ...

What do you say? Hentgen v. 1.0 starts, gets the ball to Quantrill and Eichhorn closes? Moseby or Green takes over Derek Jeter's status as "Mr. November"?

Now, on to the non-Hall-of-Fame November team options.

You already know about Sosa, Griffey, Pudge, Sheff and Schilling, but there are literally dozens of other All-Star-quality November-born players.

October Relief?
Okay, we're looking for two righties and two lefties for the back of the pitching staff.

Start with the man referred to by his page sponsor on as "the first great closer in baseball history," Firpo Marberry, and come all the way to the most dominant closer of the past decade, Mariano Rivera. Other righthanders who may deserve some consideration include Armando Benitez, Doug Corbett, Bob Stanley, Gene Garber, Jeff Nelson, Tom Goron, Robb Nen, Octavio Dotel, Jay Howell and even old Pirate closer Dave Giusti. But if we're limited to two, let's stick with Rivera and Marberry.

From the left side, 1984 Cy Young winner Willie Hernandez and one of only two men to lead the league in saves and throw a no-hitter, Dave Righetti, are probably a bit better than Joe Hoerner (who was an All-Star and had 99 career saves) and one of the most hallowed names in Jay history, Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams. Looking for a fifth guy in that bullpen? How about history's only recorded switch-pitcher, Greg Harris, who was only 74-90, but managed a career ERA of 3.69 and a decent ERA+ of 112. Besides, what fun could we have with him on the mound facing Pete Rose or Frankie Frisch?

Filling Out November's Rotation
Okay, with The Big Train, Rapid Robert, Tom Terrific and "the other" Lefty soon to be joined by Schilling in Cooperstown, this team probably won't have a lot of room for additional rotation candidates. But some at least bear mentioning ...

From the right side, a couple of former Cy Young Award winners in John Denny and Bob Welch (not exactly your Clemens-Palmer level of Cy, huh?) are eligible for Team Topaz, as are a couple of borderline HOF talents in Luis Tiant and Mike Garcia -- nobody seems to remember Garcia, but he had an abbreviated career record of 142-97, with four straight 18+ win seasons and was one of Cleveland's vaunted Big Four, with Feller, Early Wynn and Bob Lemon.

Speaking of abbreviated careers, Doc Gooden sure seemed headed to the Hall, and if not for the greatest tragedy ever to befall an active player on the field, maybe Carl Mays (207-126) would have hung around long enough to merit consideration, too. The great Lew Burdette won 203 games and was one of few pitchers ever to rack up three wins in a single World Series, in leading the Milwaukee Braves to the '57 title. Current overpaid and underperforming righties like Sidney Ponson and Kris Benson have no place on this team.

As for the left side of the rotation, the biggest name is probably Johnny Vandermeer, but except for his two nights of fame, he was just 119-121 over his MLB career. Borderline Hall candidate Jim Kaat is around, along with former phenom Fernando Valenzuela, while Chuck Finley made it to (exactly) 200 career wins. John Candelaria and Ken Holtzman fell short of that plateau, with 177 nd 174 respectively, but were fine pitchers in their day, while Jamie Moyer should get to 200 in 2005 and Kenny Rogers has a shot in 2006. We love Glendon Rusch, and it looks like he's going to be a 2004 Andujar Finalist, but putting him on this team would just cue up the Sesame Street classic "One of These Things is Not Like the Others."

The Rest of the Guys
There is plenty of All-Star-level talent to pick and choose from for a Non-Hall team.

Just in the outfield, you have the only man to win a batting title in one league while playing in the other, Willie McGee; former SI Cover Boy Cory "Indian Summer" Snyder; current all-stars like Shawn Green, J.D. Drew, Johnny Damon and Matt Lawton; flash-in-the-pan All-Star Richie Scheinblum; borderline Hall of Fame candidate Dwight Evans; one of the few ballplayers to have a biopic film made of his life, Jimmy "Fear Strikes Out" Piersall; the late Lyman Bostock, who along with Thurman Munson and Danny Frisella, was one of the tragic active player losses of life I remember from the 1970's; and Da Bull, Greg Luzinski, who scared the bejeebers out of pitchers for the Danny Ozark Phillies and the TLR White Sox.

Moving around the infield, we're a little thin behind the plate with only Javy Lopez, spelled by a guy who would be much more appreciated as reigning rookie of the year if not for an injruy, in Gerald Laird. At first base, defense is ... ah, lacking ... as Eric Karros, Jack Clark and Papi Ortiz battle to stay out of the DH role. The second basemen are led by Ray Durham, with drop-off-the-cliff career guys Carlos Baerga and Edgardo Alfonso just in front of Dick McAuliffe and Harold Reynolds. At short, do you want hot free agent Orlando Cabrera or 1960 World Series MVP Dick Groat (more on him later)? The only other option seems to be longtime Tiger stalwart Billy Rogell. As for the hot corner, well, has young Hank Blalock shown enough yet to displace another former Ranger in Larry Parrish or All-Food-Team player/manager Howard Johnson? And we'll never know, but it still seems likely that Matt Williams could have headed off all this McGwire/Sosa nonsense in '98 if we'd just finished out the '94 season.

Want some versatility on this team? You might start by looking at Jose Offerman, a fine hitter who played every position but pitcher, catcher and third base in his career (I once took Offerman in the middle rounds of a fantasy draft by announcing "Time to draft an entire bench.") ... but frankly, Jose is a piker compared to Shane Halter and Scooter Sheldon, both of whom played all nine positions in a single game. At the opposite end of the spectrum, does our bench have room for pinch running specialist Herb Washington?

Does this non-Hall team need a manager? Sure thing. It just depends on whether or not you want to go old school with Mike Scioscia (who come to think of it could also catch behind, and maybe ahead of Lopez), older school with Jack McKeon or even older school with Gene Mauch.

November's All Non-Hall Team
MGR Mike Scioscia
Bench Coach Jack McKeon

C Pudge Rodriguez
1B Jack Clark
2B Ray Durham
SS Orlando Cabrera
3B Matt Williams
LF Gary Sheffield
CF Ken Griffey Jr.
RF Sammy Sosa
DH David Ortiz

C Javy Lopez
IF Edgardo Alfonso
OF Johny Damon
UTIL Jose Offerman
PH Greg Luzinski

RHSP Curt Schilling
LHSP Jim Kaat
RHSP Luis Tiant
LHSP Chuck Finley
RHSP Doc Gooden
CL Mariano Rivera
SET-R Firpo Marberry
SET-L Dave Righetti
LOOGY Willie Hernandez
LONG-L Kenny Rogers (still holds TEX record for single-season relief appearances)
LONG-B Greg Harris

Before we move on to consolidating one single overarching All-October team, let's visit a couple of other diversions:

Jumping Through Hoops
We made some cracks last month in the All-October lineup selections about Dave DeBusschere, about how he "actually made the Hall of Fame in '83 but given it was the one in Springfield, Mass., not Cooperstown, NY, he only makes this team if we switch from the five-man rotation to a match-up zone defense."

Well, guess what? November appears to just crush the preceding month in hoops talent. The aforementioned Groat, for instance, was All-ACC at Duke and averaged more than 12 ppg for the 1953 Fort Wayne Pistons. Former Phillies pitcher Ron Reed played 119 games for the Pistons in 1966-67, after they'd moved to Detroit. And Gene Conley played in the Assocation for parts of six seasons spread over 11 years, with Boston and the Knicks -- he actually was property of both the Celtics and Red Sox at the same time for a brief period in 1961. The big 6'8" righty was 91-96 for the Braves, Phillies and Bosox. If only Danny Ainge and Mark Hendrickson had been born in November, we'd have a pretty nice starting five.

Final Sidebar: November Names
As noted on Da Box on November 6, that particular day brought us Trammell, Bell and D.Dean -- but in none of those cases do we mean the one you're thinking of right now ...

We've seen the basketball connections, but November also was the birth month of the great Greasy Neale, a fine OF for eight years for CIN, including a .357 performance against the Black Sox in the 1919 World Series. Neale, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is the only man to play in a World Series, coach a football team in the Rose Bowl (Washington & Jefferson, 1922), and to win an NFL title (twice, with the 1948-1949 Philadelphia Eagles) ... Another gridiron notable, former BYU QB Ryan Hancock, came along in November and ended up 4-1 with the '96 Angels ...

There seem to be at least two other "Hall of Names" team possibilities out there that could be kick-started by Team Topaz. Could you start an all-sound-effects team with George Bell (no not that one ... this one!) and Sam Horn? And what can you say when you have both Billy Sunday and Rick Monday available to you? Is that the start of a "Strong Yet Week" team?

It seems that two guys named Mark Corey have reached the major leagues -- and what are the odds, both were born on November 3. Corey '74 is a RHRP who is 2-7 in four years with Mets, Rox and Pirates. Corey '55 hit .211 in three partial years as an OF with the Orioles from '79-'81.

The immortal Harry Chiti, who was once traded for himself, is part of Team Topaz, while Everett Scott -- who held the consecutive games played streak with 1307 (as a shortstop) before Gehrig and then Ripken came along also is a November child. Want an idea about Scott? His most simiilar is Montreal Expos legend Tim Foli, so imagine Foli not missing a game for eight years.

Here's one of the all-time great mystery names ... an 18-year-old 3B named Billy Southworth (not the manager), finagled seven at-bats with the 1964 Milwaukee Braves and was later traded even up for both Ken Boyer and Sandy Alomar Sr. -- but he never made it back to The Show and retired with a career OPS of 1.158 and OPS+ of 220. Nice ...

If we're looking for the best "name" on Team Topaz, candidates might include Putsy Caballero, Snapper Kennedy, Anton "Mutz" Ens and Chick King ... but let us all bow down to the November Team Topaz Top Name -- who can compete with Coco Crisp?

Now,finally ...

The All-November Team
MGR Bucky Harris
Bench Coach Mike Scioscia
C Roy Campanella
1B Stan Musial
2B Ray Durham (is he the worst player ever to make an all-month team?)
SS Travis Jackson
3B Matt Williams
LF Gary Sheffield
CF Joe DiMaggio (sorry, Junior, can't bring myself to bump the Clipper to DH)
RF Sammy Sosa
DH Ken Griffey Jr.

C Pudge Rodriguez
IF Bid McPhee
OF Joe Medwick
UTIL Bobby Wallace
PH Jack Clark

Rotation: (RLRLX)
RHSP Walter Johnson
LHSP Jim Kaat
RHSP Bob Feller
LHSP Lefty Gomez
RHSP Tom Seaver

CL Mariano Rivera
SET-R Firpo Marberry
SET-L Dave Righetti
LOOGY Willie Hernandez
LONG-L Chuck Finley
LONG-R Curt Schilling

Lots of potentially controversial choices ... fire away!