Meet Your April Fools

Saturday, April 30 2005 @ 06:04 PM EDT

Contributed by: Mick Doherty

The first month of the season nears its conclusion, but before we get to the May Sweeps (and splits, for that matter), it's time to track down the members of the 11th of what will of course be 12 "all-month" teams for our Baseball's Hall of Names roster.

April is clearly the runaway month to have your kid born if you want him to be a Hall of Fame baseball player. No less than 28 current Cooperstown denizens have -- get this, now -- diamond birthstones, while another (Pete Rose) clearly racked up Hall-worthy numbers and started an ongoing debate that need not be rehashed here.

The number will continue to swell towards three dozen ...

... as Greg Maddux strolls to induction in a few years, as do some as-yet-undetermined number of Barry Larkin, Scott Rolen, Chipper Jones and perhaps Carlos Beltran or even Bret Boone ... and you can make a case the number should already be 30, with Messers Blyleven and Mattingly still on the outside, the former with a clearly better case than the latter, but the latter with a Yankee network waiting for him on the Veteran's Committee.

This team, obviously, will be known as "The April Fools," which given the Hall of Fame credentials, we can only assume will not reflect its talent level. No major league player has ever been named "Fool" (the closest we can get is probably Joe "The Joker" Randa -- you could look it up), and equally nobody has ever made it to the Show with the last name of "April." The closest we will likely get to a quality big leaguer with that name is erstwhile Royal righty Kevin Appier, who like his KC teammate Randa, was actually born in December.

But we'll see what we can come up with. As for the rest of the team, as with all the other months (see links below; May coming soon), this is a squad made up entirely of players born during the month at hand ... in this case, April.

The January Blahs || The February Valentines || The March Hares || The April Fools || May (coming soon) || The June Cleavers || The July Franks || The August Presence || The September Morns || The October Misters || November's Team Topaz || The December Holidays

There's quite the embarrassment of riches behind the plate -- but just wait until you see the decisions waiting for us at shortstop! -- as we have three current Hall of Famers in Mickey Cochrane, also a fine manager, Gary "The Kid" Carter and Ernie Lombardi (maybe destined to be a DH on this team). Also around are consistent All-Star caliber Mickey Owen, who before Bill Buckner came along was "The Best Player Remembered Almost Solely for a Defensive Lapse in the World Series," and a youngster who in 15 years might take his place next to the other backstopping April Hall of Famers. But it's too early to tell about Joe Mauer, so for now, Carter is the catcher, Cochrane makes the team as a backup and bench coach, and Lombardi -- pending what else we discover as we proceed -- is pencilled in very lightly as the designated hitter.

First base is, compared to our backstop bonanza, a virtual wasteland -- but there are two Hall of Famers in Cap Anson and Jim Bottomley. In addition to the aforementioned Donnie Baseball, give a nod to Bob Watson, a fine player for a very long time, Nate Colbert -- Mr. Padre before the great Mr. Gwynn arrived -- and a Mauer-like specter down in Arlington, Mark Teixeira, who could he headed to the Hall of Fame some day, or could be The Next Pete Incaviglia. We're betting on the former for Tex, but for now -- well, the very presence of Watson and Colbert has Anson resigning from consideration, and that leaves Bottomley edging out Mattingly for the starting slot. We'll see if the current Yankee hitting coach can at least grab a bench slot on the All-Aprils.

As always, we seem to run into a Boone or a Bell as we examine family connections -- in this case, both, as Bret Boone and Mike Bell were both April babies. However, so were Ken (dad of Ken) Griffey; Tony (son of Tony) Armas; Jordan (brother of Jeff) Zimmerman; Dolph (father of Doug) Camilli; Jose (son of Jose) Cruz; Von (brother of Lindy) McDaniel; Barry (brother of Stephen) Larkin; Brian (brother of Marcus) Giles; Greg (brother of Mike) Maddux; Phil (brother of Joe, uncle to Lance) Niekro; Carlos (brother of Melido) Perez; and Mark (brother of Al) Leiter. Come to think of it, except for the glaring hole at catcher, you could build a pretty fair team just out of April's all-nepotism lineup.

There are two Hall of Fame 2B with April birthdates, along with the already-twice-mentiond BatFlipBoy, Bret Boone. And while Bobby Doerr is a nice, nice, player -- probably not worthy of Hall status, but not an embarrassing inductee by any stretch of the imagination -- he and Bret can go play pinochle in the clubhouse. Second base on this team belongs to a young fellow named Rogers ... Rogers Hornsby, that is.

April showers bring Hall of Fame shortstops, apparently, including one of the greats of the early years of the live ball, Luke Appling, and perhaps the finest shortstop of all time in the Negro Leagues, Pop Lloyd, not to mention a bit of a head-scratcher Cooperstown resident, Dave Bancroft, and Little Looey himself, Luis Aparacio; meanwhile, in Ohio in a few years, Cincinnati fans will justifiably moan when Larkin doesn't make it into the Hall, at least at first, while upstate in Cleveland, if Larkin does make it in, Indian fans will bitch loudly when Omar Vizquel does not.

Tough call here. Appling starts, Lloyd makes the team, Larkin waits to see if a spot opens up on the bench. Vizquel and Aparacio get plenty of sympathy from the adoring press, but neither gains entry to the Fools clubhouse.

For all the Hall of Famers born in April, none was primarily a third baseman -- no real surprise, given the dearth of hot corner heros enshrined overall. But what's this? The all-time Hit King was a third baseman? Well, sort of -- he actually played more games at 1B and the OF both, and nearly as many at 2B, but may be best remembered as the 3B on the Big Red Machine of the 1970s.

Still, with Chipper Jones, Scott Rolen and even Adrian Beltre around, maybe Rose is destined to pplay a super-utility role on this team. Yeah, in fact, that's the case. Rolen starts. Rose makes the team, warts and all, Jones isn't quite there, and Beltre needs six or seven more years like last year to avoid the red card in his locker.

Normally, we find a whole bunch of two-sport stars each month, ranging from Jim Thorpe and Bo Jackson to Ron Reed and Danny Ainge; not so this month, as the best of the crop appears to be former LSU quarterback Josh Booty, who turned out to be worse than Drew Henson as both an infielder and a hitter -- and so far, as a second-chance NFL signal-caller, too.

But we do have the small-screen genius of former Cub 1B Chuck Connors around. You may know him as television's "The Rifleman." Which come to think of it would be a terrific nickname for a quarterback like Booty -- if he could actually play.

No less than six April-born outfielders have been inducted into the Hall so far, including Paul Waner, Hack Wilson, Tris Speaker, the tragically short-careered Ross Youngs, Sam Crawford and Enos Slaughter. Also around from days gone by are switch-hittting Reggie Smith, ballhawk Willie Davis, postseason regular David Justice, steady but unspectacular Mickey Vernon, the rich new Met Carlos Beltran, the how-is-this-guy-still-underappreciated Brian Giles and the extremely immobile made-to-DH, he could roll out of bed on Christmas Eve and hit line drives in the snow, Rusty Staub.

No-brainer: Speaker is the center fielder. Slaughter is probably the perfect fourth outfielder for a team like this one, Waner was mostly a LF, but can move over the RF to make way for Mr. 191 RBI in a season, Wilson. Davis might be a nice defensive replacement to have on the bench. Apologies to Youngs, Crawford, Beltran, Giles and Justice. Smith's switch-hitting and Staub's natural inclination to DH make them candidates for the final roster, but we'll see.

We seem to have drawn this up to come down to Staub v. Lombardi. Okay, after we at least recognize that super-utility guy Tony Phillips may get a roster spot down the line, let's see where the big slow outfielder versus the big slow backstop takes us.

The career OPS+ goes to The Schnozz, 125-124, but that's a wash. Le Grande Orange had more power, but Ernie hit for better average; Staub was faster, but only because Lombardi was historically slow. Staub has better counting stats due to the length of his career

Flip the coin ... having a third catcher is never a bad idea, so let's go with Lom ... Staub. We'll go with Staub.

Wow ... you want a great, deep pitching staff? How about one in which Hall of Famers Catfish Hunter, Addie Joss and Vic Willis don't even get a second look? We may only have one LHSP with Hall credentials so far, but he's also the winningest lefty in the history of the game, guy by the name of Spahn. A teammate of his for a brief time, Phil Niekro, is going to be shuttled off to the bullpen to put his knuckleball into the everyday option of middle relief. But don't worry about a lack of right-handers -- Niekro's contemporary Don Sutton won more than 300 games, Greg Maddux is going to and Bert Blyleven damn near did. Another guy who might've, given different rules of the game and of society at the time is the great Smokey Joe Williams of the old Negro Leagues; hitters at the time compared his fastball to Walter Johnson's.

If, as we have done in past months, we insist on two lefties in the rotation, it's not like we're hurting for talent -- Jimmy Key was real good for a real long time, Tom Browning was even better but over a shorter period, Frankie "Sweet Music" Viola was dominant for a while, and Billy Pierce was Mark Buehrle before Mark Buehrle. Fine short-termed righties like Mike Scott, Bret Saberhagen and the redoubtable World Series hero Howard Ehmke just have no chance to go north with this team -- although, the bullpen is VERY weak, so we might be able to work something out like we did with Niekro.

We're hurting here, folks. Some months seem repleate with dozens of 200-save guys; in April, we have a pretty short list, none of whom even reached that career milestone:

LHRP Jesse Orosco
RHRP John Hiller
RHRP Phil Regan
RHRP Dick Radatz
LHRP Ron Perranoski

Let's see ... if Orosco is the LOOGY, then Hiller -- once the all-time single-season save record holder with the quaint total of 38 -- can close, set up by a nice R/L combo of Radatz and Perranoski. That should make it a seven-inning game. And though it's unlikely our HOF rotation will need much bailing out, Regan can join Niekro down in the pen waiting to, uh, Vulture a few wins. No, wait, actually, even with a 10-man staff, which necessitated some hard cuts on the position player bench, there's no room for Regan -- he's the 26th man, and off to extended Spring Training.

Before we move on to meet the actual roster, as per tradition, let's look at some of the greeat names that came up in the search to build this team.

Noodles Hahn and Hippo Vaughn ... Pop Swett and Pop Corkhill ... Howdy Groskloss, Happy Townsend and Heinie Jantzen ... Cuddles Marshall, Oral Hildebrand, Shag Shaughnessy (c'mon, I don't need to spell that one out for you, do I?) ... Packy Rogers, Epp Sell, Irv Higgenbotham and Buzz Murphy were all born on April 26 ... Bill Dam, Virgil Trucks, Red Murff and Gus Gil ... Beveric Benton Bean, also known as "Bill" and "Belve" ... Spencer Pumpelly, Ossee Schreckengost, Dutch Ussat, Talmadge Nunnari, Lerton Pinto and Emory Nusz, Cotton Pippen, Crese Heismann, Red Gunkel and Biff Wysong, Tex "Don't Call Me" Shirley (okay, I made that nickname up), Piggy Ward, the indomitable Milton Bradley and a fellow named King Cole, who played too early to be tagged "Nat" but somehow also avoided the moniker "Merry Old Soul."

Before we forget, who leads this April crew? Well, we've already tabbed Black Mike Cochrane to be a bench coach, but should it be to Joe McCarthy or John McGraw? Hughie Jennings is another Hall of Fame manager born in April, while current Padre skipper Bruce Bochy can start out as the bullpen coach and Charlie Lau can take the exceedingly non-stressful position of being this team's hitting coach.

Outside the dugout, April gets its own Hall of Fame umpire in Al Barlick, while the front office is manned most capably by Civil War Hero Alexander Cartwright, who may or may not have actually invented the game and would probably be horrified at the idea of Staub and Orosco -- or more generally, at the idea of a DH and a LOOGY.

**Hall of Famer
* All-Star

President: Alexander Cartwright**
VP-Player Personnel: John McGraw**
MGR Joe McCarthy**
Bench Coaches: Mickey Cochrane**, Hughie Jennings**
C Gary Carter**
1B Jim Bottomley**
2B Rogers Hornsby**
SS Luke Appling**
3B Scott Rolen*
LF Hack Wilson**
CF Tris Speaker**
RF Paul Waner**
DH Rusty Staub*

C Mickey Cochrane**
IF Pop Lloyd**
OF Willie Davis*
UTIL: Pete Rose**

Rotation: (RLRLX)
RHSP Joe Williams**
LHSP Warren Spahn**
RHSP Greg Maddux*
LHSP Jimmy Key*
RHSP Don Sutton**

CL John Hiller* (R)
SET-R Dick Radatz*
SET-L Ron Perranoski*
LOOGY Jesse Orosco*
LONG/SWING Phil Niekro**

Okay ... I can already hear the rumblings of discontent out there about how the bench was built. So how can this team be better?

Finally, happy birthday today, April 30 to, among others: Ryan Hawblitzel, Jeff Reboulet, Phil Garner and Ray Miller.