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Chris Speier in . . . The Franchise All-Time All-Stars

June 12, 2008
 Untitled 

Before embarking on another foray into the recurring feature started a couple weeks ago with a post on Jerry Koosman, I wanted to emphasize three things about the project:

1. It’s already been done, and with much more expertise, reasoned analysis, and entertainment value, by Rob Neyer in his Big Book of Baseball Lineups. So why do I feel the need to tackle the already thoroughly tackled subject? Which brings us to . . .

2. It’s a way for me to goof off. If I wasn’t publicly airing my choices for the greatest players ever to wear the clown cap of the Montreal Expos I’d be filling up my empty hours by thinking about it privately anyway. So why don’t I just keep my flimsy impressionistic baseball opinions to myself instead of polluting the Internet with them? Which brings us to . . .

3. I’m interested to hear other people’s opinions on the matter. Nothing I like more than a good baseball conversation, especially if the conversation mostly ignores recent events to burrow into the past. Which brings us to . . .

The Montreal Expos and the surprising discovery that the greatest shortstop in franchise history might be the scowl-faced man pictured above.

I didn’t think that would be the case, and since I’m really no expert and put only the skimpiest research into the matter I’m aware that it may actually not be the case, and that I am mistaken. But from what I can gather, the two contenders to the title of best Expos shortstop are Chris Speier and Orlando Cabrera, and in my highly unscientific mind Speier has three four things going for him over Cabrera.

1. He played for the Expos when I was a fairly happy kid while Cabrera played for the Expos long after the souring onset of adulthood. To this biased observer, Speier belongs to the gods while Cabrera (until he left the Expos for the Red Sox for an eventful half-season) was, if anything, just a name and some borderline numbers on the fantasy baseball free agent wire to numbly consider while shoveling down a bagel the day after your starting shortstop pulled a muscle. Tie goes to the player backlit by the glowing distant sunset of youth.

2. He was the shortstop for the Expos during their one extended era of excellence. This advantage—basically implying that Speier is more of “a winner” than Cabrera, is as ludicrous as the advantage outlined above, considering that Cabrera proved when he came to the Red Sox in 2004 that he could act as a brilliant and necessary backbone of a championship team’s defense while also contributing significantly to its offensive attack. But since these discussions, as I see them, should focus only on each player’s time with the team in question, I think it can be said to be a point in Speier’s favor that while the Expos shined their brightest he played a key defensive role—and played it pretty well, if Strat-O-Matic fielding ratings are to be trusted (and if they can’t be trusted, what can?)—while also providing a bit more offensive pop than most other shortstops of his time. I think he was also a pretty fiery guy. One of those “intangible” types. (The ice I’m skating on just keeps getting thinner, doesn’t it? But that’s OK since the main point of this post is for the ice to break.) Tie goes to the player from the Golden Age.

3. Since their regular season offensive numbers are comparable (Cabrera posted an average OPS+ of 86 in his five full seasons while Speier posted an average OPS+ of 84 in his seven full seasons) I turn to what they did for their teams in the post-season, which of course is unfair to Cabrera (who later was a post-season hero for the 2004 Red Sox) since the Expos never reached the playoffs in his tenure. Nonetheless, in the lone playoff series that the Montreal Expos ever won (a five-game divisional tilt against the Phillies in 1981) Chris Speier hit .400 with a .526 OBP and a .533 slugging percentage. Tie goes to the hero.

On to the rest of the team:

C: Gary Carter (Possible discussion point: who’s a bigger no-brainer on this team: Carter, Dawson, or Raines?)
1B: Andres Galarraga
2B: Jose Vidro
SS: Speier
3B: Tim Wallach
LF: Tim Raines
CF: Andre Dawson
RF: Vladimir Guerrero (Possible discussion point: lord a mighty, is this position deep on this team.)

SP: Steve Rogers
RP: Jeff Reardon

Wild Card: Warren Cromartie

You might notice that the above list is a little leaner and meaner than the initial franchise all-star team posted here in the Jerry Koosman profile. In short, I’ve eliminated the idea of having both a left-handed and right-handed starting pitcher; instead, I just picked the most deserving pitcher, regardless of their handedness. This is mainly because I couldn’t really bring myself to add Jeff Fassero, probably the most accomplished southpaw in Expos history, to an all-time team of any kind. I think it’s just as well. Might as well pretend that the team is being assembled to play one game for the championship of the universe, and one game just needs one starter.

Here are the baseball-reference.com batting and pitching leaders pages for the Expos.

As for any other guidelines for this discussion, I can only offer Basilisc’s great questions and my own mealy-mouthed answers from the comments section of the Koosman post:

10. Basilisc
The comments so far raise some issues you’re going to have to deal with again and again in this project . . . :
1. Players with great careers, or great single seasons?
2. Great careers/seasons with the team in question, or can we also consider accomplishments elsewhere?
3. Does longevity with a given team count for something in and of itself?
4. Based purely on talent/achievements, or also contributions to winning? And are the contributions only on the field (ie clutch performances) or also “intangibles”?12. Josh Wilker
Great questions all. Thanks for asking them. I’m a non-hierarchical anti-rule kinda guy, but my gut feelings, which everyone is welcome to ignore, and which are pretty vague, are as follows:
1. Great careers weigh heavier than single seasons, but the legendary season (such as Dr. K’s 1985 campaign) has to count for something. If two guys had similar or even close to similar careers, give it to the guy who had the higher career climax, I guess.
2. I’d say the focus should be mostly, if not entirely, on their work with the team in question.
3. I think longevity does count for something in and of itself. It’s why Ed Krranepool HAS to be on the all-time Mets team, for example. There are plenty of other worthy “wild card” candidates, such as, off the top of my head, Rusty Staub, Lenny Dykstra, and—a personal favorite—Mackey Sasser, but none top Kranepool’s eminence as an Original and long-lasting Met. On the other hand, longevity alone isn’t a clincher—it’s not enough, for example, to give Kranepool the first base spot over Keith Hernandez.
4. I have to leave the intangibles vs. numbers quandary up to everyone to decide for themselves. I think my own choice of Franco over McGraw leans towards the numbers, but my personal feeling is actually that an all-time franchise team should also reflect certain hard-to-define emotional connections of the fanbase. And as we’re already seeing from the comments, the best way to make that connection is to be lucky enough (as John Franco never was) to be a member of a World Series-winning team. I certainly can’t argue with someone who wants to give a player a little more credit for being on a team that won it all.

 

* * *

(Love versus Hate update: Chris Speier’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)

39 comments

  1. 1.  Rusty Staub may have spent only three years in Montreal, but I’d still give him the wild card spot. I don’t see how you can have an all-time Expos team without Le Grand Orange.


  2. 2.  Hubie Brooks has got to be in that shortstop discussion.


  3. 3.  1 : Good point. I also see Staub as Ed Kranepool’s primary rival for the wild card spot on the Mets. Staub played really well for the Expos, and is part of the deep well of excellence in right field for the franchise. The all-time lineup, which is severely right-handed, could certainly use his left-handed bat, too. But as for the wild-card spot, when I think “Expos” Warren Cromartie always comes to mind really quickly. (I’d be interested to see if I’m alone on this.) And when I think “Rusty Staub” I don’t think Expos but Mets. That nickname is pretty persuasive backing for your argument, though.

    2 : I agree Hubie should be in the discussion, but he only played SS for three seasons for the Expos, his porous defense meriting a move to right field for his last two seasons with the team. And two of his seasons there were injury-shortened. He hit .340 in one of those injury-shortened campaigns, but the other two years I don’t think his hitting wasn’t enough of an upgrade over Speier’s or Cabrera’s to make up for his inferiority to them in the field. (For what it’s worth, I found out while researching this answer that Brooks’s cousin was Donnie Moore.)


  4. 4.  Hmm…I wonder how many players would be a starter on an MLB team’s all-time team, but not on his hometown’s all-time team? Speier is from my hometown of Alameda, CA, where he (19 years, 88 OPS+) would probably be the third-string SS on Alameda’s all-time team behind Jimmy Rollins (9 years, 98 OPS+) and Dick Bartell (18 years, 96 OPS+).


  5. 5.  4 This wouldn’t create an All-Star conflict, but as I pointed out in another thread recently: Ken Griffey, Jr. is not the best left-handed hitter born on November 21 in Donora, PA.

    http://tinyurl.com/ly2t9


  6. 6.  4 : Two towns that came to mind were Mobile, Alabama, and San Pedro de Macoris, but I’m not sure if anybody meets the Speier-Alameda criteria. Maybe Mobile’s Jake Peavy (best Padre starter but behind Mobile’s Satchel Paige)?


  7. 7.  Looking at the depth of right field, did anyone else notice that in 1975 Gary Carter finished 2nd in ROY and earned his first All-Star appearance as a right fielder?!?! He didn’t take over the full time catching job until 1977. Yet all his cards identify him as a catcher (1977 has C-OF).


  8. 8.  The All Time Expos is surprisingly easy to compile, and hard to debate. I mean, how are you going to put together any outfield other than those three?

    In regard to Hubie Brooks, can anyone think of another player that went through the entire defensive spectrum (ss to rf) in one fell swoop?


  9. 9.  7 : Maybe Stade Olympique and Jarry Park were slanted toward rightfield and everybody ended up sliding that way. Besides Carter, previously mentioned Hubie Brooks also wended his way over there, and Ken Singleton, after initially playing mostly as a LF for the Expos, ended up in right. I think Larry Parrish (runner-up to Wallach at third) might have spent time there as well. Maybe Andre Dawson’s post-Expos shift to rightfield was a tribute to this tradition.


  10. 10.  8 : There are surely bigger experts on the Dodgers around here than me, but didn’t Bill Russell do something like that, possibly even in reverse?

    I agree those outfielders are unquestionables, but it still makes for some tough omissions, especially considering one of the toughest is a native Canadian.


  11. 11.  8 Ernie Banks. Straight from SS to 1B.


  12. 12.  10 The Dodgers middle infield of the 70s (Russell and Lopes) were both converted outfielders. Russell was anything but a great shortstop, but there’s no way he would have earned a paycheck as a major league outfielder.


  13. 13.  4 : I went to Alameda High School, when alum Speier’s name was still spoken with reverence among the coaches & ballplayers there.

    Across town at Encinal HS, of course, they’d had Willie Stargell.

    Which just about perfectly embodied the qualitative difference between the two schools’ sports programs.


  14. 14.  On the theory that this is a one-game playoff we need to win here, and that “legendary seasons count for something,” I’m going with Pedro Martinez as my all-time Expos pitcher.

    Also, wouldn’t Mike Piazza (and any other catcher who moved to first base) have gone through the entire defensive spectrum at once?


  15. 15.  14 I don’t think catchers really belong on the same spectrum as other positions.


  16. 16.  15 I don’t either, really, but that’s the way he’s got the spectrum laid out:

    http://www.baseball1.com/bb-data/bbd-bj1.html


  17. 17.  14 : Yeah, only a fool would go with Rogers (or almost anyone who ever lived) over Pedro to start a one-game playoff.

    I guess I was thinking that the brevity of Pedro’s career with the Expos makes him a borderline candidate for consideration. I think a guy with just four seasons with a team should only be considered if there aren’t any other viable candidates who spent most of their career with the team.


  18. 18.  One thing in his favor is that he did win the Cy there. Actually, unless I’m mistaken, he’s the only guy to win the Cy there.


  19. 19.  What an honor to have my questions immortalized, Josh – thanks! Like most ignoramuses, I try to hide my ignorance by asking others probing questions before they get a chance to ask me one.

    But I’m fascinated less by the Expos’ history than by the card. It’s interesting as an action shot where the action has nothing to do with playing baseball. What is he wiping off his hands? Pine tar? Tobacco juice? The blood of Margaret Trudeau???


  20. 20.  18 : Interesting point. For what it’s worth:

    Pedro with Expos: 1 Cy (his only time in the voting north of the broder), 2 all-star team selections

    Rogers with Expos: 3 top-five Cy finishes, 4 all-star team selections

    19 : It’s clear to me that this action shot is dramatizing Speier’s fiery intangibles. While others goof off or laze around he’s vigilantly wiping off the grit of hard work while peering out at the opposition, searching for weaknesses.


  21. 21.  Maybe it’s the provincialist Red Sox fan in me, but Speier looks like Dewey Evans with highlights in that card. Is that Stan Bahnsen or Mike Jorgensen in the background?


  22. 22.  … Stuff like this just gets me wondering about what might have been. I wonder what the Expos’ All-Time lineup would have looked like had the 1994 season been played to its conclusion.

    Personally, I would select Wetteland over Reardon as the bullpen ace. And I doubt if there ever was a more appropriate candidate for the Expos “Wild Card” than Bill Lee.

    The Expos were home to a lot of my favorite players over the years: Rondell White, Marquis Grissom, and Mike Lansing don’t (and shouldn’t) appear on their All-Time lineup, but I loved watching them play ball.


  23. 23.  21 : “Is that Stan Bahnsen or Mike Jorgensen in the background?”

    All depends on whether the picture was taken before or after May 22, 1977. From Mike Jorgensen’s transactions section on his page on BB-Ref:

    “May 22, 1977: Traded by the Montreal Expos to the Oakland Athletics for Stan Bahnsen.”


  24. 24.  22 : Bill Lee’s a great wild card choice for the Expos, despite his relatively short tenure.


  25. 25.  10 no arguing w/ the outfield, but i’m glad the king of walkerville at least gets a mention


  26. 26.  Tim Wallach is almost as big a no brainer as Carter and Dawson. I think somehow, somewhere Tim Wallach is still starting games at third for the Expos.


  27. 27.  Who would be second behind Wallach? Ryan Zimmerman?


  28. 28.  Larry Parrish is a distant second in games played at 3b.

    On another note, did anybody think that Delino DeShields should be the all time Expos second baseman over Jose Vidro?


  29. 29.  Even though he has no place in the discussion, I’m still gonna bring up Bill Stoneman in the starting pitcher debate.
    Just ’cause I’m old-school.


  30. 30.  Oh, and for some reason, Speier reminds me of Rick Danko.
    But with bigger eyebrows.


  31. 31.  For me it has to be Steve Rogers as the starting pitcher, just for the fact that he has pitched the only no hitter I’ve ever had in Strat-O-Matic (1978 season against the Cardinals).


  32. 32.  If Rodney Scott’s not on the team, I quit.


  33. 33.  32 : Bill Lee says amen to that.


  34. 34.  Uh, what’s the fourth thing Speier has going for him over Cabrera?

    And as an aside, I know he doesn’t belong on this list, but I can still picture Dave Cash in his Expo uni with his ‘fro and pointy chin beard. That should count for something.


  35. 35.  Should we include managers in these discussions? (Sometimes the managers got their own cards.) It would probably be Felipe Alou, with Buck Rogers and Dick Williams battling for place and show, right?


  36. 36.  34 : “Uh, what’s the fourth thing Speier has going for him over Cabrera?”

    [Punches self in head.]


  37. 37.  Charlie Lea was another great, if only for a short time, pitcher for the ‘Spoze, starting and winning an All-Star game before getting hurt. Even if he spelled “Lee” wrong.


  38. 38.  A few things…

    1) Adding an extra SP slot or even two might be a good idea, and not just for a lefty. Then you give Dennis Martinez his due, as he’s clearly the second best choice for a starter after Rogers. Maybe it’s the general Red Sox focus of this blog, but Pedro’s cumulative work in Montreal doesn’t hold candle to that of El Presidente. Pedro was good for a few years before only really exploding during his last season in Montreal. Sure, Pedro had the best single season ever by an Expos pitcher, but Presidente was their ace for six solid seasons, he threw a perfect game, made three all-star teams, and was really the definitive Expo between Raines and Vlad.

    2) Bob Bailey instead of Parrish as the second choice at 3B.

    3) What might be termed the “Texas Rangers” conundrum is lurking out there…How do we deal with a franchise that moves and then tries really hard to shed its old identity? That fate befell the Expos of course, but it was so recent that it doesn’t matter here. So what happens when Texas (or one of the other multi-city franchises) is the subject? For example, Frank Howard was “The Capitol Punisher” and I don’t associate him with the Rangers at all but that’s a very large man to just airbrush out of history.


  39. 39.  38 : Good calls on Bailey and D. Martinez. (For what it’s worth, Pedro was brought up in the discussion here by a Dodger fan.)

    “How do we deal with a franchise that moves and then tries really hard to shed its old identity?”

    I say everyone’s invited to the party.



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