Chris Speier in . . . The Franchise All-Time All-StarsJune 12, 2008
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
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.
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:
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.
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(Love versus Hate update: Chris Speier’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)