In an effort to avoid going stir crazy with MLB and every other major sports league shut down during the coronavirus pandemic, I've decided to take a look at the best of the best for each baseball franchise. We've created a 30-day series making an all-time team for each MLB club. We're breaking down one team each day throughout April, continuing today in the Steel City.
As a (hopefully?) fun twist, I'm making a Baseball Stars team for each. That's right, the old-school Nintendo video game "Baseball Stars," which I still consider to be the best baseball video game ever. It allowed you to create teams and I used to make all-time lineups for prominent MLB franchises. There are the eight position players with four starting pitchers, one reliever and five bench position players on each Baseball Stars squads
Up next is the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Russell Martin had some good seasons (and an awesome home run after Johnny Cueto dropped the ball). We have to mention Mike LaValliere, Tony Pena and Smoky Burgess. Manny Sanguillen from the '70s is the runner up here, but Jason Kendall is the pick. In Kendall's nine seasons with the Pirates, he hit .306/.387/.418, good for an OBP-heavy 108 OPS+. The three-time All-Star sits 16th in Pirates history in WAR.
He also played outfield, but this is the best spot for Pops. Willie Stargell won an MVP at 39 years old in 1979. Oh, and he also won the NLCS and World Series MVPs, going nuts to the tune of .415/.435/.927(!) with six doubles, five homers and 13 RBI in the Pirates' 10 playoff games that year. He also had two MVP runners-up and one third-place finish. He's an easy pick for this squad and a Pirates' legend.
We've gotta send some love to Neil Walker and Johnny Ray, but it's Bill Mazeroski. He wasn't much of a hitter, but he's one of the best defensive second basemen of all-time and has one of the most famous homers in MLB history, walking off the 1960 World Series.
I've been generally avoiding pre-integration and especially 1900s-1910s players unless they are all-time greats and, well, we've got one here in Honus Wagner. Hall of Famer Arky Vaughan is squeezed out.
I'll mention Hall of Famer Pie Traynor and his unadjusted rate stats (.320 average, for example) look huge, but he only ran a 107 OPS+ through one of the most notoriously offensive eras in baseball history. Bill Madlock, Richie Hebner and Aramis Ramirez had some big seasons, but I'll go with Bobby Bonilla. From 1987-91, Bonilla hit .287/.358/.492 (138 OPS+) while averaging 39 doubles, seven triples, 24 homers, 101 RBI and 95 runs per 162 games. Late career Bonilla (and his famed Mets contract) distract us from how great he was with the Pirates. He finished second in MVP voting once and third another time.
Oh man, we've got Barry Bonds and Ralph Kiner out here. With apologies to Brian Giles, let's see if there's an opening for both Bonds and Kiner.
I had hoped to put Andrew McCutchen here, by a hair over Andy Van Slyke, but both Bonds and Kiner rate out above Cutch. Bonds played some center field for the Pirates, too, so he goes here.
Hall of Famer Paul Waner should be mentioned and, man, it really hurts to not pick Dave Parker. He's a favorite in these parts and was with the Pirates through much of his stellar prime. It's just ... there's Roberto Clemente.
They don't have any all-time greats pre-integration, so I'm zeroing in on what we've got to work with post-1947. Bob Friend is the franchise leader in innings pitched, a four-time All-Star and once finished third in Cy Young voting. He's all over the WAR by season leaderboard among Pirates, so he works.
How about John Candelaria? He was 20-5 with an MLB-best 2.34 ERA in 1977, finishing fifth in Cy Young voting and won a game in the 1979 World Series. He's second in WAR after 1947 to Friend. Two down, two to go.
We can't leave off Vern Law. He won the Cy Young in 1960 and then went 2-0 in the Pirates' shocking takedown of the mighty Yankees.
As I wade through names like Bob Veale, Rick Reuschel, Rick Rhoden, Doug Drabek, Zane Smith and Oliver Perez, it occurs to me that you can't stop me from taking.
They've had lots of good ones. Tony Watson, Mark Melancon, Joel Hanrahan, Matt Capps all come to mind. This really comes down to two from a bit more distant past, though. It's Kent Tekulve and Roy Face. Both were ironman type relievers who were the most important relievers on championship teams. Tekulve was better on a rate basis, though, and pitched very well in the 1979 World Series, while Face had a 5.23 ERA in the 1960 World Series. We'll go with the side-winder.
Baseball Stars uses six characters for each name. What follows is the Baseball Stars lineup.
- Honus, SS
- Bonds, CF
- Arriba, RF
- Kiner, LF
- Pops, 1B
- Bobby, 3B
- Jason, C
- Maz, 2B
SP: Friend, Candy, Vern, Dock
Man, how about that top five in the batting order? "Arriba" was Clemente's nickname. He disliked being called "Bob," so we're going with the nickname.
For the bench, we've got Cobra (Dave Parker), Cutch, VSlyke, Poison (Paul Waner's nickname was Big Poison and his brother, Lloyd, was Little Poison so here's a shout to both) and Arky (Vaughn). Yes, we've punted backup catcher. I'm OK with that.