Book Review: Baseball State by State





Baseball State by State: Major and Negro League Players, Ballparks, Museums and Historical Sites
By Chris Jensen
McFarland, 2012
List Price: $55.00


California and Florida are generally regarded as two of the most fertile hotbeds for baseball talent, with weather that allows for play 12 months a year. It should come as no surprise then, that when author Chris Jensen built state-by-state all-star teams, California features a roster including such all-time greats as Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Barry Bonds, and Tom Seaver. The Golden State's second-team outfield would rank among the best of any state in the nation.

Florida's resume, on the other hand, is surprisingly light on elite talent. Lefthander Steve Carlton was the only player born in the Sunshine State to show up on both The Sporting News and SABR's 1999 lists of the game's top 100 players. Negro League great Pop Lloyd, regarded by some as one of the best shortstops to ever play, center fielder Andre Dawson, and catcher Al Lopez, like Carlton, are enshrined in Cooperstown, though Lopez went in on the strength of his managerial career.

As hard as it may be to believe, Florida is looking up at Nebraska and Oklahoma when it comes to Hall of Famers born within its borders. And states like New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio, Massachusetts, Alabama, and Maryland all can boast more plaques.

Jensen, a SABR member and list fanatic, has compiled similar lineups for every state in the nation in his new book, "Baseball State by State." Using birthplace as the criteria for eligibility, he formed squads including both major and Negro leaguers, which added a layer of difficulty as available statistics for most Negro League players tell only a scant portion of their story.

The book is much more than a collection of lists. In fact, it's nearly 400 pages of history on the players and places each state is known for. (There are so many facts in here we'll give him a pass on referring to Durham Bulls Athletic Park as "the main site for the movie Bull Durham." It was actually filmed in old Durham Athletic Park.) Jensen also includes sections on nicknames, stat leaders, and notable achievements. It's the kind of book you could open to any page and learn 10 fascinating things.

It's not, however, the kind of book you would read straight through. So instead of a standard book review, let's check out some of the more talent-laden states, keeping in mind that Jensen sorted players by where they were born, regardless of whether they ever played there. So Roger Clemens shows up in Ohio and not Texas. New York gets to claim Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn instead of Illinois. And California's mother lode doesn't include Walter Johnson, who moved there from Kansas as a teenager.

California: C—Gary Carter; 1B—Eddie Murray, Mark McGwire; 2B—Jeff Kent; 3B—Darrell Evans; SS—Joe Cronin; OF—Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Barry Bonds, Duke Snider, Tony Gwynn, Harry Heilmann; DH—Brian Downing; RSP—Tom Seaver, Don Drysdale, Bob Lemon; LSP—Randy Johnson, Lefty Gomez; RP—Trevor Hoffman, Dennis Eckersley; MGR—Frank Chance, Billy Martin.
The cream of the crop, and the depth is astounding. Brian Downing would be lucky to sit on this bench, with his DH at-bats taken by one of the Hall of Famers on the B-team outfield, if not McGwire.

New York: C—Joe Torre; 1B—Lou Gehrig, Hank Greenberg; 2B—Eddie Collins, Frankie Frisch, Craig Biggio; 3B—Jimmy Collins; SS—Alex Rodriguez; OF—Carl Yastrzemski, Willie Keeler, King Kelly; DH—Edgar Martinez; RSP—Jim Palmer, Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn; Waite Hoyt; LSP—Warren Spahn, Sandy Koufax, Whitey Ford; RP—John Franco; MGR—John McGraw.
McGraw would have a tough time dealing with the superstars on this club, particularly if Frisch got in their ears about his experiences with his old skipper. You know it's a heck of a rotation when Koufax isn't even the best southpaw on the squad.

Pennsylvania: C—Roy Campanella, Mike Piazza; 1B—Dick Allen; 2B—Nellie Fox; 3B—Buddy Bell; SS—Honus Wagner; OF—Stan Musial, Ken Griffey Jr., Reggie Jackson, Hack Wilson; DH—Jack Clark; RSP—Christy Mathewson, Ed Walsh, Mike Mussina; LSP—Eddie Plank, Rube Waddell; RP—Bruce Sutter, Sparky Lyle, Gene Garber; MGR—Joe McCarthy.
The Campy vs Piazza battle could be settled by shifting Piazza to DH, though Hack Wilson might want to get in on that action as well. The bullpen features some of the best firemen of the 1970s and 80s.

Texas: C—Biz Mackey; 1B—Ernie Banks; 2B—Joe Morgan, Rogers Hornsby; 3B—Eddie Mathews; SS—Willie Wells; OF—Tris Speaker, Frank Robinson, Lance Berkman, Curt Flood; DH—Don Baylor; RSP—Greg Maddux, Smokey Joe Williams, Nolan Ryan; LSP—Bill Foster; RP—Joe Nathan; MGR—Rube Foster.
Jensen writes that he debated Morgan vs Hornsby at second base, leaning toward Little Joe, though he's probably in the minority on that call. Try to imagine clubhouse chemistry with the Rajah riding the bench. Ryan is generally the first Texas pitcher to come to most fans' minds, but Maddux takes him on wins, winning percentage, and WHIP, and edges him ever so slightly in ERA. He played his high school ball in Nevada, so having him here eases the Longhorn State's pain over missing out on Clemens.

Ohio: C—Thurman Munson, Roger Bresnahan; 1B—George Sisler; 2B—Miller Huggins; 3B—Mike Schmidt; SS—Barry Larkin; OF—Pete Rose, Ed Delahanty, Jimmy Wynn; DH—Mike Easler; RSP—Cy Young, Roger Clemens, Phil Niekro; LSP—Slim Sallee, Rube Marquard; RP—Rollie Fingers; MGR—Walter Alston.
Shift Rose to second base, where he played regularly when he first came up, and this is one prolific infield. Clemens may have won seven Cy Young Awards, but Young himself will take the ball on Opening Day. Munson and Delahanty's lives both ended in midseason tragedies.

Alabama: C—Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe; 1B—Mule Suttles, Willie McCovey; 2B—George Scales; 3B—Alex Radcliffe; SS—Ozzie Smith; OF—Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Billy Williams, Monte Irvin, Heinie Manush, George Foster; DH—Andre Thornton; RSP—Satchel Paige, Don Sutton, Early Wynn; LSP—Jimmy Key; RP—Clay Carroll; MGR—Gabby Street.
Birmingham and Mobile were incredibly rich in talent. In baseball's early days most of it was forced into the Negro Leagues, though Mays, Aaron, McCovey and Williams spent most of their careers in the major leagues. Irvin and Paige arrived before the end of their playing days. The Radcliffe brothers weren't so lucky.

Maryland: C—Babe Phelps; 1B—Jimmie Foxx; 2B—Cupid Childs; 3B—Frank "Home Run" Baker; SS—Cal Ripken Jr.; OF—Babe Ruth, Al Kaline, Charlie Keller; DH—Harold Baines; RSP—Vic Willis; LSP—Lefty Grove, Babe Ruth; RP—Steve Farr; MGR—Cal Ermer.
With seven Hall of Famers, including the Bambino, Maryland can hold its own against just about anyone. Home Run Baker was what a slugger looked like until the dead ball era ended and Ruth shifted to hitting full time.

Oklahoma: C—Johnny Bench; 1B—Willie Stargell; 2B—Johnny Ray; 3B—Harland Clift; SS—Alvin Dark; OF—Mickey Mantle, Paul Waner, Bobby Murcer, Lloyd Waner; DH—Mickey Tettleton; RSP—Bullet Joe Rogan, Allie Reynolds; LSP—Harry Breechen; RP—Lindy McDaniel; MGR—Bobby Cox.
Mantle and Bench give the Okies two players ranked in the top 20 on both the SABR and Sporting News lists. That's as many as California. Of course, even with Stargell, Rogan, and the Waners, there's nothing approaching California's depth.

Thanks to games like Strat-o-matic and Diamond Mind, you could conceivably set up a double-elimination bracket and play this thing off. My money's on California, but in a short tournament anything can happen. When it's all over, dip back into "Baseball State by State" for more rosters. Maybe a four-team mini bracket with Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas. The possibilities are as endless as Jensen's lists.

James Bailey reviews books for Baseball America. His novel, The Greatest Show on Dirt, is now available. He can be contacted at jamesbailey@baseballamerica.com.