I was born in 1981, so I am used to thinking of the 49ers as the top sports franchise in San Francisco. A run of 16 playoff appearances in 17 seasons. Five Superbowl wins. Much as I love the Giants, I have to admit they haven't won the World Series quite as often. But now the boot is firmly on the other foot. If the Giants don't make the playoffs, I'll be very disappointed. If the 49ers show they're even trying to win, I'll be delighted.
The comparison got me thinking - what would the 49ers be like as a baseball team? Is that so silly? The NFL is desperate to compare itself to baseball. Superficially, trying to steal its place as America's pastime. In its structures, like the All-Star-imitating Pro Bowl. The commentators are not immune; quarterbacks "throw strikes." Safeties "play centerfield," and a deep throw is a "home run play." Not to mention the salary-capped NFL players enviously eyeing their MLB counterparts with their fat, guaranteed contracts.
No, I feel no hesitation in naming my San Francisco 49ers baseball team - after all, a lot of these guys are going to be looking for alternative employment soon, so why not see how transferrable their skills are! I'd even bank on them getting more wins than their football brethren - of course, it's a lot easier to get 2 wins in a 162 game schedule.
Pitcher - Andy Lee (Punter)
The sure-armed Tim Rattay? The slightly less than sure-armed Ken Dorsey? No. Andy Lee was actually a standout high-school pitcher, and besides, with the 49ers, the punter is the key to the offense. Baseball was actually Lee's first love, and to the extent that he switched from quarterback to punter in high school. Why? Less chance of injury, which would make him miss baseball games. Staring for West Oak high school, he was a two-time All-Conference honoree and winner of the Golden and Silver Arm awards. In his junior year he went 5-0 with a 1.90 ERA, in his senior year he went 8-2 and led his team to the district championship and state playoffs.
Perhaps he could follow in the footsteps of his namesake, All-Star pitcher and maverick Bill "the Spaceman" Lee. Manager-mocking, uniform-tearing, Yankee-punching, pot-smoking Lee was not necessarily corporate america's idea of a role model. Pitching in Toronto, Lee was asked if he preferred artificial turf or real grass - Lee replied that he had never smoked the fake stuff. He also claimed to be on "first-number" basis with rival Mark "The Bird" Fidrych of the Tigers ("He calls me 3 and I call him 2"). Andy Lee has yet to show these eccentric tendencies, but he still has time to grow long hair, a scraggly beard, and a total contempt for authority.
First base - Kyle Kosier (Guard)
Experience teaches us that everyone is good at something. That short, stupid, ugly, short-sighted, malco-ordinated kid at the back of the class may seem to be a loser, but he's sure to have a talent somewhere. Maybe he'll turn out to be good at painting, or the cello, or welfare fraud. The same logic tells us that the 49ers offensive linemen have some abilities, but they've certainly proven that blocking is not among them. Perhaps Kosier should turn the clock back to high school, when he lettered in baseball. It would certainly be more worthwhile than standing idly by while defensive linemen saunter untroubled into the backfield.
Second base - Derek M. Smith (ILB)
Derek was born to be an inside linebacker - "Mike" is his middle name. Ho ho ho. Smith was actually one of the few Niner starters to emerge with credit from the season, but his claims that he was worthy of a Pro Bowl selection are surely off base. Err, Derek, I'm quite sure the team could have finished last in the NFL without your help. Smith was a fine baseball player who lettered in high school, and his quick first step and flawless instincts make him an automatic choice at second base. He may not have the pure speed of most second basemen and he's not going to rival namesake Ozzie in the field, but he'll do just fine.
Third base - Rayshun Reed (CB)
Manning the hot corner we have rookie Rayshun Reed (try saying that three times fast). Reed lettered at high school, was second-team all-district, and recently became the first player in his school's history to have his jersey retired. That may not put him up there with major league All-Stars Rick and Ron Reed, but Rayshun is quick, athletic, and has a nose for the big play. Besides, he can do no worse than nineteenth century player "Icicle" Reed, who recorded an OPS+ of 1 in 1884. Yes, you read that right, one. Uno. Eins. Een.
Shortstop - Ahmed Plummer (CB)
When you think of a shortstop, you think of the athletic superstar that leads your team. Diving for balls in the dirt, lasering runners at first, showing skill and effort and guts and speed and determination. None of these characteristics are closely associated with the 49ers right now, but Plummer might come the nearest. Injured most of the season, the star defensive back can't be blamed for the team's struggles, and might look a good fit at shortstop, where he played some while earning varsity baseball letters at Wyoming (OH) High. Yes, his high school was called Wyoming of Ohio. Miami of Ohio, Wyoming of Ohio... next to these, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim looks logical. Plummer is actually my favourite player on the defensive side of the ball for the Niners, and his one weakness (lack of deadly pace) won't matter so much at shortstop where his quick feet and athleticism become much more important.
Only one player named Plummer has ever played in the major leagues, sub Mendoza-line catcher Bill Plummer, of the Cardinals, who later managed Seattle to a disastrous 64-98 finish in his only season as a manager. Here's hoping next season Ahmed inflicts similar misery on the football world's versions of Seattle and the Cardinals.
Left Field - Maurice Hicks (RB)
"Some people may call me Maurice"... but then, it is his name. My selection here is somewhat out of left field - unlike the other members of this team, Hicks has never shown any baseball ability. But that's only because he hasn't put his mind to it yet! Frankly, if the scrappy Hicks announced that he was going to circle the world on a unicycle I wouldn't doubt him for a minute. This is a man who ran for 437 yards in one game in college! (About the length of a big Barry home run). This is his college's all-time rushing leader despite only playing for two seasons. This is a man who dominated NFL Europe two seasons in a row for the sadly defunct Claymores, then carried for 139 yards in his first NFL start. This is a man who's overcome being undrafted, twice sent to NFL Europe, and the ultimate in rejection, being cut by the Bears. This baseball team may not get quite the production out of left field that the Giants do, but they will not lack for heart.
Center Field - Tony Parrish (SS)
Funny how baseball commentators rarely refer to center fielders as "playing free safety." Parrish has made his living patrolling the massive expanses of stupidly-named Monster Park, with very little help from anyone around him. Now he moves to the equally massive expanses of the equally stupidly-named SBC Park, with equally little help from his team-mates to be expected. But Parrish has always shown a great aptitude for plucking balls out of the air, and he still retains good speed to go with his tremendous instincts. Parrish lettered in baseball (and many other sports) at high school, and seems a good fit. His namesake, 8-time All-Star Lance Parrish is a good comparison for Tony - an excellent player for a long, long time but just below Hall of Fame credentials. If either of them had had that one "spike" year, an MVP-caliber season, the rest of their achievements would get the credit they deserve.
Right Field - Aaron Walker (TE)
Walker has so far lived up to his name, plodding around the field like a lazy brontosaurus. Run, you lazy sack of... yes, I know the TV can't hear me, dear. However, were he to live up to his name on the baseball field, that would be a lot more beneficial all round. OBP doesn't give me a headache, Sabean, you fossilised piece of... OK, OK, I'll calm down. Aaron was actually a lettered baseball player in high school, and here's hoping he can follow in the footsteps of the many excellent baseball players named Walker, most notably five-time All-Stars Larry and Dixie. Aaron Walker is no Moises Alou, but he is careful at the urinals, never peeing on his hands.
Catcher - Ken Dorsey (QB)
I narrowly passed over the plucky rookie Mike Adams for the final position - I have a lot of sympathy for those who find themselves laughably overmatched on a sports field. I feel ya, man. Ronnie Heard gets a lot of points simply because his name is a sentence by itself. Like Adams and Heard, Norm Katnik and Isaac Sopoaga lettered in baseball at high school, but I know nothing useful about them, apart from the fact that they have an amusing names. But I decided that like the real San Francisco baseball team, this team should have a catcher with no discernable talent or ability. I wanted a man who brings absolutely nothing to the table, but leaves the fans shaking their heads in bewilderment every time he (fails to) make a play. Any one of many 49ers were amply qualified for that role, but in the end, one stood head and shoulders above the rest.
Ken Dorsey, welcome to the team.