At some point in the last year, Major League Baseball figured out another brilliant way to make baseball fans argue on the Internet, asking them to choose the "Franchise Four" for every team. The criteria was nebulous, but the idea was that you would pick the four players who defined the franchise. Define the franchise in a good way, that is, which is why Ozzie Smith or Roberto Alomar didn't make the Padres' team.
Giants fans were asked to choose four players from the following list:
- Buster Posey
- Barry Bonds
- Willie Mays
- Willie McCovey
- Juan Marichal
- Mel Ott
- Christy Mathewson
- Orlando Cepeda
On Tuesday, MLB announced the results, and the winners were the first four listed up there. Back in April, groug had a miserable time picking between McCovey and Ott, and then he promised me a toaster from an electronics store that a rude security guard told me doesn't even exist anymore. But it was a very, very hard choice. There are seven Hall of Famers up there!
The votes came in, and we confirmed two things about Giants fans:
- They believe that baseball began in 1958
- They really like Buster Posey
Posey won, despite having played only four full seasons. My initial reaction was surprise and bemusement at the silly fans. My current reaction is a little more complicated.
Forget trying to be rational about Posey's selection; it isn't possible. Christy Mathewson was an icon of the game, not just his team, helping bring baseball out of the Mos Eisley Cantina and into mainstream acceptance. Players were murderers and rogues before Mathewson, but he showed the world that it was okay for smart, educated fellers to play baseball, too. Oh, and he was one of the dozen or so best pitchers of all-time, give or take. He also played professional football and was killed by mustard gas, but focus on the baseball.
Mel Ott was another icon, hitting .383 as a 17-year-old and finishing with 511 career home runs. He lead the National League in homers six times and was an All-Star in 11 straight seasons. He was Albert Pujols, but you would have liked him.
Juan Marichal can't compete with those two. Willie McCovey has a hard time competing with Ott, if you believe in WAR, which suggests that Ott was nearly twice as valuable over his career. And yet the player who beat them all out was someone who had played just four full seasons. When it comes to career WAR, Posey is currently tied with Ryan Klesko and right behind Ted Lilly.
The case for Posey, then, has two supporting arguments:
1. Oh, man, but those four seasons were really good
You know what he's done. You don't need me to repeat them oh okay fine three World Series titles, an MVP, a Rookie of the Year award, no-hitters and perfect games, relaxing body language, and pleasant musk. Mathewson and Ott each won a World Series. Posey has won three. Ott never won an MVP. Posey has.
The Giants had one of the sneakiest postseason curses in baseball before Posey, always finding the very worst ways to lose. Posey came in and said, "Hey, cut that out," and the Giants did. Does that, all concentrated into a very short timeline, trump decades of inner-circle Hall of Fameitude? I'm not so sure, but the question isn't ridiculous.
My only problem with this line of thinking is that it awards or deducts a lot of individual credit from team accomplishments. Posey gets a boost because the Padres collapsed, because Scott Rolen couldn't field a grounder cleanly, and because the Pirates decided to start Edinson Volquez instead of Gerrit Cole. If a few things out of Posey's control didn't happen, starting with Adam LaRoche turning the Giants down in free agency after 2009, it's possible that he's just another ringless Giant, hoping the curse will lift one day.
And if Hunter Pence threw 97 from the left side, he'd be a pretty good reliever. As is, those things did happen for Posey. He deserves medals and made-up awards for it.
2. Suck it, New York
That is to say, no, the San Francisco Giants count, and the New York Giants don't. The best Nationals player of all-time isn't Tim Raines, it's Ryan Zimmerman or something. Stop pretending that Tim Raines is a Nationals great. It hurts my brain.
It's the same thing with the New York Giants, just less obvious. If the Giants didn't move to San Francisco, the odds are great that you wouldn't care about the Giants. Some of you root for the Giants because of New York ties, but the vast majority of us are here because of the San Francisco thing.
In this worldview, Posey probably takes it over Cepeda. He probably takes it over Gaylord Perry (who wasn't an option) and Marichal, too. Longevity is one thing, but Posey is responsible for three championships and shiny awards. Remember that first point up there.
Combine the two, then, and you get at least a plausible argument for a still-young player to crack the list of verifiable baseball legends. The concentrated brilliance combined with the suck-it-New-York makes an indefensible choice somewhat defensible. I'd still go with Bonds, Mays, Mathewson, and Ott, waiting a few years before anointing Posey as one of their peers, but I'm not as incredulous as I was after the announcement.
In conclusion, I'm proud of Giants fans for not being dillweeds about Barry Bonds, and I'm happy that Buster Posey exists. I think this site would have eaten itself alive by now if the Rays took him.