Presented below this meager introduction is the roster the Dubuque Dubuques, the most geographically centrist of the NotGraphs fantasy teams.
I am by no means a master of style, and so I came into the draft at a distinct disadvantage. You have to go into each draft with a strategy, the experts claim. I knew that competition over mustaches would be fierce, so I chose to tank that category and load up on spectacles instead, hoping to dominate the quotability category in the process.
What I love about this draft idea is that each of us has a different perspective on what exactly NotGraphs is, and our choice of players provides a reflection on that perspective. My own, perhaps unsurprisingly, is somewhat philosophical and meandering, so consider this your TLDR tag.
1. Miguel Batista, SP (1992-2012).
If he had fallen to me at seven, I would have selected Rickey Henderson in a heartbeat. He’s not only my favorite player since childhood, but he’s also the perfect symbol for NotGraphs: unfettered, unrestrained greatness in word and deed. But let’s not dwell.
When you google “Miguel Batista poetry,” one of the results on the first page is a Yelp review of Batista’s website entitled “Miguel Batista should focus on his pitching, not his personal website.” Another link is Deadspin trashing Batista for admiring Kenny G.
Miguel Batista is plasma; he can neither be defined nor contained. He is permanent. When he returns to the majors (and he will, somehow) he’ll be the longest-serving player in the major leagues. He’s a poet and a novelist, not as some sort of exercise in elitism or to achieve some rarity based on society’s standards; he writes because he’s Miguel Batista. And as far as that goes, I wish I were as good at being Patrick Dubuque as Miguel Batista is at being Miguel Batista. There are worse goals.
2. Ross Barnes, 2B (1871-1881).
Since 1871, there have been almost four and a half million baseball games and over 15.5 million plate appearances. It’s very difficult, under the weight of these samples, to be unique as a hitter. Certainly, some men have their stances, and a few have swings worthy of comment. But almost every hitter does the exact same thing with the bat as it travels across the plate. Almost every hitter except Ross Barnes, because people aren’t allowed to hit like Ross Barnes anymore.
Every once in a while an athlete comes along and breaks the rules of a sport, by making it too easy in a way no one expected. George Mikan dominated the paint so thoroughly that basketball had to institute the three-second rule; Tiger Woods stretched golf courses by treating Par 5 holes like Par 4s. Ross Barnes broke bunting. In his day, there was a special strategy called the “fair-foul” bunt, in which the batter could intentionally put English on a ball when laying down a bunt, sending it spinning into foul territory. As long as it landed fair first, it was a live ball.
Many players tried this, but none could match Ross Barnes. He hit above .400 in three of his five seasons with the fair-foul bunt, with BABIPs nearly identical to these lofty numbers. He hit baseball’s first home run with it. In 1876, the Baseball Gods eliminated Barnes’s advantage and made fair-foul bunts foul, and he responded by hitting .429/.468/.590 and having his best season hitting normally.
Afterwards, he caught the nineteenth century equivalent of the West Nile Virus and his career, and legacy, were decimated. But for six short years, Barnes created an identity that would never be equaled.
3. Jim Brosnan, RP (1954-1963).
I spoke a little about Brosnan on Mr. Temple’s fine radio program a few weeks back. Essentially, he’s the author of my favorite baseball book, a forgotten little gem of a memoir called “The Losing Season”. Brosnan was an outsider and an intellectual, as well as a forerunner in great moments in spectacles.
But what makes Brosnan so admirable a character isn’t his quirky tastes or even his quirky, late-50s beat-inspired writing style. It’s his ability to merge those idiosyncrasies with the members of his ballclub, his ability to be an individual and a teammate at the same time. One sees the tension at times. At one point he enjoys a tense conversation with Stan Musial, polished statue of baseball, and manages to humanize Stan and himself both through their frank conversation. Brosnan is both envious and worshipful of the great Musial, who in turn is a little guarded around the intellectual Brosnan, a little weary of his own pristine image.
I’m usually not comfortable with the concept of baseball players as human beings; after all, I’m paid to make fun of them 90% of the time. But Brosnan was a hell of a guy, and a damned fine writer, at that.
4. Sadaharu Oh, 1B (1959-1980)
One doesn’t have to be mediocre at baseball, I suppose, to have personal virtue. Oh’s story of youth, early success, despair and triumph (which you should buy and read) makes for as good a heroic epic as any in baseball. He’s the boy born with everything, luck and skill and charisma, who loses nearly everything.
My only regret here is that drafting Oh prevented me from selecting Paste, the Hercules of Nintendo’s Bases Loaded. In a perfect world, Paste would have been my DH.
5. Chris Sabo, 3B (1988-1996)
History plays tricks on us. When we think of Chris Sabo, we think almost instantaneously of the ubiquitous goggles. If we peer further in, we see a pair of squinting eyes, intent, frozen in time. We see Chris Sabo as a sort of statue, a man passed on by time, waiting at third for the pitch, afraid to move for fear of yet another twinge of the back.
What we don’t remember is that Chris Sabo stole 46 bases his rookie season. We can’t. It’s irreconcilable.
WAR is a wonderful statistic, and we rightly celebrate it as a way of clearing through the jungle of barroom debate on the quality of baseball players. But it tells us what happened, and FanGraphs and RotoGraphs tend, quite understandably, to concentrate on what will happen. If that’s the case, my vision of NotGraphs is to spend some time delving into what should have been. Chris Sabo should have been the successor to Pete Rose, Cincinnati’s next leader. There should be millions of little kids in Ohio wearing goggles right now. Alas.
6. Reggie Smith, RF (1966-1982)
Smith represents my biggest reach in the draft, and in retrospect it would have been wiser and more thematically consistent to go with Bill “Spaceman” Lee, who Baumann thwarted me by taking later in the round. I’m even regretting using this pick instead of scooping up personal favorite Roy Cullenbine in a later round, he of the .224/.401/.422 triple-slash in his (involuntarily) final season.
But Reggie Smith is one of those players who engenders regret in a way I find fascinating. His 64.5 WAR put him in the upper echelon of the Hall of Very Good, but fans and managers in five cities found themselves wishing he were something more than he was.
But it’s his person vs. society conflict with the nation of Japan that I find so fascinating, best detailed in Robert Whiting’s “You Gotta Have Wa”. After seeing the financial explosion of baseball in the seventies and eighties (and being paid in dollars about as much as he’d been paid in regard during his playing career), Smith was given a million dollar contract to play in Japan during his age-38 and 39 seasons.
The proceedings could be described as rancorous. Smith dealt with racism, jealousy, an alternate rule book devoted to gaijin, and the failing of his own body. It’s how he responded to these obstacles: sometimes with grace, sometimes with anger, sometimes with a subtle craftiness of the partisan, that make him such a compelling character.
7. Paul Molitor SS (1978-1998)
Paul Molitor got elected to the Hall of Fame largely because of numbers, and one number in particular: 3,000. Ironically, of the recent greats, I feel that numbers reflect Molitor’s on-field performance more poorly than anyone.
Based on those 3,000 hits, Molitor was elected to the Hall easily on his first ballot. Lou Whitaker, meanwhile, enjoyed a career (68.0 WAR) and peak season (6.1 WAR) with almost identical values to Molitor’s, but fell 631 hits short of automatic enshrinement. It’s odd to think of Molitor as a lifer Hall candidate rather than a peak candidate, thanks to those occasionally gaudy batting averages and that hit streak in 1987, but that’s what he was. It’s not that he didn’t deserve to make the Hall; he just made it so easily because he happened to be good at the stuff people cared about back then.
So why do numbers fail him? Molitor started 2% of his career games played at shortstop. WAR reflects his defensive performance at the positions he played, but Molitor was indeed a shortstop, and played the position well in the minors. However, the Brewers already had a shortstop by the name of Robin Yount who’d beat him to the majors, and so Molitor became a victim of his own versatility. Each year the team would yank him around, force him to fill some gap. He’s now thought of as a DH, but he played every position except pitcher and catcher. He played third until Sal Bando showed up, moved to center until Gorman Thomas fretted about his crumbling reputation.
Mike Trout is playing left field in 2013 despite the fact that he’s a center fielder; we’ll never know whether Paul Molitor was a shortstop or not, because he never got a chance. He serves as an example why it’s dangerous, if still necessary, to use numbers to measure a player, whether that number is hits or WAR or even wins or success.
Is Paul Molitor a NotGraphs player? I guess it depends. If we’re going by the mustache/fisticuffs scale, Molitor is the worst player in the draft. If we’re looking at alternative, sometimes strange and unsettling viewpoints, I think he has a case. It depends on your NotGraphs, I suppose.
8. Digital Ken Griffey, Jr., CF (1994-1998)
I needed at least one Seattle Mariner on my squad, and I needed at least one video game character. I also needed someone fictional, and my roster is admittedly a little light on actual baseball talent. Fortunately, Digital Ken Griffey, Jr, star of three baseball games for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, fulfills all these demands.
It doesn’t hurt that Digital Ken Griffey Jr is the greatest baseball player in history, the only man who could pop up a bunt and hit a home run. Most game designers are faced with the choice of creating a realistic game, one which presents the player with enough challenge that he or she wins around half the time, and one in which the player gets to feel like God. The Griffey games had it both ways: most of the players were realistic, and yet you had a single avatar who could lay waste to the fabric of reality.
9. Gregg Jefferies, LF (1987-2000)
To most people, Gregg Jefferies was a mild disappointment, or a secondary piece, or a street urchin. But for a generation of young baseball card collectors, Gregg Jefferies was Peter York and Jesus rolled up into one. A Gregg Jefferies was the ultimate prize, a symbol of wealth and status on the playground. And while he eventually became nothing more than one of the common cards we used to sift through to find him, Jefferies still symbolizes the green light on the far shore, a beckoning of the wealth and potential we anticipated in ourselves.
10. George Plimpton, SP (1961-1961)
George Plimpton is not the most sympathetic character on the roster, born as he was suckling on a golden pacifier and swaddled in his acceptance letter to Harvard. But while no one is ever going to confuse Plimpton for David Roarke, he made the odd and successful transition to sporting everyman, doing everything from playing quarterback in Spring Training with the Lions to hating on the Atari to losing the world’s first-ever hotdog eating championships.
He earns his spot here for one day in 1966, when he took on the National League All-Star team in an exhibition game and got completely worn out by them. But that was one of Plimpton’s charms; even thrust into these incredible and meaningless situations, he took them and completely seriously and with an appropriate level of reverence. He was a man of fortune who appreciated that fortune, and made it easy for us to live through him.
Every boy, I think, dreams of pitching to Hank Aaron and striking him out. And every man, I’d contend, dreams of pitching to Hank Aaron and giving up a monster home run and a smile. In a few short pages, Plimpton made that dream real for a while.
11. Frank Fernandez, C (1967-1972)
I’ve always had a soft spot for Frank Fernandez, who grounded out in his final at-bat in 1972, and in so doing dropped his career batting average from .1997 to .1994. This makes him the greatest player in history with a sub-.200 batting average. Fernandez served most of his career as a platoon/backup catcher for the Yankees during their lean, expectation-laden years, and posted a career slash of .199/.350/.395 with above-average defense.
Fernandez’s career demonstrates just how powerful numbers are, even long before the Moneyball era, how strong the desire to shape them to fit our preconceptions. He’s also a demonstration of our perception of major league talent, of how the 400th greatest baseball player in the world can be so humbled when compared to the 399th. I guess I feel that way a lot of the time.
12. Bill Veeck
Just because a pick is obvious doesn’t mean it’s not good. You can accuse Bill Veeck of many things: self-serving, disrespectful, grandstanding. But every time I go to a ballgame and I see the same hidden ball game on the Jumbotron or the same dance cams and the same canned advertisements, I think of Bill Veeck. He didn’t ruin or fix baseball by himself; no one person can. But after a hundred and fifty years of more-or-less identical baseball games, the weight of so much tradition can saddle the game, suffocate original thinking.
As someone who’s written 140 articles for this site, a number which seems both miniscule and immense, I can testify as to the difficulty of creating new content and new perspectives on a game that fights to remain as identical as possible. All writers face this challenge. So, I think, do all fans. That’s why we have a NotGraphs at all.
Bill Veeck was our man on the inside, the one who wanted to give us all something we hadn’t seen before. Not everything worked, of course, and some of it, like moving the walls between half-innings, strikes the modern fan as a little too Cervantes. But he also gave us both Larry Doby and Eddie Gaedel, two figures who have made baseball better for their presence, for two very different reasons.
13. Clark Field
One of the most pleasant or frustrating features of baseball, depending on whom you ask, is the lack of uniformity in its playing fields. I find it fascinating that the game with the smallest home field advantage in all of professional sports is the only one that allows customized boundaries.
After the build-it-yourself dome era that dominated my childhood, many of the new modern stadiums have attempted to recall the quirks of early times, with questionable success. One glimpse at Tal’s Hill usually lends the suspicion that someone was trying too hard.
Clark Field is an equally quirky field, used by the University of Texas between 1928 and 1974. But while the modern stadium feels artificial, Clark (to me) attains an authenticity in its personality. Its defining feature was its centerfield, which was split by a 10-30 foot limestone cliff, the top of which remained in play. Center fielders were faced with the choice of whether to position themselves beneath the shadow of the cliff or to play atop it, climbing a goat track incline in left center.
14. Joe Schultz
Many of the early Greek philosophers are remembered chiefly or even entirely through the work of their enemies. Men whose thoughts and writings were lost remain in the criticism they received from the survivors, mockery and rebuttal made by men like Plato and Aristotle. Joe Schultz is therefore a little like Pythagoras, in this sense, in that he is remembered through the work of Jim Bouton.
Schultz was the field leader of the hapless, ultimately tragic Seattle Pilots, a defective product straight from the factory. Bouton didn’t always have kind words for Schultz, a man whose primary piece of advice was to go out there and win so that they could “pound the ol’ Budweiser.” Certainly Bouton didn’t rate Schultz highly on his usage of relief pitchers.
Schultz wasn’t a very good manager. But that’s fine; most managers aren’t very good managers, and regardless, the Pilots were beyond managing. Playing in a decrepit stadium with slowly bankrupting owners, the team never held hope. That’s what made Schultz the perfect manager for his situation, and his proto-Notgraphian meme a slogan for the post-existential world.
Managing is useless. One can say the same of most activity. Our best efforts usually end in failure, and even if they don’t, what we succeed in can usually be categorized as trivial. Mortality haunts us all. What do we have, what do we seek in such bleak circumstances? One thing: to pound the ol’ Budweiser. It’s all we can do.
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