Extinct Teams Are Good Enough
I was planning on this post before the passing of Rusty Staub, but it's especially fitting to write about the stars of the Expos and other extinct teams now considering that Staub was the very first superstar in Montreal and his influence on the city cemented a French-Canadian love of baseball. It's a fitting time to celebrate the Montreal Expos, St. Louis Browns, Seattle Pilots and both Washington Senators franchises.
The Expos were the very first MLB game I ever attended in person so the idea of extinct teams brings a little nostalgia. The Expos never played in a World Series although their best chance was in the 1994 strike season that had no champion. The Expos were in Montreal from 1969 as an expansion team until they moved to Washington DC in 2004 to become the Washington Nationals.
Rusty Staub, RF
"Le Grand Orange" came to the Expos from the Astros just before the inaugural season for the franchise in a trade that nearly fell through if it wasn't for Commissioner stepping in to resolve the deal as one of the players going to Houston threatened to retire rather than play for the Astros. Staub moved to Montreal, learned French so that he could feel part of the community and talk with the fans, and slugged his way into their hearts in the open air stadium.
He was only on the Expos for three seasons, but he was an All-Star all three years (six times in his career), and had his two highest home run totals (29 and 30 in '69 and '70) and some impressive OBP numbers (.426, .392, .394 from '69-'71) while playing in some pretty frigid conditions. He played for five teams over his career and was the first player to amass 500 hits or more for four teams (Astros, Expos, Mets, Tigers). He compiled 2,716 hits, 292 homers, a .279 AVG and a .362 OBP (According to Fangraphs, a .300 AVG hitter should have an OBP of .360) over his 23 year career.
Larry Parrish, 3B
He broke into the majors with Gary Carter and just preceded Andre Dawson, Tim Raines and Ellis Valentine (the guy thought to be most talented, perhaps one of the best outfield arms of all time, of the bunch who partied too much and didn't put in the effort to overcome injuries). Parrish was the beneficiary of a team that brought in players with high school injuries or personal issues to overcome the superior scouting of the rest of the league. He was the purest power hitter on the team (and the league), hitting in the middle of the lineup, he didn't fully realize that power with results until his sixth year, although he was still only 25 years old in 1979. He was an All-Star hitting 30 home runs, a .307 AVG and finish behind only Keith Hernandez, Willie Stargell and Dave Winfield in MVP voting.
His 256 HR, 992 RBI, 1789 H, .263/.318/.439 over 15 years are good but not eye popping, although they compare favorably with Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson and current star Evan Longoria. Robinson is much more known for his defense and longevity, playing 23 years, 268 HR, 1357 RBI, 2848 H, and .267/.322/.401. Longoria has only played 11 years 262 HR, 894 RBI, 1472 H, .269/.340/.482 and a couple of Gold Gloves to his name. Parrish was not nearly the defensive star of Robinson and Longo, but he was an offensive cornerstone for both the Expos and later the Rangers where he would also be a leader in home runs and RBI for the second half of his career especially at third base that has a history of being sparse of great players compared to other positions.
Andres Galarraga, 1B
Seeing "The Big Cat" on the field was like seeing The Hound on Game of Thrones playing baseball. Just one home run shy of 400 over his 19 year career, he transformed from a good hitter with a .269 AVG with Montreal from the start of his career between '85 to '91 to leading the league in AVG with the Rockies in '93 hitting .370. While he did lead the league in hits (184) and doubles (42) with the Expos in 1988, he never hit more than 30 homers in Montreal. Colorado players are often discounted for the park effect on the distance the ball is hit, and 31,31,47 (leading the league) and 41 homers from '94 to '97 with the Rockies, also leading the league in RBI in '96 and '97 with 150 and 140 respectively. There is an argument that perhaps this power output was not the absolute provider of Galarraga's success because his first year away from Denver he hit 44 home runs, 121 RBI and a .305 AVG with Atlanta in '98 at the age of 37. He was late to get into the majors and still didn't produce his best seasons until he was closer to 30, but he finished his career with 2333 H, 1425 RBI (70th all-time), 399 HR and a .288 AVG over 19 years.
Dennis Martinez, RHP
The winningest Latin player of all time (245 wins), El Presidente's career was more of a lifetime. He lead the league in complete games in 1979 and 1991, pitched in the '79 and '95 World Series. He was a four-time All-Star but didn't make his first team until he was 35 years old. He quit drinking at 28 and and retired as a grandfather at 44. In his 1991 season with the Expos he lead the league in ERA (2.39), CG (9), SHO (5) and finished 5th in Cy Young voting for the first time since 1981 when he lead the league in Wins (14) in a strike shortened year. He won 108 games for the Orioles and another 100 for Montreal where had a 3.06 for the Expos over eight years. When he was 40 years old he won a poll of popularity in his native Nicaragua where he was urged to run for president. He decided to pitch for five more seasons.
John Wetteland, RHP
He only pitched 12 seasons in the majors but is still 14th on the all-time list with 330. Wetteland led the league in saves (43) in 1996 with the Yankees where he also saved all four World Series wins and was World Series MVP. His setup man that year was Mariano Rivera, who became the Yankees closer the next season and went on to be the all-time saves leader and to have the Al award for best reliever named after him.
He started his career with the Dodgers but lost favor with Tommy Lasorda for being a free spirit. He was traded to the Expos in 1992 and through 2000 he save 30 or more games every year excluding the 1994 strike year where he was still one of the most dominant closers in the league on an Expos team that would have had their best shot at a Championship in their history. Twice he saved 30 or more games and had an ERA under 2.00 and three times he had a WHIP under 1.00.
The son of Felipe Alou, his parents divorced when Moises was just two years old and he lived estranged from his father until Felipe was his manager in Montreal. It was not the sunniest of reunions as Moises was benched by his father in 1992 when pitchers figured out he was swinging at the first pitch fastballs. He was able to adjust and led the Expos to their best season in franchise history in the strike shortened '94 season where he finished third in MVP voting and his father won the Manager of the Year Award. Moises went on the win a World Series with the Marlins in '97 and take the Astros ('98 and '01) and Cubs ('03, pay no attention to the unfortunate way he pointed at Steve Bartman) to the postseason. A six-time All-Star, he hit .303, 2134 hits and 332 home runs over 17 years.
St Louis Browns
From 1902 to 1953 St Louis was home to two MLB teams. The AL Browns never had much luck as a team, their only World Series appearance was in 1944 as many of the stars of baseball were still away in the war and they lost the series to the St Louis Cardinals. After the '53 season they moved to Baltimore to become the Orioles where they have won three World Series.
Vern Stephens, SS
I hadn't heard of Vern Stephens until relatively not that long ago when his name came up during a Red Sox game as a trivia question for the best RBI season by a shortstop, all-time. I was shocked that was the first time I had ever heard of a Red Sox shortstop who had hit and 39 HR, 159 RBI in 1949. He tied teammate Ted Williams for the league lead in RBI that year in one of the best power combos in MLB history, when Ted also hit 43 home runs, with a .343 AVG and .490 OBP. I would look over that Red Sox roster and wonder who he was and who outfielder Al Zarilla was. Both came over from the Browns in the late '40's and Stephens was not just a star when he came to Fenway. He led the league in RBI in 1944 (109) and home runs in '45 (24).
Stephens came up with the Browns during the war years, not serving himself as he had allergies and a knee problem. In 1945, he was enticed to leave the Browns to play in Mexico for a lucrative deal but after two games the MLB commissioner decreed that any player that left the MLB to play in Mexico would be suspended for five years. The Browns owner talked Stephens into returning so disguised in a floppy hat and his father's clothes he snuck back into the US in a cab. The commishioner decided not to suspend him after he returned his bonus money to the team in Mexico.
The following year, 1950, he had another great season leading the league in RBI, this time tying teammate Walt Dropo, a UConn product who had the second highest RBI total by a rookie with 144. Stephens hit 30 homers that year with a .295 AVG. Over his 15 year career Stephens hat 1859 hits, 247 home runs and a slash of .286/.355/. 460 and played on the 1944 Browns World Series team.
Urban Shocker, RHP
Yes, that's his real name. Kind of. He did change it from his birth name of Urbain Jacques Shockcor. Traded away from the Yankees to the Browns before the 1918 season, he returned to the Yankees in a 1925 trade (over a disagreement with management over bringing his wife on road trips) in time to win 19 games for the '26 World Series team. it was his time in between with the Browns that set him apart as a pitcher. He won 20 games four straight seasons from 1920 to 1923, including a 27 win season in 1921. In 1922 he led the league in strike outs, walks per nine innings and strike outs per walk ratio (although he also led the league in hits and home runs) for one of the two seasons where he received MVP votes. He ended his 13 year career (although the last season he only pitched one game, two innings) with 187 wins and a 3.17 ERA.
Baby Doll Jacobson, CF
How could I resist that name? Apparently while in the minors he hit a home run on opening day and this being the 1910's the band played "Oh, You Baby Doll," a popular tune of the day of course, and the local newspaper captioned his picture the next day "Baby Doll." He was a the center of a successful outfield (from '19 to '23 all three hit over .300) on the best stretch of years the Browns ever had. He missed the 1918 season to serve during World War I, but once he was back playing baseball he hit over .300 for seven straight seasons. In 1920 and '21 he hit .355 and .352, respectively, and hit 19 home runs in '24. The 1922 Browns might have been one of the best teams to miss the playoffs, 1B George Sisler hit .420, OF Ken Williams had 39 homers, 155 RBI and 37 steals, OF Jack Tobin had 207 hits and a .331 AVG, 2B Marty McManus had 109 RBI and Baby Doll was the least successful outfielder but still hit .317. He finished his 11 year career with 1714 hits and a career .311 AVG.
The Seattle Pilots were an expansion team in 1969 and moved in 1970 to become the Milwaukee Brewers. The owners couldn't keep the team alive long enough in their one season of losing 98 games to move into their new stadium so Bug Selig swooped in to buy the team for $10.8 million and move them east, but he did throw in some new floor mats. The Mariners ended up being Seattle's permanent team in 1977.
Mike Marshall, RHP
A "somewhat surly, extraordinarily intelligent 'flake,'" Marshall went from being injured in a car that was hit by a train when he was eleven years old, to a three sport star in high school, to one of the oddest careers in baseball history. He started his pro career as a shortstop and although he hit well, his fielding was so incredibly awful he was moved... to pitcher. He was the lone survivor of the Seattle Pilot's single year of existence but pitched so badly as a reliever he was traded to the Expos. He was one of the few pitchers on the Expos roster with any experience as he did have a successful rookie season with the Tigers in '67 where he had a 1.98 ERA in 37 games so the Expos obviously moved him into their rotation. He had tried starting with the Pilots and that got him traded, so starting in Montreal wasn't much better and he lasted only five starts before being moved back to the pen.
In Montreal, Marshall developed a screwball and in '72 and '73 he lead the league in games pitched with 65 and 92, while also keeping low ERA's of 1.78 and 2.66 respectively. Before the '74 season he was traded to the Dodgers where he was able to really put into practice some of the personal theories he had about the mechanics of the human body he had been obsessing over ever since being hit by a train as a child and studied as he continued his college education majoring in kinesiology while playing in the majors. He believed it was best to pitch four or five games a week and in 1974 he set the record for games pitched in a season with 106. He led the league with 21 saves, had a 2.42 ERA and was the first reliever to win the Cy Young Award.
In his career, he pitched in 724 games, 188 saves, leading the league in saves three times, games pitched four times, was a two time All-Star and had a 1.00 ERA over five World Series games in '74 striking out 10 and walking none in 9 innings despite the Dodgers lossing the series to the A's.
The Senators came in two incantations. The first played in DC from 1901 to 1960 and starred Hall of Famer Walter Johnson who was the ace of their one World Series in 1924. That franchise moved to Minnesota to become the Twins. The year after the first franchise's move, another expansion Washington Senators started. They were best known for not being that great, being managed by Ted Williams, and for moving to Texas to become the Rangers after the 1971 season. Washington, DC did not have major league baseball from 1972 to 2004, until the Expos moved to DC to become the Nationals. The new team has made the statement that they would not use the name "Senators" until the District was given their own Senator to represent them with voting rights.
Frank Howard, OF
At 6'7", 260lbs, Howard is one of the biggest mashers in MLB history. When Ted Williams was his manager he called Howard "the strongest man ever to play major league baseball." Coming up in the late '50's with the Dodgers, it took him until the late '60'son the second incarnation of the Senators to figure out how to consistently swing for power and average. In 1968, over a six straight games he hit a total of ten home runs, at least one a game in his first season leading the league in home runs and slugging with 44 and .552. The next year he hit his personal best of 48 homer while also batting in 111 RBI, and slashing .296/.402/.574. The year after that, 1970, Howard lead the league in home runs (44), RBI (126), walks (132 and slashed .283/.416/.546 for his third consecutive season with MVP votes. The 1960 Rookie of the year with the Dodgers, Howard was a four-time All-Star, a World Series champ in 1963 and finished his career with 1774 H, 382 HR and a .273/.352/.499 slash over 16 seasons.
Camilo "Little Potato" Pascual, RHP
"Patato Pequeno" Started his career with the first incarnation of the Senators and played with the latter toward the end after leaving the Twins. Playing in the mid-1950's through the '60's, his curve ball's sharp break was compared to contemporary Sandy Koufax. Despite the Senators being a pretty hapless team in the '50's, in 1959 he went 17-10, 2.64 ERA, 17 COMPLETE GAMES and 6 SHUTOUTS, both to lead the league. This was the start of five out of six seasons as an All-Star, leading the league in shutouts and complete games three times each, and winning 20 games twice. He lead the league in strikes outs each seasons for three years from 1961 to '63. He won 174 games over 18 seasons, career 3.63 ERA, his 2167 strike outs rank 64th all-time, just behind Pete Alexander (2198) and Vida Blue (2167) and his 36 career shutouts rank 63th, just ahead of Greg Maddux, Lefty Grove and Eddie Cicotte and just behind Vida Blue and Randy Johnson.
Eddie Yost, 3B
"The Walking Man" isn't just the worst possible name for an action movie, it was the nickname for Eddie Yost of the original Senators. Playing mostly for the original Senators in the '40's and '50's, Yost lead the league in walks six times and had on base percentages over .400 nine times and a career OBP of .394 despite a deceptively low career AVG of .254. His 1614 career walks in 18 seasons ranks eleventh all-time, just behind Frank Thomas (Big Hurt) who walked 1667 times in 19 seasons. Although he played in a cavernous stadium and only had 139 career home runs, Yost only trails Rickey Henderson, Bobby Bonds and Paul Molitor with 28 leadoff home runs as of 1999 (unfortunately the only reliable resource I can find for this stat is 19 years old). His 1863 career hits aren't eye-popping, but combined with his 1614 walks he is a sabermetrics darling born six decades too early.
Joe Judge, 1B
Listed at 5'8 1/2" Judge so short for a first baseman that he needed the 1/2 inch at the end of height listing so that you could know he's a big boy. Despite this small stature at a position that requires a large target, he was known as the best fielder at his position for the entirety of his 20 year career then for another three decades after his retirement. He was the consistent leader for every defensive category at first base and had a lifetime .993 fielding percentage (although the recording of errors during his career that spanned 1915 to 1934 is a little suspect for some positions, especially at short stop due to rocks in the dirt and four inch long infield grass). Judge, a singles hitter amassed 2352 carrer hits, a .298 AVG, .378 OBP, four seasons with MVP votes and two World Series appearances, including the 1924 championship.
Cecil Travis, SS
This three time All-Star unfortunately embodied the "first in war, first in peace, last in the American League" reputation of the Senators. As a member of the original franchise he hit over .300 every season but one from 1933 to '41. His one down year, 1939, he suffered from a case of influenza that was so bad that he was described as a "walking skeleton" yet he still hit .292 over 130 games. His greatest season came at the age of 27 when he led the league in hits with 218, was second to Ted Williams in hitting at .359, and had career highs in doubles (39), triples (19) and RBI (101). Unfortunately, that was 1941 and the next three seasons he did not play in the majors as he went off to fight in World War II and missed the next three years of his career and most of a fourth. When he returned from the war he was never quite able to find his timing and retired midseason when he was only 33 years old. He retired after playing in 12 seasons (although only nine full seasons) collecting 1544 hits, .314 AVG, .370 OBP, three All-Star games and four seasons with MVP votes.
Sad Sam Jones
"Sad Sam" wasn't able to get his other nickname "Horsewhips" (for the sharp crack of his breaking ball) to stick through the decades. He was just a sad looking dude. He won the World series once each with the Red Sox (1918) and Yankees (1923) and lost two other trips ('22 and '26) although he never personally won a game in the series. His 229 career wins are better than 20 of the 70 starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame. So sad. Jones had a season with the Browns in '27 and a longer stay with the first Senators franchise from '28 to 31 where he had one notable 17 win season with a 2.84 ERA. Not much of a strike out pitcher, never striking out more than 100 in a season, he also didn't give up the long ball with a career average of 0.3 home runs per nine innings.
Firpo Marberry, RHP
No. Frederick isn't known to be shortened to "Firpo." This is nonsense and I blame Early 20th Century Man. Regardless, Mr. Marberry, as odd as his name was, was also a unique pitcher who should be considered a pioneer of baseball. He had just one pitch and it was an unhittable fastball that became very hittable after three or four innings. It was the 1920's and the save had several decades to be invented as a stat, but those original Senators started using Firpo as a spot starter an reliever. In hindsight he was able to set records for saves in a season three times, lead the league six times and led the league in games pitched six times. This includes 1929 when he saved 9 games to lead the league and had 16 complete games. Oh yeah, he won 19 games that year and had a 3.06 ERA. Firpo finished his career in 1936 with 99 saves, 148 wins, a 3.63 ERA, and a World Series championship in a series where he saved two games. The numbers aren't gaudy to today's standards, but his role of being used in any situation to get a win is now en vogue concerning relievers today.