Feel free to peruse the rosters and skip to the bottom and vote for the one you think is best in the poll.
Programming note: Moving forward this blog (and BluefieldJays.com) will be the go-to place for Baby Jays news, game notes, audio highlights and more! I'll have live game posts right here all summer long!
First, here's an overview of past and present affiliations for each city:
Bluefield Blue Jays:
BOSN (46-51) WAS (53) BOS (54-55) BKN (57) BAL (58-10) TOR (11-Present)
Bristol White Sox:
NYG (42-51) PIT (52-53) NYY (54-55) DET (69-94) CWS (95-Present)
PIT (52-55) CLE (58-64) WAS (65-71) TEX (72) CLE (86-06) KC (07-Present)
BOS (36-37, 39-42) NYG (45-47) WAS (52) NYG (53-57) SF (58) ATL (93-Present)
BOS (37-40) BKN (41) CHN (45-48) PHI (51) MIN (74-Present)
CHN (38) CLE (39) CHN (40) BOSN (42) HOU (04-Present)
Johnson City Cardinals:
STL (38-55) PHI (57-60) STL (61) NYY (64-74) STL (75-Present)
BKN (42) BAL (57) PIT (60-63) KC (69-73) ATL (74-79) NYM (80-82, 84-Present)
PIT (88-89) PHI (co-op 90) CIN (91-96) TB (97-Present)
BKN (47-49) PHI (52-55) CHN (57-58) PHI (69-77) ATL (82-92) TEX (97-02) TOR (03-06) SEA (08-Present)
I made these imaginary rosters out of former major leaguers that played in the minors in each respective city. This is in no way scientific, it was just me scanning the internet for each club and putting the teams together. When it came to slotting everyone into positions, I cheated on some. For instance, there wasn't really anyone I could put at third base for Danville, but they've had two outstanding shortstops in Rafael Furcal and Elvis Andrus. So I kept Andrus at short and moved Furcal over to third.
I've also left out the Greeneville Astros. Professional baseball only returned there in 2004, so they've only graduated 12 players to the show. Only one is really of note and that's the wonderful Jose Altuve. Maybe it can be revisited in a few years once some former G-Ville 'Stros make it to the majors. The club moved from Martinsville, VA, which was home to the Astros (99-03) and the Phillies (88-98). Martinsville had some really good players, including Scott Rolen, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Madson and Wandy Rodriguez. They even had a young Ricky Williams (I...learned something today). Even if I include those guys, it's not enough to field a whole team.
So here are the nine all-time teams listed alphabetically and at the end I'll sum things up and try to gauge which group is the best.
|BLUEFIELD, WV||BRISTOL, VA|
|C||Gregg Zaun||C||Lance Parrish|
|1B||Eddie Murray||1B||Tony Clark|
|2B||Bobby Grich||2B||Lou Whitaker|
|SS||Cal Ripken||SS||Alan Trammell|
|3B||Doug DeCinces||3B||Travis Fryman|
|LF||Don Baylor||LF||Carlos Lee|
|CF||Luis Matos||CF||Chris Young|
|RF||David Dellucci/Bob Bailor||RF||Bobby Thomson|
|DH||Boog Powell||DH||Rico Brogna/Frank Catalonotto|
|B||Mark Belanger/John Shelby||B||Doug Strange/Ryan Sweeney|
|SP||Dean Chance||SP||Mark Fidrych|
|SP||Mike Boddicker||SP||Gio Gonzalez|
|SP||Bill Monbouquette||SP||Dan Petry|
|SP||Pete Harnisch||SP||Jose Lima|
|SP||Storm Davis||SP||Justin Thompson|
|RP||Sammy Stewart||RP||Bob Cain|
|RP||Jim Johnson||RP||Art Fowler|
|RP||Arthur Rhodes||RP||Rich Monteleone|
|RP||Armando Benitez||RP||Carl Willis|
|RP||Sparky Lyle||RP||Jon Rauch|
I've written at length about the Bluefield team, which has a great infield and a strong bullpen while lacking in the outfield.
The infield really stands out when looking at the Bristol team. Fittingly, there's Whitaker and Trammell together up the middle, flanked by a couple of solid 1990s players in Clark and Fryman with the underrated Parrish catching. The outfield is good as well. Carlos Lee has over 350 career homers and is still productive at 36. Bobby Thomson wasn't just The Shot Heard 'Round the World. He was a three-time All-Star and had eight 20-homer seasons. Here are the players with eight or more seasons of 20+ HR between 1946 and 1960 (spanning Thomson's career, which is a neat timeframe from post-war to expansion):
|1||Ted Williams||12||1946||1960||27-41||Ind. Seasons|
|2||Gil Hodges||11||1949||1959||25-35||Ind. Seasons|
|3||Duke Snider||10||1949||1959||22-32||Ind. Seasons|
|4||Yogi Berra||10||1949||1958||24-33||Ind. Seasons|
|5||Stan Musial||10||1948||1957||27-36||Ind. Seasons|
|6||Eddie Mathews||9||1952||1960||20-28||Ind. Seasons|
|7||Mickey Mantle||9||1952||1960||20-28||Ind. Seasons|
|8||Del Ennis||9||1948||1957||23-32||Ind. Seasons|
|9||Ralph Kiner||9||1946||1954||23-31||Ind. Seasons|
|10||Willie Mays||8||1951||1960||20-29||Ind. Seasons|
|11||Larry Doby||8||1949||1956||25-32||Ind. Seasons|
|12||Bobby Thomson||8||1947||1958||23-34||Ind. Seasons|
Gio Gonzalez should probably be the ace of the staff already, but I'll give the nod to the late Mark Fidrych and his magical ROY campaign of 1976. Bristol's weak spot is the 'pen, which might be the worst out of all nine teams. Art Fowler didn't really achieve success until he was a pitching coach (serving mostly under Billy Martin). Bob Cain made the last cut because he's the one who walked three-foot-seven Eddie Gaedel in his famed pinch-hit appearance in 1951.
|BURLINGTON, NC||DANVILLE, VA|
|C||Salvador Perez||C||Tyler Flowers|
|1B||Jim Thome||1B||Willie McCovey|
|2B||Damian Jackson||2B||Marcus Giles|
|SS||Toby Harrah||SS||Elvis Andrus|
|3B||Russell Branyan||3B||Rafael Furcal|
|LF||Manny Ramirez||LF||Jermaine Dye|
|CF||Tommie Agee||CF||Andruw Jones|
|RF||Brian Giles||RF||Jason Heyward|
|DH||Richie Sexson/Gus Zernial||DH||Leon Wagner|
|B||David Bell||B||Manny Mota|
|SP||CC Sabathia||SP||Adam Wainwright|
|SP||Luis Tiant||SP||Kevin Millwood|
|SP||Bartolo Colon||SP||Tommy Hanson|
|SP||Joe Coleman||SP||Matt Harrison|
|RP||Jaret Wright||RP||Randall Delgado/Julio Teheran|
|RP||Gene Conley||RP||Jason Marquis|
|RP||Steve Kline||RP||Kevin McGlinchy|
|RP||Alan Embree||RP||Neftali Feliz|
|RP||Rafael Perez||RP||Craig Kimbrel|
Danville has a pretty good lineup too. How about Furcal-Andrus-Jones-McCovey-Dye-Heyward-Wagner one through seven with pinch-hitter extraordinaire Manny Mota on the bench. There aren't any perennial All-Stars or Hall of Famers on the staff, but it's a deep group. Atlanta, swimming in pitching prospects, has the young troika of Beachy, Delgado and Teheran. Feliz and Kimbrel make a pretty unhittable one-two punch to close.
|ELIZABETHTON, TN||JOHNSON CITY, TN|
|C||Joe Mauer||C||Yadier Molina|
|1B||Kent Hrbek||1B||Dmitri Young|
|2B||Scott Leius||2B||Tom Herr|
|SS||Jay Bell||SS||Jack Wilson|
|3B||Gary Gaetti||3B||Terry Pendleton|
|LF||Marty Cordova||LF||Vince Coleman|
|CF||Kirby Puckett||CF||Ray Lankford|
|RF||Denard Span||RF||Bobby Murcer|
|DH||Justin Morneau/Jim Eisenreich||DH||Ron Blomberg|
|B||AJ Pierzynski||B||Ken Oberkfell/Coco Crisp/Cesar Geronimo|
|SP||Matt Garza||SP||Ron Guidry|
|SP||Denny Neagle||SP||Jeff Fassero|
|SP||Mark Portugal||SP||Chris Short|
|SP||Brian Duensing||SP||LaMarr Hoyt|
|SP||Cory Lidle||SP||Joe Magrane/Danny Cox|
|RP||Nick Blackburn/Kevin Slowey||RP||Jose Jimenez|
|RP||Grant Balfour||RP||Kyle McClellan|
|RP||LaTroy Hawkins||RP||Luke Gregerson|
|RP||Eddie Guardado||RP||Ron Willis|
|RP||Jesse Orosco||RP||Jason Motte|
Elizabethton is the most successful team in the Appalachian League and their affiliation with the Twins (since 1974) is the longest active one in the circuit. They've made the postseason in each of the last seven seasons, winning three titles. 1989 marked the beginning of a string of 23 consecutive winning seasons, during which they've won seven championships and averaged a record of 42-15. There are a few stars on their all-time team, like Joe Mauer and Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett. But it's mostly comprised of solid but not great players like Hrbek and Bell. The rotation gets thin quickly behind Garza and Neagle, but the pen has two good lefties (Orosco and Guardado) and two good righties (Hawkins and Balfour).
Johnson City has been home to a St. Louis farm team for a long time, and there are plenty of good Cards in this deck. Coleman-Murcer-Pendleton-Lankford-Young is a good top five offensively and guys like Molina and Wilson are great in the field. Fittingly, Ron Blomberg is the designated hitter, as he was the first in history. The starting staff behind Guidry is only slightly above average and the relief corps isn't great outside of Motte. With Johnson City as the two-time defending Appy League champs, maybe they can add to this list someday.
|KINGSPORT, TN||PRINCETON, WV|
|C||Bruce Benedict||C||Shawn Riggans|
|1B||Gregg Jefferies||1B||Jonny Gomes|
|2B||Quilvio Veras||2B||Elliot Johnson|
|SS||Jose Reyes||SS||Pokey Reese|
|3B||David Wright||3B||Reid Brignac|
|LF||Angel Pagan/Al Cowens||LF||Carl Crawford|
|CF||Dale Murphy||CF||Josh Hamilton|
|RF||Darryl Strawberry||RF||Desmond Jennings|
|DH||Bob Horner/Kevin Mitchell||DH||Rocco Baldelli|
|B||Endy Chavez/Carlos Gomez||B||Jason Pridie|
|SP||Dwight Gooden||SP||Jeremy Hellickson|
|SP||AJ Burnett||SP||Matt Moore|
|SP||Dennis Leonard||SP||Wade Davis|
|SP||Pete Schourek||SP||Jason Hammel|
|SP||Steve Blass/Paul Wilson||SP||Joe Kennedy|
|RP||Matt Lindstrom||RP||Albie Lopez/Victor Zambrano|
|RP||Heath Bell||RP||Alex Cobb|
|RP||Randy Myers||RP||Fernando Salas|
|RP||Jason Isringhausen||RP||Jake McGee|
|RP||Steve Bedrosian||RP||Chad Fox|
Princeton has been with Tampa Bay since the franchise's inception. The outfield of Crawford, Hamilton and Jennings is fantastic, would a fly ball ever get down out there? But the infield is certainly the worst in the league. The pitching staff is mostly made up of very promising, yet unproven guys like Moore and McGee.
|CF||Tony Tarasco/Melvin Nieves|
|B||Todd Cruz/Eugenio Velez|
|RP||Brad Clontz/Kameron Loe|
Alright, time to rank these teams. I'll put together the top three infields (including catcher), outfields, rotations and bullpens, then use a 5-3-1 point system and see how it turns out...
I went with Bluefield over Bristol for best infield, taking Hall of Famers Ripken and Murray over should-be-Hall-of-Famers Whitaker and Trammell. Bobby Grich has a strong HOF case as well, so that probably decides it.
The third spot was up for grabs and I compared Elizabethton to Danville. Here they are listed by career Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement:
Danville boasts the great Stretch McCovey, but the Twins have a very consistently productive group. Gaetti, Hrbek, Bell and Mauer all have between 34 and 38 bWAR, with Mauer still adding to his total. Leius and Flowers basically cancel each other out, but I think I'd rather have a hole at second than at catcher. On the other hand, Furcal still has something left in the tank and Andrus is only 23 (?!). It's a tough call, but I think I'll lean Danville here, even accounting for Mauer's huge advantage behind the plate and docking Furcal some points for being a fictional third baseman.
So far it's Bluefield 5, Bristol 3, Danville 1
Wow...a lot of contenders for the top three outfields. Ramirez is the best of the bunch and puts Burlington over the top. Bristol and Johnson City have terrific trios, but I think it's Danville/Kingsport/Princeton for the final two spots. Kingsport stars two of the best of the 80s, but both Murphy and Strawberry had their careers fizzle out (for different reasons). Danville trails them in bWAR, but Andruw Jones is a borderline HOF and Heyward still has a bright career ahead of him. The wild card is Princeton. Does Carl Crawford have anything left? How will Josh Hamilton age now that he's north of 30? Jennings is 25 and hasn't even played 162 career games yet. I'm going to go with Kingsport at number two, also giving them a bonus for having a very deep group of Bob Horner, Kevin Mitchell, Al Cowens and Endy Chavez. It's absolutely a toss-up for the three spot and I'll go out on a limb and give it to Princeton. This will be their only appearance in these top three rankings.
So far it's Bluefield 5, Burlington 5, Bristol 3, Kingsport 3, Danville 1, Princeton 1 with no team appearing twice.
Without even looking at stats, I'd go with Burlington and the 1-2-3 of Sabathia, Tiant and Colon at number one.
Here's where it gets interesting. I would have guessed by looking at the names that Kingsport would be well into the two spot and Bluefield and Pulaski would be clustered together at three and four. Take a look at the rotations and their career bWAR:
In an earlier post that summed up the All-Time Bluefield pitching staff, I noted that it was a surprisingly good group.When you look at the fourth and fifth starters for many of these other teams, you realize that Harnisch and Davis are pretty good. I'll rank Bluefield second and Kingsport third. I like Bluefield's depth and the short-lived brilliance of Gooden puts Kingsport over the top for the three spot.
So far it's Burlington 10, Bluefield 8, Kingsport 4, Bristol 3, Danville 1, Princeton 1
I think it's safe to say that Bluefield has the top bullpen, with Kingsport and Elizabethon behind them for the other two slots. The Elizabethton quartet of Balfour-Hawkins-Guardado-Orosco is a strong one, let's see how they stack up:
Even with only four guys, the Twins pen surpasses that of Kingsport.
So the final tally between the four categories is complete:
Bluefield 13, Burlington 10, Kingsport 5, Bristol 3, Elizabethton 3, Danville 1, Princeton 1
Here's the poll.