Lineup Of Legends

July 17, 1994|By John Steadman

It's a rich baseball heritage, full of pride and distinction, that gives Maryland an all-time, home-grown all-star team with unmatched capabilities.

Prolific sluggers with names like Ruth, Foxx and Baker give our state a poetic license to proclaim itself "the home of the home run." And Maryland has contributed many other blue-ribbon performers whose records deserve appreciation and recognition. There's no more appropriate occasion to do it than as a grand finale to the annual major-league All-Star week.

Picking the all-time Maryland team isn't difficult. The six Hall of Fame members are automatic qualifers: Babe Ruth, Lefty Grove, Jimmie Foxx, Al Kaline, Frank "Home Run" Baker and Judy Johnson. Then quickly write in Cal Ripken Jr., a deity-to-be, who is still playing and won't be eligible for the Hall of Fame until five years after retirement.

Any state with such an array of talent has a head start -- and justification to brag. And all sections of Maryland contributed native sons: from the pristine farms of the Eastern Shore, to the clamorous streets of Baltimore, to the coal-mining towns of Western Maryland.

The toughest call to make in reviewing the elite of Maryland's baseball society, dating to the first professional game in 1871 (when Bobby Mathews, a Baltimorean, made the opening pitch), is deciding on the right fielder, to team with Ruth in left and Kaline in center.

The pick for right field is a subjective one, between Charley Keller and Bill Nicholson, two men who had exemplary personal characteristics to go with their extraordinary athletic abilities. They had similar careers as to longevity and performance.

Keller, in 13 years, batted 18 points higher -- .286 to Nicholson's .268 -- but the latter had the advantage in home runs, 235 to 189, and runs-batted-in, 837 to 760. As defensive players they also were close, but Nicholson's arm was superior, as shown by his 118 assists to Keller's 46.

As for catcher, there's less depth at that position, but Gordon "Babe" Phelps has a wide edge. The next best is Walter "Peck" Lerian, who played only two years, with the Philadelphia Phils, before being killed in 1929 by an automobile that jumped a curb in Baltimore and pinned him against a building.

A great strength of the Maryland team is long experience in the major leagues. All nine starters have it, ranging from Phelps' 11 years to 22 for Ruth and Kaline. Now, with trumpets blaring, let's introduce the starting lineup:

Jimmie Foxx

First base: Known as the "Maryland Broad Back" because of his wide shoulders and awesome strength. Started as a catcher at age 17 with the Philadelphia A's and played every position except second base in an illustrious career that saw him finish as a pitcher.

While in high school he set the state 100-yard -- record, which held up for 20 years. The first man after Babe Ruth to attain 500 home runs and the first to win the Most Valuable Player award twice and then three times. Hit 30 or more homers 12 years in a row.

Played for the A's, Red Sox, Cubs and Phils. Member of the Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame and the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Born Oct. 22, 1907 in Sudlersville. Died July 21, 1967 in Miami.

Judy Johnson

Second base: Most of his career in the Negro Leagues was at third base but on this team his size and agility make him a perfect fit at second base.

"Cool Papa" Bell, a fellow Hall of Fame member, once said of Johnson, "He's a solid player who could just get it done. He was dependable, quiet, not flashy at all, but could handle anything that came up."

Served as a scout for the Philadelphia Phils. Lifetime achievements in baseball and high personal values were recognized by Wilmington, Del., when it named its new baseball field in his honor.

Played for the Philadelphia Hilldales, Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords.

Member of the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame and the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Born Oct., 20, 1900 in Snow Hill. Died June 15, 1989 in Wilmington, Del.

Cal Ripken Jr.

Shortstop: A superb fielder who makes all the plays with deft hands and a strong, accurate arm. At 6 feet 4, he's the tallest major-league shortstop ever to play as a regular.

Has more home runs than any shortstop in major-league history and is the only Oriole to be a two-time American League MVP. During his 12 full seasons, through 1993, had more extra-base hits than any major-league player during that period.

His durability has him on schedule to surpass Lou Gehrig's longevity record of 2,130 straight games. Next June, if he avoids injuries, Ripken is likely to reach what was previously believed to be an unattainable mark. Played for his father, Cal Sr., when he managed the Orioles during 1987-88.

Born Aug. 24, 1960 in Havre de Grace. Lives in Reisterstown.

Frank "Home Run" Baker

Third base: Acquired his nickname after hitting two game-winning homers in the 1911 World Series, during the era of the "dead" ball when home runs were extremely rare.

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