Baseball statistician extraordinaire Bill James dropped by the Smithsonian for a talk last week and offered his list of the top 100 players to wear Washington Senators uniforms from 1901 to ‘71 a subject sure to arouse debate among old-timers who can remember when our forlorn town actually had a team.
There is no argument at all about No. 1, of course: Walter Johnson, who won 417 games for largely mediocre teams from 1907 to ‘27 and is the only major leaguer ever to have a high school named in his honor. In fact, you could argue that the immortal Big Train was the best pitcher in major league history although Cy Young accumulated 95 more victories. James so argues in his new “Historical Baseball Abstract.”
Otherwise, James’ top 10 goes like this: outfielders Sam Rice and Clyde Milan, first basemen Joe Judge and Mickey Vernon, second baseman Buddy Myer, outfielder Goose Goslin, third baseman Eddie “the Walking Man” Yost, outfielder Frank Howard and shortstop Joe Cronin.
Slugger Howard, you’ll note, is the only member of the expansion Senators (1961-71) to make the top 10. (You were expecting, maybe, Denny McLain?) In fact, no other player exclusively from the second Washington club turns up until Mike Epstein at No. 52.
The two managers who led the original Senators to pennants Cronin in 1933 and Bucky Harris in 1924 and ‘25 both made the list as players, though Harris seems a little low at No. 20. And how in the name of Sen. Herman Welker (who discovered him) can James rank Harmon Killebrew as low as No. 65? After all, the Killer swatted the first 84 of his 573 home runs in a Washington uniform before Calvin Griffith shanghaied the club to Minnesota after the 1960 season.
Someday perhaps James will have to update his rankings with guys from another Washington club. Someday.
News item: Former Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers manager Johnny Oates is stricken with the most aggressive form of brain tumor.
Comment: Why does it always seem to happen to the good guys?
Neon Deion revisited
Deion Sanders, the one and only, claims he has no intention of returning to football or baseball as a player.
Of course, that’s subject to change. Any minute.
On a visit to the Miami Dolphins’ training camp last week, “Prime Time” said he is perfectly happy getting his fix as an analyst for CBS Sports.
“If I come back, it will be as an owner,” Sanders said. “I like putting on the suit and watching the game. Playing the game, that’s different.”
As we know, Sanders, 34, retired after 13 seasons in the NFL because of a toe injury that led to his walking away from the Washington Redskins. So what does he miss about football?
“I miss the $8 million I was going to get this season,” Sanders said, referring to the portion of his Redskins contract he never collected due to retirement.
Sanders says he knew it was time to hang up his helmet, not to mention his mouth. “When you start playing the game [and] looking at the clock, then it’s time to go,” Sanders said. “I found myself clock-watching last year. I’ve got to love what I do.”
One thing Sanders used to love doing was drawing attention for dancing in the end zone and high-stepping down the sideline. These days, though, such antics draw penalty flags for excessive celebration.
“You’ve got to have fun, man,” Sanders said. “How can a guy work six days a week to score a touchdown or do something he practiced all week, then you tell him he can’t celebrate? Then stop the fans from jumping when he scored. Everybody celebrates.”
Flamboyance always was Sanders’ thing. It’s hard to picture him sitting sedately as an owner in a luxury suite somewhere, but stranger things have happened.
Houston Astros pitcher Wilfredo Rodriguez, 22, on yielding Barry Bonds’ record-tying 70th home run: “I’ll never forget him saying that with the exception of Randy Johnson, he’d never seen a left-hander pitch as hard as me. I feel better that he hit three other home runs. The weight of being the victim of the record is off my shoulders.” …
Reggie Miller, 36, of the Indiana Pacers, on his 15th NBA season: “I still get nervous before games. Looking down at the opposing 2-guard, I still get excited for the rivalry no matter who it is. I always think I’m going to have my hands full, and I want to make sure they have their hands full.” …
Rick Pitino, on his first basketball team at Louisville: “We don’t have enough size, we don’t have enough ability to go out there and beat someone on talent. It’s going to take two years before you see a team play the way I want them to play.” …
Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal, on the NBA’s newly legalized zone defenses: “That’s the only way that [bad] teams will be able to stay with us. The game is getting ugly. I’m glad I’m not going to be around long.” …
Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo, on the Spartans’ losses from last season’s Final Four team: “Don’t feel sorry for us expect the world from us. It’s going to be different, and there will be nights when you’ll ask what is going on. But we’re expecting to win another [Big Ten] championship.”