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Baseball royalty

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  August 9, 2010 06:01 PM

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BrettGeorge.jpgOur silly little nostalgic Friday afternoon baseball post that we're always promising and occasionally delivering is instead a silly little nostalgic Monday afternoon baseball post, pecked out while keeping one eye on the television as the Sox -- and there's only a hint of hyperbole here -- cling to their season.

(Annnnnd . . . they win, 2-1, and split in the Bronx, 2-2, and good things this season are still within their grasp. So grant me a moment of instant, brief and appreciative postgame reaction:

I don't understand pitching to Teixeira there despite his career 0-fer in eight at-bats against Papelbon -- I'm not a believer that truths are found in small-sample sizes, particularly when they supposedly indicate steady failure in a great player -- but it worked, dammit, and I'm always glad when The Best Red Sox Manager of My Lifetime is right. His decision was a crucial, gutsy call in a game this admirable team had to have, and as a bonus, it spared us the idiotic sports-radio caterwauling about "Francoma" on the way home. It was a good day in Soxville.

Anyway . . . our baseball post (I really need a catchier name for this) is actually just a question this week.

Who was/is your favorite superstar player who didn't/doesn't play for the Red Sox?

Maybe you adored Yaz, Rice, Fisk and Lynn as a kid (or heck, an adult). Maybe the idols were Pedro, Nomar, Manny, and Papi for your generation. But who was visiting star whom you wished called Fenway home, the player you looked forward to watching even as he tormented your team? For me, the answer was easy.

If you didn't like George Brett, you didn't like baseball.

The Royals' legend, who spent his entire 21-year career in Kansas City, played with the hustle and determination of a role player who had the self-awareness to appreciate every day in the major leagues. Yet to watch him at the plate was to know that without a doubt he was an absolute natural, a born hitter. He was blessed with a quick, short, gorgeous lefthanded swing, one that produced 3,154 hits, 317 homers, a .305 lifetime batting average, three batting titles (one each in the '70s, '80s, and '90s), four seasons of at least 13 triples, and . . . well, the rest is written on his plaque in Cooperstown.

He's been retired since 1993, and I still miss watching him play today -- despite that it seemed like Brett and Willie Wilson combined for three triples per game and exposed the Sox as slow and plodding every single time they played on the turf at Kansas City in the late '70s and early '80s. Or maybe it's just that I'm pretty sure that at age 57, Brett still could hold his own in the Royals lineup today.

For a Red Sox fans, there were other reasons to appreciate Brett. He despised the Yankees -- who ended the Royals season in the ALCS in 1976, '77, and '78 -- as much as we did.
In 1980, the season the Royals got their revenge, he proved to be the only mortal capable of launching a Rich Gossage fastball into the upper deck, and possibly orbit. (You could call him the anti-Bob Bailey, I suppose.) He was the first known player to suffer from Pine Tar rage. He knew how to treat a kissing bandit right. And then there's perhaps his greatest legacy: He put a public face on the tragic national plague of hemorrhoids among .390-hitting third basemen.

While you ponder that, here are a few other big names who were easy to cheer:

Dave Winfield: Save for the Easy Reader on "Electric Company" and maybe Dr. J, it didn't get much cooler than this for a goofy and possibly translucent 8-year-old in Maine in 1978.

Nolan Ryan: Mythical, and unhittable. (Or one-hittable at the worst.)

Tony Gwynn: I can't say I'm certain he would have hit .400 in the abbreviated baseball summer of '94, but I will always be convinced that he would have made a hell of a run at becoming the first player since his idol Ted Williams in 1941 to achieve the feat. Gwynn had the talent and the temperament to do it, and he (and his batting average) was rising to the occasion -- he'd batted .475 over his previous 40 at-bats when the lights on the season were turned off. We'll always believe he was up to the challenge in every way, but we'll never know for sure. Thanks again, Bud.

Kirby Puckett: Arguably the most popular player of his time. Sadly, he's the leadoff hitter on the "No Matter How Much You Think You Know Your Favorite Player, You Don't Really Know Your Favorite Player" All-Stars.

Tim Raines: If there's any justice, Rock and the Hawk will be reunited in Cooperstown in the next couple of years. (Of course, I'd probably vote for Warren Cromartie and Ellis Valentine too. Viva les Expos!)

So there you go, sluggers -- TATB's favorite non-Sox superstars. Hit me with yours in the comments.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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