Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Renaming the Divisions

By Bill

Last week, upon learning that the Twins had worked out a deal to send Jim Thome back to Cleveland, I tweeted this:

The idea being, obviously, that he's been such a prominent feature of that division for so long, and for multiple teams -- he's Cleveland's all-time home run leader, he won a World Series with um, played really well for the White Sox, and he hit his 600th homer with the Twins -- that he's just kind of the face of the division, and it would be kind of cool to go ahead and name the division after him. And "Thome Division" sounds a lot better to me than "Central Division." That's something you can get behind. Might even start seeing some (easily swayed) people take pride in their division, like in college football, if the divisions were named after something other than their relative geographic positioning.
It's fun having smart Twitter friends. In this case, it was Sam Miller of the Orange County Register (and other places) and Matthew Leach of MLB.com who dove in and helped fill out the rest of the majors. 
So with a ton of help from those guys and a few other folks who joined in, we'll name the player after whom each division should be renamed. The criteria are like this: 
  • To be considered,  a player must have played for at least three teams within the same division.
  • Significant service on each one of at least three teams is the key; so a guy who played five years each as a regular with the Red Sox, Orioles and Blue Jays is a stronger candidate than a guy who spent twenty years with the Yankees and ten games apiece with the Rays and Jays.
  • This should go without saying, but the guy has to actually be commonly associated with that division. Pedro Martinez played for each of the Mets, Phillies, and Expos, but what division does he belong in, really? Right, the AL East. So he's out.
  • And it has to at least mostly have happened during the three-division era, starting in 1994. Donnie Moore played for the Cubs, Cardinals and Brewers...but the Brewers were in the American League at the time, so that kind of defeats the purpose.
OK? So here are your new divisions:

The N.L. East becomes: The Floyd Division
It doesn't really seem like it, since he was healthy enough to play 150 games just twice, but Cliff Floyd played in seventeen seasons in the Major Leagues. And he was in the National League East in fourteen of them. He debuted and played parts of five different seasons with the Expos (which in itself is a bonus), parts of six seasons with the Marlins, and then four "full" (that is, Cliff-Floyd-full) seasons with the Mets. And he did play for four teams outside of the division, but none across more than one season, and none for more than 108 games. Cliff Floyd is the National League East. And now, the National League East is Cliff Floyd! 
Also-rans: Javier Vazquez has now covered the Expos, Marlins and Braves, but to a lot of people, he's a Yankee or White Sock. Todd Zeile played for almost every team in the majors, so his four-team tour of the east isn't exactly shocking. Wes Helms has Atlanta, Florida, Philly, then Florida again...but he was only a full-time starter once, and it was for the Brewers.

The N.L. Central becomes: The Edmonds Division
Should-be-but-probably-won't-be future Hall of Famer Jim Edmonds actually spent seven consecutive years with the California/Anaheim Angels, but since 2000, with one brief and disastrous detour back to Southern California, he's been all about the Central. He doesn't have anything like the balance we're looking for -- eight years with the Cardinals, and single years or partial years for the Cubs, Brewers, and Reds -- but it's hard to find someone who played for four teams in one division and didn't actually move all over the place, as Zeile did. And Edmonds made a memorable mark in every place he stopped. A positive one, even, everywhere but in Cincy.
Also-rans: Julian Tavarez has the Cubs, Pirates, Brewers and Cardinals...exactly one year each, and he's a Red Sock if he's anything at all. I can't really find any other strong candidates.

The N.L. West becomes: The Finley Division
Steve Finley, that is. And he's probably the best fit for this exercise of anyone on this list. Starting in 1995, Finley played parts of thirteen seasons, all in the west and all but one season in the N.L. West, and he really got around: four years with the Padres, five-plus with the Diamondbacks, a partial season with the Dodgers, and then a little detour to the Angels before returning to finish his division circuit with the Giants and then the Rockies. And I've chosen to give Finley extra credit for the fact that he spent the four years prior to 1995 with the Astros, who were in the old N.L. West until 1994. You could say that of the five teams in the National League West, Finley has played for six of them.
Also-rans: Nobody close to Finley. Russ Ortiz? Jose Cruz? Mark Sweeney?

The A.L. East becomes: The Wells Division
In 21 years, David Wells switched teams eleven times. The Blue Jays somehow put up with him for six years, then the Tigers for two plus, the Reds for a few months, the Orioles for a year, the Yankees for two years, back to Toronto for two, the White Sox for one, back to the Yankees, then Padres, Red Sox, Padres, Dodgers. That's six different tours with A.L. East teams, all or part of sixteen seasons. And he's certainly identified with the East, from his 1998 perfect game and his worship of Babe Ruth to his turncoat tour with the Red Sox a year after leaving New York for the last time, and something about his personality just kind of suggests the A.L. East. He also made the postseason eleven times, nine of them (including his three World Series appearances) with an A.L. East team. 
Also-rans: Johnny Damon has covered three East teams now, though the division only claims 54% of his career games. Roger Clemens has only three teams on his resume to Wells' four, but he did spend 21 of his 24 years exclusively in the division and won Cy Young Awards with each of the three. Wells just feels more AL East to me, somehow.

The A.L. Central becomes: The Thome Division
As you know. Four tours with three teams, playing a significant role on all three, and comprising eighteen of his twenty-one seasons and 506 of his 602 career homers.
Also-rans: I can't find anyone else close, but who cares? There's been surprisingly little movement within the central across its first eighteen seasons. Lots of two-team guys, almost no three-team ones. 

The A.L. West becomes: The McLemore Division
Mark McLemore played parts of five years with the Angels (all pre-Wildcard era, but of course the Angels were still in the "West" then), a couple little trips to Cleveland and Baltimore, and then five years in Texas, four in Seattle (where he suddenly became a very useful player for a couple years), and closing with one in Oakland. Much as Wells in the East and Thome in the Central, something about McLemore seems to kind of personify the A.L. West. He was quiet, quick, and versatile, and at least for most of the eighties and nineties, every A.L. West team seemed to have at least two or three of those guys. And at any given time on any given team, there was a good chance that one of those two or three was McLemore.
Also-rans: Milton Bradley hit three of those four teams, but never stayed in the same place for very long, and he's like the anti-McLemore (and thus anti-A.L. West). Stan Javier, McLemore's also-surprisingly-useful teammate on the 2001 Mariners, hit the Angels, M's and two tours with Oakland and is almost as perfect a representative as McLemore, but he also spent a lot more time outside the division. 

So there you have it:  Floyd, Edmonds, Finley, Wells, Thome, McLemore. Let's make that happen.


Anonymous said...

Thome did not win a World Series with the White Sox!

Ian S Carr said...

Anonymous is right, Bill.
I expect better of you.

Bill said...

Ugh. Good call. That was a bit lazy of me...

Anonymous said...

This might unfortunately make the AL East the Roger Clemens division. Ace with BOS, TOR, and NYY. Johnny Damon would next in line and then who? John Flaherty?

Theo said...

The AL East could also be the Wade Boggs Division. He spent his best years in Boston, won a championship in New York, and got his 3000 hit in his hometown Tampa (and they've even retired his number!). I can see why you wouldn't pick him, though, with the uneven distribution of time. If you want a Hall-type player like Thome or Edmonds, though, Boggs would be a good pick.

Also, under these rules, can we rename MLB the Matt Stairs Leage?