I just finished reading Babe, Robert Creamer's definitive biography of George Herman "Babe" Ruth, a.k.a. The Sultan of Swat. As I was reading about Ruth's childhood and adolescence in Baltimore, and his first couple of months as a pro ballplayer with the International League's Baltimore Orioles, I couldn't help but wonder how many baseball fans there are who don't even realize that the most iconic figure in baseball history was Charm City's own. Growing up in Baltimore, I couldn't help but know about it. Even before I became a fan, I recall visiting the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum with my Cub Scout troop.
I also remember an article from a local weekend paper, it would have been 1995. In celebration of the Babe's 100th birthday, the writer had compiled a starting lineup of the best major leaguers who were born in Maryland. It was an impressive group, particularly for a small state that went half a century without its own big league team. I've talked in the past about Baltimore's inferiority complex, and in the early years of my baseball fandom this story gave me a real sense of pride in my roots. In fact, I still remember the lineup. I'll provide the years played, birthplace, and some vital stats. An asterisk indicates a Hall of Famer:
C Babe Phelps (1931, 1933-1942; Odenton) .310 AVG, 3-time All-Star
*1B Jimmie Foxx (1925-1942, 1944-1945; Sudlersville) .325/.428/.609 AVG/OBP/SLG, 534 HR, 1922 RBI, 3-time MVP
*2B Judy Johnson (Negro Leagues 1918-1938; Snow Hill) Actually renowned as an excellent-fielding third baseman (the writer took a liberty with his position), hit .416 in 1929, discovered Josh Gibson ("The Black Babe Ruth")
*SS Cal Ripken, Jr. (1981-2001; Havre de Grace) 2,632 consecutive games played, 603 2B, 431 HR, 1,695 RBI, 3,184 H, 2-time MVP, 2 Gold Gloves
*3B Frank "Home Run" Baker (1908-1914, 1916-1919, 1921-1922; Trappe) .307 AVG, 987 RBI, 4 straight home run titles (1911-1914, pre-Babe Ruth)
*RF Babe Ruth (1914-1935; Baltimore) .342/.474/.690, 714 HR, 2,217 RBI, 1923 AL MVP (yep, only one!). As a pitcher: 94-46 W-L, 2.28 ERA
*CF Al Kaline (1953-1974, Baltimore) .297 AVG, 399 HR, 1,583 RBI, 3,007 H, 18-time All-Star, 10 Gold Gloves
LF Bill "Swish" Nicholson (1936, 1939-1953; Chestertown) 2-time NL HR and RBI leader (1943-1944), 5-time All-Star
*P Lefty Grove (1925-1941, Lonaconing) 300-141 W-L, 55 SV, 3.06 ERA, 1931 AL MVP, 6-time All-Star, 2 pitching Triple Crowns (W, K, ERA), 7 straight strikeout titles (1925-1931)
That's one helluva starting nine. Seven Hall of Famers, and the slouch was a solid player who dominated wartime baseball. In the years since this piece ran, I'd say that Harold Baines (1980-2001; Easton) could probably supplant Swish, but we'll stick him in as DH, purists be damned: .289 AVG, 384 HR, 1,628 RBI, 6-time All-Star. That's not even getting into 1B Mark Teixeira (2003-present; Severna Park), who has 203 HR and 2 Gold Gloves to his name already. There's a strong bench with outfielders Brady Anderson, Brian Jordan, and Charlie "King Kong" Keller. The infield depth is a little more scarce, but Bill Ripken, Buck Herzog, and Cupid Childs all had solid careers.
The rest of the pitching staff would include mostly 19th-Century arms like Dave Foutz, Bobby Mathews, and Hall of Famer Vic Willis, but Steve Barber, Denny Neagle, and Eddie Rommel would be capable starters as well. I don't see a shutdown closer, but Jeff Nelson and Steve Farr would share late-inning duties on the rare occasion that the old-school guys didn't finish what they started. Of course, Babe Ruth could probably be coaxed into taking the ball every now and then if needed.
Who's the manager? Foutz and Herzog are the only team members to ever serve as skipper, and there's no all-time great head coach on the Maryland list, with all apologies to Sam Perlozzo. I'd say what the heck - one of the tragedies of the Babe's baseball life was that he never got the managing gig he so desperately wanted. It can't be that hard to call the shots for this epic club, so let's give the former Home Run King his shot as player-manager.
If you have any doubts about my roster construction, or you're just curious, all of the 277 Maryland-born players in MLB history are here. The Baseball Reference index of players by birthplace is here.
Now that's what I call fantasy baseball!