Home > Baseball > Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio…

Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio…

A couple of weeks ago, David Schoenfield – who has done a superb job filling the exceptionally large shoes of Rob Neyer at ESPNs Sweet Spot – ran through each of MLBs divisions and assembled pre-season All-star teams. It goes without saying that this is the type of project a guy with Sports on the Brain really sinks his teeth into, it’s a fun sequence of lists and something to engage the hamster turning the wheel.

What I found particularly interesting though, was the dearth of talented center fielders.  Here are the six center fielders that Schoenfield selected as the best in their respective divisions, with their age and career WAR:

  • Chris Young, Diamondbacks, 27 (8.2)
  • Andrew McCutchen, Pirates, 24 (6.6).
  • Angel Pagan, Mets, 29, (9.1).
  • B. J. Upton, Rays, 26 (14.3)
  • Alex Rios, White Sox, 30, (20.3)
  • Franklin Gutierrez, Mariners, 28, (12.5)

Those are the best?  Them?  Really?  Where are the Griffeys, the Mantles, heck the Edmonds or the Murphys?  Think about it, is there another post-war position that has the same star power as center?  DiMaggio, Duke Snider, the Mick, Mays, Fred Lynn, Dale Murphy, Andre Dawson, Kirby, Junior, Devon White (ok, maybe only in one household…), Jim Edmonds, Bernie Williams, Andruw Jones, Carlos Beltran.  Those were great players (obviously a couple greater than others), and now you have Chris Young, Alex Rios and Angel Pagan…  I don’t know, maybe I’m overreacting, but it seems to me that one of baseball’s glamour positions is going through something of a tepid streak.

You can’t even argue that these guys are kids, as only McCutchen is particularly young and he was the same player last year as the year before.  Young and Upton aren’t exactly old and they were once highly touted prospects – Upton ranked #2 in Baseball America’s 2004 top 100 and Young ranked 12 in their 2007 list – but lets be honest at this point they are who they are (like Popeye!).  Both are solid to middling players, undone by their lack of plate discipline and general malaise.

Likewise, I think Rios once ranked as high as 6th.  As a former Jay, I can tell you with some certainty, that Rios is only that player about once a fortnight.  The rest of the time, he’s a strike out and a double play machine, with dubious base-running habits.  Gutierrez and Pagan are both phenomenal fielders, which is rad, but they ceratinly aren’t going to elicit any future song lyrics, unless they start dating a Latin pop star.

Over the last five years, Carlos Beltran is the Majors WAR leader amongst center fielders (well, Ichiro shows up as the leader, but he was only a center fielder for a season, so…), Grady Sizemore is a couple behind and Curtis Granderson’s third.  Beltran was playing in his 27-32 seasons, so his decline – while more precipitous than expected – was to be expected, as was Andruw Jones who also dropped like the tubby little rock he is, but in the previous five years (2001-05) compiled 32 WAR.  Granderson’s manning center in the Bronx, but his inability to hit lefties has basically made him a glorified platoon player.  The real name of interest on that list is Sizemore.

In 2005, during a season in which he turned 23, Sizemore compiled a 5.4 WAR.  The next year he led the American League with a 7.3.  The next two years – ho hum – were 5.7 and 7.1.  At the start of the 2009 season, when he was 26 and theoretically entering his prime, Sizemore had already compiled 26.6 WAR.  He was considered by most observers to be one of the top ten players in baseball and one of the top three candidates (with Joe Mauer and Hanley Ramirez) to lead the next decade.  Of course, if everything went to plan, baseball wouldn’t be the wondrous roller coaster it is.  So, rather than having another MVP season, Sizemore struggled to stay healthy, struggled to hit, and finished the year with two September surgeries.  The following year, his right knee blew out and he needed microfracture surgery.

So, I guess on some level there’s my answer, the Joe DiMaggio of this era was Grady Sizemore and sadly, his career has been undone by a balky body.

I hope you’re good Michael Trout, because a nation turns its lonely eyes to you…

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