The MLB All Star Game is always going to be more about pageantry than the actual baseball game. For one three (or four, in this year's case) day stretch, the entire baseball world comes together in one city. While part of the reason that they do that is to showcase some of the most talented players in today's game, it's also an opportunity for baseball to celebrate its rich history. This season, MLB decided that their celebration of history was going to focus on each franchise's four most iconic players.... a Mount Rushmore of sorts.
This type of promotion is fantastic if you're a fan of a franchise that actually has a rich and storied tradition. Heck, even if you're a fan of a team that hasn't had a ton of success over the years, the franchise has had its fair share of great players if they've been around long enough. Teams like the Astros, Padres, Rangers, and Mariners have never won a World Series, but they've all been in their respective cities for at least 38 years (Mariners are the youngest of those franchises, entering the league in 1977).
The most difficult teams to find a group of truly iconic players for are the teams that have been around for the shortest amount of time. Franchises like the four expansion teams in the 1990s don't have a lot of history to fall back on, even if the Diamondbacks and Marlins have combined to win three World Series titles. The Rays ended up choosing two players who haven't even turned thirty (Evan Longoria, David Price). The Marlins (Giancarlo Stanton) and Diamondbacks (Paul Goldschmidt) also had players who haven't turned thirty yet. It's kind of hard to look back on those players historically given that there's a pretty high likelihood that they haven't even played half of their careers yet.
Then, of course, there's the team that we all cheer for, the Washington Nationals. Unlike the four expansion teams of the 1990s, the Nats replaced an existing franchise: The Montreal Expos. When the franchise moved to D.C., all of the personnel from the Expos and their minor league systems remained in the system. There was no expansion or dispersal draft, and to many of us, the Washington Nationals were a continuation of the Expos franchise. To many D.C. natives, though, the Expos franchise has nothing to do with the Washington Nationals. I'm not here to argue that point. We've had discussions about that in the past at Federal Baseball and they never really go anywhere.
The Washington Nationals are in their eleventh season in D.C. The sad truth is that more than half of those seasons weren't very successful. In the Nats first six years in D.C., they finished last in the NL East five times (yes... even in 2005, when they went 81-81). This stretch included two 100 loss seasons which saw the Nats finish with the worst record in baseball.
At this time, there wasn't a lot of roster continuity for the Nats either. They didn't head to D.C. with a bunch of top prospects in the pipeline. During MLB's stewardship of the Expos organization prior to the move, Omar Minaya did little to help set the franchise up for the future. Not having a bunch of prospects in the pipeline meant that the Nats took their fair share of chances on middling free agents (Cristian Guzman, anyone?) and trades for mid-level big league ready talent (Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez) to try and field a somewhat competitive team while they rebuilt the farm system. They even tried snagging some high ceiling and toolsy young players like Elijah Dukes and Lastings Milledge, but... yeah... they flamed out.
There was one rock in the Nats organization throughout those lean years. For being that rock, Ryan Zimmerman was rewarded as the only actual Washington National on MLB's Franchise Four ballot. The other seven players on the ballot were all Montreal Expos. This is something else that we went into earlier this season when the ballots were released in April.
At the All Star Game last night, the four players chosen to represent the franchise were announced. Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Vladimir Guerrero, and Tim Raines were honored. All four were Montreal Expos. While I would have liked to see Zimmerman on there to represent the current incarnation of the franchise, it's difficult to argue with any of the choices.
Gary Carter - .262/.335/.439, 324 HR, 1025 Runs, 1225 RBI, 69.4 fWAR
The Kid was the Expos first Hall of Famer. One of the top catchers in the game during his peak, Carter was an eleven time All Star. He won three Gold Gloves, five Silver Slugger Awards, and was a member of the 1986 World Series winning Mets. Carter played the first ten full seasons of his career with the Expos before being traded to New York in 1985. He also went back to Montreal for the final season of his career in 1992.
Andre Dawson - .279/.323/.482, 438 HR, 1373 Runs, 1591 RBI, 314 SB, 59.5 fWAR
The Hawk was the Expos second Hall of Famer, despite his stated preference to go into the Hall donning a Chicago Cubs cap. Dawson was an eight time All Star. He also won eight Gold Gloves, four Silver Slugger Awards, and the 1987 MVP as a member of the Chicago Cubs. Despite winning the MVP when he was with the Cubs, Dawson's four best seasons (by far) in terms of fWAR came when he was still a member of the Expos (1980-83). He spent his first ten full seasons in Montreal, bashing 225 HR and stealing 252 bases in that time. As a Montreal Expo, Andre Dawson averaged a 20/20 season for a decade.
Vladimir Guerrero - .318/.379/.553, 449 HR, 1328 Runs, 1496 RBI, 181 SB, 54.4 fWAR
Vladdy is not yet eligible to be voted into the Hall of Fame, and there could be a question of whether he goes in donning an Expos cap or an Angels cap if he's elected. Guerrero was a nine time All Star who won nine Silver Slugger awards and the 2004 MVP with the Angels. Vladdy did it all for the Expos, batting .302 or higher in each of his seven (full) seasons with the club while bashing 233 HR and swiping 123 bases. Vladdy both scored and drove in 100+ runs in every season from 1998-2002, but fell well short of that in his final, injury-depleted season with the club in 2003. In 2002, Guerrero finished one homer shy of the 40/40 club... something that only one other member of the organization (Alfonso Soriano) and four players in history have done.
Tim Raines - .294/.385/.425, 170 HR, 1571 Runs, 980 RBI, 808 SB, 66.4 fWAR
The Rock has a couple of shots left at the Hall of Fame, but he's not there yet. Raines was a seven time All Star, a one time Silver Slugger, the 1986 NL Batting Champ, and led the NL in Stolen Bases four times. With his ability to hit for average, his patience at the plate, and his speed, there's actually not a bad argument that Tim Raines was the second best leadoff man of all-time. Unfortunately, he played in the same era as the greatest leadoff man ever. Solely as an Expo, Raines ranks second to Gary Carter in all-time WAR by both Baseball Reference (48.9) and Fangraphs (49.3). His career WAR total (69.1 rWAR, 66.4 fWAR) by both sites ranks well ahead of former teammate and Hall of Famer Andre Dawson as well. Raines played his first ten full seasons with the Expos organization.
While I would have liked to see Ryan Zimmerman represented in this group, it clearly would have been done just to throw the current incarnation of the franchise a bone. His career 33.4 fWAR total is dwarfed by the four players that were selected. While WAR is a cumulative stat and he may catch up to Vladdy (injuries really derailed the second half of his career) or Dawson, assuming that the remainder of his career is going to be as great as the first nine years (excluding the past few injury-plagued years) is a leap I'm not ready to make.
The choices weren't great for people who are solely fans of the Washington Nationals as a D.C. franchise. Former D.C. greats like Walter Johnson and Frank Howard were placed with their franchises, rather than the city that they played in. While it may be a shame that D.C. wasn't well represented on the franchise ballot, it's difficult to argue with the four that were selected based on the options that were given.