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Built by association: Which players are most thought of with each pro baseball team?

July 14, 2014 Updated: July 15, 2014 at 8:01 am
Caption +
San Diego Padres Tony Gwynn watches his double in the fifth inning against the Chicago Cubs, Tuesday, July 27, 1993, Chicago, Ill. Gwynn had five hits for the day and drove in three runs to help the Padres defeat the Cubs 8-0. Gwynn also surpassed former Padres player Dave Winfields club record of 626 RBI. (AP Photo/John Swart)

The results proved the hypothesis correct, even if the process was not entirely scientific.

After Tony Gwynn's death from cancer in June, the question was raised if Gwynn was, in baseball history, the player most closely associated with one franchise.

The question was taken to our readers, who were asked to name the first player who comes to mind at the mention of each current team.

Every returned survey included Gwynn with the San Diego Padres, making him the lone unanimous choice.

Our survey would not stand up to harsh statistical scrutiny, as the question was posed along with a blog post about Gwynn, no doubt stacking the deck in an already somewhat rigged game.

Still, the results speak for themselves. Other than the Royals' George Brett, who came one vote for Bo Jackson shy of a clean sweep, no one else was particularly close.

Gwynn's death was followed by myriad remarkable stats from his career - for example, he never struck out in more than 100 at-bats against Greg Maddux - but the more difficult to quantify aspect of his career is the way he entirely lorded over a franchise in the eyes of the fans as no other player ever has.

His nickname of Mr. Padre was certainly deserved.

What began as a test of Gwynn's popularity turned into an entertaining look through survey results at the perceptions of players throughout the game's history.

The survey leaders included players as old as Ty Cobb (born in 1886) and as young as Bryce Harper (born in 1992).

As expected, earning a connection with one club took time. The players that led their team's vote averaged 14.875 years with that organization, the most tenured being the 22 years put in with the Cardinals by Stan Musial and a pair of 22-year Tigers - Ty Cobb and Al Kaline - who tied in the vote.

Pure star power sometimes trumped all else. Nolan Ryan was named the most recognizable player for both the Astros and Rangers, while also receiving mention with the Angels.

The vast majority of teams' leaders were Hall of Famers, but others, like Joe Carter and Josh Beckett, benefited from carrying their franchises to their greatest moments.

Catchy nicknames didn't hurt, yet the popularity in these cases led to the nicknames rather than the other way around. Some of most recognizable monikers in sports history are on this list, from the Big Hurt to the Big Unit, the Kid to the Say Hey Kid, The Man to The Iron Man, Mr. October to Mr. Cub. The Georgia Peach and Charlie Hustle are forever linked because of their hits, and both made this list. The Big Train wasn't on there, but an Express was; as was a Hammer, a Bash Brother and a Sultan of Swat.

Speaking of the Bambino the Yankees' many greats led to a split vote. Babe Ruth edged Mickey Mantle 50 percent to 32, while Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Reggie Jackson and Derek Jeter were relegated to the "others receiving votes section."

The ages of those surveyed carried a monstrous influence on the process.

Browsing a ballot filled with names like David Justice, Jim Thome and Dave Stewart made it easy to pinpoint the era when a fan picked up the game.

Some teams made it downright difficult to single out one standpoint player simply because the franchises had so few. Reader Robert Malone left the blank empty for Miami, writing, "too many fire sales, nobody qualifies."

If no Marlins - or Angels for that matter - could be included on some lists, how could Harper make the cut? That's a clown question, bro. After all, this list was entirely in the eye of the beholder.

In the end, the exercise was, of course, little more than a popularity contest.

But starting with Gwynn and working its way on down, it was also a study in what it takes to earn a spot in our memories.

Team-by-team Player Association Poll leaders

Arizona - Randy Johnson (62 pct.)

Atlanta - Hank Aaron (64 pct.)

Baltimore - Cal Ripken Jr. (60 pct.)

Boston - Ted Williams (55 pct.)

Chicago Cubs - Ernie Banks (75 pct.)

Chicago White Sox - Frank Thomas (73 pct.)

Cincinnati - Pete Rose (59 pct.)

Cleveland - Albert Belle/Bob Feller (27 pct.)

Colorado - Todd Helton (64 pct.)

Detroit - Ty Cobb/Al Kaline (32 pct.)

Houston - Nolan Ryan (43 pct.)

Kansas City - George Brett (96 pct.)

Los Angeles Angels - Rod Carew (33 pct.)

Los Angeles Dodgers - Sandy Koufax (32 pct.)

Miami - Josh Beckett (29 pct.)

Milwaukee - Robin Yount (68 pct.)

Minnesota - Kirby Puckett (64 pct.)

New York Mets - Tom Seaver (38 pct.)

New York Yankees - Babe Ruth (50 pct.)

Oakland - Jose Canseco/Reggie Jackson (22 pct.)

Philadelphia - Mike Schmidt (73 pct.)

Pittsburgh - Roberto Clemente (48 pct.)

St. Louis - Stan Musial (41 pct.)

San Diego - Tony Gwynn (100 pct.)

San Francisco - Willie Mays (74 pct.)

Seattle - Ken Griffey Jr. (73 pct.)

Tampa Bay - Evan Longoria (78 pct.)

Texas - Nolan Ryan (59 pct.)

Toronto - Joe Carter (71 pct.)

Washington - Bryce Harper (38 pct.)

Top five

For a few franchises, there was little doubt about the most recognizable name in team history.

100 pct. - Tony Gwynn, San Diego

96 pct. - George Brett, Kansas City

78 pct. - Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay

75 pct. - Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs

74 pct. - Willie Mays, San Francisco

Bottom five

These players led their teams in voting, but it was hardly a runaway.

22 pct. - Jose Canseco/Reggie Jackson, Oakland

27 pct - Albert Belle/Bob Feller, Cleveland

29 pct. - Josh Beckett, Miami

32 pct. - Sandy Koufax, L.A. Dodgers

32 pct. - Ty Cobb/Al Kaline, Detroit

Best of the rest

Top vote-getters among players that did not lead their franchise in voting.

33 pct. - Luis Gonzalez, Arizona

32 pct. - Mickey Mantle, N.Y. Yankees

30 pct. - Craig Biggio, Houston

28 pct. - Brooks Robinson, Baltimore

27 pct. - Alan Trammel, Detroit

26 pct. - Barry Bonds, Pittsburgh

23 pct. - Chipper Jones, Atlanta

23 pct. - Carl Yazstremski, Boston

23 pct. - Johnny Bench, Cincinnati

23 pct. - Harmon Killebrew, Minnesota

22 pct. - Barry Bonds, San Francisco

Most bizarre

Mike Piazza played more games with the Mets than any other team, yet he was mentioned as a Dodger and not with New York. The same is true for Randy Johnson, who logged most of his innings with Seattle yet was shut out on the Mariners voting while leading the way with the Diamondbacks. Both of those examples are totally understandable. These inclusions on our surveys are a bit tougher to explain.

Ricky Vaughn and Jake Taylor, Cleveland - The two players were mentioned from separate readers. The problem is, neither exist. Both are characters in "Major League." To be mentioned on surveys that included scores of Hall of Famers had to be a major surprise for both, considering Vaughn's past brushes with the law and control issues and Taylor's bad knees that landed him in the Mexican League.

Alex Fernandez, Florida - Fernandez enjoyed a moderately successful career, winning 107 games over 10 years. But for the Marlins, he was mediocre at best, going 28-24 with a 3.59 ERA from 1997 through 2000. Still, for one reader, Fernandez is the player he most closely associates with the Marlins. That's quite a statement about that organization; one for which another reader jokingly submitted on a survey: "That one guy who played there that one year and then was traded."

Rex Hudler, Philadelphia - We're not questioning anyone's methodology here, as the instructions were to make a pick as quickly as possible so as to not overthink it. We weren't looking for each team's best player, just the one that jumps into your mind. Well, somehow Hudler found his way onto someone's list for the Phillies despite playing just 75 of his 774 career games in that uniform and batting .196. The memory is a fascinating mystery.

Wade Boggs, Tampa Bay - Sure, he picked up his 3,000th hit with his hometown team, but he had 2,800 hits elsewhere. Boggs in Tampa, for most of us, is like Joe Namath with the Rams or Shaquille O'Neal with the Celtics - we vaguely recall they were there, but they are hardly the memories that stand out.

Most players mentioned

In the case of the Yankees and Reds, the mentioning of multiple players stemmed from too many worthy selections. In other cases, such as the Angels, where a reader admitted to staring blankly for far too long without coming up with a name, the process was a bit more laborious for all the wrong reasons.

10 - L.A. Angels (Rod Carew, Nolan Ryan, Garret Anderson, Wally Joyner, Jim Abbott, Jim Fregosi, Troy Glaus, Vlad Guerrero, Tim Salmon, Mike Trout)

9 - Oakland (Jose Canseco, Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, Rickey Henderson, Mark McGwire, Vida Blue, Joe Rudi, Dave Stewart, Miguel Tejada)

8 - N.Y Mets (Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Gary Carter, Mookie Wilson, Ron Darling, Keith Hernandez, Tug McGraw)

7 - L.A. Dodgers (Sandy Koufax, Jackie Robinson, Kirk Gibson, Steve Garvey, Orel Hershiser, Mike Piazza, Pee Wee Reese)

7 - Miami (Josh Beckett, Miguel Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, Giancarlo Stanton, Jeff Conine, Alex Fernandez, Gary Sheffield)

Notable omissions

These players appeared on no surveys

Alex Rodriguez - Three-time MVP was not the player anyone thought of for Seattle, Texas or New York - or maybe it was that no one wanted to think of him.

Pedro Martinez - Certainly in the conversation of the top four or five pitchers over the past 50 years, yet he seems to have been quickly forgotten.

Mariano Rivera - Pitchers in general were rarely mentioned, and relievers were even more scarcely noted. The all-time leader in saves was nowhere to be found.

Yogi Berra - The Yankees have so many greats in their history, even a beloved three-time MVP can be left out.

Jim Palmer - When fans think of Baltimore, they think of Cal Ripken and Brooks Robinson. It's surprising they don't also think of this three-time Cy Young Award winner.

Representing the Rockies

Sure, Todd Helton owns all the career records in Colorado, but he didn't have a monopoly in this vote of player association with the 21-year-old franchise. Here's the complete list.

64 pct. - Todd Helton

14 pct. - Larry Walker

9 pct. - Andres Galarraga

9 pct. - Troy Tulowitzki

4 pct. - Dante Bichette

Remembered in multiple places

Players listed on more than one team

Nolan Ryan (Houston, L.A. Angels, Texas)

Roberto Alomar (Cleveland, Toronto)

Barry Bonds (Pittsburgh, San Francisco)

Miguel Cabrera (Detroit, Miami)

Rod Carew (L.A. Angels, Minnesota)

Gary Carter (N.Y. Mets, Washington)

Roger Clemens (Boston, Toronto)

Andre Dawson (Chicago Cubs, Washington)

Prince Fielder (Detroit, Milwaukee)

Vlad Guerrero (L.A. Angels, Washington)

Reggie Jackson (N.Y. Yankees, Oakland)

Former Expos

The rules did limit voting to players on current franchises, but past cities/names of teams were not mentioned. That did not prevent votes for several former Montreal Expos, the club that eventually moved to Washington and became the Nationals.

Andrew Dawson

Gary Carter

Vlad Guerrero

Tim Raines

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