The Best Players of the Last 50 Years - Part III - The Swiss Army Knives

April 4, 2020
This is part III of my series on the greatest players of the last 50 years, which I have dubbed the "Dan Marks Era", as it aligns with the 50 years that I have been following baseball.
 
If you didn't read the introduction to the series, here are the prior entries:
 
 
 
The Futility of Defining Utility
 
I blame this whole article on Ben Zobrist.....
 
See, I was happily moving along, working on my review of the best 2nd basemen of the past 50 years, and Ben Zobrist was ending fairly high up (spoiler alert - he came out #15 in the unadjusted rankings). And something didn't feel right to me. Nothing against Zobrist personally - I mean, he's a fine player, and probably deserves the ranking. But it still didn't feel right. It didn't feel right because I don't really think of Zobrist as a second baseman, at least not primarily. I think of him as a Swiss Army Knife. I think he was a good second baseman - but he was an exceptional utility player.
 
So, I put the second basemen on hold. I'll get back to them later. First, I wanted to review some of my personal favorites - the greatest utility players of the last 50 years. I absolutely love these guys.
 
Now, a utility player can be a tricky thing to try and define and get consensus around. Believe me, we've tried. We've had several instances in the "Reader Posts" section of this site where we've kicked the topic around in the past. And you can find opinions and articles around the Internet, and it's clearly challenging to get consensus around the concept of what a utility player is and who some of the best examples are. So, first, I thought I'd discuss a little bit about what some people think the term means, and where I think they're misguided. Then, I'll try to define it myself.
 
So, let's do this as a bit of a make-believe Q and A on the topic, where the "Q" is posed by a fictional person out in the cyber-sphere who is proposing an example of a great utility player, and I'll provide the "A" on what I think of the nominations.
 
Q: OK, Let's start with Pete Rose? A great utility player, no?
A: No, he's not.
 
Rose was not a utility player. He was a multi-positional star. There's a big difference. He was an All Star second baseman. Then he was an All Star left fielder. Then he was an All Star right fielder. Then he was an All Star third baseman. Then he was an All Star first baseman. 
 
Rose, virtually every season, was his team's primary starter at whatever position he was playing that season. He was versatile, no question about it (although a cynic might suggest that he was equally awful, at least defensively, at each position). He played multiple positions over the course of his career. But he was not a utility player.
 
 Q: OK....Stan Musial? Seemed to bounce around every year according to where he was needed. Utility, right?
A:  No.   Stan the Man was not a utility player.
 
Some try to classify Musial as utility player because, as he progressed through his career, he went from left field to right field to first base then back to right field then to center field then left field then right field then first base then left field. It was pretty dizzying.
 
But a utility player? No. He was a star who, in most seasons, was his team's primary option at a given position that year. It's just that it kept changing. And, to the extent he bounced around, it was between the 3 outfield positions and first base. He didn't play second, short, or third. That's a big thing lacking in my definition. Stan Musial? Not a utility player.
 
Q: Jackie Robinson?
A: Well, I see where you're going, but, no.
 
Again, Jackie was versatile, and excelled defensively wherever he played. But he was a first baseman his rookie season, then basically a second baseman his next 5 seasons, then had a couple of years where he did the left field/third base kind of thing. But he was never really what I would call a true utility player.
 
Q: How about Babe Ruth? I mean, outfield and pitcher!
A: Now you're just being annoying. I'm not going to dignify it with a response. Next.....
 
Q: OK. Craig Biggio? I mean, second base, outfield AND catcher?
A: No. 
 
Biggio is kind of like Rose in that he did play multiple positions, but was more of a regular player at each of those positions (including catcher) for a few years at a time (especially his lengthy stay at 2nd base) before switching.  Not utility.
 
Q: OK. I think I'm getting the idea. How about Gil McDougald? 
A: Well, you're getting warmer. But not quite there.
 
Gil McDougald was a great weapon for Casey Stengel's Yankees of the 1950's. He had some years where he held down the fort at second base, some at third, and some at shortstop. He played all of them well, and he was a good offensive player to boot.   He finished in the top 10 of the MVP balloting three times. He was an extremely valuable player.
 
But....he's still not a utility player in my book. He played 3 of the 4 infield positions....but he never played an inning in the outfield. You could possibly classify him a utility infielder, but not a utility player.   And that distinction matters in my definition.
 
So what is my definition? I would define a true utility player this way:
 
1.       He must be able to play in both the outfield and the infield
2.       He can must have significant playing time at one of the two middle infield positions (SS & 2B).
3.       He is seldom his team's primary option at a position in a given year
4.       He consistently plays at least 4 different positions each year
 
There's a pretty easy way to judge #3 above. On a player's baseball-reference.com page, the "Pos" column lists all positions played in a given year. If a player plays in at least two-thirds of his team's game at a particular position in a given year, he gets an "*" next to that position (although the site has a qualifier about combining games at the outfield positions to earn the "*"). A true utility might have an occasional "*", but most of his seasons won't have one.
 
Also, using the "Pos" column, you can see very quickly how many positions he appeared at in each season, and true utility players will consistently have 4,5, or 6 entries each and every year.
 
Those, to me, are the keys to identifying a legitimate utility player. His role is to float around the diamond and fill in where needed. He gets regular at bats, but he does so in the context of filling in where he's needed and when he's needed, whether it's to give others a day off, or subbing for an injured regular. That's a big part of his value.
 
The Greatest Utility Players of the Past 50 Years
 
Before we focus on the past 50 seasons, I wanted to touch on some notable utility players of the past and the present that aren't in my ranking.
 
Now, when thinking of utility players, I'm not thinking of guys like King Kelly or Buck Ewing or Roger Bresnahan or players like that, because of the common characteristics you see among many ballplayers from the late 1800's or early 1900's is that they often appeared at several different positions. That was very commonplace in baseball's early history. So, that's not what I'm thinking of.
 
One who does come to mind is Billy Goodman, who played from the late 40's to the early 60's, mostly for the Red Sox. In 6 of his 16 seasons he does have an "*" as his team's primary starter, but his most famous season was 1950 when he won the batting title (.350) and finished 2nd in the MVP voting despite only playing 110 games, with no more than 45 games at any one position. 
 
Whenever I think of Goodman, my mind always goes to Pete Runnels, who just missed being Goodman's teammate on Boston by a year. They were contemporaries, and were very similar hitters (they're #4 on each others' Similarity Score lists), and Runnels won a couple of batting titles himself. However, Runnels had a few too many seasons as his team's regular at different positions, and he only played one game in the outfield in his career, so in my book he's not quite in the same category.
 
Another prominent player of this type was Woodie Held. Held was a regular shortstop for about 4 seasons, but then put in several seasons where he just kind of played all over the place. Felix Mantilla, who played mostly for the Braves and the Red Sox in the mid-50's to mid-60's, was this type of player as well.
 
It's also worth mentioning Martin Dihigo, who played all over the diamond (including pitcher)in the Negro Leagues and Latin American leagues covering nearly 30 years. I don't know if he technically fits the concept of a "utility player" because he was really one of the stars, but his multi-positional excellence and ability to play all over is certainly worthy of note.
 
There are many, many others, and I'm sure you'll be able to come up with some of your own. I should note that there were other pretty good players such as Martin Prado, Melvin Mora, Jose Oquendo, and B. J. Surhoff who come close to the definition, but who I felt fell just outside the requirements for true utility status. 
 
One who technically could/should have made my list is Cesar Tovar. The midpoint of his career was 1970, which is right on the edge of my 50-year deadline, but I feel like the bulk of his utility-ness (if that's a word) occurred prior to when I started paying attention to baseball, so I decided to exclude him.   Tovar is remember for 2 major things. One, he is one of the few players who played all 9 positions in a game (1968), and, two, he received a first-place MVP vote in 1967 from a local Minneapolis writer, thus depriving Carl Yastrzemski of being the unanimous MVP that year.
 
Finally, there are several active players who excel in the role, such as Chris Taylor and Enrique "Kiké" Hernandez (both currently with the Dodgers), Brock Holt of the Red Sox (who has made an All Star team), Sean Rodriguez (currently with Miami but better known with Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh) and Josh Harrison, who had 2 All-Star seasons as a utility player with the Pirates. With a couple of exceptions, active players did not make my top 10, although one or more of the above could eventually crack the top 10. Scott Kingery of the Phillies is a young player just starting his career who has already shown a lot of signs of being that type of player as well.
 
Other significant career utility players who didn't make my top 10? Here are some of them (in no particular order:
 
Lenny Harris (known for pinch hitting, but also a versatile player who played for a long time)
Jerry Royster
Bill Almon
Willie Bloomquist
Bill Hall
Willie Harris
Joel Youngblood
Alan Bannister
Bob Bailor
Mike Aviles
Emilio Bonifacio
Chris Stynes
Rex Hudler
Brad Miller
Joe McEwing
 
OK. Enough fooling around.   Who are the greatest utility players of the past 50 years? Unlike other positions where I'm counted down the top 25, I'm going to limit this category to 10. Also, unlike the other positions, I'm not really using a formula to come up with my rankings - this one is more based on general evidence and subjective gut feel. For each player, I'm also going to list their career games played by position to provide a sense of their versatility (source: baseball-reference.com).
 
#10-Derrel Thomas
 
Position
Games
2B
608
OF
542
CF
400
SS
339
3B
116
LF
91
RF
69
1B
19
C
6
 
Thomas is a bit of a sentimental choice, not because I was a big fan (I couldn't stand him when he was with LA), but because he was one of the first utility players that I remember becoming aware of who was proficient in this role. He managed to produce a nice, 15-year career that spanned 1971-1985. 
 
He showed glimpses of his versatility as a young player with the Padres and the Giants, and then really flourished as a super-utility player with the Dodgers. He concentrated most of his time up the middle (2B, CF, SS), but got in his fair share at the corners as well, and even got in a few games behind the plate. Had decent speed and decent stolen base totals, but really wasn't a very successful base stealer (about 60%). Picked up a ring as a member of the 1981 Dodgers.
 
#9-Jose Hernandez
 
Position
Games
SS
836
3B
425
2B
118
OF
116
1B
79
LF
62
CF
50
RF
16
 
Hernandez had a couple of seasons with Milwaukee where he was primarily a shortstop (one of which resulted in an All Star selection), which skews his games played towards that position numbers a little, and he's significantly more infield than outfield, but I decided to include him. Hernandez wasn't great at getting on base and struck out a lot, but was very versatile and was a reliable source of power. Mostly associated with the Cubs and the Brewers, he ended up playing for 9 different franchises.
 
#8-Jerry Hairston Jr.
 
Position
Games
2B
650
OF
400
LF
200
3B
174
SS
148
CF
139
RF
84
1B
15
 
Hairston comes from a prominent baseball family, with a brother (Scott), uncle (John), father (Jerry Sr.) and a grandfather (Sam) who all played in MLB. Sam was a catcher who dates all the way back to the Negro Leagues, and got a taste of the Majors in 1951.
 
Hairston played for 9 different franchises in his career, spending more than 2 seasons for only one of them (7 with Baltimore). He had a couple of seasons as the primary 2nd baseman for the Orioles in his age 25 and 26 seasons, but after that he basically assumed a utility role. His best utility season was probably 2008 with the Reds when he hit .326 and stole 15 bases while appearing at 6 different positions. The next season, he picked up a ring while playing for the Yankees. Hit .362 in his career in the postseason, doing most of his damage with the Brewers in 2011.
 
#7-Lee Lacy       
 
Position
Games
OF
1006
RF
594
LF
418
2B
275
CF
76
3B
32
SS
2
 
Perhaps not quite as versatile as some of the others, most of his appearances were at the corner outfield positions and second base, but I think he qualifies. Through age 33, he had never had a single season where he was his team's primary player at any single position, although in 4 of his final 6 seasons, he was the primary right fielder for his team (twice with the Pirates and twice with the Orioles). Kind of an odd career.
 
Lacy had one of the more unusual career arcs you'll ever see, especially when it came to stolen bases. He had a career high of 7 heading into his age 32 season, but then he ripped off successive seasons of 18,24,40,31, and 21. I don't know if anyone has ever shed any light on what prompted the change in approach in that category, but if anyone is aware of any theories, I'd be interested to know what they are.
 
#6-Mark McLemore       
 
Position
Games
2B
1197
OF
404
LF
250
RF
147
3B
119
SS
88
CF
21
 
McLemore was a little lopsided in his position distribution as he did have several seasons primarily as a second baseman, and you could argue that he had a few too many seasons in that primary role, but I included him because he was extremely versatile and, in particular, he excelled in the utility role on the record-setting, 116-victory 2001 Mariners, and I think that was one of the more memorable seasons that any player has had in that capacity. 
 
A lot of fans have wondered how the 2001 Mariners, who had lost big time stars such as Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, and Randy Johnson in the years leading up to that season, could have had such a successful team that year. Certainly, they still had some outstanding players with Edgar Martinez, John Olerud, and Ichiro Suzuki (in his first season coming over from Japan) and they were supported by the likes of Bret Boone (who had a great year) and Mike Cameron, but one of the real keys to the season was the versatility of McLemore. 
 
The "regulars" in left field (Al Martin and Stan Javier, who was 37 and in his final season), third base (David Bell) and shortstop (Carlos Guillen) were all quality players, but none of them was what you would call a real strength (Guillen did grow into an All-Star with the Tigers, but in 2001 he was 25 years old and still emerging). McLemore (no spring chicken himself at 36) offered tremendous value at all three of those positions as he appeared in 63 games in left field, 36 at third base, and 35 games at shortstop, along with some miscellaneous appearances at second base, center field, and right field. For the season, he hit .286 with a robust .384 OBP, stealing 39 bases in 46 attempts (85%), the shining moment in a quality 19-year career.
 
#5-Marwin Gonzalez
 
Position
Games
SS
292
OF
218
1B
212
LF
175
3B
133
2B
112
RF
48
CF
3
 
Probably the #1 active player still prominent in the utility role (Zobrist is no longer the impact player he once was), Gonzalez still has some years remaining that could see him move further up the list.  Gonzalez's best season (unfortunately for him) was 2017 with the Astros, which is a season that will always live in infamy, but he's been a valuable player in the utility role for a number of years. Gonzalez moved to the Twins in 2019 and put in another typical Marwin Gonzalez season (.264/.322/.414, 15 HR, 55 RBI, played 6 positions). As you can see from his position distribution, he's pretty evenly spread his time over the defensive spectrum.
 
#4-Bip Roberts
 
Position
Games
2B
501
OF
464
LF
383
3B
147
CF
72
SS
40
RF
24
 
I absolutely loved watching this guy play. 5'7", 150 pounds of pure baseball fun. 
 
I had the pleasure of seeing Bip up close for a couple of seasons with the Reds, including his first season with the team (1992). Roberts was traded from the Padres during the prior offseason in exchange for Randy Myers as the Reds took their first step in breaking up the "Nasty Boys" bullpen of Myers, Rob Dibble, and Norm Charlton.   Roberts promptly hit .323 with 44 steals, made the All Star team, and finished 8th in the MVP voting, all while playing 69 games in LF, 42 at 2B, 36 at 3B, and 16 in CF. Despite the lack of a regular position, he managed to accumulate over 600 plate appearances that season, second only to Barry Larkin on the team.
 
#3-Chone Figgins            
 
Position
Games
3B
640
OF
350
2B
279
CF
253
LF
77
SS
29
RF
28
 
Figgins had a precipitous drop at the end of his career, but for 7 years there he was a helluva weapon. Figgins' first taste of the Majors was the Angels' championship season of 2002, and although he didn't contribute much that year, he was a huge part of the team for the rest of the decade, and from 2004 through 2009 the Angels made the postseason every year except one. 
 
Figgins made his mark in a variety of areas every year in that period. One year, he led the league with 62 steals. Another year, he led the league with 101 walks. Another year, he hit .330. He twice had OBP's over .390. From 2003-2009, he hit .292 with a .363 OBP, with rates of 49 steals and 104 runs per 162 games over that span.
 
#2-Ben Zobrist
 
Position
Games
2B
911
OF
661
RF
466
SS
236
LF
223
CF
34
1B
27
3B
8
 
In a tight race for the top, Zobrist settles for #2 in my ranking. Zobrist had what is certainly the greatest season ever by a true utility player in 2009 with the Rays - 27 HR, 91 RBI, 91 runs, 17 steals, .297/.405/.543, a 149 OPS+, made the All Star team, was 8th in the MVP voting, and his 8.6 rWAR was #1 in the AL that season among position players. His position split was 91 games at 2B, 59 in RF, 13 at SS, 9 in LF, 7 in CF, 3 at 1B, and 1 at 3B. And his 2011 season wasn't far behind, as he upped his doubles to 46 while still hitting 20 HR's.
 
To top it all off, Zobrist was a big part of 2 consecutive championship teams - Kansas City in 2015 (they acquired him in late July from Oakland), and the Cubs in 2016, winning the MVP in the latter World Series. He's probably just about done with his career. All in all, possibly the greatest utility player of all time. 
 
Except I have 1 guy higher.......
 
#1-Tony Phillips
 
Position
Games
OF
786
2B
778
LF
565
3B
428
SS
294
RF
169
CF
97
1B
5
 
The once and future king. In my book, the greatest utility player of all time is Tony Phillips.
 
With 3 more games in CF, Phillips would have had the rather remarkable achievement of having 6 different field positions in which he played 100 or more games. He was 5 walks away (in 1994, which was a strike season) from having 100 or more walks in 6 straight seasons, and since he only had 114 games played in that strike-shortened season, it was merely a technicality that he didn't reach that level. Over the same span (1992-1997), his figures (per 162 games) were 124 runs, 16 HR's, and 129 walks, and his slash line was .281/.405/.414, with a 119 OPS+. 
 
Who you prefer as #1 is likely just a matter of taste. Zobrist's 2 best seasons are probably better than Phillips', but I feel like Phillips was a little more versatile defensively than Zobrist was, and had a little better overall career. He's my #1.
 
I'll resume the series with the 2nd base rankings in the near future. In the meantime, thanks for reading.
 
Dan
 
 
 
 

COMMENTS (23 Comments, most recent shown first)

DMBBHF
Bucky,

First, I don't agree that being able to play catcher outweighs lack of middle infield when trying to define a utility player. Guess we'll just have to disagree about that. Besides, when you compare Moreland to the others in the article, he wasn't really deployed the same way that they were. Maybe one or two years you could call him a utility guy, but it wasn't really how he was generally used.

Also, regarding "Backing up at catcher in the last several decades, while sill playing the outfield, is virtually unheard of." Before I disagree, can you better define it a little better? Because depending on how you define the time frame and the criteria, it could be just a handful, or it could be over 100. So, rather than me guess, I'll let you define it further, and we'll see what we can come up with.

Thanks,
Dan
7:59 PM Apr 10th
 
Bucky
5 positions including catcher would seem to outweigh lack of middle infield. Backing up at catcher in the last several decades, while sill playing the outfield, is virtually unheard of.
6:20 PM Apr 10th
 
DMBBHF
Bucky,

Moreland was an interesting player and certainly had position flexibility, but he wouldn't be a true utility player by my definition. To me, a true utility player needs that middle infield capability. I agree that the ability to fill in as catcher is worth some bonus points, but he just didn't fit what I was going for.

Thanks,
Dan
11:46 AM Apr 10th
 
MarisFan61
Yes -- multi-position regular.

The reason we* got at all into saying "star" was that Bill happened to use the term "multi-position star," and it was in a context where that made sense. We* then used that phrase, because it was an existing one from Bill, when we* started using it more generally.

* Maybe I should have just said "I," but I do guess that it's the reason that many of us did.
1:46 PM Apr 9th
 
Bucky
No love for Keith Moreland? 561 games as RF, 220 as 3B, 169 as C, 160 as 1B, and 119 as LF. Not a great hitter, but not a bad one, he had a pretty solid all-around game.
And you have to get some bonus utility points for catching!
5:39 AM Apr 9th
 
DMBBHF
Thanks for all the replies.

sethblink,

I would say Kevin Mitchell could reasonably be called a utility player for one season (1986), but that was basically it.

guyarrigoni,

Agreed - Killebrew was a multipositional regular.

Leslein,

Yeah, Cookie was a legitimate utility player for 3-4 years there before becoming primarily a regular 2B.

FrankD,

Thanks for the comment on the article and series. As for Al Newman, I'd consider him a legitimate utility infielder rather than a utility player since he was pretty much 2B/3B/SS, and not very much OF.

Brock,

I agree with much of what you say. Multi-positional regular is the better term, because star is too specific. I only used that term because I was starting off talking about players like Rose and Musial who were legitimate stars. It's definitely more accurate to say they were multipositional regulars who also happened to be star players. It's a subset of the larger multiposition regular group.

Regarding Oquendo - yes, he was a legitimate utility player for '87 and '88, but that's about it. After that he was pretty exclusively 2B with some SS, but not really much of anything else.

Thanks,
Dan
8:50 PM Apr 8th
 
sethblink
Was Kevin Mitchell not a utility player? He played a lot of games at 3rd base and also a few at SS. He also had the utility of being able to catch fly balls with his gloved hand or his bare hand. He was also a one-time MVP, a member of the legendary '86 Mets and one of the great characters of the game, which seems to fit the utility role.
4:01 AM Apr 8th
 
guyarrigoni
While he was definitely not a "utility" player, as a multi-position player, Harmon Killebrew seemed to move from 3rd to 1st to LF based on team need and that included playing significant innings at 3rd to well into this mid-30s.
11:19 PM Apr 6th
 
LesLein
Cookie Rojas deserves honorable mention for his play in the sixties. He could play the middle infield and outfield. He was the number three catcher. He once pitched an inning. In Bunning’s perfect game he was the starting SS, then moved to LF to make room for Bobby Wine. Eventually he became a regular second baseman.
2:52 PM Apr 6th
 
Brock Hanke
Regarding Musial and Oquendo, whom I, as a Cards fan, know more abut than any of your other examples: Looking at the two and how you categorized them, it looks to me as if the BIG difference between a utility player and a mouth-positional player is how many positions the player played during each regular season. Musial moved from position to position, but that was dependent on where the Cards had the biggest hole that year. If they had a good RF and CF, Musial played left. If they didn't have a real CF, Musial could play there, too, although he's wasn't a good defensive CF. If they had a good LF with a weak arm, Musial would end up in RF. If they had lots of outfielders but no 1B, Musial played there. But he didn't move around during the season. He stayed where he started the year.

Oquendo is completely different. He was on Whitey's Cardinals because he could, if an injury forced it, play 2B, SS, or 3B for a whole year. Since the Cards had very few major injuries at those positions, and since the players at them were Tommy Herr, Ozzie Smith, and Ken Oberkfell/Terry Pendleton, Oquendo didn't start at any of them. But if any of the three needed a day or a week off, there was Oquendo. Whitey always kept a traditional backup infielder, like Tom Lawless, who couldn't hit but who could play the infield, just in case he had to deal with TWO injuries at the same time. But he didn't need a better backup than Lawless because he always had Jose.

So, I would like to suggest that just looking at career games played at various positions doesn't give you the guys you want; you want the guys who played multiple positions every year, but were never the starter, unless the team just had a complete hole somewhere.

I THINK that this is what you're driving at. What I would suggest is that you drop the term "multi-position stars", and use "multi-position regulars." That seems to be the difference; between being a regular, but not sure which position you will be the regular at this year, and being a utility player, who knows that he will play at least some at virtually all the positions he could play, but won't be the regular at any of them. Musial couldn't play C, 2B, 3B, or SS, because he was a lefty. But he didn't give his managers trouble when he was moved, so they could put him at the OF or 1B spot where they had the WEAKEST other candidate to be the regular. Being better than the weakest outfield starter on the team is not the same thing as being the guy who the manager brings in whenever someone gets a ding or gets tired, or just needs a day off. But you don't need to be a STAR to be multi-positional. You just have to be a regular who doesn't throw tantrums when moved every spring.
1:19 PM Apr 6th
 
FrankD
How about an honorable mention or at least a utility player participation ribbon for Al Newman? Overall, great article and a great series. Thanks for writing these.
10:15 AM Apr 6th
 
DMBBHF
Steven,

Yes, I'd put Daniel Murphy as a multi-positional star more than a utility player. Of course, it depends how loose with the term "star" we're being. :)

But, yes, definitely not utility.

Dan
4:14 PM Apr 5th
 
MarisFan61
Stray thought.....

Utility players (defining them as Dan does) often have reputations for "getting the job done." It's one of the cliches associated with them, along with "you can put him anywhere and he won't embarrass you."

Speaking as someone who loves hyperbole, as long as it's something we can laugh at rather than a thing that makes our blood boil, there was this terrific hyperbole that Yankee announcers would sometimes say about Luis Sojo:
"He always but always gets the job done." :-)
3:45 PM Apr 5th
 
Steven Goldleaf
I'm assuming Daniel Murphy also qualifies as a multi-positional star?
1:34 PM Apr 5th
 
DMBBHF
Markkolier,

Thanks for the comments. All I can say is, just wait until I get to the best pinch hitters of the past 50 years! :)

Dan
1:13 PM Apr 5th
 
markkolier
Really good list. And yet about as uninspiring a group of ballplayers as a baseball best-of can ever have.
10:11 AM Apr 5th
 
MarisFan61
(I should have mentioned, Gilliam never played shortstop in the majors.
I sort of implied it; meant to say it but forgot.)
12:36 AM Apr 5th
 
MarisFan61
I see what you mean.
He's more in the McDougald group.

And in fact, actually.....

If I were to have tried doing something like this myself, I would have included an extra criterion that would rule Gilliam out even more:
Rather than saying either 2B or SS is okay, I'd say that they had to have played both, and at least some modest amount. Like, 2 games at shortstop for 1 inning each time wouldn't do it.
12:34 AM Apr 5th
 
DMBBHF
I did have Gilliam on my radar, and I should have at least mentioned him before getting to the rankings (he was obviously outside the scope of the past 50 year timeframe). I probably should have at least explained my position.

By the criteria I outlined, Gilliam doesn't fit the utility definition. I think he's close, but he's really only a 3-position guy (2B/3B/LF). He had 1,046 games at 2B, 761 at 3B, and 203 in LF. His 4th position was RF, and he only had 29 games there, and then had 5 in CF and 2 at 1B. I feel this falls short of true utility status compared to the others.

None of this is to minimize his worth in alternating among the 3 primary positions that he did play for the Dodgers, because I think he was a very valuable player for that franchise. I'm just stopping short of classifying him as a true utility guy.

Thanks,
Dan
11:39 PM Apr 4th
 
MarisFan61
Fireball: Yes indeed! I'm guessing Dan just didn't get around to thinking of him (somewhat to his chagrin when he sees this). :-)

I can't imagine anyone not wanting to include him with the players you said.
6:31 PM Apr 4th
 
Fireball Wenz
Excellent article and I agree with your methodology and conclusions. How about Junior Gilliam - he seems very comparable to Goodman and McDougald.
5:30 PM Apr 4th
 
DMBBHF
Hi Maris,

Thanks for the comments.

I don't get the Musial (OF & 1B) thing either. I only included him as an example because I have seen (on more than one occasion) Musial labeled as a great utility player, including in one of the Reader Posts threads we had on the subject a few years ago. I don't get it at all either.

Thanks,
Dan
4:53 PM Apr 4th
 
MarisFan61
Dan: This is perfect.

Literally. :-)

I'm 100% with how you discuss and define (sort of) the term.
I've never seen it done like this before. I dare say that I think it's never been done quite like this before, meaning both how you analyze it (which is separate from where you wind up with it) and where you wind up with it (which I agree with, which is the most important thing). :-) :-)

Great job distinguishing it from those other kinds of things. Many people would be inclined to just lump some or all of them together, and of course we can't say they're wrong; it's just a different concept of it.

There's one concept of it, though, that I can't see at all, and it's the one that you address in the part about Stan Musial. "Outfield and first base" -- I totally do not see how that could be seen as "utility," and I wouldn't even call it "multi-position star" although that I can see.

Great job.
4:18 PM Apr 4th
 
 
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