In the past 50 years, Major League Baseball has almost doubled in size, going from 16 teams to 30. At 25 players a team, there are now 750 men in the league, as opposed to 400 in 1960. In September, when rosters expand, the number gets as high as 1200. With so many more uniforms to fill, it would seem talent has diluted markedly. Still, I took a long look and between Triple-A, top-level independent leagues and various international circuits there are enough ex-big league players scattered about to form an expansion league.
The last time anyone tried to form a new pro baseball circuit was 1959, when a group led by Branch Rickey announced plans for a Continental League, with teams in Atlanta, Buffalo, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York and Toronto. They never played a game, after the MLB announced plans to expand in a few of the markets, and today, all but Buffalo has a team. In Part 1 of this series, I looked at cities that could host a professional team. There are dozens of such cities, and I identified 12 of the best.
(For anyone who missed Part 1, go here.)
Today’s post is about identifying potential players for this new league. After spending more hours than I care to catalog on Wikipedia and various team Web sites, some in English, some not, I found over 100 ex-big leaguers in their 20s and 30s scattered between Triple-A, the independent leagues and international circuits, as well as the retired and inactive lists (and those were just the names I knew.) I should add that I find this general subject fascinating, regardless of whether we’re talking expansion leagues. A former established player grinding it out in some lower league in hopes of coming back is a great underdog story, at least to me.
The list that follows includes ex-starting players, All Stars and a past Cy Young award winner, Eric Gagne (currently playing in Canada.) The men are:
Mexico: Raul Casanova, Scott Chiasson, Jacob Cruz, Erubiel Durazo, Benji Gil, Alex Sanchez
Korea: Jose Capellan, Doug Clark, Karim Garcia, Gary Glover, Edgar Gonzalez, Brandon Knight, C.J. Nitkowski
Japan: Alex Cabrera, Jose Castillo, Casey Fossum, Seth Greisinger, Ben Kozlowski, Randy Messenger, Matt Murton, Andy Phillips, Terrmel Sledge, Jason Standridge
Taiwan: Pedro Liriano, Matt Perisho, Wilton Veras, Jerome Williams
Independent: Antonio Alfonseca, Edgardo Alfonzo, Carlos Almanzar, Lorenzo Barcelo, Larry Bigbie, Dewon Brazelton, Alberto Castillo, Juan Diaz, Ryan Drese, Carl Everett, Robert Fick, Keith Foulke, Wayne Franklin, Eric Gagne, Trey Hodges, Hideki Irabu, Jorge Julio, Jose Lima, Luis Lopez, Dustan Mohr, Sidney Ponson, Matt Riley, Felix Rodriguez, Bill Simas, Randall Simon, Jason Simontacchi, Scott Spiezio, Junior Spivey, Denny Stark, Matt Watson, Esteban Yan, Shane Youman
Minors: Eliezer Alfonzo, Luis Ayala, Josh Bard, Armando Benitez, Kris Benson, Joe Borchard, Raul Chavez, Alex Cintron, Chad Cordero, Shane Costa, Jack Cust, Lenny DiNardo, Brandon Duckworth, Chris George, Esteban German, Jay Gibbons, Brad Hennessey, Steve Holm, Paul Hoover, Kei Igawa, Jacque Jones, Brad Kilby, Jason Lane, Kameron Loe, Brandon McCarthy, Dallas McPherson, Mike MacDougal, John Mayberry Jr., Justin Miller, Damian Moss, Garrett Olson, Adam Pettyjohn, Horacio Ramirez, Cody Ransom, Michael Restovich, Clete Thomas, Joe Thurston, Josh Towers, Andy Tracy, DeWayne Wise
Not playing: Shawn Chacon, Roger Cedeno, Raul Mondesi, Tike Redman, Jose Vidro
Retired: Jose Cruz Jr., Nomar Garciaparra, Ben Grieve, Gary Knotts, Ramiro Mendoza, Matt Morris, Trot Nixon, John Rocker
Looking over the list, it’s hardly a collection of ex-superstars. I’m reminded of that scene in Major League where the new owner of the Cleveland Indians presents a list of players she intends to invite to spring training, in secret hopes of fielding the worst team in baseball so she can relocate it to Miami. Upon seeing the list, a member of her front office remarks, “I never heard of half of these guys, and the ones I do know are way past their primes.”
In reply, the Indians general manager quips, “Most of these men never had a prime.”
Still, as I said in Part 1, I think that over time, with sufficient financial backing, fan support and patience, a new league could become sustainable and competitive. And even to start, I think that 20 or so of the guys named above combined with a few blue chip prospects could form a team comparable to the Washington Nationals. It goes without saying that everything I’ve said over the past two posts would probably never legally work, for any number of different reasons, but I think it’s an interesting concept.