Back in 1999, Sports Illustrated published an edition at the end of the year rating the top 50 athletes of the century for every state.
As a lifelong Upstate New Yorker, I braced for a list of New York State athletes that consisted almost entirely of downstate natives, that is, folks from the greater NYC area and Long Island.
We Upstaters are used to New York City trampling all over the rest of the state. They have the most people, the loudest voices. It happens all the time. It's a phenomenon unique to this state. Heck, there are still people out there who, when you tell them you're from New York, automatically think you're from NYC. They don't think of cows and chickens when they think of New York. But trust me, there are a lot of cows and chickens in New York State. Especially cows.
So, anyway, when I counted up the baseball players that SI listed as the greatest from New York State, six of the nine were from New York City or Long Island. I was surprised all of them weren't. And I looked at those three with pride.
I have this weird need to point out MLB players from Upstate New York whenever I see them. Part of that is because NYC's stockpile of MLB players so overwhelms the rest of the state's. But also, the weather we have in Upstate New York is not conducive for a major league career. Our school baseball seasons are extremely short. Every year at this time I'm stunned when teams in the south start playing games while I look outside my window at three feet of snow.
So those Upstate MLBers are special and I thought of that when Bill's Baseball Card Blog recently posted about Dave Giusti, a former pitcher for the Pirates, who is from the Upstate town of Seneca Falls.
How about if I made Upstate New York's all-time major league team?
That would get our poor neglected area some attention. ... Well, the attention this blog provides anyway.
So, that's what I did. Here are the best players to ever come out of Upstate New York. Some of them played a long, long time ago.
Catcher: King Kelly (Hometown: Troy)
The card says "outfielder" but Kelly played almost as many games at catcher, and he was king of wherever he played. He pitched, too, and he competed for Cincinnati, Chicago, Boston and New York. Kelly was a player-manager several times and inspired many of the baseball tactics we know today, especially on the bases.
Kirt Manwaring (Hometown: Elmira). The Cardboard Appreciation Hall of Famer was born exactly one day before I was in the same year and about 100 miles apart.
Also of note: Buddy Rosar (Buffalo), Josh Bard (Ithaca), Tom Murphy (West Monroe), Ken O'Dea (Lima).
Again, the card says "outfield," But Herman played first base, too, and if I didn't move him here, Archi Cianfrocco would be starting. This is the weakest position for Upstate New York natives. But Herman's 1930 season and that .393 batting average makes you forget all that.
Archi Cianfrocco (Hometown: Rome). Oof, let's hope Babe Herman stays healthy.
Collins, a member of the 3,000-hit club and part of those standout Philadelphia A's and Chicago White Sox teams from 100 years ago (including the Black Sox team), is one of the three Upstate baseball players mentioned in that 1999 Sports Illustrated article. The other two Upstate players mentioned are also on this team.
Millerton is a village near the Connecticut border. I honestly had never heard of it until researching this.
There are a lot of notable Upstate New York second basemen who have played for World Series teams.
Johnny Evers (Hometown: Troy), Dave Cash (Hometown: Utica), Mark Lemke (Hometown: Utica).
I also can't forget Hall of Famer Bid McPhee, who I wrote about recently, and still need a card for. He was from Massena, which is about an hour-and-a-half north of here.
Logan grew up in the same town I did. I lived in Endicott from age 3-5 and then again from age 13-19. I don't remember hearing anything about Logan back then. He has a Little League field named after him in town, my guess is it's on the north side, which is why I've never heard of it. I didn't hang out on the north side.
Logan went to the high school that was down the street from where I lived. He was a big part of those late 1950s Milwaukee Braves teams and played in more Major League games than any other Broome County native.
Stan Rojek (Hometown: North Tonawanda). Johnny Logan's nickname was "Yachta". Stan Rojek's nickname was "Happy Rabbit". Any current baseball player whose nickname is their initials should be embarrassed.
Also of note: George Davis (Cohoes), Doc Farrell (Johnson City), Rudy Meoli (Troy).
Third Base: Heinie Groh (Hometown: Rochester)
The card says "outfielder" but Groh was a third baseman all the way, with some time at second base. Groh's lasting claim to fame was his "bottle bat," which you see here, and I have no idea how he got away with having a barrel that huge.
Dave Hollins (Hometown: Buffalo). Hollins, specifically, is from South Park, which is the southern part of Buffalo, most famous for (sorry, Dave) the Buffalo Bills' stadium. Hollins was a fantasy baseball favorite of mine back in the first year that I participated in fantasy baseball. It was all downhill from there.
Also of note: Jimmy Collins (Niagara Falls), Eric Soderholm (Cortland), Mike Ferraro (Kingston), Scott Coolbaugh (Binghamton), Sibby Sisti (Buffalo), Phil Mankowski (Buffalo).
There are lots of notable Upstate third basemen for some reason. It is the deepest position besides pitcher.
Outfield: George J. Burns (Hometown: Utica), Cy Seymour (Hometown: Albany); Andy Van Slyke (Hometown: Utica).
George J. Burns is not to be confused with Ohio native George H. Burns, who played around the same time (George J.'s nickname was "Silent George" and George H.'s nickname was "Tioga George"). George J. is known for pioneering the use of sunglasses in the outfield and also stealing home 27 times in his career. He had the Giants' career stolen base record until Willie Mays broke it.
Cy Seymour played center field and pitched during his career, mostly with the Giants and Reds. He still holds Reds records, and he is the only player besides Babe Ruth to have both 50 home runs and 50 pitching wins.
Andy Van Slyke starred for New Hartford high school and was part of a 1980s resurgence of major league talent in Upstate New York.
Rick Manning (Hometown: Niagara Falls). I may be a bit biased since I once stood on the same field with Manning in Niagara Falls, not more than a couple people away. Plus, this card has always been great.
Also of note: Derrick May (Rochester), Jim Barbieri (Schenectady), Jesse Winker (Buffalo), Boots Day (Ilion), Mel Hall (Lyons).
Starting Pitchers: Warren Spahn (Hometown: Buffalo), Old Hoss Radbourn (Hometown: Rochester), Sal Maglie (Hometown: Niagara Falls), Orel Hershiser (Hometown: Buffalo), Johnny Podres (Hometown: Witherbee).
Upstate New York is overflowing with quality pitchers and it was difficult to trim it down to just five. That's why you'll see several more starters listed when I mention the relief pitchers on the team.
Spahn is another one of the three Upstate NYers that made SI's top 50 list for New York State. Radbourn's stats are almost as bananas as the Twitter account named for him. I sat in the stadium named after Sal Maglie for an entire season covering the team that played there.
I almost scrapped Hershiser's name because I know he spent only a handful of years in New York before the family moved to Philadelphia. But I figured that's probably the case for some other people on this team and I'm not going to research that deeply.
Podres was a tough call but he's here because of his World Series hero status and because I find it very amusing that someone from Witherbee, a small spot on the edge of the Adirondack Mountains south of Plattsburgh, could produce a pitcher of such stature.
Relief pitchers: Jim Konstanty (Hometown: Strykersville), Johnny Antonelli (Hometown: Rochester), Pat Dobson (Hometown: Buffalo), John Tudor (Hometown: Schenectady), Bill Dinneen (Hometown: Syracuse)
I started things off with a true reliever in Jim Konstanty before dipping into the starting pitching reserve for the relief corps. You've got to put the first reliever to win the National League MVP on your team. Plus he's from Strykersville, which is a teeny tiny town in snowbelt country in Western New York.
I've mentioned before that as a kid I associated Johnny Antonelli with his tire business as much as being a player. One of his tire shops was three blocks from where I lived. Meanwhile, Bill Dinneen won 20 games four times before becoming an umpire for almost 30 years.
Also of note: Jim Deshaies (Massena), Matt Morris (Middletown), Patrick Corbin (Clay), Bill Hallahan (Binghamton), Al Fitzmorris (Buffalo), Dave Giusti (Seneca Falls), Frank DiPino (Syracuse), Randy St. Claire (Glens Falls), Tommy Kahnle (Latham), Tommy Boggs (Poughkeepsie), John Cerutti (Albany), Rob Gardner (Binghamton), Mike Barlow (Stamford), Bill Scherrer (Tonawanda), Mark Guthrie (Buffalo), Dave Palmer (Glens Falls), Dave LaPoint (Glens Falls), Dave Lemanczyk (Syracuse), Mike Remlinger (Middletown), Jim Johnson (Johnson City), Frank Smith (Pierrepont Manor), Ian Anderson (Rexford), Tim Redding (Rochester), Mel Queen (Johnson City), Joe Hesketh (Lackawanna), Jim Poole (Rochester), Ricky Horton (Poughkeepsie), Hal White (Utica), Mickey McDermott (Poughkeepsie).
Phew! I guess Upstate is a little better at producing pitchers than everyday players.
Manager: John McGraw (Hometown: Truxton). McGraw is the third of three Upstate players to make SI's list in 1999. As a player, McGraw would add to the third base glut on this team as that's where he primarily played. But he's a Hall of Famer for his managing and he has his work cut out for him with this team as they're probably going to be playing that NYC-Long Island powerhouse all the time.
It blows my mind that someone of McGraw's stature could grow up in Truxton, which is a small town in Cortland County, just north of where I grew up. But it makes me proud, too.
There are several Upstate New York players in MLB right now. James Karinchak of Newburgh, Tim Locastro of Auburn and Justin Topa of Binghamton, as well as the aforementioned Patrick Corbin, Ian Anderson, Tom Murphy, Tommy Kahnle and Jesse Winker.
Upstate New York may not be a baseball hotbed or be able to compete with larger and louder downstate. And I know there are a lot of areas of the country -- California, Texas -- that could never do a team like this because there are just way too many candidates.
But the above team is pretty formidable and this is where I can point people when they wonder if we "play baseball with all that snow up there."