Here I am at another A-Z challenge that I wasn't going to do.
This time, the opportunity was offered up by The Diamond King. Who are your favorite players for each letter of the alphabet?
Hmm. This doesn't really sound like a challenge for me. I'm not a player collector. I don't consider myself having a "favorite" for anyone who didn't wear Dodger blue. This is just going to be a bunch of Dodgers that I've already written about way too many times.
Ah, but the things you find out when you try, right? This isn't eating bugs. Or listening to death metal. Or opening a box of Bowman. I know I'm not going to like those things. But everything else is worth a try.
I found out that not only can I name a favorite for every letter (well, almost), but they're not all Dodgers players! How about that it? I discovered that the personal connections I've made with some players automatically overrules my fanhood. Wild.
So, here we go. You might be surprised by some of this. All of these cards are from my collection:
A: Hank Aaron
I almost put Dick Allen here, but Aaron is likely the first baseball player I ever knew, so he should have the honor.
Key Dodgers favorites: Dick Allen, Sandy Amoros
B: Mookie Betts
Mookie Betts is the only current player to make this list (that's foreshadowing). Thanks to leading the Dodgers to their first championship in 32 years and his infectious playing style he instantly surpassed favorites decades in the making: Bill Buckner, Dusty Baker, Adrian Beltre. You'll see how much Betts has become a favorite in weeks to come.
C: Ron Cey
The most obvious letter. Cey has only grown in stature in terms of my favorite since this blog began. He's signed through the mail for me multiple times, he's even signed birthday wishes to me.
D: Don Drysdale
I am reading the Michael Leahy book, "The Last Innocents," which is about the 1960s Los Angeles Dodgers. It's opening up a window on the personalities of some of those players. Drysdale, who is always portrayed as this bad-ass, take-no-prisoners mound presence, I'm beginning to find out was a carefree, lovable soul. I'll see if the book continues to stay true to that.
E: Carl Erskine
Erskine is one of those players who makes me proud to be a Dodgers fan. He's just a good human being, who has lived a long and loving life (read "The Boys of Summer") and has always given back to the fans. One of the friendliest autograph signers of all-time. Also, a damn fine pitcher.
Mark Fidrych is a quirky favorite for a lot of baseball fans, but for fans of a certain age -- my age -- he's our quirky favorite. Fidrych appeared at the very beginning of my baseball viewing. That nationally televised game on Monday night, June 28, 1976 introduced me to what baseball could be. That a baseball player could be a great athlete but also captivate a country with excitement, fun and comedy. He was a marvel. Or as Johnny Wockenfuss told me: "goofy." Nothing wrong with goofy.
Key Dodgers favorites: Carl Furillo.
G: Pedro Guerrero
Pedro Guerrero was my favorite player my senior year in high school. He was the replacement for my original favorite player, Ron Cey, who had been unceremoniously traded to the Cubs. It was weird to have an attachment to someone else. But it's grown through the years. I have since communicated with Guerrero twice on Twitter (he's not active there anymore). And last year, he signed this card for me thanks to Kenny.
H: Orel Hershiser
The player who replaced Guerrero as my favorite player and someone who has also signed something for me with a personalized message. Orel Hershiser is so much fun as a favorite for seemingly infinite reasons. At the beginning it was tremendous to watch a pitcher with that name, who looked like that and acted like that, mow down the biggest and baddest hitters in the land. He became a Series champion and card companies responded by issuing some of strangest cards of him, cards like above. There are so many and they're so entertaining to collect. Since his career ended, he's became a poker player (what?) and is the current color man for the Dodgers, so I get to hear his happy weirdness every day.
I: Kaz Ishii
Really only here because of all the wonderful cards of him issued in 2002. There aren't a lot of options at this letter.
J: Shoeless Joe Jackson
I'm the contrarian when it comes to this letter. While others would pick Chipper or Judge, Reggie, Jeter or Bo, I'll take Shoeless Joe. A pariah for so many years and banned from the Hall, he's been unfairly treated over the years and he has some great cardboard, some of the only pre-1920s cards that I want. Also, he's the most famous ballplayer to be born on the same day as me.
Key Dodgers players: Lou Johnson, Jay Johnstone
K: Sandy Koufax
Clayton Kershaw has been working awfully hard to overtake Koufax at this letter, but he hasn't done it yet. I don't know if he ever will. But let's just say in the top five or six of my all-time favorite players, there are two people whose last name starts with a K.
Probably the most difficult letter for me. I went back-and-forth between Lopes, Greg Luzinski, Dennis Leonard, Ron LeFlore and even Sixto Lezcano. These were all favorites for me as a kid. I even scanned the Ken Landreaux card at the top of the post as I was overjoyed when the Dodgers acquired him and rooted for him like I never rooted for Lopes. However ... I then remembered how proud I was of Lopes for setting the above record and how much I liked stolen bases when I was kid and there was no longer any question.
M: Bake McBride
Another super difficult letter. McBride emerged because even though Raul Mondesi was a favorite Dodger in the '90s, I just wasn't into baseball like I was in the '70s and '80s. Guys like McBride and Garry Maddox were cardboard favorites from the very beginning and they are now legends for those who grew up in the '70s.
Key Dodgers players: Andy Messersmith, Raul Mondesi, Manny Mota, Russell Martin.
N: Hideo Nomo
Nomo is probably the closest I will come to understanding the zeal of player collectors.
O: Al Oliver
This card right here is when I began to follow Al Oliver around. Such a great player, who, after the Pirates, ended up on teams that I didn't watch much, but did show up on the Dodgers at the tail end of his career, just as I had been dreaming to happen since 1976.
Key Dodgers players: Claude Osteen
P: Wes Parker
That "Last Innocents" book presents a fascinating look into Parker's entry into a baseball career. He led a very different live before becoming a major leaguer. Parker's 1971 Topps card is one of the ones I wanted the most when I first saw it. My interest in him has held up through Piazza, Penny and Puig.
Q: Dan Quisenberry
Somewhat of a default choice, although if you grew up when Quisenberry was pitching for the Royals, you don't feel bad about this pick. The way Quisenberry behaved in baseball and with the media is the way I wish every professional athlete today could behave in their sport and with the media. Just a wonderful soul. And his baseball cards -- whether it's the side-arm delivery or the crazy expressions -- are all great.
R: Pee Wee Reese
I know this should be Jackie Robinson. My apologies. I've been devoted to Reese for a long time, probably one of the first old-time Brooklyn Dodgers that I ever knew. I also appreciate what he did for Robinson at that time because if I was in that situation, my role would not be Robinson's but Reese's.
S: Frank Smith
A mid-1950s relief pitcher for the Reds and Cardinals beats out Snider, Schmidt and '70s favorites like George Scott. I've written about Smith multiple times on the blog and for my newspaper. I interacted with him and his good buddy, Norm. I have autographed cards of him hanging in my card room. I had the good fortune to know him and what a great guy he was.
Key Dodgers players: Duke Snider, Mike Scoscia, Don Sutton, Takashi Saito
I think everyone wanted Jim Thome on their team at one point. He's kind of what you think a ballplayer should be and he had a great attitude. Like Al Oliver, the Dodgers landed him at the very end of his career. Thome fought off some fierce non-Dodger competition in Frank Tanana, Luis Tiant, Kent Tekulve and Bob Tolan.
U: Chase Utley
Chase Utley was something of a baseball savant in which he was extremely good in baseball ways -- the best base-runner, the best fielder, etc. -- but didn't have a lot of interest in anything else. I admire that. A classic example of "you're a fan of him if he's on your team." It delights me that his lack of regard for anything that wasn't winning baseball still bothers opposing fans. Utley is retired and he's still keeping people up at night.
Key Dodgers favorites: Julio Urias (who hopefully surpasses Utley someday).
The second-most obvious letter after "C". The 1981 season -- now 40 years old -- I will never forget.
W: Ted Williams
Loud, brash, controversial and the greatest hitter who ever lived. Williams gets another star in my book for yet another "The Last Innocents" reference, in this case an interaction between Williams and Mudcat Grant in which Ted yelled at a hotel bellhop who refused to get the suitcases for Grant and his teammates because Grant was black. Williams believed in what was right and he was my dad's favorite player for a reason.
Key Dodgers favorites: Jimmy Wynn, Bob Welch, Maury Wills
X: Xavier Paul
There are no major leaguers whose last name starts with "X," so I went with about the only Dodger who's first name starts with "X". Not much more to say.
Y: Carl Yastrzemski
This was a battle between Yaz and Robin Yount. But living in the Northeast, it's all about whether you're a fan of the Red Sox or Yankees. If you like one, you probably hate the other. My family liked the Red Sox, so Yaz was automatically the man when I started watching baseball. He was the leader for the newly established veterans, Fisk and Evans, and the young stars coming up, Rice, Lynn, Burleson and Hobson. Yaz was the link from Williams to the present day.
Key Dodgers favorites: Steve Yeager
Z: Richie Zisk
When a childhood favorite, who appeared on one of your favorite 1975 Topps cards that you collected as a kid, calls you on your cell phone 30 years later, that player automatically leaps onto this list.
Key Dodgers favorites: Geoff Zahn, Don Zimmer
So there you are. Most of them were Dodgers but 12 of them spent most or all of their time with other teams.
Now, are you ready for my LEAST favorite players by letter?
I may or may not do that one.