Sunday, July 11, 2010

So Cal All-Stars, How Can You Pick Just Nine?

     By Ross Newhan

     How hard would it be to name an all-time all-star team of players who grew up playing in Southern California--L.A., Orange, Riverside and Ventura counties?

     The answer, of course, is that it would be very hard.

     In an area blessed by weather that allows competition 12 months a year, in a former inner city and L.A. proper hotbed, it is difficult to narrow any selection to one player at each position.

     In a run-up to coverage of Tuesday night's All-Star game, my former employer, the L.A. Times, asked a few long-time observers to select such a team.

     Since I fell into the long-time category, I was asked to provide my version.

     With trepidation, here it is:

      1B--Eddie Murray, Locke High

      2B--Jackie Robinson, Pasadena Muir and UCLA

      SS--Ozzie Smith, Locke High

      3B--George Brett, El Segundo High

      LF--Eric Davis, Freemont High

      CF--Duke  Snider, Compton High

      RF--Daryl Strawberry, Crenshaw High

      C--Gary Carter, Sunny Hills High

      DH--Mark McGwire, Damian High and USC

      RH Starting Pitcher--Walter Johnson, Fullerton High

      LH Starting Pitcher--Randy Johnson, USC

      Closer--Trevor Hoffman, Savanna High and Cypress Community College

      Comments and characters are welcome, but here's some answers to predictable questions:

      --Yes, I never saw Walter Johnson pitch at Fullerton, but all biographies say he did. His family moved from Kansas to Orange County in the hopes of earning more money working in the oil fields. There is a high school named for him in Bethesda, Md., in tribute to his 417 wins with the Washington Senators. I would have liked to select two other right handed pitchers and Hall of Fame members, Bob Lemon of Long Beach Wilson and Don Dyrsdale of Van Nuys High, but 417 major league wins by a SoCal high school pitcher is impossible to overlook.

    --No, Randy Johnson did not grow up in Southern California. He attended Livermore High, but I blanked on left handed pitchers, and so did three veteran scouts with whom I talked, although I'm sure someone will come up with a name I overlooked. Johnson did pitch three years at USC, honing the wildness and skills with which he won more than 300 games and is certain to be a first ballot selection to the Hall of Fame.

    --Yes, I know that Trevor Hoffman did not pitch at Savannah or Cypress. He did not become a pitcher until he was a minor league shortstop, and now he holds the record for most career saves. I gave him a slight edge over another great closer who is in the Hall of Fame, Rollie Fingers, of Upland High.

    --No, I wasn't bothered by Mark McGwire's admission that he used a steroid precursor during his biggest home run seasons. This isn't the Hall of Fame election. McGwire was an established major league threat early in his career, and an outstanding performer at Damian and USC, although I gave a lot of thought to George Foster of Leuzinger High and Reggie Smith of Compton Centennial.

    Those names: George Foster and Reggie Smith, Ozzie Smith and Eddie Murray, Eric Davis and Daryl Strawberry are reminders of an era when the inner city was flush with African-American players who all seemed to reach the major leagues. Now, many of those diamonds have decayed, and the African-American player is more likely to focus on basketball and football, as baseball scouts the Caribbean for a new mother lode of cheaper talent, although, perhaps, John Young's RBI program and the Compton academy run by Darrel  Miller will turn it around, restoring baseball in the inner city.

    An all-time SoCal All-Star team? Impossible to keep it to one player at each position.                

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