Fifteen years is hardly a blink of an eye in the history of baseball, but it's long enough to establish certain traditions.
Unfortunately for the Fresno Grizzlies, who begin their 15th season as the Triple-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, that tradition hasn't been one of on-the-field success.
During 11 of those first 14 years, they've been a sub.-500 outfit stocked with players whose talents fell just short of the major leagues.
Sure, there have been exceptions -- notable exceptions.
Just take a look at the Giants' current roster, and names such as Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner and Brian Wilson leap off the page. Each passed through Fresno on his way to big-league stardom. In fact, 13 out of San Francisco's 25-man Opening Day roster played in Fresno.
But when it comes to selecting an all-time Grizzlies squad, it's not major-league success that matters. It's what they did while they wore Fresno uniforms, whether the primary colors were purple (1998-2003), forest green and beige (2004-07) or orange and black (2008-present).
So while it would be easy to place a two-time Cy Young Award winner such as Lincecum on the squad, the right-hander made only five starts with the Grizzlies in 2007 before being summoned to the majors.
Nope. This team isn't for the Lincecums. It's for the John Bowkers and Calvin Murrays -- players for whom Triple-A represented the pinnacle of their baseball careers. Or close to it.
To compile this list, I began with certain parameters. First, it wouldn't be a lifetime achievement award if someone played multiple years with the Grizzlies. In other words, just because Tony Torcato (496), Juan Melo (440) and Edwards Guzman (437) played more games at Fresno than anyone else doesn't mean they deserve a spot.
Because Triple-A baseball is so transitory, I decided to judge players solely on statistics compiled from individual seasons. (Posey was the only exception.) Further, each player had to spend at least half a season (72 games) in Fresno.
Then I cracked open the Grizzlies media guide and went through all 14 seasons, pulling out names and stats of players who had good years. Next, I used baseballreference.com to doublecheck which positions they played in those seasons most often. (If a player appeared at multiple positions during a season, he is eligible only at the spot he played most often.)
After compiling all the relevant data, it was a simple matter of comparing numbers at each position. I ended up picking a starting eight, plus a designated hitter, five starting pitchers and three relievers.
Some of the positions were easy. For example, no other third baseman in Grizzlies history comes close to the numbers Pedro Feliz put up in 2000 (30 homers, 105 RBIs). Others, like first base and outfield, were much more difficult. In general, I leaned on offensive numbers more than defensive ability. And in close races between Beiden Field-era players (1998-2001) and Chukchansi Park-era players (2002-2011), I generally went with the Chukchansi guys because Beiden is a bandbox by comparison.
Certainly, not everyone is going to agree with my choices for the all-time Grizzlies squad -- or even the parameters I used to make them. But arguing is half the fun of compiling these all-time lists, isn't it?
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