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Ranking Joe Mauer among MLB’s all-time hometown players

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How does Mauer stack up against MLB’s pantheon of Hometown Heroes?

American League Wild Card Game - Minnesota Twins v New York Yankees
Joe Mauer is the finest homegrown player in Twins’ history — and one of the best in MLB history.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Baseball Savant’s Daren Willman released a time-lapse video late last year on a subject that, as an erstwhile competitive ballplayer from the baseball “coldbed” of Minnesota, has long fascinated me: the birthplaces of our American MLBers.

Willman’s video provides an enlightening glimpse into America’s shifting demographics and more seismic social changes through a baseball lens. Much like its teams, most players came from the East Coast in MLB’s infancy. Since 1900, the league’s population, much like that of its country, has shifted westward.

At the turn of the 20th century, Pennsylvania was the most common big-leaguer birthplace, and 25 years later the Midwest and Bible Belt were ascendant. By World War II, California had become the hotbed of baseball talent that it remains to this day; by 1990, the Golden State was home to four times more MLB players than the second-most common birthplace, Illinois.

Today, the map has settled into its modern, familiar, three-headed form: most American big-leaguers hail from the year-round baseball states California, Florida and Texas.

According to the Baseball Almanac, 165 major league players have come from the Land of 10,000 Lakes, ranking Minnesota 29th among all states, despite having the 22nd-highest population. The ranking makes sense because baseball is only meteorologically and practically possible in our state for, like, four months a year (as we’re all well aware). I remember playing games in February/March where the only solace from the teeth-rattling chill was the occasional sympathetic bus driver who kept the motor running, allowing us to duck in and thaw out while our teammates hit.

Despite that small window for green grass and tolerable temperatures, Minnesota has still boasted a pretty formidable list of native sons. Here are the ten best Minnesotans in baseball history according to Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement.

Top 10 Minnesotans by WAR

Rank Player Birthplace Position Career WAR (All teams)
Rank Player Birthplace Position Career WAR (All teams)
1 Paul Molitor St. Paul 3B/2B/DH 75.4
2 Dave Winfield St. Paul RF 63.8
3 Jerry Koosman Appleton LHP 57.1
4 Joe Mauer St. Paul C/1B 53.4
5 Chief Bender Crow Wing County RHP 44.0
6 Jack Morris St. Paul RHP 43.8
7 Kent Hrbek Minneapolis 1B 38.4
8 Rube Walberg Pine City LHP 38.3
9 Roger Maris Hibbing RF 38.2
10 Bullet Joe Bush Ehime RHP 31.5

Joe Mauer is fourth on the list and one of six Twins — along with Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield, Jerry Koosman, Jack Morris, and Kent Hrbek — in the top 10. Mauer and Hrbek are the only two to have been drafted by the Twins; and Mauer, who has earned 100% of his 53.4 career WAR in a Twins jersey, is the team’s all-time leader in WAR by a Minnesotan.

Joe Mauer is clearly the Twins’ best hometown player ever, something I’ve been thinking (and writing) about in the final year of his contract. But how does he rank in the larger MLB stratosphere of hometown players?

Chicago White Sox v Minnesota Twins
Joe!
Photo by Eric Miller/Getty Images

Bringing it all back home(town)

I wanted to figure out where Mauer ranked among MLB “hometown” players. To determine that ranking, I first started with active players. I had a hunch that Mauer was far and away the best active hometown player, and that hunch proved correct.

To create my ranking of hometown players, I used Baseball Reference’s Play Index to search for the highest WAR accumulator from a team’s home state/province. This means that, say, a kid from Northern Kentucky who grew up three miles from Cincinatti and played for the Reds did not count in the search — unfortunate, but necessary to ensure this was only “pretty damn time-consuming” and not “life-cripplingly time-consuming.” And, a reminder: the below listed WAR were only accumulated for the team in question, and, for my purposes, “active,” — again, to ensure this project didn’t take even longer — means “was on said team in 2017.” Whew!

With that out of the way, take a gander:

Active hometown WAR leaders

Team Active “Hometown” WAR Leader Career WAR for hometown team
Team Active “Hometown” WAR Leader Career WAR for hometown team
Twins Joe Mauer 53.4
Giants Brandon Crawford 20.6
Dodgers Justin Turner 18.9
Yankees Dellin Betances 9.8
Marlins Dee Gordon 8.7
Angels Garrett Richards 7.2
Athletics Stephen Vogt 6.9
Blue Jays Russell Martin 6.5
Indians Joe Smith 6.2
Cardinals Trevor Rosenthal 5.9
Astros Evan Gattis 4.8
Rangers Andrew Cashner 4.6
Cubs Ben Zobrist 4.4
Mets Steven Matz 3.8
Rockies Kyle Freeland 3.3
White Sox Jake Petricka 2.7
Braves Tyler Flowers 2.5
Reds Scooter Gennett 2.4
Rays Brad Miller 2.2
Padres Trevor Cahill 0.7
Red Sox DNQ 0
Orioles DNQ 0
Tigers DNQ 0
Mariners DNQ 0
Brewers DNQ 0
Phillies DNQ 0
Royals DNQ 0
Nats/Expos DNQ 0
Diamondbacks DNQ 0
Pirates Phillip Gosselin -0.6

These rankings are interesting for a few reasons, the first being that (1) it’s better to have zero hometown players than one Phillip Gosselin; (2) Mauer is destroying everyone else on the list; and (3) the bulk of the players near the top are from more populous states with multiple teams, greatly increasing these states’/provinces’ odds to have a high-performing “hometown” player. Just look at the top ten ranked hometown players with their state/province’s rank in number of 2017 MLB players and the number of teams in that state/province:

  1. Joe Mauer, from Minnesota (the state of Minnesota is t-32nd in 2017 baseball players; Minnesota has, of course, just 1 MLB team)
  2. Brandon Crawford, California (1st in 2017 players; 5 teams in California)
  3. Justin Turner, California (1st; 5 teams)
  4. Dellin Betances, New York (7th; 2 teams)
  5. Dee Gordon, Florida (2nd; 2 teams)
  6. Garrett Richards, California (1st; 5 teams)
  7. Stephen Vogt, California (1st; 5 teams)
  8. Russell Martin, Ontario (t-41st; 1 team)
  9. Joe Smith, Ohio (9th; 2 teams)
  10. Trevor Rosenthal, Missouri (t-15th; 2 teams)

Only Martin, who hails from the Toronto suburb of East York in Ontario, was born in a state/province as barren in 2017 MLB player talent as Mauer’s.

Though mildly interesting, the active list doesn’t tell us quite as much about Mauer’s place in the all-time hometown player pantheon, so let’s answer the more historically compelling question: who is the best hometown player ever for each of the 30 MLB organizations?

Some notes on my methodology for this ranking: For organizations that have relocated, I counted a hometown player as such if he played the majority of his career with the team when it was in his home state; e.g., California native Don Drysdale played two seasons in Brooklyn and 12 in L.A. after the Dodgers moved, meaning he gets credit for 12 seasons as a hometown player, enough WAR to put him atop the Dodgers’ all-time leaderboard. I did my best to track teams’ movement through the years, though some organizations — like the Boston/Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves — proved tricky. Apologies for any miscues.

All-time hometown WAR leaders

Team All-Time “Hometown” WAR Leader Career WAR for hometown team
Team All-Time “Hometown” WAR Leader Career WAR for hometown team
Pirates Honus Wagner 113.8
Yankees Lou Gehrig 112.4
Giants Barry Bonds 112.3
Orioles Cal Ripken 95.5
Tigers Charlie Gehringer 80.6
Reds Pete Rose 77.7
Athletics Eddie Plank 73.7
Padres Tony Gwynn 68.8
Dodgers Don Drysdale 59.3
Cardinals Ken Boyer 58.1
Twins Joe Mauer 53.4
Cubs Rick Reuschel 48.3
Astros Lance Berkman 48.0
Phillies Sherry Magee 47.8
Angels Jim Fregosi 45.9
Indians Bill Bradley 35.1
Braves Rabbit Maranville 29.7
White Sox Ray Schalk 28.6
Brewers Jim Gantner 22.3
Red Sox Bill Monbouquette 21.1
Rangers Mike Hargrove 17.1
Mariners John Olerud 17.0
Royals Darrell Porter 16.7
Marlins Gary Sheffield 13.1
Mets Lee Mazzilli 12.4
Blue Jays Paul Quantrill 11.2
Rays Matt Joyce 9.0
Rockies Kyle Freeland 3.3
Diamondbacks Shea Hillenbrand 0.4
Nats/Expos Emmanuel Burriss 0.2

Joe Mauer is in some rarefied air, up where the Hall of Famers (or should-be Hall of Famers) reside.

To me, though, a player is only truly “hometown” if he grew up in the shadow of the stadium, as they say. Because, sure, Jim Fregosi did put up a team-best 45.9 WAR for the California Angels, but he grew up 424 miles from the stadium. He is not a “hometown” kid in the sense we’re after.

Brandon Crawford, who has the second-most “hometown” WAR of any active player for his beloved Giants, is more what I’m talking about.

Brandon Crawford, age 5. What an adorable little munchkin.
Photograph by Tom Levy/San Francisco Chronicle/Polaris

I’ve devised a (deeply unscientific) approach to try and determine a player’s worth based on his proximity to his team’s stadium: WAR per mile. Meaning, for every mile the player grew up from the stadium, the dude is worth X-amount of WAR — WAR divided by miles from stadium, formula-wise. (I’ve used whatever Google determines is the center of a player’s hometown for the old-time ruffians who didn’t attend high school, and I’ve used the addresses of players’ high schools for modern players.)

Top 10 WAR-per-mile Hometown Heroes

Team Player Hometown WAR Miles from Field WAR per mile
Team Player Hometown WAR Miles from Field WAR per mile
Indians Bill Bradley 35.1 1.1 31.91
Yankees Lou Gehrig 112.4 5.4 20.81
Pirates Honus Wagner 120.3 6.4 18.8
Reds Pete Rose 77.7 6.3 12.33
Twins Joe Mauer 53.4 8.4 6.36
Giants Barry Bonds 112.3 19.6 5.73
Dodgers Don Drysdale 59.3 17.4 3.41
Orioles Cal Ripken 95.5 29.8 3.2
Red Sox Bill Monbouquette 21.1 7.1 2.97
Tigers Charlie Gehringer 80.6 59.2 1.36

I like this because it feels like a good combination of proximity and talent, though, yeah, if you asked a statistician I’m sure they’d tell you it’s statistically dubious. (It definitely overvalues proximity, but them’s the breaks.) I like the image of walking a route and each step representing some amount of Wins Above Replacement. Because these are the things I enjoy.

The decision to use high school omits Los Angeles native Tony Gwynn, for one, who played at (and later coached) San Diego State University — 3.8 miles from the Padres’ home field — but attended Long Beach Polytechnic High School — 102 miles northwest of San Diego. I used high school as the gauge because every baseball player obviously did not attend college, and high school/hometown is more representative of a person’s childhood stomping grounds.

Unsurprisingly, Mauer ranks pretty high among all-time MLB players using high school as a measure of one’s hometown. Really, on any type of “hometown” measure, Mauer would likely rank high — there just aren’t a lot of players like Joe out there, and maybe we should be appreciating him more.