On Monday, May 20, a giant tornado wrought a path of destruction through the city of Moore, Oklahoma. There was a great deal of property damage, but far more painful was the loss of 24 lives, including 10 children. There is little we can say or do here to assuage the grief that so many must be feeling, but we can note just how many great players Oklahoma has given to the game, from its earliest days to present-day big leaguers like Matt Holliday, Matt Kemp, Pete Kozma, and Tommy Hanson.
You can make an amazing all-star team purely out of players born where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain, with four Hall of Famers and a number of others who were nearly as good. Here's the team, along with a reminder that the Red Cross is accepting donations to help the more than 10,000 people affected by the storm.
C Johnny Bench, Born 1947 Oklahoma City (1967-1983): On the short list for greatest catcher of all time. In the entire history of the game, there have been just seven 40-home run seasons by a catcher. Bench got there twice, leading the National League with 45 in 1970 and 40 in 1972. He won the MVP in both seasons.
1B Willie Stargell, Born 1940 Earlsboro (1962-1982): "Pops" was at the center of two Pirates World Series winners. As time goes by, that seems like a greater accomplishment than his 475 career home runs. In the context of his low-scoring times, some of his seasons, such as his .295/.398/.628 with 48 home run in 1971 and his .299/.392/.646 with 44 home runs in 1973, are as good as anyone has ever had.
2B Hank Thompson, Born 1925 Oklahoma City (1947, 1949-1956): Second base is the one position at which Oklahoma has not produced a great player; Thompson started only 93 games there in a 861-game career, playing more often at third base. Often injured, Thompson struggled with alcohol and the color line -- he integrated two teams, the Browns and the Giants -- but at his best he was a terrific hitter, peaking at .302/.400/.567 with 24 home runs in 1953. If you want a player who spent more time at second, you would have to go with Oklahoma City native Junior Spivey, who was the Diamondbacks' starting second baseman in 2002, hitting .301/.389/.476.
3B Harlond Clift, Born 1912 El Reno (1934-1945): Mostly forgotten today because (a) his two teams no longer exist, and (b) he rarely got within the same zip code as the postseason, Clift was one of the first offensive stars at the hot corner. Prior, third had largely been the province of glove men. Injuries meant a short peak, but at his 1936-1938 peak he averaged .300/.420/.538 with 28 home runs and 110 walks per 154 games.
SS Alvin Dark, Born 1922 Comanche (1946, 1948-1960): Dark's controversial managerial career has obscured what a good player he was. In his Rookie of the Year-winning 1948 campaign he helped push the Braves to a surprise pennant; when the Braves subsequently traded him to the Giants, the backlash helped destroy the team in Boston (and brought the Giants two pennants and a championship). Dark came up late due to World War II and therefore had a short peak, but from 1950-1954 he hit .296/.340/.452 with excellent defense.
LF Bob Johnson, Born 1905 Pryor (1933-1945): Another player who is not as well-remembered as he should be because he played for second-division teams, "Indian Bob" could do everything a hitter can do, averaging .296/.393/.506 for his career. If you can imagine Nick Swisher hitting .338, that's the kind of player Johnson was.
CF Mickey Mantle, Born 1931 Commerce (1951-1968): Such an industry has grown up around mourning how good Mantle could have been that we tend to forget how good he was. And how good was he? "The Commerce Comet" won three MVP awards, but when you look at WAR you can make a strong argument that but for 1963, when he missed more than half the season with a broken ankle, he deserved to win it every year between 1952-1964.
RF Paul Waner, Born 1903 Harrah (1926-1945): Like Mantle, Waner became a punchline because of his heavy drinking (Casey Stengel, for example, said that Waner had to be a graceful baserunner because he had to avoid breaking his hip flask), but "Big Poison's" style is ripe for rediscovery. Waner's theory was that a hitter should shoot for the foul lines. If you miss, all you've done is hit a foul ball and you're still hitting, and if you hit it right, you've got yourself a double. He hit 605 of them.
DH Bobby Murcer, Born 1946 Oklahoma City (1965-1966, 1969-1983): We could list a lot of players here, including Stillwater's Matt Holliday, Midwest City's Matt Kemp, Oklahoma City's Mickey "Fruit Loops" Tettleton, Qualls' Johnny Callison, Colony's Dale Mitchell, and "The Wild Horse of the Osage," Pepper Martin, born in Temple. Murcer is here for two reasons: first, his 1971-1972 peak, particularly the former season, in which he hit .331/.427/.543 was among the best ever by a center fielder when context is considered. Second, I knew him, just a little; we discussed our living with cancer, and his spirituality in the face of death was greatly moving. I always liked him, but now he's special to me in a way that the typical ballplayer can never be.
LHP Harry Brecheen, Born 1914 Broken Bow (1940, 1943-1953): The pitchers of the great 1940s Cardinals teams aren't nearly as well-remembered as position players like Stan Musial and Country Slaughter, but you don't have a great team without great pitchers. "The Cat" peaked in 1948, going 20-7 with a league-leading 2.24 ERA, pitching an incredible seven shutouts.
RHP Allie Reynolds, Born 1917 Bethany (1942-1954): "Superchief" swung between the rotation and the bullpen, pitching a shutout one day and saving the game the next. In 1951, he pitched two no-hitters, getting Ted Williams out twice to finish the first when Yogi Berra dropped his foul pop-up. In 15 postseason games he went 7-2 with a 2.79 ERA, pitching two shutouts and saving four games.
RP Lindy McDaniel, Born 1935 Hollis (1955-1975): When McDaniel comes up nowadays, it's often as the punchline to a trivial bit of Yankees lore: McDaniel, almost done at 38, was traded to the Royals for outfielder/DH Lou Piniella, who went on to hit .295 in more than 1000 games in pinstripes. That's terribly unfair; McDaniel was a terrific early closer who at his 1960 best went 12-2 with a 1.29 ERA in 104.1 relief innings.