Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Picking my all-time Wahconah Park baseball team
In the now 100-plus years that Wahconah Park has hosted professional baseball, there have been countless outstanding players. Now, contrary to popular opinion, I have not been around for all 100 years. I have, however, been around to see just about every professional player who called Pittsfield home since the pros returned to the lyric little bandbox on Wahconah Street.
I still smile when I think of Pittsfield Mets player and Pittsfield Colonials manager Brian Daubach, who said one of the funniest things to me.
It was media day at the ballpark going into the 1992 season, and the left-handed hitting Daubach looked out at right-center field at Wahconah, and said to me "I'm not going to hit very many homers here."
Daubach spied the 420-foot, right-center field triangle area, and you know, he was right. Dauber hit only two homers and drove in 40 runs for the 1992 Pittsfield Mets.
He went on to have an eight-year career in Major League Baseball, much of five years with the Red Sox. Former general manager Dan Duquette found Daubach, and over four straight years, Daubach was basically a 20-home run, 75 RBI guy. Not bad.
But not quite good enough to make my All-Time, 1985-on Wahconah Park All-Star list.
Not everyone on this list had a great Major League Baseball career. In fact, one of the players on my list rolled through the Berkshires as a member of one of the two independent league teams to play here. These were the guys who I might put on my Mount Rushmore, if my mountain range were big enough.
For pitchers, we have a five-man rotation. The rotation starts with the pitcher who will likely be the last player to play at Wahconah Park to make it to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and that's Pittsfield Cubs right-hander Greg Maddux. Maddux, who went into Cooperstown in 2014, played 23 seasons with four MLB teams — including 10 with the Chicago Cubs and 11 with the Atlanta Braves. In Atlanta, he teamed up with John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, all Hall of Famers, to form one of the best rotations baseball ever saw. He was also the first MLB pitcher to win the Cy Young Award four consecutive times.
In Pittsfield in 1986, he was 4-3 in just eight starts. He had four complete games, struck out 35 and walked only 15 in 63 2/3 innings of work. His earned-run average was 2.69.
Two other former Pittsfield Cubs are in the rotation, Jamie Moyer and Mike Harkey.
Moyer spent parts of the 1985 and 1986 season here. He was 7-6 with a 3.72 ERA in 1985, and was 3-1 with a 0.88 ERA in 1986 before he was called up. He ended up spending 25 years in the bigs with eight different teams, including 1996 in Boston.
Harkey was a .500 pitcher in eight big league seasons but was a dominating hurler in 1988 with the Cubs. He was 8-2 with a sterling 3.05 ERA.
The two Pittsfield Mets on the roster are Jason Isringhausen and A.J. Burnett. Isringhausen spent 16 years in the bigs with five teams. He had a league-best 47 saves in 2004 with the St. Louis Cardinals. In Pittsfield in 1993, he was 7-4 and had 104 strikeouts in 90 1/3 innings.
Burnett got the start in the 1997 New York-Penn League championship game. He joined the Pittsfield Mets midway through the '97 season. In the majors, he played 17 years for five teams, including the Yankees. He was part of the trade with Florida that brought Al Leiter to the Mets.
Behind the plate, there can be only one — Hector Villanueva. Villanueva was a fan favorite in his two seasons with the Pittsfield Cubs, and not just because he was a 6-foot-1, 220-pound catcher. He could play the game. His best season was 1988, when he hit .314 with 10 homers and 75 RBI. Villanueva went on to play four big league seasons with the Cubs.
The four infielders all had big league careers. They are Rafael Palmeiro, Mike Brumley, Rich Amaral and Edgardo Alfonso.
Palmeiro, whose career was tainted by performance-enhancing substance use, hit .306 for the 1986 Pittsfield Cubs. Fourteen of those Pittsfield Cubs made it to the big leagues. Palmeiro played 20 major league seasons, most notably with the Texas Rangers and the Baltimore Orioles.
Brumley spent eight years in the majors, including the 1991 season with the Red Sox. Brumley was a 1985 Pittsfield Cub, joining the Chicago organization in one of the more interesting trades ever. Brumley and Dennis Eckersley were traded to the Cubs in 1984 in exchange for the late Bill Buckner.
The other Cub infielder is Rich Amaral, who was Mr. Utility during his major league career. Amaral played eight of his 10 MLB seasons with Seattle. He played every position except pitcher and catcher during his big league tenure. Amaral played in Pittsfield in 1987 and 1988.
The shortstop, however, will have to be 1992 Pittsfield Met Edgardo Alfonzo. Fonzie was a teammate of Daubach in 1992, and his .356 batting average led the New York-Penn League. By the way, the No. 6 hitter in the league that year was Tony Clark of Niagara Falls, a Tigers farm team. It's the same Tony Clark who is now the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association.
Alfonzo went on to play 12 seasons in the majors, eight with the Mets.
The easiest pick in the outfield is the Mets' Jay Payton. Payton, who played in Pittsfield in 1994, was described this way by Howie Freiling, his Pittsfield manager: "He's the type of guy who could fall out of bed on Christmas morning and go 3 for 5."
Payton played for six different teams in 12 years, including a stint with the New York Mets and part of the 2005 season with the Red Sox.
Payton hit .365 with the Pittsfield Mets in his first pro season.
One Pittsfield Cub was a National League Rookie of the Year — Jerome Walton. He was the 1989 top rookie after batting .293 with the Chicago Cubs. He hit .331 the year before in Pittsfield and had 42 stolen bases.
The third outfielder on my team played for the Can-Am League's Pittsfield Colonials in 2010. Daniel Carte was a second-round pick of the Colorado Rockies, but didn't blossom until his one season in Pittsfield. Carte hit .347, and for some unknown reason never got another sniff at affiliated baseball.
But his at-bats were always a treat.
Carte coached at Division I Radford and at West Virginia, but has been a scout in the Cubs organization since 2014.
There have been a lot of very good managers who have been in the home dugout since 1985, but only one has claimed a post-season championship.
Doug Davis managed the Mets in 1996 and then in 1997. In 1997, he managed the Mets to the New York-Penn League title. The next year, he managed many of those same players to the South Atlantic League championship in Columbia (S.C.).
He was the bench coach for the Florida Marlins in 2003, working under Jack McKeon. That year, the Marlins beat the Yankees to win the World Series.
That is why he is my team's manager.
That's my All-Wahconah Park team. I'd be curious to hear about yours.
Howard Herman can be reached at email@example.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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