It's always fun comparing one player or coach to another, so here's a debate on the best in Curve history:
Best pure hitter
In the discussion: OF Alex Presley set a franchise record with a .350 average in 2010; 2B Jeff Keppinger hit .338 in 2004, was dealt to Binghamton at the trade deadline and went on to win the Eastern League batting title; OF Nate McLouth hit .322 with a franchise-record 166 hits in 2004; OF Starling Marte is hitting .322 and has a shot at the EL batting title this year.
The choice is: It's a very tough call between Keppinger and Presley, but I'll go with Keppinger. The guy was a machine in 2004, hitting better than .400 into late June. In terms of bat control, plate discipline and being able to put the ball in play wherever he wanted, Keppinger gets the slight nod over Presley. Now, Presley was a much bigger overall offensive threat because he could drive the ball better, but Keppinger had an uncanny ability to hit 'em where they weren't.
In the discussion: 1B Brad Eldred hit 30 homers with 87 RBIs in 60 games between 2004 and '05; OF Adam Hyzdu set franchise records with 31 homers and 106 RBIs in 2000 and had 55 homers in two seasons; 1B Josh Bonifay tied Hyzdu's club career record with 55 homers and had 25 in 2005; 3B Jose Bautista hit 23 homers with 90 RBIs in 2005; 1B Steve Pearce hit 14 homers with 72 RBIs in only 81 games in 2007; 3B Pedro Alvarez hit 13 homers in 60 games in 2009.
The choice is: I've written this for years, but Eldred is the greatest slugger in Double-A history. He had an amazing 30 homers in 60 games - no other Double-A player has had that kind of power ratio over a similar or longer time frame - plus he had an incredible 50 RBIs in August of 2004.
Best starting pitcher
In the discussion: LHP Rudy Owens went 12-6 with a 2.46 ERA in 26 starts in 2010; LHP Zach Duke went 5-1 with a 1.58 ERA in nine starts in 2004; LHP Shane Youman set a franchise record with a 1.51 ERA while going 7-2 in 2006; LHP Sam McConnell went 9-2 with a 1.61 ERA in 2000; RHP Brad Lincoln had a 2.28 ERA in 2009, despite a 1-5 record; LHP Sean Burnett is the only Curve pitcher to be named EL Pitcher of the Year, going 14-6 with a 3.21 ERA in 2003; RHP Bronson Arroyo set the club record with 15 wins in 1999.
The choice is: Duke was always the answer, until last year. Owens was the ace of a superb staff that led the team to the EL title and should have been the league's pitcher of the year but was robbed in favor of New Hampshire's Kyle Drabek (14-9, 2.94).
In the discussion: LHP Daniel Moskos had 21 saves and a 1.52 ERA in 2010; RHP Todd Ozias had a 1.63 ERA and 21 saves in 2003; RHP Bryan Morris has a 2.09 ERA in 23 appearances this season and looks like a future big league mainstay; RHP Matt Peterson set a club record with 29 saves and had a 1.98 ERA in 2007; RHP Brandon Knight had 25 saves and a 2.25 ERA in 2006; RHP Ken Giard had a 1.71 ERA in 1999.
The choice is: The Curve would not have won the EL title last year had Moskos not come back down from Triple-A, where he was struggling. Altoona's bullpen was having trouble protecting leads and finishing off games without him, but when he came back to Double-A, he dominated the same as he had done before he left.
In the discussion: Dale Sveum led the team to its first playoff appearance in 2003 and was perhaps the most respected baseball man to hold the position; Tony Beasley guided the club to playoff appearances in 2004 and '05; Matt Walbeck led the franchise to its first league championship last year.
The choice is: Beasley has always been my choice because of his even-keel approach and positive attitude. He obviously was managing the club at a time when the Curve had some of their best players ever, guys like Eldred, McLouth, Duke, Bautista, Chris Duffy and so on, so it's easy to say anyone could have been successful with those teams. But Beasley has always been successful as a manager - this year with first-place Harrisburg is no exception - and he just has an ability to get the most out of his players on a daily basis. Of course, the manager is tough to judge in the minor leagues because if he has a bad team, he won't win. Walbeck's 2009 team finished with the worst record in franchise history (62-80), barely worse than Sveum's 2001 team (63-79).
In the discussion: Bonifay, McLouth, Duffy, Hyzdu, Bautista, Marte, Pearce, Alvarez.
The choice is: These are the best all-around players in Curve history, and while no one will ever put up the remarkable numbers Eldred did, no player meant more to his teams or to the city than Hyzdu. He remains an Altoona legend to this day, and the Curve indeed made the right call retiring his No. 16 jersey.
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. He can be reached at 949-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.