I was just watching an ESPN video about the retirement of New York Yankees public address announcer Bob Sheppard, when I noticed something interesting. Included in the feature was the lineup card from Sheppard’s first game, between the Yankees and Boston Red Sox in 1951. Among the Sox was Lou Boudreau, who I never realized played for Boston. I checked out Boudreau’s stats on Baseball-Reference.com and learned something else about the Hall of Fame shortstop: The batter most similar to him, according to his career numbers, is Orlando Cabrera.
To offer a Beatles metaphor, in the baseball world, Cabrera is kind of like Ringo Starr: He has surprising longevity despite questionable talent. A veritable journeyman, on his sixth team at 35, Cabrera boasts a .275 career batting average and has never made an All Star game. If he’s a Hall of Famer, then so are half the active players today.
Scanning the rest of the Top 10 list of similar batters to Boudreau, there are two Hall of Fame members, Travis Jackson and Phil Rizzuto. A lifetime .273 hitter, Rizzuto was little more than Orlando Cabrera in the same lineup as Joe DiMaggio. Had he played for the Washington Senators, Rizzuto would be an afterthought today. Other peer hitters to Boudreau include Mark Loretta, Mark Grudzielanek and Dick Groat, more guys who probably shouldn’t lose sleep writing induction speeches.
Granted, Boudreau arrived at Cooperstown with some impressive credentials when he made it on his ninth try on the writer’s ballot in 1970. He was a seven-time All Star, Most Valuable Player in 1948 and led American League shortstops in fielding eight times (by comparison, Cabrera has won two Gold Gloves.) As player-manager, Boudreau also helped the Cleveland Indians capture the ’48 World Series, and he devised a fielding shift to contain Ted Williams. There are worse things in the world beside the fact that Boudreau has a plaque hanging in Cooperstown.
That being said, Boudreau appears to be one of the more overrated Hall of Famers, and I’m a little surprised the writers selected him, as opposed to the Veteran’s Committee. It’s also interesting to consider that Boudreau only has 99 more career hits than another celebrated fielder, Dom DiMaggio who can’t make it into Cooperstown, despite the fact that Boudreau got to play through World War II, while DiMaggio lost three prime seasons to military service.
Then again, maybe I’m just not giving Orlando Cabrera his due.