Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Cecil Travis

Claim to fame: Travis broke in with the Washington Senators in 1933 and quickly emerged as one of baseball’s best infielders. Playing primarily at shortstop, Travis hit above .300 eight of his first nine seasons, making three All Star teams. He peaked in 1941 at 28 when he hit a career-high .359, led the American League with 218 hits, and finished sixth in Most Valuable Player voting. He would never again approach stardom.

The United States entered World War II in December 1941, and Travis spent nearly four years in the military. Most established ballplayers served by playing on USO ball clubs. Travis is one of the few who saw combat, and he paid a heavy price, suffering frostbite to his feet in the Battle of the Bulge and just avoiding amputation. He played just three more seasons, never again hitting above .300.

There are those who say Travis’s feet were permanently damaged, though his New York Times obituary in 2006 reported him once saying his timing was gone after the war.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Having begun his career before 1943, Travis can be enshrined by a section of the Veterans Committee that meets once every five years and will reconvene for the 2014 election. Travis never appeared on a Hall of Fame ballot for the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? If we merely analyze Travis’s career stats, his numbers don’t come close to Cooperstown standards. But statistics aren’t why Travis deserves a plaque.

Travis is among a small number of players who might already be in Cooperstown if not for losing prime years from the middle of their careers to military service. Dom DiMaggio is the only other member I know of in this club. Of course, there may have been many minor league or amateur players on their way to good things in baseball before wartime duty changed this. If anyone reading has such a relative or friend, please feel free to contact me. I’d love to write something.

Were it up to me, I’d enshrine Travis, DiMaggio too, who I once interviewed. I’m generally in favor of Cooperstown recognizing special circumstances when it comes to truncated careers of good players, for a variety of reasons. Travis had no choice being drafted and was willing to fight. I think the Hall of Fame should honor him for that, not ding him.

I’m not the only person singing praises. A fellow member of the Society for American Baseball Research, Clay Sigg recently sent me a short biography he wrote on Travis. It featured a quote from Ted Williams about his and Joe DiMaggio’s 1941 seasons. Williams said, “Hell, in 1941, Cecil Travis was just as good as either of us! Cecil Travis is one of the five best left-handed hitters I ever saw.” In the 1995 book on Williams’ top hitters, Ted Williams’ Hit List, co-author Jim Prime noted that Bob Feller included Travis with Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Al Simmons and Williams on his own list of all time toughest hitters.

I recently reviewed a DVD of color 8 mm film footage by another former Senator, George Case, which is being marketed by his son, George Case III. Incidentally, Case III emailed me on Monday evening while I was working on this post. I let him know what I was up to. Case III wrote back:

Thanks very much Graham – I think you know my opinion – definitely YES – and if his career hadn’t been shortened by his combat experience in WWII – I believe he would have put up HOF numbers – I know my dad certainly had his opinion as he knew first-hand, as a teammate, how great a ballplayer Cecil Travis was … Cecil was very quiet and extremely modest, and my opinion is that he would have definitely been elected to the HOF had he NOT played so many years in Washington and had he NOT suffered his injuries during his service to our country that shortened his career.

It amazes me that Travis seemingly never appeared on a Hall of Fame ballot. I recently compiled a dream lineup of players who got zero votes for Cooperstown, but those men at least were somehow nominated. If Travis had worn Yankee pinstripes, rather than Senators attire, perhaps the New York press would have pushed for a different outcome. Some players just have bad luck, I suppose.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.

0 thoughts on “Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Cecil Travis”

  1. At the time he went into the military, he had just come off one of the best hitting seasons that any shortstop has had, and all the while playing half his games in the offense surpressing Griffith Field. At 28, he was entering the choice part of his prime years and his average stood at .327. He’d had six other .300 plus seasons with a .344 and .332 thrown in for good measure. How many SS’s today do we see with those kinds of numbers?
    Look at careers of the other HOF shortstops and his inclusion in the hall certainly doesn’t detract from the quality one bit.
    He may be unknown today. He has a funny first name. He does belong.

  2. I would have to agree with your assessment. I am probably a little more partial due to the fact that he was my uncle’s father but he is clearly deserving of a spot in the Hall of Fame. As Vinnie points out above, who else these days puts up those kind of numbers on a consistent basis without the use of performance enhancing drugs.

  3. it doesnt make sense to me how he never even got a vote, yet they put in a guy like newhouser who was a good pitcher but he was probaly at his best during ww2 when the league wasnt as tough. i always felt cecil travis would have been a no brainer hof player yet he gets somewhat penalized for serving his country.

  4. Cecil Travis definitely belongs in the Hall of Fame. Ted Williams called Cecil Travis the best pure hitter in baseball. That is quite a recommendation. Statistics are not everything. IT is how he played the game, and influenced the game. Vote him in 2014

  5. Cecil Travis absolutely belongs in the Hall of Fame. No, I never saw him play, but my Dad saw him: both before WW2 and after Travis returned. A superb hitter, Dad has always said. A smooth hitter, fat part of the bat squarely on the pitch. I’ve checked Travis’s numbers at Baseball Reference. Convinced me that the Nats would still be playing in the 2014 post-season with the 1940 Cecil Travis in the infield…notice that I’m not pointing to the astonishing 1941 season…although I’m convinced that Travis would have improved after 1941, but just a typical pre-1941 Travis would have made a difference.

    1. Cecil Travis definitely belongs in the Hall of Fame. Ted Williams was being interviewed at the All-Star Game and told the announcers that Cecil Travis was the best pure hitter in baseball. That is coming from the best. His records speak for themselves. I knew him in Georgia; he lived near my dad, and was a good friend.

  6. A friend and I visited Cecil Travis at his home one evening for a private signing. My recollection is that it was in 1995. He was a friendly, kind, intelligent, unassuming gentleman who was more than happy to discuss baseball with us and answer our questions (e.g., what was it like to be teammates with Lou Gehrig at the All-Star Game) as he signed baseballs in his kitchen. At the end, he did not want to accept the fee I had offered him on the phone, but we insisted. I remember thinking that he looked much younger than his chronological age. For all of the reasons discussed above, Cecil Travis absolutely belongs in the Hall of Fame.

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