What he did: I sometimes talk up the late 1930s, an offensive Golden Age for first basemen in the American League when Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg, Hal Trosky, and Zeke Bonura created perhaps the greatest depth ever at the position. I’ve written about how other lumbering sluggers like Harmon Killebrew and Frank Howard would boost their stats, particularly batting average, playing in the era. Add Prince Fielder to their ranks. A .279 lifetime hitter mostly known for his power, Fielder might hit .330 in a season and challenge for the home run record on the right 1930s team.
Era he might have thrived in: The Boston Red Sox resided in the bottom half of the American League every season from the time Babe Ruth left town in 1920 until the mid-1930s, finishing last nine times in 15 years. Things began to turn around after Tom Yawkey bought the team in 1933 and started buying future Hall of Famers like Lefty Grove, Joe Cronin, and prior to the 1936 season, Foxx. For our purposes, we’ll suspend disbelief about Fielder playing in the majors as a black man prior to 1947 and substitute him for Foxx. Statistically, he’d have a historic season.
Why: I don’t know if anyone could have hit .330 with 40 home runs and 130 RBI in the 1930s but it sometimes seems like it, be it for the majors’ lack of good pitching in those days, a higher average of runs per game, or other factors I’m not aware of. Whatever the case, taking sluggers from less hitter-friendly eras and running their numbers through the stat converter on Baseball-Reference.com can yield some cartoonish results, especially in a notorious hitters enclave like Fenway Park. Fielder has averaged 38 home runs each of his full seasons in the majors, but that’s nothing compared to what he might do decades prior with Boston.
Of his six seasons in the majors to date, Fielder converts best to 1936 for his 2007 and 2009 efforts. For 2007, he’d have more home runs, 58, though his production is best converted for 2009. The converter has the Fielder of 2009 on the 1936 Red Sox with 55 home runs, 181 RBI, and a .346 batting average and 1.161 OPS, which trumps Foxx’s 1936 numbers of 41 home runs, 143 RBI and a .338 batting average and 1.071 OPS. Of course, Foxx rose to hit 50 home runs with 175 RBI and a .349 batting average and 1.166 OPS, so Fielder would have to sustain his production, but it doesn’t seem outlandish to suggest he might have been an upgrade over Foxx.
It’s a shame blacks weren’t allowed in the majors until 1947, and a part of me wonders how ’30s sluggers like Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard might have done on a team like the Red Sox (which was pathetically slow to add black players even after the majors finally integrated.) I can’t help but wonder if black position players missed out on more offensive records by being kept from the majors until after World War II when the game had shifted to favor pitchers. It makes me respect legends like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Frank Robinson all the more. In a sense, they’re underrated.
I don’t mean to suggest any black player would put up insane numbers in the 1930s (Harold Reynolds would still be Harold Reynolds in any era), and there are plenty of white players like Killebrew or Howard who could have benefited playing in the greatest offensive period in baseball history short of the late 1990s. Still, I have to wonder. Maybe Gibson, who was considered the “Black Babe Ruth” or Leonard, the “Black Lou Gehrig,” could have had Fielder’s projected numbers from 1936, maybe better. We’ll never know.
Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.
Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Bad News Rockies, Barry Bonds, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson, Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Frank Howard, Fritz Maisel, George Case, Harmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Frederick, Josh Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr., Lefty O’Doul, Michael Jordan, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pete Rose, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy Koufax, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, The Meusel Brothers, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays