What he did: The 1960s was bleak for hitters, a decade where pitchers dominated and offensive numbers were at arguably their lowest point since the Deadball Era. One of the great forgotten bats of this time is Matty Alou. His career batting average of .307 won’t get him in Cooperstown, and his OPS+ of 105 rises just above mediocrity, thanks to his limited power and ability to get on-base (he hit 31 home runs lifetime and never walked 50 times in a season.) For a few years, however, Alou approached Roberto Clemente, Pete Rose, and maybe a few others as baseball’s best hitter. Like those men, he might have hit .400 in a different era.
Era he might have thrived in: Alou started off his career as a platoon player for the San Francisco Giants and subsequently did his best work as a Pittsburgh Pirate at vast Forbes Field, which may have suited him as a contact hitter. Thus, we’ll give Alou another large stadium in a far superior offensive age to the one he played in. We’re making him a New York Yankee in 1998. On a team that somehow won 114 games and the World Series with starting left fielder Chad Curtis hitting .243, Alou would make it still better.
Why: Admittedly, many players may have been an upgrade over Curtis in 1998. How he started for the Yankees is beyond me, his WAR of 2.7 being just above replacement level, his OPS+ of 90 the worst of any Yankee starter. Though his team scored 965 runs, Curtis batted in just 56. He also had the worst batting average, slugging percentage, and number of home runs. In baseball history, Curtis has to be one of the worst starters on a great team, though perhaps he offered something that doesn’t come through in stats. I do admire Curtis for being one of the few players to speak out against steroids at the height of their popularity in baseball. He’d be the kind of veteran presence I’d want in my clubhouse.
Alou might not match Curtis’s fielding, as he posted negative defensive WAR rankings ten of his 15 seasons. But his bat would almost certainly be more than enough to compensate. The stat converter on Baseball-Reference.com has Alou’s 1968 season, where he hit .332 in the Year of the Pitcher, translating to a .380 clip for the ’98 Yankees. His 1969 year, where he led the National League with 231 hits, would be good for a record 265 hits on the ’98 Yankees to go with a .362 batting average and 129 runs. He’d be like Ichiro Suzuki minus the glove, and either converted season would easily give him the AL batting title over teammate Bernie Williams, who somehow won it that year hitting .339.
Seeing as Alou had WARs of 5.2 and 4.7 in ’68 and ’69 respectively, the thought here is that he would give the Yankees another 2-3 wins. And he’d probably do more in the playoffs than Curtis, who only played in the ALCS against the Cleveland Indians and went 0-5 over two games. The net result would be the same, of course, with the Yankees still triumphing in the World Series, so maybe this wouldn’t make any major difference to them. But for Alou, who received 1.3 percent of the Hall of Fame vote his only year on the writers ballot in 1980, it could lead to much more.
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, Babe Ruth, 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, Prince Fielder, Ralph Kiner, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy Koufax, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, The Meusel Brothers, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays