What he did: One of my favorite forgotten greats of yesteryear, Bobby Veach might have been a Hall of Famer in another era. In a 14-season career that spanned 1912 through 1925, Veach hit.310 lifetime with 2,063 hits, and he may be known most for being one of Ty Cobb’s supporting bats on the Detroit Tigers of the ’10s and early ’20s. Playing the majority of his best years in the Deadball Era, Veach hit just 64 home runs in his career, though his three American League RBI titles hint what he could have done in a time where home run hitters ruled baseball.
Era he might have thrived in: Veach was a diminutive left-handed batter standing just 5’11″ at 160 pounds, though his SABR bio notes he “swung the bat like a powerful slugger, down at the end of the handle, and with similar results.” Mel Ott was a similarly built lefty, and like Ott, perhaps Veach could have excelled in a ballpark with a short right field fence during the offensive heyday of the 1930s. This leaves the Polo Grounds in New York or the Baker Bowl in Philadelphia. In either place, I’m guessing Veach’s career high of 16 home runs in 1921 might be double if not triple.
Why: Some eras and ballparks make Hall of Famers, others make it more difficult. Veach didn’t have an impossible task in his own time, as fellow Deadball outfielder Tris Speaker successfully transitioned to the Live Ball Era. And I suppose one could argue the best possible role for Veach was being Cobb’s teammate. Still, I can’t help but wonder how much better Veach’s stats would be if his career had started even 10 years later.
New York in the 1930s was a veritable factory of future Hall of Famers, both for the offensive juggernaut in the Polo Grounds and the fact that decades later, former Giant Frankie Frisch pushed for the enshrinement of many of his former teammates while he ran the Veterans Committee. The Baker Bowl meanwhile produced at least one player who wouldn’t have been a Hall of Famer elsewhere, Chuck Klein who hit .395 lifetime there and maybe .280 away. Then there’s Lefty O’Doul who doesn’t have a spot in Cooperstown but put up gaudy numbers in both parks (as well as another hitter’s cove, Ebbets Field) and almost hit .400 in Philly.
Granted, even with loftier statistics, I’ll concede Veach might have been operating with the same skill set. After all, looking at the numbers of the 1999 Colorado Rockies doesn’t lead me to believe Dante Bichette is anything more than a mediocre hitter with a dream job. A different era wouldn’t make Veach a better player, per se. But then the Veterans Committee has been notorious historically for not dealing in context, and sometimes, better stats regardless of their era have been enough for a plaque. It’s one reason guys like High Pockets Kelly are in Cooperstown and others like Bill Dahlen, another Deadball great, are not.
As it stands, Veach received exactly one vote in 1937, died in 1945, and I’m guessing that except among the baseball research community, he’s long since forgotten.
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, Billy Martin, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson, Carl Mays, Charles Victory Faust, Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Eddie Lopat, Frank Howard, Fritz Maisel, Gavvy Cravath, George Case, George Weiss, Harmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Honus Wagner, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Posnanski, Johnny Antonelli, Johnny Frederick, Josh Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr., Lefty Grove, Lefty O’Doul, Major League (1989 film), Matty Alou, Michael Jordan, Monte Irvin, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Ralph Kiner, Rick Ankiel, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Rogers Hornsby, Sam Thompson, Sandy Koufax, Satchel Paige, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, The Meusel Brothers, Ty Cobb, Wally Bunker, Willie Mays