Monthly Archives: November 2011

Bill Madlock: Is He One of the 50 Best Not in the Hall?

Of the eleven players who won four or more batting titles, only Bill Madlock isn’t in the Hall of Fame. (The other ten are listed at the end of my column; try to name them before looking. Note: some spoilers in the text.)

Does this mean that Mad Dog Madlock has been unjustly ignored? Or is the former third baseman who played for multiple teams (Texas Rangers, Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Dodgers and Detroit Tigers) just not qualified for baseball’s highest honor?

In anticipation of Baseball Past and Present’s pending announcement of the 50 Best Players Not in the Hall of Fame, my questions are timely and appropriate.  A reminder that all ballots must be submitted to Graham Womack (e-mail address here)by 9:00 PM PST December 1st.

Madlock, who won his titles in 1976 and 1977 for the Chicago Cubs and in 1981 and 1983 for the Buccos, ended his career with an impressive .305 average. And Madlock stacks up well, at least as a hitter, against others from his era excluding of course Mike Schmidt. The Phillies’ star had it all over Madlock in fielding (10 Gold Gloves) and power numbers (548 HRs and 1,595 RBIs) but not average (.267)

Interesting footnotes to Madlock’s batting crowns abound. His record of four batting titles as a third baseman stood until 1988 when Wade Boggseclipsed it. And since 1970, only Tony Gwynn has won more National League batting titles (eight). Madlock is also one of only three right-handed hitters to have won multiple National League batting titles since 1960. Roberto Clemente also won four and Tommy Davis captured back-to-back titles in 1962 and 1963.

Madlock won one of his titles by the narrowest margin. In 1976, on the season’s last day against the Montreal Expos, Madlock went 4 for 4 (all singles) to raising his average from .333 to .339. At the beginning of the day, Madlock was in second place behind the Cincinnati Reds’ Ken Griffey (.338) Sr. Hoping to win the batting championship by default, Griffey rode the pine for the final game. But when word reached Griffey that Madlock was on a tear, he entered the game—but too late. Griffey’s 0-2 (two strike outs) put him at .336.

To answer the questions I posed earlier about Madlock’s Hall worthiness, I’ll simply say that I didn’t include him. And in 1993, Madlock’s first and only year on the Cooperstown ballot, he received only 4.5 percent of the total votes cast.

Here’s an alphabetical list of the ten other four-time batting champs: Wade Boggs, Rod Carew, Roberto Clemente, Ty Cobb, Tony Gwynn, Harry Heilmann, Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial, Honus Wagner and Ted Williams.

Hall of Fame project: T-minus one week

Editor’s note: My weekly Tuesday column “Does he belong in the Hall of Fame?” will resume next week.

__________________

It’s a little shy of midnight as I write these words. My cat’s curled up on my couch next to me, I’m flopped out myself, and for the last couple of hours, I’ve gotten very little done. In a little less than one week exactly, this year’s edition of my project on the 50 best baseball players not in the Hall of Fame will go live. We’re getting into crunch time, and I have a lot of work ahead of me in the next week. I’m already a little stressed, and my current procrastination is the byproduct.

So far, 161 people have requested ballots to vote in this year’s project, and without checking, I estimate close to half have voted. About 95 people asked for ballots last year, with 63 people voting, and if the completion rate holds steady this time around, we should have over 10o voters. This is a good thing, as more votes leads to truer, better-separated rankings. But it’s also nerve-wracking, as I count every ballot by hand for quality control purposes, and last year, they took about 20 minutes a piece on average. I estimate I’ll need to tally at least 20 ballots a day the rest of this week to have enough time to write the results post and avoid pulling another all-nighter before my project goes live, like I did last year. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if another sleepless night is in my near future.

To everyone who’s voted so far: Thank you! To everyone else: Votes are due by Thursday at 9 p.m. PST, and I’m happy to answer any questions between now and then. Please feel free to comment or email me at thewomack@gmail.com. After the deadline passes, my plan is to have something up by the evening of next Monday, December 5, after the Veterans Committee announces whether it will be enshrining anyone next summer. Hopefully, folks will take notice of our work. Last year’s project got linked to on ESPN.com and received so much traffic my server crashed. So far, this year’s project is looking bigger and better. I’ve even created the first-ever t-shirt in the history of this Website for it, a t-shirt won by voter Nick Diunte, I’ll add, for identifying I put every starter from the 1989 San Francisco Giants on my ballot.

All things considered, I suppose a word of warning to my tech guys may be in order.

The All-Jewish All-Star Team

Editor’s note: It is my pleasure to present the latest from Alex Putterman. With the recent National League Most Valuable Player Award being given to one of the players here, Alex’s piece seems very apropos.

_________________

When I was playing, I used to resent being singled out as a Jewish ballplayer. I wanted to be known as a great ballplayer, period… Lately, though, I find myself wanting to be remembered not only as a great ballplayer but even more as a great Jewish ballplayer.

-Hank Greenberg

From the birth of professional baseball through the present day, Jews have played and succeeded in the Major Leagues. And as baseball history has progressed, the fraternity of Jewish players has grown to the point where an all-time 25-man Jewish roster is exceedingly easy to compile. Here are my selections for the all-Jewish all-star team, beginning with the starting line-up:

C Brad Ausmus - Ausmus didn’t hit much during his 18-year career but is a three-time Gold Glove winner with an impressive career defensive WAR of 9.8. He was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2004, one of ten players on this list to have received that honor.

1B Hank Greenberg - The Hebrew Hammer was a two-time MVP, a four-time home run champ, and a Hall of Famer, but Jewish fans of his era admire him just as much for a religious-stance as for a batting-stance. In 1934, with his Tigers engaged in a pennant chase, Greenberg, by his own admission not a particularly religious man, opted to sit out on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, prompting poet Edgar A. Guest to write that, “We shall miss him on the infield and shall miss him at the bat / But he’s true to his religion–and I honor him for that.”

2B Buddy Myer - Baseball-Reference.com lists Hall of Famers Billy Herman and Joe Sewell as the batters most similar to Myer, suggesting that the Senators middle-infielder, who received only .7% of the HOF vote in his only year on the ballot, is somewhat underrated. A two-time all-star and one-time batting champ, Myer is the all-time hits leader among Jewish players.

3B Al Rosen - Rosen’s career was short but tremendously productive. From 1950 to 1954, he hit .296 with 156 home runs and an OPS+ of 150, earning the 1953 AL MVP award and very nearly winning that year’s Triple Crown. Rosen embraced the attention from the Jewish community that his success yielded, calling himself “one Jewish kid that every Jew in the world can be proud of.”

SS Lou Boudreau - Boudreau was raised by a Christian father and never identified as Jewish, but his mom was Jewish, and the Hall of Famer therefore qualifies for this team. Without him, we’d have a hard time filling the shortstop position (although Myer could move to short and Ian Kinsler into the starting lineup), and given that Boudreau hit .295 career, played terrific defense, and won the 1948 AL MVP award, I’m happy to claim him as Jewish.

LF Ryan Braun - The recently-crowned National League MVP could eventually challenge Greenberg’s undisputed title of Greatest Jewish Hitter Ever. Braun has hit over .300 in three consecutive seasons and has topped 30 home runs in four of his five big league campaigns. He has also developed into somewhat of a five-tool player, having stolen 33 bases in 2011 and greatly improved defensively from year to year. If Braun, 28, continues to grown in all facets of the game, he could pick up another MVP trophy or two before he’s done.

CF Lip Pike - One of baseball’s first stars, Pike was a home run champion in the 1860’s and ’70s, playing in the National Association of Base Ball Players, the National Association, and eventually the National League. He was also the first person ever to legally receive a salary for playing baseball.

RF Shawn Green - Green’s peak was short and his career’s ups and downs parallel to the steroid era, but for years Green was the only recognizable Jewish ballplayer and therefore holds a special place in the heart of a 90’s born Jewish baseball fan. As a New York Times headline once pronounced, Green was “A Power Hitter. And a Source of Jewish Pride.”

SP Sandy Koufax - Owner of four no-hitters and three Cy Young awards, Koufax is the all-time Jewish leader in strikeouts and is second among Jewish pitchers in career ERA and wins. When Game 1 of 1965 World Series fell on Yom Kippur, Koufax followed Greenberg’s precedent, sitting out to honor his religion. The Dodgers won that game and the series, with Koufax throwing three gems, including complete game shutouts in games 5 and 7.

Outfielder and third-baseman Sid Gordon (129 career OPS+) is the first man off the bench for this Jewish all-star team and could arguably start over Green or Pike. Kevin Youkilis and Ian Kinsler may one day sneak into the starting lineup but for now are relegated to the pine. Since Mike Lieberthal “does not wish to identify himself as a member of the Jewish community,” Harry Danning gets the nod as back-up catcher. Our All-Jewish team thins out a little bit at the end of the bench, with Mike Epstein (nicknamed Superjew) and Elliot Maddox occupying the final spots, at least until Ike Davis and Danny Valencia eventually usurp them.

All-time Jewish wins leader Ken Holtzman, 1980 AL Cy Young award winner Steve Stone, The “Yiddish Curver” Barney Pelty, and journeyman lefty Dave Roberts round out the starting rotation (Jason Marquis’s inexplicable longevity has put him fourth all-time among Jewish pitchers in wins and strikeouts, but this team deserves better than his 4.55 career ERA).

The bullpen is not the all-Jewish team’s strength. We’ll use Erskine Mayer as a spot-starter and long-reliever, Al Levine and Scott Schoeneweis as middle relievers, Harry Eisenstat as lefty-specialist, Craig Breslow as set-up man, and severely under-qualified Lance Sherry as closer. Let’s just say Koufax better go all nine innings.

Given his success as a player-manager, Boudreau seems like the logical choice to skipper the team. Gabe Paul and Theo Epstein can run the front-office, with Ruben Amaro Jr. and Randy Levine working under them. Former-Pirates headman Barney Dreyfus (one of the key figures in the creation of the World Series) could be team owner, although current-MLB owners Chuck Greenberg, Ted Lerner and Jerry Reinsdorf are viable candidates as well. And if the All-Jewish team needs a comissioner, Bud Selig qualifies.

The Emperor Has No Clothes

Okay, okay.  I’m happy that baseball has signed a new agreement and there will be no strike for the next five years.  I get it.  I remember the previous strikes and no baseball definitely equaled no fun.  But someone has to stop this maniac who presides over Major League Baseball.  Someone has to shout from the highest mountain that the emperor has no clothes.

I’ve noticed after the gleeful announcement that an agreement had been signed that some of my fellow baseball journalists are finally getting the point and are calling it what it is– a shambles and a shame.  Some of my fellow journalists have even put aside the relief that there will be no baseball strike for the next few years and managed to see past another chapter in the disastrous reign of King Bud. This is an agreement which serves no one but the rich and powerful of the owners and the television networks.  Again, the average fan such as me has been left out of the equation amidst the joyous pronunciations of those who run the game.

An agreement for the sake of an agreement is often not an advantageous result, no matter the industry.  Smiles and handshakes all around do not constitute success.  The, at least we did something, simply doesn’t cut it.   The smiles looked more painful than joyful.  Lessons were not learned and successful models were not followed.  Profits should not be the only thing that matters and baseball should not become like all the other sports.  It was unique.  Now it is on the precipice of that slippery slope of mediocrity and sameness.  Nothing that needed to be fixed was, all in the name of profit.

The luxury tax instituted way back when was a good idea… in theory.  But in actual fact, it was little or no restriction at all.  Teams such as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox could afford to spend at will and could and can afford any luxury taxes which may be imposed on them.  These taxes were and are distributed amongst the so called smaller market teams but with no accountability as to how this money should be spent.  Love him or hate him, the late George Steinbrenner had a valid point.  He stated that he didn’t mind paying a luxury tax, the price of success, but he did mind that those owners who receive this money could merely pocket the cash and continue to neglect the product on the field.  There was no minimum team salary in place. Franchises like Pittsburgh continue to pocket this money, charge high ticket prices, and field poor teams. This was not addressed.

Now we have regulations in place which punish small market teams for spending the necessary money to sign high round draft picks.  This will effectively limit their ability to sign such potentially franchise altering players and allow the rich teams which can afford any penalties to snap them up and continue their dominance of the sport.   Selig makes the argument that baseball is one of the few sport to field different championship teams almost every season but this argument is deceptive.  It is based on mediocre teams qualifying for the wild card berth and getting hot at the right time.

This brings me to additional wild card teams.  This will see more and more barely above .500 teams making the playoffs each season.  The one game playoff format is interesting and may serve to make a first place finish meaningful once again.  However, once a team survives this sudden death round, the roll of the dice playoff situation again rears its ugly head.  Where is the disadvantage to winning 83 games?  If home field advantage is as important as Selig seems to believe, why are wild card teams not disadvantaged throughout the playoffs?  A second place finish shouldn’t mean as much as a first place finish above and beyond those fluke seasons whereby a second place team has a better record than a division elsewhere.  The wild card, albeit giving more fans in more cities hope deeper into a season, is really little more than a money grabbing scenario for the teams and baseball in general.

I’m just getting started.

Any player/Any era: Ollie Carnegie

What he did: Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful, to have gratitude. So what might Ollie Carnegie have been grateful for? Carnegie is perhaps the best American baseball player never to appear in the majors, one of a small group of players who carved out a good, long career exclusively in the high minors. If Carnegie had played in a more recent era than his own, one can only wonder what might have might been.

A Pennsylvania Railroad worker and semi-pro ballplayer, Carnegie started playing in the International League at 32 in 1931 after losing his job with the railroad. His age kept big league clubs from pursuing him, though Carnegie played from 1931 until 1941 with the Buffalo Bisons of the IL and spent 15 seasons all told in the minors, hitting .309 with 297 homers and more than 1,000 RBI. He was a man born at least 30 years too soon. In an era with expansion teams, Carnegie would have reached the majors, even if he’d been over 30 when it happened. And in the American League, with the opportunity to DH, Carnegie could have been a star.

Era he might have thrived in: There’s a certain temptation to place Carnegie in the National League of the 1990s on the Colorado Rockies, where men like Dante Bichette, Ellis Burks, and Andres Galarraga were pulled off their respective scrap heaps to find new offensive life. But I don’t think Carnegie would only be a star in Colorado, and elsewhere, he could make more of a difference. In Toronto in 1977, Carnegie might have made the Blue Jays relevant a few years sooner.

Why: As far as expansion teams go, Toronto did well relatively quickly, becoming a playoff-caliber club by the early ’80s behind All Stars like Dave Stieb and George Bell. But the Blue Jays’ initial few seasons were a bleak affair, Ernie Whitt and Jim Clancy their only picks in the 1976 expansion draft who would eventually factor into the glory years. Expansion drafts often provide slim pickings for the newly-minted teams, and sometimes, that’s all that’s needed for an unconventional player like Carnegie to get his shot. With Toronto, Carnegie could have been the favorite son that northern fans so lacked in those early days.

I believe a lot about success in baseball comes down to being in the right place at the right time. Carnegie suffered from playing in an era when good offensive players were easy to come by and guys without much defensive ability didn’t last long in the majors, Dale Alexander, Johnny Frederick, and Smead Jolley just a few of the talented hitters who returned to the minors after short stays in the show. If any of those men were DHs in the majors today, they might be well-known. Same goes for Carnegie, even as he was a right-handed batter who stood 5’7″ and weighed 175 pounds. I’m sure he’d have welcomed not having to roam the outfield in the modern American League.

Carnegie’s International League numbers late in his career hint at what might have been. In 1938 at 39, Carnegie hit .330 for Buffalo with 45 homers and 136 RBI. There is no stat converter on Baseball-Reference.com to project what those numbers would be with Toronto in 1977, but I like to think the end result would be at least good for a starting gig if not stardom. Carnegie might be like a modern-day Lefty O’Doul who had better luck in the Depression making the majors as a good hitter on the wrong side of 30.

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: Al SimmonsAlbert PujolsBabe RuthBad News Rockies,Barry BondsBilly BeaneBilly MartinBob CaruthersBob FellerBob Watson,Bobby VeachCarl MaysCharles Victory FaustChris von der Ahe,Denny McLainDom DiMaggioDon DrysdaleEddie LopatFrank HowardFritz MaiselGavvy CravathGeorge CaseGeorge WeissHarmon KillebrewHarry WalkerHome Run BakerHonus WagnerHugh CaseyIchiro SuzukiJack ClarkJackie RobinsonJim AbbottJimmy WynnJoe DiMaggioJoe PosnanskiJohnny AntonelliJohnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Lefty GroveLefty O’DoulMajor League (1989 film),Matty AlouMichael JordanMonte IrvinNate ColbertPaul DerringerPedro MartinezPee Wee ReesePete RosePrince FielderRalph KinerRick AnkielRickey Henderson,Roberto ClementeRogers HornsbySam CrawfordSam Thompson,Sandy KoufaxSatchel PaigeShoeless Joe JacksonStan MusialTed WilliamsThe Meusel BrothersTy CobbVada PinsonWally Bunker, Wes FerrellWill ClarkWillie Mays

Thanksgiving, Turkey Reds and Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown

What better season to talk about the magnificent T-3 Turkey Reds baseball card set than Thanksgiving?

Collectors argue about which among the Turkey Reds, the T-206 or the Topps 1952 sets is most stunning. I’ve seen examples of all three cards side-by-side-by and it’s hard to choose against Turkey Reds.

In terms of their art work, both the tobacco card sets dwarf the Topps.

From mid-1910 through mid-1911, packs of Turkey Reds, Old Mill and Fez brand cigarettes contained coupons redeemable for a full-color, cabinet sized (5 3/4″ X 8″) premium picturing one of 100 different baseball players and 26 boxers. See the boxing set here. The cards survive as wonderful pieces of art and history.

In the first series of T-3s, numbered 1-50, is a pitcher known to virtually every baseball fan because of his unusual name and nickname—Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown. See Brown’s #1 card here. And—sign of our times—visit his website here.

Brown, dubbed “Three Finger” because of a childhood farm injury, was the dominant pitcher for the Chicago Cubs from 1906-1912. During that period, Brown won 20 or more games six times and was part of two World Series championships.

Brown had a curve ball that Ty Cobb called the “most devastating” that he had ever faced. Although Brown didn’t have what could be called a traditional fastball, he threw his pitches from various angles and showed batters different looks within their same turn at the plate.

The rivalry between Brown and the Giants’ Christy Mathewson was legendary stuff. Giants’ manager John McGraw said the two were the best he had ever seen. In their 25 matchups, Brown had a slim career 13-11 edge on Mathewson with one no-decision.

In one of baseball’s oddities, Brown and Mathewson ended their Hall of Fame careers by facing off against each other on September 4, 1916. Billed as the final meeting between baseball’s greatest hurlers, Mathewson prevailed in an atypical 10-8 slugfest.

Mathewson on Brown:

Brown is my idea of the almost perfect pitcher… It will usually be found at the end of a season, that he has taken part in more key games than any other pitcher in baseball.


Brown finished his major league career with a 239-130 record, 1375 strikeouts and a 2.06 ERA, the third best ERA in Major League Baseball history amongst players inducted into the Hall of Fame, after Ed Walsh and Addie Joss. His 2.06 ERA is also the best for any pitcher with more than 200 wins.

Following Brown’s retirement, he returned to his home in Terre Haute, Indiana.  In addition to coaching and managing, Brown continued to pitch in the minor leagues and local exhibition games for more than a decade. According to his biography, Three Finger: The Mordecai Brown Story, Brown was still masterful at age 51. In a 1928 exhibition game against the famous House of David, Brown pitched three innings for the home team and struck out all nine batters.

From 1920 to 1945 Brown ran a filling station, as they were quaintly called decades ago, that also served as a town gathering place and an unofficial museum. Brown was also a frequent guest at Old-Timers’ games in Chicago.

On Brown’s website, Ferguson Jenkins offers a wonderful quote that explains why baseball has such an important place in our hearts. Said Jenkins:

It’s interesting that Mordecai Brown pitched fifty years before I showed up, and yet we stood on the same field. We both hurled a ball toward a batter standing in virtually the same location…… We both won a lot of games for the Cubs; he won the second highest number of games for the club, and I’m number five. We both managed to pitch several shutouts in the Windy City. It’s my honor to have been the pitcher who broke one of Three Finger’s records. Until I finished my sixth consecutive season of more than 20 wins, in 1972, Mordecai had been the only Cub to do it.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Bill King

Claim to fame: King was a fixture on sports broadcasts in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond for four decades. The voice of the Oakland A’s from 1981 until his death in 2005, King did a bit of everything well, also calling Warriors games from 1962 until 1983 and Raider games from 1966 until 1992. Former San Francisco Giants announcer Hank Greenwald worked Warriors games with King in the ’60s and ’70s and praised his former partner and closest friend in broadcasting. In a phone interview with this Website on Tuesday evening, Greenwald said of King, “He always had excitement in his voice. He always had that ability to create that word picture that’s vital to radio listeners.”

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Since he was a broadcaster, King can not be inducted into the Hall of Fame. There is no writers or broadcasters wing of the museum, so to speak. What there is at Cooperstown is a permanent exhibit that honors the best media to cover the game, commemorating writers who win the J.G. Taylor Spink Award and broadcasters who receive the Ford Frick Award. Along with nine other broadcasters including Tim McCarver, King is a finalist for this year’s Frick award.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Disclaimer aside that King wouldn’t be enshrined in Cooperstown, he’d make an interesting addition to the media exhibit. His catchphrase “Holy Toledo” seems worthy of inclusion regardless. King will face tough competition from McCarver who looks like the favorite and perhaps Graham McNamee who’d make an interesting historical choice seeing as he was the first person to broadcast a baseball game back in 1922. But even if King doesn’t get into Cooperstown this year or ever, he may belong in a Hall of Fame somewhere.

Greenwald’s son Doug, the announcer for the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies said King was like an uncle to him, “my American League dad” and that if there simply were a general sports broadcasting Hall of Fame, King would deserve to be in. Greenwald echoed his son’s sentiments and didn’t hesitate when asked if King had been honored by the NBA Hall of Fame. “I know for a fact that he has not,” Greenwald said. “That’s something that has bothered many of us.”

Greenwald said that perhaps the issue for King was that he did well in a number of sports but didn’t stick out in any of them. It’s the same sort of problem that keeps certain directors from winning Oscars, certain writers relegated to Pulitzer Prizes for something called General Excellence. Life isn’t always good about rewarding steady consistency rather than ephemeral brilliance, though the Hall of Fame makes a fairly decent point of honoring that. The question, I suppose, is if King did enough in his baseball broadcasting career to merit its equivalent of a lifetime achievement award. We’ll find out on December 7 when the voting results are announced.

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

Others in this series: Adrian BeltreAl OliverAlan TrammellAlbert Belle, Albert PujolsAllie ReynoldsBarry BondsBarry LarkinBert BlylevenBilly MartinBobby GrichCecil TravisChipper JonesClosersCurt FloodDan QuisenberryDarrell EvansDave ParkerDick AllenDon Mattingly,Don NewcombeGeorge SteinbrennerGeorge Van HaltrenGus GreenleeHarold BainesHarry DaltonJack MorrisJim EdmondsJoe CarterJoe PosnanskiJohn SmoltzJuan GonzalezKeith HernandezKen CaminitiLarry Walker,Manny RamirezMaury WillsMel HarderMoises AlouPete Browning,Phil CavarrettaRafael PalmeiroRoberto AlomarRocky Colavito,Roger MarisRon GuidryRon SantoSmoky Joe WoodSteve Garvey,Ted SimmonsThurman MunsonTim RainesTony OlivaWill Clark

Another day, another guest post

Editor’s note: This week’s edition of “Does he belong in the Hall of Fame?” will be posted sometime this afternoon or evening.

_________________

I am making the rounds.

In the interest of promoting our project on the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame and also in the interest of writing for some big baseball sites, I have done a few guest posts in the past week.

I shared here a few days ago about my post for The Hardball Times on players who got one vote for the Hall of Fame. Now, I have a guest post up at High Heat Stats, the new de facto blog for Baseball-Reference.com.

I wrote about the Hall of Fame, of course, asking if it was time for the museum to create some more committees to deal with the backlog of candidates. Cooperstown, historically, has enshrined about two-thirds of its honorees through the use of committees, be it the Veterans or Negro League committees or others from the early days of the museum. I proposed a number of additional committees. I had fun with it.

Anyhow, I’m not sure if I’ll be doing any more guest posts ahead of the voting deadline for the project on December 1, but I’ll post here if I do.

Sal “The Barber” Maglie: A Baseball Legend

Editor’s note: It is my pleasure to present another research paper from George Haloulakos. George and his father Vassilios contributed an outstanding paper last month on Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax. This paper, written solely by George Haloulakos, concerns one of the mentors for Drysdale and Koufax. And Sal Maglie accomplished plenty in his own right. 

Introduction

In the 1993 film, The Sandlot, a dream sequence features Babe Ruth telling a Little Leaguer that while “heroes get
remembered, legends never die.” Sal Maglie is a baseball legend. And though he died in 1992 at 75, he might always loom large in baseball history.

Nicknamed “The Barber,” Maglie was not only perhaps the most intimidating pitcher of all-time, but a clutch player, too. He did his best work in the biggest games on the grandest stage when New York– Giants, Dodgers and Yankees– ruled the baseball world from 1949-58. During that period, one or two of these teams played in the World Series every year, and Maglie played for all three teams during that span, usually as a significant or major contributor.

In many ways, Maglie encapsulated his era. It wasn’t just his baseball connection to the Big Apple. He also was one of many players to serve in World War II and was among a group that jumped immediately after the war to the Mexican League. Without his absence from the majors for either thing, which kept his career to 10 seasons, Maglie might be in the Hall of Fame today. Regardless, his ferocious reputation and moniker, is indelibly stamped in baseball lore.

Statistical overview

Maglie’s career path was a brief if circuitous one. He played with the New York Giants in 1945 and again from 1950 to 55, the Cleveland Indians 1955-56, the Brooklyn Dodgers 1956-57, the New York Yankees 1957-58, and the St. Louis Cardinals 1958. Nevertheless, Maglie racked up some impressive stats in a short time.

Among his feats in 10 major league seasons:

  • 119-62 lifetime record
  • 0.657 winning percentage (19th all-time)
  • 3.15 ERA
  • 232 starts with 93 complete games
  • 25 shutouts
  • 1,723 innings, allowed 1,591 hits, 862 strikeouts and 562 walks
  • Hit 44 batters

Maglie’s peak performance came between 1950 and ’52 with the Giants where he posted 59 wins against 18 losses. His year-by-year records in that span are as follows:

  • 1950: 18-4
  • 1951: 23-6
  • 1952: 18-8

MLB CAREER HIGHLIGHTS & MILESTONES

  • NL Leader – ERA (2.71) in 1950
  • NL Leader – Shutouts (5) in 1950
  • NL Leader – W/L % (0.818) in 1950
  • NL Leader – Wins (23) in 1951
  • NL All-Star – 1951-52

His finest season, 1956 with the Dodgers:

An interesting bit of trivia: Sal Maglie is one of seven pitchers to have played for the New York Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees. (The others were Johnny Allen, Burleigh Grimes, Waite Hoyt, Lefty O‟Doul, Bobo Newsom and Rosy Ryan.)

Before all this, though, Maglie had an unremarkable minor league career interrupted by wartime service. Then, following one season with the Giants in 1945, Maglie was out of the majors for four years as he played in the Mexican League and elsewhere. It took a lot of persistence and patience for Maglie to become the savvy veteran pitcher that he was. Here is the journey he made.

Minors, majors, Mexico

Maglie went 38-47 with a 3.52 ERA over six minor league seasons. His performance improved sharply in his final two seasons. In 1941, he was 20-15 with a 2.67 ERA in A ball, and then in AA ball in 1942, he was 9-6 with a 2.78 ERA.

In 1942, Sal Maglie was called up by the draft board but deemed unfit for military service in World War II due to a chronic sinus condition. For 1943-44 he was advised to go into defense work and was placed on organized baseball’s “voluntary retired list.” Maglie worked as a pipe fitter in a defense plant; his employers during that time were International Paper, Union Carbide, and Atlas Steel. As a resident of Niagra Falls, New York, Maglie sharpened his pitching skills during this period by managing and pitching for Canadian amateur teams.

In 1945, Maglie finally debuted in the majors at 28, going 5-4 for the Giants. In those years, with players bound by the Reserve Clause and very intense competition for pitching slots on eight teams in each league, players had an opportunity to earn 50-100 percent more by jumping to the Mexican League. This was especially tempting and profitable for players who were rapidly advancing in age such as Maglie, and facing prospects of limited playing time by staying stateside. The corresponding risk, however, was that for a few years after WWII, players who had jumped to the Mexican League were banned from the majors. This ban was later rescinded, but kept certain players from immediately returning to MLB.

While some have speculated that Maglie’s tenure in the Mexican League plus the years lost to WWII may have cost him the chance to win 200 games, as a practical matter his Mexican tenure helped him become dominant, while achieving a measure of financial respectability, if not prosperity. Ken Burns in his book, Baseball: An Illustrated History, observed that Maglie earned five times more playing south of the border as he would have with the Giants. Maglie’s Mexican League earnings enabled him to purchase a home and a gas station in Niagra Falls, New York that offered self-employment during the off-season and a semblance of security after baseball. The Mexican League also reconnected Maglie with Deadball Era ace Dolf Luque who helped him develop his best pitch, the curve ball, and refine his aggressive style.

Luque first became acquainted with Maglie while serving as a pitching coach for the Giants. He convinced Maglie to sign with the Mexican League and taught him how to pitch the curve from three different release points: overhand, sidearm and underhand. This multiple release technique enabled Maglie to pitch in drastically harsh conditions where the various climates and air conditions at different altitudes would cause the ball to behave very differently. As detailed near the end of this recent paper on Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax, a curve ball can move very differently depending on how it’s thrown.

Luque also taught Maglie the necessity of pitching inside and repeatedly brushing back hitters to take control of a game. And while it’s uncertain what effect if any it had on Maglie, it’s worth noting that Luque carried a .22 caliber pistol and would sometimes fire between a player’s legs to get his attention. Maglie said Luque worked him constantly and was all business in helping him transform into a dominant pitcher. In two full seasons under Luque’s tutelage, Maglie posted consecutive 20-win seasons, going 20-12 with a 3.19 ERA in 1946 followed by a 20-13 campaign and 3.92 ERA.

Maglie then joined a barnstorming team that was a “splinter” or “offshoot” of the Mexican League and is reported by his biographer James Szaltonai in Close Shave to have recorded 14 wins. Unlike the Mexican League, however, complete records were not maintained in this barnstorming run, so the final record cannot be fully verified. But what is verified is that playing conditions south of the border were extraordinarily difficult.

First, there were no grass infields and outfields were hard as brick due to the clay underneath the surface. Some ball parks were in the midst of railroad yards where passing freight trains would interrupt games. Riots often broke out at the games, and teams traveled by bus from town to town over narrow, winding roads in mountainous terrain. Maglie reportedly spent approximately $1500 of his own money on airplane travel during his two-year sojourn to avoid the risk and hassles of riding the bus, as it was popularly understood by residents and visitors alike that while people always got on the bus, they did not always get off.

The ban on US major league players who had jumped to the Mexican League was lifted in 1949, and Maglie was able to eventually rejoin the Giants. Before doing so, he played in Canada for the Drummondville Cubs in the Quebec Provincial League where he posted an 11-2 record and three post season wins to pace the team to a championship. His best was yet to come.

How the legend of “The Barber” came to be

Maglie had a triumphant return to the majors in 1950. He posted a dazzling 18-4 record with the best ERA in the National League, 2.71. Maglie appeared in 47 games altogether as he began the season as a reliever but became a starter in the second half completing 12 of 16 starts. Although other pitchers started 15-20 more games, Maglie led the league in shutouts with five. Of note, Maglie hit 10 batters during the season, which represented 23 percent of the 44 total he hit during his big league career. Perhaps appropriately, Maglie got his famous moniker in 1950.

Maglie claims that New York Daily News baseball reporter Jim McCulley gave him this nickname as a tribute to the way Maglie would “shave the batters” chins by throwing high-and-tight. Giant pitching coach Frank Shellenback is also credited with having giving him the nickname because of the way Maglie shaved the corners. There is also the claim that Giant manager Leo Durocher gave him the nickname because Maglie supposedly resembled the barber in the third chair at the hotel where the players stayed.

Regardless of the origin what is certain is that Maglie was masterful in giving close shaves to batters. In his book, The Head Game: Baseball Seen From the Pitcher’s Mound, Roger Kahn quoted Maglie saying, “The hell with all the hitters. The hell with all of them.” Kahn, who covered the Dodgers during the ’50s, said there was never a meaner pitcher and that Maglie did not know the meaning of the word “remorse.” Decades later, Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, in his book, Kings of the Hill, ranked Sal Maglie the #1 all-time pitcher in the category of “intimidators.” (Interestingly enough, the #2 intimidator selected by Ryan was Don Drysdale, with Bob Gibson as #4– both Maglie star pupils.) Other nicknames given to Maglie were “Sinister Sal” and “The Renaissance Assassin” but he is best remembered as “The Barber.”

Maglie played to win

Baseball during the 1950s was a rough, tough and intense game in which there were beanball wars, fights, bench jockeying, retaliation and take-out slides. Maglie used the baseball as a weapon to gain both a psychological and physical
advantage over the hitter. By always threatening to give a close shave, Maglie forced batters to often make a choice between their own personal survival or hitting the ball. When Maglie played ball, he went to war. If he was going to
lose, Maglie would go down with his best pitch regardless of the game situation or the count. In Maglie’s case this often meant throwing a curve on a 3-1 count with runners on base.

Years later Maglie acknowledged that the knockdown pitch was his weapon of choice and that he never, ever thought of giving it up. He likened such an unlikely decision to Marilyn Monroe stopping to wear sweaters. It simply would not happen.

Clutch Pitcher in Hot Pennant Races

Maglie was a big winner in September, the final month of the 154-game regular season, during the hottest NL pennant races of the 1950s. Here’s a look:

Giants 1950-55

  • 1950: Maglie goes 5-1 with two shutouts to help the Giants finish in third place, five games behind the pennant-winning Philadelphia Phillies.
  • 1951: Maglie goes 6-1 games with one shut-out enabling Giants to tie Dodgers for first place in the regular season (after having trailed NL leading Dodgers by 13-1/2 games in mid-August.) Maglie helps New York win 37 of its last 44 games and starts the finale of the three-game playoff against Brooklyn, keeping the Dodgers to four runs.
  • 1952: Maglie goes 4-2 with one shutout that paces Giants to a second place finish behind the Dodgers.
  • 1954: In a spot-starting role in game #148, Maglie records a 7-1 win over Dodgers that increases Giants lead over Brooklyn to 6-1/2 games. While it’s the only decision of the month for The Barber, it helps New York eventually win the pennant by five games.

Dodgers 1956-57

  • 1956: Maglie records six wins with two shut-outs against one loss enabling the Dodgers to win the pennant by one game over the Milwaukee Braves. The Bums had to play catch up with Maglie’s September 25 no-hitter bringing them within half a game of Milwaukee and Maglie’s final win in Game #152 giving Brooklyn a one-game lead.

Center stage in the biggest games of the 1950s

Maglie was noted for pitching very well on center stage in the three biggest games of the 1950s: for New York in Game 3 of the 1951 playoff when Bobby Thomson hit “The Shot Heard Round the World” to win the pennant for the Giants; Game 1 of the 1954 World Series when Willie Mays made his great catch off Vic Wertz; and Game 5 for the Dodgers in the 1956 World Series when Don Larsen pitched his perfect game for the Yankees.

In both the ’51 playoff finale and Game 1 of the ’54 Series, Maglie received a no-decision but pitched well enough for his team to win by limiting the opposition to fewer runs than they usually scored. The 1951 Dodgers averaged 5.45 runs per game, but with Maglie holding Brooklyn to 4 runs, this enabled the Giants to win the game (and the pennant) 5-4 on Thomson’s three-run bomb. In 1954, the Indians won a record 111 games and averaged 4.84 runs per game entering the World Series. With Maglie holding Cleveland to two runs in seven innings, New York won Game 1 in extra innings and went on to sweep the Indians.

When Maglie joined Brooklyn in 1956 he became part of history as he held the Yankees to five hits and two runs in eight innings in Game 5 of the World Series, but lost as Larsen pitched his perfect game. With Maglie having beaten the Yankees in Game 1, 6-3 with a 10-strikeout performance, Larsen helped New York to triumph in seven games. Maglie did Brooklyn a service in 1956 even by simply not playing against the team. Lifetime, The Barber went 23-11 against the Bums, and his record was even better at Ebbets Field, 11-3 in a ballpark known for being a hitters’ haven. From 1950-54, Maglie’s record against Brooklyn was a scintillating 22-6 while the Dodgers cumulative record was an NL-best 479-293.

Maglie out shined his own teams as well. In all, his .657 lifetime winning percentage was nearly 100 points higher than the combined .561 winning percentage for all the MLB teams he played for. The greatest team success enjoyed by Maglie occurred in 1954 when the Giants won their final World Series in New York. For all of 1954, the Giants allowed 550 runs or 3.57 runs per game, for a net ERA of -0.98. This meant that Giant pitchers were essentially one run lower than the National League average, fourth best all time, and Maglie went 14-6 with a 3.26 ERA.

Maglie’s 1-2 record in the 1951, ’54 and ’56 World Series understates how well he pitched. In four starts, Maglie posted a 3.41 ERA in 29 innings, with his team winning two of his four games. Considering that Maglie’s two losses were to the New York Yankees while they were in the midst of winning nine World Series titles in 14 appearances from 1948-64, and one of those losses was Larsen’s perfect game, Maglie battled tough odds while keeping his teams competitive. And he did every bit as well in the postseason as the regular season, this being best exemplified by Maglie posting recording a 2.65 ERA in the ’56 Series after compiling a 2.87 ERA during the regular season.

Passing the Art Along

Maglie achieved great pitching success. He also had enormous and positive influence on Cy Young winners Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, and Jim Lonborg.

During his time in Brooklyn late in his career, Maglie taught Drysdale and Koufax the necessity of pitching inside and developing an effective curve ball. Maglie’s intimidating and aggressive style was adopted by both pitchers and helped the Dodgers win three World Series titles and four pennants between 1959 and 1966. It also helped earn them accolades, with Drysdale winning the Cy Young Award in 1962 and Koufax collecting the trophy in 1963, ’65, and ’66. Ultimately, both were inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Gibson, a Hall of Famer and two-time Cy Young winner, was also a Maglie protégé when “The Barber” finished his playing career with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1958 and served as a pitching instructor. Gibson helped lead the Cardinals to two World Series Championships and three pennants between 1964 and 1968, while setting the modern day record for lowest
ERA with 1.12 in 1968 and posting a 7-2 record in World Series play.

Lonborg won the Cy Young Award in leading the Boston Red Sox to their fabled “Impossible Dream” season in 1967 and helping the team reach the seventh game of the World Series before losing to the Cardinals. Maglie was the Red Sox pitching coach during that period, and Lonborg has said “The Barber’s” lessons on pitching inside enabled him to lead the AL in wins with 22 and strikeouts with 246, while posting a 3.16 ERA. Also of note, Lonborg hit 19 batters that year, perhaps heeding Maglie’s message to pitch inside to keep hitters off balance.

The irony of Game 7 in the 1967 World Series was that the pitching match-up featured two Maglie protégés: Gibson versus Lonborg. Gibson won three games including Game 7 while Lonborg won two, including a one-hit shutout in Game 2. So less than a decade after his retirement from the mound, “The Barber” was still cutting a swath in the Fall Classic– having passed along the art of intimidation to top pitchers who carried on his legacy.

The Ball Four Portrayal: Truth, Hyperbole, or Both?

Despite such an impressive list of protégés, former Yankee 20-game winner and Ball Four author Jim Bouton strongly criticized Maglie as a pitching coach for the 1969 Seattle Pilots. Bouton‟s portrayal of Maglie implied both a lack of communication and knowledge on the art of pitching. Perhaps this perception resulted from both generational and stylistic differences. Bouton was at the end of his major league career and working to master a most difficult pitch– the knuckleball. Maglie, by his own admission, was a practical pitcher who did not engage in profound introspection on the game and was courteous but reserved with both players and coaches. His pitching philosophy was quite simply to shave the corners.

In her Sandy Koufax biography, Jane Leavy quoted him saying, “When a pupil is ready, a teacher will come.” This explained how All Star pitcher Al Leiter excelled working with Koufax, even though Leiter already had two World Series Championships and a no-hitter. Leiter simply wanted to get even better, and he was eager to learn from Koufax. On this basis, one may infer that players like Drysdale, Koufax, Gibson and Lonborg were ready for the type of instruction Maglie offered. Bouton, also eager to learn, was seeking instruction on a highly specialized pitch that few have ever mastered. Bouton desired to explore the game more deeply in terms of philosophy, mechanics and various nuances. Perhaps The Barber’s shop just wasn’t the right place for Bouton to do it.

Like Fine Wine, Maglie Improved With Age

In his short career, Maglie aged like fine wine and was appreciated as such. Like Ted Williams and Warren Spahn, he was an ageless wonder in 1956, finishing second place in voting for the NL Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards. At 39, Maglie went 13-5 with a 2.89 ERA and became the second-oldest pitcher behind Cy Young to toss a no-hitter. Of his no-no, 5-0 against the Phillies, Maglie claimed he was a much better pitcher than 1950-51 because he was more efficient and adaptable. Following his triumph Maglie observed he threw only 110 pitches and felt able to throw both the fast ball and curve as circumstances warranted.

Maglie played two more years, serving as a spot starter for the Yankees in 1957 and ’58 and completing the rare feat of having played for all three New York teams. He went 3-1 with a 3.18 ERA for the Yanks over parts of two seasons before closing out his career with a 2-6 stint in ’58 for the Cardinals.

Closing thoughts

Salvatore Anthony Maglie personified post-WWII baseball during the 1950s. His honorable wartime service and playing time in the Mexican League resulted in a late start to his big league career. But he had an uncanny ability to surmount difficult playing conditions from the mountains of Mexico to the snows of Canada. He beat the strongest teams of his era, played his best in clutch situations, and all the while overcame age and physical limitations. Terry Cashman immortalized Maglie in his song “Talkin’ Baseball” with his nickname “The Barber.” Be it in verse, with his stats, or in the memories of those who saw him play, Maglie still casts an intimidating presence. He is a legend of the game.

About the author

George A. Haloulakos, MBA, CFA:  Teacher, Author and Entrepreneur. Chartered Financial Analyst [CFA] and consultant: DBA Spartan Research and Consulting specializing in finance, strategy and new business ventures. Award-winning university instructor. Published author of DOLLAR$ AND SENSE: A Workbook on the ABCs of Investments. Hobbyist – aviation, baseball, spaceflight and science fiction. Lifetime member of Strathmore’s Who’s Who
Registry of Business Leaders. Member of ordained clergy in Orthodox Church in America (rank/title of Reverend Protodeacon). E-mail: Haloulakos@gmail.com

Bibliography

Baseball: An Illustrated History, Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns, Alfred Knopf. 1994.
Baseball-Reference.com
Charmed Circle: Twenty-Game-Winning Pitchers in Baseball’s 20th Century, Mel R. Freese, McFarland & Company, 1997.
Close Shave: The Life and Times of Baseball’s Sal Maglie, James D. Szalontai, McFarland & Company, 2002.
Franklin Big League Baseball Electronic Encyclopedia, 1993.
John M. Deegan, Baseball Enthusiast and Collector.
Kings of the Hill: An Irreverent Look at the Men on the Mound, Nolan Ryan with Mickey Herskowitz, Harper Collins, 1992.
Lost Summer: The ’67 Red Sox and the Impossible Dream, Bill Reynolds, Warner Books, 1992.
Once a Bum, Always a Dodger: My Life in Baseball From Brooklyn to Los Angeles, Don Drysdale with Bob Verdi, St. Martin’s Press, 1990.
Personal Collection of George A. Haloulakos, Baseball Hobbyist. CDs, DVDs, scrapbook of news and magazine articles, baseball cards, game programs and books.
Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy, Jane Leavy, Harper Collins, 2000.
The Best & Worst Baseball Teams of All Time, Harry Hollingsworth, S.P.I Books, 1994.
The Head Game: Baseball Seen From the Pitcher’s Mound, Roger Kahn, Harcourt, 2000.
Vassilios E. Haloulakos, Scientist, Engineer and Professor. Lecture notes on physics and applied mathematics.
1956 World Series, Game 5, October 8 at Yankee Stadium: Complete original radio broadcast with Bob Neal and Bob Wolff on CD (from The Miley Collection) – including all commercials plus the pre-game and post-game shows.

Manager Wanted: Little or No Experience Wanted

I am disappointed I missed the ad in all the major newspapers and baseball trade papers. It must have read something like this:

The St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago White Sox have a position open for team manager at the major league level.  No experience necessary at any level. First come, first served as the need is quite urgent.  The Chicago Cubs have a vacancy as well.  Applicants should have a few days of experience but not be considered a viable candidate by any other major league team.  The Boston Red Sox wish to interview every potential candidate but are not seriously interested in hiring anyone at this time.

How could I have missed such an ad?  Which of us hasn’t thought we could do a better job of running a baseball game than those currently employed in such a position? Finally I would have had an opportunity at the major league level for a position of authority in which my qualifications were perfect, except maybe for the Cub opening.  What a chance I missed.

Only the manager’s chair in Boston seems to be still open to me.  The only drawback for that position seems to be that I really wouldn’t be working or drawing a salary. But then again, I do have experience in both categories in the past. There have been times years ago where I was in just such a position. I believe, if memory serves, it was when I was unemployed. If I can find one of my old resumes, I am sure that the Boston Red Sox management would be quite impressed by my skillful adaptation to any unemployment situation which might have presented itself to me at the time.  I will admit that it’s been quite some time since I have not worked in that particular field but I am sure I could quickly recall my experiences.

The city of Chicago had two openings, sadly only one of which I was qualified.  The Cubs would not have hired my services as I have no experience managing at the major league level.  But I do qualify as a person which no other team would want if I did indeed have that experience. I wonder if second-guessing managerial moves in front of my television screen could be counted and should be included on my resume. Through the beauty of hindsight, I have not made one mistake in managing a major league game for over 40 years now.

I was qualified, if not over-qualified, for the managerial openings on the Southside of Chicago and in St. Louis.  I say over-qualified because many years ago, I coached a Little League game. The White Sox and Cardinals have concluded that the years of experience by their respective minor league coaches and managers are the wrong approach. These teams have decided  that the years of experience by coaches at the major league levels and past insistence on knowing how to not only run a game properly but also dealing with 25 different personalities should have no place in baseball.

I should add that I won that Little League game, and I remain to this day undefeated. I proved then that experience can be a hindrance and an out-and-out undesirable qualification in the quest for a championship. If only I had seen the want ad in time. My wife and I might be planning a spring trip, all expenses paid, to Florida come March.

University of Hawaii Research Finds Baseball Doughnut a Failure

Jerry Priddy was one of those 1940s-1950s players who played well enough. In two seasons with the New York Yankees, three with the Washington Senators, two with the St. Louis Browns and four with the Detroit Tigers, Priddy was a steady if not spectacular performer.

Career line: G-1,296; ABs-4,720; HR-61; RBIs-541; BA-.265

But if you take a look at Priddy’s 1952 Topps baseball card #28 on this page, you would think he was one of the era’s greatest sluggers.

One of the things I most miss from baseball long ago is the on-deck hitter swinging a half- a-dozen bats as he waited his turn. When Elston Howard invented the doughnut in the 1960s, originally called an “on-deck bat weight.” I figured it was a convenient way for players to loosen up that would achieve the same results as the multi-bat system. Once the weight is removed from the bat, the lumber gets lighter so the swing can speed up—or so the thinking went.

But as recently reported by the Wall Street Journal, based on studies conducted at the University of Hawaii, a weight increase or decrease on a player’s bat between 10 percent and 13 percent will decrease bat speed from three to five miles per hour.

Physical education professor Coop DeRenne has studied the doughnut’s adverse effect on hitters for more than 20 years. DeRenne called Major League Baseball “a dinosaur sport” for refusing to recognize the value of his research. According to DeRenne, more than a dozen big league batting coaches and managers agreed that players are foolishly locked into routine and superstition—a good start but not enough to convince MLB bureaucrats.

Returning to Priddy, his post-baseball years were more interesting than his 11 year career. After he left the Tigers in 1953, Priddy spent four years in the Pacific Coast League as a player (Seattle Rainers, Sacramento Solons and San Francisco Seals) and one as a manager (Solons). Then in 1973, the FBI arrested Priddy in California on charges of trying to extort $250,000 from a steamship company by threatening to place a bomb aboard the Island Princess, one of its vessels.He was convicted and sentenced to nine months in prison.

Priddy’s former teammate Phil Rizzuto later said the he could never believe “that whole extortion thing.”

Rizzuto said:

That wasn’t the Gerry I knew. He was outspoken and hotheaded … but outside of baseball he was a regular guy. He knew a lot of prominent business people. It just didn’t make sense. He called me when he got out of prison and told me if he’d have to spend one more day in there he’d have been a hardened criminal.

The highlight of Priddy’s career may have come during World War II when, in Hawaii as a young private, he played alongside Joe DiMaggio for the 7th Army Air Force Flyers. Priddy also appeared in the Army-Navy Service World Series in October 1944.

Any player/Any era: Wes Ferrell

What he did: It started with something I read on Twitter that Dwight Gooden hit eight home runs lifetime. That didn’t seem all that awe-inspiring, given that I recently wrote here about Don Drysdale’s hitting prowess, noting he went yard 29 times during his career. I got to wondering if Drysdale had the record for most home runs hit by a pitcher. He does not. That record belongs to Wes Ferrell, whose brother Rick might be the worst player in the Hall of Fame. When people complain about Rick’s induction, they sometimes cite that he wasn’t even the best member of his family. Wes Ferrell isn’t enshrined, but even so, he’s a unique player in baseball history.

In a 15-season career between 1927 and 1941, Ferrell went 193-128 with a 4.04 ERA, winning 20 games six times. It’s his career batting numbers, though, that place him in a special class: players with 10+ WAR for both pitching and hitting. Over 1,176 at-bats, Ferrell hit .280 with 38 home runs, 208 RBI, and 11.2 lifetime offensive WAR. His career OPS+ of 100 suggests he was comparable to an average batter of his time, no easy feat in the hitter-friendly era immediately preceding World War II. The 37 homers Ferrell hit as a pitcher are a record, as are the nine he hit in 1931. In another era, his offensive numbers could be greater still.

Era he might have thrived in: In his own time, Ferrell was a rotation-anchoring pitcher, sometimes brilliant, often temperamental. He also pinch hit and occasionally roamed the outfield, even smacking one of his home runs while in the lineup as a field player. With the Colorado Rockies in the late 1990s, Ferrell could have his choice of playing outfield full-time or being the best-hitting pitcher in the modern era, bar none.

Why: I’ll start by running the Baseball-Reference.com stat conversions, which are insane. In 1931 with the Indians, Ferrell hit .319 with nine home runs and 30 RBI in 116 at-bats. On the 1999 Rockies, Ferrell’s numbers convert to 10 home runs, 41 RBI, and a .341 batting average in 126 at-bats. Projecting those conversions to a 600 at-bat season, Ferrell would theoretically hit 48 home runs and 195 RBI (though some leveling off in production over a year would be expected.) The idea of Ferrell playing full-time in the field isn’t too outlandish. His pitching arm, good for a career-high of 143 strikeouts in 1930, might make him a great sidekick for cannon-armed right fielder Larry Walker.

Course, Ferrell’s already-colorful pitching line might get grotesque on the ’99 Rockies, who surrendered 1,028 runs and boasted a 6.01 ERA as a staff. Converting Ferrell’s 1931 numbers– 22-12 record with a 3.75 ERA for Cleveland– he’d go 18-12 with a 4.57 ERA and 144 walks for Colorado if he stuck with pitching full-time. It’d be nothing Cy Young-worthy, and Ferrell’s career ERA might approach 5.00. But Ferrell still could be the Rockies staff ace, and it’s worth nothing he pitched some of his best actual years in League Park II, perhaps the Coors Field of its time. Even if Ferrell were more a position player for Colorado, say the starting left fielder, he’d at least make a heck of a surprise relief pitcher from time to time, a secret weapon for the Rockies if there ever was one.

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: Al SimmonsAlbert PujolsBabe RuthBad News Rockies,Barry BondsBilly BeaneBilly MartinBob CaruthersBob FellerBob Watson,Bobby VeachCarl MaysCharles Victory FaustChris von der Ahe,Denny McLainDom DiMaggioDon DrysdaleEddie LopatFrank HowardFritz MaiselGavvy CravathGeorge CaseGeorge WeissHarmon KillebrewHarry WalkerHome Run BakerHonus WagnerHugh CaseyIchiro SuzukiJack ClarkJackie RobinsonJim AbbottJimmy WynnJoe DiMaggioJoe PosnanskiJohnny AntonelliJohnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Lefty GroveLefty O’DoulMajor League (1989 film),Matty AlouMichael JordanMonte IrvinNate ColbertPaul Derringer, Pedro MartinezPee Wee ReesePete RosePrince FielderRalph KinerRick AnkielRickey Henderson,Roberto ClementeRogers HornsbySam CrawfordSam Thompson,Sandy KoufaxSatchel PaigeShoeless Joe JacksonStan MusialTed WilliamsThe Meusel BrothersTy CobbVada PinsonWally BunkerWill ClarkWillie Mays

The Lou Limmer Line

Although Mario Mendoza is synonymous with batting ineptitude– thus the infamous “Mendoza Line” used in reference to hitting less than .200– I prefer Lou Limmer.

First, the “Lou Limmer Line” is more mellifluous. But even better, Limmer ended his career with a .202 average, a full 13 points below Mendoza’s .215 (though Mendoza still sets the standard for anemic production with his OPS+ of 44, far below Limmer’s 75.) Limmer was also the more interesting player, by far.

Of Mendoza, little was expected. He played good glove, no bat for the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Seattle Mariners and the Texas Rangers before calling it quits and returning to his native Mexico. But the highly-touted Limmer was an acute disappointment for the long suffering Philadelphia Athletics’ fans.

Here’s Limmer’s write up from the 1951 A’s yearbook:

Pride of the A’s farm system is Lollopin’ Lou Limmer who was voted the Rookie of the Year for American Association in 1950. Lou slammed 29 homers and drove in 111 runs to lead the Association in both categories. Lou hopes he’s here to stay.


But Limmer bombed; he hit .159 with only five home runs in 94 games. Not until 1954 did Philadelphia see Limmer again. That year, he performed slightly better, hitting .231 with 14 homers in 115 games.

As the 1954 A’s yearbook ominously wrote:

Lou has never quite lived up to expectations but he is hoping this will be his year of fulfillment.


That was it for Limmer. As the A’s prepared to move to Kansas City, Limmer would return to AAA Columbus where he hit 28 homers and knocked in 82. Limmer is one of dozens of players who tore up the minors but couldn’t cut it in the big leagues. In 11 minor league seasons, Limmer hit 244 homers and batted over .280 five times.

A’s fans certainly missed Limmer. Famous for his prodigious pre-game slugging performances, A’s fans labeled Limmer “the Babe Ruth of batting practice.”

Even though his career was short, Limmer came in and went out with a bang. In his first Yankee Stadium appearance on April 23, 1951, the Bronx native powered a ninth inning pinch hit home run against Yankee ace Vic Raschi. Then, in 1954 on September 25 and 26 in their last games before the team moved to Kansas City, Limmer got the A’s last hit, a single off the Yankees’ Bob Grim and the team’s last home run, a solo shot off Yankees’ relief pitcher Johnny Sain.

Limmer was also part of baseball’s only three-way, all Jewish confrontation. OnMay 2, 1951 with the A’s at Detroit, the Tigers’ battery was pitcher Saul Rogovin and catcher Joe Ginsberg. Limmer pinch hit in the top of the ninth (again!) and hit a two-run homer off Rogovin’s first pitch to tie the game at 3-3. The A’s however, being the A’s, lost the tenth, 5-4. Limmer recalls his home run here.

Although it’s easy to poke good natured fun at Limmer, the Philadelphia Athletics’ Historical Society points out that in the 1950s Limmer was competing for one of 400 major league jobs. Today, the number is 750 and the slick fielding first baseman with his occasional power would be a welcome addition to most clubs.

Limmer, an Army Air Corps veteran and a big favorite at A’s reunions, died in 2007 at age 82.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Albert Pujols

Claim to fame: Let’s be clear. This isn’t a column about whether Albert Pujols will eventually have a plaque in Cooperstown. This much is almost certain already. At 31, 11 seasons into a storied career, and currently the hottest thing on the free agent market, Pujols looks on track to one day rank as a legend. Heck, even today, he wouldn’t look too out of place at first base in an all-time dream lineup. I might take him over Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, or Hank Greenberg, and Foxx and Rogers Hornsby look like Pujols’ main competition for the title of best right handed hitter in baseball history.

If he stays healthy and plays until he’s 40, Pujols has a chance at some ridiculous numbers: 800 home runs, 4,000 hits, and Babe Ruth’s lifetime WAR record of 190. This week’s post, however, is about if Pujols doesn’t play until that point. Unlikely as the following scenario is, I’ll ask: What if Pujols were to retire today? Would his accomplishments thus far be enough for Cooperstown?

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Pujols is an active player and won’t be eligible for consideration for Cooperstown from the Baseball Writers Association of America until five years after his retirement. Thus, the soonest he could be voted on as a Hall of Fame candidate is the fall of 2016. More likely if Pujols plays a full career, he’ll appear on his first and probably only Cooperstown ballot sometime around 2025.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Yes, Pujols belongs if he plays a full career. And yes, even at this point, he’s probably done more than enough to merit a plaque. He could pull a Sandy Koufax and retire tomorrow, and as it was with the Dodger legend in 1972, Pujols would probably still be a first ballot Hall of Famer. Whether it’s his three National League Most Valuable Player awards, his 88.7 lifetime WAR that ranks second-best among active players, or the fact that he shatters every Hall of Fame metric listed on Baseball-Reference.com, Pujols boasts an impressive resume for Cooperstown. He’s precocious as the 14-year-old who finds their way into attending Harvard.

As I noted when I did one of these columns on Smoky Joe Wood awhile back, players have definitely been enshrined before with truncated careers. Ross Youngs and Addie Joss each earned plaques decades after dying not long past their 30th birthdays. Kirby Puckett retired at 35 in 1995 due to glaucoma but easily made Cooperstown as a first ballot selection with the writers in 2001. And besides Koufax, fellow virtuoso hurlers Dizzy Dean, Rube Waddell, and Don Drysdale, among others, were all done early and got their plaques. Pujols ranks as at least a peer with everyone of the men listed above. Really, he probably ranks as the best of that bunch.

Have their been exceptions? Certainly. Besides Wood, Denny McLain, and Roger Maris, there’s hard-drinking Deadball Era great Mike Donlin who hit .333 lifetime with a 144 OPS+ but walked away from baseball in 1907 at 28 to perform vaudeville with his new wife. He returned after a season, but was never the same player and later peaked at about three percent of the writers vote for Cooperstown. Statistically, though, Pujols ranks far beyond Donlin already, and even if he spurns the St. Louis Cardinals next year in favor of vaudeville or whatever its modern equivalent is, a Hall of Fame plaque is Pujols’ to lose.

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

Others in this series: Adrian BeltreAl OliverAlan TrammellAlbert BelleAllie ReynoldsBarry BondsBarry LarkinBert BlylevenBilly MartinBobby GrichCecil TravisChipper JonesClosersCurt FloodDan QuisenberryDarrell EvansDave ParkerDick AllenDon Mattingly,Don NewcombeGeorge SteinbrennerGeorge Van Haltren, Gus GreenleeHarold BainesHarry DaltonJack MorrisJim EdmondsJoe CarterJoe PosnanskiJohn SmoltzJuan GonzalezKeith HernandezKen CaminitiLarry Walker,Manny RamirezMaury WillsMel HarderMoises AlouPete Browning,Phil CavarrettaRafael PalmeiroRoberto AlomarRocky Colavito,Roger MarisRon GuidryRon SantoSmoky Joe WoodSteve Garvey,Ted SimmonsThurman MunsonTim RainesTony OlivaWill Clark

El Hombre vs. The Man

Stan Musial retired in 1963, having just concluded his then-record 20th consecutive all-star season, a surefire Hall of Famer and all-time great. In 21 Major League seasons, all in St. Louis, Musial amassed 3,630 hits, a .331 batting average, 475 homeruns, and three MVP trophies. He was and still is the undisputed greatest Cardinal of all-time.

But today, almost 50 years after Musial’s last game, another St. Louis slugger is threatening Stan’s title. Albert Pujols is 31 years old (or so he says) and already one of the most accomplished players in baseball history. The first-baseman has matched Musial’s MVP total, and, according to baseballreference.com, Pujols’s career WAR of 88.7 ties him with Carl Yastrzemski for 42nd all-time.

But Pujols is a free-agent this off-season, and we can all agree that it’s loads of fun to transpose his face onto opposing teams’ uniforms. Rumor has landed him everywhere from Chicago to Miami, yet consensus remains that the Dominican-born Missouri native will remain under the Gateway Arch’s shadow. Were Pujols to leave St. Louis, he would sacrifice the opportunity to ascend the list of Cardinals legends and surpass Musial as the storied franchise’s greatest player ever.

11 seasons into his Major League career, Pujols’s numbers are strikingly Musial-like. After Stan the Man’s 11th full season in the majors (1953), he boasted a lifetime OPS+ of 172, 3,746 total bases and a WAR of 89.6. Pujols, to this point, owns an OPS+ of 170, 3,893 total bases and a WAR of 88.7. Statistically, the two are, through 11 seasons, essentially identical.

But, upon closer examination, Musial’s early-career numbers aren’t quite as impressive as they appear. While many of his contemporaries missed three seasons to World War II service, Musial fought for only one. The absence of Major League star-power on the mound helped fuel some of Stan’s most productive seasons. He topped the league in OPS+ in both 1943 and 44, winning an MVP and padding his career stats with two years of sub-standard competition. Numbers he accrued during this time period can’t be taken at face value.

And while we’ve examined the pair through the first 11 seasons of their respective careers, Pujols is two years younger than Musial was at that point (if, of course, Pujols’s reported age is to be believed). And while Pujols’s statistics regressed slightly in 2011, a strong second half suggests that he should bounce back with a typical MVP-caliber campaign in 2012. Musial followed the aforementioned 11-season start to his career with an exceptional 1954, before falling off marginally in ’55 and ’56, bouncing back to finish 2nd in the NL MVP voting in ’57 and declining steadily from there. The second half of his career was productive but not other-worldly (he was no Barry Bonds), and there’s no reason to believe Pujols can’t follow a comparable pattern. Barring injury or unforeseen decline, Pujols should remain on his Musial-like pace.

So Pujols will, regardless of location, retire with extraordinary career totals. If he remains in St. Louis he could very well end up the greatest player in Cardinals history. If he spurns common expectation and leaves town, he’ll have to settle for being one of the ten or fifteen best players of all-time. Assuming that he stays in St. Louis, Stan the Man better look out; El Hombre is on a historic pace.

The Forgotten Canadian

I recently came across a book about a subject which I must admit hasn’t always been near and dear to my heart despite my heritage.  It was about Canadians who have played in the major leagues, focusing mainly on Larry Walker, but covering a history that dates back to the 1800’s.

There was one name there which especially caught my eye, a player I had forgotten about but one I consider to be one of the best to have come out of Canada.  What to my mind made this player all the more remarkable was not only that he came from Canada, but where in Canada he came from.

Terry Puhl played 15 seasons in the major leagues and was a mainstay of the Houston Astros from 1977 until his retirement with the Kansas City royals in 1991.  His career stats include a .280 batting average,  62 homeruns and 435 RBI.  Not remarkable or eye popping perhaps but when taken in the context of the times, much better than average.

In those days, visits by scouts to hockey mad Canada were either few and far between, or subject to more skepticism than visits around the USA.  Certainly this attitude was justified.  The baseball season in Canada is much shorter than the USA or countries in the warmer climes.  Competent baseball coaches in Canada were seldom found and Canadian kids blossomed a couple of years later if at all compared to those in other countries.  The warmer regions of Canada are in British Columbia and southern Ontario and even those seasons are relatively short.

For a kid coming out of Melville, Saskatchewan, the odds must have seemed greater than impossible.  At the risk of generalizing, the prairies of Saskatchewan are cold and the winters are long.  Ideal for hockey, not so good for baseball.  How could a kid from this place even dream about being a professional baseball player?

After signing with the Astros in 1973, Puhl came up to stay in July 1977.  He immediately became the Astros regular left fielder and batted .301 in 60 games.   The next season he became the sole Houston representative to the All-Star game and in the 1980 championship playoffs he batted a then record .526.  As of 2010, Puhl owned the ninth best lifetime fielding percentage of any major league outfielder.

He played a quiet and seemingly unassuming outfield throughout his career with a consistency matched by few other players.  He was a table setter on a Houston team which featured speed and defense over power due to the dimensions of the Astrodome.  But he was not a slap and run hitter, typical of Houston and much of the astro turf era. He hit doubles and triples.  He was steady and consistent. He hit .372 in postseason play.

In 1994, Puhl was elected to the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of fame and in 1995 he was elected to the Canadian Baseball hall of Fame. In 2007 he was hired as the baseball coach at University of Houston-Victoria where he has compiled a record of 96-44.

His overall numbers are those of an average to good major league player.  But those numbers are all the more remarkable when one considers the era he came from the place he came from and his quiet, it’s all about the team demeanor.   He would probably not appreciate this mention.  He probably just loves the game we all love.

But as a fellow Canadian who tried his best but was never good enough or really had the chance in those olden days, I always did and still admire his style of play and his accomplishments.  What I found even more remarkable is that he made it at all.

Pete Runnels Makes My Top Fifty

In my last blog, I identified Mickey Vernon as one of my choices for Baseball Past and Present’s Second Annual “Fifty Best Players Not in the Hall of Fame” voting.

While I was researching Vernon, I realized that his Washington Senators’ teammate from 1951 to 1955, Pete Runnels, was a solid if not spectacular player, too. And since Runnels never received even a single vote for the Hall, I’m including him just because.

There’s not a team in the Major Leagues that would not jump at the chance to sign a Runnels-type player. One of the most consistent hitters from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, Runnels won two batting titles for the Boston Red Sox (1960 and 1962) who acquired him in a trade from the Senators for Albie Pearson and Norm Zauchin. During Runnels’ 1960 batting title season (.320), he knocked in only 35 runs—hard to do given that his 169 hits included 33 for extra bases. Runnels barely missed out on a third title (1958) when on the season’s final day in Washington against his old Senators, he went 0-4 while the eventual winner, Ted Williams, got two hits.

Always the gentleman, Runnels later said:

I enjoyed Ted’s 1958 catching me [for the batting crown] on the final day more than the later titles of 1960 and 1962 because of the great competition. Wasn’t he capable?


Still, Runnels was quick to attribute his success as a Red Sox to Williams who taught him to slap the balls into infield holes and slice line drives off Fenway Park’s Green Monster. In five Red Sox seasons, Runnels averaged .320 and never hit less than .314. A master at bat control, he was a notorious singles hitter who had one of the game’s best eyes and compiled an outstanding 1.35 walk-to-strikeout ratio (844-to-627). Altogether Runnels batted over .300 six times, once with the Senators, five with the Red Sox.

Runnels, who played all four infield positions with above average skill and appeared in three All Star games, finished his career with a .291 average. After his last two seasons with the HoustonColt .45s, Runnels returned to coach the Red Sox (1965-1966). Then when Boston fired manager Billy Herman, Runnels was tapped as the Red Sox new pilot to manage the last 16 games. Retired from baseball, Runnels returned to his Pasadena, Texas home to open a sporting goods store.Runnels attended Rice Institute (now Rice University) and served in the U.S. Marines (1945-1948). In 1991, at age 63, Runnels  died from a heart attack he suffered in Houston.  The Boston Red Sox induced Runnels into its Hall of Fame in 2004.

Any player/Any era: Pedro Martinez

What he did: On the surface, Pedro Martinez’s 2000 season is impressive enough: 18-6 record, 1.74 ERA, 284 strikeouts, and the best WHIP of all-time, 0.737. Of course he was the American League Cy Young, and Martinez even finished fifth in MVP voting. Usually, these kinds of years for pitchers come during times that favor them, the Deadball Era, the pitching Golden Age of the 1960s, and such. But Martinez did his thing at the height of the Steroid Era when offense reigned supreme. His ERA+ was an almost-comical 291, courtesy of an AL average ERA of 4.91.

In 1931, Lefty Grove dominated in similar circumstances, overcoming one of the greatest offensive years in baseball history. This was the season the Yankees scored 1,067 runs and still finished second, where Babe Ruth had an OPS+ of 218 and didn’t come close to winning MVP. That went to Grove who finished 31-4 with a 2.06 ERA, leading most major statistical categories for pitchers, and taking his Philadelphia Athletics to the World Series. If he’d been in a pitcher’s era, there’s no telling what Grove might have done. And given the similarities between Grove and Martinez, both men temperamental, brilliant flamethrowers, it makes me wonder how Martinez might have fared in his place.

Era he might have thrived in: We’re putting Martinez on the last great team Connie Mack managed before the Great Depression forced him to scuttle his dynasty. The ’31 A’s boasted the likes of Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and Mickey Cochrane, went 107-45 in the regular season, and then took the Gashouse Gang St. Louis Cardinals to seven games in the World Series. I don’t know if Martinez could have filled in for Grove’s 31 wins, given that he pitched more than 200 innings just seven times in his career. In most other departments, though, Martinez would be a dominant force in 1931.

Why: First off, I ran Martinez’s 2000 numbers through the stat converter on Baseball-Reference.com. With the A’s in 1931, his stats convert to a 19-3 record with a 1.83 ERA and 264 strikeouts. I’ll admit I don’t always trust the B-R converter for pitching stats, and in this case, it has Martinez throwing just 202 innings in a year that Grove had to throw 288 (which later contributed to him blowing out his arm and becoming a junkballer his last several seasons.) That being said, a lot of things still seem to favor Martinez thriving in 1931, assuming of course we suspend disbelief about his dark skin keeping him from playing in the majors prior to 1947.

He’d have a great team, an iconic, underrated one in historical terms, really. He’d have a legendary manager who guided Hall of Fame pitchers like Rube Waddell, Chief Bender, and Grove and who loved to use his hurlers for both starting and relief. Martinez thrived in both capacities through the course of his career. And in the ’30s, Martinez would be pitching in a time where a young flamethrower didn’t need a complex repertoire of pitches. Really, before Grove hurt his arm, he was a thrower more than he was a pitcher, someone who could just chuck fastballs. Martinez could do likewise. Would it be enough to silence the bats of men like Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Charlie Gehringer and others? I don’t know. But it might be enough to secure a Hall of Fame plaque for Martinez who in his own era doesn’t quite seem a lock for Cooperstown.

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: Al SimmonsAlbert PujolsBabe RuthBad News Rockies,Barry BondsBilly BeaneBilly MartinBob CaruthersBob FellerBob Watson,Bobby VeachCarl MaysCharles Victory FaustChris von der Ahe,Denny McLainDom DiMaggioDon DrysdaleEddie LopatFrank HowardFritz MaiselGavvy CravathGeorge CaseGeorge WeissHarmon KillebrewHarry WalkerHome Run BakerHonus WagnerHugh CaseyIchiro SuzukiJack ClarkJackie RobinsonJim AbbottJimmy WynnJoe DiMaggioJoe PosnanskiJohnny AntonelliJohnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Lefty GroveLefty O’DoulMajor League (1989 film),Matty AlouMichael JordanMonte IrvinNate ColbertPaul DerringerPee Wee ReesePete RosePrince FielderRalph KinerRick AnkielRickey Henderson,Roberto ClementeRogers HornsbySam CrawfordSam Thompson,Sandy KoufaxSatchel PaigeShoeless Joe JacksonStan MusialTed WilliamsThe Meusel BrothersTy CobbVada PinsonWally BunkerWill ClarkWillie Mays

One Vote for Mickey Vernon

Preparing my ballot for Baseball: Past and Present’s annual 50 Best Players Not in the Hall of Fame project, I put on the top of my list Dwight Eisenhower’s favorite Washington Senators player, Mickey Vernon.

Here’s how Vernon became Ike’s #1. On Opening Day 1954 Vernon walloped a two-run homer off New York Yankees’ pitcher Allie Reynolds that won the game for the Senators, 5-4, in the bottom of the 10th. After he touched home plate, Vernon was grabbed by a man he mistook for an overly zealous fan. But it was a Secret Service agent who escorted Vernon to the president’s box where Eisenhower told him, “Nice going.”

In 14 full seasons (measured by 400 at bats or more), Vernon batted over .335 twice, over .300 five times and over .290 nine times. He had two outstanding seasons: 1946 when he won his first batting title with a .353 average and 1953 when he won his second (.337) edging out Cleveland’s Al Rosen by .001 Vernon’s career high in home runs came in 1954 with 20.

Vernon’s final season was unusual. In 1960, he spent most of the year as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ first base coach. But the Pirates, in need of a left-handed pinch hitter for the stretch drive, activated Vernon in September.  In eight plate appearances, Vernon managed only one hit and returned to the coach’s box where he remained for the World Series.

During his 20-season career, Vernon played for the Cleveland Indians, the Milwaukee Braves and the Boston Red Sox as well as the Senators and Pirates. Vernon also managed the expansion Senators from 1961-1963.

In addition to his two batting titles, Vernon was a 7 time All Star, led the league in doubles three times, participated in 2,044 double plays, the most in major league history, and fielded .990, an astonishing average.

But for a miscommunication, Vernon could have notched a sixth .300 season. In 1941, the Senators’ final three games were in New York. Coming into the series, Vernon was hitting .302 and manager Bucky Harris offered to sit him. But Vernon declined. By Sunday, his average had dipped to .299. Yankees’ third baseman Red Rolfe pulled Vernon aside in the runway and told him to lay down a bunt. “I’ll be back on my heels,” Rolfe said. The game was inconsequential since the Yankees had wrapped up the pennant weeks earlier.

In Vernon’s first three at-bats, the Senators had men on base so he had no bunt opportunity. But in his last at bat and needing the one hit, Vernon looked down the third base line where, as he had promised, Rolfe was playing deep. Vernon, feeling certain that .300 was a lock, put down his bunt. Rolfe didn’t make a play. But catcher Bill Dickey, remembered Vernon:

…came charging out, picked up the ball and threw me out. We had forgotten about him and I ended up with .299.


The Mickey Vernon Sports Museum in Chadds Ford, PA honors Vernon’s career and military service. Vernon. a U.S. Navy World War II veteran, died in 2008 from stroke complications.