Any player/Any era: Johnny Frederick

What he did: Reading the name Johnny Frederick might make one think of a Revolutionary War hero or a punk rocker. Only baseball historians may know of the Johnny Frederick who played six solid seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1929 through 1934 and then vanished from the big leagues, never to return.

Frederick is part of a small, but intriguing class of ballplayers: those men with at least 200 hits in a season, but fewer than 1,000 in their career. I know of 22 players who did this. Nearly all of them played in the 1920s and ’30s, and no one appears to have accomplished the feat since 1950. I’m interested why this is, as well as what may have driven men like Frederick from the majors and what could have inspired them to stay.

Era he might have thrived in: 1970s to current

Why: About a month ago, a loyal reader emailed me names of a few players with at least 200 hits in a season but less than 1,000 in a career. It seemed a little quirky, and I initially didn’t pay it much attention, but on Tuesday, while researching players with lifetime batting averages above .300 for an upcoming post, I stumbled onto a few more of these men. Wednesday, I got systematic. Using Baseball-Reference, I scoured the list of players with at least 200 hits in a season.

Here’s an alphabetized list of inactive players who’ve had at least 200 hits at least one season but less than 1,000 in their careers:

Player Years Active 200 Hit Seasons Career Hits
Dale Alexander 1929-1933 215 (1929) 811
Beau Bell 1935-1941 212 (1936), 218 (1937) 806
Eddie Brown 1920-1928 201 (1926) 878
Dick Burrus 1919-1928 200 (1925) 513
Bob Dillinger 1946-1951 207 (1948) 888
Johnny Frederick 1929-1934 1929 (206), 1930 (206) 954
Chick Fullis 1928-1936 200 (1933) 548
Johnny Hodapp 1925-1933 225 (1930) 880
Charlie Hollocher 1918-1924 201 (1922) 894
Woody Jensen 1931-1939 203 (1935) 774
Benny Kauff 1912-1920 211 (1914) 961
Bill Lamar 1917-1927 202 (1925) 633
Hank Leiber 1933-1942 203 (1935) 808
Austin McHenry 1918-1922 201 (1921) 592
Ed Morgan 1928-1934 204 (1930) 879
Lance Richbourg 1921-1932 206 (1928) 806
Moose Solters 1934-1943 201 (1935) 990
Jigger Statz 1919-1928 209 (1923) 737
Snuffy Stirnweiss 1943-1952 205 (1944) 989
George Stone 1903-1910 208 (1906) 984
Fresco Thompson 1925-1934 202 (1929) 762
Dick Wakefield 1941-1952 200 (1943) 625

A few have come close to this feat in recent years. Lyman Bostock fell one hit shy of 200 in 1977 and then died at the end of the following year at 27, finishing with 624 career hits. Doug Glanvillle and Randy Velarde each had 200-hit seasons and fewer than 1,200 career hits. But the overall trend seems nothing like it was 80 years ago.

The presence of some men on the list above can be explained. McHenry died a few months after his last game in 1922, Kauff was barred from the majors at 30 because of his alleged participation in a stolen car ring, and Stirnweiss played his best ball in a talent-depleted American League during World War II. A few players listed here also had their time in the majors cut short by that war. And my reader pointed out that Alexander was unjustly labeled a poor fielder, and no team would sign him after his batting average dipped below .300.

Alexander and most of the men here went onto good stints in the minors after leaving the majors. Some opted for the Pacific Coast League, where the travel was shorter, the season longer, and the weather warmer than the majors, which did not exist west of St. Louis prior to 1958. And in the days before free agency and players like Glanville or Velarde commanding a few million dollars, a non-star could earn more playing in a place like the PCL than the majors. Some of these men also rose to great heights in lesser circuits, like Statz who Lawrence Ritter called the Pete Rose of the PCL.

Frederick hit .363 with my hometown Sacramento Solons in 1935, his first year in the PCL after the majors and followed with five more seasons for rival Portland, hitting over .300 every year. He retired with nearly three times as many hits in the PCL than the majors, and between the two, he had over 3,000. If Frederick played in the majors today, I could envision him like Paul Molitor, a regular batting title threat earning millions, a spot in the 3,000-hit club, and his place in 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.

Sweet Lou Piniella and the 1978 New York Yankees

Here is the latest from Joe Guzzardi, a regular Wednesday and Saturday contributor here.


Lou Piniella may be remembered as the occasionally successful (winning percentage .518) 23-year term manager of the New York Yankees, Cincinnati Reds, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the unbearably pathetic Chicago Cubs.

Except for his three years at the helm of the Devil Rays from 2003-2005, Piniella led each of his teams at least once to the first playoff round. In 1990, with the Reds, Piniella swept the Oakland A’s in the World Series.

But if you are of a certain age, and especially if you lived in New York when Piniella played outfield for the Yankees, then you remember Sweet Lou as an outstanding and underrated key on the 1978 Yankees, possibly the most fascinating team in baseball history.

During the 1970s I lived in upper Manhattan, a brief subway ride to the Bronx. Late in the decade, I developed a curious relationship with the Yankees. I admired and rooted for their players individually: Thurman Munson, Chris Chambliss, Bucky Dent, Willie Randolph, Graig Nettles and pitchers Ron Guidry (25-3!), Ed Figueroa, Catfish Hunter, Goose Gossage. My favorite was Piniella who, although he batted seventh, hit a solid .314.

But because of owner George Steinbrenner’s heavy-handed, dictatorial style, I never wanted the Yankees to win. For the players to excel but the team to lose was of course impossible.

In my baseball lifetime, I’ve never experienced a season as crazy as 1978 when the Yankees’ fortunes (and misfortunes) dominated the sports’ pages.

Through April and May, the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox ran neck and neck. But in June, the Sox pulled away. Not only were the Sox, led by Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk, Fred Lynn, Dennis Eckersley and Luis Tiant playing better baseball but the Yankees to the amazement and bewilderment of its fans and the amusement of the media, begun to self destruct.

By July 19, the Yankees were buried in fourth place 14 games behind the Red Sox.

Among the whirlwind of mid-season controversies that unglued the Yankees were Reggie unsuccessfully attempting to bunt even though manager Billy Martin through his third base coach Dick Howser had given the hit sign. With much ado, Steinbrenner sent Jackson home to California as punishment for his defiance.

Then, in dizzying sequence, Martin in an alcoholic stupor called Jackson a “born” liar and Steinbrenner a “convicted” one.

Martin, in advance of being fired, resigned. Bob Lemon replaced Martin who the Yankees promptly announced would return to the helm in 1980.

Under Lemon, the Yankees gradually chipped away at the Red Sox until on September 7th, they trailed by five games.

Then came the Fenway Park “Boston Massacre,” when the Yankees swept the Red Sox by scores of 15-3, 13-2, 7-0 and 7-4.

Piniella’s line for the four games which included three doubles and a home run: AB 16; R 8; H 10; RBIs 5

As one Boston newspaper summed up in a headline: If You Need Directions to Home Plate, Fenway Park, Ask Any Yankee; They’ve All Been There

But three weeks remained. The Yankees pushed ahead by 2.5 games before the Red Sox got healthy and tied the Bombers. And when, on the final day, the Yankees couldn’t beat the last place Cleveland Indians, game number 163 ensued. (Watch Phil Rizzuto introduce it here.)

Played in Boston on a Monday mid-afternoon, October 2, no self respecting New Yorker was anywhere except in front of his television. I can’t remember what lame excuse I offered up for not being in my office but since my boss wasn’t around either, it didn’t matter.

Normally, when the Yankees’ thrilling 5-4 victory is replayed in our memory, the kudos go to Bucky Dent who hit the three-run, seventh inning homer that put the New Yorkers ahead for good.

To me, however, the turning point was a Piniella defensive gem.

Entering his third inning of relief, Gossage was barely hanging on when Rick Burleson drew a one out walk followed by Jerry Remy’s soft liner into the glaring right field sun.

Burleson, seeing Piniella struggle to locate the ball, headed for second. Then, Piniella made a typically heady play by motioning with his glove that he was about to make the catch. That froze Burleson at second instead of trying to take third.

When the ball fell in front of Piniella for a single, Lou rifled it in to third base to hold Burleson on second.

Rice came to the plate and hit a titanic fly ball to right which would have easily scored Burleson to tie the game had he advanced to third. Without Piniella’s fake out, Red Sox could have won the game in regulation or sent it into extra innings.

Instead, Goosage got Carl Yazstremski to foul out making the Yankees American League and, eventually, World Series champions.


Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research, as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Rocky Colavito

Claim to fame: Colavito had a 14-year career from 1955 to 1968, and for about ten of those years, he was one of the best players in the American League. From 1956 through 1966, Colavito smacked 358 home runs, made six All Star teams, and finished among the top five in Most Valuable Player award voting three times. The right fielder went into rapid decline after 1966, bouncing between four teams his final two seasons, though as noted here recently, Colavito had a moment in the sun his last year in the majors, 1968, when he pitched and won a game for the Yankees.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Colavito appeared on the Cooperstown ballot for the Baseball Writers Association of America twice, receiving two votes in 1974 and one in 1975. He can be enshrined by the Veterans Committee.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? My knee jerk reaction from looking at Colavito’s career numbers is: No, he doesn’t merit a Hall of Fame plaque.

A lifetime batting average of .266, 374 career home runs and 1,730 hits don’t seem sufficient for Cooperstown, and several of the players Colavito charts most closely to offensively fall into the good-but-not-great category: Boog Powell, Norm Cash, Frank Howard. All were solid members of their teams in their day, but if every man like this were to be honored, the Hall of Fame would mushroom in size and become watered down to the point I’d be devoting columns here to whether or not Reggie Sanders deserved induction.

To me, Colavito falls into a class of players who might have been Hall of Famers had they kept up the pace from the first half of their careers, rather than falling almost completely off the map around 30. Ted Kluszewski is another player like this from Colavito’s era. Dwight Gooden and Nomar Garciaparra are more recent examples. In their primes, each may have seemed like a shoe-in for future enshrinement, but it’s a push to lobby for any of them now (though I included Gooden among the 10 best players not in the Hall of Fame.)

All this being said, it was a little surprising to me when I learned Colavito was not in Cooperstown. With his name and the great years he had, I’d have thought he received a plaque years ago (Kluszewski as well, come to think of it.) Colavito’s anemic vote totals with the BBWAA are more surprising still. Heck, the Cleveland Indians were supposedly afflicted for years with something called the Curse of Rocky Colavito following their ill-fated trade of him for Harvey Kuenn just before the start of the 1960 season. Legends usually inspire curses.

A place on the Internet devoted to Colavito’s candidacy, Rocky Colavito Fan Site notes, “Many avid baseball fans assume that Rocky is already in the Hall of Fame and are shocked when they learn that this is not the case.” The site carries a Hall of Fame petition in Colavito’s name, with a goal of making the slugger eligible this year with the Veterans Committee for enshrinement next summer. I would encourage anyone interested to check it out.

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

A color photo of Babe Ruth

In honor of the 62nd anniversary of Babe Ruth’s death today, is releasing unpublished color photos of the Yankee immortal taken on Babe Ruth Day, which was held just before his death. A reader alerted me to a YouTube video about these photos a few months ago, but this is the first time I’ve seen still shots.

A black-and-white photo of Ruth’s back from that day is perhaps among the greatest shots in baseball history. Here’s a color shot reminiscent of that classic:

Babe Ruth [Yankees]

A gallery of these photos can be seen on

Related: Pre-World War II 8 mm color footage of baseball

The original Dusty Rhodes story


Jeff Engels is writing a book.

Engels, who writes Jeff’s Mariners Fan Blog, is the grandson of former major leaguer Gordon “Dusty” Rhodes.

This isn’t the same Dusty Rhodes who pinch hit a home run in the 1954 World Series and wound up driving a bus in the World’s Fair in New York ten years later. But the story of the original Dusty Rhodes might be more heart wrenching.

I went to Seattle this past weekend for a wedding and visited Engels, a union worker by day, at his apartment in town. He showed me two scrapbooks and various framed photos of the grandfather he never met and who his family seldom spoke of.

Engels was two when Rhodes died in 1960 at 52 in Long Beach, California, decades removed from baseball and estranged from his family. In fact, his grandmother’s second husband forbade her to speak Rhodes’ name in his house, referring to him as “that old drunken ballplayer.”

Rhodes was supposed to be a star. Born in Winnemucca, Nevada in 1907, Rhodes grew up in Salt Lake City, playing baseball, football, and basketball and able to run a 10.2 in the 100 at West High. One of his school friends said years later, “Of all our crowd, Dusty had the most potential to do whatever he wanted in life, but he accomplished the least.”

While at University of Utah, Rhodes was scouted by Bill Essick, who brought Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio, Lefty Gomez, and Joe Gordon to the New York Yankees. The Yankees purchased Rhodes for $15,000 on July 16, 1928, in the midst of his 17-10 campaign with a 3.26 ERA for the Hollywood Stars in the Pacific Coast League.

Rhodes arrived on a Yankee club in 1929 featuring Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, and Bill Dickey. Rhodes’ daughter Suzanne Engels began researching the book on him years ago, and in 1985, she wrote to Dickey. The Hall of Fame catcher and Rhodes’ battery mate sent a one-page, handwritten reply. Dickey began, “When Dusty first reported to the Yankees you could easily tell he was going to stick around awhile.”

Richard Beverage noted in his book Hollywood Stars that the Yankees sent Rhodes back to the Stars in 1930 for further development, and he sustained an arm injury that “haunted him for the rest of his career, and he never became the great pitcher everyone expected him to be.”

His best year as a Yankee, on and off the field, may have been 1931. Rhodes went 6-3 in 18 appearances with a 3.41 ERA, the only season in the majors his ERA was under 4.00. He married Leah Riser that same year, and Babe Ruth attended the nuptials. Here’s a wedding photo, the bride standing center between Ruth and Rhodes:


The Yankees traded Rhodes to the Boston Red Sox in August 1932 (his Yankee teammates voted him a $1,000 World Series share a few months later.) In a 1933 newspaper story, presumably ghostwritten, Babe Ruth called Rhodes, “the prize hard luck pitcher of the league.” Ruth was referencing several early-season outings for his former teammate though Rhodes didn’t have great luck in where he played after New York, either.

Rhodes was on the Red Sox just before owner Tom Yawkey made them contenders again, with Rhodes going 12-15 for a 63-86 club in 1933 and 12-12 for a 76-76 team the following year. Rhodes dipped to 2-10 with a 5.41 ERA in 1935 and was traded to the Philadelphia Athletics that December as part of a package for Jimmie Foxx.

A May 14, 1936 news clipping noted, “Rhodes recently paid (A’s manager Connie) Mack the compliment of saying that this was the first time in the majors that he has had a free mind, for he felt that Connie would give him every opportunity to make good.”

It was his final season in the show, a 9-20 campaign with a 5.74 ERA for the A’s, who lost 100 games and came in last. Rhodes finished with a 43-74 lifetime record and played in the minors until 1939.

Drinking may have contributed to Rhodes’ shortcomings. Beverage told me Rhodes “had a reputation as a very heavy drinker.” Pacific Coast League historian Mark MacRae, who sold memorabilia to Rhodes’ family, said alcohol affected many players in the era. “It was the drug of choice, and it was readily available at every stop along the way,” MacRae said.

Less is known about Rhodes’ life after baseball. Engels thinks his grandparents divorced while Rhodes was still playing. Rhodes married twice more and also served in World War II, earning a Bronze Star. At some point late in his life, Suzanne Engels spotted her father on a bus in Long Beach, though he refused to look at her, presumably out of pride. Rhodes was working in a hotel and broke when he died.

He hasn’t been forgotten. He was inducted into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame in 1982, and his daughter Suzanne Engels began researching the book around this time. After Suzanne Engels died on Labor Day 2008, her son Jeff took up the project, joining the Society for American Baseball Research last year. He’d love to talk to anyone who saw Rhodes play.

A ballplayer himself, still active in softball at 52, Engels missed knowing his grandfather.

“It was a hole, and that’s part of the reason I’m doing this research and writing,” Engels said. “Because I never got to just see him or hear him. Because I know how at the end me and my mom clicked, and we are the same sort, and we have the same perspective. And I believe that kind of came from him, that way of looking at things. So we were one and the same.”

Double the fun: The Mets’ Long Day’s Journey Into Night

I’m pleased to present the latest from Joe Guzzardi, a regular Wednesday and Saturday contributor here.


When 57,037 New York Mets fans filed into Shea Stadium for the May 31, 1964 Memorial Day doubleheader against the San Francisco Giants, not a single one could have remotely anticipated what awaited them that Sunday afternoon.

Ten hours and twenty-three minutes later, including an intermission, and after 32 innings, fans had seen a dazzling display of baseball oddities during the Giants’ sweep, 5-3 and 8-6.

The opener went a regulation nine innings in a relatively speedy 2:29. The night cap, however, was another story altogether. The second, played over 23 innings, took 7:23, the longest game in major league history measured by time.

The end came mercifully in the bottom of the 23rd at 11:35 P.M. when Mets’ second baseman Amado Samuel flied to left. The two batters who preceded Samuel, Chris Cannizzaro, and John Stephensen, had struck out.

By that time, only about 8,000 remained. But those brave souls had seen 41 players battle it out.

The 40th player, Giant pinch hitter Del Crandall, was the difference maker.

In the top of the 23rd, Jim Davenport lined a triple to the right field corner. Then when Mets’ manager Casey Stengel ordered third baseman Cap Peterson walked intentionally, the Giants’ countered by sending Crandall to the plate to face Galen Cisco. Crandall promptly doubled Davenport home and put Peterson on third.

The Giants iced the game when Jesus Alou beat out a chopper that Cisco couldn’t field. Peterson dashed home for the Giants’ eighth and final run.

Over the marathon afternoon and evening, fans witnessed baseball rarities like a two-man triple play executed by Roy McMillan and Ed Kranepool, twelve pitchers who shared two strike out records—36 in one game and 47 in one day.

Another out of the ordinary occurrence: Willie Mays made one of his two career appearances at shortstop but failed at bat going only one for 10.

Perhaps the most unusual of all is that the winning and losing pitchers, the Giants’ Gaylord Perry (3-1) and the Mets’ Galen Cisco (2-5) pitched the equivalent of complete games but in relief roles.

Perry’s line: 10 IP; 7 H; 0 ER; 1 BB; 9 K

Cisco’s line: 9 IP; 5 H; 2 ER 2 BB; 5 K

For Perry and Cisco, history repeated itself. Exactly two weeks earlier in San Francisco, Perry (2-0) pitching in relief of Juan Marichal beat the Mets and Cisco, also out of the bull pen.

As the season played out, losing the doubleheader didn’t make much difference to the Mets. Led by cast offs like McMillan, Frank Thomas and Frank Lary, who earned the team’s highest salary at $30,000, the Mets were terrible from start to finish.

The 1964 Mets went 53-109 (.329) and finished 10th. The team won only thirteen more games than the infamous 1962 Mets. (“Meet” them here.)

Nevertheless, New York loved the Mets. The attendance of 1,732,597 put the Mets second in the league.

From 1965 through 1966, the Mets were baseball’s biggest joke and finished ninth or tenth each year.

But in 1969, the Miracle Mets shocked baseball by winning not only the National League pennant but also the World Series.

Take the subway out to Shea here:


Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research, as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and writes Double the fun, a column which looks at one famous doubleheader every Saturday here. Email Joe at

My interview with Hank Greenwald

Former San Francisco Giants announcer Hank Greenwald left a comment on this site Thursday. The 75-year-old Greenwald, who broadcast Giants games from 1979 to 1986 and again from 1989 to 1996, read my review of Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story and commented that greats like Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg were beloved for their playing ability rather than their faith.

Greenwald didn’t mention his former occupation in his comment here, though I recognized his name and emailed him, asking if he’d be up for an interview. He obliged. Here are excerpts from our half hour phone conversation Thursday evening.

*                                   *                                   *

Me: What motivated you to leave a comment?

Hank Greenwald: Well, of course I read the blog, but I think also some of comments from others probably inspired me to want to add my own two cents. I’m a person who doesn’t really like to get caught up in religious matters when I don’t know that they’re relevant to the subject, baseball players. That was what inspired me to comment, as I did, that the players who were featured in the film or whose names were mentioned should be thought of as baseball players, first and foremost.

Me: Did you see the movie?

Greenwald: No, I did not.

Me: Okay, just curious. Did you see The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg?

Greenwald: Yes I did.

Me: What were your thoughts on watching that movie?

Greenwald: Well, I was glad that somebody did a story about him. I was a kid in Detroit when Hank Greenberg played, and I saw him play. I even took my nickname from him. My real name’s Howard, and I hated being called Howie, so I said Hank’s grown up and more of a natural thing.

*                                   *                                   *

Me: With Jon Miller (Greenwald’s replacement in San Francisco) getting inducted into the Hall of Fame, is there a part of you that wonders if you’ll be inducted?

Greenwald: There’s not a part of me. I think its people around me who wonder. That’s what friends are for, I suppose [laughs.]

You know, when you start out in this business, the Hall of Fame is not what you’re thinking about. You think all you want to do is make it to the major leagues. That’s your goal, and that’s your ambition as a broadcaster, just as it is with playing. You don’t really think about those things. I made it to the major leagues. I was up here for the better part of 20 years so I have no complaints. I’m a very content person. Jon Miller is in (Cooperstown), and that’s the way it should be.

*                                   *                                   *

After his first tenure with the Giants ended in 1986, Greenwald spent two years as an announcer for the New York Yankees. I asked him about an infamous quote he offered on George Steinbrenner upon leaving New York, and I asked Greenwald if his thoughts on his former boss had changed following his recent death.

Greenwald: What I actually said was, “He’s everything you’ve ever heard and more.” You can take it any number of ways, but that inference most people drew was correct. He truthfully did not bother me. It bothered me the way he treated other people, especially the lower echelon workers in the Yankee office who I think he terrorized. You could tell immediately.

We had to walk through the Yankee office to get to our broadcast pen. Everyday, my partner Tommy Hutton and I would walk through the Yankee office, and we knew immediately from the looks on their faces whether George was in town that day or not. And this was not a good thing. I thought it was probably a far cry from what I was used to being in San Francisco and certainly with the Dodger organization when the O’Malleys owned the Dodgers and the way those two organizations, Giants and Dodgers, treated their employees. It was just a very tension-filled place.

As far as the announcers, he never bothered us. I always told people, I don’t think he really knew who I was. Whenever he saw me, as I think I said in the book, I could tell he didn’t know who I was because my parents didn’t name me Big Guy. That’s what he always called me because he didn’t know my name. I think he might have thought I worked in the accounting office.

Me: I know there’s been a lot of people in the media who’ve been pushing over the last few weeks for him to basically be immediately enshrined in the Hall of Fame. What are your views?

Greenwald: Well, I’ll say this for him. My summation about George is that he made the Yankees relevant again, and they had not been for a good many years. So I tip my hat to him for that.

Me: Do you think he belongs in the Hall of Fame?

Greenwald: Oh goodness, I don’t know. That’s a hard one. That really is a hard one. It depends what criteria one uses for the owners, and I’m not really privy to what kind of criteria is used in that respect, so I don’t know… He certainly is the most talked about, for better or for worse, of all the owners, having a tremendous impact on the game, but I’m not sure it was the greatest. His greatest impact is that he spent more money than anybody else.

*                                   *                                   *

Me: What do you do to stay busy?

Greenwald: I like to tell people that I finally found something I’m really good at, and that’s retirement. I was cut out for this.

I still go to games. I enjoy going to the ballpark, it’s a beautiful ballpark, San Francisco. It’s always nice to go out there and see old friends. And now, I’m sort of like the modern day pitchers. I’m on a pitch count now, and about after 70 pitches, I can leave.

Any player/Any era: Sandy Koufax

What he did: For the first half of his career, Koufax was a mediocre reliever and sometimes starter for the Dodgers. Then, in spring training 1961, he got a tip on control from catcher Norm Sherry. Koufax proceeded to win 18 games in 1961 and followed with a five-year stretch from 1962 through 1966 where he went 111-34, amassed three Cy Young awards, and one MVP.

But then, just as quickly as it began, it was all over for Koufax. Suffering from arthritis, the southpaw retired after the 1966 season at 30. He was a first ballot selection to the Hall of Fame six years later, and some may consider Koufax the greatest lefthander of all-time. Still, one can only wonder what he might have achieved with a full career. The question here is if there’s an era that might have afforded Koufax this opportunity.

Era he might have thrived in: Early 1990s, Atlanta Braves

Why: I attended a screening in San Rafael on Sunday for a documentary, Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story, which included the story of Koufax’s brief but brilliant career. Three things were reinforced to me:

  1. Koufax signed out of college as a bonus baby and thus had to stay in the majors his first two years
  2. He struggled for several early seasons until receiving sage advice from a mentor, Sherry
  3. He burned out as a result of overuse and the general ignorance of teams in those days concerning proper use of pitchers

So the challenge here is to find an organization where Koufax would still receive great advice, but also have time to properly develop and not be worked into early retirement. Enter the Braves, who in the 1990s shaped several young hurlers like John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Steve Avery (who was briefly great before turning 24) and Jason Schmidt. Even Greg Maddux had just entered his prime when he hit town prior to the 1993 season and did his best work as a Brave.

Imagine Koufax among that bunch, in place of fellow lefthander Avery. Smoltz, Glavine, Maddux, and Avery won 75 games in 1993 and relegated my San Francisco Giants to a 103-59 second-place finish. With Koufax in tow, that number of victories might rise to 85, or more, since the stat converter on Baseball-Reference says a 27-year-old Koufax is good for a 24-9 finish with a 2.51 ERA for Atlanta in 1993.

There’s no telling if the input of the renowned Braves pitching coach in those years, Leo Mazzone, would supersede Sherry’s advice, boost his stats, or help him pitch beyond 30, though I’m thinking it might. Being part of a staff with Glavine, Maddux, and Smoltz could lighten Koufax’s load too, as the trio probably surpassed the talent of Koufax’s rotation mates in Los Angeles, Don Drysdale, Don Sutton, and others.

Needless to say, in this arrangement, my Giants don’t come anywhere closer to the 1993 World Series. From 1963 through 1966, Koufax helped keep the Giants from the postseason every year, going a combined 10-5 against San Francisco, with a 2.35 ERA and 141 strikeouts in 141.2 innings in these seasons. Koufax might not have been the greatest Giants killer, but with the Braves, he strikes San Francisco again.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.

Babe Ruth Was A Better Pitcher Than Walter Johnson– For Two Years, At Least

Here is the latest from Joe Guzzardi, a regular Wednesday and Saturday contributor here. Today, Joe looks at Babe Ruth as a pitcher.


For two seasons with the Boston Red Sox, Babe Ruth was a better pitcher than the Washington Senators’ Walter Johnson, the Hall of Fame hurler with 417 wins and career 2.17 ERA that many historians consider the best ever.

Even though Johnson would eventually rank second on the all-time list in wins (417), ninth in strikeouts (3,508) and hold the MLB record for shutouts (110), most strikeout titles (12) and is tied for the most shutouts titles (7), Ruth pitching in his prime outdid “The Big Train” In eight head-to-head match ups, Ruth bested Johnson six times.

During 1916 and 1917, Ruth compiled won-lost records of 23-12 and 24-13 with ERAs of 1.75 and 2.01.

In 1916, Ruth led the league in ERA and shut outs (9) and in 1917, in complete games (35).

Johnson put up some eye-popping numbers, too. But his statistics weren’t as good as Ruth’s. Over the same two years, “The Big Train” was 25-20 and 23-16 with ERAs of 1.89 and 2.30.

Of course, in 1920 the Red Sox traded Ruth to the New York Yankees where he became the most feared slugger in baseball. And he often faced his old pitching rival, Johnson.

In the September 1920 issue of Baseball Magazine, Johnson wrote an article titled “What I Pitch to Babe Ruth—and Why”

Johnson’s analysis provided great insight into how one immortal confronted another.

Johnson wrote:

Babe Ruth is the hardest hitter in the game. There can be no possible doubt. He is a tremendously powerful man. He uses an enormous bat so heavy that most players would find it an impossible burden. To him however, it is just the thing.

He hits a ball farther and drives it longer than any man I ever saw. I certainly hope he never drives one straight at me for while I know my pitching days have to end sometime, I don’t want them to end quite so suddenly.

Johnson’s career was ending as Ruth began his slugging rampage. And Johnson was aware that he always had to be his very, very best when facing Ruth.

Concluded Johnson:

Ruth is still a young fellow with his best years ahead of him. There is no pitcher who can stop him or prevent him from making his long hits. As a veteran pitcher with most of his career behind him and a rather uncertain future ahead of him, I can only say that every time I am called on to face Ruth, I shall do my best to get an extra hop on my fastball. Whatever happens, I wish Babe Ruth the best of luck.

Oddly, Boston and Washington played a role in Ruth’s final pitching appearance.

Although the Yankees won 91 games in 1933, they would finish seventh behind the Senators. So the Yankees advertised a special for the season’s last day.

Ruth would start against his old team where he had done his best pitching, the Boston Red Sox.

Then 38, Ruth knew that he didn’t have his good fastball so he relied on off-speed pitches and let his infielders do the work.

Thanks in large part to Ruth’s fifth inning 34th homer (has a pitcher ever hit clean up before or since?) into the right field bleachers and a two run single by Lou Gehrig, the Yankees led 6-0 after five innings.

In the sixth, Ruth ran out of gas, surrendering four runs on a walk and five hits. The Red Sox scored another single tally in the top of the eighth.

Despite his uneven performance, Ruth (1-0) barely hung on to get the credit for the 6-5 complete game victory.

His line: 9 IP, 12 H, 5ER, 3 BB, 0 K

After the game, Ruth announced that he would never pitch again. His lifetime record was 94-46 with an ERA of 2.28.

How good was Johnson?

Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Joe Jackson considered him the best ever. Johnson’s career strikeout record lasted for half a century. No one has ever come close to his 110 shutouts. Johnson’s Senators’ teams were so bad that the only way he could win was to keep his opponents from scoring.

Off the field, Johnson was considered one of the finest men who ever played baseball. Long time Senators’ announcer Arch McDonald described Johnson as “a gentleman and a gentle man.”

Here’s Johnson pitching to Ruth during a 1942 exhibition game long after both had retired:

Joe Guzzardi is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Mel Harder

Claim to fame: Harder went 223-186 with a 3.80 ERA in a 20-year career spent entirely with the Cleveland Indians, spanning 1928 to 1947. He twice won at least 20 games in a season, made four All Star teams, and finished with a career Wins Above Replacement rating of 42.50, better than Chief Bender, Burleigh Grimes, and Bob Lemon among other Hall of Fame hurlers. Out of many solid pitchers not in Cooperstown, Harder might rank among the best.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Harder appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot for the Baseball Writers Association of America 11 years, peaking with 25.4% of the vote in 1964. He exhausted his eligibility in 1967 and can be enshrined by a section of the Veterans Committee that considers players whose careers began 1943 or earlier. The committee will next meet before the 2014 election.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? This column was suggested by reader Clay Sigg, who helped me research last week’s post on Cecil Travis. Sigg is writing a book on players who spent their entire career on the same club, and he sent me something on Travis before I started writing. After my article went live, Sigg provided his work on Harder, adding in an email to me, “He’ll grow on you.”

I read over the roughly 900-word biography on Harder, who I admittedly have confused with Mel Parnell before (I think it’s the baseball equivalent of mistaking Upton Sinclair for Sinclair Lewis.) I was impressed with Harder’s stats and durability as both a player and longtime pitching coach after he retired. Sigg noted that Harder is “the lone star to have played 20 years for a single franchise that is not in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.”

It’s an interesting idea, enshrining a player on the basis of his contributions to a franchise, though I’m not sure if it’s enough to merit enshrinement for Harder. There are a few pitchers I would honor first.

Not including active, recently-retired or pre-modern era hurlers, I count nine pitchers with more wins than Harder who are not in the Hall of Fame. In order of victories, these pitchers are:

Pitcher Wins ERA WAR
1 Tommy John 288 3.34 59.00
2 Bert Blyleven 287 3.31 90.10
3 Jim Kaat 283 3.45 41.20
4 Jack Morris 254 3.90 39.30
5 Jack Quinn 247 3.29 49.7
6 Dennis Martinez 245 3.70 46.90
7 Frank Tanana 240 3.66 55.10
8 Luis Tiant 229 3.30 60.10
9 Sad Sam Jones 229 3.84 30.1

I would definitely enshrine Blyleven and Tiant before Harder, and I might even make a case for Martinez, one of the more underrated hurlers in recent decades whose 3.2% of the Hall of Fame vote in his only year on the ballot, 2004, remains somewhat baffling to me. I know Morris and John have their boosters too, as each has received some support on the writers ballot for Cooperstown.

Of the nine pitchers listed above, Harder has a higher WAR ranking than just three:  Kaat, Jones, and Morris. And some of the Hall of Fame hurlers Harder ranks just above for this stat are part of the lower echelon of Cooperstown: Jesse Haines, Catfish Hunter, and Herb Pennock. There are also many non-Hall of Fame pitchers with fewer wins but better WAR than Harder including Vida Blue, David Cone, and Bret Saberhagen.

Harder is certainly a player worth celebrating, and it makes sense his spike in Hall of Fame votes came in the initial election after teammate Bob Feller’s first ballot induction. As an underrated hurler confined to some abysmal Cleveland clubs, Harder paved the way for Feller and others to enjoy great individual success and multiple World Series trips with the Indians. One can only wonder what Harder might have accomplished playing 20 years in a different era or with a better franchise.

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