Any player/Any era: Fritz Maisel

What he did: Here’s another interesting player I doubt many modern baseball fans have heard of. Maisel played in the big leagues from 1913 through 1918 and retired with largely unremarkable stats: a .242 lifetime batting average, 510 hits, and a career slugging percentage of .299. Supposedly, the New York Yankees turned down a chance to trade Maisel straight up for Joe Jackson. That had to sting.

Perhaps the one thing Maisel did remarkably well was steal bases, which may have helped earn him the nickname Flash. Maisel stole 194 bases in his career, averaged over 30 steals per season, and led the majors with 74 swiped bags in 1914. He was only caught stealing 17 times, which the blog Cybermetrics recently noted was far better than the league average that year. Maisel’s big season came one year before Ty Cobb stole 96 bases and set a big league record that stood for 47 years.

Thing is, in a different era, Maisel might have topped this.

Era he might have thrived in: With the Murderers Row Yankees of the late 1920s and early ’30s

Why: I’ve written before about players who excelled at stealing bases during times it wasn’t trendy to do so. In June, I devoted one of these columns to Washington Senators outfielder George Case, who liked to say he could have stolen 100 bases in a different era. In my research on Case, I noted that Ben Chapman stole 61 bases for the 1931 Yankees. I decided to see how Maisel would have fared on those clubs.

The stat converter on Baseball-Reference has Maisel stealing 97 bases on the 1930 Yankees, a team that hit .309, scored 1,062 runs and had Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig turning in career-defining seasons. It’s a little astonishing that New York finished a distant third in the American League that year. Maisel’s presence wouldn’t have made the difference in the standings, though it could have helped his legacy.

If Maisel had played for those Yankees, he may have set a record to last until Maury Wills stole 104 bases in 1962. The record would have almost outlived Maisel, who followed his playing career with work as a minor league manager and fire chief and died in 1967 at 77. Like Maisel, Wills was an infielder mostly known for stealing bases and playing generally good defense. Considering Wills received as much as 40 percent of the Hall of Fame vote, went the full 15 years on the writers ballot, and may still have a shot with the Veterans Committee, I suspect Maisel’s achievement would have gotten him at least some consideration, too.

Granted, many players probably could have compiled gaudy stolen base totals on the 1930 Yankees, if the stat converter is to be believed. Wills’ 1962 season converts to 126 stolen bases, Cobb would have 115 steals for his converted 1915 effort, and Rickey Henderson circa 1982 would have stolen 167 bases for the 1930 Yankees. Heck, I might have even set the stolen base record that year.

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

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