Different player/Different era: The Meusel Brothers

Today marks the first appearance of a new Thursday feature here, Different player/Different era. Each week, I will examine a player who might have thrived in another era. My debut piece looks at two players, Irish and Bob Meusel.
What they did: They’re essentially a poor man’s version of the Waner brothers, Paul and Lloyd, who are both in the Hall of Fame and have the all-time record for hits for brothers with 5,611. Neither of the Meusel brothers lasted anywhere near as long in the majors as the Waners did or came close to Cooperstown, but in their primes, they swung similarly sweet.

Irish Meusel hit .310 lifetime with 1521 hits and was a standout for the New York Giants in the 1920s. He had perhaps his finest season in 1921 when he hit .343 with 14 home runs and 87 RBI and helped the Giants prevail over the Yankees in the World Series by hitting .345 in eight games. His younger brother Bob Meusel managed a .309 clip with 1693 hits and was part of the Murderers Row Yankees. In 1925, when teammate Babe Ruth played just 98 games, Bob Meusel led the American League with 33 home runs and 138 RBI.

Era they might have thrived in: Current

Why: There are a couple of big reasons.

First, each Meusel brother was done in the majors by 34, in an era when the vast majority of players didn’t last much beyond 35. Modern medicine might help each Meusel brother play longer. In the current game, they also might make tremendous designated hitters. Paul Molitor, one of the first regular DHs to be enshrined in Cooperstown, only had a few hundred more hits than either Meusel brother around the age each bowed out. Molitor’s .306 lifetime average is also below their career clips.

The second reason I could see the Meusel brothers thriving in the current game is a little more subtle, but was also common in their day when Major League Baseball did not exist west of St. Louis. The brothers were both born in the San Francisco Bay Area and each played for a California team in the Pacific Coast League after their time in the majors ended. A lot of ballplayers left the show for more money and warmer weather in the PCL, and many were Golden State natives, men like Tony Freitas and Joe Marty.

If the Meusels played in the majors today, I could easily see them spending their latter seasons DHing for the Angels or A’s and building up sufficient Cooperstown credentials.

11 Replies to “Different player/Different era: The Meusel Brothers”

  1. I dunno… Era-to-era comparisons need to take into account so many variables that I find it difficult to do all the necessary calculations. Another problem is never having seen any of the players from the first half of the 20th century actually play.
    All I’ve seen are their stats and, for some of them, an occasional herky-jerky newsreel clip. Whether they made the Hall or not depends upon how they fared in comparison to their contemporaries. That’s probably as it should be. I can say with a bit of confidence that there were a lot of full-time players in the major leagues when I was a kid who would have no chance at all of playing in the majors today. In the fifties and early sixties, for instance, there were weak-hitting centerfielders who played every day on the basis of their defensive skills–never mind weak-hitting infielders and catchers; those days are long gone. Another major factor is the advent of the relief specialist. In my youth, relief pitchers were uniformly mediocre, as compared to the starters. The term “closer” is a relatively new one. “Set-up man” is even newer than that. It’s hard for me to say how competitive a good, but not great, player from the 1930s would be today.

    1. I dunno, either.

      There are a ton of variables, and I’ll try to take as many as I can into account, though I don’t know if what I’m suggesting can or should be quantified into some sort of formula. This is meant more as a light, What might have been exercise.

  2. Oh, sure–understood. It’s not like I haven’t entered into comparisons between eras in baseball before. I do believe, however, that the overall quality of today’s players, especially in terms of athletic ability, is far superior to that of players forty and fifty years ago–never mind eighty and a hundred years ago. The only players who are remembered from distant decades are the great ones, which distorts the picture. What could you tell me, for instance, about the careers of Bill Tuttle or Jim Delsing or Reno Bertoia? I could tell you a little, because they played for the team I rooted for. I saw them play, and I had their baseball cards. I don’t think that any of these men would make a Triple-A team today.

    1. What’s interesting is that when you were growing up, there were 400 players in the big leagues. Now there are 750 for much of the season and 1200 when rosters expand in September. There would be room for the Tuttles, Delsings and Bertoias. They just might also be on steroids or HGH.

  3. No. The difference is that when I was growing up, one could go chat with established major league ballplayers in the sporting goods stores where they worked in the off-season to keep a check coming in. Money, and long lines of agents and investment couselors, have plugged the gap between 750 and 1200 quite nicely. Reno Bertoia on steroids is still Reno Bertoia, on steroids: he’s not A-rod.

  4. Great to see my great uncles get some recognition. Not too sure how they would have faired in the modern league. From stories I heard they each did have issues playing out east and did not get along well with the owners. Their nephew, my grandfather was drafted out of high school (I believe by the Philadelphia Phillies), but they talked him out of playing. I had also heard there was some push to get Bob into Cooperstown over the last few years, but his eligibility is now over.

    1. I checked Wikipedia, and it says a special committee reviews pre-World War II players every five years. The committee first met in 2009 so maybe your great uncle Bob will get some attention in 2014.

      Thanks so much for sharing. I love talking to family members of old ballplayers, and I just interviewed the son of a former All Star from the ’30s and ’40s for something I’ll be posting Friday.

  5. I doubt that Bob Meusel would have been a DH, for one reason – his arm. In the “Historical Baseball Abstract”, Bill James notes that Bob had the best outfielder throwing arm of the 1920s, “without question”, and that “there is an absolute consensus as to which outfielder had the best throwing arm of the time; I could show you a half-dozen books in which somebody just flat out says that [Bob Meusel] had the best arm in baseball.” That skill would probably keep him in the field as long as possible.

  6. The Meusels are the only brothers ever to lead their respective leagues in runs batted in.I find it uncanny that their lifetime batting averages and lifetime fielding averages are each just one point different!There was no such similarity as to their throwing arms-Irish had one of the weakest arms in the NL while “Long Bob”possessed a bazooka.

  7. There for sure is a big difference between the accessibility one had with players years ago than there is now for sure. Ball players are no longer men at work but elite stars mostly but not all, removed from the fans.

    But I take issue with the following…

    “the overall quality of today’s players, especially in terms of athletic ability, is far superior to that of players forty and fifty years ago–never mind eighty and a hundred years ago.”

    If that is the case, it has nothing to do with the talent of the athletes, but rather the increase in technology, medical care and awareness of conditioning that players are privy to today. Also, children since the 50’s and 60’s have been coached and the level of coaching has improved drastically. All this has nothing to do with talent and ability.

    Ted Williams today would be as great as he was then just as Reno Bertoia would not. No matter how much the times change, there will always be those who excel and will be remembered and those who barely make the team.

    There are way too many injury prone players today and in recent times who would have had much shorter careers without modern technology and care. Mickey Mantle in this age, would have made everyone else look quite bad in comparison.

    Comparing Reno Bertoia, on steroids or not is like comparing Chris Geminez to Mickey Mantle. The only differences between the weaker hitters of today and yesterday are that they make a heck of lot more money and have much better training and care.

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