What he did: I kicked off a new project here Monday, having people vote on a 50-player inner circle for the Hall of Fame, and I suppose it’s no surprise Earl Averill is an afterthought in voting. Players like Averill often suffer in these exercises. Averill, who currently has two votes, played just 13 years in the majors, needing until a month before his 27th birthday in 1929 to debut. His lifetime numbers pale compared to legions of greats who’ve appeared more recently. Even his place in Cooperstown wasn’t easily come by. Averill campaigned for a plaque for years after retiring in 1941, Bert Blyleven for an earlier generation, and it took until 1975 for the Veterans Committee to recognize him.
This isn’t to say Averill doesn’t deserve his due. His 238 home runs, .318 batting average, and 133 OPS+ place him among the best hitters of the 1930s. His 45.1 WAR, while distantly down the career leaderboards, isn’t bad for 13 seasons– just 142 players in baseball history have posted a better total in that span. Averill is certainly one of the greatest Cleveland Indians of all-time, arguably worthy of the franchise’s Mount Rushmore. And I wonder what he might have done with a longer career.
Era he might have thrived in: Averill was a product of his environment, beginning with a town club in 1920 in his hometown of Snohomish, Washington and eventually working his way to the Pacific Coast League and, after starring for three years in that circuit, the majors. He debuted in the American League during a golden age for hitters and took advantage of an ideal home field for offense, League Park in Cleveland, hitting .360 there with a .439 on-base percentage and .625 slugging line. It might not be easy to find Averill a superior situation, though I assume it’s possible.
With Averill’s size, 5’9 and 172 pounds, he might not get drafted today. But I’m reminded a little of Mel Ott. A similarly diminutive outfielder and left handed hitter, Ott also took advantage of a ballpark seemingly built for him. Where it was 290 feet to right field in League Park with a 40-foot fence for Averill, Ott faced just a 258-foot right field porch at the Polo Grounds which helped him hit 323 of his 511 career home runs there. Age and raw talent wasn’t a hindrance for Ott, either, as he got a contract at 17 from the Giants who let him sit the bench a couple years before he became a regular player. Without giving too much away, Ott seems like a lock for my project’s inner circle. With similar career circumstances, Averill might have similar odds.
Why: Numbers talk in discussions about all-time greats, and while Averill wasn’t quite the power hitter that Ott was, I suspect that with a full career and a better park for his skill set, he might have come somewhere close to doubling his lifetime home run totals. I looked at the rates that Averill and Ott homered at their primary parks and elsewhere, and I found that Averill didn’t hit balls out at a terribly worse pace at home or on the road than Ott did.
Home run splits for the two players are as follows:
|Player and park||HRs||PAs||HR rate|
|Averill at League Park||126||2796||1 every 22.19 PAs|
|Averill elsewhere||112||4425||1 every 39.51 PAs|
|Ott at Polo Grounds||323||5600||1 every 17.34 PAs|
|Ott elsewhere||188||5748||1 every 30.57 PAs|
I’m guessing that playing 22 seasons with the Giants, as Ott did, Averill would have finished with somewhere above 400 home runs. For a pre-World War II player, this would’ve placed Averill at the top of the home run leader charts and assured him a sooner spot in Cooperstown and the baseball pantheon. That could be enough to at least make him something more than a relatively forgotten man today.
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 Kaline, Al Rosen, Al Simmons, Albert Pujols, Artie Wilson, Babe Ruth, Bad News Rockies, Barry Bonds, Billy Beane, Billy Martin, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson, Bobby Veach, Carl Mays, Cesar Cedeno, Charles Victory Faust, Chris von der Ahe, Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Don Drysdale, Doug Glanville,Ed Walsh, Eddie Lopat, Elmer Flick, Eric Davis, Frank Howard, Fritz Maisel, Gary Carter, Gavvy Cravath, Gene Tenace, George W. Bush (as commissioner), George Case, George Weiss, Harmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Honus Wagner, Hugh Casey, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jack Morris, Jackie Robinson, Jim Abbott, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Posnanski, Johnny Antonelli, Johnny Frederick, Josh Gibson, Josh Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr.,Kenny Lofton, Larry Walker, Lefty Grove, Lefty O’Doul, Major League (1989 film),Mark Fidrych, Matt Cain, Matt Nokes, Matty Alou, Michael Jordan, Monte Irvin, Nate Colbert, Nolan Ryan, Ollie Carnegie, Paul Derringer, Pedro Guerrero, Pedro Martinez, Pee Wee Reese, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Ralph Kiner, Rick Ankiel, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Rogers Hornsby, Sam Crawford, Sam Thompson, Sandy Koufax, Satchel Paige, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Spud Chandler, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, The Meusel Brothers, Tony Phillips, Ty Cobb, Vada Pinson, Wally Bunker, Wes Ferrell, Will Clark, Willie Mays