What he did: This week’s column was prompted by Cyril Morong, perhaps the best sabermetrician I know and an economics professor at San Antonio College. For anyone who hasn’t checked it out already, Cyril’s blog is well worth a read, a rare site that combines expert quantitative analysis with good writing. Cyril emailed me recently about Deadball Era great Flick, who factored into a post Cyril did two weeks ago about the 38 players in baseball history who had 150 OPS+ or better at least seven seasons apiece. Cyril suggested I do one of these columns on Flick, and in looking at Flick’s stats and SABR bio, a few things resonated.
Flick factored into one of the most famous trades ever that didn’t happen, right up there with the proposed 1947 deal of Joe DiMaggio for Ted Williams or the 1916 trades the Yankees passed on that would’ve netted them Tris Speaker or Shoeless Joe Jackson for stolen base king Fritz Maisel. Before that in 1907, frustrated Detroit Tigers manager Hughie Jennings offered angry, young Ty Cobb to Cleveland for Elmer Flick. Cleveland countered with someone named Bunk Congalton, the deal died, and Detroit avoided major calamity: Flick developed a stomach ailment that ended his career in 1910 while Cobb played through 1926 with the Tigers. The two remained linked, with the Georgia Peach’s death in 1961 renewing interest in Flick and leading to his Hall of Fame induction in 1963.
Era he might have thrived in: With his slight build, 5’9″ and 168 pounds by generous estimate, it’s a wonder Flick fared as well as he did in the Deadball Era, hitting .313 lifetime with an OPS+ of 149. He also disliked Southern cooking and the heat on Eastern road trips and looks like a player who’d benefit being coddled in recent decades. Modern healthcare certainly might have prolonged Flick’s career. And his hard-hitting, fleet-footed style could go well in the 1980s with the Oakland A’s, an organization long appreciative of speed, power, and offensive production and willing to take risks on unconventional players. If not capable of 40 home runs and 40 steals in Oakland, Flick might at least be a 30-30 player.
Why: Never mind Flick’s 48 career home runs, a result of playing in the Deadball Era and its vast parks sometimes constructed to favor triples (Flick hit 164 lifetime.) Flick would have at least a couple hundred more homers in the Live Ball Era. I’d use the stat converter on Baseball-Reference.com to predict but one of the converter’s flaws is that it doesn’t realistically adjust Deadball Era offensive totals to modern day. Flick’s .445 lifetime slugging average hints at what might have been, though. Slugging percentage is calculated by dividing total bases by at-bats. Assuming we boost Flick’s total bases by 20 a year to account for a power boost, his slugging percentage would be .492 in the modern era. Looking at the 162-game averages of guys with similar slugging rates, I estimate Flick would hit 25-30 homers a season at his peak.
Granted, some things might be lost in the transition. Many players had gaudy stolen base totals before 1920, and it’d be interesting to see if Flick could still steal 30-40 bases a year and approach 330 lifetime. He’d be in the right place in Oakland though, as the A’s of the late ’80s stole 120-160 bases every year. Fielding looks less promising for Flick. In his own time, he struggled in the minors with an .821 fielding percentage one year, improving somewhat by the time he reached the majors. He racked up many assists thanks to the short right field dimensions of his first ballpark, the Baker Bowl in Philadelphia and the shallow positioning of outfielders back then. Today, Flick’s best lineup option might be as a designated hitter.
Whatever the case, Flick looks like an All Star at the plate alone. Whether playing most of his career at DH could get him in the Hall of Fame is another story, seeing as the best eligible DH in baseball history, Edgar Martinez is still waiting. But perhaps Flick could pave the way.
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 Simmons, Albert Pujols, Babe Ruth, Bad News Rockies, Barry Bonds, Billy Beane, Billy Martin, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson, Bobby Veach, Carl Mays, Charles Victory Faust, Chris von der Ahe, Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Don Drysdale, Eddie Lopat, Frank Howard, Fritz Maisel, Gavvy Cravath, 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 Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr., Lefty Grove, Lefty O’Doul, Major League (1989 film), Matty Alou, Michael Jordan, Monte Irvin, Nate Colbert, Ollie Carnegie, Paul Derringer, 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, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, The Meusel Brothers, Ty Cobb, Vada Pinson, W
ally Bunker, Wes Ferrell, Will Clark, Willie Mays