What he did: In an eleven-year career punctuated by injury and military service, Spud Chandler compiled a 109-43 record pitching for the New York Yankees. Chandler made his major league debut in 1937 at age 29 and played his last game in the 1947 World Series. In between, he pitched with the ferocity of a Bob Feller or Bob Gibson and was one of the reasons the Yankees won seven pennants during his tenure with the team. In 1943, Chandler was voted American League MVP.
Era he might have thrived in: In one respect, Chandler fell into a pretty good situation pitching for the Yankees in the ‘30s and 40s. The wins came easily, but wins came easily for most Yankees pitchers then. Run support was rarely a worry for Chandler with his hard-hitting teammates, a group that included at various points in his career Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, Tony Lazzeri, Joe DiMaggio, Tommy Henrich, Joe Gordon, Charlie Keller and Yogi Berra. Yet, Chandler might have done better in another era. He had a shorter career than he deserved, given his pitching talent. In the interest of giving Chandler a longer career and longer-lasting fame, let’s transport him to the expansion Kansas City Royals.
Why: Chandler’s major league career started later and ended earlier than it should have. The bookends of Chandler’s career were his late promotion to the major leagues and his inability to pitch through pain and injury at the end. Projecting Chandler to another era should address one or both of these limitations.
Any time more recent than the 1940s would offer an improvement in medical care, which might allow Chandler to squeeze more productivity out of his talents. Make that time recent enough that the five-man pitching rotation was also the norm, and Chandler would benefit even more. Give Chandler the chance to pitch in the 1970s, following baseball’s rapid expansion to 24 major league teams, and there would be no excuse for keeping a good man down.
Chandler’s late arrival in professional baseball had two causes. One was that he attended college, something rare for a future major leaguer in the ‘30s, and he did so later in life than is typical. Weeks shy of his 21st birthday, Chandler enrolled at the University of Georgia where he not only played baseball, but as a football player he became part of one of the era’s most productive offensive backfields. Chandler spurned offers from the Giants and Cardinals to leave school early and pursue his baseball career. Chandler’s minor league career did not begin until the summer of 1932, after he had completed college at the age of 24. The second reason for Chandler’s late arrival in the big leagues was that despite showing major league ability in his early years in professional ball, he spent nearly five years in the minors, thanks to the depth of pitching talent in the Yankees organization.
Let’s project Chandler’s 1907 birthday ahead 40 years to 1947. Let’s not begrudge him his University of Georgia education or his football exploits, but let’s have him enrolling at the more typical age of 18, which would have him graduating in the spring of 1969. As a football player, he would even have the opportunity to earn some fame as a member of the Georgia Bulldog teams that played in the Cotton Bowl following the 1966 season and the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day 1969.
A two-sport college grad in 1969 could do a lot worse than to be drafted by the expansion Royals. The early years of any expansion team are a struggle. Expansion pitching staffs normally combine other teams’ castoffs with youngsters better suited to learning their craft in the minors. But the Royals rose above their class of ’69 expansion brethren in their ability to evaluate and develop young pitching talent.
For Kansas City, the castoffs included Wally Bunker and Dave Morehead. Bunker had had a brilliant start to his career as a teenager in the early ‘60s with Baltimore, and Morehead had posted six mediocre seasons with Boston. Both pitchers were given ample opportunity to grow into the role of Royals staff ace, but neither lasted long enough to figure in the eventual success of the team. In contrast, the young arms that Kansas City brought along in ’69 and the early ‘70s included considerable major league talent. As judged by length of career, ERA+ and career WAR, Jim Rooker, Dick Drago, Al Fitzmorris, Tom Burgmeier, and Paul Splittorff were above-average big leaguer pitchers. Fitzmorris and Splittorff went on to become two-fifths of the KC starting rotation in 1976, the first year they won the AL West, while Drago was traded for Marty Pattin, who became a strong contributor to the team’s efforts as both a starter and reliever for much of the ‘70s. The Royals sent Burgmeier and Rooker away in trades that did not benefit the team, just proving that their ability to judge talent was not infallible.
|Tom Burgmeier (1968-1984)
|Dick Drago (1969-1981)
|Al Fitzmorris (1969-1978)
|Jim Rooker (1968-1980)
|Paul Splittorff (1970-1984)
|Spud Chandler (1937-1947)
The glory days of the Kansas City franchise were the ten seasons from 1976 to 1985, when the team won six division titles, two pennants and the 1985 World Series. Although the success of those Royals teams is largely attributed to their pitching, Chandler could offer a substantial upgrade. If a 24 year-old Chandler had been available to be called up in 1972 following a three-year stay in the minor leagues, he could easily slot into the Royals starting rotation and soon become the staff ace. He would turn 29 in September of 1976, just entering his prime for Kansas City’s first playoff run. Nine years later Chandler would still be the leader of the staff, as judged by his real-life 1946 season, the second-best of his career, at age 38. With Chandler’s talents on board, perhaps the Royals teams of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s could have enjoyed an even higher level of success.
Injuries are the other side of the story. Chandler’s career with the Yankees was one in which he struggled to complete a season in good health. An injury during his football days and the hard delivery of his sinking fastball put unusual stress on his pitching arm. The four-man rotation and the expectation to go nine innings conspired to limit what might have been a brilliant career. Although the Yankees made seven World Series appearances during Chandler’s time, Chandler played a meaningful role in only two of them.
Chandler’s last campaign was 1947. He began the season by faithfully taking the mound every four days and pitching complete games in each of his first 13 starts. But by mid-season his career was over, except for a lone September start and a brief, ineffective appearance in the Fall Classic. He would not return to the big leagues following off-season arm surgery.
These days, Spud Chandler is largely forgotten, while his rotation-mates Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing have plaques in Cooperstown. However, Chandler’s career numbers compare favorably to those of Ruffing and Gomez in all ways but one. Chandler was better than Gomez and Ruffing in WHIP, ERA+ and winning percentage, but he pitched the fewest innings of the three by a large margin. He might have been well served by having the opportunity to play later in the century, in a more pitcher-friendly era, and for a team on which his talents would stand out against those of his teammates.
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, Cesar Cedeno, Charles Victory Faust, Chris von der Ahe, Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Don Drysdale, Doug Glanville, Eddie Lopat, Elmer Flick, 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., Lefty Grove, Lefty O’Doul, Major League (1989 film),Mark Fidrych, Matty Alou, Michael Jordan, Monte Irvin, Nate Colbert, 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, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, The Meusel Brothers, Tony Phillips, Ty Cobb, Vada Pinson, Wally Bunker, Wes Ferrell, Will Clark, Willie Mays