Archive

Monthly Archives: May 2009

Teaming with slick-fielding shortstop Jack Barry and Hall of Famers Frank “Homerun” Baker and Eddie Collins, McInnis was the first baseman on Connie Mack’s fabled $100,000 Infield of The Deadball Era.  Hall of Fame voters made the monumental mistake of electing Frank Chance, Johnny Evers and Joe Tinker as a unit while this crew would have made for a much more worthy Hall of Fame unit.

Stuffy’s first big league action came as a teenager with Connie Mack’s Athletics in 1909.  The kid was stuck behind The Deadball Era homerun legend Harry Davis for two years, but after showing a .301 batting average in 1910, Mr. Mack knew he had to find a place for Stuffy on the field.  Stuffy claimed Davis’ first base post in 1911 and hit a lusty .321 in his first year as a regular.  A year later, at the tender age of 21, Stuffy established himself as one of the finest first basemen in baseball by leading all initial sackers with a .327 batting average, 101 RBI and 83 runs scored.

He was the cream of the crop among first basemen in 1913, leading AL first basemen in the following departments: batting average, runs, hits, doubles, homeruns, RBI and slugging percentage.  His 90 RBI finished second in the American League.  The following season, Stuffy again finished second in the league in the runs batted in department, playing for the mighty Athletics while pacing AL first basemen in runs scored, hits and RBIs.

After the 1914 season, with the upstart Federal League taking away many of his stars, Connie Mack sold off his greats and began a string of seasons as the American League’s doormat.  Of all the Athletic greats of the time, think Baker, Collins, Eddie Plank and Chief Bender, McInnis was the only one Mr. Mack retained, and Stuffy suffered for it.  His RBI numbers dwindled considerably as Mr. Mack filled the shoes of Eddie Collins with an over-the-hill Nap Lajoie and called upon such forgettables as Weldon Wyckoff and Rube Bressler to lead the mound corps. 

Although Stuffy’s run production took a great hit when all his teammates were sold off, the slick-fielding first basemen still hit with authority.  In 1917, Stuffy and the legendary George Sisler were the only two first basemen in baseball (with 500+ at-bats) that posted a .300 or better batting average.  The 1917 season was thankfully Stuffy’s last with the basement dwelling A’s and Mr. Mack traded him to the Red Sox.  With Stuffy manning first base in Beantown, the Red Sox won the AL pennant and McInnis hit .250 during the Fall Classic (the Red Sox as a team hit at a .186 clip).

Although Stuffy was a brilliant defender (his career fielding percentage is .993) his greatest trademark is his inability to strikeout.  Stuffy fanned eleven times in 1919 in 440 at-bats.  He was the most difficult player in baseball to strikeout in the early 1920s.  In 1921, McInnis struck out 9 times in 584 at-bats – once about every 65 at-bats.  He was even better in 1922, fanning once every 107 at-bats.  In the 1921, ’22 and ’24 seasons, Stuffy was the most difficult strikeout victim in the game.

Stuffy later caught on with the Pittsburgh Pirates and hit .368 for the NL champs in 1925.  He retired a year later, one of the finest contact hitters in the game’s history.

Stuffy McInnis’ career stats: G 2,128/R 872/H 2,406/2B 312/3B 101/RBI 1,060/SB 172/BA .308/SA .381

stuffywww.vintagecardtraders.com

Every team has their pet jinx: that one pitcher who constantly stands the batters on their heads.  The mighty Yankees of Babe Ruth had such a jinx and its name was Urban Shocker.  An amusing yarn circulated about the lengths the Yankees went to disrupt Shocker.  It was known that Urban liked a good time as much as the next fellow, and the night before a pivotal game between the Bronx Bombers and Shocker’s St. Louis Browns, many Yankee players phoned Shocker’s hotel room in an effort to take him out on the town.  Browns skipper Lee Fohl got wind of the Yankees partying plans and intercepted the phone calls.  He then organized a friendly game of poker in his room – with Shocker and some teammates in attendance – thus letting the numerous rings of Shocker’s phone fall on deaf ears.  The next day, Shocker went out and stood the Bombers on their heads.

Shocker may have been the Yankees pet jinx but he got his start at the Major League level with them and even closed out his Major League career in pinstripes.  Urban was acquired by the Yankees via the Canadian League for the 1916 season and he posted a solid 2.61 ERA for the Yankees.  The following year, his ERA was nearly identical – raising a single point to 2.62.  He was enjoying a breakout 1918 season – a 1.81 ERA in 14 games – until it was interrupted by World War I.  Shocker went overseas and saw heavy combat action.  Upon his stateside return, the spitballer informed his family that he nearly died on the battle field.  He was engaged in close-quartered combat with the enemy and suffered a head wound courtesy of a bayonet.  The horror of killing a man with a bayonet haunted Urban but he found solace on the ball diamond.

As a member of 1919 Browns – months removed from his battle field heroics – Shocker tied for second in the American League in the shutouts department.  The following year, the spitball was outlawed but he and a select few established hurlers were allowed to throw the pitch.  Shocker used the spitball to post four straight 20-win seasons for the hapless St. Louis Browns.  He finished third in the AL in ERA and led the junior circuit in saves (this was a time before relief specialists, as Urban, a starter, was called on to put out fires created by his fellow moundsmen).

Urban led the AL with 27 wins for the Browns in 1921 – almost single-handedly pitching the team to a third place finish.  Shocker finished second in the league in strikeouts and third in innings pitched.  The Browns knew they had a hot property on their hands and called on Urban to toss 348 innings in 1922.  A 24-game winner in ’22, Urban paced the AL with 149 strikeouts.  His 1923 season signaled his fourth and final 20-win season.  Of all the 20 game winners in the AL, Urban owned the greatest control.  His strikeout-to-walk ratio was 2.22 to 1.  His 20-game winnings peers included Sad Sam Jones (0.99 to 1), Hooks Dauss (1.35 to 1), George Uhle (1.07 to 1) and Howard Ehmke (1.02 to 1).  Hall of Fame peer Walter Johnson wasn’t as brilliant as Shocker either, posting a 1.88 to 1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

In 1924, Urban finished fifth in the AL in the strikeout department, but he only notched 16 wins for the fourth place Browns.  After the season, the Browns packaged Shocker in a deal to the Yankees for a trio of pitchers: Milt Gaston, Bullet Joe Bush and Joe Giard.  Bush was at the end of his rope and Giard never amounted to anything, but the Browns did get three 200+ inning seasons out of Gaston.  But, the trade looked one-sided.  Shocker went to the Yankees and went 19-11 in 1926 – pitching the Bombers to the World Series.  He followed up that year with another solid campaign, posting an 18-6 record with a trim 2.84 ERA. 

During the 1928 season, when Urban was near the end of his career, he died of a stomach ailment in September of that year.  Urban Shocker was an excellent pitcher who had four straight 20-win seasons for the lowly Browns.  His career wasn’t very long, but not many pitchers of his day enjoyed long careers.  He makes for a fringe Hall of Fame selection, but I’d be inclined to put him in there because he flourished when most pitchers struggled mightily – during the beginning of The Lively Ball Era.

Urban Shocker’s career stats: W 188/L 117/PCT .616/G 412/CG 202/IP 2,681/H 2,

urbanhttp://www.wikipedia.org

A great RBI man for some lowly teams, Bob Johnson, dubbed “Indian Bob” on account of his heritage – and commonplace name – drove in runs for Connie Mack’s Athletics in the years after Foxx, Cochrane and Grove.  From 1935 to 1941, Johnson drove in 100+ a season for a team that finished out of the cellar in two of those years.  Put Indian Bob on the Yankees and he would have challenged Hack Wilson’s single season RBI record.

Johnson was that rare finished product when he made his Major League debut.  More often than not, players are called up well before their time and flounder for a couple seasons before finding their groove.  Johnson was in his groove from day one on the Major League circuit.  That has a lot to do with his late start in baseball – he didn’t make his debut until he was 27 years old. 

In Johnson’s debut season, he led all left fielders with 21 homeruns and 85 walks.  His 44 doubles were good for second place in the American League and his .505 slugging percentage topped all left fielders in 1933 as well.  Johnson avoided the Sophomre Jinx in ’34, pacing all left fielders with 34 homeruns, 111 runs scored, 12 stolen bases and a .563 slugging percentage.  The following year, 1935, Indian Bob began his string of seven straight 100 RBI seasons.

Indian Bob drove in plenty of runs for a terrible ballclub.  He did this by performing exceptionally well in the clutch and tagging long balls.  His 28 homeruns bested all left fielders in ’35 as did his 103 runs scored.  Following up his brilliant ’35 campaign, Johnson drove home 121 runs for the last place Athletics.  Given the fact that Johnson was the sole driving force in the Philadelphia lineup, it shouldn’t come as much of a shock that he also led all left fielders with 88 free passes.  Why pitch to Johnson when you can throw to a scrub, right? 

Johnson walked 98 times in 1937: second among all major league outfielders – trailing only Hall of Famer Mel Ott.  His 25 homeruns in ’37 bested all left fielders.  He showed his overall greatness in 1938, accounting for 227 runs for the last place Athletics: only Joe DiMaggio accounted for more runs by an outfielder that year.  His highest batting average came in 1939 when he led all left fielders with a .338 mark.  His ’39 season was typical Johnson: many runs scored and driven in while he cast the shadow for his position peers.  Johnson led all left fielders with 115 runs scored, while also leading the position in the hits, RBI, homeruns and slugging departments.  He was the only 20+ homerun hitter in baseball that year with 15 or more stolen bases.

With the last place Athletics in 1940, Johnson socked 31 homeruns and drove in 103 runs.  1942 signaled the end of his consecutive 100 RBI seasons when he drove in 80 runs for the basement dwelling A’s.  Feeling sorry for his run producing ace, manager Connie Mack decided to sell Johnson to a contender in 1943 so Indian Bob could finally experience the thrill of a pennant race.  Sold to the Senators, Johnson helped guide the Washington boys to a second place finish in the war torn American League. 

The Red Sox, needing some sock in their lineup due to the departures of Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky and Dom DiMaggio to military service, bought Johnson from the Senators and he promptly led the AL in on-base percentage.  The Red Sox got the typical Bob Johnson: an RBI machine who got on base courtesy of walks.  He had his final 100 RBI season for the 1944 Red Sox: driving in 106 runs while scoring an identical 106 runs. 

After a respectable .280/12 HR/74 RBI season in ’45, Johnson retired – he was 39 years old.  Indian Bob was an extraordinary talent.  Capable of socking 30 homeruns and stealing a dozen bases, he also possessed an exceptional batting eye, usually drawing 80 to 90 walks a season.  Six times he scored 100 or more runs and eight times he drove in 100 or more runs.  He performed these feats for an abysmal Athletics team.  An eight time All-Star, Johnson would be a worthy addition to the halls of Cooperstown.

Bob Johnson’s career stats: G 1,863/R 1,239/H 2,051/2B 396/3B 95/HR 288/RBI 1,283/BB 1,075/SO 851/BA .296/SA .506

indianbobhttp://www.findagrave.com

One of the finest center fielders of The Deadball Era, George Van Haltren has been passed over for years by Hall of Fame voters because of their penchant for enshrining still living players.  Van was a tremendous center fielder and great speedster – one of the finest in baseball history – not just The Deadball Era.  His Hall of Fame peer Hugh Duffy had 245 fewer hits.

Van began his career in 1887 with the old Chicago White Stockings – Cap Anson’s club – as a pitcher.  In his second year, George hit for a higher average than teammates Hugh Duffy and Marty Sullivan, starting outfielders.  Anson decided to transfer Van to the outfield since his stickwork exceeded his work on the mound: he had the highest ERA of White Stocking pitchers.

The move worked wonders as George took Sullivan’s left field post and gave Anson two .300 hitters in the pasture: Van’s .309 average and center fielder Jimmy “Pony” Ryan’s .307 mark.  Of the three outfielders on Anson’s roster, Hugh Duffy, the lone Hall of Famer, was the only one not to hit .300.  George jumped to the Player’s League in 1890, joining Hall of Famer John Ward’s staff in Brooklyn.  Under Ward, Van hit .335 but he had to find employment elsewhere after the season due to the Player’s League demise. 

George joined the Baltimore Orioles in 1891 and was the team’s only .300 hitter.  Van led the Orioles in a number of offensive departments and finished second in the league in runs scored and fifth in batting.  The American Association fell apart in 1892 and the Orioles were absorbed by the National League.  At the end of the ’92 campaign, Van was traded straight up for Hall of Famer Joe Kelley, sending George to the Pirates and thus making Joe Kelley a Hall of Famer.  The Orioles became a dynasty shortly thereafter and a number of their players have gone on to Cooperstown – a place Van might be had he not been traded to the Pirates.

The Pirates were a fine team that finished second.  George hit .338 for the Bucs but was sold to the Giants after the season.  he played the remainder of his career for the Giants: 1984 to 1903.  The trade helped George.  He posted back-to-back 100 RBI seasons for the Giants in his first two years in New York.  In those two years, George scored 100 runs and drove in 100 runs.  In fact, George had eleven consecutive seasons with 100+ runs scored.

In 1896, George led the league with 21 triples and hit a lusty .351.  He followed that season up with a .330 batting average – making five consecutive seasons of a .330 batting average or higher.  The Giants finished 7th in 1898, thanks largely to George being the only productive player in the lineup.  Hall of Fame shortstop George Davis had a fine season, but other than Davis, George was the only .300 hitter in the lineup.  He nevertheless finished third in the NL in runs scored.

Showcasing his wheels at the age of 34, George led the NL in stolen bases during the 1900 season and followed that season up by leading NL center fielders with a .342 batting average in 1901.  1901 would be George’s last great year.  He suffered leg injuries in 1902 and 1903 which ended his career.

George Van Haltren’s career stats: G 1,979/R 1,650/H 2,558/2B 293/#B 159/HR 69/RBI 1,014/SB 564/BA .319/SA .422

vanhaltren1www.oaklandoaks.com

Best known as one of the greatest pinch hitters in baseball, Smoky was far more than a robust fellow picking up his stick in the late innings and knocking a safety – he was one of the finest catchers in baseball history. 

Burgess became the Phillies regular catcher in 1952 and led all catchers with a stout .296 batting average and 27 doubles.  Smoky possessed a classic batting eye – drawing his share of walks while rarely striking out.  In 1953, Smoky posted the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of National League catchers: fanning 17 times while drawing 37 walks. 

Smoky’s high-water mark came in 1954 when he hit .368; 61 points higher than his position runner-up: Yogi Berra.  Although Smoky didn’t quite have enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, he clearly was superior to his position peers.  He hit 161 points higher than Hall of Famer Roy Campanella and his slugging percentage was 109 points higher than the Brooklyn backstop. 

Smoky followed up his tremendous season by hitting .306 in 1955.  He hit .283 in 1957 with 14 homeruns.  He joined the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1959 and led all catchers with a .297 batting average, 28 doubles and a .485 slugging percentage.  In 114 games, Smoky only struck out 16 times and was named to the third of his six All-Star teams.  The next year, Smoky took the Pirates to the World Series and hit .333 in the Fall Classic.  Of course, all baseball fans know that the Pirates were victorious in ’60 thanks to Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski’s famous walk-off homerun.

After trying on his World Series ring, Smoky spent the next season leading NL catchers in batting with a .303 average.  He topped all Major League catchers with a .328 batting average in 1962.  Smoky hit .280 in ’62 – his last year as a regular catcher – before joining the White Sox and becoming a legendary pinch hitter.  Smoky posted batting averages of .286 and .313 in his first two years as the Pale Hose’s bat off the bench.  He retired after the 1967 season – a lifetime .295 hitter.  But, perhaps more importantly, Smoky had six years in which he threw out 40% or more of would-be base stealers.  His finest year at gunning down the thieves came in the Pirates championship season of 1960 when he threw out 51% of aspiring pilferers. 

Smoky hit for a higher average than his two more notable peers: New York fellows named Berra and Campanella.  Berra hit ten points lower than Smoky while the Portly Pittsburgh man hit 19 points higher than Campy. 

Smoky Burgess’ career stats: G 1,691/R 485/H 1,318/2B 230/HR 126/RBI 673/BB 477/SO 270/BA .295/SA .446

smokywww.vintagecardtraders.com

A nine time All-Star and five time Gold Glove winner, Ron Santo is viewed by many folks as the finest ballplayer still left without a plaque in Cooperstown – and not all the folk reside in Chicago either.  Santo was a gritty third baseman who finished in the top ten four times in MVP voting and was an on-base stud, drawing lots of walks while also hitting for a lofty batting average. 

Santo made his debut in 1960 with the Cubs as a 20 year-old.  He had the misfortune of sharing a position with Kenny Boyer – his decade peer who also has drawn plenty of interest from analysts trying to get him in the Hall of Fame.  Ron finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting but then had a breakout season in his sophomore campaign.  Santo hit .284 with 23 homeruns and 83 RBI and led all NL third basemen with 32 doubles.  After a mightily disappointing season in ’62, Santo rebounded nicely by leading all third basemen with 25 homeruns and his .297 batting average topped all NL hot corner men.  He made the first of his nine All-Star appearances in ’63.

His name found the top of the leader board in 1964, pacing the NL with 13 triples and 86 walks.  His on-base percentage of .398 bested all NL men as well.  Ron out-slugged his peers, posting a slugging percentage of .564.  Santo followed up his solid ’64 season with another great campaign in ’65.  Ron paced all third basemen with 33 homeruns and 88 walks and then he again paced the NL in walks and on-base percentage in 1966.  He led the National League three years running in the bases-on-balls department, posting 95 in ’66 and 96 walks in both the 1967 and ’68 campaigns. 

Although Ron was an exceptional on-base machine, he was better at driving in runs than other on-base studs like Stan Hack and Roy Thomas.  Santo had eight seasons of 25 or more homeruns and eight seasons with 90+ RBI.  Ron finished second in the NL with 123 RBI in 1969.  In 1970, he posted more doubles than any other NL third baseman.  With his career winding down, Ron nevertheless led all third basemen with a .302 batting average in 1972 – two years before his trade to the crosstown White Sox.

Ron Santo’s career stats: G 2,243/R 1,138/H 2,254/2B 365/HR 342/RBI 1,331/BB 1,108/SO 1,343/BA .277/SA .464

santo1www.cubshalloffame.com

Big Klu, the sleeveless stud from Cincinnati, was a longball threat like none other.  Klu could hit tape measure blasts with the best of them, but unlike every big bat of his time, Klu never struck out.  Many years Klu hit more long balls than times he struck out.  In fact, from 1953-1956, Klu swatted 171 homeruns while only striking out 140 times during that span.  That’s phenomenal, folks.  Just phenomenal!

Klu can thank World War II for his entry into baseball.  A standout in the college football ranks, Klu wasn’t very familiar with baseball as a student.  Due to the rationing of goods, baseball teams were forced to hold their spring training camps in northern cities, closer to their home towns, and the Reds thus held their training at Klu’s college campus.  He helped out the Reds while they trained and one morning, before the Reds made their way to the ball diamond, Klu took some swings for fun.  His mighty clouting intrigued the Reds’ groundskeeper who in turn told management about the kid with the big biceps and his tape measure blasts.  The Reds had found a young luminary.

Klu wasn’t an instant sensation in baseball.  He grew up a football player and had to learn baseball as a pro.  But he took to the game and became one of the finest it has ever produced.  Klu was handed the Reds first base job in 1948 and showed Cincy fans his knack for making contact, fanning just 24 times in 531 at-bats.  But the immense power wasn’t there yet.  Ted only socked 12 homeruns and added only 8 in 1949. 

He had his breakout season in 1950, swatting 25 homeruns while only striking out 28 times.  To give you a modern comparison, Oakland’s third base star Eric Chavez smacked 27 homeruns in 2005 and struck out 129 times.  Chavez is more of an typical power hitter, while Klu is an anomaly: few strikeouts with many homers.  In 1951, Klu paced all first basemen with 35 doubles.  This began a rash of seasons where Klu bested his peers in numerous categories.  In 1952, his .320 batting average, eleven triples and .509 slugging percentage bested all NL first basemen.  In ’53, he topped all first basemen with 40 homeruns and a .570 slugging percentage.  Klu also only whiffed 34 times: the first of four straight years in which he swatted more homeruns than times he was struck out. 

His finest year came in 1954, when Klu led the National League with 49 homeruns and 141 RBI.  He topped all first basemen with 78 walks, 187 hits and a .642 slugging percentage.  His 47 homeruns in ’55 finished second to Willie Mays, but Klu topped the NL with 192 hits and 25 intentional walks.  Klu’s 113 RBI, .585 slugging percentage and 116 runs scored topped all first basemen in ’55.  He regressed slightly in 1956, swatting just 35 homeruns while hitting .302 with 102 RBI.  His 91 runs scored however, topped all first basemen.

A back injury in 1957 sapped Klu of his strength and has been the factor keeping him out of the Hall of Fame.  He held on for a couple more seasons, enjoying his finest moment in 1959 with the White Sox.  Long thought passed his usefulness, Klu, bad back and all, took the White Sox to the World Series and put on quite a hitting display.  Klu hit .391 for the series and led all participants with three homeruns and ten runs batted in. 

Klu finished in the top ten in MVP voting on three separate occasions – coming in second in 1954.  Also, given his big, muscular build, one would think that Klu was a detriment on the field, but the opposite is the case.  Klu often led his position in fielding percentage and retired with a .993 fielding percentage: ten points higher than the league average. 

After his playing career, Klu was instrumental in the success of Cincy’s fabled Big Red Machine.  He was the hitting coach and turned men like Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench into offensive threats. 

Ted Kluszewski’s career stats: G 1,718/R 848/H 1,766/2B 290/HR 279/RBI 1,028/BB 492/SO 365/BA .298/SA .498

klusweski1_200www.whenitwasagame.net