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When a person thinks of knuckleball pitchers the last thought on their mind is a man of accuracy.  Not only did Dutch Leonard have impeccable accuracy for a knuckleballer but he had exceptional accuracy in general.  The longtime Washington Senator once teamed in a rotation with Mickey Haeffner, Roger Wolff and Johnny Niggeling–all knuckleball pitchers.

Dutch got his first Major League look with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1933.  The following year, his first full Major League season, he won 14 games and averaged just 0.179 walks per inning pitched.  He wasn’t the type of pitcher that had to hone his accuracy at the highest level–he had it upon his debut.  His average was better than Hall of Famers Waite Hoyt (0.225), Dizzy Dean (0.240) and Lefty Gomez (0.340).

Brooklyn skipper Casey Stengel used Dutch in the bullpen in 1935 and he topped the National League in saves.  It wasn’t until the Washington Senators selected him in the Rule Five Draft that Dutch became a starter.  Inserted into the Senators rotation in 1938, Dutch tied for second in the shutouts department.  The following year he went 20-8 and finished seventh in MVP voting.  Although he trimmed his ERA in 1940, Dutch nevertheless led the AL in losses that year saddled to a rather poor Washington club.

Dutch bounced back to win 18 games in 1941 while tying for second in the junior circuit in shutouts.  The Senators were hit hard by the draft for World War II, losing stars like Cecil Travis and Buddy Lewis early, but they lost Dutch to injury in 1942.  The Senators finished dead last in 1944 but Dutch still mustered 14 wins for the lowly club.  Still showcasing pinpoint control, Leonard averaged just 0.162 walks per inning. 

The Senators turned things around in 1945 with their knuckleball heavy rotation.  Dutch finished the season 17-7 with a 2.13 ERA but the Senators failed to catch the Tigers at the end of the year and were spectators come October once again.  When the players came back from the war, Dutch still flourished.  In 1947 he won 17 games on a 2.68 ERA for the Phillies who acquired him before the start of the season.  But the Phillies were even more lowly than the Senators and Dutch paced the NL with 17 losses in 1948 despite a flattering ERA of 2.51.

Dealt to the Cubs for the 1949 season, the 40-year-old Leonard tossed 180 innings for Chicago.  He followed up that campaign by posting a .833 winning percentage for the Cubs in 1950.  Although he was a grizzled veteran, Leonard still possessed a fine knuckler and kept his ERA down in 1951 to a team best 2.63.  He trimmed his ERA even further the following year to 2.15–saving eleven games out of the Cubs pen.  In his final year in the Majors, the 44-year-old Leonard finished fourth in the NL in the saves department.

THE NUMBERS

W 191/L 181/PCT .513/G 640/CG 192/IP 3,220/H 3,304/BB 737/SO 1,170/SHO 30/ERA 3.25

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It may come as a shock to many, but big muscles weren’t needed to lead the league in homeruns many decades ago.  A batter didn’t have to inject foreign substances in his body or spend more time in a weight room than Charles Atlas to pace his circuit in round-trippers.  No, Wee Tommy Leach was built more like a horse jockey than an American Gladiator but he nevertheless led the National League in homeruns one season.

Tommy the Wee got his first Major League look with the old Louisville Colonels in 1898.  As a rookie in 1899 he hit a nifty .288 but the National League was in financial trouble and the Colonels were a bubble team–destined to be absorbed or dropped.  Many Colonels players were shifted over to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1900 because Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss had a stake in the Kentucky club.  Joining Leach in the mass exodus to Pittsburgh from Louisville were Hall of Famers Honus Wagner, Fred Clarke and Rube Waddell as well as stars Chief Zimmer, Deacon Phillippe and Little All-Right Claude Ritchey.  Needless to say, a dynasty was born.

Tommy struggled his first year in Pittsburgh as a part-time player.  Still playing part-time in 1910, Leach hit .305 and led NL third basemen in triples and slugging average.  From that moment on, Leach was a regular.  In arguably his finest season, Leach paced the National League in homeruns in 1902 with a whopping total of six long balls.  Tommy the Wee also legged out 22 triples–the only NL infielder to reach 20–and finished second in RBI.  Among his position peers, Leach was head and shoulders above them all–in the standings if not in measurements.  He led NL third basemen in runs, hits, doubles, stolen bases, batting average and slugging average.

Leach tied for second in the league in the homerun department in 1903 while leading NL third basemen in RBI and triples.  A three-bag machine, Tommy the Wee currently resides in the 23rd spot in career triples.  The Pirates took part in the first modern World Series and Leach smacked four triples and drove in seven runs against Red Sox pitchers in the first modern Fall Classic.

Again, Leach paced NL third basemen in triples and runs scored in 1904.  In 1905, Tommy began rotating between third base and the outfield.  His career was pretty much split between the stations.  In 1906, Leach hit .286 and then finished second in the senior circuit in runs scored in 1907, playing predominately in center field.  Tommy’s 43 stolen bases topped NL center fielders in ’07.

Shifted back to third base in 1908, Leach led National League hot corner custodians in runs scored and doubles.  He was at the top of his run-getting game in the Pirates championship season of 1909.  That year, Tommy paced the senior circuit with 126 runs scored.  The Pirates took on the American League champion Detroit Tigers of Ty Cobb in the Fall Classic and Tommy did his bit, hitting .360 with four doubles and eight runs scored, helping the Pirates defeat the Tigers.

Tommy hit .270 in 1910 then had an off-year in 1911.  He rebounded in 1912 but was traded early in the season to the Cubs with pitcher Lefty Leifield for Circus Solly Hofman.  Tommy the Wee still had a couple good seasons left in his slight frame.  He led the National League in runs scored in 1913 with the Cubs who used him in center field.  He paced NL center fielders with 77 walks which enabled him to post a nifty .391 on-base percentage.  In 1914, he led Major League center fielders in homeruns but it was his last good year.  He hit .224 with the Reds in 1915 and closed out his career with the Pirates in 1918 after two years in the bushes.

THE NUMBERS

G 2,147/R 1,352/H 2,144/2B 277/3B 170/HR 62/RBI 810/SB 364/BA .270/SA .371

www.wikipedia.com

A fleet-footed second baseman, Steve Sax was one of the top run-getting middle infielders of his time.  Able to take the extra base like a Deadball Era player, Sax wreaked havoc on the base paths for a number of years with the Dodgers of Los Angeles.  A five-time All-Star, Steve, like Cal Ripken Jr., played briefly at the Major League level with his brother Dave, a backstop.

Steve won the 1982 Rookie of the Year Award when he paced National League second basemen in runs scored and stolen bases.  He hit .282 as a freshman and made his first All-Star team, taking the second base job away from longtime Dodger Davey Lopes.  He had some solid company in the Rookie of the Year vote, just edging out Pittsburgh second baseman Johnny Ray and beating such notables as Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, and All-Stars Steve Bedrosian, Chili Davis and Willie McGee. 

Sax put Mercury to blush in 1983 by leading Major League second basemen with 56 steals.  He led senior circuit second basemen in base hits and was named to his second All-Star squad in his second go-round on the ballot.  Sax regressed in ’84 but rebounded in 1985.  That year Steve hit .279 and helped the Dodgers reach the postseason again.  In the NLCS, Steve hit Cardinal pitchers at a .300 clip but it wasn’t enough to topple the Redbirds.

Steve’s finest year came in 1986–his sax tuned to perfection.  He led Major League second basemen with a robust .336 batting average and was the only big league second basemen to reach 200 hits and 40 doubles.  His on-base percentage was a nifty .390 and the All-Star Team beckoned him again.  But Steve had the misfortune of playing second base in the same league as Ryne Sandberg and although he put up fine stats in 1987, Ryno bested him in almost every offensive category–Steve was able to lead NL second basemen in stolen bases. 

Stealing bases was Sax’s specialty and he topped NL second basemen in thefts in 1988 as well as hits.  Steve led the Dodgers to an NL West pennant and an eventual World Series Championship over the Oakland A’s.  Against the boys in green, Sax hit an even .300 in the Fall Classic. 

Reaching his height in the late 1980s, the time of free agency, Steve tested the free agent waters in 1989 and was reeled in by the New York Yankees–big players in every free agent market.  Sax went to the American League and didn’t miss a beat.  He led Major League second basemen in steals his first year in the Bronx and was the lone Major League second baseman to reach 200 base hits.  The Yankees buying Sax’s contract looked like money well spent.

Named to his fifth All-Star squad in 1990, Sax led Major League second basemen with 43 steals–he was only caught nine times.  His last year in the Bronx was a healthy one.  Steve hit .304, stole 31 bases, slapped out 38 doubles and banged out 198 base hits.  Despite all that, the Yankees shipped Sax off to the White Sox after the season for a trio of pitchers, Big Bob Wickman, Melido Perez and Domingo Jean.

The Yankees must have been run by prophets because Steve lost his game in the Windy City.  His batting average fell to .236 his first year with the Pale Hose and he never recovered.  The White Sox released him before the 1994 season and he played one final year with the Oakland A’s.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,769/R 913/H 1,949/2B 278/3B 47/HR 54/RBI 550/BB 556/SO 584/SB 444/BA .281/SA .358

www.baseball-almanac.com

Most boys dream of making good with their hometown baseball team but few ever do.  Phil Cavarretta, born and educated in Chicago, was that rarity who actually did make good with his hometown team.  Cavarretta was a solid first baseman for the Cubs during the World War II years, winning the MVP Award the last time the Cubs made the World Series: 1945.

Before he knew his way around a razor, Phil was playing Major League baseball.  He joined the Cubs in 1934 as a 17-year-old and wasn’t overmatched, hitting .381 in 21 at-bats.  The Cubs made him a regular in 1935 and the 18-year-old tied for lead in triples among NL first basemen.  He helped the Cubs make the World Series in 1938 and hit Yankees pitchers at a .482 clip but in a losing effort. 

The injury bug bit Cavarretta in 1939 and kept its teeth in Phil in 1940.  Back to full health in 1942, Phil led NL first basemen in doubles.  The following year, when many stars were serving in the military during WWII, Phil paced senior circuit first basemen in runs scored and triples.  Phil’s finest years came at the end of the war era when he led the National League with 197 hits in 1944 while topping his position peers in runs scored, triples and batting average.

His finest hour came in 1945 when the war was in full swing.  Cavarretta was named MVP of the National League that season while winning the batting title with a .355 average.  He had an astronomical on-base percentage of .449 making him an easy fit for the league’s Most Valuable Player.  The Cubs went to the World Series, led by Phil’s fine hitting.  As the only NL first baseman to slug over .500, he kept up his slugging exploits in the Fall Classic against the Tigers–hitting Detroit pitchers at a .423 clip–but the Cubs fell to the Tigers who received a shot in the arm courtesy of Hank Greenberg and Virgil Trucks’ late season military discharges.  Without Hammerin’ Hank, the Cubs probably would have won the series.

The players came back in bulk in 1946 and Phil remained a top-flight hitter despite the return of talent.  Named to the 1946 All-Star team, Phil finished second in triples and third in on-base percentage.  He hit a lusty .314 in 1947, proving to all that he wasn’t just a war era ballplayer. 

The Cubs reached rock bottom in 1949 with Phil one of the few bright spots on the Baby Bears roster.  He led Chicago batters with a .296 batting average, but it was his last season as a regular.  The injury bug that kept Phil company before the war returned and he missed a portion of the 1950 campaign to injury.  He rebounded in 1951 as the Cubs lone .300 hitter but his playing time evaporated after that.  His last solid season came in 1954 with the crosstown rival White Sox, where he hit .314 with a 2-to-1 walk-to-strikeout ratio in limited action

Over the years Cavarretta has received some solid support for the Hall of Fame.  He netted as high as 35% of the Hall of Fame vote in 1975; his last year on the ballot.

THE NUMBERS

G 2,030/R 990/H 1,977/2B 347/3B 99/HR 95/RBI 920/BB 820/SO 598/SB 65/BA .293/SA .416

One of the fastest men in baseball, Willie Wilson was a triples machine–churning out more three-bag hits than lies issued by congress.  The fleet-footed man from Kansas City, Wilson led the league five times in the triples department as a member of the Kansas City Royals.

The Royals used their first pick in the 1974 draft on Wilson, a high-schooler from New Jersey, and he would end up patrolling the outfield in KC on into the 1990s.  The Royals took their first look at Wilson in 1976 and gave him a little longer look in 1977 but it wasn’t until 1978 that Willie became a regular in Kansas City.  In that season, Wilson finished fifth in the AL with 46 steals. 

A switch-hitter with a quick stroke, Wilson was more than just a pair of wheels.  Although he hit for a poor average in ’78 he raised his batting average 98 points in 1979 when he hit .315 and led the American League with 83 stolen bases.  Willie’s thirteen triples topped AL outfielders but his 1980 season even better.

Teaming with Hall of Famer George Brett and fellow KC standouts like Frank White, Amos Otis, Larry Gura and Dennis Leonard, Willie took the Royals to the World Series.  During the regular season Willie led the junior circuit with 133 runs, 230 hits and fifteens triples.  He hit a solid .326 and finished second in the league with 79 stolen bases.  Leading KC to the World Series, Willie hit a solid .308 in the ALCS with four RBI but was a flop in the World Series–setting a Fall Classic record with 12 strikeouts.  Despite his World Series floundering, Willie won his only Gold Glove Award and finished fourth in MVP voting. 

Willie won his only batting title in 1982 when he paced the American League a .332 batting average.  His 15 triples also topped the junior circuit and he was named to his first All-Star squad.  Although his numbers dipped in 1983, Wilson made a return trip to the All-Star Game that season before returning to form in ’84.  In that campaign, Willie led American League center fielders with a .301 batting average. 

The Royals went to the postseason again in 1985 as Wilson led the league with 21 triples.  His 43 steals topped his KC teammates.  Dick Howser led the Royals to the World Series and Willie redeemed himself from his struggles in the 1980 Fall Classic.  Against state rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals, Willie hit .367 as his Royals toppled the Cardinals in seven games.

Wilson returned to the top of the leader board in 1987 when he paced the American League with 15 triples.  Showing his affinity for triples again in 1988, Willie tied for the lead in the three bag department with eleven.  But Willie wasn’t the only merchant of speed on the Royals roster.  In 1989, he teamed with Bo Jackson and Jim Eisenreich to give the Royals an All-20 stolen base outfield. 

Wilson hit .290 in 1990 but had lost playing time to young slugger Danny Tartabull.  He tested the free agent waters after the season and joined the Oakland A’s in 1991.  After a so-so year in ’91, Willie swiped 28 bases for the A’s in 1992 before departing for the Cubs via free agency in 1993.  He spent two years as a part-timer for the Cubs before calling it quits.  Wilson currently resides twelfth all-time in career stolen bases.

THE NUMBERS

G2,154/R 1,169/H 2,207/2B 281/3B 147/HR 41/RBI 585/BB 425/SO 1,144/SB 668/BA .285/SA .376

www.williewilsonbaseball.org

One of the finest southpaw relief pitchers of all-time, Missouri born Knowles was a member of the three-time World Champion Oakland A’s of 1972 to 1974.  The left-handed fireman was one of but a few Major League ballplayers who served his country during the Vietnam War. 

Darold made his Major League debut in 1965 with the Baltimore Orioles.  The Birds didn’t bother pruning and grooming the young pitcher, sending him to the Phillies with flaky outfielder Jackie Brandt for pitcher Jack Baldschun.  With the Phillies, Darold showed signs of what was to come, saving 13 games and fanning 88 batters in 100 innings of work.  Despite his success in the Baltimore bullpen, the Orioles used him as trade bait after the season and sent him to the Senators for slugger Don Lock.

Darold became a successful fireman in the nation’s capitol, saving 14 games in 1967 on a 2.70 ERA.  He trimmed his ERA down to 2.18 in 1968 but missed time during the season to military service.  Knowles served in the Air National Guard and spent time overseas during the war.  Darold returned to the Senators in 1969, a surprise team managed by Hall of Famer Ted Williams.  The Missourian helped The Splendid Splinter become the AL’s Manager of the Year by fashioning a 9-2, 2.24 record with 13 saves.

In 1970, Darold had a misleading 2-14 record for the Senators who reverted back to their losing ways.  His ERA was a tidy 2.04 and he saved 27 games.  But the poor record misled the Senators’ brass and Darold was shipped off to Oakland with Mike Epstein for lefty Paul Lindblad and slugger Don Mincher.  It was as a member of the A’s where Knowles achieved his greatest success.

Teaming with Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers, Darold gave the A’s a brilliant relief core that was adept at putting out fires.  In his first full year in Oakland, Darold had a solid .833 winning percentage on his unearthly 1.36 ERA.  He surrendered just 49 hits in 66 innings of work while his A’s won the World Series.  They became repeat champions in 1973.  In that season’s World Series, Darold pitched in every game, saved two contests, didn’t surrender an earned run and recorded the final out in the final game.

Despite his World Series heroics, Darold was shipped off to the Cubs with fellow fireman Bob Locker and second baseman Manny Trillo for aging Hall of Famer Billy Williams after the Fall Classic.  He saved 15 games his first year in Wrigley Field and then trimmed his ERA down to 2.88 in 1976.

A return trip to the American League was in the cards for Darold in 1977 when he was traded to the Rangers for Gene Clines.  In his lone season in the Lone Star State, Knowles fashioned a splendid .718 winning percentage.  The Expos purchased his contract after the season and Darold went north of the border for one year, posting a trim 2.38 ERA for the boys of Montreal.  He finished his career with the 1980 St. Louis Cardinals.

THE NUMBERS

W 66/L 74/PCT .471/SV 143/G 765/IP 1,092/H 1,006/BB 480/SO 681/ERA 3.12

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When a new, livelier ball was introduced to the American League in 1920, baseball changed significantly.  Nobody personified the new game better than the great Babe Ruth but there were still some players that held on to the old, running style of game.  Charlie Jamieson was one such player.  When his peers began bashing balls over the fence, Jamieson kept slapping the ball to all fields and using his legs to carry him rather than his arms.

When Charlie first came up with the Senators in 1915 it was uncertain as to what route the young left-handed Jersey native would take.  Washington used him in the outfield and on the mound in 1916 and ’17.  The Senators seemed certain that Charlie would be used in an offensive capacity but when the A’s picked him up Connie Mack kept up with the experiment of using Charlie on the mound.  When he only hit .202 in 1918, it seemed like his destiny was pitching but then he was shipped to the Indians for Braggo Roth and his career as a stick-man was underway.

Charlie’s breakout year came in 1920 when the Indians went to the World Series in their year of tragedy.  Star shortstop Ray Chapman was killed by a pitched ball and skipper Tris Speaker rallied his troops and led them to the Fall Classic.  Jamieson wielded a solid stick in the World Series, hitting Brooklyn pitching at a .333 clip. 

Charlie hit .323 during the 1922 season with a solid .388 on-base percentage.  Getting on base was an area of strength for the Jersey Comet who retired with an enviable career on-base percentage of .378.  In 1923 Charlie led the junior circuit with 222 base hits.  He topped Major League left fielders with 130 runs scored and posted an amazing on-base percentage of .422–his highwater mark.

The Cleveland left fielder led his American League position peers in hits (213)  and batting average (.359) in 1924.  With the shortened season (compared to the 162 game schedule of today) reaching 200 hits was quite an achievement.  Charlie, Ty Cobb and Sam Rice were the only three AL outfielders to reach 200 base hits during the season. 

Jamieson scored 109 runs in 1925 while drawing 72 walks compared to just 26 strikeouts.  He topped Major League left fielders with 33 doubles in 1926.  One of Jamieson’s strengths was his great strikeout-to-walk ratios.  In 1927, Charlie drew 64 walks while only striking out 14 times.  In 1929, Charlie fanned 12 times in 102 games.  He hit .301 in 1930 then lost his job as he reached his upper 30s in 1931 to a young Joe Vosmik.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,779/R 1,062/H 1,990/2B 322/3B 80/HR 18/RBI 550/BB 748/SO 345/SB 132/BA .303/SA .385

www.vintagecardtraders.com