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Had Harry Brecheen received the usual Major League trial at a younger age, rather than making it in fast company as an older man, he assuredly would be in the Hall of Fame.  But The Cat, so nicknamed for his exceptional defense, cut his teeth in the minors while also getting them capped, filled and brightened.  By the time he made the Major Leagues to stay, he was nearing 30 years of age.

Brecheen got his first look with the Cardinals in 1940 at the age of 25 but failed to impress and spent the next two years at Columbus in the American Association.  With World War II raging overseas, many ballplayers joined the colors, thus opening the door for minor league veterans like Brecheen.    The Cardinals recalled him in 1943 and he quickly established himself as a superior southpaw.  As a rookie, The Cat posted a tidy 2.27 ERA and missed a fair amount of bats–he averaged just 0.726 hits per inning pitched.

Brecheen went 16-5 in 1944 as the Redbirds captured another NL Flag.  Harry started Game 4 against the town rival Browns and tossed a complete game victory as the Cardinals won the title.  In top form in 1945, Harry led the National League with a .789 winning percentage.  The slim southpaw posted an ERA of 2.52 as the highest his ERA climbed during the war years was 2.85.

When the war ended and the stars returned to the diamond, critics felt that Brecheen, who hadn’t established himself before the war, would struggle.  But he put a plug on his critics, pitching the Cardinals to the World Series in 1946.  The Cat won 15 games on a 2.49 ERA but was at his best in the World Series.  His Cardinals took on the powerhouse Red Sox that had a terrific offense of Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Rudy York, Johnny Pesky and Dominic DiMaggio, but Brecheen handled them supremely.  He carried the Redbirds through the Fall Classic, winning three games on a 0.45 ERA.  He tossed a Game 2 shutout and won Game 7 in relief.

An All-Star in 1947, Harry won 16 games for the Cardinals and followed that up with a 20-win season in ’48.  The 1948 season was The Cat at his best.  Brecheen led the senior circuit in winning percentage, strikeouts, shutouts and ERA.  In 1949, he posted his fourth straight year of 200+ innings worked before he started to slow down in 1950. 

Brecheen entered the 1950s in his mid-30s but was still a reliable hurler.  The Cat had a .667 winning percentage in 1951.  In 1952, he averaged just 0.820 hits per inning pitched.  Because he was no longer able to stretch out his arm, the Redbirds released him after the ’52 season and he pitched his final season with the Browns, posting a 3.08 ERA in the process.  After his playing days concluded, The Cat became a highly respected pitching coach, credited with helping along Harvey Haddix among others.

THE NUMBERS

W 133/L 92/PCT .591/G 318/CG 125/IP 1,908/H 1,731/BB 536/SO 901/SHO 25/ERA 2.91

The Hall of Fame has always had its benchmarks.  If a batter reaches 500 homeruns, enshrinement used to be automatic.  Eddie Joost, with his unflattering career batting average of .239 would seemingly fail to reach the Hall benchmark in batting average, but one must look at the whole pie and not just nibble on the crust.  Although Joost had low batting averages, his on-base percentages were always lofty given his ability to draw walks.  Also, he teamed with Pete Suder and Ferris Fain to form, arguably mind you, the best double play trio in baseball history.  They had five straight years of turning 100 or more double plays during the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Joost made his debut with the Reds in 1936 but saw limited action.  The Reds were a coming team and had a strong infield around 1940 that third baseman Bill Werber dubbed The Jungle Squad.  Eddie was stuck behind Werber, Lonny Frey and slick-fielding shortstop Billy Myers.  The Reds were managed by Hall of Fame skipper Bill McKechnie, who tried to get young Eddie Joost some playing time.  When the Reds captured the NL flag in 1940, Joost was pressed into everyday duty during the World Series due to Frey’s late season injury.  Joost appeared in all seven games and helped the Reds defeat the Tigers.

When Billy Myers lost his ability to make contact, McKechnie inserted Joost in the shortstop role in 1941.  Eddie led NL shortstops in walks his first year as a regular.  In 1942 he ripped 30 doubles then suffered through an atrocious 1943 season.  With World War II raging overseas, Joost voluntarily retired from baseball to help out the war effort.  He returned to baseball late in 1945 and played for the Braves, but he wouldn’t establish himself as a legit Major Leaguer until Connie Mack bought his contract.

Under the tutelage of Mr. Mack, Joost excelled at getting on base.  He drew 114 walks his first year with the Mackmen in 1947, which kicked off a six year run of 100 or more free passes accepted.  Although he only hit .206 during the ’47 season, Joost was awarded a few MVP votes given his on-base skills and fine defensive work. 

In 1948, Joost led American League infielders with 119 walks.  He crossed home plate 99 times and raised his batting average up to .250 which enabled him to post a rather flattering on-base percentage of .393.  Named to his first All-Star team in 1949, Joost walked 149 times (second to Ted Williams in the AL) and served as slugger Vern Stephens’ runner-up in homeruns and RBI among Major League shortstops.  Eddie’s high walk total allowed him to post a phenomenal on-base percentage of .429.

In 1950, Eddie again finished behind Vern Stephens in long balls among shortstops but he paced Major League shortstops with 103 walks.  His glove was golden in 1951 when he sparkled with a .974 fielding average at shortstop.  He was clearly the game’s top shortstop that year, pacing his position peers in homeruns, RBI, walks, hits, doubles, slugging average and runs scored (he was the only AL shortstop to reach 100 runs scored).

Joost was just as good in 1952.  That season he led American League shortstops in homers and RBI (he was the only Major League shortstop to club 20 homers) while finishing second in the league with 122 walks.  The shortstop post was manned by men like Reese and Rizzuto, known for their slight builds, while Joost redefined the position as the lone AL shortstop to slug over .400.

When Eddie was named player/manager in 1954 his days as a player were all but over.  After the A’s canned him he played one final year with the Red Sox in 1955 before hanging up his spikes.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,574/R 874/H 1,339/2B 238/3B 35/HR 134/RBI 601/BB 1,043/SO 827/BA .239/SA .366

www.vintagecardtraders.org

A run-scoring machine during the 1890s, Mike Griffin crossed home plate more times than swords are crossed in a Shakespearean play.  Arguably the greatest center fielder of his time, Griffin averaged an unheard of 0.929 runs scored per game.  Although he was an offesnive juggernaut, he may have been even better in the field, where his lifetime .956 fielding percentage is a whopping 43 points above league average.

Griffin made his debut with the old Baltimore Orioles of the American Association in 1887.  He had a terrific rookie year with the Birds, leading the club with 142 runs scored and 94 stolen bases.  Mike had his worst season in 1888 (courtesy The Sophomore Jinx) but still reached 100 runs scored. 

Putting a poor second season behind him, Griffin scored an American Association best 152 runs in 1889.  His keen eye, indicated by his 91 walks and just 29 strikeouts, enabled him to get on base often and score a plentiful amount of runs.  When the upstart Player’s League was formed in 1890, Mike jumped the Orioles and signed on with Philadelphia’s entry in the new league.  In the league’s lone season of operation, Griffin crossed the plate 127 times while appearing in ten double plays from his outfield post and boasting an excellent .954 fielding percentage when the league fielded the position just under .900.

When the Player’s League folded, Griffin caught on with the Brooklyn Bridegrooms (now the Dodgers of Los Angeles) and played with the club the remainder of his Major League service time.  In his first year in the National League, Mike paced the circuit in doubles.  In 1893, Mike was limited to 95 games and thus had his first season (he would only have two such seasons during his Major League career) in which he failed to tally 100 runs scored.

Griffin became the offensive catalyst for the Grooms in 1894.  That year, Mike led the team with a .358 BA and an unheard of .467 on-base percentage.  The left-handed hitting center fielder crossed the plate 122 times.  He had to carry the Grooms in 1895 when he scored 140 runs while none of his teammates reached 100 runs scored.  He lashed out 38 doubles, drew 93 walks, hit .333 and fashioned a great on-base percentage of .444.  Because he was Brooklyn’s lone bright spot, the club finished fifth in the circuit.

In 1896, Griffin hit .308 while posting a .961 fielding percentage.  He raised his batting average to .316 the following year and trampled the dish 136 times during the season. He posted identical on-base and slugging averages of .416.  He played one final year in Brooklyn during the 1898 season, the second time he failed to reach 100 runs scored.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,508/R 1,401/H 1,775/2B 316/3B 106/HR 41/RBI 719/BB 809/SB 473/BA .300/SA .411

www.lesterslegends.com

Modern day scouts wouldn’t give a prospect like Bobby Shantz the time of day.  Today, scouts drool over the pitcher built like a mountain and pass over the mite.  But Bobby, although small of stature, had the finesse and poise of a large power pitcher.  Equipped with the stuff that hitters feared, Shantz was also the preeminent defender for his position–he won the Gold Glove Award every year from 1957 to 1964.

The slight southpaw as originally signed by the old Philadelphia A’s of Connie Mack.  Shantz made his Major League debut with the Athletics in 1949 and led the staff with a stingy average of just 0.787 hits per inning.  But Bobby was unable to duplicate his rookie success and was hampered by the Sophomore Jinx. 

With the jinx cast aside in 1951, Bobby enjoyed his breakout campaign.  He posted an 18-10 record while leading the A’s with three shutouts.  Shantz made his first All-Star team that year but it was just a precursor of things to come.  The mighty mite captured the AL MVP Award in 1952 when he led the junior circuit with 24 wins and a .774 winning percentage.  Shantz finished second in the league with 27 complete games and five shutouts.  His 152 strikeouts were good for third in the junior circuit.  Despite Bobby’s exceptional pitching, the A’s barely finished above .500.

The 280 innings that little Bobby Shantz tossed in 1952 caught up with him in ’53.  He suffered through the season with a sore arm and missed most of the 1954 campaign to the same ailment.  The A’s relocated to Kansas City in 1955 and Bobby tried to revive his career in a new city.  The A’s used Shantz as a spot-starter and relief pitcher, enabling him to lead the organization in saves in 1956.  With his career redefined as a fireman, the Yankees took interest in Shantz and made one of their many lopsided trades with the Kansas City A’s.

Kansas City shipped Bobby to New York with slick-fielding Clete Boyer for some spare parts, the best of which was relief pitcher Tom Morgan.  With the Yankees, Shantz put his arm woes behind him and flourished with the ever dominant Bronx Bombers.  In his first year in pinstripes, Bobby paced the AL with a tidy 2.45 ERA.  He had a .688 winning percentage and guided the Yankees to the World Series where he averaged a strikeout per inning in a losing cause.

The Yankees used Shantz as a starter/relief pitcher his first two seasons before shifting him to the bullpen full time in 1959.  As a fulltime fireman, Shantz excelled.  He surrendered a stingy average of just 0.674 hits per inning in ’59; an average that cast a mighty shadow for his Hall of Fame peers of Whitey Ford (0.951), Early Wynn (0.789) and Jim Bunning (0.880). 

Shantz topped the Yankees in saves in 1960 while adding another save in a World Series defeat to Pittsburgh.  The Yankees left him unprotected for the expansion draft and the new Washington Senators selected him.  Before he made a pitch for the Senators, he was used as trade bait to bring in three nondescript players from the team that beat him in the World Series. 

After one year with the Pirates Bobby was again plucked in an expansion draft, this time by the Houston Colt 45s.  Like the Senators, Houston swapped him to the Cardinals and he posted a season ERA below 2.00.  Bobby nailed down eleven saves in 1963 with an average of 0.886 strikeouts per inning.  He coupled his fanning abilities with fine control, issuing just 0.215 walks per inning. 

During his last Major League season he was packaged in an infamous trade with Ernie Broglio to the Cubs for a young, unrefined speedster named Lou Brock.  Shantz was at the end of the line and Broglio quickly developed arm issues while the kid Brock embarked on a stellar career that carried him to Cooperstown.

THE NUMBERS

W 119/L 99/PCT .546/SV 48/G 537/IP 1,936/H 1,795/BB 643/SO 1,072/ERA 3.38

www.vintagecardtraders.com

Don Baylor has had quite a distinguished career in baseball that is still running.  As a player, Baylor was a solid hitter with speed and was noted for his leadership.  His clubhouse standing made him a perfect fit to manage the expansion Colorado Rockies in 1993 and he piloted the club for their first six seasons.  A couple years ago  his name found the headlines when Craig Biggio broke his modern record of hit-by-pitches–something that happened to Don 267 times in his career.

Baylor was originally called up to the Orioles in 1970 but the high-flying birds had a stable pasture in Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, Motormouth Paul Blair and Don Buford.  Because of their presence, Don didn’t see regular playing time at the Major League level until 1972.  He won the right field job in 1973 and paced the league in getting plunked by offerings (he would lead the league in this category eight times) while leading his position peers in stolen bases.  The Orioles went to the ALCS and Don hit a modest .273 in a losing cause.

His breakout year came in 1975 when he led American League left fielders with 25 homeruns.  Baylor coupled his new power stroke with his speed, not losing anything in the foot department when he made his gains in the arm department.  He swiped 52 bases in 1976–his career highwater mark.  By 1977, Baylor began seeing regular duty as a designated hitter.  Although he wasn’t an extreme liability on the field, he was no Terry Puhl either.  He was the lone DH to reach 20 steals in 1977; his first year with the Angels.

In sunny California, Don established himself as an elite power threat.  With the Angels in 1978, Baylor ripped 34 homers, drove in 99 runs and scored 103 runs.  But he was just getting warmed up.  Big Man Baylor won the AL MVP Award in 1979 when he paced the junior circuit with 120 runs scored and 139 runs batted in.  He also topped designated hitters in doubles, hits, walks and batting average while leading the Angels to an AL West flag.  He socked a homerun in the ALCS but his Angels fell to the Orioles and he was again denied a World Series appearance.

The injury bug bit Baylor in 1980 and he struggled to regain his form in 1981.  He found his stroke in 1982 in time to lead the Angels to the postseason by driving in 93 runs during the regular season.  Determined to finally make the World Series, Don’s bat was on fire in the ALCS.  The designated hitter drove home ten runs in the ALCS but for the fifth time in five tries, his club lost the ALCS and he had to watch the World Series as a spectator.

After the ’82 season, Baylor signed a free agent contract with the New York Yankees.  In his first year with the Bronx Bombers, Baylor had his only .300 season.  He gave the Yankees plenty power in 1984 by drilling 27 homeruns and escorting 89 mates across the plate.  In 1985, he tied for the most RBI by a designated hitter while again leading the league in getting hit by pitched balls.  But he never made the postseason with the Yankees and was traded to the Red Sox for the 1986 season in a deal of DHs for Mike Easler. 

The trade worked for Baylor.  He found batting in Fenway to his liking–drilling 31 homeruns and driving in 94 runs.  He also paced designated hitters in runs scored.  His big bat carried Boston to the postseason and he flourished in the ALCS with a .346 batting average.  But the Red Sox were selected by Fate to lose the World Series, evident by a slow-rolling Mookie Wilson ground ball.

The Twins brought in Don as a late season addition in 1987 and he gave the northern city a solid bat for their playoff push.  Baylor helped the Twins reach the Playoffs and he hit .385 in the World Series.  At the age of 38, Baylor finally got the World Series ring that had eluded him.  He played one final year with the Oakland A’s before embarking on a distinguished coaching and managing career.

Named the skipper of the expansion Colorado Rockies, it didn’t take the natural leader long to lead them to the Playoffs.  By 1995, the Rockies were postseason bound with their high-flying offense of Andres Galarraga, Vinny Castilla, Dante Bichette, Larry Walker and the speedy Eric Young.  Baylor managed the Rockies for six years and then piloted the Cubs for two and a half.  Surely, not too far down the road, Baylor will get another chance to pilot a team to the Promised Land.

THE NUMBERS

G 2,292/R 1,236/H 2,135/2B 366/HR 338/RBI 1,276/BB 805/SO 1,069/BA .260/SA .436

            In 2006 Hillis Layne was nothing more to me than a name in the Baseball Encyclopedia.  That following year, when the project of compiling information on former baseball players who served in the military became my desire, Hillis Layne was one of the many ex-athletes I queried for an interview.  He was the first man to respond to my query and thus the first former Major Leaguer I interviewed.  February 2007 was when Hillis Layne became more to me than a name in a book: he became an admirable man of character and class. 

            Although he didn’t have the Major League tenure of a DiMaggio or Feller, Mr. Layne was an asset to baseball.  He played third base briefly with the Washington Senators in the 1940s and had a lengthy and illustrious career in the minor leagues.  After his playing days, Hillis Layne served in various capacities, most notably as a scout for the Washington Senators and Texas Rangers.  A boy from the coalfields of Tennessee, Mr. Layne made baseball his profession and the profession made a name for Hillis Layne.  Late in life he was still remembered by people of his hometown in Chattanooga as the local boy who made good in the Major Leagues.

            Mr. Layne told me that his greatest thrill in baseball was hitting a homerun at Yankee stadium.  As a boy, and a devout follower of Babe Ruth, Hillis Layne promised his mother that he would make the Major Leagues and one day hit a homerun in Yankee Stadium, just like the numerous blasts his idol swatted in the baseball coliseum.  Not a man of power in the batter’s box, Mr. Layne was a man of unrivaled power where it counted—the heart.  When he made the Major Leagues, he was determined to fulfill the promise he made his mother when a child.  Wearing the uniform of the Washington Senators in Yankee Stadium, Hillis Layne drilled his only Major League homerun in the palace of his dreams; the House that Ruth Built.  While rounding the bases, Hillis Layne was so overcome by honoring his mother that he wept slightly, living up to the promise he made her so many years ago. 

            Men of character, like Hillis Layne, are like the .400 hitter: hard to find and worthy of praise when they are found.  In 2007, as a fresh writer with one book under my belt and trepidation regarding my first interview, I was blessed with Mr. Layne as my initial interview partner.  He was cordial, polite; the personification of the stuff that heroes are made of.  His cordiality made the question and answer process of the interview relaxing for this first-time interviewer.  He put me at ease with his stories of his baseball career: knowing Ted Williams, scouting with Bob Feller and taking a line drive off the bat of Joe DiMaggio to the naval.  The anxiety I started with withered thanks to the warmth and genial disposition that Mr. Layne showed me.  We may have visited for just an hour, but I knew I was speaking with a wonderful man.  To say that baseball has lost a great man in Hillis Layne would be an understatement.  Society has lost a true hero with the passing of Hillis Layne.

www.minorleaguebaseball.com

One of the greatest second basemen of baseball’s early days, Bobby Lowe was a fixture at the keystone position for the old Boston Beaneaters (now known as the Braves).  An exceptional defender, Lowe was also quite adept with the stick.  He is best remembered as the first Major Leaguer to swat four homeruns in a single game.

Lowe came up to the Beaneaters in 1890 under Hall of Fame skipper Frank Selee.  With starting second baseman Pop Smith aging, the time was right for Bobby to claim the position in 1891.  He did just that, but spent more time in the outfield while Joe Quinn saw most of the action at second base.  Selee’s move of inserting Lowe into the everyday lineup paid off quick: they won the NL pennant. 

Lowe began flexing his muscles in 1893, when he bashed 14 homeruns–nothing to scoff at during The Deadball Era: 14 was good for third in the league.  His 17 long balls in 1894 were second in the circuit.  That year was Lowe’s breakout campaign.  He hit a lusty .346, had a terrific on-base percentage of .401, slugged .520, drove in 115 runs and scored 158 runs.  Had there been an MVP Award back then, Lowe, who also fielded his position well, would have certainly garnered plenty support.

Bobby posted his third straight year of 100 or more runs scored in 1895.  He hit .321 in 1896 then had his second 100+ RBI season in 1897 when Selee’s Beaneaters captured another title.  Lowe as an important cog to Selee’s Boston Machine which had Hall of Famers Billy Hamilton, Hugh Duffy, Jimmy Collins and pitcher Kid Nichols and also boasted the star first baseman Fred Tenney and flashy shortstop Herman Long. 

Lowe hit .272 in 1898 and 1899 with 94 and 88 RBI respectively.  When the 1900s began, Bobby was still found playing second base for the Beaneaters, but when his numbers began to sag in 1901, he was sold to the Chicago Orphans (now the Cubs) and was reunited with his old skipper Frank Selee who was in the process of building a dynasty in the Windy City.

His last year as regular was in 1904 with the Detroit Tigers at the age of 38.  He continued to play infrequently into his 40s with the Tigers and was there when a kid named Ty Cobb captured his first batting title.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,814/R 1,129/H 1,925/2B 230/3B 85/HR 71/RBI 982/BB 473/SB 310/BA .274/SA .362

www.fcassociates.com