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A longtime St. Louis Brown, Jack Tobin played with the lackluster franchise during their glory years of the 1920s.  The Browns had the misfortune of coming to prominence when Babe Ruth was sold to the Yankees, therefore they never made the World Series during Tobin’s tenure even though their offense was oftentimes better than the Yankees.  The Browns lack of pitching kept them from dethroning the mighty Yankees of Ruth.

Jack got his first taste of Major League action in 1914.  The Federal League was established as a third Major League that year and Tobin as the star hitter in the St. Louis Terriers lineup.  He led the Federal League in base hits during the 1915 season but when Major League Baseball found out it couldn’t sustain three Major Leagues, the Federal League fell apart.  On the open market, the Federal League’s hits leader signed on with the American League’s St. Louis entry: the Browns.

Jack struggled at first in the faster American League but found his footing in 1919.  That year he hit a robust .327, kicking off a five-year streak of posting batting averages above .315.  He proved that he could hit the old “deadball” with the best of them but took to the “lively” ball when it was introduced in 1920.  The first year of a new decade was good to Jack, as he was the only AL right fielder to reach 200 base hits.  The left-handed swinger finished as Babe Ruth’s runner-up in batting average among junior circuit right fielders with a .341 mark. 

Tobin led the AL in triples in 1921 while finishing second in the league with 236 base hits.  Jack also finished as the second pea in the pod in runs scored with 132 steps across home plate.  His averages were quite flattering as well with a .352 batting average, .395 on-base percentage and .487 slugging average.  Just as good in 1922, Jack was the only Major League right fielder to reach 200 hits and his 122 runs scored topped his American League position peers. 

Never a brawny basher, Jack swatted 13 homeruns in 1922 and followed that up with an equal showing in 1923.  During the ’23 season, Jack posted 637 at-bats but only struck out thirteen times during the season.  The next year he fanned a dozen times in over 600 at-bats.  He began to lose playing time in 1925 and was traded after the season to the Senators for Win Ballou and Tom Zachary.  No longer able to slug in the .400s, Jack finished his career in 1927 with a solid .310 batting average and a 4-to-1 walk-to-strikeout ratio.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,617/R 934/H 1,908/2B 297/3B 101/HR 64/RBI 581/BB 498/SO 172/SB 147/BA .309/SA .421

www.baseball-reference.com

A southpaw from The Deadball Era, Slim Sallee is a rarity: a 20-game winner who barely reached 20 strikeouts during his 20-win campaign.  During the 1919 season, Slim led the Reds to a World Series title by notching 21 wins but only striking out 24 batters.  Sallee may not have had the put-it-by-’em that Walter Johnson owned, by the portsider got the job done nonetheless.

Sallee joined the Majors in 1908 with the St. Louis Cardinals and fashioned an unflattering 3-8 record as a rookie.  But this was before the Redbirds had Dizzy Dean and Jim Bottomley, and the 1908 Cardinals ended with more than 100 losses.  Slim again posted a losing record in 1909 even though he topped Cardinal moundsmen with a 2.42 ERA.  Slim would go on to keep his ERA below 3.00 every year until 1920 when he posted a 3.11 mark.  He currently rests in the Top 50 in career ERA.

The Cardinals played .500 ball in 1911 under Hall of Famer Roger Bresnahan with Slim winning close to 20 games and pacing the staff with a 2.76 ERA.  In The Deadball Era, the relief pitcher wasn’t yet defined and Slim was used to put out fires while also leading the rotation as Staff Ace.  Slim led the National League in saves during the 1912 season.  He was called on to log 294 innings pitched and fashioned a fine 2.60 ERA in the process.

The Cardinals finished dead last in 1913 but they still had a bright spot in Sallee.  Slim won 18 games for the bottom-feeding Redbirds that year.  The next season he trimmed his ERA down to 2.10 and again led the senior circuit in saves, even though the stat wasn’t acknowledged at the time.  Thanks to the Federal League raiding rosters, the Cardinals climbed to third place in 1914 but they returned to the second division in 1915.

Slim was saved from the Cardinals in 1916 when John McGraw paid a hefty price for his contract.  The slender southpaw didn’t disappoint Little Napoleon, fashioning a 1.37 ERA in his sixteen games for the Giants.  Sallee got his first taste of postseason action in 1917.  During the regular season, Slim went 18-7 with a 2.17 ERA for the Giants while leading the league in saves for the third time in his career.  By this time in his career, Slim had perfected his accuracy but his modest strikeout totals had sank into the swamp: he struggled to reach 30 strikeouts from here on to the end of his career.  Lack of strikeout stuff aside, Slim averaged just 0.157 walks per inning in 1917 but he lost both of his World Series starts to the White Sox.

Slim had a 2.25 ERA in 1918 and averaged jus 0.091 walks per inning.  Although he had one of the best arms for marksmanship in the senior circuit, McGraw waived Sallee and he caught on with the Reds for the 1919 season.  Infamy blotches the 1919 baseball campaign, as the White Sox surrendered the World Series to Sallee and the Reds.  Although Slim was a 20-game winner during the regular season, the same White Sox that owned him in the 1917 World Series found him difficult in 1919.  He won Game 2 of the World Series and posted a nifty 1.35 ERA during the Fall Classic.

Late in the 1920 season Slim was returned to John McGraw’s Giants and he ended his career as a member of the World Champion Giants of 1921.

THE NUMBERS

W 173/L 143/PCT .547/G 475/CG 188/IP 2,819/H 2,726/BB 572/SO 835/SHO 25/ERA 2.57

www.wikipedia.com

One of the top third basemen during The Deadball Era, Bill Bradley was widely regarded as one of the top third basemen in the Major Leagues.  Often compared to Hall of Fame peer Jimmy Collins, Bradley was noted for his fine hitting and exceptional fielding.  A baseball lifer, Bill scouted for the Indians for over twenty years after his playing days were over.

Bradley was initially called up by the Chicago Cubs (then called the Orphans) in 1899.  Harry Wolverton saw most of the action at the hot corner that season but Bill became a regular in 1900.  That year he hit .282 but when the American League established itself as a Major League, Bill jumped the Cubs and joined the Cleveland Indians (then called the Blues).  It was in Cleveland where Bradley made a name for himself.

Bill had a fine year his first season in Cleveland, tying for second in hits among AL hot corner custodians.  His breakout year came in 1902.  That season Bill was the only third baseman in the Major Leagues to slug over .500.  He led all third basemen with a .341 batting average.  Bradley’s 104 runs scored were good for third place in the AL and he finished as the runner-up in the homerun department.  Bill was the only infielder in the Major Leagues to post a double-digit homerun total that year.

Bill kept up his heavy-hitting in 1903, finishing second in the junior circuit with 22 triples.  He also topped American League third basemen in homeruns and was the lone AL infielder to score over 100 runs.  Not skipping a beat in 1904, Bradley was head and shoulders above his peers.  In that campaign, Bill was the Major League’s lone .300 hitting third baseman and he also paced all third basemen in RBI, runs, hits, homers and slugging average.  Although his bat was top-notch, it took a backseat to his leather.  Bill fielded his position at a .955 clip while the average third baseman fielded at a .929 clip.

Bradley smacked out 34 doubles in 1905–his fourth straight year of at least 30 doubles–which was tops among Major League third basemen.  He suffered an injury in 1906 and was never again the same hitter.  After a rough 1907 season in which he led the American League in sacrifice hits, Bill rebounded nicely in 1908 by leading American League third basemen in runs scored.  That season Bill also set a record (since broken) when he tallied the unheard total of 60 sacrifices.

Although Bill’s bat was in decline, his still picked it with the best of them on the field.  He fielded at a .957 average in 1909 while the average third basemen fielded at a .929 clip.  But when Bill’s batting averages dipped below .200 in 1909 and 1910, skipper Deacon McGuire began using younger players like George Perring and Morrie Rath at the hot corner.  Bill returned to the bushes in 1911 to regain his stroke at Toronto.  He was summoned back to the Major Leagues in 1914 when the upstart Federal League began operations and managed their Brooklyn affiliate, the Tip-Tops in 1914.  His last year was spent with the Kansas City Packers of the Federal league, where he flashed his usual solid leather but still carried a deflated a stick.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,460/R 761/H 1,484/2B 273/3B 84/HR 34/RBI 552/SB 193/BA .272/SA .372

One mistake can follow a person around for as long as they live.  Fred Merkle, as a youngster with the New York Giants, was the target of Johnny Evers’ trickery that enabled the Cubs to win the NL pennant in 1908.  When Fred failed to touch base after a game-ending hit, Evers retrieved the ball and stepped on the base thus counting Merkle as out.  This infamous annal of baseball history has been forever known as The Merkle Boner but should have been called The Card Up Tricky Johnny’s Sleeve.  Due to Merkle’s freshman incident, he was unjustly referred to as a “bonehead” when in truth he was a vastly intelligent player; the only player skipper John McGraw would consult with concerning game strategy.

When Merkle first came up to the Major Leagues, he was stuck behind an aging Dan McGann and then had to sit in the shadow of the great Fred Tenney when McGraw acquired his services after McGann was through.  But Merkle cracked the everyday lineup in 1910 when he replaced Tenney.  At the age of 21, the first year regular paced Major League first basemen in slugging average. 

In 1911, Fred clubbed a dozen homeruns (quite a bundle during The Deadball Era) which enabled him to finish second among Major League first basemen.  The Giants first baseman, playing under constant stress from the fabled “bonehead play,” was a multidimensional talent, indicated by his hefty total of steals.  During the 1911 season, Merkle led all first basemen with 49 thefts.  The following season, Merkle paced Major League first basemen in homeruns, posting back-to-back seasons with double-digit homerun totals.  Merkle led NL first basemen in runs scored and stolen bases while leading the Giants to a World Series.  In a Fall Classic loss to the Red Sox, Merkle hit a respectable .273.

The Giants won their third straight NL pennant in 1913 with Fred legging out thirteen triples.  But the Giants of Merkle’s time were unlucky in October.  They lost all three Fall Classics that Fred appeared in.  However, Merkle performed adequately under October pressure.  He was the only Giant to swat a homerun in the 1913 World Series.

Fred hit .299 in 1915 but with his power and run production waning, the Giants shipped him off to the Dodgers in 1916 for Lew McCarty.  The trade allowed Fred to make his fourth World Series appearance, as Brooklyn captured the NL flag.  Although Fred was a member of a different team, it was the same old result for poor Mr. Merkle: the Dodgers lost.  He would appear in five World Series and would be a member of the losing cause in every Classic.

In 1917, Fred and Hall of Famer George Sisler were the only Major League first basemen to reach 30 doubles in 1917.  As a member of the Cubs, the team that exploited his youth as a rookie, Fred hit a nifty .297 for them in 1918.  He paced senior circuit first basemen in hits and doubles while leading the Cubs to the World Series.  In the 1918 Fall Classic, Fred hit a tidy .278 but his team fell to the Red Sox of Babe Ruth. 

Merkle topped NL first basemen in RBI during the 1919 season.  He played one final campaign with the Cubs in 1920 before becoming a fixture at first base for the Rochester Tribe in the International League.  He returned to the Majors in 1925 in a coaching capacity with the Yankees and even got into a few games in 1925 and ’26.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,638/R 720/H 1,580/2B 290/3B 81/HR 60/RBI 733/BB 545/SB 272/BA .273/SA .383

www.nytimes.com

Handy Andy Pafko didn’t come by his nickname because it sounded catchy.  No, Mr. Pafko was indeed a handy fellow to have on a ballclub.  Andy was able to fill more spots on the field than most players–handling every outfield position with expertise while also holding his own at third base.  He was a manager’s dream: versatile, hard-working and a terrific hitter. 

Pafko got his start as a youngster with the war era Cubs.  He made his debut in 1943 and played regularly in ’44 but didn’t enjoy his breakout year until the Cubs NL pennant winning season of 1945.  That year Handy Andy drove in 110 runs (tied for third in the NL) and carried the Cubs to the World Series.  In the ’45 Fall Classic, the Cubs locked horns with the Tigers of Detroit and Pafko scored five runs in the Series but the Tigers, led by the stout hitting of Hank Greenberg, punched the Cubs ticket back home to The Windy City; losers of yet another World Series.

The 1946 season was a wash for Pafko, due to injury, but he rebounded to make the NL All-Star Team in 1947.  Patrolling center field for the Cubs, Andy and Harry “The Hat” Walker were the only two NL center fielders to hit .300 during the ’47 season.  Skipper Charlie Grimm shifted Andy to third base in 1948 and he didn’t miss a beat, making the All-Star team at his new position.  He had a terrific year manning the hot corner for the Cubs, swatting 26 homers and driving in 101 runs.  Pafko paced National League third basemen in base hits, doubles and batting average.

Handy Andy had his best year for power in 1950.  That year he made his fourth straight All-Star appearance and blasted 36 balls over the fence: tops among Major League center fielders.  He was at the top of his game in ’50.  He drove in 92 runs, scored 95 runs, had 69 walks compared to 32 strikeouts and was the runner-up in slugging average in the senior circuit.  Pafko liked hitting for authority so much he did it again in 1951.

Despite twelve homers in 49 games, the lowly Cubs packaged Andy in a deal with the Brooklyn Dodgers in June of 1951.  Joining Andy in The Windy City exodus were pitcher Bear Tracks Johnny Schmitz and utility infielder Wayne Terwilliger while the winds blew role players Bruce Edwards, Gene Hermanski, Joe Hatten and Eddie Miksis to the Cubs.  All Andy did for the Dodgers was slug 18 homers for them, giving him a combined 30 for the season.  The following season Handy Andy drove home 85 runs for the Dodgers, who captured the NL crown but lost the World Series to the Yankees in seven games.

Just before the 1953 season Andy was traded to his home state Milwaukee Braves.  Pafko hit .297 playing in his native land his first year with the Braves.  He slugged .427 in 1954 then began a lengthy run as a reserve given his advanced age; 34 was old in an era not obsessed with gym face time and backside injections.  At the age of 36 he finally won his World Series ring, playing with the thunderous offense of Aaron, Mathews and Adcock.  He was also a member of the losing squad in the 1958 World Series but nevertheless posted a .333 average in his last Fall Classic appearance.  Pafko retired after the 1959 season.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,852/R 844/H 1,796/2B 264/3B 62/HR 213/RBI 976/BB 561/SO 477/SB 38/BA .285/SA .449

www.vintagecardtraders.com

Sparky Lyle came to prominence while pitching for the New York Yankees and parlayed his diamond success with a book titled The Bronx Zoo.  Lyle chronicled the exploits of his teammates in the book and it became a favorite among baseball fans.  But Mr. Lyle was more than just a tell-all scribe: he was a terrific relief pitcher.

Sparky was originally brought up by the Red Sox in 1967.  He appeared in 27 games, without making a start, and would go on to appear in 899 games (23rd all-time among pitchers) during his career… without making a start.  He was Dick Williams’ most reliable relief arm in 1968 when he posted the bullpen’s best ERA and had a winning percentage of .857.  He trimmed his ERA to 2.54 in 1969 and pitched over 100 innings of relief. 

Lyle posted his first 20 save season in 1970.  Just prior to the ’72 season Sparky was dealt to the Yankees for first baseman Danny Cater.  Although a decent fireman in Boston, he became an elite fireman in New York.  In his first year with the Yankees, Sparky led the American League with 35 saves.  His ERA was below 2.00 and he finished third in MVP voting.  In 1973, he finished second in the AL in the saves department while making his first All-Star squad.  Although Sparky’s accuracy was spotty throughout his career, he had control in ’73; averaging just 0.220 walks per inning.

Sparky had his best year for ERA in 1974 when he posted an amazing 1.66 earned run average.  He only saved 15 games but had a sharp record of 9-3.  The Yankees of Bill Virdon didn’t have a conventional closer in 1974 and Sparky got a handful of saves in a pen with Tippy Martinez and Dick Tidrow.  When Billy Martin took over the Yankees in 1976 save opportunities were presented to Lyle once again and he responded by leading the AL in saves.  More importantly, Martin also brought the winning-way back to the Bronx and Sparky made his first postseason appearance.  He saved Game 3 of the ALCS and worked in two World Series games in a Fall Classic loss to Cincinnati.

Sparky paced the American League in games pitched in 1977.  He saved 26 games on a 2.17 ERA and fashioned a 13-5 worksheet.  The left-handed fireman led the Yankees to a World Series title and was rewarded with the Cy Young Award.  He won two games against the Royals in the ALCS and picked up a third October victory against the Dodgers in the World Series.

His numbers fell off in ’78 and he was replaced in the closer’s role by Hall of Famer Goose Gossage.  Shortly after the close of the season he was involved in a large trade with the Rangers, joining catcher Mike Heath, infielder Domingo Ramos and a couple other players in exchange for utilityman Juan Beniquez and pitchers Dave Righetti, Paul Mirabella and Mike Griffin.  Sparky got back on track in The Lone Star State, averaging just 0.821 hits per inning.  It was his last good year.

The Phillies brought in Sparky late in the 1980 season and he ended his career with the White Sox in 1982.  In 1988 he received 13% of the Hall of fame vote but steadily garnered less and less support the next few years before getting dumped from the ballot in 1991.  Sparky has recently had success as a manager in the Independent Leagues with the Somerset Patriots.

THE NUMBERS

W 99/L 76/PCT .566/SV 238/G 899/IP 1,391/H 1,292/BB 481/SO 873/ERA 2.88

www.mlb.com

One of baseball’s finest control pitchers, Nitro Lew Burdette reached 200 wins not on a blazing fastball but on guile and deception.  At times he looked like a mental patient on the mound–fidgeting and talking to himself–but was usually in control despite an appearance of a lack of control.  His famous quote, “I exploit the greed in all hitters,” is a phrase issued by a master of control.

After high school graduation, Burdette enlisted in the Armed Forces during World War II.  When the war was over, the teenage Nitro Lew began his baseball career in the Yankees organization.  Initially called up in 1950, Lew saw little action with the Bronx Bombers, spending the bulk of the year with their AAA affiliate, the Kansas City Blues.  Burdette never really got a trial with the Yankees who shipped him off to the Braves the next year.

Burdette was used out of the bullpen by the Braves in 1952 and led the club in saves.  In ’53 he still put out fires but was used also as a spot starter, posting a nifty 15-5 record on a 3.24 ERA.  Skipper Charlie Grimm felt hat Lew would be best used in the rotation in 1954 and Burdette gave Jolly Cholly 15 wins and a tidy 2.76 ERA in ’54.  That year Lew finished second in the NL in shutouts, showing Grimm that he had the stuff to carry his club deep into games.  He kicked off an eight year run of tossing at least 200 innings each season.

1956 was Burdette’s breakout season.  The right-hander paced the senior circuit in shutouts and ERA while winning 19 games for the Braves.  But his finest hour came the following year in 1957.  Lew went 17-9 during the season and his numbers were simply of the modest variety, but in that season’s World Series, Lew put on a pitching clinic.  Determined to beat the club that gave up on him too soon, Burdette stood the Yankees on their ears the entire Fall Classic.  He won three games, tossed complete game shutouts in Game 5 and Game 7, and had an overall World Series ERA of 0.67.  The Yankees realized their blunder of parting ways with Lew as a prospect… up close and personal.

After his World Series heroics, Burdette fashioned his first 20-win season in 1958.  He tied for the league lead in winning percentage and finished third in Cy Young Award voting.  The ’58 World Series had the same cast as the ’57 Fall Classic but the opposite outcome.  The Yankees beat the Braves and they handled Lew with general ease in the Series. 

Burdette won 21 games in 1959 (tied for the league lead) while also tying for the NL lead in shutouts.  Named to the NL All-Star team, Nitro Lew honed his accuracy to perfection that season.  He averaged just 0.131 walks per inning while Hall of Fame peers Don Drysdale (0.343), Warren Spahn (0.240) and fellow marskman Robin Roberts (0.136) possessed less put-’em-where-I-want-’em than Burdette.  The next year Lew tied for the NL lead in complete games while walking just 35 batters in 275 innings of work. 

Burdette paced the NL in innings pitched during the 1961 season, fashioning an 18-11 record with an average of just 0.121 walks per inning.  But all the years of 200+ innings spelled doom for Lew in 1962.  From that point on, he never again reached 200 innings in another season.  The Braves severed ties with him in 1963, trading him to the Cardinals who in turn dealt him to the Cubs for Glen Hobbie in ’64.  After a rough ’65 season split between the Cubs and Phiillies Nitro Lew had his last fine season in the American League with the Angels in 1966, posting a .778 winning percentage out of California’s bullpen as a 39-year-old.

THE NUMBERS

W 203/L 144/PCT .585/G 626/CG 158/IP 3,068/H 3,186/BB 628/SO 1,074/SHO 33/ERA 3.66