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A solid-hitting, weak-fielding shortstop, Granny Hamner is best known as a guy you’d want at the dish when the game was on the line.  A terrific hitter in the clutch, whose batting average with runners in scoring position is about 40 points higher than his career batting average, Hamner excelled in pressure situations.  Granny was one of the first shortstops with power who helped redefine the position with the likes of Ernie Banks.

Granny, whose full name is Granville Wilbur Hamner, joined the Phillies in 1944 as a 17-year-old during the Second World War.  The Phillies were a terrible franchise before the war but couldn’t make headway during the war like their American League counterpart: the St. Louis Browns.  Hamner was later drafted into the service.  After his brief service hitch, Hamner was able to get the minor league seasoning time he sorely needed. 

Up to the Majors to stay in 1948, Granny had an unspectacular first full season at the Major League level.  He enjoyed a breakout year in 1949 when he led National League shortstops in base hits and doubles.  His power numbers rose in the Phillies pennant-winning season of 1950 when he reached double digits in homeruns for the first time.  The Phillies were overmatched in the World–indicated by a team batting average of just .203–but Granny hit Yankees pitchers at a .429 clip.

A free-swinger who rarely struck out, Granny fanned just 32 times during the 1951 season in 625 plate appearances.  In 1952, Granny kicked off a three-year string in which he made the National League All-Star team.  The NL’s leader in sacrifices in 1952, Hamner paced National League shortstops in homeruns (17) and RBI (87).  He was one of just two Major League shortstops to reach 30 doubles during the ’52 season. 

Hamner began to flip-flop between shortstop and second base in 1953.  That year, he led Major League middle infielders with 92 RBI.  He also posted career high totals in homeruns (21) and runs scored (90).  As an everyday second baseman in 1954, Granny led Major League second basemen in doubles and RBI.  He and the underrated Senator first baseman Mickey Vernon were the only two Major League infielders to post double-digit totals in every extra base-hit department during the ’54 season.

Hamner’s power numbers evaporated after the 1954 season as his power was non-existent during the 1955 and ’56 seasons.  He experienced a power reawakening in 1957 when he led National League second basemen in homeruns and RBI, but his batting average had fallen to .227.  Although he refound his stroke in 1958–raising his batting average up to .301–injury struck and limited him to just 35 games.  He never again was a regular.

Granny spent some time in the minor leagues where he served as a player/manager in Norfolk and Binghamton before the Kansas City A’s gave him his last look in the Majors.  As a 35-year-old veteran shortstop, the A’s never asked Hamner to pick up the lumber but used him as a knuckleball hurling relief pitcher in four innings.  It was his last stint in the Majors.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,531/R 711/H 1,529/2B 272/3B 62/HR 104/RBI 708/BB 351/SO 432/BA .262/SA .383/OBP .303

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One of the top pitchers of the 1930s, Lon “The Arkansas Hummingbird” Warneke finished in the Top Ten in strikeouts every year from 1932 to 1936.  A stellar workhorse with a whistling fastball, Warneke was a top flight shutout pitcher who topped his league in that department twice.  He posted five seasons in which he tallied four shutouts.

Warneke, born in Mount Ida, Arkansas, had a forgettable debut at the Major League level.  In his first game, Lon tossed an inning and a third of wild baseball–The Hummingbird issued five walks.  Although Lon’s first two years at the Major League level were marked by wildness, he settled in at the highest level in 1932 and established himself as a star pitcher with solid control. 

In his breakout ’32 season, the Arkansas Hummingbird led the National League in wins, winning percentage, shutouts and ERA.  He posted the first of three 20-win seasons and finished as masher Chuck Klein’s runner-up in MVP voting.  Lon won 22 games–the only NL pitcher to top 20.  Although he led the league with a 2.37 ERA in 1932, he trimmed his mark down to 2.00 in 1933.  Rewarded for his work, the 24-year-old right-hander was named to the National League All-Star team.  Lon’s record was 18-13 and he paced the senior circuit in complete games with 26.

Warneke reached his highwater mark for innings pitched in 1934 when he came within nine innings of working three hundred frames.  The innings-eater from Arkansas won 22 games for the ’34 Cubs and finished fourth in the National League in the strikeout department.  In his early days, Lon was extremely wild but he harnessed his control by issuing just 66 walks in 291 innings of work.  1935 was another 20-win season for the Arkansas Hummingbird and a campaign that ended with a trip to the World Series.  Although Lon had the Detroit Tigers number (he went 2-0 with a 0.56 ERA) his Cubs fell to the Bengals as Lon’s two wins were the Cubs only victories.

Lon posted his fifth straight year of 240 or more innings worked in 1936 when he tied for the league lead in shutouts.  But ’36 was Lon’s last year as a Cub.  Shortly after the close of the season, he was dealt to the Cardinals for heavy-hitting first baseman Ripper Collins and pitcher Tarzan Parmelee.  In his first year in St. Louis, Warneke went 18-11.  For the first time since 1931, Lon failed to pitch 200 innings in 1938.  Nevertheless, he finished third in the National League in shutouts.

The Arkansas Hummingbird returned to his inning-eating ways in 1940 when he tossed 232 innings for the Redbirds and went 16-10.  His 3.14 ERA was tops among St. Louis moundsmen.  He posted a nearly identical ERA in 1941 and improved his record to 17-9.  With World War II well underway in 1942, the Redbirds sold Lon back to the Cubs midway through the ’42 season where he flourished down the stretch with a 2.27 ERA in a dozen starts.

The war interrupted Lon’s career in 1944 when he was called for duty, but the Arkansas Hummingbird’s fastball had already lost its music.  He returned to the Cubs in 1945 to finish out his career.

THE NUMBERS

W 192/L 121/PCT .613/G 445/CG 192/IP 2,781/H 2,726/BB 739/SO 1,140/SHO 31/ERA 3.18

One of baseball’s tragic figures, Munson was an All-Star catcher with the New York Yankees who died in the middle of the 1979 season when a plane he piloted crashed.  When the top backstops of the 1970s are discussed, Munson’s name must be brought up with the likes of Bench, Fisk and Simmons.  Thurman was a seven-time All-Star and once gunned down 61% of would-be basestealers.  Munson’s career caught stealing percentage is ten points higher than Fisk’s.

An immediate star at the Major League level, the former first round draft pick won the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 1970.  As a rookie, Munson hit .302 and led AL receivers in doubles with 25.  His offensive numbers dipped in 1971 but he nevertheless made his first All-Star appearance thanks in part to leading AL catchers in runs scored and sniping a league best 61% of would-be basestealers.

His bat came back around in 1972 when he paced American League catchers in base hits with 143.  The following year, Munson was the only .300 hitting catcher in the junior circuit.  In that ’73 season, Thurman also topped American League catchers in runs and hits.  An All-Star again in ’73, Munson won the first of three straight Gold Glove Awards.  He also enjoyed his breakout season with the lumber by blasting 20 long balls–his finest single season output. 

Munson led American League catchers in RBI during the 1974 season and in 1975, he was the only AL catcher to reach 100 RBI.  His 190 base hits easily paced American League receivers as Gene Tenance finished second with just 127 safeties.  But for all his accomplishments, Thurman had yet to make postseason play.  The Yankees glory days of Berra, Ford and Mantle were over and the Bronx Bombers were trying to rebuild to make it to the playoffs in the mid 1970s.  They finally made it back in 1976.

Munson finished second in the American League with 105 RBI in 1976 as he led the Yankees to the postseason.  Munson, the only .300 hitting catcher in the Major Leagues, went on a tear in October.  He smacked around Kansas City pitching in the ALCS by hitting Royals pitchers at a .435 clip.  Although he roughed up KC hurlers, it was nothing compared to what he did to Cincinnati pitchers in the World Series.  Although the Yankees were losers, Thurman hit a robust .529.

Munson posted his third straight 100 RBI season in 1977 when he led Major League catchers with 183 base hits.  Although Thurman had established himself as a premier offensive catcher, he was still quite effective at gunning down thieves.  In ’77, he threw out 40% of would-be basestealers.  The Yankees made the playoffs again in 1977 and Thurman homered in the ALCS and batted .320 in a World Series victory over the Dodgers of Los Angeles.

During the 1978 season, Munson led Major League catchers with a .297 batting average but his power numbers were dried up.  He fell from 18 homers in ’77 to just six in 1978 and his slugging average nearly dropped 100 points.  Still a high average hitter, Munson took the Yankees back to the World Series in ’78 and hit .320 against the Dodgers again.  He knocked in seven runs in just six Fall Classic contests. 

In 1979, with Munson hitting .288, he piloted his private plane in early August.  Munson’s crash shocked the baseball world.  The Yankees, who had won three straight AL East pennants, fell to fourth place in 1979 as they lost their mainstay behind the plate.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,423/R 696/H 1,558/2B 229/3B 32/HR 113/RBI 701/SB 48/BB 438/SO 571/BA .292/SA .410/OBP .346

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Modern fans remember Jesse Orosco as the AARP fireman coming out of the Dodgers bullpen in his mid 40s in 2002.  He was the oldest player in Major League baseball from 1999 through 2003, when he was used as a left-handed specialist–called upon to face one or two left-handed hitters and then replaced before he faced the three batters necessary to record an inning of work.  But Orosco should be remembered more for his earlier work when he was one of the best relief pitchers going.

Selected by the Twins in the second round of the 1978 draft, Jesse was used the following year in a deal to bring veteran southpaw Jerry Koosman to Minnesota.  Jesse saw little action in the bushes as the Mets gave him a lengthy look in 1979.  He spent 1980 and ’81 back on the farm with a brief trial at the end of the ’81 season.  He was up for good by 1982, the year he established himself as a reliable fireman.  That year he led the Mets bullpen with a 2.72 ERA.

Orosco had his best year in 1983 when he won 13 games, saved 17 games and fashioned a 1.47 ERA in 110 innings of work.  The southpaw fireman kept batters off-balance, limiting batters to an average of just 0.691 hits per inning.  The Mets made Jesse their regular closer in 1984 and he responded by saving 31 games.  In 1985, the Mets brought up Roger McDowell, and Jesse and Roger each nailed down 17 saves.

The Mets went to the World Series in 1986 as Orosco saved 21 games during the regular season on a nifty 2.33 ERA.  In his first postseason action, Jesse won three games in a classic NLCS showdown with the Houston Astros of Mike Scott and Nolan Ryan.  Jesse kept his fine pitching up in the World Series against the Red Sox by posting a 0.00 ERA and saving a pair of games.

When his ERA climbed in ’87, Jesse, who averaged a strikeout per inning, was involved in a three team trade that sent him to the Dodgers.  In California, Jesse trimmed his ERA back down to a more Orosco-like 2.72.  In his one year with the Dodgers, Jesse was a member of a strong bullpen that boasted the talents of Jay Howell, Alejandro Pena, Tim Crews and Brian Holton.  Granted free agency after the season, Jesse ventured to the American League, signing with the Indians of Cleveland.

Jesse owned American League batters with a 2.08 ERA and an average of one strikeout per inning of work.  With the Brewers bullpen in 1993, Jesse had one of his finest strikeout seasons when he fanned 67 batters in just 57 innings.  He joined the Orioles via free agency in 1995 and led the American League with 65 games pitched.  He pitched in 66 games in ’96 and appeared in 71 contests in 1997, when Baltimore made it to the postseason.  As a 40-year-old in ’97, Jesse tossed 2.2 scoreless innings in the Playoffs.

After he struggled in ’99, it appeared that the 42-year-old Orosco was done, but he caught on with the Dodgers in 2001 and enjoyed a strong season as a left-handed specialist.  He appeared in 56 games in 2002 and fashioned a 3.00 ERA.  In his last Major League season, 2003, Jesse pitched for three different clubs.  Orosco holds the record for most games pitched with 1,252.

THE NUMBERS

W 87/L 80/PCT .521/SV 144/G 1,252/IP 1,295/H 1,055/BB 581/SO 1,179/ERA 3.16

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One of the top run producers in baseball during the bashing 1990s, Andres “Big Cat” Galarraga, surprisingly, only received a handful of Hall of Fame votes–not enough to be retained on the list for next year’s ballot.  When he was struggling in the middle of his career, expansion gave him new life and he rocketed to stardom with the Colorado Rockies, where he won a batting title and two RBI titles.

Originally property of the Montreal Expos, the Venezuelan born Galarraga joined their farm system in 1979.  He wasn’t summoned to the Canadian city until 1985.  Skipper Buck Rodgers gave the Big Cat regular duty in 1986 but his bat didn’t come alive at the highest level until 1987.  That year, Andres led Major League first basemen with 40 doubles and was the lone right-handed hitting initial sacker to hit .300.  Although ’87 was his first good year at the Major League level, 1988 was his breakout year.

Galarraga made his first All-Star team in ’88 when he paced the National League with 184 hits, 42 doubles and 329 total bases.  He also led NL first basemen in batting average and slugging average, as his power numbers began to show that year.  Andres climbed from 13 homers in ’87 to 29 in 1988.  Not just a big basher, Andres won two consecutive Gold Glove Awards in 1989 and 1990, but his batting stats all dipped during those years.  After a poor 1991 season in which his batting average fell to .219 and his homerun total to just nine, the Expos gave up on their once promising first baseman.

Dealt to the Cardinals for Ken Hill prior to the 1992 season, the Big Cat spent one injury-plagued season in the Gateway to the West.  At 31, it appeared that his career had stalled out, but expansion revived his declining numbers.  The Cardinals granted Galarraga free agency after the ’92 season and didn’t shed a tear by letting him walk.  The Rockies grabbed him up, hoping that he could deliver some of the goods he once brought to the Expos lineup.  But he did more for the Rockies than any prognosticator could have fathomed.

In his first year with the Rockies, Andres won the National League batting title by hitting a robust .370.  The year before, with the Redbirds, he only managed a .243 mark ,but in the friendly confines of Colorado, Andres’ blood flowed again and his bat responded with a terrific season.  Once the Rockies got their feet wet in the NL, they began surrounding Andres with some protection in the lineup.  In the strike shortened 1994 campaign, Andres blasted 31 homeruns but came in second on the team in the RBI department behind Dante Bichette.

The Rockies became a high-powered offensive team in 1995 with Andres, Bichette, third baseman Vinny Castilla and outfielder Larry Walker leading the charge.  In just their third year in existence, Colorado went to the playoffs and Andres hit .278 in the NL Division Series.  But his best years were ahead of him

Galarraga led the National League in homeruns (47) and RBI (150) in 1996.  That year he began a string of three straight seasons in which he would post at least 100 runs scored, 40 homeruns, 120 RBI and a .585 slugging average.  In ’96, Galarraga was the lone National League first baseman to slug over .600.  He also topped his position peers in runs scored (119) and base hits (190).  Still on top in 1997, the Big Cat led the NL in RBI for the second straight season by driving in 140 of his mates.  The Big Cat and Larry Walker gave the Rockies one of the greatest run-producing seasons among teammates in baseball history when the two stars combined for 263 runs scored and 270 RBI.

Andres left the Rockies via free agency after the 1997 season and joined the Atlanta Braves.  Under skipper Bobby Cox, the Big Cat didn’t miss a beat.  He socked 44 homeruns and drove home 121 runs for the NL East champs.  In that year’s NLCS, he clubbed his only postseason dinger.  Still very productive in his upper 30s, Andres had to leave the diamond to combat cancer in 1999.  He made an inspirational return to the diamond in 2000 and was made to his last All-Star squad that season.  Not voted in simply on sentimentality, Andres was still productive, indicated by his fifth 100 RBI season.

Andres left the Braves and signed a free agent deal with the Texas Rangers where he could play designated hitter as a 40-year-old cancer survivor.  But before the trade deadline, the Rangers shipped Andres to the Giants for outfielder Chris Magruder and lefty Erasmo Ramirez to serve as a power bat for the stretch drive.  San Francisco reached the Division Series but were defeated by the Florida Marlins.  Andres spent his last three years in the Majors with three different teams.  Had he not missed a full season to battling cancer, he would have easily topped 400 career homeruns.

THE NUMBERS

G 2,257/R 1,195/H 2,333/2B 444/3B 32/HR 399/RBI 1,425/BB 583/SO 2,003/SB 128/BA .288/SA .499/OBP .347

Noted as baseball’s greatest slugger during the years of World War II, Swish Nicholson has the tag of being a star when the game was depleted and not when it was at its strongest.  War era ease aside, Bill was a powerful homerun hitter who was an All-Star before the war–it’s not his fault that he came into his prime when many of the game’s top flight stars were in the colors.

Swish received his first look in the Majors with Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s in 1936.  Ever the astute judge of talent, Mr. Mack thought the brawny basher needed more seasoning after a 12 at-bat, no-hit cup of coffee in ’36.  It was back to the minors for Swish but after a solid slugging season with the Chattanooga Lookouts in 1939 he was back in the Majors–for good.  The Cubs rewarded Bill’s work in Chattanooga with a callup and he hit .295 the rest of the season in Chicago.

Given the chance to show what he could do in 1940, Swish was named to the NL All-Star team by leading National League right fielders in homeruns and RBI.  His .534 slugging average was good for second in the senior circuit.  Bill mirrored his 98 RBI of 1940 with the same total in 1941–the best tally from an NL right fielder.  After Pearl Harbor was bombed in December of ’41, Major League ballplayers began joining the colors in earnest.  Swish was able to play through the fighting and thus enjoyed some rather fine seasons.

His best years came in 1943 and 1944.  In each campaign, Swish led the NL in both homeruns and RBI.  He finished third in MVP voting in 1943 and second in voting in ’44.  In the 1943 season, Swish was one of just two National League players (Hall of Famer Stan Musial being the other) to slug over .500.  Even better in 1944, Swish led the NL in homeruns, RBI, total bases and runs scored.  It can be argued that he was ripped off in MVP voting as the award went to Cardinals shortstop Marty Marion whose lumber wasn’t even in the same league as Bill’s. 

Swish’s numbers dipped mightily in 1945 but his Cubs nevertheless went to the World Series.  Although he hit twenty fewer long balls in 1945 than he did in ’44, Bill was at his run-producing best in the Fall Classic.  He led all participants with 8 RBI, but the Cubs lost to the Tigers in seven games.  When Bill had a dismal 1946 season, the first year after the war, pundits felt he was simply a war era star and nothing more.  He proved his naysayers wrong by leading the Cubs with 26 homeruns in 1947.

After a 19 homerun season for the Cubs in 1948, they traded him to the Phillies for Harry “The Hat” Walker.  Bill’s batting average fell to .234 in ’49 and then to .224 in 1950 as the Phillies gave more playing time to a younger, stronger Del Ennis.  But Swish still brought some value to his club.  He became a valuable reserve bat for the Phillies in the early 1950s.  He finished second on the Phillies roster in slugging average in 1951.  In 1952, Swish was the only Phillies player to slug over .500.  He ended his career in 1953.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,677/R 837/H 1,484/2B 272/3B 60/HR 235/RBI 948/BB 800/SO 828/BA .268/SA .465/OBP .365

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You wouldn’t think a ballplayer nicknamed The Penguin would be much of a defender, with the animal’s pronounced waddle and all, but Cey always had well-above average fielding percentages at the hot corner.  He does quite well when perusing all those new-fangled defensive stats I only have a casual interest in.  But Cey’s calling card was his power and walk-drawing abilities.  Good for 25-30 homers and a .370 on-base percentage during his heyday, Ron was a solid all-around hot corner custodian.

The Dodgers drafted Cey in 1968 and gave him his first look in the Majors in 1971.  When Steve Garvey failed to impress at third base, The Penguin was tried at the location and found quite suitable.  He finished sixth in Rookie of the Year voting.  In 1974, Cey kicked off a six-year string of All-Star appearances for the Dodgers when he finished second to Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt in RBI among NL third basemen.  Throughout his career, Cey was always in Schmidt’s shadow.

1974 was also Cey’s first taste of postseason ball and he did quite well under the October spotlight.  He banged three doubles in the NLCS but had a more difficult time with A’s pitching in the World Series.  Although Ron drove in 97 runs in 1974 his 1975 season was his breakout campaign.  That year he was the only Major League third baseman to reach 100 RBI.  The Penguin also had the first of ten 20+ homerun seasons that year. 

Ron paced the Dodgers in homeruns in 1976 and the following year helped them reach the postseason again.  He blasted 30 homeruns, drew 93 walks, and led National League third basemen with 110 RBI.  A man who swats 30 homers and chases 110 mates across the plate is nice, but Cey’s cake came with icing too, indicated by his fielding percentage eight points above league average.  Like he did in ’74, Ron had a fine NLCS (he hit .308) but struggled in the Fall Classic, which the Dodgers dropped to the Yankees.

Cey led National League third basemen in homeruns and RBI in 1978.  His batting eye was also in top form as he walked as much as he struck out, with a fine .380 on-base percentage.  His Dodgers won the NL West flag again and like he did his previous trials in the postseason, he hit well in the NLCS (.313 batting average).  After two World Series losses in which his bat was kept quiet, Cey addressed his Fall Classic hitting woes and had a decent showing against the Yankees with a .286 mark, bus his Dodgers, for the third time during his tenure, lost the World Series.

The Dodgers had the luxury of a long-running infield of Garvey at first, Davey Lopes at second, Bill Russell at short and Cey at third.  In 1979, Cey, Garvey and Lopes all hit 28 homeruns.  Cey followed up that season with an equal 28 homerun campaign in 1980.  During the strike shortened 1981 season, Cey finally won his World Series ring as the Dodgers toppled the Yankees with The Penguin chipping in a .350 batting average and six RBI.

After a 24 HR/79 RBI season in 1982 the Dodgers made a poor trade when they shipped Ron off to the Cubs for two nondescript players.  In Wrigley, Cey led the Cubbies with 90 RBI his first year with the team.  His second year as a Cub, 1984, Cey led them to the postseason by pacing NL third basemen in doubles.  His last fling with postseason play came in the ’84 NLCS against the Padres where Ron blasted a homerun.

Ron tied with Tim Wallach for the most homeruns by an NL third baseman in 1985.  Had it not been for the strike shortened 1981 season, Cey would have had eleven consecutive years of 20+ homeruns.  1986 was Ron’s last good year as only he and Mike Schmidt slugged above .500 among NL third basemen.  After the season he was traded to the Oakland A’s for infielder Luis Quinones and he played one final season back in California before retiring.

THE NUMBERS

G 2,073/R 977/H 1,868/2B 328/3B 21/HR 316/RBI 1,139/BB 1,012/SO 1,235/SB 24/BA .261/SA .445/OBP .354

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