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Cullenbine, the Greek God of On-Base Percentage, was an underappreciated ballplayer in his day.  Often criticized for not swinging the bat, Roy made his rounds in the Majors, playing for many teams in his career.  But Cullenbine was a valuable man on a team: he could get on base, hit for modest power and had an arm no sensible man would test.

Roy saw his first action at the Major League level with the Tigers in 1938.  He hit .284 with a .392 on-base percentage in his brief rookie trial.  Skipper Del Baker gave him a little more action in 1939 but his numbers dipped as he backed up such notables as Hall of Famer Earl Averill and high average hitter Barney McCosky.  The commissioner’s office granted Roy and some other Detroit players free agency in 1940 and Roy signed with the Dodgers.

The Dodgers gave up on Roy early in the 1940 season despite an impressive .405 on-base percentage.  They traded him to the St. Louis Browns for muscular power prospect Joe Gallagher.  In St. Louis, Cullenbine came into his own.  Named to the All-Star team in 1941, Roy played mostly in left field and finished second to Ted Williams in batting average and walks drawn by an AL left fielder.  Roy had a very impressive .317 BA/.452 OBP line in ’41 but that was the year Williams stole the spotlight with his .406 batting average.  Cullenbine’s astronomical on-base percentage was second in the AL.  Over the course of his career, he had six Top Ten finishes in on-base percentage and seven Top Five finishes in walks drawn.

After a slow start in ’42, the Browns traded Roy to the Senators where he got back on track with a .396 on-base percentage.  Late in the season, the Yankees put in a waiver claim to snatch Roy from the Senators since they needed an outfielder with Tommy Henrich’s induction into the service.  Cullenbine was nothing short of brilliant in his stint with the Yankees.  Down the stretch, Roy hit .364 with an unearthly .484 on-base percentage for the Bronx Bombers.  The Yankees used Roy in the heart of the order during the World Series as he helped bring another title to New York.

Roy was merely a rental player throughout his career.  The Yankees shipped him off to Cleveland for the 1943 season.  For the Tribe, Roy posted his third straight .400 on-base percentage season.  He led Major League right fielders in walks and topped his AL position peers in RBI.  Showing off his arm from right field, Roy totaled 14 outfield assists.

An All-Star for the second time in 1944, Cullenbine led American League right fielders in homeruns, RBI, runs, hits, walks and slugging average.  Despite all those credentials, Cleveland gave up on him early in 1945.  Traded to the Tigers, Roy led Detroit to the 1945 World Series by leading the AL in walks (113) and outfield assists (23).  Roy finished second in the AL in the RBI department–quite a feat for a guy who “didn’t swing the bat” often enough.  Detroit romped to the World Series with the return of Hank Greenberg from the military.  Roy scored five runs and drove in four to help bring the title to Motown.

Cullenbine’s career year came the season after the mass return from World War II.  The switch-hitting right fielder led Major League right fielders with a .335 batting average and .537 slugging average.  Roy’s on-base percentage was an unheard of .477 which, with his solid power, he posted a terrific on-base-plus-slugging of 1.014. 

Shifted to first base in 1947, Roy had an unusual final year in the Majors.  He led American League first basemen in homeruns and finished second in the league with 137 walks.  The lack of appreciation Roy experienced throughout his career was evident in 1947.  Too many folks focused on his poor .224 batting average, failing to take in account his lofty .401 on-base percentage and above average totals in RBI and runs scored.  His career was over when the Phillies released him in the Spring of 1948.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,181/R 627/H 1,072/2B 209/3B 32/HR 110/RBI 599/SB 26/BB 853/SO 399/BA .276/SA .432/OBP .408

www.findagrave.com

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Al Downing joined the Yankees at the height of their Mantle/Maris days and was with them when the team reached an all-time low in the mid to late 1960s.  A fine strikeout artist in his glory days, Downing had issues with control, like many strikeout pitchers.  Although he had a fine career, Downing’s claim to fame is surrendering the homerun Hank Aaron hit to pass Babe Ruth on the all-time homerun list.

Al got his first taste of the Majors in 1961 but didn’t stick until 1963.  That year he showed Yankee brass his exceptional strikeout abilities by averaging 0.972 Ks per inning as a rookie.  Terrific as a rookie, Al surrendered just 114 hits in 176 innings of work with a 13-5 record.  He helped the Yankees reach the World Series but they were beat by the Dodgers. 

The 1963 season was a small sample of what was to come.  In 1964, the Yankees gave Al a larger workload and he responded by leading the American League in strikeouts.  But his accuracy was none too sharp as he also led the junior circuit in walks.  New York went to another World Series but again fell to the National League’s champs: the Cardinals of St. Louis.  He finished fifth in the AL in strikeouts in 1965 but the Yankees fell in the standings to sixth place.  Although his strikeout total fell to 152 in 1966, it was a team-leading total for the last place Yankees.

The Yankees finished one foot out of the cellar in 1967 but Al did his part by posting a 14-10, 2.63 record.  The southpaw also missed his share of bats, averaging just 0.782 hits per inning of work–superior to Hall of Fame peers Steve Carlton (0.896) and Bob Gibson (0.863).

After missing most of the ’68 season to injury, Downing was back in 1969 as a spot-starter, bullpen long arm.  But Al’s strikeout propensity had fallen so the Yankees dealt him to the Oakland A’s for Danny Cater after the season.  Al split a disappointing 5-13 season with the A’s and Brewers in 1970 before his comeback campaign with the Dodgers in 1971.

With the Dodgers in ’71, Al tied for the National League lead in shutouts and came in third in Cy Young Award voting–his highest career finish.  In his first year in the senior circuit, Downing notched his only 20-win season by going 20-9 for LA.  Poor support dogged Al the following year as he finished with a .500 winning percentage despite a 2.98 ERA. 

His last postseason action came in 1974 when he helped the Dodgers reach the World Series.  He had a perfect 0.00 ERA in the NLCS against the Pirates, but couldn’t find the strike zone in his lone World Series start against the Oakland A’s.  After the ’74 season, Al was used sparingly out of the bullpen and as a spot starter for the Dodgers the next three years.

THE NUMBERS

W 123/L 107/PCT .535/ERA 3.22/G 405/CG 73/SHO 24/IP 2,268/H 1,946/BB 933/SO 1,639

www.wikipedia.org