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A scrappy, hard-nosed second baseman who played his entire career with the Milwaukee Brewers, Jim Gantner never got the respect he deserved because he was a shadow-player.  Not only did he play in the shadow of such star teammates as Paul Molitor and Robin Yount, but as a second baseman in the 1980s, he had to play in the shadow of guys like Ryne Sandberg, Lou Whitaker and Frank White.  Despite his shadow-player status, Gantner has the 30th best fielding percentage among second basemen of all-time and in the new-fangled stat of Range Factor, he is the 16th best second baseman of all-time.

Drafted by his hometown Brewers in 1974, Jim was originally groomed as a third baseman but with Sal Bando and Don Money in the organization, there was little opportunity for him to crack the lineup.  The Brewers gave him his first look in 1976 but when he hit .284 as a utilityman in 1979, they knew they needed to give him regular reps.  An opening presented itself in 1980 when both Don Money and Paul Molitor missed time to injury.  Gantner took full advantage of their time on the shelf and hit .282 with 21 doubles.  He appeared in over 60 games at both second and third base.

Milwaukee gave Jim the everyday second base job in 1981 and Jim responded by walking as much as he struck out in the strike shortened campaign.  He enjoyed a breakout year in 1982, both with the bat and the leather, as Jim hit a career high .295 and began a three-year string of turning 100 or more double plays.  The Brewers won the AL flag that year and Jim shined in his only World Series appearance.  Against the Cardinals Jim hit a robust .333 with four doubles, but in a losing cause. 

One of the best second basemen of the 1980s, Jim had plenty of competition in the American League with Whitaker, White and Willie Randolph manning the position as well.  Although Jim finished second to White in RBI among American League second basemen in 1983, his 512 assists topped the circuit.  He also clubbed a career high eleven homeruns that year.

Steady if not spectacular, Gantner was a reliable performer.  He hit .282 in 1983 and followed that season up with an identical batting average of .282 in ’84.  In 1985 and ’86 he finished third in the league in fielding percentage among second basemen before losing time to injury in 1987.  He came back in 1988 to pilfer 20 bags–a new career high–which he duplicated in 1989.  Never much of a speed threat before his injury in ’87, Gantner showed solid wheels when he was taken off the shelf.  In 1990, he tied for the most triples by an AL second baseman.

When the Brewers brought in Willie Randolph in 1991, Jim shifted to third base and hit .283 as a 38-year-old dog trying to relearn an old trick.  Although his fielding at the hot corner was well below average as a youngster, Jim took to the position as a veteran.  He posted a .976 fielding percentage at the position–good for 22 points above league average.  He played one final year with the Brewers before calling it a career.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,801/R 726/H 1,696/2B 262/3B 38/HR 47/RBI 568/SB 137/BB 383/SO 501/BA .274/SA .351/OBP .319

One of the best outfielders during his prime, Callison was a terrific extra-base hits machine who was also an extraordinary defender.  Johnny had a four-year string of leading the National League in assists and was always among the league leaders in fielding percentage among right fielders.  A left-handed bat who helped carry the Phillies after their Whiz Kids days, Callison was a three-time All-Star and the MVP runner-up in 1964.

The White Sox signed Johnny as an amateur in 1957 and called him up to the Majors the next season at the age of 19.  He showed promise in his cup of coffee but when he looked overmatched in Chicago the next season they traded him to the Phillies for third baseman Gene Freese.  As a member of the Phillies Johnny had his finest seasons.

The Phillies made Johnny their regular left fielder in 1961 and he paced Major Leaguers in triples at the position.  His breakout season came the following year as Johnny was named to his first All-Star team and tied for the league lead in triples.  A .300 hitter for the only time in his career (the 1960s was predominately a pitcher’s decade), Callison began a string of four straight seasons with 20 or more homeruns and scored 107 runs (6th in the NL).

In 1963, Johnny banged out 35 doubles–tops among Major League right fielders.  But teams didn’t stand up and take notice of his power bat until 1964.  That year Johnny swatted 31 long balls as he led NL right fielders in homeruns and RBI.  Of all the outfielders in the Major Leagues, only Johnny and Hall of Famer Willie Mays posted 100 runs scored and batted in.  The following year he raised his slugging average up to a career high of .509 when he paced the senior circuit in triples.  He also posted back-to-back 30 homerun/100 RBI seasons.

But his ability to swat the long ball mysteriously vanished in 1966 when his homerun stroke became a doubles stroke.  He led the National League with 40 doubles in ’66; he was the only player in the Major Leagues to reach 40 two-baggers.  When his power numbers and run production began to slip in the late 1960s, the Phillies shipped Johnny to the Cubs for outfielder Oscar Gamble and pitcher Dick Selma.  Johnny found Wrigley Field to his liking as his power came back and he teamed with Billy Williams and Jim Hickman to give the Cubs the best homerun hitting outfield in the NL.

But 1970 was Callison’s last good year.  His bat went south in 1971 and the Cubs dealt him to the Yankees for Jack Aker.  He played two seasons with the Yankees as a reserve outfielder, bat-off-the-bench for New York.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,886/R 926/H 1,757/2B 321/3B 89/HR 226/RBI 840/SB 74/BB 650/SO 1,064/BA .264/SA .441/OBP .331

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A lifelong Cleveland Indian, Mel Harder, a four-time All-Star, pitched in an era when offensive numbers were as high as they’ve ever been.  But Harder didn’t allow that to keep him from posting 223 career wins.  One of the few pitchers to succeed in the Lively Ball Era who didn’t pitch for the Yankees, Harder was regarded as a fine accuracy pitcher.

Mel joined the Indians in 1928 at the ripe old age of 18.  After struggling as a teenager at the Major League level, Harder found Major League batters less hard to retire in 1932.  That season Mel showed his workhorse capabilities by logging 255 innings with 15 wins.  His 3.75 ERA was a well above average mark for the high-powered offense of the early 1930s.  The following season he posted a 2.95 ERA which led the American League.  Hall of Famers Lefty Gomez (3.18), Red Ruffing (3.91) and Lefty Grove (3.21) all had inferior marks but played for high-scoring clubs.

Mel trimmed his ERA down to 2.61 in 1934 (2nd in the AL) and posted his first 20-win season.  His six shutouts paced the circuit and Mel had to be sharp every game to win for the Indians, a middle-of-the-pack team that relied on Earl Averill and Hal Trosky for its runs.  A back-to-back 20 game winner with 22 victories in ’35 (2nd in the AL), Harder showed terrific accuracy.  His average of 0.185 walks per inning greatly exceeded the marks of Hall of Famers Lefty Gomez (0.350) and Lefty Grove (0.238). 

After a dismal ’36 season Mel returned in 1937 to notch 15 victories for Cleveland.  He was able to forget that awful ’36 season when he had a fine 1938 campaign when he and young fireballer Bob Feller won 17 games apiece for the Indians.  He trimmed his ERA down to 3.50 in 1939 but when arm woes shelved him in 1941, the Indians released him before the season was out.

Harder didn’t remain unemployed for long.  When Indians ace Bob Feller enlisted in the Navy after the bombing on Pearl Harbor, December of ’41, the Indians resigned Mel to pitch for them in 1942.  Their signing of Mel worked as he finished tied for second in shutouts.  He trimmed his ERA down to 3.06 in 1943 as the aging right-hander pitched during the war effort.  But injuries became common for Harder in his latter years and he was forced to retire after the 1947 season.  With Cleveland from 1928 to 1947, Mel never saw World Series action, and missed out on the Fall Classic when Cleveland finally copped a pennant in 1948.

THE NUMBERS

W 223/L 186/PCT .545/ERA 3.80/G 433/CG 181/SHO 25/IP 3,426/H 3,706/BB 1,118/SO 1,161

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With more Gold Glove Awards than Elizabeth Taylor had husbands, Keith ranks high in the “Greatest Defensive First Basemen of All-Time” discussion.  Keith won the Gold Glove for first basemen every year from 1978 to 1988 and in the new-fangled stat of “total zone runs,” Keith ranks at the top of the list among all-time first basemen.  But the man could hit too: he won a batting title in 1979.

Drafted by the Cardinals in the 42nd round of the 1971 draft, Keith makes for one of the greatest low round picks in the game’s history.  The Redbirds called him up for a 14-game cup of coffee in 1974.  In ’75, skipper Red Schoendienst let Keith share time at first base with Reggie Smith, Danny Cater and Ron Fairly.  He saw regular action at the initial sack in 1976 but the position was all his by ’77.  That year Keith led National League first basemen in walks drawn while finishing third in the league in doubles; a Keith specialty. 

Although his batting average took a dive in ’78, his on-base percentage was still above average which enabled him to lead NL first basemen in runs scored–he was the only one to reach 90.  At his best in 1979, Keith shared the MVP Award with barrel-chested Willie Stargell when he won the batting title and led the National League in runs and doubles.  He won a Gold Glove by leading NL first basemen in assists and putouts but since the lesser Stargell led his team to a pennant, Keith had to share the MVP Award.

Almost as good in 1980, Keith led the National League in runs scored and on-base percentage while hitting .321 and making his second All-Star team.  In the strike shortened ’81 season, Keith finished fourth in the league in doubles then led the Redbirds to a World Series berth in 1982.  Keith, who was intentionally walked more than anyone in the senior circuit, led all participants with eight RBI in the Fall Classic as the Redbirds of Whitey Herzog won the championship.

Never much of a power threat, Keith was a doubles hitter, but when he was only able to swat three homeruns through 55 games for St. Louis in ’83, they traded him to the Mets for Napalm Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey.  Although an MVP winner in St. Louis, Hernandez is best known for his days in the Big Apple.  With the Mets the remainder of the ’83 season, Keith posted an amazing .424 on-base percentage.  Named to the 1984 NL All-Star team, Keith led National League first basemen in doubles that season while flashing his usual great leather. 

Keith was the only .300 hitting first baseman in the National League in 1985.  The following year he’d make a return trip to the World Series.  During the ’86 regular season, Keith led the NL in walks drawn which allowed him to post a terrific .432 on-base percentage (2nd in the NL).  His Mets won a dramatic World Series against the Red Sox as he drove in four runs during the contest.

An All-Star for the final time in 1987, Keith led NL first basemen in hits that season while posting a career high 18 homeruns.  Although he was limited to 95 games due to an injury in 1988, he nevertheless won his eleventh consecutive Gold Glove Award.  After another injury-plagued year in ’89, Keith was granted free agency and signed with the Indians.  His health didn’t get any better in Ohio and he was forced to retire after missing all of the 1991 season to injury.

THE NUMBERS

G 2,088/R 1,124/H 2,182/2B 426/3B 60/HR 162/RBI 1,071/SB 98/BB 1,070/SO 1,012/BA .296/SA .436/OBP .384

A rarity during the 1960s, Rico Carty was an annual threat to hit .300.  The decade is known for its pitching and lackluster batting averages, but if pitchers were the ones supposed to dominate the decade, no one told Rico.  Against some of history’s finest pitchers, Carty raked like he was facing amateurs. 

One of the first stars from the baseball hotbed that is San Pedro de Macoris, Carty joined the Braves in 1963 when they were still located in Milwaukee.  He only had two plate appearances so his 1964 season was considered his rookie campaign.  Rico put on quite a show as a rookie by hitting a robust .330 and leading National League left fielders in slugging average.  He finished behind Phillies slugger Dick Allen in Rookie of the Year voting. 

In 1966, Carty led Major League left fielders with a .326 batting average, which gave him three straight .300 seasons to begin his career–quite a feat in the 1960s.  But when he suffered through a poor 1967 season, something was obviously wrong with the Brave basher.  It was found out that he had contracted tuberculosis and he sat out the entire 1968 season to recover. 

Healthy again in 1969, Rico returned to his high average ways with a robust .342 batting average.  The Braves went to the postseason and Rico hit an even .300 in the NLCS, but it went for naught as the Miracle Mets romped to the World Series.  The following year Rico enjoyed his finest season when he won the batting title with a mighty .366 batting average.  His .454 on-base percentage also topped the circuit while he and Hall of Famer Billy Williams were the lone 100 RBI men out in left field. 

Injuries were always a problem for Carty as he missed the entire 1971 season to knee problems.  At the age of 31, Rico had already missed two full seasons to various maladies and was thus labeled an injury risk.  When he missed half the ’72 season to injury, the Braves gave up on their slugging left fielder and traded him to the Texas Rangers for pitcher Jim Panther.  The Rangers hoped that he would regain his form by rotating him between left field and designated hitter, but the experiment didn’t work and they sold his contract to the Cubs, where his struggles continued. 

Rico didn’t get back on track until the Cleveland Indians brought him in to be their fulltime designated hitter.  In 1975, Carty was one of two designated hitters to hit over .300 and slug over .500.  In 1976, Rico banged out 34 doubles–tied with Hal McRae for most two-baggers by a DH.  When his batting average fell to an un-Carty like .280 in 1977, the Indians traded him to the Blue Jays.  His last great year came in 1978 when Rico blasted a career high 31 homeruns between Toronto and the Oakland A’s.  He returned to Toronto in ’79 to finish out his career.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,651/R 712/H 1,677/2B 278/3B 17/HR 204/RBI 890/SB 21/BB 642/SO 663/BA .299/SA .464/OBP .369

Although the relief pitcher had been around awhile before Konstanty broke in, with guys like Marberry, Murphy, Casey and Maltzberger defining the role, it wasn’t until Jim won the MVP Award in 1950 that firemen were legitimized.  The backbone of the fabled Whiz Kids, Jim led the Phillies to the World Series in 1950, thus earning a Most Valuable Player award.

Jim made his Major League debut in 1944 at the tender age of 27 with the Reds.  He showed promise as a freshman hurler with a 2.79 ERA, but this was during wartime and Jim, even with his poor eyesight (he was one of the few bespeckled players of his time) was inducted into the military for the war effort.  He returned to the Majors in 1946 with the Boston Braves but failed to impress in fifteen innings of work.  After spending the 1947 and ’48 seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League, Jim was up the Majors to stay with the Phillies in 1949. 

Jim tied for second place in the National League with seven saves in 1949, as the fireman post was still an area for washed up veterans and kids unable to fill a spot in the rotation.  But when 1950 rolled around, Konstanty made folks stand up and take notice of the importance of a star fireman.  That year he paced the NL with 22 saves and 74 games pitched.  Jim posted a 16-7 record on a 2.66 ERA and showed remarkable lumber eluding skills by issuing just 108 hits in 152 innings of work.  The Whiz Kids, so nicknamed for their youthful roster, won the NL pennant after decades of futility in Philadelphia.

With the Phillies co-ace Curt Simmons the first Major Leaguer drafted for the Korean War at the end of the 1950 season, Jim, who didn’t start a single game all season, was pressed into starting duty in the World Series.  Jim started the opening game for the Phillies and lost a pitcher’s duel.  The Whiz Kids, a great story all season in the National League, prove no match for the Yankees who made short order of the boys. 

In 1951, Jim finished third in the league in the saves department.  But in 1953, when Steve O’Neill took over as skipper, he moved Jim into the rotation and stretched out his arm with 19 starts.  Despite the experiment in the rotation, Konstanty led the club in saves.  The Yankees acquired Jim near the end of the 1954 season in a futile attempt to catch the red-hot Indians, but despite Jim’s success in the Big Apple (he had a 0.98 ERA in 18 innings) the Yanks couldn’t catch Cleveland. 

His last great year came in 1955 when he fashioned a .778 winning percentage with the Yankees.  His ERA was a trim 2.31 and he saved eleven games for the pinstripe patrol.  But after a sluggish start to the 1956 season, Jim was released and he caught on with the St. Louis Cardinals.  He ended the season and his Major League career with the Redbirds.

THE NUMBERS

W 66/L 48/PCT .579/ERA 3.46/G 433/SV 74/IP 946/H 957/BB 269/SO 268

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One of the best shortstops of the 1960s, Fregosi made the All-Star team six times during the decade as a contrast to the speedy, no-power shortstops of his era.  Fans were used to guys like Aparicio and Carrasquel flashing leather up the middle but offering no power in the batter’s box.  Jim on the other hand was a fearsome hitter in a pitcher’s era who reached double-digits in homeruns six times.

Selected by the Angels in the expansion draft from the Red Sox in 1960, Jim was brought up to the Majors in the Angels first year of operation as a 19-year-old.  He had a 58 game showcase with Los Angeles in ’62 before he was given the everyday assignment at short.  In his first year as a regular Major Leaguer, Fregosi led AL shortstops in runs, hits and batting average.  An adequate defender who won one Gold Glove in his career, Jim had two seasons in which he accepted over 800 total chances. 

Named to his first All-Star team in ’64, Jim led Major League shortstops in RBI while driving 18 balls into the seats.  The AL’s top hitting shortstop in 1965, Fregosi also did the little things that help a team win, indicated by his league leading total in sacrifices.  But it was his run production at a typically defensive oriented position that set Jim apart.  He topped AL shortstops in RBI during the 1966 season when he was the only Major League shortstop to reach 30 doubles.

The pitching paradise that was the 1960s didn’t deter Jim.  In 1967 he hit a robust .290–he was the only American League shortstop to hit over .260.  The following year he led the American League in triples.  But his best year for power was right around the corner.  In 1970, Jim blasted a career high 22 homeruns and drove in 82 runs for the Angels.  When his numbers dropped off sharply in 1971 due in large part to injury, the Angels made a brilliant trade with the Mets when they sent Fregosi to New York for four players… one named Nolan Ryan. 

Jim never had success in New York as his contract was sold to the Texas Rangers halfway through the 1973 season.  In the Lone Star State, Jim saw more action at first base than any other station as he platooned at first with Mike Hargrove and Jim Spencer.  While still an active player with the Pirates in 1978, Jim announced his retirement in order to accept the Angels managerial job.  After a slow start, Jim was able to coax .500 ball out the Angels as a rookie skipper in ’78.

Fregosi showed his managerial wherewithal in 1979 when he guided the Angels to an AL West flag despite key injuries to players like Hall of Famer Rod Carew and stars Joe Rudi, Rick Miller and Frank Tanana.  When the Angels fell from first to sixth place in 1980, Fregosi was on the hot seat.  He was replaced in 1981 after a 22-25 start.  It was back to the minors for Jim where he excelled as a skipper in the bushes awaiting his next Major League trial.  That trial came in 1986 when the White Sox asked him to replace Tony LaRussa.

Jim managed the last half of the season for Chicago in 1986.  In 1987, the White Sox team batting average rose eleven points from the previous year under Jim’s tutelage.  But when the White Sox finished fifth again in 1988 they canned Jim.  His greatest success as a skipper was just around the corner when the Phillies offered him their managerial job in 1991.  The Phillies were a patchwork team of guys who looked more at home at a Sturgis bike rally than a Major League field and they showed it with a last place finish in 1992.  But Jim turned things around quickly.

The Phillies went from worst to first in 1993 as Fregosi’s charges showed the National League how an offense was supposed to function.  The Phillies led the National League in hits, runs scored, doubles and walks drawn while their pitching staff led the circuit in total strikeouts.  The Phillies captured the NL pennant and participated in a classic World Series against the Toronto Blue Jays.  Many a Phillies fan can still close his eyes and see Mitch Williams serve up the pitch that Joe Carter blasted for a series win.

The Phillies failed to repeat in the strike shortened 1994 campaign and after that, Jim never seemed to have a healthy group of guys.  In 1995, he had key players Lenny Dykstra, Darren Daulton, Andy Van Slyke and Tommy Greene miss time with injury, which kept them from catching Bobby Cox’s Braves.  When the Phillies had a 95-loss season in 1996, Fregosi was handed his walking papers.  His last managerial assignment came with the Toronto Blue Jays.  The team batting average rose a whopping 14 points under Fregosi in 1999 but after another third place finish in 2000, Toronto went another direction and replaced Jim. 

THE NUMBERS

G 1,902/R 844/H 1,726/2B 264/3B 78/HR 151/RBI 706/SB 76/BB 715/SO 1,097/BA .265/SA .398/OBP .338

AS MANAGER

W 1,028/L 1,095/PCT .484    1 pennant

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