Introducing… Terry Turner

Perhaps the greatest defensive infielder in baseball history, Terry Turner was a mainstay in Cleveland during the Deadball Era.  Nicknamed “Cotton Top” because of his light blond hair, Turner could fill in at any infield position and field it flawlessly.  As a shortstop, Terry led the American League in fielding percentage three times.  When Ray Chapman was called up to Cleveland Turner moved over to third base and promptly led the junior circuit in fielding percentage three times at the hot corner. 

Turner was originally signed by the powerhouse Pirates in 1901, but with a full roster of the game’s best (Honus Wagner and Tommy Leach held down Terry’s best positions) he was sent back to the bushes after a brief trial.  Cotton Top became a star in the American Association and his services were in demand.  The Cleveland Indians (then called the Naps) acquired his services and brought him up in 1904.  In his first full year at the highest level, his double-play partner was the American League’s finest player: Nap Lajoie.

Turner missed a little action due to injury as a rookie but in 1905 he led Cleveland in games played and RBI.  Terry was the only shortstop in the American League to top 60 RBI–he had 72.  However, Turner’s offense always took a backseat to his defense.  In 1906 he paced shortstops in fielding percentage and assists.  Over the course of his career, Turner posted a fielding percentage at short 21 points above league average and at third base his fielding percentage was a whopping thirty points above average. 

In 1907, Turner again led shortstops in fielding percentage but the following year he would miss a large portion of the season to injury.  Health would be a concern for Cotton Top again in 1909.  When he returned to everyday duty in 1910, Terry led the Cleveland club with 31 stolen bases.  He and Lajoie easily set the pace for American League double play duos as they led such tandems in runs scored in 1910.  Cotton Top’s glove was beyond stellar that year.  He posted an unheard of .973 fielding percentage at short while the average mark for the position that season was just .924.  Had there been Gold Gloves issued during the Deadball Era, Turner’s den would have been full of them.

When Ivy Olson came to Cleveland, Turner moved over to the hot corner in 1911 and promptly led that position in fielding percentage his first year as a regular third baseman.  With rookie phenom Ray Chapman in town by 1912, Cotton Top’s days at short were over, but it bothered Terry little because he established himself, overnight, as the top defensive third baseman in the circuit.  He led third basemen in fielding percentage in 1911, 1912 and 1914.  In the latter campaign, he also led the American League with 38 sacrifices.  The Indians looked to be on the right course at this time as Shoeless Joe Jackson was brought up and hit close to .400.  However, aside from Guy Morton, Cleveland’s pitching staff wasn’t spectacular so Jackson was traded to Chicago for help and the Indians wouldn’t make a run until Turner’s career was over.

After the trade of Shoeless Joe, Cleveland finished seventh (out of eight teams) in 1915.  They moved up to sixth in 1916 as Turner led Cleveland’s infield in batting average.  Although Tris Speaker had replaced Jackson in the pasture, Cleveland still had one of the worst pitching staffs in the Majors.  When Turner’s career was nearing its close, the Indians started to make their push.  Relegated to backup duty in 1917, Turner helped out in a reserve capacity as Cleveland finally got the arms they needed out of Jim Bagby and Stan Coveleski.  His last year in Cleveland was 1918 when they moved into second place.  He finished out his career with the last place A’s in 1919 and missed out on Cleveland’s championship season of 1920.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,659/R 699/H 1,499/2B 207/3B 77/HR 8/RBI 528/SB 256/BA .253/OBP .308/SA .318

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