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One of baseball’s first great slugging sensations, Freeman was a failed pitcher who returned to the Pennsylvania mines where he worked before he signed with the Washington Statesmen as a 19-year-old.  Originally signed as a pitcher, Buck’s inability to find the strike zone prompted his dismissal from the Majors.  He returned home to Wilkes-Barre, worked in the mines, an played semi-pro ball.  He shifted to the outfield and returned to organized ball where he flourished as a slugger.  Buck eventually became a two-time homerun and RBI champ at the highest level.

Freeman’s first trial in the Majors came with the American Association’s Washington Statesmen in 1891.  Buck walked 33 batters in 44 innings and was sent back to the Pennsylvania mines.  He transformed himself into a slugger and bashed his way through the minors en route to a return trip to the Majors.  The American Association had long been disbanded by the time Buck returned in 1898.  He joined the Senators of the National League and slugged at an amazing .523 clip at the end of the season.  He cemented his role for the upcoming season.

Freeman enjoyed his breakout year in 1899.  In 155 games, Buck led the National League with 25 homeruns.  This total was a new modern record.  Ned Williamson had hit 27 homeruns under different rules many years before, but when Buck blasted his 25 dingers in 1899, he did so under the modern set of rules we use today.  Buck finished second in triples, RBI and slugging percentage in what was his first full Major League season.  But Buck was no spring chicken when he accomplished this feat–he was already 27.  Baseball would fall into disarray shortly thereafter.  The National League contracted a handful of teams, one being Freeman’s Senators, and his contract was purchased by the Boston Beaneaters–who eventually became the Braves.  Buck played one season under skipper Frank Selee before he jumped to the newly formed American League in 1901.

Buck didn’t jump very far.  He left the Beaneaters and joined the Red Sox.  He put that one off -year under Selee behind him and established himself as the American League’s first star power hitter.  In the AL’s first year of existence, Buck clubbed a dozen homeruns (2nd in the league) and drove home 114 runs.  The next three years Buck would see his name atop several important offensive statistical columns.  In 1902, he led the league with 121 RBI and finished as the runner-up in long balls again.  He boasted an uncommon offensive line, for the Deadball Era, with a .309 BA/.352 OBP/.502 SA with 38 doubles and 19 triples.  He was even more productive the following year.

Freeman topped the American League in both homeruns and RBI in the Red Sox championship season of 1903.  His 281 total bases also paced the junior circuit.  The American and National Leagues weren’t on the best of terms, given the constant roster raiding, but they agreed, after two years of all out war, to pit their best teams against each other in a classic clash that would be called the World Series.  Buck, the AL’s leading long ball swatter, helped his Red Sox defeat the Pirates.  He hit .290 during the contest with three triples and a slugging average just under .500.

In the 1904 season, Buck turned 32 years old but had just spent five full seasons in the Majors.  He legged out 19 triples that season, which paced the league but his slugging percentage dropped to a low of .412.  Age caught up with the former miner in 1905 when his numbers dipped mightily.  After slugging just .349 in 1906, the once great slugging star was on his way out.  Freeman ruled the roost for about five seasons at the highest level.  Buck could have put up much mightier career numbers had he settled in as an outfielder earlier.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,126/R 588/H 1,235/2B 199/3B 131/HR 82/RBI 713/SB 92/BB 272/SO 388/BA 293/OBP .346/SA .462

One of the top innings eaters of the offensive oriented Lively Ball Era, George “The Bull” Uhle eclipsed 3,000 career innings and reached 200 lifetime wins.  The stout right-hander was the classic example of local boy makes good.  The Cleveland native signed with the Indians and led the American League in wins two separate seasons.  The Bull reached 20 wins in three seasons, led the league in innings worked twice and topped the circuit in both shutouts and winning percentage.  Early in his career he worked three scoreless innings for the World Champion Tribe of 1920.

The Bull made his Major League debut in 1919 and posted twice as many wins as losses.  But the following year the game went through one of its most profoundest changes.  A new “livelier” ball was introduced and offensive stats across the game skyrocketed.  Pitchers suffered in both leagues but Uhle was young enough to make adjustments.  Thanks to the new, tighter wound ball, George’s ERA jumped from 2.91 as a rookie to 5.21 as a sophomore.  The Indians nevertheless captured the AL flag as they pushed their way to the title, playing for the memory of their star shortstop Ray Chapman who was killed by a Carl Mays high-hard-one.  In the Fall Classic Uhle worked three scoreless innings.

Just 22 years old in 1921, The Bull learned to operate with the new ball and began to flourish.  He posted four times as many wins in ’21 as he tallied in 1920 and exceeded the 200 innings pitched mark for the first time in his career.  He established himself as one of the AL’s top hurlers the following year when he won 22 games for the Tribe (4th in the league) and topped the American League with five shutouts and 40 games started.  The go-to guy for the Tribe, Uhle paced the league with 44 starts in 1923.  He also topped the circuit with 26 wins, 29 complete games and 358 innings worked.  He finished eighth in MVP voting and had the All-Star Game been played at the time, The Bull may have started the contest for the junior circuit.

After a down year in 1924, Uhle got back on track in ’25.  He averaged 9.3 hits allowed per nine innings, which in the Lively Ball Era was a pretty fair stat.  But the Bull’s best year was still around the corner.  In 1926, George won an AL best 27 games on just eleven losses which gave him the junior circuit’s top winning percentage with a .711 mark.  Uhle completed more games than any other American League hurler and paced the circuit with 318 innings.  The workhorse finished second in the league with 159 strikeouts in an era where the boys didn’t strikeout as much as they do now.  But the overwork caught up with George the next year and he only managed eight wins.  After raising his wins total to a dozen in ’28 Cleveland traded their hometown boy to the Tigers.

The Tribe felt the Bull was all washed up but he showed them otherwise by winning 15 games for Detroit in 1929.  Uhle, who was one of the top hitting pitchers of his time, hit the apple at a .343 clip his first year in Motown.  The following year he trimmed his ERA from 4.08 to 3.65.  Uhle posted his eighth 200+ innings pitched season that year, but it was his last such campaign.  George won eleven games in 1931 on a 3.50 ERA but by his mid 30s his numbers became less flattering.  His ERA was close to 10.00 in 1934 with the Yankees but the Bull was able to gain his 200th and final victory that season.

THE NUMBERS

W 200/L 166/PCT .546/ERA 3.99/G 513/CG 232/SHO 21/IP 3,120/H 3,417/BB 966/SO 1,135

A solid second baseman for a number of years, Helms played with Cincinnati at the beginning of their fabled Big Red Machine days.  However, he didn’t stick around for all the glory.  The Reds shipped him and Lee May to the Astros to land two key pieces to their machine: ballhawk Cesar Geronimo and Hall of Famer Joe Morgan.  But Helms was a star in his own right.  He was named to a pair of All-Star teams, won two Gold Gloves and was named Rookie of the Year in 1966.

A natural second baseman, Tommy was forced to play third his rookie season because the Reds were using Pete Rose at second base that year.  The change in position didn’t hurt Tommy as he set personal highs in homeruns and runs scored–figures he’d never match throughout his career.  Helms also sparkled defensively with a fielding percentage seven points above league average.  He also saw action at his primary position, second base, in twenty games and fielded 97 chances without an error.  The Reds decided to move Rose out from second and allow the superior fielding Helms to claim the post.

Able to play up the middle, where he belonged, in 1967, Tommy made his first All-Star team.  He would duplicate the feat in 1968.  Although he wasn’t a big basher, Helms was a solid batsman who was one of the most difficult strikeout victims of his time.  In ’68 he fanned every 18.8 at-bats which was good for the fourth best percentage in the NL.  That year he also set a personal high in batting average with a .288 mark in a pitcher’s era.  But it was with the leather where Helms shined.

Tommy won his first Gold Glove in 1970.  That year he began a four-year string of turning over 100 double plays.  At his best with the glove in ’71, Helms turned 130 double plays, and led second basemen in putouts and fielding percentage.  His amazing .990 fielding percentage was twelve points above league average.  But the Reds, who made the World Series in 1970, failed to repeat as National League champs so they looked to shake things up a bit.  They dealt Tommy and power slugging first baseman Lee May to Houston for Morgan, Geronimo, Jack Billingham and Denis Menke.  The deal made the Reds contenders again but Houston remained in the second division where they had always been.

The trade to the pitcher-friendly Astrodome actually helped Helms’ batting average.  With Cincy he had hit as low as .237 but with Houston Tommy raised his batting average up to .287 in 1973.  That year Tommy participated in 104 twin-killings and fielded his position at a nifty .988 clip.  Still keen with the batting eye, Tommy was the second most difficult player in the senior circuit to fan–he whiffed every 25.9 plate appearances.  The 1974 season would be Tommy’s last good season.  He hit .279 and paced second basemen in fielding percentage but his offense dried up in ’75.  From that moment on he was strictly a reserve player.  He ended his playing days with the 1977 Red Sox.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,435/R 414/H 1,342/2B 223/3B 21/HR 34/RBI 477/SB 33/BB 231/SO 301/BA .269/OBP .300/SA .342

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One of the top firemen of his day, the left-handed Brewer possessed one of the best screwballs in the game.  He used this devastating pitch to roll over batters in the National League throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Jim, a member of the 1973 NL All-Star team, used his wicked screwball to post some rather impressive numbers over his career.  His WHIP was often of the amazing variety as he surrendered few hits per inning and kept his walk total low. 

Originally brought up by the Cubs in 1960, Chicago toyed with Brewer as a starter but he struggled in the rotation.  He showed remarkable consistency, albeit of the negative variety, when he posted back-to-back seasons with an ERA of 5.82.  When his mark shot up over 9.00 in 1962, the Cubs scrapped grooming Jim as a starter.  After a modest season in ’63 Jim was traded to the Dodgers where his career took off.  Jim trimmed his ERA down to 3.00 his first year in Los Angeles but he was essentially a seldom used firemen until 1967. 

Employed as a spot starter/long reliever by the 1967 Dodgesr, Jim enjoyed his breakout season.  He had an exceptional 1.083 WHIP as he limited the opposition to just 78 hits in over 100 innings of work.  The Dodgers liked Jim’s fireman work so much that they scrapped the spot starter role and made him their go-to relief ace.  He posted a .727 winning percentage in ’68 and averaged close to a strikeout per inning.  He achieved that feat in 1969 when he fanned 92 batters in 88 innings.  Jim also finished fourth in the National League in the saves department.  The following year he set a career high in saves while also striking out over a batter per inning.

The first few years of the 1970s would be just as fruitful.  Brewer perfected his game at the start of the decade.  In 1971 he trimmed his ERA down to 1.88 and posted an exceptional 0.971 WHIP.  But these figures would stack up quite poorly to the numbers he posted in 1972.  That season Jim posted personal bests in both ERA (1.26) and WHIP (0.843) as one of the best firemen in the business.  As unhittable as they come, Brewer surrendered just 41 hits in 78 innings, good for an amazing 4.7 hits allowed over nine innings.  Despite these two back-to-back monster seasons, Jim didn’t make his All-Star debut until 1973, when his numbers weren’t as flattering.

Brewer finished third in saves in 1973 while his ERA swelled to 3.01.  In ’74 Jim suffered a back injury and lost his closer’s role to Everyday Mike Marshall.  The Dodgers made their third World Series during Jim’s run with the team that fall and he was worked in one game–his final Fall Classic appearance.  He struck out the only batter he faced.  After a rough start to the ’75 season Jim was traded to the Angels where he would end his career a year later.  He coached ball at the collegiate level after his playing days but his life was cut short just before his 50th birthday when he was killed in a traffic accident.

THE NUMBERS

W 69/L 65/PCT .515/ERA 3.07/G 584/SV 132/IP 1,040/H 898/BB 360/SO 810

One of the greatest athletic talents in baseball history, Davis was a sensational speed/power combo player.  Eric the Red could swat 30 homers and pilfer as many bags with ease.  Although Davis was a gifted physical specimen, he was never a healthy ballplayer.  Over the course of his 17-year Major League career, Eric never appeared in more than 135 games in a single season.  Late in his career he captured the nation’s attention when he battled colon cancer and returned to baseball with the Orioles in 1998 and had arguably his best season–his .970 OPS was the second best mark of his career.

Drafted by the Reds in 1980, Davis was a childhood chum of Darryl Strawberry.  Scouts felt Eric wasn’t as gifted as Straw and Eric had to wait until the 8th round of the draft before his name was called.  But the Reds got a steal.  Eric was summoned to the parent club for the first time in 1984 and banged out ten homers in just 57 games.  Cincy took another look at him in 1985 and although his slugging average rose his on-base percentage was a disaster.  Eric always had a problem with strikeouts but he would fix his on-base deficiencies and become a rather strong on-base machine throughout his career.

Davis became a regular in 1986 as skipper Pete Rose fell in love with his talent.  He showed the baseball world his immense raw talent by clubbing 27 homeruns and swiping 80 bases.  His on-base percentage, which was a measly .287 the year before, rose to .378 in his breakout ’86 season.  But Eric was even better the following year.  He set a career high with 120 runs scored and 37 homeruns.  He posted his first 100-RBI season and came within one point of the coveted .400 on-base percentage.  Named to his first All-Star team, Davis also won a Gold Glove and was awarded the Silver Slugger Award as the top hitter at his position.  In 1987, a superstar was born in Cincinnati

Reds fans had every reason to believe that Davis would be a great player for years to come.  He could do more than high school chum Darryl Strawberry who got all the attention in New York even though Eric’s batting averages were often better than Straw’s.  But Darryl played on the big stage and had immense power with a picture perfect swing while Davis played with the Reds who were making the news for unflattering reasons.  Their skipper, Pete Rose, was run out of baseball for betting on his team.  Distractions and all, Davis went about his business and produced on the ball field.  In 1988 he drove in 93 runs and won another Gold Glove Award.  Even better in ’89, Davis posted his second 100-RBI season, clubbed 34 homeruns, won his third straight Gold Glove and made his second All-Star team. 

With the Rose Scandal in their rearview, the Reds captured the 1990 NL pennant under the leadership of Lou Piniella.  Davis was a member of the 20 HR/20 SB Club and he capped off the season with a homer and five RBI in a World Series sweep of the Athletics.  But the injury bug began to plague Davis in a big way from that moment on.  Unable to get into 90 games in 1991, the Reds traded him and Kip Gross to his hometown Dodgers for two fine pitchers named John Wetteland and Tim Belcher.  The homecoming wasn’t a success as Eric was limited to 76 games in 1992 and was ineffective in ’93.  Late in the ’93 season the Dodgers practically handed Eric to the Tigers.  More injuries and the player’s strike ruined Eric’s 1994 season and he was out of the Majors in 1995–his career seemingly over.

But Davis resurfaced with the Reds in 1996 and enjoyed a comeback season.  He hit .287 with 26 homers and 83 RBI.  Still showcasing his great speed/power combo, Davis swiped 23 bags.  His terrific comeback season earned him a sizable payday as he signed a free agent contract with the Orioles.  But it wasn’t long afterward that Eric was diagnosed with colon cancer and his ’97 season was all but lost due to treatments.  Eric captured the hearts of Americans when he returned to the game in ’98 and set a career high with a .327 batting average in 131 games.  Davis beat the odds and came back after defeating cancer, but that magical ’98 season would be his last good year.  He spent two injury-plagued seasons with the Cardinals before ending his career with the 2001 Giants.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,626/R 938/H 1,430/2B 239/3B 26/HR 282/RBI 934/SB 349/BB 740/SO 1,398/BA .269/OBP .359/SA .482

A terrific third baseman for the Brewers during the 1970s, Money, a four-time All-Star, was a solid defender with a good bat.  An elite hot corner custodian, Don led third basemen twice in fielding percentage during his career and retired with a .968 fielding percentage at third base–a whopping nineteen points above league average.  With modest power and a well above average glove, Money was one of the top third basemen of the 1970s.

Don made his debut with the 1968 Phillies.  He had a brief four-game trial late in the season but he showed enough to win an everyday assignment in 1969.  The Phillies initially groomed Money as a shortstop, but in 1970 they shifted him over to third base.  His offense spiked after the change in position as Don raised his homerun output from six in 1969 to 14 in ’70.  He hit a robust .295 with a solid .361 on-base percentage as a sophomore but he would slump the next two seasons.  Money hit .223 in 1971 and a point lower in 1972.  With a young Mike Schmidt in town, the Phillies had no further use for the struggling Money and shipped him off to the Brewers with Pete Vuckovich for Ken Brett, Ken Sanders and Jim Lonborg.  Don settled in nicely at Milwaukee.

The change of scenery worked wonders for Don.  He raised his batting average from .222 to .284 and set a career high with 22 stolen bases.  He flashed exceptional leather with a .971 fielding percentage while his position peers fielded at a modest .949 clip.  The following year he would make his first All-Star appearance and set career highs in both hits and doubles.  Showing remarkable consistency in Wisconsin, Money’s batting average and on-base percentage were just one point off from his previous season.  He led third basemen in fielding percentage with a remarkable .989 mark–an amazing 37 points above league average. 

Don enjoyed his best year for run production in 1977 when he was named to his third All-Star team.  He set personal highs with 25 homeruns and 83 RBI while slugging at a nifty .470 clip.  An All-Star again in ’78, Money hit .293 and established his career high in runs scored.  But by this time the Brewers began using Don all over the infield in order to work a young Paul Molitor into the lineup.  He spent more time at first base than he did at the hot corner in ’78.  But 1978 would be Don’s last year as a regular.  An injury limited him to 92 games in 1979 and when the Brewers finally made the Playoffs in 1981, Don was in a platoon situation at third with Roy Howell and Sal Bando.  But Don still had one good year in the tank.  In 1982 he set a career high with a .531 slugging average as he blasted 16 homeruns as a reserve player.  Milwaukee made the World Series that year but fell to St. Louis.  Money played briefly for the Brew Crew the following year, his last in the Majors.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,720/R 798/H 1,623/2B 302/3B 36/HR 176/RBI 729/SB 80/BB 600/SO 866/BA .261/OBP .328/SA .406

Never one to set the league afire with his hitting, “Spinach” was nevertheless a tremendous defender when baseball was absorbed with heavy hitting.  A second baseman during the Lively Ball Era, Oscar didn’t have the stick of a Hornsby or Frisch but his leather was top-notch.  He led second basemen in assists four times and topped the circuit in both fielding percentage and putouts on three separate occasions.  Despite the fact that he played for the Browns his value didn’t go unnoticed.  He finished in the Top Ten in MVP voting two seasons.

The Browns brought Melillo up to the Majors in 1926 and he showed terrific baseball savvy in his first season.  A selfless ballplayer and team man all the way, Oscar posted 24 sacrifices in his first trial at the Majors.  But baseball of the late 1920s was characterized by heavy hitting and Spinach didn’t have the stick that other infield stars of the day owned.  When his batting average slipped to .225 as a sophomore, he lost his job and became a reserve in 1928.  But Spinach bounced back in a big way in 1929.  He raised his batting average over 100 points and his slugging average close to 200 points while also establishing himself as one of the slickest second basemen in the business.

During Oscar’s breakout 1929 season he led second basemen in assists.  He would be atop the leader board in assists at his position the next three years.  Melillo set his career high in homeruns in 1929 and matched the output in 1930.  But bashing was never Spinach’s game.  He was a leather man first and foremost.  Beginning in 1930, Melillo started a six-year string in which he would participate in 100 or more double plays turned.  Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby, by comparison, only had two years in his illustrious career in which he turned in the excess of 100 double plays.

Melillo posted his only .300 season in 1931 when he hit .306 with a personal best 189 hits for the Browns.  For his sharp work, Oscar finished eighth in MVP voting.  After an off-year in 1932, Oscar was back on top in 1933.  He set a personal high with 79 RBI that season and was all the rage with the leather.  At this time in baseball history the Gold Glove Award had yet to be adopted but Spinach probably would have won the hardware had it been handed out.  He turned 110 double plays and made just seven errors in 820 total chances, which gave him a fielding percentage of .991–twenty-one points above league average.  His fielding average easily topped AL second basemen and he paced the circuit in fielding again in 1934.

But Spinach’s offensive skills began to wane in 1934 and after a slow start to the ’35 season the Browns dealt him to the Red Sox for outfielder Moose Solters.  He ended the season well for Boston and in 1936 he paced American League second basemen in fielding percentage for the final time.  However, Spinach only managed a .226 batting average and in those offense oriented times, this was too much the detriment.  He played briefly with the Red Sox the following year–his last in the Majors.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,377/R 590/H 1,316/2B 210/3B 64/HR 22/RBI 548/SB 69/BB 327/SO 306/BA .260/OBP .306/SA .340