Introducing… Oscar Melillo

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

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