left fielders

There have been many star ballplayers throughout the many years of professional baseball, but some of the game’s brightest toil in obscurity.  Tim Raines was a seven-time All-Star, representing his Montreal Expos in seven consecutive seasons.  As fleet as a gazelle with a lion chasing its tail, Raines was a threat to take an extra base whenever the man was in motion.  He pilfered bags, turned singles into doubles and hot-footed the occasional triple when most players would have held up at second.  Playing for the Expos north of the border didn’t allow for much exposure on Tim’s part, but obscurity may not be the reigning factor keeping Raines out of the Hall of Fame.  Competition, the analysis of comparing a player to his peers, might be the chief aspect keeping Raines out of the Hall.  However good he was, Raines, as a fleet-footed left fielder, was often compared to the great Rickey Henderson and always came up wanting.

Peruse any baseball site that specializes in the history of the game and you’ll find that Rickey Henderson is regarded as the greatest leadoffman in baseball history.  Henderson had the wheels and on-base skills one looks for in an ideal top-of-the-order hitter.  Tim Raines also possessed these skills.  Both men had an uncanny knack for plate discipline, that can be best understood by their batting stances–each man employed a rather pronounced crouch, thus giving them a tightened strike zone.  This enabled both Raines and Rickey to draw plenty walks while also keeping their amount of strikeouts down.  The two leadoffmen also had occasional power to go with their elite speed which gave them an edge over other swift leadoffmen like Brett Butler and Willie Wilson.  Rickey Henderson, the Hall of Famer, posted three years with at least 100 runs scored and 60 RBI–a feat matched by Raines.

Compared to Rickey Henderson, Raines is clearly the lesser player–in many aspects–but he does exceed the enshrined leadoffman in several key categories.  In the three slash line categories (BA, OBP and SA) Raines has a better mark in two columns.  His career batting average is much higher than Rickey’s (Raines has a career .294 BA to Henderson’s .279) and Tim’s slugging average even edges out Henderson’s by six points: .425 to .419.  However, in other important stats, Henderson outperforms Raines by a wide margin.  Henderson has far more runs scored and hits, and in stolen bases, their specialty, Henderson was more than a little better.  Henderson netted a dozen stolen base titles while Tim was able to lead his league on four occasions. 

To compare a player to one peer does not do the man justice.  Tim Raines has other outfield peers in the Hall of Fame and some of them appear a tad on the light side when judged against Raines.  While Tim was patrolling left field for the Expos, there were other gardeners, like Andre Dawson (a one-time teammate) Tony Gwynn, Kirby Puckett and Jim Rice playing in the pasture as well.  All these men made the Hall of Fame, with the exception of Raines, of course, but Tim’s career WAR exceeds all his Hall of Fame peers with the exception of Henderson.  The career WAR of these players are listed, best to worst: Rickey Henderson (106.8), Raines (66.2), Gwynn (65.3), Dawson (60.6), Puckett (48.2) and Rice (44.3).  As far as the important category of on-base percentage is concerned, Raines stacks up awfully well too.  Henderson leads the crew with a career .401 OBP, followed by Gwynn (.388), Raines (.385), Puckett (.360), Rice (.352) and Dawson (.323).

With a cursory glance at Tim Raines’ career, one gets the impression of a player knocking on the door of Cooperstown.  Tim won four stolen base titles in a row, netted a batting crown and led the National League in runs scored twice.  He scored 100 or more runs in six separate seasons and ranks fifth all-time in career stolen bases.  Among all the players in baseball history, only 52 men have scored more runs than him, and he was also an elite defender in left field.  Raines had the speed and instincts to play center field but Montreal always had plenty of ballhawking talent around Tim to keep him stationed in left.  Tim led left fielders in fielding percentage five separate years and currently rests seventh on the all-time list in putouts by left fielders and eleventh in left field assists.

Affectionately known as “The Cuban Comet,” Minoso streaked along the base paths and in the pasture like a comet, racing for that extra base or line-pursuing flyball with a reckless abandon.  A five-tool talent, Minnie was seemingly without a weakness on the ball diamond.  The right-handed hitter could hit for both average and power and possessed a set of wheels that could put Olympic sprinters to blush.  A star defender with a solid arm, Minoso had all the five tools and even had an extra sixth tool that scouts salivate over: fearlessness.  With all the talent Minoso’s sinewy-strong build harbored, the man also had more than his share of grit and determination.  A reckless hustler between the lines, Minoso had one thought whenever he suited up for a game: to win the contest.  After one particular game, in which Minnie nearly maimed himself chasing after a flyball that sent him crashing into a wall, he was asked by a reporter why he tossed himself into harm’s way in pursuit of a flyball he had little chance of catching.  Minnie replied, in the great ballplayer fashion, “Even if there was dynamite in the area, I would have went after the ball.”

Before Jackie Robinson broke the color line, there had been several Cubans in the Major Leagues.  Dolf Luque was a star pitcher who toiled with Brooklyn and Cincinnati while the Reds also owned the contract of Armando Marsans.  But unlike Marsans and Luque, Minoso’s skin was too dark for the Majors and he had to break in with the Negro Leagues in the 1940s.  This kept Minnie from reaching the Majors when he was ready, pushing back his debut until he was near 25.  Despite the late arrival in the Majors, Minoso played in five separate decades at the Major League level, beginning in 1949 and finishing with a brief, publicity schemed theme in 1980 with the White Sox.  Over the course of his career, Minoso was able to lead his league in several categories, to include three first place finishes in both triples and stolen bases.  The Black Ink Test, which uses a player’s leader board levels to decide Hall of Fame eligibility, ranks him at 15–ahead of Hall of Fame peer Al Kaline’s 12 Black Ink standing.

A gifted, well-rounded performer, Minoso’s slash lines stack up awfully well to other enshrined outfielders who played in roughly the same time.  Minnie’s career slash was .298 BA/.389 OBP/459 SA.  These numbers greatly exceed Hall of Famer Lou Brock (.293/.343/.410) and stack up awfully well to power-hitting peers like Kaline (.297/.376/.480) and Larry Doby (.283/.386/.490).  Taking into account Minoso’s overall game, his WAR (wins above replacement) was higher than both Doby (47.0) and Brock (42.8) with a solid 47.5 mark.  But if new-fangled stats like WAR aren’t your cup of tea, then go with the tried and true stats and Minnie has plenty advantages too.  Minnie hit .300 or higher in eight separate seasons–more such campaigns than Hall of Fame peers Doby (2) and Duke Snider (7).

The focus in baseball is broad, with one analyst zeroing in on one stat and another analyst lauding the merits of another.  But at its basics, baseball is, and always has been about scoring runs.  The team that scores the most runs wins–simple, right?  Manufacturing runs is the number one, most important aspect of the game and in that regard, Minoso was quite swell.  On average, Minnie scored 0.619 runs per game–superior to Hall of Fame peers Al Kaline (0.572) and Billy Williams (0.567).  He coupled his runs scoring skills with terrific RBI numbers which made him that rare double-threat; capable of hurting a team by scoring or driving in runs.  He did something that Hall of Fame peers Lou Brock, Larry Doby, Al Kaline and Billy Williams never did: post back-to-back 100-RBI and 100 runs scored seasons. 

Minoso had all the tools but where he really distanced himself from the pack was in the plate discipline department.  He had speed to spare and hit for above average power, but he had an uncanny knowledge of the strike zone which enabled him to do something many of his peers could not do: walk more than he struck out.  In only one year as a regular player did Minnie fan more than he walked.  Over the course of his career, The Cuban Comet struck out just 584 times, and he offset that with 814 free passes.  By contrast, Hall of Fame peers Duke Snider (971 walks to 1,237 strikeouts) and Larry Doby (871 walks to 1,011 whiffs) were vastly inferior. 

One of the best Hall of Fame peers for Minoso is Larry Doby.  Both Minoso and Doby had their Major League debuts pushed back on account of their skin color, which makes Doby an ideal measure for Minnie.  When you put the two up against one another, you see that Doby has the edge in power, but little else.  For some reason, the Veteran’s Committee viewed Doby in a better light than Minoso, although the writer’s clearly understood who the better player was.  Doby’s second year on the writer’s ballot he received all of 0.3% of the vote (but nevertheless, was enshrined by the Veteran’s Committee years afterward) while the scribes gave Minoso 19.9% his sophomore year on the ballot.  The writers had the right man in Minoso.  Minnie had four Top Five MVP finishes in his career while Doby had just one.  Doby had one Top Ten finish in batting average while Minoso finished among the top ten eight times.  The Cleveland Hall of Famer never had a year with 300 total bases, while Minoso reached the feat.

With accolades that push Hall of Famer Doby aside, Minoso should have a solid chance for the Hall of Fame–unless one views Doby as a mistake by the voters.  So let’s look at Al Kaline–a slam dunk Hall of Famer.  Kaline’s career numbers exceed Minoso’s in almost every category, but Kaline debuted when he was 18 while Minoso had to wait until he was 25 before he became a Major League regular.  The following statistical line makes Kaline more comparable to Minoso by eliminating the years Kaline played from his career stats when he was 18 through 24–years Minoso was forbidden to play in the Majors.  Although Kaline distances himself well in homeruns, the other modified stats are in close proximity to Minoso’s career numbers.  They are as follows:

RUNS SCORED: Minoso (1,136), Kaline (1,101)

RBI: Kaline (1,039), Minoso (1,023)

HITS: Minoso (1,963), Kaline (1,960)

DOUBLES: Kaline (342), Minoso (336)

BATTING AVERAGE: Minoso (.298), Kaline (.290)

This post details the careers of a few Negro League left fielders that haven’t been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Bernardo Baro was one of the most gifted Cuban athletes to star in the Negro Leagues.  He made his debut during the Deadball Era and excelled with a well-rounded game.  A toolsy player, Baro had all the natural talent to excel but a serious leg injury midway through his career sapped his speed.  Despite a loss of speed, Baro was one of the best average hitters in the Negro Leagues–he typically hit around .350 in his prime.  But Baro was often referred to as a violent man with no control of his emotions.  He died in 1930 while still an active player in his native Cuba.

A star of the Deadball Era, Jimmie Lyons played with numerous teams before World War I.  He served in France during the war and a couple years after his discharge he found a home with the American Giants.  He teamed with Spot Poles in the outfield for the American Giants and they were credited as the fastest outfield duo in the Negro Leagues.  Lyons, who led the league in stolen bases on occasion, was a very aggressive base runner who took the extra base with little effort.

A star with the legendary Homestead Grays, Vic Harris was their left fielder throughout the late 1920s and early 1930s and later managed the club.  Although a good player, Harris is best remembered as the skipper that won nine consecutive pennants (1937 to 1945) with the club.  A spray-hitter with limited power, Harris is credited with a career .299 batting average.  Never one to be pushed around, Harris was often called “Vicious Vic” for his tough exterior, but despite his mean streak, or perhaps because of it, he was one of the most successful managers in baseball history.

 image of Vic Harris

A legend in his native Dominican Republic, Tetelo Vargas was a swift outfielder who could hit for both average and power.  An All-Star during the 1940s, Vargas batted in the heart-of-the-order with the Cuban Stars of New York.  The right-handed hitter was a terrific ballhawk who played baseball all year round.  When the Negro League season ended, he went back home and played in the Dominican.  He was still playing in his mid 40s south of the border in the Mexican League after the Negro Leagues folded.

This list consists of left fielders that haven’t been profield on this blog.  They are listed in order of runs scored.

George J. Burns (1,188), Ron Gant (1,080), Tommy Harper (972), Dusty Baker (964), Hal McRae (940), Lonnie Smith (909), Shoeless Joe Jackson (873), Vince Coleman (849), Al Smith (843), Whitey Lockman (836), Sid Gordon (735), Luis Polonia (728), Kevin McReynolds (727), Don Buford (718), Jack Graney (706), Sam Mertes (696), Les Mann (678), Patsy Dougherty (677), Dave Collins (667), Al Martin (664), Danny Gladden (663), Mike Greenwell (567), Bibb Falk (656), Lou Piniella (651), Tito Francona (650), Davy Jones (643), Bob Skinner (642), Leon Wagner (636), Kevin Mitchell (630), Carson Bigbee (629), Lefty O’Doul (624), Hector Lopez (623), Jeffrey Leonard (614), Bernard Gilkey (606), Larry Herndon (605), Howard Shanks (604), Johnny Briggs (601)

Rip Radcliff (598), Gary Ward (594), Gary Redus (591), Wil Cordero (587), Billy Hatcher (586), Steve Kemp (581), Mel Hall (568), Cleon Jones (565), Peanuts Lowrey (564), Matty McIntyre (562), Dale Mitchell (555), Jim Russell (554), Alex Johnson (550), Jack McCarthy (549), Troy O’Leary (547), Pete Incaviglia (546), Carlos May (545), Rube Bressler (544), Freddy Leach (543), Bill Robinson (536), Lee Maye (533), Chuck Hinton (518), John Lowenstein (510), George Selkirk (503)

Manny Mota (496). Tom Paciorek (494), Russ Snyder (488), Charlie Maxwell (478), Ray Blades (467), Mike Easler (465), Warren Cromartie (459), Steve Henderson (459), Bob Nieman (455), Bob Fothergill (453), Greg Gross (449), Irv Noren (443), Possum Whitted (440), Debs Garms (438), Danny Litwhiler (428), Mike Lum (404), Adam Comorosky (404), Rick Reichardt (391), Henry Rodriguez (389), Gil Coan (384), Gary Roenicke (367), Jerry Lynch (364), Barry Bonnell (363), Dion James (362), Ron Kittle (356), Wes Covington (355), Jim Wohlford (349), Mickey Hatcher (348), Chris James (343), Dan Pasqua (341), Jimmy Wasdel (339), Gates Brown (330), Bob Cerv (320), Mike Felder (318), Gene Clines (314), Miguel Dilone (314), Al Spangler (307), Rich Amaral (305), Thomas Howard (297), Walton Cruise (293), Morrie Arnovich (234), Thad Bosley (183), Larry Stahl (167), Jimmy Stewart (64) and Dane Iorg (149)

Road Runner Ralph Garr was a swift, high average hitter during the 1970s.  The left-handed hitter won the National League batting title in 1974 and copped two triples titles over the course of his career.  Not your stereotypical speedy slap-hitter, Ralph posted a handful of double-digit homerun seasons and three times eclipsed the 200 hit plateau.  A former All-Star with the Braves, Garr was a two-sport star at Grambling State who Atlanta lured off the football field in the 1967 draft.

The Braves took Garr in the third round of the ’67 draft and Ralph signed with the club, leaving the football field behind.  Fasttracked to the Majors, Road Runner made his debut with the 1968 Braves but only appeared in eleven late season games.  Atlanta would give Garr brief looks again in 1969 and 1970 before giving him the left field post in ’71.  Garr had a terrific first full season at the highest level.  He set personal highs in runs scored (101) and base hits (219) while finishing as the runner-up in the NL batting race with a .343 batting average.  Despite being a batting champion threat, Garr was a team player who led the National League in sacrifices.

The Road Runner followed up his breakout season with another second place finish in batting.  Ralph hit .325 in 1972 and clubbed a personal best 12 homeruns.  In 1973, his batting average fell below .300 (he hit .299) but he nevertheless tallied 200 hits (2nd in the NL) and scored 94 runs.  Ralph also pilfered 35 bags and set his personal high with 32 doubles.  But his best season came in 1974.  Named to the National League All-Star Team, Ralph won the batting title with a .353 average.  He was also atop the leader board in hits (214) and triples (17).  The swift left fielder smacked eleven homeruns as he was one of the few players to post double-digit totals in every extra base hits department that season. 

In 1975 Ralph paced the National League in triples again but his batting average fell to an un-Garr like .278.  He only stole 14 bases and since he was nearing his thirtieth birthday, about the time most speedsters start to slow up, the Braves traded him to the White Sox for Dick Ruthven and Ken Henderson.  The Road Runner rebounded with the Pale Hose in 1976 and posted yet another .300 season his first year in the American League.  He would hit an even .300 again in 1977 while finishing second in fielding percentage among left fielders.  This was uncommon for Garr, who, although speedy, wasn’t noted for defensive prowess.

In 1978 Ralph failed to reach double-digits in stolen bases for the first time since he was named a starter.  He hit .280 for the White Sox in 1979 but they sold his contract to the Angels at the end of the season. The Road Runner only played in 21 games for California in 1980–his last Major League action.


G 1,317/R 717/H 1,562/2B 212/3B 64/HR 75/RBI 408/SB 172/BB 246/SO 445/BA .306/OBP .339/SA .416

Woodling was an on-base machine throughout his seventeen year Major League career.  Had the left fielder not missed time to World War II, he would have possibly played nineteen seasons at the highest level.  Gene was a solid role player for the powerhouse postwar Yankees who never got the attention of teammates like DiMaggio, Rizzuto and Berra.  Despite his modest fanfare, the Akron native was a star performer who drew plenty walks, played a flawless left field, knew the strike zone inside and out and possessed adequate power.

Gene was originally signed by his homestate Indians in 1940 and made his debut during the war ravaged 1943 season.  The youngster only played in eight games and averaged a hit per contest but he would lose the next two years to military service during the Great War.  Woodling returned to baseball in ’46 and had plenty rust to shake off.  Due to the two-year layoff, Gene hit a meager .188 for the 1946 Indians and he quickly fell out of favor.  After the season he was traded to the Pirates for Hall of Fame skipper Al Lopez, who was a catcher then.  However, the change in scenery didn’t help much as Gene appeared in just 22 games for the Bucs.  The Pirates then sent Gene to the PCL powerhouse San Francisco Seals and his career took off from there.

Woodling had such a terrific showing out west that the Yankees purchased his contract at the behest of skipper Casey Stengel who was terrorized by Gene when he managed in the minors.  Woodling established himself as a solid Major Leaguer with the Yankees in 1949 as he hit .270 and won a World Series title his first year in the Bronx.  A dynamite October hitter, Gene hit .400 in the 1949 Fall Classic and followed that up with a .429 batting average in the 1950 Series.  Gene was a member of five straight World Champion teams with the Yankees from 1949 to 1953.

Although Woodling had established himself by 1951, that season was his breakout year.  He clubbed 15 homeruns and eclipsed 70 RBI for the first time.  But he would soon reach his peak.  In 1952 he hit .309 with a terrific .397 on-base percentage.  Even better in ’53, Gene led the American League with a .429 OBP.  His plate discipline was so remarkable that he drew 82 walks compared to just 29 strikeouts during the season.  But his batting fell off sharply in 1954 and after the season the Yankees parted ways with the 31-year-old outfielder.

Sent to the Orioles in a large trade that netted Baltimore Gus Triandos but saw stars Bob Turley and Don Larsen join the Yankees, Gene scuffled out the gate in 1955 and was dealt to the Indians that June.  Gene was able to get back on track in Cleveland and enjoyed his most productive year there in 1957 when he clubbed a personal best 19 dingers while also setting career highs in hits, RBI, slugging average and batting average (.321).  Since he was in his mid thirties at the time, Cleveland shipped Gene while he was at his top, fearing he would soon slide back down courtesy age.  Traded back to Baltimore for Hall of Famer Larry Doby, Gene showed he still had plenty left in the tank.

Back in Baltimore, where he struggled in his first trial, Woodling hit .276 with 15 homeruns.  Even better the following year, Gene drove in 77 runs on an even .300 batting average and posted his third over .400 on-base percentage season.  The keen-eyed Woodling would put together two more such campaigns with the 1960 Orioles and ’61 Senators.  His final year, 1962, Gene still had it at age 39.  He hit ten dingers at a .276 clip and finished his career with his admirer from New York: Casey Stengel and his woeful Mets of 1962.


G 1,796/R 830/H 1,583/2B 257/3B 63/HR 147/RBI 830/SB 29/BB 921/SO 477/BA .284/OBP .386/SA .431

Galan owned an eagle’s eye which enabled him to lead the league a few seasons in bases on balls.  An on-base percentage stud throughout his career, Augie was a swift and versatile star of the World War II era.  A quick ballplayer, Augie played every position during his career with the exception of pitcher and catcher.  But the California native has the war to thank for prolonging his career.  When he seemed at the end of the line, the war took away many of the game’s stars and Augie had his best years while others were in the service.

The Cubs brought Galan up in 1934 and he had a so-so rookie season before exploding in 1935.  In his second season in the Majors, Augie led the National League with 133 runs scored and 22 stolen bases.  The switch-hitter banged out 203 hits and posted double-digit totals in every extra base hit department–a feat he accomplished twice in his career.  Although his numbers fell off considerably in 1936, Galan was nevertheless elected to his first All-Star team.  He finished fifth in stolen bases before leading the league in that department again in 1937.  Augie set a career high with 18 homeruns in ’37 but for the second straight season his batting average and on-base percentage dropped.

He saw his playing time diminished in 1938 before bouncing back in 1939 as the Cubs everyday left fielder.  He hit .300 again and posted his third season with 100+ runs scored.  Augie only whiffed 26 times while drawing 75 walks which pushed his on-base percentage up to .392.  But then Galan’s career hit a brickwall.  He suffered a leg injury and was limited to 68 games in 1940.  During the 1941 season the Cubs dealt their inconsistent left fielder to the Dodgers for relief pitcher Mace Brown.  Between the two stops, Augie mustered just a feeble .218 batting average.  But then Pearl Harbor was bombed.

The 1942 baseball season was still going strong as just a few stars, like Hank Greenberg, Bob Feller and Cecil Travis, were in the military.  Augie was used as a part-time player for the 104-win Dodgers that boasted one of the game’s greatest all-time outfields with Pistol Pete Reiser, Dixie Walker and Joe Medwick.  With that amazing trio in the pasture, Galan saw action at first and second base just to get him in the lineup.  But after the season Reiser joined the military and Galan became an everyday player again in 1943.  Although his leg injuries a few years prior sapped his speed, the aches and pains enabled him to remain in baseball while the able-bodied boys took up arms.

Augie reached his peak during the war years.  In 1943 he paced the National League with 103 walks in an All-Star season.  From 1943 to end of his career, in 1949, Augie’s on-base percentage would never fall below the .400 plateau.  In 1944 he set a career high with 43 doubles and led the NL with 101 walks in another All-Star campaign.  Galan’s hawk-like batting eye (he walked 101 times with just 23 strikeouts) forced his OBP up to .426 in 1944 and .423 in 1945.  That ’45 season, Augie drew 114 walks (2nd in the NL) and scored an equal 114 runs (4th in the NL).  But when the boys returned from the war, Augie was pushed back to a part-time role. 

Despite the limited playing time, Augie had perhaps his best season in 1946.  He hit a robust .310 and hiked his on-base percentage up to the Ted Williams region of .451.  But Brooklyn had a wealth of talent in the outfield and they used Augie as trade bait after the season to bring in Ed Heusser.  With the Reds in ’47, Galan was able to play everyday again and he showed he wasn’t just a wartime player when he hit .314 with an astronomical .449 on-base percentage.  But the aging outfielder’s legs were no longer strong enough to support a full season’s workload and he was relegated to reserve duty in 1948.  He ended his Major League career with Connie Mack’s Athletics in 1949.


G 1,742/R 1,004/H 1,706/2B 336/3B 74/HR 100/RBI 830/SB 123/BB 979/SO 393/BA .287/OBP .390/SA .419