Four Sluggers

March 24, 2014
Sluggers
 

                To a quite remarkable extent, it is the same story in all four cases—and yet in certain respects it is not all that common a story, and each of these players is remarkable in his own way, and in the same ways.    There were four first basemen.  .  .we will call them all first basemen. . .all born in a three-year window in the 1920s.    Ted Kluszewski was the first-born of the four and I believe is the most famous of the four although he was not quite the first to play in the major leagues,  and so I will start with him.  He was born September 24, 1924, eight miles west of Comiskey Park.  He was a large, muscular man; all four of these were large, muscular men, but Kluszewski the most notably so.   He is listed at 6-2, 225 pounds, the champion of the listed playing weights, and while listed playing weights are often at odds with observation, not so in this case.

                People are bigger now, but Kluszewski was a big man by the standards of today, and a mountain of a man in the cliché of the 1950s.  He was recruited by the University of Indiana to play football.    In 1945 the Hoosiers went 9-0 on the gridiron with one tie, won the Big Ten, and were ranked fourth in the country in the final AP Poll.   Kluszewski was an End and Kicker.     Some of you will be wondering here whether he was a Tight End or a Split End or a Defensive End, to which the answer is "Yes"; in that era football players played both offense and defense, in college and in the pros, and the distinction between Tight Ends and Wide Outs had not yet evolved.   (Two platoon football was actually invented in the Big 10 and in 1945, but that’s getting a little bit off the topic.)

                It is written, at least, that Kluszewski would probably have gone on to the NFL, were it not for the wartime travel restrictions that prohibited baseball teams from conducting their normal spring training in Florida.  The Cincinnati Reds held camp at the University of Indiana.   Kluszewski, although basically a football player, also played center field on the Hoosier baseball team, and hit .443.   The Reds invited him to work out with them, and during the workout he launched some 400-foot shots.   The Reds offered him a $15,000 contract almost on the spot. 

                Kluszewski hit .352 in the Sally League in 1946, driving in 87 runs in 90 games, and opened the 1947 season in the major leagues.    He made his major league debut on April 18, 1947, three days after Jackie Robinson’s debut with the Dodgers.    He pinch hit in the top of the 7th inning, the Reds trailing 12-5, and grounded out to third base.   He pinch hit three more times, and then was sent back to the minor leagues.

                At this moment we will switch to Vic Wertz, who remained in the majors after Kluszewski departed.    Vic Wertz had made his major league debut on April 15, 1947, which was the same day that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.   Wertz was the smallest of our four sluggers, and he had a round, friendly face; in a way he looked more like Paul Giamatti than a leading man.

                Vic Wertz was born five months after Kluszewski (February, 1925), in York, Pennsylvania, which is an hour’s drive due north of Baltimore.   I believe he is the only one of our four who does not have a SABR biography, although his life story might seem to be the most interesting of the four.   He was signed by the Detroit Tigers at the age of 17, 1942, meaning that he entered pro baseball four full seasons ahead of our other guys.

                Let’s hang up on that for a minute.   The fact that he entered baseball far earlier than our other players, otherwise comparable, suggests the possibility:

                a)  That he may have dropped out of high school,

                b)  That his listed age could be a baseball age, or

                c)  That he may have entered pro ball much earlier than the other players because he was the only one of the four who had no second sport, the only one who was a pure baseball player from an early age, as opposed to an athlete who chose baseball.

                In any case, he played 63 games in the Piedmont League in 1942, hitting .239 without a homer, but in the spring of 1943 he was impressive enough in camp to be assigned to Buffalo, the Tigers’ top minor league franchise.    He pinch hit for Buffalo early in the season, went 4-for-18 in 18 games, and was inducted into the United States Army on June 30, 1943.

                He served in the Pacific during World War II; he was the only one of our four who was actually in the Big War.  He played a lot of baseball during the War, amidst other duties; at one time he was on a service team with Enos Slaughter and Joe Gordon.    He mustered out in December, 1945, and returned to Buffalo in 1946, older, stronger, and more ready to play.   He hit .301 at Buffalo with 19 homers, 91 RBI.   That was the International League, Jackie Robinson’s League in 1946.    Wertz at 21—if he really was 21--was one of the youngest regular players in the league, and one of the best. 

                At 22 he was in the majors; in fact, all four of our sluggers began their major league careers at age 22, a fact which will be useful to us later, when we compare them age to age.    He batted cleanup in his first major league game, hit a single and a double, stole a base, drove in a run and scored a run; in his first major league plate appearance he triggered a five-run rally that led to a 7-0 victory.   He fell into a slump, and was a bench player until early July.  He got hot, then, hit .367 in July, .302 in August and .315 in September.   By the end of the season he was the Tigers’ #3 hitter.  

                It was a successful rookie year, for Wertz.  Kluszewski hit .377 in the Southern League and returned to the Reds at season’s end, his minor league education completed.     Meanwhile, Roy Sievers was crushing the ball for Hannibal.   Sievers was born in late 1926, making him two years younger than Kluszewski and Wertz.    Sievers grew up just three blocks away from Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis.   St. Louis was baseball mad at that time.   The Cardinals were the best team in baseball in the 1940s; Garagiola and Yogi grew up not far away, and there were three other major league players on Sievers’ high school team, none of them notable, but Earl Weaver, four years younger than Sievers, was coming along behind him.    The Cardinals and Browns both played in his neighborhood, a bleacher seat cost a quarter, and Sievers almost lived at the ballpark.   Complimented often on his "perfect" swing, Sievers would say that he developed his swing watching Joe Medwick, his favorite player with the Cardinals, and then trying to copy Medwick’s actions.

                Sievers in High School was nicknamed "Squirrel", which actually was what got me started on this article; I started wondering why a big, slow power hitter would be nicknamed "Squirrel".    It had to do with basketball; he was a star basketball player in High School, recruited to play for the University of Illinois.    Basketball players in that era were called "Cagers".   Squirrel Cage?   It’s a bit of a reach, but he was always around the cage, and somebody started calling him "Squirrel’ because he was always around the cage.   He knew he was going to choose baseball over basketball, and the Cardinals’ area scout (Wally Shannon) was at every one of his games, urging him to sign with the Cardinals.   The Cardinals, however, had a mammoth farm system, with dozens of teams, and Sievers was cagey about the prospect of battling his way through an army of minor leaguers so he could try to break into a Cardinal outfield held by Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter.   Jacques Fournier, head of the St. Louis Browns’ farm system, wound up signing Sievers without ever having seen him play, for a signing bonus of a pair of spikes.

                Sievers signed the Browns in 1945, got drafted by the U. S. Army and spent a year in uniform after the war was over.   In 1947, then, Vic Wertz had a decent rookie season with the Tigers, Kluszewski started the season in the majors but spent 90% of the season hitting .377 in the Southern League, and Roy Sievers hit .319 with 34 homers and some very large number of RBI with Hannibal in the Central Association (different sources give different RBI counts for Sievers, ranging from 128 to 144.)    At the end of the year a Browns’ Vice President said that Sievers was "probably the greatest player ever to come out of the St. Louis area."

                Our fourth slugger, Joe Adcock, spent that season at LSU, where he played basketball. Really well.   Adcock never played organized baseball growing up; his only experience with the game in his youth was just backyard games.     He was a star basketball player in High School, playing for Coushatta High School in Coushatta, Louisiana.  Coushatta, near Shreveport, was a town of a few hundred people.  In 1944 Coushatta High had only four boys in the senior class, but all four were basketball players. Adcock led Coushatta to the championship game of the state basketball tournament, Class B.   They lost the championship game, badly, but the LSU basketball coach, Jesse Fatherre, was at the game and was desperate for talent due to the war-time shortage of basketball players.    Fatherre offered basketball scholarships to Adcock and two of his teammates.

                Adcock went to LSU, but not long after he got there Fatherre was drafted as well.   Red Swanson, the LSU football coach, was left coaching the basketball and baseball teams as well as football.    Adcock, 6-foot-4 and muscular, led the SEC in scoring, at 18.6 points per game.  When the baseball season came around Swanson encouraged Adcock to come out and play baseball.  Adcock told Swanson he didn’t know how to play baseball.   Swanson told him to just come out and stand around.   Adcock came out and started taking batting practice.   In a matter of weeks he was driving baseballs all over—and out of—the park.   After a year on the baseball team he had offers from multiple major league teams, most notably the Yankees and the Cardinals.

Like Sievers, Adcock was cagey enough to know that he would move up faster in an organization with less talent.    The Cincinnati Reds offered him a contract with a nice bonus, the bonus being necessary because he could have played in the NBA.    Adcock, still only 19 years old, reported to Columbus in the Sally League, where he hit .264 with 7 homers.   With one exception he was the youngest player on the team, and, while .264 with 7 homers might not sound impressive, he was second on the team in Home Runs.    Not especially impressed, the Reds sent him back to Columbus in 1948, where he hit .279 but with only 6 homers in 434 at bats.   It was a tough place to hit, though; he was the second-best hitter on his team, behind Lloyd Merriman, who had been a football star at Stanford. Merriman would move up to the majors the next year.   Just noticing something here. . .Kluszewski signed out of Indiana (football), Adcock out of LSU (basketball), Merriman out of Stanford (football).   We may see a pattern in the players the Cincinnati Reds were signing.  

                Vic Wertz didn’t do much for the Tigers in 1948, his second season in the majors; Kluszewski hit .274 with 12 homers as a rookie for the Reds.   Actually, 1948 was not a big season for any of the four; Wertz’ average dropped 40 points, Adcock was unimpressive his second season in the Sally League, while Sievers played just moderately well in the Three-I League (Illinois-Indiana-Iowa).    Sievers hit .309 with 19 homers for Springfield, moved up to the Eastern League in August but hit just .179 in 16 games at Elmira.    Kluszewski, the rookie with Cincinnati, probably had the best year of the three; he hit .274 with 12 homers and was not mentioned in the Rookie of the Year voting.

                But all four did better in 1949.     Starting at the bottom:   Adcock played for Tulsa, Texas League, and hit .298 with 19 homers.    Wertz in his last minor league season, Buffalo in 1946, hit .301 with 19 homers.    Sievers in his last minor league season, 1948, hit .309 with 19 homers for Springfield.   He also met his wife there; they are still married today.

                In 1949 Kluszewski, regular first baseman for the Reds, hit .309, although without the power that he would later develop.    Roy Sievers was the American League rookie of the year, hitting for almost the same average as Kluszewski (.306) but with twice as many home runs (16).   And Vic Wertz hit for almost the same average (.304), but drove in 133 runs.

                Ted Williams and Vern Stephens, teammates in 1949, drove in 159 runs each.  Vic Wertz drove in more runs than any other major league player, other than the two Red Sox.    Eighty walks gave him an on base percentage of .385.    Ted Kluszewski had a good year in 1949; he was a regular all year, hit .309 and drove in 68 runs.   Vic Wertz drove in 67 runs in May and June—30 in May, 37 in June.  

                A player with 283 total bases and 20 homers could be expected to drive in 91 runs; Wertz exceeded expectations by a whopping 42 RBI.     It appears, to the extent that we can understand what happened, that Wertz must have batted an extremely large number of times with runners in scoring position.    The records are incomplete, but in the data such as it exists Wertz did not have a notably high batting average with runners in scoring position, and actually homered much more often with the bases empty than with men on base.    The American League, however, was going through a mini-epoch of extremely high walk totals.   Sixteen American League pitchers walked 100 or more batters in 1949, two pitchers per team.    Tommy Byrne walked 179 batters in 196 innings, and finished 15-7.    Ellis Kinder walked 99 batters in 252 innings, finished 23-6 and had the 9th-best control record among American League pitchers.   

                The Tigers, Wertz’ team, had four regulars with .400 on base percentages—George Kell, .424, Johnny Groth, .407, Hoot Evers, .403, and Aaron Robinson, .402.    This contributed heavily to Wertz’ remarkable RBI total.   Still, Wertz had a tremendous season—and Roy Sievers had a tremendous season, becoming the first American League player to win the Rookie of the Year Award.    Sievers was playing left and center field for the Browns.    This chart compares the players through the 1949 season:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Batting

Fielding

Total

Player

YEAR

G

AB

HR

RBI

AVG

OBA

SLG

OPS

W

L

W

L

W

L

Pct

Wertz

1947

102

333

6

44

.288

.376

.432

.809

9

5

2

3

11

8

.587

Wertz

1948

119

391

7

67

.248

.335

.396

.731

9

8

2

3

11

12

.472

Wertz

1949

155

608

20

133

.304

.385

.465

.851

15

10

6

2

21

12

.638

                                 
                                 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Batting

Fielding

Total

Player

YEAR

G

AB

HR

RBI

AVG

OBA

SLG

OPS

W

L

W

L

W

L

Pct

Klu

1947

9

10

0

2

.100

.182

.100

.282

0

1

0

0

0

1

.000

Klu

1948

113

379

12

57

.274

.307

.451

.758

8

8

2

4

10

12

.470

Klu

1949

136

531

8

68

.309

.333

.411

.743

11

9

3

4

14

13

.521

                                 
                                 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Batting

Fielding

Total

Player

YEAR

G

AB

HR

RBI

AVG

OBA

SLG

OPS

W

L

W

L

W

L

Pct

Sievers

1949

140

471

16

91

.306

.398

.471

.869

13

7

1

7

14

13

.507

 

                Sievers, despite the impressive batting numbers, scores only at 14-13, the same won-lost equivalent as Kluszewski.      Sportsman’s Park, which the Browns shared with the Cardinals, was a hitters’ park.   The big thing, though, is defense; Sievers is credited (or charged) with a defensive won-lost contribution of 1 and 7, which drags down his season.   When I saw those numbers I assumed I had a data glitch, because a team’s regular center fielder can’t be scored with a defensive contribution of 1-7.        

                Well. ..actually he can; it’s unusual, but it’s not a data glitch.  The Browns finished 53-101.  The team’s pitchers actually walked a below-average number of opposing hitters, 685 against a league average of 703.   Their home runs allowed, although the league’s high, are not particularly awful given the park they played in; they gave up 112 homers against a league average of 91.   What was horrific was the batting average against the team when the ball was in play.   They gave up 1,583 hits, 145 more than any other American League team; it was the most hits given up by a major league team since the Browns themselves had given up 1,592 hits in 1940.    It’s essentially  one more hit per game than the next-worst American League team.

                As the Win Shares/Loss Shares system sees it, there is very little defensive credit to be given out to ANY member of the 1949 Browns, regardless of what position he played.   Also, when the batting average on balls in play against a team is high, the Win Shares system holds the outfielders on the team more responsible for that than anyone else, because it is my opinion that that is what characterizes teams that allow very high batting averages on balls in play—slow outfielders.    Sievers’ individual defensive statistics are not good; they’re not terrible, but they’re not good.    The conclusion of the system is, nobody on this team played any defense, and that includes the starting center fielder, Sievers.  

                And when you sanity check it, I think that holds up.   Sievers was faster in 1949 than the Roy Sievers I remember from my childhood, but the reality is that Sievers had no business playing center field for a major league team.    In a radio interview taped within the last couple of years, Sievers remembered Paul Lehner as the starting center fielder on that team, himself as the left fielder.   In fact, Sievers played twice as many games in center as Lehner did.    The Browns starting outfielders were Stan Spence, a 34-year-old wartime star, Dick Kokos and Sievers—three left fielders.    Sievers played center field only because the Browns were a terrible team, and while it may be unfair to evaluate him based on the fact that he was asked to do something he lacked the ability to do, the Win Shares/Loss Shares are intended to be a factual description.  It is not unusual for the Rookie of the Year to be really just a .500 player, by the way; that actually is very often true.   

                Joe Adcock joined The Show in 1950.  Adcock played 339 minor league games, Kluszewski 205, Wertz 220, Sievers 276—but the 339 minor league games for Adcock is really not a lot.   It is still one season short of the norm, the norm being the same then as it is now.    He didn’t hit that well his first two minor league seasons, and there was no job waiting for him in the majors; he had signed with the Reds because he thought the Reds, 67-87 in 1946, would offer an open pathway to the majors, but now he found himself trapped behind Kluszewski, and forced to play the outfield because Kluszewski owned first base.    Adcock hit .293 as a rookie, but his defense in the outfield was problematic and his power had not yet come around.    (He had played exclusively first base in the minor leagues.)

                Meanwhile, Sievers opened the 1950 season in the grip of a monstrous slump.    After going 1-for-4 on opening day Sievers was 0-for-5 the second day, dropping his average to .111.   He didn’t reach .200 until May 28, and he was playing every day.   After finally reaching .200 he couldn’t stay there, bouncing over and under .200, staying within a few points of .200 for another five weeks.     On July 2 he was still at .196.   His manager, Zach Taylor, just kept telling reporters that Sievers was too good to fail.  

                I can’t prove that this is true, but I believe that the term "Sophomore Jinx", as a baseball term, originated in part with Roy Sievers.   The term "rookie" was rarely used in sportswriting until the late 1930s, and didn’t become a standard part of the baseball lexicon until the 1940s.    "Rookie" is probably a variation of "recruit", an army expression that left the military and gravitated over to sports.   I don’t think the term "Sophomore Jinx" would have arisen in baseball until the concept of a "Rookie" was well established.   Rookies before 1940 were called "Bush Leaguers", and the term "bush leaguer" didn’t exactly mean the same as "rookie"; "bush leaguer" meant that the player was unproven, that he had come from the minors and had yet to prove that he belonged in the majors, whereas "rookie" meant that a player was new to the majors but was in a certain sense legitimate, if not quite proven.   "Bush Leaguer" was a backward-looking term, that defined the new player by where he had been; "Rookie" was a forward-looking phrase that severed the past and connected the player to his future.  "Rookie" was less harsh than "Bush Leaguer", less judgmental, and I think it may have been preferred because it was less judgmental.

                In any case, I don’t think the concept of a "Sophomore Jinx" would have made any sense in baseball until the term "rookie" had replaced the term "bush leaguer".   Roy Sievers, the first American League Rookie of the Year, fell into such a terrible slump the next year that it necessitated a brief return to the minors, and then the following year Walt Dropo, after driving in 144 runs as a rookie in 1950, the second American League Rookie of the Year, did the same thing, and he also wound up briefly back in the minors.    I believe that it was from this experience, from Dropo and Sievers, that the concept of the Sophomore Jinx arose.   I know that the term Sophomore Jinx was in common usage by the early 1960s, when I became a baseball fan.    More research about this issue might be instructive.

                In any case, Sievers finally started to hit, in July, had a good month and was having a decent August until the Browns, in a move that defines how organizations struggle, decided to move Sievers to third base.   It appears that the "decision" to make this move may have been made in the middle of a game; I do not believe there was any planning or preparation involved.   The Browns had been unable to find a third baseman.   A rookie named Bill Somers had been playing third for them and posted a nice .370 on base percentage, but he wasn’t very good defensively and then he got hurt.   They played Owen Friend at third base for a week, but Friend was worse defensively than Somers, and the Browns were losing every game; by August 25 they had lost ten out of eleven.   On August 26 they were trailing the Yankees 2-0 going into the ninth.    In the top of the 9th the Browns used four pinch hitters, and rallied to tie the score 2-2.   That was good, and surprising, but the Browns had pinch hit for Friend, and there was nobody left to play third base.   The manager, Zach Taylor, told Sievers to go play third base, or else Sievers volunteered; in any case Sievers, with no experience at third base, took the position.

                Fair enough; you have to do that sometimes.   We’ve had to do similar things with the Red Sox in my era; sometimes it just happens.   The Browns lost the game in the bottom of the ninth, and lost the next game, 8-0 to Washington.   Sievers sat out that game.  In the second game of the double header the Browns once again used a string of pinch hitters, and this time rallied to take the lead, 8-6 in the 7th inning.   Sievers again went in to play third base.

                The Browns immediately gave back the three runs they had scored in the 7th . so Washington led 9-8 after seven innings—but Roy Sievers then drove in the tying run with a 9th-inning single and scored the winning run after reaching on an error in the 10th.   That ended a seven-game losing streak.

On August 28 Sievers went back to the bench while the Browns lost 9-3, Friend making his 27th error of the season, one of four Browns’ errors leading to three un-earned.  On August 30, after an off day, Sievers started at third base.   The Browns won the game, 2-1; Sievers walked and scored one of the two runs and handled three plays cleanly at third base.    Roy Sievers was now the Browns’ third baseman.   If you are wondering how any organization could be stupid enough to make Roy Sievers their third baseman after the rookie season he had had. ..that’s how it happened.    Exigent circumstances led to a contingency plan; a tiny bit of success converted the contingency plan into the new reality.    Exactly the same way that an 18-year-old boy finds himself married to a girl he just met, with whom he has not yet had his first fight.  

                So Roy Sievers, who had opened the 1950 season as the Browns’ center fielder, wound up the season as their third baseman.    He had a poor season but salvaged something of it, finishing at .238 with 10 homers, 57 RBI; he hit .284, .240 and .298 over the last three months after hitting no better than .203 in any of the first three.

                While Adcock had a decent rookie season and Sievers struggled, both Wertz and Kluszewski had terrific seasons.   Wertz’ RBI dropped from 133 to 123, but 123 is still a very nice RBI count, and everything else was up:   home runs up from 20 to 27, doubles up from 26 to 37, walks up from 80 to 91, batting average up from .304 to .308, on base percentage up from .385 to .408.   Wertz was tenth in the AL MVP voting both seasons.

                Meanwhile, Ted Kluszewski stepped up to a comparable level, hitting .308 with 25 homers, 111 RBI, also 37 doubles, the same as Wertz.    It’s comparable, but then again it isn’t.   Kluszewski almost matched Wertz in batting average, home runs and RBI, but Wertz drew 91 walks, giving him an on base percentage over .400; Kluszewski drew 33 walks, giving him an on-base percentage of .348.

                Comparing Kluszewski, 1949, to Kluszewski, 1950, the National League scored more runs in 1950 than it had in 1949.    The park effect for Crosley Field (Cincinnati) was 93 in 1949, 112 in 1950.   The Park Effect for Tiger Stadium, on the other hand, went from 115 in 1949 to 87 in 1950. Kluszewski’s increase in his hitting numbers in 1950 is no more than proportional to context.   Wertz’ increase, on the other hand, is much more than proportional to context—so whereas a surface reading of the stats would say that Kluszewski improved substantially in 1950 and Wertz didn’t, a contextual reading reveals the opposite—that Wertz improved substantially but Kluszewski did not.   Or not; depending on how much you trust the park effects, I guess.

                Anyway. . .moving forward to 1951.   I’m fuzzy on the facts here and do not where to go to research it, but I believe there was some sort of de facto redefinition of the strike zone in 1951.    Here’s my understanding of what happened, and I’ll state in advance that I can’t prove very much of this, but. ..I think it started with Eddie Stanky.    Historically, baseball men considered "walks" to be something that the pitcher did, and paid little or no attention to the batter’s role in the walk.    During the war, due to the war-time talent shortage, Eddie Stanky made it to the major leagues—and redefined baseball in that era as much or more, at the time, in the era, as Jackie Robinson had.  Stanky was small, not strong, slow, and had a poor arm—and yet he was a tremendous player.  Leo Durocher, his manager in Brooklyn, was the first man to realize this, and stated it in a memorable phrase, "He can't hit, can't run, can't field. He's no nice guy ... all the little SOB can do is win." 

                One of the main things that made Stanky a tremendous player was that he walked.   A lot.  He walked 148 times in 1945, a National League record that would stand until Barry Bonds broke all of the records.    Stanky came to be a widely admired player, and other hitters started doing what he did—taking close pitches, fouling them off, actively trying to walk.   Throughout almost all of baseball history, the practice of actively trying to take a walk has been scorned by all but a few hitters. . .less than honorable, less than manly, less than kosher.   That’s the way it is now.   A few hitters will accept the role of doing whatever they have to do to get on base, but Real Men Don’t Try to Walk.

                People resist the idea that what is socially acceptable can spin on a dime, but it does.   In 1950 college cheerleaders wore long skirts that swept over their ankles; by 1960 cheerleaders in high school were wearing shorts that exposed their legs to within an inch of their passion fruit.    In the early 1960s Lenny Bruce was repeatedly arrested for using obscenities in his comedy; ten years later George Carlin was selling hundreds of thousands of albums talking playfully about the words you can’t say on television.   In the mid-1940s Roy Cullenbine had been basically driven out of the league because he liked to try to walk; by 1950 it had become the thing to do.   Every team had two or three batters who specialized in trying to work the pitcher for a walk.

                By 1950 the situation was getting out of hand—and at the same time, night baseball was allowing the games to get longer and longer.   Trying to make the pitcher throw pitches was not encouraged in 1930 because the games often started at 4:00, sometimes 5:00, and they had to be over with by dusk.    By 1950 that wasn’t a problem anymore, but by 1950 the games were dragging, and people were complaining about it.  I believe that the strike zone was either officially or unofficially revised after the 1950 season to cut down on the walks.    In any case, the American League in 1951 dropped from 5,418 walks to 4,889—a 10% decline—while the National League walk total also declined by a smaller percentage.   Something happened.

                I’m trying to explain what happened to our Four Sluggers in 1951; none of the four had batting numbers as good in 1951 as he had in 1950, if one fails to adjust for context.  Joe Adcock’s batting average dropped 50 points, from .293 to .243.     Vic Wertz dropped to .285 with only 94 RBI; in context he was still very good, but the numbers don’t look the same.   Ted Kluszewski, after two straight .300 seasons, dropped to .259 with just 13 homers.

                These three off seasons, however, shine like beacons when contrasted with the struggles of Roy Sievers.   Sievers opened spring training playing third base, but one needs to learn how to play third base, and he had skipped that stage.  Hitting .273 on May 15 but without power, Sievers fell into a slump that dropped his average to .225 by June 10, with only one home run.  The Browns, weary of his long slump, sent him to San Antonio with instructions for him to become a real third baseman.   He was doing OK out there, hitting .297, until, on August 1, he dived for a ball and separated his shoulder, ending his season.

                Bill Veeck bought the Browns in 1951.  Backing up a moment. . .Veeck had owned the Cleveland Indians in the late 1940s.     In 1950 Veeck’s marriage broke up, and the divorce forced him to sell the Indians, and left him with half as much money as he had had before.    The Browns, whose attendance was in the range of three to four thousand fans a game, were the only team left that Veeck could afford, so Veeck bought the Browns.

                Bill Veeck was beloved by many people who played for him, and perhaps this story will explain why.    Sievers’ shoulder injury was extremely serious, and it appeared likely that it would end his career.   Under the laws and rules that governed the situation in 1951, Veeck could simply have cut Sievers from the team; he had no legal obligation to him, as he would now.  (Now, when a player gets hurt, the team has an obligation to pay for any surgery that the player needs to try to get back to where he used to be.)   Not so in 1951—but Veeck did pay for Sievers to have an experimental surgery that doctors thought might possibly save his career.

                Not only that, but Veeck continued to carry Sievers on the roster, and continued to pay his salary through the 1952 season, even though Sievers was unable to play until September.  Even after the surgery, Sievers couldn’t throw, and now had no defensive position, so Bill Veeck told him to learn to play first base—and went to the park with Sievers, day after day, to hit ground balls to Sievers, trying to get him ready to play first base.    Veeck would stand at home plate on his wooden leg and try to line the ball past Sievers at first base, shouting encouragement all the time.

                In 1953 Sievers’ comeback began to gain traction.    Playing about half-time, he hit .270 with 8 homers—not much of a season, but the best season he had had since his rookie campaign of 1949.    But I am getting too far ahead with Roy Sievers, and I have left the other three sluggers behind, struggling through the 1951 season.

                Ted Kluszewski in 1952 had what might be considered a clean comeback from his very disappointing 1951 campaign.   He hit .320, a career high at that time, hit 16 homers, and increased his on base percentage to .383, 35 points better than his previous best.   Despite missing some time with injuries, 1952 was Klu’s best overall season to date.

                Joe Adcock had a little better year with the bat in 1952 than he had had in 1951, but his season couldn’t have been considered a success.  Ted Kluszewski’s presence on the team forced Adcock to play the outfield, or at least to attempt to, other than the few weeks when Kluszewski was injured.    Adcock was a large man with large, floppy feet, and he tended to trip and fall down quite a bit when he had to run.    He didn’t have much of an arm, and he didn’t have an outfielder’s speed.   I really don’t think that he was a horrible outfielder, but he was very awkward, and he didn’t look good.  The fans in Cincinnati taunted him mercilessly—as the St. Louis fans did to Sievers—and the newspapers were pretty hard on him.   When Rogers Hornsby took over the team in late July, Adcock decided that he didn’t much like Rogers Hornsby, which, of course, a lot of people didn’t.   By the end of the 1952 season Adcock was publicly demanding to be traded.

                (I believe that Hornsby had also criticized Adcock, in the newspapers, before Adcock demanded to be traded, although I have not seen the specific articles, and I could be wrong about that.  In the early 1950s managers would publicly criticize their players, and the players were supposed to shut up and take it.    It was really Walter Alston, hired in 1954, who changed this.   Alston felt it was inappropriate for a manager to criticize his players in public, and never did.   Within twenty years Alston’s ethic had become universally accepted.   The cycle of change initiated by Alston reached full maturity in 1977, when Frank Lucchesi criticized Lenny Randle in public, and Randle responded by punching Lucchesi in the face.  While Randle was certainly in the wrong, it was also very clearly understood, at that time, that Lucchesi had violated the unwritten rules of the game by publicly criticizing his player.)

                And Vic Wertz, like Adcock, had run afoul of his manager.  If we go back to 1948, all four players were the property of what might be considered floundering organizations.   The Reds, who owned Kluszewski and Adcock, had finished 64-89 in 1948, 62-92 in 1949.  Adcock had signed with the Reds specifically because he thought the team’s lack of talent represented the path of least resistance to the major leagues.    Sievers had signed with the Browns for the same reason.    By the early 1950s neither of these franchises had moved.   The Reds were still winning 60-some games a year, and the Browns were still lucky to get to 60.  Although the Tigers were certainly not a down-and-out organization, they had finished just 78-76 in 1948, and they appeared at that time to be slipping away from the front ranks of the American League teams.

                The Tigers hired Red Rolfe to be their manager in 1949.  Rolfe was a highly intelligent man, and for two years he appeared to be destined for greatness as a manager.  In 1949 the Tigers improved by 9 games, finishing 87-67.   In 1950 they pushed the Yankees to the wire.   It was an astonishing accomplishment, for Rolfe and for the organization.    With a lineup featuring Aaron Robinson, Johnny Lipon, Johnny Groth, Hoot Evers and Don Kolloway, going up against Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Phil Rizzuto, Hank Bauer and Gene Woodling, the Tigers were tied for first place on September 21.

                And then, with astonishing speed, the organization descended into madness.   I have been a first-hand witness to something very much like this, but it has happened so dramatically only a few times in baseball history.   In 1951 the Tigers finished eight games under .500, 25 games out of first place.   In 1952 they lost 104 games.

                Part of the problem was caused by the fact that the 1949-1950 team had overachieved by a huge margin.   They won a lot of games, but they weren’t really that good.    Another part was caused by the fact that Rolfe, although a brilliant man, did not have the very, very high level of interpersonal skills that are required of a major league manager.   A third problem was that Mickey Cochrane, a popular ex-Tiger manager from the 1930s, was angling to get back into the manager’s job, and was sniping at Rolfe in public and behind the scenes, trying to undermine him.    And in 1951 Billy Evans, the Tigers’ very capable general manager, resigned.   Evans had been the first man to wear the title "General Manager", with Cleveland in the 1920s.   By 1951 he was in his late sixties and his health was failing, and he resigned.   Tigers owner Walter Briggs pressured Charlie Gehringer to take the GM job, mostly because he just loved Gehringer.    Gehringer was very quiet; in all honesty he was, among major league superstars, uniquely passive.   He had been called "The Mechanical Man" because he played the game without any apparent passion.    He was the exact opposite, in this way, of Rogers Hornsby; Hornsby was loud, passionate, and widely despised; Gehringer was quiet, unemotional, and widely admired.   Briggs thought that the universal respect for Gehringer would make him an effective General Manager, but Gehringer never wanted the job, and accepted it only because he was too nice to turn it down.    He didn’t know who the players were, didn’t have a clue how good any other player was, on the other teams, and didn’t have any executive experience or ability.   No one has ever been less qualified to be a major league General Manager.

                In 1950, even 1951, Vic Wertz might have been said to be on a Hall of Fame pathway.    The same age as Kluszewski, he was, in 1951, far, far ahead of Kluszewski in status and career accomplishments.   But as the team went from 95 wins to 104 losses in two years, Wertz was sucked into the vortex of their self-destructive madness.

                In late July, 1951, Rolfe began platooning Vic Wertz.  I wrote something about this situation, about a year ago, and one of you posted a response to the effect that you had done some research and couldn’t find any evidence that Rolfe platooned Wertz.   I remember reading that Wertz fell out with Rolfe because of platooning, so I decided to check it out.    Between July 26, 1951 and August 5, 1951, the Tigers played thirteen games.   Six of the games were against opposition right-handed starters; seven were against left-handers.   Wertz was in the lineup all six games against right-handers, and was not in the starting lineup in any game against a left-hander.   In the last of those games, the second game of an August 5 double-header, the opposing team started a right-hander but switched to a left-hander.   When the opposing team switched to a left-hander, Rolfe pinch hit for Wertz with a right-handed hitting outfielder, Steve Soucheck.   That’s definitive proof of a platoon situation, so I stopped the research at that point.

                Rolfe kept lots of charts, books, notes about the games; he was famous for doing this.   As soon as the game ended he would shut himself in his office and type out his notes about the game.   Rolfe would have realized, based on his personal stat-keeping, that Wertz was not strong against left-handed pitchers, a fact which any other manager might have known in a general way, but not in specific terms.    Rolfe thought he could improve the team by sitting Wertz down against lefties.  

                But Wertz, who was having his third straight outstanding season up to that point, went into a slump as soon as Rolfe began platooning him.     Wertz had hit .325 with 7 homers, 25 RBI in May (1951), .315 with 6 homers, 17 RBI in June, .289 with 3 homers, 17 RBI in July, and he was platooning by the end of July.  As of July 21 his slash line was .303/.402/.532.  In August he hit .222 with only 8 RBI.   

                It’s just my opinion, but it is my opinion that the decision to start platooning Wertz was dumb, dumb, dumb.    Rolfe was focused on percentage baseball.   But in pursuing a percentage—that is, a small, marginal advantage—Rolfe had lost sight of something much larger and much more important.   I come back to this situation, because it illustrates so clearly the difference between managing a Strat-o-Matic team, and managing a real team.  In Strat-o-Matic, you can sit down your cleanup hitter if he is weak against a lefty, and that player will not be hurt or angry or insulted.   He will not begin to question his own ability, and he will not begin to question the competence of the manager in conversations with teammates.   In real life he will.

                Vic Wertz was Rolfe’s starting right fielder and his cleanup hitter, and a perennial All-Star.   From 1949 to 1951 Wertz had driven in more runs than any left-handed hitter in the major leagues except Ted Williams—more than Musial, or Berra, or Duke Snider.  I don’t question that Wertz was a little vulnerable to left-handed pitching, but you just don’t sit down a player like that to get a little edge.   If you want to platoon, you platoon a couple of guys from AAA who are just happy to get the chance to show you what they can do. 

                Rolfe continued to platoon Wertz in 1952.   Wertz, probably pressing to prove that he could hit lefties, batted only 63 times against left-handers in 1952 (for the Tigers), and hit just .143 against them.   Wertz continued to pound right-handed pitchers, posting a .931 OPS against right-handers, and made the All-Star team in 1952 for the third time.    But the Tigers were in last place, seven games behind the 7th-place Browns by early August, and Wertz had demanded to be traded.   On August 14, 1952 Wertz was traded to St. Louis as part of an eight-man trade, the essence of which was Wertz for Ned Garver.    Garver was a star, too; he had won 20 games for the last-place Browns in 1951, also hitting .305.    Wertz took over in right field for the Browns; had Sievers been healthy the two of them would have been the Browns’ corner outfielders and their 3-4 hitters.

                OK, so that brings everybody up through 1952; Ted Kluszewski was the only one of the four who had a good season in 1952, although Wertz’ won-lost contribution still scores at 17-6:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BATTING

FIELDING

TOTAL

YEAR

City

Age

HR

RBI

AVG

OBA

SLG

OPS

Won

Lost

Won

Lost

Won

Lost

Pct

1947

Wertz

22

6

44

.288

.376

.432

.809

9

5

2

3

11

8

.587

1947

Klu

22

0

2

.100

.182

.100

.282

0

1

0

0

0

1

.000

 

                           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BATTING

FIELDING

TOTAL

YEAR

City

Age

HR

RBI

AVG

OBA

SLG

OPS

Won

Lost

Won

Lost

Won

Lost

Pct

1948

Wertz

23

7

67

.248

.335

.396

.731

9

8

2

3

11

12

.472

1948

Klu

23

12

57

.274

.307

.451

.758

8

8

2

4

10

12

.470

 

                           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BATTING

FIELDING

TOTAL

YEAR

City

Age

HR

RBI

AVG

OBA

SLG

OPS

Won

Lost

Won

Lost

Won

Lost

Pct

1949

Wertz

24

20

133

.304

.385

.465

.851

15

10

6

2

21

12

.638

1949

Klu

24

8

68

.309

.333

.411

.743

11

9

3

4

14

13

.521

1949

Sievers

22

16

91

.306

.398

.471

.869

13

7

1

7

14

13

.507

 

                           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BATTING

FIELDING

TOTAL

YEAR

City

Age

HR

RBI

AVG

OBA

SLG

OPS

Won

Lost

Won

Lost

Won

Lost

Pct

1950

Wertz

25

27

123

.308

.408

.533

.941

19

3

5

3

24

6

.801

1950

Klu

25

25

111

.307

.348

.515

.863

13

9

2

4

15

13

.540

1950

Adcock

22

8

55

.293

.336

.406

.742

7

9

2

3

9

12

.421

1950

Sievers

23

10

57

.238

.305

.395

.700

5

12

2

4

6

16

.282

 

                           

 

 

                           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BATTING

FIELDING

TOTAL

YEAR

City

Age

HR

RBI

AVG

OBA

SLG

OPS

Won

Lost

Won

Lost

Won

Lost

Pct

1951

Wertz

26

27

94

.285

.383

.511

.894

15

6

4

3

19

9

.683

1951

Klu

26

13

77

.259

.301

.387

.688

10

15

5

4

15

19

.444

1951

Adcock

23

10

47

.243

.288

.380

.668

5

13

3

3

7

16

.309

1951

Sievers

24

1

11

.225

.303

.303

.606

1

3

0

1

1

4

.183

 

                           

 

 

                           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BATTING

FIELDING

TOTAL

YEAR

City

Age

HR

RBI

AVG

OBA

SLG

OPS

Won

Lost

Won

Lost

Won

Lost

Pct

1952

Klu

27

16

86

.320

.383

.509

.892

17

3

2

5

20

7

.727

1952

Wertz

27

17

51

.246

.352

.498

.851

9

3

1

3

10

6

.653

1952

Wertz

27

6

19

.346

.444

.523

.968

6

-1

0

1

6

0

.928

1952

Adcock

24

13

52

.278

.321

.460

.781

9

7

2

3

11

10

.524

1952

Sievers

25

0

5

.200

.226

.300

.526

0

1

0

0

0

2

.095

 

                The two lines for Wertz are his performance with Detroit (10-6) and his performance with St. Louis (6-0).   When you add them together the wins round up to 17.

                The 1953 season was a turning point for all four players.    In 1953 Joe Adcock was traded to Milwaukee, became a first baseman, became a regular, and began to reach his potential.    In 1953 Roy Sievers, whose career had appeared for three years to be in a death spiral, began to get his feet under him.    In 1953 Ted Kluszewski became a real power hitter, hitting 40 home runs after averaging 15 a year up to that point.

                Adcock, having demanded a trade, was traded to Milwaukee as a part of a crazy, four-cornered trade in which each team gave up one player and acquired one player, with one extra player and some cash also changing hands.   Cincinnati gave up Adcock and acquired Rocky Bridges, a trade which seemed reasonable at the time although it didn’t work out.   Milwaukee gave up Earl Torgeson, a first baseman, and acquired Adcock and Jim Pendleton, a utility player.

                In Ernie Lombardi’s time Crosley Field had been very much a pitcher’s park, with listed dimensions of 339 to left field and 366 to right.   The left field line was shortened to 328 in 1938, and the right field line was shortened to 342 in 1942, but then moved back out to 366 in 1950.   There must have been some temporary bleachers or something; I checked several sources but nothing really explains it.

                In 1954, anyway, the right field distance went back to 342 feet.    Ted Kluszewski noticed.    Kluszewski’s "road" numbers actually went down in 1953.   In 1952 Kluszewski had hit .329 on the road, with 12 homers, 51 RBI; in 1953 he dropped off to .295, with 13 homers and 40 RBI.   In Crosley Field, however, Kluszewski in 1953 went from 4 home runs to 27.

                Kluszewski from 1953 to 1956 was basically Lou Gehrig.   Gehrig was a left-handed hitting, left-handed throwing first baseman, a former college football player who, in his day, was the strongest man in baseball.  From 1953 to 1956 that was Kluszewski, and Kluszewski in that four-year period had Gehrig-type numbers.

                While Adcock, Klu and Sievers’ careers took turns for the better in 1953, Vic Wertz began to flounder.    In and out of the lineup with injuries, he was not the same player in St. Louis that he had been in Detroit.  The Browns were the same team as always; with Wertz and often Sievers in the lineup but neither having a big year, they lost 100 games.

                The Browns in that era—like the Kansas City A’s of the next decade—were the American League’s party team.    With no realistic chance to win, the players to a certain extent embraced losing, and committed themselves to enjoying the ride.   When a Browns player showed potential, as many of them did, they were traded to better teams, often to the Yankees, where Casey Stengel, Ralph Houk or Hank Bauer would greet them with a stern lecture to the effect that it was fine to go out and have a couple of beers after the game, but when somebody yelled "Play Ball" you had damned well better be ready to play.

                In 1953 Bill Veeck had more or less gone to war with the other American League owners.   The details are off topic for us, but Veeck was attempting

                a)  to drive to the Cardinals out of St. Louis, and

                b)  to make the Browns one of the powerhouses of the American League.

                Basically, he was trying to make water run uphill.    He came closer than you might imagine to succeeding on the first point.   The Cardinals’ owner, Fred Saigh, was convicted of tax evasion, and it was clear Saigh would have to leave baseball, right at the moment when baseball teams, after a half-century of exceptional stability, were beginning to jump from city to city like grasshoppers.   The Cardinals, however, were purchased not by out-of-town interests but by Anheuser-Busch.    Realizing he had no chance to defeat the Cardinals with Anheuser-Busch money behind them, Veeck negotiated a deal under which he would move the Browns to Baltimore, sell off 60% of the stock, but remain the principal owner of the team with a 40% holding.

                The other American League owners, however, refused to approve the deal, essentially because Veeck had behaved badly in his dealings with the other American League owners.   The upshot of it was that the Browns did move to Baltimore and did become the Orioles, the deal that Veeck had negotiated—but without Veeck.

                Giving the team a fresh start, the Orioles cleaned house, trading away or releasing essentially every player on their roster in a period of a year.    Right at the start of spring training, 1954, Roy Sievers was traded to the Washington Senators in exchange for an outfielder of modest skills.    At first Sievers was devastated, in part because a player is often devastated the first time he is traded, unless (like Adcock and Wertz) he had asked to be traded, but also in part because the Washington Senators already had a very good first baseman, in Mickey Vernon.   Mickey Vernon was the Keith Hernandez of his time.  

                Arriving in Washington, however, Sievers was amazed to discover that his new manager, Bucky Harris, actually wanted him there and intended to keep him in the lineup.  Roy Sievers’ struggles had reached an end.  "You know I can’t throw?" Sievers asked Harris.

                "I know you can’t," Harris said, "but I need your bat in the lineup.   Just get rid of the ball as quickly as you can."

                Sievers would throw the ball sidearm to the shortstop, and the shortstop would make a play if he could.  I told you all earlier that I got interested in this story on noticing that Roy Sievers’ nickname was "Squirrel", which seems like an odd nickname for a Carlos Lee/Jermaine Dye type of player.   But another reason I was looking at Roy Sievers is that a lot of people have been asking me about Grady Sizemore, about his chance of getting his game back after several years of injuries and struggle.   There are very few players in major league history who have done what Roy Sievers did.   After having a terrific season as a rookie in 1949, Sievers battled for four full seasons with a tsunami of failure, injuries and frustration—and came out of it on top.   Find another player who did that.   You can probably find one, but you’ll realize that it’s not easy to find one.

                And actually, it’s a little bit more remarkable than that, in that, in the season in which he was finally able to break out of his tailspin, Sievers hit in absolutely terrible luck.   Sievers drove in 102 runs in 1954 despite hitting just .232, which was the lowest batting average ever for a player with 100 RBI, at that time and until Dave Kingman would break the record almost 30 years later.   It is still one of the lowest batting averages ever for a 100-RBI season. 

                But it’s a fluke.  Striking out only 77 times and obviously hitting the ball hard, Sievers batting average on balls in play was .230, second-lowest among American League regulars in 1954.    The very low batting average on balls in play was the last little shard of the broken mirror that had plagued Sievers since 1950.

                But he overcame that; it is a mystery to me how Bucky Harris could have been so sold on Sievers that he would keep him in the lineup, after he hadn’t hit for years and and couldn’t throw and obviously was hitting in tough luck, but somehow he did.   And Sievers hit just .198 in his first 24 games in 1954.   Somehow, Harris just knew that Sievers was eventually going to break out of this—and he did.

                Sievers’ 24 home runs in 1954 were a franchise record for the Washington Senators.   He broke that record the next year, with 25, broke it again in 1956, with 29 homers, and broke it again in 1957, with 42 homers.   And very nearly broke it again in 1958, winding up that season with 39 homers, 108 RBI.

                While Sievers and Kluszewski were emerging as two of the top power hitters in baseball, Vic Wertz had taken on Roy Sievers’ curse; perhaps his locker was too close to Sievers, when they were teammates in St. Louis in ’52 and ’53    Hitting just .202 through the end of May, 1954, and losing playing time to younger players, Wertz was traded to Cleveland in very early June, part of the same house-cleaning process that had sent Sievers to Washington.  

                To this point in his career Wertz had been playing right field.     I have described these men as four first basemen, which I think is fundamentally what they are, but here is a chart of their career games played, by position:

 

1B

3B

LF

CF

RF

Ted Kluszewski

1481

 

 

 

 

Vic Wertz

715

 

105

4

783

Roy Sievers

888

30

676

163

4

Joe Adcock

1501

 

310

 

 

 

                Kluszewski was a pure first baseman.   Joe Adcock was a pure first baseman and a minor league first baseman, but had to play the outfield for the first three years of his major league career because he was Kluszewski’s teammate.   Sievers was really a first baseman, but played left field for several of his best seasons because Mickey Vernon was in possession of the first base job.    Wertz was the best outfielder among the four, but this isn’t really saying much; he was more Giancarlo Stanton than he was Shane Victorino.

                Traded to Cleveland in 1954, Wertz finally made it to first base.    Cleveland had traded for him because they needed a first baseman.   After platooning for seven weeks, Wertz took over as the Indians’ first baseman on July 21.  The Indians, of course, were having a historic season, winning 111 games.  

                You all know the story of the monster drive Wertz hit in the World Series that fall, caught by Willie Mays; I won’t get into that.   What you  might not know:  Wertz hit .500 in that four-game series, 8-for-16, with an OPS of an Ortizian 1.493.     Had Mays not made that phenomenal catch, Wertz’ drive would have been a triple; he would have hit .563 in the series, five of the nine hits for extra bases, OPS of 1.611.   But he had a good series, actually one of the best World Series that any hitter has ever had. 

                In 1955 Wertz developed polio.   There are two kinds of polio, apparently, one of which paralyzes you and leaves you an invalid, and the other of which just cripples you for a few months and then leaves you alone.   Wertz had the good kind of polio, the kind that only cripples you for a few months.    In and out of the lineup with polio and lesser injuries, Wertz drove in 55 runs in 74 games—almost exactly the same RBI rate, per at bat, that Wertz had had in 1949, when he drove in 133 runs.

                In 1956 Wertz hit 32 homers, a career high for him, and drove in 106 runs.   And wasn’t even a complete regular; he batted only 481 times.    In 1957 he would have about the same season, 28 homers, 105 RBI, but we have left Joe Adcock far behind us, and I’d better go back and move him forward.

                If you Google Joe Adcock, one of the things that will turn up is "Joe Adcock—racist".    This is based on some awkward moments between Adcock and Henry Aaron, his most famous teammate.    I don’t doubt that Adcock had issues regarding race.   He was born in the South in 1927; it would be quite remarkable if he wasn’t burdened by racist attitudes.  

                Joe Adcock, as many of you know, would compile perhaps the most remarkable list of singular achievements and odd events of any player in baseball history.    This started on April 29, 1953, his first month in a Braves uniform, when he hit a home run into the center field bleachers at the Polo Grounds.   The Polo Grounds at that time were configured as they had been since the 1920s; it was 483 feet to the center field bleachers, and no one had ever been able to reach them.   Adcock became the first; this was later done by two Hall of Famers.

                In 1954 Adcock hit four homers and a double in one game; the 18 total bases in a game was a major league record until the steroid era.    The double was a line shot off the top of the wall, and was said by most everyone to have been the hardest-hit ball of the day.

                That was against the Dodgers.   Adcock tortured the Dodgers in a way that few other players have ever abused a team.    In 1954 Adcock played 11 games in Ebbets Field, hitting .436 with 9 homers, 17 RBI.  The 9 home runs in an opponent's park was a major league record at the time.  In case you thought that was a fluke, in1956 he played only 8 games in Ebbets Field, but hit 7 more home runs there; against the Dodgers in 1956 he played in 17 of the 22 contests, averaged .421, hit 13 homers and drove in 23 runs.  His 13 homers against the Dodgers in 1956 tied the National League record for home runs vs. and opponent.   In his career Adcock hit 270 National League home runs, 47 of them against the Dodgers.  

                Adcock has many other famous hitting feats, but I am not here to talk about that kind of stuff, and this article is rather long, anyway.    (On July 6, 1954, Adcock had only one at-bat in a game, but drove in 5 runs.   He hit a 3-run homer and drew two bases-loaded walks.   On the day before the 4-homer outbreak against the Dodgers, Adcock had had 3 hits including a double and a homer, so in the space of two games he hit 5 homers, 2 doubles and a single.   Against the Giants in 1956 Adcock went 4-for-4 with 8 RBI.    He hit 7 homers in 7 games in 1956.    He had two two-homer games against the Dodgers in 1961, and he was constantly hitting two homers in a game against the Cubs.   He had five multi-homer games against the Cubs.)

                Most famous of these, of course, is the game in 1959, but that’s too far ahead.    I compared the players head to head through 1952; let’s move that forward now to 1957.    From 1953 to 1955 Kluszewski was the best of these four players, with Adcock generally the second-best:

 

               

Batting

Fielding

Total

YEAR

Player

HR

RBI

AVG

OBA

SLG

OPS

W

L

W

L

W

L

Pct

1953

Klu

40

108

.316

.380

.570

.950

19

4

2

6

20

9

.686

1953

Adcock

18

80

.285

.334

.453

.787

14

11

5

4

18

16

.537

1953

Wertz

19

70

.268

.376

.466

.842

11

7

3

4

14

11

.551

1953

Sievers

8

35

.270

.344

.407

.751

5

7

1

3

7

9

.418

                             
                             
               

Batting

Fielding

Total

YEAR

Player

HR

RBI

AVG

OBA

SLG

OPS

W

L

W

L

W

L

Pct

1954

Klu

49

141

.326

.407

.642

1.049

22

1

3

4

25

5

.839

1954

Adcock

23

87

.308

.365

.520

.885

17

4

4

3

21

7

.742

1954

Sievers

24

102

.232

.331

.446

.777

13

11

2

6

15

17

.475

1954

Wertz

15

61

.257

.330

.422

.752

9

8

3

2

13

10

.557

                             
               

Batting

Fielding

Total

YEAR

Player

HR

RBI

AVG

OBA

SLG

OPS

W

L

W

L

W

L

Pct

1955

Klu

47

113

.314

.382

.585

.967

21

4

3

5

24

9

.731

1955

Sievers

25

106

.271

.364

.489

.853

16

6

1

6

17

12

.572

1955

Adcock

15

45

.264

.339

.469

.807

7

6

1

3

8

9

.489

1955

Wertz

14

55

.253

.332

.475

.807

6

5

2

2

8

7

.536

                             

 

In 1956 all four players were really about in the same place, more so than at any other time:

               

Batting

Fielding

Total

YEAR

Player

HR

RBI

AVG

OBA

SLG

OPS

W

L

W

L

W

L

Pct

1956

Adcock

38

103

.291

.337

.597

.934

15

4

3

3

19

7

.734

1956

Klu

35

102

.302

.362

.536

.898

16

5

3

4

19

9

.684

1956

Wertz

32

106

.264

.364

.509

.874

15

6

3

3

18

9

.676

1956

Sievers

29

95

.253

.370

.467

.838

14

10

1

5

15

15

.500

 

                And in 1957 Roy Sievers, hitting 42 homers for Washington, jumped to the head of the pack, in part because Kluszewski and Adcock were both injured, but also in part because Sievers was one of the best hitters in baseball:

               

Batting

Fielding

Total

YEAR

City

HR

RBI

AVG

OBA

SLG

OPS

W

L

W

L

W

L

Pct

1957

Sievers

42

114

.301

.388

.579

.967

22

1

1

6

22

7

.768

1957

Wertz

28

105

.282

.371

.485

.857

16

6

1

5

18

11

.624

1957

Adcock

12

38

.287

.351

.541

.891

7

2

1

2

8

3

.724

1957

Klu

6

21

.268

.301

.465

.765

2

3

0

1

3

4

.428

 

                Roy Sievers and Vic Wertz were first and second in the American League in RBI in 1957.   Kluszewski in 1957—actually in 1956—began having back trouble, as very muscular men often will playing a sport that requires flexibility.  The back trouble never left him, and after four brilliant years he was finished as a top-flight player.

                What happens to players as they age, of course, is that their injuries become more frequent and their recovery time increases.   By 1957 these four sluggers had reached the second halves of their careers—Sievers and Adcock halfway through, Wertz and Kluszewski a little more than halfway through.

                From mid-May to mid-June, 1957, Joe Adcock was out of the lineup most of the games with an injury to his right knee.   Returning to the lineup for a double header on June 23, Adcock got through one game healthy.   In the second game he drew a walk, slid into second base and felt—and heard--something snap in his right leg.   He was carried off the field on a stretcher, the fibula broken about three inches above the ankle.   He didn’t get back in the lineup until September. 

                In 1958 it was Vic Wertz’s turn; Wertz broke his ankle at the very end of spring training (March 30, 1958).   He didn’t start a game until August 16, and batted only 43 times (although even then, he drove in runs at his usual brisk pace.)    1958 in summary—Sievers was superb, as he had been in 1957; the other three were injured.  Sievers in 1958 also appeared in a movie, Damn Yankees.   When you see Tab Hunter in the batter’s box, crushing a pitch, that’s actually Roy Sievers.

                In 1959, after five healthy seasons, the injury owl found Roy Sievers; nothing big, just a series of nagging injuries that ruined his season.    Vic Wertz was traded to Boston, where he platooned with Dick Gernert (a right-handed slugger) and battled injuries; Wertz batted only 247 times in 1959, although he had the same borderline phenomenal RBI rate that he always had, driving in 49 runs.    Projected to full-time play, it’s 120 RBI.    Compare Sievers to Wertz in 1959; Sievers batted 130 more times, had a higher slugging percentage, hit three times as many homers, bested Wertz in Total Bases 175 to 102—and they drove in the same number of runs. 

                In 1959 Ted Kluszewski got his chance to play for Bill Veeck; Veeck had purchased the Chicago White Sox, and steered them to the American League pennant in 1959.    Although Kluszewski could no longer reach the seats consistently he hit .297 for the White Sox in 1959, and .293 for them in 1960, and was THE hitting star of the 1959 World Series, hitting .391 with 3 homers and 10 RBI.    There were only 44 runs scored in the 1959 World Series; Kluszewski drove in almost a fourth of them.

                That was a big a story, but the most interesting story of the 1959 season, among these four, was Joe Adcock.   Adcock got the most famous hit of the season, a homer that became a single that became a double.   On May 26, 1959, Harvey Haddix pitched 9 perfect innings against the Braves, but the score was tied 0-0.   Haddix pitched a perfect 10th inning, but the score was still tied, and then a perfect 11th, but the score was still tied, and then a perfect 12th, but the score was still tied.   Haddix pitched one of the greatest games in baseball history, if not the greatest, at least by the lights visible to the public in 1959.

                In the bottom of the 13th the Braves’ leadoff hitter reached on an error, the first baserunner for the Braves.   Eddie Mathews bunted the runner to second and Henry Aaron was intentionally walked, bring Joe Adcock to the plate with one out and two men on.  Haddix, in the 13th inning, was still working on a no-hitter.   Adcock hit the ball over the fence in right center, obviously ending the game, but in the confusion and excitement everybody forgot how to play baseball.   Henry Aaron, thinking the ball was in play, played it halfway, played it cautiously, and Adcock passed Aaron on the basepaths.   The umpire ruled that Adcock was out and the ball was only a single, so that the historic game ended 2-0, Aaron being allowed to score, but then the next day the league president (Warren Giles) overruled the umpire, for reasons that I don’t understand, and awarded Adcock a double but said that the game ended when the first run scored, so the final score was 1-0.   Adcock’s hit at various times was a homer, a double and a single and he had at various points had been given 1, 2 and 3 RBI on the hit.

                Adcock was with the Milwaukee Braves in 1959.   The Braves lost the pennant in a playoff; the Braves and Dodgers both finished the season 86-68, tied for first; the Braves lost the playoff in two straight.   I have ranted about this many times before so I will keep it short here, but it is my opinion that:

                a)  No manager in the history of baseball ever had a worse year than Fred Haney, manager of the Braves, in 1959, and

                b)  In the entire history of baseball there is no other case of a team as weak as the 1959 Dodgers beating a team as great as the 1959 Braves.

                The 1959 Braves had a fantastic lineup, with Henry Aaron having his greatest year (.355 with 39 homers, 123 RBI), Eddie Mathews having one of his best years (.306 with 46 homers, 114 RBI), surrounded by players like Johnny Logan, Del Crandall, Bill Bruton and Wes Covington—all having very good seasons.    The team should have won 100 games, and they should have rolled Chicago in the World Series.    I have several complaints about Haney’s handling of the team, but these are the three critical points:

                1)  Although he had on his staff many outstanding young pitchers, Haney refused to trust the youngsters and refused to let them pitch, preferring instead to work to death his three veteran aces, Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette and Bob Buhl.    Spahn and Burdette won 21 games each but lost 15 apiece; Buhl was limited to 15-9 by a midseason injury that kept him out of action for several weeks.    While Spahn and Burdette were 1-2 in the majors in innings pitched, the Braves got very little out of Joey Jay, Juan Pizarro and Carlton Willey, and nothing at all out of pitchers in their high minors like Don Nottebart (18-11 for Louisville), and Terry Fox (9-3 with a 2.70 ERA for Sacramento.)  

                2)  Unable to find a second baseman that he was happy with, Haney switched endlessly among second basemen, and wound up getting worse performance from his eight second basemen than he could reasonably have expected to get from any one or two players at the position.   His second basemen hit .208 on the season with a .550 OPS, also committing 25 errors at second base and turning only 89 double plays—whereas the Dodgers got 112 double plays and 10 errors out of their second basemen, Pittsburgh 121 to 16, Cincinnati 100 to 19, and St. Louis 107 to 20.

                3)   Haney platooned Joe Adcock at first base with Frank Torre, which I believe was just silly.

                Look, I kind of understand what Haney was thinking, or I believe I do.    "We have lots of power on this team," he was thinking.   "We have great left-handed power with Eddie Mathews and Wes Covington; we have great right-handed power with Henry Aaron and Del Crandall.   Adcock is a right-handed power hitter, but. . .we don’t have a critical need for more power hitters.    Torre is a left-handed line drive hitter, a better fielder than Adcock and a better baserunner.    He balances the lineup better, against a right-handed starter, than Adcock does, and we were able to win the NL in 1957 and 1958 with Adcock out of the lineup with injuries much of the year, Torre playing first." 

                That’s all true—but it doesn’t add up to a reason to sit Adcock down against right-handed pitchers.   The other way of looking at it—the better way of looking at it—is this:

                a)   The fact that you have four good power hitters in the lineup is no reason at all that you can’t use a fifth, if the fifth is a good all-around hitter (rather than a low-average basher.)   What, when you score three runs in a game, you don’t need four?   When you score five runs in a game, you don’t need seven?   Regardless of how much power you have, you still need to put your best lineup on the field.

                b)  You platoon players who are relatively even in their skill level, to get the maximum combined output out of the two.   Frank Torre at his best just wasn’t anywhere near the hitter that Joe Adcock was.   He was left-handed, yes, but he wasn’t good.   You don’t platoon a good hitter with a bad one.  

                Because there weren’t a lot of top left-hand pitchers in the National League in 1959, the platoon situation essentially meant that Frank Torre started almost every game early in the year, until it became apparent that he wasn’t going to hit at all.   Adcock in 1959 hit .292 with 25 homers, 76 RBI in just over 400 at bats, .874 OPS; Torre batted 263 times, hitting .228 with 1 home run, .625 OPS.   Torre wound up the season starting 63 games at first base for the 1959 Braves, and the Braves went just 32-31 in those games.    They were 54-39 in the games that Torre didn’t start.   (Adcock also started some games in the outfield, and Mickey Vernon also started seven games at first base.)  

                But Adcock’s 404 at-bats in 1959 were actually the most among our four sluggers; injuries limited Sievers to 385 at bats, Wertz to 247 and Kluszewski to 223.    They were all past 30 now, and it might have seemed that the end of the road was nearer than it was.   In 1960 three of the four players posted strong comebacks.   Joe Adcock, freed from the yoke of platooning by Haney’s dismissal, returned to near-regular status and hit .298 with 25 homers, 91 RBI.    Roy Sievers, traded back to Bill Veeck’s care in Chicago, hit .295 with 28 and 93.    Vic Wertz batted only 443 times for Boston—but drove in over 100 runs.   Sievers and Wertz, who had been 1-2 in the American League in RBI in 1957, this time were 3rd and 7th. 

                Wertz hit .282; the other three were all in the .290s, as Kluszewski, backing up Sievers in Chicago and occasionally taking his turn at first base, also played well.   I started to say that Kluszewski played as well as Sievers, but he didn’t; Sievers’ OPS was a modestly sensational .930—but Kluszewski’s OPS, .789, was the highest it ever was after his back went bad in ’57.  Let’s catch you up through 1960:

               

Batting

Fielding

Total

YEAR

Player

HR

RBI

AVG

OBA

SLG

OPS

W

L

W

L

W

L

Pct

1958

Sievers

39

108

.295

.357

.544

.900

19

4

1

5

20

9

.692

1958

Adcock

19

54

.275

.317

.506

.823

9

5

2

2

11

7

.616

1958

Kluszewski

4

37

.292

.348

.402

.750

8

5

2

2

9

7

.560

1958

Wertz

3

12

.279

.354

.512

.866

1

0

0

0

1

1

.643

                             
               

Batting

Fielding

Total

YEAR

Player

HR

RBI

AVG

OBA

SLG

OPS

W

L

W

L

W

L

Pct

1959

Adcock

25

76

.292

.339

.535

.874

13

4

4

2

16

6

.720

1959

Sievers

21

49

.242

.333

.455

.788

9

8

2

3

12

11

.505

1959

Wertz

7

49

.275

.337

.413

.750

5

5

1

2

6

7

.470

1959

Kluszewski

4

27

.278

.319

.404

.723

4

5

1

2

5

7

.439

                             
                             
               

Batting

Fielding

Total

YEAR

Player

HR

RBI

AVG

OBA

SLG

OPS

W

L

W

L

W

L

Pct

1960

Sievers

28

93

.295

.396

.534

.930

16

3

3

3

19

6

.773

1960

Adcock

25

91

.298

.354

.500

.854

17

4

3

4

20

8

.721

1960

Kluszewski

5

39

.293

.364

.425

.789

5

3

1

1

6

4

.603

1960

Wertz

19

103

.282

.335

.460

.796

10

9

1

5

11

14

.438

 

 

                Sievers and Adcock, the younger of the four players, had become the better of the four players as the other two had begun to fade—but this is not a full explanation.   Sievers and Adcock also aged better than Wertz and Klu.  Vic Wertz still drove in 100 runs, but in all honesty he was no longer a good player, driving in 103 runs but scoring only 45—one of the most lop-sided run ratios in baseball history.

                Kluszewski went to the expansion Angels in 1961, hit 15 homers in half-time play in the Angels’ bandbox park and then retired, finally accepting that the back would never let him play freely again.    Wertz hit just .260 as a half-time player, although I will point out that even hitting just .260 with 11 homers, he still drove in runs at a pace of 113 RBI per 600 at bats.   Wertz was traded back to the Tigers in late 1961, and in 1962 was the top pinch hitter in the American League, hitting .324 with 5 homers in 105 at bats.   That was his last hurrah.   He was released early in 1963, drove a truck for a few weeks, decided to try to get back in baseball.   He signed with the Twins and pinch hit for them for a couple of months, but without success.

                Sievers had one more good season, almost exactly matching his 1960 stats in 1961.  Roy Sievers was remarkably consistent as he aged.    The usual rule is that a player is consistent when he is young; when he gets older, what he loses is not the ability to produce but the consistency of his production.    He starts to mix .230 seasons in which his normal .280 seasons.

                Sievers, however, was completely inconsistent when he was young, but remarkably consistent as an older player.   He was consistent, really, after 1954, other than the 1959 season when he had injuries and didn’t produce.   But from 1960 to the end of his career he slipped away a couple of knots a year, but always producing as much as one could reasonably have expected him to produce:  .295 with 28 homers, 93 RBI in 1960, .295 with 27 homers, 92 RBI in 1961, .262 with 21 homers, 80 RBI in 1962, .240 with 19 homers, 82 RBI in 1963.   In 1964 he slipped to .180, but still hit 8 homers in 178 at bats, and 1965 he hit just .190 with no homers in just 21 at bats.

                Roy Sievers was friendly with Ted Williams, and he would say after his career that he always wanted to play for the Red Sox.    In his career he hit .327 with 25 homers, 87 RBI in Fenway Park, 110 games, with a career OPS in Fenway over 1.000.    He always thought that the reason he couldn’t get traded to Boston was that Calvin Griffith, Washington owner, was the father-in-law of Joe Cronin, who was General Manager of the Red Sox, and Griffith didn’t want to be accused of letting his son-in-law steal his star player.

                Joe Adcock had only two seasons in his career in which he got more than 514 at bats.   One of those was 1961.  Batting 562 times, Adcock drove in 108 runs, a career high, drew 59 walks, a career high, and hit 35 homers, which was his second-best total.    While Adcock had good numbers, however, the Braves faded to 83 wins.   Adcock in 1962 found himself competing for playing time with Tommie Aaron, Henry’s little brother, and also fighting another round of injuries.    Although he finished third in the National League in home run percentage, behind Mays and Aaron, Adcock’s ten years with the Braves came to an end after the 1962 season.

                Adcock played four more years in the American League, hitting moderately well, and crushed 18 home runs in just 231 at bats in his final season in 1966:

 

 

               

Batting

Fielding

Total

YEAR

Player

HR

RBI

AVG

OBA

SLG

OPS

W

L

W

L

W

L

Pct

1961

Sievers

27

92

.295

.377

.537

.913

16

4

3

3

19

7

.736

1961

Adcock

35

108

.285

.354

.507

.861

17

7

4

4

21

11

.660

1961

Wertz

11

61

.260

.336

.424

.760

7

7

1

2

8

10

.448

1961

Klu

15

39

.243

.303

.460

.764

5

7

1

2

5

9

.386

                             
               

Batting

Fielding

Total

YEAR

Player

HR

RBI

AVG

OBA

SLG

OPS

W

L

W

L

W

L

Pct

1962

Sievers

21

80

.262

.346

.455

.801

13

7

2

4

15

11

.577

1962

Adcock

29

78

.248

.333

.506

.839

10

8

3

2

13

10

.563

1962

Wertz

5

18

.324

.357

.486

.843

3

1

0

1

3

2

.625

                             
               

Batting

Fielding

Total

YEAR

Player

HR

RBI

AVG

OBA

SLG

OPS

W

L

W

L

W

L

Pct

1963

Sievers

19

82

.240

.308

.418

.725

11

9

2

4

13

13

.500

1963

Adcock

13

49

.251

.320

.420

.740

7

6

1

2

7

8

.480

1963

Wertz

3

7

.122

.218

.306

.524

0

2

0

0

1

3

.169

                             
               

Batting

Fielding

Total

YEAR

Player

HR

RBI

AVG

OBA

SLG

OPS

W

L

W

L

W

L

Pct

1964

Adcock

21

64

.268

.352