From World War II to Dick Groat

February 8, 2018
  

109.  The War Years

              In 1944 Marty Marion was voted the National League’s Most Valuable Player.   He was the first shortstop ever selected as National League MVP, and the first selected as MVP by the BBWAA.  Roger Peckinpaugh (1925) was the only previous shortstop to be named the MVP, and that was in a different system.  Vern Stephens did not win the American League Award but finished third in the voting behind Detroit Tiger pitchers Hal Newhouser, who won 29 games, and Virgil Trucks, who won 27 games.   Luke Appling missed the season with Military Service. 

              We have Stephens ranked as the #1 shortstop in baseball for two seasons:

First

Last

YEAR

HR

RBI

Avg

OBA

SPct

OPS

Value

Vern

Stephens

1944

20

109

.293

.365

.462

.826

29.81

Lou

Boudreau

1944

3

67

.327

.406

.437

.843

27.34

Marty

Marion

1944

6

63

.267

.324

.362

.686

20.16

Buddy

Kerr

1944

9

63

.266

.316

.387

.703

17.50

Eddie

Miller

1944

4

55

.209

.269

.289

.558

13.59

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vern

Stephens

1945

24

89

.289

.352

.473

.825

27.47

Lou

Boudreau

1945

3

48

.307

.374

.409

.783

25.07

Luke

Appling

1945

1

10

.362

.471

.517

.989

19.40

Marty

Marion

1945

1

59

.277

.340

.370

.709

19.33

Eddie

Lake

1945

11

51

.279

.412

.410

.822

18.01

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Johnny

Pesky

1946

2

55

.335

.401

.427

.827

29.01

Lou

Boudreau

1946

6

62

.293

.345

.410

.755

26.26

Pee Wee

Reese

1946

5

60

.284

.384

.378

.762

25.33

Vern

Stephens

1946

14

64

.307

.357

.460

.817

25.15

Luke

Appling

1946

1

55

.309

.384

.378

.762

25.00

 

              Up until 1944 shortstops did not win MVP Awards, but there are only three seasons 1900-1943 in which the #1 ranked shortstop is not in the Hall of Fame—1900 (Bill Dahlen), 1914 (Art Fletcher) and 1919 (Roger Peckinpaugh).  After 1944 shortstops are winning MVP Awards pretty regularly; the NL MVP will be a shortstop in 1958, 1959, 1960 and 1962, the AL MVP in ’48,’50 and 1966.  But whereas they are all Hall of Famers up to 1944, after 1944 they are frequently not.

              The SABR biography of Vern Stephens, while it is well researched and well written, makes the mistake of turning the "biography" into an extended complaint about Stephens not being in the Hall of Fame.  Whoever edits the series should prohibit that, or dozens of biographies will become that; you could read about Dick Allen, Frank White, Lou Whitaker, Dwight Evans, Reggie Smith and Dan Quisenberry, and they all become Hall of Fame complaints.  I don’t really think that Stephens had a Hall of Fame caliber career, and I don’t think he should be in the Hall of Fame.  Certainly he had as good a career as Travis Jackson or Dave Bancroft or Lou Boudreau, but three mistakes don’t justify a fourth.

              Stephens drove in 137 runs in 1948, which at the time was a record for a shortstop.  The next year he drove in 159 runs, which is STILL a record for a shortstop, and the year after that he drove in 144.   These are the most runs ever driven in by a shortstop, top six seasons:

Rank

Player

Year

RBI

1

Vern Stephens

1949

159

2

Miguel Tejada

2004

150

3

Vern Stephens

1950

144

4

Ernie Banks

1959

143

5

Alex Rodriguez

2002

142

6

Vern Stephens

1948

137

 

              His 440 RBI in a three-year period is the tenth-highest total of all time, and the highest total between World War II and the Steroid Era, and is by far the highest total for a shortstop:            

Player

Year

RBI

Lou Gehrig

1930 to 1932

509

Babe Ruth

1929 to 1931

470

Hack Wilson

1928 to 1930

470

Jimmie Foxx

1932 to 1934

462

Babe Ruth

1926 to 1928

452

Al Simmons

1929 to 1931

450

Jimmie Foxx

1936 to 1938

445

Lou Gehrig

1927 to 1929

443

Hank Greenberg

1937 to 1939

441

Vern Stephens

1948 to 1950

440

Sammy Sosa

1999 to 2001

439

Lou Gehrig

1934 to 1936

436

Chuck Klein

1929 to 1931

436

Joe DiMaggio

1937 to 1939

433

Ken Griffey Jr.

1996 to 1998

433

 

              All Hall of Famers except Stephens and Sosa. 

              Obviously, if Stephens was the #1 shortstop in baseball in 1944-45 and drove in 440 runs from 1948-1950, that’s a really good career.  But it is natural for you to ask, if Stephens ranks as the #1 shortstop in baseball in 1945, driving in 89 runs, why does he rank third in 1949, when he drove in 159 runs?

              This chart gives Stephens’ Runs Created per season from 1942 to 1950:

Year

Team

RC

1942

StL A

83

1943

StL A

89

1944

StL A

100

1945

StL A

97

1946

StL A

73

1947

StL A

87

1948

Bos A

103

1949

Bos A

131

1950

Bos A

114

 

              The 83 runs created by Stephens in 1942 comes in a context of 1,367 runs—730 by the Browns, and 637 by their opposition. That’s 4.53 runs per team per game.  Stephens created 6.1% of all the runs in their games. We can argue that each 4.53 runs created represents a "win", or represents a "game". . .not arguing the terminology; just trying to create a consistent frame of reference. If Stephens created 83 runs and each 4.53 runs is a game, that’s 18.3 games:

Year

Team

RC

Team G

Team R

Team OR

Pct. Of Runs

Impact

1942

StL A

83

151

730

637

.061

18.3

1943

StL A

89

153

596

604

.074

22.7

1944

StL A

100

154

684

587

.079

24.2

1945

StL A

97

154

597

548

.085

26.1

1946

StL A

73

156

621

710

.055

17.1

1947

StL A

87

154

564

744

.067

20.5

1948

Bos A

103

155

907

720

.063

19.6

1949

Bos A

131

155

896

667

.084

26.0

1950

Bos A

114

154

1027

804

.062

19.2

 

              In 1943, remember, they were playing with the "balata ball", which did not jump off the bat.  (Balata was a rubber substitute used during the war, made from the dried sap of tropical trees.)  One can see that, measured in constant terms, Stephens’ impact during the war years was greater than his impact in his years in Boston, although he certainly remained a high-impact player in Boston. 

 

110.  Boudreau

              Lou Boudreau in 1948 was truly a phenom.   He hit .355 with 18 homers, drawing 98 walks while striking out only 9 times.  He hit .413 with runners in scoring position (64 for 155).   His home/road splits are remarkable:  he hit just .302 with 6 homers in his home games, but hit .403 with 12 homers, 62 RBI on the road.  He scored 74 runs in 77 road games, and had 119 hits on the road, 80 hits at home.  As a shortstop he led the league in fielding percentage (.975) and in double plays (119). 

              Boudreau also managed the team, which won the World Series.  That’s a phenomenal season.

              If you take that season out of Boudreau’s career, Boudreau isn’t within a $40 cab ride of the Hall of Fame.  He never hit .355 in any other season, and has only one other season over .307.  He never hit 18 homers in any other season; in fact, he never hit more than 10.  He never drew 98 walks in any other season, nor did he ever strike out as few as 9 times in any other season in which he had more than 2 at bats.  He scored 116 runs that year, never scored 100 in any other season.  He drove in 106 runs that season, never drove in that many in any other season, although he did drive in 100 one other time.  He never appeared in a World Series in any other season. There is NOTHING in his career that says "Hall of Famer", other than that one remarkable season:

First

Last

YEAR

HR

RBI

Avg

OBA

SPct

OPS

Value

Lou

Boudreau

1947

4

67

.307

.388

.424

.811

27.53

Pee Wee

Reese

1947

12

73

.284

.414

.426

.841

26.70

Johnny

Pesky

1947

0

39

.324

.393

.392

.785

25.97

Vern

Stephens

1947

15

83

.279

.359

.406

.765

24.63

Phil

Rizzuto

1947

2

60

.273

.350

.364

.714

22.19

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lou

Boudreau

1948

18

106

.355

.453

.534

.987

28.25

Vern

Stephens

1948

29

137

.269

.350

.471

.821

25.47

Pee Wee

Reese

1948

9

75

.274

.363

.390

.753

25.38

Eddie

Joost

1948

16

55

.250

.393

.395

.788

25.25

Phil

Rizzuto

1948

6

50

.252

.340

.328

.668

20.51

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eddie

Joost

1949

23

81

.263

.429

.453

.883

29.07

Pee Wee

Reese

1949

16

73

.279

.396

.410

.806

27.45

Vern

Stephens

1949

39

159

.290

.391

.539

.930

27.30

Phil

Rizzuto

1949

5

65

.275

.352

.358

.711

23.86

Lou

Boudreau

1949

4

60

.284

.381

.364

.745

20.44

 

              Boudreau had played basketball at the University of Illinois, where he was captain of the baseball and basketball teams.  As a basketball player he led Illinois to the Big 10 championship in 1936-37, and was named an All-American in 1937-1938.  (I love the fact that Illinois has been in the Big 10 since 1936 or whenever, and still is.)  Anyway, as a captain of his college teams Boudreau had obvious take-charge skills, and was named the manager of the Cleveland Indians in 1942.  He was 24 years old; the youngest manager in baseball history. 

              He was, in all candor, a pretty God Awful manager.  He managed a long time, was well under .500 for his career, and never had a good season as a manager other than 1948, although the 1949-1950 teams were OK, and you can’t say that those teams underperformed.

              Boudreau was notoriously slow; the first sentence of his SABR biography describes him as "slow-footed".   He had injured his ankles playing basketball, and had arthritis in his ankles, which got him deferred from World War II military service, and led to his early retirement.  Over the second half of his career he was often said to be the slowest runner in baseball.   He was, however, a very good defensive shortstop, without outstanding hands and an outstanding throwing arm.

              In 1949 the #1 shortstop in baseball was Eddie Joost.  Joost is like Vern Stephens, in that the offensive context of the late 1940s is SO dramatically different than the offensive context of his early career that the numbers don’t line up in any kind of sensible fashion.  Early in his career he was a glove wizard who didn’t hit, hitting as low as .185 with 2 homers—as a regular (1943).   Late in his career he became a 20-homer-a-season guy who walked 103 to 149 (!) times in a season for six straight seasons.  In 1949 he walked 149 times and scored 128 runs, and his usually hapless team (the Philadelphia A’s) finished 81-73. 

 

111.  Pee Wee, the Scooter, and the Dark Ages

              In 1950 Phil Rizzuto became the third shortstop in seven years to win the MVP Award.  Phil Rizzuto and Pee Wee Reese were joined at the hip in terms of public perception.  They played the same position.  They played in the same city.  They came up at almost the same time.  They played against one another in the World Series several times. They had the same initials. They both had child-like nicknames, Pee Wee and The Scooter.   They were joined like Willie, Mickey and the Duke, but even more closely, and for ten years before Willie and Mickey came to the majors. 

              The election of Pee Wee Reese to the Hall of Fame thus created great pressure to honor Rizzuto in the same fashion. I don’t believe that Rizzuto should be in the Hall of Fame—reportedly, Rizzuto didn’t believe he should, either—but I do believe that Rizzuto deserved the Most Valuable Player Award in 1950.   I think if you take everything into consideration and you weigh it properly, Rizzuto WAS the best player in the American League—in fact, the best player in baseball—in 1950. 

              Pee Wee and Alvin Dark never had magic seasons like Boudreau and Rizzuto, but they were the only shortstops in the 1950-1954 era who were on the top five list every season, and they also had their moments as the #1 player—moments that were not out of the context of their careers, like Boudreau and Rizzuto, but rather, they rated #1 in seasons that were natural parts of their careers.  Alvin Dark didn’t really have any significant power; it was just that when he played in the Polo Grounds, it was 279 feet to the left field corner, and he would lift 15 balls a year past the pole, what was called at that time a Chinese home run.   Exactly two-thirds of his career home runs (84 of 126) were hit in his home parks, and almost all of those were in the six years he played at the Polo Grounds.

First

Last

YEAR

HR

RBI

Avg

OBA

SPct

OPS

Value

Phil

Rizzuto

1950

7

66

.324

.417

.439

.856

28.34

Pee Wee

Reese

1950

11

52

.260

.369

.380

.750

23.38

Eddie

Joost

1950

18

58

.233

.373

.384

.757

22.72

Vern

Stephens

1950

30

144

.295

.361

.511

.872

22.65

Al

Dark

1950

16

67

.279

.331

.440

.770

19.69

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Phil

Rizzuto

1951

2

43

.274

.350

.346

.696

24.73

Eddie

Joost

1951

19

78

.289

.409

.461

.870

24.42

Pee Wee

Reese

1951

10

84

.286

.371

.393

.763

22.89

Al

Dark

1951

14

69

.303

.352

.454

.805

22.69

Johnny

Pesky

1951

3

41

.312

.417

.398

.815

18.75

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Al

Dark

1952

14

73

.301

.357

.431

.788

23.70

Pee Wee

Reese

1952

6

58

.272

.369

.365

.734

23.04

Eddie

Joost

1952

20

75

.244

.388

.415

.803

22.64

Phil

Rizzuto

1952

2

43

.254

.337

.341

.678

21.33

Granny

Hamner

1952

17

87

.275

.307

.428

.734

20.69

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Al

Dark

1953

23

88

.300

.335

.488

.823

24.33

Pee Wee

Reese

1953

13

61

.271

.374

.420

.794

22.83

Granny

Hamner

1953

21

92

.276

.313

.455

.768

21.24

Solly

Hemus

1953

14

61

.279

.382

.443

.825

20.53

Johnny

Logan

1953

11

73

.273

.326

.398

.724

18.21

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pee Wee

Reese

1954

10

69

.309

.404

.455

.859

23.48

Al

Dark

1954

20

70

.293

.325

.446

.770

21.68

Granny

Hamner

1954

13

89

.299

.351

.466

.818

21.26

Harvey

Kuenn

1954

5

48

.306

.335

.390

.725

19.51

Johnny

Logan

1954

8

66

.275

.339

.373

.712

19.00

 

112. Let’s Play Two

              Pee Wee reached the majors in 1940, so by the time he moved to the top of the list in 1954 he was getting up in years.  Like Luke Appling, he aged exceptionally well, beating back generations of Dodger shortstop prospects who were supposed to take his job.  But Reese and Rizzuto and Boudreau and Stephens, like Williams and Musial, were pre-war players.  By the mid-1950s they were old men in a game long dominated by the post-war generation.

              Ernie Banks was a rookie in 1954.  Through the All Star break he had hit only 7 home runs in 79 games.   Banks was thin, and did not look like a power hitter.  Switching to a thinner bat at the All Star break, he belted 12 homers in six weeks after the All Star break.  This became a famous event, Ernie Banks’ discovery of the whip-handled bat.

              That was a repeating story in baseball for 70 years—bats getting lighter, and lighter, and lighter; you can’t exactly say where it began because it re-cycled again and again.  Hitters in Babe Ruth’s era used very heavy bats, believing (correctly) that the weight of the bat added to the power of the impact.  Gradually, however, hitters began to believe (correctly) that they could make the bat move faster, and thus make the ball jump off the bat faster, with a lighter bat.   Probably this trend started even before Babe Ruth; probably even Ruth was using a lighter bat than Dan Brouthers and Roger Connor.  Stan Musial used a lighter, thinner bat than those before him, and Roger Maris in ’61 was using a lighter bat than any power hitter before him, I believe.  It’s part of the historic movement toward three true outcomes; as pitchers relied more and more on fastballs, as pitchers threw harder and harder, batters switched to lighter bats in order to generate the bat speed necessary to cope with the heat and still drive the ball.               

First

Last

YEAR

HR

RBI

Avg

OBA

SPct

OPS

Value

Ernie

Banks

1955

44

117

.295

.345

.596

.941

25.93

Harvey

Kuenn

1955

8

62

.306

.347

.423

.769

21.75

Johnny

Logan

1955

13

83

.297

.360

.442

.802

20.98

Pee Wee

Reese

1955

10

61

.282

.371

.403

.774

18.59

Al

Dark

1955

9

45

.282

.319

.394

.713

18.42

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gil

McDougald

1956

13

56

.311

.405

.443

.848

25.69

Ernie

Banks

1956

28

85

.297

.358

.530

.887

25.44

Harvey

Kuenn

1956

12

88

.332

.387

.470

.857

23.05

Johnny

Logan

1956

15

46

.281

.340

.431

.771

18.64

Billy

Klaus

1956

7

59

.271

.378

.387

.764

17.73

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ernie

Banks

1957

43

102

.285

.360

.579

.939

28.38

Gil

McDougald

1957

13

62

.289

.362

.442

.804

24.36

Harvey

Kuenn

1957

9

44

.277

.327

.388

.715

19.73

Johnny

Logan

1957

10

49

.273

.319

.401

.720

17.10

Al

Dark

1957

4

64

.290

.326

.381

.707

16.71

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First

Last

YEAR

HR

RBI

Avg

OBA

SPct

OPS

Value

Ernie

Banks

1958

47

129

.313

.366

.614

.980

29.97

Luis

Aparicio

1958

2

40

.266

.309

.345

.653

18.59

Dick

Groat

1958

3

66

.300

.328

.408

.735

18.36

Daryl

Spencer

1958

17

74

.256

.343

.406

.750

17.95

Don

Buddin

1958

12

43

.237

.349

.368

.717

15.24

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ernie

Banks

1959

45

143

.304

.374

.596

.970

30.45

Luis

Aparicio

1959

6

51

.257

.316

.332

.647

18.96

Woodie

Held

1959

29

71

.251

.313

.465

.778

18.19

Dick

Groat

1959

5

51

.275

.312

.361

.673

17.99

Daryl

Spencer

1959

12

62

.265

.332

.369

.701

17.43

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ernie

Banks

1960

41

117

.271

.350

.554

.904

27.05

Dick

Groat

1960

2

50

.325

.371

.394

.766

21.54

Ron

Hansen

1960

22

86

.255

.342

.440

.781

21.08

Luis

Aparicio

1960

2

61

.277

.323

.343

.666

18.75

Woodie

Held

1960

21

67

.258

.342

.471

.813

18.44

 

              I should write a little bit about Banks’ defense, and also about Groat and Kuenn.  Banks, like Boudreau, was a competent shortstop but not really quick enough to be a great defensive shortstop.  There is some confusion or disagreement about this point because (a) Banks has very good defensive statistics in 1959-1960, and (b) he did win the Gold Glove in 1960.   Banks in 1960 led the National League in putouts, assists, double plays and fielding percentage; in 1959 he led in assists and fielding percentage, and his .985 fielding percentage in 1959 was a National League record at the time.

              But none of that is convincing when you look at it more carefully.   The Cubs in 1959-1960 had a ground ball pitching staff with below-average numbers of strikeouts.   The team had 1,758 assists in 1959, 1,756 in 1960—large numbers, which are reliably indicative of a groundball staff.   The Cubs’ shortstop assists, relative to the team assists, were normal.  Cub pitchers led the league in walks issued in 1960 and issued the same number in 1959.  Walks by pitchers lead to additional putouts by shortstops, force outs at second.   The range numbers, in context, are fairly good but nothing more than that. 

              As to the fielding percentage "record", fielding percentages went up sharply, and steadily, for a long time.  In 19th century baseball fielders without gloves played on fields with un-mowed outfields, the weeds sometimes more than a foot high in the deep outfield.  As the fields got better and the gloves got better, the record for fielding percentage at shortstop was broken many times.  The record was broken and reset in 1899, 1901, 1903, 1905, 1908, 1912, 1913, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1926, 1927, 1937, 1942, 1959, 1971, 1972, 1979, 1999 and 2000.  Banks was one of many people who owned the record for a few years.   His career fielding percentage at shortstop was .969, against a league average of .962—good, but not sensational. 

              And as to the Gold Glove, somebody has to win it.  The National League in 1960 was in an odd condition, in that almost every team in the league was in transition at shortstop.  There were only eight teams in the league then. Several teams were using rookie shortstops and young, error-prone shortstops. The league’s traditional Gold Glove shortstop, Roy McMillan, had slipped to a part-time role.  The other top shortstop in the league, Dick Groat, although he was the MVP in 1960 as Banks had been the previous two seasons, was no quicker than Banks and was error-prone.   Banks was OK at shortstop, but he wasn’t more than that.

              Groat and Kuenn. . but first, Groat and Boudreau.  Dick Groat was in many ways like Boudreau.  He was a college basketball star, a better college player than Boudreau, and Boudreau was an All-American.  Groat played briefly in the NBA. Like Boudreau—like most basketball players attempting to play baseball--Groat was painfully slow, on a baseball field.  (Like Danny Ainge and Costen Shockley and Ryan Minor and Frank Howard and Joe Adcock.  Ryan Minor was one of the greatest college basketball players I’ve ever seen.   These guys look quick on a basketball court, because the court is small and they’re all jammed together so they change position relative to one another very rapidly. You put them on a baseball field, and you realize that they’re not quick at all, compared to baseball players.)  Like Boudreau, Groat was very much a take-charge personality, a natural captain. Like Boudreau, he won an MVP Award, and at about the same point in his career.  Groat damned near won a second one; in 1963, with the Cardinals, he was second in the MVP voting, and earned four first-place votes over Sandy Koufax, who was 25-5 with a 1.88 ERA.   Groat was very much admired in his time.

              Harvey Kuenn was the American League’s Dick Groat.   He was the same age as Groat, within a month.  They were both college men in an era in which that was still not too common.  They both came to the majors in mid-season, 1952, Groat with the last-place team in the National League, the 112-loss Pirates, and Kuenn with the last-place team in the American League, the 104-loss Tigers. 

              They were both high-average hitters.  Groat won the National League batting title in 1960, at .325, while Kuenn won the American League batting title in 1959, at .353, and also hit .332 in 1956.  Both had 200-hit seasons; Kuenn had consecutive 200-hit seasons, while Groat had 199 and 201.  But, in truth, they were not really productive hitters; they were hitters who benefitted from the batting average illusion of the time.  Groat did not walk, steal bases (at all) or hit homers.  He was a slow right-handed hitter who grounded into LOTS of double plays.  If you had him on your Strat-o-Matic team, you couldn’t WAIT to get rid of him—granting that most of the shortstops in the league were not productive hitters, either. 

              Kuenn was a better offensive player than Groat, but he was essentially similar—a right-handed singles hitter.  He hit for even higher averages than Groat, walked more than Groat but still not a lot, was faster than Groat but was not fast, had more power than Groat but not real power, and grounded into fewer double plays than Groat but still an average number. 

              Kuenn was also similar to Groat in the field; that is to say, he was not really a good shortstop.  He was a good player who was playing shortstop; he made the list of the top shortstops of 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956 and 1957, but it was not his fielding that put him there. 

              Here they part.  Groat was an intense competitor, a team leader and a guy who would "hold his teammates accountable", a tendency which I dislike in a player, by the way.   Just do your job and let the coaching staff hold your teammates accountable for their jobs; that’s my belief.  Whenever one of our scouts starts talking about some guy who will "hold his teammates accountable", I always say that "OK, we don’t want anything to do with him, then."

              Anyway, Kuenn was not like that; Kuenn was laid back and likeable. He always had a smile on his face and a plug of chewing tobacco in his jaw.  But whereas Groat’s ascent to stardom was slow and gradual, delayed two years by Korean era military service and then returning to a still-struggling Pirate franchise, Kuenn’s career was a rocket, a Rookie of the Year in 1953 who was part of a large cadre of young players who had the Tigers back in the game by 1955. 

              But Kuenn’s career was largely derailed by (1) the decision to move him to the outfield in 1958, and (2) the decision to trade him to the Indians in April, 1960.  As I’ve said, there were good reasons to move him to the outfield; he wasn’t that good a shortstop—but his bat didn’t play as well as an outfielder.  The trade to Cleveland in 1960 and then to San Francisco after the 1960 season took the shine off of him.  Players often or usually have adjustment seasons after a trade, and, moving to poorer hitters parks and moving past 30, Kuenn changed from being a guy hitting .320 in 600 at bats to a guy hitting .290 in 450 at bats.  Up until 1959 you can see him as a Hall of Fame player, but after the trades he was just another guy. 

             

             

             I seem to have posted this article twice and can't find any way to undo it except to sit here with my finger on the backspace button for a half hour, so what follows may not enhance your life to read again.  

 

  

109.  The War Years

              In 1944 Marty Marion was voted the National League’s Most Valuable Player.   He was the first shortstop ever selected as National League MVP, and the first selected as MVP by the BBWAA.  Roger Peckinpaugh (1925) was the only previous shortstop to be named the MVP, and that was in a different system.  Vern Stephens did not win the American League Award but finished third in the voting behind Detroit Tiger pitchers Hal Newhouser, who won 29 games, and Virgil Trucks, who won 27 games.   Luke Appling missed the season with Military Service. 

              We have Stephens ranked as the #1 shortstop in baseball for two seasons:

First

Last

YEAR

HR

RBI

Avg

OBA

SPct

OPS

Value

Vern

Stephens

1944

20

109

.293

.365

.462

.826

29.81

Lou

Boudreau

1944

3

67

.327

.406

.437

.843

27.34

Marty

Marion

1944

6

63

.267

.324

.362

.686

20.16

Buddy

Kerr

1944

9

63

.266

.316

.387

.703

17.50

Eddie

Miller

1944

4

55

.209

.269

.289

.558

13.59

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vern

Stephens

1945

24

89

.289

.352

.473

.825

27.47

Lou

Boudreau

1945

3

48

.307

.374

.409

.783

25.07

Luke

Appling

1945

1

10

.362

.471

.517

.989

19.40

Marty

Marion

1945

1

59

.277

.340

.370

.709

19.33

Eddie

Lake

1945

11

51

.279

.412

.410

.822

18.01

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Johnny

Pesky

1946

2

55

.335

.401

.427

.827

29.01

Lou

Boudreau

1946

6

62

.293

.345

.410

.755

26.26

Pee Wee

Reese

1946

5

60

.284

.384

.378

.762

25.33

Vern

Stephens

1946

14

64

.307

.357

.460

.817

25.15

Luke

Appling

1946

1

55

.309

.384

.378

.762

25.00

 

              Up until 1944 shortstops did not win MVP Awards, but there are only three seasons 1900-1943 in which the #1 ranked shortstop is not in the Hall of Fame—1900 (Bill Dahlen), 1914 (Art Fletcher) and 1919 (Roger Peckinpaugh).  After 1944 shortstops are winning MVP Awards pretty regularly; the NL MVP will be a shortstop in 1958, 1959, 1960 and 1962, the AL MVP in ’48,’50 and 1966.  But whereas they are all Hall of Famers up to 1944, after 1944 they are frequently not.

              The SABR biography of Vern Stephens, while it is well researched and well written, makes the mistake of turning the "biography" into an extended complaint about Stephens not being in the Hall of Fame.  Whoever edits the series should prohibit that, or dozens of biographies will become that; you could read about Dick Allen, Frank White, Lou Whitaker, Dwight Evans, Reggie Smith and Dan Quisenberry, and they all become Hall of Fame complaints.  I don’t really think that Stephens had a Hall of Fame caliber career, and I don’t think he should be in the Hall of Fame.  Certainly he had as good a career as Travis Jackson or Dave Bancroft or Lou Boudreau, but three mistakes don’t justify a fourth.

              Stephens drove in 137 runs in 1948, which at the time was a record for a shortstop.  The next year he drove in 159 runs, which is STILL a record for a shortstop, and the year after that he drove in 144.   These are the most runs ever driven in by a shortstop, top six seasons:

Rank

Player

Year

RBI

1

Vern Stephens

1949

159

2

Miguel Tejada

2004

150

3

Vern Stephens

1950

144

4

Ernie Banks

1959

143

5

Alex Rodriguez

2002

142

6

Vern Stephens

1948

137

 

              His 440 RBI in a three-year period is the tenth-highest total of all time, and the highest total between World War II and the Steroid Era, and is by far the highest total for a shortstop:            

Player

Year

RBI

Lou Gehrig

1930 to 1932

509

Babe Ruth

1929 to 1931

470

Hack Wilson

1928 to 1930

470

Jimmie Foxx

1932 to 1934

462

Babe Ruth

1926 to 1928

452

Al Simmons

1929 to 1931

450

Jimmie Foxx

1936 to 1938

445

Lou Gehrig

1927 to 1929

443

Hank Greenberg

1937 to 1939

441

Vern Stephens

1948 to 1950

440

Sammy Sosa

1999 to 2001

439

Lou Gehrig

1934 to 1936

436

Chuck Klein

1929 to 1931

436

Joe DiMaggio

1937 to 1939

433

Ken Griffey Jr.

1996 to 1998

433

 

              All Hall of Famers except Stephens and Sosa. 

              Obviously, if Stephens was the #1 shortstop in baseball in 1944-45 and drove in 440 runs from 1948-1950, that’s a really good career.  But it is natural for you to ask, if Stephens ranks as the #1 shortstop in baseball in 1945, driving in 89 runs, why does he rank third in 1949, when he drove in 159 runs?

              This chart gives Stephens’ Runs Created per season from 1942 to 1950:

Year

Team

RC

1942

StL A

83

1943

StL A

89

1944

StL A

100

1945

StL A

97

1946

StL A

73

1947

StL A

87

1948

Bos A

103

1949

Bos A

131

1950

Bos A

114

 

              The 83 runs created by Stephens in 1942 comes in a context of 1,367 runs—730 by the Browns, and 637 by their opposition. That’s 4.53 runs per team per game.  Stephens created 6.1% of all the runs in their games. We can argue that each 4.53 runs created represents a "win", or represents a "game". . .not arguing the terminology; just trying to create a consistent frame of reference. If Stephens created 83 runs and each 4.53 runs is a game, that’s 18.3 games:

Year

Team

RC

Team G

Team R

Team OR

Pct. Of Runs

Impact

1942

StL A

83

151

730

637

.061

18.3

1943

StL A

89

153

596

604

.074

22.7

1944

StL A

100

154

684

587

.079

24.2

1945

StL A

97

154

597

548

.085

26.1

1946

StL A

73

156

621

710

.055

17.1

1947

StL A

87

154

564

744

.067

20.5

1948

Bos A

103

155

907

720

.063

19.6

1949

Bos A

131

155

896

667

.084

26.0

1950

Bos A

114

154

1027

804

.062

19.2

 

              In 1943, remember, they were playing with the "balata ball", which did not jump off the bat.  (Balata was a rubber substitute used during the war, made from the dried sap of tropical trees.)  One can see that, measured in constant terms, Stephens’ impact during the war years was greater than his impact in his years in Boston, although he certainly remained a high-impact player in Boston. 

 

110.  Boudreau

              Lou Boudreau in 1948 was truly a phenom.   He hit .355 with 18 homers, drawing 98 walks while striking out only 9 times.  He hit .413 with runners in scoring position (64 for 155).   His home/road splits are remarkable:  he hit just .302 with 6 homers in his home games, but hit .403 with 12 homers, 62 RBI on the road.  He scored 74 runs in 77 road games, and had 119 hits on the road, 80 hits at home.  As a shortstop he led the league in fielding percentage (.975) and in double plays (119). 

              Boudreau also managed the team, which won the World Series.  That’s a phenomenal season.

              If you take that season out of Boudreau’s career, Boudreau isn’t within a $40 cab ride of the Hall of Fame.  He never hit .355 in any other season, and has only one other season over .307.  He never hit 18 homers in any other season; in fact, he never hit more than 10.  He never drew 98 walks in any other season, nor did he ever strike out as few as 9 times in any other season in which he had more than 2 at bats.  He scored 116 runs that year, never scored 100 in any other season.  He drove in 106 runs that season, never drove in that many in any other season, although he did drive in 100 one other time.  He never appeared in a World Series in any other season. There is NOTHING in his career that says "Hall of Famer", other than that one remarkable season:

First

Last

YEAR

HR

RBI

Avg

OBA

SPct

OPS

Value

Lou

Boudreau

1947

4

67

.307

.388

.424

.811

27.53

Pee Wee

Reese

1947

12

73

.284

.414

.426

.841

26.70

Johnny

Pesky

1947

0

39

.324

.393

.392

.785

25.97

Vern

Stephens

1947

15

83

.279

.359

.406

.765

24.63

Phil

Rizzuto

1947

2

60

.273

.350

.364

.714

22.19

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lou

Boudreau

1948

18

106

.355

.453

.534

.987

28.25

Vern

Stephens

1948

29

137

.269

.350

.471

.821

25.47

Pee Wee

Reese

1948

9

75

.274

.363

.390

.753

25.38

Eddie

Joost

1948

16

55

.250

.393

.395

.788

25.25

Phil

Rizzuto

1948

6

50

.252

.340

.328

.668

20.51

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eddie

Joost

1949

23

81

.263

.429

.453

.883

29.07

Pee Wee

Reese

1949

16

73

.279

.396

.410

.806

27.45

Vern

Stephens

1949

39

159

.290

.391

.539

.930

27.30

Phil

Rizzuto

1949

5

65

.275

.352

.358

.711

23.86

Lou

Boudreau

1949

4

60

.284

.381

.364

.745

20.44

 

              Boudreau had played basketball at the University of Illinois, where he was captain of the baseball and basketball teams.  As a basketball player he led Illinois to the Big 10 championship in 1936-37, and was named an All-American in 1937-1938.  (I love the fact that Illinois has been in the Big 10 since 1936 or whenever, and still is.)  Anyway, as a captain of his college teams Boudreau had obvious take-charge skills, and was named the manager of the Cleveland Indians in 1942.  He was 24 years old; the youngest manager in baseball history. 

              He was, in all candor, a pretty God Awful manager.  He managed a long time, was well under .500 for his career, and never had a good season as a manager other than 1948, although the 1949-1950 teams were OK, and you can’t say that those teams underperformed.

              Boudreau was notoriously slow; the first sentence of his SABR biography describes him as "slow-footed".   He had injured his ankles playing basketball, and had arthritis in his ankles, which got him deferred from World War II military service, and led to his early retirement.  Over the second half of his career he was often said to be the slowest runner in baseball.   He was, however, a very good defensive shortstop, without outstanding hands and an outstanding throwing arm.

              In 1949 the #1 shortstop in baseball was Eddie Joost.  Joost is like Vern Stephens, in that the offensive context of the late 1940s is SO dramatically different than the offensive context of his early career that the numbers don’t line up in any kind of sensible fashion.  Early in his career he was a glove wizard who didn’t hit, hitting as low as .185 with 2 homers—as a regular (1943).   Late in his career he became a 20-homer-a-season guy who walked 103 to 149 (!) times in a season for six straight seasons.  In 1949 he walked 149 times and scored 128 runs, and his usually hapless team (the Philadelphia A’s) finished 81-73. 

 

111.  Pee Wee, the Scooter, and the Dark Ages

              In 1950 Phil Rizzuto became the third shortstop in seven years to win the MVP Award.  Phil Rizzuto and Pee Wee Reese were joined at the hip in terms of public perception.  They played the same position.  They played in the same city.  They came up at almost the same time.  They played against one another in the World Series several times. They had the same initials. They both had child-like nicknames, Pee Wee and The Scooter.   They were joined like Willie, Mickey and the Duke, but even more closely, and for ten years before Willie and Mickey came to the majors. 

              The election of Pee Wee Reese to the Hall of Fame thus created great pressure to honor Rizzuto in the same fashion. I don’t believe that Rizzuto should be in the Hall of Fame—reportedly, Rizzuto didn’t believe he should, either—but I do believe that Rizzuto deserved the Most Valuable Player Award in 1950.   I think if you take everything into consideration and you weigh it properly, Rizzuto WAS the best player in the American League—in fact, the best player in baseball—in 1950. 

              Pee Wee and Alvin Dark never had magic seasons like Boudreau and Rizzuto, but they were the only shortstops in the 1950-1954 era who were on the top five list every season, and they also had their moments as the #1 player—moments that were not out of the context of their careers, like Boudreau and Rizzuto, but rather, they rated #1 in seasons that were natural parts of their careers.  Alvin Dark didn’t really have any significant power; it was just that when he played in the Polo Grounds, it was 279 feet to the left field corner, and he would lift 15 balls a year past the pole, what was called at that time a Chinese home run.   Exactly two-thirds of his career home runs (84 of 126) were hit in his home parks, and almost all of those were in the six years he played at the Polo Grounds.

First

Last

YEAR

HR

RBI

Avg

OBA

SPct

OPS

Value

Phil

Rizzuto

1950

7

66

.324

.417

.439

.856

28.34

Pee Wee

Reese

1950

11

52

.260

.369

.380

.750

23.38

Eddie

Joost

1950

18

58

.233

.373

.384

.757

22.72

Vern

Stephens

1950

30

144

.295

.361

.511

.872

22.65

Al

Dark

1950

16

67

.279

.331

.440

.770

19.69

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Phil

Rizzuto

1951

2

43

.274

.350

.346

.696

24.73

Eddie

Joost

1951

19

78

.289

.409

.461

.870

24.42

Pee Wee

Reese

1951

10

84

.286

.371

.393

.763

22.89

Al

Dark

1951

14

69

.303

.352

.454

.805

22.69

Johnny

Pesky

1951

3

41

.312

.417

.398

.815

18.75

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Al

Dark

1952

14

73

.301

.357

.431

.788

23.70

Pee Wee

Reese

1952

6

58

.272

.369

.365

.734

23.04

Eddie

Joost

1952

20

75

.244

.388

.415

.803

22.64

Phil

Rizzuto

1952

2

43

.254

.337

.341

.678

21.33

Granny

Hamner

1952

17

87

.275

.307

.428

.734

20.69

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Al

Dark

1953

23

88

.300

.335

.488

.823

24.33

Pee Wee

Reese

1953

13

61

.271

.374

.420

.794

22.83

Granny

Hamner

1953

21

92

.276

.313

.455

.768

21.24

Solly

Hemus

1953

14

61

.279

.382

.443

.825

20.53

Johnny

Logan

1953

11

73

.273

.326

.398

.724

18.21

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pee Wee

Reese

1954

10

69

.309

.404

.455

.859

23.48

Al

Dark

1954

20

70

.293

.325

.446

.770

21.68

Granny

Hamner

1954

13

89

.299

.351

.466

.818

21.26

Harvey

Kuenn

1954

5

48

.306

.335

.390

.725

19.51

Johnny

Logan

1954

8

66

.275

.339

.373

.712

19.00

 

112. Let’s Play Two

              Pee Wee reached the majors in 1940, so by the time he moved to the top of the list in 1954 he was getting up in years.  Like Luke Appling, he aged exceptionally well, beating back generations of Dodger shortstop prospects who were supposed to take his job.  But Reese and Rizzuto and Boudreau and Stephens, like Williams and Musial, were pre-war players.  By the mid-1950s they were old men in a game long dominated by the post-war generation.

              Ernie Banks was a rookie in 1954.  Through the All Star break he had hit only 7 home runs in 79 games.   Banks was thin, and did not look like a power hitter.  Switching to a thinner bat at the All Star break, he belted 12 homers in six weeks after the All Star break.  This became a famous event, Ernie Banks’ discovery of the whip-handled bat.

              That was a repeating story in baseball for 70 years—bats getting lighter, and lighter, and lighter; you can’t exactly say where it began because it re-cycled again and again.  Hitters in Babe Ruth’s era used very heavy bats, believing (correctly) that the weight of the bat added to the power of the impact.  Gradually, however, hitters began to believe (correctly) that they could make the bat move faster, and thus make the ball jump off the bat faster, with a lighter bat.   Probably this trend started even before Babe Ruth; probably even Ruth was using a lighter bat than Dan Brouthers and Roger Connor.  Stan Musial used a lighter, thinner bat than those before him, and Roger Maris in ’61 was using a lighter bat than any power hitter before him, I believe.  It’s part of the historic movement toward three true outcomes; as pitchers relied more and more on fastballs, as pitchers threw harder and harder, batters switched to lighter bats in order to generate the bat speed necessary to cope with the heat and still drive the ball.               

First

Last

YEAR

HR

RBI

Avg

OBA

SPct

OPS

Value

Ernie

Banks

1955

44

117

.295

.345

.596

.941

25.93

Harvey

Kuenn

1955