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Prime Ages Part II Extremely Young

May 4, 2023
 Prime Ages

Part II

Extremely Young


            Group II of our effort here is players whose prime age (by which we actually mean something more like Center Age) . . .players whose Prime Age ranges from 20.08 to 21.40.   There are 258 players in the group, supposed to represent 2% of the players in the study. 

            The best players in this group, again, are almost all 19th century pitchers, with Scott Stratton heading the list.  In 1888 Stratton was a rotation pitcher with Louisville of the American Association; in 1888 – 1889 he was as much a first baseman and outfielder as a pitcher. He was 18 years old.  In 1889 Louisville finished last in the AA with a regrettable record of 27 – 111.   In 1890, however, many of the best players in the league bolted for the startup Player’s Association, which scrambled the standings.   Louisville jumped from a very distant last all the way to first, winning the AA by ten games.  Stratton improved from 3-13 to 34-14.  He was now 20 years old; 34-14.

            After the 1890 season the Player’s Association folded, and many of the players went back to their homes. . .there was some other shifting around that re-shuffled the players and the standings; I don’t know that much about it.  Stratton went back to 6-15.  He hung around a few years after that, won 97 games in his career.

            Following Stratton on the list of the best players in this group are Ed Seward, Kid Carsey and Charlie Sweeney, all of them pitchers/position players, pitchers who tried to stay around as position players after their arms went out after a year or two of pitching WAY too many innings.  We can see these narratives  as tragic stories of abuse and career destruction, but you know. . .a guy doesn’t have a full major league career, that isn’t actually a tragedy.   To quote from Inside Llewyn Davis, "It’s not so bad, just existing."  You don’t HAVE to have a 15 year major league career in order to have a good life.  Different set of expectations.

            Anyway, then we start to get mostly 20th century players.  5th on the list (of the best players in this age group) is Johnny Lush, who as an 18-year-old was a regular POSITION PLAYER for the Philadelphia Phillies, THEN transitioned to the mound and had his best year on the mound at age 20.   I think maybe he was the youngest position player/regular of the 20th century, him or Robin Yount or Phil Cavaretta. 6th on the list is Pete Schneider, a major league pitcher and a pretty decent one from ages 18 to 21 (1914 to 1917), then transitioned to the outfield.  Schneider was born in the same year as Babe Ruth, and has a career of the same shape—in the majors as a pitcher in 1914, transitioned to the outfield in 1919.  Schneider pitched a 1-hit shutout on opening day, 1918.   Back in the minors by the end of 1919, he had a Ruthian feat in the Pacific Coast League, hitting 5 home runs and driving in 14 runs in one game (May 11, 1923).   He hit only 19 home runs that season, but hit .360 with 43 doubles, 23 triples.   After his baseball career Schneider got involved in a fight with a man who he claimed had made a move on his wife.  The man collapsed, fractured his skull and died.  Schneider was convicted of Manslaughter and spent several years in San Quentin. 

            Eighth on the list is a guy I actually remember, Wally Bunker.  Bunker went 19-5 as a 19-year-old pitcher in 1964.  He never had another year as good, but he pitched a shutout in the 1966 World Series and was the number one pitcher for the Kansas City Royals in their first season, 1969; he was 12-11 with a 3.23 ERA.  He was a ground-ball pitcher.   Billy McCool also had a great year as a 19-year-old that same year (1964), also faded quickly.  Nick Maddox was a 20- and 21-year-old sensation for the Pittsburgh Pirates, going 5-1 with a 0.83 ERA in 1907 (I think that may be the lowest ERA ever for a pitcher with 50 or more innings) and then going 23-8 with a 2.28 ERA in 1908.  He was out of the majors by 1910, presumably due to arm injuries, but I forget the backstory. 

            Mark Fidrych is in this group, and Harry Krause from 1908; Krause really is the same story as Fidrych, only three generations earlier.  He was a one-year sensation.   Then there is Dick Drott (Cubs, 1957) and Ken Hubbs (Cubs, 1962).  Drott was 15-11 as a 20-year-old rookie, second in the National League in strikeouts, and Hubbs was Rookie of the Year in 1962, and actually managed to take the Gold Glove away from Bill Mazeroski for a year.  Of course he was killed in a plane crash just before the 1964 season; I told that story here a year or two ago but I made a complete hash of it and it had to be cleaned up by a reader, so I won’t go into that again.   Drott was always paired with Moe Drabowsky, a 21-year-old pitcher with the same team, who tied with Drott for second in the NL in strikeouts that year.   Drabowsky was a famous cutup, on-field and off-field prankster.  One time in 1957 Drabowsky was hit by a pitch or claimed that he was; the umpire didn’t give him first base, and Drott came running out of the dugout with a wheelchair, and pushed Drabowsky to first base.  Umpire didn’t care much for the joke. 

            Drabowsky, of course, isn’t in this group because, while he faded after 1957 step by step beside Drott, he had a strong comeback beginning in 1963 and was in the majors until 1972 as a reliever.  Like Wally Bunker, he was one of the heroes of the 1966 World Series, pitching 6.2 innings of one-hit relief with 11 strikeouts, in what I think is regarded as the greatest relief appearance in World Series history.  In 1969, while Bunker was the Kansas City A’s best starting pitcher, Drabowsky was their best reliever.   While Drott is in Age group 2, his partner in crime is in age group 13, "Very Late Prime".  

            Three spots below Drott on the list is Mark Lemongello.  Lemongello had been a minor league teammate of Mark Fidrych in the Detroit system, about the same age as Fidrych, but was traded to the Astros before he came to the majors.  He was pretty good for the Astros at ages 21 and 22 (1977-78).   Traded to Toronto after the 1978 season, he enquired innocently of a reporter as to whether they "spoke American in Canada."  This didn’t go over well with the Toronto fans, and his career there was brief and unsuccessful.  In 1980 I saw an Evansville/Wichita series in the American Association in which Fidrych pitched for Evansville and Lemongello for Wichita; that’s just from memory. 

            A couple of years later Lemon Jell-o and his brother got involved in some complicated land fraud episode in Florida, in which.  .well, let’s let Wikipedia tell that story:

In 1982, a few years after leaving baseball, Lemongello and Manuel Seoane, a former Wichita teammate, were arrested for the kidnapping and robbery of Lemongello's cousins Mike Lemongello, a former professional bowler, and Peter Lemongello.


Peter Lemongello is also kind of famous, I guess; he’s a singer.  I think Mark Lemongello felt that he was being swindled in a land deal, and tried to use self-help to set things right.   Don’t do that; the authorities don’t like it. 

            Other names you might remember on the list of players in this group include pitcher Mike Nagy (12-2 with the Boston Red Sox in 1969), catcher Bob Didier (Atlanta, 1969), and pitcher Mansanori Murakami (1965 Giants, the first Japanese player to play in the majors.)

            No one in this cadre is in the Hall of Fame, and no one has 200 Win Shares.  Only two players, Scott Stratton and Ed Seward, had 100 Win Shares (134 and 104).   

            And then there is Gene Hasson, who hit .293 in 47 major league games for the Philadelphia A’s in 1937-38, 21 and 22 years old.  The story I have read is that Hasson was attempting chase down a fair ball pop up when his hat blew off.

            He went back to chase his hat.

            He was sent back to the minors the next day.  


COMMENTS (3 Comments, most recent shown first)

"Never does a man experience such ludicrous distress, nor meet with so little charitable commiseration, than when he is in pursuit of his own hat." -- Charles Dickens, in _The Pickwick Papers_
2:14 PM May 9th
You noted that one of these extremely young prime players, Pete Schneider, ended up doing a few years in San Quentin for manslaughter. Charlie Sweeney, a 19th-century pitcher also named in this article, ALSO did a few years in San Quentin for manslaughter. You have observed that players sharing one trait will often share another seemingly unrelated trait--but this is taking it to an extreme.
10:49 AM May 5th
Bill, I don't know if you ever met Dan Jenkins, but he told me once that he was so tickled by the Mark Lemongello story that he "just had to" create two fictional characters, football-playing brothers named Lemongello and Orangello, for one of his novels.
9:21 AM May 5th
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