Sunday, February 10, 2013

Forgotten Stars of the 1920s (Cont'd)

Time is the enemy of baseball achievements. Records get broken. New players come along and grab the spotlight. As years march on, memories of past games get fuzzy.

As promised, I'll continue with my Top 10 List of Forgotten Greats from the 1920's. (Hall of Famers are excluded)

7. Lu Blue: According to several sources, the man with the alliterative name hit 2 grand slams in a Blue Ridge League game--one from each side of the plate. Blue didn't have the kind of home run power generally considered a prerequisite for playing first base, but Ty Cobb installed him at that station nevertheless in 1921. Blue learned a lot from the irascible Cobb, including the patterns of many pitchers in the league. This allowed him to consistently maintain on-base percentages in excess of .400. During the decade of the 1920's, Blue put up a mark of .405 in that department while receiving significant shares of MVP votes three times. Most often batting first in the order, Blue did not have blazing speed, but he was no slouch either, finishing with double digit stolen base totals in 8 consecutive seasons. He accomplished this when the art of the stolen base was in serious decline. He hit just 44 homers in his career, but averaged 25 doubles per year during his 13-year tour of the majors. He hit .293 or better 6 times. Blue spent 7 seasons in Detroit, scoring 80 or more runs in 6 of those campaigns. He was a competent though not exceptional fielder, pacing the loop in assists, double plays and putouts once apiece.

6. Max Bishop: Bishop was a table setter for 3 pennant winning squads in Philadelphia. Hitting at the top of the A's batting order, he earned the nickname "Camera eye" for his uncanny ability to judge pitches. During his 13 seasons in the majors, he accrued a lifetime on-base percentage of .423, which is among the top 20 totals of all time. From 1926 through 1933, he drew no fewer than 100 walks. With sluggers like Al Simmons, Jimmie Foxx and Mickey Cochrane hitting behind him, Bishop scored at least 77 runs every year in that span. According to multiple sources, he was quiet and gentlemanly off the field, avoiding the high life that many players were seduced by. After his playing days were over, he enjoyed a successful 24-year run as a US Naval Academy coach at Anapolis.

5. Wally Schang: Schang was solidly put together at 5-foot-10, 180 pounds. After compiling a .333 batting average in 48 International League games in 1912, he was scooped up by Connie Mack. In his rookie season of 1913, he played backup to catcher Jack Lapp as the A's claimed a world championship. Schang got into 4 World Series games that year and was one of the most productive players, hitting .357 with a homer and 7 RBI's. By the time he retired, Schang had helped guide 3 different clubs to a total of 7 pennants and 4 World Series titles. Schang was a lifetime .287 hitter in postseason play. His most potent offensive period came during the 1920's, when he topped the .300 mark at the plate on five occasions. He peaked at .330 in 1926 with the Browns. Schang handled some of the greatest pitchers of all time, among them Eddie Plank, Chief Bender, Waite Hoyt and Lefty Grove. He was equipped with a strong arm, foiling 44% of all stolen base attempts while leading AL catchers in double plays and fielding percentage once apiece. He received serious MVP consideration twice.

4. Bob Shawkey: Shawkey was one of the premier strikeout artists of the 1920's--an era dominated by offense. He began his major league career with the A's, but ended up being traded to the Yankees when a frustrated Connie Mack purged his roster after a disappointing 1914 World Series sweep at the hands of the Braves. Shawkey won 24 games for a middling Yanee club in 1916. After serving in the Navy during WWI, he returned to help the Yankees climb into contention. He reached the 20-win threshold three times between 1919 and 1924, collecting no fewer than 16 victories in that span. He held the franchise single-game strikeout record (15) for 59 years. Shawkey placed among the top 3 in K's every year from 1920 through 1924. He was a member of 5 pennant winning squads. A quiet, modest man by most reports, he would be appointed Yankee manager in 1930. He guided the club to a third place finish before being replaced by Joe McCarthy the following year.

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