Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Forgotten Stars of the 1920s (Concluded)

In 1919, the highest team batting average was held by the White Sox, who hit at a collective .287 clip that year. The highest home run totals belonged to Gavvy Cravath in the NL with 12 and Babe Ruth in the junior circuit with 29 (a new record).

In 1920, with the so-called "Lively ball" in play, offensive statistics jumped considerably. The highest team average was .308, compiled by the St. Louis Browns. In the home run department, Ruth shocked and awed the masses with a whopping total of 54. These trends remained consistent throughout the decade. In the era of the big-boppers, many fine players toiled in relative anonymity. Today, their names remain shrouded in the mists of time.

Wrapping up my survey of Forgotten Greats of the 1920's, I now present the final three:

3.  Bibb Falk:   Tall and slender at 6-feet, 175 pounds, Falk played for the University of Texas, where he was discovered by White Sox scouts and promoted to the big club in 1920. He would spend the entire decade of the '20's in the Windy City. It wasn't easy living in the shadow of the World Series scandal, but Falk did an admirable job. During his 12 big league campaigns, he never hit below .285. He assembled a run of five consecutive seasons over the .300 mark, peaking at .354 in 1924. A clutch-hitter, he gathered 80 or more RBI's six times. He averaged 70 per year during the "roaring '20's" despite two injury plagued seasons. Falk was also adept at the art of the sacrifice (a practice highly neglected during the lively ball years), successfully executing 20 or more in 7 campaigns. He remains in the top 100 of all time in that category. Defensively, Falk was a standout, leading AL left fielders in assists every year from 1924 through 1927. He also paced the circuit in double plays and fielding percentage as a left fielder twice apiece. After his retirement, he led his alma mater--The University of Texas--to 20 Conference championships.

2. Charlie Grimm:  Nicknamed "Jolly Cholly" for his pleasant personality, Grimm is known by many fans as manager of the Cubs from 1932 to 1949. These were the club's last salad days as they made 3 World Series appearances in that span. Many Chicago fans don't realize that Grimm had an exceptional playing career that spanned 20 seasons. Grimm became a regular in 1920 with the Pirates, but was traded before their championship season of '25. Among the slickest fielding first basemen in the National League, he would help Chicago to the Fall Classic as a player in '29 and player/manager in '32. Grimm won 6 fielding titles at first base while finishing among the top 3 in putouts 9 times. He was pretty handy with a bat as well. Appearing most often in the 6th or 7th slot in the order, he collected 70 or more ribbies on 8 occasions. A lifetime .290 hitter, he peaked at .345 in '23. He received a significant share of the MVP vote 3 times before moving on to the managerial ranks.

1. Joe Judge:   At 5-foot-8, 155 pounds, Judge was among the smallest first basemen in the American League. Despite his diminutive stature, he was one of the most reliable players at his position. From 1918 through 1930, Judge was a permanent fixture at the initial sack for the Senators. He was there for the only World Series victory in franchise history. He played in all 7 October contests against the Giants in '24, fashioning a .385 batting average and .484 on-base percentage. He was not quite as spectacular in the regular season but he was a model of consistency. The decade of the 1920's was by far his most fruitful period as he hit no lower than .291 and topped the .300 mark 8 times. Playing in the cavernous expanse of Griffith Stadium, he was robbed of home runs every year, but he found the alleys regularly, slamming 30 or more doubles 6 times while finishing with double digit totals for triples on 9 occasions. Judge had above average speed, swiping 213 bases in his long career. He was a serious candidate for MVP twice, placing 3rd in 1928 with 42% of the vote. Defense was one of the strongest aspects of his game as he captured 6 fielding titles. He currently ranks among the top 20 of all time in assists, putouts and double plays. When he retired, he held several fielding records (since broken). Statistician Bill James ranked him at #44 among the all time greatest first basemen.


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