Thursday, February 7, 2013

Forgotten Stars of the 1920s

During the "Roaring Twenties," Baseball faced a major threat to its livelihood as attendance sagged in the wake of World War I and the 1919 World Series scandal turned many against the sport. After Indians' shortstop Ray Chapman was killed by a Carl Mays pitch in August of 1920, the spitball and various deceptive delivereries were declared illegal. Umpires were encouraged to put fresh balls into play more often. Before then, balls had been used until they were lopsided and soggy. The result was a "livelier" baseball and an offensive explosion unparalleled in the game's history to that point. With an emphasis on offense and fair play, fans began returning to ballparks and baseball regained its status as "America's Favorite Pastime."

The '20's were dominated by the Yankees and Giants--intra-city rivals who shared a stadium until 1923. While the pages of most sports publications were crowded with names like Ruth, Gehrig, Cobb and Cochrane, other talented players were lost in the mix, especially those who played for small market teams. In my next few blogs, I will compile a TOP 10 LIST OF FORGOTTEN GREATS FROM THE 1920's.
Let's get started!

10. Bob Meusel: Tall, slender and debonnaire, "Long Bob" Meusel was one of the most misunderstood players of his time. Beat writers who traveled with the Yankees found him cold and taciturn. This resulted in a lot of negative press. The 1922 Reach Guide remarked that "only a rather lazy listless nature prevents Meusel from being one of the greatest stars of the game." That and the fact that he was surrounded by teammates whose talents eclipsed his own: Gehrig, Ruth, Lazzeri and Combs to name a few. But Meusel was an essential cog on 6 World Series squads. Defensively, he had good range and a strong arm, which enabled him to compile double digit assist totals six times. He led American League outfielders twice in that category. Offensively, he had little home run power, but used the spacious parks of the era to his advantage, collecting 40 or more doubles on five occasions. He hit for average as well, topping the .300 mark every year from 1920 through 1924. He finished his career at .309. In 1925, when Babe Ruth missed more than 50 games, Meusel stepped in to fill the void, slamming a league-leading 33 homers while also pacing the circuit in RBI's with 138. He hit for the cylce 3 times in his career, a major league record. When he "slumped" to .269 at the plate in 1929, he was traded to Cincinnati, where he ended his big league run.

9. Ken Williams: Williams was the first player to get caught using a corked bat back in 1923, though the practice was not expressly forbidden at the time. Had Williams played somewhere else, he might have become a household name. Serving alongside Jack Tobin and Baby Doll Jacobson in the St. Louis outfield, he helped keep the Browns in the pennant race for a few seasons during the early-'20's. Williams had his finest campaign in 1922, becoming the founding member of baseball's 30/30 club with 39 homers and 37 stolen bases. He also became the first AL player to homer twice in the same inning that year. He would go deep in six straight games during late-July/early-August of '22 as the Brownies remained on the Yankees' tail until the last week of the season, ultimately finishing one game out. Saddled by injuries throughout his career, Williams made the most of his playing time. He holds the major league record for fewest games in a 100-RBI season, knocking in 105 runs in just 102 games during the '25 slate. A clutch player, he would drive home no fewer than 72 runs every year from 1920 through 1927 and finish his career with a .319 batting average. He held his own on defense as well, finishing among the top five in putouts on seven occasions. Sabermetric measurements equate him with Hack Wilson and Chick Hafey--both Hall of Famers.

8. George Uhle:  Nicknamed "The Bull," Uhle was sturdily built at 6-foot, 190 pounds. He demonstrated his durability early on by pitching a 20-inning shutout during his rookie campaign. He would reach the 300-inning threshold twice in his career, leading the league in complete games during both of those seasons. The right-hander spend most of the 1920's in Cleveland, collecting at least 22 victories three times. During his most successful campaign (1926), he notched a 27-11 record with a 2.83 ERA.Often credited with the invention of the slider, Uhle was one of the best-hitting pitchers of all time and probably would have made a serviceable position player. In 1,360 lifetime at-bats, he accrued a .289 average with 90 extra-base hits and 187 ribbies. He was so adept with a bat that he was used as a pinch-hitter nearly 200 times in his career. In 1924, he was 11 for 26 in that role--tops in the AL.

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