Sunday, March 24, 2013

Forgotten Stars of the 1930s (Concluded)

I'll conclude my survey of the 1930's with the top four candidates for the Hall of Forgotten Greats.

4. Wes Ferrell

Brother of Hall of Fame catcher Rick Ferrell, some would argue that Wes was statistically more deserving though he never received more than 3.6% of the Cooperstown vote. Among the most dominant right-handers of the '30's, Ferrell reached the 20-win threshold 5 times during the decade (6 times in all). A fierce competitor with a fiery temper and a penchant for causing trouble, he traveled a bit during the Depression, playing for the Indians, Red Sox, Senators and Yankees. He was named to 2 All-Star teams. A durable workhorse, he twirled at least 276 innings on six occasions, breaking the 300-inning mark twice. He led the league in complete games 6 times. Ferrell also drew lots of attention for his hitting. He was among the best offensive pitchers of all-time and may have made a serviceable outfielder had he been given adequate time to learn the position. A brief experiment in that regard failed. He holds the record for most homers by a hurler with 38 and posted a .280 batting average with 208 ribbies and 107 extra-base hits in more than 1,100 career at-bats. 

 3. Hal Trosky

Trosky was never named to an All-Star team but it was hardly his fault with Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx and Hank Greenberg patrolling the same station (first base). Trosky's '35 homers in '34 were the most by a rookie--a mark tied by Rudy York 3 years later. Additionally, Trosky was among a handful of players to reach the 200-hit threshold in his debut season. He proved he was no fluke by clubbing at least 25 homers six times and gathering 30 or more doubles on 7 occasions. Additionally, he reached the century mark in RBI's every year from '34-'39. He was named Indians' team captain in '39. Trosky suffered from migraines throughout his career. The condition was poorly understood in his time and he was actually prescribed glasses at one point even though his vision was good. He temporarily retired in '41, but returned to action as a shadow of his former self. He scouted for the White Sox into the 1950's. 

2. Mel Harder

Harder would probably have been considered the greatest Indians' pitcher of all-time if Bob Feller hadn't come along. Only Feller has more wins with Cleveland. Harder had a long career that began in the '20's and peaked in the '30's.He won at least 15 games every year from '32-'39 and finished with double digit win totals 13 times. He was a 20-game winner twice. Joe DiMaggio couldn't touch him, hitting .180 in his career against Harder and citing the Indians' tall right-hander as one of the most difficult hurlers he had ever faced. Harder led the AL in ERA during the '33 slate and finished second the following year with a stellar 2.61 mark. He also paced the loop in shutouts during the '34 campaign with 6. A 4-time All-Star, Harder holds a record for most innings pitched without giving up a run. He worked 13 All-Star frames in all. He later became a pitching coach in Clevleand and was largely responsible for converting Bob Lemon from a positional player to a Hall of Fame pitcher. Early Wynn and Bob Feller also cited Harder's advice and guidance as being integral to their success.

1. Cecil Travis

Making his debut in '33, Travis earned a full-time roster spot in Washington the following year, hitting .319 in a season shortened by a serious beaning. The sure-handed infielder was adept at both third base and shortstop. After the '36 slate, he spent increasingly less time at the hot corner. As a third baseman, he led the league in double plays during the '35 slate. At short, he finished among the top 3 in fielding percentage 3 times. Travis generally hit in the middle of the lineup. Batting fifth, he compiled a .330 average with a .384 on-base percentage. As a clean-up man, his numbers were similar--.324/ .381. During the decade of the '30's, he topped the .300 mark in every year of service except for one season, when he "slumped" to .292. His most productive campaign would come in 1941, when he led the league with 218 hits and reached career-best marks in RBI's (101) and batting average (.359). Drafted into the Army, he was an accomplished soldier, earning a Bronze Star and three Battle Stars. He suffered an injury during the Battle of the Bulge, losing part of his foot to frostbite. When he returned in '45, he had lost his swing. He refused to blame it on the amputation, however, even though it reportedly affected his balance. Travis insisted that it was his timing that had been disrupted. The mild-mannered infielder was in his prime when he went off to war and, using sabermetric measurements, his lifetime totals have been projected at 2,843 hits, 511 doubles and a .332 lifetime batting average. Those numbers, according to statistician Bill James, would have landed him in the Hall of Fame.

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