Thursday, March 21, 2013

Forgotten Stars of the 1930s (Part II)

Among the most colorful decades in baseball history, the 1930's featured lots of offense and rowdyism. Some of the most powerful sluggers of all-time played in the Depression Era--Among them Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg and Joe DiMaggio (who debuted in 1937). It was easy to get overlooked playing alongside these matinee idols. Here is the second installment of my list of FORGOTTEN GREATS.

8. Joe Vosmik
Vosmik was the son of Autro-Hungarian immigrants. He was told by one of his schoolmasters that he would amount to nothing. That prediction rang false when he was called to the big leagues near the end of the 1930 slate. He began his career with the Indians and spent 7 seasons in the Forest City. During the 1930's, he hit no lower than .312 on 6 occasions and gathered no less than 84 RBI's 7 times. He reached the century mark in ribbies twice and led the American League in base hits during two campaigns. His finest offensive showing came in 1935, when he topped the circuit with 216 hits, 47doubles and 20 triples while hitting .348. He helped the Indians to a respectable third place finish that year. Vosmik was a tough man to strike out,whiffing just 272 times in more than 6,000 career plate appearances. Defensively, he was one of the better left fielders in the majors, posting the highest AL fielding percentage among players at his position 3 times. He finished in the top 5 every year from 1931 through 1939.  From 1937 through 1941, he played for the Browns, Red Sox and Dodgers. By '41 his best years were behind him.

7. Tony Cuccinello
Cuccinello was one of those little guys (5-foot-7, 160 pounds) who played like a much bigger man. He was unafraid to break up a double play or throw fists around when he needed to. "Cooch" got his start with the Reds in 1930, hitting .312 with 10 homers and 78 runs-batted-in. Had there been a rookie of the year award back then, he would have been a top candidate.  Traded to Brooklyn in '32, he played four seasons there then finished the decade with the Braves. Cuccinello's primary station was second base. He was a solid defensive player, leading the league in double plays and assists three times apiece. He also paced the circuit in putouts once. He had decent power for a diminutive middle infielder, raking 30 or more doubles 5 times and finishing with double digit homer totals on four occasions. He was used most often as a 5th slot hitter, compiling a .291 average in that capacity. He hit .289 and drove in 242 runs as a clean-up man. He gathered a career-best total of  94 ribbies in 1934 with Brooklyn. Cuccinello aged pretty well, narrowly missing a batting title at the age of 37.

6. Lon Warneke
Warneke was dubbed "The Arkansas Hummingbird" for his quick, darting delivery. He spent most of the '30's toeing the rubber for the Cubs, becoming a full-time member of the Chicago  starting rotation in '32. He was Traded to the Cardinals at the end of the '36 slate for slugger Rip Collins and pitcher Roy Parmalee. A 5-time All-Star, Warneke was a vital cog on 2 pennant winning Cubs' squads. He pitched poorly in the '32 Series against the Yankees, but was lights out in the '35 Fall Classic against the Tigers with a 2-0 record and 0.54 ERA. His two victories represented Chicago's total win-share in the Series. Warneke's best season came in '32, when he posted a 22-6 record with a 2.37 ERA. He followed up with an 18-win effort the following year and would have posted the lowest ERA in the league (2.00) had the Giants' Carl Hubbell not trumped him with a ridiculously low mark of 1.66. Warneke would reach the 20-win threshold three times in all and claim no fewer than 18 victories every year from '32-'37. Sabermetric measurements match him favorably to Dazzy Vance, Stan Coveleski and Bob Lemon--Hall of Famers all. He retired with 192 career victories.

5. Tommy Bridges
 Bridges relied heavily on his curveball, but was periodically accused of throwing spitters. He was thin to the point of being almost gaunt at 5-foot-10, 155 pounds. Frequent battery mate Mickey Cochrane once referred to him as "150 pounds of courage." The right-handed throwing Bridges got off to a rocky start in his first full season with the Tigers, going 8-16 with a 4.99 ERA. He honed his craft and eventually became one of the top hurlers in the American League. Bridges nearly missed a perfect game in August of '32. It was broken up in the ninth inning when Senators' manager Walter Johnson sent one of the top pinch-hitters in the American League (Dave Harris) to the plate. The slender moundsman tossed a one-hitter the following year and would finally get the elusive gem at the age of 40 in a Pacific Coast League game. Bridges was named to 6 All-Star teams. He led the AL in strikeouts in '35 and '36, finishing among the top 10 in that category on 12 occasions. He was a 20-game winner for three straight seasons beginning in 1934 and retired with 194 career victories. Bridges was far less successful off the field as chronic alcoholism destroyed his life. At one point, he was homeless and living on the streets of New York City.                                                           

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