Monday, March 18, 2013

Forgotten Stars of the 1930s

As the curtain opened on the 1930 campaign, offense was in full swing. It would remain that way throughout the decade as the era of the big blast forever replaced the "small ball" conventions of old. Babe Ruth finished up his illustrious career with 714 homers. Though this was light years ahead of the competition, scores of others began clearing the fences as well. In 1930, a total of nineteen players collected at least 20 long balls. At the close of the decade, sixteen men turned the trick. 

In the American League, the Yankees were a force to be reckoned with, capturing 4 straight world championships from 1936 through 1939. The National League was dominated by the Cardinals, Giants and Cubs, who claimed 3 pennants apiece. While unemployment rose to record proportions and many people were standing in bread lines, players like Hank Greenberg, Jimmie Foxx and  Mel Ott created a welcome distraction from the miseries of the Great Depression. The first All-Star game was played in 1933 and, though it helped put many small market players on the map, plenty of names were lost in the shuffle. 

In addition to the dozens of Hall of Famers who played at least a small portion of their careers in the 1930's, there were plenty of other semi-greats who appeared alongside them gaining less acclaim. In the next few installments of my blog, I will compile a TOP TEN LIST of the decade's FORGOTTEN STARS. My list begins in Washington. 


Myer began his career in the Capital City, but was traded away in 1927 for veteran shortstop Topper Rigney. Senators' owner Clark Griffith referred to it as "the dumbest deal" he ever made and brought Myer back for the '29 campaign. The speedy infielder had led the league in stolen bases with Boston the year before. Shifted from the hot corner to second base, Myer proved his worth defensively, leading the league twice in fielding percentage. He consistently finished among the top 5 in putouts and assists throughout the 1930's. Using swiftness to an advantage, the Mississippi native appeared near the top of the batting order for most of his career, hitting .302 as a leadoff man and .307 out of the second slot. He peaked at .349 in '35, capturing a batting title. With Hall of Famer Heinie Manush hitting behind him in the Washington lineup, Myer scored no fewer than 90 runs per year from 1930 through 1935. He made two All-Star appearances before retiring in 1941 with a .303 lifetime batting average.    

It's easy to forget a guy with such a plain name. Johnson was of Cherokee descent. His older brother Roy would have a few big offensive seasons for various clubs during the 1930's. Roy was miserable with a glove, however, setting the all-time single season mark for errors by an outfielder (31) in 1929. Bob was most definitely the more talented of the two. He joined the A's in 1933 after the club had made 3 straight World Series appearances. Slugger Al Simmons had departed for Chicago. Catcher Mickey Cochrane would leave for Detroit shortly afterward and first baseman Jimmie Foxx would join the exodus, finding a home in Boston. Johnson was left to pick up the pieces of a slowly crumbling dynasty. He did so quietly and without much fanfare. Defense was one of the strongest aspects of Johnson's game. In the yawning expanse of Shibe Park, a strong throwing arm came in handy and "Indian Bob" had one of the most powerful guns in the history of the game. From 1933 to 1945, he led AL left fielders in assists 6 times and finished his career with 184--more than any player at that position. He also led the league in errors as a left fielder on 5 occasions, but partially redeemed himself with 2 fielding titles. On offense, Johnson was among the most reliable RBI men of the 1930's, reaching the century mark in five straight seasons while collecting no fewer than 92 ribbies every year from '33 through '39. In the same span, he gathered at least 60 extra-base hits each season while scoring 91 or more runs. Since his numbers were highly consistent and not eye-popping, he gained little support on Hall of Fame ballots after he retired.    


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