Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Greatest 20th Century Outfield Tandems

The halls of Cooperstown are loaded with outfielders. So many great fly chasers have come and gone over the years, the topic inspires lively debate. While a single talented outfielder can carry a team, three of them working together as a cohesive unit can fashion a dynasty. In my next few blogs, I'd like to discuss what I believe are the greatest outfield tandems in history. As a minimum requirement, I chose tandems that played together for at least four years.

St. Louis Browns 1919-1923
The Browns would not make a World Series appearance until the war-torn season of 1944 though they would come pretty close. In 1922, they had a chance to tie for first place during the last few days of the campaign. They won their final 4 contests, but still finished one game behind the upstart Yankees (who were just beginning a long period of dominance). The Browns owed much of their success to the outfield combination of Jack Tobin, Baby Doll Jacobson and Ken Williams, who patrolled the outer perimeter in St. Louis together from 1919 through 1923. Right fielder Tobin was a table setter, hitting near the top of the lineup for power and average while demonstrating superior speed. Center fielder Jacobson was the burly clean-up man (listed at 6 foot-3, 215 lbs.) who drove in at least 90 runs 3 times in the previously mentioned span. The rest was up to Left fielder Williams, a productive fifth slot hitter who became the founding member of baseball's 30/30 club in 1922. The trio reached the .300 mark at the plate every year for five straight seasons--a crowning achievement even in the Lively Ball Era. Tobin's signature campaign came in '21, when he rapped out 236 hits, scored 132 runs and compiled a .352 batting average. For Jacobson, 1920 was a year to remember as he hit at a .355 clip and picked up a career-high 122 ribbies. The often injured Williams could never completely match the overall success of his torrid '22 campaign (.332BA / 39HR/ 155RBI/ 37SB), but he would raise his batting average to .357 the following year--his highest mark ever. Unfortunately for the Browns, there never seemed to be enough lively arms to guide them to the postseason. Right-hander Urban Shocker won 20 games four years in a row (1920-1923), but he was often the only real threat in the rotation.    

Boston Red Sox 1910-1915
No discussion of outfield greatness would be complete without mention of the dominant Boston teams of the Deadball Era. In the above mentioned time frame, the Sox had one of the most talented aggregations of ball hawks ever. Two of the three Boston regulars, Tris Speaker and Harry Hooper, would find their way into the Hall of Fame. The third, Duffy Lewis, was so adept in the field that a section of the ballpark was nicknamed after him. For six seasons, this trio of Bean Town standouts helped guide the club into the first division every year, capturing World Series titles in 1912 and 1914. Center fielder Speaker was arguably the most talented of the bunch, hitting no lower than .322 between 1910 and 1915. He led the league in hits, homers and on-base percentage once apiece during that span while pacing the loop twice in doubles. Defensively, he was in a class of his own, posting the highest range factor (average Putouts and assists per 9 innings) every year. Left fielder Duffy Lewis was a reliable RBI man who consistently put up high on-base percentages. Before the Green Monster was in place at Fenway, there was a steep embankment in front of the outfield wall. Lewis became so skilled at navigating the looming hazard, it became known as "Duffy's Cliff." From 1910-1914, he had no fewer than 22 assists per year, averaging 26 in that 5-year stretch. Right fielder Hooper was a member of four Championship squads in Boston. Not only did he post the highest fielding percentage among players at his position on 6 occasions, but he scored at least 81 runs 13 times during his career. Between 1910 and 1915, he finished in double digits for triples 5 times. His lifetime total of 160 three-baggers places him among the top 40  of all-time. The talented trio of Speaker, Hooper and Lewis was broken up in 1916, when Speaker was traded to Cleveland. Tilly Walker was little more than adequate as a replacement, but the Red Sox won the World Series anyway with 21 year-old Babe Ruth coming into his own as a pitcher.                   

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