Monday, February 2, 2015

The All Bat/ No Glove National League All-Star Team

It's interesting to note that, without the designated hitter rule in place, National League managers have been forced to find creative ways to hide defensively challenged players for well over a century now.

Here are my nominees for the National League All Bat/ No Glove All Time All-Stars:

Lonnie Smith: Rare are the instances in which modern outfielders finish with double digit error totals. Smith managed to accomplish this four times during his career. He received the nickname "Skates" in reference to his clumsy footwork in the field. Offensively, he carried his weight, exceeding the .300 mark at the plate on six occasions. He led the NL in runs scored during the 1982 campaign and finished among the top five in stolen bases for four consecutive seasons. His reputation took a serious hit when he testified at the Pittsburgh drug trials of 1985. He served a full year suspension for his long term drug abuse.

Dave Kingman: Kingman was a prolifically bad fielder at multiple stations. He began his career as a first baseman, finishing first or second in errors on three occasions. San Francisco manager Charlie Fox tried to convert him to a third baseman, but the experiment was a flop as Kingman committed 48 errors in 154 assignments. Eventually moved to the outfield, the man known to many as "Sky King" placed among the top three in muffs during thee seasons. Some would say that he was worth his weight in miscues. At one time, he had more home runs than any player not in the Hall of Fame (442). He hit some of the longest shots in history. One of his blasts sailed out of Wrigley Field and bounced onto the porch of a neighboring house. He also hit the roof at the Astrodome and Metrodome. The ball he hit in Minnesota got stuck in a drainage hole and didn't come down. 

Babe Herman: One of the premier batsmen of the late-'20s/ early-'30s, Herman peaked at .393 in 1930 after posting a .381 batting average the previous year. He spent a large chunk of his career with the Brooklyn Robins (later known as the Dodgers) and was a poster child for ineptitude when he didn't have a bat in his hands. Called out for passing runners on the basepaths multiple times, he once slid into a bag occupied by two of his teammates. An unconfirmed story alleges that he was hit in the head with a pop fly. He began his career at first base and was later assigned to the outfield, where it was presumed he could do less damage. He committed no fewer than 28 errors in five consecutive seasons and his lifetime total as a right fielder ranks #21 among players at that position.

Dick Stuart: During the 1956 campaign, Stuart drew comparisons to Babe Ruth when he led the Western League with 66 homers. Though he never lived up to the hype, he clubbed 27 or more long balls in four major league seasons while reaching the century mark in RBIs on three occasions. Stuart was such a liability at first base, he carried three different nicknames: "Dr. Strangeglove," "The Boston Strangler" and "Stone Fingers." Embracing his incompetence, he had a vanity license plate that read: "E3." A crowd at Fenway Park once gave him a standing ovation for cleanly fielding a hot dog wrapper that had blown onto the field. While playing for the Red Sox and Pirates, Stuart led the league in errors for seven straight seasons (1958-'64)--a major league record. 

Fred Pfeffer: No one would ever have accused Pfeffer of not being able to hit. A reliable offensive presence, he drove-in no fewer than 73 runs in nine of ten seasons from 1884 to 1893. But his lifetime total of 857 errors is an all time record for second basemen. It wasn't entirely his fault. In Pfeffer's day, infielders used thin, fingerless gloves made of heavy fabric. Though they provided marginal protection from the impact of hard-hit grounders, there was no webbing to trap the ball with. Consequently, error totals were much higher in those days. Though Pfeffer was a pitiful fielder by today's standards, he led his contemporaries in putouts eight times and double plays turned on seven occasions.

Ian Desmond: It's only fair to throw an active player into the mix. Desmond holds his own offensively. Over the past three seasons, he has averaged 23 homers and 81 RBIs while maintaining a steady .275 batting average. But his glovework leaves much to be desired. In 2010, he committed 34 errors--the most by any NL player. Since then, he has placed first or second among NL shortstops in errors three times while compiling a fielding percentage significantly below the league average. A 2014 article in the Washington Post criticized Desmond for handling grounders with "stiff hands" and making "erratic throws." Desmond is still only 28 years old and there's plenty of time for improvement, but right now his name often surfaces in discussions of the league's worst. If his offense drops off, he could find himself looking for a job outside of Washington.   

Charlie Hickman: Again, it's probably not fair to include old-timers in this survey. Though fielder's mitts had come a long way by the time Hickman ascended to the majors, pitchers routinely doctored the baseball and umpires kept them in play until they were lopsided and soggy. Excuses aside, Hickman's stupendously bad defensive season in 1900 is among the worst on record. Hickman had one of the greatest nicknames of all time--"Piano Legs"--a moniker given to him for his somewhat paunchy stature. It was said that he needed piano legs to mobilize him in the field. He swung a pretty reliable bat, topping the .300 mark at the plate three times between 1899 and 1902. In the latter campaign he led the league in hits and total bases. During the 1900 slate, he set the bar for defensive futility with an incredible total of 91 errors--that's nearly three times the amount committed by Evan Longoria, Pablo Sandoval and Adrian Beltre combined in 2014! Hickman later established an American League record with 5 errors in a game. 

Ivey Wingo: In the early-1900s, teams manufactured runs the hard way--by bunting, stealing and sacrificing. Wingo, whose career began in 1911, was busier than most contemporary catchers. Consequently, his defensive shortcomings became glaringly obvious. A left-handed hitter, Wingo was more than competent offensively. He rarely struck out, was an adept bunter and routinely hit around .260 or better. He also had excellent speed for a catcher. Between 1912 and 1921, he led the league in errors seven times. In that same span, he paced the loop in stolen bases allowed four times and passed balls twice. His lifetime mark of 234 errors is the most by any backstop in history. Even so, statistician Bill James ranked Wingo among the top 100 catchers of all time in the revised edition of his classic Historical Baseball Abstract.              


No comments:

Post a Comment