In the windmills of our minds, we baseball fans like to play out various imaginative scenarios. It's the world of coulda/woulda/shoulda. Years ago there was a trade (made under the influence of inebriates) where the Red Sox and Yankees agreed to swap Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams.
DiMaggio slugged 361 home runs hitting right handed in Yankee Stadium; back then that was a formidable task when you consider the dimensions in 'Death Valley' were: 402' to left center, 457' to deep left center and 461 to straightaway center -- that adds up to a whole lot of 425' outs. Williams of course had a difficult target hitting left handed at Fenway Park. Now close your eyes and put 'the Splendid Splinter' slugging into the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium in half his games and imagine the 'Yankee Clipper' taking aim at the 'Green Monster' seventy plus games per season.
Those two parks once decided who would go into Cooperstown and who'd press his nose up against the glass. Let's take quick look at the two right handed hitting second baseman discussed previously (Joe Gordon and Bobby Doerr) to illustrate this. We'll quicky compare the numbers of Doerr who played half his games at Fenway and Gordon who labored a good chunk of his career in the 'House That Ruth Built.' They have identical OPS and Gordon smokes Doerr in HR/AB ratio. So, switch venues and who'd be in the Hall with a plaque and who'd be in with a ticket?
It's all time and place.
Which brings us to Smead Jolley.
Well, Jolley debuted in the American League in 1930 for the Chicago White Sox. In his rookie campaign he hit .313/.346/.492 (8 Runs Created Above Average--RCAA) with 16 HR and 114 RBI. I'm sure some are thinking: 'well, it was 1930 when all offensive totals were skewered.' True enough, but Comiskey Park was a difficult place to hit in any era. His second full season (1932) as member of the Red Sox, he hit .312/.350/.476 (11 RCAA) with 18 HR and 106 RBI. I'm sure some are thinking: 'well he was hitting at Fenway Park.'
Quick note, Jolley hit left handed.
His minor league numbers shows he was a pretty decent hitter. In the minors he was a career .366 hitter. He was a .366 hitter for a long time, in fact in the bushes he garnered 3037 hits, scored 1445 runs, drove in another 1593 plus he walloped 334 HR and banged out 612 doubles.
The man could flat out hit. The Pacific Coast League had some excellent talent, still he won six minor league batting championships -- leading the Pacific Coast League in hitting three times (winning the Triple Crown with San Francisco in 1928) and the International League once. Twice he had over 300 hits in a season, and twice he drove in more than 180 runs. In the thirteen minor league seasons in which he played over 100 games, he had this run: .370, .372, .346, .397, .404, .387, .360, .372, .373, .350, .309, .373, .345. Both Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio were stars in the PCL as well you'll recall. However, by 1934 he was out of the majors for good.
To put it mildly -- he was a klutz. He was slow, awkward, had a Mark Wohlers arm -- powerful but no idea where the hell his throws were going. Although he was an outfielder, he fielded like the love-child of Dick Stuart and Marv Throneberry.
It's all time and place. Now close your eyes and imagine ... how would have fared a designated hitter? His major/minor league totals read thusly: .356 BA, 3558 hits, 1633 runs, 723 doubles, 380 HR, 1906 RBI and a lifetime slugging percentage (1922-41) of .633.
By the way, as a major leaguer he hit .305/.343/.475 (23 RCAA) 46 HR 313 RBI in 1710 AB.
One of the greatest minor league players ever also hit well in his brief stay in the majors. The giant (6' 4" 230 lb.) Buzz Arlett in his sole major league season with the Phillies finished fifth in slugging, fifth in OPS and fourth in home runs with 18 (.313/.387/.538, 25 RCAA 16 HR 72 RBI). However early in his career a Cardinals' scout stuck the "good hit, no field" label on him and it haunted him the rest of his career. However his minor league career was eerily reminiscent of another pitcher turned slugger -- Babe Ruth. Arlett started his career as a right-handed spitball pitcher -- with the reputation of "he's a good hitter, for pitcher" -- with the hometown Oakland Oaks in 1918 and went on to win 108 games, twice going over 25 wins in a season. The Detroit Tigers looked at him, but without the spitball, which he wouldn't be able to use in the majors, they did not consider him a prospect.
However arm miseries set in early in 1923 and Arlett switched to the outfield, however, once becoming a regular outfielder turned into a monster hitter, averaging nearly .360 with 30 homers and 140 RBIs through the rest of the 1920s, however the label put on him by the Cardinal scout kept him in the minors until the Phillies took a chance on him in 1931 (the season when the National League introduced a "dead ball" in reaction to the hitting orgies of 1929-1930). Like his teammate Chuck Klein, he found hitting in the 'Baker Bowl' to be a tremendously rewarding experience. Regardless, at the end of the year Arlett was sent to Baltimore, where in 1932 he hit 4 homers in a game twice within a five-week period and led the league with 54 homers for the season, but he would never return to the majors.
Ike Boone was another player whose hitting feats were not limited to the minors. Boone was a college teammate (at the University of Alabama) of Joe Sewell and Riggs Stephenson (who undoubtedly taught him the nuances of outfield play). Boone played parts of eight seasons in the majors, including two full seasons with the Boston Red Sox. Like Jolley, he was a left handed hitter with a smattering of power and a superb batting eye. In 1924 he was .333/.402/.492 (28 RCAA) nailing 13 HR and plating 98. He walked 54 times yet whiffed only 32. He followed that up with another sparkling campaign at the plate hitting .330/.406/.479 (24 RCAA), going yard nine times, driving in 68 and only fanned 19 times while drawing 60 walks. His lifetime major league averages were .319/.393/.473 (48 RCAA) but due to alleged defensive deficiencies most of his career was spent in the minors. Later, in 1929 with the Missions of San Francisco, Boone probably had the finest season any player has had in the minors. On the all-time minor league list of single-season accomplishments, his 553 total bases that year are first, his 323 hits are second, his 195 runs scored are tied for third, and his 218 RBIs are fourth. On the all-time Pacific Coast League list, his .407 average is second, and his 55 home runs are tied for fourth.
Boone wasn't a 'one hit wonder' either; in four of his first eight years in the minors he hit over .400 (he was on his way to perhaps his greatest campaign in 1930, batting .448 with 22 homers and 96 RBIs when he was sold to the Brooklyn Dodgers in late June). His .402 average with San Antonio in 1923 is the highest in twentieth-century Texas League history; his .389 with New Orleans in 1921 is the fifth highest in the Southern Association; he also led the International League in batting twice. His .370 lifetime average is the minor league record for players with ten or more seasons. He had an exceptional arm, but like Jolley, was slower than a snail riding on the back of a turtle with four broken legs. Although he hit 77 home runs in a season and a half with the Missions, he was not generally regarded as a power hitter. He was, however, a great pure hitter; in eleven of his fourteen seasons in the minors, he hit over .350, and there is no evidence that he couldn't hit major league pitching (again: .319/.393/.473 48 RCAA).
Joe Hauser was a bonafide major league talent but had minor league knees. He was a favorite of Connie Mack who kept first base open for him. When healthy he was a productive hitter having consecutive seasons of .307/.398/.475 (26 RCAA) 17 HR 94 RBI and .288/.358/.516 (19 RCAA) 27 HR 115 RBI (1923-24) but had parts of other seasons where he's knee joints sidelined him for months at a time -- sometimes full seasons. Hauser's career continued in the minors, where he became the only player to have two 60-home-run seasons. Hauser enjoyed an outstanding four and-a-half year run. Some highlights included; a 63 HR season with Baltimore of the International League, led the IL in HR's the following season went to Minneapolis to play with the Millers of the American Association leading the league in circuit clouts with 49. In 1933 he broke his own home run record with 69, and he was off to a great start in 1934--33 homers, 88 RBIs in 82 games--when he shattered his kneecap (again), knocking him out for the season. He continued to play until 1942 but never came close to achieving the success he had in the early 1930s.
Of course Hector Espino's career (1960-84) overlaps the D.H. era, however Espino simply didn't care to play in the majors. Espino holds the minor league career home run record with 484, and all but 3 of those were hit in Mexico. At the end of the 1964 Mexican League season, the twenty-five-year-old first baseman, who had led the league with 46 homers and a .371 batting average, was sold by Monterrey to the St. Louis Cardinals' Jacksonville farm club. He hit .300 with those 3 homers in 100 at-bats and was invited to spring training by the Cards for 1965, but he never reported and was eventually returned to Monterrey.
In the late 1960s, the California Angels coveted Espino, who had led the Mexican League in hitting in 1966-1968, but they were never able to consummate a deal. Espino was a legend in Mexico, but it has never been clear why he never tried the majors. Some felt that he was too independent, disliking the regimentation and discipline required to play a 162 game schedule.
There were other great minor league hitters (included in chart below) who never cut it in the big leagues. Some simply may have been prototypical AAAA players: too good for Triple A, not good enough for the majors. Others could make more money staying in the minors. Under the reserve clause some players in the majors didn't earn as much in the bush leagues. Lefty Grove didn't want to leave the International League to play with the Philadelphia A's because he was afraid he'd have to take a pay cut. Gus Zernial -- an American League slugger (.274/.344/.502; 56 RCAA, 133 HR, 430 RBI from 1950-53) from the 1950's with Chicago and Philadelphia did have to take a pay cut when he came over from the Pacific Coast League. The stories are legion, but still, you kind of have to wonder what baseball history would've looked like if the D.H. had come with the advent of the American League instead of seven decades later. Perhaps Smead Jolley, Buzz Arlett and Ike Boone might've paved the way for DH's in Cooperstown. We'll never know for sure but it sure is fun wondering about it.
Today's link is the Dickie Thon Fan Club. Despite it's name it isn't a fan tribute site but rather it offers a bit of everything: history, humour, book reviews, forums etc. You'll have fun poking around and checking out it's hodge podge of all things baseball.