Baseball Chainby Matthew Namee
December 21, 2005
Not long ago, I ate and breathed baseball. Life has since taken me elsewhere, but when I just need to relax, I still retreat to the "Random Page" button over at Baseball-Reference.com. My favorite thing to do is just look at team pages: the '47 Dodgers, the '78 Cubs, the '21 Braves. The really good and the really bad teams often tend to be less interesting than the plain-old .500 teams.
Anyway, the other day I was browsing around the site and I stumbled upon an otherwise innocent page—the 1879 Cleveland Blues. The Blues were a dismal 27-55, but they did feature a rookie shortstop named Jack Glasscock. He had a terrible year back in '79, but he went on to play 17 years and rap out over 2,000 hits.
In his final season, 1895, Glasscock played on two teams, including the Louisville Colonels. The primary third baseman on that Louisville team was 25-year-old rookie Jimmie Collins, who finished the year with the Boston Beaneaters. As Steve Treder recently pointed out, Collins was a fabulous defensive player and revolutionized the way third base was played. He also pounded out precisely 1,999 hits and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1945.
Collins's last season came with the 1908 Philadelphia Athletics. His teammates on that A's team included 18-year-old Shoeless Joe Jackson, 21-year-old Eddie Collins and 19-year-old Amos Strunk (among others). Jackson and Collins turned out to be the legends of the bunch, and Eddie Collins's final team (the 1930 A's) did include a 22-year-old Jimmie Foxx, but we're going to focus on Strunk.
Amos Strunk actually had a very good career for himself, with a .284 batting average and over 1,400 hits. After journeying all over the American League, Strunk's 17-year career ended back with the A's in 1924. Like the 1908 bunch, this A's club finished well under .500, but they did include an exciting rookie outfielder named Al Simmons. Simmons hit .308 and drove in 102 runs. It was the first of 11 consecutive 100-RBI seasons for Simmons, who had a career .334 average, 2,927 hits, 307 home runs and 1,827 RBI. Needless to say, he was later inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Twenty years and seven teams later, Simmons ended his career back with the Athletics during the World War II season of 1944. I assume you're picking up a theme by now...
The starting third baseman for those '44 A's was 21-year-old rookie George Kell, who would go on to make 10 All-Star teams, collect 2,054 hits and become one of the Hall of Fame's more questionable inductees. It is easy to deride Kell because of the Hall of Fame thing, but he did have a fine career. Which, conveniently enough, ended with the Baltimore Orioles in 1957.
Why is that convenient? Well, that Oriole team happened to include another future Hall of Fame third baseman, 20-year-old Brooks Robinson. That kid went on to win 16 Gold Glove awards (in a row!), make 15 All-Star teams (also in a row) and finish with 2,848 career hits. He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1983.
Which, by the way, was six years after his very last season, 1977. He had a teammate that year who had a very good season as a 21-year-old rookie. That would be Eddie Murray, and his Rookie of the Year award in '77 was an accurate sign of things to come. Murray was boringly great. He had over 3,200 hits in his career, but he never hit as many as 190 in a single season. He had over 500 lifetime home runs, but his career high was a mere 33. His phenomenal career totals are a testament to a consistency and excellence that spanned 21 years, and he was an easy Hall of Famer in 2003.
That career ended with a 2-for-7 showing with the 1997 Dodgers. Does the trail end here? Not quite. That '97 Los Angeles team was chock full of players who were supposed to be stars, but only one of them fulfilled that promise—21-year-old Paul Konerko, who this year had his second straight 40-homer season.
Baseball has left countless more trails just like that one littered throughout its history. This one happened to include three of the 10 Hall of Fame third basemen, which seems a little unusual. Of the eight players in this string, five went on to have Hall of Fame careers. Is there anything significant about all this? I'm pretty sure there isn't. I was just killing some time and thought it was interesting. The lesson, then, would be this—when you're bored, don't bother with solitaire. Go play around at Baseball-Reference.com.
Matthew Namee cofounded The Hardball Times in 2004, when he was working as the assistant to baseball author and Red Sox executive Bill James. Matthew still lives in Kansas, where he is currently pursuing a law degree. He can be reached at mfnamee [at] gmail [dot] com.