This annotated week in baseball history: May 24-May 30, 1968by Richard Barbieri
May 29, 2009
On May 27, 1968 Jeff Bagwell and Frank Thomas were born. But everyone knows that story. Today Richard looks at the other players born on that date.
I have referenced May 27, probably ad nauseam, as an example of a day with two fantastic players born: Jeff Bagwell and Frank Thomas. There is no question of the talents of Thomas (521 home runs, career .974 OPS) and Bagwell (449 HR, .948 OPS); both are first-ballot Hall of Famers. Not surprisingly, they dominate virtually every leader board for the day.
Bagwell is first in runs and steals, with Thomas second in runs. The Big Hurt leads in homers, RBIs, hits, walks and OPS. Combined, the pair had nine All-Star appearances; the other 31 players born on May 27 have had 13.
But that doesn’t mean the rest of the players born on the day are all mediocrities. Take Terry Moore, born in 1912. Moore made four straight All-Star teams from 1939-1942, a streak ended by his entering military service in World War II.
Regarded as a strong defensive center fielder, during his four-year All-Star streak Moore hit a collective .295 with a 117 OPS+ while averaging nearly 30 doubles and 50 walks. In the final year of the streak, Moore helped lead the Cardinals to the 1942 World Series title; he hit nearly .300 in the Series.
While Moore was never much of a base stealer, it is he who breaks through Bagwell and Thomas’ stranglehold on the top two spots in major categories, ranking second with 82 stolen bases.
Moore played briefly after he returned from the war, but having left after his age 30 season, he never regained his stroke and lasted just three years. After his playing career, he briefly managed the Phillies, taking a pedestrian team to a fourth-place finish. He was replaced the next year, and never managed in the major leagues again.
Playing as a contemporary, more or less, to Moore was Pinky Higgins, another multiple All-Star. A third baseman, Higgins played for the A’s, Red Sox and Tigers during a 14-year career. His first two seasons, Higgins hit .322 with a 131 OPS+ and while he continued to be a sometime effective hitter, he was never that good again.
Though Higgins played in two World Series, unlike Moore he never won a title, twice losing in seven games: first in 1940 and then again to Moore and the Cardinals in 1946. He would also go on to a managerial career, leading the Red Sox for all or part of eight years, finishing with a record of almost exactly .500, just four games over.
Higgins is also the official bronze medal winner for May 27; he ranks third (behind Thomas and Bagwell in one permutation or another) in games, at-bats, runs, hits, RBIs, walks and batting average. Higgins died relatively young in 1969, so while the men who would someday surpass him were extant, Higgins left this earth as the king of his birthday.
It must be said that while May 27 has strong hitting, even before considering its dynamic duo, it is somewhat weak on pitching. Gary Nolan, born in 1948, is the only May 27 birthday boy with 100 wins.
Nolan spent all but the tail end of his career with the Cincinnati Reds, having the good fortune to have his last few years coincide with the Big Red Machine. Nolan was a strong performer in the National League Championship Series, going 1-0 with a 1.35 ERA, compared to his 1-2, 4.96 performance in the World Series. Nonetheless, he did win the clinching Game Four in the 1976 World Series.
Nolan’s best performance in the regular season came in 1972, when he went 15-5, leading the National League in winning percentage while posting the second best ERA. Nolan’s best asset was his control; twice he led the league in walks per nine innings.
But not all the best of May 27 are from the past. Two recent sluggers were born on May 27, John Jaha—born in 1966—and Todd Hundley—born in 1969. I have chronicled the ineptitudes of Hundley in left field in the past, and while he wasn’t that bad behind the plate, neither he nor Jaha would win any Gold Gloves.
On balance, Jaha was the better hitter, appearing in an All-Star game and finishing with a career .834 OPS in nearly 2,800 plate appearances. He twice hit more than 30 home runs in a season, and in his 1999 season—when he was Comeback Player of the Year—he ranked seventh in the American League in OPS+.
Hundley lacked Jaha’s batting eye, but was among the best of the non-Mike Piazza hitting catchers in the mid-90s. From ’95 to ’97 Hundley put up a .910 OPS, hitting 86 homers and driving in almost 250 runs. He was the dominant offensive force on some Mets teams that would have been otherwise dreadful.
Never the same after surgery cost him most of the 1998 season—as well as his spot behind the plate after the Mets acquired Piazza to fill in— Hundley lasted until 2003. although his line the last three years (.198/.289/.398) was roughly equal to his talent level during that period. Without his unfortunate decline phase, his career numbers compare more favorably to Jaha.
It remains true that Bagwell and Thomas are the kings of May 27, and likely will remain so for many years to come. It would take a player of extraordinary talent—Albert Pujols comes to mind—to seriously challenge their position. But they are not the only players with talent born this day. Players like Pinky Higgins, Terry Moore, Todd Hundley and Gary Nolan provide respectable, sometimes better, talent to the day as well.
Questions, comments and thinly veiled threats can be mailed to Richard on the back of a twenty dollar bill or e-mailed to him at RichardBarbieri@yahoo.com