We’ve looked at players from 1969 to 1989 and from 1947 to 1968. In this installment, we travel further back in time to identify good players from a particular era who don’t get a lot of attention nowadays.
As I’ve explained elsewhere, the methodology is crude—basically the top OPS+ and ERA+ of guys whose entire career falls within the time frame and who aren’t in the Hall of Fame. The point isn’t so much to rank these players as it is to highlight their accomplishments.
Career: 4713 PA, .308/.369/.430, 110 OPS+
’33 PhN: 540 PA, .349/.395/.473, 135 OPS+
The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract ranks Davis as the no. 71 catcher in big-league history. In his prime (1931-1935), Davis was an offensive force, batting .328/.386/.466 (124 OPS+) during that stretch. I’ve cited his ’33 campaign above, but he was plenty dangerous (.336/.399/.522, 135 OPS+) the previous season as well.
Davis’ most similar players according to Baseball Reference are Smoky Burgess (who occupied this space in our previous installment) and, more recently, Don Slaught. James mentions Slaught in his writeup of Davis, as well as Brian Harper.
Honorable mentions: Harry Danning (TNBJHBA no. 55), Frankie Hayes (no. 75; technical note: he played 5 games in ’47), Shanty Hogan (no. 94), Gus Mancuso (no. 74), Mickey Owen (no. 88), Rollie Hemsley (no. 69)
Career: 6352 PA, .277/.388/.492, 136 OPS+
’37 PhN: 570 PA, .339/.446/.587, 170 OPS+
Career: 5747 PA, .302/.371/.522, 130 OPS+
’36 Cle: 671 PA, .343/.382/.644, 146 OPS+
Camilli checks in at no. 29 all-time among first basemen. It took him a while to get going, but once Camilli hit stride at age 29, he went on a rampage. From 1936 to 1942, he hit .288/.409/.532 (153 OPS+).
Camilli received no MVP consideration for his ’37 campaign, but won the award in 1941. He hit .285/.407/.556 (165 OPS+) for Brooklyn that year.
According to James, Camilli was a bit intense:
When he went into a slump he would walk the streets for hours on end, trying to get his stomach to stop churning. If he made a key mistake he would brood about it for days. He wasn’t exactly moody; he was just a worrier.
Trosky, the no. 38 first baseman in history according to TNBJHBA, had a short but productive career. In his best season, at age 23, he led the AL with 405 total bases and 162 RBI.
James notes that Trosky’s career ended prematurely due to severe migraines:
It is very clear… that Trosky’s demise as a player is solely attributable to migraine headaches that made his life a living hell, and it is also true that Trosky’s accomplishments as a hitter, up through age 26, are comparable to those of Gehrig, Foxx, Greenberg, and Mize.
Career: 8187 PA, .303/.389/.406, 108 OPS+
’35 WsA: 720 PA, .349/.440/.468, 138 OPS+
Myer’s three most similar players at B-R—Billy Herman, Arky Vaughan, and Joe Sewell—are in the Hall of Fame. Myer (no. 24 all time, between Davey Lopes and Johnny Evers) wasn’t quite in their class, but he enjoyed a fine career.
Honorable mentions: Tony Cuccinello (no. 53)
Career: 6894 PA, .272/.390/.441, 116 OPS+
’38 SLA: 658 PA, .290/.423/.554, 143 OPS+
If not for the 76 games he played in 1947, Stan Hack would be our man. As it is, we’ll go with Clift, who checks in at no. 37 all time according to Bill James.
Clift is one of those guys that got off to a terrific start, peaked early, and then hung on for a while before retiring early. He’s a little like Jim Ray Hart in that regard, although Hart was a better hitter. In the current era, Eric Chavez appears to be headed down a similar path.
Career: 8743 PA, .284/.355/.391, 96 OPS+
’37 NYN: 616 PA, .306/.367/.469, 125 OPS+
Too bad Cecil Travis played 74 games in ’47; he’d be a great fit here. As for Bartell, he was a two-time All-Star (1933, 1937) who placed sixth in MVP voting in ’37.
Bartell played in three World Series, but was on the losing side each time. He hit .381/.480/.667 in the ’36 Series.
According to James, who ranks Bartell as the no. 37 shortstop in history, “…he had a big mouth, and he took pride in not backing away from people… The second half of his career he was a player, like Albert Belle today, who was routinely booed in almost every city.”
Honorable mentions: Glenn Wright (no. 60), Red Kress (no. 87), Woody English (no. 59), Lyn Lary (no. 80), Billy Rogell (no. 49), Frankie Crosetti (no. 67; technical note: he played a total of 20 games in ’47 and ’48), Billy Jurges (no. 96; technical note: he played 14 games in ’47)
Career: 8047 PA, .296/.393/.506, 138 OPS+
’44 BsA: 626 PA, .324/.431/.528, 174 OPS+
As for Johnson, he collected more than 2000 hits in his career and nearly 300 home runs. He scored 100 or more runs in a season six times and drove in as many on eight occasions (including every year from 1935 through 1941).
Johnson was named to seven All-Star teams. He ranks among the top 100 in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage (minimum 3000 plate appearances).
James rates Johnson the no. 31 left fielder of all time, which puts him in the not-so-exclusive and awkwardly named “Probably as Deserving of Enshrinement in Cooperstown as Jim Rice” club. Johnson’s list of most comparable players at B-R is littered with names of fantastic players who are just this side of the Hall of Fame: Brian Giles, Ellis Burks, Moises Alou, Reggie Smith, Bernie Williams, and so on.
Career: 5663 PA, .300/.359/.522, 137 OPS+
’33 BsN: 574 PA, .313/.365/.566, 172 OPS+
Berger’s most similar player at B-R is Trosky. Among more recent names, he’s sort of like Pedro Guerrero. Several current players—Mike Sweeney, Carlos Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Cliff Floyd—show up in Berger’s top 10, but given their respective environments, none of them is anywhere near the hitter he was.
Berger knocked 38 homers as a rookie for the Boston Braves in 1930. That was his career high, although he hit 34 in ’34 and ’35 (the latter of which led the NL, finishing three ahead of Mel Ott).
Berger finished sixth in the league in MVP voting in 1935; no shame in that, as the five guys ahead of him—Joe Medwick, Billy Herman, Arky Vaughan, Dizzy Dean, and winner Gabby Hartnett—are all in the Hall of Fame. Two years earlier, Berger had met a similar fate, finishing second in voting behind Chuck Klein and winner Carl Hubbell.
TNBJHBA puts Berger at no. 13 all time among center fielders, ahead of Hall of Famers Earl Averill, Edd Roush, Richie Ashburn, Hack Wilson, Hugh Duffy, Max Carey, and Lloyd Waner, and behind non-HOFers Jimmy Wynn and Dale Murphy.
Career: 6226 PA, .324/.383/.532, 140 OPS+
’30 Bro: 699 PA, .393/.455/.678, 170 OPS+
Herman once was traded for a package that included Lance Richbourg, the emptiest .300 hitter of all time. Herman’s career essentially ended at age 33 (he played in 17 more games the next season and then, after a seven-year layoff, 37 more at age 42).
According to TNBJHBA, Herman is the no. 50 right fielder in big-league history. James compares him to Oliva, Roger Maris, and Pedro Guerrero.
Career: 2826.1 IP, 194-138, 3.57 ERA, 126 ERA+
’36 Det: 294.2 IP, 23-11, 3.60 ERA, 137 ERA+
It’s hard to say which of Bridges’ individual season was his best. A remarkably consistent pitcher, Bridges always—except at the very beginning and end of his career—posted an ERA+ in the 110-147 range.
From 1932 to 1940, Bridges posted a 128 ERA+ while averaging 17 wins and 230 innings pitched per season. He won 20 games three times in his career, in consecutive years (1934 – 1936), no less.
Bridges spent his entire career with the Tigers, making six All-Star teams in the process and going 4-1 over the course of four different World Series (’34, ’35, ’40, and ’45). His most similar pitcher according to B-R is Dave Stieb, although he also compares well to David Cone:
G IP W-L ERA ERA+ Bridges 424 2826.1 194-138 3.57 126 Stieb 443 2895.1 176-137 3.44 122 Cone 450 2898.2 194-126 3.46 120
Bridges is the no. 77 pitcher all time according to TNBJHBA (Stieb checks in at no. 74, while Cone—who wasn’t finished playing when the book was written—is ranked no. 98). James notes that Bridges had the best curveball of his generation.
Career: 3152 IP, 197-171, 3.44 ERA, 114 ERA+
’35 ChN: 246.1 IP, 17-10, 2.96 ERA, 133 ERA+
Like Bridges, French was a consistent pitcher. From 1930 to 1936, his ERA+ never strayed beyond the 114-133 range. His career K/9 of 3.39 ranks no. 82 out of the 104 pitchers in MLB history to work 3,000 innings or more (which tells us more about the era in which French pitched than about the man himself).
G IP W-L ERA ERA+ French 570 3152 197-171 3.44 114 Jackson 558 3262.2 194-183 3.40 113
Bridges is unranked in TNBJHBA.
Honorable mentions: Thornton Lee (technical note: he made 32 appearances in ’47 and ’48—we include him here because there was a paucity of quality left handers during these years).
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This is not a comprehensive list. As always, I learn a great deal from the collective knowledge of my readers. If you notice anyone I may have omitted, please let us know in the comments so that we can acknowledge other players from the era that deserve to be remembered.
References & Resources
Baseball-Reference, The New Bill James Historical Abstract.