War Begone

One of the most vexing issues in assessing the career value of players whose careers were interrupted by World War II is just how to deal with the missing seasons. Okay, it isn’t the most vexing issue; that territory would be reserved for such heavyweights as our profound sorrow over the unimaginable suffering, loss, and waste the terrible events of those years visited upon humanity. But the career-value thing is one of the most vexing baseball issues, inevitably encountered when assessing the Hall of Fame worthiness, or simply the who-was-better-than-who evaluation, of 1940s-era players.

There are, essentially, two schools of thought on what to do about the seasons lost to WWII:

The Just-the-Facts School: Seasons not played are seasons not played, regardless of the reason. We don’t pretend time lost to injuries didn’t occur, so why pretend time lost to military service didn’t occur? It’s impossible to know “what might have happened;” all we can work with is “what did happen.” Every player’s career record is what it is, and that’s what we use to assess career value.

The Bleeding Heart School: Playing time lost to defending one’s country (in the worst cataclysm in human history, especially) is not the same thing as time playing time lost for any other reason. We don’t pretend time lost to injuries didn’t occur, because injuries are effectively a part of the game: injury-proneness is an essential attribute of every player at all times. While it is impossible to know precisely “what might have happened,” the actual records of players pre- and post-WWII provide us with ample information to make very reasonable estimations. We should use every player’s career record, and our prudent judgment, to assess career value of WWII-impacted players.

While there is obvious logic in the Joe Friday approach, I’m much more of a Bleeding Heart in this debate. Military service is a special case, particularly under the extraordinary circumstances of World War II. It is appropriate to hold injuries “against” a player’s accomplishment in a way that it isn’t appropriate to hold wartime absence “against” it, just as it isn’t appropriate to hold racial exclusion “against” the career value of pre-integration players of color.

What being a Bleeding Heart advocate does, however, is demand some money-where-the-mouth-is activity. Okay, smart guy: do “the actual records of players pre- and post-WWII” really “provide us with ample information to make very reasonable estimations?”

Presented here is a simple approach (what other kind did you expect?) to making such estimations. Conceptually, it’s the same logic applied by those who project the estimated performance of current-day players going forward: you take the closest three years of actual data, and weight the most proximate season twice that of the preceding one, and that one in turn twice the weight of the third. See the “References and Resources” section at the bottom for the methodological details.

The Balata Ball Impact

With specific regard to WWII, missing players aren’t the only way in which the war impacted professional baseball. Raw material shortages necessitated use of the inferior-quality “balata ball” from 1942 through 1945 as well; this lower-resiliency ball depressed offense. So players who weren’t drafted away from MLB played under semi-deadball conditions. How should we account for this in assessing the numbers that were compiled between 1942 and 1945?

There is a countervailing factor impacting the numbers: the quality of competition. A batter playing in both 1942 and 1943, for instance, faced significantly more watered-down pitching in ’43; a total of 27 major league pitchers missed the entire 1942 season due to the war, while 81 – three times as many, and more than five per team – were away in 1943. 135 pitchers missed all of 1944, and 149 missed 1945. Clearly the quality of play, moderately impacted in 1942, was significantly reduced in 1943-44-45.

Balancing the two issues together for this exercise:

- I’ve adjusted the stats of batters playing in 1942 upward, increasing 1942 offensive output to be equal to the combined average of the four closest non-balata-ball seasons: 1940, 1941, 1946, and 1947.

- But I’ve left the stats of batters actually playing in 1943, 1944, and/or 1945 unadjusted; my logic being that the depressive impact of the balata ball is counterbalanced by the help these batters received by facing minor-league-caliber pitching staffs.

A consequence of this reasoning is to acknowledge that the top offensive performances compiled by wartime stars in 1943-44-45 – notably, Bill Nicholson, George Stirnweiss, and Tommy Holmes, among others – that are typically dismissed due to the inferior quality of competition, shouldn’t be taken so lightly. I think those guys really did hit well in those years.

So let’s take a look at the careers of all the star position players whose careers were significantly interrupted by World War II. (I’m not presenting any pitchers here, not because I don’t believe the Bleeding Heart principle doesn’t apply to them, but because projecting the performance of pitchers is a much more problematic challenge than that of batters, for several reasons. Perhaps we’ll tackle pitchers at a future date.) As in our previous such exercises, seasons of actual stats are presented in black, while adjusted/projected stats are presented in blue.

Twin Bay Area Stars

Walt Judnich

First let’s consider a pair of San Francisco Bay Area-product center fielders, quite comparable in just about every way. Both went on to play several additional years in the Pacific Coast League in the 1950s. Neither is remembered much today, but both were very fine players who sacrificed the heart of their careers to the war. This projection likely underestimates both of them a bit, since it doesn’t explicitly factor in age; each may well have been capable of a 30-homer season.

Year  Age    G   AB   R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS	
1940   23  137  519  97  157  27   7  24   89  54  71 .303 .368 .520 .888
1941   24  146  546  90  155  40   6  14   83  80  45 .284 .375 .456 .831
1942   25  132  460  84  146  24   7  24   88  78  45 .317 .416 .553 .970
1943   26  137  492  85  148  28   6  20   85  76  48 .301 .395 .509 .904
1944   27  139  501  76  143  26   5  19   79  67  54 .285 .370 .474 .844
1945   28  141  501  63  134  23   4  17   72  63  55 .268 .350 .434 .784
1946   29  142  511  60  134  23   4  15   72  60  54 .262 .340 .411 .751
1947   30  144  500  58  129  24   3  18   64  60  62 .258 .338 .426 .764
1948   31   79  218  36   56  13   3   2   29  56  23 .257 .409 .372 .780

Sam Chapman

Year  Age    G   AB   R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
1940   24  134  508  88  140  26   3  23   75  46 *96 .276 .336 .474 .810
1941   25  143  552  97  178  29   9  25  106  47  49 .322 .376 .543 .919
1942   26  140  532  91  161  27   7  23   91  47  64 .303 .359 .510 .869
1943   27  142  543  92  166  27   7  24   94  48  60 .305 .361 .514 .875
1944   28  146  547  81  147  22   6  20   76  55  64 .270 .336 .440 .776
1945   29  144  532  76  137  20   5  17   72  57  65 .258 .330 .413 .743
1946   30  146  545  77  142  22   5  20   67  54  66 .261 .327 .429 .757
1947   31  149  551  84  139  18   5  14   83  65  70 .252 .331 .379 .710
1948   32  123  445  58  115  18   6  13   70  55  50 .258 .340 .413 .753

Two Big Apple Hall of Fame Shortstops

Phil Rizzuto

Speaking of matched pairs, how about these two: the name of one is practically never heard without at least a mention of the other. This exercise doesn’t really change anything in terms of their comparison: each lost three mid-twenties seasons to the war. Just looking at their careers side by side, however, does amplify what is I think the general consensus regarding the two: Reese was such a much better offensive player, that unless you give Rizzuto a huge advantage on defense, Reese comes out comfortably ahead. I think Reese’s Hall of Fame berth is deserving; Rizzuto I’m not really sold on.

Year  Age    G   AB   R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
1941   23  133  515  65  158  20   9   3   46  27  36 .307 .341 .398 .739
1942   24  144  556  85  160  26   8   6   73  47  44 .288 .343 .392 .735
1943   25  139  535  75  156  23   8   4   61  39  41 .292 .340 .389 .729
1944   26  137  515  69  144  21   6   4   54  41  38 .279 .333 .364 .696
1945   27  135  499  63  132  20   4   3   48  43  36 .264 .323 .335 .658
1946   28  126  471  53  121  17   1   2   38  34  39 .257 .307 .310 .617
1947   29  153  549  78  150  26   9   2   60  57  31 .273 .342 .364 .706
1948   30  128  464  65  117  13   2   6   50  60  24 .252 .338 .328 .665

Pee Wee Reese

My late father-in-law, Bill Kolb, was a very good ballplayer: he played third base on the Alameda (Calif.) Naval Air Station team during World War II, and his teammates there included a number of former and future major leaguers. After the war he played semi-pro ball in Oakland for several years, coached by longtime Pacific Coast League star Les Scarsella.

Bill was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, the hometown of Harold “Pee Wee” Reese. Bill was a few years younger than Reese, and didn’t know him directly, but he knew guys in the Louisville ballplaying community who did know Reese, and it’s clear from my many long discussions with him that Reese was a hugely popular, remarkably respected figure in Louisville. Reese’s impression on my father-in-law was such that once Reese was acquired by the Brooklyn Dodgers and reached the majors with them, Bill changed his fan allegiance from the Cincinnati Reds (Louisville’s neighbor; Bill regaled me with stories of attending games at Crosley Field) to the Dodgers.

Year  Age    G   AB   R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS	
1940   21   84  312  58   85   8   4   5   28   45  42 .272 .364 .372 .736
1941   22  152  595  76  136  23   5   2   46   68  56 .229 .308 .294 .602
1942   23  151  567  93  147  26   6   4   57   87  61 .259 .357 .346 .704
1943   24  151  573  88  145  23   6   4   54   81  61 .253 .345 .335 .680
1944   25  150  550  86  147  22   7   6   59   86  65 .266 .365 .362 .728
1945   26  149  527  82  148  20   8   7   65   91  69 .281 .387 .389 .777
1946   27  152  542  79  154  16  10   5   60   87  71 .284 .383 .378 .761
1947   28  142  476  81  135  24   4  12   73 *104  67 .284 .412 .426 .839
1948   29  151  566  96  155  31   4   9   75   79  63 .274 .363 .390 .753

Two Power-Hitting Second Basemen

Joe Gordon (Version 1)

We seem to be on a roll with matched pairs, so how about one more: Gordon and Doerr. There are two versions of Gordon here are as a means of dealing with his terrible 1946 season. If we include it in the projection formula (Version 1), Gordon’s career sags in ’43-’44-’45 before the dreadful ’46, and then the stirring comeback of 1947-48.

Year  Age    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
1940   25  155  616  112  173  32  10  30  103  52   57 .281 .337 .511 .848
1941   26  156  588  104  162  26   7  24   87  72   80 .276 .355 .466 .821
1942   27  147  541   94  176  31   4  25  110  84 *105 .326 .416 .540 .956
1943   28  152  543   82  135  28   5  17   69  98   75 .249 .363 .413 .776
1944   29  146  523   79  136  26   4  19   75  85   77 .260 .363 .434 .797
1945   30  129  451   58  110  20   2  17   67  62   71 .244 .336 .411 .747
1946   31  112  376   35   79  15   0  11   47  49   72 .210 .301 .338 .639
1947   32  155  562   89  153  27   6  29   93  62   49 .272 .345 .496 .841
1948   33  144  550   96  154  21   4  32  124  77   68 .280 .368 .507 .876

Joe Gordon (Version 2)

In Version 2, we exclude the 1946 stats from the projection, and Gordon’s career appears more stable: the slight off-year of ’43, but back to normal in ’44 and ’45 before the nightmarish 1946.

Which version to choose is a function of what one makes of what happened to Gordon in 1946. While he spent no time on the Disabled List, and I’ve never read about a specific injury problem, it still seems quite apparent that he was dealing with some kind of nagging injury or illness, or personal problem. I’m very confident that Version 2 is a more accurate estimation of how Gordon would have performed in 1944 and 1945.

Year  Age    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
1940   25  155  616  112  173  32  10  30  103  52   57 .281 .337 .511 .848
1941   26  156  588  104  162  26   7  24   87  72   80 .276 .355 .466 .821
1942   27  147  541   94  176  31   4  25  110  84 *105 .326 .416 .540 .956
1943   28  152  543   82  135  28   5  17   69  98   75 .249 .363 .413 .776
1944   29  151  549   87  147  28   5  21   84  87   75 .267 .368 .454 .821
1945   30  152  555   90  152  26   5  28   97  72   61 .274 .358 .490 .848
1946   31  112  376   35   79  15   0  11   47  49   72 .210 .301 .338 .639
1947   32  155  562   89  153  27   6  29   93  62   49 .272 .345 .496 .841
1948   33  144  550   96  154  21   4  32  124  77   68 .280 .368 .507 .876

Bobby Doerr

So how about the Gordon-Doerr comparison, then? You’ve got very significant park factor issues to contend with here: Fenway helped Doerr as much as Yankee Stadium hurt Gordon. Plus, while Doerr was considered a very good defensive second baseman, Gordon’s reputation as a fielder was exceptional: he was routinely referred to as “acrobatic.” On the other hand, whatever caused it, Gordon’s 1946 happened, and Doerr had no such mid-career disaster.

All things considered, I have a very hard time seeing either one as a significantly better player than the other. I’m not certain that either one belongs in the Hall of Fame, but I am certain that the current status of Doerr in and Gordon out is just not right. Either both of these guys should be in Cooperstown, or neither.

Year  Age    G   AB   R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
1940   22  151  595  87  173  37  10  22  105  57  53 .291 .353 .497 .850
1941   23  132  500  74  141  28   4  16   93  43  43 .282 .339 .450 .789
1942   24  144  548  76  161  38   6  21  109  71  61 .294 .375 .498 .873
1943   25  155  604  78  163  32   3  16   75  62  59 .270 .338 .412 .750
1944   26  125  468  95  152  30  10  15   81  58  31 .325 .399 .528 .927
1945   27  142  543  89  155  30   8  18   96  64  51 .285 .360 .468 .828
1946   28  151  583  95  158  34   9  18  116  66  67 .271 .345 .453 .798
1947   29  146  561  79  145  23  10  17   95  59  47 .258 .329 .426 .755
1948   30  140  527  94  150  23   6  27  111  83  49 .285 .382 .505 .887

A Couple of Yankee Sluggers

Tommy Henrich

This guy had one of the weirder careers you’ll ever see. A consistently unspectacular .270-ish good-power guy through the age of 33, he suddenly busts out a career high in triples at 34, and then tops it with a Musial-like career-best season at age 35. Then, in 1950, his career about to end due to knee trouble at age 37, he scampers to 8 triples in 151 at-bats. Just what was that all about?

Year  Age    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
1940   27   90  293   57   90  28   5  10   53  48  30 .307 .405 .539 .944
1941   28  144  538  106  149  27   5  31   85  81  40 .277 .372 .519 .890
1942   29  127  485   83  131  32   6  18   72  61  46 .271 .353 .473 .826
1943   30  131  492   88  134  30   5  21   75  68  45 .273 .361 .485 .846
1944   31  137  518   95  141  30   7  20   81  73  50 .273 .362 .471 .834
1945   32  146  557   99  149  30   7  19   88  80  58 .267 .359 .446 .805
1946   33  150  565   92  142  25   4  19   83  87  63 .251 .351 .411 .762
1947   34  142  550  109  158  35 *13  16   98  71  54 .287 .369 .485 .854
1948   35  146  588 *138  181  42 *14  25  100  76  42 .308 .387 .554 .941

Charlie Keller

Keller’s career wasn’t impacted by the war (he missed only a season and two-thirds) nearly as much as it was by the severe back trouble that bedeviled him beginning at age 30. A healthy Keller into his mid-thirties easily surpasses 300 career homers, war or no war. Henrich seems to be the better-remembered of the two, but Keller was a far better player.

Best line ever about Keller, who was a very hairy guy with massively strong wrists, arms, and shoulders (developed by working on a dairy farm from the time he was a small child): Lefty Gomez cracked, “He wasn’t scouted. He was trapped.”

Year  Age    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
1940   23  138  500  102  143  18  15  21   93 *106   65 .286 .411 .508  .919
1941   24  140  507  102  151  24  10  33  122  102   65 .298 .415 .580  .995
1942   25  152  547  114  162  26  10  37  116  121   67 .296 .424 .580 1.004
1943   26  141  512   97  139  15  11  31   86  106   60 .271 .396 .525  .922
1944   27  138  502   93  143  21  10  31   98  104   69 .284 .407 .552  .959
1945   28  146  537   89  158  25  12  32  109  105   77 .294 .409 .566  .975
1946   29  150  538   98  148  29  10  30  101  113 *101 .275 .401 .533  .934
1947   30   45  151   36   36   6   1  13   36   41   18 .238 .401 .550  .951
1948   31   83  247   41   66  15   2   6   44   41   25 .267 .372 .417  .789

The Tony C. of the 1940s

Pete Reiser

Like Keller, the war was the least of this guy’s problems. But unlike Keller, he did miss three full years to military service. I’ve taken liberties with the straight formula here to shape what I think is a more plausible estimate of what Reiser’s career would have looked like. Cesar Cedeno and Ross Youngs are two other names (along with Conigliaro) who come to mind in thinking about Reiser. We’re reminded that great ability is only one of the attributes that makes a Hall of Fame player; health and durability are at least as important.

Year  Age    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA  OBP   SLG   OPS
1940   21   58  225   34   66  11   4   3   20  15  33  .293 .338  .418  .755
1941   22  137  536 *117  184 *39 *17  14   76  46  71 *.343 .406 *.558 *.964
1942   23  125  483   95  152  35   6  14   69  51  50  .314 .380  .498  .878
1943   24  129  500  103  162  37   9  14   71  49  57  .325 .385  .519  .905
1944   25  127  494  100  159  36   8  14   70  50  54  .321 .383  .512  .896
1945   26  123  458   88  141  30   6  12   67  54  53  .308 .381  .478  .858
1946   27  122  423   75  117  21   5  11   73  55  58  .277 .360  .428  .788
1947   28  110  388   68  120  23   2   5   46  68  41  .309 .412  .418  .830
1948   29   64  127   17   30   8   2   1   19  29  21  .236 .378  .354  .733

The Anti-Reiser

Enos Slaughter

Never a great player, but a very good one for a very long time; remarkably durable and consistent. This exercise yields a career hit total of 2,906. His Hall of Fame status is deserved.

Year  Age    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
1940   24  140  516   96  158  25  13  17   73  50  35 .306 .367 .504 .871
1941   25  113  425   71  132  22   9  13   76  53  28 .311 .387 .496 .883
1942   26  152  595  107 *192  33 *19  18  105  93  33 .322 .414 .534 .948
1943   27  140  542   96  172  29  15  17   96  77  32 .317 .402 .518 .920
1944   28  146  559   97  173  29  13  16  102  72  34 .309 .388 .490 .878
1945   29  152  587  100  177  30  10  15  113  69  36 .302 .375 .467 .841
1946   30  156  609  100  183  30   8  18 *130  69  41 .300 .372 .465 .836
1947   31  147  551  100  162  31  13  10   86  59  27 .294 .362 .452 .814
1948   32  146  549   91  176  27  11  11   90  81  29 .321 .408 .470 .878

The Man

Stan Musial

The perfect marriage of breathtaking ability with astounding health and durability. This exercise yields the following career totals: 2,070 runs, 3,839 hits, 773 doubles, 195 triples, 495 homers, 2,052 RBI, and 1,682 walks.

Year  Age    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
1941   20   12   47    8   20   4   0   1    7   2   1  .426  .449  .574  1.023
1942   21  140  470   93  150  34  11  14   77  66  28  .319  .402  .529   .931
1943   22  157  617  108 *220 *48 *20  13   81  72  18 *.357 *.425  .562  *.988
1944   23  146  568  112 *197 *51  14  12   94  90  28  .347 *.440  .549  *.990
1945   24  151  590  115  206  46 *17  16   96  79  27  .350  .426  .566   .992
1946   25  156 *624 *124 *228 *50 *20  16  103  73  31 *.365  .434 *.587 *1.021
1947   26  149  587  113  183  30  13  19   95  80  24  .312  .398  .504   .902
1948   27  155  611 *135 *230 *46 *18  39 *131  79  34 *.376 *.450 *.702 *1.152

The Big Cat and Hammerin’ Hank

Johnny Mize

The war hugely impacted his career. This exercise gives him an additional 116 home runs, for a career total of 475; there’s no way in the world he would have had to wait until 1981 to go to Cooperstown with that number. A great, great hitter. Our previous exercise in ameliorating the impact of the deader National League ball of 1931-41 showed him to be a better hitter than Greenberg in the pre-war era.

Year  Age    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP   SLG    OPS
1940   27  155  579  111  182  31  13 *43 *137  82  49 .314 .399 *.636 *1.035
1941   28  126  473   67  150 *39   8  16  100  70  45 .317 .405  .535   .940
1942   29  142  544  104  168  27   8  37 *118  64  43 .309 .381 *.588   .970
1943   30  139  528   94  166  31   8 *31  113  69  44 .314 .393 *.577   .970
1944   31  146  550  105  174  29   6 *35  116  78  42 .316 .401 *.584   .985
1945   32  152  569  114  183  27   4 *39  117  86  40 .321 .410 *.587  *.997
1946   33  101  377   70  127  18   3  22   70  62  26 .337 .431  .576  1.006
1947   34  154  586 *137  177  26   2 *51 *138  74  42 .302 .380  .614   .995
1948   35  152  560  110  162  26   4 *40  125  94  37 .289 .391  .564   .956

Hank Greenberg

Speaking of big impacts: this exercise generates an additional 161 home runs for Greenberg, yielding a career total of 492. (Would he have retired following 1947 with that amount?) Unlike Mize, Greenberg was properly recognized in his time as the awesome slugger he was.

Greenberg was one of the earliest MLB players drafted, in the spring of 1941. But he served only a short Army enlistment, and was discharged on December 5, 1941. Three days later he voluntarily re-enlisted, as an officer candidate in the Army Air Corps, and served in the Pacific theatre through mid-1945.

Year  Age    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB  SO   BA  OBP   SLG    OPS
1940   29  148  573  129  195 *50   8 *41 *150   93  75 .340 .432 *.670 *1.103
1941   30  146  545  122  175  43   7 *38 *133  100  84 .322 .427  .635  1.062
1942   31  146  546  121  177 *44   7  38  135   96  82 .325 .426  .640  1.065
1943   32  142  518  104  158  37   6  36  122   91  82 .306 .409  .605  1.014
1944   33  141  499   89  144  30   4  34  114   84  81 .288 .391  .571   .963
1945   34  141  494   86  145  31   4  30  111   82  78 .294 .395  .555   .949
1946   35  142  523   91  145  29   5 *44 *127   80  88 .277 .373  .604   .977
1947   36  125  402   71  100  13   2  25   74 *104  73 .249 .403  .478   .881

The Yankee Clipper

Joe DiMaggio

He was always a bit fragile, and this exercise shows him to have peaked in his early twenties. But what a peak it was, and clearly he remained a tremendous all-around performer into his mid-thirties. This exercise adds 92 homers, giving him a career total of 453. While his legendary status was overblown by all his particular circumstances — showcased by playing for the Yankees, overamplified by the New York-centric media, marrying Marilyn Monroe, etc. etc. — DiMaggio was in fact an all-time great baseball player.

Year  Age    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA  OBP  SLG    OPS
1940   25  132  508   93  179  28   9  31  133  61  30 *.352 .425 .626  1.051
1941   26  139  541  122  193  43  11  30  125  76  13  .357 .440 .643  1.083
1942   27  154  613  132  189  31  14  30  122  72  40  .309 .382 .551   .933
1943   28  147  577  123  187  33 *13  29  122  71  30  .323 .398 .578   .976
1944   29  142  551  107  174  29  11  28  114  67  29  .315 .389 .558   .947
1945   30  138  526   91  159  24   9  25  102  62  28  .301 .375 .525   .899
1946   31  132  503   81  146  20   8  25   95  59  24  .290 .367 .511   .878
1947   32  141  534   97  168  31  10  20   97  64  32  .315 .391 .522   .913
1948   33  153  594  110  190  26  11 *39 *155  67  30  .320 .396 .598   .994

Say Hey

Willie Mays

Okay, it wasn’t “The Big One,” but the Korean War also impacted the careers of many players, including this spectacular young center fielder. This exercise brings his career home run total to 719 — wouldn’t that have been an interesting story: Mays would have surpassed Ruth’s 714 in 1973, before Hank Aaron did it in early 1974.

Who are the most amazing combinations in history of innate athleticism and health/consistency/work ethic? Mays is certainly high on that list; others would include Musial, Aaron, Cy Young, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson, Tris Speaker, and Lou Gehrig. These guys, through the hearts of their long careers, simply never got hurt or had anything approaching an off-year.

Year  Age    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA  OBP   SLG    OPS
1951   20  121  464   64  127  22   5  20   68  56  60  .274 .356  .472   .828
1952   21  153  578   94  164  25  11  28   96  70  71  .283 .361  .507   .868
1953   22  151  571  104  176  27  11  35  103  70  65  .308 .383  .579   .962
1954   23  151  565  119  195  33 *13  41  110  66  57 *.345 .411 *.667 *1.078
1955   24  152  580  123  185  18 *13 *51  127  79  60  .319 .400 *.659 *1.059
1956   25  151  578  101  171  27   8  36   84  68  65  .296 .369  .557   .926

The Thumper

Ted Williams

He played in an excellent hitters’ park (though, as a left-handed pull hitter, not one that gave him any home run help; he hit 52% of his career homers on the road). He didn’t hit southpaws nearly as well as he hit right-handers; he hit only 12% of his home runs off left-handers, and in a more modern era he certainly would have had many more at-bats against them than he did. And the American League in his day became only marginally integrated; he had no more than a handful of his career at-bats against anything other than whites-only pitching staffs.

But still. But still. But still. Wow. This exercise adds 188 home runs to his career total, bringing him to 709 — think he would have played one more year?

Year  Age    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
1939   20  149  565  131  185  44  11  31 *145  107  64  .327  .436  .609  1.045
1940   21  144  561 *134  193  43  14  23  113   96  54  .344 *.442  .594  1.036
1941   22  143  456 *135  185  33   3  37  120 *147  27 *.406 *.553 *.735 *1.287
1942   23  150  525 *151  189  36   6 *51 *147 *154  56 *.361 *.505 *.740 *1.245
1943   24  148  507 *145  187  36   6 *44 *135 *148  47 *.370 *.512 *.722 *1.234
1944   25  148  514 *139  184  38   7 *39 *128 *148  46 *.358 *.502 *.683 *1.185
1945   26  151  518 *137  179  38   8 *36 *122 *155  46 *.346 *.497 *.659 *1.156
1946   27  150  514 *142  176  37   8  38  123 *156  44  .342 *.497 *.667 *1.164
1947   28  156  528 *125  181  40   9 *32 *114 *162  47 *.343 *.499 *.634 *1.133
1948   29  137  509  124  188 *44   3  25  127 *126  41 *.369 *.497 *.615 *1.112
1949   30  150  566 *150  194 *39   3 *43 *159 *162  48  .343 *.490 *.650 *1.140
1950   31   89  334   82  106  24   1  28   97   82  21  .317  .452  .647  1.099
1951   32  148  531  109  169  28   4  30  126 *144  45  .318 *.464 *.556 *1.019
1952   33  138  480 *105  157  27   4  31 *119 *134  40  .327 *.473 *.596 *1.069
1953   34  137  426   94  151  26   2  37  113 *125  38 *.354 *.500 *.685 *1.185
1954   35  117  386   93  133  23   1  29   89 *136  32  .345 *.513 *.635 *1.148
1955   36   98  320   77  114  21   3  28   83   91  24  .356  .496  .703  1.199
1956   37  136  400   71  138  28   2  24   82  102  39  .345 *.479  .605  1.084
1957   38  132  420   96  163  28   1  38   87  119  43 *.388 *.526 *.731 *1.257
1958   39  129  411   81  135  23   2  26   85   98  49 *.328 *.458  .584 *1.042
1959   40  103  272   32   69  15   0  10   43   52  27  .254  .372  .419   .791
1960   41  113  310   56   98  15   0  29   72   75  41  .316  .451  .645  1.096

          G     AB     R     H   2B  3B   HR   RBI    BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG    OPS
Total  2966  10054  2409  3475  687  96  709  2429  2719  919 .346 .485 .645  1.129

References & Resources
The methodology for projecting stats for missing seasons is essentially to weight the closest actual season as twice that of the next closest, and the second as twice the third closest. In practice this means closest seasons comprise 57% of the projected season, seasons two years away comprise 29%, and seasons three years away comprise 14%.

Thus, the formula for a player who missed only the 1945 season (such as Stan Musial) is as follows: his 1944 and 1946 stats are both multiplied by 0.2857, his 1943 and 1947 stats are both multiplied by 0.14285, and his 1942 and 1948 stats are both multiplied by 0.0714285, and the resulting products are all added together.

The formula for a player who missed only the 1944 and 1945 seasons (such as Joe Gordon, Version 1):

For 1944 stats: 1943 x 0.57144, plus 1942 and 1946 x 0.14285, plus 1941 and 1947 x 0.0714285
For 1945 stats: 1946 x 0.57144, plus 1943 and 1947 x 0.14285, plus 1942 and 1948 x 0.0714285

The formula for a player who missed only the 1943, 1944, and 1945 seasons (such as Ted Williams):

For 1943 stats: 1942 x 0.57144, plus 1941 x 0.2857, plus 1940 and 1946 x 0.0714285
For 1944 stats: 1942 and 1946 x 0.2857, plus 1941 and 1947 x 0.14285, plus 1940 and 1948 x 0.0714285
For 1945 stats: 1946 x 0.57144, plus 1947 x 0.2857, plus 1942 and 1948 x 0.0714285

The actual 1942 stats of all players were adjusted by the following amounts, to bring 1942 to the combined average offensive levels of 1940 + 1941 + 1946 + 1947: Runs and RBI, 1.072; Hits, 1.019; Doubles, 1.072; Triples, 1.115; Home Runs, 1.406; Walks, 1.06; Strikeouts, 1.102. At-bats were increased equal to the number of additional hits.

The total number of pitchers missing seasons during the war was taken from the table showing all wartime absences included in Neft and Cohen’s masterpiece, The Sports Encyclopedia: Baseball. I’m not sure if the current editions of this book still include this, but editions at least through the mid-1990s did.

A lengthy interview with my late father-in-law comprises the chapter, “There Were Ballplayers Everywhere,” pages 84-91, in Hornsby Hit One Over My Head: A Fans’ Oral History of Baseball, by David Cataneo (Harcourt Brace, 1997).

Print Friendly
 Share on Facebook0Tweet about this on Twitter0Share on Google+0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone
« Previous: Projecting Morneau
Next: Around the Majors: Roster moves »

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current ye@r *