Recognize the player below? He is the subject of today’s quiz.
Your job is to identify him and explain why he belongs in the same group of live-ball era players listed below.
Hint: this group is defined by a season accomplishment involving statistics displayed on B-R main player pages.
Congratulations to Richard Chester and Josh, who solved this two part quiz (with some help from their friends, including Hartvig who identified an alternative solution). The pictured player is Len Koenecke. He and the others in the list are the only players since 1920 with a first qualifying season (among their first two seasons) with a .300/.400/.500 slash, a 145 OPS+ or better (or 4 WAR or more) and 25 or fewer home runs.
Koenecke’s big season came as a 30 year-old with Brooklyn in 1934. He died the following year while still an active major-leaguer. An account of the tragic circumstances can be read in the B-R bullpen, here. Also in a piece appearing in the NY Daily News, here. Just a few years earlier in 1930, George Watkins, another 30 year-old, had a very similar first qualifying season in the NL. Evidently, a deep talent pool in those days to keep players like this out of the majors until their thirties.
Paul Waner had seasons meeting these criteria each of his first 3 years, the only player with that distinction. Johnny Mize did it his first two seasons (and his 6th and 8th) and then had .300/.400/.500 seasons in his 3rd through 5th seasons, with OPS+ over 175 and HRs increasing each year, to 27, 28 and then 43. At the end of those 5 years, Mize’s career slash was .339/.421/.611 with 174 OPS+ and 32.1 WAR. Despite missing three full seasons to military service, Mize would still compile 24.6 WAR and 142 OPS+ after age 33, one of only 16 players with 24 WAR and 140 OPS+ over that period of their careers. So, like Ted Williams, great early and great late, with a middle about which we can only say “What if?”.