Career Seasons by Late Bloomers – Pitchers Edition

In a belated sequel to my earlier post for batters, this post looks at established pitchers who recorded a different kind of career year: a single season with more WAR than for their entire preceding career. More after the jump.

For this study I considered pitchers who had established themselves as major-leaguers and used 1000 IP as the qualifying standard. I then picked a minimum age for which this type of career season might be meaningful and settled on age 28. The rationale is that it might be interesting to identify players able to reach qualifying playing time but who nonetheless compiled so little career value that a career season (of the type I’m studying) might be possible. It seems evident that such players must be survivors and be perceived as having value (or potential) to justify their playing time, notwithstanding their modest accomplishments. But, would posting such a career mark the start of a sustained period of improvement, or be just a peak from which descent quickly followed?

For assessing season and career value, I’ve used Baseball Reference’s pitching WAR statistic. To make a career season worth noting, I set a minimum standard of a 2 WAR season matching or exceeding a player’s prior career WAR. Here’s what the numbers show for seasons since 1901 (I’m also showing equivalent results for batters with a 3000 PA minimum).The batters are on the left and pitchers on the right. The number of careers reaching the qualifying standard increases with age as more players reach that threshold. But, those additional players tend be to hangers on as the percentage of players with such careers who record a 2 WAR season shows a steady decline. Finally, a very small number of those 2 WAR seasons are “career” years, matching or exceeding the player’s previous career WAR.

Here are those pitchers recording a career year.

Age 28

  • Jack Taylor‘s season was his fourth as a regular in the Cub rotation and is easily distinguished from the first three by his winning record (23-11) and league-leading ERA and WHIP marks. Taylor followed that season with another 20 win campaign, then was shipped  to St. Louis to acquire future HOFer Mordecai Brown. Taylor recorded two more 20 win seasons for the Cardinals before being reacquired by Chicago where he posted stellar numbers (12-3, 1.83) in a half-season’s work for the 1906 NL champs in their famous 116-36 campaign. Taylor famously completed just about every game (279 of 287) that he started, including a 5-0 record to begin his career, the best in any debut or rookie season with a CG in every appearance. Quiz: who is the only live ball era pitcher with a better record in such a season, at any point of a career? 
  • Jimmy Ring‘s season is one of the more mysterious 7 WAR campaigns that you’re likely to find. Nothing really stands out, other than posting a winning record for a team that lost 104 games playing in the Baker Bowl (Ring did record 15 starts of 8+ IP allowing 3 runs or less, and 7 more allowing 4 runs, so that no doubt helped his WAR). Ring followed that season with two decent campaigns (combined 6.7 WAR) before tailing off badly in his last three seasons. Ring was one of three pitchers who. in as many consecutive games of the infamous 1919 WS, recorded a three hit shutout in his post-season debut; no more than one pitcher has recorded such a game in any other post-season series.
  • Sad Sam Jones‘s season was the best of his career and came after showing promise in his age 25 season (16-5, 2.25 ERA) but regressing in the next two (25-36, 3.85). But, that one big season was enough to attract the attention of the Yankees who ponied up $100,000 to land Jones in a blockbuster deal with the Red Sox that also included the likes of Bullet Joe BushEverett ScottRip CollinsRoger Peckinpaugh, and Jack Quinn. Jones would go on to post a very creditable journeyman career of almost 4000 IP, 229 wins and 40.3 WAR, compiling 100+ games and 700+ IP for the Red Sox, Yankees, Senators and White Sox, with his top 4 WAR seasons comprised of one season for each of those clubs.
  • Sheriff Blake‘s season was easily the best of his career, with his 2.47 ERA more than one-and-a-half runs better than his career ERA before and after this season. This was Blake’s fourth season as a regular in the Cub rotation, with the right-hander showing steady improvement in each of those campaigns. So, aged only 28 and sporting low miles on the odometer, the Cubs might have held reasonable hope that Blake would continue posting solid seasons for several more years. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be as Blake’s control, never a strong suit, regressed over the next two seasons in tandem with his ERA. After being plucked off waivers, Blake finished the 1931 season with the Phillies. He would toil for 10 more seasons after that, but only one of them in the majors.
  • Darryl Kile‘s season was the seventh of his career, all with Houston and each with at least 20 starts and 125 IP. In the last year of his contract and coming off three seasons with a combined 86 ERA+, Kile was probably playing to extend his career and he came through big-time, topping 150 ERA+ with a 19-7 record. Kile parlayed that big year into a big money free agent signing with the Rockies, but found that pitching in Coors Field wasn’t the same as pitching in the Astrodome. After two forgettable years in Denver, Kile was fortunate to be traded to another pitcher-friendly ballpark in St. Louis where he posted his only 20 win season in 2000. Quiz: Since the division series were instituted in 1995, Kile is one of five pitchers to begin his post-season career with two 7+ IP starts allowing two runs or less. Which one of those pitchers accomplished that feat in this century?
  • Tom Murphy‘s season was his first as a full-time reliever and would turn out to be the only 2 WAR season of his career. Murphy’s success in this season likely derived from a career best 1.90 ERA that  was more that two runs better than any seasonal ERA he would post for the rest of his career. His only comparable result was a 2.17 ERA in his 1968 debut season that included a run of 50.2 consecutive IP without allowing an extra-base hit, the longest such streak by an expansion era rookie pitcher.
  • Alex Kellner‘s season featured career best qualified marks for FIP, HR/9 and BB/9, the first two also league-leading results that year. Kellner’s career high 3.6 WAR was twice the 1.8 mark that he posted in his 20-12 rookie season that earned him a runner-up finish in the 1949 RoY vote. Otherwise, Kellner’s career year (11-12, 3.93) looked a lot like the rest of his career (39-40, 4.33) that ended in St. Louis in 1959.
  • Joe Oeschger‘s season came in 1920, the year that he famously (and fruitlessly) dueled Leon Cadore for 26 innings (you can rack up a lot of WAR with 26 innings of one-run ball, but I’m not going to begrudge him one iota, despite an unimpressive 87 ERA+ for the season). Oeschger followed up with an even better 1921 season of 20 wins and 4.6 WAR, but he hit the wall after that, totaling -2.3 WAR over almost 500 more innings to end his career.
  • Lew Krausse‘s season is one of only 10 in the expansion era with 20 starts, 20 relief appearances and ERA under 3.00. Several of those 10 pitchers (Phil NiekroPete VuckovichOrel HershiserDean Chance, Stan Williams, Hank Aguirre) would go on to post notable careers, but not Krausse, who posted a 5.15 ERA in only 129.1 IP over the rest of his career. Quiz: which one of those 10 pitchers posted those totals in the past 30 seasons?

Age 29

  • Mike Caldwell‘s season was just his second as a full-time starter in a career that began as a swing-man in 100+ games for the Padres and Giants. Caldwell responded to the opportunity with 22 wins for the Brewers, a league-leading 23 CGs and a runner-up finish in the CYA vote.  He posted another solid season the next year before tailing off as he became more vulnerable to the long ball. Still, Caldwell was durable and effective (when he kept the ball in the yard) and could be counted on for 200+ innings every year; he stands second in Brewer franchise wins and IP, behind only teammate Jim Slaton.
  • Joaquin Andujar‘s season featured career best marks in WAR, ERA, WHIP and BB/9, reflective of control that had eluded him as an Astro earlier in his career, but which he suddenly found in St. Louis. Andujar regressed his next season, but came back with two 20 win seasons, the second leading the Redbirds to an NL pennant. He posted one more decent season in Oakland before returning to Houston to close out his career.
  • Steve Blass‘s season, like Andujar’s, feautured career bests in WAR, ERA, WHIP and BB/9. Blass extended his stellar performance into the 1971 post-season, rebounding from an ugly outing in the NLCS to record a pair of one run CG wins in the WS, in game 3 with his Bucs down 2-0 in the series, and in the deciding game 7 to best the defending world champion Orioles. Blass matched his best WAR total again in 1972 before the wheels came off his career the next season as he suddenly could no longer find the plate, recording the lowest SO/BB ratio (min. 60 IP) in franchise history.
  • Glendon Rusch‘s season was his first with the Cubs, landing there after a 3-team, 11-player trade. Rusch had hit rock bottom the year before (1-12, 6.42), relegating him to the bullpen for the first time in his career, so a change of scenery was probably welcome. Used as a swing-man in Chicago, Rusch recorded two decent seasons before finishing up in his career in San Diego and Colorado.
  • Harry McIntire‘s season featured 20 losses and an 87 ERA+, but 288 IP allowed him to collect a career best 3.0 WAR. His next two seasons, the latter with the Cubs where he finished his career, featured qualified ERA+ under 95 despite WHIP below 1.30 and H/9 under 8.0, one of only 5 pitchers with a pair of such seasons. Quiz: which one of those five recorded those seasons in the live ball era?.
  • Dan Spillner makes the list twice, at age 29 and 30, the first the more remarkable for coming in the strike-shortened 1981 season (that said, it was a minimally qualifying 2.0 WAR season). The second season was the real career year, with 4.4 WAR from a 2.49 ERA in 133.2 IP over 65 relief appearances. But, that was about it for Spillner’s career, as he totaled only 1.5 WAR over his last four seasons. Quiz: who is the only pitcher this century with a season averaging 2 IP per 50+ relief appearances?

Age 30

  • Max Butcher‘s season marked the start of a career renaissance for the big right-hander, posting a 123 ERA+ starting in his age 30 season compared to only 86 thru age 29. Unsurprisingly, Butcher is the only modern era pitcher to post ERA+ under 90 thru age 29 and ERA+ of 120 or better aged 30+, in 800+ IP for both periods.
  • Edinson Volquez posted an outstanding rookie season (17-6, 3.21) at age 24, then regressed to only 75 ERA+ over his next 5 seasons. His age 30 career year (2.6 WAR) was followed by an almost identical age 31 season, but his next two years looked like his age 25-29 seasons, likely why he is still waiting for the phone to ring this year. Volquez (2015) and Andy Pettitte (2000) are the only starters with a pair of World Series NDs, each with 6+ IP allowing 3 runs or less, that supported game and series wins. 

Age 31

  • Mike Scott‘s season was a monster year that garnered the Astro right-hander a CYA win on the strength of majors-leading results for IP, SO, ERA, FIP, H/9, SO/9 and SO/BB. This was the second season in Scott’s career peak that netted over 25 WAR for ages 30-35, one of 54 such pitchers all time. Of that group, only Scott recorded more WAR aged 30-35 than he did for his entire career.
  • Ryan Dempster was a failed starter (85 ERA+ in almost 1000 IP thru age 26) who switched to relief for four seasons with middling results (one good year as a closer in 2005, and the next two with inconsistent results, the first struggling in save situations and the second in non-save situations). Dempster’s career year was his first in his return to the rotation as he posted career bests as a starter in Wins, W-L%, ERA, ERA+ and H/9. Like Max Butcher in the age 30 group, Dempster’s career year was the start of a late career renaissance with 110 ERA+ for age 31+, compared to 89 ERA+ thru age 30, in 1000+ IP in both periods.
  • Flint Rhem‘s career looks something like that of Edinson Volquez in the age 30 group, with one solid early season (20-7, 3.21 at age 25), then regression over his next two years leading to a demotion to the minors at age 28. He was better when he returned to the bigs at age 29, but not by a lot. Rhem’s career year at age 31 looked, on the surface, a lot like the year before, but WAR liked it better, likely because St. Louis sold him to the Phillies early that season. But, the Baker Bowl took its revenge, as Rhem posted dreadful results the next year, with -3.1 WAR in only 125 IP to close out his time in Philadelphia, before splitting his last two seasons between the Braves and Cards.
  • Frank Castillo‘s career year came after a season in the minors that followed a 6,83 ERA for Detroit in 1998, the third highest ERA by a Tiger in a 100+ IP season (the four highest such ERAs are all from the 1995 to 1999 seasons). Before that, Castillo had posted mostly weak results for the Cubs with one notably good year (3.6 WAR at age 26). Castillo’s career year came in limited innings with the Blue Jays and was followed by similar totals in another tough pitcher’s park in Boston. The Red Sox increased his workload the next season, but with disappointing results as Castillo’s 6-15 record placed him among the franchise’s ten worst qualified seasons in W-L%, with his 5.07 ERA the worst of those unsuccessful seasons.

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54 Comments on "Career Seasons by Late Bloomers – Pitchers Edition"

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Mike L
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Interesting. I don’t see an obvious consistent “narrative” to these folks. One thing I wanted to add is that Lew Krausse debuted on June 16, 1961, at the age of 18 for the then Kansas City Athletics. He pitched a CG 3 hit shutout (five walks, but…) with a game score of 82, and also went 2-3 with a sacrifice. https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/KC1/KC1196106160.shtml More fun facts. That game score in his debut would remain the highest one of his career until back to back 82’s on July 11 and 16th, 1969, then another one on August 15, 1969. He finally topped it… Read more »
e pluribus munu
Guest

Mike, the first guy I went to look at was Krausse, recalling how early and well his career had started (and how highly touted he was — both for his youth, and because his father had been an identically named MLB pitcher). The game score stats are a neat find!

Mike L
Guest

EPM, we may be of the same “game-worn vintage jersey” decade. Lew Senior also started young–he had just turned 19. In his third appearance, he pitched a complete game (one unearned run) against Boston. Game Score 77.
Then, his last ML game was at 20: a 6 hit complete game shutout with a Game Score of 74, also against Boston. https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/PHA/PHA193209022.shtml. Lew Senior only started 4 games in his career, three against Boston.

e pluribus munu
Guest
Another interesting journey into the game logs. When Krausse Jr. came up, there was a lot of talk in the papers about his baseball genes. That was before the Macmillan encyclopedia made it easy to look things up, and I simply assumed that Lew Krausse Sr. had been a prominent pitcher. Turns out, not so much. Sr.’s two shutouts were much to his credit, but both were late-season blowouts by strong Athletics teams vs. very bad BoSox adversaries (in ’32, they were well on their way to a 43-111 finish when Krausse whitewashed them — and given that the score… Read more »
Mike L
Guest

But wait, there’s more. Per B-Ref, Lew Krausse The Elder was the youngest player in the MLB in 1931. and Lew Krausse the Younger was the youngest player in baseball in 1961. I feel like my work is done here now.

Brent
Guest

As an aside, the genes did not pass on to the next generation, his two sons were on my high school baseball team. Both were good but not great baseball players and neither could pitch like Lew, Jr, for sure. He did occasionally come out to practice and help out with the pitchers. He still threw a mean curve ball in 1987.

e pluribus munu
Guest

Cool! HHSers are now privy to inside information on baseball history. Thanks, Brent!

Doug
Guest
To your points, Mike and epm, I think there are several narratives that would apply to most of these players. 1. a player suddenly finds his groove, and his career takes off from there (Butcher, Dempster, Andujar, Caldwell, Taylor) 2. a player shows solid results for the first time, but it doesn’t last (Blake, Kile, Murphy, Rhem, Spillner) 3. a player rediscovers a talent glimpsed earlier, and his career takes off from there (Jones, Scott) 4. a player rediscovers a talent glimpsed earlier, but it doesn’t last (Kellner, Krausse, Rusch, Blass, Volquez, Castillo, Ring) 5. a player had an undistinguished… Read more »
e pluribus munu
Guest
That looks like a good analysis to me, Doug. I’ve been thinking about Joe Oeschger (are there any other players with consecutive ‘oe’ combinations in their names?). You point out the anomaly of Oeschger’s duel with Cadore in his 1920 record (Game Score: 153), and that his overall ERA+ was a poor 87 — imagine how low that ERA+ would have been without the 1-1 Brooklyn game. Here’s thing. Oeschger had a strong season with the Phillies in 1917. Compare his record to that of 1920 “career year” (granting that his real career year was 1921): ……………IP………W–L…….BB…….K………ERA+……WAR 1917…..262……15-14……72……123……..103……..1.4 1920…..299……15-13……99……..80……….87……..3.1 With… Read more »
Richard Chester
Guest

Closest names with consecutive “oe”s that I could find are Joe Boever, Joe Hoener and Joe Poetz.

e pluribus munu
Guest

Don’t overlook Joe Moeller and Joe Boehling!

Apparently, our Late Bloomer pronounced his last name ‘eshgur’, learning which is going to freeze my brain from now on, since the little voice in my head has been pronouncing it ‘Ōshgur’ since I was very little (the 26-inning game was described in my first baseball book). Too bad: with an ‘ō’ sound, his name has a nice baying-dog quality to it: jō-ō-shgur.

oneblankspace
Guest

Ron Oester played for Cincinnati in the early 1980s.

oneblankspace
Guest

and I missed the “consecutive” part of your question. (and of his name)

e pluribus munu
Guest
What I like best about these pieces, Doug, are the narratives you add, which must take a lot of time. With that background and the link to the players’ B-R page, it’s possible to explore these anomalous careers, which are each interesting. There’s one aspect of your qualifying criteria that raises an issue that has come up before in the CoG vote context: how to consider negative WAR seasons (at least one HHS participant prefers not to consider those seasons in evaluating player quality, and there is a certain logic to that). Three of the pitchers on your list (Krause,… Read more »
Paul E
Guest

A little off Doug’s parameters but, has anyone noticed the season 29 year old Miles Mikolas of STL is quietly “putting together” (trying to sound like Matt Vasgersian) ? 3.0 WAR already ? I guess he had arm trouble at some point?

e pluribus munu
Guest
I, for one, actually hadn’t noticed, Paul, and I appreciate the heads-up. Not only in Mikolas’s half-season a real “late-bloomer” sort of phenomenon (although not in Doug’s sense), but his career is full of surprises. I haven’t spotted arm troubles in his background, but it’s unusual that he was converted from a reliever to a starter at 25, and that after a pretty poor record went off to shine as a starter for three seasons with a prominent Japanese team (the Yomiuri Giants: his second season was abbreviated, so maybe that’s a point when his arm gave out). Apparently it… Read more »
e pluribus munu
Guest

By the way, I had to Google Matt Vasgersian to see whom you meant. Google featured a video compilation of some of his calls. Watching for a couple of minutes I saw that Vasgersian reflects the reason I turn the volume off if I watch baseball on TV.

Paul E
Guest

I have taken to lowering the volume on even the local broadcasts of all sporting events but, yeah, the national guys are generally unbearable. I don’t know if it’s old age but, they don’t have to explain everything in minutiae. Another annoying thing is the descriptions: i. e. “The soft-tossing southpaw winds…..” versus “Moyer delivers….”

John
Guest

Matt Vasgersian isn’t as bad as Buck. As a Cubs fan, I understand that he grew up in the Cardinals club house, and expect him to have loyalties. His anti-Cub bias is exasperating. His former partner, Tim McCarver, was so anti-umpire (says a former umpire for kids baseball) I could hardly stand to watch those two.

Paul E
Guest

Buck re Tampa vs. Phila. 2008 World Series: “This Rays team is dripping with talent”. Enough with the Robert Frost and Thomas Wolfe already…..How about a jovial, “They’re a talented, young bunch….” ?

I dunno, it must be my age

Richard Chester
Guest

Answer to the Jack Taylor question: Max Lanier with 6 such games in 1946.

e pluribus munu
Guest
I was thinking of an interesting and famous case of late blooming that doesn’t meet Doug’s criteria: Dazzy Vance. The thing about Vance is that he actually had about 2000 IP before his late bloom, but almost all of them were in the Minors. That’s probably the story with many true late bloomers. (Phil Niekro, who was 6-6 going into his age 28 season, would be another case, but his total IP in organized baseball was only about 750.) In any case, just looking at Vance’s career without the specifically-MLB IP threshold, and setting his 117 wins in the Minors… Read more »
Doug
Guest

Not in Vance’s class, but still a very decent pitcher was Curt Davis. Debuted in the majors at age 30, but still compiled 39 WAR for his career. Davis’s 8.6 WAR in his debut season is the 5th highest mark since 1901, and second only to Mark Fidrych in the live ball era. And, his 15.6 WAR for his first two seasons is 3rd best since 1901, and second only to Dwight Gooden in the live ball era.

e pluribus munu
Guest
Great find, Doug! I had no idea of Davis’s late start, nor that the undistinguished looking records of his first two seasons with the Phillies cashed out to such dazzling WAR. According to his SABR bio, in his twenties he was stuck in the PCL, where the SF Seals used the reserve clause to lock him out of the Majors, while he expended over 1400 innings of his arm on their behalf. Although he started with the Phillies, Davis is best known, I think (which means best known to me), as a member of the Dodger pennant winners in ’41,… Read more »
Brent
Guest

Doug is the one with the great trivia questions, but Sheriff Blake is the answer to who is the losing pitcher in a very famous WS game involving the biggest comeback ever in the World Series

e pluribus munu
Guest

I’ve never much liked the way that works. His team’s pitchers gave up ten hits in that inning, including two HR and a double, plus a walk and a HBP. Of these, Blake gave up only two of the singles (neither one able to get a runner from first to third), yet he winds up the losing pitcher.

But if you’d asked me who the LP was in that game, I wouldn’t have known it was Blake.

Brent
Guest

Actually, the losing “pitcher” in that inning might really have been Hack Wilson, who misplayed Mule Haas’s fly ball into a 3 Run inside the park HR.

no statistician but
Guest
The Sam Jones I remember—now designated “Toothpick Sam,” although he was called “Sad Sam” at least as often—nearly qualifies for your list: he had 6.3 pitching WAR in 1958, his age 32 season, after accumulating 6.8 prior to that. Led the NL in strikeouts and walks in three separate seasons, probably deserved the CY in 1959 over Early Wynn, reputed to have the most curving of curve balls of all time, first black pitcher to throw a no hitter, lost two more gems due to a terrible official scorer’s decision and a game that was called after seven innings due… Read more »
e pluribus munu
Guest

Actually, Bob Shaw had a good claim on that ’59 CYA award too. But it was obviously going to Wynn on sentiment.

What I remember about Jones was the amazing number of walks he issued and the bags under his eyes, which so caught my attention that I failed to realize when I was a kid that he was black.

Richard Chester
Guest

Answer to the Darryl Kile question: Vicente Padilla

e pluribus munu
Guest
Another unusual late bloomer story belonged to reliever Diomedes Olivo, who was a one-year sensation with the Pirates in 1962. Olivo had only had an Major League cup of coffee two years before, so he doesn’t begin to meet Doug’s 1000 MLB IP criterion, and he really wasn’t a late bloomer at all: he was more like an Ichiro-type who had elected to build a premier career outside the US. He was famous as a player for teams in a string of Latin American countries, most notably in his home Dominican Republic, but when he finally showed up in the… Read more »
Mike L
Guest
Interesting. I don’t remember reading about him. Someone should do a study of the first players to integrate each team. Plenty of stars–Jackie, Larry Doby, Monte Irvin, Minnie Minoso, Ernie Banks. But also a number of fringe players: Bob Trice (Athletics), Curt Roberts (PIT) , Tom Alston (Cardinals). You wonder what their thinking was, since it was the later-integrating teams who had the tendency to do that. Only Elston Howard was really a good player. Either the early integrated teams had nipped off the stars, or the later integrated teams preferred to select role players (so as not to upset… Read more »
Richard chester
Guest

I have a list of each teams first two such players. When my PC is back on the internet I will post it, maybe by Tuesday.

Richard Chester
Guest
Sorry I am late with this but I could not access the internet on my PC for a while. This is the list with the first two blacks on each of the original 16 teams. Red Sox: Pumpsie Green(1959)/Earl Wilson (1959) White Sox: Minne Minoso (1951)/Sam Hairston (1951) Indians: Larry Doby (1947)/Satchel Paige (1948) Tigers: Ozzie Virgil (1958)/Larry Doby (1959) Yankees: Elston Howard (1955)/Suitcase Simpson (1957) A’s: Bob Trice (1953)/Vic Power (1954) Browns: Hank Thompson (1947)/Willard Brown (1947) Senators: Carlos Paula (1954)/Joe Black (1957) Braves: Sam Jethroe (1950)/Luis Marquez (1951) Dodgers: Jackie Robinson (1947)/Dan Bankhead (1947) Cubs: Ernie Banks (1953)/Gene… Read more »
e pluribus munu
Guest
I think when you divide the earlier/later integrating teams in this way, you have to bear in mind that the “first” black player may not be the significant indicator. For example, by the time the Pirates sent Curt Roberts to the plate, the Dodgers had played in addition to Robinson, Campy, Newk, Gilliam, and Joe Black; the Indians had played, besides Doby, Paige, Minoso (who’s on your list because two seasons later he was “first” for the ChiSox), Easter, and Sad Sam; the Giants had played Irvin, but also Hank Thompson (who had already appeared as the first black member… Read more »
oneblankspace
Guest

Banks was only brought up to the Cubs because Baker needed a roommate. But it did turn out to be a good decision for them.

e pluribus munu
Guest
Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of how slow MLB integration was to occur after Robinson. We think of baseball as being integrated from the 1947 season, but at the close of the 1950 season, the fourth season since Robinson had come up, only twelve black players had appeared in MLB games (on only five of sixteen teams), and the career of one, Willard Brown, had ended in ’47. Sam Jethroe was the sole black player to debut in 1950, and after his appearance, there is a hiatus of one full year to the day until the next black player… Read more »
Mike L
Guest

In 1947 Brown v. Topeka was still seven years in the future and Rosa Parks eight. Housing developments were being built for returning vets with racially restrictive deed covenants. Jim Crow ruled in the South, and the North was not exactly a bastion of racial equality. The portrayal of African-Americans in the media was largely limited to stereotypes (roles like Barney in Mission Impossible, Uhura in Star Trek, and Peggy in Mannix were two decades away). Segregation was normal.

Richard chester
Guest

Willard Brown hung around long enough to be the first black to hit a HR in the AL

e pluribus munu
Guest

That HR, on August 13, 1947, was in the 19th game of Brown’s 21-game MLB career. It was a pinch-hit two-run homer that tied the game in the bottom of the 8th; the Browns went on to win. Didn’t save his job. The last appearance of his one-month tenure with the Browns came four days later.

Interestingly, Brown’s HR was an inside-the-park hit. It looks to me as though the first HR hit over the fence by a black player in the AL didn’t come until 1948: Doby on April 23, third inning.

no statistician but
Guest
epm: While I don’t wish to extenuate the various franchises and their executives and owners in this matter, I wonder if you may be oversimplifying a complex situation to a degree. The fact that so many of those early players didn’t stick, or, like Sam Jethroe and Joe Black, flamed out after an initial good season, may be indicative of the talent level available. It’s hard for me to fault the Yankees for not hurrying to the majors a marginal player because he was black when their roster was already overloaded with players who excelled. This excuse, of course, hardly… Read more »
e pluribus munu
Guest
As always, your points are generally well taken, nsb. My posts in response to Mike’s introduction of the integration issue here have certainly implied that Major League continued to be resistant to recruiting black talent for years after the 1947 breakthrough, and the real situation was certainly more complex. Players from Latin America had been playing in the Majors since the turn of the 20th century: there was no racial bar to hiring them — so long as they were not black. The Senators were the first to recruit systematically, and they did so in the early 1930s, long before… Read more »
no statistician but
Guest
epm: After a quick run-through of the available team rosters of the NNL for 1948, I have these observations to make: 1) most of the apparently regular players were older—late 20s to mid 30s in age. The Philadelphia Stars had five regulars who batted over .300, their ages being 29, 30, 31, 32, and 34. 2) Of the many players from these rosters who joined organized ball, all ages, some went on to establish good to great minor league credentials, but some were only average, some worse. 3) Of those who made the bigs, many were quite old in baseball… Read more »
e pluribus munu
Guest
nsb, Thanks for going through those rosters. Perhaps, indeed, young prospects were few in the Negro Leagues after the War, but it’s also true that the non-baseball economic alternatives that opened up for black players in those years opened equally for white players. Another explanation for the depletion of young talent from the NNL in ’48 may be the increase in minor league openness to those players. I suppose that what you would expect of any group of players that entered the minors would be that some would be above average, some average, and some below average. The question, I… Read more »
e pluribus munu
Guest
I have an addendum, nsb. Something you wrote has been gnawing at me and it clicked just after I sent off my last oration. “It’s hard for me to fault the Yankees for not hurrying to the majors a marginal player because he was black when their roster was already overloaded with players who excelled.” In fact, the Yankees provide one of the clearest examples of active racism in their delay of bringing up a black player. The prime black talent in the Yankee organization prior to Elston Howard’s promotion was not Howard, it was Vic Power, who was ready… Read more »
Doug
Guest

Yikes!

My guess, though, is that that remark failed to make headlines at the time.

e pluribus munu
Guest
The quote is from Power’s SABR bio. I’ve been trying to trace the original source, which the bio gives as a 2012 book by Roger Kahn, The Era. I can’t quite adequately sneak into the book online through Google Books. As best I can now tell from the small section I can see, the SABR bio’s Weiss passage actually pastes together two 1954 quotes cited by Kahn in sequence in his book, one about Power, the other about the fans. The first one, Kahn says, quotes Weiss speaking to “several trusted sports writers” (presumably Kahn among them). In reporting the… Read more »
Mike L
Guest

Having grown up in Westchester County, I can say Weiss’s remark might have been an overstatement (and he was apparently a throughly unpleasant man) but it wasn’t completely off the mark. A lot of ethnicities in Westchester–and a lot of different places they lived.

no statistician but
Guest

True, sadly, but on the same minor league team the Yankees had Bill Skowron at the same position and the questionable luxury of biding their time for a less inflammatory but equally valuable player to integrate the team.

There’s an anecdote relating to Power in the NBJHBA: In Syracuse, 1951: “An embarrassed waitress shuffles up to him and explains, ‘I’m sorry, sir, we don’t serve colored people.’ ‘That’s OK,’ says Power. ‘I don’t eat colored people.'”

no statistician but
Guest
A serious comment, then a reminiscence. I’m not at all disputing the real knuckle dragging that went on on the parts of some franchises, in the 1950s. In the last three years of the Forties I can excuse a slowness of response, human beings being what they are now and were then, but only on the excuse of moving forward cautiously into unchartered waters. Staying in harbor the way the Phillies, Tigers and Red Sox did—and the Cardinals really, I’d say, considering what the Browns were doing in the same ball park, but I digress. The list of first black… Read more »
e pluribus munu
Guest
Now I’m truly in the throes of the green-eyed monster. I grew up in a city apartment, and spent my days pasting MLB stats into scrapbooks. The only ballgame in reach was the pick-up affair that would regularly be an option on a bare strip of ground between the scrub trees in the park below (it’s all “old woods” now, and disorienting to revisit). I remember when I was very little reaching second and having some kid I didn’t know tell me to toss him the ball that had come to rest about ten feet away. Always obedient to authority,… Read more »
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