Power at Third

Way back in 1969, baseball celebrated a centennial. It was the 100th anniversary of the Cininnnati Red Stockings, the so-called first professional team. The majors produced two lists, the greatest living team (DiMaggio was chosen the greatest living player) and an all-time greatest team (with Ruth as the greatest player). The problem arose at Third Base when the all-time team chose Pie Traynor.

Now it’s not that Traynor was a bad choice, it was that he was a terrible choice. Traynor represented that third baseman who was a wonderful fielder, and OK hitter, and a man devoid of power. There had been a lot of them in baseball history and they were decent players. And if they were really, really good third basemen they might have saved their teams a dozen or so runs  season. The problem was that they weren’t producing a lot of runs themselves.

When the Traynor choice was made, it’s not like major league baseball didn’t have a handful of power hitting third basemen to choose from. Of course, maybe that was the problem. There were only a handful and it was tough to take them seriously because the long history of third basemen had been overwhelmingly of good fielders who, if they could hit for average, were potential Hall of Famers.

But third base produced a series of power hitters over the first 69 years of the 20th Century, there just weren’t very many of them. There was Home Run Baker who led the American League in home runs four times. It was the dead ball era and he never hit more than 12 in a season (and the “Home Run” nickname came from World Series play, not the regular season championships). There was Harlond Clift who managed to hit 178 home runs in the 1930s and early 40s. But he’d played in St. Louis for the Browns and in Washington, two of the most obscure places a 1930’s-40’s player could inhabit. Then came Al Rosen and Eddie Mathews. Both were legitimate power hitters who led their leagues in home runs, Rosen even winning an MVP. Rosen had a short career and Mathews was still playing. Of course there was Brooks Robinson who already had an MVP award, a lot of home runs, and was by 1969 already acknowledged as the finest fielding third baseman ever.

So why Traynor? Got me. My guess is that they wanted to honor an old-time player, wanted to stay away from current players like Robinson and Mathews (there was a living player category after all), and just couldn’t get over the old idea that third basemen weren’t supposed to be power hitters. I’m glad they didn’t do this list in 1989, because I’m afraid of what they would have done to Mike Schmidt and George Brett.

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One Response to “Power at Third”

  1. sportsphd Says:

    Crazy pick. Picking him over Home Run Baker makes no sense. I can see excluding current players, but I can’t imagine why anyone would like Traynor over Baker.

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