The Solid Man

There are stars, there are superstars. There are bums, there are journeymen. There are also good solid ball players who make up the majority of most good teams. There’s no shame in being “solid”, it describes most players. It was certainly used to describe Sid Gordon.

Gordon was born in Brooklyn in 1917 to a Jewish family. His father ran a coal business with Sid driving one of the trucks. The son was good at baseball, got a tryout with the hometown Dodgers, didn’t make it, and went back to driving the truck. The Giants saw him playing locally and signed him. The assigned him to the Milford, Delaware team but between the signing and his reporting date, his father died. He asked out of the contract in order to take over the family business. In one of those moments only Hollywood could dream up, his mom decided she would run the business while her son went off to pursue his baseball career.

He did well at Milford, well at Clinton, well in Jersey City. That got him a late season call up by the Giants in September 1941. He got into nine games, hit .258, and walked six times in 37 plate appearances. The Giants sent him back to Jersey City in 1942 (he got into six games with the Giants late in the season). By 1943 he was in the big leagues to stay. His fielding numbers were OK, but nothing special, so he spent the season wandering from position to position playing 53 games at third, 41 games at first, and 28 in left (with three token appearances at second). He hit .251 with nine home runs, 63 RBIs, 50 runs scored, and led the National League grounding into 26 double plays (obviously his nickname wasn’t “Speedy”). It was a good solid year, it was better than his previous stints, and it looked like he was going to hang around for a while.

Of course World War II was raging and Gordon lost both 1944 and 1945 to the war. He spent his time in the Coast Guard. It cost him two critical years in his career (ages 26 and 27) and significantly reduced his final statistics.

Back in 1946, he  became the Giants regular left fielder. That lasted through 1947, when he was shifted to third base. He stayed the primary Giants third baseman through 1949. Beginning in 1947 he began to pull the ball more (he hit right-handed) and his power numbers increased. He hit between 25 and 30 home runs each year through 1952. His runs and RBI totals both peaking in 1951. He didn’t manage to lead the NL in any category, except again in grounding into double plays (1949 and 1951), but finished as high as fourth in the MVP voting in 1948 (his next highest position in MVP voting was 16th in 1951). He made the All-Star team in both 1948 and 1949. In 1950 he hit four grand slams during the season to tie the existing record.

In 1950 he was traded to the Boston Braves. The new Giants leadership (principally Leo Durocher) wanted more speed in the lineup and that was never Gordon’s forte. He went back to left field for the Braves, did well, and went with the team when it moved to Milwaukee. As such, he became the first man to play left field for the Milwaukee Braves in 1953. Unfortunately, his career was on the down slide. He hit .274, but had only 19 home runs (and still managed an OPS+ of 121). There was a new kid in the minors who looked pretty good, so Gordon was traded to Pittsburgh. 

He split time between third and right field and did well enough in Pittsburgh, hitting .306, but his home run production continued to drop. With no speed and only a mediocre glove, his power numbers were critical for his team. And of course Forbes Field was death on power hitters anyway (unless you were Ralph Kiner). Gordon started 1955 with the Pirates, but 16 games in was traded back to the Giants. It was the end of the line. He retired when the season ended.

So what have we got? For his career Gordon hit .283, had an OBP of .377, slugged .466, for an OPS of .843 (OPS+ of 129) in 1475 games. Over 5813 plate appearances he had 1415 hits, scored 735 runs, had 220 doubles, 202 home runs, 805 RBIs, walked 731 times, struck out 356 times (which is an impressive strike out to walks ratio for a power hitter), and had 2327 total bases. Those are the definition of a “solid” player.

While playing softball in New York in 1975 he suffered a heart attack and died that afternoon. He was 57. It’s a fitting way for an ex-ballplayer to die.

Oh, and that promising minor leaguer who led the Braves to trade Gordon? He took over in left field in 1954, then went to right field for the bulk of his career. His name was Henry Aaron and I understand he did well too.

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4 Responses to “The Solid Man”

  1. William Miller Says:

    That OPS+ (129) is very impressive. It’s the same as Jimmy Wynn, Mickey Cochrane, Buck Ewing, Bobby Bonds, and Eddie Murray. Not bad company to keep.

  2. wkkortas Says:

    As an aside, Henry Aaron wasn’t the only pretty decent right fielder who replaced Gordon. The guy who took over right field in Pittsburgh was some kid named Clemente.

  3. shickshinny Says:

    My father was a big fan of Sid Gordon. My father grew up about a mile west of Yankee Stadium. Naturally, he was a Yankee fan. And being Jewish, naturally he was a big fan of Sid Gordon.

    Glen

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