Arky

Arky Vaughan

Arky Vaughan

Joseph “Arky” Vaughan was the premier National League shortstop in the 1930s. He is one of only three NL shortstops to lead the league in hitting in the entire 20th Century (depending on what you do with Jack Glasscock, who played 32 games as short and a lot of other games at other positions and won a batting title in 1890, Vaughan is the second shortstop to lead the NL in hitting). There have been a handful in the 21st Century, but in the 20th there were only Honus Wagner (who did it multiple times), Vaughan, and Dick Groat. Know what else they have in common? They all were at Pittsburgh when they won their batting title.

Vaughan’s rookie season was 1932. He became the Pirates’ everyday shortstop immediately. Three years later he won a batting title, the first NL shortstop to do so since 1911. It would be 25 years before another shortstop duplicated the feat (although Luke Appling won a batting title in the American League the next season). He remained a stalwart of the Pittsburgh offense through 1941. Then he was traded to Brooklyn.

Having problems at third base (they had PeeWee Reese at short) the Dodgers moved Vaughan to third. He did pretty well, but his hitting suffered. In 1942 he split time between the two positions and his batting average went back up. In 1943, he had a run-in with manager Leo Durocher (who didn’t have a run-in with “Leo the Lip”?) and retired following the season.

He spent 1944 and 1945 doing war work and was enticed back to the Major Leagues in 1947 (after Durocher was banned). He had a good  season as a part-time player for the Dodgers. That season brought him is only postseason play. He pinch hit three times in the Brooklyn loss to New York, going .500 with a walk and a double. He had an off-year in 1948 and retired for good. He died a tragic death (he drowned in a boating accident) in 1952. It wasn’t until 1985 that he got into the Hall of Fame.

I had a lot of trouble discovering Vaughan’s attitude toward integrating baseball. As a Southerner he should have been opposed to playing with Jackie Robinson in 1947, but I find no evidence that he signed the petition asking for Brooklyn to drop Robinson. As a part-time player whose status with the team was in doubt in 1947, it’s possible he wasn’t even asked. I did find an article on  Vaughan’s induction into Cooperstown in which Robinson is quoted as saying Vaughan went out of his way to be nice to him (Robinson).

As a player Vaughan showed little power but had a good eye and a knack for getting on base. He led the NL three times in runs and scored over 100 runs on five occasions. He averaged 29 doubles prior to World War II and led the NL three times in triples. Although not a speedster by modern standards, he led the league in stolen bases in 1943 with all of 20. Through his career he averaged almost ten stolen bases a year. That’s not actually too bad in an era noted for its lack of stolen bases.

If you look at his walk to strikeout ratio, it’s excellent. Three times he led his league in walks, twice had 100 walks. His highest strikeout total is 38. For a career he averaged 3.4 walks per strikeout. In 1940 he scored 113 runs and had 95 RBIs while hitting only seven home runs. He produced 201 runs that season (R + RBI-HR). Pittsburgh finished fourth with a league leading 809 runs scored. Vaughan had a hand in 25% of his team’s runs. That doesn’t count things like singles that move a runner to third and the subsequent scoring of that runner. I checked the same statistic for each year Vaughan scored 100 runs or had 90 RBIs (1933-36, 1940, 1943). In those seasons Vaughan produced, in order, 26%, 27%, 25%, 24%, 25%, and 24% of his team’s runs. Even Babe Ruth in 1920 and 1921 only had 29% and 30% of his team’s runs. So Vaughan isn’t Ruthian, but it’s still a major contribution to his team.

I like Arky Vaughan a lot. Without question he is the great NL shortstop of the 1930s. Only Joe Cronin and Luke Appling in the AL are his rivals for the era. Bill James once placed him second on the all-time shortstop list (behind Wagner). I’m not sure I’d want to go that high, but he’s surely in the list of top half-dozen or so shortstops ever (along with, alphabetically, Banks, Jeter, Ripken, Yount) for the two spot.

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5 Responses to “Arky”

  1. William Miller Says:

    On my list of most underrated players all-time, by position, he ranks #1 at shortstop. Incredible talent and career that few baseball fans have ever heard of.
    Nicely done,
    Bill

  2. glenrussellslater Says:

    Well, I’ve heard the name (I think I heard Ralph Kiner mention his name a few times on Met telecasts), but I wouldn’t be able to tell you anything about him other than that he was a big league baseball player. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what position he played, or anything else. Under-publicized? You bet.

    Incidentally, you asked the question “Who didn’t have a run-in with Leo the Lip? The answer is me. I never met the guy. If I did, I probably would’ve had a run-in with him, no doubt, knowing MY disposition and LEO’s disposition. He was as colorful a manager as any who ever managed, but from what I’ve read, I don’t think I would’ve liked him had I ever met him.

    Speaking of Lovable Leo, I’m presently reading a book called “The Echoing Green: The Untold Story of Bobby Thomson, Ralph Branca, and The Shot Heard Round the World,” by Joshua Prager. This is some book, I wanna tell ya. In fact, I was going to recommend it to you in an e-mail, V, but as long as you brought up Leo The Lip, who was largely behind this rather creepy scheme, I figured I’d tell you here. The scheme is so weird and unnerving, with so many twists and turns; it is a fascinating book, but for some reason, it sends chills down my spine. It’s a book about baseball, of course, but it’s kind of eerie in a way that I can’t describe. All that I can say is this—- You’ve just GOT to read this book, V. And being that you’re a Dodger fan, they largely got the short end of the stick (or in this case the bat) in this creepy scheme that, in my book (it’s NOT my book; it belongs to the Brooklyn Public Library, but anyway…) has as many twists and surprises as anything that Ian Fleming wrote about Bond, JAMES Bond.

    Here’s the link to it on Amazon.com. V, you have just GOT to read it, and if you HAVE read it, please do not tell me how it ends. This is the first book I’ve read since “Cannery Row” or “The Grapes of Wrath” (both by my favorite author of fiction, John Steinbeck) that I would endorse so highly.

    http://www.amazon.com/Echoing-Green-Untold-Thomson-Vintage/dp/0375713077/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1398705805&sr=1-7&keywords=prager

    Glen

  3. steve Says:

    His walk to strikeout ratio that you point out makes me an instant fan. You got me wondering about batting titles by Pittsburgh Pirates. Bill Madlock, Dave Parker and maybe Freddy Sanchez a few years ago? Anyway, another great post v. I remember my grandpa who lived in Pittsburgh mentioning Arky Vaughan, but not much more than that.

  4. wkkortas Says:

    To paraphrse what James said about him years ago, there just aren’t any holes in Vaughn’s batting lines, and the man’s defensive numbers hold up as well. Baseball-reference shows him as 6th all time by JAWS among shortstops; I personally don’t think he rates any lower than that.

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