Posts Tagged ‘Hal Trosky’

The Thin Red Line

December 27, 2012
Gee Walker

Gee Walker

As most of you know, I’m very pleased that Deacon White finally made the Hall of Fame. But did you look at who actually got in this time? You have a player who got the first hit in the history of the National Association, the first truly professional baseball league; an executive; and an umpire. Good for all of them. But if you look closely at the nominees for the period 1876-1946 you’ll see we are beginning to approach the thin red line of 1920-1946 players.

The thin red line is my phrase (it’s actually a British military phrase from the Crimean War)I use to denote the line beyond which you are beginning to elect players to the Hall of Fame who don’t deserve to be enshrined. Some (including me) might remark that in a couple of cases we’ve already slid below the line.  But the players in Cooperstown are already there and I can’t see taking anyone out.

Take a look at the players from the 1920-1946 era that were just nominated for Cooperstown: Marty Marion, Bucky Walters, Wes Ferrell. Are they truly the best players from the era not in the Hall of Fame? Maybe they are. I could make a case for them (and I could make a similar case for others). I could also make a case for keeping each out of Cooperstown (and could make similar cases for others). And that makes them “thin red line” candidates. Here’s a full team (eight position players and three pitchers) whose career is primarily in the 1920-46 era:

infield (first around to third): Hal Trosky, Marty McManus, Marty Marion, Harland Clift

outfield: Ken Williams, Gee Walker, Bob Johnson

catcher: Wally Schang (who actually plays quite a lot in the 19 teens)

pitchers: Wes Ferrell, Bucky Walters, Paul Derringer

Not a bad team, right? Put them all together and you’re going to win a lot of games.

But is this a team of Hall of Fame quality players? Maybe yes, maybe no. I wouldn’t be overly upset if any of them were elected, but it also wouldn’t bother me if none of them were chosen. They epitomize the “thin red line” of the Hall of Fame. Let them in and I might reply “OK, I guess”. Keep them out and I might reply “OK, I guess.”

My point in all this is that it appears the Hall of Fame has finally mined the 1920-1946 era of all the truly qualified players. What’s left are guys that are marginal at best and the idea of “marginal Hall of Famers” is really kind of silly, isn’t it? But my concern is that the Hall is desperate to hold the big ceremony every summer and to do that you must have someone to enshrine. If the writer’s don’t elect anyone (and with the weird ballot this year they might not) then the veteran’s committee nominees become critical. I’m afraid the Hall may put pressure on the Veteran’s Committee (a much smaller group) to “Put in someone, anyone, so we can at least get Deacon White’s great great grandchildren here to celebrate.”  And if that happens then every time we get to the 1876-1946 era the players from the 1920-46 period will be players that touch the “thin red line” of the Hall. That means we’ll be getting 19th  Century and Deadball Era players or marginal 1920s, 1930s, 1940s players making the Hall. The first two are fine by me, there are certainly enough decent 19th Century and Deadball players worth considering. But the latter worries me. We don’t need to lower the red line any further.

Kick, Mule

February 27, 2012

Mule Suttles

I don’t suppose there’s anyone who doesn’t believe that Josh Gibson was the ultimate power hitter in the Negro Leagues. And I won’t dispute that. I will, however, point out that the leader in documented home runs is Mule Suttles (other sources say Turkey Stearnes).

George Suttles was born in Louisiana in 1900. He had little formal education, not uncommon for a black man in turn of the 20th Century Louisiana (Huey Long and the free text books were 25 years in the future). He was a coal miner and did some semipro ball playing until he was 21. He got a cup of coffee with the 1921 New York Bacharach Giants (one hit in four at bats in a single game) then went back to semipro ball. In 1923 he caught on with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro National League. This time he stayed around. He put in three years with Birmingham before heading to St. Louis where he finished his Negro National League career.

In 1930 the Negro National League folded and he went to the Eastern Colored League’s Baltimore franchise (not the Elite Giants) in time to watch the ECL go under also. He went back to St. Louis to play for the Stars in the newly reformed NNL After 1931, it too folded and Suttles settled in with the East-West League’s Detroit Wolves and Washington Pilots. Want to guess what happened to the East-West League?

By 1933 he was back in the new NNL (this time it stayed around). He began with the Chicago American Giants, then in 1936 he went to the Newark Eagles, where he stayed through 1940 He spent 1941 with the New York Black Yankees, then went back to Newark in 1942, finishing his career with Newark in 1944. Retired, he did some umpiring, then retired from baseball. He died in 1966 and made the Hall of Fame in 2006, forty years after his death.

Mule Suttles was a big man for his era, 6’3″ and 215 pounds (officially). By the end of his career he’d put on weight and may have been closer to 250 than 215.  He carried a 50 ounce bat (by comparison, Babe Ruth’s was 54 ounces) and was immensely strong, hence the “Mule” nickname. He made the East-West All-Star game numerous times, being one of its most effective hitters. He’s credited with a .412 batting average in the game, an .883 slugging percentage, and is supposed to have hit the first home run in the All-Star game. he played left field, but spent much of his career at first base. He wasn’t overly fast, but was known for his good hands. In close games in late innings, Suttles coming to bat elicited the cry “Kick, Mule” from both fans and teammates.

As with all Negro League players, his numbers are spotty. Baseball Reference’s Bullpen has some stats on him. They are incomplete but give something of a picture of  his skill. In 763 documented games he hit .327, slugged .571, had 894 hits, 257 walks, in 2731 at bats. Again no OBP is given but 894 plus 257, divided by 2731 gives a partial OBP of .421 for an .992 partial OPS. There are 133 home runs, 167 doubles, 561 runs, and  493 RBIs that are documented. The same page gives his 162 game numbers as 119 runs, 190 hits, 105 RBIs, 35 doubles, 28 home runs, and 10 stolen bases. 

Suttles is a good example of a fairly common type. He’s a big slugger who hits for power and decent average. He’s an every year All-Star, but his teams usually fall short of the championship. Ralph Kiner is one of those, so is Rudy York or Hal Trosky or Barry Bonds. York made it to a World Series, but his team (Boston) lost. So did Bonds. There are a number of others like Gil Hodges or Ted Kluszewski, some currently playing. One of the most interesting things about studying the Negro Leagues is how quickly you discover they’re made up of the same kinds of players as the white leagues. I find that important because it reminds me just exactly how much alike baseball players are in their skills, black or white. That reassures me that maybe we really are all in this together.