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Thanksgiving All-Stars

December 2, 2008
Pumpkin Pie Traynor?

Pumpkin Pie Traynor?

Ok, I’m a Johnny-Come-Lately here on this topic, but my calendar’s been a bit off. In light of all the holiday festivities, here’s a collection of the Best Thanksgiving-Themed Players. Notice that there’s no middle infield. See, I imagine that Pie and Stuffy have the horizontal range to make it work. Also, teams would be so freaked out about playing a collection of zombie All-Stars (Berryhill and Bean not withstanding), that they wouldn’t be able to hit. You know, what with the fear of brains being eaten if they reach base.

1B: Stuffy McInnis
Between 1921 and 1922, McInnis went 1700 fielding chances without making an error. That’s ridiculous. McInnis also posted a lifetime .307 batting average and won four World Series with three different teams.

3B: Pie Traynor
The late 1920s Pirates were really, really good. Well, their offense was: Paul and Lloyd Waner, Pie Traynor, and Kiki Cuyler (before he was traded to the Cubs to give Lloyd a starting job). Christ, what an outfield Big and Little Poison with Cuyler would’ve been.

Anyway, Pie Traynor was a steady star, if never the driving force on Pittsburgh. Sort of like the Betty White on Golden Girls. Traynor finished in the top 15 of MVP voting eight times – but six of those times he was behind at least one other teammate. He only slugged above .500 once (1930, ironically the year that the NL discontinued the MVP award – though the BBWAA took over from thereon out). But at the very least, he’s a delicious dessert at the hot corner.

By the way, I was just looking at walks and strikeouts totals from the late ‘20s and the current era. In 1998, the Yankees – arguably the best team of the past two decades – saw their offense tally 653 walks and 1025 strikeouts. In 1928, only five of the 16 MLB teams had more strikeouts than walks. And of these, only one had a delta larger than 50. Oddly, the aggregate OBPs of the American League teams in 1998 and 1928 had just a four point difference (.340 vs. .344). Of course, the aggregate OBPs go up and down depending on whether the era was pitcher-favorable (late ‘60s) or batter-favorable (‘90s, et al). But maybe more interesting was the stolen base efficacy; in 1928, the AL had an aggregate stolen base percentage of 59%. That’s awful. In 1998, the AL had an aggregate stolen base percentage of 68.9%.

C: Damon Berryhill
Man, I really thought I had a good story about Berryhill, but I don’t. I’ll just make fun of the fact that he sounds like he should be a junior at some Connecticut boarding school getting beaten up for always asking the teacher if the essay is due tomorrow. That or a porn star.

LF: Bill Bean
The other one. This one doesn’t have an “e” at the end of his name. And never became a general manager. And is gay. In 1999, Bean became only the second – astounding, really – professional baseball player to come out of the closet, after Glenn Burke (who deserves a movie made about his life – jeeeeez, he had it tough). Bean’s best year in the majors, 1993, saw him hit five homers for the Padres. Two years later, at the age of 31, he packed it in, despite very good numbers in AAA. In 2003, Bean wrote a well-received chronicle of his life as a closeted athlete called Going the Other Way. There are four blurbs on the back of the book: Jim Bouton (author of the best autobiographical baseball book in Ball Four); Richard Greenberg (playwright of Take Me Out, which envisions a star gay ballplayer); Peter Lefcourt (television writer and author of The Dreyfuss Affair, a satire about a gay ballplayer); and Brad Ausmus! The only then-active ballplayer! Who’s Jewish in a very Christian – often evangelical – dominated sport.

By the way, Bean now restores vintage houses in Miami Beach. Anybody need work done?

CF: Turkey Stearnes
Best known in a Detroit Stars uniform, he played for five teams in the Negro Leagues, and had a stance and running motion more maligned than Al Simmons and Honus Wagner put together. The best Thanksgiving name for the best player on the team, Stearnes won six or seven home run titles, three batting titles, and in 1932 what the Negro Leagues Players’ Association website calls the “Quadruple Crown” which refers to leading the league in homers, doubles, triples, and stolen bases. I’m not convinced those are the stats that should go into the Quadruple Crown, but that all makes for a lethal combination of power and speed. And he batted fourth! What’s he doing stealing all those bases in that spot? According to the Baseball Library (for which I worked back in the day), “Research confirms that he had a .350 career batting average, a .664 slugging average, and 172 home runs in 750 games.”

Well, that number could also be 183. And he was nicknamed Turkey either because of the way he ran (arms flapping) or because of his weird distended stomach when he was a child. He was quiet, subdued, and supposedly took his bat to bed with him. Though I think that’s a rumor of every great hitter who played pre-1950. This is a good article about him, including the tidbit that he married pitcher Double Duty Radcliffe’s niece. Cool.

RF: Gavvy Cravath
In 1913, the Phillies outfielder led the NL in slugging, OPS, total bases, homers, RBIs, runs created, and hits. He finished second in MVP voting to Brooklyn first baseman Jake Daubert, who led the league in batting average, with a .350 mark. Second in the league? Cactus Gavvy, with a .340 mark. Cravath destroyed the NL that year. I mean, really now. Oh, he’s in the Thanksgiving lineup because for most of my childhood I thought his name was Gravy.

UTIL: Squanto Wilson
Yeah, you heard me. This Bowdoin grad’s real name was George Francis, but they called him Squanto, the name of the Patuxet Indian who showed the Pilgrims how to plant crops during the winter of 1619. Wilson played five games in 1911 and one game in 1914. He batted .188 (all singles), and was actually a catcher in his first “season” with the Tigers.

SP: Chief Bender
Of all the “chiefs” in baseball – and there are 28 of them (though Freddy Garcia’s and Chad Cordero’s nicknames don’t have the same racial overtones that were afforded to the Native Americans of the early 20th century) – this one was the best, and the only Hall of Famer. Bender was also the first Minnesotan elected to the Hall of Fame, was a 19-year-old Ojibwe when he first broke into the bigs, and went to the same weird Indian-assimilating school (Carlisle Indian Industrial School) that Jim Thorpe did.

RP: Hot Potato Luke Hamlin
Hamlin, nicknamed Hot Potato because he juggled the ball on the mound before pitching, won 20 games in 1939, which accounted for more than a quarter of his lifetime wins (73). He was pretty much dreadful every other year, including one game in 1944 with the A’s, when he gave up 19 hits but still recorded a complete game against the Yanks. He lost that one 14-0.

And here’s something else:
LUKE Hamlin played with Pee Wee Reese who played with Don Drysdale who played with Bill Buckner who played with Roger Clemens who played with JOBA Chamberlain.
Yes? No? Forget it.

Manager: Yam Yaryan
Nineteen years after he played (with minimal success) in the majors, Yaryan was still playing the minors, and batting over .300 – as a 48-year-old catcher-manager for the Brewton Millers in the low Class-D Florida-Alabama League. Three years earlier, he won the home run title in the same division.

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