Novelist George Eliot was once credited with saying, “Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” That’s why we write these obituaries. Let’s not forget these guys.
After each election, once we realize that there are certain players who will never receive our vote for the HoME, we pay tribute to them through these obituaries. To make our process going forward is a bit easier, we remove them from intellectual consideration, though not actual consideration. Their tribute is a brief write-up in this column along with a little trivia about their careers or lives.
There are 744 players on our list for HoME consideration. With fourteen elections complete, we’ve elected 81 and put to rest 227 others, as you’ll note by looking over our RIP category and reading below. We now have 436 players to consider for our remaining 128 spots in the HoME. In other words, we can elect a bit more than 29% of the remaining players we’re considering.
And after each election, I’ll offer the following chart to keep you apprised of our progress.
Year Carried New Considered Elected Obituaries Continuing to Over Nominees this Election Next Election 1966 94 26 120 7 26 87 1961 91 24 115 6 15 94 1956 92 32 124 7 26 91 1951 93 27 120 9 19 92 1946 94 26 120 8 19 93 1941 82 29 111 5 12 94 1936 75 29 104 8 14 82 1931 69 17 86 2 9 75 1926 71 25 96 9 18 69 1921 66 27 93 4 18 71 1916 53 31 84 5 13 66 1911 47 20 67 5 9 53 1906 33 28 61 3 11 47 1901 0 54 54 3 18 33
Dead in 1966
Only nine catchers ever participated in more All-Star games than Walker Cooper’s eight. More interesting about Cooper is that he was the first player ever to hit grand slams for five different teams. Sure, Dave Kingman and Dave Winfield have since matched that feat. All that means is you have a good trivia question to use to stump your friends. You’re welcome.
It’s kind of surprising that Lave Cross isn’t in the Hall of Fame. When he retired, he was fifth in hits and runs batted in and third in games and at-bats. As far as third basemen go, he has more putouts, assists, chances, and a higher fielding percentage than anyone at the time he hung ‘em up. Maybe voters failed to take notice because Cross moved around a lot. He played for nine different franchises, in only six different cities though. He suited up for the Philadelphia entry in the National League, American League, American Association, and the Players League. Fifth in hits among all players when he retired, he now stands sixth among 3B, behind Molitor, Brett, Boggs, Brooks, and Chipper. Not bad.
Known as “Swamp Fox” because he once tried to flood the Candlestick Park infield to slow Dodger runners, Alvin Dark was a 1950s National League shortstop who won the 1948 NL Rookie of the Year Award. He might have excelled as a person more than as a player, becoming the first person ever to win the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award for exhibiting Gehrig’s character on and off the field. Not that it’s so important, but at different times in his career, Dark was a teammate of Warren Spahn, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, and Ernie Banks. And he managed Reggie Jackson and Dave Winfield.
Was World War II important? Murry Dickson, a righty starter and winner of 160 games in the bigs, was drafted into the army in 1943. But since his Cardinals were in the World Series and Hitler, I suppose, just stopped killing, Dickson was given a special furlough so he could pitch. And pitch he did! Down 2-0 in the ninth inning of the all-important fifth game, Dickson entered with two on and only one out. He induced a harmless foul pop to the dangerous pitcher, Spud Chandler. He walked Frank Crosetti. And all poor Bud Metheny could do was ground to first. Dickson did it! He preserved the 2-0 deficit, which would become the final. Dickson didn’t pitch again, and the Cards lost. Luckily he got that furlough.
“Dom DiMaggio was a Boston Red Sox great who many baseball insiders argue should be in the Hall of Fame.” That’s a line from a YES Network article by Matt Hughes from May. I take no issue with Mr. Hughes himself, whose other work, no doubt, is outstanding. But I don’t think he should be allowed to make such unsupported generalizations. Who are these insiders? If you ask me, a guy who loves DiMaggio and owns an autographed ball of his on which I spent far too much, “The Little Professor” is about the 50th best center fielder in history. Conservatively, a person who wants that many center fielders in the Hall likely wants about 600 players in Cooperstown. Rick Rhoden is tied for #596 in career WAR. Congrats, Rick!
Quick, who drove in the most runs in baseball over the 14 seasons from 1946-1959. If you really thought about it, knowing that it was Stan Musial wouldn’t be such a tough get. Okay then. Who’s second? Somehow, it’s Del Ennis, a corner outfielder who spent most of his career with the Phillies. He hit 20 homers nine times and drove in 100 runs seven times, but he only made three All-Star teams. His one World Series appearance saw just two hits in 15 trips to the plate, as the Yankees swept Ennis and the Phillies in 1950.
Primarily a first baseman for five teams over fifteen years, Jack Fournier was a lefty hitting slugger who won a HR crown in 1924 and finished in the top five in his league five times. He was reputedly a terrible fielder, said to let in as many runs with his glove as he provided with his bat. As a hitter, think Jim Rice. As a fielder, think again about how we evaluate defensive statistics. Michael Humphreys, author of Wizardry, and inventor of Defensive Regression Analysis, finds Fournier to be about average. Perhaps the last two sentences say more about the election of Rice to the Hall than they do about Fournier.
Carl Furillo or “The Reading Rifle”, as he was sometimes known, played his entire career for the Dodgers, the first dozen years in Brooklyn and the last three in Los Angeles. He won the 1953 NL batting title and was a solid all-around player with a fine reputation. His career, however, didn’t end positively. He tore a calf muscle in 1960 and was released by the Dodgers. Because it was a baseball injury, he sued, saying the release wasn’t justified. The courts agreed and awarded Furillo $21,000.
George Kell is in the Hall of Fame, and you’re not. But it’s not like Kell has a much better claim to it. He belongs about as much as Bobby Bonilla does. He did make ten All-Star teams, which is nice. Career highlights include winning the 1949 AL batting title so Ted Williams couldn’t win his third triple crown, having his jaw broken by a Joe DiMaggio line drive, and working more than 30 years as a Tiger television broadcaster.
Open heart surgery is sort of common today. For those unfamiliar with the term “open”, well, it actually means that the chest is cut open. That’s what happened to relief great Ellis Kinder in 1968. He died. Do you know why? Because it was 1968 and doctors cut open his chest. Yikes! Not quite as scary, while pitching for the Red Sox in 1947, a seagull flew over Fenway Park and dropped a fish on Kinder. He still got the win, something he did 101 other times during his dozen years in the majors.
It was a fan who gave Tony Lazzeri his nickname, “Poosh ‘Em Up” encouraging the Yankee 2B to get a hit to advance the runners. Lazzeri is remembered for that nickname, for his role with the Murderers’ Row Yankees, and perhaps for his natural cycle, when he hit for the cycle in order. Other highlights include being named to the first All-Star team in 1933, driving in an American League record 11 runs in a 1936 game during which he became the first major leaguer with two grand slams in one game, hitting the second grand slam in World Series history later that year, and scoring the deciding run in the 1937 World Series.
Not to be confused with the already dead lefty pitcher Dutch Leonard, this Dutch Leonard threw from the other side and won 191 games in a career that stretched from 1933-1953. He threw a great knuckleball that allowed him to pitch in the majors until he was 44, but he twice led the AL in losses without ever topping 20 wins. Of note, he won the first game of the July 4, 1939 doubleheader after which Lou Gehrig delivered his famous speech.
Sal Maglie owned the plate when he was on the mound. The righty was known as “The Barber” because he didn’t mind throwing at batters who crowded at the plate. He only reached double figures in wins five times, most notably when he led the NL in ERA in 1950 and wins the next season. As a bit of trivia, he was the pitcher on the mound for the opponents when Don Larsen threw his World Series perfect game in 1956. Maglie gave up five hits that day, including a solo home run to Mickey Mantle in the 2-0 loss.
1951 AL Rookie of the Year, Gil McDougald, is best remembered for hitting the line drive that struck Cleveland pitcher Herb Score in the right eye during a 1957 game. Two years earlier, he was struck in the left ear by batting practice liner by teammate Bob Cerv. Score regained his sight, though he was never the same pitcher; McDougald eventually lost his hearing. He made five All-Star teams during his ten years in the majors, and he reached the World Series eight times. However, he hit just .237 in 215 trips to the plate. His career highlight may have been in Game 6 of the 1958 fall classic. In the tenth inning, McDougald homered against Warren Spahn to help provide the Yankee edge; they ended up winning the seventh game and their 18th World Series.
Don Newcombe won both the MVP and Cy Young Awards for the 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers. Because he also won the 1949 NL Rookie of the Year Award, he’s the only player in the game’s history to win each of those three trophies. In the post-season, Newk really struggled. In five World Series starts, he posted a record of 0-4 with an ERA of 8.59. After retiring, Newcombe went to Japan to play for the 1962 Chunichi Dragons – as a first baseman and outfielder who his .262 with 12 homers.
Bobo Newsom was one weird dude. He called nearly everyone, himself included, Bobo. Perhaps that’s why he played for Robins, Cubs, Browns, Senators, Red Sox, Browns, Tigers, Senators, Dodgers, Browns, Senators, A’s, Senators, Yankees, Giants, Senators, and A’s in that order. He and Jack Powell are the only two pitchers in MLB history with 200+ wins and even more losses. He never led the league in wins, though he won 20 or more three times. However, he led the league in losses on four occasions, losing 20 three times.
Andy Pafko had a fine career playing all three outfield positions as well as third base. In 17 seasons, he made four All-Star teams and hit 213 homers. He was the left fielder who watched Bobby Thomson’s Shot Heard ‘Round the World fly over his head. And of note, his is the #1 baseball card in the first set produced by the Topps company in 1952.
A starting pitcher for the Red Sox from 1947-1956, lefty Mel Parnell led the AL in wins and ERA in 1949. He won 123 games, but his greatest contribution to Red Sox lore was dubbing the right field pole in Fenway Park the “Pesky Pole” after weak-hitting shortstop Johnny Pesky homered around the pole to help Parnell to a win.
Phil Rizzuto was a career Yankee, an outstanding defender at shortstop, a seven-time World Series winner, and a colorful broadcaster who had a wonderfully effective Hall of Fame campaign that got him inducted. It shouldn’t have. He’s a reasonable comp for Dave Concepcion, I suppose, which says about all that’s necessary. He won the 1950 AL MVP and made five All-Star teams, but Hold Cow!, his selection makes the 1994 Veterans Committee look like a bunch of huckleberries.
Al Rosen played only ten seasons – and reached 50 at-bats only seven times – for the Indians from 1947-1956. During that time, he led the AL in both homers and ribbies twice. Were it not for Mickey Vernon’s .337 batting average in 1953, Rosen and his .336 mark would have won the triple crown. Rosen was hitting just .329 with three games left, but he shellacked Tiger pitching to the tune of 9-15 to make it close. His 10.1 WAR that season makes it one for the ages and make Rosen one of only nine AL hitters since 1950 to post as many as 10 WAR.
Bob Rush was a righty pitcher from 1948-1960, mostly for the Cubs. He won 127 games and made a pair of All-Star teams, but his most interesting contribution to baseball history came on the bases. On June 11, 1950, he and Brave starter Warren Spahn stole bases against each other. It was the only time in baseball history that happened other than May 3, 2004 when Jason Marquis and Greg Maddux did the same.
Vern Stephens could hit like very few shortstops ever, and he holds the record for RBI by a SS in a single season, 159 in 1949 for the Red Sox. Looking at our database of shortstops, only Nomar Garciaparra among those not in or going into the HoME had a higher career OPS+ than Vern’s 119. For the 30 years from 1941-1970, he trails only Ernie Banks and Pee Wee Reese in offensive WAR at his position.
Best known for the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World”, the home run against Ralph Branca that capped the amazing Giant comeback to beat the Dodgers for the 1951 NL pennant, Bobby Thomson, “The Staten Island Scot”, wasn’t a one-hit wonder. He homered 264 times in his 15-year career, made three All-Star teams, and led the NL in triples in 1952. In spite of never reaching even 5% of the vote, Thomson managed to remain on the Hall of Fame ballot for fourteen years.
The 1952 season was an odd one for Virgil Trucks, a righty who spent 17 years in the majors and won 177 games. That season Trucks pitched a pair of no-hitters for the Tigers. And he won only three other games. In fact, Trucks had a record of 3-0 with one no-decision when he pitched at least nine innings without allowing a run. When he allowed a run, he went 2-19. The Tigers repaid him the next season by helping him to win 20 games for the only time in his career.
The career of George Van Haltren spanned 17 seasons, from 1887-1903. He was in the Players League and the American Association, he played with the mound at two distances, and he was around for the formation of the American League, though he never played in it. He’s tied for fourth in outfield assists with Tom Brown, trailing only Tris Speaker, Ty Cobb, and Jimmy Ryan.
Mickey Vernon had a fine bat, though he didn’t really have the power we think of from a 1B. In a 20-year career lasting from 1939-1960 and interrupted by military service, the sweet swinging lefty stroked 2495 hits to go with three doubles titles, a pair of batting titles, and seven All-Star games. No slouch at all in the field, Vernon holds the major record for participating in the most double plays – 2044.
That’s our death toll this election. Please visit our Honorees page to see the plaques of those who have made it into the HoME, and check back here after the 1966 election for more obituaries.