#Hot Corner

The Jack Morris of the 1950s

During his career, the BBWAA never considered him among the very best in his league, as evidenced by postseason award voting. Only years after he retired did a narrative develop that he was one of the great players of his era. Sound familiar?

From The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract:

... the idea that [Pie] Traynor was the greatest third baseman of all time originated in the mid-1950s, about 20 years after Traynor retired. All-time teams chosen prior to 1955 never or almost never list Traynor--for example, Edward Barrow, in My Fifty Years in Baseball (1951), took credit for discovering Pie Traynor, told a long-winded story about how Traynor was stolen from him by a dishonest minor league manager who violated a gentleman's agreement. But when it came time to choose his all-time team, Barrow listed Jimmy Collins as the greatest third-baseman ever, although he did pick Traynor second. Babe Ruth with Bob Considine in The Babe Ruth Story (1948) also picked Collins as the greatest third-baseman of all time, with no mention of Traynor. Connie Mack in My 66 Years in the Big Leagues (1950) also picked Collins as the greatest third basemen of all time, again with no mention of Traynor.

By the time I became a baseball fan ten years later, 1960, it had become common to name Traynor as the greatest third-baseman who ever lived. Ty Cobb with Al Stump (1961) chose Traynor as the best ever. Rogers Hornsby in My War with Baseball (1962) did the same, as did Casey Stengel in Casey at the Bat (1961). There are still people who will insist that he was, but I just don't see why.

[snip]

I am well aware that most historians rank Traynor as a greater player than [Stan] Hack. Traynor is in the Hall of Fame, Hack is not, and Traynor, before Schmidt and Brett, was often cited as the greatest third baseman of all time. The question is, is this legitimate?

... Traynor hit .320 to Hack's .301 mostly because National League batting averages in the 1920s were a lot higher than they were in the 1930s ... Hack's batting averages, compared to the league norms, are as impressive as Traynor's, or more so.

Traynor drove in more runs, but Hack scored more runs ... Baseball writers have always overrated RBI, and ignored the fact that runs scored are essentially a function of men on base.

Stan Hack was not only as good a hitter as Traynor, he was better. Traynor created about 1,172 runs in his career, which is 5.61 runs per 27 outs, playing in an era when the league norm was 4.74 runs per game. These are good numbers, but Stan hack's numbers are pretty much the same, except that he drew 600 more walks. Hack created an estimated 1,240 runs in his career, which is 6.30 runs per 27 outs, playing in an era when the league norm was 4.37 rus per game. Traynor was 182 runs better than an average hitter in his career; Hack was 380 runs better ...

... Anyway, taking everything into consideration in a systematic way, I do agree that Traynor was a better fielder than Hack--but nowhere near enough better to off-set Hack's advantages as a hitter. I will also note that Hack played for four teams that won the National League pennant, whereas Traynor played for only two.

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