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Just The Sports: Two Forgotten Players

Just The Sports

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Two Forgotten Players

One of the injustices that have resulted from this country's newfound love for Babe Ruth is that other great baseball players are being forgotten and their statistics being diminished. Contrary to how the media may portray has chosen to present its information, there were other baseball players who picked up a bat and left their impact on the game. Two such baseball players are Ted Williams and Larry Doby.

If only for a different set of circumstances, perhaps we would be talking about Ted Williams as the greatest hitter in the history of baseball. We will never know how Williams's career would have played out had he been able to play out all his prime years. However, we do know what did happen when Ted Williams stepped into the batter's box. He performed. During the first four years of his career, Williams posted a .370 EqA, one of the fastest starts ever, past or present. Unfortunately for Ted's batting statistics, his playing career took a three-year hiatus during which he traded his bat and glove for a plane's cockpit since he was a fighter pilot during World War II.

Despite his extended vacation from the game, when Ted Williams came back, he picked up right where he had left off. During the next six years, Williams put up extraordinary batting averages, on-base percentages, and slugging percentages. Then, in 1952 because of the Korean War, Williams again forfeited a year of his baseball career to fight for his country. He was thirty-three at the time, and by every statistical account still very much in the prime of his career. As if every year was anything but a prime year for Ted Williams.

To get some idea of the home run production Ted Williams probably would have put up had he played, I will take the liberty of prorating the numbers we do have. Taking out Williams's truncated 1952 season, he averaged 428 at-bats per season. In addition, he averaged a home run for every 14.8 at-bats. Let's say Williams remained healthy during the four seasons he was fighting in a war and got as many at-bats as his average indicates. This would give him 1,712 additional at-bats with which to do damage and would in all likelihood have allowed him to hit 116 more home runs, raising his career total to 637. Although this is still well short of Ruth's 715, it is nothing to sneeze at and I am only using what Williams averaged as a basis for my home run number. He gave up most of his power years so perhaps he would have hit more than 637.

Even though Williams did not take full advantage of his youth, he still ranks among the best in many statistical categories. He ranks first in on-base percentage, second in slugging percentage, second in OPS and adjusted OPS+, and sixth in runs created.

Larry Doby may not have left the statistical imprint on baseball that Ted Williams left, but this in no way makes him less important. Even the most casual of sports fans can tell you that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Yet, Larry Doby also broke the color barrier because he was the first black player in the American League. On July 5, 1947, eleven weeks after Robinson made his first appearance in the major leagues, Doby made his own debut. The pressure on Doby, and Robinson, was greater even than the racism they had to experience from players and fans alike. Their success or failure was going to determine whether or not other black players would be allowed to play Major League Baseball. Luckily, Doby acquitted himself as well as Jackie Robinson.

During his career, Doby posted a career .308 EqA, only incrementally worse than Robinson's .309 EqA. Doby may not have been as good a hitter as Robinson batting average-wise, but he hit with a lot more power. This is evidenced by his 253 home runs, more than Robinson's 137 home runs. The number is slightly skewed due to the fact Doby started his career at the age of 23 compared to Robinson making his debut when he was 28. Still, Doby had a higher slugging percentage (.490 to .474) and his isolated power edge was even greater (.207 to .163). Doby also had a slightly better OPS+ (136 to 132) so his career is not only equal to Jackie Robinson's, but may even be better than Robinson's. However, his being second to Jackie Robinson in breaking the color barrier has cost him a lot of recognition.

So the next time someone tries to force Babe Ruth down your throat, kindly remind him/her there was other great baseball players.


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