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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Baseball great Travis dies at 93

Cecil Travis…

Phil Niekro was just thinking about Cecil Travis when news came Saturday that one of baseball’s greatest shortstops died at 93 at his home near Fayetteville.

It is, after all, almost time for Niekro to cast his Hall of Fame vote as a member of the veterans committee. And this just might be the year Travis finally earns a spot in Cooperstown — 65 seasons after he became the answer to one of baseball’s toughest trivia questions.

“I only have one vote, but Cecil’s very close,” said Niekro, the Braves’ former Hall of Fame ace. “He had quite a record. He didn’t play a long time, but his numbers were outstanding.”

Repoz Posted: December 17, 2006 at 02:48 AM | 19 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: hall of fame, history

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. Gold Star - just Gold Star Posted: December 17, 2006 at 03:24 AM (#2263504)
Has anyone run his numbers, up through the 1941 season, to see what he might've done if not for the war?
   2. Kiko Sakata Posted: December 17, 2006 at 03:52 AM (#2263520)
Well, if you just look at his comparables thru age 27 (1941), and add what they did post-age 27 to what Travis did thru 27, you get a final career line of .314/.379/.428 (vs. an actual career line for Travis of .314/.370/.416) with 2,516 hits (vs. 1,544 actual for Travis).

At age 27, his comparables included Billy Herman, Frankie Frisch, Joe Sewell, Eddie Collins (1-4) (and Travis had an OPS+ greater than Herman, Frisch, and Sewell thru age 27), along with Robby Alomar (6), Larry Doyle (7), and Arky Vaughan (8).

So, yeah, his HOF case comes down entirely to how much WWII credit you want to give him (and, I guess somewhat, how good of a defensive shortstop he was).
   3. Dr. Chaleeko Posted: December 17, 2006 at 04:39 AM (#2263547)
I'm curious about his defense. He played a lot 3B, which you can break out this way:
-early career, blocked by Cronin (33-34)
-then the team puts veteran Ossie Bluege there (35)
-splits time at SS and OF (36)
-full-time SS (37-39)
-3B (some SS) with Jimmy Pohfal starting at SS (40)
-full-time SS (41)

then the war. They didn't seem to want to commit to him at short. Prospectus has him as a 105 RATE shortstop, and that's good. Same at 3B. So it's unclear to me without further research why they were uncomfortable with his glove. Maybe he just looked awkward or seemed stiff?

Offensively, I'd love to know his home/road splits. Griffith Stadium was such a killer for hitters, it would be interesting to see what kind of power he showed away from it.

His 1941 year is a classic age-27 fluky spike. He set career highs in pretty much everything. OPS+ 40 points above next highest.... Any credit scenario for him needs to account for that. Still, shortstops with 110 or so career OPS+s don't grow on trees, and given the progress his career was making, it seems pretty likely he'd have ended up in that vicinity. Still, even in the best case scenario, he'd have to be considered the fourth best SS of the cluster of guys who debuted around 1930 (third in MLB): Vaughan, Cronin, Appling, and Willie Wells were all better shortstops.

Dick Bartell is close to Travis, too, and your preference for Travis or Bartell would surely be dependent on how much war credit you extend to Travis. Maybe Perucho Cepeda should be on the list too, but there's little hard data on him to look at yet, so I'll mention him in passing only. For that matter, Silvio Garcia might be a good one to look at as well, though I suspect he's not quite as good as Bartell or Travis. Boudreau, Stephens, Reese, Rizzuto, Joost, Peskey all debuted after 1935; they don't seem like they are quite within Travis' generation.

Are fourth-best shortstops HOFers?
   4. Walt Davis Posted: December 17, 2006 at 05:00 AM (#2263558)
So, yeah, his HOF case comes down entirely to how much WWII credit you want to give him (and, I guess somewhat, how good of a defensive shortstop he was).

Well, it would take more than that probably. War or no war, Travis never played after 33 and just half a season at age 33. He played 1328 games and even assuming full health for the war years, that's only 600 more games max (he was usually in the mid-130's in his actual seasons though). Shortstops with 1900 games played usually don't make the HOF, though Boudreau would be a pretty good comp as would Vern Stephens who didn't make it.
   5. Kiko Sakata Posted: December 17, 2006 at 05:26 AM (#2263574)
Well, it would take more than that probably. War or no war, Travis never played after 33 and just half a season at age 33. He played 1328 games and even assuming full health for the war years, that's only 600 more games max (he was usually in the mid-130's in his actual seasons though). Shortstops with 1900 games played usually don't make the HOF, though Boudreau would be a pretty good comp as would Vern Stephens who didn't make it.

Well, the case could be made - and this is a much more tentative case, and there are many, many people on this site who know vastly more about this sort of thing than me - that, in the absence of World War II, Travis would have, in fact, played more than 226 games from age 31 onward. His comparables thru age 27 (by the way, there's a glitch at bb-ref - if you click his comparables thru age 27, it defaults to age 30, which produces no comparables (Travis didn't play at age 30)) played an average of 611 games from age 31 on (vs. 226 for Travis).

Just looking at his statistical line, there seems like there should be an interesting story there. It seems to me that, maybe, he came back from the war and just couldn't readjust - didn't have it in his heart to play baseball any more. I know nothing about him - what did he do in the war? what did he do after he retired?

Just looking at his stat line, though, he was on a Hall-of-Fame path through age 27, and the war just destroyed what was a really promising career. But, of course, that's highly speculative.
   6. sunnyday2 Posted: December 17, 2006 at 05:38 AM (#2263585)
Cecil Travis would not be the worst player in the HoF. There's high praise. But c'mon, are they gonna write on his plaque that his chief qualification was dying while balloting was underway? It's goofy to put him in ahead of Joe Gordon.
   7. The Yankee Clapper Posted: December 17, 2006 at 08:08 AM (#2263655)
War or no war, Travis never played after 33 and just half a season at age 33.

World War II cost Travis more than just the lost seasons. He had frostbite on the toes while serving in the infantry (Battle of the Bulge among other places). Without the War, he might well have stayed healthy and joined his early career comparables in the HoF.
   8. Josh Wilker Posted: December 17, 2006 at 05:15 PM (#2263748)
He was thought highly of by his peers. From Tommy Henrich's excellent entry in Donald Honig's Baseball Betwen the Lines:

"My first year up [1937] I hear the guys moaning about Travis. Ruffing especially. There weren't too many hitters who gave Ruffing trouble, but you mention Travis and he just shook his head. I'm watching him pitch to that guy and Travis is slicing line drives to left field like it's the easiest thing in the word.

"'Hey Charlie,' I said to him one time, 'how come you never change up on Cecil Travis?'

"He smiled. This was my first year up. remmemer. 'We did that, Tom,' he said. 'Believe me, we tried it. We pitch him fast balls to get him to single to left; when we change up he triples to right.'"
   9. Dr. Chaleeko Posted: December 18, 2006 at 01:28 AM (#2263988)
A negative argument I see regarding Travis is this: Is he the best SS not in the HOF? No. Not by a country mile.

Retired shortstops who I think are probably better candidates than Cecil Travis for the HOF (through 2007 HOF ballot, *indicates Negro League player, includes war credits as appropriate):

Cal Ripken
Bill Dahlen
Grant Johnson*
John Beckwith*
Jack Glasscock
Dobie Moore*
Alan Trammell
Herman Long
Vern Stephens
Bus Clarkson*

Retired shortstops who I think are probably in the same vicinity as Cecil Travis (through 2007 HOF ballot, *indicates Negro League player, includes war credit as appropriate):

Johnny Pesky
Jim Fregosi
Ed McKean
Maury Wills
Dave Concepcion
Bert Campeneris
Dick Bartell

Your mileage will almost certainly vary.
   10. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: December 18, 2006 at 03:16 AM (#2264061)
But c'mon, are they gonna write on his plaque that his chief qualification was dying while balloting was underway?

What's the point now? At least if he were on his deathbed, being enshrined could have meant something to him (not that I'm advocating this, mind you). Inducting him right after he died just becomes a pity vote for him, but unfortunately there is a huge precedent for this.
   11. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: December 18, 2006 at 03:17 AM (#2264063)
With that said, it's a sad day to lose another fine, memorable player from baseball's past.
   12. Steve Treder Posted: December 18, 2006 at 03:27 AM (#2264074)
World War II cost Travis more than just the lost seasons. He had frostbite on the toes while serving in the infantry (Battle of the Bulge among other places).

It's frustrating that so few fans today, even the most historically-inclined expert fans, are unaware of this story, which is among the most intriguing and poignant of the 1940s.
   13. Greg Franklin Posted: December 18, 2006 at 07:14 AM (#2264164)
In addition to Yazist's reference, I first heard about Cecil Travis from an old interview with Ted Williams in which he declared something like the most impressive hitter he ever saw [besides himself] .... was [pre-war] Cecil Travis. Hell of a recommendation.
   14. The District Attorney Posted: December 18, 2006 at 07:55 AM (#2264165)
Honestly, I'd imagine that part of the issue is that the injury, as serious as it clearly must have been, sounds rather comical. It's hard to imagine fathers sitting around and telling their sons the brave story of a man who put baseball aside in order to combat the greatest evil that had ever been conceived, went to a foreign land to fight in some of the bloodiest battles in history, and... got frostbite on his toes. Maybe he should have pretended that he stepped on a grenade, or was shot by Mickey Rooney. Would have been a more dramatic story...
Inducting him right after he died just becomes a pity vote for him, but unfortunately there is a huge precedent for this.
What specific examples of this are there, other than Rabbit Maranville? I remember thinking it was going to happen with Dan Quisenberry, and then it totally did not in the least bit.
   15. OCF Posted: December 18, 2006 at 08:21 AM (#2264171)
Eric Chalek is a Hall of Merit voter who knows where we stand on all of the people mentioned in his post, but for the benefit of the rest of you:

Cal Ripken is not eligible until 2007 (it's 1992 in our world now.)
Dave Concepcion will not be eligible until 1994. The only HoM comment I'll make about him is that his case has not yet been thoroughly debated within the HoM (although the case has received a recent airing elsewhere in BTF.)
Allen Trammell will not be eligible until 2002. He's probably a shoo-in for us, but sometimes you can be surprised about such things.

As for the rest:

Bill Dahlen sticks way out from that group. He was overwhelmingly elected in his first year of eligibility, along with George Davis. The only real issue for most voters was whether to rank Davis and Dahlen as 1-2 or as 2-1.

Johnson, Beckwith, Glasscock, and Moore have been elected. Some of them took some time to work up to election - Moore took a very long time.

Long, Stephens, Clarkson, and Fregosi are in our lower backlog - they receive a few votes, but are not close to election.

Pesky, McKean, Wills, Campaneris, and Bartell seem to have fallen out of contention altogether, although most received votes at one time.

Eric didn't mention the HoF but not HoM shortstops who might reasonbably be spliced into his list. Bancroft, Maranville, and Aparicio all get some support. Joe Tinker is off the list but got votes at one time.
   16. Steve Treder Posted: December 18, 2006 at 05:55 PM (#2264316)
Honestly, I'd imagine that part of the issue is that the injury, as serious as it clearly must have been, sounds rather comical.

Perhaps so. It isn't as dramatic, I guess, as the shrapnel wound that required Lou Brissie's leg to be surgically reconstructed.

But I don't know. Maybe it's just me, but I've always perceived frostbite to be among the most painful and gruesome of injuries, and it was among the more devastating casualty categories for every combatant in the winter campaigns of Europe in WWII. Travis was lucky not to have lost his toes, or feet, to gangrene and amputation, a frostbite consequence for many of his fellow infrantrymen, Allied and Axis alike.
   17. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: December 18, 2006 at 06:49 PM (#2264341)
Whether he's in the Hall of Fame or not, I think we can all agree that Travis belongs in the Hall of Awesome.
   18. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: December 18, 2006 at 08:04 PM (#2264397)
But I don't know. Maybe it's just me, but I've always perceived frostbite to be among the most painful and gruesome of injuries, and it was among the more devastating casualty categories for every combatant in the winter campaigns of Europe in WWII.

I agree, Steve. I've have had it where my hands felt like they were on fire for almost a half an hour from the bitter cold, but real frostbite sounds horrible to contemplate.

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