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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Darowski: Bill Nicholson: The Best Player I’d Never Heard Of

Ya know…I can’t even think of the best player I never heard of.

Bill Nicholson is the best player I had never heard of.

I recently came across Willis Hudlin and his Hall Rating of 49. That led me to wonder who the best players were that I had never heard of. By “never heard of”, I mean I couldn’t tell you either the general era they played in or their position just by looking at their name. For example, I don’t know much about Murry Dickson, but I knew he was a pitcher. So, he counts as “someone I’ve heard of”.

So, Nicholson was the best player I had never heard of. That kind of surprises me, as he was pretty valuable. With 39.9 WAR and a Hall Rating of 74, he had a pretty great career.

...Nicholson’s list of similar players starts with Hall of Famer Earle Combs and includes Dolph Camilli, Darryl Strawberry, David Justice, Ken Williams, and Kent Hrbek. That gives you an idea of the type of player he was.

So, why haven’t I heard of him? It’s probably because all of his accomplishments pointed out in the list above took place during World War II, when many stars were overseas. Nicholson was not—and he dominated.

I know I have seen Nicholson’s name before. But I think I subconsciously associated him with Dave Nicholson, the TTO (Three True Outcomes) legend. I think because I’m so familiar with Dave (relatively speaking, compared to his actual body of work), I assumed that he and Bill were the same person. I was wrong—and I’ve been missing out on a pretty good player.

Repoz Posted: January 23, 2013 at 06:35 PM | 122 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, sabermetrics

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   101. salvomania Posted: January 24, 2013 at 06:00 PM (#4354433)
I know the term "scrappy" is generally only used for white utility infielders, but Candaele deserved the title. By sheer force of will, he spent nearly 20 years in pro ball.


His mom was quite the ballplayer as well.
   102. DJS and the Infinite Sadness Posted: January 24, 2013 at 06:10 PM (#4354441)
Think Tim Raines Jr. had it tough? Casey Candaele didn't even out-OPS his mom, Helen Callaghan finishing her AAGPBL career with a .678 OPS, compared to Candaele's .640.
   103. DJS and the Infinite Sadness Posted: January 24, 2013 at 06:10 PM (#4354443)
Bah, beat me to it.
   104. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: January 24, 2013 at 06:21 PM (#4354456)
On Nicholson, I'm going to stand my ground. Yes, he led the league in homers two years: 1943 and 1944. In Wrigley Field. He did have a few good (20+) homer seasons aside from those, but he also had seasons in the single digits, although they tend to not have as many PAs as the 20+ years do. Still, his 29 and 33 during the war were his best power seasons, and he spent his career in a good homer park.

Wrigley is a better home run park now than it used to be (by comparison to the other parks in the league, at least). Nicholson actually hit a substantial majority of his career home runs on the road, 136 out of 235.

Also, the wartime baseball (the balata ball) was deader than any ball used by MLB since the actual dead ball.

Finally: Nicholson was once intentionally walked with the bases loaded. (Take that, Jim Rice!)

Nicholson had a substantial amount of power, especially in context.

Buffinton is the first pitcher I've never heard of as well. My position player is Mike Griffin. I used a standard of "able to accurately recall something about this person," preferably position and era, ideally at least one team played for.
   105. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: January 24, 2013 at 06:36 PM (#4354467)
Since the year of my birth, the player that has accumulated the most WAR (positional player) that I have no recollection of or knowledge about is #250 on my list, Bill North (24.9 WAR).


John Briggs 21.0
   106. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: January 24, 2013 at 06:46 PM (#4354469)
Regarding Doran

Doran and Thon were supposed to be quite the keystone pair were supposed to play together for a dozen years, the NL version of Whitaker/Trammel

Then Mike Torrez hit Thon in the face (I saw it live on TV)

Doran was forgotten after that even though he was a good player for a number of years

The Astrodome in the 70s and 80s was a really low offense environment, you look at Doran or Thon's good years and they look ok raw number wise, but in context they were terrific for middle infielders


   107. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: January 24, 2013 at 07:26 PM (#4354492)
Continuing to go down the list... starting with Griffin, and adding a name when I find a more recent guy I'm not familiar with:

Griffin (38 WAR)
Ed McKean (36)
Jimmy Williams (not the manager, 30)
Marty McManus (29) - thought his name was familiar, but misidentified him as the third member of the Cobb-Crawford outfields in the late '00s. (Can anyone name the actual holder of that distinction?)
Wally Moses (also 29)

That covers the top 500 in position player WAR for me (along with some other guys who are either older than or worse than those listed). It also brings me up to the decade before my parents were born. So I'm pretty happy with that.
   108. Sweatpants Posted: January 24, 2013 at 07:29 PM (#4354493)
Marty McManus (29) - thought his name was familiar, but misidentified him as the third member of the Cobb-Crawford outfields in the late '00s. (Can anyone name the actual holder of that distinction?)
Matty McIntyre.
   109. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: January 24, 2013 at 07:39 PM (#4354497)
Matty McIntyre.

Indeed. Not that the relative similarity in their names made much difference, because I don't think McManus had ever entered my consciousness to be confused with McIntyre to begin with.
   110. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: January 24, 2013 at 08:59 PM (#4354546)
Then Mike Torrez hit Thon in the face (I saw it live on TV)

"Hey, Mike Torrez, if you could have a do-over on just one pitch, what would it be????"
   111. The kids disappeared, now Der-K has too much candy Posted: January 24, 2013 at 10:01 PM (#4354592)
Doran and Thon were supposed to be quite the keystone pair were supposed to play together for a dozen years, the NL version of Whitaker/Trammell

That was my take at the time too.

I've never heard of John Briggs.
   112. Sweatpants Posted: January 24, 2013 at 10:22 PM (#4354600)
It was a remark by Frank Thomas to Briggs that led to the famous fight between Thomas and Dick Allen.
   113. A big pile of nonsense (gef the talking mongoose) Posted: January 24, 2013 at 10:43 PM (#4354613)
I've never heard of John Briggs.


Decent-hitting Brewers OF after his Phillies stint, if memory serves.

(Most of what I [think I] know about early '70s players is based on my dim memories of their baseball cards & my sub copies The Sporting News.)
   114. Morty Causa Posted: January 24, 2013 at 10:48 PM (#4354618)
Dickie Thon had become the NL's best shortstop, taking both offense and defense together. See how WAR treats his 1983 season. He was going to be the NL's Robin Yount and Cal Ripken, it seemed like. Ozzie would not have stood out as he did if Thon's career had panned out. A real waste.
   115. SoSH U at work Posted: January 24, 2013 at 11:21 PM (#4354639)
Dickie Thon had become the NL's best shortstop, taking both offense and defense together. See how WAR treats his 1983 season. He was going to be the NL's Robin Yount and Cal Ripken, it seemed like. Ozzie would not have stood out as he did if Thon's career had panned out. A real waste.

Indiana-born Thon was also a member of the "I wouldn't have guessed he's Hispanic" club. Mike Lowell followed him in.
   116. bjhanke Posted: January 25, 2013 at 01:39 PM (#4354987)
All of the guys that people have mentioned on this thread are in the Historical Abstract's Top 100 Players at Each Position section, so you can look them up and get at least some info on them. Without doing that (which I should have done before running my mouth about Bill Nicholson), my memory says that Mike Griffin was a dead ball era CF of some serious quality, and that Bill Doran looked like a star until he got injured and turned into just another 2B, sort of like Thon, but less dramatic. - Brock
   117. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: January 25, 2013 at 02:20 PM (#4355010)
it was johnny briggs

he is 70 now and still goes by johnny
   118. A big pile of nonsense (gef the talking mongoose) Posted: January 25, 2013 at 02:40 PM (#4355025)
A Google Image search for "topps briggs" shows he was "John" on his baseball cards probably 2/3rds of the time. I wonder how such things get decided?

No wonder I tend to think of Briggs & Larry Hisle in the same ... well, not breath, I guess, but thought. Both followed a Phils/Brewers/Twins career trajectory, pretty much, though I guess not in the same order.
   119. esseff Posted: January 25, 2013 at 03:47 PM (#4355071)
it was johnny briggs

he is 70 now and still goes by johnny


Also was called "Breek" tho I have no idea why. Some sort of play on his last name, I guess.
   120. Misirlou was a Buddhist prodigy Posted: January 25, 2013 at 03:56 PM (#4355079)
Just noticed this thread. Sorry if this has been addressed but:

.Nicholson’s list of similar players starts with Hall of Famer Earle Combs and includes Dolph Camilli, Darryl Strawberry, David Justice, Ken Williams, and Kent Hrbek. That gives you an idea of the type of player he was.


On what planet is Bill Nicholson similar to Earle Combs?
   121. Al Kaline Trio Posted: January 25, 2013 at 03:57 PM (#4355082)
Stan Musial was the best guy I'd never heard of after getting all the press this week.
   122. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: January 25, 2013 at 06:09 PM (#4355171)
On what planet is Bill Nicholson similar to Earle Combs?

His value is very similar to Combs's, at least by WAR; I'm guessing that's what was meant. But WAR in no way "gives you an idea of the type of player" anyone was, at least beyond a judgment of quality.
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