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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Posnanski: 100 Best Baseball Players, #73 Arky Vaughan

I only know Arky Vaughan because of the time I spent here on BTF. He’s still a top 5 shortstop of all time, and he even has a great baseball name. He really did get the short end of the fame stick, but it seems from what we know about him that he would be perfectly OK with that. I also took the Sporcle Hall of Fame quiz, and got 95 of the 237 players. I recognized another 60 or so (including some that I knew a ton about but didn’t have the name come to me while taking the quiz, like Stan friggin Musial). I guess that makes me somewhere between a type 3 and a type 4.

Somewhere in my files, I have this dead project I once worked on. The idea was to break up the players in the Hall of Fame into different ranks. That’s not original, I realize, except that these levels had almost nothing to do with how good the player was, how many home runs he hit, how many strikeouts he had. These levels were based entirely on recognition.

That is to say:

1 star Hall of Famer: A complete non-baseball fan would have heard of him.
2 star Hall of Famer: A nominal baseball fan would have heard of him.
3 star Hall of Famer: A moderate baseball fan would have heard of him.
4 star Hall of Famer: An intense baseball fan would have heard of him.
5 star Hall of Famer: Only Keith Olbermann has heard of him.


I have different people in mind to determine each level. At level one, for instance, was my late grandfather who every morning would proudly get the newspaper, carefully remove the sports section and then stuff it into a garbage can. I cannot be sure, but I suspect my grandfather had heard of Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson and Lou Gehrig (mostly because of the disease). It is not entirely out of the question, though, that even these three eluded his sphere of knowledge. My grandfather was a brilliant man who read constantly and in five languages. He worked relentlessly to know as little as he could about sports.

At Level 2, I had my wife, Margo, who likes baseball — she actually took a history of baseball class in college one year and got a solid B — but does not particularly follow the details. She would not know, for instance, that Houston is now in the American League or who that young baseball player is in the Subway commercials (“Mike Trout? Is he good?”). But she will surprise you now and again with something picked up along the way about Walter Johnson or Rod Carew and she has a working knowledge of most of the big players. She could probably name 30 or 40 Hall of Famers if pressed, maybe even a few more. She has already made her opinion known that I rated Tony Gwynn way too low.

At Level 3, I used my buddy Pop Warner who is a baseball fan and can speak with some authority about pretty much ever great players of our lifetimes, which would encompass the past 40 or so years. Before that, he would have certain knowledge of some of the bigger names — Feller, Williams, DiMaggio, Mantle, Foxx, Greenberg, Cobb, Paige, Walter Johnson etc. — but might not know some great players like Paul Waner or Harry Heilmann or Eddie Plank. I don’t have those files anywhere nearby, but I think I figured that there were 60 some players Pop would be able to say something about, another 25 or 30 he might be able to recognize as baseball players, and the rest, well, no chance.

For the record:

There are 165 everyday players in the Hall of Fame.
There are 72 pitchers.
There are 27 executives.
There are 21 managers, four pioneers and 10 umpires.

So even my buddy Pops would not come close to knowing HALF the people in the Hall of Fame. If you took out the executives, pioneers, managers, Negro Leaguers and the pre-1900 guys he probably STILL wouldn’t know half.

Level 4 would be my buddy Vac, who has written a couple of fantastic historical sports books, heavy on the baseball, and he has a great sense of baseball history. He would have a working knowledge of 150-plus people in the Hall and at least a passing knowledge on two or three dozen more. I still think i could stump him on 30 or 40 Hall of Famers though.

Anyway, this was the fun way I was going to break down the Hall of Fame. And, there WAS some logic to the way the players sorted out. Sure, there were a few players who were probably more famous than they were excellent, and a few players who were more excellent than they were famous. But mostly it made sense.

Except for one. One player really broke the experiment. That was Arky Vaughan.

The Clarence Thomas of BBTF (scott) Posted: December 24, 2013 at 11:48 AM | 23 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: arky vaughan, hall of fame, joe posnanski, joe posnanski top 100, pirates

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   1. AROM Posted: December 24, 2013 at 02:10 PM (#4623560)
I didn't know the reasons behind the gap in his career, considering what was going on in the world, I always looked at that and assumed he was fighting WW2. Nope, just Durocher.
   2. Greg K Posted: December 24, 2013 at 02:27 PM (#4623577)
A fun game to play is "best player I know nothing about". It used to be Dick McAuliffe for me. But then I read about him, so now I don't know who it is...
   3. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: December 24, 2013 at 02:33 PM (#4623581)
Good story. Fascinating player.

Exhibit #1367 that Durocher was among the worst human beings ever to be involved in MLB.
   4. Misirlou is on hiding to nowhere Posted: December 24, 2013 at 03:31 PM (#4623612)
A fun game to play is "best player I know nothing about". It used to be Dick McAuliffe for me. But then I read about him, so now I don't know who it is...


I don't know who mine is. : )
   5. Canker Soriano Posted: December 24, 2013 at 03:55 PM (#4623621)
I also took the Sporcle Hall of Fame quiz, and got 95 of the 237 players. I recognized another 60 or so (including some that I knew a ton about but didn’t have the name come to me while taking the quiz, like Stan friggin Musial). I guess that makes me somewhere between a type 3 and a type 4.

I take it every 6 months or so. I've never gotten more than 165, and invariably I'll blank on some obvious ones (today, it was Yastrzemski and Whitey Ford). But with the exception of some of the Negro Leaguers, I could tell you something about all of them. So I'm not Keith Olberman (thank God), but probably a #4.

And that story about Vaughan was really interesting - I had no idea.
   6. BDC Posted: December 24, 2013 at 04:08 PM (#4623624)
"best player I know nothing about"

I've said this before, but for me it would almost certainly be an active National League player whose team hasn't been through Arlington in a while. I know more about Silent John Titus than I do about Chase Headley.
   7. vortex of dissipation Posted: December 24, 2013 at 04:33 PM (#4623635)
Until last week, the best player I knew nothing about was probably Jouett Meekin. I ran across him in the article in The Neyer/James Guide to Pichers, where he's listed as having one of the best fastballs for a starter in MLB history, and is ranked as having the third best fastball for the periods of both 1890-94, and 1895-99. The two guys ahead of him, in both cases, were Cy Young and Amos Rusie, whom I certainly knew, but I'd literally never heard of Meekin, and with a name like that, I would have remembered...
   8. Random Transaction Generator Posted: December 24, 2013 at 05:06 PM (#4623655)
Bobby Wallace is probably the highest WAR batter I known nothing about, while Mickey Welch is the highest WAR pitcher I know nothing about.
   9. cardsfanboy Posted: December 24, 2013 at 05:34 PM (#4623667)
I'm actually reading the series now, and I wonder if he is going to include Sadaharu Oh or others(Isao Harimoto?) from Japanese baseball. Being Pos I'm pretty sure he'll have considered them.
   10. The Clarence Thomas of BBTF (scott) Posted: December 24, 2013 at 06:55 PM (#4623692)
Yeah, I expect to see Oh, but I'm very interested to see who else Pos has. I'd imagine at least one more.
   11. vortex of dissipation Posted: December 24, 2013 at 07:18 PM (#4623697)
I'd imagine at least one more.


I think Oh is a given. I expect one of Masaichi Kaneda (400 wins is hard to ignore), Shigeo Nagashima, or Isao Harimoto to make it. Wild card? Eiji Sawamura.

It would be interesting to see Oh and Harimoto as the only NPB-only players to make it, as Harimoto is ethnically Korean, and Oh is half-Chinese...
   12. cardsfanboy Posted: December 24, 2013 at 07:33 PM (#4623698)
I was thinking Harimoto also, but Kaneda striking out both Harimoto and Oh in their debut games is a pretty good tidbit to throw into the mix.
   13. vortex of dissipation Posted: December 24, 2013 at 07:49 PM (#4623706)
I didn't realize this, but looking up more info on Kaneda, he was ethnically Korean, too.
   14. AndrewJ Posted: December 24, 2013 at 08:20 PM (#4623715)
Pittsburgh scout Art Griggs, who owned and managed the Wichita minor league team, was vacationing in Los Angeles, like usual, when he got a tip about a Fullerton baseball star with a hugely promising future. That player was not Vaughan. It was a catcher named Willard Hershberger, who would also play in the Major Leagues and his end is one of baseball’s most tragic stories.*

*Another classmate of Vaughan’s as a freshman and sophomore was an unathletic but enthusiastic baseball fan named Richard Nixon.


Who was one of America's most tragic stories.
   15. Sunday silence Posted: December 24, 2013 at 09:01 PM (#4623721)
How many years was Vaughan an effective starting SS? It wasnt many, and am too lazy to look this up right now. Was it 6?
   16. Flynn Posted: December 24, 2013 at 09:45 PM (#4623731)
A few months ago, I found out who the 1983 NL Cy Young Award winner was for the first time. Which is strange, because the AL winner, LaMarr Hoyt, had a somewhat similar career, and I could tell you three or four things about him.
   17. Sweatpants Posted: December 24, 2013 at 10:17 PM (#4623735)
How many years was Vaughan an effective starting SS? It wasnt many, and am too lazy to look this up right now. Was it 6?
Every year from 1932-1940 and then another year or two after that (90 starts in 1941 and 94 starts in 1943).
   18. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: December 24, 2013 at 10:27 PM (#4623736)
A few months ago, I found out who the 1983 NL Cy Young Award winner was for the first time. Which is strange, because the AL winner, LaMarr Hoyt, had a somewhat similar career, and I could tell you three or four things about him.


The thing that surprised me about John Denny's Cy Young, when I happened to stumble upon his BBRef page sometime back, was that his award was thoroughly deserved. I always assumed he was in the Pete Vuckovich, LaMarr Hoyt school of Cy winners who just happened to post super shiny W-L records for a division winner that particular year.

But you are right. As far as anonymous Cy winners go, he's tough to beat. I'm not sure the extended Denny family could tell you all that much about him. And it's not really fair, as he had a few nice seasons besides his Cy campaign.
   19. Greg K Posted: December 24, 2013 at 10:51 PM (#4623743)
Might Brandon Webb one day fit into that club?
   20. Bug Selig Posted: December 25, 2013 at 04:14 PM (#4623882)
Exhibit #1367 that Durocher was among the worst human beings ever to be involved in MLB.


Olbermann is in the excerpt, so Durocher's not even the worst person mentioned on this page.
   21. Jarrod HypnerotomachiaPoliphili(Teddy F. Ballgame) Posted: December 25, 2013 at 05:24 PM (#4623898)
I think Oh is a given. I expect one of Masaichi Kaneda (400 wins is hard to ignore), Shigeo Nagashima, or Isao Harimoto to make it. Wild card? Eiji Sawamura.


Given the list so far, will Oh really be on it? MLEs would suggest he'd have an MLB home run total in the mid-500s, I think. A sure-fire HOFer in my book, but maybe an Eddie Murray type. Or Palmeiro. Are either (or both) of those guys going to be in the top 100?
   22. The Yankee Clapper Posted: December 25, 2013 at 11:08 PM (#4623969)
How many years was Vaughan an effective starting SS? It wasnt many, and am too lazy to look this up right now. Was it 6?

Depends on how you define "effective", but Vaughan never played 100 games at SS after his age-28 season. Good peak, but that has to drop his ranking some.
   23. AndrewJ Posted: December 26, 2013 at 10:29 PM (#4624442)
The thing that surprised me about John Denny's Cy Young, when I happened to stumble upon his BBRef page sometime back, was that his award was thoroughly deserved.

More so than Steve Bedrosian's CYA in 1987.

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