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Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Baseball Analysts: Brattain: A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far Away. . .

Who better to write about “Indian Bob” Johnson…than that nabob of Naboo, John Brattain.

Bill James said in his book Whatever Happened To The Hall of Fame—The Politics Of Glory that players who do one or two things well tend to be overrated while those who do a lot of things well tend to be underrated.

Today we’re going to talk about an historically underrated player. He didn’t have one ability that defined him but didn’t have a single hole in his game: he could hit, hit with power, run, field and throw. Baseball-Reference has tests that involve Black Ink and Gray Ink. Black Ink describes how often a player led the league in some statistical category; Gray Ink describes how many times he finished top ten in the league. This player has two points of black ink but 161 points of gray ink.

In other words, he was never the best, but consistently among the best.

We’re talking about Robert Lee “Indian Bob” Johnson.

Repoz Posted: December 22, 2005 at 01:37 PM | 29 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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Statements posted here are those of our readers and do not represent the BaseballThinkFactory. Names are provided by the poster and are not verified. We ask that posters follow our submission policy. Please report any inappropriate comments.

   1. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: December 22, 2005 at 02:13 PM (#1789970)
Hell of a player. Historically, I've always seen him as comparable to Brian Giles (in terms of skill set, career trajectory, and overall under-appreciated-ness).
   2. Mike Webber Posted: December 22, 2005 at 02:54 PM (#1790041)
Bob Johnson Bio

Has anyone ever seen or read:

Bright Star In a Shadowy Sky
By Patrick J. and Terrence K. McGrath

Is it worth the $24? I generally by books like this in the bargain bin, but I doubt this one will show up at a used book store in KC. Never seen it on Half.com or anything.
   3. Misirlou doesn't live in the restaurant Posted: December 22, 2005 at 03:05 PM (#1790067)
You can get it used from Amazon for $13 plus shipping.

Link
   4. Edmundo got dem ol' Kozma blues again mama Posted: December 22, 2005 at 03:11 PM (#1790083)
While he's home from college, I want to get my son over to the Phila A's HOF and bookstore in Hatboro, PA. (hole in the wall < Phila A's HOF < 2 holes in the wall). I'll look to see what kind of B Johnson memorabilia they have.
   5. Mark Shirk (jsch) Posted: December 22, 2005 at 03:13 PM (#1790088)
I haven't read the article, is Brattain advocating Johnson for the HOF or simply writing an article about a forgotten player?

If it is the latter then Johnson certainly deserves the pub, but if it is the former then I must say that I disagree.

Oddly enough for a guy who didn't do anything really well but did everything well, he doesn't have a high peak or a long career in which he racks up huge counting stats. He does have a very good 10 year prime where he was an all-star level player every year, but rarely was he one of the 3 best OFers in his league among those 10 years.

Over at the HOM, Johnson is currently stuck deep in the backlog probably for this very reason. He was never a great player and he doesn't have the career length that some guys have (the end of his career is also propped up by the dilution of talent during WWII). If any type of player is underrated at by the HOM it is these types of players (see Sewell, Joe) but then again we did elect Earl Averill who, by the way, had a higher peak.

My vote for Indian Bob is a no, but at the same time it is really cool that an article about him makes it onto the the newsblog.
   6. BDC Posted: December 22, 2005 at 03:15 PM (#1790099)
Johnson ranks very high on many career Athletics franchise leaderboards. Which is impressive given how long the franchise has existed, even if they lost many stars to fire sales and free agency over the years.
   7. Misirlou doesn't live in the restaurant Posted: December 22, 2005 at 03:27 PM (#1790135)
Johnson ranks very high on many career Athletics franchise leaderboards. Which is impressive given how long the franchise has existed, even if they lost many stars to fire sales and free agency over the years.

The A's are second only to the Braves among the original 16 teams in terms of the least impressive best career player. For the A's it's probably Eddie Rommel.
   8. The Bones McCoy of THT Posted: December 22, 2005 at 04:45 PM (#1790264)
I haven't read the article, is Brattain advocating Johnson for the HOF or simply ?


Just an article about a forgotten player.

Best Regards

John
   9. Mark Shirk (jsch) Posted: December 22, 2005 at 04:53 PM (#1790285)
alright, thanks John.

probably should have read the article but I still have finals to do so I can only take the time to read the blurbs.
   10. Slinger Francisco Barrios (Dr. Memory) Posted: December 22, 2005 at 05:34 PM (#1790345)
Johnson's power started to wane in 1942 as he suffered through his worst season statistically to that point in time, failing to hit 20 HR or 90 RBI for the first time in his career. However, part of this was attributable to the fall of offense across the board due largely to players enlisting in the military for WWII.

I wouldn't think this would make <u>Johnson</u> worse unless they were playing in the dark or something like that. I'd think what it points out is that he had a much worse season than even the numbers indicate.
   11. Steve Treder Posted: December 22, 2005 at 05:47 PM (#1790361)
I wouldn't think this would make Johnson worse unless they were playing in the dark or something like that.

The across-the-board decline in MLB (and minor league) offensive production in 1942-45 was mostly a dramatic reduction in power hitting, caused by the use of inferior-resilience substitute-material baseballs (the "balata ball").
   12. RP Posted: December 22, 2005 at 05:51 PM (#1790368)
Does Bob Johnson + more counting stats = Blyleven?

Does Bob Johnson + more counting stats = a HOFer?
   13. Steve Treder Posted: December 22, 2005 at 06:00 PM (#1790390)
Does Bob Johnson + more counting stats = Blyleven?

Does Bob Johnson + more counting stats = a HOFer?


Quite possibly.

Johnson had 287 career Win Shares, Blyleven 339. Johnson's five best WS seasons were 31, 29, 26, 23, and 22. Blyleven's were 29, 23, 23, 22, and two 21s. Johnson had the slightly higher peak.

But Blyleven had that long tail of good-but-not-star-quality seasons that Johnson's career is missing, giving him the significant edge in career total. It's an interesting comparison.
   14. Repoz Posted: December 22, 2005 at 06:06 PM (#1790405)
Does Bob Johnson + more counting stats = Blyleven?

If by "more counting stats" you mean more Bob Johnson articles posted by me...then yes, yes it does.
   15. RP Posted: December 22, 2005 at 06:14 PM (#1790424)
But realistically, for Johnson to catch up to Blyleven you'd have to pretty devote all of BTF for the next week to Indian Bob.
   16. The Bones McCoy of THT Posted: December 22, 2005 at 07:13 PM (#1790540)
The across-the-board decline in MLB (and minor league) offensive production in 1942-45 was mostly a dramatic reduction in power hitting, caused by the use of inferior-resilience substitute-material baseballs (the "balata ball").


Wasn't that just used for one season then discarded?

Best Regards

John
   17. Steve Treder Posted: December 22, 2005 at 07:24 PM (#1790557)
Wasn't that just used for one season then discarded?

No. Its formulation was modified after its disastrous introduction, and a more lifelike ball was developed and used. But material shortages prohibited the widespread manufacture of "real" baseballs through the duration of the war.
   18. GGC:BTF's Biggest Underachiever Posted: December 22, 2005 at 07:35 PM (#1790575)
*Too busy to read it now, bit intrigued, he bookmarks to read at a future date.*
   19. The Bones McCoy of THT Posted: December 22, 2005 at 07:40 PM (#1790583)
No. Its formulation was modified after its disastrous introduction, and a more lifelike ball was developed and used. But material shortages prohibited the widespread manufacture of "real" baseballs through the duration of the war.


Dang, that makes Johnson's 1944 season a bit more impressive to me. Even with the war time talent I thought it was pretty good that he led the league in OPS at 38.

Best Regards

John
   20. Steve Treder Posted: December 22, 2005 at 07:44 PM (#1790596)
Dang, that makes Johnson's 1944 season a bit more impressive to me. Even with the war time talent I thought it was pretty good that he led the league in OPS at 38.

It is. When I did my piece on wartime batters:

http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/war-begone/

I made no adjustment to batter's stats for 1943, 1944, or 1945. My logic is that while it was easier for them to hit because of war-depleted pitching staffs, it was also harder because of the inferior ball. It's impossible to know if the two forces exactly evened each other out, but they were signficant forces working in opposite directions.
   21. Kevin Sweet Child Romine (aco) Posted: December 22, 2005 at 07:45 PM (#1790597)
John - just wanted to say thanks for this. Johnson is one of my favorites and is sorely lacking in props. Well done.
   22. The Bones McCoy of THT Posted: December 22, 2005 at 07:53 PM (#1790620)
John - just wanted to say thanks for this. Johnson is one of my favorites and is sorely lacking in props. Well done.


Long time fave of mine too :-)

I made no adjustment to batter's stats for 1943, 1944, or 1945. My logic is that while it was easier for them to hit because of war-depleted pitching staffs, it was also harder because of the inferior ball. It's impossible to know if the two forces exactly evened each other out, but they were signficant forces working in opposite directions.


I wonder if any teams offered Johnson a job in 1946?

BTW....I've got to pass along some props to Steve for his help on this piece. He provided the minor league data I desperately needed to round out the article.

So thanks Steve :-)

Best Regards

John
   23. Slinger Francisco Barrios (Dr. Memory) Posted: December 22, 2005 at 08:01 PM (#1790637)
The across-the-board decline in MLB (and minor league) offensive production in 1942-45 was mostly a dramatic reduction in power hitting, caused by the use of inferior-resilience substitute-material baseballs (the "balata ball").

Ah, "or something." Thank you.
   24. Kevin Sweet Child Romine (aco) Posted: December 22, 2005 at 08:12 PM (#1790665)
I wonder if any teams offered Johnson a job in 1946?


If one had, why would he have gone to the American Assoc? I've convinced myself that if Johnson had gotten a job in the majors at, say, 25 and had played one or two more years, he'd have been a HOFer, easy. He certainly wouldn't be the worst HOFer now if were inducted. I mean, was Indian Bob Johnson really not as good a ballplayer as, say, Sunny Jim Bottomley?
   25. Steve Treder Posted: December 22, 2005 at 09:45 PM (#1790853)
I wonder if any teams offered Johnson a job in 1946?

Baseball players weren't free agents in 1946 unless and until they were given their release by the major or minor league team holding their contract. Johnson was either released by the Red Sox, and signed with the American Association Brewers as a free agent, or he was sold by the Red Sox to the Brewers.
   26. Mike Emeigh Posted: December 22, 2005 at 10:35 PM (#1790901)
Johnson was either released by the Red Sox, and signed with the American Association Brewers as a free agent, or he was sold by the Red Sox to the Brewers.


The former. From Arch Ward's column in the January 9, 1946 edition of the Chicago Tribune:

"The Boston Red Sox have dropped Dolph Camilli and Bob Johnson (outright releases) and Eddie Lake (traded for Rudy York)"

ProQuest is a wonderful thing, and by itself makes SABR membership worthwhile.</plug>

-- MWE
   27. Dr. Vaux Posted: December 22, 2005 at 10:42 PM (#1790914)
I really need to get off my #### and join SABR.
   28. Kevin Sweet Child Romine (aco) Posted: December 22, 2005 at 11:04 PM (#1790950)
Camilli is another on of my all-time faves, even though he was spent by the time he played for Boston. Another guy who got a late start.
   29. Steve Treder Posted: December 22, 2005 at 11:11 PM (#1790964)
FWIW ...

When I conducted this exercise, Camilli took 2 of the top 15 OPS seasons by first basemen from 1931-41. Johnson only got 1 of the top 15 seasons for left fielders.

Johnson is overlooked, but Camilli is, I believe, even moreso.

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