Getting Left Center Right: Total Baseball VII Opens Up The Outfield
Don talks a little about the newest version of a baseball classic.
The seventh edition of the mammoth encyclopedia Total Baseball (TB VII for short) is a lucky one for those of you who have ever spent a moment wondering about exactly which outfield position?left, center, or right?was played by which outfielder when.
Pete Palmer, arguably baseball’s greatest researcher, has been the custodian of this precious and valuable left-center-right outfielder breakdown for some time now, and at last he has convinced the folks at Total Sports Publishing to make it available to the general public. The result is another landmark in baseball research.
That said, the deployment of the left-center-right information in TB VII is a bit spotty. When you examine the records of some players who were used both in the outfield and the infield during the same year, you will occasionally find that the outfield breakout (displayed as 45-60-55, or 45 games in left field, 60 in center field, and 55 in right field) is missing this tripartite designation. Thus it’s not always possible to reconstruct the season-by-season left-center-right breakdowns.
And we can hope that the next edition of Total Baseball might build on this innovation and supply us with the first left-center-right breakdown of fielding statistics. It’s been five editions since the TB folks have seen fit to include a fielding register?this is something they should strongly consider for the eighth edition, in place of their rather pedestrian “situational statistics.”
But such criticism is little more than a quibble when you consider how much new ground has been opened up by the release of Palmer’s left-center-right breakouts. We find out all sorts of interesting things when we can look at this data. Here is but a small sample of what can be found:
?Hank Aaron, known as right fielder, played center field for the Braves
in 1957, 1961 and 1962, and last played center in 1967.
?Dick Allen, to the suprise of no one except possibly Chuck Tanner, played only one game in center field. The year: 1968.
?Ernie Banks was moved from shortstop to first base as a result of an arm injury?sure, everyone knows that. But his original shift was into left field, where he played 23 games in 1961 before switching to first base.
?Ken Boyer, known as a top-notch third baseman in his career with the Cardinals, Mets and Dodgers, was shifted to center field in 1957. He was shifted back to third the following year. Anyone have a guess as to the identity of the player who took over at third for St. Louis in 1957?
?Ty Cobb, who was primarily a center fielder (2194 games played there),
played right field on all three of the Tiger teams that won pennants (1907,
1908, 1909), Who played center in those years? Hall of Famer Sam Crawford,
who was shifted over from right field. In 1910, they were flip-flopped again,
and the Tigers didn’t win another pennant until 1934. (This probably wasn’t
the only reason for that, however.)
?Andre Dawson began as a center fielder in 1975, was shifted to right field in 1984, and eventually wound up with more games played in right than in center. (This happened to a number of other players, including Bobby Murcer.)
?Joe DiMaggio began his Yankee career in 1936 as a left fielder. After ‘36, however, he never played any other outfield position except center field?though he did play one game at first, in 1950.
?Carl Furillo played center field for the Dodgers from 1946-48, and was moved to right field to make room for a guy named Duke Snider in 1949.
?Some of the revelations in the left-center-right data aren’t too surprising.
TB tells us that daffy Dodger Babe Herman, who allegedly had a fly ball
bounce off his head, never played a single game in center. The same cannot be
said for Jose Canseco, who did play a game in center, and did
have a ball bounce off his head (though he was playing right field at the time).
?When Tommy Holmes was first moved from center field to right field
by the Boston Braves, he responded with a “career year” in 1945, leadingthe
NL in hits, doubles, homers, slugging average and PRO+. The “effect” wore off
the following year, however, and never returned.
?Reggie Jackson played center field intermittently for the A’s from 1967-72, including 92 games during ‘72, and last played center field for the Orioles in 1976, the year before he became “the straw that stirs the drink.”
?Al Kaline, who like Hank Aaron is thought of as a right fielder, played center field for the Tigers in 1959-60, and again in 1965-66.
?Ralph Kiner, of all people, played 76 games in center field for the Pirates in 1946, his rookie year.
?Mickey Mantle began his career in right field (DiMaggio was still in CF for the Yanks that year), moved to center the following year, was shifted to left in 1965, went back to center in 1966, and was finally placed at first base in 1967.
?Hall of Famer Heinie Manush started out in left field for the Tigers, and was moved to center in 1926 (Ty Cobb’s last year in Detroit). He was moved back to left by the St. Louis Browns when they acquired him in 1928, and remained a left fielder thereafter.
?Roger Maris began as a center fielder for the Indians in 1957, and played 64 games in CF for the Yankees in 1962 while Mantle was nursing an injury.
?In the annals of the guys who lost it quick department: Willie Montanez played center field for the Phillies in 1971-72, but was abruptly shifted to first base in mid-1972 and played only five more games in the outfield during the balance of his career, which lasted until 1982.
?Stan Musial was shifted around quite a bit by the Cardinals. He played LF as a rookie in 1942, was shifted to RF in ‘43, played first base in 1946-47, split time between RF and CF in 1948 and 1949, played LF and 1B in 1950-51, was used primarily in CF in 1952, LF in 1953, RF in 1954. He played mostly first base from 1955-59, and after a poor year in 1959 was moved back to left field, where he finished out his career (ending in 1963). While he’s thought of as a left fielder, he played only about 30% of his games there.
?Shifts that go against the defensive spectrum: Al Oliver made his debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates as a first baseman in 1969, and even had a nickname (“Mr. Scoop”) which linked him to his defensive position. He split time between first, left field and right field in 1970, and became the Bucs’ full-time center fielder in 1971. He played there through 1977, moving to left field only after being signed by the Texas Rangers as a free agent in 1978.
?Al Simmons played center field for the Philadelphia A’s from 1924-27, was moved to left in 1928 and remained there until 1935, his second year with the Chicago White Sox, who moved him back to CF. The Detroit Tigers acquired him in 1936 and kept him there, but he was moved back to left field when he was traded to the Washington Senators in 1937. (And who says that superstars never got traded in the good old days, anyway?)
?The “other” Frank Thomas, the one who played OF-1B-3B in the NL from
1951-66, began his career as a center fielder for the Pirates, and was a better
defensive player than is generally remembered. He was shifted to 3B in 1956,
however, when the Pirates acquired Bill Virdon from the St. Louis Cardinals
(who did the Pirates trade to get Virdon, by the way?). He split time between
third and first base for the next few years; when he finally returned to the
outfield, with the Braves in 1961, it was as a left fielder.
And here’s much, much more to discover in this data when you get hold of your own copy of Total Baseball VII. While the editors have pared the book and their statistical presentation down some this time out, their inclusion of the left-center-right breakdown makes up for some of these less-than-desirable changes. To get more information about it and receive a 20% discount off your purchase, go here.
Posted: May 04, 2001 at 06:00 AM | 4 comment(s)
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