From 2002–2010 Gabriel Schechter was a researcher at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library. His first book, Victory Faust, published in 2000, was a finalist for the Society for American Baseball Research’s (SABR) prestigious Seymour Medal Award. He is also a dedicated blogger and the author of Unhittable! Baseball’s Greatest Pitching Seasons, as well as This Bad Day in Yankees History. Gabe also wrote the captions for collections of Neil Leifer’s baseball and football photos as well as photographs from the lens of baseball photographer Charles Conlon.
The baseball book that changed my life was published in 1966, when I was 15 years old. Before then, my education in baseball history had come from talking to my father and reading, over and over again, the compilation titled My Greatest Day in Baseball. Long-ago legends like Cy Young, Honus Wagner, and Rogers Hornsby recounted their most memorable games, “as told to” editor John P. Carmichael and other sportswriters.
I defy you to find a more bizarre pitching season than Virgil Trucks had in 1952. The affable right-hander from Alabama was in his eighth full season with the Detroit Tigers, for whom he had recorded his first Major League victory a decade earlier, on his 25th birthday. A 14-game winner as a rookie, he had established himself on the Tigers’ dominant “T-N-T” starting trio of the late 1940s, along with Hal Newhouser and Dizzy Trout.
The list of successful Major Leaguers who batted right-handed and threw left-handed is a short one. Taken collectively, they have never won a batting title or led a league in home runs. Only one—Rickey Henderson—is in the Hall of Fame. Only two with significant playing time managed a career average over .300. The leader in that regard is Jimmy Ryan, star of the 1890s Chicago Colts (Cubs), whose strong Hall of Fame credentials include a .308 average, 2,513 hits, and 1,643 runs scored.
Few observers doubt that Babe Ruth possessed the greatest combination of batting and pitching talent ever seen. Pitching regularly with the Red Sox as a 20-year-old, Ruth won an ERA title the following year, was undefeated in three World Series starts, and reeled off 89 wins by his 25th birthday. If the designated hitter had existed then, he had the talent to be an earlier version of Lefty Grove.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that Tim Raines never gets elected to the Hall of Fame. Jump forward a century or so to a handy baseball landmark, say the year 2130. Without the stamp of immortality conferred by induction into the Hall of Fame, Tim Raines is completely forgotten. Only scholars of the distant late-twentieth century even recognize the name. The savvy baseball fan recalls Rickey Henderson as the leadoff batter from that era worth remembering.
I’ve become greatly fascinated by ballplayers who excelled at both pitching and hitting. The ultimate purveyor was Babe Ruth, but many well-known hitters spent considerable time as pitchers early in their careers. George Sisler and Lefty O’Doul were prime examples from Ruth’s time, but even a generation later, Stan Musial began his professional career as a pitcher.
Jigger Statz? Arnold “Jigger” Statz was the “longest” and “best” center fielder? When he retired in 1942 at age 45, Statz held the record for most games played as a professional: 3,473. Of those, 683 were played in the Major Leagues and the rest in the Pacific Coast League (he never played below the AAA level), where he set numerous records, including 18 seasons spent with one team, the Los Angeles Angels.
An interviewer once asked me one of the classic baseball questions: “If you could go back in time and witness one famous game from Major League history, which would it be?” It took me just seconds to say, “The Merkle game,” on September 23, 1908. I could observe a lot just by watching Fred Merkle, Johnny Evers, Joe McGinnity, Christy Mathewson, Rube Kroh, and the two umpires, and I might be able to put together the actual sequence of events. If nothing else, I’d like to witness the pandemonium as the Giants won the game and then didn’t.
To say that Joe Hauser was the only professional ballplayer to slug more than 60 home runs in a season twice without the aid of PEDs only scratches the surface of this remarkable man’s career. Calling him “the Babe Ruth of the minors” doesn’t tell the full story either because it downplays the success he had in his relatively brief career in the Majors. Exactly what kind of hitter and man was Joe Hauser, who lived and breathed baseball for all of his 98 years?