Saturday, February 13, 2010

Charlie Gehringer - The Quiet Man

"'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free, 'tis the gift to come down where we ought to be."
You would've liked Charlie Gehringer. If you needed to talk to someone, he'd listen. He didn't say much, but when he did it was worth hearing. He was very, very good at what he did - something only 1 in 50,000 can do at all. But you'd never know it by the way he treated you. Those who knew him best, the other players, thought he was the nicest guy on the team. He kept no record of wrongs . . . except, maybe, for Ty Cobb. But then, he had company on that one.

Gehringer grew up feeding slop to pigs on his family's farm in Fowlerville, Michigan.

He didn't like it.

So he started playing baseball in the farm pastures. The Tigers heard about him when he was at the University of Michigan. Two years later he was their starting second baseman - Cobb's last year as player-manager for the team.

Gehringer had a good rookie season. He hit .277 (with 17 triples!) and strong defense. Not good enough for Cobb, I guess. Gehringer later said of Cobb that he was a "hateful guy" - Gehringer said that Cobb thought he could make players better by belittling them.

Gehringer survived. With Cobb gone in 1927, Gehringer hit .317. In 1929, he hit .339 with 215 hits. Always with great defense. He not only got to more balls than the other second basemen in the league, he made the play when he did. He had style too. Soft hands; graceful motion.

That year the Tigers held a "Charlie Gehringer Day." He had 4 hits including a home run and handled 10 chances at second base - he also stole home.

Gehringer stayed a bachelor his whole career. His mom was a diabetic. Gehringer moved her to Detroit where he could look after her. He said later he didn't marry because he couldn't ask someone to share that burden.

"He says 'Hello' on Opening Day and 'Goodbye" on Closing Day - in between he hits .350." Mickey Cochrane, Tiger Manager.

The '30s would give Detroit the best teams the city ever had. Gehringer kept hitting at the pace set in 1929. He along with with first baseman Hank Greenberg, shortstop Billy Rogell, and third baseman Marv Owen became an infield offensive powerhouse.

The Tigers lost to the St. Louis Cardinals Gashouse Gang in 1934 in a famous 7 game series. (Gehringer believed a bad call in the 6th game cost the Tigers the Series. He hardly ever complained. So you have to wonder.) In 1935 it would be different. The Tigers played the Cubs and beat them in 6 games. Gehringer hit .375 and slugged .500.

In 1937, Gehringer was 34 years old, an age at which baseball skills have eroded for most players and careers end. Gehringer, as the saying goes today, never got the memo. He hit .371 that year - and with pop: 14 home runs and 96 RBIs. He won the Most Valuable Player award.

He hit over .300 the next 3 years too including 1940 when the Tigers won the American League pennant, stopping the Yankees' run of 4 straight. (The Tigers lost to the Reds in the Series.)

After that Gehringer, called the "Mechanical Man" by Lefty Gomez because of his consistency, started to rust. He was 39 and the country was at war. He was under no pressure from the draft because of his age, but he enlisted in the Navy anyway. When he got out, he started a business selling fabric to automobile manufacturers.

And became wealthy.

After his mother died, Gehringer met someone and set a date to marry in 1949 - the same year he was elected into the Hall of Fame. Someone scheduled the wedding a few days after the induction ceremony at Cooperstown was to take place. Gehringer skipped Cooperstown; his bride would not have to wait.

Gehringer was featured in the classic baseball card sets of the '30s. There are 2 great Goudey cards of him, one in 1933 (above left) and one from the "Heads Up" series in 1938 (lower right). His '33 Goudey card is a favorite of mine but the price of a copy in good condition exceeds my budget and eludes my collection. He also appeared in the 1935 Diamond Stars series (top right) and the 1941 Play Ball series.

I have a cut autographed card of Gehringer in my collection that was created by Upper Deck for its 2007 SP Legendary Cuts edition. The card does not have the style of the '30s cards but it features a famous Gerhringer personality trait. The autograph has his first name spelled: "Chas." his customary signature for fans. He was asked once why he didn't sign as "Charlie." He said "Why should you use 7 letters when 4 will do." Why, indeed.

He died in 1993 after 44 years of marriage. He is generally regarded as one of the top 5 second basemen of all time. Bill James ranks Joe Morgan, Eddie Collins, and Rogers Hornsby over Gehringer. After looking at Gehringer's career and reviewing his numbers, however, you wonder if James underrated him.

Gehringer could field as well as Morgan and Collins and much better than Hornsby. He could hit as well as Morgan and Collins - maybe better. Hornsby could hit better than Gehringer, true, but Gehringer was Hornsby's superior in the field. Gehringer also performed at a high level for a longer period of time. Gehringer comes out well when you compare.

Gehringer himself was embarassed by his celebrity. An argument over who was better would have found no support from him. If history underrates him, it would have suited him.

Another reason you would've liked him.

"Where true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we will not be ashamed. To turn, to turn, 'twill be a delight, when by turning, turning, we come round right."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Yogi Berra - The Lucky One

If you were in the habit of calling a flipped coin the same each time, at some point in eternity the coin would fall your way 50 times in a row - or a thousand.

Take Yogi Berra.

He was Larry Berra when he was a kid on St. Louis's "Hill" until someone nicknamed him Yogi because he tended to sit on the ground with his legs crossed. He looked like he was doing yoga. He gained a first name that day that when you said it, everyone in the country knew who you were talking about.

He dropped out of school after the eighth grade, not something that normally makes things easier for a son of immigrants in a working class neighborhood. But for him it worked. He would became famous (and paid well by advertisers) for his involuntary wit. An example is a story told by Mickey Mantle in My Favorite Summer 1956 involving Billy Martin locking his keys inside a Lincoln. Martin told Berra he ddidn't know what to do. Berra responded: "You need a blacksmith."
He happened to hit left handed, always an advantage for a hitter. And he could hit. He threw right; essential for a catcher.

He tried out for the St. Louis Cardinals at age 17. The Cardinals passed on Berra and chose Joe Gariagiola, who as a baseball player turned out to be a passable broadcaster.

The Cardinals would win no pennants from 1947 to 1963 - the 17 full seasons of Berra's career. Instead the Yankees scooped Berra up and sent him to the minors before he came of draft age. Starting in 1947, Berra's first full year in the Big Leagues, the Yankees would win 15 of the next 18 American League pennants and 10 World Championships. Berra played in the first 17 pennant races. He managed the Yankees in the last one.

When Berra turned 18 in 1943, he enlisted in the Navy. When a superior asked for volunteers for an undisclosed mission, Berra raised his hand. His job turned out to be serving as a machine gunner on a 36-foot Landing Craft Vehicle that was positioned 300 yards from the beach at Normandy on D-Day. Eight ships were sunk. Over a thousand sailors died. Berra was one of the lucky ones.

When Berra got out of the Navy in 1946, he was sent to the Yankees Triple A team in Newark. But the Yankees needed a catcher. Hall of Famer Bill
Dickey was set to retire at the end of 1946. Berra was called up to the big club after only 77 games in the minors.

He was on the the Yankees' roster full time in 1947. He could hit but his defense was not at the major league level. At the end of the season in 1948, Yankees' manager Bucky Harris started playing Berra in left field - a position for a team's weaker defenders.

Berra needed one more winning coin flip. And he got it. Bucky Harris was fired after the Yankees finished third that year. Casey Stengel was hired for the 1949 season. He saw something in Berra that Harris had not. He assigned Bill Dickey to be Berra's tutor. As Berra later said, Dickey "learned" Berra everything Dickey knew about catching. Berra became the Yankees' full time catcher in 1949. That year he was picked to play in the first of 15 consecutive All Star games. The Yankees won the World Championship - the first of 5 in a row. In 1951, Berra won the first of his 3 Most Valuable Player Awards, the same number that a teammate of Berra's would win - a kid named Mantle.

In 1956, he and batterymate Don Larson would become immortal when Larson pitched a perfect game in the fifth game of the World Series against the Dodgers. Larson says he never shook Berra off during the game. The Dodgers sent Dale Mitchell to the plate with 2 out in the bottom of the ninth. Mitchell rarely struck out. He ranks as of this writing 8th all-time in fewest strikeouts per at bat. On a 1 -2 count, Mitchell took a pitch he thought was high and outside. You wonder if Berra had something to do with the home plate umpire calling Mitchell out. Strike or not, everyone remembers Berra jumping into into Larson's arms - an indelible image for anyone who follows baseball. (Click here for video footage of Larson striking out Mitchell.)

Berra's last year as the Yankees' full-time catcher was 1959. After that he played left field some and caught when Elston Howard needed a rest. He retired after the 1963 season.

He managed 2 pennant winning teams after that. The Yankees in 1964; the Mets in 1973. Both teams lost a 7 game Series.

The Yankees fired Berra as manager after only one year in 1964. The Yankees finished sixth in 1965 - the first time they had finished under .500 in 40 years. They would not be a pennant contender again for a decade.

Berra is 84 years old now. He still makes commercials in which his gift for language is featured. Who can forget: "Nobody goes to that restaurant anymore; it's too crowded."

Berra was lucky when it came to baseball cards too. He became
an every day player just as the baseball card business was rising from the ashes after the Second World War. Above left is his card from the famous 1952 Topps set. Above top right is a recently manufactured card from my collection that features him wearing a batting helmet; he looks like he may be kneeling in an on-deck circle going to school on the pitcher. Looking for a pattern, maybe; figuring out what he could expect when he came to bat. There's some nice looking flannel jersey swatches embedded in the card. One with a Yankee pinstripe.

Above center is another card from my collection commemorating Larson's perfect game. The card is "player touched" by Larson and Berra. Lower right is a Topps Finest refractor card that features another "player touched" Berra autograph. Both of the autographed cards in my collection have clear, carefully written signatures.

Bill James ranks Berra as the best catcher in Major League history. Second is Johnny Bench. Not everyone agrees. Sparky Anderson once said that he didn't want to embarrass any other catcher by comparing him to Bench. Perhaps he should compare Berra's 10 World Championship teams to Bench's 2. Or Berra's 3 MVP award with Bench's 2.

It wasn't just luck.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Roger Bresnahan and the 1905 World Series

"It's great to be young and a Giant." Larry Doyle, played 1907 - 20

That was Roger Bresnahan in 1905.

Bresnahan had started as a pitcher for the Senators at the end of 1897. He bounced around in the minors after that; he wound up with the New York Giants 5 years later. In 1903, playing mainly center field, he hit a career high .350 with 34 stolen bases.

When the Giants lost their starting catcher at the end of 1904, Giants' manager John McGraw decided to try Bresnahan.

It was genius.

McGraw and Branch Rickey called Bresnahan the finest catcher they ever saw. The Giant's great pitcher Christy Mathewson (at left) went 31-9 in 1905, no longer having to worry about whether his breaking ball would find a catcher's mitt.

Bresnahan produced more than defense. He was the Giant's lead-off hitter. He hit .302, had speed, and knew how to work the count. His OBP that year was .411.

The Giants repeated as the National League champion and faced the Philadelphia Athletics in the first league-sanctioned World Series.

Bresnahan scored the winning run in the first 2 Giant victories. At the Polo Grounds in New York, his double in the bottom of the eighth in what would be the deciding fifth game set up an important insurance run in a 1-0 game.

The Giants won the series 4-1. Mathewson pitched 3 complete game shutouts. Iron Joe McGinnity pitched another. All with Bresnahan behind the plate. He led all hitters with a .313 average and a .500 OBP.

But the stars would never again align so favorably for him. Bresnahan played 3 more years for the Giants during which he introduced shin guards and padded masks for catchers. After the 1908 season, McGraw traded Bresnahan to the St. Louis Cardinals. He played 7 more years as a part time catcher and a sometime manager for the Cardinals and the Cubs.

His most valued baseball cards were released after his years with the Giants. At left is his 1911 Broadleaf Gold Borders Card. Below right is a portrait, from the 1909-11 T-206 set from my collection.

Bresnahan today is remembered less for his play than the spotlight he always found. He once told everyone he had been born in Tralee Ireland.

The press saw a good story and called him the Duke of Tralee.

It wasn't true. He was from Toledo.

He baited umpires mercilessly. Sometimes the police had to be called to remove him from games.

He died in 1944; the next year he was elected as the first catcher in the Hall of Fame. His election was as controversial as his temper. He had played as a regular for only 7 years - and had great numbers in only 2 seasons. But the ones who knew his play best - his peers – voted him in the Hall, not the baseball writers. When Walter Johnson was called on to pitch to Babe Ruth in an exhibition game at the Polo Grounds in 1943, it was Bresnahan who was called on to catch.

Perhaps the players saw in Bresnahan something that the passing years have obscured. Or something that those who never played the game cannot see.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Stan Musial - The Cardinals' Prince

When Stan Musial hit the ground diving for a flyball in the summer of 1940, his career should have been over. He blew out his arm; not good for a pitching prospect playing in his third year of Class D ball - glorified semi-pro. The Cardinals had almost released him after his underwhelming first year (6-6, 4.66 ERA) for being wild and inconsistent.

But a friend encouraged Musial to try the outfield. Musial had no home run power (2 homers in over 500 ABs) but he could hit a little in the gaps and could run.

The next year, he started as a border-line prospect in Class C and wound up in late September with the St. Louis Cardinals in a pennant race. He hit .426 in 12 games - with power. By 1943 he was the league’s MVP. The Cardinals won four pennants and 3 World Championships in Musial’s first four full years.

And then he got better.

In 1948, he hit .376, with 39 homers and 131 RBIs. Musial won his 3rd MVP award but missed the Triple Crown by one home run. Blame the St. Louis Browns. The Cardinals had beaten the Browns in the World Series in 1944. The usually inept St. Louis Browns owned Sportsman's Park where the Cardinals played. The Browns had covered the right field stands in 1929 with a wire screen on an off-day after they had been hammered with home runs by the Tigers. (Four of Ruth's 60 home runs in 1927 had been at Sportsman's Park.) In 1948 Musial must have caromed a couple of his 46 doubles that year off the screen that, but for the Browns, would have been home runs. The Browns had their revenge for 1944.

1948 produced Musial's 2 "rookie" cards. (The card business had taken a breather during World War II.) The more famous of the 2 was a black and white portrait known as Bowman #36. To the right is a chrome refractor reprint of #36, serial numbered 255/299.

In 1952, Bowman produced another Musial classic card #196. Musial is shown in his batting stance wearing a Cardinals' home jersey with his signature at the top of the card. A beautiful card - but the artist may have failed to capture Musial's famous crouch. (Click on this link to view a video of Musial in his batting stance and see what you think.)

In Musial's first 16 years, he never hit below .300. He had a particular fondness for Dodger pitching. Carl Erskine, the fine Dodger pitcher of the '50s, said of Musial "I've had pretty good success with Stan by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third." One day at Ebbetts Field the Dodger fans in the bleachers started chanting: "Here comes that man again." whenever Musial came to bat.

Musial had a nickname: "The Man."

Musial was an exciting hitter, shooting the gaps and always gunning for the extra base. He hit 177 triples (the most exciting play in baseball) in his career - more than any other player since 1940. He was the National League batting champion 7 times. He was also the glue of the city. Cardinal fans would listen to the games on their front porches. Listening to Harry Carey on sultry summer nights. Drinking Busch Bavarian beer. Waiting for Musial to come to bat. Vin Scully said Musial took your breath away when he played.

And he may have been a better man. He was universally respected by the players. Ty Cobb was an outspoken admirer. Musial rarely argued a call. Was never thrown out of a game. He was generous with his time. When Dickie Kerr, the man who had encouraged him to stay in baseball as an outfielder, fell on hard times, Musial didn't send flowers. He bought Kerr a new home.

Musial was a part owner of a bowling alley on the South side of St. Louis. In the 5th grade I bowled in a league there. My team won the championship. Trophies were to be passed out on a Saturday morning. That day, Musial was there dressed in a gray suit, passing out trophies to somebody else's kids. Instead of sleeping in, he game them a memory to last a lifetime.

Musial faded a bit toward the end of his career but he still had enough pop to hit .330 as a semi-regular in 1962 when he was almost 42 years old. He stayed in St. Louis after he retired in 1963. He became the Cardinals' general manager for 1 year in 1967. They beat the Red Sox in 7 games in the World Series that year.

He still lives in St. Louis with his wife of 70 years. The Cardinals have had maybe more great players than any other team in baseball not named the Yankees. Hornsby, Frisch, Dizzy Dean, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith and now Pujols are some. But none compares to Musial who Bob Costas described as representing "more than two decades of sustained excellence and complete decency as a human being."

My son Caleb and I have been lucky in pulling 2 of Musial's autographed cards. One came from a 2006 Topps Sterling pack, shown above left. The card features Musial's September call-up in 1941 with what looks like a mid-career photo of him in the midst of a swing. Musial's signature is in blue ink and readable. The card is numbered 7 of 10.
Die cut on the left side of the card is the year "1941" inside of which are embedded 2 swatches of material from a flannel home jersey,1 swatch of a flannel road jersey, and a piece of one of Musial's bats. The second autograph came from a pack my son ripped from a box of 2004 Leaf Certified Cuts. The player featured on the box was Musial. The card is serial numbered 1 of 14.

The more that time has separated fans from Musial's playing days, the more his star has dimmed compared to his American League counterpart Ted Williams. Perhaps it's because Williams' darker personality attracts more interest than Musial's gentle optimism. Bill James in his HIstorical Abstract published in 1986 rated Musial as the best left fielder of all time. Williams was 2nd. (Musial, interestingly, played positions other than left field most of his career.) In James's second edition, published 15 years later, he ranked Williams ahead of Musial - without explanation. With 2 players as great as Musial and Williams perhaps you shouldn't rank them.

But if you have to, I think James had it right the first time.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Red Faber - The Man Who Could Have Saved the 1919 World Series

Babe Ruth called Red Faber the nicest man in the world. But apparently not between the lines. Faber pitched inside - knocking down Ty Cobb on 3 consecutive pitches once.

Faber was famous for 2 things: what he did in the 1917 World Series and what he didn't do in the 1919 World Series.

Faber was born on a farm in a small town in Iowa - where the cold winters insure that folks work hard and take care of one another. When Faber started out, he could throw hard. But just when he was about to break into the Big Leagues, he injured his arm. He saved his career by learning the spitter. The White Sox signed him for the 1914 season. He would pitch the next 21 years with them.

The White Sox were a power house in 1917. They played the Giants in the World Series. Faber, after a so-so season, as the number 2 starter, won 3 games for Chicago in the Series, including the clinching 6th game.

But then the US entered the Great War. Faber enlisted in the Navy and spent 1918 in Michigan. When he got out of the service for the 1919 season he had ankle and arm problems. Toward the end of the season he caught the flu - the year the Spanish Influenza pandemic killed at least 50 million persons world-wide. Faber got hammered in a game in August and spent the rest of the season on the bench - sick and in pain.

He was also on the bench (but on the roster) for the 1919 World Series - the year the Black Sox threw the Series. Ray Schalk, Faber's friend and battery-mate, said that had Faber been well, the Series would never have been fixed. I think he was right. Look at it from the gambler's viewpoint. They needed to be sure that the key players would take a dive. And that meant the pitching. Once Ed Cicotte, the Sox' best pitcher, and Lefty Williams, number 2, were on board, the gamblers had their sure thing. But Faber would have been the number 2 starter had he been well. Dickey Kerr, the number 4 rookie pitcher for the Sox, won 2 games in the Series.

If Faber had been well, the odds would have favored the White Sox even with 5 key players intentionally underperforming. The gamblers would never have offered the money to buy off the players. And remember, the White Sox almost won the Series anyway, losing 5 games to 3 to Cincinnati. With Faber healthy, it is certain that the Series would have played out differently.

The Black Sox scandal led to the White Sox becoming a perennial second division team. But Faber had his greatest success during the 3 years starting in 1921. He went 69 - 45 for threadbare White Sox teams.

After that he remained steady. The spitball was outlawed after the 1920 season but Faber was one of the fewer than 20 pitchers allowed to use the pitch for the rest of his career. He hung on until 1933 when he was 45 years old. His career record was 254 - 213. His career and stats are comparable to the Phillies' Jamie Moyer. Moyer has a career record of 258-195. Moyer was still pitching last year at 46. (No word on whether Moyer plans to retire now that he's 47.) Moyer was also a soft tosser who caught fire in the middle of his career and remained steady thereafter for a long time.

After Faber retired, he knocked around selling cars until he caught on with Cook County, Illinois as a survey crewman. He worked at the job until he was nearly 80.
Faber just missed being included in the classic T-206 baseball card set. Most of the cards featuring him during his career were forgettable black and white issues like the 1922 Caramel seen above and to the left. That card is interesting, though, for showing Faber in a black White Sox uniform. By hanging on until 1933, Faber caught a break. He was included in the 1933 Goudey set - his most famous card. I have a copy of that card (#79) in my collection. Faber is shown just after he's completed throwing a pitch in a thoroughly white uniform unadorned by any team logos. The Veteran's Committee elected him into the Hall in 1964. He died in his adopted hometown of Chicago in 1976.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Robert Moses Grove - The Greatest Forgotten Player

Lefty Grove had the face of a coal miner. Like one of those photographs by Walker Evans during the Depression. And he might have become one - he was from the coal mining region of Maryland - if he hadn't been able to throw a baseball faster than just about anyone ever has. His photos show sunken cheeks that you'd think would belong to a person who might be tall and thin - even skinny. But you'd be wrong: he stood 6 foot 3 and weighed 190 pounds. And came off the hill with a fluid motion and intimidation that might remind you of Randy Johnson. (Click for You Tube link.)

Most fans have heard of Lefty Grove but know nothing about him. (Tris Speaker is like that.) I think it's because there's no story attached to him, like Grover Cleveland Alexander striking out Tony Lazzeri in the '26 World Series, that has stuck in the fans' subconscious.

But he was some kind of a player - and man.

His career won lost record was 300 - 141. He would have won 400 games had the owner of his minor league team, the Baltimore Orioles, been willing to sell him to a major league team during his first 5 years as a pro. (Grove won 108 games during those 5 years.) Instead he toiled in the minors until Connie Mack paid the most ever at that time for a player to join his Philadelphia A's - $100,000.00.

Grove played 9 years with the A's starting in 1925. The A's won 3 penants in a row starting in 1929 and 2 World Championships with Grove as their ace. The A's and Grove peaked in 1931. The A's beat the Yankees that year by 13.5 games - against a Yankee team that had 9 future Hall of Famers on the roster. Grove went 31-4. He was voted the major league's Most Valuable Player. The A's lost the Series that year in 7 games to a very good Cardinals' team but not because of Grove. He won the first and 6th games of the Series.

He was known for his temper and his competitiveness - like an earlier, more intense Bob Gibson, maybe. It's said that after he retired he used to express regret for the stories of his youthful outbursts. But perhaps his passion and competitiveness were essential to a man who wanted to win and knew how to do it - unless somebody else failed to do their part.

The A's traded him to the Red Sox after the 1933 season; he played 8 years for Boston. He hurt his arm almost immediately after he was traded and had to pitch with guile and brains after that. Yet he still found a way to win over a hundred games for the Red Sox. In 1941, Grove was stuck on victory 299 for awhile. Finally he got number 300 with the help of some timely hitting by Ted Williams. He pitched a few more games after that but never won again.

He retired after that year, went home to Maryland and bought a bowling alley. He held court at the bowling alley where stories about his career were be tossed around. He was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1947 and died in 1975.

Bill James ranks him as the best lefthander who ever pitched. If you've seen Spahn, Koufax, Randy Johnson, or Steve Carlton, well, that means Grove was better than those guys. Can you imagine.

Grove's baseball cards are as undervalued compared to his greatness as his career is. My favorite is a 1932 Caramel pictured on the left. He also is featured on a famous 1933 DeLong card. I have in my collection a 2002 SP Legendary Cuts autograph card (above and to the right) of Grove that I treasure. He had a bold, large signature, which was easily readable. He signed a lot of autographs but like many of the great players, Babe Ruth notably, he appears to have taken the time to sign each autograph with care. I bet the fans who saw him play - and who have mostly passed on by now - knew how lucky they were to watch such a great player. I know I would have.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Earl of Snohomish

Earl Averill was 27 years old when he broke into the Big Leagues with the Cleveland Indians. He had gotten married at 20 and was working as a florist when at 26, somehow he was recruited to play for the San Francisco Seals. Maybe he thought playing ball was not a sound career choice for a married man. Maybe, because he was stuck up in Snohomish, Washington (about 30 miles northeast of Seattle) in the Pacific Northwest, nobody scouted him. Regardless, after one year in the minors, in 1929, he was the starting centerfielder for the Cleveland Indians. Almost immediately he was the best one in the American League - until a guy named Dimaggio started playing later in the decade. The Indians were never contenders during Averill's career - they usually hovered a little over .500. But Averill could play a little. At age 34 in 1936 he had 232 hits, 28 homers, 126 RBIs, and batted .378. He was traded to the Tigers in 1939 and got to play in the 1940 World Series when the Tigers lost to the Reds. Averill went hitless in 3 at bats as a pinch hitter.

Averill's timing when it came to baseball cards was good. He was playing at his peak when the classic 1933 Goudey set came out. He was shown on card #194 batting left-handed in front of some blurry powder blue baseball fans. I have in my collection the other classic card of Averill during that time period. It's the 1935 Diamond Stars card #35 that shows Averill about to toss a ball right-handed from center field. There is a red advertisement above the center field fence.
His uniform is pin-striped.

Averill went home after playing a few games for the Boston Braves in 1941 and died in Everett, Washington in 1983. Grady Sizemore, the Indians' current center fielder, had been born the year before. He would grow up in the same town where Averill died.