Four Hall of Famers and One a Bit Lamer: Five Notable Achievements
When one's computer crashes and long-labored articles are lost, one goes back to basics: scouring the memory and trying desperately to recreate the statistical nuances and research that kept one awake until all hours of the night.
So I begin with a short compilation of notable—or notably dubious—achievements by the great and the not-so-great.
Walter Johnson: Triple Threat
One of the more remarkable hitting feats achieved by a pitcher is Walter Johnson’s mark of 41 career triples—which means that, of his 547 hits, 7.4% went for three bases.
This is a high percentage for even the speediest everyday hitter, let alone a pitcher.
Contrast that ratio to Scott Rolen, who, going into Opening Day 2012, has hustled up an even 500 doubles among his 2005 hits—itself the highest proportion of doubles to total hits in history among players with 2000 hits—yet has managed the same 41 triples as Johnson—but at only a 2 percent rate.
Even as potent a bat as Lefty O’Doul, who also cracked 41 three-baggers, collected those triples only 3.6 percent of the time he stroked a hit, despite a whopping .532 slugging average.
Granted, long-time Washington Senators possess high triples totals, thanks to many at-bats in spacious Griffith Stadium, as well as the triple’s pre-war prominence in general (Joe Judge: 157; Goose Goslin: 125, including twice leading the American League; Buddy Myer: 113).
Yet even all-time triples king, Sam Crawford, didn’t leg out his specialty at a hugely higher clip than the Big Train: Wahoo Sam’s 309 three-baggers represent just 10.4 percent of his total hits.
In fact, Johnson smashed triples with a better frequency than Ty Cobb himself, whose 295 triples—second only to long-time teammate Crawford—are just 7.0 percent of the Georgia Peach’s hits, against Johnson’s 7.4 percent.
That Johnson could hit the ball should come as little surprise—he still holds the highest season average for a pitcher: a scorching .433 in 1925.
But for a hurler to hit the ball that hard and then run the bases with substantial abandon—well, between his pitching, his hitting and his running, the man was quite a triple threat.
A Most Valuable Part-Timer
Considering he batted a sizzling .351 and drew enough walks to up his on-base percentage to an eye-popping .445—while, as usual, providing some of the best backstopping and leadership in baseball—it should be no surprise that Bill Dickey finished eighth in MVP voting in 1943.
Until you realize that Dickey played only 85 games.
And only 71 of those games in the field.
True, many big-name players were off to war and individual numbers were down (only two hitters in the Junior Circuit knocked in at least 100 runs, and Luke Appling’s .328 pales to Dickey’s half-season of swinging), and, true, the New York Yankees cruised to their third straight pennant.
But voters—most likely of the Big Apple variety—clearly jumped on the bandwagon for anyone in Pinstripes.
Three Yankees finished in the top seven, including MVP Spud Chandler, so the Bronx Bombers hardly were under-represented.
Obviously, heavy New York bias led to Dickey’s 29 runs and 33 RBIs placing higher—including two first-place votes—than the more deserving Vern Stephens (22 home runs, 91 RBI), George Case (102 runs, 61 stolen bases, both tops in the AL) and even fellow Bomber Charlie Keller (31 home runs, 86 RBI, an AL-leading .922 OPS).
Three decades earlier, "Laughing" Larry Doyle had famously proclaimed, "It's great to be young and a Giant."
For Bill Dickey in 1943, it was great to be old and a Yankee.
Lefty's Hefty Strikeout Total
Simultaneously demonstrating his ineptitude as a batter and the prolific contact-hitting era in which he pitched, Lefty Grove actually ranked 10th in batting strikeouts in 1926, en route to a putrid .099 average.
Tossing a Major League–leading 194 Ks, Grove got a taste of his own medicine 42 times, which tied him with Charlie Gehringer, one of the great contact hitters in baseball history (Gehringer’s 42 strikeouts, in his first full season, stood as his career high, as he whiffed a mere 372 times in more than 10,000 plate appearances).
Grove actually placed second on his own team in batting strikeouts, surpassed only by Al Simmons, who outdistanced him by seven measly whiffs despite coming to bat 547 more times.
Of course, when you’re among the league leaders in strikeouts with 42, it’s clearly an age when even free-swingers are making a lot of contact; rookie Tony Lazzeri far outpaced both leagues with just 96 whiffs.
As he became the mainstay of the Philadelphia Athletics and Boston Red Sox pitching staffs in the 1930s, Grove topped his mark of 42 strikeouts five times, yet, as strikeout totals slowly climbed, never again did he appear in this incongruous category.
Nothing Could Be Finer Than 23 Years in the Minors
Nicknamed “Tomato Face”—and looking at his photograph, it’s not difficult to see why—Nick Cullop enjoyed (or labored through) a five-year sojourn that took him to as many cities.
A light-hitting outfielder who singled in his first trip to the plate, Cullop—not to be confused with the mildly successful pitcher of the same name from a generation earlier—traded in his New York Yankees pinstripes for a Washington Senators “W” after the 1926 season, then quickly bounced to the Cleveland Indians, before returning to the minors.
Resurfacing with the Brooklyn Robins in 1929, Cullop played the following two seasons for the Cincinnati Reds.
Never more than a bench player, Cullop finally got a chance as a semi-regular for the 1931 Reds.
Unfortunately, his bat didn’t. Tomato Face struck out a league-leading 86 times.
This, in itself, is not really noteworthy—until one realizes that he registered this dubious mark in only 359 plate appearances.
To gauge Cullop’s penchant for walking back to the dugout, consider that runner-up Woody English whiffed but 80 times in a league-leading 727 plate appearances.
And among his own teammates, Cullop whiffed more than the next two most strikeout-prone Redlegs, Harvey Hendrick and Estel Crabtree, who, combined, suffered through strike three just 73 times in 1,069 trips to the plate.
In fact, since 1900, Cullop needed the fewest plate appearances to lead his league in strikeouts—and this includes the truncated 1918 and 1981 seasons.
Only four other players since the start of the 20th century came close to reaching Cullop’s mark of futility: Bill Cunningham (96 Ks in 368 PA in 1911), Babe Ruth (58 Ks in 382 PA in 1918), Vince DiMaggio (83 Ks in 379 PA in 1944), and Pat Seerey (99 Ks in 365 PA in 1944, against only 19 walks).
Striking out so often can cost a player his job—and it sure did Cullop.
Returned to the minors after the 1931 season, Cullop continued a long and successful career in the farm system. He continued playing through 1944, and after looking back on 23 seasons in the minors, Cullop could boast a .312 average and 2,670 hits, as well as a 49-49 pitching record, accumulated in his early days on the diamond.
He further managed minor-league teams throughout the 1940s and 1950s, garnering a respectable 1109 wins on a .497 winning percentage.
Getting into just 173 Major League games during his career, Nick Cullop spent barely more than a season in the Bigs, yet his professional baseball career lasted nearly four decades.
Not bad for a guy named Tomato Face.
Catchers Hit Triples, Too—Or Do They?
In a 24-year Hall of Fame career that saw him unanimously win the 1972 AL Rookie of the Year Award, establish numerous records for catchers, and slug one of the most memorable home runs in World Series history, I don’t know whether it’s more remarkable that Carlton Fisk only once led his league in a single offensive category, or that—considering Pudge’s position and its consequent wear on speed—the category in which he led his league was triples (along with Joe Rudi, legging out an AL-topping 9 in 1972).
Interestingly, four of those three-baggers came against the Kansas City Royals, including two in a June 3 loss.
But even more notably, after leading the American League in triples in 1972, Fisk didn’t smash any during the following season, despite registering 508 at-bats.
This is far too obscure a statistic to track down, but it’s difficult to think of, or imagine, any player who led his league in triples one season, only to fail to log a single three-base hit the next year (assuming the next season entailed a full slate of games played).
Then again, Joe Rudi hit only one triple the season after co-leading the league with Fisk, so it's entirely possible.