With 232 players enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, it comes as no surprise that many of the games immortals are unknown to today’s fans. After all, how many of these 232 legendary ballplayers can YOU name?
Chances are it’s a lot fewer than you think; everyone knows Cal Ripken, Nolan Ryan, and Babe Ruth, but what about Gabby Hartnett, Frankie Frisch, and George Kell?
There are many great players, especially those from hall of fame classes inducted over 50 years ago, that for one reason or another have fallen out of recognition as the preeminent players of their time.
This recurring article will take a one-by-one look at some of baseball’s most unknown hall of famers. Up today is Arky Vaughan, Pittsburgh Pirates and Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop during the 1930’s and 40’s.
The Pirates made Vaughan their starting shortstop in 1932, a position he would man for ten seasons. In 1933, Vaughan led the NL with 19 triples, the first of three seasons in which he would pace the league in the category. He would also lead the NL three times each in walks, runs scored, on-base percentage, putouts, and assists.
In perhaps his best season, Vaughan led the NL in hitting, at .385, in 1935, while also smashing 19 home runs and driving in 99 RBI. The very next season, he walked an astounding 118 times while striking out just 21. He would never strike out more than 38 times in a single season.
1936 would also be the season that Vaughan would set the record for highest career batting average by a shortstop that played exclusively in the 20th century (after hitting .335 in ’36 to bring his career average to .318).
However, due to playing in Pittsburgh, Vaughan permanently played in the shadow of former Pirate great Honus Wagner, and could do little to escape the unavoidable comparisons between the two.
In 1941, Vaughan’s tenth straight season hitting over .300, he became the first player in baseball history to hit two home runs in an All-Star Game. With the Pirates set to start the rebuilding process, Vaughan was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943.
Still playing at an elite level with a .305 batting average, 66 RBI, and 112 runs scored, Vaughan retired after the 1943 season rather than play for Dodgers manager Leo Durocher.
With no free agency and the Dodgers unwilling to trade him, Vaughan, at just 31 years old, retired and sat out for three full seasons. In 1947, he came back to the Dodgers only because Durocher was suspended for the year, and promptly hit .325 off the bench and made his first World Series appearance.
After dipping to .244 in 1948, Vaughan permanently retired. Had he not missed three consecutive seasons during his prime playing age, Vaughan may have eclipsed 3000 career hits. Nonetheless, he still retired with a .318 career batting average, second best ever by a shortstop at the time. In an unfortunate fishing incident, Vaughan drowned in 1952, at just 40 years old.
While it took the Veterans’ Committee until 1985 to elect him to the Hall of Fame, Vaughan should be remembered as one of the greatest offensive shortstops to ever play the game.