The Worst of the Best, Part II: Hits and Runs Scored
This is part II of my series on players with the lowest career totals in major statistical categories in which they led their league at least one time. This time the stats are hits and runs scored. You can find part I of the series here.
Fewest Career Hits by a One-Time Hits Leader. Doc Miller: 192 NL 1911, 507 career hits. As we’ve seen is not uncommon for this era, Miller was a player who didn’t reach the major leagues until age 27, although his professional career in the minor leagues began at age 20. The next year at age 28, Miller had his league leading season. He also finished second in batting, only one basis point behind the immortal Honus Wagner, as well as finishing sixth in total bases and fifth in RBIs. He never reached 400 at-bats in a season again and was apparently out of professional baseball for good less than three years later.
Honorable mention. Dick Wakefield: 200 AL 1943; 625 career hits. In 1943, the first year in which most of the best players were in military service, Wakefield had a terrific rookie season at age 22. He got off to an even better start in 1944, but was called up roughly half way through the season. When he returned in 1946 with most of the other top players, he wasn’t the same player.
Wakefield was baseball’s first “bonus baby” signing a then enormous $52,000 signing bonus with the Detroit Tigers in 1941, which was more than the combined salaries of the entire starting line-ups of a few of the poorer teams in MLB at that time. The money apparently went to his head, because he developed a reputation for flaunting his money and not working as hard as the other players, although he also got a lot of bad press simply because his signing bonus was also many times what the sportswriters made in an era when the average major league sportswriter made roughtly the same annual salary as the average major league player, around $8,000.
Fewest Career Hits by a Two-Time Hits Leader. Snuffy Stirnweiss: 205 AL 1944, 195 AL 1945; 989 career hits. Snuffy appeared in part I of this series as the player with the lowest career batting average ever to lead his league in batting average.
Honorable mention. Lenny Dykstra: 192 NL 1990, 194 NL 1993, 1,298 career hits. Named in the Mitchell Report as an early steroids user, presumably later in his career, Dykstra always had a lot of injury problems as well. Except for his two league leading seasons, he never had more than 127 hits in a season during his twelve year career.
Fewest Career Hits by a Three-Time Hits Leader. Johnny Pesky: 205 AL 1942, 208 AL 1946, 207 AL 1947; 1,455 career hits. After leading the Junior Circuit in hits as a 23 year old rookie in 1942, Pesky (born Paveskovich) lost three years to WWII, but came back right where he left off in 1946. Once he was past age 30, however, he just couldn’t stay healthy. The player most similar to Pesky in baseball history is obviously Nomar Garciaparra, another great, young Red Sox shortstop who couldn’t stay healthy once he passed age 30.
Fewest Career Hits by a Four-Time Hits Leader. Ginger Beaumont: 193 NL 1902, 209 NL 1903, 185 NL 1904, 187 NL 1907; 1,759 career hits. One of the best players you may never have heard of, he was the center fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates during much of the first decade of the 20th century. Like teammate Honus Wagner, Beaumont was stocky yet fast. His one enduring claim to fame is that he was the first batter in the first modern World Series in 1903. Knee problems ended his professional career at the relatively early age of 34 — Beaumont’s major league career ended at age 33, which was not particularly uncommon even for high caliber players in his era, but he played only one subsequent season in the minor leagues before he was forced to retire.
Fewest Career Hits by a Five-Time Hits Leader. Tony Oliva: 217 AL 1964, 185 AL 1965, 191 AL 1966, 197 AL 1969, and 204 AL 1970; 1,917 career hits. One of the very best hitters of the twenty year period beginning in 1963 when the strike zone was lengthened and batting averages plummeted, Tony O also led the AL in batting three times, in doubles four times, in slugging percentage once and hit 30+ HRs once (in a different season than the one in which he led the league in slugging).
Oliva, a black Cuban, wasn’t signed to a minor league contract until age 22 and didn’t reach the majors for good until age 25. Like Ginger Beaumont, chronic knee problems prevented Oliva from putting up career numbers that would have made him a cinch for the Hall of Fame.
Fewest Career Runs Scored by a One-Time Runs Leader. Dave Fultz: 109 AL 1902, 369 career runs scored. A two-sport All American (football and baseball) at Brown University, his professional baseball career ended in 1905, the same year he passed the New York bar exam after studying law at Columbia University. He made the right career choice, as his performance declined sharply after his league-leading 1902 campaign, due mostly to accumulated leg and knee injuries from playing football.
Fultz was not the first major league star to earn a law degree at Columbia University. John Montgomery Ward more famously became the first pro baseball player to do so in 1885. Also like Monte Ward before him, Fultz was heavily involved in efforts by players to organize to oppose the reserve clause, although like Ward without lasting success.
Honorable mention. Spike Shannon: 104 NL 1907; 383 career runs scored. A 26 year old rookie left fielder in 1904, Shannon had four solid seasons culminating in the year he led the Senior Circuit in runs scored. However, he had a poor season in 1908 and was sold down to the minors. He played a few more years, mostly for Kansas City in the American Association, but he never regained his batting stroke.
Solly Hemus: 105 NL 1952; 459 career runs scored. Another player who apparently got a late start to his professional career due to WWII service, Hemus has the lowest career total for any player to lead his league in runs scored after 1920. Hemus is best remembered today, if at all, as the St. Louis Cardinals’ player/manager in 1959 for whom Jim Brosnan expressed little respect in his classic baseball diary The Long Season.
Fewest Career Runs Scored by a Two-Time League Leader. Snuffy Stirnweiss: 125 AL 1944, 107 AL 1945; 604 career runs scored. Appearing for the third time in this series, Snuffy was a great player the last two years of the Second World War, but not so much once the war had ended.
Honorable mention. Patsy Dougherty: 107 AL 1903, 113 AL 1904; 678 career runs scored. A star of the American League’s first decade, Patsy played regularly for both the 1903 and 1906 World Series champions. Dougherty’s outfield defense was terrible and he feuded with the Red Sox’s new owner John I. Taylor when he demanded a big raise before his third season, after leading the league in both hits and runs scored and the World Champion Red Sox in both batting average and stolen bases. As a result, Dougherty was traded to the New York Highlanders (Yankees) only two months into the 1904 season.
Dougherty’s Highlanders nearly stole the 1904 pennant from Boston, but Patsy slumped badly in 1905 and got into a fist fight with manager Clark Griffith (contemporary accounts blamed both player and manager equally for the fight). As a result, he was again traded in June of 1906, this time to the Chicago White Sox, whom Patsy again helped dramatically, as the ChiSox not only won the pennant but also beat the Cubs, the team with the best regular season record in modern baseball history, in the World Series.
The White Sox’s South Side Park was a terrible place to hit in an era that had the least offense in baseball history. Dougherty led Pale Hose regulars in batting ever year from 1907 through 1910, while hitting only .270, .278, .285 and .248. However, Dougherty missed roughly 20 games of the 1910 season to what were described at the time as “malarial attacks” (this was entirely possible as malaria wasn’t fully eradicated in the U.S. until 1951). Patsy hit .289 in 1911 but similar health problems limited him to 76 games, and he retired after that season.
Fewest Career Runs Scored by a Three-Time League Leader. Arky Vaughan: 122 NL 1936, 113 NL 1940, 115 NL 1943: 1,173 career runs scored. A great hitting shortstop who was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans’ Committee in 1985, Vaughan lost three years late in his career when he temporarily retired after a dispute with Brooklyn Dodgers’ manager Leo Durocher.
On July 10, 1943, Durocher suspended Dodger pitcher Bobo Newsom for insubordination and then made numerous accusations against Newsom to the press. When Vaughan read the accusations in a newspaper, which accusations he thought false, he gave Durocher his balled-up uniform and told the Lip to shove it up his ass. The rest of the Dodger players sided with Vaughan, who was generally a quiet man and well respected in the clubhouse, and the team nearly sat out the next game. Durocher and Dodger general manager Branch Rickey convinced the team, except for Vaughan, to play, and Rickey convinced Vaughan to suit up and rejoin the team on the bench before that game was over.
However, Vaughan voluntarily retired after the 1943 season and did not return until Branch Rickey coaxed him back in 1947, a year during which Durocher had been suspended by MLB for the duration for associating with known gamblers. Vaughan, who was born in Arkansas but grew up in California, provided a calming, veteran presence in the Dodger clubhouse and also went out his way to be nice to Jackie Robinson during the latter’s rookie season, as the Dodgers went on to win the pennant.
Fewest Career Runs Scored by a Four-Time or More League Leader. George Burns: 100 NL 1914, 105 NL 1916, 103 NL 1917, 86 NL 1919 and 115 NL 1920. One of baseball’s best lead-off men at the tail end of the dead-ball/dirty-ball era, Burns played in three World Series for the New York Giants. He also led the NL in walks five times, in stolen bases twice and had a .287 career batting average. The recent player most like Burns is probably Brett Butler, a great lead-off for the Braves, Indians, Giants and Dodgers in the 1980’s and 1990’s.