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July 10, 2009

You Could Look It Up

All-Star Obscurities

by Steven Goldman

Part of the fun of All-Star Game rosters is trying to guess which players are the most out of place, the guys whose careers will be so obscure in a few years that future generations will look at their selection and say, "Who?" My guess for each league this year will be Brian Fuentes and Yadier Molina, but a few of those players from the past:

1935: OF Joe Vosmik, AL; 2B Burgess Whitehead, NL

Vosmik wasn't a great player, and perhaps was not even a very good one, but at one point he had a chance to pile up a huge hits total. The reason that he's not well-remembered is, naturally enough, that he did not. A local boy signed at 19 by the Indians, supposedly at the suggestion of the general manager's wife (who liked his looks), Vosmik hit .381 and .397 in two minor league seasons and was the Tribe's regular left fielder at 21. Vosmik's rookie and sophomore seasons were virtually identical, with .320/.363/.464 rates in 1931 and .312/.376/.462 rates in 1932. In the heated offensive context of the time these rates are merely good, not great, but project a little growth and an early start to a career and you could foresee a Hall of Fame career just based on career longevity and counting stats.

After an off year in 1933, Vosmik rebounded to hit .341/.393/.477 in 1934. Then came his All-Star season of '35; playing in 152 games, Vosmik batted .348/.408/.537 and led the league in hits (216), doubles (47), and triples (20). He was 25 years old and might have been expected to have another few seasons at that level, but his 1936 was actually below average at .287/.383/.413 (the league as whole hit .289/.363/.421) and that was enough for the Indians-that winter they bundled him with shortstop Bill Knickerbocker and another All-Star that no one remembers (right-hander Oral Hildebrand) and sent the lot to the Browns for three veterans of moderate talent.

Vosmik rebounded for the Browns, hitting .325/.377/.455 in 1937, and they flipped him to the Red Sox for three random players in a trade that seems to boil down to Vosmik for Bobo Newsom, though it's very hard to decipher the logic from either side. Vosmik was again decent for the Red Sox in 1938, leading the league in hits (201), though his .324/.384/.446 rates were nothing special for the park or league. And then, that was it-he was done at 28. The next year he hit .276/.356/.388 and hit into a league-leading 27 double plays, which was an American League record. The Sox sold him to the Dodgers for $25,000 dollars. He had a replacement-level season for the Bums in 1940, and he was released in early 1941. His ensuing minor league work was nothing special, and except for a brief return as a wartime replacement player in 1944, he was done.

Whitehead was an interesting guy, an undersized North Carolinian with a good glove who couldn't hit; hitting .266/.304/.331 in a career that began in Sportsman's Park in 1933 is the epitome of not hitting. His career was shortened by a variety of injuries, including a season-long timeout caused by a nervous breakdown, and three years in the Air Corps during World War II. Still, he got in three pennants in his seven full seasons, including his presence on a winner with the Gashouse Gang in 1934. He made a second All-Star team in 1937 when he had his best offensive season, hitting .286/.323/.359 in 152 games for the pennant-winning Giants. And say this for Burgess's glove: when he spent the 1938 season on the disabled list with that case of nerves, the team dropped from 95-57 to 83-67, with the pitching staff coincidentally weakening.

1938: CF Mike Kreevich, AL; CF Hersh Martin, NL

Kreevich, a center fielder, was the definition of second-division player, getting passed around among the White Sox, A's, Browns, and Senators over the course of his career. He made to the postseason just once, as thanks to fascism the Browns won the 1944 pennant. He didn't get a shot at regular major league work until he was 28, but batted a reasonable .307/.373/.444 over his first four seasons, with a bit of extra credit thrown in for his tough home park, strong defense, and adept bunting. Buried in the Cardinals' system for nearly a decade, Martin was the Phillies' starting center fielder for about two minutes starting at the age of 27, and made the All-Star team his sophomore year. He wouldn't have too many more opportunities, as the Phillies dropped him in 1940. He resurfaced with the Yankees during World War II and played well, but was sent away the minute that Hitler was certified as dead.

1939: C Frankie Hayes, AL; P Lou Fette, NL

Blimp Hayes was a pretty good player, a long-time catcher with a decent bat (at his peak, from 1937 to 1941, he averaged .288/.373/.477). His translated stats are uncannily like Charles Johnson's:


Player    AB     H      2B  3B    HR    BB     K     AVG/ OBP/ SLG    EqA
Hayes    4650   1149   216   3   207   516   1069   .247/.325/.428   .259
Johnson  3803    911   185   5   170   448    975   .240/.324/.425   .258

Like Johnson, Hayes had a brief-ish career. At first glance it looks longer than it really was, because Connie Mack brought Hayes to the majors at 18; Mack traded him to the Browns during his age-27 season, and Hayes sulked his way out of the big leagues at 32. Fette was an American Association journeyman of nine years who got a call from the Braves at a low point in franchise history. Thanks to the cavernous Braves Field, he posted a 3.00 ERA in his first three seasons, twice leading the league in shutouts. He's still waiting for that fourth season.

1940: 1B/RF Lou Finney, AL; 2B Pete Coscarart, NL

These were two of the worst players to ever appear in the All-Star Game. Finney was corner man who batted .287/.336/.388 for his career; that boils down to a .252 EqA. Finney reached the majors with the Philadelphia Athletics in the early '30s, just as Connie Mack was breaking up his last great team, the 1929-1931 pennant-winners. The Mackmen never did get back to contention, and replacement-level players like Finney were one of the reasons why. Just as the post-Mack A's acted as a farm team for the New York Yankees, the late-Mack A's were a feeder team for the Red Sox. Sox owner Tom Yawkey had money to burn, and Mack was willing to sell anything that wasn't nailed down for cash; it was the perfect friendship. In 1939, the Sox took an interest in Finney for some reason, and once again made the former Cornelius McGillicuddy an offer he couldn't refuse. In 1940, Finney had what was by far his best year, batting .320/.360/.463 (.278 EqA), and made the big dance at Sportsman's Park. Coincidentally, five National League pitchers shut out the American League on three hits.

Coscarart is a figure of minor import in the saga of the Brooklyn Dodgers, as the team managed to twice replaced him with future Hall of Famers. Coscarart broke out as a Brooklyn favorite in 1939, when he hit .277/.354/.368 as a 26-year-old rookie. In 1940, he slumped to .237/.311/.354 and suddenly he wasn't popular at all, especially with manager Leo Durocher, who had decided he needed a better all-around second baseman if the Dodgers were to reach the postseason for the first time since 1920. It was common knowledge that Cubs standout second baseman Billy Herman of was unhappy with new manager Jimmie Wilson, and on May 6, 1941, the Dodgers sent two inconsequential players and $65,000 westward and got Herman back by return post. Coscorart hit the bench.

As would be true today, the Dodgers didn't have much use for a utility infielder whose only real skill was to play a marginal second base. That December, the Dodgers sent Coscarart, 36-year-old pitcher Luke Hamlin, 33-year-old catcher Babe Phelps (who had refused to play for most of 1941), and journeyman outfielder-first baseman Jimmy Wasdell (a Lou Finney clone who hit .273/.332/.365) to the Pirates for Arky Vaughan, then 30 years old. Coscarart rewarded the Pirates with a .228/.288/.287 season in 1942, and to their immense sorrow managed to play straight through the war without being drafted. As soon as peace was declared, the Pirates dumped him overboard.

I'll have some postwar All-Star obscurities in our next installment of YCLIU.

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

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