Allow me to share some amusing off-season trivia I've discovered while doing some research on August Wilson's play Fences--which, if your high school English teacher didn't have you read it, follows the life of a working-class ex-Negro Leagues slugger named Troy Maxson from the late 1930s coping with his post-playing days in 1957 Pittsburgh. In looking into the play, I've come across two old-timey New York players of whom you may not have heard (or if so, only in passing), but whose careers you find intrguing. We'll introduce them in the form of on-base- percentage-based trivia questions...
1) Who led the 1939 Yankees (aka The Greatest Time Of All Time) in on-base percentage?
Were you not expecting a trick question, you'd almost certainly go with Joe DiMaggio. That would be an excellent guess, as DiMaggio had a mind-meltingly good year, posting 9+ fWAR despite missing 30 games--.381/.448/.671 triple-slash with his trademark solid centerfield defense--but somebody else on the team had an OBP a few ticks higher. If you flip through your mental list of Yankee Hall of Famers (remembering that Gehrig had retired by then), you might hit up Bill Dickey and Joe Gordon next, but no dice there, either (.403 and .370). If you have a mental Rolodex of guys with great nicknames, you might even pick Charlie "King Kong" Keller, who had a fantastic rookie year--but no, he's only at .447. Instead, the winner is this guy--http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=1011732&position=OF
George Selkirk, right fielder on that team, is a guy whose career progress pretty much only could've happened in Old Timey Days. For instance, he was discovered, I believe, at age eighteen working as a professional wrestler in Canada--in fact, as far I know, he's the first Great Canadian Baseball Player (that was a pretty small club, by the way, until about the last twenty years with the coming of Larry Walker, Jason Bay, Joey Votto, etc.). Also, his nickname was "Twinkletoes" (apparently he ran weirdly?). And the Yankees were allowed to stick him in the minors for eight years, because as you may recall, they were pretty much set in right field in the early 1930s and had no need to move him before the Rule V draft. In fact, it was he who had the task of trying to replace George Herman, though he never had much of a chance to build a career anything like the Babe's: he didn't debut until he was 26 and was pretty much washed up at 33. But man, did he have some sabergasmy years in there. His 1939 is probably the best, finishing second in baseball to Jimmie Foxx in OBP that year with a .306/.452/.517 line.
His 1940 intrigues me more, because, if you've read Fences, you may recall that he's Troy's white whale, especially for that season. Troy goes on and on about how a guy who only hit .269 shouldn't have been playing right field for the Yankees when black players like him, who could do lots better, were banned from the game. Selkirk did hit .269 that year--but with a .406 OBP, buttressed by a league-leading 17.9% walk rate. That was the year Lefty Gomez fell apart, by the way, and the Yankees finally failed to win the pennant, though they made a furious 10-2 stretch drive trying to catch Detroit--powered, in part, by a 5HR-in-4-games stretch by Selkirk.
He had a good post-playing career too--long scouting career, successful run GMing the Senators in the 1960s, generally beloved by New Yorkers, Washingtonians, and Canadians alike.
2) Of all second basemen to play in the big leagues since 1940 (i.e., since the crazy 30s offense cooled down, aka the post-Hornsby era), who has the highest career on-base percentage?
You might start by guessing Joe Morgan, but while Joe put up some killer seasons in the 70s, he bloomed late and tailed off for a while, so he's only at .392 for his career. Rod Carew's in a similar boat at .393, though from a singles-heavy rather than walk-heavy angle. Actually, only two second basemen are over .400 at all--heck, our nemesis in Philly, an OBP monster who plays in a high-offense environment, only has one season over .400. If while trying to come up with someone without a long learning curve who aged gracefully, you picked Jackie Robinson, you'd be closer, and not just because Robinson's the player other than the right answer over .400, with a .409 mark. It's because the answer is this guy--http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=1012406&position=2B
Eddie Stanky actually played second for the Dodgers during Robinson's first season, when they stuck Robinson at first to try him out. From what I understand, he handled it better than just about anyone else on the team--by which I mostly mean that he yelled some righteous stuff (hopefully more obscene than Robinson's biographer actually recorded) back at the Phillies when their manager Ben Chapman decided to go with the "Let's all yell the n-word at Robinson so we can get into his head for competitive advantage" strategy. The Dodgers traded Stanky after the 1947 season after Robinson won Rookie of the Year and Gil Hodges was ready for the majors; this amounted to giving him away, as they sent him and a PTBNL to Boston for one guy whom they promptly sold to Philly and another whom they soon made the aforementioned PTBNL. Other than defending Robinson, Stanky is probably best-known now for inspiring, in one breath from Leo Durocher, two of the great sport cliches: after noting that Mel Ott was extremely talented and a "nice guy," but was on a last-place team, Durocher said of Stanky, "He can't hit, can't run, can't field. He's no nice guy, but all the little SOB can do is win."
Well, there was one thing he could do--draw walks. Oh dear Lord, did he draw walks. It was the only damn thing he could do--I guess he batted .300 a few years and TZ doesn't hate his fielding at second, but he only hit 29 HRs in his whole career and rarely had more than 25 doubles per season. But man, look at those walks. 137 walks in 1946--he only hit .273 and still led the league in OBP with .436. And that was only his third-highest single-season walk total! He had 144 in 1950--148 in 1945. Hell, Mickey Mantle topped out at 146, and pitchers actually had a reason not to throw him strikes. And despite this total lack of any offensive ability other than walking, Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference agree on him as the best player in the National League for his 8-WAR 1950. Must've been something watching him bat--I can't even imagine how he pulled off the numbers he did.
As a result, Stanky compiled what is probably the most ridiculous career triple-slash line in modern baseball history--.268/.410/.348. Look at that a while and marvel. Between that, the talk of his mean-gutsy-gritty-grinderness, and his Little Rascals-esque name (his nickname is even "Brat"), I imagine him as a sepia-toned, demonic joint parody of David Eckstein and Luis Castillo fifty years before the fact. As these types often do, he managed after retirement, and, also as these types do, finally retired amidst whines about the non-gritty attitudes of those whippersnapper young players with their big contracts who didn't know how the game really ought to be played.