Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Greatest Baseball Player of All Time

Ronald Reagan tops a list of the nation's greatest presidents, ahead of Abraham Lincoln, according to a new Gallup survey. -- News item.

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As spring training for another baseball season swings into high gear, it is time to discuss the Greatest Baseball Player of All Time.

Eddie Miller did things shortstops just don't do today.  He cut a hole in the sweet spot of his fielder's mitt!  "Gives me a better feel, especially on double plays started by Frey."  That would be Lonnie Frey, his second baseman with the great Cincinnati Reds teams of the late 1930s and early 1940s.  Together they turned 112 double plays in the 1943 season.  Cubs fans may sing the praises of Tinker to Evers to Chance, but in Cincy, Miller to Frey to McCormick spells G-R-E-A-T-N-E-S-S.

Eddie (The Ripper) Miller broke into the major leagues in 1936 at the age of 19.  Already he was demonstrating the fielding prowess that would make him a seven-time All-Star.  In 1937, the 20-year-old shortstop wasn't charged with a single error.

Eddie could do it all, however.  Swing the bat, run the bases . . . he stole 11 bases in 1942 at the ripe old age of 25.  It's true that other shortstops like Luke Appling or Hughie Jennings compiled higher lifetime batting averages than Eddie's .238, but Miller could take two and hit to right like nobody before or after him. 

And in 1947, he not only hit .268, but also belted a career high 19 home runs.  Miller actually led the National League in homers for most of the first month of the season.

Sure, you had your Ty Cobbs, your Babe Ruths, your Honus Wagners, your Ted Williamses and a whole batch of terrific pitchers.

But among everyday position players, there was only one Eddie Miller. (The other Eddie Miller who played big-league baseball was a pitcher.)

To this day, kids on the sandlots of Cincinnati are inspired to go out and win one for The Ripper.


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  2. This Eddie Miller that I never heard of, did you happen to be watchin' him about the same time I was watchin' such smooth-field, no-hit infielders as Leo Righetti, pitcher Dave's pop, struggling to hit his weight all over the Sally League -- Charleston, Augusta, Greenville, wherever they'd give him work? I think he missed Columbia, SC, where I went to collitch, and which was too strongly anchored to its poppa team to entertain Leo. In fact, Columbia had one of those umbilical-type ties to Cincinnati, and in the late '40s (early '50s, too) the top Redleg farm team was this one in only Class A, where the local Reds polished up Kluszewski, Baumholtz, Merriman, Wally Post (a pitcher with other possibilities who kept a couple homers in there with an occasional goose egg till they took his egg-crate away and made him play every day); a guy named Frank Robinson who stood right up to the plate while a couple of aging, leather-lunged Augusta fans had a little fun yelling "Hit him in the head!" like they wuz mean people or something. But they wuz jes' nice Southern fellas, never you mind. (Well, there wuz times we did wonder about 'em, but it wuz plum wunnerful how easy it was, back then, to accept disrespect directed at other folks. Has anything really changed since then, I wonder?) And Joe Bill Adcock (notice the dropped Bill, and NO, he wasn't no "Billy Joe" like the one that played all-American basketball for Vanderbilt back then, or the other one who jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge). This fella, Joe Bill for Joseph Wilbur, was a baseball all-American from LSU who hung around for a couple of seasons trying to fix his swing in Columbia, and finally got it about as fixed as it would get before he headed on up the hill. It did need some fixin', though not much. Anyway, back in '48, fella named Joe Nuxhall couldn't buy a win in Columbia.

    Speaking of fans yelling and all, the guys who broke the Sally League's color line did it as part of a roommate-combination deal for the Jacksonville Tars, who belonged to the NY Jints. Their names were Henry Aaron, Horace Garner and Felix Mantilla, and they came along in those same few years. This fellow Henry won the batting title first time out by a heap (gettin' about the same kind of good-natured support he got years later when he started whacking away at one of Mr. Babe Ruth's big records)and I always figured Horace woulda done a lot better if he wasn't a rightfielder playing up against kindly, well-meaning folks who had to get rid of all their empties from the right-field bleachers, and some of 'em saw only one guy to fling 'em at. Or so someone told me at the time.

    Actually, the answer to my question is probably No. Eddie Miller was a few years earlier. Say, do you remember a guy named Johnny Temple? What about Lou Brissie, who went straight from Savannah to Cleveland to join their great bunch of pitchers, even though he was a cripple -- or Tommy LaSorda, who got in some good hurlin' for the Spinners of Greenville, SC, in those same years, when they was in the Brooklyn Dodger sheepfold?

    All the best, Tom! Good to learn, at last, about old Eddie Miller!