George Sisler

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George Sisler
George-sisler.jpg
Sisler in 1915
First baseman / Manager
Born:(1893-03-24)March 24, 1893
Manchester, Ohio
Died: March 26, 1973(1973-03-26) (aged 80)
Richmond Heights, Missouri
Batted: Left
Threw: Left
MLB debut
June 28, 1915, for the St. Louis Browns
Last MLB appearance
September 22, 1930, for the Boston Braves
MLB statistics
Batting average .340
Hits 2,812
Home runs 102
Runs batted in 1,175
Managerial record218–241
Winning %.475
Teams
As player

As manager

Career highlights and awards
Member of the National
Empty Star.svgEmpty Star.svgEmpty Star.svg Baseball Hall of Fame Empty Star.svgEmpty Star.svgEmpty Star.svg
Induction 1939
Vote85.8% (fourth ballot)

George Harold Sisler (March 24, 1893 – March 26, 1973), nicknamed "Gorgeous George", was an American professional baseball first baseman and player-manager. He played in Major League Baseball (MLB) for the St. Louis Browns, Washington Senators and Boston Braves. He managed the Browns from 1924 through 1926.

Contents

Sisler played college baseball for the University of Michigan and was signed by the St. Louis Browns as a free agent in 1915. He won the American League batting title in 1920 and 1922. In 1920 he set the major league record for hits with 257 which stood for 84 years and had a batting average of .407 [1] (the seventh highest after 1900). In 1922 he won the AL Most Valuable Player Award, finishing with a batting average of .420, which is the third highest batting average ever recorded after 1900. An attack of sinusitis in 1923 caused Sisler's play to decline, but he continued to play in the majors until 1930. After Sisler retired as a player, he worked as a major league scout and aide.

A two-time batting champion, Sisler led the league in hits twice, triples twice, and stolen bases four times. He collected 200 or more hits six times in his career, and had a batting average of over .300 a total of 13 times throughout his career. His career batting average of .340 is the 16th highest of all time. Sisler was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939.

Early life

George Harold Sisler was born on March 24, 1893, in the unincorporated hamlet of Manchester (now part of the city of New Franklin, a suburb of Akron), Ohio. [2] His parents, Cassius Clay and Mary (née Whipple) Sisler, had been married after meeting at Hiram College, which they both graduated from. Both worked as schoolteachers at one point, though by the time George was born, Cassius was supervising a nearby coal mine. [3] Manchester did not have a high school; thus, when George turned 14, he moved to Akron to live with his older brother Efbert so that he could attend school there. [4] Sisler played baseball, basketball, and football in high school, but baseball was his main focus. [5] During George's senior year, Efbert died of tuberculosis, but George was able to move in with a local family and finish school. [6] [7]

College career

In 1910, Sisler signed a professional contract with the Akron Champs of the Ohio–Pennsylvania League, but he never played in the league or earned any money. [8] [9] Instead, he followed his parents' wishes and attended the University of Michigan, where he majored in mechanical engineering and played college baseball. [10] Freshmen were not allowed to play on Michigan's varsity teams, so Sisler pitched for an intra-campus team representing the school's engineering students in 1912, striking out 20 batters in seven innings during one game. [11] [12] After the season, he pitched for an industrial team in Akron. Barney Dreyfuss, owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, was impressed when he observed Sisler in a game. He purchased Sisler's contract and tried to force the player to join his ballclub in 1912. [13] Refusing to report, Sisler was placed on the Pirates' suspended list, which threatened his professional eligibility. [14]

Recognizing he was in trouble, Sisler consulted Branch Rickey, Michigan's baseball coach. A former lawyer, Rickey determined that the contract should not bind Sisler, since the ballplayer signed it as a minor without the consent of his parents. Rickey and Detroit Judge George P. Codd contacted the National Commission, baseball's governing body, asking for the contract to be declared illegal. [15] The Commission failed to come to a decision in 1912 because one of its members, August Herrmann, thought Sisler should give the Pirates the first right to sign him, while Codd wanted the contract declared completely void. [16] After Sisler's junior year, with the time when he would play professional ball nearing, Codd pressed Herrmann for a decision, threatening to sue for triple damages. Herrmann obtained a legal opinion that agreed with Sisler's position, and the Commission finally ruled the contract void in 1914. [17]

Meanwhile, Sisler joined Michigan's varsity team as a sophomore in 1913. [18] He excelled on the mound for the Wolverines until a sore arm limited him late in the season. [19] Offensively, he led the team with a .445 batting average, playing the outfield on days he was not pitching so his bat could remain in the lineup. [20] Sporting Life proclaimed him "the greatest college pitcher", [21] and Vanity Fair named him an All-American for the first of three consecutive years. [22]

Over the summer of 1913, Sisler consulted Youngstown physician John D. "Bonesetter" Reese about his sore arm. [23] The Wolverines were now coached by Carl Lundgren, hired as Rickey's successor after the former coach took a job with the St. Louis Browns. [24] Sisler was feeling back in form by the time the season started, and his teammates voted him captain of the Wolverines. [25] He helped the Wolverines hold opponents scoreless for 44 straight innings, personally striking out 10 batters in a row before reinjuring his arm in a game against Syracuse. [26] At the end of the season, he had two hits, three runs scored, and two stolen bases in the first of two victories over the Penn Quakers that gave the Wolverines the 1914 college baseball national championship. [27]

Sisler did not remain the captain in 1915, as Edmon McQueen was selected this time. [28] Coach Lundgren planned to use him less as a pitcher early on in hopes that his arm would not be sore by the end of the year. [28] The plan worked. [29] Though pitching statistics for the year were not kept, Sisler had one game where he limited the Cornell Big Red to one hit, and in another game he struck out 14 Notre Dame players. [29] He recorded five stolen bases in his final game for Michigan, even stealing home once during the game. [29] Sisler batted .451 and committed no errors. [30] He graduated in the summer of 1915 with his degree in mechanical engineering. [30]

Major league career

Both Pittsburgh and the Browns were interested in signing Sisler to play professional baseball for them following his graduation. The Pirates offered $700 a month with a $1,000 bonus, but the Browns offered a $5,000 bonus with a $200-per-month salary. Sisler chose St. Louis because he was comfortable playing for Rickey, now the Browns' manager. [31]

On June 28, 1915, Sisler made his major league debut, entering as a pitcher in relief against the Chicago White Sox. [32] He pitched three scoreless innings and struck out two batters, [33] while at the plate he collected his first major league hit, which came against Jim Scott. [32] Five days later, he pitched a complete game victory in his first major league start, in which he struck out nine batters but also walked nine. [33]

Rickey, however, thought Sisler was too good at baseball to confine himself to pitching every few days. First baseman John Leary was struggling at the position, and Rickey decided to try Sisler there. [34] Initially, the stress of learning a new position sent Sisler into a batting slump, but after Rickey let him pitch another game, his confidence began to grow. Sisler still pitched and played the outfield as well in 1915; on August 29, he defeated Walter Johnson in a complete game, 2–1 victory. [35] [36] Offensively, he batted .285 with three home runs, while as a pitcher, he had a 4–4 record and what biographer Rick Huhn termed a "very respectable" 2.83 earned run average (ERA). [37]

In 1916, Sisler became the Browns' full-time first baseman, playing the position for 141 of the team's 158 games. [1] [38] His .305 batting average led the team, as did his hits (177) and slugging percentage (.400). [38] Though Sisler's 24 errors that year led American League (AL) first basemen, [1] Huhn wrote that he demonstrated "significant improvement and frequent brilliance" at the position. [39]

On August 11, 1917, in the second game of a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Athletics, Sisler recorded three hits in four at bats. [40] The performance began a 26-game hitting streak, during which Sisler batted .422. [41] [42] For the season, he led the team in most offensive categories, [43] and his .353 batting average was second in the AL, behind Ty Cobb's .383. [1] [44]

Following the American entry into World War I, the draft was enacted in the 1917-18 offseason. Browns Urban Shocker and Ken Williams were both drafted during the 1918 season, but Sisler's Class 4 status kept him playing baseball for the whole year. [45] Due to the war, the season ended on September 1, making it a month shorter than usual. [46] Playing 114 games, Sisler led the AL with 45 stolen bases and placed third in the AL with a .341 batting average. [1] A government-issued "work or fight" order required baseball players to assume essential wartime employment or become more eligible for the draft after the season. [47] Sisler enlisted in the army, joining several major league players as a second lieutenant in a Chemical Warfare Service unit commanded by Rickey. [48] Undergoing training at Camp Humphreys in Virginia, Sisler was preparing to go overseas until the war ended that November, relieving him from his military obligation. [49]

Returning to the Browns in 1919, Sisler struggled offensively at the beginning of the year, batting .207 through May 11. [50] [51] His hitting improved thereafter, and Sisler led the AL in batting average and stolen bases by mid-August, while the Browns, at 47–40, were still in the race for the AL pennant. [52] On August 22, the normally quiet-natured Sisler nearly exchanged blows with Carl Mays. Thinking that the Yankee pitcher was throwing at him and suspecting Mays of using an illegal substance, Sisler convinced umpire George Moriarty to search Mays, which Moriarty took 10 minutes to do. Nothing was found, and Mays and Sisler yelled at each other, squaring off to fight before Moriarty stepped between them and separated them. [53] The Browns struggled late in the season, finishing fifth in the AL with a 62–72–1 record, but Sisler finished the year leading the team in all offensive categories except games played. [54] [55] His .352 average ranked third in the AL, and his 10 home runs were topped in the league only by Babe Ruth's 29. [1] [54] Defensively, he had a .991 fielding percentage and led AL first basemen with 120 assists. [54]

1921 baseball card of Sisler George Sisler 1921.jpg
1921 baseball card of Sisler

In 1920, baseballs began to be manufactured with a tighter-wound yarn, and emphasis These changes ushered in the live-ball era, in which many batters began to hit more home runs. Not possessing the arm strength of sluggers like Ruth, Sisler did not try for as many home runs, but his numbers rose in other offensive categories. [56]

That season, Sisler played every inning of each game. [57] He collected an MLB-record 257 hits, batting .407 and ending the season with averages of .442 in August and .448 in September. [58] [59] The total broke Cobb's 1911 record of 247 hits in a single season. After tying the old record on September 27, Sisler set the new one on a day dedicated to him, in which he was presented with a $1,000 check, a $1,500 silver service, and flowers before the game at Sportsman's Park. [60] His record lasted until 2004, when Ichiro Suzuki had 262 hits. [lower-alpha 1] [61] Sisler also finished second in the AL in eight offensive categories, including home runs (19, behind Ruth's 54), RBI (122, behind 137), and stolen bases (42, behind Sam Rice's 63). [58]

The Browns fired manager Jimmy Burke over the 1920–21 offseason, offering the position to Sisler. He declined, fearing that the added responsibilities would interfere with his hitting. [62] Sisler received the only suspension of his career on July 24. After umpire George Hildebrand ruled him out in a close play at first base to end the fourth inning, Sisler shoved the umpire. Told by Hildebrand not to take his position in the fifth inning, Sisler then punched the umpire. Though the suspension was listed as indefinite, rainouts helped Sisler miss only three games before getting reinstated. [63] Against the Detroit Tigers from August 13 through 15, Sisler recorded 10 straight hits, one short of Tris Speaker's 1920 record for most consecutive hits. [64] Though not quite as successful offensively in 1921 as he had been the year before, Sisler led the AL with 18 triples (tied with Howie Shanks and teammate Jack Tobin) and 35 stolen bases, also finishing fourth in the league with a .371 batting average. Defensively, he had a .993 fielding percentage over 138 games. [65] [66]

Sisler battled Cobb for the batting title in 1922. Cobb moved into the lead in late July, but Sisler tied him on August 7, at which point both players were batting .409. [67] The Browns were in a tight pennant race with the New York Yankees, whom they trailed by 1+12 games as late as September 10. [68] Against the Tigers on September 11, Sisler fell on his arm while stretching to his right to catch a wide throw from Wally Gerber. [69] He suffered a strained deltoid muscle. [70] Newspapers suggested that he would miss the remainder of the season, but Sisler underwent electric treatments and returned five days later for a series against the Yankees. [71] At the time, he had a 39-game hitting streak going, one shy of Cobb's 1911 AL record and five shy of Willie Keeler's 1897 MLB record. [72] He had hits in his first two games returning from the injury before going hitless on September 18. [73] Sisler's 41 game hitting streak remained an AL record until Joe DiMaggio set the MLB record with his 56-game hitting streak in 1941. [74] [75]

Sisler later recounted the struggles of rushing his return. "The arm was so badly crippled that I had to lift my gloved hand with my left hand in order to catch balls at first base. At bat, I was swinging with one hand." [76] He batted .316 after returning from the injury. [73] He had three hits, two runs scored, and two stolen bases on September 24 in a 7–4 victory over the Philadelphia Athletics. [lower-alpha 2] [79] The Browns remained in the race until September 30, the second-to-last day of the season, when a Yankee win over the Red Sox clinched the pennant for New York. [80] Sisler's .420 batting average remains the third-highest of American and National League (NL) players in the 20th century, surpassed only by Nap Lajoie's .426 in 1901 and Rogers Hornsby's .424 in 1924. [81] Sisler also led the AL in hits (246), runs (134), stolen bases (51), and triples (18). [1] He was chosen as the AL's Most Valuable Player in the first year that an official league award was given. [82] In 2011, Kostya Kennedy of Sports Illustrated wrote that many baseball historians consider Sisler's season among the best individual all-around single-season performances in baseball history. [83]

A severe attack of sinusitis caused him double vision in 1923, forcing him to miss the entire season. [84] During the year, he and many of his Browns teammates signed a petition to AL president Ban Johnson seeking to get Dave Danforth reinstated, after Johnson suspended Danforth 10 games for allegedly tampering with baseballs. Manager Lee Fohl refused to sign it and was fired days later. [85]

Sisler defied some predictions by returning in 1924 with a batting average over .300. Sisler later said, "I planned to get back in uniform for 1924. I just had to meet a ball with a good swing again, and then run. The doctors all said I'd never play again, but when you're fighting for something that actually keeps you alive – well, the human will is all you need." [8] Observers noticed that he had to squint to see the ball, and Sisler said in an interview that he was now more concerned with making contact with the ball, instead of hitting it between fielders. [86] Though Sisler batted .305 in 1924, this was nearly 100 points below his combined batting average for 1920-22. [87] Sisler never regained his previous level of play, though he continued to hit over .300 in six of his last seven seasons and led the AL in stolen bases for a fourth time in 1927. [1] Sisler was named the Browns' manager in 1924. Most people were in favor of the move, and sportswriter Joe Vila wrote, "Sisler, in the opinion of the sharps, is a born leader." [88] Sisler convinced Ball not to trade star pitcher Urban Shocker before the season, thinking the Browns would have difficulty obtaining players of the same caliber in return. [89] However, Sisler would fine the player in May after Shocker skipped or showed up late to several Browns games with no explanation. [88]

After the 1924 season, Sisler agreed with Ball that it would be a good idea to trade Shocker, and the Browns sent him to the Yankees on December 17 in exchange for three other pitchers to help their pitching depth. [90] The Browns struggled to a 62–92 seventh-place finish in 1926, and their .403 winning percentage was the franchise's lowest since its 1916 season. [91]

Time cover, March 30, 1925 TIME Magazine Cover- George H Sisler -- Mar 30 1925.jpg
Time cover, March 30, 1925

In 1928, the Browns sold Sisler's contract to the Washington Senators, who in turn sold the contract to the Boston Braves in May. After batting .340, .326, and .309 in his three years in Boston, he ended his major league career with the Braves in 1930, then played in the minor leagues.

Sisler accumulated a .340 lifetime batting average over his 16 years in the majors and stole 375 bases during his career. He had 200+ hits in six seasons. He hit over .300 thirteen times, including two seasons in which he hit over .400; 1926 was the only full season in which Sisler's average was less than .300. He stole over 25 bases in every year from 1916 through 1922, peaking with 51 the last year and leading the league three times. Sisler holds team records (for the St. Louis Browns, and now the Orioles) for career batting average, triples, and stolen bases, as well as batting average, on-base percentage, hits, on-base plus slugging, and total bases in a season. In 1939, Sisler became one of the first entrants elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. [1] He also posted a career pitching record of 5–6 with a 2.35 earned run average in 24 career appearances. [1] He defeated Walter Johnson twice in complete-game victories.

Managerial record

TeamYearRegular seasonPostseason
GamesWonLostWin %FinishWonLostWin %Result
SLB 1924 1527478.4874th in AL
SLB 1925 1538271.5363rd in AL
SLB 1926 1546292.4037th in AL
Total459218241.47500

Later life and legacy

After his playing career, Sisler reunited with Rickey as a special assignment scout and front-office aide with the St. Louis Cardinals, Brooklyn Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates. Sisler and Rickey worked with future Hall of Famer Duke Snider to teach the young Dodgers hitter to accurately judge the strike zone. [92] Sisler was part of a scouting corps that Rickey assigned to look for black players, though the scouts thought they were looking for players to fill an all-black baseball team separate from MLB. Sisler evaluated Jackie Robinson as a potential star second baseman, but he was concerned about whether Robinson had enough arm strength to play shortstop. [93] With the Pirates in 1961, Sisler had Roberto Clemente switch to a heavier bat. Clemente won the league batting title that season. [94]

Rickey said that Sisler "was the smartest hitter who ever lived. He was a professional with the bat in his hands. He never stopped thinking...In the field, he was the acme of grace and fluency." [95]

Sisler's sons Dick and Dave were also major league players in the 1950s. Sisler was a Dodgers scout in 1950 when his son Dick hit a game-winning home run against Brooklyn to clinch the pennant for the Phillies and eliminate the second-place Dodgers. When asked after the pennant winning game how he felt when his son beat his current team, the Dodgers, George replied, "I felt awful and terrific at the same time." [96] Another son, George Jr., served as a minor league executive and as the president of the International League.

Sisler also spent some time as commissioner of the National Baseball Congress. [97] He died in Richmond Heights, Missouri, in 1973, while still employed as a scout for the Pirates.

In 1999 editors at The Sporting News ranked Sisler 33rd on their list of "Baseball's 100 Greatest Players". Outside of St. Louis' Busch Stadium, there is a statue honoring Sisler. He is also honored with a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. [98] In October 2004, Ichiro Suzuki broke Sisler's 84-year-old hit record, during a game attended by members of Sisler's family, including his daughter Frances Drochelman. [99] While in St. Louis for the 2009 All-Star game, Ichiro Suzuki visited Sisler's grave site. [100] Tarpon Springs, Florida honored George by naming the former spring training home of the St. Louis Browns "Sisler Field". The fields were later taken over by the local Little League teams, and are still in use. [101]

Jim Barrero of the Los Angeles Times asserts that Sisler's 254-hits record was largely overshadowed by Ruth's 54 home runs that same year. "Of course, Ruth's obliteration of the home run record drew all the attention from fans and newspapermen, while Sisler's mark was pushed to the side and perhaps left unappreciated during what was a golden age of pure hitters", Barrero wrote. [57] As his popularity increased, Sisler drew comparisons to Cobb, Ruth and Tris Speaker. Sisler, however, was much more reserved than those three stars. Writer Floyd Bell described Sisler as "modest, almost to a point of bashfulness, as far from egotism as a blushing debutante... Shift the conversation to Sisler himself and he becomes a clam." [102] Despite finishing second to Ruth in home runs in 1920, Sisler did not try for them, as he was more concerned with keeping a high batting average. [95]

Personal life

In 1913, Sisler met his future wife, Kathleen Charlotte Holznagle. How exactly they met is unknown, though both were involved in Greek life at the University of Michigan. [103] They were married on October 21, 1916. [104] Sisler did not consume alcohol or tobacco, and he refrained from swearing. [23]

See also

Notes

  1. Suzuki, however, collected his hits over 161 games during the modern 162-game season as opposed to 154 in Sisler's era. Suzuki had 704 at bats to Sisler's 631. [61]
  2. Huhn says he scored three runs that day, but Retrosheet and Baseball-Reference both credit him for just two. [77] [78]

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Preceded by
Ty Cobb
Single season base hit record holders
1920–2004
Succeeded by
Ichiro Suzuki
Preceded by
Cliff Heathcote
Dave Bancroft
Hitting for the cycle
August 8, 1920
August 13, 1921
Succeeded by
George Burns
Dave Robertson
Preceded by
Eduard Benes
Cover of Time Magazine
March 30, 1925
Succeeded by
John Ringling