Friday, February 19, 2010

The Catcher Project: Ernie Lombardi

Born: 4-6-08
Career: 1931-1947
Hall of Fame: Yes
Career highlights: National League MVP in 1938. Led NL in batting average in 1938, 1942. Regular catcher for two pennant winners, one World Series champ. Seven-time All Star.
Slash line: .306/.358/.460

Games caught after age 30 season: 851. Age in final season as regular catcher: 37 (1945). Win shares age 30 and on: 133. Win shares after age 33: 60.

Ernie Lombardi must have been an incredibly fun player to watch. To begin with, he was probably the slowest man ever to play in the majors. And one of the most savage line-drive hitters ever as well. He whistled base hits into the gaps into what were essentially five-man outfields, as the middle infielders didn't have to play him honestly. His batting grip intertwined the little finger of his top hand with the index finger of his bottom hand. And he had this incredible nose, so long that it stuck out through the slats of his catchers mask and was occasionally skinned by foul tips.

World War II was doubtless a significant outside influence on his aging pattern. He had had a down year in 1941, his age 33 season — but then the war came that winter. While most major leaguers went into the military, Lombardi failed his draft physical, and he got to play for the duration, three good seasons and one poor one. He hung around as a reserve catcher for two more seasons after the war ended.

My guess is that the war extended his career. He had good numbers during the war years, but that was against diluted competition. On the other hand, he didn't embarrass himself at the plate after the real players returned.

1 comment:

  1. "...probably the slowest man ever to play in the majors."

    Interesting, and reminiscent of what was said about Twins catcher Earl Battey, that when running the bases he looked like he was pushing a safe down the first base line!