Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Hall of Fame outfields

Jesse Barfield was part of a stellar outfield in Toronto
before being traded to the New York Yankees in 1989.
My Strat-O-Matic project last week had me playing with the 1987 Toronto Blue Jays, which got me thinking about great outfields.

If you're of a certain age, you remember the George Bell-Lloyd Moseby-Jesse Barfield outfield the Jays had in the mid to late 80s. All three ran well enough to play center field and threw well enough to play right. And hit? In 1987:

  • Left fielder Bell won the MVP. He hit .308 with 47 homers and 134 RBIs.
  • Center fielder Moseby hit .282 with 26 homers and 39 steals.
  • Right fielder Barfield bopped 28 homers (a year after hitting 40) and won a Gold Glove.

They were all just 27 in 1987. They'd been good for several years, and should have been good for several more. Instead, they pretty much dropped off a cliff. All three were gone when the Jays finally broke through to win the World Series in 1992 and '93.

In 1987, I would have been pretty certain that at least one of those three would wind up in the Hall of Fame. None will. And as I played a series with what was the best season of a great outfield, I found myself wondering: Has there ever been a team with a regular outfield of three Hall of Famers?

Three possibilities came immediately to mind: The Pirates during Paul Waner's career, the Tigers during Ty Cobb's, and the Philadelphia Athletics in the mid 1920s.

The Pirates in the mid 1920s were positively swimming in Hall of Fame outfielders. Max Carey was near the end of his career, Kiki Cuyler started his there before moving on, and the brothers Paul and Lloyd Waner spent years together with the Pirates.

Carey and Cuyler were regulars on 1925 team that won the World Series, but the Waners hadn't arrived yet. In 1926 the Pirates had a bizarre in-house controversy that resulted, among other things, with Carey being traded away and manager Bill McKechnie being fired.

Losing Carey at that point probably didn't hurt, but losing McKechnie likely turned a budding dynasty into a perennial disappointment. A case in point came in 1927, when new manager Donnie Bush clashed with Cuyler and benched him. The Waners were joined in the outfield not by a third Hall of Famer, but by Clyde Bigbee, who ... was not a Hall of Famer. Cuyler was traded away, and the Pirates spent years with "just" two Hall of Fame outfielders.

Eventually they got a third HOF outfielder, Fred Lindstrom, who actually spent most of his career as a third baseman. He spent two years in the outfield, 1933 and '34, with the Waner brothers, although he played in less than 100 games the second season.

In truth, Lindstrom and Lloyd Waner were poor Hall selections. (Paul Waner was a no-doubter). But they were selected for the Hall, and the 1933-34 Pirates had an all-Cooperstown outfield.

On to Cobb. It appears Cobb spent his entire career with at least one Hall of Famer in the outfield with him. First Sam Crawford, then Harry Heilmann with the Tigers, and with the Athletics in his final two years with Al Simmons.

The question is: Did he ever matched with a third? Answer: Yes. In 1924 Cobb and Heilmann were joined by Heinie Manush as a regular outfielder. There were other seasons in which Manush was a part-timer with Cobb and Heilmann. Manush is also a marginal HOFer, but he's in.

When the Tigers dumped Cobb as manager after the 1926 season, he moved on to Philadelphia, where he joined the young Simmons. Tris Speaker joined them in 1927, but was only a part timer.

But the next year, Speaker moved on to Washington, where he returned to regular duty between two other Hall-of-Fame bound outfielders, Goose Goslin and Sam Rice.

There are a few other cases in which teams had two Hall of Fame outfielders. For example, the Cardinals for much of the 1940s had both Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter. The Cubs in the 1930s had Hack Wilson and Cuyler. The Giants for a time in the 1950s had Willie Mays and Monte Irvin. But none of them had a third.

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