Ever find yourself in an antique store in Essex, MA wondering why everything is so expensive*, judging advertisements on old baseball literature, and waiting for your girlfriend to find a mermaid-themed birthday present? No? Isn’t that how everyone spends their Saturdays? Well poopsticks. At least I, a person who was in that situation, found a book: The Little Red Book of Baseball 1949. On the back was this ad, minus my finger shadow:
As I read the names (Ken Keltner, Al Dark, Bob Elliott, Del Ennis, Larry Doby, Vic Wertz, Gil Hodges, and Ray Boone) I wondered if these shmoes were indeed “STARS ON THE RISE” in 1949. This post is my investigation of that claim.
Are the players in question stars?
Literally, no. They are not massive hydrogen fusing spheres. But, being major league baseball players, they are stars in the sense that attaining the highest level of any professional spectacle grants you some not insignificant amount of celebrity stardom, if not celestial stardom. But for the moment let’s forget the difference between celebrity and celestiality and assume they’re the same. This way we can compare stars to stars! Because obviously that will make things perfectly clear, the way grotesquely stretching a comparison always clears things up:
Let’s think of the Stellar Nebula as the Minor Leagues. A Hall of Fame/borderline HOF career would follow the Massive Star trajectory and end up as a black hole, because black holes are stupendous. “Hall of Very Good/Good/I remember him!” types like, say, Willie Wilson or Doug DeCinces become neutron stars. Average joes like Ron Swoboda or Andy Etchebarren become White Dwarfs. Burnouts, failed prospects, and AAAA types like Matt LaPorta become Brown Dwarfs. Sorry, Indians. More sorry, Matt LaPorta**.
Another way of making this chart have the illusion of meaning is by substituting current major leaguers according to where they are in their careers, success-wise and longevity-wise:
Keep in mind that the “successful track” could just as easily have players like J.J. Hardy, and the white dwarf “average” track could have “players” like Yuniesky Betancourt. Roughly I think a white dwarf is a -1.0-20 career WAR guy, neutron stars are 20-50 WAR, and black holes are 50+ WAR. Am I overthinking this? Yes. The crazy thing is I could keep going on and on forever til the star/star comps work perfectly. But time is precious, and I don’t want to keep you guys from Candy Crush.
Were the players in question *rising stars* in 1949?
A *rising star* is a player who is both young and improving. You can explode at 29 with a .321/.396/.523 slash line and then have your wrists dissolve*** the next season and still be remembered fondly as a good player in MVP Baseball 2005, but you’re not a rising star.
How I will evaluate each player:
- YOUNG? Were these players young in 1949?
- GOOD? Prior to 1949 did these players show protostellar promise in the minor league nebula?
- GOT BETTER? From 1949 on did these players become virtuoso major leaguers?
- 1949 STAR EQUIVALENT: What kind of star would these players be?
- WORTHY? Is the player justifiably featured in a 1949 Adirondack bat advertisement as a *rising star*?
- YOUNG? Ken was 31 in 1949. Not a young man. An old man. An olde man, even.
- GOOD? Kenny K kame off a torrid 7.2 WAR 1948 season. He spanked a sparkling 144 wRC+ and 12 fielding runs above average at 3B on a World Series winning Cleveland Indians team.
- GOT BETTER? Like a Ken doll, Kenny K must have been melted by my sister’s hair dryer, because in 1949 he belched 1.1 WAR in 80 games. After that he played one more short, shitty season and then retired like a jerk.
- 1949 STAR EQUIVALENT: Neutron Star.
- WORTHY? NO! NOT A RISING STAR! DESTROY THE ADIRONDACK BAT COMPANY! Or just, like, have it get bought out by a massive baseball equipment company.
- YOUNG? 1948 was Al’s first full season at age 26. Eh. Young I guess.
- GOOD? In 1948 Al Dark hit .322/.353/.433 fueled by loooooving the flexible whip action of an Adirondack bat (and a .341 BABIP). So, yes-ish.
- GOT BETTER? Al was bad until he was traded to the Giants and did terrific for a bunch of years. He retired with 35.6 WAR.
- 1949 STAR EQUIVALENT: Massive Star, on his way to neutron stardom.
- WORTHY? Sure.
- YOUNG? 32 in 1949. OLDE.
- GOOD? Bob Elliott was really good in 1948 and 1947 combining for 13 WAR. He shone brightly, like a diamond. Shine bright like a diamond, Bob Elliott. Shine bright like a diamond.
- GOT BETTER? B wasn’t bad in 1949/50/51, and was probably even good. But he was definitely worse. He amassed 13 WAR in those three years, as opposed to 13 in the previous two. He was a chump after 1951.
- 1949 STAR EQUIVALENT: A tiny li’l clogged-Oreck black hole at best.
- WORTHY? No! Perhaps a setting star.
- YOUNG? 23! DING DING DING!
- GOOD? 3.7 WAR, .290/.345/.525, 30 HRs in 1948. Smellin’ saucy!
- GOT BETTER? ‘49 and ‘50 were terrific. After that was 9 years of meh. Oatmeal without brown sugar meh.
- 1949 STAR EQUIVALENT: Massive Star.
- WORTHY? Hrmm… I guess… If you want your star to be PLAIN OATMEAL.
- YOUNG? Larry was the second African-American ballplayer in the major leagues, and the first in the AL. Awesome. L-Doba secreted himself into the racist white cortical matter of MLB at the tender age of 24.
- GOOD? Yuh! He raked in the Negro Leagues prior to his MLB debut and played ball in the Navy before shipping out to the Pacific theater of WWII. Larry Doby is amazing.
- GOT BETTER? Dobes went on to crush major league pitching for eleven more seasons, amassing 51.0 WAR and a career 137 wRC+. Hell yeah, Dobes. How have I not loved this guy forever?
- 1949 STAR EQUIVALENT: Massive Star heading towards black holedom!
- WORTHY? YES! Kudos, Adirondack bats! But not, like, the candy bar Kudos. The other kind. The Greek term for praise or acclaim.
- YOUNG? 24 years-snooze-ville.
- GOOD? Vic Wertz was bad before ’49. They should have given TWO stars to *Larry Doby: RISING BINARY STAR SYSTEM*
- GOT BETTER? Raul Ibanez is listed as a B-Ref comp for Vic. If you feel that peaking at “Raul Ibanez” qualifies you for stardom, then, well, you have odious standards.
- 1949 STAR EQUIVALENT: Stupid Massive Star that hovers above the horizon like a coward and never properly crests into the night sky.
- WORTHY? NO!
- YOUNG? 25.
- GOOD? Gil had a .311 OBP in 1948. Larry Doby had a .384 OBP. Gil, why can’t you be Larry Doby.
- GOT BETTER? Never quite as good as L-Dobes.
- 1949 STAR EQUIVALENT: Massive Star headed for neutron stardom, only to pass Larry Doby’s event horizon and get sucked into oblivion.
- WORTHY? Sure, yeah. He rose like a star. A dumb star that rises and shines for a long time but can’t compete with the assload of lumens outshining all other celestial bodies that is Larry Doby.
- YOUNG? What this exercise taught me is that I love Larry Doby more than I thought I loved Larry Doby.
- GOOD? It also taught me that I get bored of my own ideas almost immediately, when confronted with Larry Doby.
- GOT BETTER? I’m too deep into this post to go back and do one just about Larry Doby.
- 1949 STAR EQUIVALENT? Instead I’ll fill space with weird stuff, like a hoarder cramming their crawl space full of lost flip-flops they picked off the ground at an outdoor concert.
- WORTHY? I should start a Larry Doby fanfiction blog.
Anyways. What is this post even about? Oh right. Holding a former bat company accountable for a back-page advertisement on an obscure statistical publication. What this post is really about, though, is my love of Larry Doby:
* I have no experience judging the price of antiques and old things. Old things look broken to me. They all look like they were made from a rotting barn, because many of them were stored in a rotting barn. When I buy an antique ox yoke I expect to put the yoke on my ox and till a field. Not hang it in my den.
**Matt, dude, your life is still a blue ribbon of success, even if it’s more of a blue ribbon for largest degu at the county fair than a blue ribbon for being a serviceable first baseman. So don’t give up on life. Learn a trade that can utilize your toned forearms, like scrimshaw. Baseball is just a game. Don’t despair yet, but when you do, just remember that someone <3 u. Open a roast beef place or something. Marry a podiatrist. Take up jazzercise. Write for a blog with purple headings.
***Anyone know what kind of injuries took out Erubiel Durazo? Kind of just guessed at wrists. Probably hips or something. Or Gout. Dropsy. Yellow Fever. Croup. Hangnail. Giant degu.
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