Walter James Vincent “Rabbit” Maranville would have been 120 today. We here at NotGraphs would be remiss if we did not take a moment on this special day to pay our respects to a man who blazed a trail for the generations of David Ecksteins that followed him.
Born in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1891, Rabbit played shortstop and a bit of second base for 23 seasons from 1912 to 1935–the majority of them with the Boston Braves. He wasn’t a very good hitter (career .314 wOBA and 84 wRC+), but FanGraphs really likes his fielding (career 130 fielding runs above average). If he had retired after the 1924 season, his 42.5 WAR up to that point would have looked perfectly decent. The problem was that he played another ten seasons and finished his career with 50.5 WAR, which makes his career averages look rather Ecksteinian. Still, owing to the fact that he played for a long damn time, he made it into the Hall of Fame in 1954.
He was like Eckstein in two other important respects.
First, he was a very small person. Eckstein is listed at 5’6″, 170 pounds. Rabbit was 5’5″ and 155 pounds at his heaviest. When I last checked, at this size, Rabbit still would be recommended to use a child’s car seat according to federal safety regulations. Second, the praise each had heaped upon them was far out of proportion with their actual on-the-field accomplishments. For example, manager George Stallings had this to say of Rabbit:
Walter Maranville is the greatest player to enter baseball since Ty Cobb arrived. I have seen ’em all, since 1891, in every league around the South, North, East and West, but Maranville is the peer of all of them.
If we are being precise, though, between 1891 and when Stallings died in 1929, there were actually 50 position players who were better than Rabbit. Stallings’s absurd remark led a group of statistically-inclined baseball fans to start a short-lived but vastly influential baseball newsletter called “Fire George Stallings.” However, with the onset of the Great Depression and the rapid rise in printing costs coupled with a sudden lack of leisure time as they spent all of their waking hours searching for work, the founders were forced to discontinue the newsletter after just a few years.
Finally, you may be wondering how Rabbit came upon his nickname. Well known for his skills as a raconteur, he offered this explanation, according SABR’s excellent Baseball Biography Project:
It was at New Bedford in 1912 that Maranville acquired his distinctive nickname. Some sources say that it came from his protruding ears, but he told a different story: “I was very friendly with a family by the name of Harrington. One night I was down to their house having dinner with them when Margaret, the second oldest daughter, asked me if I could get two passes for the next day’s game, as she wanted to take her seven-year-old sister to see me play. I said, ‘Sure, I’ll leave them in your name at the Press Gate.’ She said, ‘And come down to dinner after the game.’ I left the two passes as I promised and after the game I went down to their house for dinner. I rang the door bell and Margaret came and opened the door and said, ‘Hello Rabbit.’ I said, ‘Where do you get that Rabbit stuff?’ She said, ‘My little seven-year-old sister (Skeeter) named you that because you hop and bound around like one.'”
It’s only appropriate that on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of this Year of the Rabbit we celebrate the 120th birthday of perhaps baseball’s most famous Rabbit.
Hey, the person who drew this writes for this website. Like, for serious.