Showing posts with label Jigger Statz. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jigger Statz. Show all posts

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Revisiting Jigger Statz's Legendary Feats As Ichiro Reaches 4,000 Hits

As New York Yankees outfielder Ichiro Suzuki rounded first for what was his 4,000th professional hit Wednesday evening, somewhere in the distance was the fading voice of the oft-forgotten Arnold “Jigger” Statz.

For most, the name will not be familiar, as the bulk of his playing career came in the Pacific Coast League, far away from the lights of the east coast media.

Jigger Statz / SABR
Duke Snider, the Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Fame center fielder, grew up watching Statz impress the Los Angeles crowds. Speaking with the late Snider’s friend, New York Yankees outfielder Irv Noren in 2012, he related a story of how Snider surprised the New York media when asked who the best center fielder was among himself, Mickey Mantle, and Willie Mays.

“Growing up in Compton, he followed Jigger Statz and everyone else out here,” Noren said. “They interviewed him out in New York and they had the three outfielders, Snider, Mantle and Mays. They asked him who the best one he’s ever seen was. He said, ‘Jigger Statz.’ Duke said this. All the writers went, ‘Who? Who?’ like a bunch of owls.”

Statz played professionally 24 years from 1919-1942, amassing 4,093 career hits between the major and minor leagues. By the time he played his last game, his career combined hit totals placed him second all-time, only behind Ty Cobb.

I first encountered Statz’s legend in Jason Aronoff’s “Going, Going, Caught …”, a wonderful book about the greatest defensive outfield efforts largely in the era that pre-dated national television and smaller ballparks. Using multiple news sources to reconstruct his highlight reel catches, Aronoff used ten pages to paint Statz as one of the greatest outfielders of the 1920s.

Aronoff chose a telling quotation from Baseball Digest’s Al Wolf, whose 1966 article, “Statz, ‘Best’ Center Fielder, Played in Record 3,373 Tilts,” aptly rated Statz defensively above the greatest center fielders in the game.

“Jigger is regarded by old-timers as the greatest defensive center fielder of all time," Wolf wrote. "They rate him over Tris Speaker, Joe DiMaggio and even Willie Mays in catching the ball.”

Statz played for four teams in the major leagues from 1919-1928, with his best season coming in 1923 with the Chicago Cubs when he batted .319 with 209 hits. He finished his major league career at age 30 with 737 hits, but was far from done.

Starting fresh with the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League, he reeled off eight consecutive seasons of over 200 hits from 1929-1936, and at age 40 in 1938, he piled on another 200 hit season to silence his doubters.

Lennie Merullo, the 96-year-old former shortstop for the Chicago Cubs is one of the few living major leaguers that played with this unheralded outfielder. Speaking with Merullo via telephone in 2009, he said playing with Statz as a member of the Angels in 1941 was one of the most cherished memories of his career.

“He was a legend,” Merullo said. “The word 'Jigger' you associate it with Jigger Statz. He was a good hitter! He meant one thing, one of the greatest center fielders that ever lived! He must have been something to play with at the time because I never forgot him."

Friday, July 24, 2009

Book Review: Going, Going ... Caught! by Jason Aronoff

"Going, Going ... Caught! - Baseball's great outfield catches as described by those who saw them, 1887-1964"

Jason Aronoff
McFarland Publishing, 2009
266 pages

On the heels of Dewayne Wise's leaping catch during Mark Buehrle's perfect game, it's only appropriate that I present a book detailing the greatest outfield catches in Major League Baseball's history.

"Going, Going ... Caught!" was originally recommended to me by former Brooklyn Dodger outfielder Don Thompson as he attempted to describe Duke Snider's nearly impossible catch of Willie "Puddin Head" Jones' smash in Philadelphia on Memorial Day of 1954. Thompson should know a thing or two about Snider's climb up the wall that day; he was standing next to Snider when he did the seemingly impossible, digging his spikes into the outfield fence after sprinting into the depths of left-center only to throw his glove hand above his head and across his body for the catch as he collided with the wall. While Aronoff provides an illustration recreating the catch, there are no actual photographs of his theatrics available. This goes for about 95% of the other catches mentioned in the book. All we have left of these grabs are the accounts from the sportswriters and players who saw them. These accounts are what make this book special. You are transported back to a time when mass media didn't cover baseball and left you to create your own picture of a great center fielder chasing down a ball that seems way out of his reach.

Aronoff has done painstaking research to uncover multiple sources detailing catches that the writers at the time described as the "best ever." There is great detail given to the dimensions of old ballparks and how their cavernous reaches allowed for these players to catch up to balls that everyone in the crowd thought were going to fall in for extra-base hits.. Unlike modern stadiums, outfielders had to travel farther distances and contend with unpadded wooden and concrete walls to haul in shots hit into the far reaches of the ballpark.

While "Going, Going, Caught!" is well researched, the reader is bogged down with redundant accounts of the same catch, and multiple catches made by the same player that were "very good" but not great. Aronoff could have condensed the accounts he relayed in order to make it more digestible. It may be a bit too intense for the casual baseball reader, or those not familiar with the players of yesteryear.

However, Aronoff's book not only further enlivens the debate between Mantle, Snider and Mays, it also brings up fielding stars that time has forgotten, such as Jimmy Piersall, Terry Moore, Jigger Statz, Dode Paskert, Bill Lange, and baseball's earliest deaf player, "Dummy" Hoy. It may even make you question your beliefs of who is the greatest outfielder of all time. While their Hall of Fame contemporaries of Keeler, Cobb, Speaker, and DiMaggio are all profiled at one point, it's the exploits of the lesser known aforementioned players that make "Going, Going ... Caught" run.