Thursday, January 10, 2013

Who Needs the Hall?: I've got Specs

I'm one of the people who gets bent from time to time about the BBWAA and the HOF. Ultimately the HOF is subjective. The writers, the principal makers of the myths we all yearn for, vote. Strangely, a lot of what tends to tips the scales are exactly the myths surrounding anything a given player actually did.

For example, slash lines and OPS+ for three players:
Player A: .298/.352./502, 128
Player B: .265/.346/.469, 121
Player C: .304/.353/..476, 131

One of these is a HOFer, one was on this year's ballot, one is a player few people ever consider for Hall inclusion these days. (Answers at the end of the post)

The space between the popular enduring myths and those that become the legends passed down in bars is the same between those guys who get in the HOF and those who are remembered for various other exploits obscured by the spotlight.

So, instead of an anti-BBWAA, anti-PED, anti-HOF rant, I bring you George "Specs" Toporcer.
I know, who the H@ll is Specs Toporcer? Playing with the St. Louis Cardinals from 1921-1928, "Specs" was a utility infielder who, or so they say, was literally pulled off of the sandlots at the age of 22 and put into the Cardinals lineup. His impact was immediate. Here's the most widely circulated stories about his call up and time in the bigs, courtesy of Baseball Library.

Branch Rickey once told this story about Specs Toporcer: "A 19-year-old boy who weighed 142 pounds and never had played a game of pro ball came off the field at Orange, New Jersey. I watched this kid and saw him take off his glasses and, with his hands outstretched, grope his way along the wall to the showers. My captain turned to me and said, `For God's sake, who sent him up?' " Link here

Quite a way to break in, right? As fate would have it, he thus became the first bespeckled ballplayer in the history of the game, leading the greatness of Danny Macfayden and Alex Cole. He is, in a way, the patron saint of us guys who wear glasses. Although I've seen his career derided in a few places, his career slash of .279/.347/.373 holds up pretty well for a middle infielder.

After retirement he became a minor league manager, and was even director of minor league operations of the Boston Red Sox for a time. Tragically, after several operations on his eyes to improve his sight he went blind in 1951.

He might be best remembered for his half biography, half instruction manual pictured above.  And let me assure you, the instructional part is no joke. Seriously, check it out. I was fortunate to get this rather worn copy for $10 on ebay awhile back, with better copies being hard to get. When opening it, I was shocked to find this:
Yep, in poor condition, but inscribed by the man himself. Pretty cool! Specs isn't in THE hall, but there's a hall for him among the people who continue to talk about baseball in bars and ball yards. To paraphrase Arthur Miller, attention must be paid. 

At any rate, gonna try to get in a post a week from here on out now that things have settled down. Have a good one everybody and goodnight Pumpsie Green, wherever you are!

Player A: Jim Rice
Player B: Dale Murphy
Player C: Tony Oliva
Look at the numbers again. Weird, isn't it? Tony for the HOF!

1 comment:

  1. So cool. I never knew about Specs, but I am one of the bespectacled.