Thursday, April 21, 2011

Stan Musial Best of the 1950's?

My buddy Jake approached me the other day and asked me a question based on something that he has heard. Where he read this is unsure, but the gist of the article was that due to an East Coast bias in Baseball during the decade of the 1950's, players like Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle received most of the accolades while players like Stan Musial were often overlooked. I decided to look into Musial's numbers and I was astonished at what I saw. Before I go into Musial, I want to touch on the subject of Baseball's geography in the 1950's.

I would agree that there is some validity to the statement of the existence of an East Coast bias during the 1950's. Granted, players like Williams, Mantle and Mays deserved all the accolades and press they received but keep in mind, the Baseball landscape was different from what we see today. Consider in 1950 there were only 16 teams. Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and St. Louis each had two teams. New York City had three. Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Washington D.C., each had one. The Reds were the main southern town and St. Louis was considered at the edge of the western frontier. The concentration of teams along the Northeastern part of the country was a representation of where the majority of the population resided. It was until 1952 that an extra team was added to the "West" with Milwaukee's addition of the Braves (who moved from Boston). The numbers equalized to Pre-1952 numbers in terms of East and West with the St. Louis Browns' move to Baltimore becoming the Orioles. True East-West representation came in the form of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants playing for their respective new cities Los Angeles and San Francisco in 1958. Other expansions and movements South and West came in subsequent years as the nation's population expanded into older cities and grew into new areas. It would stand to reason that with the concentration of the teams in one particular area and the media presence surrounding those teams it would lend credence to an East coast bias (for the record, TV broadcasting in terms of times of sporting events is still based on the Eastern part of the country). Now that I have given some background on Baseball's movement West, let me shed some light on Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals.  

Stan "The Man" Musial was born on November 21, 1920 in Donora, PA. He was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1937 and after playing on various minor league teams Musial made his major league debut on September 17, 1941. In a twenty-two year career (Musial missed the 1945 season to military service) Musial cemented his status of one of the best to ever play the game. This left-handed power hitter was a career .331 hitter leading the league in hitting seven times (1943, 1946, 1948, 1950-1952, 1957) with the highest being .376 in 1946. Musial also led the league in hits six seasons (1943-1944, 1946, 1948-1949, 1952), doubles eight times (1943-1944, 1946, 1948-1949, 1952-1954) with 53 being the highest in 1953. Musial was also an aggressive runner on the bases having led the league in triples five times (1943, 1946, 1948-1949, 1951) with 20 being the highest in 1943 and 1946. Though Musial never led the league in homers, he has a total of 475 career homers with his largest season total being 39 in 1948. 

Musial led the league in OPS seven times (1943-1944, 1946, 1948, 1950, 1952, 1957) with his career OPS at .976. Musial's best OPS occurring in 1948 with 1.152 (.450 OBP%/.702 SLG%). Musial also led the league in OPB six times (1943-1944, 1948-1949, 1953, 1957) and in SLG six times (1943-1944, 1946, 1948, 1950, 1952).

Not surprising, Musial won three National League MVP awards (1943, 1946, 1948) and a twenty-four time All-Star (1943-1944, 1946-1960). The Major Leagues had two All-Star games per season from 1959-1962 in which Musial played in both each year).

Defensively, Musial split his career between the outfield (13 seasons in LF and RF with a fielding percentage of .983 with 16 errors in total) and first-base (14 seasons with .992 Fielding percentage with 78 errors)

So based on that basic breakdown concerning Musial's statistics, did he get his just credit as one of the best players of the 1950's. I believe that Musial benefited in the 1940's of playing in a league that was weaker due to many of it's better players entering World War II. His best seasons were during the mid to late 1940's and he maintained consistent statistics through the early to mid 50's. Though his numbers didn't start to tail off after the 1958 season, the league itself grew stronger with the integration of the Negro League players starting with Jackie Robinson in 1947. The National League was even stronger than the American League since they were much more aggressive in integrating and signing the beat players they could get from the Negro Leagues. The Dodgers and Giants were two of the most aggressive teams to do so in the 1950's and their combined seven pennants during that decade is a testament to the effect of the influx to the league of the new players. 

In no way am I taking away from Musial's accomplishments by saying so but the bar of competition was significantly raised. Musial went from being one of the few great players in the 1940's to be joined by other great players in the 1950's. His place in Cooperstown is undeniable. I think the more accurate discussions whether or not Musial is one of the best players of the 1940's rather than the 1950's. Anyone agree? Disagree?


For Further Reading
- Click Here to access Stan Musial's statistics page from Baseball
- Click Here to read David Schoenfeld's article The List: 10 cases of East Coast bias from which touches upon the Musial/East Coast bias discussion

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