Year Inducted: 1964 (Veterans Committee)
What is the defining trait of a great hitter? Should he be a guy that gets a lot of hits, like Pete Rose, where most of them are singles? Should he be a guy that hits only for power, like Harmon Killebrew and Willie Stargell? Or, should he be able to hit for both like Babe Ruth and Rogers Hornsby? Each of these types, of course, can be considered a great hitter. Of course, the best hitters are going to be able to hit for both average and power. That’s what makes guys like Ruth, Hornsby, Jimmie Foxx and others the best of all time. Power-only hitters are valuable because home runs are the best outcome of any at-bat. Singles hitters are important, they can be good leadoff hitters and helpful to start a rally, but they would need to hit a lot of singles to make up for their lack of power. This was especially true in the late 1920s and 1930s, when some of the aforementioned hitters revolutionized what it meant to be a hitter. This hurts a lot of players that were good hitters, with OPS’s higher than .800, by making them only slightly above league average. A great example of this is Heinie Manush.
Manush was a very good hitter. His career slash line was .330/.377/.479, which looks impressive on first glance. He collected over 2500 hits, topping 200 hits in a season 4 times. He collected over 100 home runs, over 100 triples and nearly 500 doubles, so he did have a good amount of power. Having seen this, it may not be fair to fully classify him as a singles hitter. He probably is better classified as a “non-home run” hitter, as his season high home run total was 14.
The problem is that if a player doesn’t hit a lot of home runs, he needs to get a lot of hits consistently to be valuable. Hits can be at the mercy of luck. That’s why, with few exceptions, players that don’t hit for a lot of home runs have a lot of fluctuation in their batting averages from year to year, and Manush was no exception. There were several seasons in his career where he would follow a high batting average, such as his .378 average in 1926, with a much lower average in the following season (.298 in 1927). He did have several seasons with a batting average of .330 or higher (9), but nearly as many below (8). And, when he didn’t hit .330 or higher, he wasn’t much more than an average hitter (his highest wRC+ in a season where he didn’t have a high batting average was 107 in 1931 when he had a batting average of .307). This makes sense as despite his great looking batting line, his career wRC+ is only 120. That’s a good wRC+, but among Hall of Fame left fielders it is only higher than Lou Brock (109), who was able to generate a lot more value on the bases than Manush to offset his low wRC+ (as well as getting over 3000 hits).
Heinie Manush was a very good hitter, but played in a period of enhanced offense, and many other players were able to blow past him. Like several in the Hall of Fame, a good player but not necessarily one of the greatest of all time.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 7/26/16 this Yankee left hander was famed for pitching in the big game.