Year Inducted: 1991 (Veterans Committee)
The changing landmark of statistics in baseball has been interesting in the last 15 or more years. The stigma on strikeouts has been reduced to basically nothing and the focus on both batting average and RBI’s has lessened. But for a long time, RBI’s were one of the standards for determining the greatness of a hitter. Many followers of advanced stats don’t favor RBI’s because it doesn’t take into account the amount of opportunities. If a batter is league average and hitting behind 3 great hitters, he should have a lot of RBI’s just because he’ll have a lot of players on in front of him. A fairly infamous example of this in baseball history would be the case of Tony Lazzeri.
Lazzeri was the primary second baseman for the Yanks in their first dynasty. As the number five hitter on the team, he hit behind players like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and had many opportunities to drive in runs. And to be fair, he took some advantage of his opportunities. In his 14 seasons, he drove in nearly 1200 runs with a batting line of .292/.380/.467 and a wRC+ of 122. With Poosh Em Up Tony in the lineup, the Yanks dominated baseball and won 6 AL Pennants with 5 Championships.
Lazzeri, at the time of his retirement, had the 2nd most home runs in a career by a second baseman to only Rogers Hornsby. He was also 6th in RBI among second basemen, with all 5 in front of him being inducted by the BBWAA many decades before Lazzeri got the call. Why did Lazzeri have to wait so long?
Part of the reason is that he had a somewhat short career. He played in roughly 1700 games, which is about 400 fewer than the average Hall of Famer played, which is a lot of time. Despite hitting 178 home runs, he only tallied 1800 hits in his career which was good for 15th all-time among second basemen. He also, while a solid defender, was not as good defensively as many players in his era, like Johnny Evers, Frankie Frisch or Charlie Gehringer.
Lazzeri was a very good player for a few years, with occasional bouts of greatness, but probably isn’t one of the best of all-time. He was excellent in his day, however, and an important part of one of baseball’s all-time greatest teams. While there are better players in the Hall of Fame, there are also some much worse selections than Lazzeri.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 8/8/16 The final member of the Cubs legendary double play team.