Years ago, I read David Halberstam’s “Summer of ’49,” about the American League pennant race.
Written 40 years after the season, it’s not a contemporaneous account. But the lense it gives to a fan today is of some players whose fantastic careers were lost to history.
The main one is Vern Stephens. Ive long prided myself on baseball history knowledge, but I knew next to nothing about this excellent ballplayer before I opened the book.
Stevens was a seven-time All Star shortstop who thrice led the league in runs batted in and once led it on homers. He retired with a .286/.355/.460 slash line. Incredibly, from 1942 to 1951, he finished in the top 10 in MVP voting six times.
JAWS puts him at the 30th best shortstop of all time. Nineteen of the shortstops ahead of him are enshrined in Cooperstown. Three of the seven players behind him are.
Spending the majority of his prime with the St. Louis Browns didn’t help his hall of Fame credentials and is one of the reasons he’s not as well remembered.
Stevens will probably never make it to Cooperstown. That’s OK. But he might be one of those players who was one more good year away from getting in.
It’s hard to imagine a shortstop with those numbers and some slightly better counting stats not having earned induction.