April 23, 2018

Picking Your Favorite Obscure Baseball Figure

February 8, 2012 by · 11 Comments 

Last year I started a project on my blog of asking fans to send in their picks for their favorite obscure baseball figure from the past. As the word “figure” indicates, the person didn’t have to be a player; it can be anyone employed within the game itself, by a team or by a league, including umpires, coaches, scouts, and front office personnel.

My idea was that time and a focus on sabermetrics and efforts to determine who should be in the Hall of Fame have left many uniquely interesting and/or appealing retired/deceased baseball people by the wayside. Last year’s responses included a generous article on Joe Cambria by Seamheads editor Ted Leavengood. With spring training just about upon us, I’m bringing up the topic again and asking Seamheads for help in bringing to light some old baseball people who are worth remembering.

If you have someone in mind, just put his name in the comments. I’m only asking for a name, but if you want to write a few sentences talking about your favorite obscure baseball figure (it can be a woman of course), that would be fine. My choice is Lena Blackburne, longtime baseball figure in every capacity from ballplayer to independent entrepreneur, and the man who got the White Sox’s first two hits at the original Comiskey Park.


11 Responses to “Picking Your Favorite Obscure Baseball Figure”
  1. Here are my 10 favorites:
    1-Donald Davidson, diminutive traveling secretary with titanic temper.
    2-Larvell (Sugar Bear) Blanks, utilityman whose bat was full of them. Sugar Bear?
    3-Biff Pocoroba, catcher who once made the All-Star team. His real name was Biff
    4-Mike Lum, once pinch-hit for Hank Aaron but better known for traveling with pigeons
    5-Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson, Yankees teammates who traded families
    6-Larry Chiasson, first Expos PR man, nicest gentleman ever, died way too early
    7-Bill Lucas, first black GM (Braves) but died in mid-40s of brain aneurysm
    8-Ed Lucas, blind sportswriter and interviewer, still active in NY area in his 70s
    9-Ron Blomberg, the ‘Jewish Mickey Mantle’ whose career path was stalled by injuries
    10-Oscar Gamble, known more for his hair than his baseball achievements

  2. @BABiP_Roberts says:

    Tim Naehring. The first baseball card I ever got and it’s still in my wallet 20 years later.

  3. David says:

    As someone who grew up as a Brewers fan in the 1990s, it’s pretty easy to name a bunch of guys I grew up believing year after year could actually compete – John Jaha, Mark Loretta, Jeff Cirillo, Jose Valentin, Fernando Vina (who’s probably not that obscure, but only because he went on to play for the Cards), Cal Eldred, and, of course, Dave Nilsson. It’s too soon to talk about those guys with the fondness with which most of the baseball community online discusses its favorite players (mostly from the 1970s and 1980s, it appears), but I look forward to a decade from now, when my references will be more appreciated. Also, Brad Radke is probably my all-time favorite non-Brewer.

    My dad, who grew up a Milwaukee Braves fan (and who incidentally hates all Atlanta sports teams with a passion just because of the Braves’ move) would probably name Johnny Logan, who was his favorite player on those great 1950s Braves teams.

  4. ghostofwadelefler says:

    My favorite is the man whose name I use when I post of baseball fora anonymously: Wade Lefler. After going 0-for-1 in a cup of coffee with the 1924 Braves, he went back down to Worcester until acquired by the Nationals in September. Lefler went 5-for-8 with three doubles – two as a pinch-hitter – and 4 RBI to help the Nats make the push to the AL pennant. Lefler never played in the majors again but went on to have a long career as a public attorney.

  5. HamptonBayardHampton says:

    Bobby Lowe
    Noodles Hahn
    Hod Eller
    Lady Waddell
    Nap Rucker

  6. R. J. says:

    In no particular order:
    1. Horacio Pina: pitcher in the early seventies with a submarine delivery. Amused me greatly at the time.
    2. Ron Karkovice: watching him throw out a basestealer was so much fun. He’d get this look on his face afterward, like a weary Old West gunfighter who had just dispatched another challenger.
    3. Ben Sanders. Was once credited with the record for fewest pitches in a nine-inning game, sometime in the 1890s. I’ve been unable to find much more about him, other than this tantalizing blurb from 1913; his name popped up in the Sporting News that year, after Christy Mathewson had a 70-pitch outing that season.

  7. Mike Lynch says:

    I’ve mentioned him before in other “obscure player” references, but my all-time favorite is Smead Jolley. He spent only four years in the bigs and amassed 500+ at-bats in only two, but they were two very good seasons: .313/16/114 in 1930 (he also had 38 doubles and 12 triples), and .312/18/106 in 1932 (struck out only 29 times in 606 plate appearances). Jolley could hit, but he was slow as molasses (don’t let the triples fool you; he was 5-for-12 in SB attempts during his career and had a range factor of only 1.80 vs. a LGRF of 2.37), and couldn’t field (.944 career FLD%). In fact, Jolley allegedly made three errors on one play once.

    But dude could hit (did I already mention that?). He batted .367 in 2,228 minor league games, rapped out 3,043 hits in 16 years, 640 of which were doubles and 336 of which were homers, and slugged .584. He also enjoyed one of the greatest seasons at any level when he hit .404 with 52 doubles, 10 triples and 45 homers, and slugged .675 in 1928. His top minor league averages were: .404, .397, .387, .383, .380, .373 (twice), .372 and .360. If Jolley were better with the glove or there was a DH in the 1930’s there’s no telling how great he might have been.

    Ike Boone was similar. He batted .370 in 1,857 minor league games with a career year in 1929 when he hit .407 and belted 55 home runs in 198 games. Boone hit .321 in 1,160 major league at-bats, but committed 13 errors in 118 games in 1925 (.941) and that sealed his fate as a major leaguer. It’s too bad because both of them could hit the hell out of the ball.

  8. David says:

    I forgot to mention the player with one of the funniest names in baseball history:

    Stubby Clapp.

    I was at the first game (of two) he ever started in the Majors, St. Louis @ Milwaukee, July 5, 2001. He went 1/4 with 2 Ks (and man alive did those two Ks look bad). Even though 2001 was his only season in the Majors, he’s still made his mark more recently on the international baseball scene. He’s Canadian, so he played with them in both World Baseball Classic tournaments. In 2006, he started all 3 of Team Canada’s games at 2nd base, going 2/13 with a triple and one RBI, walking twice, and getting caught stealing in his only attempt. He was much less of a factor in 2009, going 0/1 in his only plate appearance.

  9. Bill Lewers says:

    A few personal favorites:

    Al Benton – the only ptcher ever to face both Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle

    Earl Wilson – not exactly obscure, but he threw a lot of innings for some really bad Boston teams

    Frank Malzone – before Brooks Robinson hit his stride, Frank was the best in the league

    Mike Higgins – A good thirdbaseman and a better manager than the Red Sox Nation gives him credit for

    George Smith – slick fielding secondbaseman whi played for the Indianapolis Clowns, Detroit Tigers, and Boston Red Sox

    Jim Gosger – 1960s outfielder who hustled ever moment

    Jim Eisenrich – His comeback in the face of adversity is inspirational

    Sam Jethroe – Had some great seasons for the Cleveland Buckeyes and Boston Braves

  10. Arne says:

    Since I started this last year, I don’t think I’ve had a single player get named twice, which shows how big baseball is, that people can name so many different figures as their favorite. Mike Gallego is one guy who isn’t all that obscure, but was an inspirational A’s/Yankees player 20-25 years ago, now coaching third in Oakland.


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