March 21, 2019

“Gorgeous George,” a Beauty

March 24, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Doling out compliments is not one of the first qualities that springs to mind when one thinks of Ty Cobb. Yet Cobb went way beyond that when he lauded George Sisler. Cobb called Sisler the “œnearest thing to a perfect ballplayer.” (5, Sizzler). Cobb didn’t exude praise, so there had to be a reason for his remark. SABR member Rick Huhn shows why Sisler stacks up against the best in his book “The Sizzler.”

Read this book because:

1. Sisler secured a spot among the 10 greats in the first Hall of Fame photo on June 12, 1939.

Before Babe Ruth went on his home run binge with in 1920, The Babe hit 29 home runs in 1919. Did you know that Sisler tied for second in the American League with 10 home runs in 1919? Ruth ratcheted his home run total up in 1920, but Sisler did as well. Ruth and Sisler again finished first and second in the AL with 54 and 19 home runs each. 

It took 84 years for someone (Ichiro) to surpass Sisler’s record for hits in a season. Ichiro bested Sisler’s 257 hits in 1920 with 262 knocks in 2004.

Sisler and Rogers Hornsby both debuted in 1915. From 1915 to 1926, the two infielders shared the same city, Sisler on the St. Louis Browns, Hornsby on the Cardinals. Their numbers are similar for the period – .359 AVG (Hornsby) to .346 AVG (Sisler); 1080 runs scored (Hornsby) to 1004 (Sisler). Sisler had more stolen bases (324-117) and fewer strikeouts (474-263), while Hornsby collected more home runs (191-88) and RBI (1051-862). In 1928, Hornsby served as a player-manager for the Boston Braves and acquired Sisler from the Washington Senators.

2. Long before Malcolm Gladwell wrote “Outliers,” Sisler provided a case study.

In 1917, although the Browns finished 57-97, only batting .246, Sisler finished second to Cobb (.383-.353 AVG). Nevertheless, rather than talk baseball, Sisler preferred discussing current events or the latest issue of Atlantic Monthly. Above all came family. Too bad his salary did not correlate with his high values. Whereas Ruth drew around $70,000 in 1927, Cobb $60,000, Hornsby and Tris Speaker $40,000, Sisler received only $25,000.

3. Not only was Sisler an outlier, he was an overcomer.

Sisler had to leave home because Manchester, Ohio did not have a high school. He never returned. After he moved in with an older brother, another older brother passed away. Otherwise life progressed fairly smoothly for Sisler until the tail end of his eighth big-league season in 1922. Sisler, then 29, was in pursuit of Cobb’s 40-game hit streak record on Sept. 11. He had already recorded hit 39. All that was left was an excellent defensive play that caused Sisler to stretch and fall forward on a Cobb ground ball. That left Sisler with a strained right shoulder that made him and St. Louis fans uneasy at best.

Sisler’s problems grew far more serious the following spring when a sinus infection damaged his optic nerve. “When he came back, we soon learned something,” Yankees pitcher Bob Shawkey said. “When he was up at the plate, he could watch you for only so long, and then he’d have to look down to get his eyes focused again. So we’d keep him waiting up there until he’d have to look down and then pitch. He was never the same hitter again after that.” (196) Nonetheless, Sisler hit .345 in 1925 and hovered around .330 in three of his next four seasons.

“Gorgeous George” was simply a beauty.

Sam Miller is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he worked with various teams in sports information and received the Freedom Forum – NCAA Sports Journalism Scholarship for his achievements. During the 2009 season, Miller served as communications intern for the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate. Prior to that, he worked as a communications intern for USA Basketball and as an associate reporter for MLB.com.

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