Continuing with the WasWatching.com Yankees “ten best seasons” (ever) series, today we look at left fielders. Here is what I believe are the top ten seasons for Yankees left fielders, with stats via the Complete Baseball Encyclopedia:
Click on the list below for a larger view ~
I’m not sure that Babe Ruth’s 1926 season really belongs on this list. By that year, the Yankees had been playing “Hide the Babe” in the field for a while already. For those not aware on what this means, Babe Ruth played right field in Yankee Stadium because left field was the tougher spot to cover due to the space out there and the sun. However, he was shifted to left field on the road when the Yanks played a team where right field was tougher to play (than left). Note the following chart which shows where the Babe played, and when, for the Yankees:
The rows highlighted in yellow above are the seasons where Ruth played more left than right in the outfield. Nonetheless, as you can see, other than 1921, Babe was never really a “pure” right or left fielder.
Moving off the Babe, Yankees fans should note Charlie “King Kong” Keller on this list.
OWP (Offensive Winning Percentage) is the percentage of games a team would win with nine of a given player in its lineup, given average pitching and defense. If you look at the Yankees’ OWP leaders, through 2006, min 4,000 Plate Appearances, you see:
Only Ruth, Mantle and Gehrig top Keller here – although DiMaggio is close. That’s sweet company.
Keller lost all of 1944 and most of 1945 when he served during the war. (And, he was 27- and 28-years old during those lost seasons.) By 1947, Charlie was done in by chronic back problems – and, by the age of 30, he was done as a full-time player.
Here’s an interesting thing on King Kong Keller – he came up in 1939 and wore #9 for the Yankees – and he kept that number through 1943. Then, he went off to fight in the war – and the Yankees reissued #9 in 1944 when three different Yankees wore it that season. When Keller returned in 1945, he got #9 back. But, then, in 1946, Charlie switched to #12 for the Yanks – which he wore in the Bronx through 1948.
Keller went back to wearing #9 for the Yankees in 1949. And, after playing for the Tigers for two seasons, Keller wore #28 and #99 for New York when he returned to the Bronx for his last season (of two games played) in 1952.
I’m sure there’s a story behind the switch from #9 to #12 for Keller during 1946-48. I wish I knew what it was – so that I could share it.
If Don Mattingly had changed his Yankees number four times – instead of just going from #46 to #23 – I’m sure the story behind it would be well known. And, in many ways, Keller was the Mattingly of his time – a superstar in New York cut down by a bad back basically by the time he was 30-years old.
Charlie “King Kong” Keller should be better remembered in terms of the Yankees legacy. There’s no plaque for Keller in Monument Park and (at Yankees Stadium) and YES has yet to do a Yankeeography on him. Considering he hit like DiMaggio – and was pretty close to Mantle and Gehrig in terms of production rate as well – when he wore the pinstripes, maybe it’s time that someone did something to get Keller more towards the front of the room which is the story of the New York Yankees.