Thursday, November 17, 2005

November 17th, 1991

Smead Jolley Dies

Yes, that really was his name and no, I don't know what the story is. At first blush, actually, his whole career is kind of an I don't know what the story is. He made his debut in 1930 as a twenty-eight year rookie and immediately proved he could hit, posting a .313/.346/.492 line with sixteen home runs, good for tenth in the league. He was the just-above-the-cellar White Sox second best hitter (behind Carl Reynolds) and appeared in all but two games. The next year however, Jolley appeared in just fifty-four games, although he posted a similar batting line. In early April 1932 he was traded to the Red Sox and promptly posted a .309/.345/.480 line in
Boston, slugging eighteen home runs, good for eighth in the league. The Red Sox were a terrible team that year (they lost one hundred eleven) but Jolley still managed to receive some MVP support. Smead's numbers slipped in 1933 and although he was just thirty-one, that would be his last year in the Majors.

So...what was the story? As it turns out, Jolley was a 1930s Edgar Martinez or David Ortiz: all stick, no glove. And I mean really, really no glove. Of course, back then, there was no DH to hide players like that. In 1930 Jolley played just over a hundred and fifty games in the outfield. He made fourteen errors, a rate which isn't quite Hundlelian--although his 1931, 5 errors in twenty-games is pretty close--but it was still lousy. More than however, Jolley was widely considered the worst defensive outfielder of the decade. There is an almost surely apocryphal story that he once made four errors on the same play, first allowing a well hit line drive to go through his legs (Error #1), then allowing the rebound off the wall to go through his legs (#2), then bobbling the ball while trying to pick it up (#3), and then airmailing the cut-off throw (#4). I don't know why teams never tried him at first base, although perhaps if a man could have that story plausibly told about him, it is best to keep him out of the infield. Jolley did at least have a sense of humor about the whole thing, claiming the "One-a-Day" vitamin company had named their product after his error total.

Jolley was always a welcome presence in the minors however, where his defensive follies were better tolerated, as he led various minor leagues in batting six different times. There are plenty of players like Jolley, just born at the wrong time. That's Smead's cross to bear, a shame he had to live with the name too, however.

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