Saturday, March 11, 2006

March 11th, 1972

Zach Wheat Dies

I'm back in New York today, as Spring Break as begun for me. I'm having more travels in a bit, but we'll reveal those as they happen. I like being home of course, but part of the problem with being home is that I'm largely separated from the resources that keep this blog going. I have still have internet access (obviously) and therefore the capacity to search the divine BaseballReference database but my assorted books that provide me with both essential information and random trivia aren't available. Facing such dire straights, I have to improvise.

Today's improvisation is Zach "Buck" Wheat. Wheat is a relatively obscure figure in baseball history, which is odd given that he's both in the Hall of Fame and the all-time leader in a number of important statistics for one of the most famous teams, the Dodgers. Despite having not played for the Dodgers since 1926 (and having been dead since 1972) Wheat is still the all-time leader in hits (2,804 miles ahead of Pee Wee Reese), doubles (464, about a hundred ahead of Duke Snider), triples (171, ahead of Willie Davis) and total bases (4,003 ahead again of the Duke).

None of that is what drew my attention to Wheat, however. A context-less look at his career would seem to show an incredible, almost Bonds like late surge, Wheat hit just .319/.377/.452 in his age twenty-six season, but managed a powerful .359/.403/.541 in his age thirty-seven season. Wheat wasn't on the Juice; he simply had the good fortune to begin his career in the deadball era but end it in the Age of Ruth. When league and park are considered, Wheat's age twenty-six season (in 1914) is actually better than his age thirty-seven season (in 1925).

Statistics can tell us a lot about the game and its player, but it is crucial to always remember that without the proper context, they are at best useless and at worst outright deceptive.

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