Friday, October 20, 2006

October 20th, 1897

Jigger Statz Born

I suppose, what with trying to buy the Nets, appearing in TNT's NBA ads and all, Jay-Z is probably more of a basketball guy, but I guess here we have the original Jigga, albeit spelled a bit differently. Actually, it's a shame that Jay-Z is so well associated with the Jigga name, otherwise this would make a dandy stage name if Bill James or Billy Beane ever issued a hip-hop album. He was born Arnold John Statz, I have no real idea about the nickname, although given that he was a slight man, just 5'7", 150, I imagine it comes from a supposed resemblance to the eponymous bartender's tool.

Although Statz had a relatively underwhelming Major League career, hitting .285 in a little under seven hundred games across eight seasons, he remains an all-time great in the Pacific Coast League. In those days, of course, the PCL was its own league, known as a level below the Majors, but significantly more independent than it is today. To this day Statz owns the PCL records for, among other things, games, hits, doubles and runs. Until he was passed by both Hank Aaron and Pete Rose Statz also held the all-time record for professional games played.

Playing exclusively for the Los Angeles Angels once he left the Majors, he hit over .300 nine straight times, and was part of the 1934 Angels team that is regarded by many as the best minor league team of that decade. (The other contender is the 1937 Newark Bears, a Yankee farm club featuring Charlie Keller and Joe Gordon.) In fact, the 1934 Angels (or '37 Bears) are probably the last truly great minor league team, as by after World War Two the Minor Leagues had really begun to be resigned into the feeder system for the Majors we know today.

The obvious question then is that if Statz was tearing up the PCL why some enterprising Major League team didn't try to give him another shot. The answer is that Angels were owned by William Wrigley (also owner of the Cubs, of course) and although Wrigley asked after Statz, the latter made it clear he enjoyed playing on the West Coast with its smaller ballparks and warmer weather. As such, Wrigley allowed Statz to stay in the minor leagues, where he played out his career. After his playing days Statz became a Cubs scout; he died in California in 1988.

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