Friday, January 27, 2023


OUR NEXT PHASE in the examination of peak offensive performances (our "Top 600" half-seasons, both first/second halves, as measured by OPS+) focuses on the batters who made it into this select pantheon once and once only. 

We'll see mostly Hall of Fame folk as we move through those who made the list at least twice (you're encouraged to guess how many times Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds did so). But the "one-timers" who appear in this post (covering the years 1901-1959) and the next (1960-present) are more than worthy of your attention. Names familiar and not coalesce here, and we democratize greatness as a result. 

Let's start with the Deadball Era:

Names in bold are Hall of Famers; names in red are those who (in our estimation, at least) have a case for induction. Primordial slugger Buck Freeman had an interesting career,  one of the very few hitters in the time frame who exceeded 20 HRs in a season. John McGraw, who will fall off this list in the not-too-distant future, is the only batter on the list who didn't hit a homer in his "hot half."

Topsy Hartsel was one of the holdover "walkmen" of the transition to the two-league setup; he didn't have walk rates as high as Roy Thomas, but possessed more power. HOFer Elmer Flick hit .378 in 1905 but didn't crack this list in either half of that year; his total of 15 triples in a half-season is impressive, but it was eclipsed by Ty Cobb in 1911. 

1911-12 brought a thaw in the wintry Deadball Era offense, and that's reflected in the four performances from 1912, where batting averages shot all the way up to .400 (Heinie Zimmerman, the power version; Johnny Evers, the singles-hitting version). Ed Lennox was a Federal Leauge fluke; Al Wickland is the total outlier, as that 141 tOPS+ figure suggests--he would be out of the majors within two years.

On to the 20s/30s:

Big BAs predominate in this time slice, with OPS values consistently pushing over 1.000 and higher. None of the big HR hitters in the decade are here, of course (because they made the list more than once) but you can see the drift toward more HRs in the mix as we move into the 30s. Ross Youngs, just barely on the list at this point, is the type of hitter who will almost never make the cut in the future (and not at all in the post-expansion era).

We see Lefty O'Doul chasing .400 in 1929 (he just missed); the career year of the obscure Ed Morgan in 1931; and in that same year we see Earl Webb hitting one double every two games in the first half, en route to what is still the single-season record for doubles (67). Later in the decade, Harlond Clift's half-season looks a lot like what is commonly seen in the twenty-first century.

And now, the 40s/50s:

The 40s brought the war, and lower offensive levels, along with some fascinating one-time peaks. Phil Weintraub, Dick Wakefield and Dom Dallessandro are guys that wouldn't normally wind up on a list of this type, though Tommy Holmes' blistering first half in 1945 is the closest that any "one-timer" in this time frame got to a .400 BA. 

The Walker brothers (Dixie and Harry) are the only siblings to appear on these lists.

The 50s return us to big slugging, but the BAs are lower, so there are no .700 SLG half-seasons to be found among the one-times. Rocky Colavito and Ted Kluszewski come closest, along with Bobby Thomson, the main offensive force behind the Miracle Giants in 1951.

We'll be back with the 1960s to the present shortly. Stay tuned...