Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Slats Marion, baseball's best shortstop

It's summertime.1 Baseball is still America's true national pastime. I'm going to make Tuesdays "Baseball Day" on Papergreat this summer...

This small clipping was floating around, untagged, in my ephemera collection.2 It's definitely from the middle 1940s, as there's a reference to World War II on the back. And I'd also guess that it's from Grit.

Slats Marion's full name was Martin Whiteford Marion. He was best known as Marty Marion, and his two nicknames were Slats3 and The Octopus.

Here's some of the scoop on Slats:
  • He played for 11 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals (1940-1950) and then was the manager of the Cardinals in 1951. He then spent the second half of 1952 and all of 1953 as player/manager for the St. Louis Browns. 4
  • The Cardinals won the World Series three times (1942, 1944, 1946) during Marion's time with them. This, no doubt, helped to solidify Marion's status as "Baseball's Best Shortstop" in the eyes of the public. And he was considered the shortstop in Cardinals history until Osborne Earl Smith came along in 1982.
  • According to BaseballHistorian.com: "As a child, Marty fell into a 20-foot pit and spent better than six months in a body cast, his right leg was severely injured giving him a trick knee which kept him out of World War II and shorted his major league career."
  • Marion won the National League MVP award in 1944, when he batted .267 with six home runs, 50 runs scored and 63 RBIs. As you might imagine, it's considered one of the more controversial MVP awards. Among the players Marion beat out were the Chicago Cubs' Bill Nicholson, who led the NL with 33 home runs and 122 RBIs and teammate Stan Musial, who batted .347 and led the National League in hits (197), doubles (51), on-base percentage (.440), slugging percentage (.549) and OPS (.990).

    Musial himself was not unhappy about the MVP voting. He stated: “I think this was the greatest tribute to defensive play in the history of the MVP Award.”5

    BaseballEvolution.com, on the other hand, argues that Marion's 1944 MVP award is the greatest MVP snub of all time: "In short, Marty Marion beat out easily 10 more qualified players on his own team for the NL MVP in 1944. The only explanation I can come up with is that he was incredibly good looking, and all the male baseball writers had been shipped off to World War II, leaving only the women to vote for the MVP that year."6
  • Finally, here's my favorite piece of Marion-related information. For a season-and-a-half, in 1941 and 1942, his double-play partner was Frank Angelo Joseph Crespi -- better known as Creepy Crespi (right). According to Crespi's Wikipedia page, Creepy had a tremendous run of bad luck after playing his final game with the Cardinals in 1942 at age 24:
    Crespi was drafted into the army in early 1943. Though he qualified for a deferment as the sole supporter of his elderly mother, he refused, claiming, "I don't think I'm too good to fight for the things I've always enjoyed."

    During an Army baseball game in Kansas, he suffered a compound fracture of his left leg while turning a double play. Soon afterwards, he broke the same leg during a training accident, and later he broke it a third time during an impromptu wheelchair race while in the hospital.

    While he was recuperating at the hospital, a nurse accidentally applied 100 times the appropriate quantity of boric acid to his bandages, causing severe burns on Crespi's leg and leaving him with a permanent limp.
    Unable to play baseball any more, Crespi went to to become a budget analyst for McDonnell Douglas. He died of a heart attack in 1990.

Marion, meanwhile, lived a long life and died this past March at age 93.

1. Well, technically not until June 21.
2. I could use an official curator of my archives. Anyone need a free summer internship?
3. He was called "Slats" because of his long and limber frame. He was 6-foot-2, which was tall for a shortstop in that era.
4. In the following season (1954), the St. Louis Browns became the modern-day Baltimore Orioles.
5. Source: "How Marty Marion won MVP by one point" on RetroSimba.
6. There was eventually some irony and balancing-out here. In 1944, less-deserving Cardinals shortstop Marty Marion edged Cubs slugger Bill Nicholson for MVP. In 1987, less-deserving Cubs slugger Andre Dawson edged Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith for MVP. And Smith had far greater offensive numbers (.303 average, 104 runs, 43 stolen bases) in 1987 than Marion had in 1944.


  1. Well done. Learned more about Marty Marion than I expected to when I woke up.

  2. What about the double play record set by martin to marion to musial that beat the previous record by tinkers, evers and chance?