A couple of baseball adages, when thought of together, can create a puzzling scenario. If the ladies just love the long ball, and everybody loves a winner, then where does that leave guys who help their teams win but don’t hit homers? The answer is that they get glossed over- both by the fans and in the history books. However, they deserve more.
There are many ways a batter can contribute to his team’s offense. Obviously, hitting home runs takes care of everything at once and is thus the most efficient. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other useful functions. The following 5 guys put together the best seasons without a single home run, as ranked by batting WAR (just the component of WAR from hitting, which doesn’t include fielding, baserunning, or positional scarcity). These guys got on base a ton, got plenty of extra-base hits, and stole bases at an effective rate. I used 1910 as a cutoff, because prior to that the league “replacement level” was so bad that many average hitters were far “above replacement level.” Without further ado, I give you the list:
5. Willie Randolph (1991 Brewers)- Willie hit .327/.424/.374 for the Brew Crew this year, showing the value in getting on base. He slugged at not just an ordinary pace, but a pretty pathetic one. He hit just 14 doubles and 3 triples, resulting in just 17 extra-base hits for his season. However, between hitting .327, walking 75 times, and receiving 3 intentional walks (?!), he was second behind only Frank Thomas in OBP% in 1991. He played just 124 games, but still accumulated a respectable 2.6 WAR with his bat alone.
4. Nap Lajoie (1912 Indians)- At .368/.414/.462, Nap showed hitting the ball hard doesn’t mean hitting the ball far. No one can hit .368 without stroking line drives left and right, but he never managed one over the fence in this season. He did double 34 times, triple 4 times, and drive in 90 runs, though. He walked a pedestrian 28 times, limiting his overall upside, but still piled up 2.8 batting WAR in a measly 117 games.
3. Luke Appling (1940 White Sox)- The middle of the century White Sox were known for their scrappy (read: not very talented) hitters. Most National Leaguers that saw the 1959 “Go-Go” White Sox in the World Series for the first time were shocked by the Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio-led offense. Luke Appling often gets lumped in that group because he lacked power, but unlike these other guys, he contributed to a lot to his team. Appling hit .348/.420/.442, along with 27 doubles and 13 triples and 79 RBIs. It took him 150 games, but he also was good for 2.8 batting WAR this year.
2. Tris Speaker (1915 Red Sox)- Combining a fine average (.320) with an even better on-base percentage (.416) supported by 81 walks, he is second-place on this list with 4.8 batting WAR. With 108 runs, 25 doubles, 12 triples, and 29 steals, he was just fine all-around. The Red Sox went 101-50 and won the World Series, and responded as any team would: traded their star to the Indians, where he would put together the largest chunk of his Hall of Fame career.
1. Eddie Collins (1912 Athletics)- To be fair, Collins is actually 1st, 3rd, and 5th on this list, but I gathered the 5 best different players for this article. This season was the best of those, when he treated the Athletics with 5.4 batting WAR without a single homer. 25 doubles and 11 triples contributed to his slugging, and he stole 63 bases, but the real heart of his value was the combination of his .348 average and his 101 walks, leading to a .450 on-base percentage. In fact, “Cocky,” as he was known, was one of the best all-time at getting on base. He has the 12th highest career OBP% in history, at .424.
These men posted all-star numbers with their bats, even though they didn’t hit any home runs. When you factor in that most of them were also above-average fielders and played at positions where offense is scarce, they really did have plenty of value to their teams. Unfortunately, though, their one flaw was not something the baseball world easily overlooks. There are legends who were poor fielders, lacked patience, or couldn’t run, but the ladies just love the long ball, so these players were unfairly snubbed by the baseball community as a whole.