Precious Rookie Cards

Precious Rookie Cards
By Glenn Guzzo
            From card collectors to prospect-hunting fantasy leaguers, baseball fans have become obsessed with rookies as investments. They have that value in Strat-O-Matic “keeper” draft leagues.
            Imagine, then, the bidding wars that might have occurred in 1924, when one of the most lustrous rookie classes ever made a big hit. The latest classic-season offering from Strat-O-Matic showcases seven future Hall of Famers, plus another dozen freshmen who heavily influenced the tense pennant races in both leagues.
            No teams relied more on prominent rookies than the pennant-wining Giants and the contending Pirates in the National League. But World Series-winning Washington would not have won without them, especially since AL rivals Detroit and New York also had talented rookies.
            Pittsburgh used future HOF Kiki Cuyler in all three outfield spots. Rookie Glenn Wright was the best-fielding SS in the game and batted in the middle of the order, driving in 111 runs. Versatile rookie OF-IF Johnny Moore hit .359 and was a regular down the stretch of the pennant race. Rookie SPs Ray Kremer (18-10, 3.20) and Emil Yde (16-3, 2.83) won big and had the best two ERAs among the Pirates’ starters.
            Crafty Manager John McGraw did not hesitate to use his three future Hall of Fame rookies – Hack Wilson, Bill Terry and Fred Lindstrom – in key situations rookies Wayland Dean and Walter Huntzinger started 22 games between them and won 8.
            With multiple injuries to middle infielders, Cincinnati promoted 2B Hughie Critz and he never relinquished the job, batting .322 and instantly establishing himself as one of the best defensive second sackers in the league as well as a deft small-ball batsman.
            In the AL, Washington rookie Firpo Marberry’s 11 wins and 15 saves made him one of the season’s top stories as the premier reliever in baseball. And the Senators did not win Game 7 of the World Series until the 12th inning, when rookie Earl McNeely’s bad-hop single drove in the Series-deciding run. Ironically, the ball eluded Giants rookie 3B Lindstrom, who had not made an error in the Series while fielding spectacularly.
            Rookie Earl Whitehill (17-9) was contending Detroit’s top winner. Rookie Hollis Thurston won 20 games and lost only 14 for the last-place White Sox. Rookie Ted Lyons was 12-11 for same outfit in his audition for the Hall of Fame. The two White Sox rookies were the top two winners for Chicago and had nearly half the team’s 66 wins.
            In Philadelphia, Connie Mack rebuilt for a second dynasty with rookie OF Al Simmons and 2B Max Bishop, who would end up as mainstays on the 1929-31 Athletics pennant winners. Rookie Mickey Cochrane was only one year away from joining the A’s.
            The contending Yankees expected big things from rookie OF Earle Combs – for good reason. He hit .400 with five doubles in 35 at-bats, but he broke an ankle sliding and it cost him almost all the season. Most Strat-O-Matic historians will remember the future Hall of Famer as the leadoff hitter on the devastating 1927 Yankees.
            We’d be looking good with this roster core in 1924:
1B: Terry (.239-5-24 in 163 AB, plus great defense). During George Kelly’s finest season, the Giants moved him from 1B to get Terry into the lineup.
2B: Critz (.322) and Bishop (.255 with 54 walks in 294 AB). Strong defense and a lefty-righty platoon. Both had long careers.
3B: Lindstrom (.253 in 79 AB). The 18-year-old’s defense was the rage of the World Series.
SS: Wright (.287-7-111, with 28 doubles, 18 triples and 14 SB).
LF: Simmons (.308-8-102, 31 doubles, 9 triples, 16 SB). Though he hit only 8 HR, the distance on those drives got everyone’s attention. His fly-chasing and arm earned him a move to CF. He was regarded as a polished and smart base runner. Mack fell in love with Simmons’ all-around game instantly, playing him in 152 games.
CF: Hack Wilson (.295-10-57 in 383 AB, with 12 triples). He began the season on the bench, but his bat and defense made Billy Southworth obsolete and made him a regular … Earl McNeely (.330 in 179 AB) and Combs fill the needed AB spectacularly.
RF: Kiki Cuyler (.354-9-85 with 27 doubles, 16 triples, 32 SB). “Cuy-Cuy” (not “kee-kee”) wowed everyone with his bat, speed and arm. Fighting for a lineup spot against three established OFs, he ended up with more AB (466) than any other OF except future Hall of Fame CF Max Carey.
SP: Kremer, Yde, Thurston, Lyons, Whitehill. That’s three righties and two lefties (Yde and Whitehill) good for 85 wins. Dean and Huntzinger spot start and win 8 more.
RP: Marberry is the top closer in the league. His 11 wins get our team to 104 wins, with his MLB-best 15 saves.
            And we’ve still got at least six roster spots for the needed catchers, pitchers and full-time first baseman.