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Bob Elliott

Bob Elliott

Position(s):
OF, 3B, 2B, SS
Nicknames:
Mr. Team
Born:
November 26, 1916
Bats:
Right
Throws:
Right
Height:
6'
Weight:
185 lbs
Major League Debut:
9-02-1939 with PIT
Allstar Selections:
1947 MVP

One of baseball’s top sluggers throughout much of the 1940s, Bob Elliott knocked in more runs (903) than any other player in the game during that 10-year period.  While Elliott’s exemption from World War II military service due to head injuries suffered from a 1943 beaning played a huge role in his being able to compile more RBIs during the decade than either Ted Williams (893), Joe DiMaggio (786), or Stan Musial (706), the right-handed hitting third baseman/outfielder nonetheless drove in more than 100 runs five times between 1940 and 1949, knocking in a career-best 113 runs in 1947, when he earned National League MVP honors.  Elliott also batted over .300 twice during the decade and, despite spending seven full seasons playing his home games in spacious Forbes Field, managed to surpass 20 home runs on two separate occasions.   

Early career

Born in San Francisco, California on November 26, 1916, Robert Irving Elliott spent his early years in professional baseball working his way up the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system as an outfielder.  Elliott made his major league debut with the Pirates on September 2, 1939, batting .333 over the season’s final month, with three home runs and 19 runs batted in.  Elliott won the starting right field job for the lowly Pirates the following year, posting a batting average of .292, driving in 64 runs, and scoring 88 others.  Although the 23-year-old outfielder hit only five home runs playing in cavernous Forbes Field, he displayed good power at the plate, accumulating 11 triples and 34 doubles.  Elliott earned his first All-Star nomination in 1941, batting .273 and knocking in 76 runs.

The six-foot, 195-pound Elliott lacked outstanding running speed, but his strong throwing arm and solid work ethic enabled him to do a creditable job for the Pirates in the outfield his first few seasons.  However, Pittsburgh manager Frankie Frisch decided that Elliott was better suited to play third base, shifting his team’s most productive hitter to the hot corner prior to the start of the 1942 campaign.  Displaying the sense of selflessness that eventually earned him the nickname “Mr. Team,” Elliott willingly accepted the change in positions, leading all National League third basemen with 285 assists and 173 putouts, despite also topping all players at his position with 36 errors.  Elliott also had his finest offensive season to-date, batting .296 and driving in 89 runs, en route to earning a spot on the N.L. All-Star team for the second straight year and a ninth-place finish in the league MVP voting.

With many of the game’s finest players serving in the United States military, Elliott flourished during the war years of 1943 to 1945.  The Pittsburgh third sacker posted batting averages of .315, .297, and .290, respectively, while also knocking in more than 100 runs each season.  After placing second in the National League with 16 triples in 1944, Elliott finished third in the senior circuit with 36 doubles the following year.       

Boston years

In 1946, with most of the sport’s best players back from World War II, Elliott had his worst year as a member of the Pirates.  He batted just .263 and drove in only 68 runs, prompting speculation that his outstanding RBI totals from the previous three seasons were more a reflection of the inferior pitching he faced than of his outstanding ability to hit in the clutch.  As a result, the Pirates elected to trade their 30-year-old third baseman to the Boston Braves for veteran second baseman Billy Herman. 

The trade of the 37-year-old Herman for Elliott proved to be a steal for the Braves.  Herman played only 15 games for the Pirates, before being released by the club and subsequently announcing his retirement.  Meanwhile, Elliott had the most productive season of his career.  No longer hampered by the distant left field fences of Forbes Field, Elliott emerged as a legitimate star, hitting 22 home runs, driving in 113 runs, scoring 93 others, and finishing second in the league with a batting average of .317.  The third baseman’s 87 walks also enabled him to compile an outstanding .410 on-base percentage.  Elliott’s exceptional performance led the Braves to a third-place finish, earning him recognition as the National League’s Most Valuable Player.

The famous baseball saying of “Spahn and Sain, and pray for rain” became the cry throughout all of Boston the following year, as the Braves moved inexorably towards their first pennant in 34 years.  Johnny Sain won 24 games for Boston, while Warren Spahn chipped in with 15 victories.  However, Elliott played an extremely significant role in the team’s success as well, batting .283, driving in 100 runs, and establishing career highs with 23 home runs, 99 runs scored, a .423 on-base percentage, and a league-leading 131 bases on balls.  Easily the most feared hitter in Boston’s lineup, Elliott’s 131 walks clearly revealed the respect he garnered from National League pitchers.  

Although the Braves ended up losing the 1948 World Series to the Cleveland Indians in six games, the fifth contest turned out to be the highlight of Elliott’s career.  After struggling terribly at the plate during the first four games of the Fall Classic as the Indians took a three-games-to-one lead, Elliott hit two home runs off future Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller, to lead Boston to an 11-5 victory.  The Braves’ slugger ended the Series with two homers, five runs batted in, and a .333 batting average.

Later career

Elliott had three more solid years for the Braves, before his skills began to diminish.  The best of those years came in 1950, when he hit 24 homers, knocked in 107 runs, scored 94 others, and batted .305.  Traded to the New York Giants prior to the start of the 1952 campaign, Elliott spent most of the year serving the team as a part-time outfielder, before being released by the club at season’s end.  He split 1953 between the St. Louis Browns and the Chicago White Sox, hitting nine home runs, knocking in 61 runs, and batting .255, in 115 games, spent mostly at third base.  Elliott retired at the end of the year after being released by the White Sox.  He ended his career with 170 home runs, 1,195 runs batted in, 1,064 runs scored, 2,061 hits, a .289 batting average, and a .375 on-base percentage.  Elliott surpassed 20 homers three times and 100 runs batted in six times, batted over .300 four times, finished in double-digits in triples four times, and compiled an on-base percentage in excess of .400 on two separate occasions.  In addition to leading the National League in walks once, he finished second in runs batted in twice, while also placing second in batting average, on-base percentage, triples, and doubles once each.  Elliott’s three seasons with more than 20 home runs equaled Whitey Kurowski’s then-National League record for most 20-homer campaigns by a third baseman.  His six seasons with at least 100 runs batted in enabled him to become just the second major league third baseman to surpass the 100-RBI mark five times, joining Pie Traynor on an extremely exclusive list at the time.  Meanwhile Elliott retired with the highest career slugging average (.440) of any N.L. third baseman.  His 131 walks in 1948 established a new franchise record for the Braves – one that still stands.  He also led all league third basemen in assists three times, and in putouts and double plays twice each.  Elliott earned seven All-Star selections and four top-ten finishes in the league MVP balloting.

Post-playing career

After retiring as an active player at the conclusion of the 1953 campaign, Elliott returned to California, where he became a manager in the Pacific Coast League, first for the San Diego Padres (1955-57), and later for the Sacramento Solons (1959).  After a third-place finish in Sacramento, Elliott received his only major league managing opportunity when he took over the Kansas City Athletics for the 1960 season.  The A’s poor performance (58-96) and the death of team owner Arnold Johnson signaled the end of Elliott’s managerial career.  Fired by new team owner Charlie Finley at season’s end, Elliott became a coach for the expansion Los Angeles Angels in 1961, before leaving the game for good at the end of the year.  He died less than five years later, on May 4, 1966, at the age of 49 after suffering a ruptured vein in his windpipe.

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Baseball History, Bob Elliott, Boston Braves, Forbes Field, NL MVP 1947

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