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George Sisler

George Sisler

Chicago Historical Society/Chicago Daily News

Position(s):
1B, OF, P, 3B, 2B
Nicknames:
Gorgeous George
Born:
March 24, 1893
Bats:
Left
Throws:
Left
Height:
5' 11"
Weight:
170 lbs
Major League Debut:
6-28-1915 with SLA
Allstar Selections:
1922 MVP
Hall of Fame:
1939

George Sisler never played on a pennant winner and he wasn't a slugger, but in spite of that he earned a reputation as the best first baseman in the first 30 years of the 20th century. The greatest player in St. Louis Browns' history, he twice batted over .400, and his 257 hits in 1920 remain a modern major league record. That same year, the lefty-swinging Sisler hit in 41 consecutive games, an American League record that stood until surpassed by Joe DiMaggio. Sisler, who attended the University of Michigan, where he played for Branch Rickey, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1939.

Biography

 


George Harold Sisler was born on March 24, 1893, in the tiny community of Nimisila Creek, Ohio, just south of Akron. Though many sources claim Sisler was born in Manchester, Ohio, evidence shows that he was not actually born in Manchester, which is a stones throw from Nimisila. Sisler's parents were educated, each having attended Hiram College, located northeast of Akron. Sisler's family was fairly prominent in that region of Ohio: his uncle was a succesful politician, and his father, Cassius S. Sisler, was the supervisor of the largest coal mine in the area.

As a young child, Georgie Sisler exhibited great speed and agility in atheltics, so much so that at the age of 14, he transferred to Akron High School in 1907 so he could play baseball. A strong left-handed thrower, Georgie pitched for Akron High and sitinguished himself to the degree that he signed a professional contract with the Akron Champs of the short-lived Ohio-Pennsylvania League (1905-1912). But upon his high school graduation, Cassius Sisler urged his son to enroll at the University of Michigan, who had offered a scholarship to play baseball.

With Michigan, Sisler played under Branch Rickey, who was also employed as a scout for the St. Louis Browns at the time. While Sisler was starring for the Wolverines, his rights were retained by Akron, who subsequenely transferred them to their parent club, Columbus. Eventually, Sisler's rights were sold to Pittsburgh of the National League, and in 1913 and 1914, the Pirates listed Sisler on their official roster sheets. Meanwhile, in Ann Arbor, Sisler established himself as the finest collegiate player in the nation, starring both on the mound and at the plate. In his senior season, he hit nearly .500 and won 11 games for the Wolverines. Rickey, salivating at the chance to sign Sisler to a major league contract with the Browns, worked with George to void his contract status with Pittsburgh, claiming that the original deal with Akron had been entered into while Sisler was still a minor.

The entire mess became one of the biggest sports headlines in the nation in late 1914 and early 1915. Finally, on January 9, 1915, the National Commission declared that Sisler was a free agent, eligible to sign with any club. Pittsburgh owner Barney Dreyfuss, furious over the decision, barely spoke to Garry Herrmann, owner of the Cincinnati Reds and a member of the commission, ever again. After graduating, Sisler signed with the Browns (now managed by Rickey), for a reported $5,000 bonus and $400 per month.

With the Browns in 1915, the 22-year old college graduate stuck out like a sore thumb on a team that featured mostly southerners and high school graduates, with few eduacted men. But the presence of Rickey made the transition to professional baseball smooth for Sisler, who was a shy, sensitive young man. Originally used as a pitcher, Sisler appeared in 15 games on the mound, posting a 2.83 ERA, while fanning 41 batters in 71 innings. On days he wasn't pitching, Sisler played first base or the outfield, hitting a respectable .285 with 15 extra-base hits. The following year, saddled with a dismal offensive team, new manager Fielder Jones inderted Sisler as his everyday first baseman, using him on the mound in just three games. Sisler acclimated well to the switch, showing flashes of the stellar defensive play that would mark his career. At the plate, the left-handed hitter batted .305 to lead the team, which posted a winning record for the first time since 1908.

A relatively average sized man, Sisler utilized a great batting eye and quick feet to get on base, batting anywhere from leadoff to third in the order. In 1917 he batted .353 to finish second to Ty Cobb in the American League batting race. His 190 hits also ranked second in the loop. The following season, Sisler batted .341 in a season shortened due to The Great War in Europe. He was back in 1919, setting career-high marks in doubles, triples, and homers, while batting .352, which ranked third behind Cobb and Bobby Veach, both of Detroit. In 1920, Sisler exploded for one of the greatest offensive campaigns in baseball annals. He hit .407 to earn his first batting title, while playing every game and every inning of the season. He paced the league in assists at first base, and was generally regarded as the best defensive first baseman in the game, and the heir apparent to Hal Chase for that honor. At the plate, Sisler laced an astonishing 257 hits, or roughly three every two games. The total was a major league record that still stood entering the 2004 season. Among his 257 safeties were 49 doubles, 18 triples, and 19 home runs, which meant Sisler ranked second to Babe Ruth for the second straight season in that category. Though he never swung for the fences, Sisler did rank in the top ten in homers five times. During the 1920 season, Sisler, who rarely went nore than one game without a hit, enjoyed a 25-game hitting streak.

In his first six seasons with the Browns, Sisler was surrounded with little talent, as the club finished no higher than fourth in the American League. Fielder Jones was replaced by Jimmy Austin and then Jimmy Burke, in 1918, and in 1921 Lee Fohl took the managerial reigns. Fohl's team was far more talented than previous Browns clubs, however, bolstered by Sisler's torrid hitting. In 1921, Sisler, dubbed "Gorgeos George" for his flashy fielding plays, banged out 216 hits, batted .371, and drove in 104 runs. That season, the Browns' talented outfield trio of Baby Doll Jacobson, Jack Tobin, and Ken Williams also had fine seasons, and pitching ace Urban Shocker won 27 games. In 1922, thet group led the Browns to the top of the standings for much of the season, as Sisler had his finest year. Narrowly missing his own-hit mark, Sisler collected 246 hits, but more impressively, he hit .420 to cop his second batting crown. He came on late, hitting over .440 for the last two months of the season and putting together a league-record 41-game hitting streak, as St. Louis and the Yankees battled for the pennant. Ultimately, the Browns finished one game behind New York in the best showing of Sisler's years with the franchise. Sisler collected 42 doubles, 18 triples, eight homers, 105 RBI, and led the league with 49 stolen bases.

In 1923, Sisler sat out the entire season after he contracted posionous sinusitis, an affliction that affected his eye sight as well, and gave him terrible headaches. Without Sisler, the Browns won 19 fewer games in 1923, finishing a distant fifth. In 1924, the veteran Sisler was back, having inked a deal to play and manage the team. The managerial responsibility and the lingering affects of sinusitis limited George to a .305 average in 151 games. The club finished with an identical record as it had posted the previous season. He managed the team for two more years, guiding the Browns to a third place finish in 1925, and 92 losses in 1926, before resigning to turn the job over to Dan Howley. In 1925, Sisler regained some of his batting luster, hitting .345 with 224 hits, but in '26, he hit a disappointing .290 in 150 games.

Hoping to regain his batting championship form, Sisler attacked the 1927 season unfettered by managerial responsibility. After a strong start, he tapered off, but still managed 201 hits, a .327 average, and 97 runs batted in. Even though he was 34 years old and his legs were beaten from years of punishment, Sisler's 7 stolen bases led the league. After Heinie Manush and Lu Blue (a switch-hitting first baseman) were acquired in a blockbuster deal in early December, Sisler was sold to the Washington Senators in a move extremely unpopular with St. Louis fans. He played just over a month with Washington, where he hit .245, before he was shipped to the Boston Braves, baseball's equivelant of Siberia. In his first look at National League pitching, Sisler hit a robust .340 with 167 hits in 118 games. That earned him two more seasons in the Hub City, where he hit .326 in 1929, and .309 in 1930. Though he had rebounded to have some solid seasons, Sisler felt he never fully recovered from the sinusitis that sidelined him for the entire 1923 schedule.

In 1931, nearing his 38th birthday and receiving no offers from big league clubs, Sisler signed with Rochester of the International League. In 159 games for Rochester, Sisler batted .303. The following year, he took an assignment as manager of Shreveport/Tyler of the Texas League, finding time to play in 70 games and hit .287 with 17 steals at the age of 39. Sisler then retired as a manager and player. Sisler posted a .340 lifetime batting mark in the big leagues, led the league in assists six times as a first baseman, and in putouts several times as well. He collected 2,812 hits, 425 doubles, 164 triples, 102 homers, 1,175 RBI, and 375 stolen bases. He had struck out only 327 times in his 15-year career. His abbreviated pitching mark stood at 5-6 with a 2.35 ERA in 111 innings. In 1939, he was lelected to the new Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. He was one of the living members who attended that first induction ceremony.

A few years later, in 1946, his second-oldest son, Dick, made his big league debut with the St. Louis Cardinals. Dick Sisler, who at six-foot, two-inches, was much larger than his famous father, played eight seasons in the majors. His shining moment came on October 1, 1950, at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, when his 10th inning home run gave the Phillies the NL pennant. George's youngest son, Dave, pitched for seven years for four major league teams from 1956-1962, winning 38 games. George Jr., the oldest son, had enjoyed a brief minor league stint before embarking on a succesful career as president of the International League.

Starting in 1943, and through 1950, Sisler was reunited with Branch Rickey, serving as a scout for the Dodgers, for whom Rickey was club president. When his old college coach moved to the Pirates in 1951, George followed along, and Sisler stayed on the Pittsburgh payroll as an instructor and scout until his death in a St. Louis suburb in 1973, two days after his 80th birthday.

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Tagged:
Baseball History, Branch Rickey, George Sisler, Hall of Fame, St. Louis Browns, firstbase

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