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Vern Stephens

Vern Stephens

Position(s):
SS, OF, 3B
Nicknames:
Junior, Buster
Born:
October 23, 1920
Bats:
Right
Throws:
Right
Height:
5' 10"
Weight:
185 lbs
Major League Debut:
9-13-1941 with SLA

 

Stephens was the best homer-hitting shortstop until the appearance of Ernie Banks. His glove was reliable, but his bat made him a seven-time All-Star. Hitting behind Ted Williams for five years with the Red Sox, he formed half of the best one-two punch in the AL.

Vern signed with the St. Louis Browns for a $500 bonus at age 17. By the time he was 21, he was the regular St. Louis shortstop. In 1944, when the Browns won their only pennant, he led the AL in RBI and finished third in the MVP voting behind Tiger pitcher Hal Newhouser. In 1945 Stephens led the AL in homers with 24. The next year, he narrowly missed a suspension from organized baseball. He signed a five-year, $175,000 contract to play in the outlaw Mexican League of the Pasqual brothers. He had been in Mexico only a few days when his father, a minor league umpire, and Browns scout Jack Fournier drove down and brought him back. Fearing the Pasquals might try to stop him, he exchanged clothes with his father and walked across the International Bridge. Those players who stayed behind in Mexico were suspended by Commissioner Chandler, and only a few were eventually able to pick up their careers at their presuspension level.

After the 1947 season, Stephens and pitcher Jack Kramer were traded to the Red Sox for six players and $310,000. His first three seasons in Boston were the best of his career. He smashed 29, 39, and 30 home runs and drove in 137, 159, and 144 runs, the last two marks leading the AL.

Limited in range as a shortstop, he made up for it with good hands and a strong arm. He led AL shortstops in assists three times and double plays once. In 1948 he tied a ML record for double plays by a shortstop with five in one game. From 1952 on, he played mostly third base, and, hampered by injuries, his hitting declined.

Stephens was the subject of a long article in one of Bill James' books. James pointed out that Stephens was a shortstop who, after playing a decade, had posted offensive numbers that were equalled only by one contemporary during that period, Stan Musial.

Based on the similarity scores method, the three most similar players (as of 2006) to Stephens are all Hall of Famers.

 

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Tagged:
All Star, Baseball History, Bill James, Boston Red Sox, Jack Kramer, Mexican League, Shortstop, St. Louis Browns, Ted Williams, Vern Stephens

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