Three years ago I 'played' a simulated season between the 1922 St. Louis Browns, hands down the greatest edition of the old American League squad, and all of the World Championship St. Louis Cardinals teams... all eleven, from 1926... the team that beat the NY Yankees of Ruth, Gehrig and Lazzeri... to the 2011 squad that put Texas in a deep David Freese. The mathematics made it simple. Eleven World Champs, 14 games each, yielding a 154 game season. I used 'What-If-Sports', fielded what I thought would be the best line-up for each side, kept an honest pitching rotation for each side, and sat back to enjoy the fireworks. The computer let me set the starting line-ups and pick the ballpark. Up until 1954, of course, the home park for each team was Sportsman's park, so the only thing we flipped was 'last ups'. But the computer made all in-game substitutions, and I tried my best to keep everything on the level. Bob Gibson, for example, didn't get to start seven straight games.
In the course of 'watching' the series and 'season' unfold, I learned an awful lot, as I always do. And I enjoyed 'meeting' some very good but now obscure baseball players.. from both the Cards and the Browns. Guys like Elam Vangilder, who not only pitched brilliantly in '22, but was also one of the Brown's best hitters. The Cape Girardeau native hit .344 with 10 doubles, 2 triples and two hoe runs for a .955 OPS! All while twirling 245 innings and compiling a 19-13 record! Guys like St. Louis native Jack Tobin... a tiny man who used a huge bat and slapped, poked, and bunted his way to a fine career... over a .300 lifetime average with a fine .331 mark in 1922. Many other players seem to have compelling tales to tell, as well.
None more compelling to me that that of Ken Williams of Grants Pass, Oregon.
The following is a direct reprint from my 2011 post. It appears when the 1922 Browns are in the midst of their 14-game series with the 1946 World Champion Cardinals.
Williams had a season for the ages in 1922, leading the AL in home runs, RBI and total bases. In addition to the first 30-30 (39 HR, 37 SB) season, Williams' posted 155 RBI in 153 games. He had an OPS of 1.040 (.332 BA, .413 OBP, .627 SLG). This was his best season, but by no means was it a fluke.
1920 141G 34 2B 13 3B 10 HR 72 RBI .307 BA .362 OBP .480 SLG .842 OPS
1921 146 31 7 24 117 .347 .429 .561 .990
1922 153 34 11 39 155 .332 .413 .627 1.040
1923 147 37 12 29 91 .357 .439 .623 1.062
1924 114 21 4 18 84 .324 .425 .533 .958
1925 102 31 5 25 105 .331 .390 .613 1.003
From 1921-1925 Mr. Williams compiled a .421 OBP, slugged .595, and averaged an On Base Plus Slugging of 1.015, averaged 297 total bases, and batted .339. He also averaged 27 HR and 110 RBI. Williams' lifetime averages over 14 seasons and 1397 games are a .319 BA, a .393 OBP, and a .524 SLG mark for a lifetime .924 OPS. That's outstanding work.
So, to recap, Ken Williams was baseball's first 30-30 man, and hands down the least remembered of the club that includes Willie Mays (the second member), his pal Bobby Bonds, and Bobby's son Barry. Shouldn't the founding member of such an illustrious bunch get a little more props? And as for minimizing Ken William's offensive contributions by saying his numbers are a product of playing in Sportsman's Park... well, it's the same stadium that housed Hornsby, Stan the Man, Country Slaughter, Ducky Medwick, and Jim Bottomley. All of them are in the Hall of Fame. All also were members of World Championship teams. Ahh... there may be the rub. The Browns, in a largely sad, miserable existence in the Loo, never won a single World Series. Their closest try found them in the 1944 wartime tilt against - you got it - the Cardinals, who beat them for the second of three 1940's titles. The Browns' would have to wait until 1966 to pop the champagne and raise a World Series trophy... when, as the transplanted Baltimore Orioles, they would sweep the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers of Koufax, Drysdale and the Davises.
So... look at Ken Williams' numbers. He didn't reach the bigs until 28... a circumstance wholly beyond his control. But once arriving on station, he tattooed the ball with ferocity almost until he departed. He averaged more than an RBI per game in 1925. He batted .345 with an OPS well over .900 in his FINAL season, at the age of 39. Sure he was a part timer, but still... can anybody use that guy coming off the bench in this year's post-season?
Ken Williams will never get a statue, a HOF plaque, or even anything besides a 'who's-he?' And even if somebody decided he merits one or both... where would you put it? Camden Yards? Busch III? I'd vote for Busch, personally. Not really for Ken, who long ago passed away, back in Grants Pass, Oregon. More for the 3 million or so who pass through the St. Louis Cardinals turnstiles each year. They are, by and large, a knowledgeable baseball bunch. They deserve to know that before Pujols, Brock, Gibby and Stan, even before Hornsby, Frisch, Pepper Martin and Sunny Jim, there was Ken Williams of Grants Pass... and for ten superb years*, of St. Louis Missouri, as well.
* According to baseball reference, Ken Williams' totals as a St. Louis Browns player read as follows:
10 years: 1109 Games, .326 BA, .403 OPS, .558 SA, .961 OPS, 185 HR, 240 SB
That stuff would look mighty good on a plaque. Or statue. Or something!