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Cecil Travis RIP

Senators Nation notes with sadness the passing of former World War II-era star Cecil Travis. Beltway Boys provides an excellent retrospective on Travis, summed up by this appraisal:

For most baseball fans, Cecil Travis was an unknown commodity, just another old guy in another obituary that listed "professional baseball player" as a past vocation.

But What Cecil Travis did, and didn't do, deserves so much more than a couple of column inches in his local player.

With apologies to Joe Cronin and Roger Peckinpaugh, Cecil Travis was the best shortstop to play in Washington. And he was one hell of a man as well.

What I know about DC baseball history, I know academically. I wasn't there (obviously), and I have no special affinity for the players of Travis' day or the players of Hondo's day. Most of them are just names, stats, and biographies to me. It's the way it probably will be. I try to devote attention to DC's baseball history from time-to-time (mostly through occasional looks at games of the past, thanks to Retrosheet's boxscores resource), but we're lucky to have at our reading disposal Beltway Boys and Senators Nation (as well as Brick, with his DC baseball birthdays feature, which routinely features old-timer dudes like this guy). These folks do care---and with that they provide a valuable service to guys like me: They help me care, too.

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Baseball is, among other things, a muse for the written word---or, if you prefer something less Giamattiesque, it's cool because people lots of times write cool stuff about it and stuff. Cool. With this in mind, Capitol Punishment recommends some stocking-stuffing baseball books. (Good thing he didn't recommend Total Baseball; I'm not even sure the Rancor's stocking is big enough for that.)

I'll go ahead and do the obvious thing: recommend all kinds of Bill James stuff. CP in particular recommends the Historical Baseball Abstract, presumably the new one published in 2001. That's a good read, but I prefer the original 1985 edition (which for all I know might be out of print). The latter had a certain . . . enthusiasm that the former didn't even attempt to recreate. CP also recommends James' old Baseball Abstracts, and you can't go wrong there. Those are also hard to get your hands on, although CP demonstrates you can still find them floating around. I've got the 1983-88 editions. (A couple years ago, Rich Lederer wrote a fascinating series, "Abstracts from the Abstracts," detailing his impressions and observations of each edition.) In addition, James' Abstract anthology, This Time Let's Not Eat the Bones, is a used book store staple (I purchased it fifteen years ago, and I've seen it lying around at least two dozen times since then in different locations), and its gimmick, if you can call it that, is the Abstracts without the stats. It's just James' writing, and it's quite good. Also of note is James' successor to the Abstracts, the Baseball Book series, which was more short-lived (eventually replaced by another short-lived project, the Player Ratings Book), but featured an ambitious alphabetical biographical project that James, to my knowledge, has never finished.

Three James books discuss the Hall of Fame in depth: the two Historical Abstacts and The Politics of Glory (in paperback, titled Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?), my favorite James book on a single subject. (TPoG is superior to James' interesting book on managers, and I have not read his book on his Win Shares formula.) I mention James' focus on the Hall of Fame, because the article linked in the Senators Nation post mentions a budding campaign for Cecil Travis to gain admittance via the Veteran's Committee. I'm pretty sure James mentioned Travis in TPoG, but I'm ashamed to admit it's boxed up and I can't find it. James also mentioned Travis in the new historical book. On pages 210-11, in fact, James listed Travis as the No. 1 candidate among "players who lost a Hall of Fame career to Wold War II." In another section of the book, James rates Travis the No. 29 shortstop of all-time. It's actually a nice ranking; among the players ranked ahead of Travis, only two (plus the late 90s triumvirate of A-Rod, Nomar, and Jeter) played fewer games at short. (Additionally, as a bit of trivia, James claimed the 1937 Senators, with Travis at short, was the only regular infield comprised of four lefty hitters.)

I'm not going to pretend to make a Hall of Fame case for Travis at this late hour. Given Travis' modest nature and dedicated service to the U.S. during World War II, it's not surprising he demurred at his Hall chances; in fact, a Hall campaign seems to lessen his legacy a bit, in a strange way---at least in my opinion. This relates to my biggest pet peeve with the Hall of Fame: the simple perception that a "No" vote is equal to "He was trash." Not at all. And I can think of no greater example than Travis in this regard. In a sense, he was above a Hall of Famer---he sacrificed the Hall of Fame for something more meaningful.

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Speaking of the Hall of Fame, this seems a fine time to chime in with my purely hypothetical and futile choices. Here's the 2006 BBWAA ballot. From those guys, in alphabetical order, I'd pick:

  • Bert Blyleven
  • Rich Gossage
  • Tony Gwynn
  • Cal Ripken, Jr.
I don't know if you'd call that a "big Hall" or a "small Hall" ballot. It's four guys, but despite being sympathetic to Trammell, Dawson, Rice, and Murphy, among others, I say no more.

I have no clue what to do with Mark McGwire. I guess he's a Hall of Famer, suspicion/implied omission aside, but it's late and I'm feeling grumpy.