May/June 1999 | Volume 50, Issue 3
It would he easy to pick on Rabbit Maranville and Rick Ferrell, both Hall of Famers, for this designation. Rabbit, a shortstop, played for more than twenty-three years in the major leagues, had a lifetime batting average of .258, hit only twenty-eight home runs, and drank enough booze to sink the U.S. Navy. Ferrell, a catcher, adept at receiving knuckle-ball pitches, also hit twentyeight homers, in eighteen years. His brother Wes, a pitcher, hit ten more home runs than he did! But my favorite overrated rascal remains Reggie Jackson, the human candy bar and self-proclaimed “straw that stirs the drink.” Yes, Reggie was a prolific home-run banger—three on three pitches in one World Series game and 563 in his lifetime—but he struck out a total of 2,597 times, almost double Babe Ruth’s whiffs, once in about every 33/4 times at the plate. Ruth led the American League in walks eleven times, Reggie not once. Reggie’s top RBl total was 118, hardly overwhelming for such a renowned slugger. Unsurpassed for his flummery and with an ego lustier than his swing, Reggie had one goal in life, an admirer said: to die in his own arms. Jackson is in the Hall of Fame and belongs there. But don’t dare to compare him to the Bahe, Mantle, Mays, Aaron, Gehrig, or Williams.
In the 1919 World Series the Chicago White (Black) Sox, led by the famously illiterate outfielder Shoeless Joe Jackson and seven of his colleagues, were accused of throwing the Series to the Cincinnati Reds. Despite this alleged prearrangement, little Dickie Kerr, a southpaw “not much taller than a walking stick and 90 pounds soaking wet,” in the words of Danion Runyon, managed to win two games for the White Sox, one a shutout in ninety minutes, the other a 5-4 victory in ten innings. Whenever I read that some folks, including “led Williams and Tommy I.asorda, arc campaigning to boost Shoeless Joe into Baseball’s UnII of Fame, I think of Kcrr, neglected by the saint-makers in the eighty years since ihe scandal, and I am convinced he is more worthy ot that honor than Jackson. The act of pitching for a team conspiring to lose behind him took enormous talent and will. Conspicuously absent from the fix, Kerr has to be the most underrated underrated player ot any era.