Who was that George Sisler guy
September 21, 2004
Even though there’s no pennant fever in Seattle these days, Ichiro Suzuki is providing excitement for the Mariners fans with a spectacular hitting display in which he is leading the American League with his .367 batting average. Of more significance, his 238 hits are only 20 away from breaking George Sisler’s single-season record of 257, a mark that has stood for 84 years.
Amazing, you say? Oh, and by the way, George who?
Older and die-hard baseball fans may remember that Sisler enjoyed a Hall of Fame career as a first baseman that spanned between 1915 and 1930, mostly with the St. Louis Browns (his final two seasons were split between the Washington Senators and Boston Braves).
So, how good was Sisler? The Baseball Page made the following comparison: “If Gold Glover Keith Hernandez could hit like George Brett and run the bases like Kenny Lofton, that would be George Sisler… Offensively and on the basepaths, Ichiro Suzuki is very similar.”
There are other similarities, too. Ichiro stands 5-foot-9, 172 pounds; Sisler was 5-11, 170. Both were popular stars for non-contenders: Seattle is currently 31 1/2 games out of first-place; St. Louis finished fourth in the American League in 1920, 20 1/2 games behind the pennant-winning Yankees. Both were left-handed contact hitters known for having exceptional batting eyes and exceptional speed. And both seemed to get stronger as the season went on – this season, Suzuki hit .432 in July and .463 in August; in 1920, Sisler hit .442 in August and .448 in September.
Sisler put up some incredible numbers during that 1920 season, including a league-leading .407 and 399 total bases, he was second in the league behind Babe Ruth with his 19 home runs, slugging percentage (.632), runs scored (137) and RBI (122). He also ranked second in doubles (49), triples (18) and stolen bases (42), plus he played in every inning of all 154 games and hit safely in 131 of those games.
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Sisler was as good if not better in 1922 when he hit .420 with 246 hits, led the league in stolen bases with 51, struck out only 14 times all season, put together a 41-game hitting streak that stood as a league record until Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game streak in 1941 and was honored as the league’s MVP.
Unfortunately, Sisler missed the entire 1923 season due to a bout with sinusitis that caused severe headaches and affected his right eye. Sisler felt he never fully regained his batting eye, though he did hit .345 in 1925, .331 in 1928 and .326 in 1929.
Sisler was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1939 with career numbers that included a .340 lifetime batting average, 2,812 hits, 425 doubles, 164 triples, 102 homers, 1,175 RBI and 375 stolen bases. In addition to being one of the American League’s premiere defensive first basemen, Sisler came to the Browns as a pitcher in 1915 (he went 4-4 with a 2.83 ERA and posted a win over Walter Johnson that season).
Sisler also served as player and manager for the Browns between 1924 and ’26 and was still on the payroll of the Pittsburgh Pirates as an instructor and scout when he passed away in Richmond Heights, Mo., on March 26, 1973 – two days after his 80th birthday.
Interestingly enough, Sisler graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in engineering and in 1915 signed with the Browns – his manager in St. Louis at the time was Branch Rickey, who had also coached him at Michigan – for a reported $5,000 bonus and $400 per month.
While the financial numbers have certainly changed in 84 years, there’s no doubt about the hitting abilities of these two stars. And, there’s a good chance George Sisler would enjoy being in Seattle to watch Irchiro hit for the Mariners.
Contact Dave Price at email@example.com or call 881-1220.