Historical Player Profiles: Arky Vaughan

If you were told the Pittsburgh Pirates have had the two best shortstops in the history of baseball, would you believe it? Although there have been outstanding shortstops over the years including Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Cal Ripken, the argument can most assuredly be made. When you think of Pirate shortstops, Honus Wagner is the immediate thought, and in many circles he is the best to ever play the position. The other great Pirate at SS is Arky Vaughan.

Born in Arkansas, moving to California at a very young age, Joseph Vaughan was given the nickname "Arky" because of his southern accent. The accent was acquired from being around his family, and the nickname was one he supposedly didn't mind. Vaughan broke into the majors with the Pirates in 1932. He made his impact immediately felt by hitting .318 with an on base percentage of .375. He would play along side Hall of Famers Pie Traynor, Paul Waner, and Lloyd Waner during his time with the Pirates. During his ten year stint with the Buccos, Vaughan led the league in runs twice, and three times each he led the league in triples, walks, and on base percentage. 1935 was probably his best year when he led the league in batting at .385, on base at .491, and he hit 19 HR and 99 RBI.

Still, it was only good enough for 3rd in the MVP voting that year. As we've documented several times, and will continue to note, the early years of MVP voting were simply perplexing. '35 was no different. Gabby Hartnett won that year and Dizzy Dean was 2nd. I'm not a fan of pitchers winning the MVP, although in 1935 the Cy Young didn't exist so I can stomach it better. Clearly, they favored picking someone on the first place team regardless if another player had better numbers. Needless to say, Vaughan bested Hartnett in every offensive category and posted a 9.1 WAR for all you stat junkies.

Vaughan was traded to the Dodgers in 1941 for basically a bag of peanuts as none of the players sent to the Pirates amounted to much. He played two years for the Dodgers before retiring, mostly because he couldn't stand manager Leo Durocher. Publicly, however, Vaughan said he wanted to tend his farm to help with war efforts. When Durocher was suspended in 1947 for associating with known gamblers (somehow he's in the HOF despite it) Vaughan came back as a backup for two years. Sadly, Arky Vaughan died tragically at age 40 when his fishing boat capsized. It's reported that he drowned trying to save his fishing companion, while others surmise he couldn't make it to shore in the freezing cold waters.

Arky Vaughan is somehow forgotten among the baseball community despite his highly impressive statistics. Even though his career numbers were among the very best at the position, it wasn't until 1985 that the Veteran's Committee voted him into the Hall. Sabrmetrician, Bill James, has him as the 2nd best SS of all time right behind Wagner. While many might scoff at such a notion, consider some quick facts. The .385 batting average mark Vaughn posted in 1935 has not been matched by an NL player in a non-strike year (Gwynn hit .394 in 1994 strike year). The same year, Vaughan had an on base of .491. No NL player other than Barry Bonds has eclipsed that since, and only Rogers Hornsby bested that number before. Vaughan's .318 career average is 2nd highest among SS to Wagner's, and 6 points higher than Jeter's. Vaughan hardly ever struck out either. Among current players, Albert Pujols is widely regarded as being one of the best in the game at plate discipline. Pujols struck out a mere 76 times last year. Vaughan struck out 276 times in his entire 12 year career. He is 63rd all time in strikeouts per at bat at 23.99 AB/K. Comparatively, the highest active player in this category is Juan Pierre ranking 255th with 15.87 AB/K. Here are some career stats for Arky Vaughan.

1817 G, 1173 R, 2103 H, 356 2B, 128 3B, 96 HR, 926 RBI, .318 Avg, .406 OB, .453 Slg

Historians further note that Vaughan would have certainly won gold gloves had the award been in existence. Plus, he would have added to those numbers had he not been away for 3 seasons during the prime of his career. Had he played on any other team but the Pirates, outside the shadow of Honus Wagner, Arky Vaughan would probably have a more well known place in history.

1 comment:

  1. Very well written, a lot I didn't know about him. Didn't know about his hatred of Durocher. I had heard before that he might be the second best SS of all-time.


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