Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Remebering Bailey

Okay, the title is a bit misleading. I don't "remember" Ed Bailey. I'm 24 years old. He played in the 50's and 60's. But that doesn't mean I don't appreciate a quality former Redleg.

Bailey started with the Redlegs (they were actually the Redlegs at that point) in 1953 at the age of 22 after five years spent in the minors, Korea, and the University of Tennessee. His first couple of years in the majors were spent as an inadequate backup until he was sent to the Pacific Coast League in 1955. He got his swing figured out and in 1956 he and Smoky Burgess provided a solid catching platoon for a Redleg team on the verge of contention.

1956 was Bailey's best year in the majors as the Redlegs won 91 games. Unfortunately, those 91 games were only good for 3rd place in the NL. The (still) Brooklyn Dodger's Boys-of-Summer finished with 93 wins after (finally) beating the Yankees in the '55 series. The Milwaukee Braves, driven by Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, Joe Adcock, Warren Spahn, and Lew Burdette, finished one game ahead of the Redlegs with 92 wins.

Still the '56 Redlegs team remains one of my favorites. Bailey posted a .300/.385/.551 line in 385 ABs. That year he played with 20 year old Frank Robinson, the Rookie of the Year, in LF (Frank and Bailey led the team with OPS+s of 142). Gus Bell (CF) and Wally Post (RF) rounded out a fantastic outfield. Bell was an excellent defender in center with an OPS+ of 120. Post was the weakest link both with the glove and bat, but still had an OPS+ of 107 and 36 home runs. '56 was also the last effective season from my all-time favorite Redleg, Ted Kluszewski. It was his fourth straight year with more home runs than strikeouts. Roy McMillan and Johnny Temple were the double play tandem who had an excellent defensive year contributing decent OBPs. Joe Nuxhall and Brooks Lawrence anchored the pitching staff in an offensive era of the game.

Bailey was one of five Redlegs in '56 to hit more than 25 home runs, including three in one game, as the Redlegs paced the league with 221 home runs. They averaged an even 5 runs scored per game for a total of 775 runs, which led the league. Their pitching allowed 658 runs (4.25 per game), which put them directly in the middle of the pack. Still, the Redleg defense committed only 113 errors, which was only two behind the defensive minded Dodgers. Bailey would finish 18th in the MVP voting that year.

Bailey stayed with the Reds until 1961, when he was traded to the San Francisco Giants for catcher Bob Schmidt, second baseman Don Blasingame, and pitcher Sherman Jones. While the move kept him from playing a large role with the pennant winning '61 Reds, he did wind up playing a significant role with the pennant winning 62' Giants. With the Giants Bailey split time with Tom Haller, and was on a team set up very much like the 56' Redlegs. They had a great outfield (Mays, Alou, Kuenn) and an excellent first baseman in Orlando Cepeda (well, basemen really, Willie McCovey also played there).

Bailey was a five time all-star, three of those with the Reds. He hit 94 of his 155 career home runs in a Cincinnati uniform and was above average both with the bat and the glove. His bat suffered a bit after leaving the friendly confines of Crosley Field, but he still managed a career OPS+ of 110. He spent his entire career as a catcher and pinch hitter with a batting line of .256/.355/.427. Beyond the Reds and Giants Bailey also spent short periods at the end of his career with the Braves, Cubs, and Angels. The 2001 Edition of Bill James' Historical Baseball Abstract has Bailey as the 39th best catcher of all time by win shares.

After baseball he moved back home to Tennessee and became a Knoxville city-councilman in 1983. He held the position until 1995. Ed Bailey passed away at the age of 75 on March 23rd, 2007.

According to Stan Musial in Sport Magazine in June of 1964:
Watching this strong, beautifully built man hit, I've often felt that if he didn't try to pull every pitch, but just met the ball, his natural power would carry it out of any ballpark - more often.

According to Jules Tygiel in Baseball's Great Experiment, while in Tampa for Spring Training in 1955:

...after being removed from a game, [pitcher Brooks Lawrence] and catcher Ed Bailey entered the stands to watch the remainder of the contest. A rope separated the black and white sections and while Bailey sat on the white side, Lawrence sat next time him on the black. "Boy, this is stupid,' exclaimed Bailey, a Tennessean. "I'm gonna change this." The catcher removed the rope and, according to Lawrence, no one ever reattached it.
NOTE: This will likely be my last post before Friday. I have a final paper due on Friday that will likely take up most of my week. Stupid law school.


Caleb said...

Nice column on Bailey. Keep up the good work and good luck with law school.

bob everett said...

Thanks for your words about Ed Bailey. He was my childhood baseball hero. His sister, Jean, had gone to college with my parents at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate Tenn. I always felt like that made him a pro player I knew. I did met him at Yankee stadium when the Giants played the Yankees in an old Mayor's game. I also became a high school catcher because of him. i wasn't a bad catcher, but i could hit like Bailey. I think he is terribly underrated, and it is surprising he is not in the Reds Hall of Fame. His death is another loss of a baseball great.

I regret I didn't take my sons down to Knoxville to met him. I would have loved for him to tell them about baseball as he played it.