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Which Reserve Clause Star Would Be Most in Demand?

By Mike Silva ~ January 13th, 2012. Filed under: Baseball History.

Baseball Prospectus found an interesting interview with Ted Williams from August 23rd, 1940. In it he’s asked who he would sign with if he were a free agent; Williams answered “the Dodgers” because he “knew he’d be a hero in Brooklyn.”

That was only two years into Williams’ career, but it got me to thinking out of all the stars prior to free agency, which one might be the most sought after if they had the opportunity? Tough question, but interesting to ponder.

I looked at some of the best players all-time and thought about where they stood in the game six years into their career. I would say Willie Mays would be the most sought after free agent.

Mays was 27-years old in 1958, which would have been his sixth year of service time. Ironically, it was the first year the Giants moved from the Polo Grounds to Candlestick Park.

He was coming off a year where he finished 2nd in the MVP voting, won a Gold Glove, and hit .347 with 29 HRs. He already had over 1,000 hits and 216 home runs. You would be paying for a complete player who manned a premium defensive position in centerfield.

Knowing how difficult the winds at Candlestick were, I predict Mays would have bolted San Francisco for a more hitter-friendly venue.

The big questions is would there a volume of bidders, or would racism from some clubs prevent them from signing a black man as a free agent? Impossible to know, but certainly a factor.

Some other candidates include the previously mentioned Ted Williams, Babe RuthLou Gehrig, and Lefty Grove.

Williams was two years removed from his military service so I wonder if team’s would be leery of giving him a big contract even thought he was still just 28. By his sixth full year Ruth was still just entering his career as a hitter. Don’t you think his active night life would scare off team’s giving him a big deal? Owners were notoriously cheap during that time as well.  I actually think Gehrig would be more in demand in 1930 when he would have been eligible.

As for pitchers, Lefty Grove had great numbers for the Philadelphia A’s during a period of heavy offense in the early 1930s.

Grove was 28-5 during his sixth season in 1930; the league averaged over 5 runs a game, yet his ERA that season was 2.54. He was, however, already 30-years old.

I don’t think there is a right answer. Let’s have some fun and tell me what you think.

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3 Responses to Which Reserve Clause Star Would Be Most in Demand?

  1. Stu B

    Four names off the top of my head are Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Joe DiMaggio, and Honus Wagner.

  2. Joseph DelGrippo

    Joe DiMaggio with not even a close second. He was the complete ballpalyer.

    As far as pitchers go, Lefty Grove does come to mind first. As Mike said, Grove was so dominant in the high offense era of the 1930s.

    It is interesting about Grove in that he was the best pitcher on the minor league Baltimore Orioles (similar to Babe Ruth), but played five seasons and won 111 games as a minor leaguer!

    **As a side note for the Yankees front office, Grove was not on a pitch count or innings limit back then.**

    If Grove was sold early in his pro career (like most players were back then), Grove could have won 400 games in the major leagues.

    Main reason for Grove staying down in the minors for so long?


    Baltimore won the International League title almost every year back then, and the owner, Jack Dunn, made a fortune winning those titles. Those championship series would generally sell out every game.

    With the championship teams take, Grove, too, made more money pitching in the minors then he would have at the time in the major leagues.

    But adding another 80-90 wins or so to Grove’s total, and it is very easy to consider Grove one of the most underrated pitchers of all time.

  3. vesey

    I imagine that Stan Musial would be very high on owners lists. He was a outstanding hitter, a good outfielder, very stable, reliable and durable, plus he did’nt carry any of the personality baggage that some of the others did. He fit the mold that was popular with management in that day. All of those factors would make him a most attractive free agent…………

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