Marty Niland: Hall of Stars induction finally shines spotlight on Buddy Myer

Sunday was a great day for Washington sports. Before celebrating the Nationals’ first walk-off victory of 2018, fans at Nationals Park got to see another set of local heroes inducted to the Washington Hall of Stars.

In addition to fairly recent greats, like basketball stars Len Bias, Grant Hill and Walt Williams, came Buddy Myer, a baseball star from the distant past. His induction to the local hall was a step toward righting what his fans feel is the injustice of Myer’s exclusion from the Hall of Fame.

A left-handed hitting infielder with great speed, Myer was the sparkplug of the American League Nats’ lineup from 1929 through 1938, before injuries and age limited his role from 1939-41. Slashing .303/.389/.406 lifetime with 13 inside-the-park homers, he was a key player on the city’s last pennant winner in 1933, was named to two All-Star games but did not play in either and prevailed in one of the most exciting batting races of all time. However, Myer’s contemporaries at second base were some of the position’s all-time greats, keeping him short of the game’s ultimate honor.

Myer’s best years came in his second stint with the Nats. According to Warren Corbett of SABR, his first, in late 1925 and 26, came after Washington scout Joe Engel saw him playing shortstop for New Orleans of the Single-A Southern Association in 1925.

Myer signed a $17,500 contract with Washington that allowed him to finish the season in New Orleans, but an infected spike wound sidelined him in August. Nats owner Clark Griffith wanted to protect his investment and had Myer brought north. Myer recovered in time to play a few games at the end of the season and started two games at third base in place of injured Ozzie Bluege in Washington’s World Series loss to Pittsburgh.

The next season, Myer replaced shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh, who despite winning the American League MVP award, committed eight errors in the World Series loss. Trouble was, Myer was no better defensively, committing 40 errors, including throws to second-baseman Bucky Harris, the player-manager. Despite a .304 average, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox, where he continued to put up decent offensive numbers and led the league with 30 steals in 1928.

Back in Washington, Harris was gone as manager in 1929, and Griffith wanted Myer back in the lineup, trading five players to get him back. New manager Walter Johnson put Myer at second base, where his defense steadily improved.

In 1931, Myer took over the leadoff spot, and in 1933 all the pieces came together for an AL championship. The “Wrecking Crew of ‘33” had great hitters throughout the lineup, including Myer (.302/.374/.436) leading off in front of Goose Goslin (.297/.348/.452), Heinie Manusch (.336/.372/.459) and Cronin, (309.398/.445). Myer scored 95 runs for a team that won a franchise-record 99 games and pulled away from the Yankees in August.

However, Myer got off to a slow start in the World Series against the New York Giants, committing three errors in a 4-2 loss to Carl Hubbell, and the Giants won in five games.

Two years later, with Harris back at the helm, Myer was the team captain and moved into the three-hole. With the help of a lighter bat and a 21-game hitting streak, he went into the final day of the 1935 season second in the AL batting race at .345, behind Cleveland’s Joe Vosmik at .349.

Cleveland played a doubleheader against St. Louis, and Vosmik was not in the lineup, while Myer went 4-for-5 against Philadelphia. His last time up, with a 3-2 count, he fouled off a likely ball four, then doubled on the next pitch, lifting his average above .349.

Vosmik got word, but could not reach as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning of the opener. He went 1-for-3 in the nightcap, dropping his average to .348 and sealing the batting crown for Myer.

That year, Myer was selected to the AL team for the third All-Star Game. He also was named to the 1937 team, but did not play in either game. Back then, the All-Star game was taken very seriously, and starters, including Hall-of-Fame second-baseman Charlie Gehringer, played every inning.

In fact, playing at the same time as Gehringer and Tony Lazzeri probably cost Myer the Hall of Fame. He received just one vote in balloting, despite similar numbers to Billy Herman, who was widely regarded as the best National League second baseman of the era and elected by the Veterans Committee in 1975.

Myer was a successful businessman in retirement until his death in 1974 at 70. Now, as a member of the Washington Hall of Stars, he’s getting some of the recognition that seemed lacking in the past.

Marty Niland blogs about the Nationals for D.C. Baseball History. Follow him on Twitter: @martyball98. His thoughts on the Nationals will appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

blog comments powered by Disqus