Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Superstars of the Sandlot (Part 1)

When I first started the National Sandlot League, I was skeptical if I would truly embrace the fictional players playing for all of the teams. The league would suck me in immediately, in which I found myself becoming huge fans of these fictional players.

The league started on the heels of World War II in April 1945 with 24 total teams, 12 teams in the American League and 12 teams in the National League, while the leagues featured 3 divisions each (containing 4 teams in each of those divisions).

The league is about to enter its 1957 NSL Season, while the league prepares for expansion coming up in 1960, with two teams being added to the National League. The Brooklyn Atlantics have announced prior to the 1955 NSL Season that the franchise will be relocating to Montreal in 1958, which they will be known as the Montreal Royals; The Brooklyn club has renamed themselves the Brooklyn Royals from 1955-1957 in anticipation of the franchise move.

While teams have changed their color schemes, logos, relocated, and names... the players keep coming-and-going, so here (below) are the superstars of the sandlot that have made the league that it is today.

Jose Pena (1945-current)
First Baseman / Los Angeles Angels / Age 34

Pena was a 6th Round Draft Pick (131st overall) of the New York Titans in the league's inaugural draft (1945)... For such a great talent, it's a bit mind-blowing that he was drafted so late. While his 1945 season was nothing special (.273, 6 HR, 66 RBI & .764 OPS), the Dominican native would make his huge impact on the league, starting in 1946 as he would win his first (of four batting titles) for the Titans (.336).

His power would start coming to fruition during the 1947 NSL Season, as he put up career highs in home runs (25), RBI (110) & OPS (.988), while he collected a career high 209 hits (and a 2nd batting title). His previous two full seasons combined saw only 17 home runs... and he was just getting started.

Pena's 4 batting titles all came with the New York Titans (of the American League)...
  • 1946 (.338)
  • 1947 (.352)
  • 1948 (.338)
  • 1950 (.345)
The 6'2", 275 lb slugger's numbers are similar to the Major League's Albert Pujols, while his frame is actually 35 lbs heavier in muscles... and just like Pujols he would spend his 2nd half of his career with the Los Angeles Angels. His numbers were not as impressive as Pujols' Cardinals run, but Pena's career numbers overall are actually better in batting average (.332), OBP (.438), SLG (.524) & OPS (.963).

Although Pena would have his best hitting numbers in a Titans' uniform, he was often on playoff teams that would fall short. He would later reject New York's qualifying offer in November 1950, becoming a free agent, in which he would sign a 7-year deal worth $539,000 ($77,000 per season, nearly doubling his $39,200 salary with N.Y.). It would all be worth it, eventually winning 2 World Series rings (1952 & 1955) with the Angels.

Pena is also a 4-time Most Valuable Players (3-time A.L. with NY & 1 N.L. MVP) with 297 career homers & 1147 career RBI, while leading the N.L. in HR (43) in 1954 & one A.L. RBI title (115) in 1950.

Pena at a glance
  • 4 MVP Awards
  • 10-time All-Star
  • 8 Platinum Stick Awards
  • 3 Post-Season MVP Awards (including 1952 World Series MVP)
  • 66.5 WAR
Currently at age 34, he is coming off a season (1956) in which he hit .333, 37 HR, 109 RBI, while sporting a 1.008 OPS -- He will likely keep padding his first-ballot Hall-of-Fame resume, especially with the Angels (who continue to be a consistent post-season power).

Teams: New York Titans (A) (1945-1950), Los Angeles Angels (N) (1951-current)

Konstantin Boden (1945-Current)
First Baseman / Baltimore Terrapins / Age 40

The 5'7", 210-pound stocky German would take a couple seasons to win over teammates and fans, who were suspicious of his German heritage. Boden's family in no way (as many Germans did not as well) ever supported the Nazi National Party. Boden, by the way is well-educated, while being fluent in German, Dutch & English... so his nickname 'Ape' may be a bit misleading.

He made an immediate impact (statistically though) in the inaugural 1945 NSL Season for the Brooklyn Atlantics, by leading the National League in both home runs (28) and Runs Batted In (120). 

You would think this would mean a long-and-prosperous career with the Atlantics, but both parties never seemed to be on the same page, making Boden a free agent prior to the 1946 NLS Season. Boden would eventually sign a lucrative 7-year deal with the Denver Miners for $321,000, where he would eventually play 10 full seasons, while winning the hearts of Denver's faithful.

It was not easy at first... his first season as a Miner, saw a rough first-half, while he would eventually end the 1946 season with a .287-11-96 (.773 OPS) line... a far-cry from his 1945 season, while some fans and writers at the time, feared that the 7-year deal was quickly looking like a bust.

Boden would eventually bounce back (in 1947) and go ape with his numbers -- batting .297 with a .901 OPS (.401 OBP/.501 SLG) in a Denver uniform over the 10-year span, while slugging 279 home runs and 1,141 ribbies.

He would become the league's first (and only) Triple Crown winner (.321, 38 HR & 125 RBI) during the 1952 NLS Season (at age 35) & has 8 seasons which his single-season RBI totals reached the century mark. 

Boden at a glance
  • Triple Crown winner (1952)
  • 2-Time National League MVP (1952-1953)
  • 9-time All-Star
  • 6 Platinum Stick Awards
  • One of a few to have 300+ Career HR (317)
  • Current All-Time RBI Leader (1,309 RBI)
  • Current All-Time Games played leader (1,901 games)
  • 52.4 WAR
Coming off a disappointing season with his new team, the Baltimore Terrapins, in which he batted .221, 8 HR, 48 RBI & .658 OPS, while he's at the end of his brilliance... He did though collect his 2,000th career hit in a Terrapins' uniform though, and should still be a first-ballot HOFer when it is all said and done.

Teams: Brooklyn Atlantics (N) (1945), Denver Miners (N) (1946-1955), Baltimore Terrapins (A) (1956-current)

Justin McClean (1945-1953)
Outfielder / Retired

The 27-year-old left-handed rightfielder was drafted 13th overall in the inaugural draft by the California Seals, and was a league superstar from the word go.

Much like Boden, his original team balked at extending a bigger deal, and McClean would end up being the Denver Miners' other big free agent splash in 1946 -- signing him to a bigger 7-year deal worth $446,200 deal.

McClean's career from 1945-1950 was solid, with plenty of red (leading categories) in the year-to-year stat sheets, which featured 3 consecutive N.L. batting titles from 1947-1949, five straight years leading the league in on-base percentage (1946-1950), and 3 consecutive years leading OPS (1947-1949). He also led the league in walks (5 times) and Runs (3 times). He would lead the league in back-to-back seasons (1948-1949) in WAR (7.0 & 8.1), while many will argue there has never been a player with a better eye at the plate during that time or maybe even since.

McClean, not one to make excuses, would later (after his career) mention that he was having vision issues with his eyes, that caused his down numbers for the entire one-season with the Oil City Oilers (.198 BA/.380 OBP/.670 OPS) & the first-half of 1953 (primarily with the Baltimore Terrapins) which he only batted .206.

He would rebound a bit with the Boston Shamrocks (after mid-season trade), in which he batted .301 with a .836 OPS the rest of the way during that 1953 NLS Season, which would be his final year.

McClean at a glance
  • N.L. Most Valuable Player Award (1949)
  • 3 consecutive N.L. Batting Titles (1947-1949)
  • 6-time All-Star
  • 4 Platinum Stick Awards
  • Career .311 hitter.
  • Current All-time On-Base Percentage Leader (.450)
  • 45.6 WAR
Teams: California Seals (N) (1945), Denver Miners (N) (1946-1951), Oil City Oilers (A) (1952), Baltimore Terrapins (A) (1953) & Boston Shamrocks (A) (1953).

Tom Bouffard (1945-Current)
Third Baseman / New York Titans / Age 36

The left-handed Texan was drafted by the now-defunct Louisville Sluggers 26th overall in the inaugural 1945 NSL Draft.

Bouffard was often overlooked in the early years due to playing for a futile franchise like Louisville from 1945-1947, while he was overshadowed by a star-stacked New York Titans roster, during his first time around on the team from 1948-1949. It was not until he joined the Los Angeles Angels in 1950 that he started getting more national recognition, while his higher home run season totals also helped that cause.. Bouffard has averaged 20.3 HR per season from 1950 to current, while he only hit a combined 54 HR during his first 5 NSL seasons.

Bouffard is one of the league's all-time hits leaders (2,270 hits), which he trails the Milwaukee Braves' Jon Hulke by only 42 hits for the all-time lead. Bouffard has led the league in hits (twice) while he passed the 200+ hits mark in 5 different seasons.

In 1956 (last season), he won his 3rd N.L. Most Valuable Player Award, along with his 2nd N.L. Batting Title (.338), as he helped the New York Titans win their 2nd World Championship... It would be Bouffard's 2nd World Series ring, although he won his 1st as a member of the Angels back in 1952.

Bouffard at a glance
  • 3 Most Valuable Player Awards (1951 Angels, 1954 & 1956 Titans)
  • 10-time All-Star
  • 8 Platinum Stick Awards
  • 2 Post-Season MVP Awards in 1956 (Division Series & World Series)
  • 2,270 career hits (averaging 199 per season)
  • Career .320 hitter
  • All-Time Doubles Leader (405).
  • 63.0 WAR
Bouffard appears to be playing better-than-ever at age 36, while he is also one of the league's highest paid stars ($74,000 salary) -- while he should have no problem making the Hall on his first shot.

Teams: Louisville Sluggers (N) (1945-1947), Los Angeles Angels (N) (1950-1952) & New York Titans (A) (1948-1949, 1953-current)

Tony Luera (1945-Current)
Starting Pitcher / Brooklyn Royals / Age 38

The smooth Curacaoan-born right-hander, known as 'The Blessed One' or 'The Blessed Arm from Curacas', has certainly been blessed with great health throughout his NSL career. Luera, currently ranks as the league's all-time wins leader (215), while helping the storied Brooklyn franchise make the playoffs in all 12 of the league's seasons -- reaching the ultimate pinnacle (finally) as World Champions in 1953. 

Luera has pitched over 300+ innings in a single-season on 6 separate occasions, while logging 3,319 innings during his stellar career. Before 1956, he has never logged less than 16 victories in a single-season, while leading the league in wins (twice).

His very best season may be his 1947 season in which he won both the N.L. Pitcher of the Year Award (for the 2nd consecutive year) & Most Valuable Player Award in the same season... Luera went 21-9 with a 2.36 ERA with 152 K & only 66 walks (1.12 WHIP) in 300.2 innings (9.1 WAR).

Luera ranks tops all-time in Wins, WAR (85.8), Innings pitched, complete games (260) & shutouts (42) -- while ranking near the top in many other lifetime pitching categories.

Much of Luera's hard-work ethic comes from him being raised by his Catholic grandfather. Luera lost both of his parents at a very young age, while they were on a shipping expedition in the Carribean Sea.

Luera at a glance
  • 1947 National League MVP Award
  • Back-to-Back N.L. Pitcher of the Year Awards (1946-1947)
  • 9-time All-Star
  • Career 3.02 ERA
  • All-Time Leader in Wins (215)
  • All-Time Leader in Complete Games (260)
  • All-Time Leader in Shutouts (42)
  • All-Time Leader in Innings Pitched (3,319)
  • 85.8 WAR
Luera in recent years has shown a few chinks in the armor... suffering 3.90 ERA and 3.58 ERA's in back-to-back years (1953-1954), which bumped career ERA to 3.02 -- while he also suffered his first injury-plagued season in 1956 with only 108.2 innings pitched for the Royals.

A quick note on the Brooklyn franchise, the team was always using the phrase 'Next year is our year', due to its consistent playoff presence. The team has been to the World Series, a NSL record 5 times, while only winning one title in 1953. The franchise has an all-time record of 1186-758 (.610 winning pct). 

The team was known as the Brooklyn Atlantics from 1945-1954, and has been known as the Brooklyn Royals from 1955-to-current, while the team will be relocating next season (1958) to Montreal.

Another thing that is impressive about Luera's career is the extra mileage his arm put on with the post-season totals (34 games started & 294.2 innings).

Teams: Brooklyn Atlantics (N) (1945-1954), Brooklyn Royals (1955-current)

Josh Phillips (1946-1955)
Starting Pitcher / Retired

The calm & mature New Jersey-native was a well-established veteran & team leader that decided to call it quits after the 1955 NSL Season.

'Calm' and 'Mature' was not always the case for Phillips. Prior to the establishment of the National Sandlot League, Phillips had a reputation in his Pacific Coast League days as a rowdy, instigating, prankster in the clubhouse... this reputation unfortunately followed him to the NSL.

He would have a huge season for the Oil City Oilers during his NSL debut - 1946 season, in which he led the league in wins (22), innings pitched (327), while setting a single-season complete games mark (32) which still stands today; He also had a 2.78 ERA and 131 strikeouts that season.

The Detroit Motors' starting pitcher Kevin Gaylor wanted out of Detroit, so much to General Manager Shawn Summers' surprise, the Oilers came a calling, offering Phillips in return. Fans in Detroit were delighted, while the clubhouse on the other hand sent a message to the GM about their concerns of acquiring the 'trouble maker' Phillips.

Little did they know at the time, they just acquired the biggest piece in their eventual 1947 World Championship title. Phillips was almost as equally masterful for the Motors that season, he would go 21-9 with a 3.08 ERA in 269 innings that season; His 5.7 season WAR matched his 1946 WAR, while his WHIP (1.07) was better than its prior year, while he completed 27 games for the Motors in 47'.

During that 1947 post-season, he came up big every time the Motors needed him -- going 5-0 with a 1.96 ERA (1.09 WHIP) in 46 innings. 

Phillips would unfortunately become the first of many pieces moved from the Detroit Motors, when the Motors' franchise was dealing with debt issues. The Motors would trade him late July 1948, while he was sporting a 14-5 record and 2.78 ERA to the New York Titans -- finishing the season with 20+ wins for the 3rd consecutive season.

Phillips was evolving and had a better reputation as a 'Gun for Hire', as his career would watch him pitch for numerous franchises.

Just when writers and teams were thinking he was over-the-hill at age 39, he would put together the best season of his career for the Kansas City Athletics, by leading the league in wins (23), Earner Run Average (2.16), WHIP (1.04) & BB/9 ratio (1.9) in 296 innings of work -- earning him N.L. Pitcher of the Year in 1951, while leading his team into the playoffs. Two years later, he would lead the American League in ERA (2.44 ERA) for the Cincinnati Buckeyes, at age 41.

He would go on to pitch 225 complete games in his NSL career. 

Phillips at a glance
  • 1951 N.L. Pitcher of the Year Award
  • 3-time All-Star
  • Owns Single-Season Complete Games mark (32)
  • Career 158-110 record & 3.23 ERA
  • 225 Career Complete Games
  • Career 1.24 WHIP
  • 46.0 WAR
When asked what changed him over the years, he replied 'My wife'. Phillips met his wife, a preacher's daughter in late 1945, prior to his 1946 breakout year with Oil City. Phillips noted that she was his biggest career achievement, which goes to show behind every great man there is a great woman. Phillips now donates much of his time in the church community back in his native New Jersey, while working with underprivileged children.

Teams: Oil City Oilers (A) (1946), Detroit Motors (A) (1947-1948), New York Titans (A) (1948-1949), Atlanta Generals (N) (1950), Kansas City Athletics (A) (1950-1951), Ohio Buckeyes (A) (1952), Cincinnati Buckeyes (A) (1953), Los Angeles Angels (N) (1954) & the Washington Capitols (N) (1955).

Nate Patten (1945-1956)
Starting Pitcher / Retired

Maryland's Nate 'The Great' Patten established himself quickly in the National Sandlot League, as he won the A.L. Pitcher of the Year Award and the A.L. Most Valuable Player Award in the same season for the Los Angeles Knights in 1945.

Also known as 'General Patten' (obviously a shout-out to the WWII hero, although different spelling), Nate was a general on the mound, winning 181 games in his big league career while turning out a 3.14 career ERA.

Although he did not win any major awards playing for the Detroit Motors during his playing time there from 1947-1949, it was probably his best stretch of his career... He would win his 2nd ERA title (2.40) in 1949, while leading the league in WHIP twice & BB/9 ratio all three of those years.

His biggest accomplishment in Motown would be helping the Detroit Motors win their lone 1945 World Series title over the Brooklyn Atlantics. Patten sported a 3-3 record, 2.60 ERA & 1.04 WHIP in 6 starts (7 games) & 46 innings.

Patten, twice led the league in wins (23 with the Knights in 45' & 21 with the Pittsburgh Arsenal in 1952), while having four 20+ wins seasons between 1945-1952.

Patten at a glance
  • 1945 A.L. Most Valuable Player Award
  • 1945 A.L. Pitcher of the Year Award
  • 4-time All-Star
  • 1947 World Championship (Detroit)
  • 350 career starts
  • Career 3.14 ERA & 1.16 WHIP
  • Career 181-120 record (.601 winning pct)
  • 56.6 WAR
Teams: Los Angeles Knights (A) (1945), Philadelphia Veterans (N) (1946), Detroit Motors (A) (1947-1949) & Pittsburgh Arsenal (N) (1950-1956).

Our last entry for this segment...

Jordan Sowell (1945-Current)
Shortstop & First Baseman / Washington Capitols / Age 39

'Boxy' Sowell, hailing from Bullhead, Arizona, was drafted 3rd overall in the 1945 Inaugural Draft by the Seattle Pilots.

Sowell may not have been known for his glove, but at the plate he is known as an on-base machine, who ranks near the very top with a lifetime .442 On-Base Percentage... He led the league in Bases on Balls, five times, with as many as 169 BB in 1949 for the St. Louis Terriers. Last season (1956), was the first time Sowell dipped under the century mark, with 96 BB as a Capitol.

He was also a very consistent hitter, especially between 1945-1953, which he never batted lower than .284, while batting as high as .321... while flashing a lifetime .294 batting average.

The life-long shortstop moved over to first base full-time starting in 1951, due to his fielding woes and slower speed.

Sowell has developed more power in recent years, with back-to-back seasons of 17 home runs each, which are career-highs.

Sowell at a glance
  • 8-time All-Star
  • 3 Platinum Stick Awards
  • All-Time Career Leader in Walks (1,533)
  • Career .853 OPS [On Base + Slugging]
  • Career .442 On-Base Percentage
  • Career 141 OPS+
  • 59.4 WAR
Sowell has 1,675 career hits entering 1957 (161 hits per 162 games, lifetime), while he is currently the all-time walks champ. The one glaring absence in his Hall-of-Fame career is a championship ring & the fact that he did not win any major awards... these are all due to him playing on many losing teams.

Teams: Seattle Pilots (N) (1945-1946), St. Louis Terriers (1947-1950) (N), Boston Shamrocks (A) (1952-1955) & Washington Capitols (1951, 1956-current)

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