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Tribe Notes

Commentary: Eric Stamets' struggles with the Indians won't soon be forgotten

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    The Indians' Eric Stamets hits against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., on Sunday. Stamets' brief stay with the Indians filling in for Francisco Lindor was marked by historic futility.

    AP

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Eric Stamets, we hardly knew ye — and ye hardly knew a hit.

But it wasn’t Stamets’ fault.

Somebody had to play shortstop until the injured Francisco Lindor returned. Stamets got first crack at it, but that crack ended Tuesday, when he and his .049 batting average were optioned to Triple-A Columbus.

So much for The Eric Stamets Era. In 48 plate appearances he was 2-for-41. One double, one single, 24 strikeouts.

Given his struggles, which were more historic than anyone knew, it was better for all concerned that the Indians optioned Stamets to Columbus and selected the contract of utility infielder Mike Freeman.

Lindor is expected to be activated soon, which will then allow the Indians to utilize the utilityness of utilityman Freeman as needed.

Meanwhile, for Stamets, let’s just call the first 2½ weeks of the season a case of him either being in the right place at the right time or in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Either way, Stamets has left his mark on multiple pages of the Indians record book, none of which he was shooting for when they told him he was going to break camp with the big league club.

Stamets has etched his name in Tribe lore for scratching out just two hits in 2½ weeks. His .049 batting average is the lowest in Indians history for any player with 48 or more plate appearances.

Stamets broke the record previously held by Rivington Bisland, who played 15 games at shortstop and one at third base for the 1914 Cleveland Naps, for whom Bisland took care of bis-ness by hitting a robust .105. That’s according to the Play Index tool on Baseball-Reference.com, the greatest baseball website in the history of baseball and websites.

Stamets also broke two other Indians 48-or-more plate appearances franchise records. His .149 on-base percentage erases from the record book the name of first baseman Bill Schwartz, who had a .151 on-base percentage for the 1904 Naps.

However, where Stamets really shines, in a strictly historical sense, is his jaw-dropping and now Indians-record .073 slugging percentage. That absolutely shattered the previous Indians record for lowest slugging percentage for a player with 48 or more plate appearances, which was .109, a record that had stood for 100 years. It was set by catcher Pinch Thomas for the 1919 Indians.

Thomas that season achieved the nearly impossible feat of having a slugging percentage and batting average that were identical: .109.

Pinch Thomas meet Eric Stamets.

Stamets’ brief, and offensively quiet, layover in Cleveland offers a reminder that shortstops weren’t always the 30-homer, offensive dynamos and MVP candidates they are today. There was a time when shortstops were paid to catch and throw the ball, and that was it. They were expected to be elite defensive performers, and that was enough. Anything they contributed offensively was considered gravy.

Perhaps the greatest example of that was the gravy-less Ray Oyler, who, on the 1968 world champion Detroit Tigers, was the starting shortstop — while hitting .135.

That’s right, .135. You read that correctly.

Oyler only weighed 165 pounds soaking wet, and he still didn’t come close to hitting his weight. The dude hit .135. For the season. Total. All of it. He hit one home run and had 12 RBIs.

Oyler went 1-for-5 on July 13 — that’s July 13 — and he didn’t get another hit the rest of the year. Now THAT’S a slump. He went oh-for-August, oh-for-September and finished the season on an 0-for-36 streak. It got so bad that during the second half of the season the Tigers occasionally played Oyler’s backups —believe it or not, a .135-hitting shortstop actually had backups — Tom Matchick and Dick Tracewski. But they weren’t much better than Oyler. Matchick hit .203, Tracewski .156.

The Tigers’ offensive black hole at shortstop was so bad that for the World Series manager Mayo Smith moved center fielder Mickey Stanley to shortstop.

This was 1968, the Year of the Pitcher, when only one player in the American League hit over .300 — barely. Carl Yastrzemski hit .301 and won the batting title by 11 points over Danny Cater, who was the only other player in the league who hit over .289 — barely. Cater hit .290.

It was the year the Tigers’ Denny McLain went 31-6, baseball’s last 30-game winner. It was the year the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson had a 1.12 ERA, with a record of 22-9, over half of those wins being shutouts (13). At one point during that season Gibson pitched 13 consecutive complete games, eight of them shutouts, five of them in a row. During that season, Gibson never got taken out of a game in the middle of an inning.

The Year of the Pitcher was so bad for hitters that after the season Major League Baseball lowered the pitcher’s mound by 10 inches.

Shortstops everywhere rejoiced.

Contact Jim Ingraham at 329-7135 or jingraham4@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jim_Ingraham.



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