1952 Washington Nationals
Manager: Bucky Harris 25th Season (16th with Washington 1194-1252-23)
78 W 76 L 3 T 598 RS 608 RA 5th AL 17.0 GB (New York 95-59)
3.81 RPG (AL = 4.18) 3.37 ERA (AL = 3.67)
.978 DER (3rd AL)
All Stars (2) Jackie Jensen, Eddie Yost
Franchise (1901-1952) 3708-4140-100; 8-11 WS
At the end of the previous season, Clark Griffith promised there would be some changes. There were rumors early in the year that Bucky Harris might take a job as the GM of the Detroit Tigers, but ultimately Harris stayed on to manage Washington, but that was about the aspect of the Washington Nationals that remained the same in 1952.
Immediately following the conclusion of the 1951 season, the Nats unloaded former starting short stop Sam Dente in a trade with the White Sox that netted infielder Tom Upton. It wasn’t a major move, Dente hadn’t been a regular for several years, but it was the first in a chain of dominoes falling that shaped the ’52 version of the team.
In the months leading to spring training, the Nats let Mike McCormick go. Shortly after the start of the season, Mickey Harris was claimed on waivers by the Indians. These were relatively minor moves, but there was more to come as the season progressed.
The major movement began in May. On the 3rd, the Nats sent Irv Noren and Upton to the Yankees, recieving four players in return, including right fielder Jackie Jensen and starting pitcher Spec Shea. Later that month, Griffith sent Sam Mele to the White Sox for a solid second baseman (Mel Hoderlein) and a new center fielder (Jim Busby). On the 19th, Griffith proved that not even family was safe when he let the A’s claim his nephew Sherry Robertson off of waivers.
The dealing continued into June, where the Nats traded Sid Hudson to the Red Sox for SP Walt Masterson and RP Randy Gumpert. By then, only three everyday players remained starters from the previous season: Mickey Vernon, Eddie Yost, and Pete Runnels. Connie Marrero and Bob Porterfield still anchored the rotation, but the addition of Spec Shea and the return of Walt Masterson made for a pretty solid pitching staff.
The revamped version of the Nats improved, and actually finished above the .500 mark for the first time in six seasons, but still finished fifth in a tough American League. Their problem was still hitting, though the pitching had improved enough from the previous season to make the team look like a contender.
Bold = Player new to Washington in 1952
C Mickey Grasso .216/.276/.241 0 HR -1.7 BFW 4 WS 20 FRAR 0.6 WARP3
Newton Michael Grasso earned the nickname “Mickey” because teammates thought he resembled Hall of Fame catcher Mickey Cochrane. From 1943 to 1945, Grasso was POW in North Africa. He spent two plus years playing on teams while in captivity, and ultimately returned after liberation to the Giants, the team that had signed him before the war. He got some brief playing time with the Giants in 1946, but didn’t see major league action again until Washington picked him up in the 1949 Rule V Draft. He spent 1950-1951 as the backup catcher, and finally got his chance to start in 1952.
1B Mickey Vernon .251/.353/.394 10 HR 0.0 BFW 20 WS 33 FRAR 7.0 WARP3
Vernon’s line from 1952 illustrates why he can be a difficult player to evaluate. While BFW, WS, and WARP3 typically vary a little bit, they don’t usually disagree so much for a given player. Vernon’s 1952 WS and WARP3 numbers look pretty good, not top of the league good, but certainly above average. BFW indicates that Vernon was average. WARP3 would rate 1952 as the fourth best season of Vernon’s career (1953 9.6 WARP3; 1946 9.3 WARP3; 1949 8.0 WARP3); while Win Shares says there were six seasons in which Vernon was better (1946 33 WS; 1953 29 WS; 1954 24 WS; 1943, 1949, & 1955 21 WS; while BFW says there were nine seasons in which Vernon was better than in 1952 (1946 4.3 BFW; 1953 3.0 BFW; 1949 1.8 BFW; 1954 1.4 BFW; 1955 1.0 BFW; 1956 0.6 BFW; 1958 0.5 BFW; 1950 0.4 BFW; 1943 0.1 BFW). Vernon put up fairly consistent offensive numbers through his career. Throw out his two high and two low OPS+ seasons from his years as a regular and all the remaining numbers fall between 99-137. The difference, then, would be how the different metrics account for his fielding. FRAR likes his defense in 1952 – the only year in which he was credited with more was in 1949 when he had 34. I don’t have the breakdown of fielding stats that contribute to the other numbers, but it might be safe to say that Pete Palmer rates Vernon’s effort at first base in 1952 a good bit lower than does Bill James.
2B Floyd Baker .262/.342/.293 0 HR -1.7 BFW 8 WS 14 FRAR 2.0 WARP3
2B Mel Hoderlein .269/.333/.327 0 HR -0.7 BFW 5 WS 14 FRAR 2.0 WARP3
Baker came in an off season trade with the White Sox. The 35-year-old veteran had been in the majors since 1943, and was notably a member of the St. Louis Browns’ 1944 team. In May, Griffith added Hoderlein in the trade that sent Sam Mele to the Red Sox. The two veterans platooned at second for the rest of the season. Baker was sold to Boston in May if 1953, while Hoderlein remained with the team through 1954, though his 72 games played in 1952 is more than the rest of his career combined.
SS Pete Runnels .285/.368/.333 1 HR -0.5 BFW 22 WS 38 FRAR 6.2 WARP3
From Shirley Povich’s column in the July 2, 1952 Sporting News:
He (Runnels) was banging away at a .280 rate that actually was no index to his surge. For the first six weeks of the season Pete was bogged down among the low .200’s and causing Bucky Harris to wonder if he were the same sprightly hitter who last year gave promise of being a solid man with the bat.
Runnels is one of the Senators who isn’t being benched against any type of pitching, which is more to his credit. He’s a southpaw swinger who concedes little to lefthanded pitching, and the other week at Cleveland he jolted the outfielders who had been shading him to the left by pulling his first major league home run into right field territory.
At this point, Jackie Jensen is the only regular outhitting Runnels, and Mickey Vernon is the only player who has driven more runs across the plate for the Senators. Even when Runnels’ average was down, he was making his hits count, and the pitchers were aware of it and dispensing more than the average allotment of intentional passes to him.
3B Eddie Yost .233/.378/.359 12 HR -1.6 BFW 23 WS 4 FRAR 4.2 WARP3
Yost’s production fell in just about every category except walking. He once again led the AL, this time with 129 free passes. Yost’s season long slump was so bad that he was hitting under .200 as late as mid-August. Still, he led the team in home runs with 12, all of which came on the road.
LF Gil Coan .205/.277/.319 5 HR -2.2 BFW 5 WS 1 FRAR -0.3 WARP3
LF Ken Wood .238/.333/.419 6 HR 0.2 BFW 8 WS 5 FRAR 1.6 WARP3
On My 25, Coan broke his wrist when he dove attempting to knock down a ball. On June 9 Washington acquired Wood in a trade with the Red Sox. When Coan returned to the lineup, Wood remained in a platoon with Coan, who was another of the Senators having the dreaded season long slump.
CF Jim Busby .244/.281/.318 2 HR -2.3 BFW 26 FRAR 2.1 WARP3
Busby also came from Chicago in the Mele trade. At the time of the deal, Busby was batting just .128/.171/.128 compared with Mele’s .429/.448/.750 line. Still, Busby was five years younger than Mele. Busby improved on his numbers in Chicago, but wasn’t going to win any awards with his hitting in 1952. The highlight of his season came on August 29 in a game against the Yankees. With his team down by one in the top of the ninth inning, Busby ignored a bunt sign because of what he called a “fat” pitch, and launched the ball for a game-winning two-run home run at Yankee Stadium.
RF Jackie Jensen .286/.360/.407 10 HR 1.4 BFW 8 FRAR 4.8 WARP3
Jensen had originally been groomed in the Yankee farm system as the heir apparent to Joe DiMaggio. When he struggled early in his career, he was quickly replaced for that title by Mickey Mantle. Jensen, who became expendable to the Yankees, was dealt to Washington early in the 1952 season. Jensen enjoyed his best season so far, and was the best hitter on the team in 1952.
SP Bob Porterfield 13-14 2.72 ERA 1.33 WHIP 2.4 PW 20 WS 6.6 WARP3
May 15th might have been a microcosm of Porterfield’s season in 1952. On that day he was locked in a pitcher’s duel with Virgil Trucks of the Detroit Tigers. While Porterfield held the Tigers scoreless through eight innings, Trucks had a no-hitter going against the Nats offense. In the ninth inning, Porterfield allowed a two-out solo home run to Vic Wertz, and he lost the game 1-0. It was noted in The Sporting News that Washington had been shut out five times by mid-July, and all five were Porterfield losses. Though Porterfield won’t pitch as well in 1953, his win-loss record will dramatically improve.
SP Connie Marrero 11-8 2.88 ERA 1.24 WHIP 0.7 PW 14 WS 3.5 WARP3
At the age of 40 (though he was listed as 43 in The Sporting News), the Cuban junkballer continued to confound AL hitters. Marrero was known as much for his trademark cigar (referred to as his “cee-gar” by sportswriters) as he was for his pitching prowess.
SP Julio Moreno 9-9 3.97 ERA 1.40 WHIP -1.1 PW 6 WS 1.4 WARP3
Moreno was the least heralded of Griffith’s Cuban pitchers, but had his best season in 1952. Though he started off well in 1953, there wasn’t enough innings for him to pitch, and he was optioned to the minors in the middle of the season. Moreno never returned to the majors.
SP Walt Masterson 9-8 3.70 ERA 1.40 WHIP -0.2 PW 9 WS 3.2 WARP3
Masterson, who pitched for the Nats throughout the 1940’s, returned to Washington after a two-plus year absence as part of the deal that sent Sid Hudson to the Red Sox. The deal was basically a wash, with Masterson and Hudson performing similarly for the next two years, while the other pitcher that came to Washington in the deal, Randy Gumpert, was out of the majors after a sub par 1952.
SP Spec Shea 11-7 2.93 ERA 1.40 WHIP 1.5 PW 15 WS 4.5 WARP3
The “Naugatuck Nugget’s” previous best season was his rookie year of 1947, the season in which he fell short of the rookie of the year award only because of Jackie Robinson. From 1948-1951 Shea struggled to find his rookie form and found that he wasn’t able to pitch without pain. The Yankees staff blamed it on arm trouble, and Shea tried for four years to work it out in the minors. During the offseason between 1951 and 1952, Shea went to a chiropractor who reportedly fixed his problem within 15 minutes. Whether that story is true or not, the numbers indicate that Shea had his best career season in 1952, though part of the success may have been due to to the fact that he pitched half of his games in Griffith Stadium.
RP Sandy Consuegra 6-0 3.05 ERA 1.45 WHIP 0.3 PW 7 WS 1.7 WARP3
Consuegra had another very good season in 1952, and was being used almost exclusively out of the bullpen. After four difficult outings in 1953, Consuegra was sold to the White Sox, where he continued to perform as one of the best relief pitchers in baseball.
RP Tom Ferrick 4-3 3.02 ERA 1.26 WHIP 0.6 PW 5 WS 2.2 WARP3
RP Don Johnson 0-5 4.43 ERA 1.64 WHIP -0.7 PW 0 WS 0.3 WARP3
RP Joe Haynes 0-3 4.50 ERA 1.59 WHIP -0.4 PW 1 WS 0.4 WARP3
A group of Washington veterans rounded out the bullpen. While none of them had a particularly stand out season, it is notable that none of them was horrible either. None of the three will return to Washington to play. Ferrick and Haynes both retired after the season, and Johnson spent a year in the International League before resurfacing with the Baltimore Orioles in 1954.
RP Bobo Newsom 1-1 4.97 ERA 1.97 WHIP -0.3 PW 0 WS 0.2 WARP3
44-year-old Bobo Newsom had his fifth and final stint with the Nats in 1952. He appeared in 10 games before he was released in mid-June. Newsom was immediately snatched up by Philadelphia, and finished his career there. He retired after the 1953 season with a 20-year career in which he played for nine different teams. His totals with Washington: 8 seasons, 61-66 4.28 ERA (95 ERA+), 497 BB, 511 K, 18.3 WARP3.
1952 World Series
The Yankees won their fourth straight World Series by defeating the Dodgers in seven games. Former Nat Irv Noren batted .300/.364/.300 in 11 PA’s, while another former Nat, Bob Kuzava, pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings.