1B Mickey Vernon .257/.317/.351 1 HR -1.9 BFW 3 WS -2 FRAR 0.0 WARP3
After Griffith got rid of Zeke Bonura after the 1938 season, first base became somewhat of a revolving door in Washington. Jimmy Wasdell was the starter on opening day, but he didn’t hit enough for the Nats, and was replaced by veteran Ossie Bluege. Though Bluege showed some success, he was 38-years-old and unable to play the position every day. The team tried to move Sam West in from the outfield, but he never really go the hang of the position. After a few weeks with a young Bob Prichard at first, it was decided to call up the 21-year-old who had impressed so much in spring training: James Barton “Mickey” Vernon. Vernon was found by a Washington scout while he was attending Villanova University. In his first year as a pro in 1938, Vernon hit .346 for Greenville of the South Atlantic League. He was described in The Sporting News as a “tall, spare young man who is handy with the glove” – though it was speculated that he might be “too green” to hold down the job for the rest of the season. Though Vernon took his lumps in 1939, he was the regular first baseman for the balance of the season.
1B Mickey Vernon .299/.352/.443 9 HR -1.0 BFW 16 WS -4 FRAR 3.5 WARP3
After a full year in the minors, Mickey Vernon was back to claim the starting first base job. Unlike in his first attempt in 1939, Vernon had success in 1941, and was able to secure the first base job.
1B Mickey Vernon .271/.337/.388 9 HR -1.8 BFW 20 WS -4 FRAR 3.5 WARP3
Several times during the season, Vernon’s name was listed alongside Jake Early’s in the “horrible slump” category. Clearly, Vernon’s slumping was nowhere near as bad as Early’s, but it illustrates the expectation that surrounded the 24-year-old.
1B Mickey Vernon .268/.357/.387 7 HR 0.1 BFW 21 WS -4 FRAR 4.4 WARP3
Vernon had his best season so far and looked to be on his way to reaching the potential that so many thought he had. Like many ballpayers, Vernon missed 1944 and 1945 due to military service.
1B Mickey Vernon .353/.403/.508 8 HR 4.3 BFW 33 WS 6 FRAR 9.3 WARP3
Vernon’s last major league action came at the age of 25 in 1943. Now 28, Vernon came back to have his best career season. He led the league in batting (.353) and doubles (51) and was third in OBP (.403) and sixth in slugging (.508). On May 19th, he hit for the cycle in the second game of a double header against the White Sox.
1B Mickey Vernon .265/.320/.388 7 HR -1.4 BFW 15 WS 0 FRAR 2.7 WARP3
After exploding back into the majors in 1946, Vernon returned to earth quite a bit in 1947. The 29-year-old was down in almost every offensive category, and would continue to fall in 1948. Vernon’s troubles in 1947 were a microcosm of the Nats’ troubles as a team. Vernon’s struggles through the season were constant fodder for local and national sportswriters, who all had their suggestions for the 1946 batting champion. As the season wore on, and Vernon continued slumping, the buzz turned from ideas for correction to trade rumors.
1B Mickey Vernon .242/.310/.332 3 HR -2.4 BFW 7 WS 29 FRAR 3.7 WARP3
Vernon’s season-long slump of 1947 continued into 1948 where he had his worst season as a professional. Not surprisingly, Vernon found himself on the trading block, and was sent to Cleveland in December. He’ll regain his form in 1949, and ultimately return to Washington the following year.
1B Mickey Vernon .306/.404/.459 9 HR 1.4 BFW 13 WS 16 FRAR 5.0 WARP3
Less than two years after trading the veteran first baseman away, Clark Griffith sends pitcher Dick Weik to Cleveland in exchange for a struggling Vernon (.189/.284/.189 in 28 games with the Indians). Vernon’s early season struggles made him very expendable for Cleveland, who had rookie Luke Easter playing fairly well at first base through the first few months of the season. The deal allowed Harris to move rookie Irv Noren to the outfield where he was sorely needed. Vernon had a good season following the trade, and would remain the regular first baseman for Washington until the mid-1950’s.
1B Mickey Vernon .293/.358/.423 9 HR -0.1 BFW 18 WS 24 FRAR 6.5 WARP3
Vernon struggled early in his first full season with Washington since 1948, mostly due to the fact that he was playing on two hurt ankles. As the team fell in the standings later in the summer, Vernon started to surge, and finished with some pretty respectable numbers. It was also noted in The Sporting News that this is the year that Vernon began to take an active role as more of a “holler guy” in the Washington dugout; a role that was quite different for the traditionally quiet Vernon.
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.
1B Mickey Vernon .337/.403/.518 15 HR 3.0 BFW 29 WS 23 FRAR 9.5 WARP3
At the age of 35, Vernon clinched his second AL batting title on the last day of the season. After he made an out late in the game, Vernon stood at .337, just percentage points better than Al Rosen. Once word arrived to the team that Rosen’s day was done with Vernon still in the lead, Nat runners started to mysteriously make some poor base running mistakes, running into outs and getting picked off bases. Vernon did not bat again, and the title was his.
Controversy aside, 1953 was easily Vernon’s best season since 1946, the year he won his other batting title. He went to his third All Star Game, and finished 3rd in the AL MVP voting, behind Al Rosen and Yogi Berra.
1B Mickey Vernon .290/.357/.492 20 HR 1.4 BFW 24 WS -4 FRAR 4.9 WARP3
At the age of 36 Vernon wasn’t quite the defender that he had been in his prime, but he could still swing the bat. Last year’s batting champion didn’t compete for that title in 1954, but he did set a record with 20 home runs, the most by a left-handed batter in franchise history. Vernon also made his fourth All Star Game, and hit he 2,000 career hit on September 2.
1B Mickey Vernon .301/.384/.452 14 HR 1.0 BFW 21 WS -9 FRAR 4.0 WARP3
At the age of 37, Vernon turned in another All Star season and was credited with keeping Washington afloat in the summer months. Unfortunately for Vernon, he became a victim of his own success when Clark Griffith, and later Calvin, decided it was time to rebuild. Vernon was one of the few pieces that was of value on the trade market, and the Griffiths took advantage by building a nine-player trade with the Boston Red Sox. Though the deal was consummated after the death of the elder Griffith, it was widely reported that he was the mastermind behind it. Though the four players that Washington sent to Boston didn’t pan out particularly well, neither did the young players that were added. For better or worse, Vernon’s time with Washington came to an end. After a pretty successful season with the Sox in 1956, Vernon began to show his age. He played into his 40’s, but was clearly well past his prime. He finally retired as a player in at the age of 42 in 1960. In 14 seasons with Washington, Vernon hit .288/.358/.428 with 121 home runs and 63.4 WARP3. Vernon went on to become the first manager of the expansion Washington franchise in 1961, and lasted in that role until the beginning of the 1963 season, when he was let go after two losing seasons and a poor start in a third.