Athlete in Retrospect — Vern Stephens

by Coltrane

100th post.  It could be about anything!   I was strongly considering yet another Howard Schultz rant, but we’ll save that for another day.

Boycott Starbucks!  Howard Schultz is a traitor to the community that made him filthy stinkin’ rich!  He’s a back-stabbing…backstabber!

There.  I got it out of my system.

Onto the subject of the post — Vern Stephens.

Stephens came up as a 20 year-old in 1941 with the St. Louis Browns.  He avoided service in the war due to bad knees, instead working at a shipyard when he wasn’t playing baseball.  In the winter of 1947 he was traded to the Red Sox.  By 1949 he was in his prime, as a 28 year-old playing shortstop and hitting the cover off of the ball.  The Red Sox that year went 96-58, finishing 2nd in the American League, one game behind the Yankees.  Here’s his age 28 season as compared to the age 28 seasons of some other well-known-and-fairly-recent shortstops:

Age 28 Year Average HR RBI OPS+
Vern Stephens .290 39 159 138
Barry Larkin .304 12 78 132
Alex Rodriguez .286 36 106 131
Miguel Tejada .308 34 131 128
Nomar Garciaparra .310 24 120 127
Alan Trammel .277 21 75 120
Derek Jeter .297 18 75 111
Cal Ripken .257 21 93 105

39 HR!  159 RBI!  (And yeah, RBI is a flawed stat, but 159 RBI is a huge total.)

In 1949 he totalled 8.2 WAR — a figure Barry Bonds or Albert Pujols would be happy with.  Stephens totalled 53.7 WAR for his career.  By comparison, Bill Buckner (the subject of the last Athlete Restrospective) totalled 24.6, and Buckner was a really good player who played seven more seasons than Stephens.  (Stephens’ knees quit on him.  His last good, healthy year was his age 29 season in 1950.)

Why am I so hooked on Vern Stephens?  I really have no idea.  He hit for average, he hit for power, and he did it while playing shortstop.  He played with Ted Williams and was a comparable hitter.  I probably learned about him in 1985 from reading the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, so in my consciousness he predates A-Rod and Jeter and the rest.  I didn’t see a picture of him until maybe 15-20 years later, which added to the intrigue.  For a while he was one of the all-time greats, and nobody really remembers him any more. 

That’s kind of what this series of posts are about.

One thought on “Athlete in Retrospect — Vern Stephens

  1. Congratulations on post number 100! You really have to wonder why Vern didn’t get more HOF support – he was a power hitting SS in an era when they were all “good glove, no hit” and, really, outside of Rizzuto, can you name another SS from the era?


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