Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Baseball Has Just About Everything

The more I read about baseball the more I am amazed by the variety of things it has featured over its history — from amazing talent, to greed, to wisdom, to lunacy, to ... well — you name it.

In researching for a blog I am writing on the best and the strangest outfields of all time I came across the backup outfielder for the 1911 to 1917 Boston Red Sox. He had lots of talent but had the misfortune to be on a team that had perhaps the greatest defensive outfield of all time, namely Tris Speaker, Harry Hooper, and Duffy Lewis.

In his first season he hit .366 in 108 pate appearances with an on-base percentage of .449, which is among the best ever for a rookie. In his second season he played even less but hit .321 with an OBP of .457.

The remarkable thing about this outfielder, whose name was Olaf Henriksen, was his birthplace - the Danish village of Kirkerup. Anyone who is familiar with baseball in the early days will know that almost all players were given nicknames then — often crude ones, like 'Dummy' for players who were deaf and mute — and can probably guess Olaf's. Inevitably it was 'Swede'.

A 1912 baseball card produced by a cigar company called Henriksen the "viking descended outfielder". Olaf was strictly a singles hitter, hitting only one home run in his career. By his third season he was down to just 47 plate appearances but still managed to hit .375. In a little more action (119 PA) he batted .263 in his fourth year but the writing was on the wall when he dipped to a paltry .196 in 1915 and .202 the next year. In 1917 he was all the way down to 12 at bats and an .083 average. And that was it for Olaf. It's unfortunate that his decline was so rapid because by then Speaker and Lewis were gone and their replacements weren't doing much.

(Note: If you're thinking that by 1917 Olaf would have had to compete with Babe Ruth for outfield playing time on the Red Sox you're right and wrong. Ruth was the best pitcher in the American League, but he batted .300 in limited plate appearances and hit 11 home runs in a year when the entire Pittsburgh Pirates TEAM hit just 9. So they started to have the Babe in the lineup on days he wasn't pitching, but they usually played him at first base, not the outfield.)

The highlights of Henriksen's career were a pinch hit RBI double off Christy Mathewson in the 1912 World Series and a grab of one of teammate Babe Ruth's tremendous shots in a Spring Training game — which Olaf caught by running right through the field's wooden outfield fence.

Sadly, for you Danish readers out there, Olaf was baseball's only player from Denmark. But getting to play with Speaker and Ruth and being on three World Championship clubs, not bad.

1 comment:

Rick Blechta said...

That's just like you, Will, pandering to our Danish readers.

Interesting post, though...