No. 249 Vern Stevens (Number 20 Shortstop)

Vern Stevens hit the spotlight with modern readers (mostly sabermetric fans) when in Bill James’ book (The Politics of Glory) he compared Phil Rizzuto who was elected to the hall of fame shortly before his book was published to Vern Stevens. However, Bill didn’t know this at the time he was writing his book as it hadn’t happened at the time.

However, at that time there was a big push by a group campaigning to elect Phil Rizzuto to the hall of fame. Bill in his book was looking for a similar player who played at about the same time and picked Vern Stephens. His question was “If Rizzuto why not Stevens”? In the book Bill showed Stevens was every bit the player Stevens was if not even better.

A few years later Bill had Phil Rizzuto a couple of spots ahead of Stephens at shortstop. In the comments Bill said he knew he confused readers into thinking he was saying Stephens was better, but what he was trying to say is they were close. He said he failed as a writer confusing his readers. He felt comfortable with his system saying that Rizzuto was slightly better than Stephens.

I have Stephens slightly better, but both are still close. I took a poll on who was better on Bill James Online and Stephens won 5-4. Of course, you can say I was the dividing vote.

These two are close that the argument can go either way. However, they are different type players. Stephens had more power and led the league in RBIs three times. For his career Stevens was an average fielding shortstop, however in his prime he had some excellent years fielding.  Rizzuto didn’t have much power but stole more bases than Stevens. He is recognized and stats show he was a better fielder than Stephens. Rizzuto also missed three years in World War II because he was in the Navy. Stephens was able to play in the major leagues those three years.

I think the reason that Rizzuto was considered better was that the Yankees kept winning the pennant. In 1949 and 1950 Rizzuto’s Yankees and Stephens’ Red Sox were considered about equal. In face a lot of people thought the Red Sox had more talent. That was in part because Fenway Park was more helpful to offense than Yankee Stadium. So, the Red Sox were thought as under achievers. Because he was on the team, Vern Stephens was thought as an underachiever. Nowadays we know the Yankees got some breaks, got some hits at the right moment and won some key games to win the pennant. The thing is we know that the Red Sox were an excellent team those two years and Vern Stephens was an excellent shortstop and a fine Hall of Fame candidate.



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