A certain Major League Baseball team recently had one of their games broadcast on television. During the broadcast, a trivia question was asked of the audience. The question was along the lines of “Which major league shortstop…” and dealt with batting averages. There were four answers to choose from: Honus Wagner, Arky Vaughan, Luke Appling and Nomar Garciaparra.
The play-by-play announcer for this broadcast had never heard of Honus Wagner or Arky Vaughan. He might not have heard of Luke Appling either but I don’t know. The color commentator had never heard of Vaughan either and claimed to have heard of Wagner stating something about him being from “way back in the thirties.” After a few moments, the color man said that he had just found out that Wagner had played for the Dodgers.
Honus Wagner never played for the Dodgers. He was one of the five players elected to the Hall of Fame in the inaugural class of 1936, along with Walter Johnson, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Christy Mathewson. He and Ruth were tied for second in the voting, being selected on 95.1% of the ballots cast. (Cobb was first with 98.2%.) I don’t think I have ever seen any “best ever” list of shortstops that doesn’t have Wagner at #1. For that matter, I can’t recall a “best ever” list of position players that doesn’t have Wagner in the top ten or fifteen. He dominated the National League from 1900 through 1910 almost as much as Cobb did in the American League from 1907 through 1918 or Ruth from 1920 through 1931. Category after category after category, they were not only among the top five or ten players, but the number one player. Honus Wagner is baseball royalty, among the best of the best of the best.
Like Wagner, Arky Vaughan was the shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He played in the ’30s and, while he didn’t get any love from the BBWAA during his time on the Hall of Fame ballot, he was elected to Cooperstown in 1985 by the Veterans Committee. Vaughan died young, drowning at the age of 40, and had statistics that only became widely respected in the 1980′s with the rise of sabermetrics and the realization that walks and on-base percentage were of tremendous value. He was in the top 10 of WAR for position players 11 times in the NL, six times as first or second. He had seven seasons in the top 10 of Adjusted OPS. He is 44th all-time in career OBP. Check his record out at www.baseball-reference.com for more.
To me, for the professional announcers to not have heard of Honus Wagner is beyond unbelievable. It is more understandable, but still surprising, for them to not have heard of Vaughan. But the issue is that they compounded their ignorance of Joseph Floyd Vaughan and his tremendous career by making fun of him. Repeatedly. In the “who the heck has ever heard of THAT guy?” vein. Primarily by the play-by-play man. I have never heard anything like it. The color commentator is a former major leaguer. The play-by-play man played very briefly in the very, very low minors but is the son of a man who played in the big leagues for eight years then managed for another six. He’s been around major league baseball for a long time. So one would think that one of them would know about these two tremendous players. Or that there would be someone associated with the broadcast that would perhaps quietly mention via headphones that they needed to clam up. But it didn’t happen.
For these two to act as they did, throwing gasoline on the bonfire of their ignorance each time they made some chuckling reference to Arky Vaughan, was tremendously annoying and unprofessional. And so I used the ultimate weapon at my disposal. I turned them off.