It took an assault on his single
season hit record by Seattle’s
Ichiro Suzuki to do it, but American sports fans are finally learning to appreciate George Sisler. One of the finest all around players in history, Sisler’s career would have been even better had
it not been for a mysterious sinus disease.
Born to a prominent family
in Nimisilia Creek, OH on March 24, 1893, George Harold Sisler began his professional career while in high school with the Akron
Champs of the Ohio-Pennsylvania League. Upon graduation, he attended the University
of Michigan where he played under the tutelage of Branch Rickey.
Rickey, who doubled as a scout
for the American League’s St. Louis Browns, had hoped to put Sisler in a Browns uniform when he had finished college,
but there were roadblocks. Sisler was still considered property of Akron,
who transferred his rights to its’ parent club, Columbus. Columbus
then sold the prospect to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Rickey meanwhile, contested
that Sisler had entered into the contract with Akron as a minor and should be
a free agent.
In 1915, Rickey took the case
to baseball’s governing body, the National Commission, who, in a highly publicized decision, agreed with Rickey and
made Sisler a free agent. The Browns, of course, quickly snapped up the 22-year-old,
giving him a $5,000 signing bonus.
Sisler began his major league
career on June 28, 1915 as a pitcher.
The left-hander posted a 2.83 ERA in 70 innings that season, and was also used in the outfield and first base to get
his bat in the line-up. In 274 at bats, the rookie hit .285.
By 1916 however, Sisler’s
days on the mound were basically over (he would pitch in just 7 games during the remainder of his career); he was now the
teams’ everyday first baseman. Sisler adjusted well to the switch, hitting
.305 with 76 RBI and 34 steals while playing stellar defense. The Browns meanwhile
had their first winning season since 1908. (Sisler would play on just three more
winning teams in his career).
Sisler would continue to establish
himself as one of the games’ elite players over the next three years, hitting .353, .341, and .352 in addition to leading
the AL in steals in 1918 with 45. The
best however, was yet to come.
Nicknamed “Gorgeous George”
for his grace in the field, Sisler had a season for the ages in 1920. The Ohio
native captured the AL batting crown with a .407 average and set a major league
record with 257 hits, a mark that stood for 84 years. Sisler also hit 18 triples that season and finished second to Babe Ruth
with 19 homeruns.
In 1921, led by Sisler and
the outfield trio of “Baby Doll” Jacobsen, Jack Tobin, and Ken Williams, the Browns found themselves in a pennant
race. Although they would fall short of taking the flag, Sisler posted another
stellar season (.371 and an AL leading 18 triples and 35 steals).
While the Michigan
graduate is most famous for his record setting 1920 season, the 1922 campaign was his best.
The AL MVP strung together a 41 game hitting streak, posted a mind-boggling .420 average, and smacked out a league
leading 246 hits while pacing the circuit with 134 runs, 18 triples, and 51 stolen bases. The
Browns meanwhile, spent much of the season in first place before slipping just one game behind the Yankees for the AL
pennant. While it seemed that Sisler was just entering his prime, his best days
were already behind him.
Prior to the 1923 season, the
5-11, 170 lb first baseman, contracted poisonous sinusitis, which gave him fits of double vision and piercing headaches. The ailment caused Sisler to miss the entire season and would affect his vision throughout
the remainder of his career.
In 1924, Sisler returned to
the Browns not only as a player, but he had also taken over the team’s managerial responsibilities. The 31-year-old would remain in the dual role for the next three seasons, playing solidly, (.305, .345,
.290) but the Browns were never contenders and Sisler resigned as manager following the 1926 season.
Sisler would play just one
more season in St. Louis before being sold to the Washington Senators for $25,000. The transaction was highly unpopular with Browns fans.
The former MVP would hit just .245 in 20 games with the Senators before being released and picked up by the lowly Boston
Sisler showed he was not washed
up in Boston, hitting .340 in 118 games (his combined average for the season was
.331) and returned for two more productive seasons, (.326 & .309) but was released following the 1930 season. Sisler, still wanting to play, signed on with the Rochester Redwings of the International League and hit
.303 in 159 games. In 1932, the 39-year-old signed on with Shreveport/Tyler of
the Texas League as a player/manager. He would retire from both positions following
In his major league career,
Sisler posted a .340 average with 2,812 hits, 1,284 runs, and 375 stolen bases. Had
it not been for his sinus problems, he would have assuredly blown by the 3,000 hit plateau. He was inducted into the Hall
of Fame in 1939.
Following his playing days,
Sisler worked as a scout in both the Dodgers and Pirates organization. Two of
his sons, Dick and Dave, played in the major leagues. On March 23, 1973, at the age of 80, Sisler passed away in a St. Louis