Rohlfing: Dredging the past to see Francisco Lindor’s future

From Merritt Rohlfing at Let’s Go Tribe on January 27, 2018:

I’d never heard of Vern Stephens until a couple days ago. Most people under 60 probably haven’t. He was a very good shortstop for the St. Louis Browns and Red Sox during the 1940s and 50s. A rare power-hitting middle infielder, leading the league in home runs one year and hitting 39 another. Baseball casts its legends in bronze, but merely pretty excellent guys get lost to history. He came up because, according to Baseball-Reference, he is the closest comparison by age to Francisco Lindor. Whether or not it means something, the extensive history of the game gives us a tool to look back, in hopes of learning what to see going forward.

Of course the game is constantly changing. A fan from the ‘40s that watched a game in 2017 would be blown away by pitch velocities, the size of players, the utter lack of small ball. And the minorities, of course. Why, if trends continue the way they’ve been going, we may well live in a world where baseball is just home runs, walks and strikeouts. Fielders will all be in the outfield, seven feet tall with arms to match in an effort to rob home runs. But when Stephens debuted, some things were eerily similar to now. As Stephens’ Society for American Baseball Research article puts it:

The 1940s witnessed a special group of major league shortstops, including the likes of Lou Boudreau, Phil Rizzuto, Marty Marion, Pee Wee Reese and Johnny Pesky. During his own career, Vern “Junior” Stephens was considered to be as good or better than any of his illustrious peers

The article goes on to mention that Stephens is largely remembered, by those who do remember him, as a one-dimensional slugger, overshadowed by his more famous contemporaries. Which, as the article states, is an unfair evaluation. Suffice to say, he’s glossed over because of the fame and might that his peers possessed. That might happen with Lindor, who knows. He led all shortstops in WAR this year, but one wonders if his ceiling is simply lower than the other guys. Carlos Correa is probably going to make another leap into the MVP sphere. Corey Seager is there already. Manny Machado will find his way back to short sooner rather than later, and if he ends up in New York he’s going to have the engine of the national media behind him. If Tribe fans get their wish and Lindor stays in Cleveland forever, he will be at a fame disadvantage simply by virtue of his location and team resources. In the ever-growing mess of media outlets and inputs we have pouring at us in the social media age, one has to hope he won’t be forgotten in the shuffle. How you could forget that smile is beyond me, but some things defy logic.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: January 29, 2018. Last Updated: January 29, 2018.