Schechter: Buzz Arlett created a big buzz in PCL

From SABR member Gabriel Schechter at The National Pastime Museum on September 9, 2013:

The basic story is familiar in baseball history: A hulking, strong-armed young pitcher overwhelms hitters for a few years, winning nearly 100 games before moving to the outfield. There he becomes an astounding slugger, the most feared hitter in the league for the rest of the decade, setting records for career home runs and RBI that most likely will never be broken. 

The catch is that I’m not talking about Babe Ruth. I’m talking about Russell Loris Arlett, the scourge of the Pacific Coast League in the 1920s, a man whose nickname of “Buzz” was a shortened version of “Human Buzz Saw” that celebrated his methodical shredding of opposing pitchers. In 1984, with good reason, SABR named Arlett the best minor league player ever.

Born in Elmhurst, Calif., near Oakland, in 1899, Arlett was the youngest of four brothers. The eldest, Alexander (“Pop”), played for the PCL’s Oakland Oaks, and Russell followed him to spring training in 1918. With little more than a fastball, the right-hander tried out and made the team. But he went just 4-9 in 21 games and wasn’t impressive at the plate, batting .211 with one home run.

That winter, determined to succeed, he mastered the spitball and won 95 games over the next four seasons. His best year was 1920, when he went 29-17 with a 2.86 ERA. That prompted the Detroit Tigers to pursue him until they found out he threw the spitter, soon to be outlawed. He was praised for his nimble fielding, his fastball, and his pitching smarts. In fact, his only weakness seemed to be hitting.

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Originally published: September 13, 2013. Last Updated: September 13, 2013.