Schechter: Jigger Statz, baseball’s longest and best center fielder

From SABR member Gabriel Schechter at The National Pastime Museum on May 11, 2015:

Jigger Statz? Arnold “Jigger” Statz was the “longest” and “best” center fielder? When he retired in 1942 at age 45, Statz held the record for most games played as a professional: 3,473. Of those, 683 were played in the Major Leagues and the rest in the Pacific Coast League (he never played below the AAA level), where he set numerous records, including 18 seasons spent with one team, the Los Angeles Angels.

Statz had gained acclaim a couple of years earlier when he passed previous record-holder Ty Cobb, who logged 3,174 games as a pro. Currently he ranks sixth, trailing Pete Rose, Carl Yastrzemski, Hank Aaron, Eddie Murray, and Rickey Henderson. Only Cobb played center field out of this group, but not as much as Statz did. He manned the center post forever in the minors and 96 percent of the time in the Majors.

So nobody played center field as long as Statz. How good was he? In his definitive history of the Angels, Dick Beverage wrote, “Those who played with and against him considered him without a peer as a defensive outfielder. Of those men spoken to in compiling this history, each said that, without a doubt, Statz was the best centerfielder he had ever seen, either in the majors [or] the minors.” More on how he did it later.

Statz is part of another select group of ballplayers—those who have surpassed 4,000 hits as a pro. In addition to Rose and Cobb, the only two to top that figure in the Majors, the club includes Statz, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Ichiro Suzuki, and Derek Jeter. That’s pretty heady company for a 5 foot, 7½ inch, 145 pounder who went on a diet whenever his weight passed 150. Who was this guy?

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Originally published: May 12, 2015. Last Updated: May 12, 2015.