Sisler in 1915
|First baseman / Manager|
|Born: March 24, 1893|
|Died: March 26, 1973 (aged 80)|
Richmond Heights, Missouri
|June 28, 1915, for the St. Louis Browns|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 22, 1930, for the Boston Braves|
|Runs batted in||1,175|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Member of the National|
|Baseball Hall of Fame|
|Vote||85.8% (fourth ballot)|
George Harold Sisler (March 24, 1893 - March 26, 1973), nicknamed "Gorgeous George", was an American professional baseball first baseman and player-manager. He played in Major League Baseball (MLB) for the St. Louis Browns, Washington Senators and Boston Braves. He managed the Browns from 1924 through 1926.
Sisler played college baseball for the University of Michigan and was signed by the St. Louis Browns as a free agent in 1915. He won the American League batting title in 1920 and 1922. In 1920 he set the major league record for hits with 257 which stood for 84 years and had a batting average of .407 (the seventh highest after 1900). In 1922 he won the AL Most Valuable Player Award, he finished with a batting average of .420 which is the third highest batting average ever recorded after 1900. An attack of sinusitis in 1923 caused Sisler's play to decline, but he continued to play in the majors until 1930. After Sisler retired as a player, he worked as a major league scout and aide.
A two time batting champion, Sisler led the league in hits twice, triples twice, and stolen bases four times. He collected 200 or more hits six times in his career, and had a batting average of over .300 a total of 13 times throughout his career. His career batting average of .340 is the 16th highest of all time, Sisler was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939.
Sisler was born in the unincorporated hamlet of Manchester (now part of the city of New Franklin, a suburb of Akron, Ohio). His paternal ancestors were immigrants from Northern Germany in the middle of the 19th century. Manchester did not have a high school and when it was time to start, Sisler moved to Akron to live with his older brother so that he could attend school there. Sisler was an athletic student and played baseball, baseketball and football in high school, but was more focused on baseball. In 1910, when Sisler was a high school senior, his brother Efbert died of tuberculosis, but Sisler was able to move in with a local family and finish school.
In 1911, Sisler signed a contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates to play minor league baseball in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League, but he never played in the league or earned any money and instead played college ball for the University of Michigan. As a freshman pitcher, Sisler struck out 20 batters in seven innings during a 1912 game. He lettered in baseball from 1913 to 1915. At Michigan he played for coach Branch Rickey while earning a degree in mechanical engineering. After he graduated from Michigan, Sisler sought legal advice from Rickey about the status of his contract with Pittsburgh. The three-time Vanity Fair All-American had become highly sought-after by major league scouts. Rickey talked to Pittsburgh owner Barney Dreyfuss about releasing Sisler from the contract he had signed as a minor, but Dreyfuss maintained his claim to Sisler. Rickey wrote to the National Commission, baseball's governing body, who ruled that the contract was illegal. Rickey, now managing the St. Louis Browns, signed Sisler to a contract worth $7,400 (equivalent to $183,272 in 2018).
On June 28, 1915 Sisler made his major league debut, he entered in relief against the Chicago White Sox, he pitched three scoreless innings and struck out two batters, at the plate he collected his first major league hit. A few days later, on July 3 he pitched a complete game victory for his first major league start, in the start he struck out nine batters but also walked nine. It was after this start that Rickey decided to transition Sisler to first base. On August 29, Sisler defeated Walter Johnson in a complete game 2-1 victory. In 1916 Sisler transitioned fully to first base and played the position for 141 games. His .305 batting average led the team, as did his hits (177), his 24 errors that year led the American League for first basemen.
On August 11, 1917, in the second game of a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Athletics, Sisler recorded three hits in four at bats. Over the next 26 games he would record at least one hit and bat .422 throughout his 26 game hit streak. Sisler led the team in most offensive categories and his .353 batting average was second in the American League, behind Ty Cobb. The Selective Service Act of 1917 was passed in May of 1917, and with it, the draft was enacted in the offseason. Sisler's teammates Urban Shocker and Ken Williams were assigned Class 1 in the draft, placing them at the top of the draft eligibility list. Ken Williams would only play two games in the 1918 season before being drafted. Sisler was listed as Class 4 much further down on the list. He then enlisted in the army, joining several major league players in a Chemical Warfare Service unit commanded by Rickey. In 1918 he only played in 114 games but was able to steal 45 bases, which led the league, and placed third in the American league with a .341 batting average. Sisler was preparing to go overseas when World War I ended that November.
In 1920, Sisler played every inning of each game. He stole 42 bases (second in the American League), collected a major league-leading 257 hits for an average of .407 and ended the season by hitting .442 in August and .448 in September. His batting average was the highest ever for a 600+ at-bat performance. In breaking Ty Cobb's 1911 record for hits in a single season, Sisler established a mark which stood until Ichiro Suzuki broke the record with 262 hits in 2004. (Suzuki, however, collected his hits over 161 games during the modern 162-game season as opposed to 154 in Sisler's era.) Sisler finished second in the AL in doubles and triples, as well as second to Babe Ruth in RBIs and home runs.
Jim Barrero of the Los Angeles Times asserts that Sisler's record was largely overshadowed by Ruth's 54 home runs that season. "Of course, Ruth's obliteration of the home run record drew all the attention from fans and newspapermen, while Sisler's mark was pushed to the side and perhaps left unappreciated during what was a golden age of pure hitters", Barrero wrote. As his popularity increased, Sisler drew comparisons to Cobb, Ruth and Tris Speaker. Sisler, however, was much more reserved than those three stars. Writer Floyd Bell described Sisler as "modest, almost to a point of bashfulness, as far from egotism as a blushing debutante... Shift the conversation to Sisler himself and he becomes a clam."
In 1922, Sisler hit safely in 41 consecutive games, an American League record that stood until Joe DiMaggio broke it in 1941. His .420 batting average is the third-highest of the 20th century, surpassed only by Nap Lajoie's .426 in 1901 and Rogers Hornsby's .424 in 1924. Sisler also led the AL in hits (246), runs (134), stolen bases (51), and triples (18). He was chosen as the AL's Most Valuable Player that year, the first year an official league award was given, as the Browns finished second to the New York Yankees. Sisler's 1922 season is considered by many historians to be among the best individual all-around single-season performances in baseball history.
A severe attack of sinusitis caused him double vision in 1923, forcing him to miss the entire season. He defied some predictions by returning in 1924 with a batting average over .300. Sisler later said, "I planned to get back in uniform for 1924. I just had to meet a ball with a good swing again, and then run. The doctors all said I'd never play again, but when you're fighting for something that actually keeps you alive - well, the human will is all you need." Sisler never regained his previous level of play, though he continued to hit over .300 in six of his last seven seasons and led the AL in stolen bases for a fourth time in 1927.
In 1928, the Browns sold Sisler's contract to the Washington Senators, who in turn sold the contract to the Boston Braves in May. After batting .340, .326, and .309 in his three years in Boston, he ended his major league career with the Braves in 1930, then played in the minor leagues.
Sisler accumulated a .340 lifetime batting average over his 16 years in the majors and stole 375 bases during his career. He had 200+ hits in six seasons. He hit over .300 thirteen times, including two seasons in which he hit over .400; 1926 was the only full season in which Sisler's average was less than .300. He stole over 25 bases in every year from 1916 through 1922, peaking with 51 the last year and leading the league three times. He holds the Baltimore Orioles' records for career batting average, triples, and stolen bases, as well as batting average, on-base percentage, hits, on-base plus slugging, and total bases in a season. In 1939, Sisler became one of the first entrants elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He posted a career pitching record of 5-6 with a 2.35 earned run average in 24 career mound appearances. He defeated Walter Johnson twice in complete-game victories.
After his playing career, Sisler reunited with Rickey as a special assignment scout and front-office aide with the St. Louis Cardinals, Brooklyn Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates. Sisler and Rickey worked with future Hall of Famer Duke Snider to teach the young Dodgers hitter to accurately judge the strike zone. Sisler was part of a scouting corps that Rickey assigned to look for black players, though the scouts thought they were looking for players to fill an all-black baseball team separate from MLB. Sisler evaluated Jackie Robinson as a potential star second baseman, but he was concerned about whether Robinson had enough arm strength to play shortstop. With the Pirates in 1961, Sisler had Roberto Clemente switch to a heavier bat. Clemente won the league batting title that season.
Sisler's sons Dick and Dave were also major league players in the 1950s. Sisler was a Dodgers scout in 1950 when his son Dick hit a game-winning home run against Brooklyn to clinch the pennant for the Phillies and eliminate the second-place Dodgers. When asked after the pennant winning game how he felt when his son beat his current team, the Dodgers, George replied, "I felt awful and terrific at the same time." A passage in The Old Man and the Sea refers to Dick Sisler's long home run drives. Another son, George Jr., served as a minor league executive and as the president of the International League.
In 1999 editors at The Sporting News ranked Sisler 33rd on their list of "Baseball's 100 Greatest Players". Outside of St. Louis' Busch Stadium, there is a statue honoring Sisler. He is also honored with a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. In October 2004, Ichiro Suzuki broke Sisler's 84 year old hit record, collecting his 258th hit off of Texas Rangers pitcher Ryan Drese. Sisler's daughter Frances (Sisler) Drochelman and other members of his family were in attendance when the record was broken. While in St. Louis for the 2009 All-Star game, Ichiro Suzuki visited Sisler's grave site.Tarpon Springs, Florida honored George by naming the former spring training home of the St. Louis Browns "Sisler Field". The fields were later taken over by the local Little League teams, and are still in use.
| Single season base hit record holders
| Hitting for the cycle
August 8, 1920
August 13, 1921
| Cover of Time Magazine
March 30, 1925