"Gorgeous George" Sisler, a left-handed first baseman, began his major-league baseball career in 1915 with the St. Louis Browns. During his sixteen years in the majors, he played with such baseball luminaries as Ty Cobb (who once called Sisler "the nearest thing to a perfect ballplayer"), Babe Ruth, and Rogers Hornsby. During his illustrious career he was a .340 hitter, twice achieving the rare feat of hitting more than .400. His 257 hits in 1920 is still the record for the "modern" era. Now in The Sizzler, this "legendary player without a legend" gets the treatment he deserves. Rick Huhn presents the story of one of baseball's least appreciated players and studies why his status became so diminished. Huhn argues that the answer lies somewhere amid the tenor of Sisler's times, his own character and demeanor, the kinds of individuals who are chosen as our sports heroes, and the complex definition of fame itself. ... Read more
Customer Reviews (9)
Generally Solid Overview of George Sisler's Baseball Career
George Sisler was the greatest player ever to don a St. Louis Browns baseball uniform. First baseman for the Brownies between 1915 and 1927 Sisler compiled a .340 lifetime batting average, batted over .400 twice, led the league in stolen bases four times, and set a record at first base with 1,528 assists that stood for over sixty years. Appropriately enough, he is ensconced in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown.
He also led the Browns during their most successful era, the 1920s. In 1920 the team finished in the first division for the first time since 1908 with Sisler setting the pace. He led the league with a .407 batting average, drove in 122 runs, and set the single season record of 257 base hits that still stands. Ably assisted by outfielder Ken Williams, who hit 24 home runs and drove in 117, and pitcher Urban Shocker, who won 20 games and lost 10, the Browns made a run at the pennant. In 1921 they finished third, with the same cadre of players. It looked like 1922 would be the year of the Browns, and everyone in St. Louis was poised to take a championship.
They nearly did. In 1922 the Browns won 93 games, the most ever in the franchise's history, but they finished one game behind the New York Yankees. Even so, it was probably the best team in Browns' history. Sisler had a career year, batting a league high .420, and both Williams and Shocker also had exceptional years. The Browns ran neck and neck with the Yankees all summer, and were in first place as late as July 22. The fans in St. Louis were jubilant, rocking the city's center with impromptu street parties and at least one riot. At a game on Labor Day, fans unable to get tickets to the Browns/Cleveland Indians game in St. Louis's Sportsman's Park, a palace of a playing field by the standards of the day, rushed the gate. Police had to restore order. The Browns barely lost the 1922 pennant to the New York Yankees, who went on to lose the World Series to the rival New York Giants.
The 1922 season represented the high-water mark for the Browns. The next year, absent George Sisler, who missed the season with an eye infection that nearly did him in, the Browns slipped to fifth in the league. When Sisler returned in 1924, the team improved its record and vied for the pennant, finishing fourth. It finished third in both 1925 and 1926 but slipped to seventh in 1927, the last year of Sisler's career. After a rebound to third place in 1928, the Browns absent Sisler began a collapse that lasted until their only pennant-winning year of 1944. Ironically, Sisler never played in the postseason, perhaps the greatest player never to have done so.
Rick Huhn tells this story quite well. He concentrates on Sisler's on-field performance and does well in recounting those exploits. He is on less firm footing when dealing with Sisler's personal life; hence my reason to giving this book four instead of five stars. We don't really learn that much about him. Contrary to other colorful characters in the history of baseball, contemporaries Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth come to mind, Sisler led a relatively quiet and noncontroversial life. Consequently, it may not have been easy to find much to report about Sisler. That will have to await future research and further analysis. Meantime, this is an enjoyable book that will be of interest to many students of the MLB.
The Sizzler's Story
George Sisler, the subject of Rick Huhn's book, "The Sizzler," is yetanother of the classic ballplayers of the early 20th century, admired during his career, acknowledged for his achievements during and after his career, slowly forgotten over the years and without a biography until recently.Huhn has stepped in to correct that oversight in Sisler's case, and it is a welcome addition to the baseball greats section of the library.
George Sisler, as Huhn stressed, was not a colorful player: he kept a low profile and let his playing do the talking.There were few incidents in his life where he made waves: signing a professional contract while underage, and the resulting fight for his services helping to lead to the end of the National Commission; his tenure as manager of the St. Louis Browns, his transfer to the Senators in the late 1920s; his sinus infection and the resulting difficulties with Browns management in 1923; but most importantly, his hitting and fielding with the Browns during his greatest years.His record for hits in a season was untouched for 84 years, and his two years with averages over .400 are impressive, even for the time in which he played.He finished second to Ruth in home runs one year, and his Runs Created between 1915 and 1922 surpassed Ruth by over 100.That he was not exactly the same player after sitting out 1923 is a disappointment, but he was certainly honored in his time, named by Ty Cobb in his all-time team as first baseman.
Huhn has provided us with a fine biography of a deserving player, a stand-out performer in his time, and all time.
One other thing: It has been noted that Bill James, author and Society of American Baseball Research member, wrote in his 2001 Historical Baseball Abstract that Sisler is "perhaps the most over-rated player in baseball history." (p. 441)Mr. James is entitled to his opinion; it's his book and he can interpret the statistics in any way he cares to.I've been a SABR member for over 25 years and am familiar with Mr. James' work, and it is quite safe to say that I do not agree with him a good half the time, this being one of those times.If you look back at his 1985 Historical Baseball Abstract, you'll find that he said "George Sisler is probably the only player other than Gehrig who can reasonably be considered the greatest first baseman ever in terms of peak value . . . Sisler was a different type of player, he didn't have the home run pop, but he hit for a higher average, was faster and a better defensive player than Gehrig, and the comparison between the two is not easy." (p. 346)
So what happened?Sisler's statistics didn't change in the 16 years between books; the 1920s didn't change, either.Most of the guys who seemingly leap-frogged over him in performance were done playing before 1985.Mr. James explains on page of the 2001 book that in rereading the 1985 book there are a lot of things that he didn't like.As I said, it's his book and he writes what he wants, but that doesn't mean I'm buying what he's pushing on me.In terms of perspective of the times, Sisler was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1939, in the year of the inauguration of the Hall of Fame, as was Gehrig.A number of guys who jumped ahead of him on the list of top first basemen won't get in the Hall except with a ticket.If this makes Mr. James an over-rated writer, well, I won't say that he is or isn't.But you can make up your mind whether the old Bill James is also the new Bill James, and which one you want to believe.
Great Player No One Knows About
This is a very good book about a legend of the game. It is a very good read and provides a lot of insight on how Sisler was perceived by many of his peers. My only problem with the book is the author mistakenly saying that Roberto Clemente was from the Dominican Republic. A glaring mistake like this makes me wonder what other facts might be wrong.
Sisler overrated?No way!
In response to "J.F. Baseball history nut, music fan", I think the point of Sisler's talent has been missed.I won't go so far as to call Mr. J.F, etc. a moron, but he has certainly missed the boat on some things.
J.F, et. al. tosses around some players who were "better" than Sisler.Let's pick one and compare their stats.How about Jack Clark?True, Sisler didn't walk very much, but he also didn't strike out very much.How many times did he strike out?Try 327 times, in approximately 8200 AB.How many times did Jack Clark strike out?Try 1441 in approximately 6800 AB.('Nuf said.)Interestingly, Clark and Sisler have an identical OBP, of .379, and Clark has a slightly higher slugging number -- about 10 points higher.Looking at those two stats, they appear somewhat equal, but look at the hit totals:Sisler, 2812; Clark 1826.You see, Sisler wasn't "taking" walks because he was too busy actually getting hits!So, Clark has a thousand fewer hits, and struck out about a thousand more times.Even taking into consideration the ~800 more walks Clark had, I would still rather have Sisler on my team.
PLUS, Sisler scored about 100 more runs than Clark -- on fewer walks, home runs, and in fewer seasons played.This could be because Sisler also stole about 300 more bases than Clark did, or maybe that he hit about 100 more doubles than Clark.Or, maybe, that Clark was a big, dopey power hitter who could do little more than swat the ball a pretty fair distance when he was lucky enough to hit it at all.In essence, this means that while Clark had bigger power numbers, and leads Sisler in the sexy stats of modern baseball analysis, he really wasn't a better player.Not even close.To understand statistics you have to analyze things for yourself and deduce what they really mean -- don't rely on the percentage stats at the end of the row.
This is such a silly comparison, I don't even know why I'm continuing to waste my time on it.I'm not even mentioning Sisler's fielding prowess, and all the ancedotal evidence for his greatness.(Do you think the most "overrated player ever" would have been the first firstbaseman elected to the Hall of Fame?Think about it.)
I could go on, but I think I'm done.
Finally, read the book.It may not be the best piece of baseball writing ever, but don't let J.F.&Company's ridiculous critique hold you back.
Ignore that last review
This last moron to post a review bashed Sisler saying that he is overrated, mostly noted because he hardly hit home runs. I didn't think one had to hit home runs in order to be a Hall of Famer. It's obvious he wasn't a slugger - but just look at this: Twice he was second in the AL in long balls and five times he was in the top 10; on six occasions he was in the top 5 in slugging percentage. Seven times he was top 10 in RBI, four times the steals champ. Let's throw in an MVP for good measure. The list goes on reflecting Sisler's above-average speed and outstanding hitting ability (over 200 hits in 6 different seasons, very easily could have been 8).
Don't allow the lack of Sisler power numbers deter you from reading this book.
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