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Better Than I Thought: Marty Marion

February 20, 2010

I’ve long felt that Marty Marion was wildly overrated. Maybe it’s because he won an award he didn’t really deserve. “Slats” won the 1944 NL MVP with a OPS+ of 91. No, you read that right. Marion was a negative at the plate and still won the MVP Award. Who says the BBWAA doesn’t value defense? At least back then, apparently they did. In Marion’s case, I thought that it might be to the extreme.

Looking back to that 1944 championship season using Rally’s WAR database, Marion did have a fine season, with 4 wins above replacement, but Stan Musial was Stan Musial that year, with a WAR of 9.1. Fellow teammates Johnny Hopp (6) and pitcher Mort Cooper (5.2) also had better years.  Marion wasn’t even the best shortstop in St. Louis that season. That actually would have been Vern Stephens (5.2) of the Browns, who the Cardinals defeated in the World Series that year.

Marion received as much as 40% backing of the BWWAA in the Hall of Fame voting at one point, and his name was often bandied about by the Veterans Committee.  He was also an eight-time All-Star. All of this despite a career line of .247/.320/.339.

Unmistakably, he didn’t receive these accolades because of his hitting prowess, but his glove. See how he compares with another famous Cardinal shortstop, as well as a couple of his contemporaries.

Name Debut Seasons PA WAR WAR/700PA BtRuns wOBA FldRuns Fld/700PA PosAdj.
Smith, Ozzie 1978 19 10501 64.6 4.3 -140 0.33 239 16 147
Marion, Marty 1940 13 6141 29.1 3.4 -131 0.318 130 15 100
Rizzuto, Phil 1941 13 6516 41.6 4.5 -10 0.336 121 13 105
Reese, Pee Wee 1940 16 9470 66.4 4.9 51 0.354 117 9 131

It’s not as if I didn’t believe the reports of how good Marion’s defense was, but his fielding stats bear out how spectacular he was. Marion was actually a bit of an oddity in his day. He was one of the few shortstops that wasn’t, well…short. (14 shortstops played last year that were at least 6 feet tall). At 6-2, he earned the nickname “the Octopus” for his tentacle-like, long arms that would reach out and grab ground-balls.

So yep, he was pretty brutal with the bat, but his defense really was unbelievably good, and it made up for a lot. Ozzie Smith is the benchmark for defensive shortstops, but let’s not forget how amazing Marion really was.  Perhaps had he had a longer career, he may have made it to Cooperstown. He could have been Luis Aparicio before there was a Luis Aparicio, although I guess that would be Rabbit Maranville.

  1. February 20, 2010 6:01 AM

    That’s two posts I’ve read recently who mention Maranville, in addition to two I’ve wrtten lately… defnitely year of the rabbit.

    I love using WAR to find these defensive gems. Thanks for bringing up another one!

    • February 20, 2010 9:31 AM

      Thanks. And best of all, Marion was not a Nazi. (I kid, I kid.)

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