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Doc Cramer

A photo of Doc Cramer.

Roger Maxwell "Doc" Cramer (July 22 1905September 9 1990) was an American center fielder and left-handed batter in Major League Baseball who played for four American League teams from 1929 to 1948. A mainstay at the top of his team's lineup for many years, he led the AL in at bats a record seven times and in singles five times. He batted over .300 several times, primarily with the Philadelphia Athletics and Boston Red Sox, and retired among the league's career leaders in hits (10th, 2705), games played (10th, 2239) and at bats (5th, 9140). One of the few major leaguers to play regularly in center field at age 40, he also ended his career among the major leagues' all-time leaders in games in center field (3rd, 2031) and outfield putouts (4th, 5412), and ranked seventh in AL history in total games in the outfield (2142).


Born in Beach Haven, New Jersey, Cramer was an elegant center fielder with a little speed and a powerful arm. He was nicknamed "Flit," which was the name of a popular insecticide, by sportswriter Jimmy Isaminger for his great ability to judge fly balls; in other words, he was "death to flies." Indeed, he led AL outfielders in putouts in 1936 and 1938.

After he began playing semi-pro ball in New Jersey in 1928, he was signed by the Philadelphia Athletics and hit .404 to with the Blue Ridge League batting championship in 1929. He played with the Athletics' powerful championship teams of 1929-1931, breaking in gradually, though in the postseason he only made two pinch-hitting appearances in the 1931 World Series. After hitting .336 in 92 games in 1932, his place on the team was secure. On June 20, 1932, he tied a major league record by going 6-for-6 in a nine-inning game (and later became the only AL player to do it twice (on July 13, 1935)). He scored 100 runs in a season for the first time in 1933. He also hit for the cycle on June 10, 1934. In 1934, Cramer set a team record among left-handed hitters with 202 hits, and topped it in 1935 with 214 – still the Athletics franchise record for a left-handed batter; he finished eighth in the 1935 MVP voting. But the fortunes of the A's declined just as Cramer was becoming a solid, everyday player, leading to the star players on the financially struggling team being sent to other teams. Al Simmons and Jimmy Dykes were sold to the Chicago White Sox on the same day in September 1932, and Lefty Grove and Mickey Cochrane were traded away after the 1933 season. Jimmie Foxx was traded to the Red Sox in December 1935, and Cramer joined him a month later.

Cramer was a spray leadoff hitter who mostly slapped singles and sometimes stretched singles into doubles -- although he was a non-factor as a base stealer. He batted over .300 every year from 1937 to 1940 with Boston, scoring 100 runs in 1938 and 1939, and tied for the league lead in hits (200) in 1940. He was traded to the Washington Senators on December 12 of that year, and was sent to the Detroit Tigers exactly one year later after hitting .273. He was selected for the All-Star game five times (1935, 1937-40).

Two years after hitting over .300 for the last time with the 1943 Tigers, in 1945 Cramer played 140 games in center field at age 40 (albeit during World War II, when many regular players were in military service), and finally enjoyed significant play in the Fall Classic. In the 1945 World Series he led the team with a .379 batting average, scoring seven runs and batting in four, to help his team to win the Series 4-3 against the Chicago Cubs. He had two runs and an RBI in Game 5, and again in Game 7. In his final seasons he was often used as a pinch-hitter, and he led the league with nine pinch hits in 1947 before ending his career with four games in 1948.

Cramer was not known as a power-hitter and liked to tell people about the time he was walked so the opposing pitcher could pitch to Hank Greenberg. The Tigers had men on second and third, and they walked Cramer to load the bases and set up a force play. Greenberg followed by hitting a greand slam. Interviewed by Donald Honig in the 1970s, Cramer told of how he would tease Greenberg: "So anywhere I go and Hank is there, I always say, 'You know, once they walked me to get to Hank Greenberg' --- and never tell 'em what happened, and then Hank always jumps up and says, 'Hey, tell 'em what happened.' But I never do; I just leave it at that." (Donald Honig, "Baseball When the Grass Was Real" (1975), p. 207)

In his 20-season career, Cramer batted .296 with 2705 hits, 1357 runs, 37 home runs, 842 RBI, 396 doubles, 109 triples, 62 stolen bases, and a .340 on base percentage in 2239 games. By team, he batted .308 for the Athletics, .302 for the Red Sox, .282 for the Tigers, and .273 for the Senators. Cramer rarely struck out, leading the AL four times in at bats-per-striketouts, and finishing in the top four five other seasons. His 2031 games in center field placed him behind only Tris Speaker (2690) and Ty Cobb (2194) in major league history. His 2705 hits are the most of any player retired before 1975 who has not been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

As a White Sox batting coach from 1951 to 1953, Cramer tutored the young second baseman Nellie Fox; frequently, Fox credited Cramer with making him a major league hitter.

Cramer died in Manahawkin, New Jersey at 85 years of age. There is a street there named in his honor (Doc Cramer Blvd.), as well as a youth baseball tournament, the Doc Cramer Invitational Baseball Tournament, held in Manahawkin every July.

The argument for electing Cramer to the Hall of Fame is debatable. His lifetime batting average of .296 is only a bit better than the .283 overall average of all the players against whom he competed in a high-average era. For example, Cramer's 1936 season batting average of .292, consisting of 188 hits in 643 at bats, was actually below the overall American League average of .306 for that year. Cramer also did not draw many walks, so his lifetime on base percentage of .340 ends up being lower than the .357 overall percentage in the AL during his career. His lack of walks and his relative weakness on the basepaths (62 stolen bases in his entire career, against 73 times caught stealing) are drawbacks for a batter who hit at the top of the order. Given that Cramer was also not a power hitter (37 home runs, less than two per year), he was probably below average as an offensive force; that is true for almost every one of Cramer's seasons as well as for his career in aggregate. (It should be noted that Fenway Park and Griffith Stadium, where he played the middle third of his career, were difficult home run parks for any left-handed hitter.) Cramer ranks as slightly better than average for 1932 and 1935 but not any other season; in most of his "peak" seasons, he was at best a dead-on average player offensively.

For these reasons, renowned baseball historian and statistician Bill James has stated that Cramer was easily the least outstanding outfielder in major league history among players who appeared in 2000 or more games (although only approximately 75-80 players who were primarily outfielders were good enough to have such long careers). James ranked Cramer as only the 91st best center fielder of all time.

Cramer's fielding statistics support the anecdotal evidence and common belief that he was a fine glove man. His lifetime fielding percentage and range factor well exceed league averages for his time.

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