Every period of time has produced these bubbles of artificial fame, which are kept up a while by the breath of fashion, and then break at once and annihilated. The learned often bewail the loss of ancient writers whose characters have survived their works; but perhaps, if we could now retrieve them, we should find them only the Granvilles, Montagues, Stepneys, and Sheffields of their time, and wonder by what infatuation or caprice they could be raised to notice.
- Samuel Johnson, The Rambler No. 106
Look at just about any Indians career franchise leader board, and you'll see Terry Turner's name somewhere on it. He's nestled between Hall of Famers Earl Averill and Lou Boudreau in At Bats, behind Omar Vizquel in Plate Appearances, just ahead of Bobby Avila in Runs Scored, and ahead of both Hal Trosky and Jim Thome in Hits. He even leads a pretty important franchise category, Games Played, five ahead of Napoleon Lajoie. Yet he's an obscure player even in Indians lore, largely for good reason. His offensive statistics are poor even for the era he played in. His best offensive season by far was a 123 OPS+ campaign in 1906; most other seasons, he didn't come close to a league-average OPS.
Yet Turner managed to play more seasons and in more games than any position player in franchise history. So what did Turner bring to the table that allowed him to set these marks?
It was defense.Turner was regarded by his peers as the best defensive infielder in the AL, and second only to Honus Wagner in baseball with the glove. Bill James, in his Historical Baseball Abstract, ranked the Turner-Lajoie double-play combination as the best in the game during the decade of the 1900s. It's difficult to back these opinions up, as all we're given from that era are things like assists, fielding percentage, and double plays, and since Turner was often serving as utility infielder, wasn't a perennial leader in those counting stat categories. His 1906 defensive season, however, was ranked 9th All-Time using Baseball-Reference's Defense WAR statistic. That season, he led the AL with 570 assists; that mark still ranks 12th in MLB history even after five decades of the 162-game season. So there's some evidence of his greatness at the position, though it's rather fleeting. Turner would only play a full season at shortstop three seasons (1905-1907); injuries and illnesses would hamper him most of his early career, and as he got older, he was turned into a super-utility player.
Like most players of his generation, Turner had a cool nickname. "Cotton Top" was given to him by opposing fans early in his career because of his blond hair. Turner, a native of Western Pennsylvania (Mercer County), first made a brief appearance with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but they sold him to Columbus (American Association) after just a couple games. He had two nice offensive seasons in the minors, and Cleveland acquired him towards the end of the 1903 season; he made his AL debut the next season. The Naps needed a shortstop badly; their regular starter, John Gochnaur, hit just .185/.265/.240 the previous season, so Turner had a great opportunity to break into the big leagues. Turner wasn't a whole lot better than Gochnaur in his first season, but apparently his defensive prowess convinced Cleveland to keep him on for the 1905 season.
Turner had one of his best offensive seasons in 1905, hitting .265/.289/.360 (104 OPS+), and playing in every team game. The Naps were one of the best offensive clubs in the league, led by Lajoie (151 OPS+) and Elmer Flick (166 OPS+), and next season they'd put it all together, with Turner helping out a great deal (123 OPS+). Eight of the nine regulars had an OPS+ over 100, three of their four starters (Otto Hess, Addie Joss, and Bob Rhoads) posted an ERA+ over 140, and they had a great defense, led by Turner's great season. But somehow the Naps finished third in the AL; based on their Pythogorean W-L record (98-55), they should have dominated the league, but they won only 89 games and finished seven games behind the White Sox.
That was Turner's high-water mark as an all-around player. He would be an everyday player in 1907, but his offense fell off dramatically. In 1908, when the Naps had another outstanding club, Turner was sidelined most of the season. Bill James believed that this was because of a beaning (Turner was quoted about a past beaning in the Cleveland Press in the aftermath of the Ray Chapman tragedy), although there were several other seasons where it would fit (1909, 1912, 1915). Whatever the cause of his absence, after the 1908 season, Turner would never again play an entire season at shortstop. In today's game, a player with Turner's skill-set would have played for at least 5 or 6 teams, always in-demand as a specialist, but never valuable enough to get him a long-term contract. Turner would play over 600 games at third (then also considered a defense-first position) and shortstop, and even filled in for Lajoie when he was hurt or needed a day off.
Until Kenny Lofton passed him, he held the franchise lead for stolen bases (254). Turner credited himself with introducing the head-first slide to major-league baseball. He had kept injuring his ankle while slide feet-first, so he began using the new technique early in his career.
The Indians released Turner late in the 1918 season. He caught on the with the Athletics in 1919, but only got into 38 games. After his baseball career was over, he got a job with the Cleveland Street Department. He died in Cleveland in 1960, and is buried in Mayfield.
Turner was selected as one of 100 Greatest Indians in 2001, Cleveland's 100th season in the American League.
|CLE (15 yrs)||6515||-72||11||0||0||103||65||212||319||31.0||216||23.7||7.3||$|
|PIT (1 yr)||7||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0.1||1||0.1||0.0||$|
|PHA (1 yr)||136||-12||0||0||0||-1||1||5||-7||-0.9||-6||-0.7||-0.2||$|
Sowell, Mike. The Pitch That Killed.
James, Bill. The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract.
Turner, Scott. "Terry Turner", The Baseball Biography Project at this address.
Ritter, Lawrence. The Glory of Their Times.
Snyder, John. Indians Journal.
and last, but not least, the incomparable Baseball-Reference.com