Top 100 Cleveland Indians: #9 Earl Averill

Earl Averill Goudey baseball card, 1933 - Goudey Gum Company

Next on our countdown was a player who didn't make his major-league debut until his Age 27 season, but made up for lost time.

Howard Earl Averill (Rock, The Earl of Snohomish)

Center Fielder, 1929-1939

Height: 5'9" Weight: 172 lbs

Throws: Right Bats: Left

How Acquired: Purchase, Early 1929, from the San Francisco Seals (PCL)

Left Via: Trade, June 14, 1939: Traded to the Detroit Tigers for Harry Eisenstat

Humble origins

Snohomish, Washington was and still a small town northeast of Seattle. In 1903, the town's main street was paved with brick, and was commemorated with a three-day celebration. Snohomish had a baseball field, though the equipment was rather crude, with homemade leather balls taking the place of machine-made balls. In 1900 Seattle was still a relative backwater, though that would quickly change by 1920, though Snohomish remained a mostly-agrarian town. It was here that one of the greatest center fielders to ever play the game was born in 1902.

Earl Averill grew up playing on Snohomish's baseball field, and quickly became a standout player. When he was 15 a "dead arm" seemingly curtailed a promising career in the outfield. Whatever injury he suffered to his throwing arm prevented him from making the throws from center field, and so for a time he gave up the game, instead going to work at various jobs (including at his brother's greenhouse - growing flowers became a lifelong passion for him).

But at some point his arm recovered, for he began playing again when a baseball team formed in Snohomish. Called the Pilchuckers, Averill started his semi-pro career in 1920 at the age of 18. After several seasons with the Pilchuckers, the local fans encouraged him to try out for the Seattle Indians, Washington's Pacific Coast League team. The PCL, formed in 1912, had quickly become one of the foremost minor leagues in the country, and because there were no major league clubs west of St. Louis, the PCL in some respects was the West Coast's major league.

Averill traveled to San Bernandino, California in the spring of 1924 to try out for the Seattle Indians, and was released. He would play for another semi-pro team in Bellingham that summer, and it looked like he'd stay in semi-pro ball, but an outstanding 1925 season in Bellingham convinced the San Francisco Seals to sign him. He played out the remainder of the '25 campaign in a minor-league team in Anaconda, Montana, then after playing in a California winter league, made his PCL debut for the Seals in 1926. Just to get to this point was quite an odyssey for the now 24-year-old Averill, but his rise was just beginning.

Raw Potential

Averill was nowhere near to a finished product by the time he got to San Francisco. He hadn't had much coaching at all, so even though he lit up the PCL almost immediately, he still had quite a bit to learn about the fundamentals of the game. But still, as an observer almost 100 years later, it's hard to wonder at why it took three full seasons for Averill to move to the majors. At that time there was no real affiliations between the minors and the majors, so it took both sides to agree to the transaction. And in Averill's case, any major league club could have plucked him from San Francisco for the right price.

Finally, after the 1928 season, the Cleveland Indians came calling, and eventually they agreed to pay the Seals $50,000, which was a huge sum of money in those days. But Averill himself almost nixed the deal. As Bill James related in his New HIstorical Abstract, when Averill learned he wouldn't be getting any piece of the money he refused to report to the Indians. Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis actually thought Averill's demand was just, and that the rules should be changed, but nothing came of it. Eventually, Averill got a $5,000 "bonus" and he reported to the Indians.

The Player

In researching this profile, I could find no video of Averill in action, and that wasn't much of a surprise given when he played. All there is is pictures, as presented here in his Hall of Fame profile:


Averill was a slight man, listed at 5'9" and 172 lbs. But within that small frame lurked both the expected defense and quickness but also unexpected power. When the (Cleveland) Indians acquired him in 1929, owner Alva Bradley was taken aback when he first saw him in person. But Averill proved his looks were deceiving, as underneath that baggy uniform was a muscular physique, one that earned him the nickname "Rock". He had an unorthodox swing in which he held the bat low as the pitch came towards home plate. He hardly used his wrists in his swing, sweeping at the ball like he was holding a broom. He used a big bat, and it almost looked like he swinging a bat as big as himself.

It certainly helped that Averill loved hitting in League Park. He hit .360/.439/.625 over the course of his career there, taking advantage of the short porch in right field. Not only did he hit more doubles at home, but he also hit more home runs at home, quite a feat given that the right field wall in League Park was 60 feet high.

It's difficult to remark on his defensive skills, other than the fact that he didn't move to corner until very late in his career, and that when both he and Joe DiMaggio played in All-Star games, it was DiMaggio who moved to right field.

Immediate Impact

Averill made his major-league debut on April 16, 1929. He was 26 years old. The Indians for two years had been searching for a replacement for Tris Speaker, using players like Bernie Neis, Sam Langford, and George Gerken to play center field. But the days of searching were now over, and it was apparent immediately. Averill hit a home run in his first major-league bat, and hit .333/.439/.500 in his first 13 games. He finished his rookie season with a .332/.398/.538, and almost certainly would have won the AL Rookie of the Year had the award been in existence.

The 1929 Indians were coming off two straight second division finishes in the post-Speaker era, but Averill's arrival heralded a return to competitiveness. He wasn't the sole reason why the Indians became an above-.500 club (1929 was Wes Ferrel's first full season as well), but Averill quickly became one of the best players in the American League. In his 11 seasons with the Indians, the club finished below .500 just once. But they also never finished above third place, and were never really in a pennant race, with their closest finish being 12 games behind the Detroit Tigers in 1936.

But even though the Indians never got over the hump while Averill was with them, that didn't mean that Earl's abilities went unnoticed. He was selected as a reserve to the first All-Star Game in 1933, and would be named six consecutive All-Star teams, starting the last three and batting in the middle of the order . He probably would have started in 1935 if not for a July 4th accident; a firecracker exploded in his hand, causing injuries to his hand and chest.

Earl's best season, and one of the best seasons any Indian has ever had, came in 1936. He hit .378/.438/.627 with an astounding 232 hits (in 152 games), 39 doubles, 15 triples, and 28 home runs. He finished third in MVP voting, as Lou Gehrig actually had a better season (.354/.478/.696). Now 34, Averill seemed to be getting better with age.

The Earl Returns to Snohomish

But a congenital spine condition, first diagnosed in 1937, would curtail what was left of his career. The condition affected his legs, making him change his batting stance and slowing him in the field. He managed to play through it for a couple seasons without it affecting his production, but finally, in 1939, it started to take its toll. He was now 37 years old, so undoubtedly age played a part as well. Both player and team knew that the end was near, and an Earl Averill Day was held in Cleveland, with the Indians presenting him with a new Cadillac, a much nicer car than the beat-up Olsmobile he drove to California back in 1926 for his San Francisco tryout.

Averill was dealt to the Detroit Tigers in June 1939, and finished his career with a brief stint with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1941. Then he went home to Washington, helping the Seattle Rainers win the 1941 PCL title. After that, he retired to Snohomish. Unlike many other retired legends, he didn't remain in the game as a coach, instead he ran the family greenhouse, and later ran a motel.

It took Averill 35 years for him to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, which in retrospect seems ludicrous. He only played 13 seasons in the majors, and only 11 full seasons, so he wasn't able to accumulate many of the counting stats that Hall of Famers usually have, but his rate statistics were extraordinary, and eventually the Veterans Committee would elect him into the Hall in 1975. He was the first (and so far, only) Hall of Famer to be born in the state of Washington. After his election, the Indians retired his #3 jersey in a ceremony that year, becoming just the third Cleveland player to receive that honor.

Earl's son Earl Jr. would play in the majors for seven seasons, including with the Indians in 1956 and 1958. Earl Sr. would continue to follow the game, including attending many games in Seattle. Soon after appearing in Chicago for a ceremony recognizing the 50th anniversary of the first official All-Star Game, Averill developed pneumonia and died in August at the age 81.

Sources:

James, Bill. The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (page 730-732)

Drosenhall, Glenn. "Averill, Howard Earl (1902-1983), Baseball Player" HistoryLink.org (Washington State History)

Baseball-Reference

Indians Career Statistics

Year Age Tm G PA R H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ Pos Awards
1929 27 CLE 152 680 110 198 43 13 18 63 53 .332 .398 .538 .936 136 *8O
1930 28 CLE 139 606 102 181 33 8 19 56 48 .339 .404 .537 .941 133 *O8/9
1931 29 CLE 155 701 140 209 36 10 32 68 38 .333 .404 .576 .979 150 *8O MVP-4
1932 30 CLE 153 712 116 198 37 14 32 75 40 .314 .392 .569 .961 138 *8O MVP-4
1933 31 CLE 151 658 83 180 39 16 11 54 29 .301 .363 .474 .837 116 *8O AS,MVP-15
1934 32 CLE 154 705 128 187 48 6 31 99 44 .313 .414 .569 .982 150 *8O AS,MVP-17
1935 33 CLE 140 638 109 162 34 13 19 70 58 .288 .368 .496 .863 120 *8O AS
1936 34 CLE 152 682 136 232 39 15 28 65 35 .378 .438 .627 1.065 157 *8O AS,MVP-3
1937 35 CLE 156 702 121 182 33 11 21 88 65 .299 .387 .493 .880 122 *8O AS,MVP-19
1938 36 CLE 134 567 101 159 27 15 14 81 48 .330 .429 .535 .965 142 *O89 AS,MVP-8
1939 37 CLE 24 61 8 15 8 0 1 6 12 .273 .344 .473 .817 109 O9
CLE (11 yrs) 1510 6712 1154 1903 377 121 226 725 470 .322 .399 .542 .940 136
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/3/2014.

  • Hall of Fame: 1975 (Veteran's Committee)
  • AL All-Star: 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938
  • AL MVP: 1936-3rd, 1931-4th, 1932-4th, 1938-8th; 1933-15th, 1934-17th, 1937-19th
  • AL WAR: 7th, 1934-6.9; 7th, 1936-6.5; 8th, 1931-6.1
  • AL WAR Position Players: 4th, 1934-6.9; 4th, 1936-6.5; 5th, 1931-6.1; 9th, 1932-4.7; 9th, 1938-5.0
  • AL oWAR: 3rd, 1936-6.9; 4th, 1931-6.3; 4th, 1934-6.6; 6th, 1932-5.3; 10th, 1929-5.0; 10th, 1938-4.8
  • AL Average: 2nd, 1936-.378; 6th, 1931-.333; 9th, 1938-.330
  • AL On Base Percentage: 4th, 1936-.438; 4th, 1938-.429; 8th, 1934-.414; 9th, 1931-.404
  • AL Slugging: 4th, 1931-.576; 4th, 1932-.569; 4th, 1936-.627; 5th, 1934-.569; 8th, 1930-.537; 10th, 1929-.538; 10th, 1935-.496
  • AL OPS: 3rd, 1936-1.065; 4th, 1931-.979; 5th, 1932-.961; 6th, 1934-.982; 8th, 1938-.965; 10th, 1930-.941; 10th, 1935-.863
  • AL Runs Scored: 3rd, 1931-140; 3rd, 1934-128; 5th, 1936-136; 7th, 1937-121; 8th, 1935-109; 9th, 1932-116
  • AL Hits: 1st, 1936-232; 2nd, 1931-209; 5th, 1932-198; 9th, 1929-198; 10th, 1933-180; 10th, 1934-187
  • AL TB: 3rd, 1931-361; 3rd, 1936-385; 4th, 1932-359; 5th, 1934-340; 6th, 1933-284; 7th, 1929-321
  • AL 2B: 3rd, 1934-48; 5th, 1929-43; 7th, 1933-39
  • AL 3B: 1st, 1936-15; 2nd, 1933-16; 2nd, 1938-15; 5th, 1932-14; 5th, 1935-13; 8th, 1929-13; 8th, 1937-11
  • AL Home Runs: 3rd, 1931-32; 5th, 1932-32; 5th, 1934-31; 5th, 1936-28; 6th, 1929-18; 8th, 1935-19; 9th, 1930-19
  • AL RBI: 3rd, 1931-143; 5th, 1932-124; 7th, 1934-113; 7th, 1936-126
  • AL Bases on Balls: 5th, 1934-99; 8th, 1937-88
  • AL Strikeouts: 8th, 1929-53; 9th, 1935-58; 9th, 1937-65
  • AL Singles: 4th, 1936-150; 7th, 1931-131
  • AL OPS+: 3rd, 1936-157; 4th, 1931-150; 5th, 1932-138; 6th, 1934-150; 6th, 1938-142
  • AL RC: 2nd, 1936-167; 4th, 1931-141; 4th, 1932-136; 5th, 1934-139; 9th, 1929-123; 9th, 1935-102; 10th, 1933-102
  • AL Extra Base Hits: 3rd, 1932-83; 4th, 1931-78; 4th, 1933-66; 4th, 1934-85; 5th, 1935-66; 5th, 1936-82; 6th, 1929-74
  • AL Hit By Pitch: 1st, 1932-6; 12nd, 1933-5; 3rd, 1931-6; 3rd, 1934-4
  • AL Caught Stealing: 3rd, 1929-14; 10th, 1932-8
  • AL Putouts as CF: 1st, 1929-383; 1st, 1934-410; 2nd, 1932-412; 2nd, 1933-390; 3rd, 1931-398; 4th, 1930-341; 4th, 1935-371; 4th, 1937-362; 5th, 1936-369
  • AL Assists as CF: 1st, 1930-11; 2nd, 1934-12; 3rd, 1929-14; 3rd, 1932-12; 3rd, 1936-11; 4th, 1931-9; 5th, 1938-13
  • AL Errors as CF: 1st, 1929-15; 1st, 1930-19; 1st, 1932-16; 1st, 1933-12; 1st, 1934-13; 2nd, 1936-12; 3rd, 1931-10; 4th, 1937-9; 5th, 1938-9
  • AL Double Plays Turned as CF: 1st, 1930-5; 1st, 1934-3; 2nd, 1933-3; 3rd, 1945-2; 4th, 1929-3; 4th, 1931-3; 4th, 1932-3; 5th, 1937-3
  • AL Putouts as OF: 1st, 1929-383; 1st, 1934-410; 2nd, 1933-390; 3rd, 1931-398; 3rd, 1932-412; 4th, 1930-345; 4th, 1937-362; 5th, 1935-371; 5th, 1936-369
  • AL Assists as OF: 5th, 1938-14
  • AL Errors as OF: 1st, 1930-19; 5th, 1929-15; 5th, 1933-12; 5th, 1934-13
  • AL Double Plays Turned as OF: 1st, 1930-5; 3rd, 1934-3
  • AL Range Factor/Game CF: 2nd, 1934-2.74; 3rd, 1933-2.67; 5th, 1938-2.75
  • AL Fielding Percentage CF: 2nd, 1935-.982; 3rd, 1931-.976; 3rd, 1937-.976; 4th, 1934-.970; 4th, 1938-.973; 5th, 1930-.949; 5th, 1936-.969
  • AL Range Factor/Game OF: 1st, 1934-2.74; 3rd, 1933-2.67; 5th, 1930-2.66

Cleveland Indians Career Leader

  • 5th WAR Position Players (48.0)
  • 4th oWAR (50.5)
  • 8th Average (.322)
  • 7th On Base Percentage (.399)
  • t-5th Slugging (.542)
  • 6th OPS (.940)
  • 8th Games Played (1510)
  • 2nd At Bats (5909)
  • 1st Plate Appearances (6712)
  • 1st Runs Scored (1154)
  • 3rd Hits (1903)
  • 1st Total Bases (3200)
  • 3rd Doubles (377)
  • 1st Triples (121)
  • 4th Home Runs (226)
  • 1st Runs Batted In (1084)
  • 4th Bases On Balls (725)
  • 27th Strikeouts (470)
  • 33rd Stolen Bases (66)
  • 8th Singles (1179)
  • 15th OPS+ (136)
  • 2nd Runs Created (1259)
  • 1st Extra Base Hits (724)
  • t-34th Hit By Pitch (31)
  • 11th Caught Stealing (56)

Cleveland Indians Season Leader

  • 36th WAR (6.8, 1934)
  • t-43rd WAR (6.5, 1936)
  • t-21st oWAR (6.9, 1936)
  • t-26th oWAR (6.6, 1934)
  • t-33rd oWAR (6.3, 1931)
  • t-9th Average (.378, 1936)
  • 45th Average (.339, 1930)
  • t-20th On Base Percentage (.438, 1936)
  • 26th On Base Percentage (.429, 1938)
  • t-46th On Base Percentage (.414, 1934)
  • 32nd Slugging (.576, 1931)
  • t-33rd Slugging (.569, 1932, 1934)
  • 9th OPS (1.065, 1936)
  • t-34th OPS (.982, 1934)
  • 38th OPS (.979, 1931)
  • 43rd OPS (.965, 1938)
  • t-44th OPS (.961, 1932)
  • t-21st At Bats (631, 1932)
  • t-25th At Bats (627, 1931)
  • t-39th At Bats (614, 1936)
  • t-46th At Bats (609, 1937)
  • 16th Plate Appearances (712, 1932)
  • t-25th Plate Appearances (705, 1934)
  • t-29th Plate Appearances (702, 1937)
  • 31st Plate Appearances (701, 1931)
  • 1st Runs Scored (140, 1931)
  • 4th Runs Scored (136, 1936)
  • 10th Runs Scored (128, 1934)
  • t-18th Runs Scored (121, 1937)
  • t-23rd Runs Scored (116, 1932)
  • t-34th Runs Scored (110, 1929)
  • t-38th Runs Scored (109, 1935)
  • 2nd Hits (232, 1936)
  • t-16th Hits (209, 1931)
  • t-30th Hits (198, 1929, 1932)
  • 2nd Total Bases (385, 1936)
  • 7th Total Bases (361, 1931)
  • 8th Total Bases (359, 1932)
  • 16th Total Bases (340, 1934)
  • 24th Total Bases (321, 1929)
  • t-46th Total Bases (300, 1937)
  • t-13th Doubles (48, 1934)
  • t-33rd Doubles (43, 1929)
  • t-14th Triples (16, 1933)
  • t-17th Triples (15, 1936, 1938)
  • t-21st Triples (14, 1932)
  • t-29th Triples (13, 1929, 1935)
  • t-31st Home Runs (32, 1931, 1932)
  • t-43rd Home Runs (31, 1934)
  • 6th Runs Batted In (143, 1931)
  • t-13th Runs Batted In (126, 1936)
  • t-16th Runs Batted In (124, 1932)
  • t-25th Runs Batted In (119, 1930)
  • t-38th Runs Batted In (113, 1934)
  • t-18th Bases On Balls (99, 1934)
  • 15th Singles (150, 1936)
  • t-39th OPS+ (157, 1936)
  • 1st Runs Created (167, 1936)
  • 17th Runs Created (141, 1931)
  • t-19th Runs Created (139, 1934)
  • t-22nd Runs Created (136, 1932)
  • t-42nd Runs Created (123, 1929)
  • 7th Extra Base Hits (85, 1934)
  • 9th Extra Base Hits (88, 1932)
  • t-10th Extra Base Hits (87, 1936)
  • 14th Extra Base Hits (78, 1931)
  • t-24th Extra Base Hits (74, 1929)
  • t-31st Caught Stealing (14, 1929)

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