Top 100 Indians: #57 Joe Gordon

Hall of Famer Joe Gordon - WM. C. Greene via Sporting News archives

At #57, we finally arrive at a second baseman, slugger Joe Gordon …

Joseph Lowell Gordon (Flash)

Second Baseman, 1947-1950

Height: 5'10" Weight: 180 lbs

Throws: Right Bats: Right

How Acquired: Trade, October 11, 1946: Traded by the New York Yankees for Allie Reynolds

Left Via: Released, October 27, 1950

Joe Gordon was born in Los Angeles, to Benjamin and Louise, their second son. Unfortunately, Ben got very sick shortly after Joe's birth, and the family moved to Oatman, Arizona. Ben never recovered and died when Joe was only 4. As Louise was now a widowed mother of two, she moved the family closer to family in Portland, Oregon.

As a junior attending Jefferson High School, Joe played center field for the Democrats and also won the state title on a semi-pro team the summer before his senior season. He was a talented halfback on the football team who won both city and state titles his senior year, the defense never giving up a single point. He moved to shortstop as well during that spring. In non-athletic endeavors, Gordon was also a talented violinist who played for the Portland Symphony Orchestra as a 14 year old.

After graduating, Joe made the two hour trek to Eugene to be a Duck at the University of Oregon. He did play football as a freshman, but made his mark as the shortstop for the Northwest Conference champions in 1934 and 1935. After baseball season was over, he also was a gymnastics team member for Oregon. In college he also received the nickname Flash, not for the DC Comic hero, but rather his favorite comic strip, Flash Gordon, which debuted in 1934.

After the 1936 season, Gordon played winter ball in Los Angeles, where he would finally garner some scout's attention instead of playing in anonymity in Oregon. Bill Essick covered the Los Angeles area for the Yankees at that time, and inked Gordon to an amateur free agent contract in early 1936. He reported to the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League (AA), and received his first break, when the starting shortstop broke his finger fairly early in the season. Gordon stepped in, and up, hitting .300 with 33 doubles and 6 homers in 143 games as a 21 year old.

His solid 1936 debut got Gordon an invite to spring training in 1937. The incumbent shortstop Frank Crosetti was entering his prime at age 26, but second baseman Tony Lazzeri was already 33. So Yankee manager Joe McCarthy had Gordon switch positions again. Lazzeri showed him some tricks of the trade even though it could cost him his job. Gordon did not make the team that spring and ended up playing for the other Yankees AA affiliate, the Newark Bears of the International League (there were no AAA leagues until 1946). There he broke out as a power hitter, hitting .280 and slugging .474 with 33 doubles and 26 homers and playing for future Tribe manager, Ossie Vitt. Lazzeri did end up under performing that season and was released, ensuring Gordon the job for 1938.

Gordon's rookie season was very good, 255/340/502 108 OPS+ with 24 doubles, 7 triples and 25 homers. This earned him 12th place in MVP voting and would have been in the discussion for Rookie of the Year if the award had existed. After winning the World Series, he returned to the University of Oregon to complete his physical education bachelor's degree and enjoy his belated honeymoon (he had gotten married that June).

From 1939 to 1943, Gordon made every All-Star game and received votes in MVP voting. He has voted as the MVP in 1942 when he had his best season, 322/409/491 154 OPS+, 18 homers and 103 RBI. But it wasn't just his offensive prowess that got him the accolades. Gordon was also a gifted fielder, with his dWAR at 1.9 or better in every season from 1939-1943.

Gordon would miss 1944 and 1945, serving as a pilot in the Army Air Force based out of San Diego and Hawaii. He did also play for the Seventh Air Force team, which was regarded as one of the better service teams. He even made a stealth appearance in a softball game in Guam, playing as Joe Hollister of the Philadelphia Bulletin, a ringer against the Navy censors. He only appeared as a pinch hitter, smacking the first pitch foul over a hill behind the ballfield. The censors protested and Gordon was booted from the game.

After returning from the war effort, Gordon had a rough year in 1946, 210/308/338 78 OPS+ but still made the All-Star team on reputation. The ownership of the Yankees had changed and Larry MacPhail had taken over as general manager. MacPhail ordered manager Bill Dickey to bench Gordon midseason, but he refused and Dickey later resigned. The rampant rumors late in 1946 had Gordon being traded to the Indians for Lou Boudreau. New owner and general manager Bill Veeck did end up trading for Gordon, but sent Allie Reynolds to the Yankees instead in a deal that actually benefited both teams.

Gordon rebounded quite nicely in 1947, 272/346/496 135 OPS+ with 29 homers and 93 RBI and pairing with Boudreau to make one of the best fielding double play combinations ever to that point. He continued his All-Star appearance streak and finished 7th in MVP voting. He continued to punish pitching in 1948, 280/371/507 135 OPS+, 32 home runs, 124 RBI, an All-Star appearance and a 6th place finish in MVP voting (behind winner Boudreau). That season culminated in the Indians first title in 28 years, and although he struggled in the World Series, he did hit a home run to spark the Tribe's clinching Series win in Game 6.

But Gordon's largest legacy of those 1947-48 squads might have been his openness in accepting Larry Doby as a teammate. He openly played catch with him when the rest of the team was unsure of what to do. He also helped Doby as an outfielder as Doby had previously played infield before arriving with the Indians. He helped position him based on the hitter and situation. Gordon's reputation as a first class player and veteran helped Doby become an integral part of those late 1940s and early 1950s teams.

Gordon regressed in 1949, 251/355/407 103 OPS+, but still hit 20 home runs and had 84 RBI, making his final All-Star appearance. In 1950, his production eroded a bit more, 236/340/429 99 OPS+, ending his All-Star streak at nine games. But he spent most of that year tutoring Bobby Avila, like Lazzeri had done for him. He was released after the season.

He returned to the PCL in 1951, as player-manager for the Sacramento Solons. He dominated the league as a 36 year old, 299/399/627, 43 homers and 136 RBI, but the team wasn't all that good, finishing in 7th. The Solons finished in dead last in 1952, and Gordon's numbers tanked as well, 246/340/424. The Tigers hired him in 1953 as scout supervisor of the West Coast. The Red Sox then hired him to manage the San Francisco Seals of the PCL in 1956. He won the league championship in 1957. But in 1958 the New York Giants moved to San Francisco, so the Red Sox moved that AAA team to Minneapolis. Gordon declined the offer to continue on as skipper and instead sold insurance, staying on the West Coast.

In 1958, the Indians fired Bobby Bragan in June and coaxed Gordon to become their manager. They played relatively well the last half of the year, going 46-40. In 1959, Trader Lane had picked up Billy Martin in a deal with the Tigers. While Gordon appreciated his aggressive style, the two ended up feuding most of the season. By September, Gordon had grown tired of Lane meddling with the roster and nitpicking his lineup decisions. He announced he wouldn't return in 1960. Lane fired him after those comments, but reinstated him after fans complained. That would only last a few days, as Lane fired him again after the White Sox clinched the AL pennant on September 22, naming Mel Harder as interim manager. Two days later, Lane and Gordon patched thing up and Gordon was rehired yet again.

Opening day in 1960 was eventful as Lane had just traded Rocky Colavito to the Tigers for Harvey Kuenn. Gordon openly defended the trade, which now put Gordon on the fans bad side with Lane. For some reason, Lane and Tiger general manager Bill DeWitt couldn't stop talking trades, and on August 3, they consummated the first ever manager for manager swap, Gordon heading to the Tigers and Jimmy Dykes back to Cleveland. Gordon resigned after the season was over.

In 1961, general manager Frank Carroll of the Kansas City Athletics hired Gordon to be their skipper. But shortly after that occurred, Carroll was replaced by none other than Trader Lane himself. Gordon lasted until mid-June before Lane fired him yet again. He worked as a scout and batting instructor for the expansion Los Angeles Angels from 1962-1968. He got one last shot as the manager for the expansion Kansas City Royals in 1969, but did not return in 1970. He ended up selling real estate and passed away at 63 in Sacramento.

Gordon was voted into the University of Oregon's Hall of Fame in 1992. He stayed on the MLB Hall of Fame ballot until 1970, but the best percentage he received was 28.5% in 1969. He did make it into the Hall of Fame posthumously in 2009, being voted in by the Veteran's Committee. The Indians had elected him into their Hall of Fame the previous summer and he was selected as one of their 100 greatest players of all time in 2001.

This is all pretty impressive considering he really only had two great seasons with the Tribe and only played four years total. But those four years allowed him to land at 30th in WAR for position players, 12th in dWAR, tied for 25th in slugging, 28th in OPS and 23rd in home runs.

Sources

Wikipedia, SABR Biography Project-Joseph Wancho

Indians Career Stats

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB GDP HBP SH Pos Awards
1947 32 CLE 155 626 562 89 153 27 6 29 93 7 3 62 49 .272 .346 .496 .842 135 279 16 1 1 *4 AS,MVP-7
1948 33 CLE 144 633 550 96 154 21 4 32 124 5 2 77 68 .280 .371 .507 .879 135 279 16 3 3 *4/6 AS,MVP-6
1949 34 CLE 148 633 541 74 136 18 3 20 84 5 6 83 33 .251 .355 .407 .762 103 220 20 4 4 *4 AS
1950 35 CLE 119 430 368 59 87 12 1 19 57 4 1 56 44 .236 .340 .429 .770 99 158 10 2 3 *4
CLE (4 yrs) 566 2322 2021 318 530 78 14 100 358 21 12 278 194 .262 .354 .463 .817 120 936 62 10 11
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/8/2013.

Selected Awards/Leaders

Hall of Fame: Veterans Committee, 2009

AL All-Star: 1947, 1948, 1949

AL MVP: 6th, 1948; 7th, 1947;

AL WAR/WAR Position Players: 3rd, 1947-6.7; 4th, 1948-6.4

AL oWAR: 4th, 1947-5.0; 5th, 1948-4.7

AL dWAR: 1st, 1949-2.1; 2nd, 1947-2.4; 2nd, 1948-2.3; 8th, 1950-0.7

AL Slugging: 3rd, 1947-.496; 6th, 1948-.507

AL OPS: 5th, 1947-.842; 8th, 1948-.879

AL Runs Scored: 7th, 1947-89; 10th, 1948-96

AL TB: 2nd, 1947-279; 7th, 1948-279

AL HR: 2nd, 1947-29; 2nd, 1948-32; 9th, 1949-20

AL RBI: 4th, 1948-124; 7th, 1947-93

AL OPS+: 4th, 1947-135; 6th, 1948-135

AL RC: 5th, 1947-96; 8th, 1948-103

AL Extra Base Hits: 3rd, 1947-62; 7th, 1948-57

AL Hit By Pitch: 7th, 1949-4

AL Double Plays Grounded Into: 5th, 1949-20; 8th, 1947-16

AL WPA: 2nd, 1947-3.5; 7th, 1948-3.0

AL Assists: 3rd, 1947-466

AL Putouts as 2B: 3rd, 1947-341; 5th, 1949-297

AL Assists as 2B: 1st, 1947-466; 3rd, 1949-430; 4th, 1948-436

AL Double Plays Turned as 2B: 2nd, 1947-110; 3rd, 1949-123; 5th, 1948-97

AL Range Factor/Game 2B: 5th, 1947-5.21; 5th, 1948-5.32

Cleveland Indians Career Leader

  • 30th WAR Position Players (18.9)
  • 45th oWAR (13.8)
  • 12th dWAR (7.4)
  • t-49th On Base Percentage (.354)
  • t-25th Slugging (.463)
  • 28th OPS (.817)
  • 23rd Home Runs (100)
  • 49th Bases On Balls (278)
  • t-28th OPS+ (120)
  • 34th Double Plays Grounded Into (62)
  • 33rd Win Probability Added (5.0)

Cleveland Indians Season Leader

  • t-32nd WAR Position Players (6.7, 1947)
  • t-40th WAR Position Players (6.4, 1948)
  • t-14th dWAR (2.4, 1947)
  • t-16th dWAR (2.3, 1948)
  • t-22nd dWAR (2.1, 1949)
  • 32nd Home Runs (32, 1948)
  • t-16th Runs Batted In (124, 1948)
  • t-24th Double Plays Grounded Into (20, 1949)
  • 43rd Win Probability Added (3.5, 1947)
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