Jack Graham, Browns' 1949 first baseman
Whateverr happened to cause Jack Graham to be the Browns first baseman for the 1949 season only? He was a major home run hitter in the minor leagues, and hit 24 home runs in his only season with the Browns, but played only two seasons in the majors (1946 with Dodgers / Giants) and 1949 with the Browns.
He apparently was an older player when he reached the majors, but his stats do not suggest that he had any major problems, such as being a real butcher in the field, or excessive striking out, or painfully slow on the bases.
The Browns weren't exactly overstocked with qualified major leaguers in the late 1940s/early 50s, so what would have led to Graham's short major league career and his exit after only one productive season for the Browns?
Any old-timers out here have any information?
This is pure conjecture in my part as I never saw him play, but my guess would be that he may have some flaw that the stats don't necessarily show like perhaps he just couldn't hit a Major League level curve ball. You're right, though, he clobbered the heck out of the ball during the course of his pro career in the minors, and had a pretty darn solid season in '49 leading St. Louis in homers. My guess is that management looked at his sub-par batting average and decided to look elsewhere for help at first base. The next season, Don Lenhardt put up similar, if not slightly better, power stats while actually hitting for a higher batting average and getting on base more often so I can't blame the Browns. It's just a shame that Graham didn't get another shot at the Big Leagues.
Also conjecture, but 1. He would have been 34 at the start of the 1950 season; 2. He didn't hit for average; 3. He struck out often for the times (9th in AL); 4. He couldn't hit lefties (which I did read in a piece on him); 5. His fielding was subpar (lower than league average); 6. They had a younger, better versions in righty Don Lenhardt and lefty Hank Arft.
Just to add on ... from the April 5, 1950 edition of The Sporting News:
"Hank Arft stepped right out to clinch the job he lost last spring to Jack Graham, recently sold to San Diego." Arft had hit .378 in the first 15 exhibition games.
"[Browns manager Zach] Taylor regards the suburban St. Louis athlete as definitely better afield than Graham."
It looks like Graham signed a deal with the Browns on March 7 then was sold two days later. Graham wasn't signing because the Browns wanted to put a clause in his contract which would have cut his salary if he were sent to the minors. The clause was lifted, Graham signed (for a reported $8,000 - he supposedly made $14,000 in 1949) and then was sold.
Slightly off the original subject of Jack Graham but the Browns had trouble getting anyone to play first base after the departure of George McQuinn. In 1947, they had their problems with that position. Jerry Witte was a big minor league prospect who didn't pan out well. He was sent back to the minors when Willard Brown and Hank Thompson were signed in July from the Kansas City Monarchs. During the period of time when Brown and Thompson were with the Browns in July and August the Browns had Jack Fournier scouting Piper Davis of the Birmingham Black Barons. Davis could play any position on the diamond (twice in the minors in the 1950s he played all nine positions in a single game). He spent most of his time at second base with the Black Barons. But, when the Browns were seriously scouting him and they had the 30-day option to purchase his contract, Davis was shifted to first base because the Browns were in need of a first baseman and they wanted to see how the lanky Davis looked at the initial sack. Ultimately, the Browns did not take Davis and ultimately they failed again to fill the void at first base.
Good question. And his 24 homers would be the highest total from a franchise first baseman until the diluted pitching year of 1961 (Jim Gentile).