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Phil Todt, Most Underrated Red Sox Player?

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  • Phil Todt, Most Underrated Red Sox Player?

    The fans here are likely to know more about him, but to most fans, if they ever heard the name of Phil Todt in their lives, it was in the context of the possibly contemplated trade for Lou Gehrig. SABR thinks it happened, and so did Todt's obituaries, but I'm not ready to say in court that it happened, since I wasn't there.

    However, Phil Todt was much more than just a guy who is unfavorably and unfairly compared to history's greatest first baseman. He had the unenviable role of being the best player, again and again, on baseball's worst team, which at that time, unfortunately, was quite consistently the Red Sox.

    For personal info, he had a German father and his last name is German for "dead". This macabre name fit rather well, since he was actually born in a funeral home. His father, you see, was superintendent of a cemetery.

    He entered the Major Leagues in 1924. Trade rumors aside, his offense was slightly above average. His batting average was adequate, he made contact well and bunted very well and while his power numbers might seem small, this was because of Fenway Park. He hit 41 home runs on the road, versus just 16 at home.

    It was his fielding, however, that really stood out. There was some element of luck in it, in that the Red Sox often had all right-handed starters and faced more left-handed hitters than average, which would result in many pitches being pulled down the first base line. However, the Red Sox middle infield in those years failed to capitalize that well on the right-handed pitching and was only slightly above average at turning double plays, so Todt did not get an inordinate amount of help from them, and his range was too enormous to be luck alone.

    His 1926 season, in which the Red Sox did have a left-handed starter, was among the best defensive performances by any first baseman ever. He had the third most putouts in a season ever, led AL first basemen in putouts by 189 over second place, and led them in assists by 27. His range was 1.29 over second place, moreover. Suffice it to say that he was a very, very valuable defensive player.

    The only major flaw on his professional resume, other than the bad luck of playing on losing teams, is his short career, but the decision to send him back to the minors never to return to MLB is questionable at best. He had one somewhat off year in 1931, but still not that bad, and then played consistently excellent AA ball through 1939. All in all, he was undoubtedly an above-average player and the best defensive first baseman that the Red Sox had between Stuffy McInnis and George Scott.

    After retiring, he ran a flower shop and worked with the St. Louis Bowling Association. He was born and died in that same city, and passed away, age 72, in 1973. We have to wonder: If Phil Todt had been a Red Sox player in any other era, what would his career have been? With more support from a better team from the start, better hitters behind and ahead of him in the lineup and better fielders to relay the ball to him, and also adjusting for the ballpark, he would probably have had more of a Chris Chambliss or Wally Joyner kind of career.

    "They don't think it be like it is, but it do."- Oscar Gamble

  • #2
    This is an easy one for me. It's Dwight Evans. He has almost matching offensive statistics to Jim Rice and yet Dewy, who was a much better fielder than Rice, will never get the respect he deserves.
    Ken Fougère

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    • #3
      I agree that Evans should be in the Hall of Fame. Still, it might have been even tougher to be the best player on those bad teams after they sold Ruth.
      "They don't think it be like it is, but it do."- Oscar Gamble

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      • #4
        Another underrated Red Sox was Reggie Smith. Excellent all around player. Hit for power, average, knew how to get on base and was an excellent CF.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Steve Jeltz View Post
          Another underrated Red Sox was Reggie Smith. Excellent all around player. Hit for power, average, knew how to get on base and was an excellent CF.

          Yes, I agree. #7 was a very good center-fielder.
          Ken Fougère

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          • #6
            Yes, Reggie Smith was underrated most of all by the Red Sox's prejudiced owner, Tom Yawkey. I would guess that his bad trade of Reggie Smith cost the Red Sox the '75 World Series, just as Yawkey's failure to acquire as many talented African-American players as possible likely cost the Red Sox the '67 series and Yawkey trusting Cronin lying about Pee Wee Reese (though that's mostly Cronin's fault, but still, why would you implicitly trust the scouting report of a man in the position of having to replace himself in the lineup?!) probably cost the Red Sox the '46 World Series.

            Honestly, if I had to deselect one baseball executive from the Hall, I would keep Morgan Bulkeley and kick out Tom Yawkey, not as a social or moral judgment, but simply because his lack of intelligence and common sense cost his team three World Series victories and probably many more pennants. I won't judge the man as a man, but as a baseball owner, he was even more short-sighted than Harry Frazee or Charlie Comiskey.
            "They don't think it be like it is, but it do."- Oscar Gamble

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Happy Chimp View Post
              ...I would guess that his bad trade of Reggie Smith cost the Red Sox the '75 World Series...
              I would argue your premise for the obvious reason that in 1975 the Red Sox had the Rookie of the Year and AL MVP playing CF. Can't get much better than that. I also think that the biggest reason we lost the World Series that year was that Jim Rice couldn't play in both the ALCS and WS due to a wrist injury.


              Ken Fougère

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              • #8
                Reggie Smith usually played right field, but I don't see any reason he couldn't have filled in at left. Smith could also have played third. Petrocelli was okay, but nowhere near as good as Smith. Smith, since he threw right-handed, was not ideally suited for first, but he could have played that with Yastrzemski at third. Just having Smith on the team in '75 would have been a big advantage.

                The guys they traded Smith for... Rick Wise had a winning record because the Red Sox did, but an ERA+ of 105 in 1975, so nothing outstanding. Bernie Carbo was always a part-time player, and got 82 hits and 154 total bases that year, compared to 144 hits and 233 total bases for Smith. The '75 Red Sox had a few good pitchers, but not all that much depth, other than Moret having a career year, and I see why: Yawkey made another bad trade in 1973 (possibly out of prejudice) by sending Lynn McGlothen, the only man who could have played the 200+ innings that were needed to fill Wise's shoes for Reggie Cleveland (it was more complex than that, as it was 3 men for 3 men, but they were the most notable ones), who by '75 was running out of steam and could no longer start games at McGlothen's pace.

                So if the Red Sox had the extra pitching endurance of McGlothen in 1975, a year in which he pitched 69 more innings than Cleveland, and had Reggie Smith instead of Bernie Carbo, I would say they would have had a much better chance in the World Series.

                There's even more: The rest of that 6-man trade involved giving up the competent starter John Curtis and Mike Garman, who had a little ability as a reliever, for Terry Hughes, who batted .209 in 86 Major League at-bats, and Diego Segui, whose career was essentially over by then. This... wow, I do not know what Tom Yawkey was thinking.
                "They don't think it be like it is, but it do."- Oscar Gamble

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                • #9
                  In 1967 Smith was their regular CF. Tony C. and then Ken Harrelson played RF. Rico was the SS and Joe Foy was the 3rd baseman. Why would Smith play LF when Yaz was Superman out there?

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                  • #10
                    I was talking about 1975, not 1967.
                    "They don't think it be like it is, but it do."- Oscar Gamble

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Happy Chimp View Post
                      Reggie Smith usually played right field, but I don't see any reason he couldn't have filled in at left. Smith could also have played third. Petrocelli was okay, but nowhere near as good as Smith. Smith, since he threw right-handed, was not ideally suited for first, but he could have played that with Yastrzemski at third. Just having Smith on the team in '75 would have been a big advantage.
                      In 1973, Yaz committed 12 errors in 31 games at 3B, so I don't believe he would have worked at the hot corner in 1975.

                      Question regarding Yawkey: How involved was he in with player transactions in the early 1970's? I always believed GM Dick O'Connell was the one who pulled the triggers on the trades. Was Yawkey ordering O'Connell to make certain trades?

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                      • #12
                        Reggie Smith wasn't underrated at all in Boston. He was just under-appreciated.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Steve Jeltz View Post

                          In 1973, Yaz committed 12 errors in 31 games at 3B, so I don't believe he would have worked at the hot corner in 1975.

                          Question regarding Yawkey: How involved was he in with player transactions in the early 1970's? I always believed GM Dick O'Connell was the one who pulled the triggers on the trades. Was Yawkey ordering O'Connell to make certain trades?
                          Well, I know that if a Black player was traded away, Yawkey probably had something to do with it, since he wouldn't integrate until threatened with a lawsuit and kept elements of segregation on the team into the 1970's. I don't know to what extent he was responsible for other trading decisions, though.
                          "They don't think it be like it is, but it do."- Oscar Gamble

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Happy Chimp View Post
                            Yes, Reggie Smith was underrated most of all by the Red Sox's prejudiced owner, Tom Yawkey. I would guess that his bad trade of Reggie Smith cost the Red Sox the '75 World Series, just as Yawkey's failure to acquire as many talented African-American players as possible likely cost the Red Sox the '67 series and Yawkey trusting Cronin lying about Pee Wee Reese (though that's mostly Cronin's fault, but still, why would you implicitly trust the scouting report of a man in the position of having to replace himself in the lineup?!) probably cost the Red Sox the '46 World Series.

                            Honestly, if I had to deselect one baseball executive from the Hall, I would keep Morgan Bulkeley and kick out Tom Yawkey, not as a social or moral judgment, but simply because his lack of intelligence and common sense cost his team three World Series victories and probably many more pennants. I won't judge the man as a man, but as a baseball owner, he was even more short-sighted than Harry Frazee or Charlie Comiskey.
                            I totally agree with you on all accounts. I continue to scratch my head over WHY Yawkey was elected to the HOF as an executive.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by ThanksTheo View Post

                              I totally agree with you on all accounts. I continue to scratch my head over WHY Yawkey was elected to the HOF as an executive.
                              I was old enough to follow baseball in the 1970s. By then the image of him was the long suffering, devoted elderly owner who spent a lot of his money to try to bring a winner to a cursed franchise. The image was more kindly grandpa than anything else. Presumably the people who had a different opinion of him from when he was young or middle aged were all dead or past the age of bickering about such matters.

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