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Nick Etten

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Nicholas Raymond Thomas Etten

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[edit] Biographical Information

Nick Etten was 6' 2", on the tall side for a player of his time. In 1933, he began his professional baseball career the Davenport Blue Sox, where he hit .357/~.432/.544 with 104 runs, 35 doubles and 14 home runs. He was third in the Mississippi Valley League in average and second in total bases but was not picked for the league All-Star team. The website www.swingbaseball.com put him on their "Quad City All Century Team".

In 1934, the 20-year-old was on the Little Rock Travelers and hit .291 with 2 homers. He made three stops in '35 but did not have a great year at any locale. 1936 found him with the Savannah Indians and he batted .328 with 12 homers and 71 RBI. He tied teammate Bob Elliott for third in the South Atlantic League in HR. In '37, Nick hit .304 with 21 HR and 87 RBI for Savannah. He led the SAL in homers and tied for fourth in runs batted in. He spent the next year in the Sally League again, being sold to the Jacksonville Tars and hitting .370/~.472/.516. He only homered twice, but was second in average to Doug Dean, led the SAL in total bases (269) and doubles (40) and hit 15 triples, tied for second-best. His 97 walks tied Jack C. Murphy for the league lead and he led in both OBP and slugging. He missed the All-Star team. At the end of the year, he was sold to the Philadelphia Athletics by way of the Atlanta Crackers; Etten hit .259/.333/.383 for the A's.

Nick hit .252/.322/.406 in 43 games for the 1939 Athletics but spent most of the year with the Baltimore Orioles, hitting .299/~.386/.450 for the O's. In 1940, he hit .321/~.418/.530 for Baltimore, scoring 114 runs (third in the International League), rapping 185 hits (4th), driving in an IL-high 128 runners, hitting 40 doubles (tied for the league lead with Gene Corbett and George Staller) and 24 homers and drawing 82 walks, second to Mike Chartak. At age 26, he was one of the top threats in the loop.

In 1941, he moved to the other Philadelphia team, the Phillies. The Athletics had felt he was expendable as they had Dick Siebert at first base, a position he was to play with the Athletics from 1938 to 1945. The Phillies, on the other hand, had used rookie Art Mahan at first base in 1940, and since he hit .244 with 2 home runs in 146 games, they let Little Rock purchase him, thus freeing up space at first base for Etten.

In 1941, Etten finally became a regular. He made the most of his chance, going 4 for 4 with a homer on Opening Day and hitting .311/.405/.454 on a team whose team batting average was .244. His batting average was 7th in the league, he was 6th in OBP, 5th in walks and 10th in total bases. Etten's 14 homers and 27 doubles may not seem fantastic, but he was second on the team in both categories behind Danny Litwhiler. The Phillies lost 111 games.

1942 began war-time ball, and Etten's numbers dropped quite a bit, to .264/.357/.375 with 8 homers and 21 doubles. To some extent this was caused by the league itself posting lower numbers - the Phillies as a team hit only .232 - but his OPS+ still fell significantly from a very good 146 to 119, good but not great for a first baseman. Etten was again second on the team in home runs and doubles behind Litwhiler, and the batting average was also good for second behind Litwhiler. The team lost 109 games. In one game, Etten spiked himself in the right heel during a slide. On July 28, he was part of a sequence during which Philadelphia made three errors on a single play. Gee Walker grounded to 2B Al Glossop, who threw the ball past first. Etten got the ball back and threw to third, where Walker was now headed. 3B Pinky May was out of position and the ball sailed away, letting Walker score - Glossop, Etten and May all were tagged with errors.

In 1943, the miracle happened. The Yankees traded for Etten as part a salary dump by Gerry Nugent, and Etten went from a last-place team in the National League to a Yankee team that had finished first in the American League from 1940 to 1942. Nick said "Imagine a man in that environment hearing that he had been sold to the Yankees!"

Etten hit .271/.355/.420 in his first year with the Yankees, on a team that hit .256. His average was good enough to be third-best on the team, distantly behind Bill Dickey's .351. Etten led the team with 107 RBI (which was also good for 2nd in the league behind Rudy York), and was third on the team in homers with 14 behind "King Kong" Charlie Keller and Joe Gordon. Etten's .420 slugging average was good enough for sixth in the league. His 35 doubles were third in the league. He was ninth in walks, eighth in homers and sixth in total bases. From July 30 to August 15, Etten hit exactly 0 singles: he hit 5 HR and 9 2B with 16 RBI, but no singles.

In spite of his successful slugging during the 1943 season, in the 1943 World Series Etten hit mostly 7th (sometimes 6th) in the batting order. Frankie Crosetti usually batted second, followed in the third spot by Billy Johnson, then by Charlie Keller, and Joe Gordon and Bill Dickey and Etten. Etten hit only .105/.150/.105 in the Series, but the Yankees won handily in five games over Stan Musial's 1943 Cardinals, which had won 105 games in the regular season.

In 1944, the Yanks slipped to third in the league, but Etten had a substantial season. Hitting .293 with 97 walks, he led the league with 22 home runs. His on-base percentage (.399) and slugging percentage (.466) were both in the top 5 in the league.

The Yankees slipped further in 1945, to fourth in the league, but Etten continued to hit well at age 31. Hitting .285/.387/.437, his 18 home runs were 2nd in the league (behind Vern Stephens), and his 111 RBI were first. Both his on-base percentage and slugging percentage were again in the top five in the league. Etten was named to the All-Star team for the first and only time in his major league career.

With players returning from World War II and talent levels reverting to norms, he had a sharp drop-off in 1946, hitting only .232/.315/.365 with 9 home runs. The Phillies purchased him, and he finished out his major league career playing 14 games with the Phillies in 1947, hitting .244. He hit only .214/~.333/.386 for the Newark Bears as well.

His career wasn't over, though, because he was to join the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League. He hit .300 with them in 46 games in 1947, and then in 1948 he became part of a great minor league season. The team, managed by Casey Stengel in the years immediately before his Yankee days, was called the "Nine Old Men" due to the number of ex-major-leaguers (substantial even by grey-bearded PCL standards), including Etten, Ernie Lombardi, Les Scarsella, Maurice Van Robays, Cookie Lavagetto, and others. Young players included Billy Martin and Catfish Metkovich. Etten had 43 home runs, far more than anyone else on the team. The team contended with the San Francisco Seals to win the league, and Oakland won the Governors Cup defeating Seattle 4 games to 1. Overall, Nick hit .313/~.407/.587 and drove in 155 runners. He was second in the PCL in slugging (behind Gene Woodling), second in RBI (one behind Gus Zernial) and second in homers (five behind Jack Graham).

Etten played for the minor league Milwaukee Brewers in 1949, hitting .280 with 20 homers and 82 RBI, second on the club in HR behind Howie Moss. He finished his career with the 1950 Memphis Chickashaws, batting .313/~.419/.487 with 17 homers, 93 RBI and 76 walks.

Lifetime, he had 89 home runs in the majors with a .277/.371/.423 batting line (125 OPS+), but those stats conceal the facts that much of his career was during the war when batting numbers were lower (lowering his numbers) and the fact that the talent level was reduced due to top players serving in the military. The similarity scores method show Sid Bream as the second most similar player to Etten, but clearly Etten was much more prominent in his career. It also ignores Bream's significant defensive edge.

It is true, though, that Etten didn't have a great impact on MVP voters. He wasn't in the top 10 in the MVP voting in either of 1944 or 1945, although he was in the top 2 in the league in home runs each year. In 1943, when the Yankees won the World Series and Etten was 2nd in the league in RBI, he finished only 7th in the voting.

A large element missing when looking merely at his offensive numbers is how deplorable Nick's defense was. Bill James gives Etten an "F" at first base, one of just three big-league regulars to earn that mark - the others are Frank Thomas and Dick Stuart, Dr. Strangeglove himself. Etten almost never tried to reach grounders to the first base side. Teammate Danny Murtaugh said "There were a few balls hit between first and second that I felt Nick should have tried for, but he'd just run to the bag and let me attempt to get them. So one day I said to him, 'Nick, I think there are a few balls being hit down there that you should make an effort to reach.' He looked at me and replied, 'Son, they pay Ol' Nick to hit. You can't hit, so you catch all those balls, and I'll knock in the runs for both of us."

After baseball, Etten ran a Chicago constuction company. He died in 1990 at age 77.

Etten's son Nicholas is a Chicago attorney.

Sources include 1934 and 1939 Spalding Guides, 1951 Baseball Guide, On a Clear Day, They Could See Seventh Place by George Robinson and Charles Salzberg, The International League: Year-by-Year Statistics by Marshall Wright, 1948 PCL season for Diamond Mind Baseball by Stephen Davis

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • AL All-Star (1945)
  • AL Home Runs Leader (1944)
  • AL RBI Leader (1945)
  • AL Bases on Balls Leader (1944)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 1 (1944)
  • 100 RBI Seasons: 2 (1943 & 1945)
  • Won a World Series with the New York Yankees in 1943.

[edit] Related Sites

  • [1] Article on New York Yankees' first basemen of the 1940s in The Hardball Times.
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