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Ox Eckhardt

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Oscar George Eckhardt Jr.

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[edit] Biographical Information

Ox Eckhardt holds the all-time professional baseball record for batting average, counting both major and minor league stats. His .192 average in 57 major league plate appearances barely lowered his .367 career batting average in the minors (second all-time among minor league-only batting averages to Ike Boone's .370). Eckhardt ends up fractionally ahead of #2 Ty Cobb, whose career .366 is lowered marginally by his minor league stats.

[edit] Amateur career

Eckhardt was a three-sport star in college, playing baseball, football and basketball. He pitched a six-inning no-hitter once. In football, he won a Southwestern Conference MVP award at haflback and punter. He later would play for the New York Giants of the NFL for the 1928 season.

[edit] 1925-1927: Delayed start

Ox signed with the Detroit Tigers out of college but due to a problem with his contract, he was forced to sit out two years. He only played two minor league games from 1925-1927, going 2 for 7 for the Austin Senators in 1925.

[edit] 1928-1929: Getting started with a bang

In 1928, Eckhardt finally got regular playing time, with the Western League's Wichita Larks and Amarillo Texans. He led the WL with 27 triples and hit .376/?/.569 and stole 20 bases. He was second to Joe Munson in average and fifth in stolen bases. Eckhardt failed to make the league's All-Star team as Munson, Lee Riley and Estel Crabtree were the outfielders chosen.

At age 27, Eckhardt again led his league in triples. Now with the Seattle Indians, he hit .354/?/.511. He failed to finish in the top 10 in the Pacific Coast League in average, but those who beat him out were an elite group for the most part - Ike Boone, Smead Jolley, Earl Webb, Ernie Lombardi, Buzz Arlett and Gus Suhr were among those players.

[edit] 1930-1935: The peak

Detroit sold Eckhardt's contract to the Beaumont Exporters. He hit .379/?/.534 and paced the Texas League in hits (217), doubles (55) and average, winning the first of five batting titles. Sam Leslie hit .409 but did not have enough plate appearances to qualify. In 1931, Beaumont sold him to the San Francisco Missions. He won another batting title, leading the PCL with a .369 mark. He slugged .494 and drove in 117 runs. In 185 games and 745 AB, he had 275 hits, leading the league. He also stole 19 bases and hit 52 doubles.

Eckhardt made his major league debut with the 1932 Braves and went 2 for 8. San Francisco, in last place, requested Ox back, and Boston complied. Eckhardt was upset at returning to the minors and complained of the deal. He won another PCL batting crown by hitting .371/?/.508; he stole 15 bases that year and had 200 hits for the fourth consecutive season, reaching that figure exactly.

In 1933, Eckhardt hit .414 for the San Francisco Missions. This broke Boone's PCL record of .407 and has been unmatched since (as of 2007). The runner-up was Earl Sheely, 55 points behind Ox. Eckhardt had a whopping 315 hits in 760 AB. He led the PCL in hits and games (189), scored 145 runs, drove in a career-high 143, slugged a career-high 12 homers and 56 doubles and tripled 16 times for a slugging percentage of .578. He also swiped 15 bases. Only Prince Oana hit more doubles. Augie Galan had 265 hits, 50 less, but good for second place. Among those who failed to measure up to Eckhardt was Joe DiMaggio, who gained national notice for a 61-game hitting streak.

During 1934, the 32-year-old slipped to .378/?/.485. He "only" had 267 hits, 126 runs and 106 RBI. He lost the batting title to Frank Demaree by five points, the only batting crown he failed to win in a 6-year stretch.

In 1935, Eckhardt kept on hitting, with a .399/?/.494 batting line. He scored 149 and drove in 114 and led the PCL with 283 hits in his 172 games. He battled DiMaggio for the batting title down to the final day. DiMaggio got a break when the Seattle Indians kept letting his balls go by without much effort; DiMaggio complained to the scorer that some should have been errors, not wanting the title by hook and crook. Eckhardt, though, went 4 for 5 that day, and claimed the title honestly by one point over the future Hall-of-Famer. Eckhardt also pulled off quite a play that year in September against the Los Angeles Angels. Ox had accidentally broke for home on a walk with two men on. Eckhardt returned safely to third but then stole home to win the contest.

[edit] 1936-1940: End of the line

The old-timer joined the Brooklyn Dodgers for spring training in 1936. He ran into trouble when he came to camp with his wife and his 10-year-old Belgian police dog. The club didn't let him keep the dog into the team hotel and he wasn't allowed to get another residence as he had no kids. Eckhardt expressed concern that his timing was off in the springtime and that he struggled more once he begun pressing. He still made the team, but he only hit .182/.265/.273 in 16 games (44 AB) with the 1936 Dodgers and his big-league career was over after 52 AB. He was sent to the Indianapolis Indians, where he hit .353/?/.464. He had 199 hits between the majors and minors, failing to reach 200 for the first time in 8 years. He hit 11 triples, the 8th and last time he was in double-digits in that category. He was in the top five in the American Association in batting average.

In 1937, Eckhardt returned to the Indians and hit .341/?/.438 with 201 hits and 97 runs. He was in the top 10 in average, his lowest finish since 1929.

Ox split 1938 between the Toledo Mud Hens (just .229/~.282/.333 in 55 games) and the Exporters (.387/~.426/.505 in 72 games). Had he qualified in terms of playing time, his average would have led the Texas League that year. In 1939, Eckhardt was with the Memphis Chickashaws. The 37-year-old hit .361/?/.444 and made the top five in the Southern Association in average.

Eckhardt closed out his career with the 1940 Dallas Rebels, hitting .293/?/.360.

While Eckhardt is known primarily for his average, he clearly had good speed and line-drive power early in his career. His defense was not deemed to be high-caliber and his lack of home run pop or walks as a corner outfielder may have hampered his chances at MLB regular time.

[edit] Career Statistics

Eckhardt hit .367/?/.492 in the minors. He had 455 doubles, 146 triples, 140 steals, 1,275 runs and 1,037 RBI. He banged out 2,773 hits in 1,926 games. In the majors, he batted .192/.263/.269 in the small sample size of 57 plate appearances over 24 games. In 2003 he was elected to the Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame and in 2013 he was elected to the Texas League Hall of Fame.

Sources: Baseball's Forgotten Heroes by Tony Salin, Pat Doyle's Professional Baseball Player Database, 1929, 1930, 1934 and 1939 Spalding Guides

[edit] Further Reading

  • Tony Salin: Baseball's Forgotten Heroes, Masters Press, Chicago, 1999, pp. 137-146.

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