The Utility Infielder That Beat the 1927 Yankees

The 1954 Cleveland Indians posted an American League record 111-43 record. The team bested the legendary 1927 Yankees by a single game and to this day still hold the mark for highest AL winning percentage. Playing on that team was a lifetime .224 hitter who was having an even less inspiring year at the plate.

George Strickland hit a half dozen home runs in a lineup featuring sluggers like Al Rosen and Larry Doby. He pushed across only 37 runs and stole 2 bases. In short, he was terrible at the plate. He was, however, a very good defensive player. Playing all of his 112 games at shortstop that year, the lifelong utility fielder turned a double play more than every other game produced a career high in runs prevented. The defensive output was good enough to bring his 1954 wins above replacement to 1.4 games. With the Indians beating the ’27 Yankees’ record by just a single game, one could make an argument that Strickland’s glove pushed them over the top.

Strickland managed and coached off and on for a few years after his decade in MLB came to an end. He eventually made a career in managing parimutuel betting at New Orleans’ famed Fairgrounds racetrack. He wasn’t the only ballplayer appearing in ’52 Topps to get into that line of work. Al Sima (card #93) also helped gamblers find entertaining ways to spend their afternoons. MLB has banned players who eventually worked for gambling establishments, notably Willie Mays (#261) and Mickey Mantle (#311) in the 1970s for their work as casino greeters. The Commissioner’s office apparently never knew or didn’t care about Strickland and Sima’s post-baseball careers. Mays and Mantle were quickly reinstated and Strickland was never a threat to the integrity of the game. I find all of this an interesting footnote.

Utility Card

Ugh. This is about the most generic looking 1952 Topps card in the set. Even George doesn’t look impressed. The washed-out background, mugshot photo, and indistinct team logo all combine for a forgettable piece of cardboard. Regardless, it is still part of the set and still manages to command a little piece of the mystique that accompanies any card from the ’52 Topps set. It inspired me to dedicate time looking up a player’s history from generations ago. It does what it needs to do without standing out, it is a utility card of a utility player.