on December 2, 2004
It's hard to believe it took so long for a full length bio of Sisler to finally come to print, but Huhn came through superbly with this effort. It's true that there's not a tremendous amount of insight or stunning revelations on Sisler's personal life, but that's not Huhn's fault. Indeed, that absence in itself is a major theme of the book, as Huhn makes a convincing argument that the same quiet, focused demeanor that made Sisler such a tremendous athlete is also what prompted a relative lack of interest in him after his career ended. As Huhn relates, there is also unfortunately not a tremendous amount of information available on the more personal aspects of Sisler's remarkable life, again partly because of his reserved nature.
This book will be boring for you only if you want some juicy social drama, or are expecting something like ESPN's "Behind the Glory." Cobb didn't frollick with hookers like Ruth or beat up hecklers like Cobb, but reading about his overlooked career remains just as captivating as the many rehashed accounts of more flamboyant stars of that era.
on July 15, 2005
Players like George Sisler seem finally to be getting their due in the baseball bio realm. Sisler was a great star who was a quiet person, and who never played in New York. He thus missed out on the publicity machines that have made much lesser players famous.
Rick Huhn serves us well by giving us an unusually balanced baseball bio. Unusual in that he tells us the on-field, and the private stories of the man, as well as they are likely to be told. Sisler left private memoirs which his family made available to the author. These give the insight that most baseball biographers either don't have, or don't bother to try to access.
Huhn does get a number of baseball facts confused: players names, stats, scores, historical firsts. Strangely, he makes the same error twice, calling Dolf Luque in 1930 a "pitching prospect", and Joe Black in 1954 a "Dodger prospect." These star pitchers were both in their waning years at these points in time. On the whole, though, the research is thorough.
Huhn could try to avoid hackneyed phrases in his writing style. In one case he misses out on opportunity to turn a too-worn expression into something humorous and meaningful, while recounting a fine anecdote. On June 10, 1922, Carl Mays of the Yanks accused St. Louis of trying to hit him with pitches (Mays himself threw "the pitch that killed" two years earlier). The umpire averted a brawl, and then "adding insult to injury, [the St.Louis Browns owner]'s left cheek required stitches when [he] was struck by a foul ball..." Surely this was rather "adding injury to insult."
You won't go wrong with this book. More entertaining bios like this one are needed.
on December 27, 2005
Rick Huhn's biography of George Sisler makes its case for a reaasessment of this relatively unheralded superstar of the 1920's. Huhn also exposes a flaw in our assessment of athletic accomplishment that is even more relevant in our age of self-aggrandizing sports heroes. It's a variation on the problem that Steibeck described so well in Cannery Row: "The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness,honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second." In Sisler, Huhn finds a successful man of admirable traits, a nice guy who finished first in many respects, yet whose legacy suffers when held up against flashier, more self-promoting peers (Hornsby, Cobb). Huhn persuaded me that, with Sisler as a prime example, our notion of sports heroism needs to be more thoughtful and inclusive. I also liked how Huhn uses the second half of Sisler's career, as a scout and batting coach, to reinforce his player's image as a tireless student of and selfless contributor to the game. There is a lot for the true baseball fan to enjoy in this book.
on August 31, 2015
The Sizzler: George Sisler, Baseball's Forgotten Great by Rick Huhn is really the first book to delve into the Hall of Fame career of St. Louis Browns great George Sisler. Huhn sheds light on why George Sisler, as great as he was, is largely forgotten in this day and age while at the same time gives the Browns great his due, something that is looooonnnnnggg overdue. Sisler, playing in the early years of the lively ball, had two seasons in which he hit over .400. In 1920, he hit .407 and set a major league record for most hits in a season (then a 154-game season) with 257, a record that stood for 84 years until Ichiro Suzuki broke the record with 262 hits in 2004 in a 162-game season (Suzuki played in 161 of those games). Sisler played all 154 games in 1920 and had 257 hits. What's really amazing is that after Major League Baseball established a 162-game season in the early 1960s due to expansion, Sisler's hits record still stood for another 40+ years after that. In 1922, Sisler hit .420, which is the third highest single season batting average of the 20th century, trailing only Nap Lajoie's .426 in 1901 and Rogers Hornsby's .424 in 1924. Sisler's .340 lifetime batting average ranks among the best ever. He sat out the 1923 season due to eye problems cause by a sinus infection, but came back in 1924 and, though he was never quite the same player again, still put up impressive numbers for the rest of his career. Ty Cobb once described Sisler as "the nearest thing to a perfect ballplayer." Why did Cobb say this? It's because Sisler could do it all - hit, field, run, steal bases, even pitch. He also had moderate power. In 1922 he had a then-American League record 41-game hitting streak, which held up until Joe DiMaggio hit in 56 straight games in 1941.
One reason why Sisler is largely forgotten is because he played most of his career for the St. Louis Browns, a team that were second class citizens to the other St. Louis team, the Cardinals. His career lasted 15 years, shorter than a lot of legendary players, but not excessively short. In those 15 seasons he accumulated an impressive 2,812 hits. He had six seasons with 200 or more hits. He led the league in stolen bases four times and swiped a total of 375 in his career. He won two batting titles (1920 and 1922) and led the league in hits each of those years (257 and 246, respectively).
Anybody who says George Sisler is overrated needs their head examined and doesn't know anything about baseball.
on June 14, 2008
George Sisler, the subject of Rick Huhn's book, "The Sizzler," is yet another of the classic ballplayers of the early 20th century, admired during his career, acknowledged for his achievements during and after his career, slowly forgotten over the years and without a biography until recently. Huhn has stepped in to correct that oversight in Sisler's case, and it is a welcome addition to the baseball greats section of the library.
George Sisler, as Huhn stressed, was not a colorful player: he kept a low profile and let his playing do the talking. There were few incidents in his life where he made waves: signing a professional contract while underage, and the resulting fight for his services helping to lead to the end of the National Commission; his tenure as manager of the St. Louis Browns, his transfer to the Senators in the late 1920s; his sinus infection and the resulting difficulties with Browns management in 1923; but most importantly, his hitting and fielding with the Browns during his greatest years. His record for hits in a season was untouched for 84 years, and his two years with averages over .400 are impressive, even for the time in which he played. He finished second to Ruth in home runs one year, and his Runs Created between 1915 and 1922 surpassed Ruth by over 100. That he was not exactly the same player after sitting out 1923 is a disappointment, but he was certainly honored in his time, named by Ty Cobb in his all-time team as first baseman.
Huhn has provided us with a fine biography of a deserving player, a stand-out performer in his time, and all time.
One other thing: It has been noted that Bill James, author and Society of American Baseball Research member, wrote in his 2001 Historical Baseball Abstract that Sisler is "perhaps the most over-rated player in baseball history." (p. 441) Mr. James is entitled to his opinion; it's his book and he can interpret the statistics in any way he cares to. I've been a SABR member for over 25 years and am familiar with Mr. James' work, and it is quite safe to say that I do not agree with him a good half the time, this being one of those times. If you look back at his 1985 Historical Baseball Abstract, you'll find that he said "George Sisler is probably the only player other than Gehrig who can reasonably be considered the greatest first baseman ever in terms of peak value . . . Sisler was a different type of player, he didn't have the home run pop, but he hit for a higher average, was faster and a better defensive player than Gehrig, and the comparison between the two is not easy." (p. 346)
So what happened? Sisler's statistics didn't change in the 16 years between books; the 1920s didn't change, either. Most of the guys who seemingly leap-frogged over him in performance were done playing before 1985. Mr. James explains on page of the 2001 book that in rereading the 1985 book there are a lot of things that he didn't like. As I said, it's his book and he writes what he wants, but that doesn't mean I'm buying what he's pushing on me. In terms of perspective of the times, Sisler was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1939, in the year of the inauguration of the Hall of Fame, as was Gehrig. A number of guys who jumped ahead of him on the list of top first basemen won't get in the Hall except with a ticket. If this makes Mr. James an over-rated writer, well, I won't say that he is or isn't. But you can make up your mind whether the old Bill James is also the new Bill James, and which one you want to believe.
on April 23, 2007
In response to "J.F. Baseball history nut, music fan", I think the point of Sisler's talent has been missed. I won't go so far as to call Mr. J.F, etc. a moron, but he has certainly missed the boat on some things.
J.F, et. al. tosses around some players who were "better" than Sisler. Let's pick one and compare their stats. How about Jack Clark? True, Sisler didn't walk very much, but he also didn't strike out very much. How many times did he strike out? Try 327 times, in approximately 8200 AB. How many times did Jack Clark strike out? Try 1441 in approximately 6800 AB. ('Nuf said.) Interestingly, Clark and Sisler have an identical OBP, of .379, and Clark has a slightly higher slugging number -- about 10 points higher. Looking at those two stats, they appear somewhat equal, but look at the hit totals: Sisler, 2812; Clark 1826. You see, Sisler wasn't "taking" walks because he was too busy actually getting hits! So, Clark has a thousand fewer hits, and struck out about a thousand more times. Even taking into consideration the ~800 more walks Clark had, I would still rather have Sisler on my team.
PLUS, Sisler scored about 100 more runs than Clark -- on fewer walks, home runs, and in fewer seasons played. This could be because Sisler also stole about 300 more bases than Clark did, or maybe that he hit about 100 more doubles than Clark. Or, maybe, that Clark was a big, dopey power hitter who could do little more than swat the ball a pretty fair distance when he was lucky enough to hit it at all. In essence, this means that while Clark had bigger power numbers, and leads Sisler in the sexy stats of modern baseball analysis, he really wasn't a better player. Not even close. To understand statistics you have to analyze things for yourself and deduce what they really mean -- don't rely on the percentage stats at the end of the row.
This is such a silly comparison, I don't even know why I'm continuing to waste my time on it. I'm not even mentioning Sisler's fielding prowess, and all the ancedotal evidence for his greatness. (Do you think the most "overrated player ever" would have been the first firstbaseman elected to the Hall of Fame? Think about it.)
I could go on, but I think I'm done.
Finally, read the book. It may not be the best piece of baseball writing ever, but don't let J.F.&Company's ridiculous critique hold you back.
on January 3, 2007
This last moron to post a review bashed Sisler saying that he is overrated, mostly noted because he hardly hit home runs. I didn't think one had to hit home runs in order to be a Hall of Famer. It's obvious he wasn't a slugger - but just look at this: Twice he was second in the AL in long balls and five times he was in the top 10; on six occasions he was in the top 5 in slugging percentage. Seven times he was top 10 in RBI, four times the steals champ. Let's throw in an MVP for good measure. The list goes on reflecting Sisler's above-average speed and outstanding hitting ability (over 200 hits in 6 different seasons, very easily could have been 8).
Don't allow the lack of Sisler power numbers deter you from reading this book.
on March 11, 2012
This is a "must read". Babe Ruth grabbed the headlines. Yet, this St. Louis Browns star was respected by his peers as one of the best in the game.
on January 16, 2014
i never heard of sister anywhere except at home and if he was so great, he was, why no place in the conversations of the ' great ones',
quick answer he was a good guy . go figure !
on January 24, 2014
Too much day-to-day baseball information and not enough history and personal battles with Sisler vs. the great pitchers of this day. Disappointing but good if you suffer from insomnia.