Rabbit Maranville

Rabbit Maranville was a 5’5″ baseball clown with a goblin face full of laugh lines. His humor was antic and visible to the fans: handing an umpire a pair of glasses or mocking slow pitchers and ponderous batters in pantomime. Photographers loved him. He would pull the bill of his cap over one ear – baseball’s oldest comic gesture – and jump into the arms of his biggest teammate. He was an after-hours roisterer, too. After a few drinks with kindred souls like banjo-playing Charlie “Jolly Cholly” Grimm, he became the hotel ledge walker, the goldfish swallower, the practical joker.

Nicknamed for his speed and rabbit-like leaps, he was always a superior fielder, famous for his unique basket catch of high infield flies. Consistency was his hallmark and greatest virtue. During his first tour with Boston, he led NL shortstops in putouts each year from 1914 to 1919 (except for 1918, which he spent in the Navy), assists twice, double plays three times, and fielding average once.

Although a well-established Boston favorite, he was traded to Pittsburgh in 1921 for outfielders Billy Southworth and Fred Nicholson, shortstop Walter Barbare, and $15,000. With the Pirates, he led shortstops in fielding average in 1923. When young Glenn Wright took over at short in 1924, Maranville shifted to second and again had the league’s best fielding average. He was dealt to the Cubs after the 1924 season, but alcohol nearly did him in. He failed in a managerial opportunity with Chicago and was relieved of duties with his club in eighth place after 53 games.

Due to his instability, he moved around the league despite his star status. The Cubs waived him to Brooklyn. The Dodgers, who suffered many eccentrics gladly in their time, released him unconditionally halfway through 1926. The Cardinals, always bargain hunters, picked him up and optioned him to Rochester (International League), where he got his drinking under control. In 1928, with the Cardinals in trouble at shortstop, Branch Rickey brought Maranville back to bolster the infield in a pennant-winning season. Charley Gelbert arrived in 1929, and Maranville was sold back to the Braves. As always, his play in the field was remarkably consistent. From 1929 to 1933, despite aging, he never played fewer than 142 games a season. He was the league’s top fielding shortstop in 1930, and second baseman in 1932.

During a spring training game against the Yankees in 1934, Maranville, a spry 42, was on the front end of a double steal. The throw went to second, and Maranville, trying to score from third, had Frank Crosetti’s return throw beaten, but he slid into the rookie catcher blocking the plate and snapped the tibia and fibula in his left leg. The breaks took most of the season to mend, and when he tried to play in 1935, he was clearly not his old self. But he batted .323 in 123 games for Elmira (New York-Penn League) while managing in 1936, and played six games while skippering Albany (Eastern League) three years later, at 47.

Maranville stands first among all shortstops in putouts (5,139), third in assists (7,354), and second in total chances (13,124). He hit a creditable .251 in the dead-ball years from 1914-20 and improved to .265 in the lively-ball era thereafter. In two World Series (1914 and 1928), he had identical .308 averages. He was the cleanup hitter for the 1914 Braves. He hit 177 triples lifetime, which ties him with Stan Musial at 20th on the all-time list. Of his 28 home runs, 22 were inside the park, and in 1922, he set a still-standing ML record by going to the plate 672 times (the league high) without homering. Maranville was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1954, the year of his death.

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