Where Does Wade Johnston Rank Among Detroit Left Fielders?

Tiger Tales


Wade Johnston was the starting left fielder for the Detroit Stars from 1928-1931. 

(Photo credit: Wikipedia.com)


In recent posts, I have integrated Detroit Stars players into the all-time Detroit major league position lists.  The difficulties involved in ranking Negro League players are discussed in the Detroit Stars all-star team post.  The complete list of position ranks is shown below: 


Catchers 

first basemen

Second Basemen

shortstops

Third Basemen

center fielders

Right Fielders

Starting Pitchers

relievers


This week, I am looking at left fielders.  Before Negro League data was so conveniently available at Seamheads.com, I listed the top ten left fielders in Detroit Tigers history.  The one Stars left fielder who warrants consideration on this list is Wade Johnston.

William Wade Johnston started out with the Cleveland Stars in 1921 and joined the Detroit Stars in 1928.  He became their starting left fielder for four years batting .312 with a .392 on base percentage.  He was small at five-foot-seven-inches tall and 142 pounds, but he had good power,  In 1929, he finished third in the Negro National League in both homeruns (16) and OPS+ (173).  He apparently had some patience as he led the league with 35 walks in just 200 plate appearances in 1931. 

It is difficult to crack the list of Detroit Tigers left fielders, but Johnston fits at #10 in a long line of slugging Detroit outfielders.  He barely bumps Hall of Famer Goose Goslin who spent four twilight years with the Tigers.  


The rest of the list is shown below.


1. Bobby Veach  (1912-1923  46 WAR  230 ABR  130 OPS+)
According to Fred Lieb in The Detroit Tigers, Bobby Veach “was a happy-go-lucky guy, not too brilliant above the ears…He was as friendly as a Newfoundland pup with opponents as well as teammates.”  He was also the best left fielder in Tigers history amassing 4 WAR or higher 7 times and finishing in the top ten in OPS and slugging five times. His best season was 1919 when he had 6.7 WAR and a 158 OPS+.  In the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, James rated the 1915 trio of Veach, Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford as the best single-season outfield in baseball history     
2. Willie Horton (1963-1977  26 WAR  167 ABR  127 OPS+)

Born and raised in Detroit, Willie Horton was a home town favorite for his performance both on and off the field.  He helped to restore order during the 1967 riots by climbing onto a truck and pleading with fellow African Americans to stop looting and committing violence.  On the field, he was a top slugger for many years finishing in the top ten in home runs five times and slugging four times.  He was at his finest during the 1968 championship season hitting 36 home runs and posting a 165 OPS+.
  
3. Rocky Colavito (1960-1963  17 WAR  91 ABR  130 OPS+)

Rocky Colavito came from the Indians in 1959 in a famous of swap of the batting leader (Harvey Kuenn) and home run leader (Colavito).  Colavito played four year with the Tigers including a fantastic 1961 season with 45 homers and a 157 OPS+.  He finished in the top five in WAR in both 1961 and 1962.  He also had perhaps the best outfield arm in the majors during his prime.  
4. Bobby Higginson (1995-2005  23 WAR  91 ABR  113 OPS+)  

Some will be surprsied at Bobby Higginson’s fairly high WAR total and his high ranking on this list.  Because he never played for a winning team and faded badly late in his career many fans do not remember Higginson fondly.  However, he had a very solid career reaching 3+ WAR four times and 2+ WAR six times in all.  His best season was 2000 with he hit .300/.377/.538 with 5.3 WAR.
5. Charlie Maxwell (1955-1962  19 WAR  81 ABR  120 OPS+) 

According to Baseball: A Doubleheader Collection of Facts, Feats & Firsts published by The Sporting News, Maxwell hit 40 of his 148 career home runs on Sundays, but he hit well on other days too.  Maxwell’s best year was 1956 when he posted a 148 OPS+ and 3.9 WAR.  He also reached 5 WAR in 1957.  
6. Steve Kemp (1977-1981  16 WAR  92 ABR  125 OPS+) 

Steve Kemp is more famous for whom he was traded (center fielder Chet Lemon in 1981) than his performance, but he was a productive hitter for the Tigers.  He averaged a 132 OPS+ and 3.7 WAR between 1978-1981.
7. Dick Wakefield (1941-1949  13 WAR  88 ABR  131 OPS+)  
According to Donald Honig in Between the Lines, outfielder Dick Wakefield was one of baseball’s first bonus babies when he signed with the Tigers for $52,000 out of the University of Michigan in 1941.  The 6’4″, 210-pound outfielder quickly lived up to his promise with 3.4 WAR and a league leading 200 hits.  He was off to an excellent start the next season, batting a gaudy .355 with a 190 OPS+ before being drafted into the military.  He returned to the majors in 1946, but never again reached the same lofty level.  In all, he had four years of 2+ WAR. 
    
8. Matty McIntyre (1904-1910  17 WAR  40 ABR  112 OPS+)

Matty McIntyre is best remembered as being being part of the clique that tormented Ty Cobb during his early years with the Tigers, but he also performed well on the field reaching 2+ WAR four times.  His best season 2008 when he had 6 WAR and led the league with 258 times on base.   

9. Fats Fothergill (1922-1930  13 WAR  67 ABR  122 OPS+)

5′-10″, 230-pound Bob Fothergill was give the unflattering nickname “fats” or “fatty” early in his career, but his popularity with fans also earned him the name “People’s Choice”.  Fothergill averaged 135 OPS+ and 2.9 WAR from 1926-1929.  

10. Wade Johnston (1928-1931  6 WAR  51 ABR  135 OPS+)
Profile shown above.  

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