Thursday, July 12, 2012

Lake ended MLB career 0-for-1950

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

While he has a 1951 Bowman baseball card, Detroit Tigers utility/backup infielder Eddie Lake was out of the big leagues by then. He had ended his three-decade (1939-1950) major league career by going 0-for-1950.

But in his first game of 1951, he hit a home run for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League. He finished that season batting .261. His 27 home runs that season were tied for sixth-best in the league.

For most of his major league career, Lake offered a combination of speed and power in the middle infield for the St. Louis Cardinals (1939-1941), Boston Red Sox (1943-1945) and Detroit Tigers (1946-1950). He also fielded well, whether at second, short or third. 

The one thing he didn't do well in the majors was hit for average. In his first five seasons in the majors he hit only .189, albeit he never played in more than 75 games in any of those seasons. 

He blossomed in his final season with Boston, 1945; he hit .279 and took 106 walks to lead the American League with a .412 on-base percentage. Though he was 30 years old in 1946, the Tigers traded Rudy York to Boston for Lake and made him their lead-off hitter. 

He continued to hit fairly well for a shortstop, batting .254 in 1946 and talking 103 bases on balls. His 120 walks in 1947 were again third-best in the A.L., but his average dropped to .211. In 1948 the Tigers brought Johnny Lipon up from the Texas League and Lake was relegated to part-time work.

By 1950, he was mainly used as a pinch-hitter (0-for-9) and a pinch-runner (nine games). In 20 games he had only seven at-bats and no hits, walking once and striking out three times. He appeared in the field only once at shortstop and once at third for any inning each without handling any chances.

As mentioned earlier, Lake returned to the minor leagues in 1951, and continued to play out west through the age of 40 in 1956. He was a playing manager for some truly bad teams in the lower levels in 1955-1956.

In 1955, managing the Spokane Indians of the Class B Northwest League he finished 33-1/2 games out of first place, but was the league's second best hitter at age 39, batting .336. In his last year of pro ball, at Class C Salinas in the California League, he hit. 312 and his team finished in seventh place, 38 games off the pace. In those two seasons as a minor league manager he did not have a single player who would ever appear in the majors.

Besides his 1951 card, Lake also appeared in the 1949 and 1950 Bowman sets, and can also be found as a Boston Red Sox on an Exhibit card in the 1947-1966 series, though by then he had been a Tiger for two seasons.

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