Stephens ahead of his time at short
HOF candidate a slugger before position boasted power hitters
Long before Cal Ripken Jr. and Alex Rodriguez picked up a bat, Vern Stephens held the honor as the greatest power-hitting shortstop in baseball history.
He played 15 seasons for the St. Louis Browns/Baltimore Orioles (1941-47, '53-55), Boston Red Sox (1948-52) and Chicago White Sox (1953, '55). An eight-time All-Star, Stephens smacked 247 home runs with 1,174 RBIs, batting .286 with 1,859 hits. Cooperstown hasn't forgotten his power prowess.
Stephens will be considered for the Class of 2009 at the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee. Any player receiving at least 75 percent of the vote from the Veterans Committee, which consists of the 64 living Hall of Famers, will be enshrined at Cooperstown. Results from the Veterans Committee vote will be announced Monday from baseball's Winter Meetings in Las Vegas.
The other members of the pre-1943 Veterans Committee final ballot are Bill Dahlen, Wes Ferrell, Joe Gordon, Sherry Magee, Carl Mays, Allie Reynolds, Mickey Vernon, Bucky Walters and Deacon White.
Signed by the Browns in 1938, Stephens made his big league debut at age 20 in September 1941. Despite getting only two at-bats that first month, he took off in 1942, hitting .294 with 14 home runs and 92 RBIs. Stephens finished fourth in the American League Most Valuable Player voting as St. Louis finished 19 1/2 games out of first, its best standing in 13 seasons.
Three years later, the Browns went to the World Series with Stephens as their star. They lost to the crosstown rival Cardinals in six games. In the regular season, he hit 20 home runs (second in the AL to the Yankees' Nick Etten) with a league-leading 109 RBIs and finished a career-best third in the MVP race.
But some of his best years came in Boston. He drove in a Major League-leading 440 runs from 1948-50. In 1949 alone, he had 39 home runs and 159 RBIs and walked 101 times. Stephens took seventh in the MVP voting that season, the last of six times he cracked the top 10.
He retired with 213 home runs as a shortstop, at the time the most in Major League history. He has since fallen to fifth behind Ripken, Rodriguez, Ernie Banks and Miguel Tejada.
In addition to the power, Stephens showed a keen eye by amassing fewer strikeouts (685) than walks (692) in his career.
Nick Zaccardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.