Defensive Shifts in baseball have been implemented significantly more in recent years, but avid baseball fans know that they have been around for decades.
Perhaps the best known of these shifts is the “Williams Shift” which was designed to neutralize Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams. This shift was once captured on cardboard.
There is no player image here but that does not detract from the beauty of the card. While the shift was not based on statistical data, its still considered an early glimpse into SABRmetrics. Think about it, have you ever seen a card dedicated to the defensive alignment versus a hitter (or perhaps the players spray chart) prior to say 2010?
This shift was conceived by Cleveland Indians manager Lou Boudreau. The Indians lost the first game of a July 14 1946 Double Header to the Red Sox 11-10. Eight of those 11 runs were driven in by Ted Williams on three Homers, including a grand slam. As can be seen on the graphic on the card Boudreau — who was also the starting shortstop for the Indians — moved most of the fielders to the right side of the field.
The back of the card goes into further discussion of the Williams Shift. The shift did not help much as the Tribe also lost the back end of the double header 6-4.
1959 Fleer Ted Williams
Notice the card has a source for “All Card Data” and the credit is given to an E. Mifflin. I did a little on-line digging and it appears that E. Mifflin is Edward Mifflin who wrote for the Sporting News in the 1950s and became friends with Williams.
I contacted SABR director and Ted Williams biographer Bill Nowlin to see if he had any insights on Edward Mifflin and Bill came back with a quick response including a bio from Mike Shatzkin’s “The Ballplayers”.
It turns out Mr Mifflin was quite an important figure in Ted Williams’ career.
In 1954 the Saturday Evening Post published an article announcing the retirement of Teddy Ballgame.
Following the article’s release, Mifflin ran into Williams at a Baltimore train station. Mifflin told the slugger that retirement at that time may jeopardize his baseball legacy.
The Mifflin Bio from “the Ballplayers” included this excerpt:
Mifflin explained. The success of Williams’s career would be measured one definitive way: Would he be elected to the Hall of Fame in the first year he became eligible? Williams had missed so much playing time in WWII and Korea that his career totals weren’t yet impressive enough. And baseball writers were the voters for the Hall of Fame. “Ted, you barely have 350 home runs. You don’t have 1,500 rbi. You don’t even have 2,000 hits.
And these writers hate your guts; they didn’t even vote you the MVP twice when you won the Triple Crown. You needs stats that are undeniable. These aren’t.”
Ted Williams perhaps boosted by Mifflin’s suggestion did not retire and returned to baseball. He played the bulk of six more seasons racking up 155 more Homers and 700+ additional hits. In 1966 he became a first ballot Hall of Famer with 521 Home Runs and 2600+ hits.
The 1959 Fleer Ted Williams set is 80 cards and a spot-check via Check Out My Cards revealed that all the cards had the E Mifflin credit.
Philadelphia folks may be interested to know that Edward Mifflin was a representative in the PA State legislature from 1963 until his death in 1971. His daughter Lawrie went on to become a New York Times sportswriter; she was cited in a recent NPR story which discussed NFL Quarterback Cam Newton’s poor judgement in comments to a female reporter.
Sources and Links
The Ballplayers – Mike Shatzkin
SABR Bio Ted Williams – Bill Nowlin
6 thoughts on “1959 Fleer #28 The Williams Shift”
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I’m not much on individual player sets unless I collect the player, but that’s a great card. Is it the earliest sabermetric card? I half expect to see an insert set in an upcoming product be called “spin rate masters” or “launch angle mashers” or “exit velocity kings.” But I liked the Williams Shift card so much that there is now one less available on eBay.
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I did a presentation on this card at the Connie Mack SABR Day this past weekend. The Slides I used can be found here -> https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/e/2PACX-1vRdRReP9AEeRZpBPyZ18Z-X_YH-XYz_jEfSXUd9W8osOVtdyhugFyzGUIkMdvszsYMvgEPq824hcloh/pub?start=true&loop=false&delayms=5000#slide=id.g2f4109a532_0_0
Fantastic post. Such a cool card, and one I never knew existed before today.