By Marty Appel
Walter James Vincent Maranville, who played Major League baseball from 1912-1935, reminds of us of the reason that fans always seemed to fall for little, light-hitting middle infielders who found so many ways to beat you.
And when you had a nickname like “Rabbit,” it didn’t hurt either.
Although he stood only 5’5”, generally weighed less than his listed 155, and batted just .258 with 28 home runs over 23 seasons, Rabbit is a Hall of Famer who was very much the prototype of the scrappy shortstop from the days when the game was transforming from the dead ball to the lively ball eras. Grantland Rice called him the “the link between the old days and the new in baseball.”
Indeed, he broke in while Honus Wagner was still winning batting titles and left 2,670 games later as a beloved and colorful figure in the game’s lore.
His reputation was made in 1914, when he played short for Boston’s “Miracle Braves”, the team that came from last place on July 19 and won the pennant by 10 ½ games. Rabbit was the shortstop; Johnny Evers played second, and their fielding excellence and key hits (or sacrifices, steals, and hitting behind runners) were considered big reasons for the miracle finish. Evers won the Chalmers Award (a car) as MVP; Maranville finished second. Rabbit had 27 sacrifices, 28 steals and helped turn 92 double plays, while leading the league with 156 games played. If you could make 65 errors (as he did), bat .246 and drive in only 78 runs as the cleanup hitter (as he was), and still finish second in MVP voting – then you knew people saw something special in his game.
Rabbit didn’t get into another World Series until 1928 when he was with the Cardinals, (he hit .308 in both of his World Series appearances), but that 1914 season made his reputation. Over his long career – which also included stops with Pittsburgh, Brooklyn and the Cubs (whom he also managed in 1928) – he batted more than 10,000 times – only Ty Cobb, Wagner and Tris Speaker had more at the time of his retirement. (Even today, only 26 players have accomplished that).
It was with the Pirates in 1921-22 that he reached the zenith of his hitting prowess, batting .294 and .295. In 1922 he had 746 plate appearances (672 official at bats) without hitting a home run – still a Major League record.
The Springfield, Massachusetts native was cocky, charismatic and playful on the field – a favorite of teammates, opponents and fans. He was united with Babe Ruth on the Boston Braves in 1935, two great characters of the game, both in their final seasons, sharing memories and laughter as their careers wound down.
Maranville moved to New York after his career and ran youth baseball programs for Hearst newspapers. He suffered a heart attack on January 5, 1954 and died at 62. Sympathy and his association with Hearst (many voting writers worked for the chain), helped him achieve Hall of Fame election just two weeks later, when he outpolled Bill Terry and Bill Dickey to lead the class of ’54.