Hughie Critz, a Starkville native who played his final big league game in 1935, holds a career record among Mississippi-born players that is truly unassailable. Think small for a moment, as in small ball. Critz, an infielder who batted .268 and was an excellent defender, racked up 187 sacrifice bunts over his 12-year career. Critz had 20 or more sacs in a season six times, including 24 with Cincinnati in 1926, when he batted .270, scored 96 runs, drove in 79 and finished second in the MVP voting. Ellisville’s Buddy Myer, a standout infielder who also played in the ’20s and ’30s, is second on the all-Mississippi sac list with 151, and third is Weir’s Roy Oswalt, a pitcher, at 106. Oswalt last played in 2013. Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton, an outfielder, is the active leader among Mississippians with 39 sacs in seven seasons, one more than McComb native Jarrod Dyson, an outfielder who has played 10 years. The all-time record for career sacrifice bunts (or hits, as they used to be called) is one of the game’s unbreakable milestones. Hall of Famer Eddie Collins, who played from 1906-30, gave himself up 512 times. That’s 120 more sacs than the next highest total (Jake Daubert’s) and 404 more than the active career leader (Clayton Kershaw). That says a lot about how the game has evolved. Speed is still important, but small ball – bunting, in particular – has largely gone out of fashion, probably never to return. Critz’s record is safe.
It’s not often you run across the name of Hughie Critz in a story these days. The Starkville native last played a big league game in 1935. But ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, in a piece about Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton, notes a link between Critz and the current Cincinnati star. Hamilton, with 40 runs in 54 games, is on pace to score 109. His on-base percentage is .305. Since 1920, Crasnick writes, only two players — Tony Armas in 1984 and Critz in 1930 — have scored 105 runs or more in a season in which they had an OBP of .305 or lower. Critz, who started that 1930 season with the Reds and finished it with the New York Giants, scored 108 runs with an OBP of .292. The diminutive infielder had 172 hits and 30 walks, and he stole only eight bases. (Hamilton, probably the fastest player in the game today, has an MLB-best 28.) Not to diminish Critz’s accomplishment, but it should be noted that the 1930 season came at the height of a “lively ball” era that saw huge offensive numbers posted across the board. Critz spent most of that year with the Giants, who had three players you might have heard of – Bill Terry, Mel Ott and Fred Lindstrom – who drove in over 100 runs each and also scored 100-plus. Critz, a Mississippi A&M (State) alum, batted .268 with a .303 OBP over an outstanding 12-year career in which he scored 90 or more runs five times.
Climbing into the Wayback Machine here to celebrate some MLB debut anniversaries. The year 1984 was a banner year for Mississippians to break in. Four made The Show that season: Chris Brown, Stewart Cliburn and Mike Smith — all Jackson natives — and Natchez’s Fred Toliver. Brown had the best sustained career of that group, playing six seasons, hitting .268 and even making an All-Star Game appearance. But let’s go back further. Way back in 1924 — 90 years ago — Hughie Critz, a former Mississippi A&M player from Starkville, made his major league debut with Cincinnati. A second baseman, Critz would enjoy a fine career, batting .268 over parts of 12 big league seasons. Eighty years ago saw the debut of Ole Miss alumnus Charlie Moss, a catcher from Meridian who came up with the Philadelphia A’s. Former Mississippi Southern star Hugh Laurin Pepper broke in in 1954 as a pitcher with Pittsburgh. In 1974, Belzoni native Herb Washington, the Oakland A’s designated pinch runner, made his famous debut. He stole 29 bases that season — without once swinging a bat — but was released early in 1975, never to return. Twenty years ago, Pontotoc’s Steve Pegues, a former first-round draft pick, arrived in the majors for his brief stay (100 games as an outfielder over two years). And in 2004, Hattiesburg’s Joey Gathright and Natchez’s Nook Logan, both outfielders with exceptional wheels, got their calls. Both enjoyed some success, but neither remains in the big leagues.
Ran across this rather remarkable list in the November/December issue of Baseball Digest. Their editors’ research turned up 127 players who have recorded 50 or more hits in a single month of an MLB season since 1900. Only 127. A few have done it multiple times: George Sisler nine, Ty Cobb seven, Rogers Hornsby six, Pete Rose four, Ichiro Suzuki four, just to pick out a few. George Brett only did it once. Tony Gwynn isn’t on the list. It’s worth noting that three Mississippians appear on that list, and all three were great hitters in their day. Gulfport native Gerald “Gee” Walker did it twice, in August of 1936 and again in August of 1938. Walker was a career .294 hitter. Ellisville’s Buddy Myer, who some say should be in the Hall of Fame, got 50 in August of 1935. Myer was a .303 career hitter. Starkville’s Hughie Critz turned the trick in July 1930. Critz batted .268 over a 12-year career.