On his website, baseball historian, writer, statistician, and current Red Sox baseball executive, Bill James was asked for his opinion of the worst all-around team outfield of all time (hitting, fielding, baserunning)…here was his answer:
The last Bill McKechnie outfield with the Reds, whenever that was (1947?) was astonishingly awful. Let me find it. . .
1946 Reds. Their regular outfield was Dain Clay, Al Libke and Eddie Lukon. With 16 teams in the majors there were 48 regular outfielders. If you ranked them 1 through 48, none of the Reds would crack the top 40.
Bill McKechnie was the Reds manager of the 1939-40 World Series teams (champions in 1940) and he was all about the defense. The Reds World Series teams of his day were known to have air tight infield defense with MVP Frank McCormick at first base, star second baseman Lonnie Frey, former Yankee Billy Werber at 3b, and ss Billy Myers. He carried the concept over to his outfield, too.
After winning the 1940 World Series, the Reds began declining during the war years, finally finishing under .500 in 1945 at 61-93. The Reds “rebounded” to 67-87 in 1946 in McKechnie’s last season, but never crossed the .500 mark again until 1956. This period was one of the worst in Reds baseball history with losing seasons from 1945 through 1955.
McKechnie’s defensive principles had gotten the best of him by 1946 with the outfield of Dain Clay, Al Libke and Eddie Lukon. Clay had the most plate appearances of the group and had an OPS of 564 (for comparison: Alex Gonzalez’s 2009 OPS thus far is 591). Clay batted .228 with two homers and 22 rbi. Libke hit .253 with five homers and 42 rbi, and Lukon was the big bat of the group, hitting .250 with 12 homers and 34 rbi in about 350 plate appearances. Max West and Bob Usher also spent substantial time in the outfield and batted .213 and .204, respectively.
1946 was the last major league seasons for both Libke and Clay; Lukon survived through 1947. In 880 career major league at bats (two seasons), Libke batted .268 with nine homers and 95 ribi. Clay played four seasons with the Reds (1943-46), leading the National League with 656 at bats in 1945. In four seasons, Clay’s lifetime totals were .258 with three homers and 98 rbi. Lukon played two seasons (1946-47), batting .236 with 23 homers and 70 rbi. Lukon had the nickname “Mongoose” and Clay had two nicknames, “Sniffy” and “Ding-a-Ling.” Al went by Al.
I have bad memories of our 1982 outfield of Eddie Milner, Cesar Cedeno, Paul Householder, Duane Walker, and Mike Vail, but I suppose it’s all relative. Milner and Cedeno actually had OPS+ ratings of 99 and 117, respectively. The other three varied from 64 to 81. Milner was known to be a good defensive player, but Cedeno was past his prime and the others weren’t signed for their leather.