What do Butch Wynegar and Buddy Lewis have in common? Well if you read the introduction to this series that I posted earlier today you can probably narrow it down pretty quickly. I’ll save you the time if the answer didn’t immediately come to mind, it is the weekend after all.
Wynegar (Twins) and Lewis (Senators) turned in the best seasons by 20-year olds in the organization’s history. It’s nice that it worked out this way right off the bat so there is no need for honorable mentions in this installment. An added “bonus commonality” is that both players had more walks than strike outs in their respective seasons.
Wynegar’s year was impressive for a whole slew of reasons. Chief among them are the facts that he was a catcher and 1976 was his rookie season. I can’t stress that enough. In 1976 Butch Wynegar was making his major league debut while handling the rigors of catching for 137 of his 149 games played. At 20-years old he turned in a season worth 3.2 WAR and put up a nice, tidy and above average OPS+ of 109. The baseball world took notice of his achievement. He was named to the All-Star team, finished 2nd to Mark Fidrych in the AL Rookie of the Year voting, and received 1 vote in the AL MVP race putting him in a tie for 28th out of 28 players to receive votes. Thurmon Munson won the 1976 AL MVP for those of you who are curious.
It was a great start to what would become a solid 13-year major league career. Wynegar was drafted by the Twins in the 2nd round of the 1974 draft and was the Twins catcher from 1976-1982. In May of the 1982 season he was dealt to the New York Yankees and would remain there until he was traded to the California Angels in December of 1986. Wynegar played in 58 games for the Angels between the 1987 and 1988 seasons before calling it a career.
When all was said and done his career OPS+ sat at 93. He made the All-Star team again in 1977 and would play in 723 games in his first 5 seasons with Minnesota. Wynegar finished his career 24.7 wins above replacement. His 4.3 WAR season in 1979 was his high water mark but he was above 3 WAR three other times times in his career counting his rookie season. He also had another 4 seasons with a WAR in the 2s. He never flashed a lot of power but he walked 198 more times than he struck out (626 to 428) and finished with a 0.255/.348/.347 slash line.
He’s still around the game having served as a minor league manager, a roving hitting instructor and as a major league hitting coach. He is currently the hitting coach of the New York Yankees Triple-A affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
If I had to venture a guess, I would say that most baseball fans in their mid-30s or older would recognize Butch Wynegar’s name. Die-hard fans even younger may be familiar with him due to his work as a hitting instructor and coach.
The name Buddy Lewis on the other hand probably doesn’t ring a lot of bells for most fans but that’s not to minimize his talents within the game of baseball. It’s just a matter of the fact that he played so long ago.
Lewis spent his entire major league career with the Senators playing 3B/OF over 11 seasons from 1935-1949. Like many of his brethren he missed the 1942, 1943 and 1944 due to World War II. During those years he served his country as a member of the United States Air Force and, according to Wikipedia, flew more that 350 missions during that time. Those years took away the early stages of the prime of his career (25-27 year old seasons).
He made a brief 8 game debut in 1935 before playing in the majors for the entirety of the 1936 season. In 1937 Lewis, again just 20-years old, had 210 hits and finished 16th in the AL MVP voting. The following year he made the All-Star team and finished 24th in the AL MVP voting but statistically the best was still to come.
At the age of 24 only Ty Cobb had recorded more hits in his career than Lewis and one can’t help but wonder what could have been. He finished the 1941 season with a line of 0.297/.386/.434. It was his 3rd consecutive season with an OPS+ in excess of 120. When he returned to the game in 1945 he hit 0.333/.423/.465. His 168 OPS+ that season wound up being his career high but he would put up a 123 OPS+ season the following year in 1946. His WAR was 2 or better every year from 1936 through 1946 reaching a peak of 5.3 in 1939. He wound up with 1,563 hits with a 111 OPS+ and a line of 0.297/.368/.420.
The guy could flat hit and his nephew, Hal Morris, could hit a little too.
He gave up 3 years of his career to serve our country and for that alone I will never forget him. Unfortunately this column comes with some very sad news. Buddy Lewis died yesterday (February 18th) at the age of 94.