Bob Elliott- Baseball’s Forgotten Slugger

Bob Elliott was nicknamed Mr. Team, for his willingness to do whatever it took for his club to win, and the fact that one year he almost single handedly carried his club. He played on some truly lousy Pittsburgh Pirates clubs, but then Bob Elliott caught a break and was traded to the Boston Braves, where he got some of the recognition he so richly deserved. Bob Elliott was not a Hall of Fame caliber player, but he did something that Hall of Famers such as Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, and Stan Musial did not. If you want to stump your pals with a baseball trivia question, ask them who had the most runs batted in during the decade of the Forties. God bless the one who correctly answers, “Bob Elliott.”
Born in San Diego, California in 1916, Bob Elliott broke in with the Pirates in 1939 at the age of 22. He was an outfielder at first, and wound up playing over 500 games there. The vast dimensions of Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field in left cut down drastically the power numbers that Bob Elliott could put up, but it was soon apparent that he could hit. The right handed batting Bob Elliott hit .292 in 1940, his first full season in the majors, and followed that up with a .273 average and over 70 RBI the next year. His home run totals were ridiculously low for the number of RBI Bob Elliott could produce. For example, in 1942, Bob Elliott had 89 RBI with just 9 home runs, and in 1943, he knocked in over 100 with only7 round trippers. A solid line drive hitter, Bob Elliott flourished during the war years in the Steel City. In 1943, Bob Elliott batted .315, with only 7 home runs but 101 RBI. The next campaign saw Bob Elliott duplicate that success, with 10 homers and 110 RBI.

In 1945, Bob Elliott had a year that was similar to the previous two. He hit .290 with 8 home runs and 108 runs batted in. The fact that Bob Elliott did not go overseas and off to war, while some of the game’s greatest stars did, is the reason why he knocked in the most runs during the decade, but it should not diminish what Bob Elliott accomplished in the sport. He began to play third base during the 1942 season, and although he was not an accomplished fielder, Bob Elliott made the move to help his team. In 1946, with most of the game’s best back from World War II, Bob Elliott had his worst year as a member of the Pirates. Hitting .263, Bob Elliott wound up with just 68 RBI, and there was talk that his outstanding RBI totals were a result of his playing against a depleted corps of pitchers during the war. He would put that talk to rest in the coming seasons.

After the 1946 season ended, Bob Elliott was dealt to the Boston Braves for second baseman Billy Herman. The deal would prove to be a steal for the Boston team, as Herman was 37 and would play only 15 games with the Bucs. Bob Elliott on the other hand, finally free of the faraway fences in left of Forbes Field, began to show that he was a legitimate star. He hit a career high .317, with 22 home runs and 113 runs batted in. He led the Braves to a third place finish; Bob Elliott had 35 more RBI than the next best Braves’ batter, Earl Torgeson. For his efforts, Bob Elliott was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player of 1947.

One of the most famous sayings in baseball was born the next season, as “Spahn and Sain, and pray for rain” became the cry throughout Boston, referring to the team’s two star pitchers. Johnny Sain won 24 games, while Warren Spahn had 15 victories, but Bob Elliott’s contributions to this pennant winning club are often overlooked. Bob Elliott once more had his 100 RBI season, this time with 23 home runs and 131 bases on balls. Bob Elliott led the National League in walks, the only time he ever led the majors in any important batting category. Now playing almost exclusively at third, Bob Elliott had by now been given the “Mr. Team” moniker. The Braves squared off against the powerful Cleveland Indians in the 1948 World Series. This was an Indians’ squad that boasted Bob Feller and Bob Lemon on the hill and a trio of 100 RBI infielders in Kenny Keltner, Joe Gordon, and AL MVP Lou Boudreau.

The Braves beat Feller in Game One behind Johnny Sain by a 1-0 score when Boston’s Tommy Holmes was ruled safe on a controversial pick-off play at second base and then later scored the game’s lone run. Bob Lemon defeated Spahn in Game Two; through the first two games Bob Elliott had gone 1 for 7. In Game Three, 20 game winner Gene Bearden shutout the Braves, as Cleveland went up 2-1 in the Series. When Steve Gromek outdueled Sain in the fourth contest, it looked like curtains for the Braves and Bob Elliott, who went 0 for 4, and had only a pair of hits on the game’s biggest stage.

The fifth tilt of the 1948 World Series was the highlight of Bob Elliott’s baseball career. In the first inning, with a man on, Bob Elliott hit a home run off of fireballer Bob Feller, and then followed that up with a solo shot in the third off of the future Hall of Fame right hander. The Braves bombed the Tribe by an 11-5 count, staying alive for one more game. The dream of the Boston fans to have a world champion in Beantown ended the next day when the Braves left two men stranded in the eighth inning and then bunted into a double play in the ninth during a 4-3 loss. Bob Elliott went 3 for 3, all singles, giving him a total of 7 for 21, 2 homers, and 5 RBI for the entire World Series.

At the age of 33, in 1950, Bob Elliott would have his last great year, hitting over .300 with a career best 24 home runs and 107 RBI. He would play one more season with the Braves, and then Bob Elliott was out of baseball by 1954. He briefly managed the woeful Kansas City Athletics in 1960, and died at the age of 49 on May 4th, 1966, of a ruptured vein in his windpipe.

Bob Elliott knocked in 100 or more runs 6 times, finishing with over 2,000 base hits, and 1,195 runs batted in. He was not a Hall of Famer, just a very good hitter who got the chance to show he was not a flash in the pan because he played during the war. Bob Elliott is also the answer to one very hard trivia question. Below are the RBI totals from 1940 through 1949 of Bob Elliott, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and Stan Musial.

Elliott- 903
Williams- 893 missed 1943-1945 in the service
DiMaggio- 786 missed 1943-1945 in the service
Musial- 706 Missed 1945 in the service

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