A five-tool player before the term came into vogue, George Sisler began his career as a pitcher before becoming one of the game's greatest hitters.
After graduating with a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Michigan in 1915, Sisler moved right onto the roster of the St. Louis Browns. Starting his career as a pitcher, he eventually became a first baseman in order to get his powerful left-handed bat in the lineup every day.
Peerless defensively at first, Sisler also excelled with his 42-ounce bat in hand. In a big league career that lasted 15 seasons, Sisler batted better than .300 13 times, including league-leading averages of .407 in 1920 and .420 in 1922. His 257 hits during the 1920 campaign remained a modern major league record until Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki broke it in 2004. A skilled base runner as well, Sisler led the league in stolen bases four times.
Ty Cobb, an American League rival for many years, once called Sisler “the nearest thing to a perfect ballplayer” he had ever seen.
Sisler claimed that the fact he was once a pitcher helped make him a better hitter. “I used to stand on the mound myself, study the batter and wonder how I could fool him,” he said. “Now when I am at the plate, I can the more easily place myself in the pitcher’s position and figure what is passing through his mind.”
At the height of his success as a player, Sisler missed the entire 1923 season due to a sinus infection that produced double vision. He would come back to play another seven seasons, hitting .320 during that span, but he would acknowledge that he was never quite the same hitter.
Ending his career with 2,812 hits and a .340 batting average, Sisler was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939.
Sisler passed away on March 26, 1973.