All-Time Indians: Willie Kamm

All-Time Indians: Willie Kamm

Indians

All-Time Indians: Willie Kamm

Name: William Edward Kamm Position: Third Baseman
Tribe Time: 1931-1935 Number: 5
Accolades: Top 21 MVP 1933 DOB: 02/02/1900
Stats G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS OBP SLG AVG OPS
Best Season (1932) 148 524 76 150 34 9 3 83 75 36 6 3 .379 .403 .286 .782
Indians Career 522 1785 257 507 105 18 4 239 255 115 32 17 .366 .370 .284 .736

A little known player, Willie Kamm played for the Indians for a short period in the 1930’s, but still became one of the top third basemen in team history and arguably the best defender at the position over the past 115 years.

Kamm began his career in the Pacific Coast League with the Sacremento Senators and San Francisco Seals before being traded to the White Sox in 1923 where he made his MLB debut at the age of 23. He was immediately made the starter at third base and in fact, would never play another position for the rest of his lengthy career. This was probably the best move as he lead the league in fielding percentage at third each season from 1924 through 1929.

He played at least 140 games each season for the Sox during that stretch accumulating 218 doubles and 60 triples. He was a solid player on both sides of the ball and in 1928 finished fifth in the AL MVP voting behind Mickey Cochrane of the Philadelphia Athletics. In 1930 at the age of 30, Kamm didn’t play a full season for the first time in his career and after just 18 games in 1931, he was sent to Cleveland in exchange for Lew Fonseca. Fonseca would play just 162 games across three seasons with the White Sox before ending his career, but Kamm would have a resurgence and complete four full seasons with the Indians.

Hall of Famer, Joe Sewell had played the majority of the innings in 1930, but was released after that season and signed with the Yankees. Needing a replacement, Kamm filled in perfectly and played in 114 games in 1931 with a .295/.392/.390 line with 31 doubles, 13 steals and 66 RBI. With this line, he really helped extend the lineup behind the top three hitters of Earl Averill, Joe Vosmik and Ed Morgan.

The following season would be Kamm’s best in Cleveland. He played in 148 games and hit 46 extra base hits with 76 and 83 RBI. Also impressive was his strike out total. When he first came to the Majors, Kamm had a problem striking out as he went down swinging 82 times in his rookie year and 59 the next. While these totals weren’t too extreme, he would never near that rate again for the rest of his career. After just 18 in 540 at bats with the White Sox in 1927, Kamm limboed under that number in 1931 with just 13. In 1932, he struck out just 36 times in 524 at bats with only Bill Cissell and Johnny Burnett striking out less often on the Tribe.

In 1933, Kamm would retake his position at the top of the fielding percentage leader board and he would maintain that spot through 1934. When all was done, Kamm would lead the league in third base fielding percent eight times and still holds the Indians record for career fielding percent. This is particularly impressive as most of the Indians fielding leaders at other positions have come in recent seasons as fielding (and field conditions and equipment) has improved over the ages. While modern statistics aren’t available from the 1930’s, Kamm was always among the league leaders in range factor, double plays turned, put outs and assists.

1934 would be Kamm’s final full season with the Indians and he would hit safely more than 100 times and knock in more than 40 times for the fourth straight season. While he may not have been as fast as he was when he was younger, he was smarter on the base paths, stealing seven bases in eight attempts. He batted just .269 that year, his lowest average for the Indians and his worst since 1929. While his offense wasn’t up his normal quality at the age of 34, his defense maintained as he lead the league for one last time.

He would play just six games in 1935, his final in the Major Leagues. Kamm attempted a come back in 1936 with the Pacific Coast League Mission Reds as a player manager, but dropped the first half of the title after just six games. He continued on as the manager for one more season before retiring from baseball for good. For his 13 years in Cleveland and Chicago, Kamm received just 1% of the Hall of Fame vote in 1958, not surprising as most of his contribution was on the much undervalued defensive side. Even so, he was still among the Indians top offensive third basemen with more than 230 runs and RBI and over 100 doubles in just 522 games. Kamm died in his home state of California in 1988 at the age of 88.

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