EDITOR'S NOTE: Frequent BCB readers may recall that a few months ago I reviewed one of my favorite new baseball books, Chris Jensen's Baseball State By State. After reading the book I've asked Chris to join us for a 12-part series in 2013 on the best players born in Wisconsin. What follows is part one of that series. - KL
Through the 2012 season a total of 240 Wisconsin-born players have appeared in the Major Leagues. The best Wisconsin player born in January is Fond du Lac native Jim Gantner, who was born on January 5, 1953.
Gantner was fortunate to be drafted by his home-state Brewers in the 12th round of the 1974 amateur draft, making his debut with the team toward the end of the 1976 season and staying with the Brew Crew for the duration of his 17-year career. The '76 Brewers featured Hank Aaron in his last season and shortstop Robin Yount, who was already in his third season at age 20. Gantner and Yount would be teammates on the Brewers for the next 17 seasons, and they were double-play partners from 1981-1984.
Gantner, who was nicknamed "Gumby" for his odd running gait, was a steady, sure-handed contributor who ended his career with 1,696 hits, which ranks eighth all-time among Wisconsin players. In my book, Baseball State by State, I rank Gantner as the second-best Wisconsin second baseman behind Mark Grudzielanek. Batting left-handed, Gantner averaged .274 in 1,801 career games, playing 1,449 games at second and 360 at third base.
He batted .295 during the regular season to help the Brew Crew win the AL East and reach the World Series. Gantner batted .333 in a losing effort against the Cardinals in that Series.
Gantner's .985 fielding percentage at second base currently ranks 33rd all-time, behind 11 active players who could drop over time. That puts him ahead of more acclaimed defensive stalwarts such as Bobby Grich, Frank White, Roberto Alomar, Craig Biggio, Lou Whitaker, Bill Mazeroski and Joe Morgan. He led the American League in assists in 1983 and in putouts in 1984 and 1988.
Other notable Wisconsin players born in January include Joe Hauser and Bob Uecker. Hauser, born on January 12, is the first player to hit more than 60 home runs twice in professional baseball, although he did it in the minors after his major league career had wound down. Hauser belted 63 homers for the Baltimore Orioles in 1930 and 69 for the Minneapolis Millers in 1933. His 27 home runs in 1924 trailed only Babe Ruth in the American League. Nicknamed "Unser Choe," Hauser batted .284 with 80 home runs in six big-league seasons, mainly with the Philadelphia A's.
Uecker, born on January 26, has been Wisconsin's gift to the baseball world across a laughably mediocre six-year career in the majors and a wonderful 40-plus years as a broadcaster. The longtime "Voice of the Brewers" was honored with the Ford Frick Award from the Hall of Fame in 2003. Mr. Baseball was famous for his self-deprecating recall of his playing feats. "I set records that will never be equaled-in fact, I hope 90 percent of them don't even get printed," Uecker once quipped.
Chris Jensen is the author of Baseball State by State: Major and Negro League Players, Ballparks, Museums and Historical Sites, which was published in July 2012 by McFarland. It features a chapter on each state covering state baseball history, an all-time team, stats leaders, historic baseball places to see, future stars, player nicknames and the state's all-time best player.