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Nate Colbert

June 24, 2007
 

In 1972, Steve Carlton produced the most renowned “man alone” single-season performance in baseball history, winning 27 games for a famously putrid Philadelphia Phillies squad. The team’s record in games not involving Steve Carlton in the decision was 32 and 87, a 44 and 118 won-loss ratio when translated to a 162-game schedule. No pitcher has earned more wins since, and only Bob Welch in 1990, benefiting from the support of a nearly dynastic Oakland A’s squad that reeled off 103 wins that year, won as many. Most feel that Carlton’s 1972 season is among the best ever produced by a pitcher.

The best offensive counterpart to Steve Carlton’s famous 1972 season may have occurred in that very same year: Nate Colbert drove in 111 runs for the San Diego Padres, the only 1972 National League team to score fewer runs and win fewer games than Carlton’s Phillies. Colbert’s RBI total accounted for a whopping 23% of the Padres’ total 488 runs. I don’t know if this is the highest percentage in history, but I did check the ratio of RBI to team runs scored for the top single-season RBI producers in baseball history, finding that single-season leader Hack Wilson drove in 19% of his teams runs in 1930; Lou Gehrig 17% in 1931; Hank Greenberg 20% in 1937; and Jimmie Foxx 19% in 1938. Seeing that the top single-season RBI totals were all produced in the hitter’s paradise of the 1930s, I also scanned farther down on the list of RBI leaders for players from relatively low-scoring eras and checked a few deadball era single season RBI champs for their ratios, too. Then I got tired of the whole task and decided to unscientifically cut to the chase and crown Nate Colbert as the greatest single-season RBI producer in the history of the game. I also feel that he had the greatest pair of muttonchops.

Anyway, here he is late in his 11-year career, looking a little melancholy, as if he knows there are only two more major league home runs left in his bat.

13 comments

  1. 1.  So when he played with the Expos, and the local paper did a story about him, was that a Colbert Report?


  2. 2.  Oui, c’est vrais. Mais Nate Colbert ne frappent pas souvent pour les Expos.


  3. 3.  By the way, I ran the query you suggested above, and you are correct. Colbert had the highest RBI-to-team runs ratio in MLB history. Here’s the top 50:

    ratio    rbi     r year  tm  name

    0.2275   111   488 1972  SDN Nate Colbert
    0.2261   130   575 1935  BSN Wally Berger
    0.2222   010   045 1875  KEO Charley Jones
    0.2125   143   673 1959  CHN Ernie Banks
    0.2059   160   777 2001  CHN Sammy Sosa
    0.2041   141   691 1961  BAL Jim Gentile
    0.2027   075   370 1981  CHN Bill Buckner
    0.2025   128   632 1943  CHN Bill Nicholson
    0.2023   106   524 1968  WS2 Frank Howard
    0.2021   114   564 1919  BOS Babe Ruth
    0.2013   126   626 1970  WS2 Frank Howard
    0.1996   113   566 1972  CHA Dick Allen
    0.1977   120   607 1933  PHI Chuck Klein
    0.1960   165   842 1934  NYA Lou Gehrig
    0.1957   118   603 1979  SDN Dave Winfield
    0.1957   183   935 1937  DET Hank Greenberg
    0.1955   138   706 1925  NYA Bob Meusel
    0.1953   108   553 1958  WS1 Roy Sievers
    0.1952   115   589 1915  PHI Gavvy Cravath
    0.1952   154   789 1937  SLN Joe Medwick
    0.1940   175   902 1938  BOS Jimmie Foxx
    0.1940   090   464 1981  CIN George Foster
    0.1934   141   729 1954  CIN Ted Kluszewski
    0.1929   104   539 1944  PHI Ron Northey
    0.1927   121   628 1952  CHN Hank Sauer
    0.1927   116   602 1994  HOU Jeff Bagwell
    0.1920   130   677 1963  ML1 Hank Aaron
    0.1920   106   552 1933  BSN Wally Berger
    0.1914   191   998 1930  CHN Hack Wilson
    0.1910   148   775 1970  CIN Johnny Bench
    0.1905   096   504 1994  SFN Matt Williams
    0.1903   137   720 1987  CHN Andre Dawson
    0.1901   158   831 1998  CHN Sammy Sosa
    0.1891   114   603 1957  WS1 Roy Sievers
    0.1888   141   747 1999  CHN Sammy Sosa
    0.1886   112   594 1994  MIN Kirby Puckett
    0.1883   145   770 1953  CLE Al Rosen
    0.1869   117   626 1955  CHN Ernie Banks
    0.1867   118   632 1943  DET Rudy York
    0.1865   127   681 1949  PIT Ralph Kiner
    0.1863   109   585 1908  PIT Honus Wagner
    0.1863   163   875 1933  PHA Jimmie Foxx
    0.1858   149   802 1977  CIN George Foster
    0.1854   137   739 1971  SLN Joe Torre
    0.1854   104   561 1901  CIN Sam Crawford
    0.1853   091   491 1981  PHI Mike Schmidt
    0.1851   117   632 1989  SLN Pedro Guerrero
    0.1850   170   919 1935  DET Hank Greenberg
    0.1847   128   693 1913  PHI Gavvy Cravath
    0.1846   125   677 1985  CIN Dave Parker


  4. 4.  Not to hyperextend the other day’s discussion, but Nate Colbert in an Expos uniform was a pretty surprising sight.
    I had forgotten he washed up at Parc Jarry for a short time.

    Maybe he looks melancholy b/c he knows he will spend virtually his entire career on miserable expansion teams, playing before 5,000 fans a night.
    No fin-de-career phone call from the Reds, Dodgers or Yankees for Nate Colbert.


  5. 5.  Charley Jones! They still don’t know what happened to him after his career. Like One Arm Daily, he may still be haunting some old ballyard somewhere.


  6. 6.  The 72 Padres of Colbert were 58-95, but Berger’s 1935 Braves were 38-115!


  7. 7.  5 The 1875 Keokuk Westerns also produced the Nate Colbert of run scoring: Jimmy Hallinan scored 12 of their 75 runs.

    If you exclude the pre-1900 teams, the run scoring ratio king is Burt Shotton of the 1913 St. Louis Browns, at 19.89%. Tim Raines (1983 Expos, 19.65%), and Rickey Henderson (1981 A’s, 19.43%) follow.


  8. 8.  7 What a weird schedule the 1875 National Association must have played. The Keokuk Westerns played 13 games (going 1-12) while the Hartford Dark Blues played 82 games and the champion Boston Red Stockings played 79 games. And I thought interleague play made for a bad schedule. I guess they played whenever they could get a crowd to pay the bills in 1875 and that was the schedule. Kind of like the modern day NHL.


  9. 9.  3: Thanks for the confirmation, Ken.

    4: Colbert did get one extremely brief and inconsequential moment in a pennant race at the very end, making his last 5 outs for the ’76 Oakland A’s, who still had enough fumes in their dynastic tank to make a race of it with the Royals.


  10. 10.  I just had to go to Retrosheet to look up Colbert’s cup of coffee with the Bicentennial A’s.

    On Sept. 6, he started at DH and went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.
    And on October 1, he pinch-hit and stayed in the game at DH, going 0-for-1 with an intentional walk.

    What d’ya suppose he did in between?
    They couldn’t have sent him DOWN between appearances, could they? The minor-league season would have been over.
    Did he patiently come to the ballpark every day, pull on his lurid yellow-and-green double-knits and sit on the bench again and again?
    Did he perhaps confess minor muscle soreness to the skipper, only to be mentally written off as unfit and without utility for the rest of his stay?
    Did he watch his team rack up wins of 13-3 (Sept. 19) and 11-1 (Sept. 21) and wonder silently why no place could be found for a pinch-hitter or late-inning substitute?
    Was he one of those guys who occasionally walked from one end of the dugout to the other, half-swinging a bat, flexing their arms and trying to look relevant?

    There’s a book, or at least a novella, in that month.
    Heck, maybe a concept album.


  11. 11.  In 1959, Ernie Banks led the Cubs in RBIs by 91. He had 143, and Bobby Thomson was second with 52.


  12. 12.  It says something that 10 of those 50 were Cubs.


  13. 13.  In 1971, on those same dreadful Padres, Enzo Hernandez set a record for futility by knocking in only 12 runs in over 600 plate appearances. He also made 33 errors to boot.



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