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How good was Terry Moore's defense?

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The latest "Veteran" inductee into the Cardinals Hall of Fame was a two-time World Champion and four-time All-Star, but his greatest asset was his defense.

Here's a picture of Jim Edmonds. Terry Moore was kinda like Jim Edmonds.
Here's a picture of Jim Edmonds. Terry Moore was kinda like Jim Edmonds.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

In the lengthy introduction to Ken Burns Baseball, Rotisserie Baseball Inventor Daniel Okrent waxes nostalgic about the value of numbers in baseball. He says a .300 hitter is not just a number, but an archetype we have in our mind, allowing us to imagine players from bygone eras by simply looking at their numbers.

When it comes to batting, Okrent is certainly correct. And even as some long-held statistics have fallen somewhat out-of-favor, the new wave of league and context-adjusted stats like wOBA and OPS+ are still designed to give us an even more accurate point-of-comparison for all players, across all eras. Pitching stats, likewise, remain pretty robust.

But it all kind of falls apart when we get to defense, and if you read up on Terry Moore - among the latest to be inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame - that's where his great value was found.

Moore debuted with the Cardinals in 1935, joining the "Gashouse Gang" which had just won a World Series, and still featured future Hall of Famers like Joe Medwick, Frankie Frisch and Dizzy Dean. He would continue playing for St. Louis until 1948, his career a unique bridge between those Gashouse era teams and the Stan Musial-led teams of the 1940s.

While Moore's hitting did rise to a respectable peak in the middle of his career, taken on the whole, he was a league-average hitter by wRC+. What got Terry Moore into the big leagues and kept him there for 14 years (including the three he sat out serving in WWII) was his defense in center field.

How do we know Terry Moore was a great defensive center fielder? Well, stories mostly.

St. Louis sportswriters reported that Moore could throw a ball into a barrel from 100 yards, and run 100 yards in 10 seconds. Many claimed he was the fastest man in the National League.

In June of 1936, Mel Ott of the New York Giants hit a line-drive into the left-center gap. Moore had positioned himself in right-center. Moore turned on his speed, covered the ground, dived headlong and caught the ball with his bare hand. "It was an impossible catch," Ott told reporters after the game.

Leo Durocher - who played with Moore and later managed against him, took his praise even further, saying "nobody can tell me a better outfielder ever lived."

The stories go on, and they paint a vibrant picture of Moore and his stellar defense. But do we have any statistics to back-up these stories?

Modern defensive evaluations can draw on batted ball data and even now the tremendous human performance metric that is Statcast. For players from Moore's era, we have only Total Zone.

Total Zone is a rather ingenious way to reverse-engineer a defensive statistic from play-by-play data. By looking at things like batted ball type, the tendencies of a particular hitter and how many of those balls were fielded by a given defender, it provides a measure of defensive runs saved.

During the span of his career, Terry Moore ranked 4th best among center fielders in runs saved by Total Zone, behind both Joe and Dom DiMaggio, and Mike Kreevich. So Moore was clearly one of the best center fielders of his era, though perhaps not quite ever "the best."

Based on the range defined by Fangraphs, Moore's Total Zone rating put him consistently in the "Above Average" to "Great" range, though never quite in the "Gold Glove Caliber" range. In Moore's best seasons, he was worth seven and eight runs saved (above average), whereas Joe DiMaggio saved eleven runs in two different seasons, and Kreevich - a Mount Olive, IL. native who played for the Browns among others - saved as many as 13 runs.

While we have more advanced metrics to evaluate Jim Edmonds, by Total Zone, in his best seasons in St. Louis he was worth an astonishing 18, 19 and 24 runs saved above average.

Now, the inputs into Total Zone are not exactly the same (or as reliable) from Moore's era to Edmonds, so these number should be looked at more to give us a sense of the player rather than a precise evaluation. But they seem to suggest that while Moore was a very good defender, the legend may exceed the reality.

Moore was like Edmonds in at least one other respect: He frequently injured himself from his full-speed play in the outfield. He suffered a concussion crashing into the concrete outfield wall of Sportsman's park, and suffered myriad injuries to his shoulder, wrist, etc. He averaged just 118 games per season over his career, and only played more than 130 twice.

For his career, Moore was worth 19.3 fWAR, good for 34th in Cardinals history, tied with Brian Jordan and just ahead of Tim McCarver.

But there are other factors which likely motivated the "Red Ribbon Committee" to induct Moore into the Cardinals HoF. He served as Captain of those 1940s squads, and players including Red Schoendist have raved about his leadership.

He stayed on after he retired as player and served as a coach, under former teammate Marty Marion. When Marion was fired, Moore was passed over and Eddie Stanky became Cardinals manager. Moore stayed on as a coach, but clashed with Stanky and was soon fired or quit, depending on the story.

Moore's spat with Stanky reached its climax a few years later. After serving as a scout for Philadelphia, he became the Phillies manager in 1954. During a July 18 game in St. Louis, the benches cleared after a near-beanball, and Moore and Stanky wound up rolling on the ground in a fistfight.

Moore lasted only a half-season as Phillies manager, and in 1956 returned to St. Louis as a coach for another three seasons. Throughout that time, he also owned a bowling alley in St. Louis.

Moore's Cardinals HoF resume is maybe a bit of a jumble, but between very good defense, leadership of some historic teams, a coaching career with the club and owning a local bowling alley, he is your latest Cardinals Hall of Famer.