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Zeke Bonura - Who the heck was he, anyway?

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Rhoys Hobbskins* keeps hitting. And driving in runs. And having the hot start of his career compared to...Zeke Bonura. Who was Zeke Bonura?

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Philadelphia Phillies
Rhoys Hobbskins being Sluggy McSlugger
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

First of all, Rhoys Hobbskins credit goes to EastonAssassin63.

Rhys Hoskins didn’t come out of nowhere, but the start to his MLB career did. He never struck out the Whammer or got shot by a fan. He has walked tons, hit loads of homers, and driven in tons of runs. In the entirety of the long and storied history of Major League Baseball, nobody has come out smoking them as hard or as often as Hoskins, and nobody is driving in runs faster than Hoskins.

Except this Zeke Bonura guy did for a while. I keep hearing Hoskins mentioned with “Zeke Bonura” so much that I want to know more about this guy who is linked to the Phillies’ Shiny New Thing.

Zeke Bonura played in the 1930’s, mostly for the Chicago White Sox. Here’s his page at Baseball-Reference.com.

He was a first baseman with an rWAR was consistently good, but not elite. His rookie year was 1934 when he was 25. Leaguewide scoring was at 4.91 runs/game per team that year, which is at the higher end of the historical range. We haven’t exceeded 4.91 runs a game since the height of the steroid era during 1999 and 2000, so we know that Bonura played in a hitter’s environment.

The White Sox team he came up with gave up 946 runs in 1934, or 6.14 per game over 154 games. They scored 704 runs, or 4.57 per game. As you might expect, their record was terrible, and they finished 53 - 99 and were buried in last place in the American League, 47 games behind the Detroit Tigers. Woof.

A bright spot for this otherwise dreary, last-place team, was their young, slugging first baseman who began with the hottest of hot streaks to start his career. A wonderful summary of his background and rise to MLB is contained in this piece on him at the SABR website. Notably, his season total of 27 homers would have been higher but for missing 24 games due to injury. The SABR piece briefly touches on the hot start (10 homers in 25 games).

Bonura was a solid player, accumulating a total of 21.6 rWAR over 7 seasons. Ultimately, his career was interrupted, as were so many others of that era, by World War II. Bonura was drafted by the Army and served overseas in North Africa and Western Europe where he continued to organize and play baseball. Again, the SABR piece covers this, as well as mentioning his receipt of the Legion of Merit from General Eisenhower for scrounging and scraping and organizing baseball for the troops during the war.

Bonura was, like many players of the period, from a blue collar immigrant neighborhood (his family had a Sicilian background). He had to work outside of baseball in the offseason during which he was also a professional basketball player. He served his country when called, and he stayed involved in the game even after his playing years were over, managing a minor league team.

Bonura was no Gehrig or Foxx, but he was an above-average player who led an interesting life beyond just his contribution to baseball. And he was fool enough, like me, to own beagles.

If Rhys Hoskins keeps being compared to Zeke Bonura, at least now you know a little bit about who Zeke Bonura was. While that comparison is being made for baseball purposes, if it turned out that Hoskins followed Bonura’s example off the field, that would be OK, too.

It turns out that an unexpected benefit for me of Hoskins’ electric start was to have a chance to learn about an interesting baseball player I had not known about before, and a person who deserves to be remembered.

Finally, I am very grateful that resources such as SABR and Baseball-Reference.com exist. Steven V. Wright, who wrote the SABR piece, did great work on SABR’s platform fleshing out the numbers and telling the story of an interesting player. The fact that I can take a few seconds googling and turn up tremendous work and resources like those makes reading and learning about baseball a delight.

So maybe the next time you see Hoskins hit a homer or drive in some runs, hoist one for Zeke Bonura. I will.

Poll

How awesome was Zeke Bonura

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Awesome
    (10 votes)
  • 13%
    Really Awesome
    (15 votes)
  • 18%
    Rhys Hoskins Awesome
    (21 votes)
  • 41%
    Legion of Merit Awesome
    (46 votes)
  • 17%
    I’m just a jerk
    (19 votes)
111 votes total Vote Now