Al Maul displaying the smile that created his nickname.
Bridging the Two-Way Gap

Bridging the Two-Way Gap: Al Maul

In my heart of hearts, I like to believe that Al Maul was given the nickname “Smiling” as some sort of inside joke. With a last name like Maul he had to be a killer, is what I tell myself when I think of the lost opportunities when it came to the Philadelphia natives nickname. Alas, I have read up on Maul enough to know that his nickname was derived from his pleasant demeanor. A real bummer that discovery was, my killer was gone, replaced by a jovial fella who simply liked to smile.

My nickname issues aside, Maul represents a basic tenet of Deadball Era players. He had a few good seasons surrounded by general mediocrity. It’s simply because of the era he played in coupled with his longevity that Maul ever became someone whose name carried well past his playing days. I’m going to carry on that name, but for a different, and obvious reason, Maul was a two-way player.

In 1887 Maul pitched as well as played centerfield and right field for the Nashville Blues of the Southern League. In 108.1 innings on the mound he managed an ERA of 2.91 and a WHIP of 1.495. He played the outfield in 14 games, where he slashed .466/unknown/.725 with 4 home runs and 13 stolen bases. The same year Maul saw playing time with the Philadelphia Quakers of the National League. He pitched in 7 games and spread 10 games between first base, centerfield, and left field. His pitching stats took a hit in the jump among leagues. Maul threw 50.1 innings for an ERA of 5.54 and a WHIP of 1.728. His batting fared much better: .304/.451/.465 for an OPS+ of 148. For the Quakers, he posted a combined rWAR of -0.3.

For the next two seasons, Maul played with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys of the NL. He was a limited two-way player those seasons, mainly occupying a positional player role and only appearing as a pitcher in 9 games. That changed in 1890 with the Pittsburgh Burghers of the Players League. The dual-threat right-hander pitched in 31 games, as well as playing 1 game at shortstop, 11 games in left field, 3 games in centerfield, and 1 game in right field. From the mound he had a 3.94 ERA, 4.32 FIP, and 1.502 WHIP for an rWAR of 0.2. With the bat Smiling Al went .259/.346/.331 with an OPS+ of 88 and an rWAR of 0.7. His total rWAR of 0.9 placed him just above replacement level, and puts his entire two-way existence in doubt.

In 1891 Maul found himself with the Pittsburgh Pirates of the NL. He was again a two-way player; 8 games at pitcher, 20 in left field, 12 in center field, and 8 in right field. His bat was, yet again, a great detriment to his value. He slashed .188/.284/.255 with an OPS+ of 61 and an offensive rWAR of -0.8. He remained average as a pitcher; an ERA of 2.31, FIP of 3.33, and a WHIP of 1.538 for a pitching rWAR of 0.6. His total rWAR of -0.2 showed that his two-way status hurt the Pirates far more than it helped.

The man I thought was a killer would sporadically see time as a two-way player the rest of his career. He mainly pitched though, never appearing in the field for more than 10 games in any season but 1894. That year, with the Washington Senators in the NL, he saw action in 1 game in left field, 11 games in right field, and 28 games at pitcher. Maul accrued a 0.5 rWAR on the mound through 201.2 innings pitched, an ERA of 5.98, a FIP of 5.49, and an ERA+ of 88. He wasn’t any better at the dish, a .242/.352/.363 slash line with an OPS+ of 75 for an offensive rWAR of 0.2. A total rWAR of 0.7 amounted to yet another barely above average season for the smiling one.

The next season Maul had the best year of his career, focusing mainly on pitching he put together an NL best ERA+ of 197 and ERA of 2.45. His rWAR of 5.0 was a mark he would never come close to replicating. Smiling Al Maul was a mediocre player through and through, and the attempts to have him be a two-way player come across, in retrospect, as little more than a pitcher being forced to hit. File Maul as one the bad two-way players in history.

Lead photo courtesy of A.G. Spalding – New York Public Library

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Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), husband, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and Off the Bench Baseball; freelance writer at various online and print publications. Member Internet Baseball Writers Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

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