Who was Cecil Travis? He was a shortstop for the Washington Senators. He was also on his way to the Hall of Fame, according to author Thomas Allen.
“But he got his feet frozen in the Battle of the Bulge and it took away his speed,” Allen said.
Travis hit .359 in 1941, the year Joe DiMaggio went on his 56-game hitting streak—that was two points better than DiMaggio that year. Like many players of that era, World War II called them away from baseball, leaving Allen to wonder what kind of numbers these players would have put up, had it not been for WWII. He explored that question in a recently-published book called “If They Hadn’t Gone”.
Allen, who is a certified CPA and served as the Chief Financial Officer at Southwest Missouri St. for 34 years, created a formula to determine the projected stats of major league players who had six or more years of experience and served in World War II. All 472 major league baseball players who served are chronicled.
The task, which began seven years ago, started out with Allen scribbling out projections of a couple of baseball players. The impetus for the book—or as Allen calls it, the project “which got way out of hand”—was born.
Allen said he spent hours at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York pouring over old copies of the Sporting News to get numbers and tidbits about the players, which are found in their biographies in the book.
What may be the most unbelievable portion of this task is that Allen came up with the formula and projections with nothing more than pencils, paper and a calculator. Figuring out projections of statistics for 472 baseball players by hand seems like a mind-numbing, if not a mind-blowing task to most humans. But not for Allen. Remember, he’s a CPA. “I’ve always been kind of a numbers nut,” he said.
And Allen realizes people probably questioned his sanity for spending so much time on it. Allen admitted, “You’ve gotta be a little bit strange, I think, to come up with something like this.”
But the book is more than a bunch of crunched numbers on a stat sheet. The research for the book also included correspondence with former players. Of the 472 players who served, about 200 of them were still alive. Allen contacted each one of them with a letter and survey. He was overwhelmed by the response.
“I got back 120 responses to a simple questionnaire, which if you know anything about cold surveys, it’s unheard of as far as return rate is concerned,” Allen said.
The players provided more than just their stats. Many of them wrote detailed letters describing their experiences in the war and in baseball. Some even sent memorabilia from the war. While some of the players know their baseball careers were hurt by serving, Allen said none of them he talked to had any regrets.
“They realized that they did give up their careers, in a lot of cases,” Allen said, “but the underlying theme (from the players) is ‘The country needed us, it was the right thing to do and I’m proud to have served’ “