There are few instances in baseball history of a player beginning his career at a late age and still going on to achieve Hall of Fame status. One of those to accomplish such a feat is Earl Averill who debuted with the Cleveland Indians a little over a month short of his 27th birthday and went on to become one of the top hitters of his era.
Averill began his career playing semi-pro ball and eventually signed with San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League in 1926. After three solid seasons in the PCL (he had one-hundred seventy-three runs batted in during 1928) he was signed by the Indians in 1929 and immediately became their starting centerfielder. Averill broke in with a flourish, homering in his first Major League at-bat (the second American League player to do so) and went on to hit .332. Although he didn't possess a strong arm, he played solid defense and led American League outfielders in putouts.
In 1930, Averill followed up his brilliant rookie season by batting .339 and reaching the one-hundred runs batted in mark for the first time (119). In September of that year the small but compactly built slugger hit three homeruns in the first game of a doubleheader and belted another round tripper in the nightcap becoming the first Major League player to homer four times in a twin bill. In that same doubleheader he knocked in a still American League record eleven runs. The next two seasons Averill produced career highs of thirty-two home runs, one-hundred forty-three runs batted in, one-hundred forty runs scored, and he reached the two-hundred hit plateau for the first time in 1931 (209). In the 1932 season the Red Sox showed the ultimate respect for Averill by walking him five consecutive times in a game. "He was treated with the kind of respect usually reserved for imposing specimens like Foxx and Gehrig", said Boston's Ted Williams.
After six consecutive seasons of .300 or better, Averill slumped to .288 in 1935, but bounced back to rack up career highs in 1936 in average .378 (finishing second to Luke Appling's .388) and hits (two-hundred thirty-two). In June of 1937 began being bothered by temporary paralysis in his legs. The final diagnosis was a congenital spinal malformation which forced Averill to alter his batting style in order to continue playing and be a productive player. He made the 1937 All-Star team (it was his line drive in that All-Star game that struck and broke Dizzy Dean's toe that eventually caused Dean a sore arm and his career) but his overall numbers were below his normal standards. He came back in 1938 to hit .330 but managed just fourteen home runs and shortly into the 1939 season the Indians dealt him to the Tigers in a deal that enraged Cleveland fans. As a part-time player for Detroit he contributed to the Tigers pennant winning season of 1940. Averill's playing days ended after a brief stop with the National League's Boston Braves in 1941.
In his thirteen big league seasons Earl Averill batted .300 eight times, scored one-hundred runs nine times, and drove in one-hundred or more runs in five seasons. He led the American League in hits in 1936 (two-hundred thirty-two) and triples (ffifteen). He had ten or more triples eight times and thirty or more doubles in nine seasons. He was the only American League outfielder named to their first six All-Star teams (1933-38). "He supports my contention that you don't have to be a muscle-bound giant to be a great major league hitter", said Ted Williams. Earl Averill was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the by The Committee on Baseball Veterans in 1975.