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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,596

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This is the grave of Harry “Suitcase” Simpson.

Born in 1925 in Atlanta, Harry Simpson went into the Negro Leagues as a young man. He started with the Philadelphia Stars in 1946 and played there for the next three seasons. He certainly wasn’t going to be among the very first wave of Black players signed by Major League Baseball, but he was in the second wave, when the Cleveland Indians, who were ahead of the game on this as opposed to, say, the Boston Red Sox, signed him in 1951.

Simpson basically was a good solid player for a good long time. He was known for his superb defense in right field. Casey Stengel said he was the best defensive right fielder in the league. As for his hitting, well, he was good enough that you could play him. He was frankly pretty bad at the plate in that 1951 year, hitting .229/325/313, meaning his only real plus skill was taking walks. He had a nice little jump his second year. In fact, according to Baseball America’s WAR statistic, that was the best year of his career, as he had a 2.1 WAR. Most of the time, he was just over replacement level, around 1 WAR. But that defense was going to keep him around a long time.

Simpson missed the 1954 season due to injury. In the middle of 1955, Cleveland traded him to the Kansas City A’s. He would spend the rest of his career moving around all over the place. That’s how he got the nickname Suitcase. Or is it? That traditionally is the story. But according to this deep dive baseball website, he received the nickname back in 1952 because the reporter pool thought he looked like a character from the Toonerville Trolley shorts. I guess the resemblance was not in the face, but in the gigantic feet that both the character and Simpson had. I am not familiar with this series so I can’t speak to it. However, it does make a certain amount of sense, since he most certainly got that nickname before the ridiculous number of trades he was involved with later in his career. In any case, this makes a relatively uninteresting player a lot more interesting in terms of writing this post!

Whatever the real story, Simpson embraced the nickname to the point of it being on his gravestone. It’s a great nickname, really. In 1956, still with KC, he had the most decorated season of his career, even if by modern statistical standards, it wasn’t his best. He made the All Star team and finished 11th in MVP balloting, hitting .293/347/490, with 21 homers and a league leading 11 triples. He had good speed, but this was not a great era for stolen bases, so he only had 2 of those. The next year, he led the league in triples again, with 9, but only 1 steal.

After 1957, Simpson declined to replacement level and was traded all over the place. In the middle of the 57 season, he was moved to the Yankees. They traded him in 58 to the As. Then in 59, he played for the As, the White Sox, and then the Pirates. He didn’t have much left after that. That was his last year in the game. He ended up with a career .269/334/404 stat line, with 76 home runs over 3,239 at bats. He wasn’t even a good fielder later in his career, despite what Stengel said, so he didn’t add much there either after the first few years. He was just a guy. But baseball is full of just guys and we all remember them, at least when they were in our lives in some way, which in today’s world probably means were on our fantasy baseball teams.

After his career ended, Simpson ended up in Akron, Ohio. Maybe he was working in the rubber plants, but I’m not sure. I am sure he was working; baseball was not that lucrative yet and for a journeyman like Simpson, even more so. He died in Akron in 1979. He was 53 years old.

Suitcase Simpson is buried in West Hill Cemetery, Dalton, Georgia. Interestingly, the cemetery actually has named that whole section and the road leading up to it for him.

If you would like this series to visit other people who received votes for AL MVP in 1956, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Mickey Mantle won, but we’ve covered him. Yogi Berra was second and he is in East Hanover, New Jersey. Al Kaline was third and is listed as cremated, though without detail that often just means no one has marked the grave. Who knows. Harvey Kuenn was fourth and he is in Sun City, Arizona. Previous posts in this series are archived here and here.

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