Carson Bigbee isn’t a household name for current day Pittsburgh Pirates fans, but he was a little too good to be featured in our Obscure Pittsburgh Pirates series. He was around too long (11 seasons), he was a member of a World Series winning team, and he got a lot of press for the A-B-C incident in 1926. I’ve also written about him multiple times because his brother pitched for the 1921 Pirates, making them a rare pair of siblings to play for the Pirates at the same time. Despite all of those noteworthy events, he didn’t have much of a peak performance level during his career. His first three seasons and last three seasons combined resulted in -1.1 WAR. However, his 1922 season was right in the middle and ended being his best year. It strong enough that it deserves its own article.
Bigbee was in the right place at the right time in 1922. Baseball was just getting out of the deadball era at that time, which started with Ray Chapman getting beaned by a pitch from Carl Mays in 1920 that killed him. Before that time, baseballs would stay in play for as long as possible, going back to the early days when they had what was literally “the game ball”, which was used for an entire game, then presented to the winners afterwards. Outlawing the spitball, save for a few players who were allowed to continue using the pitch, also helped batters. For Bigbee though, he was on a steady climb leading up to that season already. His OPS went from .660 in 1919, to .732 in 1920, to .791 in 1921. In that 1921 season, he collected 204 hits and scored 100 runs. He batted .323 with 23 doubles and a career high 17 triples. That was a strong season for the 26-year-old, 5’9″, left fielder, but he was still on the rise and would be even better the next season.
The 1922 Pirates had some name power in their lineup. Third baseman Pie Traynor would play his first full season that year, though his saw time with the 1920-21 Pirates. Shortstop Rabbit Maranville and center fielder Max Carey were veteran leaders on the club. All three players went on to make the Hall of Fame. Bigbee was right in the middle of the action, starting the season as the cleanup hitter, before sliding into the third spot after a few games, which is where he stayed for the rest of the season.
Bigbee started the season off strong and he really had no low points during the entire year. In 15 April games, he had a .369/.397/.446 slash line. On April 22nd, he had three hits and drove in four runs. The next day, he had four hits and drove in two runs. Bigbee reached base in 14 of 15 games.
His best month of the season was May. Bigbee reached base safely in all 25 games that month. He had two games with four hits, three games with three hits and a total of 12 multi-hit contests. On May 20th in a 10-7 win over the New York Giants, he had a single, double, two triples, three runs scored and three RBIs. Bigbee finished with a .408/.477/.541 slash line, with 21 RBIs and a 12:1 BB/SO ratio.
June was his slowest month of the season, but it wasn’t that bad. Bigbee hit .305/.348/.419 in 114 plate appearances over 25 games. He had 18 runs scored and 11 RBIs, while once again finishing an entire month with one strikeout. His 45-game on base streak was snapped on June 14th, though the Pirates were shutout that day on five singles and a walk, so no one was hitting. Bigbee also had an 11-game hit streak snapped that day. On the 21st, in an extra-inning loss in Brooklyn, Bigbee had a career day with five hits, three runs and three RBIs. He hit two doubles and a triple. He also had his fourth four-hit game of the season on June 10th.
The Pirates played 29 games in July and Bigbee had a very average month, at least compared to the rest of his best season, as you will see later in this article. He batted .348/.419/.452, collecting 40 hits and drawing 14 walks. The only game in which he didn’t reach base safely was the second game of a doubleheader on July 4th, and he left that day after two at-bats. This was a steady month for Bigbee, with no big performances, but he still had 12 multi-hit games.
August would end up being his second best month and it included his second five-hit game. That came on August 10th against Philadelphia. He had five singles, three runs scored and two RBIs. He had three straight two-hit contests right before that game. Later in the month he had another streak of four straight two-hit games. Bigbee batted .380/.441/.490 in 25 games, with 21 runs scored.
The Pirates played eight doubleheaders in September and then finished the season on October 1st with another doubleheader. Bigbee saw his batting average slip a little right at the very end of the season, which is understandable with all of those late games. Including the two October contests, he hit .311/.350/.470 in 31 games. He scored 28 runs, had 22 RBIs and stole seven bases. He also hit three homers, which was one more than he had coming into the month. The lefty hitting Bigbee homered in back-to-back games at the Polo Grounds. It was the only time in his career that he homered twice in a two-game stretch. He also had two more games with four hits.
Bigbee finished the season with a .350/.405/.471 slash line. He scored 113 runs, picked up 215 hits, 29 doubles, 56 walks and drove in 99 runs in 150 games. All nine of those stats were his best during his 11-year career. With the RBIs, his second highest total was 54, which he reached the following season.
So it was quite a career year for him. In addition, Bigbee had just 13 strikeouts in 691 plate appearances. Using modern stats, the season was worth 4.2 WAR total, and that’s with him being slightly below average in left field. Despite the lower defensive rating, he led NL left fielders with 341 putouts and 18 outfield assists. He finished fourth in the NL in batting average, second in hits, fifth in OBP, fifth in RBIs, third in triples, seventh in runs scored and tenth in total bases. He also ranked fourth with his 24 stolen bases.