In 1947 the Anniston Rams acquired an infielder who started for one of baseball’s worst-ever teams, who hit .200 in his single Major League season, and who did so while MLB rosters were hideously depleted by World War II military service. But somehow the Rams made the marriage work, as unlikely as it was.
Fred Daniels, a Marine during the war, was an abysmal Major League player for the equally abysmal 1945 Philadelphia Phillies. Shibe Park’s tenants went 46-108 that year and have been described by renowned baseball historian Bill James as “easily the worst team that I have found … I have no doubt that there are other really terrible teams in history that I just haven’t found yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are other teams out there somewhere whose rosters were as sparse as lean as the ’45 Phillies.”
Daniels, like the Phillies of that era, was a baseball chameleon.
His given name is Frederick Clinton Daniels. He went by Fred. But he’s listed as “Tony Daniels” by several reputable websites and baseball databases.
The Phillies never stopped being the Phillies — in name and sad-sack performance — though the 1945 squad was among the mid-Forties’ Philadelphia teams also referred to as the “Blue Jays” in a farcical attempt to ramp up fan interest and ticket sales.
Daniels played most of two seasons in Anniston — 1947 and 1948 — and performed far better in the Class B Southeastern League than he did MLB’s National League.
How much better?
He never made an SEL All-Star game, but he hit .300 twice in Anniston (.341 in ’47, .328 in ’48) and led the ’48 team — a playoff team — in home runs (13).
In 76 games with the Phillies he hit an even .200, posted similarly gruesome on-base (.249), slugging (.230), and OPS (.479) percentages, and committed 20 errors. According to author Rob Neyer, Daniels’ OPS was the second-worst of any player that season with at least 150 plate appearances. His mediocrity made headlines.
He came to Anniston as did many of the Rams’ former MLBers — on his way down after a less-than-stellar big-league career, truncated as it was. In Daniels’ case, the New York Yankees’ Class AAA farm team in Newark bought his contract from the Phillies in February 1946 and optioned him to Class AA Shreveport. The following spring Shreveport shipped him to Anniston, where he debuted for the Rams that May.
More at home in Class B, his steady play in ’47 allowed the Rams to bring him back in ’48. Expectations were understandably high. “The Anniston Rams’ infield was given a tremendous lift yesterday with the arrival of Fred Daniels, who figures on digging in at the keystone sacks again this year,” The Anniston Star newspaper reported. Manager Charlie Barron told The Star that Daniels reported to camp that spring 15 to 20 pounds lighter, not to mention quicker, and was a “veritable bouncing ball around second base.”
It showed. The Rams didn’t win the SEL but qualified for the playoffs. Daniels, an infield regular, was among the team’s leaders in hits and batting average. But in December Rams management sold several older players for cash, including Daniels, who was sent to Class B Sumter in the Tri-State League. (That money-friendly youth movement didn’t serve Anniston well. The team faltered in ’49 and folded for want of cash midway through the ’50 season.)
Back in ’45, Daniels’ rise to the Major Leagues was both understandable — the Phillies needed players, regardless of big-league ability — and unexpected. Given the wartime roster depletions, Daniels wasn’t a hopeless reach. But he had played only two professional seasons, one in Class D (for three teams) and another in Class A (at Utica) sandwiched around a year in the Marines, and was as green and untested as they come. Utica Manager Eddie Sawyer was convinced, though. Daniels was a “helluva ballplayer; you can’t go overboard on him,” he told the Scranton Tribune newspaper.
The Phillies took Sawyer’s advice to heart and pencilled in Daniels for their infield. But nothing went right Philadelphia, or for Daniels. That winter in his home state of North Carolina he had surgery to remove a cyst on his back, and during spring training the incision became infected, sidelining him for two months.
He joined the woebegone Phils in late May but didn’t make his MLB debut until June 12 in a 10-0 road loss to the Boston Braves. (The defeat dropped Philadelphia to 11-39.) Daniels, who started at second and hit eighth, went 1 for 3. Between that first game and his season’s final appearance were four months of utterly regrettable baseball.
Daniels’ season that started with an infected back ended unceremoniously — and injured, again. It would be an ominous moment. In the first game of a Sept. 16 doubleheader in St. Louis against the Cardinals, Daniels started at second base and hit leadoff, reaching in the first on a St. Louis error. In the bottom half the Cardinals’ Buster Adams, trying to steal second, spiked Daniels in the knee. The cut required six stitches and forced him from the game.
Then only 21 years old, Daniels never played again in the Major Leagues. He played eight more seasons, all in the minors, including two in Anniston, before retiring at age 29 after the 1953 campaign. His final five seasons were spent with Class D teams in North Carolina.
Fred Daniels died at age 81 in 2005. He’s buried in Statesville, North Carolina.