The Urban Gentleman

April 15, 2014
Newspaper drawing of one of the 1858 Brooklyn vs New York all-star games

Newspaper drawing of one of the 1858 Brooklyn vs New York all-star games

Folkert Rapelje Boerum was born in Brooklyn 26 October 1829. He was the eldest son of one of the most prominent old families of Brooklyn. The Rapelje’s went back to when New York was New Netherland. One of his ancestors was a member of the governing counsel of the Dutch colony. The Boerum’s came only slightly later, one family member serving the First Continental Congress of 1775. Their home was a big house set on a big lot. They were originally farmers, but by Folkert Boerum’s time the family was established as a “leading family” of Brooklyn. He is described in A History of Long Island From its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time (the “Present Time” being 1905) as “one of the best and most highly regarded citizens” of the borough. The work also uses words like “public-spirited” and “trusted” to describe him. He helped maintain the Bushwick and East Brooklyn Dispensary, The Good Samaritan Society, and the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, among other charitable work. He died 13 November 1903 and is buried in Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery. He is, unquestionably, the very definition of a mid-to late 19th Century American urban gentleman. I guess it’s fair to say he did have one vice. He was also a ballplayer.

When we first run across Boerum in connection with baseball, he’s the catcher and three hitter for the Harmony, one of the older Brooklyn teams. They weren’t all that good, but they did have a handful of quality players. Boerum was one of them. William Babcock, the man who ran the Atlantic, Brooklyn’s premier team, lured Boerum away from the Harmony where he became the team’s starting catcher. He remained there into 1858. He appears as the catcher in one of the 1858 “all-star” games held between Brooklyn’s best and New York City’s best (Brooklyn was an independent city in 1858). By 1859 he’d moved to third base where he was considered one of the finest third sackers of his day. He remained at third until 1861 when he retired from the game. I’m not sure why. I can find no evidence that he joined the Union Army after Fort Sumter. During 1858-1860 he served as club vice president.

Boerum is an extremely good example of an early baseball player. It was a world of amateurism and only men with a certain amount of leisure time could afford to take off time to play ball. Working stiffs simply couldn’t afford to lose the pay. Most of the early players were wealthy farmers or insurance men or doctors or some sort of other professional who received (for the time) a good paycheck and had free time to pursue the game in “gentlemen” clubs. That defines Boerum and most of his teammates and opponents. With the arrival of professionals like Jim Creighton (who played for the Excelsiors against Boerum) the game changed and we lost the Boerum’s of the game.

 

Lost in the Shuffle

April 10, 2014
Don Drysdale

Don Drysdale

Back when I was in the army I spent a year at a small base in Virginia. I had a roommate who was perfect for me. He was also a diehard Dodgers fan. We were allowed to put up posters on our wall. I didn’t have any but he had three. The one closest to the door extoled the virtues of Marx, Engels, and Lenin. The one closest to the windows had a picture of a First National Bank somewhere with a guy in a robe heading in the front door. The caption read “Jesus Saves.” In the middle was a big poster of Don Drysdale in motion. The picture above is the nearest to it I could find.

Drysdale’s dropped off the face of the earth in the last few years. He made the Hall of Fame, which was controversial, but once you’re in a lot of the commentary (“He should be in” “He shouldn’t be in”) goes away. He showed up again when Orel Hershiser passed him in consecutive scoreless innings pitched. Then there was one last flurry of comment when he died, but that’s about it. It’s kind of a shame.

Drysdale hit well. Most people don’t know that about him. He hit a buck-86, but had 29 home runs (peaking at seven in both ’58 and ’65), 26 doubles (six in ’60), and 113 RBIs (19 in ’65). His OPS is .523 (and Baseball Reference.com has his offensive WAR as 5.9). His seven homers in ’65 was seventh on the team. OK, it isn’t Ty Cobb, but not bad for a man who hit in the nine-hole.

He had a couple of problems when he pitched. He was only the ace of the staff a few years, taking over for Don Newcombe about 1958 or so and surrendering the position to Sandy Koufax by 1963. In between he won a Cy Young Award in 1962 (back when they only gave out one). He only got to 20 wins twice (’62 and ’65), only led the National League in shutouts once and in strikeouts three times. Not bad, right? But his chief problem was that he pitched on the same staff at the same time as Koufax and got pushed to second place quickly. He just wasn’t Koufax, but then few pitchers were. Worse for Drysdale, when you looked away from the Dodgers there were Bob Gibson and Juan Marichal; and in 1966 there was even Gaylord Perry. So it was tough to consider Drysdale second best pitcher in the NL. As a rule, most years after 1962 the best you could do was slot him into the fourth slot in an all-NL rotation. That hurt his memory a lot.

Having said all that, he still managed 209 wins, a 2.95 ERA, an ERA+ of 121, and a1.148 WHIP. Not bad, but not in the same ballpark with Koufax, Gibson, or Marichal.

It’s a shame that he’s been lost in the shuffle. But he does have one advantage over all the rest of them. Back in 1967 I was on my way to Viet Nam and had a chance to overnight in Los Angeles. The Dodgers were in town I got to see the only game I’ve ever seen at Dodger Stadium. Drysdale was on the mound and won the game. I, at least, will always remember him.

 

Mr. Aaron, 8 April 1974

April 8, 2014
Henry Aaron and company, 8 April 1974

Henry Aaron and company, 8 April 1974

Forty years ago this evening Hank Aaron stepped to the plate in Atlanta. He hit an Al Downing pitch into the Braves bullpen for his 715th home run. As he rounded the bases a couple of fans joined him producing one of baseball’s more iconic moments.

They showed the game on TV that night. Back then there weren’t nightly baseball games. You had three networks and regular season games were only shown on the weekends. Some genius at one of the networks (NBC, I think, but am not sure) decided to take a chance and so a nation got to watch a black man establish one of the most hallowed records in American sport.

My wife and I watched the game. I had mixed feelings. It was my Dodgers and I didn’t want them to be remembered as the team that gave up “the home run.” On the other hand I didn’t mind Aaron breaking the record. I knew who Babe Ruth was and respected the legend, but I liked Aaron and if someone was going to break the record he was a good pick.

There was a lot of opposition to Aaron surpassing Ruth. Much of it was racial. The idea of a black man holding the greatest of all Ruth’s records was horrifying to many. To others, the idea of anyone, black, white, or purple, racing passed the Babe was terrible. Ruth was, after all, the greatest of all American sports figures, towering over not only baseball, but sports in general. And suddenly here was this little man (Aaron wasn’t a huge slugger like Frank Howard) about to relegate the Babe to second place in home runs.

Well, Henry Aaron did it and the world didn’t stop on its axis. We moved on, the Ruth legend still grips us, just not as strongly. And Aaron now has his place in our pantheon. Good for him. Congratulations, Henry. I think you’re great.

Taking Down the Sign in Left

April 3, 2014
Signs on the left field wall (not our field)

Signs on the left field wall (not our field)

Our high school was so football oriented that no one cared much about the baseball diamond. The backstop was chicken wire with an occasional hole in it, particularly at the bottom where the wire had come loose from the frame and curled up toward home plate. The frame was painted green at one point, but by the time I got there the paint was peeling and rust spots showed up at various places. The dugouts were a couple of wooden benches that I was convinced had been used by the original Red Stockings in the 1870s. They were covered by a corrugated tin roof held up by four fat poles that were once white but now tending toward gray. There was no wire in front of the dugouts so the players had to pay close attention to the game. The outfield was kind of green by late in the season, but most of us were convinced it was half grass and half paint. We had no lights. But, by God, we did have signs.

Our outfield wall consisted of a tall round pole painted with aluminum paint every year and as the wont of aluminum paint needed to be repainted the next year. Then there were these square wooden posts driven into the ground at eight foot intervals (including one in front of the round poles) that went in something approximating an arc around to another round pole at the other end. The poles were, of course, the foul poles. Every year the coaches and a few of the players would head over to this old maintainance shed where the lawn mowers were kept and pull out these big four-foot by eight foot pieces of plywood and nail them up around the outfield to create an outfield fence. Each of the plywood pieces was decorated on one side with an advertising sign.

A few years before I got to high school, some genius had gotten the idea of selling advertising space on the outfield wall. You’ve probably seen this in minor league parks and in pictures of old Major League ballparks. A lot of places in town bought a board and someone designed a sign that was painted on the plywood then the signs were put in place in the outfield. They never changed in the three years I was in high school. I only remember two, but I remember that they were all the same every year. The First National Bank had the sign in the left field corner that was right in front of the foul pole and a local automotive parts store was next to the bank sign. I remember the auto parts sign because one year some dimbulb put it on upside down and no one noticed until the team was warming up for the first game. At least we figured no one had noticed. Considering some of the people on the team, it may have been done on purpose. They had a mad scramble to fix it before the first pitch.

The 1950s and early 1960s were halcyon days for Texas politics (this is germane, I promise). Lyndon Johnson was Majority Leader of the Senate and Sam Rayburn was Speaker of the House. Johnson went on to the Presidency and Rayburn joked that Johnson had taken a step down in power (Rayburn today is most noted for coining the phrase, “To get along, you gotta go along.”).  What this meant is that if you had a kid in school in the Texas Panhandle in those days, and your name was Rayburn, you could guarantee he’d be called “Sam.” Our Sam played left field.

“Sam” Rayburn (I think his real name was Jim) was a big guy. He played right tackle for the high school football team and was supposed to weigh in at 200 pounds. He was a least a few pounds on the several helpings of gravy side of 200. He was slow, but then our team didn’t pass much (or score much) so all he had to do was fire out and knock down the guy across from him. He did that well. His size got him a tryout with the baseball team. Our coach believed that you found a pitcher then eight hulks that could mash the ball a mile and then you beat the other team to death. We had three offensive linemen in our starting lineup (plus a linebacker). Sam fit into the mold well. He was the five hitter and could smash a baseball really hard. But he, like the rest of the team, was slow; really slow; really, really slow. So there was a lot of station to station ball and it also meant that most of the team was pretty stationary in the field. Oh, the shortstop could move, the first baseman could catch, but there were no rabbits in the outfield. Rayburn could catch the thing, if he could get to it. It was the getting to it that was the problem.

The third home game of the season started out as a game normally starts (I still have my old score book, so I checked) with us in the field, them at bat, and me in the stands with my score book getting the story for the school paper. We got through two innings without incident, then came the top of the third. With one out, the other team’s hitter laced a long one to left field. Sam wasn’t playing very deep so he started to go back on it. He raced after the ball. Well, “raced” is too strong a word. He trundled after it. Then trundled some more. To those of us in the stands it was obvious the ball was going out for a home run. But our intrepid right tackle, all 210 pounds of him (he’d eaten that day) was sure he had it. Paul Blair mighta had it, but not our speedy Rayburn. The ball went over the fence, but Sam, well, he didn’t. He plowed right into the First National Bank sign and both he and the sign went down. You heard a thump, a thud, a crack, and a tearing sound. No one was quite sure which was Sam and which was the sign. Out went the coaches to check. We weren’t sure which they were more worried about, Sam or the sign.

Rayburn sat up, looked around, looked at his glove (Some wise guy in the stands yelled, “Ball ain’t there, Sam,”), looked at the coaches. They got him up. He was bruised but alright.  We fans, all 10 of us, were having a major discussion about whether to cheer or laugh. We finally opted for cheering.

So Sam was Ok, but the sign was a different story. He’d managed to break the plywood so that the sign was in three pieces. Not neat little pieces with “First” on one part, “National” on the second, and “Bank” on the third, but really broken with splinters sticking out at all angles. They moved the sign out of the way and were now stuck figuring out what to do with the hole in left. One of the janitors was near so he found a piece of wire in the shed and strung it across the gap. The ump declared that a ball over the wire was a homer and one under the wire was a double (how he was going to tell the difference on a liner I never knew).

I’d like to say that it didn’t matter, but a couple of innings later the same guy let loose on another. The ball went back and over. Our favorite left fielder also went back. He caught the wire just right and went over too landing with a resounding thud. This time there was blood as he’d busted his chin. One of the parents took him to the hospital while a reserve went to left. The next day Rayburn showed up with a big bandage and a handful of stitches on his chin. He considered it a badge of honor. Some wag with an English bent nicknamed it his “Red Badge of Courage.” We snickered at that, but Sam liked it. We guessed he’d never read the book.

But we still had a hole in the fence and there were more games. The coaches bought and nailed up a new piece of plywood, but now it was just a blank piece of wood that stood out more than the signs ever stood out. The head coach went to the bank and asked if they’d sponsor another sign. They told him that they’d sponsored one sign in the last 10 years and that was damned well enough. So we ended the season with the left field foul pole sitting behind a bare piece of plywood attached to a couple of posts. And Sam? He was back for the next game. Someone suggested they paint a  Stop Sign on the plywood so we wouldn’t have to buy another piece.

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1902

April 1, 2014

Another month, another look at My Own Little Hall of Fame. It’s time for the class of 1902. For those of you who’ve forgotten (or don’t know how to scroll down the page), the class of 1901 was: Ross Barnes, John Clarkson, William Hulbert, Tim Keefe, and George Wright. With all appropriate bells and whistles, here’s the class of 1902.

Dan Brouthers

Dan Brouthers

Dan Brouthers was arguably the finest hitter of the 19th Century. He had a career average of .342 with 2292 hits, 771 for extra bases. He led the National League in hits three times, in doubles twice, and in both triples and home runs once each. He led his league in total bases four times. In 1887 he helped his Detroit team to both a pennant and a win over the American Association champion Browns in a postseason series. His team also won the 1890 Players’ League championship and the 1894 National League championship. From 1892 through 1894 he was the all time Major League leader in batting average.

 

King Kelly

King Kelly

Mike “King” Kelly was one of baseball’s first superstars. During his career he played every field position, including pitcher, where he posted a 2-2 record. Primarily known as a hitter he hit .308 for his career with 1813 hits and 1357 runs scored. He led his league three times in runs scored, once in doubles, and twice in average, peaking at .388 in 1886. He helped Chicago to pennants in 1880 through 1882 and again in 1885 and 1886, then won pennants again with the 1891 and 1892 Beaneaters. He also managed Boston in the Players’ League to the league’s only championship. He is additionally famous for having invented the hook slide for baserunners, racking up 84 stolen bases in 1887.

 

Charles Radbourne

Charles Radbourn

Charles “Ole Hoss” Radbourn was the ace pitcher for 1884 pennant winning Providence. Won 60 games for the team, then three more in postseason series against the Gothams. He led the National League in wins twice, in ERA once, in winning percentage twice, in strikeouts twice, and in shutouts once. Never threw from a mound, but was a master of the box. Except for a stint in the Players’ League he won all his game in the National League.

 

Al Spaulding

Al Spaulding

Albert Spaulding was the premier pitcher in the National Association, leading the Association in wins each year of its five year existence. He also led the National League in wins its opening season. He led his league in shutouts four times and his .795 winning percentage is the highest ever. His team won four consecutive pennants in the Association and the first NL pennant in 1876. After his career ended he managed and owned the Chicago National League club. His sporting goods company published the first official Base Ball rule book.

Harry Wright

Harry Wright

Harry Wright was the premier manager from the origins of professional baseball into the 1890s. He managed and played center field for the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. With the founding of the National Association his teams won four consecutive pennants. In the National League he won pennants in 1877 and 1878 and finished second three more times.

And now some thoughts on this list.

1. Brouthers was the easiest choice. When I initially planned this project, I presumed my first class would be Anson, Brouthers, Connor, Ewing, and either Clarkson or Keefe. Then I discovered that none of the position players would have been eligible in 1901. So as soon as Brouthers became available, he went in without a qualm. I believe he is one of the two or three best hitters in the 19th Century.

2. I didn’t realize I was putting in three members of the Players’ League Boston team until I began to look up the specifics on my preliminary list. It’s a fluke that three people from that team are on this list. It did ease any questions I had about choosing Harry Wright over John Montgomery Ward. With Ward’s association with the union and the Players’ League, I decided to put him off for another day lest this list look like nothing more nor less than an homage to the Players’ League.

3. Having said that, I was fairly sure Wright was going to be my contributor. He’s the first great manager and is credited with a number of innovations (cut off men for instance). I couldn’t find anything like definitive proof that he’d done any of those things, so they were not listed in my short comment on him.

4. Spaulding? Well, he’s a major contributor, but I’d already put Wright in that spot (although by rule I’m allowed two). But Spaulding was also a heck of a pitcher in a league where his team dominated and the pitcher wasn’t the factor he is today. But he was still the best pitcher in the Association, so he went in.

5. I found a bunch of stuff dedicated to Kelly. I don’t mean modern sites, but articles and commentary of a contemporary nature that made me believe he was easily the most well-known player of his era. He was also good, so that got him over the hump. As to whether or not he invented the hook slide, he certainly was getting credit for it in the era.

6. Which leaves Radbourn (whose name is spelled a couple of different ways). What  I could find (like Reach Guides, etc.) that actually gave him a number in 1884 gave him 60 wins. I know that number is no longer accepted, but it seems that when a number was given in 1902 it was 60. So I used it. I’ll remind you that there are plaques currently in Cooperstown that have erroneous info on them (for instance, Walter Johnson’s win total).

7. All of which brings me to two items that are unique to the era and to trying to do my Hall this way. First is the entire question of Monte Ward. The year 1902 was a year in which labor unions were looked upon with utter disdain. That means the idea of adding to a Hall of Fame a rabble rousing union organizer is about as absurd as adding a black man. But we all know Ward is terrifically important. If I’m to keep with the policy of putting in people who might reasonably get into a Hall of Fame in 1902, Ward can’t make it (and can’t get in until sometime in the 1930s, probably). The 1903 class is pretty much set in stone (Heck of a class), but 1904 is the next time I have to look at Ward and as much as I think he deserves to be remembered, I doubt he’ll get in. The other issue is what to do with Billy Sunday. A friend of mine dropped me an email asking if I’d considered Sunday as a contributor. Frankly, I hadn’t. But Sunday was one of the most well-known ball players of the era. He was instrumental in convincing people that a ballpark was a proper place to take your wife and children (although Mathewson was probably more important in this regard) for an afternoon’s entertainment. Is that enough to put him in? I still don’t think so, but it did remind me how differently people in 1902 looked at ball players and baseball than we look at them today.

Opening Day, 1914: National League

March 30, 2014
George Stallings, "The Miracle Man"

George Stallings, “The Miracle Man”

The National League opened play in 1914 in mid-April, but with opening day starting earlier now, it seems like a good time to finish my look at how things stacked up in 1914. It’s important to remember it’s a different world in 1914. Black Americans couldn’t vote or play in the Major Leagues, most Americans still lived in rural settings (but that would change by 1920), the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was still alive (his death in June would spark World War I), the Braves were still in Boston and they were supposed to be bad.

The New York Giants were three-time defending NL champions and expected to repeat in 1914. They were led by Hall of Fame pitchers Christy Mathewson and Rube Marquard with Hall of Fame manager John McGraw at the helm. It was decent, but not great lineup with soon to be war casualty Eddie Grant available as a sub. By way of  compensation, third pitcher Jeff Tesreau  would have a career year.

Philadelphia finished second in 1913 and looked set for another run at a pennant in 1914. Grover Cleveland Alexander was the ace and would have more wins and strikeouts than any other NL pitcher. But the rest of the staff, minus Erskine Meyer, would have a down year. Gavvy Cravath would lead the league in home runs with 19  (he also led in OPS and OPS+, but those stats weren’t around in 1914), and Sherry Magee won the RBI total with a miniscule 103. But other than Beals Becker’s .325 average the rest of the team didn’t do much.

The Cubs and Pirates finished third and fourth in 1913. Cubs pitching, even with Three-Finger Brown moved to the Federal League was still good, but the hitting wasn’t even vaguely on par with the pitching. The Pirates were aging. Honus Wagner, their best player, had his first bad year and without him, Pittsburgh had no one to step up.

The Braves finished fifth in 1913. They were 69-82, which was best among teams with a losing record, but still fifth. But there had been a revolution in Boston. Of the 1913 infield, only Rabbit Maranville, the shortstop, remained with the team. The catcher was new, as was one outfielder. the new players included Hall of Fame second baseman Johnny Evers (who would win the NL’s 1914 Chalmers Award–the 1914 version of the MVP) and a clutch of players brought over during the season who would turn the team around. The pitching also came around. By the fourth of July they were still out of the running (last place), but that would change as manager George Stallings’ (I still try to call him “Gene Stallings” some times) platoon system, judicious use of pitchers, a great (for the era) fielding team, and timely hitting brought them all the way to first as the “Miracle Braves.”

Nothing much was expected of Brooklyn, St. Louis, or Cincinnati, but Brooklyn’s Jake Daubert won the batting title and the Cardinals Bill Doak took the ERA title. Doak’s pitching helped St. Louis more than Daubert’s hitting helped Brooklyn with the Card’s coming in third and Brooklyn fifth.

It was not a great year for rookies in the NL. In May 1914, the Braves brought Dolf Luque to the team. He got into two games, lost one of them, and ended up being a non-factor in the Braves’ sprint for the championship. He would make his mark a few years later.

Boston was a big underdog in the 1914 World Series, but ended up sweeping the Athletics away in four games. They hit .244 while Philly had an average of only .172. Boston’s ERA was 1.15 versus the A’s 3.41. They scored 16 runs (14 earned) while giving up only six (five earned).

It was a “one year wonder” team. Boston faded in 1915, finishing second, then proceeding downhill, finishing sixth by the time the United States joined World War I in 1917. You gotta admit, it was one heck of a year for them in 1914.

 

 

Opening Day 1914: American League

March 27, 2014
Stuffy McInnis, first base Philadelphia Athletics

Stuffy McInnis, first base Philadelphia Athletics

Next week marks what most of us consider the real Opening Day for MLB. So it’s time for a look at what was going on Opening Day 100 years ago. As the American League contained the World Champion Athletics, I think I’ll start with them (having done the “outlaw” Federal League already).

The champion A’s were much the same team as the 1913 version with the $100,000 Infield in place (Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, Jack Barry, and Frank Baker). The outfield was still decent and in Wally Schang the A’s had a good catcher. They led the AL in hits, runs, home runs, RBIs, and average. The Athletics used a dominant pitching staff to rule the A for five years, but it was beginning to fray. Jack Coombs was gone (he pitched only 2 games), Eddie Plank was 38 and not aging well. Herb Pennock had five starts over the previous two years, while Bullet Joe Bush had all of 17. As a consequence, the A’s would have 24 shutouts, but lead the league in no other category. They were fourth in ERA and hits allowed.

Two teams would give them a run for their money. One was Washington. The Senators finished 19 games back, but they had Walter Johnson who led the AL in wins, shutouts, and strikeouts.

The greater challenge came from Boston. the Red Sox still had Tris Speaker, Duffy Lewis, ad Harry Hooper as their outfield. Speaker led the league in hits and doubles. Pitcher Dutch Leonard went 19-5 with an all-time low ERA of 1.00 (try losing five games with that ERA). But the most important news at Boston and for baseball in general was the arrival on 11 July of a rookie pitcher from Baltimore with the nickname of “Babe” Ruth. He would go 2-1 over four games (three starts), but it was the beginning of the most famous of all Major League careers.

Around the rest of the AL, Ty Cobb again won a batting title (.368) and the slugging crown (.513). His teammate Sam Crawford led the league in RBIs and triples. Fritz Maisel, a third baseman for the Highlanders, won the stolen base title with 74 and Baker with the A’s copped the home run title with nine. In April future Hall of Fame pitcher Red Faber made his debut for the White Sox, while Fred McMullin, one of the 1919 Black Sox (and Faber teammate) played his first big league game with Detroit in August. The 1920s stalwarts Everett Scott and Jack Tobin also first show up in 1914. Finally, 1914 is the rookie campaign for Bill Wambsganss, famous for the only unassisted triple play in World Series history (1920).

In the World Series, Philadelphia would be mauled by the “Miracle Braves” of Boston. It would be the end of Connie Mack’s A’s dynasty (he’d put together another in 1929) and the arrival of Ruth would signal the start of a new dynasty. This one in Fenway Park.

 

The International Man of Mystery

March 25, 2014
Jack Quinn while with Brooklyn

Jack Quinn while with Brooklyn

Some really good players have short, intense careers. Others have long careers that were never sterling. Then there’s Jack Quinn, who had a long career with sterling moments and a lot of questions about his initial years.

Jack Quinn was born somewhere under some name and that’s about all historians can agree upon. A number of sites have him born in Stevfurov, Austria (now Slovakia). Others have him born in Jeanesville, Pennsylvania or Mahoney City, Pa. Another bunch show his birthplace as Wilkes Barre, Pa. Still others pick St. Clair, Pennsylvania. The year varies between 1883 and 1885. Finally, there’s the question of his name. He shows up as Jan Pajkos, as John Quinn Picas, and as John Picas Quinn. His Wikipedia page picks the Slovakia site and 1883 as does Baseball Reference.com. His SABR biography accepts Slovakia and 1883 but chances his birthdate from 1 July to 5 July. It also indicates that the first four editions of Baseball Encyclopedia give four difference places and four different dates. So I’ll start by saying I have no idea when or where he was born, but 1883 in Slovakia seems to be the building consensus, so it works for me. For what it’s worth, he was elected, in 2006, to the Polish-American Hall of Fame, which might do a job on “Quinn” as his original last name, but who knows.

Where ever he was born and when ever, he came out of the Pennsylvania coal country a pitcher on local semi-pro teams. By 1907 he was in the minors as a spit-balling pitcher with good control, an excellent spitter, and a good enough fastball to pick up interest among the big league scouts. In 1909 he made his debut with the New York Highlanders (now the Yankees), winning the game and going 9-5 for the season. The next year he was 18-12, then fell off for the 1911 and 1912 seasons. He spent 1913 with the Braves then went to the Federal League for both 1914 and 1915. With the Baltimore Terrapins he went 26-14 and then 9-22, the 22 leading the Feds in losses for 1915.

With the folding of the Federal League, Quinn went back to the minors for 1916 and 1917. In 1918 he went back to the Majors, settling in with the White Sox where he went 5-1 over six games. But there was a question as to who retained his rights. New York claimed that although Quinn pitched for the Federal League, his American League rights were retained by his last “real Major League” team, them. League President Ban Johnson agreed and Quinn went back to the Yankees for 1919. He remained there though 1921. He did well in 1919 and 1920, but by 1922 he was 37 (more or less) and spent much of that season in the bullpen. He got into the 1921 World Series, taking the loss in relief in-game three. After the Series he was traded to the Red Sox for a couple of younger arms.

He stayed with Boston into 1925, serving about equal time as a starter and a reliever. He went 45-54 with 14 saves. Midway through the season he was sold to the Athletics for the waiver price and remained in Philadelphia through 1930. He was now 41 (give or take). He had good years with the A’s going 18-7 in 1928 at age 45 (again more or less). In 1929 he got into his second World Series, starting game four. He was 46 (we think), the oldest man to start a World Series game. He was shelled, but the A’s won when the team  scored 10 runs in the seventh inning to pull out a 10-8 victory. He spent 1930 mostly as a reliever and  pitched only two innings in Philly’s World Series victory. Now at 47 (I guess)  he became the oldest man to ever relieve in a World Series game. For what it’s worth, Jim Kaat was 43 when he relieved in the 1982 World Series. Some believe that, because Quinn’s age is in dispute, he (Kaat) is the oldest man to pitch in a World Series.

Released at the end of the Series, Quinn caught on with the Dodgers in 1931. He stayed two years working almost entirely as a reliever (he started one game). He led the National League in saves in both 1931 and 1932 (as the save statistic wasn’t invented until much later, he never knew that). His 1931 total of 15 was an NL record that lasted until 1948. He was released after the 1932 season and signed with Cincinnati. He got into 14 games then was let go. He was 49 (give or take) and through. At his retirement, he had 57 saves, second to Firpo Marberry. He pitched a little in the minors as late as 1935. He was (depending on who you believe) 51. He died in April 1946.

Over a career lasting 23 years (at least we agree on the number of years he pitched) Quinn went 247-218 (a .531 winning percentage), struck out 1329, walked 860, gave up 4238 hits and 1837 runs in 3920 innings pitched. His ERA is an unexceptional 3.29, but his ERA+ is 114. In World Series play he is 0-1 with an 8.44 ERA. As a hitter, his average is all of a buck-84, but he did have eight home runs and 113 RBIs. His Baseball Reference.com version of pitching WAR is 59.

Quinn is one of the more unusual players ever. Not only did he pitch for 23 years, a major feat in itself, he was never a particularly great pitcher. In an era when wins were the most important statistic, he had 20 once (26 in 1914) and that in a marginal upstart league. He had 18 wins twice (eight years apart) and eight years with a losing record (although one of those years he went 0-1). Does that sound like a man who would have a 23 year career? He was, however, a pretty fair reliever (just over half his games pitched are relief appearances), but that wasn’t the same as it is today in the age of the “closer”. Is he someone the Hall of Fame has overlooked? Not in my opinion, but I supposed someone could make a case for him.

 

Opening Day, 1914: The Feds

March 21, 2014
Benny Kauff

Benny Kauff

With opening day scheduled for God knows what time in Australia on Saturday, it’s time to look at what the Major League landscape looked like 100 years ago. For the first time since 1890, there were three big leagues: the National League, the American League, and the Federal League. The Feds started their season first (13 April Buffalo at Baltimore), so it seems like a good idea to begin with the upstarts.

The Feds put eight teams in the field in 1914. Many of the players were over-the-hill types like Three-Finger Brown who were hanging on for one last fling. Others like Benny Kauff were new guys trying to make it in the big leagues. Most teams had something of a mixture of both kinds. There were teams in Chicago, Brooklyn, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis, all well established Major League cities. But the Federal League also ran teams in Indianapolis, Baltimore, Buffalo, and Kansas City, towns that didn’t normally see Major League quality play.

With no previously established rosters, it’s hard to say that any team was favored on opening day 1914. Indianapolis would eventually take the pennant by a game and a half over Chicago with Baltimore and Buffalo rounding out the first division. The Hoosiers won 88 games and featured six of their starting eight position players hitting over .300. The big name was Kauff who led the FL in runs, hits, doubles, stolen bases, batting, OPB OPS and total bases. He also played a decent center field. Bill McKechnie, future Hall of Fame manager, played third and hit .304. He was in the middle of what had been, so far, a mediocre career. Thirty-four year old Cy Falkenberg was the ace, going 25-16 and leading the league in shutouts and strikeouts. But the biggest name to come out of the team was a 21-year-old fourth outfielder with only nine games Major League experience. His name was Edd Roush and he would go on to win National League batting titles, a World Series with the 1919 Cincinnati Reds, and earn a spot in the Hall of Fame in 1962.Despite finishing first Indianapolis had no postseason play as neither the National nor American League acknowledged their existence as a Major League.

Hall of Fame shortstop Joe Tinker, at the end of his career, managed Chicago to second, while Baltimore featured long time pitcher Jack Quinn who, at 30 was still only mid-career. A few other notables did well for the Feds. John Montgomery Ward, long retired from playing and running the Brotherhood union was involved with the Brooklyn team as their business manager. As mentioned, Three-finger Brown split time between Brooklyn and St. Louis going a combined 14-11 and serving for a time as manager in St. Louis. The Terriers (St. Louis) finished dead last but did feature both Fielder Jones, winning manager from the 1906 World Series, as their second manager and 22-year-old Jack Tobin hit .270. He would go on to be one of the stalwarts in the Browns outfield of the 1920s.

In many ways 1914 was a success for the Feds simply because the survived. There was a major overhaul for 1915, champion Indianapolis being dropped for one. That didn’t bode well for the continued existence of the league. Never able to garner first-rate players and having major problems drawing in most of their cities, they hung on for only one more opening day. There have not been three Major Leagues since.

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1901

March 19, 2014

If I knew how to add ‘em in I’d put all sorts of bells and whistles into this post  to announce the inaugural class of My Own Little Hall of Fame. But I don’t so you’re just going to have to put up with typed words on-screen. Knowing you just can’t wait, here’s the list first (alphabetically) followed by commentary. With only one vote, all winners are unanimous (ain’t that great?).

Ross Barnes

Ross Barnes

Ross Barnes is the finest hitter in the National Association. In the five years of its existence, Barnes hit .391, scored 459 runs in 265 games (1.73 a game), had 532 hits, 101 doubles and 30 triples. He won two batting titles, led the NA in runs scored and in hits three times, in doubles twice, and in triples once plus a lot of other stats that no one in 1901 would have known (I’m not even sure they would have known all the stats I just listed). With the formation of the National League he won the first batting title, and led the NL in runs, hits, doubles, triples, and walks (I could find no contemporary info that indicated anyone knew that Barnes led the NL in walks).

John Clarkson in the 1880s

John Clarkson in the 1880s

John Clarkson won more games in the National League than any other pitcher in the 19th Century. His 328 wins were mostly bunched between 1885 and 1892 when the pitching distance was fifty feet and there was no mound. He led the NL in wins three times, including the second highest total ever with 53 in 1885. A workhorse, he led the NL in innings pitched four times, peaking at 623 in 1885. He also won the strikeout title three times, including in 1889 when he won the pitching triple crown. In both 1885 and 1889 he led the NL in shutouts (I’m not sure they knew that in 1901). He led his team to three postseason clashes and retired soon after the move to a mound and 60’6″ for pitchers.

William Hulbert

William Hulbert

The driving force behind the founding of the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs in 1876, Hulbert was a grocery and coal magnate who owned the Chicago White Stockings (now the Cubs). With the folding of the National Association, Hulbert spearheaded the move to form a new league, this one headed by team owners rather than players. His team won the first NL pennant and in 1877 became President of the NL, a position he held until his death in 1882. During the 19th Century his league became the only professional league to survive more than 10 years. (And he gets this great grave site).

William Hulbert grave, four blocks from Wrigley Field

William Hulbert grave, four blocks from Wrigley Field

the teams listed on the ball in the picture above are those teams existing in the NL in 1882, the date of Hulbert’s death.

Tim Keefe

Tim Keefe

Keefe pitched from 1880 through 1893, winning 342 games. He spent time with both New York teams, the Mutual of the American Association and the Giants of the National League. In 1888 he won the pitching triple crown. He led his league in both wins and strikeouts twice, in ERA three times, and in shutouts once (again, not sure they would have known the shutout total in 1901). He participated in three postseason series helping his team to wins in the latter two, going 4-1 in them. He spent most of his career throwing sidearm from less than 60’6″.

George Wright

George Wright

Wright, younger brother of manager Harry Wright, was the first great shortstop in professional baseball. He played for the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings hitting .633 with 49 home runs. Later he anchored the infield of four pennant winning Boston teams in the National Association, then helped the Boston franchise of the National League win pennants in 1877 and 1878. In 1879, as manager of the Providence team he led it to its first NL pennant.

So there it is, the first class of My Own Little Hall of Fame. First a couple of comments, then I’d like to answer a few questions prior to them being asked. I initially, when I thought up this project, presumed my first class would be Anson, Brouthers, Connor, Ewing, and Clarkson. Then I discovered that only Clarkson was retired five years prior to 1901. That, frankly, surprised me a little. I guess I knew that, but as I almost always associate all four of the hitters with the 1880s, I’d forgotten they played as late as the mid-1890s. That meant I had to find four more candidates for the first class. There are a lot of decent candidates available and these are the five I picked.

Now to answer a few questions.

1. Why Hulbert over any of the Knickerbockers? Actually it was pretty easy to pick Hulbert. First he invented a system of control that made professional baseball both profitable and stable. Well, stable if a team could stay on his good side. In other words he came up with a formula that worked and in inventing the first modern professional league he set the format for not just baseball but for football and basketball also. But why not one of the Knickerbockers? First, it’s difficult to really accept that the Knickerbocker rules are the first rules, especially as William Wheaton, one of the members of the Knickerbocker rules committee, stated he had assisted in forming a set of rules for the Gothams in 1837, a decade before the Knickerbocker rules. Now I’ll admit that a voter in 1901 might not know that, but as neither the Alexander Cartwright story or the Abner Doubleday myth were current fodder for voters I don’t know that any Knickerbocker would be seen as the obvious candidate to represent the founding team. And I can’t see electing the “Knickerbocker Rules Committee” (5 members) as a whole. And as for Wheaton, he does not, in the interview I read, claim that his rules were the first.

2. Why Keefe over Pud Galvin? This is kind of complicated, but it seems from what I can find, that Keefe was a lot more well-known than Galvin in 1901. Among other things, Keefe was still alive and had done some coaching in college. Galvin was also still alive (he died in 1902) but appears to have fallen almost totally out of the public eye. Additionally, Keefe pitched for both New York teams while Galvin toiled in Pittsburgh and Buffalo for teams that never won a thing. As I’m trying to do this the way it might have been done in 1901, I’m actually quite comfortable guessing that Keefe would have made the Hall of Fame before Galvin (as he did in the real Hall).

3. Ross Barnes? When the decision was made to count playing time in the National Association as Major League time, Barnes became the obvious candidate. He was easily the finest hitter in the NA. the waiving of the 10 year rule also made it possible to insert him into my Hall (he played 9 years in both the NA and NL). The two rules were not designed especially for Barnes or guys like Cal McVey (who I’m not sure is going to get invited to my Hall) but was designed to help players from an era when careers were shorter, the NL was not the juggernaut it became, and some players (Lip Pike, Joe Start) were already established players prior to 1871 and thus older and prone to leave the game before having 10 years NL service.

4. George Wright over Harry Wright? Well, George was the better player and I’d already decided on Hulbert as my contributor for this group. Harry probably makes it next time (but don’t hold me to that).

5. Running into problems doing it this way? Yes, two in particular. First, it’s very hard to determine exactly what a prospective 1901 voter would know. What sort of stats are available and what newspapers are accessible are two questions that are proving difficult to answer. There are Reach Guides available but their stats vary and include such things as sacrifices and times reaching first, but some stats like RBIs are missing. That’s why in the summaries above I didn’t put in a player’s RBI total. The second problem is that I’m so aware of the new stats (WAR, Peace, JAWS, Paws, WHIP, Chains, OPS+, NOPES-, etc.) that it’s tough to ignore them when I’m looking over a player. I’m trying to ignore them, but I can’t help but notice.

A cursory look at the class of 1902 looks interesting with only one sure to be elected player. I have to be careful and avoid putting in five each time just to pump up the numbers. The class will show up here in April.


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