Changing the Hall Vote

July 28, 2014

On this, the 100th Anniversary of the opening of World War I, I note that the Hall of Fame just announced that it is changing the voting for election to the Hall. I was going to do something akin to what I did for 28 June, but decided to go another way.

Currently players receiving a minimum vote can remain on the Hall ballot for 15 years. Beginning with the next election that will change to a maximum of 10 years. As I seem to be on a Hall of Fame kick anyway, here’s some thoughts on the change.

1. I’m glad to see they’ve grandfathered in Don Mattingly, Lee Smith, and Alan Trammel. They are the only people currently on the ballot who have been there for more than 10 years. I think if you’ve passed the 10 year limit and were expecting to get 15, you should get the 15.

2. I wonder how much it will affect guys who are close to 10, but not there yet. Tim Raines now has three years left, not eight. I’ll be interested to see if his vote total, and others like him, takes a significant jump based on writers who weren’t voting for him (or others)  on the idea that they had plenty of time left to get inducted.

3. I like the change that makes the list of voters public. I wish they’d gone a step further and forced the ballot to become public.

4. Making the writers sign a pledge to do their own voting rather than foist if off on others (Hello, Dan LeBetard) is also a good idea. I just wish they’d cut out some of the deadwood writers who haven’t covered baseball in eons.

5. It will make it certain that a decision on the PED boys will occur quicker. Mark McGwire now has two years left, not seven. Sosa has eight, not 13. Ditto for guys like Clemens and Bonds. It will be interesting to see if any of them takes a sudden jump in vote totals because of this. On a personal note, my best guess here is that the writers will kick them down the road to the Veteran’s Committees and let them make the hard choices.

6. They still didn’t change the 10 person vote limit. A writer still only gets 10 votes per ballot.

Would be interested to hear other comments on the changes, either in comments below or on your own blog. If you do comment on your own blog, be sure to let me know.

And finally, congrats to the newest inductees.

Me at the Hall

July 25, 2014

So now that all the travelogue stuff is outta the way and you’ve figured I’m no Rick Steves (or Arthur Frommer for you older types), it’s time to get to the part of the trip that truly interests you, the Hall of Fame itself.

Just inside the entrance

Just inside the entrance (Gehrig, Robinson, Clemente)

The Hall of Fame is both wonderful and vaguely disappointing at the same time. First, the disappointments. It’s smaller than I thought. I guess I figured that if you had that much stuff on display, the place had to be huge. It’s surprisingly small. That leads to the other problem. The place is cluttered. There are a lot of display cases filled with items. In fact most of them have too many items. It’s difficult to quite grasp everything you’re seeing in a single case. Having said that, I’d rather it be  cluttered than empty. There’s just a ton of  stuff available for view (and I understand that even more stuff is stored because they don’t have room to display it).

The tour starts on the second floor with a chronological look at the game. There’s a room about Cooperstown and the Doubleday Myth, but the good stuff starts in the next room with the earliest professionals and continues into the 21st Century. There are bats, shoes, balls, shoes, gloves, shoes, uniforms, shoes, scorecards, shoes (more shoes than even Imelda Marcos), and everything short of the underwear of players (maybe that’s part of what’s not on display). As you look at the stuff in a case, you’ll find short bios of the Hall of Famers whose equipment or memorabilia is shown in the case. I think that’s one of the better parts of the display. It does remind you exactly who these people are and why they are important to the sport. There’s an entire room on Babe Ruth (and another on Henry Aaron on the third floor), a long display of women in baseball, primarily centering on the women’s league of the 1940s and early 1950s. There’s a wonderful exhibit on Latin ball players showing the depth of competition in the Caribbean and in Latin America. There, the commentary is in both Spanish and English (the rest of the Hall does English only). The display on black baseball is a little disappointing. What they have is good, but it’s awfully small in comparison to the role the Negro Leagues played in black society.

As you get closer to the modern era, you find such things as Joe DiMaggio’s locker, a display case showing both Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson’s uniform in the same case, George Brett’s “pinetar” bat, and all sorts of things. It is, frankly, almost overwhelming.

The third floor covers special exhibits, the postseason, the previously mentioned Henry Aaron display, a wonderful look at old ballparks, and a video version of the Abbot and Costello comic routine “Who’s on First”. If you go, take a minute and just sit and enjoy the absolute brilliance and, at the same time, utter silliness of the routine. I’d forgotten how funny it actually was when you hear it.

On the first floor are exhibits detailing the careers of the newest inductees (and that may change after the latest installation) and, of  course, the plaques of the inductees. I didn’t realize they were quite so small. Somehow I thought they were larger. It’s interesting to read them. You see a lot of difference in emphasis as you go through them in the order they were inducted (which is how they are displayed, except for the initial five who are in the center). It reminds you how much the game has changed. The first five (Ruth, Cobb, W. Johnson, Wagner, Mathewson) are placed directly in the center of the gallery with Cobb in the center and the others flanking him two on either side.

Beyond the gallery is a hall that takes you to a kids area, the research library, a bookstore, and exhibits on the writers and broadcasters elected to the yearly awards. It’s kind of nice to see the bookstore pulled away from the other part of the store and placed beside the library. There’s also an exhibit on baseball at the movies that shows clips from various movies (the oldest we saw was “Alibi Ike”) and playbills from the theaters.

Of course you end at the gift shop which has everything (except books, obviously) for a souvenir. There are t-shirts, postcards with pictures of the player plaques (I bought a few of those), key chains, ball cards, you name it. They aren’t cheap but how often do you get to buy something at the Hall of Fame?

Outside there is a sculpture garden (something I didn’t know). There’s a statue of a female player, of Satchel Paige, and then a wonderful tableau showing a pitcher throwing a ball  and 90 feet away a catcher preparing to receive it. Looks like this.

the pitcher

the pitcher

Both are well done. The inscription tells you the pitcher is Johnny Podres and the catcher Roy Campanella. It appears that it is a tribute to the 1955 World Series (although the two men were a battery for several years).

So go. It’s really worth the time. We spent a couple of hours then took a lunch break (got hot dogs–what else?) then went back for another couple of hours. They stamp your hand so you don’t have to pay twice. You could spend more time or less depending on what you want to see. Picture taking is acceptable (my son took a picture of me beside the Koufax plaque which managed to shatter neither his camera nor the plaque), and talking is almost encouraged. There are senior rates and kids rates if you’re my age or have children. It’s out-of-the-way and I usually find that most out-of-the-way sites aren’t worth seeing. This one is (again all pictures taken by my wife).

 

 

 

Arriving at Cooperstown

July 24, 2014

Continuing with my trip to the Hall of Fame.

On Saturday morning we got up early, had breakfast at a local Denny’s (do I get a fee or something for mentioning a national chain on this blog?), and drove from Herkimer to Cooperstown. It’s a pretty drive. Lots of hills, views of a lake whose name I can’t pronounce, and a bunch of trees. There’s one spot where you drive by this long row of lakefront homes that range from fancy to ramshackle, but eventually you arrive in Cooperstown.

a shot my wife took in town

a shot my wife took in town

It’s a pretty town, as the picture above shows. It’s too much to call it “quaint”, simply because it’s way to commercialized. The center of town runs about four blocks with a post office, a drug store, a general merchandise place, a bank, a lawyer’s office (you knew there would be one of those, didn’t you?), and a few restaurants.

the bank

the bank

The rest is all baseball related stuff. A couple of pictures to give you some sense of how much baseball dominates the town.

one of the baseball stores

one of the baseball stores

and another

and another

 

and yet one more

and yet one more

It’s all fine and good and also very commercial, almost too commercial. I know the town needs to make a profit on the tourists, but it’s overwhelming. Even the drugstore offers times for picking up autographs during induction week. I kept looking at the street and wondered where the locals shop for basic goods like food and TP. On the other hand, there wasn’t a Wal-Mart in sight (which is stunning if you come from around where I live).

We were able to walk down to the lakefront (the town is right on a big lake) and get some great views. There’s a nice little park with benches and a statue that overlooks the lake where we saw kids playing, people napping, boats on the water. In other words all the things people do in towns that are just like mine. Well, not exactly, because we have no lake and the town park has a pond that is so low it needs to be mowed. It was in many ways the highlight of the town itself.

Next time, the Hall of Fame itself. BTW all pictures on this post were taken by my wife.

Heading to the Hall

July 22, 2014
Herkimer, NY

Herkimer, NY

As a few of you may have noticed, I’ve been gone a while. The wife and I flew up to see our son, daughter-in-law, and two of the grandchildren (the other is at Ft. Bliss playing soldier). Well, it’s only a handful of hours from their house to Cooperstown, so we decided to head over there so I could finally visit the Hall of Fame (my son was a veteran of Hall visits already). Our daughter-in-law isn’t much of a sports fan (I keep trying to get my son to remedy this failing in her life, but so far no luck) so she stayed home with the kids and we made it a nuclear family trip, just my wife, son, and I.

We left on a Friday morning in my son’s fully paid for (hooray) Ford. We threw a couple of changes of clothes, a few toiletry items, a book (in my case on Greek Tyranny, not baseball) in the hatchback, piled in with my wife riding shotgun and me as the guy in the backseat. It took several hours to get there so we were able to have a long conversation with our son. He’s planning a major career change and we were able to talk with him about it. Mostly nuts and bolts stuff, not philosophical reasoning for the change, but you have to know how you’re going to go about the thing and how it will change the family, both his and ours. We got a pretty good sense of how this is going to work and hopefully it will all come out fine in the wash.

We ended up staying in Herkimer, New York, which is on the Interstate about 40 miles north of Cooperstown and just far enough away to be reasonably inexpensive. OK, it’s not the Garden Spot of the Western World, but it seems like a nice enough town with a handful of sights to see, a reasonable collection of restaurants and fast food joints, and an assortment of motels. We got a fairly cheap place (about $100.00 a night) which did the job. It was simple, clean, the plumbing worked, and the bed had no bugs. OK, that’s not much of an endorsement, but I look for a motel room to do those things and not much else. If I’ve rented a motel room the odds are I’m asleep (in which case both cheap and expensive motels look just alike–black) if I’m actually in the room. And when I’m not in the room why do I care what it looks like? If you’re from Oklahoma the 100 bucks will get you a damned nice room, so the sticker shock (or maybe culture shock) was significant. Around here for $100 you can buy a third of the place, not just rent one room.

We slid on down to Cooperstown in the late afternoon, but it was too late to visit The Hall. It gave us a chance to look over the town, get our bearings as to where everything was, and plan how to do the next day (including figure out where to park). I’ll put up thoughts on the town later.

It was late enough that we decided to have dinner in Cooperstown. Some guy told us the best place to eat was an Italian restaurant called Toscana Italian Fusion and Grill. We weren’t quite sure what you fused Italian food with, but decided to give it a shot. Nice enough place. The cook even came out to greet us. The food was good enough but I’m not sure what fusion was going on. Then came the bill, $68 for three of us. Now, it was a good meal, but around here you can get three steaks the size of half a cow for $68 (did I mention that the Central New York area is expensive?). On top of that you had to tip the waitress. I seriously considered telling her to plant her corn in the spring (which is a legit tip, right?), but eventually added cash to the check. As for it being “the best place to eat” in town, we thought it was OK but I decided that if it truly was “best” then either the food in town was only OK or the guy who told us to try it had weakened taste buds.

Then back in Herkimer, we settled in for the night. It was, in most ways, the best part of the day. My son and I just simply sat around and talked baseball. We talked current baseball events, talked historical baseball, talked speculative baseball, talked about just anything that came to our minds. I loved it, and he seemed happy too, despite missing his family. My wife sat in the corner halfheartedly reading a  book, but mostly just taking in the simple family nature of the evening.

Next time, I hit The Hall.

The Arrival of a Legend

July 11, 2014
The Babe while still a Red Sox

The Babe while still a Red Sox

Today marks one of the most significant anniversaries in Major League baseball history. One hundred years ago on 11 July 1914 the Boston Red Sox gave the ball for the first time to a rookie pitcher nicknamed “Babe” Ruth. It was the start of the most legendary of all baseball careers.

For the day, Ruth pitched seven innings against the Cleveland Naps giving up three runs (two earned). Joe Jackson (“Shoeless Joe”) knocked in a run early and catcher Steve O’Neill knocked in two in the seventh for the Cleveland runs. Ruth struck out one and walked none to pick up the win. At bat he went 0-2 with a strikeout. Better hitting days were to comev for the Babe.

Most everyone knows the name Babe Ruth, many without knowing what it was he did. If you do know what he did, odds are you know about the home runs and the hitting feats. But Ruth was also a heck of a pitcher. If you look at the left-handed hurlers of the decade between 1910 and 1920 you could make a pretty fair argument that Ruth was the best left-hander of the decade. You might look at Eddie Plank or Rube Marquard early in the decade, or at Hippo Vaughn later in the decade (and he and Ruth faced each other in the 1918 World Series with the Babe picking up a 1-0 win), but Ruth is equally in the argument.

Ruth’s conversion from pitcher to outfielder is key to his career. But if you look around, you’ll find that while it wasn’t common, it wasn’t unheard of in baseball. George Sisler did the same thing and went to the Hall of Fame. So did Lefty O’Doul (without the Hall of Fame being attached). A lot of years later Stan Musial hurt his arm in the minors and switched from the mound to the outfield and ended up in Cooperstown. Bob Lemon went the other way, from third base to pitcher and made the Hall. Bucky Walters also went from third to pitching and won an MVP. Darren Dreifort, while at Wichita State, served as the DH when he wasn’t pitching, but didn’t play in the field (although he did pinch hit) in the Majors. I’m sure that’s nowhere near a complete list.

For his Boston career, Ruth was 89-46, a .659 winning percentage, with a 1.142 WHIP, a 2.19 ERA, and a 122 ERA+. He had 17 shutouts, 483 strikeouts, and 425 walks for his Red Sox years (there were also a handful of games with the Yanks). Ruth’s pitching WAR (Baseball Reference.com version) is 20.6.  His World Series record is equally good. He was 3-0 with a shutout and eight strikeouts. He did, however, walk 10. His consecutive scoreless streak in the Series was a record until Whitey Ford finally passed him in the 1960s.

I know over the years that a lot of people have tried to tell us that someone else (Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Henry Aaron, etc.) was better than Ruth. And maybe as a hitter they were (although I wouldn’t bet on that in Vegas), but ultimately you have to decide that Ruth was the overall superior player because he could also pitch very well. Aaron was Aaron, Williams was Williams, and Bonds was Bonds, but Ruth was a combination of any of them and Walter Johnson. Top that crew.

 

The Iron Horse

July 9, 2014
Lou Gehrig

Lou Gehrig

While doing the previous look at Bob Meusel, it dawned on me that I’d never actually done a post dedicated to Lou Gehrig. I’m not quite sure why that’s true. I’ve been a  big fan of his since I can remember. But it’s time to remedy that oversight.

I suppose that most anybody reading this has a basic understanding of who Gehrig was, so I don’t want to do one of my standard  short baseball bios of him. Instead I want to concentrate on some of the things that jump out to me when I look at his career.

One of the first things I note about Gehrig is how good he was early. His first year with more than 30 at bats was 1925. He was 22, hit .295, had 20 home runs, and 68 RBIs. The home run total was fifth in the American League. The 1925 season would also mark the last time he had less than 100 RBIs until his final season in 1939.

It’s amazing how much of an RBI machine Gehrig became over his career. I know a lot of people downgrade RBIs as a “target of opportunity” (you can’t drive him in if he isn’t on base), but I’ll remind you that a player still has to hit the “target” and Gehrig did it an inordinate amount of time and while we’re at it unless you steal home or hit a home run, a run is also a “target of opportunity” (the other guys has to hit the ball when you’re on base). In 2164 games he had 1995 RBIs, an average of 149 per 162 games. After all these years he’s still fifth ever and the man in fourth place (Barry Bonds) is only one ahead of him. Back a long time ago (May of 2010) I came up with something of a joke stat called RBI-NS (runs batted in–not self) which was simply RBI-HR. It was designed to see how many of a player’s RBIs were earned by plating himself with a home run rather than knocking in another player. I did all the players with 475 or more home runs (as of 2010) and found that Gehrig was second in the stat with 75% of his RBIs being another player (Stan Musial was first with 76%). That means to me that not only did Gehrig have a lot of opportunity to knock in runs, but that he managed to do so with great frequency. That’s a measure of how much he dominated in his  era.

There has been for years some argument about the 1927 MVP race. Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs and Gehrig was chosen MVP. A couple of things ought to be pointed out. First, Ruth won an MVP earlier and for years there was an official rule that you couldn’t win two. By 1927 it was more or less tradition although the prohibition was gone. I’m sure that hurt Ruth some but if you look at the season it’s not like Gehrig was a slouch either. Gehrig led the team in hits, doubles, RBIs (of course he did), and average. Baseball Reference.com’s version of WAR even has him better than Ruth.

Gehrig also holds the AL record for RBIs in a single season with 185 in 1931. The only number higher is in the National League and comes in the juiced ball season of 1930. His triple crown season of 1934 provided his only batting title, but was his second (of three) home run title, and his fifth (and final) RBI title. He also led the league in hits once, in runs four times, and in triples once. The last of those stunned me when I noticed it. No one thinks of Gehrig as particularly fast, but he averaged 12 triples per 162 games. His one MVP award was in 1936, a decent year (and his last home run title) but certainly not his best.

Over the years Lou Gehrig the ballplayer has gotten lost behind Lou Gehrig the man. His disease, his class in handling it (especially on this the 75th anniversary of the most famous speech in baseball history), and his tragedy all have subsumed his playing career (not to mention the movie). This is a small attempt to remind you of just how good he was as a ballplayer. In 2000 SABR did a membership poll asking who was the greatest 20th Century baseball player. Unsurprisingly, Babe Ruth won. Second was Gehrig. They make a good case for it.

Gehrig's final resting place

Gehrig’s final resting place

 

The Other Guy in Murderer’s Row

July 7, 2014
Bob Meusel

Bob Meusel

The 1920s Yankees, known as Murderer’s Row, are one of the most famous of all teams. But in many ways it’s selectively famous. People know Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Diehard fans know Earle Combs and Tony Lazzeri. Pitching freaks know Herb Pennock and Waite Hoyt. But the rest of the team is pretty anonymous. That’s a shame because one of the better members of the team batted right in the middle of the lineup and is now largely forgotten. That’s Bob Meusel.

Meusel was born in California in 1896, three years after his brother Emil, who played a number of years for the Giants. Bob Meusel was spotted while still playing high school baseball. He spent the years 1917-1919 in the West Coast minors, except for a stint in the US Navy during World War I. He did well and in 1920 got the call from the New York Yankees. He was 23.

He was an immediate starter, playing 119 games, most at the corner outfield positions. From the beginning he showed the best outfield arm in either league. By general consensus of the articles of the day (and with a lot of stats agreeing) he was an exceptional outfielder, especially the arm. He got the nickname “Long Bob” almost immediately and there are a couple of versions as to why. One says he was 6’3″ and thin, the other than he had a long arm. You can pick your favorite. In his rookie campaign he hit .328 with 11 home runs, the latter number being seventh in the American League.

He was even better the next season, hitting .318 and slugging 24 home runs with 135 RBIs. The home run number was second in the AL and the RBI total third. He also hit for the cycle against Walter Johnson. It would be the first of three cycles, a Major League record. His team won its first ever pennant with Meusel hitting clean up behind Babe Ruth. The team lost a best of nine series in eight games (to the Giants) with Meusel hitting .200 with three RBIs and no home runs. He did manage to steal home in game two (a game the Yanks won). He would do so again in 1928 to become the only man to successfully steal home twice in the World Series.

Meusel was suspended for barnstorming after the 1921 World Series (so was Ruth), but managed to get into 122 games in 1922. New York won again and again failed to beat the Giants and big brother Emil (called Irish for reasons that make no sense, the family was German in its background). This time Bob Meusel hit .300 but managed only two RBIs, two runs, and no home runs. Back in the Series in 1923 (and still facing his brother’s Giants) Meusel hit only .269 but drove in eight runs with seven hits (two triples and a double included). This time his team took home its first World’s Championship.

Although the Yankees failed to win in either 1924 or 1925 (largely because of Ruth’s woes) Meusel had good years. In ’24 he hit .325, then in ’25 led the AL in home runs with 33 and RBIs with 138. Those would be the only time he would lead the league in a major offensive category.

In 1926, Murderer’s Row was back in the World Series. Meusel .315, but with only 12 home runs. He still maintained his clean up spot although new first baseman Lou Gehrig was challenging him from the five hole. Meusel had a terrible Series hitting .238 with no home runs or RBIs and scoring only three runs. In the famous seventh inning of game seven when Grover Cleveland Alexander struck out Lazzeri with the bases loaded, Meusel was on second. He was also at bat when Ruth tried to steal second, was thrown out, and the Series ended in a St. Louis victory.

In 1927 and 1928 New York won back-to-back World Series’ with Meusel contributing little. He had his only home run in the 1928 Series (along with the steal of home mentioned above), but only had three RBIs (and only one in 1927). He did manage to score five runs in ’28 (to only one in 1927).

At the end of 1928 he was 32 and mostly through. His 1929 was down. He hit .261 (a career low) with only 57 RBIs. He was waived and picked up by Cincinnati for the 1930 season. Despite the juiced ball, he only hit .289 with 10 home runs and 62 RBIs and was done. He hung on in the minors for a couple of years, but retired after the 1932 season. In retirement he did a bit of movie work, mostly cameos in baseball flicks, and worked as a security guard at a Navy base. He died in California in 1977.

For his career his triple slash line is .309/.356/.497/.852 with an OPS+ of 118. He had 1693 hits, scored 826 runs, and knocked in 1064 runners. He had 268 doubles, 95 triples, and 156 home runs for 2719 total bases. His WAR (Baseball Reference.com version) is 27.6.  In the field he was considered one of the premier outfielders of his day, known especially for the strength and accuracy of his arm (but never led the AL in outfield assists).

Bob Meusel was a very good ballplayer, one of the better players of the 1920s. At times he could be considered the second best player on the Yankees (and in 1925 arguably their best) and at other times third (behind Ruth and Gehrig). It’s not a bad legacy to say you’re the best player on a team excepting those two.

Meusel's grave in California

Meusel’s grave in California

 

 

 

The Pitching Problem

July 3, 2014
Tim Keefe

Tim Keefe, the proud owner of the greatest season ever

In a comment on my 1905 Hall of Fame class post, Kortas commented on how difficult it is to determine the quality of pitching in 19th Century baseball. You’ll note I didn’t contradict him. The reason for that is simple. I agree with him.

Pitching in the 19th Century can be quickly divided into three periods: the opening period when the pitcher stood 45 feet away and had to throw underhand, the 1884 period when the pitching box moved back to 50 feet and the pitcher could do a short run, and the modern period where a mound exists. I have never been able to determine how you compare pitchers over those eras. The rules are different, the pitching motions are different, the distances are different. How do you compare Al Spaulding whose career is entirely within the 45 feet era with Charles Radbourne who pitches at 50 feet but never on a mound or with Walter Johnson who never pitches anywhere except from a mound? They say there are stats that level the field, but do you level a field when there’s a mound for one player and no mound for another?

I looked at Baseball Reference.com and combed through a lot of stats over the last couple of days. I’ve been critical of WAR as a definitive stat because it exists in several different versions, but for this purpose I’m going to use Baseball Reference.com’s version to make a point. If you go to the list of leaders and look at the stat for most WAR in a given season, pitchers hold the top 15 slots (Ruth’s 1923 is the first hitting season). Amos Rusie has one and Walter Johnson two of the 15. All 12 of the others are from prior to the invention of the mound.

Now ask yourself a simple question, do you really think that 12 of the 15 greatest seasons ever were by pre-1890 pitchers? Well, of course in many ways your answer has to be “yes,” because of the way pitching was used. But those can never be replicated because pitching is totally different today and that means that we will always know that no matter how good a player is he can never best Tim Keefe in 1883 (20.0 WAR).

So it means that even the most sophisticated stats have trouble differentiating the changes made in pitching. Forget the lousy fields and the jokes they had for gloves, just know that the use of one pitcher in 80% of the games (and I don’t mean a reliever who pitches to one batter in 100 games) simply isn’t comparable to a modern hurler who gets 33 or 34 games tops. Tommy Bond, who started this conversation, won 40 games twice, Greg Maddux never pitched more than 37 in a season.

I hope that when we try to compare pitchers over eras we keep this in mind.

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1905

July 1, 2014

It’s time for my monthly addition to My Own Little Hall of Fame. For those of you who’ve forgotten, this is my attempt to determine what the Hall of Fame would look like if it were formed in 1901 rather than in the 1930s. My primary contention is that a number of players who’ve gotten little consideration for the modern Hall would have been added if the Hall were created earlier. So here’s the Class of 1905.

Tommy Bond

Tommy Bond

Thomas “Tommy” Bond pitched from 1874 through 1884 winning 234 games leading his league in strikeouts wins, and ERA twice each. He also led the National League in shutouts on three occasions. His 1877 and 1878 Boston teams won pennants with him as their primary hurler. One of only a handful of players to work in four different leagues: National Association, National League, American Association, and Union Association.

Bid McPhee

Bid McPhee

John “Bid” McPhee was a star second baseman for Cincinnati in both the National League and the American Association. He holds many fielding records for second basemen. As a hitter he won both a home run and a triples title. Is second among all players with 189 total triples.

"Truthful" Jim Mutrie

“Truthful” Jim Mutrie

James “Truthful Jim” Mutrie managed both the New York Metropolitans of the American Association and the New York Gothams of the National League. Under his leadership the Metropolitans won the 1884 Association pennant and the Gothams won both the 1888 and 1889 National League pennants. The latter teams both won postseason tournaments against their Association rivals. Among managers with 200 or more wins his winning percentage is highest in Major League history. He is credited with coining the name “Giants” for the current New York National League team.

Tip O'Neill, well after his retirement

Tip O’Neill, well after his retirement

James “Tip” O’Neill played outfield for the St. Louis Browns between 1884 and 1889 inclusive and was the first great Canadian player. He led his team to four consecutive pennants (1885-1888) and two disputed postseason championships. He led the Association in hits twice and batting average twice. In 1887 he hit .435 and led the Association in average, home runs, RBIs, doubles, triples, hits, and runs.

Harry Stovey

Harry Stovey

Harry Stovey played both outfield and first base from 1880 through 1893. He led his league in booth runs scored and triples four times, in home runs five times, in stolen bases twice, and in doubles once. His 1888 Philadelphia Athletics team won the second American Association pennant, while his 1890 Boston team won the only Player’s League pennant. In the National League he won a pennant with the 1891 Beaneaters.

And now the commentary.

1. Tommy Bond? Really? Bond only has 180 wins in the National League but is the ace of the first great NL team. I felt that gave him a leg up on other pitchers still not elected and eligible (Mathews, McCormick, Mullane, and Deacon White’s brother Will). As with most pitchers of his era he has only a handful of great years then drops off quickly, perhaps too quickly for many voters. My guess is that if he were elected by the voters in 1905 he would just barely get invited to the Hall. Having said that, I think he’s the best available pitcher, but I am aware that Mullane and Mathews have a  lot more wins, the key pitching stat is 1905.

2. McPhee is now much further down the current list of triples, but in 1905 he was still second (to Anson). He is, by all accounts and by all stats available in 1905, the finest second baseman of the 19th Century.

3. I am absolutely certain that Mutrie should be in the Hall of Fame and, thus, am completely comfortable adding him to the Class of 1905. In 1876 William Hulbert tossed New York out of the National League. No NYC team played at the highest level again until the Metropolitans joined the American Association. Mutrie was a prime mover in creating the team and piloted it to its first successful season. Then he was instrumental in creating the Gothams (Giants) and putting a New York team back into the NL. In many ways he is the father of Major League baseball in New York. He was still alive in 1905, but lived in obscurity. In 1905 only one manager who managed more than one year had a higher winning percentage than Mutrie and he managed all the way back in the National Association (and to this day only Joe McCarthy has a higher winning percentage among managers with 200+ wins). BTW “Truthful Jim” is an ironic nickname (sort of like calling a 6’9″ 300 pound guy “Tiny”). He was known to make up a lot of stuff in order to get what he wanted when it came to his team and his own wealth. That means he’s a bit of a  rogue, but then the real Hall is full of those.

4. Aren’t O’Neill and Stovey a bit of a stretch? O’Neill and Stovey were, to me the best players in the Association (although McPhee also spent a lot of time in the AA, I think both were better than him). By 1905 the Association had been dead for almost 15 years and was already slipping in the public memory. The Reach Guide, newspapers, and other sources have very little on the Association and it was quickly fading from memory. Those new players eligible for a Hall of Fame in 1905 weren’t a particularly exciting lot, so I took the opportunity to add the best of the Association at this point, presuming that the longer I waited, the less likely they would get a call. I’m not at all sure that a real Hall existing in 1905 would have brought them inside. The current Hall certainly hasn’t.

5. OK, fine, but what happened to Pete Browning? I’ll admit that I considered long and hard about Browning. His average is tremendous, but there are three problems. First, he plays in the Association and for almost its entire existence it was considered much the weaker league. I felt that the perceived weakness of the Association would be held against him. Second, yeah he’s got a high average, but he’s got all of 1656 hits and 4820 at bats. Those just aren’t really big numbers, even for the era. He averages 371 at bats per season and 127 hits per season. That’s all. Finally he was universally considered a lousy fielder. Four times he’s in the top four in errors and no contemporary source I could find says anything good about him in the field. So I’m holding him until later. He may still get an invite, but not this time.

6. You seem somewhat unhappy with this list. Are you? Yeah, kinda. On a personal level I have no problem with who I added for 1905. But when trying to figure this out from the point of view of a voter in 1905, I’m not so sure that this is the list that would come out of a vote. As mentioned above, other pitchers have more wins than Bond (and wins is the key stat for pitchers in 1905) and O’Neill and Stovey play in what was almost universally conceded was a weaker league. Even McPhee is questionable because he didn’t hit .300 and in 1905 that mattered a lot. I’m simply concerned that viewing this list from 1905 I may have gotten it wrong.

7. Finally, it was a real problem putting five new members into this Hall of Fame. It’s becoming harder to get five each time because there are only a handful of worthy new candidates showing up each year and the backlog of quality players is quickly reaching the line that separates great players from really good players (and I may have crossed it already with Bond). It may be  a while before there are five new inductees again.

 

 

 

28 June 1914: the NL

June 27, 2014
Heinie Groh, complete with "bottle bat"

Heinie Groh, complete with “bottle bat”

And now concluding a look at where all three Major Leagues stood on 28 June 1914 (100 years ago tomorrow), the day that the assassination in Sarajevo set off the spark that led to World War I, here’s a view of what was going on in the National League.

The National League had the most games on Sunday, 28 June 1914. Both of the other leagues had three games, a double-header and a single game. The NL went with twin double-headers. In one set Pittsburgh played two in Cincinnati and in the other the Cubs took on the Cardinals in St. Louis.

the Reds managed to sweep both games from the Pirates. In game one they rallied late to take a 7-6 victory. Pittsburgh scored a run in each of the first three innings, got three more in the seventh, and led 6-2 going into the bottom of the ninth. Joe Conzelman, in relief of Babe Adams started the ninth, couldn’t get anyone out, and left the job to George McQuillan. McQuillan got two outs, but never got the last, as Cincinnati plated five runs, all earned, to win the game. Heinie Groh of “bottle bat” fame had two hits, scored a run, and drove in one.  But the big hero was center fielder Howard Lohr who had three hits (all singles) scored two runs, and drove in three.

In game two the teams went the other way. In the second, Groh singled, then came home on another single by left fielder Harry LaRoss. It was the only run that starter Marty O’Toole gave up, but Cincinnati starter Pete Schneider picked up his first win of the season by throwing a complete game shutout. For the day Hall of Fame shortstop Honus Wagner went one for seven with an RBI, while fellow Hall of Fame player Max Carey went one for seven and scored a run.

In St. Louis, the two teams split the double-header. In game one the Cards routed Chicago 6-0. The hitting stars were Lee Magee and Dots Miller. Magee scored two runs and had an RBI while going two for two with two walks. Miller went two for four, but drove in three runs. Pitcher Bill Doak threw a complete game shutout.

In the nightcap, with the scored tied 2-2, the Cubs erupts for six runs in the fifth. Tommy Leach two runs, Vic Saier had three RBIs, and Hall of Fame catcher Roger Bresnahan had both a run and an RBI from the eight hole. With the score 8-2, St. Louis rallied for two runs in the eighth before Cubs ace Hippo Vaughn entered the game. He gave up one more run, but then shut down St. Louis to record his only save of the season and see Chicago pull off an 8-5 victory.  Hall of Fame umpire Bill Klem had the plate for both games.

At the end of the day, Cincy stood in second place, five games behind the Giants, while the Pirates held down fifth place (and were the highest placed team with a losing record). The Cubs were in third and the Cards in fourth. By the end of the season the Cards had risen to third, the Cubs were fourth, the Reds had slipped to last, nine games below seventh place Pittsburgh.

One major trade occurred that day. The last place Braves sent Hub Perdue, a 2-5 pitcher to St. Louis. They got back first baseman Possum Whitted and utility outfielder Ted Cather. Whitted moved into the clean up spot for the Braves and Cather became part of an outfield platoon. Both men were instrumental in the “Miracle Braves” run to the NL pennant and the World Series triumph in 1914. The run began 6 July when Boston ran off seven of eight wins to start the climb to the top.

 

 

 

 


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