Back several years ago, my son and I were rummaging through a baseball almanac looking at various stats. You’ve seen these. At the back of the book is a long list of stats by career, season, playoffs, etc. Usually they pick a cutoff number and list everybody with that specific stat above the cutoff. In looking over the triples list we ran across the name “Bid McPhee.” Neither of us had ever heard of him, so we did a little bit of searching and found out a minimal amount of info. Then the Veteran’s Committee announced it’s pre-1919 list of winners and there was McPhee, enshrined in Cooperstown in 2000. So we got out the newest version of the almanac and looked him up again. Strange, but he seemed to have gained about 20 triples. We went back and looked at the old one, and sure as taxes he had gained 20 triples (We chalk that up to SABR research). So in one year McPhee gained 20 triples and a ticket to Cooperstown. That led my son to comment, “He had a great year for a dead guy.”
Born in 1859 in New York, John McPhee moved with his family to Illinois immediately after the American Civil War. He played baseball for the local town team, was signed by a nearby minor league team and remained in the minors to 1880, when he left baseball for a job as a bookkeeper. He was a short man and was refered to as “Little Biddy.” The name stuck as “Bid”. Apparently you could make more money keeping books than playing baseball, and McPhee decided he needed the money. By 1881 he was back in Akron, Ohio playing baseball for the town team. He caught the eye of the fledgling Cincinnati team of the newly formed American Association. He was signed in 1882 as a second baseman (seemingly for more than the bookkeeping job). Cincinnati won the inaugural Association pennant with McPhee hitting all of .228 with 43 runs and 31 RBIs. He was, however, first in putouts and fielding percentage, third in assists and range among Association second sackers. He would remain an excellent bare handed second baseman for all his career, until age began to show. His hitting steadily improved and he eventually led the Association in both triples (1887) and home runs (1886) one time each.
McPhee spent his entire career with Cincinnati, moving with the team to the National League as the Association began collapsing in 1890. He remained a solid second baseman, and with the advent of the 60’6″ mound, he finally hit over .300. In fact, if you didn’t know about the change in the pitching distance, you’d swear he got a lot better as he got into his mid and late 30s. Another major change occurred for him in 1896. He broke a finger and began using a glove. His fielding percentage took off and he set an all-time high percentage for second basemen (.978) that lasted until 1925. By 1899 he was 39 and through. He managed the Reds in 1901 and 1902 without much success, then became a scout, holding the position through the 1909 season. He retired to California and died in 1943. The call from Cooperstown came in 2000. He is one of only two Hall of Fame members, Johnny Bench is the other, who played their entire career in Cincinnati. In 2002 he joined the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame.
For his career McPhee hit .272 with a .355 on base percentage, slugged .373, had an OPS of .728 (OPS+ of 106). He had 2258 hits, comprising 3098 total bases with 303 doubles, 189 triples, 53 home runs, and 1072 RBIs. He scored 1684 runs and stole 568 bases. The stolen base total is both incomplete and includes bases stolen prior to the modern rule being adopted in 1898. His fielding percentage was ..944, which is great for the 1880s and 1890s, he had 6552 putouts and 6919 assists.
As with most players of the era, there is some difference in the statistics of McPhee. The stats listed above are from Baseball Reference.com and differ from Nemec’s numbers in his 19th Century baseball almanac. Either way, McPhee shows up as an excellent player. When starting this look at McPhee, I went took a cursory look at the other second basemen of the 19th Century. I’ve concluded that, along with catcher, second base has to be the weakest position overall in the century. It’s tough to find a really outstanding player whose numbers reach out and grab you. I like Bobby Lowe and Nap LaJoie, but to me LaJoie is a 20th Century player and Lowe, although very good, isn’t truly outstanding. You could make a case for McPhee as the best 19th Century second baseman. Not sure I would, but he’d certainly be in the mix. But you gotta give him some credit for picking up those 20 triples 57 years after he died.