Obscurity

Ever notice how utterly obscure some players are? I don’t mean some guy who got to the big leagues, had one at bat, and disappeared from the rosters forever. I mean Hall of Fame quality players who are just plain obscure. There are a bunch of them and I’d like today to look at a couple of pitchers that fit the category.

Jesse Haines in 1927

Do you know anything about Jesse Haines? With the paragraph above you know he’s in the Hall of Fame, but I mean other than that. If you do, it’s probably that he’s the guy who came out of game 7 of the 1926 World Series so Grover Cleveland Alexander could enter the game, strike out Tony Lazzeri, and go on to immortality. But I bet you didn’t know Haines was still second in wins (to Bob Gibson) for the St. Louis Cardinals, arguably the most successful National League franchise. It’s not like he’s second for the Padres, this is the Cardinals. He’s also second in innings pitched and complete games, fifth in shutouts, and sixth in strike outs. To offset that he’s also first in hits given up and second in walks. He pitched from 1920 through 1937 with St. Louis (and had five innings in 1918 with Cincinnati). He’s in four World Series’, going 3-1 with an ERA of 1.67 and a WHIP of 1.237. Unfortunately he walked more guys (16) than he struck out (12). For his career he was 210-158, winning 20 games twice and having three years with a losing record (one of which was 3-5). His career WHIP was 1.350 and his ERA+ is 109.

Ted Lyons

Ted Lyons was a lot like Haines. He just sort of fell of the radar after making the Hall of Fame. Unlike Haines, he never played for a pennant winner, spending his entire 1923-1942 career with the Chicago White Sox (He also pitched a handful of games with the ChiSox in 1945). Today he’s primarily famous, if he’s known at all, for pitching an inordinate number of games on Sunday, particularly late in his career. He also managed the White Sox for a couple of years after he retired. During his tenure with Chicago, the Sox were generally terrible. They finished as high as third twice and Lyons was the ace for most of the period. He ended his career 260-230 with a 3.67 ERA, more walks than strikeouts, more hits than innings pitched, and an ERA+ of 118. He led the American League in wins, hits, complete games, and innings pitched twice. He led the AL in losses, ERA, shutouts, and hit batsmen all one time. He still leads the ChiSox in a lot of categories. He made the Hall of Fame in 1955.

So there they are, a couple of obscure Hall of Fame pitchers. I wondered, when I started researching this post, what they would have in common. Here’s a few of the things I found:

1. They both pitched a long time ago. That was pretty obvious, but some people who pitched a long time ago (Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson) are still relatively well-known (and Young has the advantage of the award named for him). So it has to be something other than sheer age.

2. The success of their team isn’t it. Haines’ teams were wildly successful winning the World Series in 1926, 1931, and 1934, and participating in the Series in 1928 and 1930. Lyons on the other hand toiled for dreadful teams.

3. For all the hoopla surround the 1920s and 1930s, they really don’t take center stage in our recent works on baseball. There seems to be a resurgence of interest in the Deadball Era, which I assume has to do with the century mark. There have been good books recently about 1906, 1908, and 1912, but nothing particularly special on the 1920s and 1930s (the Gas House Gang book didn’t get much press). Even the Nineteenth Century is getting better press recently, particularly the great job on 1884. And of course, contemporary baseball commands a much greater following than does the 20’s and 30’s. Good books about 2001 and other seasons have done well, and pushed the 1920-1940 period off the shelves.

4. I think the obscurity also has to do with a combination of neither being a pitcher you can hang a stat on and the fact that neither was a big star in his day. Neither was a big winner who put up a lot of strikeouts or shutouts. Neither was ever considered the premier pitcher in their league, except maybe for a very short period in Lyons’ case. There are no stories about Haines (except coming out in game 7 in 1926) and the stories about Lyons usually revolve around his pranks rather than his pitching. In other words, I think each was relatively overlooked in his own day, and remains so today.

I may be wrong in my conclusions, but whether I am or not, I think it’s time to give each of these (and a ton of other people in the Hall of Fame) their due as ball players.

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3 Responses to “Obscurity”

  1. Kevin G Says:

    Both of these guys pitched in the 20’s when offense and home runs were the name off the game. Ruth, Hornsby, Gehrig, and others got all the press, while sending a ton of pitchers into even deeper obscurity.
    I’m still not sure how Haines made it into the HOF. His stats are mediocre at best.

    Kevin

  2. verdun2 Says:

    You’re right, being a pitcher in a hitter’s era and not being Lefty Grove can drop you into the ranks of the obscure.
    As to Haines, Bill James in “The Politics of Glory” indicates that Frankie Frisch, a member of the Veteran’s Committee, made it a policy to get in as many of his teammates into the Hall as possible. Haines was one of them.
    v

  3. sportsphd Says:

    Both are interesting cases. Lyons was a terrific pitcher on atrocious teams. if he ever played on a real baseball team, odds are you are talking about a 300-game winner. To put his 118 ERA+ in context, Warren Spahn’s was 119 for his career. Put him on consistently terrible teams, and I think Lyons is the lower bound for a pitcher of that quality.

    Haines is one of the weakest pitchers in the Hall of Fame, probably in the bottom ten with Jack Chesbro, Rube Marquard, and company. Still he was a heckuva pitcher for a long time, just not quite Hall of Fame caliber.

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