Undue Influence

George Davis as a member of the White SoxGeorge Davis began playing professional baseball in 1889 and made the Major Leagues with the Cleveland Spiders in 1890. He played quite a bit in center field and at third base before settling in at shortstop in 1897. By then he was with the New York Giants, a team he joined in 1893. He stayed there until 1902, doing a couple of stints as a not-very-successful manager. In 1902 he jumped to the new American League Chicago team. In the settlement that led ultimately to modern baseball’s current setup, Davis was ordered back to New York. He played four games, did a lot of holding out, and in 1904 rejoined the White Sox. In 1906 he was the regular shortstop for the “hitless wonders” who won the World Series. Davis hit .308, drove in six runs, scored four, stole a base, and had an OPS of .846 in the Series (He was also in the split season series of 1892, hitting a buck 67). The 1906 season was his last good one. He hung on through 1909 then retired. He died in 1940. For his career his triple slash numbers are .295/.362/.407 for an OPS of .767 (OPS+ of 121). He had 2665 hits, 3663 total bases, 453 doubles, 75 home runs, walked more than he struck out, and played a good shortstop for the era. He also won an RBI title in 1897.  He died in obscurity in 1940 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1998.

It’s that last sentence that intrigues me. George Davis came from utter obscurity to the Hall of Fame. What happened? Well, in 1994 baseball historian and stats man, Bill James, wrote a book titled “The Politics of Glory.” (it was reworked later as “Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?”). In the book he took on the question of “who’s the best player eligible and currently not in the Hall of Fame.” On page 193 of my edition James comments, “If you apply statistical methods to look for the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame, the answer that you wind up with is George Davis.” Four years later, obscure, lost in the shuffle George Davis is elected by the Veteran’s Committee to Cooperstown and immortality.

Now I’m not going to argue here that Davis was a bad choice for the Hall. I don’t think he was. He was, in fact, overdue. What concerns me is that one writer can bring a man out of the depths of baseball obscurity and make him into a Hall of Famer. That bothers me some, not a lot, but some. I am, as usual, of two minds about this kind of undue influence. It’s not James that’s the problem. More than one writer has spilled enormous amounts of ink on stating the case for a particular player’s right to join the Cooperstown elite. I always thought Richie Ashburn should be in the Hall and was gratified anytime I saw someone write an article that told me I was right. But Ashburn wasn’t totally obscure. He was recent enough to be remembered. Davis came out of no where. It was as if Moonlight Graham had played 10 years and suddenly the Kinsella book had made him an overnight sensation and a Hall of Famer. I’d find that undue influence and I think the same of James’ comments.

As I said, I’m of two minds about this. On the one side I have no problem with people like James and the Richie Ashburn defenders making their case. On the other side, I can see where their standing can influence the Veteran’s Committee more than it should. But then, the committee itself has, on more than one occasion, become hostage to one of its members influence (see Frankie Frisch’s influence in the 1960s and 70).  I merely hope the Veteran’s Committee will look at what’s in front of them rather than be influenced by what they read from outside sources. At least from outside sources other than me.

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2 Responses to “Undue Influence”

  1. William Miller Says:

    I have to agree with you that it difficult to know what to think about a case like this. But I guess James isn’t the first “historian” to unearth a long-forgotten figure who never got his due. The book, “The Killer Angels” and the movie based on the book, “Gettysburg” that followed years later, really brought to prominence Union officer Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of Maine, so much so that he became an overnight hero in Maine nearly a hundred years after his death. They even renovated his old house as a result, and a local brewery named a beer after him.
    So it’s too bad it takes on man to resurrect the reputation of those long since passed away, but I guess better late than never.
    Bill

    • verdun2 Says:

      Hadn’t thought about Chamberlain, but you’re right about him coming from obscurity. Better late than never is a good way to look at it.
      Now gotta find some Chamberlain beer. 🙂
      v

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