Archive for March, 2012

Undue Influence

March 6, 2012

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.

A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About Cap Anson

March 1, 2012

Here’s a Wikipedia shot of Cap Anson throwing the first pitch in 1908 in Chicago

Time to leave both February and black baseball for a return to the Major Leagues. Here’s a transition (see numbers 8 and 9 below) to start:

1. Adrian Anson was born in Iowa in 1852.

2. He was neither a good student nor a well-behaved child. He was tossed out of both boarding school and the University of Iowa (after a single semester at Iowa).

3. He could play a little baseball. At age 19 he was playing for the Rockford Forest City of the National Association (1871). The team wasn’t very good, but Anson was a competent third baseman and hitter.

4. By 1875 he was a star and one of the first players to join William Hulbert’s new National League.

5. His team, the Chicago White Stockings (now the Cubs), won the first NL pennant with Anson holding down third base.

6. The team fell off the next two seasons resulting in two changes for Anson. He moved to first base which became his primary position for the remainder of his career, and he was made manager (hence “Cap”, short for “captain”) of the team.

7. During the 1880s he was, arguably, the best player in baseball. He won two batting titles, seven RBI titles (and another in 1891), led the NL in hits and doubles once each, and won two OBP and OPS titles in the decade. His team also won five pennants and participated in the 1885 and 1886 versions of the World Series, splitting the title with St. Louis.

8. Anson was in the forefront of opposition to allowing black players to join the NL. When Moses Fleetwood Walker joined the American Association’s Toledo Blue Stockings in 1884, Anson announced the Colt’s (the White Stockings had changed names) would not play the team in any case, exhibition, real, or otherwise. He further announced the team would boycott any team that played a team with a black player. He backed down on the threat a couple of times (the team needed the gate receipts), but seems never to have changed his mind about the issue.

9. Anson’s actions were in part, and I emphasize only “in part”, responsible for the banning of black players from Major League baseball by a “gentlemen’s agreement” (I guess people who do that are “gentlemen”). There were obviously a lot of people who agreed with Anson or the ban could not have occurred.

10. He played his last game in 1897. He also managed his last game with the Colts the same year. In 1898 he managed a handful of games for the Giants, then retired.

11. He  became the first player with 3000 hits (and the only 19th Century player to do so), although his exact hit total is disputed. That, along with his other numbers, got him a ticket to Cooperstown in 1939.

12. Cap Anson died in Chicago in 1922.

13. In 1882, Anson had a son. He named him Adrian (after himself) Hulbert (after William Hulbert, founder of the National League). The child died four days later.