Archive for December, 2012

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Bill Lange

December 31, 2012
Bill Lange about 1898

Bill Lange about 1898

1. Bill Lange was born in San Francisco in 1871 to a career military man assigned to the Presidio.

2. He was a prodigy, winning a state tournament and becoming the best player on his local semi-pro team at age 19.

3. He played minor league ball on the West Coast until being signed by the Chicago Colts (now the Cubs) in 1893. In 117 games he stole 47 bases, had 88 RBIs, scored 92 runs, and for the only time in his career hit under .300 (.281).

4. By 1894 he was the team’s primary center fielder and lead off hitter. He stole 66 bases, , hit .325, and had an OPS+ of 99. It was his last OPS+ under 120.

5. Lange was leader of Chicago’s “Dawn Patrol” (Bill Dahlen was also a member). The “Patrol” was famous for skipping curfew, drinking all night, and being seen in the company of “loose women.” This brought him into conflict with manager Cap Anson. Anson’s career was on the wane, Lange was a rising star. As you might guess, the conflict ultimately resulted in Anson’s ouster as manager.

6. In 1895, Lange put up an OPS of 1.032 and an OPS+ of 157. His WAR was 5.1, a huge number for a position player  who got into only 123 games. The 123 games would be his career high.

7. In 1897, he scored 119 runs in 118 games and led the National League with 73 stolen bases.

8. By the end of the 1899 season his career numbers included a triple slash line of .330/.400/.458 for an OPS of .858 (OPS+ 123). In 813 games he had 1056 hits, 134 doubles, 39 home runs, and 1467 total bases. He also had 400 stolen bases, 579 RBIs, scored 691 runs, and had twice as many walks as strike outs.

9. At about this time he met Grace Anna Giselman. Lange fell in love and her father felt playing baseball was a waste of time. After the 1899 season, Lange and Grace married and he retired from baseball, taking over an insurance company. He was 28. He never went back to the Majors. Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t last. The couple divorced in 1915 (Lange was 44 and too old for baseball).

10. Lange died in 1950 in San Francisco.

11. He was the uncle of Hall of Famer George “Highpockets” Kelly. Playing only 7 years himself, Lange is ineligible for the Hall.

12. The most famous story about Lange has him pursuing a fly ball, breaking through the outfield wall, and catching the ball for an out. Some accounts say he got the ball back to the infield in time for a double play. The accounts disagree on when and where he did this. Most modern students of the game discount the tale, but it does make a great story.

And a HAPPY NEW YEAR to each of you.

The Thin Red Line

December 27, 2012
Gee Walker

Gee Walker

As most of you know, I’m very pleased that Deacon White finally made the Hall of Fame. But did you look at who actually got in this time? You have a player who got the first hit in the history of the National Association, the first truly professional baseball league; an executive; and an umpire. Good for all of them. But if you look closely at the nominees for the period 1876-1946 you’ll see we are beginning to approach the thin red line of 1920-1946 players.

The thin red line is my phrase (it’s actually a British military phrase from the Crimean War)I use to denote the line beyond which you are beginning to elect players to the Hall of Fame who don’t deserve to be enshrined. Some (including me) might remark that in a couple of cases we’ve already slid below the line.  But the players in Cooperstown are already there and I can’t see taking anyone out.

Take a look at the players from the 1920-1946 era that were just nominated for Cooperstown: Marty Marion, Bucky Walters, Wes Ferrell. Are they truly the best players from the era not in the Hall of Fame? Maybe they are. I could make a case for them (and I could make a similar case for others). I could also make a case for keeping each out of Cooperstown (and could make similar cases for others). And that makes them “thin red line” candidates. Here’s a full team (eight position players and three pitchers) whose career is primarily in the 1920-46 era:

infield (first around to third): Hal Trosky, Marty McManus, Marty Marion, Harland Clift

outfield: Ken Williams, Gee Walker, Bob Johnson

catcher: Wally Schang (who actually plays quite a lot in the 19 teens)

pitchers: Wes Ferrell, Bucky Walters, Paul Derringer

Not a bad team, right? Put them all together and you’re going to win a lot of games.

But is this a team of Hall of Fame quality players? Maybe yes, maybe no. I wouldn’t be overly upset if any of them were elected, but it also wouldn’t bother me if none of them were chosen. They epitomize the “thin red line” of the Hall of Fame. Let them in and I might reply “OK, I guess”. Keep them out and I might reply “OK, I guess.”

My point in all this is that it appears the Hall of Fame has finally mined the 1920-1946 era of all the truly qualified players. What’s left are guys that are marginal at best and the idea of “marginal Hall of Famers” is really kind of silly, isn’t it? But my concern is that the Hall is desperate to hold the big ceremony every summer and to do that you must have someone to enshrine. If the writer’s don’t elect anyone (and with the weird ballot this year they might not) then the veteran’s committee nominees become critical. I’m afraid the Hall may put pressure on the Veteran’s Committee (a much smaller group) to “Put in someone, anyone, so we can at least get Deacon White’s great great grandchildren here to celebrate.”  And if that happens then every time we get to the 1876-1946 era the players from the 1920-46 period will be players that touch the “thin red line” of the Hall. That means we’ll be getting 19th  Century and Deadball Era players or marginal 1920s, 1930s, 1940s players making the Hall. The first two are fine by me, there are certainly enough decent 19th Century and Deadball players worth considering. But the latter worries me. We don’t need to lower the red line any further.

Old Guys; New Stats

December 21, 2012

The proliferation of new statistics in the last few years has been a mixed blessing. Some of them are pretty good, others not so much. In studying 19th Century baseball I’ve used both the traditional stats (ERA, BA, hits, runs, etc) and the newer stats (OPS+, ERA+, WAR, etc) to look at the players. The newer stats present something of a conundrum.

Below I’ve listed the OPS+ of two players. Their stat is for a five consecutive year period at the peak of each man’s career (all stats below from Baseball Reference.com):

player 1: 186/175/184/147/142

player 2: 211/207/143/176/235

Now the WAR for a five consecutive year period during the career peak for two players:

player 1: 7.9/6.8/8.6/5.7/4.8

player 2: 4.7/5.2/2.5/5.8/6.1

Next the ERA+ of two pitchers, again for a five consecutive year period during their peak years:

pitcher 1: 155/149/185/217/160

pitcher 2: 167/143/135/115/129

Finally the WAR for two pitchers over a five consecutive year period at their peak:

pitcher 1: 7.9/6.8/8.6/5.7/4.8

pitcher 2: 12.3/10.2/11.3/13.4/14.0

First, the obvious question, “who are these guys?” The first player in both OPS+ and WAR is Joe DiMaggio in the years 1939-42 and 1946 (Joltin’ Joe lost two years to World War II). The second player in both stats is Ross Barnes in the years 1872-76. And here a caveat. I realize that Barnes is in the National Association in 1872-75 and the National League only in 1876, but as his stats are available I’m going to use them. The first pitcher in both ERA+ and WAR is Lefty Grove in 1928-1932 and the second pitcher for both stats is Tommy Bond in 1875-1879 (and, again, Bond is in the NA in 1875).

Notice a few things? First, the two hitters are pretty comparable, aren’t they? According to OPS+ Barnes is better than DiMaggio three times, and in WAR is better twice. In fact, other than Barnes’ third number in both lists, they are pretty much a wash. And somehow we all know that’s just wrong. Does anyone seriously consider Ross Barnes as good as Joe DiMaggio, even if for only a five-year period? I doubt it. 

Now take a look at the pitchers. The two men are roughly comparable for the first two years of ERA+, then Grove really takes off. In WAR, Bond is consistently better. Really? Would you truly want Tommy Bond over Lefty Grove? Again, I doubt it.

So what’s going on here? Surely a number of things. First, the 19th Century players are involved in a lot fewer games played and anybody can get hot for a few games. Look up Bob Hazle in 1957 if you don’t believe me. Secondly, the nature of the way pitchers are used in the 19th Century, especially early, is so utterly different that it blows statistics completely out of kilter. Sticking with Grove and Bond, if you look at one single stat, batters faced, you see the problem immediately. In his career, the most batters Grove faced in any season was 1191 in 1930. Bond, on the other hand, faced 1408 as his low in 1875 (his high was 2189 in 1879). Think that fact alone doesn’t skew the stats? In the immortal words of Sarah Palin, “you betcha.” (My, God, I’m quoting Sarah Palin. Yutz.)

And these two things alone make it imperative that the newer stats be used carefully when looking at 19th Century players. I’m not suggesting they be ignored. What I am suggesting is that a slavish devotion to any of the stats is a mistake, particularly in the world of 19th Century baseball, where even the word, base ball, is different.

The Tragedy of Dave Orr

December 18, 2012
Dave Orr about 1888

Dave Orr about 1889

Baseball is full of heroic tales; Ruth and his called shot, Gibson’s ninth inning home run, Larsen’s perfect game. It is also full of tragic stories; Clemente’s death, Gehrig’s illness, Addie Joss’ collapse on the field and  subsequent death. Few, short of those leading to death, are more tragic than the tale of Dave Orr.

Orr was born in September 1859 in Richmond Hills, a section of Queens, New York. He got through elementary school then seems to have dropped out of  school to help his dad, a stone cutter. He played baseball locally, and by 1883 had established himself locally as a good hitting player who could pitch a little. He played for a series of Minor League and semi-pro teams and was spotted while playing for Hartford. There is some dispute whether Jim Mutrie (Gothams manager) saw him personally or if he signed Orr on the advice of scout (scouting was much less formal in 1883). Either way, the Gothams (now the Giants) picked up a giant player (for the era). Orr stood 5’11” and weighed  250 pounds. He played first base and was noted, despite his bulk, as a slick fielding first baseman (again for the era).

Orr played one game for the Gothams then was sent to the Metropolitans for the remainder of the season. The same man (John Day) owned both clubs and he frequently raided one team to prop up the other. In 14 games he managed to hit .302 with an OPS+ of 175. It was a harbinger of things to come. From 1884 through 1887 Orr was the regular Metropolitans first baseman. He continued to hit over .300 and led the American Association in hits, triples, total bases, and slugging percentage twice each. He picked up a batting title, and RBI title, and led the AA in OPS+ once. During his stay in New York, the Metropolitans won a pennant in 1884 and participated in the first primitive version of the World Series. Providence beat them three games to none with Orr getting a solo single in nine at bats.

During Orr’s period with the Metropolitans, the Gothams (now the Giants) became the premier New York team and the owner kept raiding the Mets to help the Gothams. With Roger Connor at first, Orr remained with the Mets and even managed eight games (he went 3-5) in late 1887. At the end of the season, the Mets folded. Orr ended up in Brooklyn.

He did well enough in Brooklyn, putting up a .305 average, but nagging injuries held him to 99 games. Feeling they could do better, Brooklyn traded him to Columbus. He hit .327 at Columbus with a .786 OPS. But Orr was one of  a number of players who was tired of being poorly treated by management, being underpaid, and having to face the reserve clause. In 1890 he joined many of the other players in bolting to John Montgomery Ward’s Player’s League. He ended up back in Brooklyn playing for Ward’s team. Orr hit .371, and established a career high with 124 RBIs. Although the Player’s League folded after just the one season, Orr was still much in demand. This is when tragedy struck him.

In October 1890, Dave Orr suffered a massive stroke while playing an exhibition game. He was 31 and his left side was paralyzed. His baseball career was over. He managed to rehabilitate his left side enough that he could walk with some difficulty, but he could not play baseball. He did some umpiring, served as a night watchman, worked with the maintenance crew at Ebbets Field, and was a press box attendant for the Brooklyn Federal League team in 1914. In 1915 his heart gave out. He was 55 and was buried in the Bronx.

For his career, Orr hit .342 (tied with Babe Ruth), had an on base percentage of .366, slugged .502, and had an OPS of .867 (OPS+ of 162). In 791 games he had 536 hits, , 198 doubles, 108 triples, 37 home runs, 637 RBIs, and 1650 total bases. He led the AA in putouts, assists, range factor, and fielding percentage during his time in baseball.

Orr only played eight seasons, so he is ineligible for the Hall of Fame, and what follows is not a plea to put him in, as I’m not sure he belongs. I am concerned that there are certain situations that make it possible to at least consider waiving the 10 year standard for Hall of Fame induction. They’ve already done it for Addie Joss (who only played nine seasons) who died before he could complete 10 years. Had either Clemente or Gehrig died short of 10 seasons would that diminish their contributions so much that they could not enter Cooperstown? It seems to me that in very specific circumstances that the Hall could take the ten-year rule and put it in its pocket. Those circumstances are very few, but surely death, a debilitating disease, a stroke, a war wound, are things that should be considered.

It was a great tragedy that Dave Orr only had eight seasons in the big leagues. Surely had he gotten just a few more, he would be considered a much greater player. As is, he was pretty good.

The Search for Greatness

December 14, 2012
Charley Jones

Charley Jones

As mentioned in a previous post I have, for the last ten or so years, touted Deacon White as the best 19th Century player not in the Hall of Fame. Well, now he’s in and I have to find someone else to anoint with that title. I’ve just begun the process.

Let me begin by saying who isn’t eligible. Those whose career is mostly in the 20th Century are out. This would include guys like Nap LaJoie and Honus Wagner. Guys whose career is more or less evenly divided between the 19th and 20th Centuries are also out. This includes guys like Cy Young. It also takes one worthy candidate, Bill Dahlen, out of the equation. Guys whose primary career is before 1871 are out. This means I have to jettison guys like Joe Start and Lip Pike. Finally, because stats are so limited, I have to exclude those black players like Moses Fleetwood Walker and George Stovey who toiled in both segregated and integrated leagues during the 19th Century.

Ok, so who does that leave? It leaves those players whose primary years (and their prime years in the case of guys who started playing in the very late 1860s) were in the period 1871-1900. I’m including the National Association players here because many of them continued on into the National League after it was formed and continued playing at a high level. Whether the candidate is actually eligible for the Hall of Fame is not a  consideration. Many of the early players had careers in the National League (or American Association) that lasted less than 10 seasons. There are a number of reasons for this. The NL was not so dominant that it was considered the premier league for the first few years of its existence. So players like Cal McVey and Levi Meyerle were quite content to play in other leagues that we no longer consider “Major Leagues” but at the time were still considered capable of presenting baseball at its highest level. That’s absolutely unthinkable today. They may not be eligible for Cooperstown, but they are eligible to be considered the finest 19th Century player not yet enshrined. Local leagues (particularly leagues like the Pacific Coast League) also paid players well enough that it was ultimately cheaper to play locally and live at home than it was to travel to the East Coast (or Midwest) and have to rent a room and eat at a restaurant most nights for a  salary that was only marginally better. This appears to have been at least part of the problem for players like Bill Lange. Finally, most of the “Minor Leagues” did not institute the reserve clause until much later than the NL, which allowed for freer movement (and higher salaries) for the best players.

So having said all that, I’ve made a preliminary list of players I’m going to look at first. I will use this space to keep you posted on how I’m doing, but having until the next Segregation Era ballot (2015) to make a decision, I won’t be doing so with any kind of speed. What you well get is an occasional look at some of the players I’ve been researching and updates on my, hopefully, narrowing list. Here’s the first draft list:

everyday players: Ross Barnes, Pete Browning, Cupid Childs, Jack Glasscock, George Gore, Paul Hines, Charley Jones, Bill Joyce, Bill Lange, Cal McVey,Tip O’Neill, Dave Orr, Joe Start, Harry Stovey, Mike Tiernan, George Van Haltren. And then there’s Negro Leaguer Bud Fowler

pitchers: Tommy Bond, Bob Caruthers, Nig Cuppy, Bobby Mathews, Jim McCormick, Tony Mullane, Gus Weyhing.

Anybody I’m obviously missing, team?

The 50 Greatest White Sox

December 11, 2012
Luke Appling, the 2nd Greatest White Sox

Luke Appling, the 2nd Greatest White Sox

Concluding comments on the ESPN poll of the 50 greatest players on given teams, today I want to remark on the White Sox list. As far as I could find there are only five of these on ESPN (Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs, and White Sox). If I find others, you’ll be second to know (behind me).

1. The top 10 White Sox in order are: Frank Thomas, Luke Appling, Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio, Paul Konerko, Eddie Collins, Ted Lyons, Joe Jackson, Harold Baines, and Minnie Minoso. And again the guy just off the top 10 in eleventh is Ed Walsh.

2. To put together a complete team you first have to decide what to do with Thomas. He’s a first baseman, but ultimately spent the bulk of his playing time as the DH. His positioning determines who makes the team. I decided to place him as the DH, where he spent the most time, so that makes the infield Konerko at first, Fox at second, Appling at short, Robin Ventura (number 15) at third. The outfield is Jackson, Baines, and Minoso, with Carlton Fisk (number 13) catching. A four man rotation with at least one lefty yields Lyons, Walsh, Mark Buehrle (number 12), and Billy Pierce (number 14), with Hoyt Willhelm (number 18)  as the closer. With Thomas at first, Konerko drops out and Aparicio becomes the first duplicate position player and thus the DH.

3. Most of the 1919 “Black Sox” make the list. Jackson is listed above, Eddie Cicotte is 16th Buck Weaver is 39th, Happy Felsch is 41st, and Lefty Williams in 50th. Only Chick Gandil, Swede Risberg, and Fred McMullen were left out.

4. The 1906 World Champs is also well represented with Walsh listed above, Doc White at 30th, Fielder Jones at 33rd, and Nick Altrock at 42.

5. Which brings me to the most glaring omission, George Davis of the 1906 team. My guess is they decided he wasn’t there long enough (and that’s strictly a guess).

6. Dick Allen comes in at 20th. I’m not sure what I think of that. He was probably better than most of the guys ahead of him, but he was only there a couple of years. I’m not sure how you decide that. But to be honest I’m not sure what to do with Dick Allen period.

7. I have real problems with Konerko at fifth, above Collins, Lyons, and Baines (among others). I don’t mind Konerko being well touted, after all he started out with my Dodgers, but fifth?

8. I think that putting both Lu Aps (Luke Appling and Luis Aparicio) in the top four is probably correct. What I’m surprised about is that they got the order right. 

9. Let me ask this. What does it say about a franchise when their third best player (Fox) has a career OPS+ of 93, 35 home runs, and more caught stealings than stolen bases? Always liked scrappy Nellie Fox, but putting him third does point out why the ChiSox have only  been in the World Series twice since 1919 and only picked up one victory.

10. You know the Jackson, Baines, Minoso outfield might be the least powerladen of all the teams, but it is a heck of a fielding team.

The Hall of Fame is out to GET Me

December 9, 2012
Pete Browning about 1877. Is this the best 19th Century player not in Cooperstown?

Pete Browning about 1877. Is this the best 19th Century player not in Cooperstown?

Alright, I’ve had enough of this. I’ve decided the Hall of Fame is picking on me specifically. They chose Deacon White for the Hall of Fame. “But, wait,” I hear you say, “Didn’t you support White for the Hall? Didn’t you call him ‘The Best 19th Century Player not in the Hall’?”  That’s exactly the problem.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to pick a “Best 19th Century Player not in the Hall”? Do you? For 10 years I could wake up with the comfort of knowing I had White and the Hall didn’t. I wasn’t going to have to sweat over a big thick book of  stats or stare at long columns of numbers online. I wasn’t going to have to read florid journals written in 19th Century style about base ball (19th Century spelling). I was able to simply get up in the morning and go about my business.

But then the Hall of Fame struck. It aimed its barb directly at me and elected White. My God, Cooperstown, how fair was that? What were you thinking?

Now I have to go back to the books, the long columns of figures, the 19th Century journals, and start a new search for “The Best 19th Century Player not in the Hall.” Do you have any idea how hard that’s going to be? I’ve going to have to go over the career of the likes of  Tommy Bond and Bob Carruthers, of Mike Tiernan and Harry Stovey, of Pete Browning and Cal McVey. And that’s assuming I leave off guys like Bill Dahlen who spent about half their career in the 20th Century or guys like Joe Start who played for the Atlantic in the 1860s.

Curse you, Cooperstown, for complicating my world. I take it personally (there’s no paranoia in my family; I have it all).

The 50 Greatest Cubs

December 5, 2012
Billy Williams, the 5th greatest Cub

Billy Williams, the 5th greatest Cub

As a followup on the 50 Greatest Dodgers post, I found two more lists that ESPN published. Root around a little and you can find the entire list at ESPN. There are five total that I have found, Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs, and White Sox. I’ve already commented on the Yanks, BoSox, and Bums. Here are some thoughts on the Cubs list.

1. The top 10 Cubs, as listed by ESPN, are, in order: Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Cap Anson, Three Finger Brown, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg, Frank Chance, Hack Wilson, and Gabby Hartnett. Again, before anyone can ask, the first guy out of the top 10 (number 11) is Phil Cavarretta.

2. To make a complete team with a four man World Series rotation (at least one lefty) and a closer you get an infield of  Anson at first, Sandberg at second, Banks at short, Santo at third; an outfield of Williams, Wilson, and Riggs Stephenson (at number 18); Hartnett catching; a rotation of Brown, Jenkins, Hippo Vaughn (number 12 and the lefty), and Ed Reulbach (at number 13); with the closer being Lee Smith at number 24. The first player duplicating a position, and hence the DH is Chance.

3. Sammy Sosa finished 23. The little bit of commentary available notes the steroid allegations and the corked bat problem. Without them, my guess is he makes the top 10 easy and replaces Stephenson on the starting team.

4. Tinker to Evers to Chance is perhaps the most famous infield combination ever. As noted above Chance is 8th. Joe Tinker shows up at 15th (the second highest shortstop on the list) while Evers is number 30, the fourth second baseman listed (behind Rogers Hornsby at 21 and Bill Herman at 17).

5. I was surprised to see Lee Smith above Bruce Sutter (who finished 29th). I have no particular problem with that, but I thought the Cy Young Award and the split-finger mystique would move Sutter to the top of the closer list.

6. Besides Anson, there are two other 19th Century players listed, Larry Corcoran at 22nd, and Clark Griffith at 50th. That means that essentially all those 1880s Colts were excluded. I’m not sure why. The change in mound and other rules would surely have excluded Anson also, so that can’t be the reason.

7. Which brings me to the most glaring omissions: King Kelly and John Clarkson.

8. Stan Hack is very underrated at 27th on the list. I know a number of people support him for the Hall of Fame. Whether he deserves to be there or not is another question.

9. Considering the Cubs record of futility since 1908, it’s sometimes astounding to note the number of truly great players that have come through Chicago. The following Hall of Famers are on the list and have so far not been mentioned: Andre Dawson (20th), Kiki Cuyler (28th), Grover Cleveland Alexander (31st). Also Greg Maddux, a sure Hall of Fame member is 14th (and the first pitcher that didn’t make the four man rotation). Long-time manager Charlie Grimm is 26th, Charlie Root who gave up Babe Ruth’s “called shot” in the 1932 World Series is 19th, and MVP Hank Sauer is listed 37th.

10. To me the most surprising name on the list is Carlos Zambrano at 40th.

Thoughts?

Three for the Hall

December 3, 2012

MLB just announced the results of the pre-integration Hall of Fame committee’s vote. Elected to the Hall of Fame were Jacob Ruppert, Hank O’Day, and Deacon White. That brings the total Hall membership to an even 300, according to the article. Ruppert was owner of the Yankees in the “Murder’s Row”, “Bronx Bombers” period and built Yankee Stadium, O’Day was an early National League umpire who is perhaps most famous for his participation in the “Merkle Game” of 1908. White was a 19th Century catcher and third baseman whose final season was 1890.

I’ve written a couple of posts on this year’s Vet’s Committee election and you can find info on all three there. If you do, you’ll understand that I am pleased by the choices. I would have chosen both Ruppert and White and mentioned that although I had no idea how to evaluate an umpire for Hall of Fame purposes, I had no problem with O’Day’s election.

According to the article Ruppert and O’Day each received 15 votes and White 12. Twelve votes were needed for election. Bill Dahlen received 10 votes and no other candidate received more than 3 votes. Congratulations to the family of each man.