The Search for Greatness

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?

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One Response to “The Search for Greatness”

  1. W.k. kortas Says:

    19th Century guys are a tough call; Herman Long, maybe?

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