Archive for April, 2014

Arky

April 28, 2014
Arky Vaughan

Arky Vaughan

Joseph “Arky” Vaughan was the premier National League shortstop in the 1930s. He is one of only three NL shortstops to lead the league in hitting in the entire 20th Century (depending on what you do with Jack Glasscock, who played 32 games as short and a lot of other games at other positions and won a batting title in 1890, Vaughan is the second shortstop to lead the NL in hitting). There have been a handful in the 21st Century, but in the 20th there were only Honus Wagner (who did it multiple times), Vaughan, and Dick Groat. Know what else they have in common? They all were at Pittsburgh when they won their batting title.

Vaughan’s rookie season was 1932. He became the Pirates’ everyday shortstop immediately. Three years later he won a batting title, the first NL shortstop to do so since 1911. It would be 25 years before another shortstop duplicated the feat (although Luke Appling won a batting title in the American League the next season). He remained a stalwart of the Pittsburgh offense through 1941. Then he was traded to Brooklyn.

Having problems at third base (they had PeeWee Reese at short) the Dodgers moved Vaughan to third. He did pretty well, but his hitting suffered. In 1942 he split time between the two positions and his batting average went back up. In 1943, he had a run-in with manager Leo Durocher (who didn’t have a run-in with “Leo the Lip”?) and retired following the season.

He spent 1944 and 1945 doing war work and was enticed back to the Major Leagues in 1947 (after Durocher was banned). He had a good  season as a part-time player for the Dodgers. That season brought him is only postseason play. He pinch hit three times in the Brooklyn loss to New York, going .500 with a walk and a double. He had an off-year in 1948 and retired for good. He died a tragic death (he drowned in a boating accident) in 1952. It wasn’t until 1985 that he got into the Hall of Fame.

I had a lot of trouble discovering Vaughan’s attitude toward integrating baseball. As a Southerner he should have been opposed to playing with Jackie Robinson in 1947, but I find no evidence that he signed the petition asking for Brooklyn to drop Robinson. As a part-time player whose status with the team was in doubt in 1947, it’s possible he wasn’t even asked. I did find an article on  Vaughan’s induction into Cooperstown in which Robinson is quoted as saying Vaughan went out of his way to be nice to him (Robinson).

As a player Vaughan showed little power but had a good eye and a knack for getting on base. He led the NL three times in runs and scored over 100 runs on five occasions. He averaged 29 doubles prior to World War II and led the NL three times in triples. Although not a speedster by modern standards, he led the league in stolen bases in 1943 with all of 20. Through his career he averaged almost ten stolen bases a year. That’s not actually too bad in an era noted for its lack of stolen bases.

If you look at his walk to strikeout ratio, it’s excellent. Three times he led his league in walks, twice had 100 walks. His highest strikeout total is 38. For a career he averaged 3.4 walks per strikeout. In 1940 he scored 113 runs and had 95 RBIs while hitting only seven home runs. He produced 201 runs that season (R + RBI-HR). Pittsburgh finished fourth with a league leading 809 runs scored. Vaughan had a hand in 25% of his team’s runs. That doesn’t count things like singles that move a runner to third and the subsequent scoring of that runner. I checked the same statistic for each year Vaughan scored 100 runs or had 90 RBIs (1933-36, 1940, 1943). In those seasons Vaughan produced, in order, 26%, 27%, 25%, 24%, 25%, and 24% of his team’s runs. Even Babe Ruth in 1920 and 1921 only had 29% and 30% of his team’s runs. So Vaughan isn’t Ruthian, but it’s still a major contribution to his team.

I like Arky Vaughan a lot. Without question he is the great NL shortstop of the 1930s. Only Joe Cronin and Luke Appling in the AL are his rivals for the era. Bill James once placed him second on the all-time shortstop list (behind Wagner). I’m not sure I’d want to go that high, but he’s surely in the list of top half-dozen or so shortstops ever (along with, alphabetically, Banks, Jeter, Ripken, Yount) for the two spot.

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Stretch

April 23, 2014
Willie McCovey

Willie McCovey

When I was in Viet Nam I got hit in the arm and had to spend a few days in the walking wounded ward at the base hospital. Most of the guys there were baseball fans so we talked a lot of ball. One of the doctors was a Giants fan and would join us for a few minutes when he made his rounds. He kept talking about how much he was impressed by “Willie” and of course we all presumed he meant Mays. It took a couple of days to figure out he was a big fan of Willie McCovey.

Let’s be honest here, no one ever wanted McCovey for his glove. “Stretch” played because he could pound the ball harder than anyone in captivity, including teammate Mays. He was a pure power hitter, a run producer, and has slipped out of the conversations about baseball today.

Over a 22-year career, mostly with the Giants, McCovey personified pure raw power. At the height of a great pitching era, he led the National League in slugging, and home runs three times each, in RBIs twice, and in home run percentage five times. And he wasn’t doing it with only 25 homers a year.

Personally, I will never forget the first time I saw the famous 1962 World Series play where Bobby Richardson snagged McCoyey’s drive to end the Series. I’m still surprised Richardson’s glove didn’t end up in right field. Actually, I’m surprised his entire left arm didn’t end up somewhere out around where Roger Maris was playing. Maybe it’s part of McCovey’s perception problem that his most famous play was an out.

McCovey came up in 1959 at age 21. He played quite a bit, but not full-time at first base through 1961. In 1962 the Giants got the great idea of putting him in left field. Not a brilliant move, but not as bad as some people thought it was going to be. The problem was the Giants had two big power hitting first basemen who were, to be charitable about it, mediocre glove men: McCovey and Orlando Cepeda. The idea was to get both in the lineup at the same time. For you kiddies, this is back in the pre-Designated Hitter age of baseball, so the current solution wasn’t possible. After a couple of seasons it became obvious that something had to be done. They chose to trade “Cha Cha” to the Cardinals in 1966 (he’d been hurt in 1965). That made McCovey the regular first baseman through 1973. His career on the downside, he went to San Diego, then to Oakland, and finally back to the Giants in 1977. It was his last big year. He hung on into 1980, finally retiring tied with Ted Williams in career home runs and setting a NL record with 18 grand slams.

A great misconception about the 1960s is that pitching absolutely dominated. No question pitching was paramount, but take a look at McCovey in the 1960s. He played 130 or more games seven seasons in the decade (1963-1969). he hit 249 home runs and drove in 666 runs. My guess is that a lot of pitchers kept trying to figure out why they weren’t being dominant as McCovey (or Aaron or Mays for that matter) circled the bases.

I do love McCovey’s walk-strikeout ratio. In 22 years he struck out exactly 205 more than he walked. Not great, but not bad for a modern power hitter. After he left the Giants in 1974 he struck out 126 more times than he walked. So it you study only his beginning and prime Giants years he struck out only 79 more times than he walked, for an average of 5.27 per season. That’s exceptional in the modern age of all or nothing swings.

But he’s still gotten relegated to the backbench of Hall of Fame players. My guess is there are a number of reasons. First, he played in the shadow of Willie Mays for his great years (despite winning the 1969 MVP award). Secondly, his team never won. With all the firepower that was McCovey, Mays, Cepeda, Felipe Alou, and the staff that was Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry, the Giants won exactly one NL pennant (1962) and one divisional title (1971). They were always in the shadow of the Dodgers or the Cardinals (or the Miracle Mets) the reasoning seems to go that if you couldn’t beat the banjo hitting Dodgers or the so-so Cardinals how good could the players (aside from Mays) actually be?  Finally, it has just been a while since Willie McCovey played. Most of the people who read this will have never seen him play. That’s a shame. You really missed a heck of a player.

“If you build it…

April 21, 2014
The Field in Dyersville, Iowar

The Field in Dyersville, Iowa

…he will come.”

Twenty-five years ago today saw the first general release of the movie “Field of Dreams”. It was a big hit, received an Academy Award nomination, and became a staple of movie channels yearly around opening day. Roger Ebert, when asked to comment on the year’s Academy Award nominations said (and I paraphrase here) that it wouldn’t win, but that fifty years from now it would be the one movie from the year that people would still watch. Well, we’re half way to fifty.

It’s an interesting movie. A lot of people hate it. They think it’s too sweet, or too much a hymn to the 1960s. That last group deserve to be told the same thing that Ray Kinsella’s wife (Amy Madigan) tells Beulah the angry housewife (Lee Garlington) they had two fifties and moved right on to the 70’s. Others complain that it gets its baseball wrong. That Shoeless Joe (Ray Liotta) hits right-handed in the movie and throws left-handed, when the real Shoeless Joe was just the opposite. That’s too much focus on minutiae. It’s like dismissing “Casablanca” because you really didn’t need a special exit visa to leave Morocco in 1941. Others complain it’s too benign toward the Black Sox (and it is). Those things all miss the point of the movie.

Because it’s not really a flick about the ’60’s or about baseball. It’s a movie about family and dreams, not about on which side of the plate a man stands when he bats or about the influence of the works of Terrance Mann (the fictional author played by James Earl Jones) on the childen of the 1960s.  It’s about fathers pushing their own dreams off on their children as John Kinsella (Dwier Brown) does with his son Ray (Kevin Costner). My son will tell you I’ve done it to him and if you’re honest you’ve probably done it to your own child. It’s about setting  aside your own dreams for you family. Ray Kinsella gives up his dreams so he can run a farm in Iowa because that’s what his wife wants him to do with his life. I’ve pounded my head on the wall more than once because I had to give up something to make my wife happy. So have you. It’s about finally getting a chance to repair damage. The cornfield ball yard is the family’s chance to repair the damage done to Jackson and his teammates. It’s a chance to let Doc Graham (Burt Lancaster in his last movie) fulfill his dream and at the same time to know that it was much more important that he hadn’t been able to fulfill it earlier.

Some criticize it for not being a “baseball” movie. But then most good sports movies aren’t really about the sport, but about the people involved. “Pride of the Yankees” isn’t about baseball, it’s about Lou Gehrig and his relationship to his family, later to his wife, and finally to his disease. He just happens to play baseball. And “Field of Dreams” centers around a baseball diamond, but is about a family who happens to build a ball diamond.

I know very few men who can watch the final scene with Ray and John Kinsella playing catch  without a tear. The key male figure in my growing up was my grandfather, not my dad, but I’d give a lot to throw the ball around with him. He never met my son, although he did meet my wife. We hadn’t played catch in years (he was in his 80s when he died and just wasn’t capable of doing so anymore) and he was never able to play catch with his great-grandson. I’ve played catch with my son and he’s played catch with his.

So if you have a copy of the flick around, take a couple of hours to sit down and reacquaint yourself with an old friend. And take just a second to savor my favorite line from the whole movie when James Earl Jones says “Peace. Love. Dope. Now get the hell outta here.”

FYI I’ve just undergone an eye operation. My Doc called it “minor”. I reminded him that a minor operation is what the OTHER guy has. It was successful, but my body has not taken it well (headaches, cramps, etc.). So I’ll be on hiatus around here for a while; until my bod decides it was ok to get a cataract removed. That means I can read your stuff, even comment on it, but the effort necessary to research and then write coherently is currently beyond me (some may feel the coherent part is always beyond me). I have a couple stockpiled, but don’t expect much for the next couple of weeks. So do me a favor and don’t trash the place too bad while I’m out of kilter. 🙂

The Urban Gentleman

April 15, 2014
Newspaper drawing of one of the 1858 Brooklyn vs New York all-star games

Newspaper drawing of one of the 1858 Brooklyn vs New York all-star games

Folkert Rapelje Boerum was born in Brooklyn 26 October 1829. He was the eldest son of one of the most prominent old families of Brooklyn. The Rapelje’s went back to when New York was New Netherland. One of his ancestors was a member of the governing counsel of the Dutch colony. The Boerum’s came only slightly later, one family member serving the First Continental Congress of 1775. Their home was a big house set on a big lot. They were originally farmers, but by Folkert Boerum’s time the family was established as a “leading family” of Brooklyn. He is described in A History of Long Island From its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time (the “Present Time” being 1905) as “one of the best and most highly regarded citizens” of the borough. The work also uses words like “public-spirited” and “trusted” to describe him. He helped maintain the Bushwick and East Brooklyn Dispensary, The Good Samaritan Society, and the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, among other charitable work. He died 13 November 1903 and is buried in Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery. He is, unquestionably, the very definition of a mid-to late 19th Century American urban gentleman. I guess it’s fair to say he did have one vice. He was also a ballplayer.

When we first run across Boerum in connection with baseball, he’s the catcher and three hitter for the Harmony, one of the older Brooklyn teams. They weren’t all that good, but they did have a handful of quality players. Boerum was one of them. William Babcock, the man who ran the Atlantic, Brooklyn’s premier team, lured Boerum away from the Harmony where he became the team’s starting catcher. He remained there into 1858. He appears as the catcher in one of the 1858 “all-star” games held between Brooklyn’s best and New York City’s best (Brooklyn was an independent city in 1858). By 1859 he’d moved to third base where he was considered one of the finest third sackers of his day. He remained at third until 1861 when he retired from the game. I’m not sure why. I can find no evidence that he joined the Union Army after Fort Sumter. During 1858-1860 he served as club vice president.

Boerum is an extremely good example of an early baseball player. It was a world of amateurism and only men with a certain amount of leisure time could afford to take off time to play ball. Working stiffs simply couldn’t afford to lose the pay. Most of the early players were wealthy farmers or insurance men or doctors or some sort of other professional who received (for the time) a good paycheck and had free time to pursue the game in “gentlemen” clubs. That defines Boerum and most of his teammates and opponents. With the arrival of professionals like Jim Creighton (who played for the Excelsiors against Boerum) the game changed and we lost the Boerum’s of the game.

 

Lost in the Shuffle

April 10, 2014
Don Drysdale

Don Drysdale

Back when I was in the army I spent a year at a small base in Virginia. I had a roommate who was perfect for me. He was also a diehard Dodgers fan. We were allowed to put up posters on our wall. I didn’t have any but he had three. The one closest to the door extoled the virtues of Marx, Engels, and Lenin. The one closest to the windows had a picture of a First National Bank somewhere with a guy in a robe heading in the front door. The caption read “Jesus Saves.” In the middle was a big poster of Don Drysdale in motion. The picture above is the nearest to it I could find.

Drysdale’s dropped off the face of the earth in the last few years. He made the Hall of Fame, which was controversial, but once you’re in a lot of the commentary (“He should be in” “He shouldn’t be in”) goes away. He showed up again when Orel Hershiser passed him in consecutive scoreless innings pitched. Then there was one last flurry of comment when he died, but that’s about it. It’s kind of a shame.

Drysdale hit well. Most people don’t know that about him. He hit a buck-86, but had 29 home runs (peaking at seven in both ’58 and ’65), 26 doubles (six in ’60), and 113 RBIs (19 in ’65). His OPS is .523 (and Baseball Reference.com has his offensive WAR as 5.9). His seven homers in ’65 was seventh on the team. OK, it isn’t Ty Cobb, but not bad for a man who hit in the nine-hole.

He had a couple of problems when he pitched. He was only the ace of the staff a few years, taking over for Don Newcombe about 1958 or so and surrendering the position to Sandy Koufax by 1963. In between he won a Cy Young Award in 1962 (back when they only gave out one). He only got to 20 wins twice (’62 and ’65), only led the National League in shutouts once and in strikeouts three times. Not bad, right? But his chief problem was that he pitched on the same staff at the same time as Koufax and got pushed to second place quickly. He just wasn’t Koufax, but then few pitchers were. Worse for Drysdale, when you looked away from the Dodgers there were Bob Gibson and Juan Marichal; and in 1966 there was even Gaylord Perry. So it was tough to consider Drysdale second best pitcher in the NL. As a rule, most years after 1962 the best you could do was slot him into the fourth slot in an all-NL rotation. That hurt his memory a lot.

Having said all that, he still managed 209 wins, a 2.95 ERA, an ERA+ of 121, and a1.148 WHIP. Not bad, but not in the same ballpark with Koufax, Gibson, or Marichal.

It’s a shame that he’s been lost in the shuffle. But he does have one advantage over all the rest of them. Back in 1967 I was on my way to Viet Nam and had a chance to overnight in Los Angeles. The Dodgers were in town I got to see the only game I’ve ever seen at Dodger Stadium. Drysdale was on the mound and won the game. I, at least, will always remember him.

 

Mr. Aaron, 8 April 1974

April 8, 2014
Henry Aaron and company, 8 April 1974

Henry Aaron and company, 8 April 1974

Forty years ago this evening Hank Aaron stepped to the plate in Atlanta. He hit an Al Downing pitch into the Braves bullpen for his 715th home run. As he rounded the bases a couple of fans joined him producing one of baseball’s more iconic moments.

They showed the game on TV that night. Back then there weren’t nightly baseball games. You had three networks and regular season games were only shown on the weekends. Some genius at one of the networks (NBC, I think, but am not sure) decided to take a chance and so a nation got to watch a black man establish one of the most hallowed records in American sport.

My wife and I watched the game. I had mixed feelings. It was my Dodgers and I didn’t want them to be remembered as the team that gave up “the home run.” On the other hand I didn’t mind Aaron breaking the record. I knew who Babe Ruth was and respected the legend, but I liked Aaron and if someone was going to break the record he was a good pick.

There was a lot of opposition to Aaron surpassing Ruth. Much of it was racial. The idea of a black man holding the greatest of all Ruth’s records was horrifying to many. To others, the idea of anyone, black, white, or purple, racing passed the Babe was terrible. Ruth was, after all, the greatest of all American sports figures, towering over not only baseball, but sports in general. And suddenly here was this little man (Aaron wasn’t a huge slugger like Frank Howard) about to relegate the Babe to second place in home runs.

Well, Henry Aaron did it and the world didn’t stop on its axis. We moved on, the Ruth legend still grips us, just not as strongly. And Aaron now has his place in our pantheon. Good for him. Congratulations, Henry. I think you’re great.

Taking Down the Sign in Left

April 3, 2014
Signs on the left field wall (not our field)

Signs on the left field wall (not our field)

Our high school was so football oriented that no one cared much about the baseball diamond. The backstop was chicken wire with an occasional hole in it, particularly at the bottom where the wire had come loose from the frame and curled up toward home plate. The frame was painted green at one point, but by the time I got there the paint was peeling and rust spots showed up at various places. The dugouts were a couple of wooden benches that I was convinced had been used by the original Red Stockings in the 1870s. They were covered by a corrugated tin roof held up by four fat poles that were once white but now tending toward gray. There was no wire in front of the dugouts so the players had to pay close attention to the game. The outfield was kind of green by late in the season, but most of us were convinced it was half grass and half paint. We had no lights. But, by God, we did have signs.

Our outfield wall consisted of a tall round pole painted with aluminum paint every year and as the wont of aluminum paint needed to be repainted the next year. Then there were these square wooden posts driven into the ground at eight foot intervals (including one in front of the round poles) that went in something approximating an arc around to another round pole at the other end. The poles were, of course, the foul poles. Every year the coaches and a few of the players would head over to this old maintainance shed where the lawn mowers were kept and pull out these big four-foot by eight foot pieces of plywood and nail them up around the outfield to create an outfield fence. Each of the plywood pieces was decorated on one side with an advertising sign.

A few years before I got to high school, some genius had gotten the idea of selling advertising space on the outfield wall. You’ve probably seen this in minor league parks and in pictures of old Major League ballparks. A lot of places in town bought a board and someone designed a sign that was painted on the plywood then the signs were put in place in the outfield. They never changed in the three years I was in high school. I only remember two, but I remember that they were all the same every year. The First National Bank had the sign in the left field corner that was right in front of the foul pole and a local automotive parts store was next to the bank sign. I remember the auto parts sign because one year some dimbulb put it on upside down and no one noticed until the team was warming up for the first game. At least we figured no one had noticed. Considering some of the people on the team, it may have been done on purpose. They had a mad scramble to fix it before the first pitch.

The 1950s and early 1960s were halcyon days for Texas politics (this is germane, I promise). Lyndon Johnson was Majority Leader of the Senate and Sam Rayburn was Speaker of the House. Johnson went on to the Presidency and Rayburn joked that Johnson had taken a step down in power (Rayburn today is most noted for coining the phrase, “To get along, you gotta go along.”).  What this meant is that if you had a kid in school in the Texas Panhandle in those days, and your name was Rayburn, you could guarantee he’d be called “Sam.” Our Sam played left field.

“Sam” Rayburn (I think his real name was Jim) was a big guy. He played right tackle for the high school football team and was supposed to weigh in at 200 pounds. He was a least a few pounds on the several helpings of gravy side of 200. He was slow, but then our team didn’t pass much (or score much) so all he had to do was fire out and knock down the guy across from him. He did that well. His size got him a tryout with the baseball team. Our coach believed that you found a pitcher then eight hulks that could mash the ball a mile and then you beat the other team to death. We had three offensive linemen in our starting lineup (plus a linebacker). Sam fit into the mold well. He was the five hitter and could smash a baseball really hard. But he, like the rest of the team, was slow; really slow; really, really slow. So there was a lot of station to station ball and it also meant that most of the team was pretty stationary in the field. Oh, the shortstop could move, the first baseman could catch, but there were no rabbits in the outfield. Rayburn could catch the thing, if he could get to it. It was the getting to it that was the problem.

The third home game of the season started out as a game normally starts (I still have my old score book, so I checked) with us in the field, them at bat, and me in the stands with my score book getting the story for the school paper. We got through two innings without incident, then came the top of the third. With one out, the other team’s hitter laced a long one to left field. Sam wasn’t playing very deep so he started to go back on it. He raced after the ball. Well, “raced” is too strong a word. He trundled after it. Then trundled some more. To those of us in the stands it was obvious the ball was going out for a home run. But our intrepid right tackle, all 210 pounds of him (he’d eaten that day) was sure he had it. Paul Blair mighta had it, but not our speedy Rayburn. The ball went over the fence, but Sam, well, he didn’t. He plowed right into the First National Bank sign and both he and the sign went down. You heard a thump, a thud, a crack, and a tearing sound. No one was quite sure which was Sam and which was the sign. Out went the coaches to check. We weren’t sure which they were more worried about, Sam or the sign.

Rayburn sat up, looked around, looked at his glove (Some wise guy in the stands yelled, “Ball ain’t there, Sam,”), looked at the coaches. They got him up. He was bruised but alright.  We fans, all 10 of us, were having a major discussion about whether to cheer or laugh. We finally opted for cheering.

So Sam was Ok, but the sign was a different story. He’d managed to break the plywood so that the sign was in three pieces. Not neat little pieces with “First” on one part, “National” on the second, and “Bank” on the third, but really broken with splinters sticking out at all angles. They moved the sign out of the way and were now stuck figuring out what to do with the hole in left. One of the janitors was near so he found a piece of wire in the shed and strung it across the gap. The ump declared that a ball over the wire was a homer and one under the wire was a double (how he was going to tell the difference on a liner I never knew).

I’d like to say that it didn’t matter, but a couple of innings later the same guy let loose on another. The ball went back and over. Our favorite left fielder also went back. He caught the wire just right and went over too landing with a resounding thud. This time there was blood as he’d busted his chin. One of the parents took him to the hospital while a reserve went to left. The next day Rayburn showed up with a big bandage and a handful of stitches on his chin. He considered it a badge of honor. Some wag with an English bent nicknamed it his “Red Badge of Courage.” We snickered at that, but Sam liked it. We guessed he’d never read the book.

But we still had a hole in the fence and there were more games. The coaches bought and nailed up a new piece of plywood, but now it was just a blank piece of wood that stood out more than the signs ever stood out. The head coach went to the bank and asked if they’d sponsor another sign. They told him that they’d sponsored one sign in the last 10 years and that was damned well enough. So we ended the season with the left field foul pole sitting behind a bare piece of plywood attached to a couple of posts. And Sam? He was back for the next game. Someone suggested they paint a  Stop Sign on the plywood so we wouldn’t have to buy another piece.

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1902

April 1, 2014

Another month, another look at My Own Little Hall of Fame. It’s time for the class of 1902. For those of you who’ve forgotten (or don’t know how to scroll down the page), the class of 1901 was: Ross Barnes, John Clarkson, William Hulbert, Tim Keefe, and George Wright. With all appropriate bells and whistles, here’s the class of 1902.

Dan Brouthers

Dan Brouthers

Dan Brouthers was arguably the finest hitter of the 19th Century. He had a career average of .342 with 2292 hits, 771 for extra bases. He led the National League in hits three times, in doubles twice, and in both triples and home runs once each. He led his league in total bases four times. In 1887 he helped his Detroit team to both a pennant and a win over the American Association champion Browns in a postseason series. His team also won the 1890 Players’ League championship and the 1894 National League championship. From 1892 through 1894 he was the all time Major League leader in batting average.

 

King Kelly

King Kelly

Mike “King” Kelly was one of baseball’s first superstars. During his career he played every field position, including pitcher, where he posted a 2-2 record. Primarily known as a hitter he hit .308 for his career with 1813 hits and 1357 runs scored. He led his league three times in runs scored, once in doubles, and twice in average, peaking at .388 in 1886. He helped Chicago to pennants in 1880 through 1882 and again in 1885 and 1886, then won pennants again with the 1891 and 1892 Beaneaters. He also managed Boston in the Players’ League to the league’s only championship. He is additionally famous for having invented the hook slide for baserunners, racking up 84 stolen bases in 1887.

 

Charles Radbourne

Charles Radbourn

Charles “Ole Hoss” Radbourn was the ace pitcher for 1884 pennant winning Providence. Won 60 games for the team, then three more in postseason series against the Gothams. He led the National League in wins twice, in ERA once, in winning percentage twice, in strikeouts twice, and in shutouts once. Never threw from a mound, but was a master of the box. Except for a stint in the Players’ League he won all his game in the National League.

 

Al Spaulding

Al Spaulding

Albert Spaulding was the premier pitcher in the National Association, leading the Association in wins each year of its five year existence. He also led the National League in wins its opening season. He led his league in shutouts four times and his .795 winning percentage is the highest ever. His team won four consecutive pennants in the Association and the first NL pennant in 1876. After his career ended he managed and owned the Chicago National League club. His sporting goods company published the first official Base Ball rule book.

Harry Wright

Harry Wright

Harry Wright was the premier manager from the origins of professional baseball into the 1890s. He managed and played center field for the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. With the founding of the National Association his teams won four consecutive pennants. In the National League he won pennants in 1877 and 1878 and finished second three more times.

And now some thoughts on this list.

1. Brouthers was the easiest choice. When I initially planned this project, I presumed my first class would be Anson, Brouthers, Connor, Ewing, and either Clarkson or Keefe. Then I discovered that none of the position players would have been eligible in 1901. So as soon as Brouthers became available, he went in without a qualm. I believe he is one of the two or three best hitters in the 19th Century.

2. I didn’t realize I was putting in three members of the Players’ League Boston team until I began to look up the specifics on my preliminary list. It’s a fluke that three people from that team are on this list. It did ease any questions I had about choosing Harry Wright over John Montgomery Ward. With Ward’s association with the union and the Players’ League, I decided to put him off for another day lest this list look like nothing more nor less than an homage to the Players’ League.

3. Having said that, I was fairly sure Wright was going to be my contributor. He’s the first great manager and is credited with a number of innovations (cut off men for instance). I couldn’t find anything like definitive proof that he’d done any of those things, so they were not listed in my short comment on him.

4. Spaulding? Well, he’s a major contributor, but I’d already put Wright in that spot (although by rule I’m allowed two). But Spaulding was also a heck of a pitcher in a league where his team dominated and the pitcher wasn’t the factor he is today. But he was still the best pitcher in the Association, so he went in.

5. I found a bunch of stuff dedicated to Kelly. I don’t mean modern sites, but articles and commentary of a contemporary nature that made me believe he was easily the most well-known player of his era. He was also good, so that got him over the hump. As to whether or not he invented the hook slide, he certainly was getting credit for it in the era.

6. Which leaves Radbourn (whose name is spelled a couple of different ways). What  I could find (like Reach Guides, etc.) that actually gave him a number in 1884 gave him 60 wins. I know that number is no longer accepted, but it seems that when a number was given in 1902 it was 60. So I used it. I’ll remind you that there are plaques currently in Cooperstown that have erroneous info on them (for instance, Walter Johnson’s win total).

7. All of which brings me to two items that are unique to the era and to trying to do my Hall this way. First is the entire question of Monte Ward. The year 1902 was a year in which labor unions were looked upon with utter disdain. That means the idea of adding to a Hall of Fame a rabble rousing union organizer is about as absurd as adding a black man. But we all know Ward is terrifically important. If I’m to keep with the policy of putting in people who might reasonably get into a Hall of Fame in 1902, Ward can’t make it (and can’t get in until sometime in the 1930s, probably). The 1903 class is pretty much set in stone (Heck of a class), but 1904 is the next time I have to look at Ward and as much as I think he deserves to be remembered, I doubt he’ll get in. The other issue is what to do with Billy Sunday. A friend of mine dropped me an email asking if I’d considered Sunday as a contributor. Frankly, I hadn’t. But Sunday was one of the most well-known ball players of the era. He was instrumental in convincing people that a ballpark was a proper place to take your wife and children (although Mathewson was probably more important in this regard) for an afternoon’s entertainment. Is that enough to put him in? I still don’t think so, but it did remind me how differently people in 1902 looked at ball players and baseball than we look at them today.