In my wanderings through 19th Century baseball in conjunction with my Hall of Fame research, I’ve come across a really interesting stat. It’s very unusual and probably only possible in the confines of the 19th Century. Did you know that a handful of players have actually scored more runs than they have played games?
As the most important thing you do in a ball game is score runs, if you can put up more runs than games played you’ve automatically been terribly successful. I’ve found a handful of players who’ve done so. Most of them are guys who played a handful of games, scored a fistful of runs then disappeared, but two did it for a long period of games.
Much the more obscure is Harry Stovey. I did a long post on him back a few months, but this is just a short note about him. He played 1468 games between 1880 and 1893, most of them for the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association (not the current team in Oakland). In those games he managed to score 1492 runs, or 1.02 runs per game. In 1889 in 137 games he crossed the plate 152 times (1.11 runs per game). For what it’s worth, all those runs managed to get Philly exactly one pennant (1883). In the 1890 Players League he scored 142 runs in 118 games (1.20 per game). He also won a pennant with Boston (the Braves, not the Red Sox) in 1891, but had fewer runs than games played.
The more prominent player (and the man I was researching when I noticed this) is Hall of Fame outfielder Slidin’ Billy Hamilton. Hamilton played from 1888 through 1901, mostly with the Phillies and the Beaneaters (now the Braves). He hit .344 for a career, but more to the point of this post he played 1594 games and scored 1697 runs (1.06 runs per game played). As far as I can tell, that’s the record for runs per game among any player with significant games played. His team won pennants in 1897 and 1898 with him scoring 152 runs in 127 games (1.2 per game) in 1897 and scoring 110 runs in 110 games in 1898. I’ll bet it was harder to do that than score the 152 in 127. In 1894 (remember that’s only a couple of years after the invention of the 60’6″ pitching distance) he played in 132 games and scored 198 runs (one and a half runs a game). The 198 is a record. It’s 21 above the total in second place (177 by Tom Brown in 1891 and by Babe Ruth in 1921). In comparison to Ruth, Hamilton only had four home runs.
I love to find stats like this. Not only are they interesting in themselves, but they tell us so much about how different the game was in the 19th Century. If you look at the top 10 (actually 11 with ties), seven of the highest runs scored totals are in the 19th Century (three of which are in 1894, Hamilton’s big year). The other four belong two each to Ruth and Lou Gehrig. It was a very different game and here’s a stat to reinforce that premise.