Here’s the latest installment of My Own Little Hall of Fame:
Louis Rogers “Pete” Browning has the highest batting average in the 19th Century. He won three batting titles, two with Louisville and the other with Cleveland in the Player’s League. Meticulous about his bats, he became the original “Louisville Slugger” when he ordered bats from a local company.
Selee was a premier manager in the 1890s. Leading Boston from 1890 through 1901, his Beaneaters won five pennants, including the split season 1892 pennant. He later managed the Chicago National League team, retiring in 1905. His .598 winning percentage is among the highest in professional baseball history.
Premier first baseman for the Atlantic in their championship years of the 1860s, Joe Start made the transition to the National Association in 1871, playing for the New York Mutuals. He moved to the National League playing for the Mutuals, Hartford Dark Blues, and Chicago White Stockings. In 1879 he moved to the Providence Greys and helped them to pennants in both 1879 and 1884. He retired after the 1886 season at the age of 43.
And now the commentary you always expect.
1. What took so long on Browning? Pete Browning raises a number of questions. I’ve decided most of them are modern questions. In 1906 when baseball wasn’t very far from some really short seasons, the fact that Browning plays few games and get s few hits shouldn’t have been the problem to contemporaries as it is to us. It took a while to figure that out. Also Browning never plays for a winner, not even in the Player’s League. Further, he plays his truly best years in the American Association, by general consensus the weaker of the two leagues. BTW, it turns out (according to Baseball Reference.com) that Browning doesn’t have the highest average of 19th Century players. Both Billy Hamilton and Dave Orr are listed as higher. But in the period I’m researching (and in a lot of modern stuff too), Browning is listed higher, so I used what was received knowledge at the time in my initial comment above.
2. Selee was the manager of the best of the 1890s teams (sorry Baltimore fans) and his winning percentage is still fourth all time. BTW he would die only a couple of years later.
3. Joe Start? It seems to me that the pioneers of the game should be recognized, particularly in a year when there are no overwhelming candidates for a Hall of Fame. I looked at several candidates (Lip Pike, Bob Ferguson, etc.) and finally decided on Start. He had three things going for him. First, he was a member of the Atlantic, the best team of the pre-professional leagues and somebody from there had to be good enough to make it. Second, Start has a pretty good National Association and National League career. Easily the best of any of the old Atlantic players and arguably the finest of any of the 1860s era players. Finally, he’s a major contributor to two pennant winners in the NL. I simply couldn’t find anyone from the 1860s period with that kind of career. My guess is that Start would never receive 75% of the vote in the era (75% of the voters probably never heard of him), but I’m also presuming a Veteran’s Committee type organization that would be tasked with looking for people like Start.
4. No fourth or fifth inductee? As I said last time, the pickings are getting kind of thin. This is a list of the pitching candidates I haven’t put in who are eligible and who I consider worthy of consideration: Bob Caruthers, Dave Foutz, Bobby Mathews, Jim McCormick, Tony Mullane, Gus Weyhing, Will White. Not a bad list, right? But also not just a really first-rate list either, right? I’m beginning to see why Hall’s frequently put in a bunch of people quickly then start to slow down. Next year Amos Rusie shows up, but he’s not eligible until then. My guess is most of the Caruthers-White list is going to fail (although Mullane and Matthews might slide over the top in some year in which there aren’t a lot of really good candidates).
5. Same problem with everyday players? Yep. Cupid Childs, Jack Glasscock, George Gore, Paul Hines, Charlie Jones, Bill Joyce, Bill Lange, Arlie Latham, Andy Leonard, Tommy McCarthy (who is actually in the Hall–and his name here should tell you what I think of that), Cal McVey, Dave Orr, Hardy Richardson, Mike Tiernan are the guys I’m looking at. Not a bad lot of players, but Hall of Fame quality? Maybe I’m viewing them from too far away in time, but they just don’t look as good as I thought they would. I’m beginning to see why it took so long for guys like Eppa Rixey and Max Carey to get elected to Cooperstown. Once they were initially overlooked, they were overrun by a later generation who looked at least superficially better (and maybe not so superficially either). If I do this right, I’ve discovered it’s a lot more difficult than I expected. I’m beginning to understand why “marginal” Hall of Famers get elected. I’m also noting a temptation to put in someone, anyone. That also helps me understand why that same group of “marginal” people are elected. I’m also learning a new respect for the writers who seriously look at the candidates before voting (and even less respect for those who just haphazardly fill out a ballot). It’s a lot harder than I thought. Next year I get lucky and Billy Hamilton shows up.