My Own Little Hall of Fame: Year in Review

Bill Lange

Bill Lange

As mentioned in the last post, I want to share my thoughts on what I’ve learned (or maybe didn’t learn) from trying to create a Hall of Fame beginning in 1901. Let me remind you that I’m trying to figure out, based on what information was available in 1901-1910, who would have made a Hall of Fame that was started before the current one. I submit it would be quite different. This is kinda lengthy, so you might want to get your popcorn and drink now.

Got it all? Then here’s some of what I’ve  learned.

1. It was a lot harder than I thought. I expected to be able to read over a few Reach Guides sample some newspaper and journal articles and then come up with a very easy set of Hall of Fame candidates. Oops. The information is really spotty (although the closer you get to 1910 era players the better it gets) and the stats are all over the place. Some stats that we find common (RBI, ERA) are not so common in the age. And those that are common tend to vary from one source to another. Without giving a specific example, some sources show a player with one number for a stat while another source will show a different number for the same stat. With hitters this tends to occur more with stats like walks and strikeouts than with runs and doubles. For pitchers even the number of wins varies. Cy Young goes from 517 (highest number I found) to 502 (lowest I found). Either of those will still probably get him in (did I actually just type “probably” about Young?), but it’s a problem with players who have more modest numbers.

2. Already the early years of baseball are so vague as to be almost lost. By 1910 the National Association is only a foggy memory and the era before the Association is really shadowy. There’s stuff available but it’s a lot a hearsay and there’s a lot of wishful thinking about what “grandpa told me” in the evidence. So it makes it difficult to find out what 1901 writers and baseball fans thought of players and pioneers like Lip Pike or Bob Ferguson or if they even knew who they were. And by 1910, the American Association had been defunct for almost 20 years. It, like the National Association, seems to be largely forgotten.

3. The “Derek Jeter Aura” already existed. There is a particular aura about some players that makes them almost more mythological than real when we view them as players. I call this the “Derek Jeter Aura” because he’s one of the players that has it. You’ll see me use it as BABE RUTH!!! or SANDY KOUFAX!!! when I want to distinguish the myth from the player. Babe Ruth had it. So did Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Sandy Koufax has it as does Jeter (obviously). In the 1901-10 era it exists for Christy Mathewson. Cy Young doesn’t have it, neither does Walter Johnson (but Johnson has his best years after 1910). There’s a variant I call ”The Dizzy Dean Aura” which adds in a “colorful” element such as mangling of the English language as part of the mythology. Yogi Berra is another obvious example of that.  John McGraw has it and Connie Mack doesn’t (but that has a lot to do with which is in New York). McGraw’s is different because it has more to do with his managing than with his playing (and to carry this a step further, Casey Stengel has it and Joe McCarthy doesn’t). And of course Jackie Robinson has it for a very different reason.

4. I’m telling you number three for a couple of reasons. First, I think the Aura effect is important in understanding how all of us, including writers who vote for the Hall of Fame, look at ball players. Secondly, it is creating a huge problem for me, actually two. By 1910 John McGraw’s managerial Aura is so great that it seems some places don’t know he ever played the game. It’s as if God smote the dugout in New York and when the smoke cleared there stood a fully formed John McGraw in Giants uniform and blessed with all baseball knowledge. This is a problem because in 1912 McGraw becomes eligible for My Own Little Hall of Fame as a player. And suddenly I can’t figure out if McGraw would  have a chance to be elected on his playing merits. I can always wait until he’s eligible as a manager (1933) but that’s really quite a cop-out and I’d prefer not to use it. And finally, Bill Lange has the Aura. You’ve probably never heard of him, but he played for the Colts (Cubs) in the 1890s then retired to become an actuary because his fiancé’s father was one (an actuary) and wouldn’t let his daughter marry a ball player, which in itself says something about the reputation of ball players. But Lange has the Aura in 1910 (it’s since largely gone away–a century will do that to you). Now normally I wouldn’t consider Lange a Hall of Fame candidate (and because he only played nine years the real Hall won’t look at him) but there must have been something about him that created the Aura and guys with “The Aura” tend to get in. So I’m looking him over very closely (check out his stats yourself) to see if I can figure it out. I will let you know. And I’ve seen his name spelled without the ending “e” so I presume it was silent (but not sure).

5. Here’s the list of everyday players I’m considering for 1911. Unlike the real Hall, they don’t fall off after 15 years (but if the list gets too long, they will): Jesse Burkett, Cupid Childs, Gene DeMontreville, Jack Doyle, George Gore, Paul Hines, Dummy Hoy, Charley Jones, Bill Joyce, Bill Lange, Arlie Latham, Andy Leonard, Herman Long, Tommy McCarthy, Cal McVey, Dave Orr, Hardy Richardson, Mike Tiernan, George Van Haltren.

Nice list, right? Burkett and Doyle are the new guys added for 1911 and Burkett has a pretty good shot at making it. The rest make a nice list of really good players for their era. Don’t know that any of them are HofF quality, but I keep going over them. You’ll note that Lange (mentioned in 4, above, is there) and McGraw is among the players coming on in 1912.

6. Here’s the list of pitchers: Bob Caruthers, Dave Foutz, Brickyard Kennedy, Bobby Mathews, Tony Mullane, Gus Weyhing, Will White.

Again, nice list, right? But again, not really special. I admit I’m having trouble with Mullane because of his attitude towards Fleet Walker and integration. I’m trying to dismiss it when I look over Mullane, but I know it’s on the back burner somewhere. Kid Nichols shows up in 1912 and is the first shoo-in of the next year.

7. And now the contributors, divided into categories:

National Association players and really old-time players: Jim Creighton, Candy Cummings, Bob Ferguson, Lip Pike, George Stovey (Negro Leagues pitcher)

Pioneers: Doc Adams, William V. Babcock, William R. Wheaton

Others: John “Bud” Hillerich (the bat guy), Henry C. Pulliam (NL President), Al Reach (owner), Chris von der Ahe (owner)

And in 1912 Henry Chalmers of Chalmers Award fame shows up. It’s a mixed group and in many ways the hardest to get a grip on. Most are quite shadowy and some are kind of out of left field (like Hillerich, Chalmers, and Babcock maybe), but I want to research them. I think a couple of them ought to be in the real Hall (Reach, Adams) and Cummings probably shouldn’t be, but in 1910 it is something of a different story. Cummings shows up in more stuff than I expected, but the non-players really are lost. Modern research has brought many of them back to us in a way the 1910 crowd didn’t know. And Pulliam’s suicide was first page news a lot of places. The reaction, particularly in New York where John T. Brush (Giants owner) was blamed for a lot of it, might have gotten Pulliam a Hall nod. I’ll have to think on that very carefully. And before anyone points it out, I know that Pike, Ferguson, and Cummings all played in the NL, but I lumped them in with Creighton because all of them seem to have had their finest years prior to 1871. Stovey, of course, couldn’t play in either the NA or the NL.

8. I’ve finally begun to make some headway on umpires. I have some names of particularly well-regarded umpires of the 1800s and early 1900s, but I’m still trying to figure out why Ump A is better than Ump B. Expect some to show up on the contributors list, but don’t expect much in the way of election in the near future.

9. Negro League players are few at this point (Stovey), but will begin picking up in the mid-1920s as records improve for black ball players. I’m sure someone is being left out, but I just can’t find him. A lot of great black players are, in 1911, either just beginning their career (Louis Santop) or are in mid-career (Rube Foster, John Henry Lloyd being examples). Again, I know I’m going against the grain of the era, but it’s my hall and my rules let them in.

10. So far I’ve let 37 people, not all players, into my hall. That’s 3.7 per year and I’ve probably moved too many too quickly, so be prepared for a slowdown in the next several months. I do note that the real Hall let in 38 in their first 10 years, so maybe I’m not so off pace, but I want to err on the side of caution.

11. The biggest single problem is something I mentioned in relation to Mullane. I used to teach history at the university level a long time ago and one of the biggest problems I had was dealing with students who thought like late 20th Century Americans rather than 19th Century Americans (or 16th Century Germans or 1st Century Romans) and couldn’t make the stretch back to the appropriate era. I know a lot more about the guys I’m considering enshrining than many of the writers of the day. I know Mullane had a race problem. I also know that I’m thinking like a 21st Century American when Mullane’s race problem bothers me and I further know that the writers of 1910 thought more like Mullane than they did me (which is not to imply they were all racists). I know George Gore’s OPS. There was no OPS in 1910 for the writers to know. So I have to watch both personal preferences that are culturally related (Mullane) as well as the new statistical information that is available (Gore) when doing this. And I’ve found both to be difficult. But like Catherine the Great who had a dozen affairs in search of true love, I’m in there trying.





7 Responses to “My Own Little Hall of Fame: Year in Review”

  1. Miller Says:

    Thanks so much for the reminder that you’re doing this based on what you would/could have known at the time. What a challenge!

    What’s your thought on aura of then versus now? Clearly it’s something that’s always existed, but do you think it had more impact when there were fewer stats? That would seem to be the case, but I just don’t know.

    • verdun2 Says:

      I believe you are on to something about the impact of stats on “The Aura”. The more we know, the less “awe” there is. I think the continual movement of free agents also has a role to play. Imagine Cruz developing an Aura when he wanders from Texas to Baltimore to Seattle. I also think that a suddenly curtailed career (Lange, Koufax, Dean) can lead to one because we only remember them as great, not as faded shadows of their greatness. And it doesn’t hurt to work in the media capital of the world, New York (DiMaggio, Mantle, Jeter, Mathewson).
      I can’t imagine a player like Bill Lange having anything like a Derek Jeter Aura today.
      Thanks for reading and for your comment.

      • wkkortas Says:

        I think another important aspect of The Aura cf. then and now is not only how much information there is now, but how diffuse it is today. In the early part of the 20th Century, what we knew about ballplayers was what we were told from the guides and the big-city dailies.

      • verdun2 Says:

        That’s probably correct.

  2. glenrussellslater Says:

    Another thing about the Aura thing is that people in general aren’t as literary and are don’t depend on their imagination as much as they were back then. No TV, no radio, no internet, just newspapers, books, magazines, etc. That’s how my grandparents and your grandparents got all the news and information back then. They were dependent on it. The radio came along, which still required imagination if you weren’t within a stone’s throw range of a ballpark. Then came television, then the internet, both of which require NO imagination. Without imagination, there can BE no “Aura”.

    This is progress? To some, maybe. Not to all. Certainly not progress to the human mind, as people sit there like zombies in front of a television which, for the most part, requires no thinking.


  3. The Baseball Bloggess Says:

    I love all the care you put into your research … and what an amazing time for the game. Following the paper trail is as close as we all can get to it.

    The Aura of Babe Ruth will probably never be equaled … since baseball will never be as important and as prominent a part of the culture as it was in his day, right? Well, his aura had longer arms anyway …

    Thanks for all your hard work that you share with us! 🙂

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