I’ve mentioned before that I’m having a problem with John J. McGraw (as did a lot of his contemporaries). He is eligible for my personal Hall of Fame that I’m noting on this blog but I’m not quite sure how to deal with him. Let me take some time and explain the problem in more detail.
My next class of My Own Little Hall of Fame will be the class of 1912. It’s the first one that McGraw is eligible to enter. He would enter it as a player, not as a manager (he has 20 years of managing left). His playing career is stellar, but flawed. McGraw’s career begins in 1891 and continues for 10 years. After 1901 he plays a handful of games (peaking at 55 in 1902 and not more than 12 in any season after that) through 1906. Those years he is primarily a manager who inserts himself into the lineup occasionally, so the heart of his career is 1891-1901, most of it with the Baltimore National League team. He’s a third baseman who hits pretty well and is a decent fielder for his era.
I’m giving you here his numbers as shown on Baseball Reference.com. They include modern stats that were unavailable to voters in a 1912 Hall of Fame election, but they should help explain the problem. His triple slash line is .334/.446/.410/.876 with an OPS+ of 135 and a Baseball Reference.com version of WAR at 45.6. He has 436 stolen bases, most under the old rules of stolen bases (taking an extra base on a single was counted as a stolen base) 836 walks, 155 strikeouts, 462 RBIs, 1309 hits, 1024 runs, 121 doubles, 70 triples, 13 homers, 1609 stolen bases. All this is 3924 at bats. His defensive WAR is 3.1 (again BB Reference.com version). Not bad, right? It’s certainly enough to insure that McGraw was an excellent player, probably the second best third baseman of the 19th Century (behind Deacon White).
But McGraw has two problems, one of which is reasonably common, the other almost unique to him. First, to put up the stats above he plays all of 1099 games. That’s not a lot, even for the shorter careers and somewhat shorter seasons of the era. In the 11 years that make up the heart of his career (1891-1901) he plays 100 or more games only five times and is in the 90s twice. He averages (1891-1901) 92.7 games a season. If you look at his numbers that means he’s doing really well, but it’s such a small sample size that you begin to wonder just how good he was as a player. He’s essentially done as a player at 28, which is young even for the turn of the 20th Century era. It’s difficult to see him as more than a good player who can’t stay in the lineup. Does that make a Hall of Fame player? Frankly, I don’t think so.
But now we deal with the second problem, what I call “The John McGraw Problem.” In 1912, McGraw is probably one of the three most famous baseball personalities in the sport. Only Ty Cobb and Christy Mathewson rival him in press coverage and popularity. Walter Johnson is just coming into his own, Cy Young is retired, even Honus Wagner doesn’t seem to garner the press that McGraw gets. Much of that is because McGraw is in New York, the media capital of the US in 1912. Even writers who don’t particularly like him, admire him. He, in many ways is the face of baseball in the era. He even does a movie (actually two). That’s not unusual, a lot of players did that, but most played ball players. McGraw, in 1914, plays a detective (see the IMDB for info if you’re interested–I’ve never been able to track down a copy of the flick.). And that’s the problem with him. He’s so famous as a manager that his playing time doesn’t seem to matter at all. My concern is that voters of the age, seeing his name on a ballot, might vote for him because he’s John “By God” McGraw and John “By God” McGraw ought to be in the Hall of Fame.
What do you do with that? Right now I’m not sure. I know I have the ability to wait until the 1930s and add him in when he retires, but I also know that I’m not doing due diligence if I do that just because I’m aware I can. I’m going to have to take a flyer here.
This isn’t a plea for your advice or aid, I’ve gotten myself into this quandary and need to get out of it by myself. I just wanted to let you know what’s going on with McGraw. As with a lot of his contemporaries, I’m finding myself muttering, “Curse you, John McGraw.”
Tags: John McGraw