With war raging in Europe in 1915, I’m detecting a dose of nostalgia in the press. I’m not certain how much the two are related, but there is a distinct fondness for looking back on the last several years as a good time in the USA. That includes sports and allows me to stretch my inductees back a little farther than I’ve done in the last few classes. Here’s My Little Hall of Fame’s class of 1915.
Outfielder Paul Hines was a member of three pennant winners, including the initial National League Champion Chicago White Stockings. Later he helped lead the Providence Grays to pennants in 1879 and 1884. When he retired he was third in Major League history in hits. He led the National League in home runs and in hits once each, and in doubles three times.
Joseph Kelley was the captain of National League pennant winning teams in both Baltimore and Brooklyn. He hit .317 for his career while finishing above .300 for 11 consecutive seasons, four times topping .360. In 1896 he stole 87 bases to lead the league.
Now the usual commentary:
1. Kelley was one of those players who seemed to fit in nicely with the 1915 era view of what made a great player. He had lots of hits, scored a bunch of runs, had a high average (the four years of .362 to .393 were very prominent). I was surprised how often being designated “captain” of the Baltimore Orioles came up. It was seen as something of a badge of honor indicating just how important he was to what was already becoming the most famous 19th Century team. As a negative, those four years of .362 or above are 1894-1897. Those are years of huge batting averages and Kelley never finished higher than fifth in the league (1897).
2. Say, didn’t you forget something about Hines? Isn’t there something about a triple crown and a couple of batting titles? Well, yes and no. In 1915 Paul Hines was credited with neither a triple crown nor with a batting title. Hines won batting titles in 1878 and 1879. The one in 1878 contained a triple crown. The problem is that no one in 1915 knew that. The 1878 batting title was attributed to Abner Dalrymple and the one in 1879 was given to Cap Anson. It wasn’t until the 1960s (long after all three were dead) that research established that Hines won both batting titles (it had to do with hits in tie games being counted or not counted). So for my purposes I could not call Hines either a batting champion or a triple crown winner. That made his election to a 1915 Hall of Fame somewhat problematic. But the looking back on the 19th Century that was occurring (and I’ll stress it wasn’t overwhelming in 1915–it gets worse by 1918 when the US is in World War I) meant that there was, I felt, a short window when really old-time players like Hines (his last year was 1891) might get a chance at the Hall of Fame. In Hines’ case it had to be very quick. In 1920 he got in trouble with the law (a pickpocketing charge) and in the wake of the Black Sox scandal I can’t imagine anyone with a legal problem, no matter how small, being allowed into the Hall of Fame.
3. Still shying away from George Davis are you? Yep. There’s very little information on Davis in the stuff I’ve been reading (and I’ll admit I may have been looking in the wrong places). He seems to have dropped off the radar almost entirely. His “counting stats” (my phrase for the old and standard stats that go back to 1915) are OK, but he doesn’t hit .300, never leads the league in any major category except RBIs and that stat isn’t yet an “official” stat so I don’t know how many writers knew that was true. His fielding numbers are nice, but it’s very much a hitter’s paradise at the Hall of Fame and I presume that would be true in 1915. His WAR and OPS+ are very good (heck, his OPS is damned fine for a middle infielder of the period) but those are stats that don’t exist in 1915. I’m erring on the side of caution and holding him for at least a while.
4. Next time (1916) sees Willie Keeler and Elmer Flick head a list of everyday players and Sam Leever, Rube Waddell, and Vic Willis added to the pitchers. Among contributors I’ve come across Tim Hurst who both managed and was an umpire (something of a unique combination) and George Rawlings who gets credit for inventing the baseball glove. I think I want to look at Hurst fairly carefully because the combination of talents may give me a chance to finally figure out how to deal with an umpire (but don’t hold your breath). With Rawlings I’m fairly sure he’ll be gone as soon as he arrives. There’s too much debate about who invented the glove and when they did so to accept the story that Rawlings alone did it. The nostalgia, myth era is nice, but I’m trying to keep it to things that were provable in 1916 (yeah, I know, lottsa luck).