My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1917

Time again for my once monthly foray into the past in an attempt to determine how a Hall of Fame created in 1901 would differ from one done in the 1930s. With this year, I’m half through this project.

Cy Young

Cy Young

With more than 500 total wins, Denton “Cy” Young has more pitching wins than any player in Major League history. He also leads in total strikeouts. Winning pennants with both Cleveland and Boston, he pitched the first ever World Series game, helping Boston to the first championship. Between 1891 and 1896 inclusive he averaged more than 30 wins per season.

Now this month’s commentary:

1. Just the one? Yep. Young so dominates the pitching stats for the era that he is certain to have made a 1917 Hall of Fame on the first ballot and no other pitcher eligible is in the same category with him. There is no outstanding everyday player available to compare with him (Elmer Flick is probably the best available) so I decided to elect him singly.

2. But is he that popular? Well, in some ways yes, but not as popular as any of us would guess. By 1917 he’s beginning to recede from memory a bit, being overtaken by a couple of contemporary stars. He’s a lot like Grover Cleveland Alexander in the era. He’s well-known, respected as a pitcher, but somewhat in the shadow of two other greats. Christy Mathewson, who retired in 1916, is much more famous and frequently seen as a much greater pitcher. So is Walter Johnson, who is in the middle of his great career. And BTW his win total is in dispute, so I left it at “more than 500.”

3. So he’s fading, is he? Yeah, sorta. What I’m noticing is something akin to what I’ve heard all my life. There are two versions of this. One says the old guys were better than the current crop and the other says the old-time guys were great and all but not really up to the quality of the current generation of players. Young, interestingly enough, seems to have adherents in the first and detractors in the second. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the current argument about which generation of players was better goes back at least to 1900 or so (and probably farther).

4. Still no love for George Davis? Actually, I like him a lot, but he’s seemingly dropped totally off the grid in 1917. I checked and found he was coaching Amherst College and doing some scouting in 1917, but no one seems to know that (I admit to being unable to find an Amherst paper or contemporary alumni site). So asking if a contemporary voting group would elect him, my guess is many of them would say “who?” rather than vote for him. I admit I may be wrong on this, but am erring on the side of caution (Can I clichĂ© with the best of them, or what?).

5. The 1918 year begins a run of several seasons when there isn’t much in the way of hall of fame quality players arriving on the ballot (there are a few, but not many), so the next three or so elections would allow for ballot backlog to be reduced somewhat. In 1919 you have Johnny Kling (who got an amazing amount of support in the real Hall of Fame’s early voting) and Cy Seymour available. Doc White shows up as a pitcher, and National League president John K. Tener shows up as a contributor. Fairly slim pickings, right?

6. With this project half done, I want to take an entire post and relay to you some of the things I’ve learned. That should come shortly.



10 Responses to “My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1917”

  1. glenrussellslater Says:

    The fact that Johnny Kling got so many votes in the early years of the hall of fame is surprising; a great deal of people thought that he was Jewish, including me. (It turns out he wasn’t).

    Although maybe he would’ve made it if the voters didn’t think he was Jewish. Maybe that was it. There was a lot of anti-Semitism going on at that time in America. (No kidding???!!!)

    Grover Cleveland Alexander is something I’d be interested in finding out what he was really called in his time. His real name is Grover Cleveland Alexander, but for some reason his nickname was “Pete”, and everything that I’ve ever read about Alexander in Bill James books, he never refers to him as Grover Cleveland Alexander, but just Pete Alexander. At least as I recall. It would be interesting to peruse newspapers from that time and find out what the sportswriters referrred to him at the time.

    It would also be interesting to think of how many hall of famers hailed from Nebraska. Alexander was one of them, Richie Ashburn was another, but I can’t think of any others and I’m too lazy to look it up. But can anyone out there think of any other hall of famers from Nebraska?


  2. glenrussellslater Says:

    Oh, yeah. Of COURSE! A third one is Bob Gibson, who was from Omaha.

  3. Precious Sanders Says:

    Strange to think of Cy Young as “fading,” considering we named the most prestigious pitching award in baseball after him. Kinda makes me think of the Journey song, “Don’t Stop Believin’.” It’s more popular now than when it first came out.

    • verdun2 Says:

      “Fading” may have been too strong a word, but his legend was definitely losing steam behind both Mathewson and Johnson.

  4. William Miller Says:

    I like this look back at the old-timers. I’m always learning something new from these posts.
    Nice job,

  5. Miller Says:

    Young, yes. Davis, a continued no, I agree on that, though I still wish he were appreciated in his time as he should have been.

    But I’m not sure about Flick. Did you skip him because he wasn’t famous enough, because he was far less famous than Young, or because he wasn’t good enough? I’d buy the first, but I’d be troubled by the second or third.


    • verdun2 Says:

      Actually, I’m holding Flick for next time. It’s a really weak next 3 years so I’m faking it a little and trying to stockpile a few guys like Flick. My initial thought is Flick and Dahlen for next time.

  6. wkkortas Says:

    I wonder if Kling got a bit of a “halo effect” for being part of those great Cub teams of the first decade of the 20th Century. He was a good player, but I’m thinking Tinker, Evers, and Chance had some loooong coattails.

    • verdun2 Says:

      He was also considered a good defensive catcher and throughout HofF voting they’ve gotten a lot of support without reference to their hitting ability, but you are also probably on to something.

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