My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1919

By 1919 World War I was over. The Treaty of Versailles was signed; but the United States refused to ratify it, causing a huge split in the government. There were race riots in the streets as a combination of black Americans moving into the North and rising expectations by blacks because of their support of the war effort (both at home and in France) bumping up against an economic downturn fueled by racism led to clashes in a number of towns. A lot of Americans just wanted a “return to normalcy” as future President Warren G. Harding put it. Into all of this I drop My Own Little Hall of Fame‘s class of 1919 (with commentary to follow).

Frank Leland

Frank Leland

After spending time as a player in late 19th Century Negro baseball, Frank Leland became an entrepreneur and formidable force in Negro baseball. His Leland Giants were one of the strongest teams in Chicago and helped set the standard for competition among black teams. He worked tirelessly to form a Negro league that could last and could showcase Negro baseball at the highest level.

Al Reach

Al Reach

After leading his team to the first American Association pennant, Albert Reach became the founder of a major sporting goods company. Later he owned the Philadelphia National League team and became a major power among the league owners. His Reach Guide is a primary source for baseball statistics and information.

Vic Willis

Vic Willis

Star pitcher for several National League teams, Vic Willis amassed 249 wins over a 13 year career, gaining over 20 wins on six occasions. He led the National League in strikeouts once, and helped is team to a World’s Championship in 1909.

And now the commentary:

  1. When and where I grew up, all public accommodations came in pairs, one marked “white” and the other “colored”. I’ve always been offended by the “colored” label, but until now have used it because it seems that it was the most common word of the day. By 1919 the word “Negro” appears to supplant it a lot. Although “negro” has its own negative connotations, it seems the newly acceptable word of the day, so I will now use it in comments on Negro League players and executives. Frankly, I’m much more comfortable with it than with “colored” and am glad to make the move.
  2. Willis has taken a while to get into the mythical 1901 Hall of Fame. His numbers aren’t bad, but the big numbers of the day (wins, strikeouts) aren’t as high as other pitchers and as mentioned in a previous article I think his loss total, especially the 2 years he led the NL in losses, would hurt him. I think that would have made it difficult for him to show up in a Deadball Era Hall of Fame. Additionally, he led the NL in losses twice and that, combined with the lack of 250 wins would have, in my opinion, hurt his chances. BTW, the 249 isn’t written in stone yet in 1919, but it appears to be taking hold as a consensus.
  3. Al Reach is, in my opinion, one of the more overlooked people in Neolithic baseball. He was a good player, not a great one. He was a successful owner, although the Phils never won while he owned them (which is true of most Phillies teams without regard to owner). His business was successful and for years he provided official baseballs. Finally the Reach Guide was the premier baseball guide for half a century (more or less). The Guide was Reach’s baby, but he didn’t actually write it (Henry Chadwick was a primary mover in the earliest years of the Guide). Nonetheless, Reach’s sponsorship of the Guide helped his case for this mythical Hall of Fame.
  4. Leland? In an era of increasing racial tension, the election of a black man to a baseball Hall of Fame is utterly unlikely. But I also think 1919 is probably the last chance to put in a leader in Negro League baseball for the next several years. There’s really no chance he gets in in a 1919 Hall of Fame, but as I’ve stipulated I’ll be willing to elect Negro League players and executives, I’m letting him in, knowing that the next time there’s even a chance of it would be about 1924 or 1925 (give or take). And as for him as a Hall of Famer, I’m quite comfortable suggesting he should be in Cooperstown (where he isn’t).
  5. Two execs and just one player? Right now a Hall of Fame in the era is in something of a trough. There’s a long lull that lasts through 1921 when the quality of players retiring, quite frankly, isn’t all that great. In 1920 Frank Chance becomes eligible, in 1921 there’s Fred Clarke, Danny Murphy, and Roger Bresnahan. Among pitchers only Clark Griffith shows up. Griffith is perhaps better looked at as a manager and owner. Bresnahan and Chance are at best people I’m going to think long and hard about. Clarke is probably a keeper and Murphy should have no chance. That’s basically it until 1922 when we find peoples with names like Mathewson, Brown, and LaJoie. So this year (and the next two) is an opportunity for me clear out some holdovers and a number of contributors. As mentioned above, I’m quite comfortable with adding Leland (despite the obvious truth that a black man wasn’t going to get into a real Hall of Fame) and Reach.
  6. The quality of the statistics available is getting better. The 1920s see the beginning of something like a consensus about which stats were important and what specific numbers specific players put up. Remember this set of statistics is the old one that most of us grew up using, not the newer information that has become available only recently. It’s important to recall that even the so called “traditional” statistics took a while to be accepted and standardized. So don’t be surprised at the opposition to the more modern ones.

And now back to the 1963 Series.

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4 Responses to “My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1919”

  1. William Miller Says:

    Damn fine overview and write-up of this batch of players / executives. I have to confess to being ignorant about Leland. I’ll have to go along with you that he should be in the HOF.
    -Bill

  2. wkkortas Says:

    I could write leventy-leven words about Vic Willis in particular and late 19th Century/early 20th Century ptichers in general, becuase they’re so hard to evaluate. Wills had three years with over 8.0 WAR, and those are three fine seasons, no doubt–but he had a bunch of season with four or five WAR in three-hundred odd innings. which is like two years of vintage Joe Blanton. Is that a fair comparison? Frankly, I don’t know. Wills also has a bunch of years where he was top-ten in categories..but that’s in a league where you had maybe 40 or 50 pitchers total at any time–it’s a little like having the 6th-best pitcher WAR in the AL West, which is fine and all, but….again, I’m not sure at all if that’s a valid comparison. There are two things which make me say “No, I think not” to Willis as a Hall of Famer. First, he received absolutely zero–and I mean none whatsoever–support for Cooperstown before the Veterans Committee took him; I know you have to talke HOF voting with a grain of salt, but I can’t think of another inductee who received no votes for enshrinement whatsoever. Second, there is a distinct lack of “black ink” on Willis’ record–the one K title, the one ERA title, two years leading in ERA+. Would have been elected in 1919 had such an election existed? For reasons you cite, plus his total lack of support in later actual elections, probably not. Does he belong in Cooperstown? I think Wills falls into the Luis Tiant/David Cone?Kevin Brown/Rick Reuschel spectrum, and I think the cases for those gentleman are as good as his, if not better. Again, I’d pass.

  3. Glen Slater Says:

    While I was growing up, blacks called themselves “negro”. Then, around 1969 or 1970 or so, both “Negro” and “Black” were commonly said in newspapers and by blacks themselves, but black prevailed. Also around 1971, I remember, “Afro-American” (not to be confused with “African-American”) tried to take hold, but never really caught on. Black prevailed.

    Glen

  4. Miller Says:

    I think you’ve nailed it on Willis. Nailed it!

    On Reach, I don’t know. I think the prevalence for so long of the Reach Guide might overrate him. Of course, I might just be more familiar with the Reach Guide than I should be. And maybe it’s me who overrates him, not the rest of the baseball world.

    Good stuff, as always.

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