And We Have a Winner

Joe Start

Back in 2012 I was happily going along content to know that I had Deacon White pegged as the best 19th Century player not in the Hall of Fame. I’d been going along with that knowledge for years, then the Hall struck and in 2013 elected the good Deacon to the Hall. Well, that created a problem for me, I no longer had an acknowledged, at least by me, best 19th Century player not in Cooperstown. So I began to look for a replacement. I’ve been fairly public in my quest, occasionally letting readers in on how my search was going. I’ve narrowed the list down a couple of times right here on this site. And now it’s time to announce my newest pick.

The picture above should tell you I went with Joe Start. Ultimately my choice came down to a pick ’em between Start and Bud Fowler. Fowler was the first prominent black player. He played on several high level teams in the era when integration of baseball teams was still possible. It finally came down to the simple fact that his numbers are so hard to verify that I had to decide he simply couldn’t be my top choice. I’m reluctant to make that statement because I’m aware that I might just be wrong and Bud Fowler is indeed the best 19th Century player not elected to the Hall of Fame. It’s just that I can’t prove it.

Start has some of the same problems. He began his career with the Atlantic (Brooklyn) in 1862 and apparently wasn’t a rookie even then. He was born in 1842 and joined the Enterprise, one of the lesser Brooklyn teams in 1860. He remained with the Atlantic until the forming of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players in 1871. The Atlantic refused to join the league and Start jumped to the Mutual (New York) where he stayed through the rest of the Association’s years, then moved with the Mutual to the newly formed National League in 1876. With Hartford and Chicago in 1877 and 1878, he ended up with the Providence (Rhode Island) Grays in 1879 and helped them to two National League pennants (1879 and 1884) along with a victory in the 19th Century’s version of the World Series in 1884. Providence folded after 1885 and he spent his last year with Washington in 1886. He was 43 when he retired. He died in Providence in 1927.

The years with both the Enterprise and the Atlantic are not well documented. Anecdotal evidence indicate he was one of the premier players on a team that regularly won the National Association of Base Ball Players pennant in the 1860s, but exact numbers are unavailable. Once we get to the professional Association in 1871, better number are available for us. His NA numbers (all from Baseball Reference) include a triple slash line of .295/.302/.363/.665, an OPS+ of 110, 386 hits in 272 games, 262 runs scored, and 187 RBIs. In the NL his triple slash line comes in at .300/.330/.370/.699 with an OPS+ of 125, 1031 hits in 798 games, 590 runs scored, and 357 RBIs. His overall WAR is 32.2 with a peak of 4.1 in 1882 (82 games).

So there he is, my answer to the best non-Hall of Famer of the 19th Century. Start was a premier player as early as 1862 and remained a fine player through 1885 (his last year when he was 43 is the only year he shows a minus WAR of -0.1). Now I have to hope the Veteran’s Committee isn’t reading this.



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5 Responses to “And We Have a Winner”

  1. rjkitch13 Says:

    I still think it’s Jack Glasscock.

    • verdun2 Says:

      And I would find it hard to disagree. Glasscock’s not a bad choice either. I’m not nearly as comfortable with this choice as I was with Deacon White.

      • rjkitch13 Says:

        I do like the fact Start was already 106 years old when the Major Leagues started in 1871 and still was able to produce.

  2. Miller Says:

    I will have to think about Fowler, but I’m with rj in that I prefer Glasscock to Start. Love the thought experiment!

    • verdun2 Says:

      As stated above, I was much more comfortable with White than I am with Start. And, again, I wouldn’t be upset if someone convinced me Glasscock was a better choice. He may well be.

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