110 Years On

Honus Wagner

We usually do anniversaries in years like 50 and 100, but this is the 110th anniversary of one of the more unique years in Major League Baseball history. So it seems like a good time to look back at one of Deadball Baseball’s most interesting years.

There are a number of reasons why it’s important to remember 1908 in baseball. The most common response is probably that it’s the last time, prior to 2016, that the Cubs actually won the World Series. It was the apex year for the Tinker to Evers to Chance Cubs (and let’s not forget Mordecai Brown’s pitching). They Beat up on Ty Cobb’s Detroit team in the Series, then faded in 1909 before winning a final National League pennant in 1910 (losing the Series to the Philadelphia Athletics).

It’s also a good time to remember John McGraw’s New York Giants. They were a terrific Deadball team, fighting the Cubs right to the end (and one game beyond) before bowing out. It was a typical McGraw team, great pitching, good hitting, lots of base running, and decent defense for the era. But it’s most famous in 1908 for the “Merkle Boner” play. In case you’ve forgotten, in a key game against the Cubs, Fred Merkle (first baseman) was on first when a two-out single scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth. Merkle didn’t go all the way to second and was subsequently called out on a force play to end the inning with the score tied. The replay (the “one game beyond” mentioned above) saw the Cubs win and head to the World Series while McGraw, the Giants, and Merkle headed home for the off-season. It is arguably the most famous Deadball Era play and was 110 years ago this season.

It was also the year of Honus Wagner. Read these numbers carefully. Wagner’s triple slash line was .354/.415/.542/.957 with an OPS+ of 205 with 308 total bases. All of those lead the NL in 1908. He also had 201 hits, 39 doubles, 19 triples, 109 RBIs, and 53 stolen bases. All of those also led the NL. He hit only 10 home runs, good for second in the league. All that got him 11.5 WAR, which also led the NL. In fielding he led all NL shortstops in putouts. It is unquestionably one of the greatest seasons ever by any player. Among WAR for position players it’s the highest ever until the arrival of Babe Ruth in New York in 1920. It still ranks tied for 11th even after 110 years. To put it in some context of the era, the NL average triple slash line was .239/.299/.306/.605 with an average OPS+ of 93 (meaning the average player was below average–chew on that for a minute). The .239 is a low for the NL ever, tying 1888 for an all-time low. For what it’s worth the American League in 1968 set the all-time low for either league with an average of .230 (and in 1967 they were at .236, also below the NL in 1908). In 1908 the AL also hit .239. Wagner was simply terrific in 1908.

So set back and enjoy the 2018 season. Hopefully it will be worth remembering 110 years from now. Unfortunately, I won’t be around to make comparisons.

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7 Responses to “110 Years On”

  1. Sean Thornton Says:

    OPS+ of 205??? WOW.

  2. wkkortas Says:

    I have probably said this before, but I think that Wagner is one of the few stars of his time (Cobb being the only other one I can think of off the top of my head) who could be dropped onto the field today and still be a star. I see him as a Derek Jeter with more power and better defense.

  3. rjkitch13 Says:

    Can you imagine the stats of Honus Wagner if he played in the 30s or 90s?

  4. Gary Trujillo Says:

    Have you read “The Glory of their Times?” I think you would love it. It’s nothing but interviews with players from the early 1900’s. It’s one of my favorite baseball books of all time.

  5. Precious Sanders Says:

    Quite a year, indeed. Thanks for the post.

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