Posts Tagged ‘Amos Rusie’

The Water in Philadelphia

October 29, 2018

“water, water everywhere.”–Coleridge

A couple of days ago I did a little thing on those players who hit .400 and failed to win a batting title. In 1894 there were four of them, all in Philadelphia. I commented that there must have been something in the water. So let’s take a quick look at what was going on in Philly in 1894.

First we have to acknowledge that after the 1892 season, Major League Baseball, which at that point consisted solely of the National League, moved the pitcher back to 60″ 6′ and built a mound. It changed forever the way pitchers worked and how batter could respond. It made an immediate difference in the game. As just one example, in 1892 Dan Brouthers won the batting title at .335. In 1893 Billy Hamilton (who will be one of the waterboys in Philadelphia in 1894) won the title at .380. The last time a NL batting title was won by hitting over .380 was in 1886 by King Kelly who’d hit .388 (there were American Association titles that were higher, but the AA was gone by 1894). On the other hand strikeouts by pitchers dropped from Bill Hutchinson’s 314 to Amos Rusie’s 208. It wouldn’t be until 1904 (Rube Waddell) that the 314 would be surpassed.

So acknowledging all that, what about the Phillies? In 1894 the team hit a team average of .350 and led the NL in hits. The starters were (with their batting average in parens) catcher Jack Clements (.351), and infield of (from first around to third) Jack Boyle (.300-lowest among the starters), Bill Hallman (.312), Joe Sullivan (.353), Lave Cross (.387), and an outfield of “Sliding” Billy Hamilton (.403), Ed Delahanty (.405), and Sam Thompson (.415). On the bench Tuck Turner who got into 82 games and had 347 at bats) was the backup outfielder and led the team with a .418 average. Backup catcher Mike Grady hit .363 in 61 games. From there the remainder of the reserves fell off with shortstop Tom Murray going 0 for 2 and hitting .000 (this doesn’t count pitchers who had some terrible averages also).

What did all that hitting get the Phillies? It got them a record of 71-57, good for fourth place in the NL (behind Boston, New York, and pennant winner Baltimore who went 89-39), 18 games behind the winner and 10 games out of third place. The problem? Their team had the second highest ERA (5.63) in the league, were seventh in hits (in a 12 team league), and also seventh in strikeouts.

What’s it all mean? Well, maybe good pitching does beat good hitting. Or maybe it just means that the 1894 Philadelphia Phillies could hit a lot, but didn’t pitch nearly as well. In case you’re curious, only Hamilton, Delahanty, and Thompson made the Hall of Fame. Again, thought you just might like to know.

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1907

September 2, 2014

It’s time for my monthly foray into the mind of Baseball Writers in the early 20th Century. I’m hoping to determine, at least to my own satisfaction, what a Hall of Fame established in 1901 rather than the mid 1930s would look like. Specifically I’m wondering how much it would differ from the current Hall. Here’s the Class of 1907, a class that adds a pair of greats that were overlooked for years.

Charley Comiskey

Charley Comiskey

Oops, that’s Clifton James, Hollywood’s version of Charley Comiskey

Charles Comiskey

Charles Comiskey

OK, that’s the right one.

Charles Comiskey was a player, manager, and owner who changed the game. As a stellar first baseman he invented playing off the bag thus cutting down the “hole” between first and second. As manager of the St. Louis Browns in the 1880s he had all his infielders follow suit thus cutting down on the number of hits available. His team won four consecutive pennants and four consecutive post season tournaments, winning one of them and tying a second. He helped found the American League by creating a team in Chicago. His “White Stockings” won the first ever American League pennant and in 1906 won the third World Series.

Slidin' Billy Hamilton

Slidin’ Billy Hamilton

William “Slidin’ Billy” Hamilton is the career leader in stolen bases, his totals peaking at 111 in both 1889 and 1891. His career average of .344 is among the highest in the 19th Century. In 1594 games he scored 1697 runs, with 198 in 1894 being the all time record.

Amos Rusie

Amos Rusie

Amos Rusie was a strikeout machine between 1889 and 1901 he struck out 1950 men, with a high of 341 in 1890 for New York. In 10 seasons he won five strikeout titles and led the National League in wins in 1894. His 246 wins are among the highest in National League history.

And now the commentary you’ve all been waiting for all this time.

1. Comiskey? It is incredibly difficult to like Comiskey, but this isn’t about likeability. His contributions to the game are significant. We was a successful manager with an very impressive record and winning percentage (.608). In 12 years managing he finished below fourth twice (the last two seasons). He was considered an excellent first baseman for his era, but didn’t hit much. The info about inventing playing off first was around in 1906. By that point there were already disputes about Comiskey inventing the action. Frankly, I doubt he did, but he was getting at least a little credit for it so I mentioned it. Ban Johnson is the primary mover in creating the American League, but Comiskey is a close second. He deserves credit for that. He was also one of John Montgomery Ward’s earliest followers in the Brotherhood (which makes his later career as a parsimonious owner even more awful). The early teams he owned were good and won it all in 1906 (and in 1901 when there was no World Series). My son suggested I hold until after the 1906 World Series to add Comiskey to my Hall. Considering the positive press he would have gotten in late 1906 and early 1907 that was a really great idea (and my son gets the credit for it). We do have to remember that the anti-Comiskey feelings most of us have relate to a much later time in his ownership. And BTW, doesn’t Clifton James look like what you want Comiskey to have looked like?

2. Billy Hamilton is a classic case of why I’m doing this entire exercise. He died in 1940 and made the Hall of Fame in 1961 (Vets Committee). Are you kidding me? Hamilton was one of the greatest players of the 19th Century, but by 1935, 1936, 1937, etc. had utterly disappeared from memory. I submit that in 1907 he would still be well-remembered and get a free pass into any Baseball Hall of Fame existing then. His games to run ratio was known as was his average. Having said that, as far as I can tell, there is almost no reference about how unusual it was to have fewer games played than runs scored. As mentioned in last month’s My Own Little Hall of Fame post Pete Browning was considered the man with the highest batting average in the 19th Century for much of the 20th Century. Baseball Reference.com, however, gives that title to Hamilton. The 1907 crowd most likely would accept a Browning answer as correct. And finally the way stolen bases were counted differed from the modern definition for most of Hamilton’s career.

3. Amos Rusie was the 19th Century’s version of Nolan Ryan. A lot of wins, a lot of losses, a lot of walks, and a heck of a lot of strikeouts. His career was short, but he successfully got through the mine field of changing the pitching distance and adding a mound to prove he could pitch at both distances and with different motions. He took even longer than Hamilton to make the Hall of Fame (1977), and I can’t imagine that would be true if there was a Hall of Fame set up within 10 years of his retirement, although I’d guess that Hamilton would gain the greater share of the vote total (but that’s only a guess).

4. Again no fourth or fifth player? Nope. I’ve got a list of nice eligible players and I keep looking at it and think “Wow this is a list of nice eligible players but not a list of great players.” And there’s not much coming along next year (1908). I will have to deal with Wilbert Robinson as a player. He’s in the modern Hall, but primarily as a manager, not a player. He’ll be one of the first people I will have to look at and seriously separate his playing from managing skills (McGraw will be another). At this point I’m more inclined to put McGraw in over Robinson based solely on playing skill (which doesn’t mean I’ll put McGraw in as a player).

5. Learning anything? Yes, quite a bit. As mentioned in 2 above, Hamilton is a great example of how this exercise is supposed to work. He was well-known and appreciated just after his retirement and within a few years (say 1920 or even earlier if you’d like) he’d dropped into obscurity. I haven’t done a lot of looking at the 1920s view of 1890s players because I’m supposed to be looking at 1907 views of players, but I wonder if the advent of Ruth and the homer relegated a lot of these guys to the dustbin of history (Is that a neat phrase or what? Wish I’d invented it). The great change in stolen bases that began in the late 1950s brought his name back to prominence and you’ll note he finally makes the real Hall of Fame in 1961, which is way too late. Also I’m noting how much the modern stats change the way we look at players. Again using Hamilton, I note the modern stats concentrate his numbers in such a way as to emphasize he scoring ability and his general hitting skills much more than his stolen bases, which predominate in the 1905 period. I’m also noticing, as I’ve mentioned before, how absolutely random the available stats are in the first decade of the 20th Century. They’re all over the place. Some players have a lot, others not so much (and it’s particularly true in the American Association) and sometimes one guy will have a stat and another guy on the same team won’t have that same stat. Makes it difficult to compare directly, so I’m finding myself using more reporting than I might normally use. Additionally it’s interesting how much the statistics differ in the era. By that I mean that I find one player credited with a specific number for a stat, then later find the same player with a different number of the same stat. Makes it kind of interesting to figure (so I tend, if there is a discrepancy, to go to Baseball Reference.com and use whichever number they use).

6. I’m also noticing the amount of mythology growing up about the game. The Comiskey story about inventing playing off the base is one example. Of course we’re reaching the period of the rise of the “Doubleday Myth” for the invention of baseball, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

 

The Pitching Problem

July 3, 2014
Tim Keefe

Tim Keefe, the proud owner of the greatest season ever

In a comment on my 1905 Hall of Fame class post, Kortas commented on how difficult it is to determine the quality of pitching in 19th Century baseball. You’ll note I didn’t contradict him. The reason for that is simple. I agree with him.

Pitching in the 19th Century can be quickly divided into three periods: the opening period when the pitcher stood 45 feet away and had to throw underhand, the 1884 period when the pitching box moved back to 50 feet and the pitcher could do a short run, and the modern period where a mound exists. I have never been able to determine how you compare pitchers over those eras. The rules are different, the pitching motions are different, the distances are different. How do you compare Al Spaulding whose career is entirely within the 45 feet era with Charles Radbourne who pitches at 50 feet but never on a mound or with Walter Johnson who never pitches anywhere except from a mound? They say there are stats that level the field, but do you level a field when there’s a mound for one player and no mound for another?

I looked at Baseball Reference.com and combed through a lot of stats over the last couple of days. I’ve been critical of WAR as a definitive stat because it exists in several different versions, but for this purpose I’m going to use Baseball Reference.com’s version to make a point. If you go to the list of leaders and look at the stat for most WAR in a given season, pitchers hold the top 15 slots (Ruth’s 1923 is the first hitting season). Amos Rusie has one and Walter Johnson two of the 15. All 12 of the others are from prior to the invention of the mound.

Now ask yourself a simple question, do you really think that 12 of the 15 greatest seasons ever were by pre-1890 pitchers? Well, of course in many ways your answer has to be “yes,” because of the way pitching was used. But those can never be replicated because pitching is totally different today and that means that we will always know that no matter how good a player is he can never best Tim Keefe in 1883 (20.0 WAR).

So it means that even the most sophisticated stats have trouble differentiating the changes made in pitching. Forget the lousy fields and the jokes they had for gloves, just know that the use of one pitcher in 80% of the games (and I don’t mean a reliever who pitches to one batter in 100 games) simply isn’t comparable to a modern hurler who gets 33 or 34 games tops. Tommy Bond, who started this conversation, won 40 games twice, Greg Maddux never pitched more than 37 in a season.

I hope that when we try to compare pitchers over eras we keep this in mind.

The Best of the Giants

May 27, 2013
Will Clark

Will Clark

It’s been a while since I stuck my foot deep in my mouth and picked an all-time team for a franchise. So it’s time to do it again. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time this month dealing with the Giants, especially the New York version, so it seems like a good franchise to work with now.

A few caveats first (you knew I’d do that, right?). Let me start with a simple disclaimer: I’ve never been a particular Giants fan. Growing up supporting the Dodgers, there’s not a lot of nice things to say about the Giants (only the Yankees are as deep in perdition as the Giants). That means I’ll admit to being less than confident about my choices, but it’s the best I can do using only research and a few memories. Second, I put together a 25 man roster that does not mirror a Major League roster, but it’s my list and I get to do it my way. There are nine infielders, five outfielders, two catchers, and nine pitchers. I decided to go with three bullpen men and six men who were primarily starters. I also picked a manager (bet you can guess him). Finally there are no players whose primary career is before the advent of the mound. There are som really fine Giants prior to 1892, like Roger Connor, Tim Keefe, Mike Tiernan, but they play a game that is different, so different I decided to drop them from consideration.

So with all that said, here we go diving in where God knows what we will find. Each list is alphabetical.

The Infield:  Will Clark, Al Dark, George Davis, Art Fletcher, Frankie Frisch, Travis Jackson, Jeff Kent, Johnny Mize, Willie McCovey.

Did you ever notice that the Giants have produced an inordinate number of quality first basemen? I chose McCovey, Mize, and Clark (and Cepeda spent a lot of time at first) and left out Hall of Fame first sackers Bill Terry and George Kelly. Frankly, I didn’t really have to think that hard about it. The only hard choice was Mize, who spent significant time with both St. Louis and the Yankees. I decided he was in. If they’ve had great first basemen, they’ve had mediocre third basemen. I went with Fletcher as the only third baseman because the rest of the list was Fred Lindstrom and Jim Davenport and guys like that. OK, maybe I should have considered Sandoval, but as a rule I like to stay away from current players because we don’t know how they’re stay with their team will go (but see Posey below). Short and second were mixed bags. Frisch, Kent, and Larry Doyle stood out but there wasn’t much below them. Short on the other hand had more quality players, but no one at the level of either Frisch or Kent. I left off Dave Bancroft and added Dark which may strike some as odd, but I suppose it’s merely a personal preference. And of course Jackson (who was in the top 10 Giants in WAR, which surprised me) played third toward the end of his career. 

The Outfield: Barry Bonds, Orlando Cepeda, Monte Irvin, Willie Mays, Mel Ott.

There is Bonds (whatever you think of him as a person or as a steroids user), there is Mays, and there is Ott. Everyone else is a huge drop, a really huge drop. You could make an argument that across the three outfield positions (left, center, and right) the Giants may have the best starting outfield ever. But you need backups and at the point you get past the big three you end up with a lot of quality outfielders. Cepeda’s knees sent him to first, but he began in the outfield. Irvin was a converted middle infielder who lost several years to segregation. Both are just short of the top-tier. I had to leave out both Felipe and Matty Alou, which I was sorry to do because I’d liked both when they played. Jeff Leonard and Kevin Mitchell were good for too short a time to be considered at the top.

The Catchers: Roger Bresnahan and Buster Posey.

OK, who else was there? Look at the Giants’ list of catchers and tell me you like anyone better. As a rule, Giants catching has been very weak. Buck Ewing is excluded as a pre-1890s player.  Hank Severeid maybe, but if that’s the best you can do then we’re stuck with these two. I hesitate to pick a current player like Posey, but it’s a really weak position and Posey has the advantage of coming to the Giants and they win a World Series. Then he gets hurt and they falter. Then he’s healthy again and they win another World Series. That’s a pretty good legacy, isn’t it?

The Starters: Carl Hubbell, Juan Marichal, Christy Mathewson, Joe McGinnity, Gaylord Perry, Amos Rusie.

You know, you could make a pretty fair five man rotation for the Giants just using pitchers whose last name began with the letter “M”. You could dump those bums Perry and Rusie and insert Rube Marquard and Sal Maglie and still have a darned good staff. I didn’t. I have a feeling that in a few years both Lincecum and Cain will be getting some consideration on lists like this.

The Bullpen: Rod Beck, Rob Nen, Hoyt Wilhelm.

Not the strongest part of the Giants history. Wilhelm made the Hall of Fame, but his tenure with New York was relatively short. Most of his Cooperstown credentials are from other teams. Nen and Beck are simply one, two in saves, so why not?

The Manager: John J. McGraw.

Surely you saw that coming.

So there it is in all its glory; for good ,bad, or indifferent. I think it’s a pretty fair list, but I’m sure a lot of people will disagree. Feel free to do so. (I have this nagging feeling I’ve left somebody out).

The Hoosier Thunderbolt

June 8, 2012

Amos Rusie

There’s an old baseball tale that goes like this. The pitcher winds up, blazes a fastball toward home, the batter, absolutely unable to see the ball stands still, the ball hits the catcher’s mitt with a resounding “whack”, then the umpire calls it a ball. The catcher turns around and says, “It was a strike, ump. Didn’t you see it?” The ump replies, “Nope, but it sounded high.” Great story. I’ve found versions of it about a half-dozen or so pitchers. The earliest version I can find goes all the way back into the 1890s and Amos Rusie.

Rusie was born in Indiana in 1871. The family moved to Indianapolis where Rusie dropped out of school to work in a factory. The factory had a team, Rusie could pitc,h and the team played against barnstorming big league teams. Rusie successfully shut down both the Washington and Boston National League teams in 1888 and was picked up by the Indianapolis Hoosiers. He was 18, went 12-10, walked more men than he struck out, and the team finished 7th. Indianapolis folded after the season leaving Rusie without a team. The NL decided to send most of the good players, including Rusie, to the New York team. Rusie was upset at not being able to negotiate a contract with any team willing to pay him and it led to problems for his entire career. He became a star, liked New York, found a wife, and was the toast of the town, but never quite got over being sent to New York against his will.

Rusie as a rookie

He was brilliant as a pitcher. He was also wild. In his first three years he was 114-85 with 982 strike outs and (read this number carefully) 821 walks. He led the NL in strikeouts twice and in walks all three years. In 1893 they moved the pitching distance back to the current 60′ 6″ and a number of sources credit Rusie with the change. Batters feared both his speed and his wildness.

OK, maybe, but what is certain is that Rusie flourished at the new distance. He had 33 wins in 1893, 36 in 1894. His strikeout totals went down, but he still led the NL. His walks also went down, but he continued to lead the league in bases on balls. To be blunt, Rusie never really overcame his wildness.

His Triple Crown year was 1894. He won 36 games (losing 13) with a 2.78 ERA (ERA+ 188) and stuck out 195 men, his lowest total of strikeouts since his rookie year. He also led the league with three shutouts and (you knew this was coming) 200 walks. That makes him the only Triple Crown winner to lead his league in both strikeouts and walks. I’m not a big fan of pitching WAR (hitting WAR is OK), but his WAR for 1894 is 13.8. For the season, his team finished second, but qualified for the newly contested Temple Cup. The Giants won the Cup in four straight games.

In 1895, Rusie dropped back to 23-23 for a record but still led the NL in strikeouts. For the first time since his rookie campaign, he didn’t lead in walks. But he was also involved in one of his perennial contract disputes with the Giants. Unwilling to accept the club offer, he sat out all of 1896. The Giants, who had finished ninth in 1895, moved up to seventh in 1896. That didn’t help Rusie so he reluctantly resigned for the 1897 season.

He was good again in 1897, winning 28 games and his second ERA title. For the first time since 1892 he failed to lead the NL in strikeouts (the 1896 hold out year excepted). He had 20 wins in 1898 before hurting his shoulder attempting a pick-off. No one knew it at the time, but his career was over. He sat out 1899 and 1900 before attempting a comeback in 1901. He was traded to Cincinnati (more on that later), went 0-1 in three games striking out six final batters (and walking three). He was done.

He worked at a paper mill in Indiana after retirement, then moved to Seattle where he worked as a steamfitter. In 1921 he became superintendent at the Polo Grounds, a job he held through 1929. John McGraw did that kind of thing for old ballplayers. He went back to Seattle where the Great Depression hurt his financial interests badly. He was injured in a car accident in 1934 and retired. He lingered into 1942 when he died in Seattle, where he is buried. In 1977 the Veteran’s Committee chose him for the Hall of Fame.

Over his 10 year career Rusie won 246 games and lost 174 (.586 winning percentage). He walked 1707 men and struck out 1950. His ERA was 3.07 (ERA+129). He gave up 3389 hits and 1288 earned runs in 3779 innings. He led the NL in wins and losses once each, in shutouts and strikeouts four times each, in ERA twice, and in walks five times.

Rusie reminds me a lot of guys like Bob Feller, Nolan Ryan, and Hal Newhouser. All three were great fastball pitchers who lacked control, although all, especially Ryan, managed to gain at least some control as their career progressed. Rusie was also like that, only a half century earlier. His feats were legendary. One story has it that in one game the catcher didn’t throw the ball back to Rusie. Rusie then simply wound up, faked a throw, the batter swung, and the umpire called a strike. You don’t get many stories like that.

Oh, and that trade to Cincy? Well, it seems the Reds were giving up on a young right-hander and decided to take a flier on Rusie. So for a washed up Amos Rusie, the Giants got a new pitcher named Christy Mathewson. Worked out well for New York, not so well for the Reds.