Posts Tagged ‘Bill Lange’

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Midway

July 3, 2015

The selection of the Class of 1917 marks the mid-point of the My Own Little Hall of Fame project. I began it last year in March and intend to go through this year and finish in December next year with the 1934 class. Here’s a summary of some of the things I’ve discovered.

1. I have a much greater appreciation of how hard it is to be a Hall of Fame voter. I fully expected I would be able to simply look through some newspapers, a few journals, the contemporary guides, and come up with a quite obvious Hall. Oops. It actually takes a lot to make the determinations necessary to elect a Hall of Fame. If you do it right, or at least attempt to do it right (which is all I’ll admit to) it gets complicated fast. What stats are available? Which matter? Why? I’ve been very critical of the Hall of Fame voters on a number of occasions. I’ve discovered that it’s harder than it looks (which doesn’t mean the actual voters haven’t made mistakes). I have a new respect for those voters who are trying to get it right (which is different from all voters).

2. So far I’ve elected 52 members, or about 3 a year. By contrast the real Hall of Fame elected 62 members in its first 17 years (about 3.6 per year). So I’m actually being a bit more conservative than the real Hall voters. That kind of surprises me. I thought I’d probably end up adding more than the real Hall.

3. The number of people added each year has dropped. That makes sense. Any newly established institution like the Hall of Fame is going to begin with a backlog of quality candidates for membership. It takes a few years to clear that backlog, but once it’s gone, then the number of newly eligible quality candidates should, in most years, be considerably fewer. In my case that’s been absolutely true.

4. I’ve made it a point of  doing two things that the real Hall doesn’t do. First, I elect at least one for each class. There is no requirement the real Hall do so. Second, I’ve added three Negro League players already (Bud Fowler, Frank Grant, and George Stovey). I know that probably wouldn’t happen in 1917 and with the rise of racial tensions after World War I  it certainly wouldn’t happen between 1920 and 1934. However, I still intend to buck that and add Negro League players as I feel appropriate. It just seems like the right thing to do.

5. I was initially concerned with the number of “Contributors” I was adding. These are people added because of something they did for baseball other than play the game (William Hulbert, founder of the National League, is an example). Then I got to looking over the real Hall’s inductees in the first several years and noted they also added quite a number of “contributors” early. The number of contributors elected by Cooperstown has decreased in the last 40 or so years (although there are still several). As I look at my preliminary list of contributors going out to 1934, I note that I’ll probably be electing fewer also because the first couple of generations of contributors will be pretty much gone and the new group is, as a whole, less impressive (which does figure).

6. It’s interesting, and frankly obvious, how uneven the quality of players available in a given year becomes. Some years there are an entire list of quality candidates, not all of which will make it, but all of which will deserve study. Other years I simply want to say, “Yuck.” Of course that was destined to be true, because all the good players don’t retire at once and not every year has a bunch of good players leave the game. It does help to clear some of the backlog, but I’ve found it too tempting to simply add someone because he’s the best available guy not because he’s truly a Hall of Fame caliber player. I’m sure I’ve slipped up a time or two and let someone in based on that, but I try to watch it closely.

7. I knew that statistics were going to vary, but, frankly, was surprised by how much. From a preliminary look forward, that seems to start changing in the 1920s, especially with the Elias Sports Bureau’s arrival (maybe I should look at Al Munro Elias a bit more closely as a Hall of Famer). It does make it difficult to determine exactly who should get in my Hall because every time I look to hang my hat on a particular stat it changes. For instance, RBIs aren’t yet an official statistic and what I find concerning RBIs changes. I have to admit I sometimes go to Baseball Reference.com to determine which number is the one I should use. It’s not quite fair, but it does make it easier for me. When I do, I have to resist the temptation to look at the newer stats (OPS+, WAR, etc.). They weren’t even thought of yet and I don’t want to be influenced by them.

8. It has been an education for me to do this. I’ve had to read stuff I didn’t know existed, had to sort through things that sometimes were contradictory, had to almost flip a coin occasionally as to what do I believe. And it’s astounding how quickly the pioneers (pre-1876) guys have disappeared.

9. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve had to determine how much “fame” mattered over “greatness”. I’m still not sure I know the answer to that last. Go back a couple of months and look at my comments on John McGraw and you’ll get a feel for the structure of the question itself. It first manifested itself in trying to determine why Bill Lange, a 19th Century outfielder with Chicago, was so utterly famous (he’s now very obscure). I looked at his numbers and they were good (I even fiddled around with his newer SABR-style numbers, which aren’t bad–123 OPS+, five years of 3.5 or more WAR in a seven year career) and he came off as a very good player, but I wasn’t sure he was great. It began to dawn on me that the two things (famous and greatness) were not interchangeable and that came to a head in the John McGraw problem. That may be the most profound observation I’ve discovered on this project (and profundity from this site should scare you to death). If I ever figure out the complete answer, I’ll have a book (and a number of you telling me I got it wrong).

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Bill Lange

December 31, 2012
Bill Lange about 1898

Bill Lange about 1898

1. Bill Lange was born in San Francisco in 1871 to a career military man assigned to the Presidio.

2. He was a prodigy, winning a state tournament and becoming the best player on his local semi-pro team at age 19.

3. He played minor league ball on the West Coast until being signed by the Chicago Colts (now the Cubs) in 1893. In 117 games he stole 47 bases, had 88 RBIs, scored 92 runs, and for the only time in his career hit under .300 (.281).

4. By 1894 he was the team’s primary center fielder and lead off hitter. He stole 66 bases, , hit .325, and had an OPS+ of 99. It was his last OPS+ under 120.

5. Lange was leader of Chicago’s “Dawn Patrol” (Bill Dahlen was also a member). The “Patrol” was famous for skipping curfew, drinking all night, and being seen in the company of “loose women.” This brought him into conflict with manager Cap Anson. Anson’s career was on the wane, Lange was a rising star. As you might guess, the conflict ultimately resulted in Anson’s ouster as manager.

6. In 1895, Lange put up an OPS of 1.032 and an OPS+ of 157. His WAR was 5.1, a huge number for a position player  who got into only 123 games. The 123 games would be his career high.

7. In 1897, he scored 119 runs in 118 games and led the National League with 73 stolen bases.

8. By the end of the 1899 season his career numbers included a triple slash line of .330/.400/.458 for an OPS of .858 (OPS+ 123). In 813 games he had 1056 hits, 134 doubles, 39 home runs, and 1467 total bases. He also had 400 stolen bases, 579 RBIs, scored 691 runs, and had twice as many walks as strike outs.

9. At about this time he met Grace Anna Giselman. Lange fell in love and her father felt playing baseball was a waste of time. After the 1899 season, Lange and Grace married and he retired from baseball, taking over an insurance company. He was 28. He never went back to the Majors. Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t last. The couple divorced in 1915 (Lange was 44 and too old for baseball).

10. Lange died in 1950 in San Francisco.

11. He was the uncle of Hall of Famer George “Highpockets” Kelly. Playing only 7 years himself, Lange is ineligible for the Hall.

12. The most famous story about Lange has him pursuing a fly ball, breaking through the outfield wall, and catching the ball for an out. Some accounts say he got the ball back to the infield in time for a double play. The accounts disagree on when and where he did this. Most modern students of the game discount the tale, but it does make a great story.

And a HAPPY NEW YEAR to each of you.

Three Bills

March 29, 2010

Rosters contain lots of kinds of players. There are stars and superstars. There are role players and hangers on. There are has beens and never was types. The 19th Century had the same kinds of players. Most, even the greatest superstars of the era, are lost in the mists of time. No one who saw them play is alive to tell us what it was like to see them. Let me introduce you to three 19th Century stars, all named Bill.

Bill Joyce (on right)

Bill Joyce made is debut with the fledgling Player’s League in 1890. He played third base in Brooklyn hitting .252 and leading the league in walks with 123. It was good enough to get him a job when the Player’s League folded. He caught on with Boston in the American Association. In 65 games he hit .309, had 63 walks, and had 15 triples, good for third on the pennant winning Reds. Here he set a record not equalled until 1941. He reached base in 64 consecutive games (of the 65 he played). At the end of the season, the Association folded, and Joyce had to look for his third team, and third league, in as many years. In ’92 he caught on at Brooklyn where he led the team in home runs (6).  He sat out 1893, then popped up at Washington for the next three years. These are the heart of his career. He hit .355, .312, and .313.  He had 17 home runs in ’94 (tied for second in the league), 17 again in ’95 (again second, then led the league in home runs with 13 in 1896. His on base percentages also ranked in the top five in the NL during this period. Late in 1896, Washington traded him to the Giants. He had a good 49 games at the end of ’96, hit over .300 again in 1897 and led the Giants in triples, then closed out his career in 1898 by moving to first base where he hit .258 and led the team in home runs. He retired with a .293 average, 70 home runs, 609 RBIs, a .453 OBP, and 106 triples in 906 games. He died in 1941.

Bill Lange

Bill Lange was THE phenom of the 1890s. He was big for the era, had great speed and power, and seemingly had an aversion to playing in the east. The Colts (now the Cubs), spotted Lange and brought him from California to Chicago in 1893, where he stayed (at least when he wanted to stay) until 1899. He was an outfielder noted for his ability to track down anything in the field. The great story about him is that he crashed through a wall at full speed tracking down a fly ball which he caught. Most modern scholarship debunks the story, but it’s emblematic of how he was viewed, tough, determined, and fast. For all that, he never led the league in anything (except maybe handwringing on when will Lange report?). He played 813 games (never more than 123 in a season), hit. .330 with a .400 OBP, and a .458 slugging percentage. He tallied 1056 hits, 691 runs 350 stolen bases, and 579 RBIs in his seven year career. But every season the Colts had to wait on Lange. Seems he didn’t want to leave California for Chicago (there’s a joke there, and I’m not going to offend Chicago by using it). so he’d report late every season. Some of  it had to do with not wanting to mess with training, some of it was a hold out for more money, some seems to have been a genuine dislike for the “East.” All that being said, he was a heck of a player. He holds the Cubs record for batting average at .389 in 1895. He retired in 1899 to get married. Apparently his father-in-law didn’t want his daughter to marry a ballplayer (there’s another gag there). The marriage didn’t work out, but Lange stayed retired. He went into the insurance and real estate business and did well. He died in 1950.

Bill Shindle

Bill Shindle was a third baseman noted for his range (His 4.34 in 1892 is still the record for third basemen). He came to the majors in 1886 with Detroit, played on the 1887 pennant and “World Series” winning Wolverines, then went to the Orioles in the American Association when Detroit collapsed. He jumped to Philadelphia in the Player’s League revolt of 1890, remained in Philadelphia with the Phillies in 1891, was with the Orioles, now in the NL, in 1892 and 1893. When the Orioles moved John McGraw from short to third, Shindle went to Brooklyn where he finished his career in 1898. He hit .269 for that career, with no power, 759 RBIs, a .323 OBP, and 1564 hits in 1424 games. Not a great hitter, but Shindle was regarded for his glove (or hand as he seldom wore a glove). As mentioned earlier, he had great range numbers, leading the league three times, and leading in fielding percentage once with .922 in 1888. But that’s a little misleading. He had 122 errors in 1890 (when he played most of his games at short). So he could get to the ball, but throwing it seems to have been a problem. Other than the .922 in 1888, his highest fielding percentage was .895, until very late in his career when his range factor decreased. He was slowing down and unable to get to as many balls. He retired in 1898 aged 38 and died in 1936.

Ok, so what? Except for Lange they aren’t particularly superior ballplayers, you note. True. What they are is fairly representative of the kinds of players who wandered through the big leagues in the 1890s. You have a solid role player who finally achieves a few years of greatness. You get a phenom who lives up to his billing but tends to regard baseball as a bit of a lark. And you have a slick fielder who doesn’t hit badly, but doesn’t tear up the league either. Those should all sound familiar to you. Look around. Baseball is full of them today. Those players are the descendants of the three Bills of the 1890s.