Posts Tagged ‘Candy Cummings’

The Cartwright Story

March 26, 2019

Alexander J. Cartwright

From its very beginning, the Hall of Fame has endeavored to enshrine the most significant baseball people. They’ve done, by and large, a pretty fair job of it based on the information available to them when a particular person was inducted. They’ve made some mistakes, but many of those were done in good faith.

Candy Cummings was elected early on the theory that he invented the curve ball. Maybe so, but there is evidence that others, including Jim Creighton also invented it. In fact, Creighton is given credit for half the innovations in pitching history, credit much beyond what is probably true. Whether Cummings actually invented the curve or not, it seems the voters in 1939 (the year he was elected to Cooperstown) believed he did.

That brings me to one of those origin stories that baseball seems to love, the story of Alexander Cartwright. The story goes something like this (and I’m going to greatly curtail it and leave out much detail). Cartwright was a founding member of the Knickerbockers, the first baseball team. He sat down one day in 1845 and wrote out the first rules for baseball (the so-called Knickerbocker Rules) and thus established the basic principles of the game. It’s a great story and it got him into the Hall of Fame in 1938 (a year before Cummings). But let’s take a look at the story and see what we get.

1. The Knickerbockers were not the first baseball team. As far as I can tell, they never claimed to be the first. We know that by 1837 the Gothams were already playing a version of baseball in New York.

2. William Rufus Wheaton, in an 1887 interview with a San Francisco newspaper (the Daily Examiner) indicated that the Gothams had a set of written rules as early as 1837. I’ve been unable to find the article on-line to actually read the entire thing, but excerpts at various places are available. There seems to be some question of whether Wheaton claimed to have actually written the 1837 Gothams rules or if he was merely part of a committee that came up with them. A direct quote from Wheaton in the article says “it was found necessary to reduce the new rule to writing. The task fell to me.” Having been unable to find an actual copy of the article, I’ll take them at their word that he said that in the article. Whether that means he wrote them or merely wrote them down is for you to decide. As far as I can tell there is no copy available.

3. In 1845, the Knickerbockers, realizing that game rules needed to be codified in some form, set up a five man committee to write a set of rules for team use. The committee consisted of both Cartwright and Wheaton along with Duncan Curry (club president), William H. Tucker (club secretary) and Daniel “Doc” Adams (who is credited, along with others, with creating the shortstop position). There is some question as to the actual composition of the committee. The oldest copy of the rules available has only the names of Wheaton and Tucker at the bottom. It is possible the other three were members or maybe they weren’t. Curry as club president may have been a ex officio member of the committee or maybe he just sat in on the meetings. The other two may have been members or maybe they just sat in also. Or maybe they didn’t do anything involving the committee. I know there are a lot of “maybes” in there but that’s the closest we seem to be able to get to the truth.

4. The rules were first used in a game played in New Jersey (which the Knickerbockers lost). Some sources indicate that Cartwright served as umpire others give the umpiring job to Wheaton; neither appears on the game day roster (of the five committee “members” only Adams and Tucker played in the so-called first ball game).

So where are we? Well, pretty much no where, at least when it comes to Cartwright. There is ample agreement that he was a member in good standing with the Knickerbockers, but then things get murky. It is certain that the Knickerbockers wrote a set of rules for game use and the signatures of Wheaton and Tucker indicate they were involved. It is less certain that Cartwright was involved.

Which leads to the question “How’d he get into the Hall of Fame?” It seems that in 1938 the Hall of Fame was looking for the inventor of the game and given up on the somewhat silly idea that Abner Doubleday was the man. Some of Cartwright’s relatives pushed hard for him and the voters went along with it.

Cartwright’s Hall of Fame plaque (from the Hall of Fame)

Does Cartwright belong in the Hall of Fame. Strangely enough, to me he does. He belongs not because he invented the game, but as a stand-in for all the people who sat down in the 1830s and 1840s and came up with the game we all love. The Hall isn’t in the habit of inducting entire teams or entire committees, so one man was chosen as the creator of the game. Frankly Wheaton or Adams or Tucker would be better choices, but for right now, Cartwright will do, so long as we understand that he didn’t, singlehandedly, do all the things he’s credited with (it’s entirely possible he did none of them, except maybe the Hawaii bit).

The Limits of Knowledge

December 13, 2018

With the recent election of Harold Baines to the Hall of Fame there is a lot of comment going on about the entire election process. I have to admit to having added my share. But whether the election is problematic or not, and I feel it is, it brings up some things we need to note.

Over at the Hall of Miller and Eric website, a site each of you should go visit often, there’s an article that’s titled “Harold Baines is the Single Worst Hall of Fame Choice Ever,” written by the Miller of Miller and Eric. On the face of just the headline, that sounds, considering some of the earlier Hall picks, like one of the most idiotic articles ever written. But if you delve below the headline and actually read the article, he makes a great deal of sense. His basic point is that with the glut of information available today versus what was known 20 or 30 or 50 years ago, Baines is a more terrible choice than anyone else, because we have more knowledge than we had back that 20 or 30 or 50 years ago.

The Hall of Fame was founded in the mid-1930s. The first crop of inductees was a fairly obvious pick (Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth, and Honus Wagner alphabetically). All but Mathewson were still alive and most of the voters had seen much of the career of all five. But frankly, there wasn’t a lot of “modern” information available. By modern, I mean the huge log of statistics. Macmillan hadn’t yet published its Encyclopedia, Bill James wasn’t born, BaseballReference.Com wasn’t even a cock-eyed idea yet. What you had were newspaper accounts if you could find them, a handful of Spaudling Guides, Reach Guides, the Elias people and whatever else you could find. And you had the “I” and “eye” tests (“I saw him with my own eyes”). All of those were well and good, but weren’t at all complete.

Back a few years ago I ran a series of articles postulating a Hall of Fame as if it was erected in Cincinnati in 1901 and inducted at least one person each year until the real Hall of Fame was built. I was allowed to use only the information that I could find for the period. There was no WAR or OPS+ or triple slash line. There weren’t even saves yet.¬†There were frequently no walk or strikeout totals. Sometimes there was no fielding information available at all. Frankly, I thought I did a pretty good job with what I had. But I also realized that I was putting in some guys that probably didn’t deserve a spot in Cincinnati’s hallowed halls because I have access today to information unavailable to me in 1910 that told me “You probably got this one wrong, Slick.” One thing I didn’t have available for use was the “Eye” or “I” test, even I’m not that old.

And those sorts of things caused the original Hall voters, and the people who followed them to make some interesting choices. Apparently there were articles at the time (I’ve run across a couple old newspapers that say it) indicating that Candy Cummings invented the curve ball. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, but the people voting had that info and used it to put in what to me is a terrible choice. There are other choices like that, not to mention the cronyism that has plagued the Hall voting since its beginning.

It’s tough to call Baines the “worst choice ever” based on who’s in the Hall of Fame, but you have to give something of a pass to the guys who didn’t have the information we have available today. They made mistakes, but many of them were in good faith. But when you take a look at how much information we have today the Baines pick becomes, as the Hall of Miller and Eric guys point out,¬†pretty much indefensible. You can, if you want, make the argument that stats are subject to interpretation and subject to which you determine are important and which are not. And that’s true. But it would take a strange and long set of interpretations and determinations to put Baines in the Hall.

And before I finish I have a complaint. I’ve read a few people attacking Baines himself for his election. Quit that, people. You want to yell at someone for it, yell at the group that put together the ballot or at the 12 men who voted for Baines, not at Baines himself. All he did was put up numbers and play a game he loved. He didn’t create this problem.