Posts Tagged ‘Cap Anson’

Congratulations and another one of those All Time Teams

September 16, 2016

First, it seems right to congratulate the Chicago Cubs as the first team to guarantee a spot in the playoffs. But, perhaps to celebrate, Sports Illustrated just released, on its daily mailing it sends to people like me, the All Time Cubs team. Here, for your interest and edification, is the list:

Catcher–Gabby Hartnett

Infield-Cap Anson (1st), Ryne Sandberg (2nd), Ernie Banks (ss), Ron Santo (3b)

Outfield–Billy Williams (left), Hack Wilson (center), Sammy Sosa (right)

Pitchers–Fergie Jenkins and Mordecai Brown as starters and Bruce Sutter as the reliever.

There are no backups listed.

So what do we make of this? On the face of it, it isn’t a bad list. It’s certainly better than the thing ESPN did on its top 100 players. Having said that, I have a couple of problems with it. I’m not sure how you compare Anson with the rest of the cast. He spent almost his entire career (which went from the National Association of the 1870s into the 1890s) hitting against pitchers who were not allowed to throw overhand or who did not throw from a mound 60’6″ away. I agree Anson was a heck of a player (probably a top 100), but I’m not sure you can accurately compare him with more modern Cubs first basemen (Mark Grace, Leon Durham, even Phil Cavarretta of the 1945 team). Sure you can make comparisons with Anson’s contemporaries, but I do worry about comparing him to much never guys. Second, I wish they’d do some commentary on Sosa’s steroid issue. I’m not sure how much it would change his position, but it should be noted (as should the bitter taste of how he left Chicago).

There is no manager listed. I suppose I’d go with Frank Chance. He’s the only one who proved he could lead a team to a modern World Series championship. Anyway, you should be able to find the list on Sports Illustrated’s website somewhere.

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1903

May 1, 2014

After a couple of posts that I’d done earlier and saved for a rainy day, the eye is better and I’m back with new stuff finally.  So it’s time again for the newest inductions to My Own Little Hall of Fame. This is, for those of you who have forgotten, a once monthly exploration of how the Hall of Fame might look different if it had been started in 1901 rather than in the 1930s. First, a reminder of who’s in from the Class of 1901 (Ross Barnes, John Clarkson, William Hulbert, Tim Keefe, George Wright) and the Class of 1902 (Dan Brouthers, King Kelly, Charles Radbourn, Albert Spaulding, Harry Wright). Now the latest class with commentary below.

Cap Anson

Cap Anson

Adrian “Cap” Anson was a career .300 hitter who became the first player to amass 3000 hits. He won four batting titles in his 27 year career. As manager of the Chicago National League team, he won five pennants.

Roger Connor

Roger Connor

Roger Connor is the all-time leader in home runs. In 1890 he won the Player’s League home run title but his peak was 17 in 1887. A solid first baseman, he led the Giants to consecutive pennants in 1888 and 1889, helping his team to capture both postseason matches against American Association opponents. Additionally, he won a batting title in 1885.

Buck Ewing

Buck Ewing

Greatest catcher of the Nineteenth Century. Captain of the Giants when they won back-to-back pennants in 1888 and 1889. In 1883, became the only catcher to win a home run title. Served as manager of the Cincinnati team at the end of his career.

Bud Fowler

Bud Fowler

Considered the first “Colored” professional. Credited with inventing shin guards. Played for a number of integrated minor league teams and for many of the premier “Colored” teams of the Nineteenth Century. Helped form the first all black league.

Now to answer your questions before you ask them:

1. You did notice you only put in four, didn’t you, Dummy? Yeah, I noticed that. My feeling was that a 1903 voting group would be so overwhelmed by the numbers and legends of Anson, Connor, and Ewing that there would be a tendency to vote only for the three of them and leave off everyone else. You’ve seen this happen recently a lot and I decided it probably wouldn’t be any different back in 1903. So I went with four inductees.

2. Fowler? Really? OK, I know there is no chance that a black ball player in 1903 is going to be elected to a Hall of Fame. I’m sure that in some areas where I’ve lived he’s not even going to be allowed into the building except maybe for an hour our two every other week, but I stipulated when I set up this Hall that I would allow in black players despite the mores of the day. And Fowler is the first (expect Frank Grant when he becomes eligible). Fowler could have gone in earlier, but I put him off until 1903 for a reason. With all the fuss Anson made about playing against black players in the 1880s, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to put a black player at the same time. I’d love for this to have really happened. I would love to see if Anson would even show up for the ceremony or appear on the same stage with Fowler. I call it a bit of poetic justice. I know that has no place in a real Hall of Fame, but I just couldn’t resist.

3. “Colored”? Most of the documentation of the era used “colored” more often than “Negro” “black” “African-American” or any other word to describe black Americans. The term “Ethiopian” also shows up a lot. I went with “colored” as the word most likely to be used despite my own misgivings about the use of the word. Expect to see it replaced by “Negro” as we get deeper into the 20th Century.

4. Again, the statistics are all over the place. Anson won several RBI titles but I find almost no contemporary record that acknowledges that, so the stat wasn’t mentioned. I’m not sure, from what I’ve read, that they even knew Connor had more homers than anyone else (especially Brouthers) but I listed it anyway.

5. I’ve made one change in how I categorize my Hall. I’ve lumped everyone not an everyday player or a pitcher into the contributors category. So it’s now owners (Chris von der Ahe, William Babcock), managers (Jim Mutrie, Charles Comiskey), players with a major career prior to 1870 (Jim Creighton, Candy Cummings, Bob Ferguson, Lip Pike, Joe Start), writers (Henry Chadwick), pioneers (William Wheaton, Monte Ward) umpires, etc. all in one group. I have to admit I’m woefully uninformed about very early umpires, so I’m just beginning research on them. Also, I’m finding that after compiling my initial lists, I’m only adding one or two new players each year to the list. That seems to be about on par with what the real Hall adds. I know the real Hall puts out a lot of new names, but there are really only a couple or so that have a chance at getting in. As an example in 1908 Dummy Hoy and Wilbert Robinson are the only everyday players new to the list worth even a quick list and there are no significant pitchers. But in 1907 you have Billy Hamilton, Cupid Childs, and pitchers Amos Rusie and Gus Weyhing to look over. That seems to fit in pretty well with how the real Hall works.

The Bigot

March 13, 2014
Ben Chapman

Ben Chapman

By now I presume most of you have seen the movie “42” about the arrival of Jackie Robinson in the Major Leagues. One of the better performances in the flick is Alan Tudyk’s turn as Phillies manager Ben Chapman. For the purposes of the movie, Chapman becomes the symbol of all the hatred among players and managers aimed at Robinson and Tudyk’s wonderful job makes Chapman particularly odious. Of course Chapman wasn’t the only person who tossed slurs at Robinson, but he’s become, over the years, the ultimate symbol of racial bigotry in the Major Leagues, with only Cap Anson getting anything like equal billing.

Alan Tudyk as Chapman in "42"

Alan Tudyk as Chapman in “42”

William Benjamin Chapman was born in Tennessee on Christmas day in 1908. He was good at baseball and caught the eye of professional scouts. He spent 1928 and 1929 in the minors, then arrived in New York in 1930 as a backup third baseman and part-time second baseman for the Yankees. He hit .316 with 10 home runs, stole 14 bases, and 74 runs (it’s 1930, remember?). That got him a fulltime job, but not as an infielder. He moved to the outfield, splitting time between right field and left field (essentially playing whichever Babe Ruth wasn’t playing that day). He continued to hit well, leading the American League in stolen bases three times (and also leading in caught stealing four times). He was part of the 1932 Yankees World Series winning team, hitting .294 (his season average was .299) with a run, six RBIs, and an OPS of .780. He remained with New York through 1935 continuing to hit around .300 (.289 in 1935 was his low) and playing a decent, but not spectacular outfield. He led the AL in errors twice, but sources attribute that to his ability to get to balls slower men couldn’t even pretend to catch. He made three All Star teams (1933, ’34,’ and ’35) By 1934 and 1935 he was spending more time in center than either of the corner outfield slots. The next season the Yanks brought up Joe DiMaggio and Chapman was traded.

He ended up in Washington after 36 games in New York. He was still good enough to make another All Star team. In 1937 he was traded to Boston (the Red Sox, not the Braves) and led the AL one more time with 35 stolen bases.  He hit well enough in Boston but with diminishing speed and little power, he was traded to Cleveland in 1939. Now over 30, his numbers were slipping and he saw himself traded one more time. He went back to Washington in 1941, lasted 28 games, and was sent on to the White Sox.

He spent 1942 managing in the minors. In 1943 he was suspended for the season after slugging an umpire, then returned to minor league managing in 1944. He turned his career around by becoming a pitcher and resurfaced in the Majors in late 1944 with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Yep, that’s Jackie Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers; the irony is stunning.  He went 5-3 mostly as a starter, then after going 3-3 in early 1945, he was sent to Philadelphia. He played a few games in the outfield in this last stage of his career, but he remained primarily a pitcher. He got into one final game with Philadelphia in 1946 and ended his big league playing career (he got into a few games for Gadsden in 1949).

By this point he was managing the Phils, having taken over about midway through the 1945 season. Philadelphia finished eighth. He got them to fifth in 1946, then back to eighth in 1947. Seventy-nine games into 1948, with Philadelphia in eighth place, Chapman was fired. Many sources blame his reaction to Robinson for his firing, and that may be true. But it’s also true his teams weren’t winning and the universal fate of losing managers is firing. His comments to Robinson may simply have been the final blow. In partial defense of Chapman as a manager, it’s not like the Phils were the 1927 Yankees or anything. They weren’t very good. Even John McGraw would have had trouble making this team a contender. Having said that, you can see the beginning of the 1950 “Whiz Kids” pennant winner starting to come together under Chapman. Del Ennis is there, Dick Sisler shows up, and finally in 1948 both Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts show up. He simply doesn’t win with them.

After retirement, Chapman sold insurance in Alabama, worked with high school baseball teams, and sat through a series of interviews, most of which wanted to talk about Robinson. He died largely forgotten in 1993.

For his career his triple slash line is .302/.383/.440/.823 with an OPS+ of 114. He had 1958 hits, scored 1144 runs, and had 977 RBIs. He hit 287 home runs, stole 287 bases (try doing that on purpose), but had a huge number of caught stealing. He ended up with 2849 total bases, and was 8-6 as a pitcher. All in all it’s not a bad career. His Baseball Reference.com WAR is 41.4. And his managerial record is 196-276. Baseball Reference.com has a similarity chart at the bottom of each player page. This tells you what other player this person is most like statistically. Interesting for Chapman, it’s Dixie Walker, the guy who started the petition to keep Robinson off the Dodgers. Funny how that works.

But of course Chapman is known for one thing, his virulent opposition to Jackie Robinson. And it has become simply the sole thing anyone knows about him. When I first saw Tudyk’s portrayal of Chapman I was stunned. Stunned not so much at the words he used on the field, but at the words he used to justify his actions. I’d heard them all my life from people I knew. “They don’t mind it. They know it’s just good-natured ribbing. They do it to us. All of us do it to each other and no body cares.” I found an interview with Chapman done in the 1970s where he still spouts the same thing. He’s also simply astounded and still shaken that no one seems to understand. In fact he never seemed to understand himself why people were repelled by his comments and actions. To me, that’s really the great tragedy of Chapman’s life and career. He never seemed to understand why he was seen as a jerk. (Or just possibly he’s fooled us all and knew exactly what he was doing and understood that his one chance for redemption was to act like he was a fool.) One of the best parts of Tudyk’s interpretation of Chapman is his ability to convey just how totally clueless Chapman was as to why he was being hounded. If Chapman had thought for even a minute about it he may have seen just how much his hounding of Robinson was much like what he himself was going through. But that presupposes a depth of self-perception that Chapman lacked.

Chapman's grave in Birmingham

Chapman’s grave in Birmingham

The White Stockings

July 17, 2013
1885 Chicago White Stockings (fourth of five pennant winners)

1885 Chicago White Stockings (fourth of five pennant winners)

All of you know the Cubs. They have a great reputation as losers. Wasn’t always so. They won, of course, in 1907 and 1908. But even before that the team won and they won a lot. There are arguably five great teams of the 19th Century professional leagues. The 1870s Red Stockings dominated the National Association. In the 1890s the Beaneaters and Orioles fought for dominance in the National League. In the 1880s the Browns ruled the American Association. The other team was the 1880s White Stockings. With a name change they are now the Cubs.

After winning the first ever National League pennant in 1876 (yes, team, the Cubs won the first pennant) Chicago slipped back into the pack for the rest of the 1870s. They were generally good, but someone else always walked away with the prize. That changed in 1880 when the White Stockings won the first of three consecutive pennants. After losses in 1883 and 1884, they picked up again winning championships in both 1885 and 1886. Although they didn’t win again for the rest of the 1880s, they remained a perennial power.

So what exactly happened in 1880 that set the Chicago team on the road to being one of the most dominant teams of the 19th Century? Well, a couple of things. Most notably, they picked up two new pitchers. In 1879 the team utilized two pitchers: Terry Larkin and Frank Hankinson. As with all of you, I asked myself, “who?”. Larkin was at the end of a career (his last season was 1880) that wasn’t bad, but also wasn’t particularly distinguished. Hankinson was essentially a third baseman that got a year in the box (no mound yet). In 1880, both men were replaced. The new guys were Larry Corcoran and Fred Goldsmith. Both were major upgrades as pitchers. The everyday players (and in that era pitchers were close to being everyday players too) were pretty much the same as in 1879, so the change in pitchers was critical. Having said that, the everyday players saw a few significant changes also.

Those everyday players included an infield of (from first to third) Cap Anson, Joe Quest, Tom Burns, and Ned Williamson. Only Burns was new and he was a significant upgrade  over departed shortstop John Peters. The outfield remained the same in both left and center with Abner Dalrymple and George Gore continuing to hold down both positions. Gone was Orator Shafer, a decent enough hitter, but his replacement was Hall of Famer King Kelly. Silver Flint stayed on as catcher.

One of the good things about studying this era is that the small rosters make for few changes in the lineup over the years. The 1880 starting eight remained intact through 1882, changing only the second baseman in 1883 (Quest was replaced by Fred Pfeffer). There were a couple of major additions to the bench in the period with Billy Sunday  taking over the fourth outfielder duties in 1883, and John Clarkson joining the pitching staff in 1884. As Cochrane and Goldsmith both faded after 1884, Jim McCormick and later Jocko Flynn joined Clarkson as the pitching mainstays.

Chicago dominated the period in the National League winning pennants by as many as 15 games in 1880 and by as few as two in 1885, In the 1885 and 1886 they faced the American Association champion St. Louis Browns (now the Cardinals) in the 1880s version of the World Series. In the first Series they played to a 3-3-1 tie with most newspapers indicating the White Stockings played better ball. In 1886, the Browns won the competition four games to two.

After 1886, the White Stockings never again won a pennant (by the next pennant they were the Cubs). They stayed close for a few years but as the players aged, were traded, or jumped to the Player’s League in 1890, Chicago fell back into the pack. But for the period of the 1880s they were a truly great team.

The Other Abner

July 15, 2013
Abner Dalrymple with Pittsburgh

Abner Dalrymple with Pittsburgh

Mention the name Abner and baseball together and I’ll bet most people will respond with “Doubleday.” It’s part of the old myth that Doubleday invented baseball. But the good general is not the only Abner to make a name for himself in the early era of the sport. There was Abner Dalrymple, and, considering the Doubleday story didn’t come out until the 20th Century, you can argue that Dalrymple was the first important Abner is baseball history.

Dalrymple was born in Wisconsin in 1857, but his family moved to Illinois during the Civil War. He was good at baseball early on and at age 14 was hired by the Illinois Central Railroad to serve as a brakeman. His real job was to play ball for the company team. He was good enough that in 1874 he started playing for local town teams in the Illinois-Wisconsin area. By 1875 he was in Milwaukee.

The year 1876 saw the formation of the National League. Two years later the NL expanded by putting a team in Milwaukee. The Grays (the team nickname) grabbed local player Dalrymple to be their left fielder. He was good, good enough to win the batting title, sort of. At the time the NL recognized Abner Dalrymple as the league batting champion. During the 1878 season, hits occurring in tie games were not counted in the official statistics. In 1968 someone noticed and when factoring them in Dalrymple lost the batting title to Paul Hines. By 1968 both men were dead, so neither ever knew.

With or without the batting title, Dalrymple had a heck of a year. Unfortunately Milwaukee had a terrible season and folded. Dalrymple ended up in Chicago as the starting left fielder and lead off hitter for one of the greatest 19th Century teams, the Chicago White Stockings (now the Cubs). In seven seasons the White Stockings won five pennants, 1880, 1881, 1882, 1885, and 1886. As lead off hitter, Dalrymple was a major factor in the team’s success. In 1880 he led the NL in both hits and runs, and was generally in the top five or ten in most major categories, twice leading in total bases. In 1885 he won a home run title. In 1883 he collected four doubles in a single game. In the 1884 season when Chicago had impossibly short fences, he managed 22 home runs, second on the team, and second all time until the 19-teens.

He is credited with one of the more infamous plays of the 19th Century. The Sox were in Buffalo (which had a NL team from 1879-1885) playing in smokey conditions. It was late, making it even more difficult to see, when a Bisons player hit a long fly with two outs and the bases loaded. Dalrymple went back to the fence, leaped, and came out of the haze with the ball to end the inning. Later he admitted the ball went over the fence and he’d hidden a ball in his shirt, pulled it out, and held it high, knowing no one would be able to tell what actually happened in the haze. Great story, right? There are several problems with it. There is no date given, no batter mentioned, the inning is left in doubt. So maybe it’s true (it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility in 19th Century ball), or maybe it’s not, but it’s still a fun story.

During Dalrymple’s time in Chicago the first “World Series” games were played. They were quite different from today’s Series, but some credit them as World Series games. Whatever you decide, they were certainly postseason games. Chicago was in both the 1885 and the 1886 postseason series. The first resulted in a disputed tie and they lost the second. Dalrymple didn’t do particularly well in either, although he had a home run in the first one.

By 1886 he was fading. He managed only 81 games that season. There was an injury, but the exact nature of it seems to be in doubt. He hit only .233 (a career low) and found himself traded to Pittsburgh. He continued to slide, but was among the middle of the pack players for the team (the Alleghenys finished sixth both seasons Dalrymple played for them). He was let go after the 1888 season. He played minor league ball in both Denver and Milwaukee. In 1891, the American Association, on its last legs and trying to expand its fan base, put a team in Milwaukee (the team in Cincinnati folded and Milwaukee was an August 1891 replacement). Dalrymple signed on as the Brewers’ left fielder. He had one last good season, becoming the only Brewers player to hit for the cycle (12 September). At the end of the season both the team and the league folded.

Dalrymple’s triple slash line reads .288/.323/.410/.732 with an OPS+ of 122. He had 1202 hits (in 951 games) for 1710 total bases (217 doubles, 81 triples, and 43 home runs). He scored 813 runs and drove in 407. His offensive WAR is 18.2. Not bad stats for a 19th Century player.

In 1883, the White Stockings scheduled an exhibition game against Toledo. When they arrived, they found Toledo was going to play catcher Moses Fleetwood Walker (generally know as Fleet Walker). Walker was black and Chicago had been led to believe Walker would not play in the game. This led White Stockings first baseman and manager Cap Anson to demand that either Walker not play or the game not be played. Eventually, the game was played (Chicago would lose a lot of money if it wasn’t) and led to Anson becoming the chief advocate for completely segregating the Major Leagues. It didn’t take long for him to get his way. I have been unable to determine Dalrymple’s stand on the matter. As far as I can tell he neither backed nor opposed Anson (at least publicly) during the controversy.

Following his big league days, Dalrymple went back to railroading, becoming a conductor for the Northern Pacific. He managed to get in minor league play during the summers of 1892-1895 when the railroad granted him 90 day leaves each year (nice of the UP, don’t you think?), then retired from professional baseball. He maintained an interest in the game, playing semipro ball as late as 1907 (age 50). He retired from the railroad in 1928 and died in Warren, Illinois in 1939.

Dalrymple grave; Warren, Illinois

Dalrymple grave; Warren, Illinois

Plaque in Dalrymple's honor in Warren, Illinois (note it gives him credit for the disputed batting title)

The Grand Experiment

February 1, 2013
Fleet Walker (far left of middle row) and Welday Walker (third ffrom left top row)

Fleet Walker (far left of middle row) and Welday Walker (third from left top row)

It’s now black history month in the USA, so it’s time for my annual journey into black baseball. For this blog it’s a very successful month. I’ve noted a major uptick in hits during February. Most of the hits are on articles involving black baseball. I ascribe this to a bunch of school kids trying to find something to write about or present for black history month. So, I think I’ll oblige all those students who need the help. Don’t take it too badly, kids, you’ll survive even this.

When Moses Fleetwood Walker died in 1924, the Brooklyn Eagle commented that his one year in the Major Leagues in 1884 was a “Grand Experiment.” Walker was black and played a single year in the Majors. The 19th Century was a tough century for black ball players. They were allowed to play, they were excluded, they were cheered, they were vilified. It was, in other words, a fairly standard period of black Americans.

The close of the Civil War may have changed the nature of freedom in the US, but it didn’t do much for the acceptance of Black Americans in baseball. Many universities were open to integrating teams, some not so much. The newly emerging professional teams and leagues tended to follow current trends. Some teams were integrated, others segregated. Some leagues were integrated, others segregated. The first truly professional league (and quasi-major league), the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, had no black players in its 1871-75 existence. I can find no evidence it was official policy to segregate the league, but when players the quality of Bud Fowler aren’t playing in the league you have to wonder.

Bud Fowler (middle of back row)

Bud Fowler (middle of back row)

The National League replaced the National Association in 1876 and things improved (sorta). As early as 1879 a black player may have been on a Major League team. On 21 June 1879, the Providence Grays first baseman, Joe Start, was unable to go. The team added a one-day replacement named Bill White to the team. White went one for four and scored a run. In 2003 SABR research noted that the Brown University baseball team had a player named William Edward White on its roster. White was of mixed race (which in 1879 American made him “black” regardless of his skin tone). They concluded that the two White’s were probably the same person, thus making White the first Black American (and only American born a slave) to play in the Majors. There is much speculation about this so don’t take it to the bank just yet.

Frank Grant while playing at Buffalo

Frank Grant while playing at Buffalo

By the mid-1880s black players like Frank Grant, a middle infielder who is in the Hall of Fame and pitcher George Stovey were excelling in minor leagues. Neither ever got a chance to play in the Majors. Fleet Walker did. He was a catcher for the minor league Toledo Blue Stockings when Toledo made the move from the Northwestern League (a minor league) to the American Association (a Major League) in 1884. Toledo finished eighth, Walker caused a great deal of controversy for not only the opposition but also within his own team. As a catcher he was supposed to be superior. If you line up his hitting stats with the other first string catchers in the 1884 American Association he ends up firmly in the middle of the pack. In 1885 Toledo, and Walker, along with his brother who played a handful of games with Toledo in 1884, were back in the minors. As a short aside, Hank O’Day, who was just elected to Cooperstown as an umpire, was a teammate of Walker’s.

After 1884 the National League (followed by the American League after its founding in 1901) became a segregated league. There was never an official written policy excluding Black Americans, but none ever showed up on either an NL or AL field during a game. Cap Anson of the Colts (now the Cubs) gets much of the blame for this. He was apparently an ardent racist and led a move to exclude blacks from the game. But it’s a little unfair to blame Anson for the so-called “gentlemen’s agreement” (considering what was being agreed to the word “gentleman” certainly seems out-of-place here, doesn’t it?). It’s not like Anson was a bastion of reaction in a sea of tolerance. The mass of players, executives, owners, and fans had to acquiesce to Anson’s views or they could not have prevailed.

By 1890, segregation in both baseball and the United States in general was firmly in place. There were still a few places where a black ball player could join an integrated team, but the number of such places was dwindling. The black response was to form all black teams that would play either independently or in leagues of their own. Some of them did well, others poorly. This system was to remain in place in to the 1940s when it would be broken down gradually and a modern integrated Major Leagues would emerge.

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.

The 50 Greatest Cubs

December 5, 2012
Billy Williams, the 5th greatest Cub

Billy Williams, the 5th greatest Cub

As a followup on the 50 Greatest Dodgers post, I found two more lists that ESPN published. Root around a little and you can find the entire list at ESPN. There are five total that I have found, Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs, and White Sox. I’ve already commented on the Yanks, BoSox, and Bums. Here are some thoughts on the Cubs list.

1. The top 10 Cubs, as listed by ESPN, are, in order: Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Cap Anson, Three Finger Brown, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg, Frank Chance, Hack Wilson, and Gabby Hartnett. Again, before anyone can ask, the first guy out of the top 10 (number 11) is Phil Cavarretta.

2. To make a complete team with a four man World Series rotation (at least one lefty) and a closer you get an infield of  Anson at first, Sandberg at second, Banks at short, Santo at third; an outfield of Williams, Wilson, and Riggs Stephenson (at number 18); Hartnett catching; a rotation of Brown, Jenkins, Hippo Vaughn (number 12 and the lefty), and Ed Reulbach (at number 13); with the closer being Lee Smith at number 24. The first player duplicating a position, and hence the DH is Chance.

3. Sammy Sosa finished 23. The little bit of commentary available notes the steroid allegations and the corked bat problem. Without them, my guess is he makes the top 10 easy and replaces Stephenson on the starting team.

4. Tinker to Evers to Chance is perhaps the most famous infield combination ever. As noted above Chance is 8th. Joe Tinker shows up at 15th (the second highest shortstop on the list) while Evers is number 30, the fourth second baseman listed (behind Rogers Hornsby at 21 and Bill Herman at 17).

5. I was surprised to see Lee Smith above Bruce Sutter (who finished 29th). I have no particular problem with that, but I thought the Cy Young Award and the split-finger mystique would move Sutter to the top of the closer list.

6. Besides Anson, there are two other 19th Century players listed, Larry Corcoran at 22nd, and Clark Griffith at 50th. That means that essentially all those 1880s Colts were excluded. I’m not sure why. The change in mound and other rules would surely have excluded Anson also, so that can’t be the reason.

7. Which brings me to the most glaring omissions: King Kelly and John Clarkson.

8. Stan Hack is very underrated at 27th on the list. I know a number of people support him for the Hall of Fame. Whether he deserves to be there or not is another question.

9. Considering the Cubs record of futility since 1908, it’s sometimes astounding to note the number of truly great players that have come through Chicago. The following Hall of Famers are on the list and have so far not been mentioned: Andre Dawson (20th), Kiki Cuyler (28th), Grover Cleveland Alexander (31st). Also Greg Maddux, a sure Hall of Fame member is 14th (and the first pitcher that didn’t make the four man rotation). Long-time manager Charlie Grimm is 26th, Charlie Root who gave up Babe Ruth’s “called shot” in the 1932 World Series is 19th, and MVP Hank Sauer is listed 37th.

10. To me the most surprising name on the list is Carlos Zambrano at 40th.

Thoughts?

The Core of the Hall: Notes

July 6, 2012

The post just below this one touches on the 50 people who I think most belong in the Hall of Fame (of those already enshrined). The public comments have been positive, but I’ve also received a handful of private comments (and emails) with questions about the list. This is an attempt to answer those.

1. SportsPhD in his comment below notes a paucity of 19th Century players and speculates that I’m purposefully leaving off players who were active primarily before the advent of the mound. He is correct. I think the change in pitching distance and motion have so effected the game that players before and after those changes must be viewed in entirely different categories. And, yes, there is a certain amount of justice in placing Campanella above Anson.

2. A number of comments have asked why so many Negro Leaguers, especially Turkey Stearnes and Martin DiHigo. I am entirely comfortable in believing that five Negro League players are among the 50 finest players ever. Look at the National League in the 1950s and you’ll note that guys like Aaron, Mays, Clemente, and Frank Robinson are on my list. I don’t think it unreasonable to believe that five players from the period 1920-1950 who were Negro League stars should be included. If you can find four in ten years, surely you can find five in thirty. As to DiHigo I placed him here because of his playing ability, his versatility, and his impact on the game among Latin players. He is instrumental on growing the game in Latin America (as is Clemente) and when coupled with his skills that puts him on my list. Stearnes is a little harder to justify and frankly was one of the last people I included. Most sources claim he is the leader in home runs among Negro Leaguers. That probably is worth adding him, even at the expense of guys like Buck Leonard and John Henry Lloyd.

3. Most people, including those who made public comment on the first Core post, indicate they might have changed a half dozen or so. Actually I think that’s really good. It means that, at least among those people who read this blog, there is a fairly solid consensus as to the top 40 or so players.

4. Someone asked if I was sorry to have to leave off current players or Hall eligible (or in the case of Joe Jackson and Pete Rose ineligible) players. Yes, I was. I’d love to put Albert Pujols on the list as well as Greg Maddux and possibly Rose although I’d have to think long and hard about Charlie Hustle. I’m not sure I see him as a top 50 without reference to the gambling issue. Maybe, maybe not.

5. I was asked “If Campanella was the last man on, who was the last man off?” The answer is Eddie Murray. I really miss putting Murray on the list and I have to admit that a personal prejudice may have gotten in the way here. I always liked Murray, but I loved Campy. I guess in the end that made a difference.

6. Someone asked “If you could cut it down to 10 who would you pick?” Pass.

All this typed for the information of those who asked. This way I don’t have to write up a dozen different responses to a dozen different emails.

The Man Who Never Knew

May 23, 2012

The first hitter to win baseball’s Triple Crown was Paul Hines, today a truly obscure player. Part of the reason for his obscurity (besides that he played so far back people don’t even know baseball was played then) is that he never knew he’d won the Triple Crown. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1960s that he was given credit for the feat. Some references still don’t give him credit. What happened, you ask? Glad you asked.

Hines was born in the nation’s capital in 1852. By 1872 (age 20) he was already a pro. He joined the Washington Nationals (not the team currently in DC) of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players in that season. The team wasn’t very good and folded after an 0-11 start. Hines, the regular first baseman, hit all of .224 with 11 hits (one for extra bases-a double). The next season Washington tried again. The Blue Legs still weren’t anything special, but Hines, shifted to center field, hit .331, had 29 RBIs in 39 games, and found a career. He finished his National Association career with Chicago putting up good years in both 1874 and 1875. He played mostly center, but as was usual for the era, played other positions, notably second base.

With the demise of the Association and the founding of the National League, Hines stayed with his old team, the Chicago White Stockings (obviously one of the founding members of the NL). He remained there through 1877, leading the NL in doubles in the league’s inaugural year (1876) and helping Chicago to the first ever NL pennant. By this point he was becoming a fulltime center fielder.

The 1878 season saw Hines move to Providence where he stayed through 1885. The Grays won two pennants with Hines in center and participated in the first postseason championship in 1884 (they won). Hines hit .250 with three walks, two hits, and an RBI in this primitive version of the World Series. Here’s a shot of the 1882 team with Hines on the left of the back row. You can click on the picture to enlarge it.

1882 Providence Grays (Hines at left of back row)

During the regular season at Providence Hines blossomed into a formidable hitter. He averaged .309 in eight years with Providence, had an OPB of .762, and an OPS+ of 143. In 1878 he won baseball’s first Triple Crown, except that he didn’t know it. His numbers stand at .358 for a BA, 4 home runs, and 50 RBIs. There were two problems. First RBIs weren’t kept as an official statistic in 1878, so it wasn’t until later that baseball found out Hines led the NL in 1878. Acknowledgement that he’d won the batting title also came later. Milwaukee outfielder Abner Dalrymple ended the season with a higher average and was awarded the batting crown. In 1968 someone realized that hits occurring in tie games were not counted among official stats in 1878. When they were added in, Dalrymple ended up at .354 and Hines was, posthumously, awarded the batting title and a Triple Crown. The next season he again won the batting title, but didn’t know about it because the award went to Cap Anson. Subsequent reasearch awarded Hines the title. So, as far as I can tell, Hines is the only player to win back-to-back batting titles and not know it.

With the folding of the Providence franchise following the 1885 season, Hines moved back to Washington, where he had two more good seasons. Then it was on to Indianapolis for two fine years with the Hoosiers. He split 1890 between Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, then moved on to Boston in 1890. His final season was 1891 with the American Association’s Washington Statesmen (is that an oxymoron?). It was also the last year for the American Association.

After his retirement he stayed on in Washington, drinking heavily and picking up a number of jobs, including a turn working in the post office at the Department of Agriculture. In 1920 (or 1922 depending on who you believe) he was arrested for pickpocketing. He died in a nursing home in Maryland in 1935.

For his career he hit .301 in the NL (.311 in the NA). His career totals include 57 home runs, 855 RBIs, and an OPS+ of 131. He led the NL in hits, home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage, and OPS once each, and in doubles, batting average, and total bases twice each. As a fielder he normally finished in the middle of the pack in most statistics, but finished as high as second in fielding percentage three times. All that in 1658 games (never more than 133 in a season).

It’s tough to know how to rate Hines. He has the same problem a lot of 19th Century players have; he plays in seasons that are much shorter than modern seasons. So his raw numbers aren’t all that impressive, but his percentages hold up pretty well. Also it’s a very different game with the pitcher closer to the batter than currently, the strike and ball counts different, the lack of gloves, and the quality of the fields. But it seems that one thing hasn’t changed. A lot of ball players, ancient and modern, don’t seem to know what to do with themselves when their career ends. Hines is certainly one of those. Is he a Hall of Famer? I wouldn’t vote for him, but I note his Baseball Reference page sponsor thinks he should be enshrined. I have to admit being somewhat wistful about him because I wish he’d known about the batting titles and the Triple Crown.

BTW the 2010 book by Edward Achorn, “Fifty-Nine in ’84” , although primarily about Charles Radbourn, references Hines occasionally. They were teammates that season.