Posts Tagged ‘Charles Radbourn’

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.

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1902

April 1, 2014

Another month, another look at My Own Little Hall of Fame. It’s time for the class of 1902. For those of you who’ve forgotten (or don’t know how to scroll down the page), the class of 1901 was: Ross Barnes, John Clarkson, William Hulbert, Tim Keefe, and George Wright. With all appropriate bells and whistles, here’s the class of 1902.

Dan Brouthers

Dan Brouthers

Dan Brouthers was arguably the finest hitter of the 19th Century. He had a career average of .342 with 2292 hits, 771 for extra bases. He led the National League in hits three times, in doubles twice, and in both triples and home runs once each. He led his league in total bases four times. In 1887 he helped his Detroit team to both a pennant and a win over the American Association champion Browns in a postseason series. His team also won the 1890 Players’ League championship and the 1894 National League championship. From 1892 through 1894 he was the all time Major League leader in batting average.

 

King Kelly

King Kelly

Mike “King” Kelly was one of baseball’s first superstars. During his career he played every field position, including pitcher, where he posted a 2-2 record. Primarily known as a hitter he hit .308 for his career with 1813 hits and 1357 runs scored. He led his league three times in runs scored, once in doubles, and twice in average, peaking at .388 in 1886. He helped Chicago to pennants in 1880 through 1882 and again in 1885 and 1886, then won pennants again with the 1891 and 1892 Beaneaters. He also managed Boston in the Players’ League to the league’s only championship. He is additionally famous for having invented the hook slide for baserunners, racking up 84 stolen bases in 1887.

 

Charles Radbourne

Charles Radbourn

Charles “Ole Hoss” Radbourn was the ace pitcher for 1884 pennant winning Providence. Won 60 games for the team, then three more in postseason series against the Gothams. He led the National League in wins twice, in ERA once, in winning percentage twice, in strikeouts twice, and in shutouts once. Never threw from a mound, but was a master of the box. Except for a stint in the Players’ League he won all his game in the National League.

 

Al Spaulding

Al Spaulding

Albert Spaulding was the premier pitcher in the National Association, leading the Association in wins each year of its five year existence. He also led the National League in wins its opening season. He led his league in shutouts four times and his .795 winning percentage is the highest ever. His team won four consecutive pennants in the Association and the first NL pennant in 1876. After his career ended he managed and owned the Chicago National League club. His sporting goods company published the first official Base Ball rule book.

Harry Wright

Harry Wright

Harry Wright was the premier manager from the origins of professional baseball into the 1890s. He managed and played center field for the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. With the founding of the National Association his teams won four consecutive pennants. In the National League he won pennants in 1877 and 1878 and finished second three more times.

And now some thoughts on this list.

1. Brouthers was the easiest choice. When I initially planned this project, I presumed my first class would be Anson, Brouthers, Connor, Ewing, and either Clarkson or Keefe. Then I discovered that none of the position players would have been eligible in 1901. So as soon as Brouthers became available, he went in without a qualm. I believe he is one of the two or three best hitters in the 19th Century.

2. I didn’t realize I was putting in three members of the Players’ League Boston team until I began to look up the specifics on my preliminary list. It’s a fluke that three people from that team are on this list. It did ease any questions I had about choosing Harry Wright over John Montgomery Ward. With Ward’s association with the union and the Players’ League, I decided to put him off for another day lest this list look like nothing more nor less than an homage to the Players’ League.

3. Having said that, I was fairly sure Wright was going to be my contributor. He’s the first great manager and is credited with a number of innovations (cut off men for instance). I couldn’t find anything like definitive proof that he’d done any of those things, so they were not listed in my short comment on him.

4. Spaulding? Well, he’s a major contributor, but I’d already put Wright in that spot (although by rule I’m allowed two). But Spaulding was also a heck of a pitcher in a league where his team dominated and the pitcher wasn’t the factor he is today. But he was still the best pitcher in the Association, so he went in.

5. I found a bunch of stuff dedicated to Kelly. I don’t mean modern sites, but articles and commentary of a contemporary nature that made me believe he was easily the most well-known player of his era. He was also good, so that got him over the hump. As to whether or not he invented the hook slide, he certainly was getting credit for it in the era.

6. Which leaves Radbourn (whose name is spelled a couple of different ways). What  I could find (like Reach Guides, etc.) that actually gave him a number in 1884 gave him 60 wins. I know that number is no longer accepted, but it seems that when a number was given in 1902 it was 60. So I used it. I’ll remind you that there are plaques currently in Cooperstown that have erroneous info on them (for instance, Walter Johnson’s win total).

7. All of which brings me to two items that are unique to the era and to trying to do my Hall this way. First is the entire question of Monte Ward. The year 1902 was a year in which labor unions were looked upon with utter disdain. That means the idea of adding to a Hall of Fame a rabble rousing union organizer is about as absurd as adding a black man. But we all know Ward is terrifically important. If I’m to keep with the policy of putting in people who might reasonably get into a Hall of Fame in 1902, Ward can’t make it (and can’t get in until sometime in the 1930s, probably). The 1903 class is pretty much set in stone (Heck of a class), but 1904 is the next time I have to look at Ward and as much as I think he deserves to be remembered, I doubt he’ll get in. The other issue is what to do with Billy Sunday. A friend of mine dropped me an email asking if I’d considered Sunday as a contributor. Frankly, I hadn’t. But Sunday was one of the most well-known ball players of the era. He was instrumental in convincing people that a ballpark was a proper place to take your wife and children (although Mathewson was probably more important in this regard) for an afternoon’s entertainment. Is that enough to put him in? I still don’t think so, but it did remind me how differently people in 1902 looked at ball players and baseball than we look at them today.

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.

The Little Steam Engine

July 26, 2010

Pud Galvin

The other day, prefatory to doing my post on Cy Young, I looked over the list of 300 game winners. Most of the modern ones are fairly well-known, as are most of the ones who pitched in the early part of the 20th Century. That’s not as true of the 19th Century pitchers. Most have fallen into obscurity. The recent book on 1884 has brought back Charles Radbourn and both Welch and Keefe pitched in New York for pennant winners. Clarkson pitched for the Cubs and Kid Nichols gets a lot of votes as the best 19th Century pitcher. So if I had to pick a 300 win pitcher and call him the most obscure, it would be James “Pud” Galvin, the winningest pitcher of the 19th Century.

Galvin was born Christmas day 1856 in St. Louis. In 1875 he began playing for the hometown Browns of the National Association (the only Major League at the time). He got into eight games as a pitcher, going 4-2, and played a handful of games in the outfield, hitting .130. The Association folded the next season and Galvin disappears from the Major Leagues until 1879. Between the two big league appearances he pitched for the International League team in Buffalo. In 1879, Buffalo joined the National League and Galvin stayed in the majors through 1892. Early on he picked up the nickname “The Little Steam Engine”, the first of a number of pitchers compared to trains. Walter Johnson (The Big Train), and Nolan Ryan (The Express) come immediately to mind.

He played for Buffalo into the 1885 season when he was sent to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys in the American Association. In 1887, Pittsburgh moved to the National League and Galvin remained with them through 1889. In 1890 he jumped to the fledgling Player’s League (joining the new team in Pittsburgh), then returned to the Alleghenys when the Player’s League collapsed. He went back to St. Louis (now the Cardinals) toward the end of 1892, then retired. At retirment he was the winningest pitcher in Major League history. He died in March 1902 in Pittsburgh. The Wikipedia article on him indicates that the nickname “Pud” was an abbreviation for “Pudding”, which is what his pitches turned hitters into. I’ve been unable to track down a better explanation.

Galvin seems to be the first of the PED boys. Apparently he took an elixir that contained monkey testosterone to help him stay in shape and sharp. There are a lot of jokes to be made here about arm length and hair and such. I think I’ll simply mention the fact and let it go at that.

Galvin pitched far enough back that many of his numbers are in dispute. I’ve taken the newest baseball encyclopedia numbers for use here and recognize that when the next version comes out they may be different. For his career Galvin had 361 wins, 308 losses (for a .540 winning percentage), with 5941 innings pitched. He gave up 6352 hits, walked 744 and struck out 1799. For all that he had a 2.87 ERA in 697 games, 681 of them starts. His teams never won a pennant or a postseason series. In his career best seasons of 1883 and 1884 he won 46 games each year, leading the league in innings pitched in 1883 with 656, and threw a league leading 12 shutouts in 1884. In 1883 he tied the all time record (with Will White) for the most games pitched and started in a season with 76 games and 75 starts.

Galvin is very difficult to evaluate. For one thing, he never pitched a big league game at 60’6″. He’s one of only two 300 game winners to do that (Radbourn is the other). How he would have done at the modern distance is simply unknowable. Additionally, the ball and strike counts varied during his career. Sometimes there were four balls and three strikes, sometimes there were more. Throw in the differences in equipment and fields and you have a pitcher doing his job in conditions that are alien to us. Having said all that, there are still a few observations that can be made. He gave up more hits than innings pitched, which is never a good thing. His walks to strikeout rate is pretty good (2.4 strikeouts per walk) for the era without being great. He got a lot of wins (and losses) but pitched in an era when two pitchers was fairly normal and one single hurler could occasionally dominate a team’s statistics. Bill James in his Historical Baseball Abstract does not list him among his 100 greatest pitchers and the WAR statistic puts him 27th between Don Sutton and Curt Schilling (and two below his contemporary rival Radbourn).

Link, Kinda

April 8, 2010

Listen, guys, I’m not very good at getting this link stuff right, but there’s something you need to see. Over on the right of this page is a “blogroll”. The second entry is DMB. Click on it and read his review of the new book on Charles Radbourn and the 1884 season. Sounds like a good book.

1884

March 30, 2010

Most baseball seasons go along pretty much the same. Very few of them end up being particularly memorable except for a few diehard fans, bloggers like me, and antiquarians whose job it is to study them. Case in point: who won the World Series in 1933? OK, if you looked it up you know the Giants beat the Senators in five games. If you went further, you found the MVPs, the stat leaders, and maybe a bit of info like it was the first All Star Game. But almost everybody had to look it up. But 1884 is different and memorable. It is arguably the most interesting year of  19th Century baseball for five reasons.

1. There are three leagues. It’s the first time the country tried to deal with three major leagues. As with the other two attempts (1890 and 1914-15) it was a failure. Henry Lucas was a son of wealth in St. Louis. A fan, he decided to form a new league to compete with the existing leagues (National League and American Association). There’s some dispute about his motivation. Some works cite his anger with the reserve rule (which bound a player to a team) and others favor something akin to an ego trip. Whichever you pick (and I tend to agree with ego trip) Lucas founded the Union Association in 1884. It lasted one season, was a disaster, and floundered almost immediately. The team in St. Louis ran away with the pennant going 94-19. If you add that up, it equals 113 games. The original schedule called for 112 games (got me, coach). Other teams managed records of 69-36, 58-47, but still others were 8-4, 2-6, 6-19, and 2-16. The team in St. Paul was the 2-6 team. It was in such bad shape it folded before ever playing a home game, the only major league team to never play before a home crowd. The competition was utterly uneven, and some teams never played each other (Winner St. Louis never played Milwaukee, the 8-4 team).  St. Paul obviously played almost no one. There were teams in Wilmington, NC and Altoona, PA., both nice enough towns, but not big enough in 1884 to support a big league franchise. Atloona managed to survive 25 games and Wilmington only 18. At the end of the season, the league was gone. You could argue it gave the major leagues one very good player (Tommy McCarthy) and that’s all. Bill James in his Historical Abstract  argues that the Union Association is not really a major league. I tend to agree with him. Major League Baseball doesn’t.

2. Charles Radbourn had the greatest season ever by any pitcher in the majors. Radbourn pitched for the Providence Grays. Early in the season the team’s other pitcher, Charlie Sweeney, bolted to the Union Association. Radbourn at that point agreed, for contractual and monetary considerations, to pitch every inning of every game for the remainder of the season. Well, it didn’t work out that way, but it came close. Read the following numbers closely. For the year Radbourn was 59 (or 60)-12 with 73 complete games, 441 strikeouts, 98 walks, 11 shutouts, and an ERA of 1.38 in 679 innings (not a record. The record is 680 by Will White in 1879). In fairness to modern pitchers, Radbourn wasn’t on a mound, and wasn’t 60’6″ away. His delivery was sidearm, and he could take a short run before releasing the pitch. Still, it’s a heck of a year. About the 59 (60) business. There are differences in the way wins were determined in 1884 and the modern method. Under the old way Radboun gets 60 wins, under our contemporary method he gets 59. So the modern Major Leagues recognize 59 wins, while his colleagues saw 60. I leave it to you to determine which you prefer. Me? Well, 60 is a nice round number.   

3. The first postseason playoffs were held in 1884. Radbourn led his Grays to the NL pennant by 10.5 games. Meanwhile, the New York Metropolitans (not the modern Mets) won the American Association title by 6.5. They challenged the Grays to a three game set, all to be played in New York, to determine a champion for the year. The Grays accepted and Radbourn continued to pitch as he’d done in the regular season and Providence won all three games with Radbourn pitching complete game (what else?) victories giving up no earned runs. The first “World Series” ended with a National League victory.

4. There was a home run explosion at Chicago. The park in Chicago was a little odd. The fences were short, less than 200 feet to right field. Previous seasons balls going over the fences were ruled doubles. In 1884, the team changed the rule to make them home runs. The White Stockings put up astronomical numbers by 19th Century standards, coming up with 149 homers in 112 games. That’s a team record that lasts until 1927 and the Murder’s Row Yankees. The big winner was Ned Williamson, the third baseman, who set a 19th Century record with 27 home runs, all but two at home. Three of his teammates, second baseman Fred Pfeffer, first baseman Cap Anson, and outfielder Abner Dalrymple also posted 20 or more home runs. Dan Brouthers of Buffalo hit 14 for the most of any player outside Chicago. The next year the White Stockings moved to a new park and Dalrmyple’s league leading 11 homers were the most by any of the Chicago four. It took until Babe Ruth in 1919 to best Williamson’s record.

5. Integration first occurred in 1884. The American Association Toledo Blue Stockings hired Moses Fleetwood Walker to be their catcher. Fleet Walker was a black American and the first to play in the Major Leagues. I’ve done a previous post on him, so will simply say here that he wasn’t well received (maybe the understatement of this blog ever) and was gone after the season ended. His brother Welday also got into five games (all in the outfield) and was gone at the end of the season. It took until 1947 for Jackie Robinson to reintegrate the big leagues.

So there’s 1884, it’s not so famous today. It is, after all, a long time ago. But it’s still one of the most important and interesting seasons in Major League history.

BTW there’s a new book out on the season that is supposed to center around Radbourn and his accomplishments. I haven’t read it, but if anyone has, I’d appreciate a quick review if possible.