Posts Tagged ‘Charley Jones’

The First National League Power Hitter

March 26, 2013
George Hall

George Hall

One of the great things about the start-up of a new league is that everyone is a rookie (sorta). Another great thing about it is that no matter who it is or what it is, the guy who finishes first in a category is automatically the all-time league record holder. The next season he may be relegated to the scrap heap, but for one year he is the greatest who ever was. Such is the story of George Hall.

George W. Hall was born in March 1849 in Great Britain and came to the United States with his parents. He was good at baseball and by 1871 was considered good enough to be picked up by the Washington Olympics of the newly formed National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. He was a left-handed outfielder who also hit left-handed. He was a better than average fielder for the era, leading the Association in putouts and double plays while finishing in the upper half of the league in range and fielding percentage. But he was also a fine hitter. In 32 games he had 40 hits, three of them doubles, three triples, and two homers. He scored 31 runs and knocked in 17. His OPS+ was 114, the lowest he would have for his entire career.

The Olympics finished 15-15 (with two ties) and folded nine games into the next season. Hall, meanwhile moved to Baltimore where he played for the Canaries in both 1872 and 1873. Baltimore finished second and third those two seasons, with Hall being one of their best players. In 1874 he moved to champion Boston where he won his only pennant. The next year he was with Philadelphia. Again he did well enough with the Athletics to be considered an excellent player, but he was not in the absolute upper tier of Association players.

After the 1875 season the Association folded. At that point Hall was a career .311 hitter with an OPB of .321, a slugging percentage of .431, and OPS of .753 and an OPS+ of 133. He had 353 hits in 244 games with 273 runs scored and 181 RBIs. He amassed 489 total bases, including 46 doubles, 33 triples, and 8 home runs.

In 1876 the National League was formed. Hall and the Athletics joined. It was here that he made his mark. He hit .366, slugged .545, had an OPS of .929, and OPS+ of 204. He also set the NL record with five home runs, none after July. No one else on the team had more than one.  Charley Jones (the subject of the post just below) was second with four homers. A number of players tied for third with two home runs (including Hall of Fame players Cap Anson and Jim O’Rourke). It was the only offensive category in which he led the league.

Philadelphia had failed to finish the last Western road swing of the season and was tossed from the league. Without a team, Hall was picked up by Louisville for the 1877 season. He hit well enough (.323), but didn’t come close to his five homer total. There is some dispute about whether he had one or zero home runs in 1877, but he didn’t repeat as home run champion (Baseball Reference lists no home runs).

But Hall had a bigger problem than his lack of power. Late in the 1877 season the Grays were in contention for the pennant, then collapsed. Boston ultimately won the championship with Louisville finishing second.  An investigation determined that at least four Grays players, including Hall, were paid $25 a game to throw games down the stretch. Hall admitted to throwing exhibition games, but not league games. Nonetheless other information implicated him in throwing league games. He was thrown off the team and later banned from Major League baseball for life.

It’s very hard to track Hall after 1877. He asked Harry Wright for a chance and was turned down, but beyond that he seems to have stayed away from baseball.  He died in New Jersey in 1923 and is buried in Brooklyn.

How good was Hall? As usual with mid-19th Century players, it’s hard to determine. He plays seven seasons but only appears in 365 games. That’s just over two modern seasons. It’s also a much different game; a game where a power hitter can win a home run title with five home runs. He is 28 when he is banned. In current baseball that’s just entering a player’s prime. In the 1870s he was already getting old. He seems to have been a good enough player, but not a true star. Because he threw games in 1877, we’ll never know how much better he might have been with a full career.

Hall's grave in Brooklyn

Hall’s grave in Brooklyn

The Mystery Man

March 22, 2013
Charley Jones

Charley Jones

It’s a given that 19th Century ball players are obscure. Most of them are merely names on long lists of stats or on old roster sheets. But even for 19th Century ball players, Charley Jones is inordinately obscure. I’ll go so far as to admit that prior to December of last year, I’d never heard of him.

Charles Wesley Jones was born in North Carolina in 1852 as Benjamin Wesley Rippey. He is so obscure I can’t find out when or why the name change occurred. It may or may not have anything to do with his baseball career. He seems to have been the first Major Leaguer from North Carolina. He arrived in the National Association in its final year (1875), getting into 12 games with the Keokuk Westerns and a single game with Hartford. He managed to hit .255 without a walk and with only 13 hits. Six of the hits (two doubles and four triples) were for extra bases. That got people’s attention and when the National Association folded, Jones had no trouble finding a job.

He ended up with Cincinnati in the fledgling National League where he hit .286 with four homers (second in the NL). It was the last time he hit under .300 until his banishment (wait just a minute, please). He spent 1877 and 1878 with Cincinnati (with two games for Chicago). In 1879 he went to Boston (the Braves, not the Red Sox) where he set the single season record for home runs with nine. In 1880 he became the all-time Major League leader in home runs with 23, besting Lip Pike by two.  Along the way he’d led the NL in home runs, runs scored, walks, and RBIs once each. In 1880 he became the first Major Leaguer to hit two home runs in one inning. Then the bottom fell out.

During the last road trip of the season, Jones refused to play. He claimed he hadn’t been paid. As with most teams of the era, pay checks were issued by Boston at the end of each home stand, not at the first of the month. This kept teams from having to lug around large amounts of cash if the end of a month occurred during a road trip. Jones claimed he was paid per month and wanted his monthly salary. The team suspended him for failure to play, and withheld the next check. Jones sued and won in court. He got his money, but Boston suspended him again and this time blacklisted him. Unable to play in the National League, he spent 1881 and 1882 playing in both the minors and an outlaw league.

In 1882 the American Association was formed. They initially agreed to honor NL contracts and blacklists. By 1883 that changed and one of the new league’s first acts was to allow Jones to sign with Cincinnati. He was 31 and still good. He won an RBI and OBP title with Cincy, had his career high in home runs with 10, and had 200 or more total bases twice. In 1884 he hit three triples in a game (the third man to do so). Despite losing the two seasons to a blacklist, he held the all-time home run title through the 1884 campaign, giving up the honor in mid-1885.

His career was faltering by 1887. He began the season in Cincy, but was traded mid-season to the New York Metropolitans. He hit three final home runs and for the first time his OPS+ dropped under 100 (all the way to 88). He had one last Major League season, playing six games for the Kansas City Cowboys, then was through. He umped a little in the 1890 Player’s League and in 1891 in the last year of the American Association. His baseball career over, he dropped totally out of sight.

For his career, his triple slash numbers are .298/.345/.444/.789 with an OPS+ of 150 in 894 games. He had 1114 hits resulting in 172 doubles, 102 triples, 56 home runs, and 1658 total bases. For his career he scored 733 runs and had 552 RBIs. He was a decent enough outfielder finishing first in fielding percentage, range factor, and put outs a few times.

By the time the Hall of Fame was formed, he was totally forgotten. As late as the 2007 Sports Encyclopedia: Baseball he is listed simply as “deceased.” No one seemed to know what happened to him. He was truly a mystery man. As I said earlier,  I have to admit that I’d never heard of him before the 2012 Veteran’s Committee elected Deacon White to the Hall of Fame. That forced me to find a new candidate for my “best 19th Century player not in the Hall of Fame.” In doing research for that project, I ran across Jones. By then he’d gotten a death date.

 In 2011 a researcher found information on Jones’ last days. He died in New York 6 June 1911 and was buried in Queens (his grave is mentioned on the “Find a Grave” website). There wasn’t much else, but at last baseball fans finally knew what happened to one of the early National League’s premier sluggers.

Harry Stovey

March 20, 2013
Harry Stovey

Harry Stovey

If you’re clever, you’ve discovered a pattern in my last few posts. I’m looking at the guys who held the all-time home run title before Babe Ruth. According to Baseball Reference, there were six of them: Lip Pike, Charley Jones, Jim O’Rouke, Harry Stovey, Dan Brouthers, and Roger Connor. If you don’t count the National Association as a Major League (which MLB doesn’t, but Baseball Reference obviously does), the list changes to  add in people like George Hall. I’m sticking with the Baseball Reference list. I’ve done posts on Pike and O’Rouke previously and just added Brouthers and Connor. So today is Stovey’s turn.

He was born Harry Stowe in Philadelphia in 1856. By 1877 he was playing for the Defiance of Philadelphia and the Athletics. His mother didn’t like him playing ball, so he changed his name to Stovey to decieve her (don’t know how well it worked). By 1878 he was playing for the New Bedford Clam-Eaters (God, don’t you love old time team names?). He stayed through 1879 picking up a reputation as a good player and also picking up a wife.

In 1880 he was signed by the Worcester Ruby Legs (another great team name). He stayed with the team until it folding in 1882, winning both a home run and triples title in his rookie campaign. In 1883 he transfered, along with much of the Worcester roster to Philadelphia. With the Athletics he became a premier American Association player. He led the league in runs scored four times; in home runs three times; in triples twice; and in RBIs, stolen bases, doubles, total bases, and slugging once each. In 1883 the A’s won the American Association pennant with Stovey as their best player. The 19th Century version of the World Series didn’t begin until the next year.

In 1890 he joined most of the leading players of the day by jumping to the Player’s League. He proceeded to win the league’s only stolen base title with a career high 97. He had one final great year in 1891 leading the National Leagie in triples, home runs, total bases slugging, and in strikeouts with a career high 69. His team, the Boston Beaneaters (another great 19th Century team name), won the NL pennant that season. He hung on through 1893 playing for Boston, Baltimore, and Brooklyn.

Retired from the Major Leagues, he played and managed a little in the minors, then joined the New Bedford police force in 1895, rising to captain in 1915. He retired from the force in 1923 and died in 1937.

For his career he had 1771 hits and scored 1492 runs in 1486 games split between first base and the outfield (about two to one ratio in favor of the outfield). He had 347 doubles, 174 triples, 122 home runs, and 2832 total bases. His triple slash numbers are .289/.361/.461/.822 with an OPS+ of 144. He was considered an average fielder in his day. His teams won two pennants in his 14 year career.

There’s never been much of a push for Stovey to be enshrined in Cooperstown, and perhaps there shouldn’t be. He has the problem (as does a player like Pete Browning) of having played a long time ago for the American Association, which is generally considered the weaker of the two leagues. But he deserves to be remembered because between 1885 through 1894 (with a two year exception when Brouthers took the title) he was the most prolific home run hitter in Major League history.