Posts Tagged ‘Deacon White’

Narrowing my Options

December 1, 2016

As I’ve mentioned before I used to be one up on the Hall of Fame. For years I spouted on and on that the best 19th Century player not in the Hall of Fame was Deacon White. I was right. I was sure I was right. And I was sure the Hall of Fame committees were a bunch of idiots (maybe I’m still right about that one). Then the damned Hall elected the Deacon and there I was without a best player of the 19th Century not in the Hall of Fame.

So I’ve been on a multi-year quest to find the current best 19th Century player not enshrined in Cooperstown. I’ve periodically kept you up on this trip through that far gone time. And now it’s time to do so again. I’ve gotten it down to two players. But first, I want to discuss a possible third candidate for the job.

Bud Fowler

Bud Fowler

Bud Fowler is easily, at least in my opinion, the best Negro League player of the 19th Century not in Cooperstown. I use the words “Negro League” but I am referring to the segregated teams and leagues that flourished (or didn’t) in the 19th Century, not the more familiar “Negro Leagues” of the 20th. There are other contenders like George Stovey, Fleet Walker, and others (Frank Grant is the only 19th Century black player currently in the Hall of Fame), but Fowler seems to be the best. As with all black ball players of the era there is almost no information of a statistical nature available to compare him to his contemporaries, either white or black. So his record is unknown, and probably unknowable. Is he the best 19th Century player not in the Hall of Fame? The answer is “possibly.” But I can’t prove it. It requires an amount of intuition I’m not willing to use to state “yes,” so he remains the great unknown for me in dealing with this project.

Now, the final two contenders, in alphabetical order:

Ross Barnes

Ross Barnes

Ross Barnes was one of the finest players in the era of the National Association (1871-75) and for a couple of years in the National League. It’s easy to argue that Albert Spaulding was the finest of all NA players, but Barnes was only a small notch below him. Along with guys like Andy Leonard and Cal McVey, Barnes ranked as the best hitter in the NA. His career prior to 1871 is a bit foggy, but it is evident that he was a good player and his NA stats are excellent. He flames out after a couple of NL years (the reason is somewhat murky and is ascribed to a couple different causes), but what stats we have show he was not done when the NA collapsed. Because almost all his great seasons are with the NA and the powers-that-be in baseball don’t want to recognize the Association as a big league, he’s gotten scant support for the Hall. Hopefully the new Vets Committee that now begins in 1871 will change that at least a little.

Joe Start

Joe Start

Joe Start both predates Barnes and plays long after Barnes is gone. If Barnes’ stats are foggy, Start’s are absolutely pitch black. He begins his career in the 1860s with the Atlantic of Brooklyn, helps lead them to championships in the era of the American Civil War, then joins the National Association with the Mutuals, and finishes with the Providence Grays in 1886 at age 43. He stays in baseball at the highest level from prior to the Civil War through the first of the 19th Century’s playoff series’ in 1884. His NA stats are good, his NL stats even better. What’s missing are his pre-1871 stats. There is general agreement that he was one the best players the Atlantics had in the 1860s, but there’s no information to indicate just how good he was in the period. The team won a lot, but Start wasn’t their only good player and exactly how much influence he had on the team’s ability to win is debatable. Of course we also have to deal with the problem that the Atlantic played fewer than 50 games a season.

So that’s where I am now. Hopefully, I can make a final call at some point, but I wanted to keep you advised on an issue I’m certain you were just dying to know how it was going. I’ll get back to you when/if I know more. You may feel free to disagree (and be wrong).

 

 

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The Catcher Question

October 27, 2016
Buck Ewing's Hall of Fame plaque

Buck Ewing’s Hall of Fame plaque

Recently somebody asked me who I thought were the greatest catchers ever. I made the appropriate reply, “Got me.” I think that rating catchers is the hardest rating job in baseball (well, maybe pitchers). The position is so different and so many factors that don’t weigh on other positions come into play that I don’t think any of us have yet come up with a definitive set of statistical information to answer that simple question.

There are a lot of reasons this is true. Let me give you one quick example: Buck Ewing. How good was he? It is evident from the information we have that he was a great, great player. But he was a great, great player in a game that was different from the modern game. Ewing’s career spans the 1880s and 1890s and for almost all the 1880s and the first part of the 1890s pitchers were restricted on how they could throw, and however they threw, they didn’t do it from a mound 60″6′ away from a home plate that was shaped differently than the modern one. Also, Ewing is a catcher. And that really does matter. “The tools of ignorance” are still evolving today and in the 1880s were in their infant stage. His glove might have kept his hand warm in winter, but wasn’t going to do much else. There was some padding, but not much. According to SABR, the catcher’s mask was an Ivy League invention of the mid 1870s and was essentially an adaption of the fencing mask. The chest protector comes in the early 1880s and is sometimes credited to Deacon White (again according to SABR). Flimsy is the operative word here. So how good was Buck Ewing at doing his fielding job? Well, the numbers show him not bad for 1880, but simply lousy for today. And part of that has to do with the equipment he’s using. And that’s a major problem with comparing catchers. The equipment today is just better.

We also have to deal with a factor of American history: segregation. By general consensus the best Negro League catchers were (alphabetically) Josh Gibson, Biz Mackey, and Louis Santop. How good were they? Again, “Got me.” I have some records available, but they are spotty and almost all of them are hitting, not fielding records. At the current stage of our knowledge we can determine that the Negro League catchers were good, but exactly how good is still a question.

And for course for catchers, fielding matters. Most people who saw both Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski play will tell you that Yaz was the better fielder. And nobody cares. If you hit like Williams no one cares if you can catch, they’ll find a place to play you (Hello, Harmon Killebrew). Greg Maddux was a superior fielding pitcher and no one ever said that about Randy Johnson. Why? Because deep down inside no one cared. Maddux was there to pitch and if he could field well then that was gravy. Johnson had less gravy but did his main job more or less as well and that’s what mattered. It doesn’t work that way with catchers (and shortstops). You have to be able to field your position and with all the work that SABR and Bill James and the various stat guys have done, fielding stats are still a work in progress, and catching stats are less far along than other positions (probably because there are so many more to consider).

Until these problems are solved answering the “greatest catcher” question is at best a crap shoot, although by now we can call it a more “educated” crap shoot than it used to be when I was a kid. I am comfortable in saying that almost all the “greatest” catchers played since World War II (with possible exceptions like Ewing, Gabby Hartnett, and the 3 Negro Leaguers I mentioned above). Beyond that I’m shooting craps with everyone else.

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1904

June 2, 2014

Time for my monthly addition to My Own Little Hall of Fame. This time it’s the Class of 1904. Without further nonsense, here’s the list followed, as usual, by the commentary.

Henry Chadwick

Henry Chadwick

Henry Chadwick

One of the true “Fathers of Baseball.” New York sportswriter who popularized baseball through his columns and coverage in newspapers. He is credited with inventing the box score as well as a number of other statistics.

"Pud" Galvin

“Pud” Galvin

James “Pud” Galvin

Most wins of any pitcher. Most innings pitched of any pitcher. Had a long career with both Buffalo and Pittsburgh while playing in three different Major Leagues. Never pitched from a mound.

Jim O'Rourke

Jim O’Rourke

“Orator” Jim O’Rourke

Hit .310 over a 21 year career extending from 1872 through 1893. Member of three National Association champions and of the 1877 and 1978 Boston National League pennant winners. Won the 1884 National League batting title. Member of the 1888 and 1889 National League pennant winning New York Giants, hitting .306 with two home runs in postseason play.

Mickey Welch

Mickey Welch

Mickey Welch

Won over 300 games, most with the Giants. Had 40 wins once, 30 three times, with 345 strikeouts in 1884. Won pennants with the Giants in both 1888 and 1889.

Deacon White

Deacon White

James “Deacon” White

First great professional catcher. In 1871, he had the first hit in an all professional league. Later in his career he moved to third base. Won batting titles in both the National Association and the National League. His teams won three National Association pennants and an equal number of National League pennants.

And now the commentary.

1. How much did baseball writers know about Henry Chadwick’s work in 1904? I was surprised at how well he was known. Of course he was still alive in 1904, so that helped. But a lot of sports writer’s seemed to know about the box score. About the other stats I’m not as sure.

2. What took so long on Galvin? Well, as I’ve mentioned before, it seems that Galvin’s accomplishments had fallen off the face of the earth. Here’s a guy with more wins and innings pitched than any other 19th Century pitcher and he seems to be overlooked. Much as you find few people today who place Cy Young (who has more wins than any other pitcher) at the top of the pitching pecking order, preferring Walter Johnson or Lefty Grove or Rogers Clemens or someone else, Galvin (who has the most wins of a 19th Century pitcher) seems to find few writers who extolled his greatness. So I’m comfortable with holding him until 1904.

3. Deacon White lived until 1939 and was still active in 1904 as a manager and coach for a variety of minor league teams. I was surprised how much I found about him (although there was a lot more on other players). In various places he’s credited with catching innovations that are also credited to others. I decided to ignore those. Interestingly, the “first hit in an all professional league” honor didn’t seem to be all that well-known. As early as 1904 there seems to have been at least a bit of mixed feeling about calling the National Association a “Major League”.

4. So, who did you agonize over most? Well, I didn’t actually “agonize”, but I thought longest and hardest about O’Rourke and Welch. O’Rourke is one of those players that I’ve always felt was overrated, but when I looked at his hits, games, total bases, doubles, and membership on pennant winning teams, I decided he would probably have made it (possibly even earlier than 1904). He was still active in baseball in 1904 (he was a coach), even playing in a game for the Giants (the last one of the season). He hadn’t played in MLB since 1893 so I decided that if the election occurred in January (as it does presently) O’Rourke would remain retired when the election was held. As mentioned above, he was a coach for the Giants, but also had extensive ties to the minors, and was well enough known and liked that I could see him sliding into a 1904 version of the Hall of Fame. Besides, it gave me a chance to allow a living (as of 1904) member of the Hall of Fame to actually appear in a Big League game.

5. But Welch was different. He was distinctly the weaker of the two great Giants pitchers (Tim Keefe being the other). There were a lot of pitchers from the 19th Century that were probably as good but played for weaker teams. I looked at some of the more modern stats to see if I was just imagining it, but had to dismiss them as they were unavailable for 1904 era voters. Ultimately, I decided that era voters would probably be dazzled enough by the 300 wins that he’d get in without a lot a problem. I just wish I was more comfortable with his inclusion. BTW he was also still alive in 1904.

6. Where’s Delahanty? Ed Delahanty died in 1903 in a fall from the train bridge. Being dead there was no chance of him playing in 1904 (Is that the most obvious statement I ever made or what?) so he could be eligible for election. I thought about it seriously because I knew whatever I decided would impact what I do in 1910 with Addie Joss. The circumstances of Delahanty’s death were such that one could argue that the death was avoidable and thus he shouldn’t be given a waiver. On the other hand it was an era of sports reporting that tended to gloss over a player’s failings so I don’t know if the circumstances were universally known to regular fans. Realizing that most writers (the actual voters) would know the circumstances, I decided to hold him until he is otherwise eligible in 1909. Not sure it’s the right choice, but I have to make one. Without wanting to totally commit to it, my guess is that I’ll let Joss get in early since his death was of natural causes (he had tubercular meningitis), assuming he gets in at all let alone on the first try.

7. The 1905 class is going to be interesting. There are few just “have to” people left to put in and none of them come eligible in 1905. So I’m going to concentrate on the American Association (which doesn’t mean only Association players are getting in). For almost all their post-demise history, the two Associations (National and later American) were ignored by the later writers. To make it worse, the AA was considered much the weaker league so that hitting .320 in the AA didn’t mean quite the same thing to contemporaries as hitting .320 in the NL (this will greatly affect Pete Browning). I’m going to have to try to find out if there’s a way to figure out what the likely voters in 1905 thought of the players in the AA (by today, the only players with significant time in the AA enshrined in Cooperstown are Bid McPhee and Tommy McCarthy). By 1905 it had been over a  decade since the AA had played a game and I don’t know how much the writers who would have voted in 1905 knew about the Association. By something like 1915 it would have been 25 years since the Association played and many of the writers would never have seen an Association game. It seems to me that getting AA players in to a 1901 era Hall of Fame would have to come fairly quickly or time alone would dim the chances of the players. That convoluted enough for you?

 

A Year’s End 9 Inning Celebration

December 31, 2013

So the year is ending, is it? Well, good riddance to bad rubbish. In many ways 2013 was a lousy year. The weather, the politics, the expenses, my wife broke a leg (which is now healed fine). But baseball provided some good moments. Here, in honor of nine innings and in no particular order, are some moments, both good and bad, that I remember.

1. The Dodgers made the playoffs and promptly hashed it. If you’re a Dodgers fan like me, this is a good sign.

2. The Miguel Cabrera/Mike Trout controversy stayed around. Isn’t it great that there are two players this quality in the Major Leagues today so we can debate the meaning of greatness?

3. Biogenesis. Who ever heard of them? I wish the whole PED issue would just go away, but I know it won’t.

4. Mariano Rivera did finally go away. That’s the wrong kind of going away. Never a Yankees fan, but it was a joy to watch Rivera perform. He was good, he had class, he had style. Name five other players you can say all that about.

5. The Red Sox won the World Series. OK, I’m not a BoSox fan either, but they’re a good team, a good organization, and David Ortiz is one heck of a hitter.

6. Clayton Kershaw proved why it’s now alright to mention his name in the same breath as you mention Sandy Koufax’s.

7. Albert Pujols proved mortal again. I hope it’s not the end of the line for the finest first baseman I ever saw.

8. Mike Matheny got his Cardinals to the World Series. Finally he can begin to move out from under Tony LaRussa’s shadow.

9. The Hall of Fame put in Deacon White and Jacob Ruppert, both of which I’d been pushing for, but left out everybody else except an ump and three managers. Are you kidding?

Hopefully, you have your own list of nine. These are mine. May you have a better 2014 than you had a 2013.

Thoughts on Enshrining 3 Managers

December 10, 2013
Baseball's newest Hall of Famers (from MLB.com)

Baseball’s newest Hall of Famers (from MLB.com)

So the Veteran’s Committee has put Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, and Joe Torre into the Hall of Fame. Although I stated earlier I wouldn’t vote for Cox myself, I have no problem with the three making it to Cooperstown (as if the Committee cares what I think). Here’s a few thoughts on the newest election.

Again, Marvin Miller failed to make the Hall of Fame. According to reports the three winners were unanimously elected and no other candidate received more than six votes (out of 18). I’m surprised that Miller got at most six votes. There were six players on the committee, but I have no idea if any or all of them voted for Miller. So Far I’m unable to find out exactly how many votes anyone other than the three managers received.

And it’s not at all strange that a player was not elected. I went back to 2000 (the entire 21st Century, depending on what you do with 2000) and looked at the Veteran’s Committee inductees. It’s an interesting group. First, I need to remind you that the Committee was, for a  while, not a yearly institution, so in some of those 15 years there was no Committee and thus no one had a chance of election. For the purposes of this comment, I’ve excluded the 17 Negro League players and executives elected in 2006 because they were elected by a separate committee set up specifically to enshrine Negro League members. Only four players have been elected. They are Bill Mazeroski, Ron Santo, Bid McPhee, and Deacon White. Two of the players span the 1960s, the other two play in the 1800s. On the other hand, the Committee has elected two Negro Leaguers (Turkey Stearnes and Hilton Smith), seven managers (including the three just chosen), and seven contributors (executives, commissioners, umpires, etc.). So recently, the Veteran’s Committee has been shorting players.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. It may mean that we’ve almost gotten to the end of those players who genuinely deserve Hall of Fame status. It may mean that the selection committee will continue to put up players and the election committee will continue to turn down almost all of them. I want to see what the various ballots look like over the next dozen or so years (remember there are 3 committees, so a dozen years would be four of each). If the same people keep making the list and keep failing election it should indicate that the various Veteran’s Committees have determined that the era for which they vote is devoid of quality candidates for enshrinement. Of course evolving lists and new stat methods can change this very much. The problem is that the pressure to elect someone, anyone, can be great. After all if you go five years without electing someone, then people begin to ask “why do we have a Veteran’s Committee?” This could lead to more marginal players elected or, more likely from what we’ve seen lately, more managers, umpires, owners, and executives making the trek to Cooperstown for enshrinement. Although I admit that the contributors have a major role in baseball and should be commemorated in Cooperstown, let’s not get carried away and start putting in everybody who ever umped a game or owned a team.

I also found out something about the Veteran’s Committee rules. According to MLB.com the members of the committee are restricted to voting for not more than five candidates (like the writers and the 10 candidate rule). As with the writers ballot this tends to depress the election results, which may not be bad, but I really wish they’d let the committee members vote for as many as they want. After all, they can vote for as few as they want, including no one.

So congratulations to Cox, LaRussa, and Torre. Now we wait for the Spink and Frick Awards and the big ballot writer’s selections. Those should be interesting, particularly the latter.

The Pride of the Association

July 29, 2013
Browns third baseman, Arlie Latham

Browns third baseman, Arlie Latham

I’ve contended on this site that there are five true dynasties in the 19th Century: 1870s Boston Red Stockings, 1880s Chicago White Stockings, 1880s St. Louis Browns, 1890’s Boston Beaneaters, and 1890s Baltimore Orioles. Over the years I’ve done posts on four of them. It’s time to take a look at the last, the Browns.

First, to clarify something, this team has nothing to do with the American League St. Louis Browns who are now in Baltimore as the Orioles, which are also not the 1890s Orioles. The 1880s Browns played in the American Association, a league that no longer exists. The team is still around but it’s now the Cardinals (got all that?).

The American Association put a team in St. Louis in 1882. Owned by Chris von der Ahe, a local beer mogul, the team became a contender in 1883, finishing second. It slipped to fourth in 1884, then dominated the Association for the rest of the decade. With the small rosters of the era, much of the team remained consistent through the entire period.

Pat Deasley did the bulk of the catching in 1883 and 1884. In 1885 Doc Bushong took over as the primary backstop with Deasley going to the Giants. Bushong remained with the team through 1887, spending the first two years as the primary catcher and backing up Jack Boyle who remained the starter into the 1890 season. None of them were particularly distinguished, although Boyle did manage to crack 23 home runs over 13 years.

the infield corners consisted of Charlie Comiskey at first and Arlie Latham at third. Comiskey doubled as manager and was considered an above average fielder for is day. He wasn’t an especially good hitter. Latham led off, scored a lot of runs, stole a lot of bases (pre-1900 definition of stolen base), and was generally considered one of the more obnoxious players in the league by his opponents. For most of the era  Bill Gleason handled short. He led the Association in putouts and assists a couple of times, but also led in errors. By the end of the period (1888 and 1889) Bill White (obviously not the 1960s Cardinals first baseman) and Shorty Fuller replaced him. Neither are much remembered today and neither especially deserves to be recalled. Second base went through a series of players. George Strief, Joe Quest, and Sam Barkley all spent one season at second (1883-1885). In 1885 Yank Robinson  showed up as a utility infielder. By 1886 he had the second base job holding it to 1890. His average wasn’t all that great, but he walked a lot and scored over 100 runs four times (three with St. Louis).

There was great consistency in the outfield also. Hugh Nicol held down one corner spot from 1883 through 1886. He was another player whose average wasn’t all that high, but who scored a lot of runs and was considered a fine fielder by 1880s standards. He left for Cincinnati in 1887 and was replaced by first Bob Caruthers (see more on him in the pitcher section of this post), then by Hall of Fame outfielder Tommy McCarthy. The other corner slot was held down, after the 1883 season, by Tip O’Neill. O’Neill is one of the handful of players who can legitimately be called the best 19th Century player not in the Hall of Fame. He hit .326, won the triple crown in 1887 (.425 average, 14 home runs, 123 RBIs), led the Association in hits, average, and RBIs a couple of other times, and was deemed a so-so outfielder. The center fielder in 1883 was Fred Lewis, an early switch hitter who hit .296 for his career. He was replaced in 1885 by Curt Welch, who wasn’t as good at hitting, but was a better outfielder. Welch was gone by 1888, replaced by Harry Lyons in 1888. Lyons managed to hit all of a buck-94 and 1889 found Charlie Duffee in center. A rookie, Duffee managed to lead the Association in strike outs.

As usual with 1880s teams, the pitching staff showed a lot of turnover. Pitchers threw a lot of innings and many of them didn’t last all that long. The 1883 team featured Tony Mullane (who just appeared on the latest Veteran’s Committee Hall of Fame ballot). It was his only year with the team. Jumbo McGinnis Served as the two pitcher. McGinnis stood 5’10” and weighted 197 pounds, hardly a “Jumbo” by today’s standards, but a big man in 1883. He had good years in both ’83 and ’84, then his career came unglued. Dave Foutz joined the team in 1884, replacing Mullane. He remained through 1887 winning 114 games (told you these guys pitched a lot). In 1885 he was joined by Caruthers (see the outfield above). Caruthers remained through 1887 (he and Foutz both went to Brooklyn) winning 106 games, playing 86 games in the outfield (and 23 at first), and hitting .357 with eight home runs in 1887. In 1887 Silver King showed up, earning a spot in the rotation when Caruthers was in the outfield. He became the ace the next season and remained with the Browns through the 1880s. He won 203 total games, 113 with the Browns.

St. Louis finished second in 1883, fourth in 1884, then ran off four consecutive pennants, They finished second in 1889 and had two more good years, although the team changed in 1890 due to the Player’s League. The 1880s produced a proto-World Series and the Browns were involved in one each of the years they won pennants. In 1885 they faced the Chicago White Stockings. Foutz went 2-2, Caruthers 1-1, and the seventh game was a disputed tie. In an 1886 rematch, they defeated Chicago four games to two with O’Neill hitting .400 and blasting two home runs. In 1887 the Series consisted of 15 games with Detroit (a team that included newly elected Hall of Famer Deacon White) winning 10 games while St. Louis picked up only five wins (they played all 15 games, although Detroit got to eight wins quickly). Finally, in 1888 the Giants beat them six games to four. Giants pitcher Tim Keefe set a record by winning four games in postseason play.

Throughout its existence, the American Association was usually viewed as the weaker of the two professional major leagues (the National League being the other). that’s probably true. But that weaker league did produce one of the truly great teams of the 19th Century in the 1880s St. Louis Browns.

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.

The Thin Red Line

December 27, 2012
Gee Walker

Gee Walker

As most of you know, I’m very pleased that Deacon White finally made the Hall of Fame. But did you look at who actually got in this time? You have a player who got the first hit in the history of the National Association, the first truly professional baseball league; an executive; and an umpire. Good for all of them. But if you look closely at the nominees for the period 1876-1946 you’ll see we are beginning to approach the thin red line of 1920-1946 players.

The thin red line is my phrase (it’s actually a British military phrase from the Crimean War)I use to denote the line beyond which you are beginning to elect players to the Hall of Fame who don’t deserve to be enshrined. Some (including me) might remark that in a couple of cases we’ve already slid below the line.  But the players in Cooperstown are already there and I can’t see taking anyone out.

Take a look at the players from the 1920-1946 era that were just nominated for Cooperstown: Marty Marion, Bucky Walters, Wes Ferrell. Are they truly the best players from the era not in the Hall of Fame? Maybe they are. I could make a case for them (and I could make a similar case for others). I could also make a case for keeping each out of Cooperstown (and could make similar cases for others). And that makes them “thin red line” candidates. Here’s a full team (eight position players and three pitchers) whose career is primarily in the 1920-46 era:

infield (first around to third): Hal Trosky, Marty McManus, Marty Marion, Harland Clift

outfield: Ken Williams, Gee Walker, Bob Johnson

catcher: Wally Schang (who actually plays quite a lot in the 19 teens)

pitchers: Wes Ferrell, Bucky Walters, Paul Derringer

Not a bad team, right? Put them all together and you’re going to win a lot of games.

But is this a team of Hall of Fame quality players? Maybe yes, maybe no. I wouldn’t be overly upset if any of them were elected, but it also wouldn’t bother me if none of them were chosen. They epitomize the “thin red line” of the Hall of Fame. Let them in and I might reply “OK, I guess”. Keep them out and I might reply “OK, I guess.”

My point in all this is that it appears the Hall of Fame has finally mined the 1920-1946 era of all the truly qualified players. What’s left are guys that are marginal at best and the idea of “marginal Hall of Famers” is really kind of silly, isn’t it? But my concern is that the Hall is desperate to hold the big ceremony every summer and to do that you must have someone to enshrine. If the writer’s don’t elect anyone (and with the weird ballot this year they might not) then the veteran’s committee nominees become critical. I’m afraid the Hall may put pressure on the Veteran’s Committee (a much smaller group) to “Put in someone, anyone, so we can at least get Deacon White’s great great grandchildren here to celebrate.”  And if that happens then every time we get to the 1876-1946 era the players from the 1920-46 period will be players that touch the “thin red line” of the Hall. That means we’ll be getting 19th  Century and Deadball Era players or marginal 1920s, 1930s, 1940s players making the Hall. The first two are fine by me, there are certainly enough decent 19th Century and Deadball players worth considering. But the latter worries me. We don’t need to lower the red line any further.

The Hall of Fame is out to GET Me

December 9, 2012
Pete Browning about 1877. Is this the best 19th Century player not in Cooperstown?

Pete Browning about 1877. Is this the best 19th Century player not in Cooperstown?

Alright, I’ve had enough of this. I’ve decided the Hall of Fame is picking on me specifically. They chose Deacon White for the Hall of Fame. “But, wait,” I hear you say, “Didn’t you support White for the Hall? Didn’t you call him ‘The Best 19th Century Player not in the Hall’?”  That’s exactly the problem.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to pick a “Best 19th Century Player not in the Hall”? Do you? For 10 years I could wake up with the comfort of knowing I had White and the Hall didn’t. I wasn’t going to have to sweat over a big thick book of  stats or stare at long columns of numbers online. I wasn’t going to have to read florid journals written in 19th Century style about base ball (19th Century spelling). I was able to simply get up in the morning and go about my business.

But then the Hall of Fame struck. It aimed its barb directly at me and elected White. My God, Cooperstown, how fair was that? What were you thinking?

Now I have to go back to the books, the long columns of figures, the 19th Century journals, and start a new search for “The Best 19th Century Player not in the Hall.” Do you have any idea how hard that’s going to be? I’ve going to have to go over the career of the likes of  Tommy Bond and Bob Carruthers, of Mike Tiernan and Harry Stovey, of Pete Browning and Cal McVey. And that’s assuming I leave off guys like Bill Dahlen who spent about half their career in the 20th Century or guys like Joe Start who played for the Atlantic in the 1860s.

Curse you, Cooperstown, for complicating my world. I take it personally (there’s no paranoia in my family; I have it all).

Three for the Hall

December 3, 2012

MLB just announced the results of the pre-integration Hall of Fame committee’s vote. Elected to the Hall of Fame were Jacob Ruppert, Hank O’Day, and Deacon White. That brings the total Hall membership to an even 300, according to the article. Ruppert was owner of the Yankees in the “Murder’s Row”, “Bronx Bombers” period and built Yankee Stadium, O’Day was an early National League umpire who is perhaps most famous for his participation in the “Merkle Game” of 1908. White was a 19th Century catcher and third baseman whose final season was 1890.

I’ve written a couple of posts on this year’s Vet’s Committee election and you can find info on all three there. If you do, you’ll understand that I am pleased by the choices. I would have chosen both Ruppert and White and mentioned that although I had no idea how to evaluate an umpire for Hall of Fame purposes, I had no problem with O’Day’s election.

According to the article Ruppert and O’Day each received 15 votes and White 12. Twelve votes were needed for election. Bill Dahlen received 10 votes and no other candidate received more than 3 votes. Congratulations to the family of each man.