Posts Tagged ‘George Stovey’

Leftovers

April 26, 2018

Urban Shocker as a Yankee

Every so often the Hall of Fame decides to revamp the Veteran’s Committee. Currently there are four of them and I wouldn’t hold my breath if they moved that to five or to three between now and the next meeting later this year. That alone should tell you how difficult it is to determine exactly what the parameters are for electing members of the Hall.

One of those committees, which is supposed to meet only once in 10 years, is the really old timers committee that looks at players prior to the advent of Jackie Robinson in the big leagues. You might name it for me, the Geezer Committee. But the very fact that it is meeting only once in 10 years is to me a hopeful sign that the Hall has finally determined that they have, more or less, all the people from the pre-Korean War period that should be enshrined in Cooperstown. But of course, you know the committee is still going to meet and we also know that the Hall of Fame gives the committee a ballot (almost always with 10 names on it) to vote on. So I began to wonder what that list might look like. Yeah, I know I have too much time on my hands, but having just dodged the end of the world (or missed the rapture) I’m free again to take that time to think about such things as the veteran’s committee, Geezer edition. Here’s something of a semi-educated guess that may or may not have much to do with what the real ballot will look like (Is that wishy-washy enough for you?). This is strictly a guess and you may feel free to snicker at it, laugh aloud, curse it, or comment on my sanity as appropriate. In this I make no comment on whether the person should be or should not be in the Hall of Fame. In no particular order:

1. Daniel “Doc” Adams-is one of he founders of the sport and seems to be the most well-known. Duncan Curry, William Rufus Wheaton, and a host of others could be here as representing the people who codified the game, but Adams is probably the best know and hence most likely to be on such a ballot.

2. Bud Fowler-is probably the best 10th Century black player currently not in the Hall of Fame.

3. or maybe it’s George Stovey. Fowler was an infielder, Stovey a pitcher.

4. As the committee is now allowed to look at the period beginning in 1871 rather than 1876, it opens up the list for Ross Barnes. Barnes was a terrific hitter in the old National Association and for a few years in the new National League.

5. Joe Start played for the Atlantic in the 1860s (they were the Yankees of their day) and was one of their stars. He moved to the Association, then to the NL and continued playing into his 40s and into the 1880s. Helped Providence to a pair of pennants and to a victory in the first ever postseason series against the American Association in 1884. It was sort of an early version of the World Series. Very few players can say they gave quality play for three decades.

6. Sam Breadon owned the Cardinals from 1920 through 1947. When he took over they hadn’t won a championship in the 20th Century. By the time he retired, they were the dominant franchise in the NL.

7. Wes Ferrell is probably not in the Hall of Fame because he has a huge ERA. But the new fangled stats make it easier to see that he was a very good pitcher in a hitting era (and he could hit a little too).

8. Bucky Walters was one of those guys who started at one position (third base) and transitioned into a quality player at another position (pitcher). He won an MVP, a World Series, and, like Ferrell, could hit a little.

9. Urban Shocker may be the most overlooked pitcher of the late 19-teen and the 1920s. He pitched well enough in the Deadball Era, then moved successfully into the hitting era of the 1920s (and he played for the ’27 Yankees who have everybody else except the batboy in the Hall).

10. Candy Jim Taylor was a superb player, then became a manager and ultimately took over the reins of the Negro League Homestead Grays during their most successful period in the 1940s. Obviously he should not be confused with Jim Taylor, the fullback for the Vince Lombardi Packers of the 1960s.

So there it is, a solid guess at what the really Old-Timers Veteran’s Committee list will look like when it’s published a couple of years from now (and the least likely players to actually show up are probably the Negro League guys). By then, this should be well hidden on this blog and most of you will have forgotten you ever saw it. That may be for the best.

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Midway

July 3, 2015

The selection of the Class of 1917 marks the mid-point of the My Own Little Hall of Fame project. I began it last year in March and intend to go through this year and finish in December next year with the 1934 class. Here’s a summary of some of the things I’ve discovered.

1. I have a much greater appreciation of how hard it is to be a Hall of Fame voter. I fully expected I would be able to simply look through some newspapers, a few journals, the contemporary guides, and come up with a quite obvious Hall. Oops. It actually takes a lot to make the determinations necessary to elect a Hall of Fame. If you do it right, or at least attempt to do it right (which is all I’ll admit to) it gets complicated fast. What stats are available? Which matter? Why? I’ve been very critical of the Hall of Fame voters on a number of occasions. I’ve discovered that it’s harder than it looks (which doesn’t mean the actual voters haven’t made mistakes). I have a new respect for those voters who are trying to get it right (which is different from all voters).

2. So far I’ve elected 52 members, or about 3 a year. By contrast the real Hall of Fame elected 62 members in its first 17 years (about 3.6 per year). So I’m actually being a bit more conservative than the real Hall voters. That kind of surprises me. I thought I’d probably end up adding more than the real Hall.

3. The number of people added each year has dropped. That makes sense. Any newly established institution like the Hall of Fame is going to begin with a backlog of quality candidates for membership. It takes a few years to clear that backlog, but once it’s gone, then the number of newly eligible quality candidates should, in most years, be considerably fewer. In my case that’s been absolutely true.

4. I’ve made it a point of  doing two things that the real Hall doesn’t do. First, I elect at least one for each class. There is no requirement the real Hall do so. Second, I’ve added three Negro League players already (Bud Fowler, Frank Grant, and George Stovey). I know that probably wouldn’t happen in 1917 and with the rise of racial tensions after World War I  it certainly wouldn’t happen between 1920 and 1934. However, I still intend to buck that and add Negro League players as I feel appropriate. It just seems like the right thing to do.

5. I was initially concerned with the number of “Contributors” I was adding. These are people added because of something they did for baseball other than play the game (William Hulbert, founder of the National League, is an example). Then I got to looking over the real Hall’s inductees in the first several years and noted they also added quite a number of “contributors” early. The number of contributors elected by Cooperstown has decreased in the last 40 or so years (although there are still several). As I look at my preliminary list of contributors going out to 1934, I note that I’ll probably be electing fewer also because the first couple of generations of contributors will be pretty much gone and the new group is, as a whole, less impressive (which does figure).

6. It’s interesting, and frankly obvious, how uneven the quality of players available in a given year becomes. Some years there are an entire list of quality candidates, not all of which will make it, but all of which will deserve study. Other years I simply want to say, “Yuck.” Of course that was destined to be true, because all the good players don’t retire at once and not every year has a bunch of good players leave the game. It does help to clear some of the backlog, but I’ve found it too tempting to simply add someone because he’s the best available guy not because he’s truly a Hall of Fame caliber player. I’m sure I’ve slipped up a time or two and let someone in based on that, but I try to watch it closely.

7. I knew that statistics were going to vary, but, frankly, was surprised by how much. From a preliminary look forward, that seems to start changing in the 1920s, especially with the Elias Sports Bureau’s arrival (maybe I should look at Al Munro Elias a bit more closely as a Hall of Famer). It does make it difficult to determine exactly who should get in my Hall because every time I look to hang my hat on a particular stat it changes. For instance, RBIs aren’t yet an official statistic and what I find concerning RBIs changes. I have to admit I sometimes go to Baseball Reference.com to determine which number is the one I should use. It’s not quite fair, but it does make it easier for me. When I do, I have to resist the temptation to look at the newer stats (OPS+, WAR, etc.). They weren’t even thought of yet and I don’t want to be influenced by them.

8. It has been an education for me to do this. I’ve had to read stuff I didn’t know existed, had to sort through things that sometimes were contradictory, had to almost flip a coin occasionally as to what do I believe. And it’s astounding how quickly the pioneers (pre-1876) guys have disappeared.

9. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve had to determine how much “fame” mattered over “greatness”. I’m still not sure I know the answer to that last. Go back a couple of months and look at my comments on John McGraw and you’ll get a feel for the structure of the question itself. It first manifested itself in trying to determine why Bill Lange, a 19th Century outfielder with Chicago, was so utterly famous (he’s now very obscure). I looked at his numbers and they were good (I even fiddled around with his newer SABR-style numbers, which aren’t bad–123 OPS+, five years of 3.5 or more WAR in a seven year career) and he came off as a very good player, but I wasn’t sure he was great. It began to dawn on me that the two things (famous and greatness) were not interchangeable and that came to a head in the John McGraw problem. That may be the most profound observation I’ve discovered on this project (and profundity from this site should scare you to death). If I ever figure out the complete answer, I’ll have a book (and a number of you telling me I got it wrong).

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1912

February 2, 2015

February begins Black History Month in the US. I normally take the month and use it for a yearly journey into whatever I’ve found concerning the Negro Leagues or other versions of black baseball. I also use the first post of each month to introduce the newest members of My Own Little Hall of Fame, which is a look at how a Hall of Fame begun in 1901 rather than the 1930s might have looked. It seems I’m able to combine both this year.

Kid Nichols

Kid Nichols

Charles “Kid” Nichols served as the primary pitcher for National League championship teams in 1891, 1892, 1893, 1897, and 1898. With the National League Boston franchise he won over 350 games, leading the league in wins three times. He won 30 or more games on seven occasions.

Sam Thompson

Sam Thompson

Samuel “Sam” Thompson was an outfielder for both Detroit and Philadelphia of the National League. Between 1885 and 1898 he led the league in batting and triples once, in doubles and home runs twice, and in hits three times. In 1894 he hit .415.

George Stovey

George Stovey

George Stovey was a colored pitcher who played in both segregated and integrated leagues between 1886 and 1897. A left-hander, he was considered the premier colored pitcher of his era.

Now the commentary:

1. Again I have used the word “colored” to describe a black ballplayer. From what I can tell, the word “Negro” doesn’t come into common usage in newspapers and digests until the end of World War I, or about 1920 (about the same time Rube Foster founds the Negro National League). That being the case, I will make my change over for the 1920 class, if it is necessary.

2. I am well aware that there is no chance of Stovey making a 1912 Hall of Fame and that if there was he could have been elected earlier. I choose to include Negro League players despite the normal custom in 1912 so he gets in. I purposefully left him until 1912 so I could include him during Black History Month. It should be another 10 or so years before the big names that began 20th Century black baseball arrive on the Hall list. Then there will be a lot all at once.

3. Nichols was one of the easiest calls I had to make. You can decide who you want to declare the best pitcher of the 19th Century, but whoever you decide, Nichols will have to be in the debate.

4. Thompson had all those numbers the early 20th Century baseball types loved, lots of hits, high average, and lots of extra base hits. He also had a bunch of RBIs, but it’s still a difficult number to pin down so I left it off.

5.  Next year Jake Beckley and Bobby Lowe are the most significant players eligible for the Class of 1913. Among contributors John T. Brush arrives on the scene. There are no significant pitchers arriving in 1913. I’ve decided to cut the list of holdovers to either 10 or 20 in any given year. If you can’t make my top 20 everyday players, top 10 contributors, or top 10 pitchers you have no business being considered for a Hall of Fame.

6. Everyday players now on the list for 1913 are: Jake Beckley, Cupid Childs, Lave Cross, Gene DeMontreville, Patsy Donovan, Jack Doyle, Hugh Duffy, George Gore, Paul Hines, Dummy Hoy, Bill Lange, Arlie Latham, Andy Leonard, Hermann Long, Bobby Lowe, Tommy McCarthy, John McGraw, Cal McVey, Dave Orr, Hardy Richardson, Mike Tiernan, George Van Haltren. A total of 22. I have to either add 2 to the Class of 1913 or drop 2 from the list.

7. For pitchers I have the following: Bob Caruthers, Dave Foutz, Brickyard Kennedy, Bobby Mathews, Tony Mullane, Gus Weyhing, and Will White. A total of 7. None will have to be taken off for 1913.

8. The contributors, with Brush added, are: Brush (owner), Jim Creighton (who may have been the 1st professional and may have invented the fastball/ or maybe not), Candy Cummings (early pitcher who may, or may not, have invented the curve), Bob Ferguson (early 3rd baseman, manager, and umpire), John “Bud” Hillerich (of Louisville Slugger), Lip Pike (early power hitter), Henry C. Pulliam (NL President), Al Reach (player, owner, Reach Guide), Chris von der Ahe (owner), William R. Wheaton (wrote oldest set of rules available–1837). To reach 10 I dropped Henry Chalmers, of Chalmers Motors, who provided the first MVP Awards. As far as I can tell he didn’t do much else with baseball, so I cut him loose.

9. I’ve figured out how to handle the John McGraw problem mentioned in previous posts. Will let you know more next time.

Who Got Left Out?

February 28, 2014
"Cannonball" Dick Redding

“Cannonball” Dick Redding

Back in 2006 the Hall of Fame created a special “Veteran’s Committee” to look at Negro League baseball and determine if there were players, owners, managers, executives, and/or others that had been ignored by Cooperstown. A great deal of research went into the files handed to the committee. For the layman, the most important bits of the research was published as Shades of Glory. A panel of baseball historians eventually came up with a list of 94 African-Americans involved with baseball prior to 1946 for the committee (now called the Committee on African-American Baseball) to look over and pass judgment on. Of that list, 39 made the initial cut. The committee then selected 17 for enshrinement in Cooperstown. After all the hoopla of induction and fuss and feathers about who got in and who didn’t, a great stillness settled over the Hall. It was as if they were saying, “OK, team, we’ve done our bit. We put in a bunch of people, so now that’s all. There won’t be anymore.” Of course they never really said that, but any push to add further Negro League players or executives has come more from fans than the powers that be.

So it’s a fair question to ask what about the 77 nominees who didn’t make the cut in 2006? Are they now relegated to the dustbin of history or do they have a chance to make the Hall at a later time? Another question that needs to be asked is this, have we truly reached the end of those Negro League players who should be commemorated in Cooperstown?

If you look over the list of 77 non-inductees (and it’s available on Wikipedia under “Baseball Hall of Fame Balloting, 2006”) there are some really fine players being pushed to the sidelines. Where, for instance, are Bud Fowler and George Stovey, arguably two of the three finest black players of the 19th Century (Frank Grant, who made it, being the other)? Spottswood Poles was an excellent fielding, and not bad hitting outfielder in the early part of the 20th Century. Between 1911 and 1919 “Cannonball” Dick Redding was 40-20 in documented games, a .667 winning percentage. Bill Gatewood was almost as good. In the formal Negro Leagues of the 1920s through 1940s Newt Allen played middle infield, managed, and eventually moved to third base for the Kansas City Monarchs in a career that saw him play in the 1924 Negro World Series and the 1942 Negro World Series. John Donaldson was a crack pitcher for years, then became the first fulltime black scout in MLB when the White Sox signed him in 1949. And then there is Buck O’Neil, manager, first baseman, scout, coach, batting champion, and spokesman for the Negro Leagues.

It seems appropriate to end Black History Month (and my yearly journey through black baseball) by asking what do we make of these men being left out of the Hall of Fame? Perhaps nothing. Their stats are blurred, they are in many cases more legend than fact. But they were real players and they played at the highest level they were allowed. Maybe none of them are Hall of Fame quality players. In O’Neil’s case he is more than worthy as a contributor and ambassador, but maybe some of them are of sufficient quality as players. What I don’t want to see is the Hall of Fame now grow complacent and say “Well, we’ve got enough of these guys. Close the door.” I hope that the Veteran’s Committee that reviews the “Segregation Era” (pre-1947) will continue to look at Negro League players and eventually induct a few more.

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 George Stovey

May 18, 2012

George Stovey about 1890 (best picture I could find)

1. He was born George Washington Stovey in 1866 in New York (or maybe Philadelphia) to an unknown father and a woman of “mixed race” which in 1860s American made both he and his mother black. There is some question whether his name was Stovey or Stover.

2. He grew up playing in integrated semi-pro leagues around Williamsport, Pennsylvania where he became a premier left-handed pitcher.

3.In 1886 he joined the Cuban Giants, one of the first significant black barnstorming teams.

4. In June of the same year he joined Jersey City of the Eastern League, a professional minor league. He became the league’s first black player.

5. The next year he pitched for Newark with Moses Fleetwood Walker as his battery mate. Fleet Walker was the first black player to join a Major League team (in 1884).

6. During the 1887 season the Eastern League, the International League, and other minor leagues voted to ban the signing of further black players to their leagues. Stovey, Walker, and a handful of other black players were allowed to finish the season with their teams.

7. For the next several seasons he played off and on with the Cuban Giants in the Mid-States League (which was still integrated). He jumped from team to team almost yearly, a common activity for a ballplayer, especially a black ballplayer, in the era.

8. He finished his career in 1897 with the X-Giants and retired to umpire.

9. He became, during the 1897 season, the second black man to umpire a game between two white teams (Jacob Francis was first). He umped off and on into his 50s.

10. Retired, he did a lot of things including help create youth league teams, run moonshine during Prohibition (which got him in trouble with the police), and work in the local sawmill.

11. He died of a heart attack in 1936.

12. By general agreement he is considered the finest black pitcher of the 19th Century, but statistics on his career are almost impossible to find. His stats for 1886, the only year for which they are at all complete (according to Baseball Reference), give him a record of 22-20 with an ERA of 1.44, 69 walks, 246 strikeouts, and a WHIP of 1.004. Various sources give him 60 to 100 total wins, but apparently only the 1886 season is verifiable.

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Frank Grant

June 27, 2011

Frank Grant while at Buffalo

1. He was born in 1865 in Massachusetts and named Ulysses Franklin Grant. Being black and born immediately after the Civil War, it is possible he was named for Union General U.S. Grant, but that can’t be confirmed, at least as far as I can determine.

2. His parents were both from Massachusetts and freemen, an unusual combination for 1860s America. Both were alleged to be of mixed race, which in 1860s American made them “colored” (bet you can guess which color).

3. He was 5’7″ and weighed 155 pounds, making him big for a middle infielder of the era.

4. He joined the Eastern League’s Meriden, Connecticut team in 1886, one of three black players in the league (Moses Fleetwood Walker and George Stovey were the other two). He hit .316 over 44 games, most at second base (although he pitched three times going 0-1). The team disbanded in July and Grant ended up with Buffalo, playing in Olympic Park at the Northeast corner of Richmond and Summer Streets (I know some people in Buffalo and thought they might like to know the location of the park.).

5. Race was already becoming an issue. He was refered to by his own team as either “Spanish” or “Italian” in order to lessen the problem. As an aside this seems to be a subterfuge as late as the early 20th Century when John McGraw hired at least one black player and called him an “Indian.”

6. In May 1887, Grant hit for the cycle. That same season, the International League (Grant’s league) voted to ban the hiring of more black ball players, but “grandfathered” Grant and the handful of blacks already in the league. Most leagues began banning black players about the same time and didn’t bother with the “grandfather clause.”

7. In 1888 Grant held out for a salary of $250 per month (not bad pay in 1888), which is great chutzpah considering the just completed vote on race. He got the money and ended up playing 84 games and hit .346.

8. In 1889 he joined the Cuban Giants, one of the first Negro League teams. The Giants wandered in and out of the minor leagues for the next several seasons. Grant stayed with the Cuban Giants off and on into 1891, when he signed with the Gothams, another black team. He went back to the Cuban Giants in 1892 and remained there through 1897. This kind of team jumping was fairly common among Negro League players of the era. And here I’m using “negro league” in a more generic sense, rather than refering to the more well established leagues that begin in the 1920s.

9. The end came at age 38 after the 1903 season. At the end of the season he participated in what some refer to as the first Negro League World Series (it isn’t generally credited as such). His team lost.

10. He’s credited with inventing shin guards in order to keep white players from ripping up his legs when they slid into second base. Unfortunately, a couple of other black players (Bud Fowler is one) are also credited with the invention. I have no idea who really did it.

11. He died in 1937.

12. The Hall of Fame selected him for enshrinement in 2006, one of several Negro League players brought in at the same time.

As is usual with black ballplayer who spent their careers in the Negro Leagues, stats are hard to come by. That’s especially true for 19th Century players who only had options in the black leagues or the minors. There’s not much in the way of statistical information on Grant, but there seems to be a consensus that he was among the finest black players of the century, if not the finest (it’s usually a fight between supporters of Grant and supporters of Fowler with a smattering of Walker fans thrown in). Second base was a weak enough position in the 19th Century anyway (except for Nap LaJoie at the very end of the century), so some people make the case for Grant as the best second baseman of the century. Maybe, but I’d like to see a little more statistical information before I buy off on that.