Posts Tagged ‘Herman Long’

Long and Lowe

July 9, 2010

Bobby Lowe (left), Herman Long (right) with Fred Tenney (standing) and Jimmy Collins (seated center)

Some things just go together. Take pepperoni and pizza. Try bacon and eggs. Think Big and Mac.

Baseball’s like that too. Some things just go together. Jeter and Cano, Groat and Mazeroski, Tinker and Evers. See, don’t you just sort of think of one when you think of the other? Way back in the 1890’s there was another of those: Herman Long and Bobby Lowe.

Herman Long was a shortstop for Kansas City in 1889. He moved to the Boston Beaneaters in 1890, staying through 1902. After leaving Boston played for short stints with the Highlanders (Yankees), Tigers, and Phillies. Today he’s primarily famous for making more errors than anyone else in Major League history, 1096. Of course if you play for 17 years mostly in Nineteenth Century ballparks with Nineteenth Century equipment, you have to be pretty good to stay around long enough to make a thousand plus errors. His fielding percentage was .906, which isn’t all that good, with 765 double plays, which is terrific for the era. His range factor is 5.77 which is darned good in any era. He could hit a little too. He averaged .277, with an OBP of .335 and a slugging percentage of .338, giving him a .718 OPS. He scored 1456 runs, knocked in 1055, and had 2938 total bases. In 1900 he won the National League home run title with 12 and in 1893 led the NL in runs with 149. He died of tuberculosis in 1909.

Most of his doubles plays were in partnership with Bobby Lowe. Lowe came to Boston in 1890 and stayed through 1901. He then played for a short stint with the Cubs in 1902 and 1903, then went to both Pittsburgh and Detroit before retiring. Unlike Long he was one of the better fielders of his day. He managed a .951 fielding percentage, a 5.70 range factor, and only 389 errors (he was a second baseman, remember). He hit .273 for his career with an OBP of .325, a slugging percentage of .360, and an OPS of .685. He was a superior leadoff hitter for the era scoring 1135 runs on 1924 hits. He lived to age 86, dying in 1951.

What the two men did well together was win. Both men arrived in Boston in 1890, Long becoming an immediate starter. The Beaneaters finished fifth, 12 games back. Over the next 10 years, with both men starting up the middle, Boston took five pennants. They won in 1891 and to be honest, having Harry Stovey in right field and both John Clarkson and Kid Nichols on the mound helped Boston a lot, but both Long and Lowe were significant contributors to the improvement. The 1892 season saw a split season (the last until 1981) with Boston winning the first half, then beating up on Cleveland in the end of season pennant series. Neither Long nor Lowe did very well in the series. In fact to be honest about again, both did terribly.

Boston won again in 1893, slipped to third in 1894, and all the way to fifth in 1895. By 1896, they were back to fourth, then in both 1897 and 1898 won the NL title again. In 1899 they slipped back to second behind syndicate team Brooklyn (the owner of Brooklyn also owned Baltimore and cannibalized the two teams to put together one very good team.) In 1900 and 1901, their last two years together, an aging Long and Lowe finished fourth and fifth. But in 12 years together, 11 with both starting, they had, as mentioned earlier, managed to win five pennants. Thy also finished second once.

Neither man is much remembered today, neither is in much danger of making the Hall of Fame and thus returning to prominence. Both were major contributors to five pennant winners and good players in their own right. One really nice thing about the internet it that it gives people like me a chance to remind people like you about these kinds of players and how important they were to the game we love.

The Antithesis of Baltimore

March 25, 2010

Kid Nichols

There were two truly great teams playing in the National League in the 1890’s. Very few teams have been more unalike. The Orioles were loud, obnoxious, rowdy, obnoxious, dirty, obnoxious, full of fight (did I mention obnoxious?). Their counterparts were the Boston Beaneaters.

Unlike Baltimore, Boston had a tradition of winning teams, at least in the 1870s. The city could claim the last four National Association pennants and two of the first three National League pennants. They’d even won the only Player’s League championship.

After spending most of the 1880s outside the rarified air of pennant contenders, Boston got back in contention in 1889, then slid back in 1890 when the Player’s League raided them. One significant change occured in 1890, they brought in Frank Selee to manage the team. Selee was a minor league manager who had been incredibly successful and was brought on board to revamp the team. It worked.

The Beaneaters (as I’ve said before, what a terrible team nickname) were the antithesis of the Orioles. They played solid, fundamental, unspectacular baseball. They didn’t brawl, they didn’t fight. They hit well, they played good defense, and they pitched really, really well. Like Baltimore, they are credited with inventing the hit and run. I don’t know which, if either, actually did it. In 1891, ’92, and ’93 they won pennants and took the 1892 split season postseason series against Cleveland by winning five straight games after a first game tie. They slipped to third in 1894, fifth in ’95, and fourth again in ’96, then roared back to the top in both 1897 and 1898. They finished second in 1899 and finished the century in fourth.

Lots of players rotated through the Beaneaters during the final decade of the 19th Century, but the core of the team consisted of 10 or so players: first baseman Tommy Tucker, second baseman (and converted outfielder) Bobby Lowe, shortstop Herman Long, third baseman Billy Nash (who was replaced late in the run by Jimmy Collins), center fielder Hugh Duffy, the two left fielders Tommy McCarthy and Billy Hamilton, and pitchers Kid Nichols, Harry Staley, and Jake Stivetts. Of that crew Duffy, McCarthy, Hamilton, Collins, and Nichols (along with Selee) later made the Hall of Fame.

If John McGraw stood as the ultimate Oriole, the centerpiece of the Boston team was Kid Nichols. Along with Cy Young he is one of the greatest pitchers of the 19th Century. During the 1891-98 run he averaged 31 wins and 14 losses for a winning percentage of .688. He made the transition to 60’6″ and a mound easily, his record going from 35-16 to 34-14 at the change. In 1896, ’97, and ’98 he led the league in wins (you aren’t going to lead often if you have Cy Young in the league). For the century he was 310-167, a .650 winning percentage.

Like Baltimore, the Beaneaters didn’t do well in Temple Cup play, losing the only series (1897) they entered. As stated in earlier posts involving the Temple Cup, first place teams tended to take the games as exhibitons and figured that winning the regular season was enough. Boston was no exception.

These were the glory days of the National League team in Boston. The American League put a team in the city in 1901 and the Beaneaters waned about the same time. The new team, now the Red Sox, won and thus became the darlings of New England. The National League team faded in both the standings and in fans. By the 1950s it was in enough trouble it moved to Milwaukee. Although the new team in Milwaukee, and later in Atlanta, returned to glory, it was a sad end to a great franchise in Boston.

I hate to go out on a sad note. Late in their history, the Boston NL team, now called the Braves, called up a lefty pitcher named Warren Spahn. Put him together with Nichols and you get what is surely the best left-right combination produced by a single franchise in baseball history.

The Split Season

March 14, 2010

Back in 1981 Major League Baseball decided to have a split season. There was a strike during the year and so a first and second half winner was declared in each division, playoffs occurred, and eventually the Dodgers beat the Yankees in the World Series. To hear pundits and some fans tell it, that was the worst thing that head ever happened to baseball, if not to the entire world. For a season or two, even the worst designated hitter haters had a new villain. Turns out, of course, that it was really nothing new. It had all been tried before.

Between 1882 and 1891 there were two Major Leagues, the National League and the American Association. They existed in an uneasy truce that led eventually to a handful of postseason games that were something like a 19th Century version of the World Series. That ended in 1890 and after the 1891 season, the American Association folded leaving only the National League. The postseason series’ had been pretty haphazard in number of games and in scheduling, but they had been reasonably popular. With the demise of the Association, there were now no more postseason games, which among other things, meant less revenue for the owners. What to do?

The owners decided to split the season into two parts. The winners of each half would then meet in a postseason series. Should the same team win both halves, then the team that finished second in the last half would take on the overall winner.

The team in Boston, the Beaneaters–which gets my vote for the absolutely worst team nickname ever–went 52-22 and won the first half by 2.5 games over Brooklyn. The team consisted of Hall of Famers Hugh Duffy and Tommy McCarthy in the outfield, King Kelly behind the plate, with Billy Nash, Tommy Tucker, Joe Quinn, Bobby Lowe, and Herman Long holding down the rest of the positions. Hall of Fame pitcher John Clarkson started the season at Boston, but was traded to Cleveland during the season. That left Kid Nichols as the undisputed ace. Nichols had a great year going 35-26 with 187 strikouts, a 2.84 ERA, and five shutouts.

During the second half of the season, Boston continued winning, but a new team showed up to challenge them. The Cleveland Spiders finished fifth in the first half, then ran off a 53-23 record in the second half to finish three games ahead of Boston. Cleveland had future Hall of Famers Jesse Burkett and George Davis leading their attack, with Cupid Childs and Jack Virtue providing the rest of the firepower. Clarkson, over from Boston went 17-10 and Nig Cuppy was 28-13 for the Spiders. But the real find was third year pitcher Cy Young. Young went 36-12, led the league in ERA at 1.93, struck out 168, and threw a league leading nine shutouts.

The postseason series was a walkover. After a tie in game one, Boston ran off five straight victories, defeating both Clarkson and Young twice, to claim the title. Duffy hit .462, had nine RBIs, twelve hits, and one of the three Boston home runs to pace the Beaneaters. Nichols and two pitcher Jake Stivetts each won two games (Harry Staley won the other). For the Spiders,shortstop Ed McKean hit well (.440), as did Childs, but the rest of the team was shut down.

The split season hadn’t been overly successful. There were allegations that because Boston had nothing to play for, the team wasn’t playing up to speed during the second half. In their defense, they came in second that half and had the best overall record in the league. The postseason games had not been either well played or well attended. The owners decided to scrap the split season and go with a single pennant winner. There would be no more postseason play until the Temple Cup games beginning in 1894. The split season was not a success and it took all the way to 1981 to try it again.