Posts Tagged ‘Honus Wagner’

The Black Wagner

August 6, 2014

 

John Henry Lloyd

John Henry Lloyd

I’d normally hold this post until my usual look at Negro League baseball in February, but with all the hoopla over Derek Jeter’s retirement and his continued passing of greats like Carl Yastrzemski and Honus Wagner on the all-time hits list, I’m beginning to see a lot of lists trying to fit Jeter into the pantheon of shortstops. You’ve probably seen a few of these. They rank the top 10 (or 5 or 20) shortstops and place Jeter where they think he fits on the list. I’ve seen him number one (which is silly) and as low as ninth (which is also silly). But all these lists (at least the ones I have  seen) manage to leave out one man: John Henry Lloyd.

Lloyd was born in Florida in 1884. He was a superior ballplayer and by 1906 had gotten the attention of the Cuban X-Giants, one of the premier black teams in the country. He was quick and agile, a natural shortstop who could hit. That made him much in demand so he wandered a lot from team to team. It wasn’t that people didn’t want him, it was, as he said, “where the money was.” He played with the Philadelphia Stars from 1907 through 1909 then spent years with the Leland Giants, the Lincoln Giants, and finally with Rube Foster’s American Giants. (Do you note a pattern with the use of the name “Giants” for Negro League baseball in the era?). In 1912 he became manager of the Lincoln Giants and in 1913 led his team to a win over the American Giants in an early version of the Negro World Series (which began officially in 1924).

He spent time also in Cuba beginning in 1907. Between 1908 and 1930 he spent at least parts of 12 seasons playing in Cuba. His team won three championships (1912, 1925, and 1926). He is credited with hitting .329 in Cuba, but the records are sketchy.

Equally sketchy are the US stats. Baseball Reference credits him with hitting .340 and slugging .452 in 810 documented games. Per 162 games, they credit him with 32 doubles, 11 triples, four home runs, and 23 stolen bases. Those numbers are admittedly very incomplete. By way of proof, his Wikipedia page lists his batting average as .343.

He stayed in baseball, coaching local teams as late as 1943. Lloyd died in 1964 (that’s on his gravestone, some reports state his death occurred in 1965) in Atlantic City, New Jersey. His turn in the Hall of Fame came in 1977.

How good was he? It’s tough to tell, but contemporary reports compare him to Wagner. When told of the comparison, Honus Wagner said he was honored to be considered in the same category with Lloyd. That’s a good enough endorsement for me.

 

 

John Henry Lloyd's final resting place

John Henry Lloyd’s final resting place

28 June 1914: the NL

June 27, 2014
Heinie Groh, complete with "bottle bat"

Heinie Groh, complete with “bottle bat”

And now concluding a look at where all three Major Leagues stood on 28 June 1914 (100 years ago tomorrow), the day that the assassination in Sarajevo set off the spark that led to World War I, here’s a view of what was going on in the National League.

The National League had the most games on Sunday, 28 June 1914. Both of the other leagues had three games, a double-header and a single game. The NL went with twin double-headers. In one set Pittsburgh played two in Cincinnati and in the other the Cubs took on the Cardinals in St. Louis.

the Reds managed to sweep both games from the Pirates. In game one they rallied late to take a 7-6 victory. Pittsburgh scored a run in each of the first three innings, got three more in the seventh, and led 6-2 going into the bottom of the ninth. Joe Conzelman, in relief of Babe Adams started the ninth, couldn’t get anyone out, and left the job to George McQuillan. McQuillan got two outs, but never got the last, as Cincinnati plated five runs, all earned, to win the game. Heinie Groh of “bottle bat” fame had two hits, scored a run, and drove in one.  But the big hero was center fielder Howard Lohr who had three hits (all singles) scored two runs, and drove in three.

In game two the teams went the other way. In the second, Groh singled, then came home on another single by left fielder Harry LaRoss. It was the only run that starter Marty O’Toole gave up, but Cincinnati starter Pete Schneider picked up his first win of the season by throwing a complete game shutout. For the day Hall of Fame shortstop Honus Wagner went one for seven with an RBI, while fellow Hall of Fame player Max Carey went one for seven and scored a run.

In St. Louis, the two teams split the double-header. In game one the Cards routed Chicago 6-0. The hitting stars were Lee Magee and Dots Miller. Magee scored two runs and had an RBI while going two for two with two walks. Miller went two for four, but drove in three runs. Pitcher Bill Doak threw a complete game shutout.

In the nightcap, with the scored tied 2-2, the Cubs erupts for six runs in the fifth. Tommy Leach two runs, Vic Saier had three RBIs, and Hall of Fame catcher Roger Bresnahan had both a run and an RBI from the eight hole. With the score 8-2, St. Louis rallied for two runs in the eighth before Cubs ace Hippo Vaughn entered the game. He gave up one more run, but then shut down St. Louis to record his only save of the season and see Chicago pull off an 8-5 victory.  Hall of Fame umpire Bill Klem had the plate for both games.

At the end of the day, Cincy stood in second place, five games behind the Giants, while the Pirates held down fifth place (and were the highest placed team with a losing record). The Cubs were in third and the Cards in fourth. By the end of the season the Cards had risen to third, the Cubs were fourth, the Reds had slipped to last, nine games below seventh place Pittsburgh.

One major trade occurred that day. The last place Braves sent Hub Perdue, a 2-5 pitcher to St. Louis. They got back first baseman Possum Whitted and utility outfielder Ted Cather. Whitted moved into the clean up spot for the Braves and Cather became part of an outfield platoon. Both men were instrumental in the “Miracle Braves” run to the NL pennant and the World Series triumph in 1914. The run began 6 July when Boston ran off seven of eight wins to start the climb to the top.

 

 

 

 

A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About Dummy Hoy

June 18, 2014
Dummy Hoy

Dummy Hoy

1. William Hoy was born in Ohio in 1862.

2. He contracted meningitis at age three. He lost his hearing and his speech. By trade he became a shoemaker. By preference, a ballplayer.

3. After a number of teams turned him down because of his “handicap”, he signed with Oshkosh (Wisconsin) in 1886. He stayed there through 1887.

4. The Washington Nationals (not the current team) signed him in 1888 to play the outfield. By this point the “Dummy” nickname was already attached to him. It’s hard to tell if he liked it or not, but he accepted and tolerated it. By this point he was so well-known by the nickname that he would insist fans call him by it rather than his given name. That season he led the National League in stolen bases.

5. In 1889 playing centerfield he threw out three runners at home in one game. It was a record that has been tied but not broken.

6. In 1890 he joined the Player’s League team in Buffalo. After the failure of the league, he went to St. Louis in the American Association where he led the league in walks.

7. He spent the 1890s playing with Washington, Cincinnati, and Louisville. While with the latter team, he played with Honus Wagner and roomed with Tommy Leach.

8. In 1900 he moved to the Western League (minor league) team in Chicago where he played one season. The next year Ban Johnson renamed the Western League the American League and began competing with the National League as a Major League. Hoy was the White Stockings (now White Sox) original right fielder. The Sox won the pennant. It was Hoy’s only championship.

9. His last big league season was 1902. He was back at Cincinnati in the NL and on 16 May came to bat against Dummy Taylor, the first meeting between the two premier mute players of the era. Hoy got a single.

10. By 1903 he was 41 and at the end of the line. He played for Los Angeles in the Pacific Coast League that season and retired.

11. For his career, his triple slash line is .288/.386/.374/.760 with an OPS+ of 110. He had 2048 hits, scored 1429 runs, had 725 RBIs, 248 doubles, 40 home runs, walked 1006 times, struck out 345, and stole 596 bases (most of them of the pre-1897 variety). His WAR (Baseball Reference.com version) is 32.5.

12. In 1961 he threw out the first pitch in game three of the World Series (in Cincinnati). He was 99 at the time and the oldest living Major League player. He died later that year. The baseball field at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC is named for him.

13. Dummy Hoy is supposed to be the man for whom umpires developed the hand signals for balls and strikes. There is actually no contemporary evidence this is true.

Arky

April 28, 2014
Arky Vaughan

Arky Vaughan

Joseph “Arky” Vaughan was the premier National League shortstop in the 1930s. He is one of only three NL shortstops to lead the league in hitting in the entire 20th Century (depending on what you do with Jack Glasscock, who played 32 games as short and a lot of other games at other positions and won a batting title in 1890, Vaughan is the second shortstop to lead the NL in hitting). There have been a handful in the 21st Century, but in the 20th there were only Honus Wagner (who did it multiple times), Vaughan, and Dick Groat. Know what else they have in common? They all were at Pittsburgh when they won their batting title.

Vaughan’s rookie season was 1932. He became the Pirates’ everyday shortstop immediately. Three years later he won a batting title, the first NL shortstop to do so since 1911. It would be 25 years before another shortstop duplicated the feat (although Luke Appling won a batting title in the American League the next season). He remained a stalwart of the Pittsburgh offense through 1941. Then he was traded to Brooklyn.

Having problems at third base (they had PeeWee Reese at short) the Dodgers moved Vaughan to third. He did pretty well, but his hitting suffered. In 1942 he split time between the two positions and his batting average went back up. In 1943, he had a run-in with manager Leo Durocher (who didn’t have a run-in with “Leo the Lip”?) and retired following the season.

He spent 1944 and 1945 doing war work and was enticed back to the Major Leagues in 1947 (after Durocher was banned). He had a good  season as a part-time player for the Dodgers. That season brought him is only postseason play. He pinch hit three times in the Brooklyn loss to New York, going .500 with a walk and a double. He had an off-year in 1948 and retired for good. He died a tragic death (he drowned in a boating accident) in 1952. It wasn’t until 1985 that he got into the Hall of Fame.

I had a lot of trouble discovering Vaughan’s attitude toward integrating baseball. As a Southerner he should have been opposed to playing with Jackie Robinson in 1947, but I find no evidence that he signed the petition asking for Brooklyn to drop Robinson. As a part-time player whose status with the team was in doubt in 1947, it’s possible he wasn’t even asked. I did find an article on  Vaughan’s induction into Cooperstown in which Robinson is quoted as saying Vaughan went out of his way to be nice to him (Robinson).

As a player Vaughan showed little power but had a good eye and a knack for getting on base. He led the NL three times in runs and scored over 100 runs on five occasions. He averaged 29 doubles prior to World War II and led the NL three times in triples. Although not a speedster by modern standards, he led the league in stolen bases in 1943 with all of 20. Through his career he averaged almost ten stolen bases a year. That’s not actually too bad in an era noted for its lack of stolen bases.

If you look at his walk to strikeout ratio, it’s excellent. Three times he led his league in walks, twice had 100 walks. His highest strikeout total is 38. For a career he averaged 3.4 walks per strikeout. In 1940 he scored 113 runs and had 95 RBIs while hitting only seven home runs. He produced 201 runs that season (R + RBI-HR). Pittsburgh finished fourth with a league leading 809 runs scored. Vaughan had a hand in 25% of his team’s runs. That doesn’t count things like singles that move a runner to third and the subsequent scoring of that runner. I checked the same statistic for each year Vaughan scored 100 runs or had 90 RBIs (1933-36, 1940, 1943). In those seasons Vaughan produced, in order, 26%, 27%, 25%, 24%, 25%, and 24% of his team’s runs. Even Babe Ruth in 1920 and 1921 only had 29% and 30% of his team’s runs. So Vaughan isn’t Ruthian, but it’s still a major contribution to his team.

I like Arky Vaughan a lot. Without question he is the great NL shortstop of the 1930s. Only Joe Cronin and Luke Appling in the AL are his rivals for the era. Bill James once placed him second on the all-time shortstop list (behind Wagner). I’m not sure I’d want to go that high, but he’s surely in the list of top half-dozen or so shortstops ever (along with, alphabetically, Banks, Jeter, Ripken, Yount) for the two spot.

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Opening Day, 1914: National League

March 30, 2014
George Stallings, "The Miracle Man"

George Stallings, “The Miracle Man”

The National League opened play in 1914 in mid-April, but with opening day starting earlier now, it seems like a good time to finish my look at how things stacked up in 1914. It’s important to remember it’s a different world in 1914. Black Americans couldn’t vote or play in the Major Leagues, most Americans still lived in rural settings (but that would change by 1920), the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was still alive (his death in June would spark World War I), the Braves were still in Boston and they were supposed to be bad.

The New York Giants were three-time defending NL champions and expected to repeat in 1914. They were led by Hall of Fame pitchers Christy Mathewson and Rube Marquard with Hall of Fame manager John McGraw at the helm. It was decent, but not great lineup with soon to be war casualty Eddie Grant available as a sub. By way of  compensation, third pitcher Jeff Tesreau  would have a career year.

Philadelphia finished second in 1913 and looked set for another run at a pennant in 1914. Grover Cleveland Alexander was the ace and would have more wins and strikeouts than any other NL pitcher. But the rest of the staff, minus Erskine Meyer, would have a down year. Gavvy Cravath would lead the league in home runs with 19  (he also led in OPS and OPS+, but those stats weren’t around in 1914), and Sherry Magee won the RBI total with a miniscule 103. But other than Beals Becker’s .325 average the rest of the team didn’t do much.

The Cubs and Pirates finished third and fourth in 1913. Cubs pitching, even with Three-Finger Brown moved to the Federal League was still good, but the hitting wasn’t even vaguely on par with the pitching. The Pirates were aging. Honus Wagner, their best player, had his first bad year and without him, Pittsburgh had no one to step up.

The Braves finished fifth in 1913. They were 69-82, which was best among teams with a losing record, but still fifth. But there had been a revolution in Boston. Of the 1913 infield, only Rabbit Maranville, the shortstop, remained with the team. The catcher was new, as was one outfielder. the new players included Hall of Fame second baseman Johnny Evers (who would win the NL’s 1914 Chalmers Award–the 1914 version of the MVP) and a clutch of players brought over during the season who would turn the team around. The pitching also came around. By the fourth of July they were still out of the running (last place), but that would change as manager George Stallings’ (I still try to call him “Gene Stallings” some times) platoon system, judicious use of pitchers, a great (for the era) fielding team, and timely hitting brought them all the way to first as the “Miracle Braves.”

Nothing much was expected of Brooklyn, St. Louis, or Cincinnati, but Brooklyn’s Jake Daubert won the batting title and the Cardinals Bill Doak took the ERA title. Doak’s pitching helped St. Louis more than Daubert’s hitting helped Brooklyn with the Card’s coming in third and Brooklyn fifth.

It was not a great year for rookies in the NL. In May 1914, the Braves brought Dolf Luque to the team. He got into two games, lost one of them, and ended up being a non-factor in the Braves’ sprint for the championship. He would make his mark a few years later.

Boston was a big underdog in the 1914 World Series, but ended up sweeping the Athletics away in four games. They hit .244 while Philly had an average of only .172. Boston’s ERA was 1.15 versus the A’s 3.41. They scored 16 runs (14 earned) while giving up only six (five earned).

It was a “one year wonder” team. Boston faded in 1915, finishing second, then proceeding downhill, finishing sixth by the time the United States joined World War I in 1917. You gotta admit, it was one heck of a year for them in 1914.

 

 

The Derek Jeter Aura

March 3, 2014

So I see that Derek Jeter is hanging it up at the end of this season. That’s both good and bad. It’s, frankly, time for him to go, but it will cost MLB its face (which isn’t really David Wright, despite the recent poll) and the most recognizable player of his generation. He’ll get to make a grand tour, get lots of gifts (but try to top Rivera’s broken bat rocking chair), a ton of applause and adulation. Then he’ll ride off toward Cooperstown, making it in five years. It’s really a fitting way for him to leave us.

Ever notice how some players just have an aura about them? Ruth had one, so did Mantle. Koufax has it to a lesser degree. Well, Jeter has one too. He is “The Captain” the rock around which the Yankees built their latest dynasty. He’s the man with “The Flip” (which is still probably the best fielding play I ever saw). He is “one of the five greatest Yankees ever.” You hear all that don’t you?

Well, hang on a minute. Without trying to diminish Jeter’s legacy, which is formidable, let’s not get too carried away here. It’s not like he’s the first captain the team ever had. Gehrig was team captain too and Gehrig was a better player. If Jeter was the rock on which the latest Yankees dynasty was built, then he had a lot of other rocks around to hold up part of that foundation. There was Pettitte, Rivera, Posada (the so-called “Core Four”), and there was Clemens, and O’Neill, and Knoblauch, and Martinez too.

Jeter reminds me of Joe DiMaggio. He has the same aura about him. Both are great players, but both seem to be remembered as being somehow greater than they were in actuality. It took twenty-five years for fans to realize that Mantle was a greater player than DiMaggio and Jeter has that kind of aura too. I don’t mean to imply that somehow the Yanks have a greater shortstop in their history, only to point out that Jeter is revered in much the same way as DiMaggio. There’s a reverence about them that is different from the awe that surrounds either Mantle or Gehrig, or for that matter, Ruth. For the latter three it seems that “awe” is more appropriate and with Jeter and DiMaggio the word is “reverence.”

As for being “one of the five greatest Yankees ever” I suppose you could make that case for Jeter, although I’d rank him in the six through eight range, behind Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, DiMaggio, and Berra and in line with Ford and Rivera. That’s not a bad place to be, all things considered. He’s probably a top five to ten shortstop (certainly behind Wagner and Ripken) depending on how you categorize Banks and Yount. He was never Ozzie Smith in the field, but then neither was much of anyone else.

Then it’s good-bye to Derek Jeter. The Yankees will miss him. I think a greater tribute is that baseball will miss him.

Opening Day, 1913: National League

April 1, 2013
Jake Daubert in 1913

Jake Daubert in 1913

Opening Day in 1913 was 9 April (10 days later than the current season). There was a single game played that day, Philadelphia defeating Brooklyn 1-0. The other teams opened play later and the National League had a good season, although one without a lot of suspense.

As two-time defending champions, the Giants were formidable still in 1913. Their eight position players remained the same with only Beals Becker missing, replaced by George Burns (not the comedian). Larry Doyle was a star at second, catcher Chief Meyers was a .300 hitter, Fred Merkle, five years removed from his “bonehead” play was a solid first baseman, and manager John McGraw was John McGraw. The heart of the team, however, was the pitching staff. Ace Christy Mathewson would win 25 games, pick up the ERA title (2.06) and walk all of 21 men in 306 innings. Rube Marquard would win 23 games and Jeff Tesreau would add a further 22. The Giants would make it three in a row by 12.4 games. Much of it came when the ran off 14 wins in a row between 26 June and 9 July. By way of contrast they lost four in a row 30 April to 5 May, their longest losing streak. They would go on to lose their third straight World Series in October.

Philadelphia would do well with Gavvy Cravath winning the home run title with 19, adding the RBI title at 128. Although future Hall of Famers Pete Alexander and Eppa Rixey pitched well, the ace was Tom Seaton who had 27 wins and led the NL in strikeouts with 168.

The emerging star was Brooklyn’s Jake Daubert. He would win the batting title at .350 for the sixth place Superbas (“Dodgers” would come later). At season’s end he picked up the Chalmers Award (an early version of the MVP Award), which should probably have gone to Cravath. The fading  star was Pittsburgh’s Honus Wagner. For the last time he hit .300 and for the first time since 1905 didn’t lead the league in any major hitting category (it still got him eighth in the Chalmers Award voting).

The year saw two rookies arrive that would have an impact on the league. On 17 April, Bill James (not the current baseball stats man) made his first appearance for the Braves. He went 6-10 for the season, but was a key to the “Miracle” Braves run in 1914. For the Giants, outfielder Jim Thorpe made his initial appearance on 14 April. He would hit only .143 in limited service. He would make the NFL Hall of Fame and be known as the greatest athlete of the first 50 years of the 20th Century, but baseball was not his dominant sport.

1912: Opening Day

April 11, 2012

Mae West in 1912

Today marks the 100th Anniversary of Opening Day in 1912. It was a different world then. William Howard Taft was President of the United States (although Woodrow Wilson would win the election in November). Most people still rode the train or horse and buggy. Wyatt Earp and Cole Younger were still alive, as was the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria whose death two years later would spark a World War. Al Capone, Frank Nitti, and Elliot Ness were nobodies. Irving Berlin and Scott Joplin were writing ragtime music and Geroge Gershwin was still four years from publishing his first song. No one had ever heard of John Wayne and Mae West was just getting started on Broadway, but Mary Pickford was America’s darling and Lillian Gish was just beginning a career that would make her a great star. She’d hitched her ambitions to a genius named D.W. Griffith who was starting to toy with the idea of making a movie two hours long, an unheard of length for a “flicker”. Molly Brown wasn’t yet “unsinkable” because the Titanic was still three days from be introduced to icebergs.  George Gipp (of “win one for the Gipper” fame) had yet to play a down for Notre Dame and Babe Ruth had not yet appeared in a Red Sox uniform.

For Boston, 1912 would be an exceptionally good year. Down 2-1 in the ninth inning, the Red Sox would storm back to win on Opening Day. By the end of the season they would win 105 games, finish first by 14 (over Walter Johnson and the Senators), then win a famous World Series over the Giants four games to three (with a tie). The outfield of Duffy Lewis, Tris Speaker, and Harry Hooper is considered one of the finest, if not the finest, Deadball Era outfield. Both Speaker and Hooper eventually made the Hall of Fame. Although Hooper had a down year in 1912, Speaker was tremendous and Lewis had a fine season. Jake Stahl managed and played first. He joined Speaker and third baseman Larry Gardner as .300 hitters. Steve Yerkes and Heinie Wagner rounded out the infield and Bill Carrigan did the bulk of the catching. Joe Wood hit .290 and won 34 games. Hugh Bedient and Buck O’Brien both won twenty and Charley Hall and Ray Collins (not the old actor) won in double figures.

The National League saw the New York Giants score 18 runs and pound out 22 hits as the started the season with a victory over Brooklyn. John McGraw’s team would win 103 games and finish 10 ahead of Pittsburgh. As with most McGraw teams, it was the pitching that stood out. Christy Mathewson won 23 games and walked only 34 in 310 innings of work. Lefty Rube Marquard won even more games with 26, while Jeff Tesreau, Red Ames, and Doc Crandall won between 11 and 17 games. Tesreau managed to cop the ERA title. In the field, catcher Chief Meyers had a terrific year, hitting over 350, winning an OBP title, and slugging almost .450. The infield of Fred Merkle, Larry Doyle, Art Fletcher, and Buck Herzog (first around to third )feathured two .300 hitters and two men with 10 or more homer runs (Merkle and Doyle in each case). The outfield featured Fred Snodgrass, who would make a memorable gaffe in the World Series, Josh Devore, Beals Becker, and Red Murray. None of them hit .300, but Murray slugged over .400.

Other noteworthy achievements of the season in the NL included Heinie Zimmerman winning the NL batting, slugging, home run, and OPS titles. Honus Wagner picked up the RBI title while Cincinnati leftfielder Bob Bescher swipped 67 bases to win the stolen base crown. Larry Cheney tied Marquard for the league lead in wins while Grover Cleveland Alexander picked up the strikeout title with 195. Nap Rucker of Brooklyn and Marty O’Toole at Pittsburgh each had six shutouts. The league lead in saves was six, turned in by Slim Sallee of the Cardinals. The Chalmers Award (the 1912 version of the MVP) went to Larry Doyle over Meyers (got me). 

In the American League Ty Cobb hit .409 to win the batting title. He also picked up slugging and OPS titles, while Speaker won the OBP title. Frank Baker won the home run title and tied with Speaker for the RBI lead. Clyde Milan of Washington won the stolen base crown with 88 steals. Walter Johnson won both the ERA and strikeout titles at the same time he put up 33 wins, one less than Wood. Wood also had 10 shutouts, while Ed Walsh at Chicago picked up 10 saves. It should not surprise you that Speaker picked up the AL’s Chalmers Award.

“Chickie’s a Sport”

January 18, 2012

Chick Gandil as a Senator

In most accounts of the Black Sox scandal, Chick Gandil takes center stage as the prime mover among players. He is portrayed as grasping, malevolent, and greedy. In the “Eight Men Out” movie the actor Michael Rooker does this portrayal wonderfully. But according to his friends he was a good pal, someone who looked after his buddies, would help them in a pinch. In Sleepy Bill Burns’ phrase, “Chickie’s a Sport.”  Maybe that makes Gandil a complex person, like most of us.

Arnold Gandil was born in Minnesota in 1887. His parents moved to Berkeley, California while he was still young. He played ball, did poorly in school, then left to find his own way in the world. He was athletic enough to both box and play baseball. He played semipro ball for a number of Western teams, most of which were tied to companies. He worked as a boiler maker and copper smelter worker while playing ball on the weekends. Primarily a catcher, while with a team in Mexico he became a first baseman. That seems to happen a lot. Both Rudy York and Gil Hodges, noted first basemen, started out as catchers.

In 1908 he found both a wife and a minor league team in Shreveport, Louisiana. He was good enough to get a trial with the St. Louis Browns. Cut, he ended up in Sacramento by way of Fresno (where he got in trouble for absconding with $225 of the team’s money), and came to the attention of the White Sox. He had a terrible year in Chicago. He hit a buck 93 with an OBP of .267 and only 72 total bases in 77 games. The Sox sold him to Montreal where he played well in 1912.

In 1913 the Washington Senators picked him up. He stayed through 1915 hitting well and playing first superbly for the era. He hit .300 a couple of times, had an OPS+ over one hundred each season, stole some bases, and led the American League in first baseman assists twice. All that got him sold to Cleveland for $5000. He did OK, but his hitting numbers were beginning to slide. He made up for it by leading the AL in assists, putouts, range factor and fielding percentage among first basemen. Needing a first baseman, the White Sox, his original team, picked him up in March 1917.

He had a fairly standard Gandil year in 1917, hitting .273 with an OPS of .631. He again led the AL in fielding percentage and was third in putouts. He did well in 1918, better in 1919. In 1917 Chicago won the World Series with Gandil hitting .261 for the Series and leading the team in RBIs (5). So far a fine, if fairly pedestrian, career.

Of course his entire career is defined by the last eight games, the 1919 World Series. There is universal agreement that Gandil was a prime mover in throwing the Series (Among other indicators, he and attempted Series fixer Sleepy Bill Burns had been teammates in 1910.). He was one of the few players to get his entire cut, he played poorly in the field, undistinguished at the plate, and made a lot of money by 1920 standards. It was enough to allow him to retire. He stood trial in Chicago in 1921, was acquitted, then banned by Judge Landis. He continued playing outlaw ball with an occasional sidetrip to independent minor leagues in the West through 1927.

He ended up as a plumber in California, proclaimed his innocence in a couple of 1950s articles, including one of the first “Sports Illustrated” articles, and died in 1970. By then he was largely forgotten.

For his career, Gandil hit .277, had an OBP of .327, a slugging percentage of .362, for an OPS of  689 (OPS+ of 103). He had 1176 hits, 173 of them were doubles, 78 were triples, and he hit 11 home runs. There were also 557 RBIs and 1538 total bases. As a first baseman (he played 2 games in the outfield) his numbers are much better. He was a superior fielder and led the league (as mentioned above) several times in several categories. And if not for 1919 he would be totally obscure.

I’m of two minds about the Black Sox. On the one hand I understand the frustration of doing a job well and being grossly underpaid. I understand revenge. What I don’t understand is willfully throwing ballgames. I have no sympathy of guys like Gandil or the other seven “Black Sox” (well, maybe just a little for Buck Weaver) but I do kind of understand their reasoning. I may understand it, but I don’t like it. The defense of Gandil is generally that he came from a hard background, a poor background and baseball was a way out. Then it turned out it didn’t pay all that well. Having just said that, I’m reminded that  Honus Wagner came from much the same background (his was in coal not copper) as did any number of other players of the age. So I can’t cut Gandil any slack for his actions. I’m frankly glad he was banned.

The Deacon

September 16, 2011

Deacon White with the Wolverines

To be an 19th Century ballplayer is to live in obscurity. Even Hall of Famers are obscure. Ask someone to name a 19th Century ballplayer. Most people, even fans, can’t. They might, if they’re very clever, remember that Cy Young and Honus Wagner played a little in the 19th Century and a civil rights person might know the name (but not the stats) of Moses Fleetwood Walker, but most people are going to zero out. That’s a great shame because the modern players stand squarely (and sometimes a little wobbly) on their shoulders. Give me a minute here to rescue one from deepest obscurity to simply obscurity, Deacon White.

James White was born in Caton, New York on 2 December 1847. His family was farmers and he wanted to be one also. But it turned out that both he and his younger brother Will were terrific baseball players. By 1868 Jim White was with the Forest City of Cleveland (from here on the Cleveland Forest Citys). He was a catcher, a heck of a hitter, and something of an anomaly. He didn’t play cards, and worse, he went to church. The “Deacon” nickname was obvious and it stuck with him for the rest of his career.

In 1871 Cleveland joined the fledgling National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, the first professional league and in some ways (professionals playing at the highest level possible) the first Major League. Two games were scheduled for opening day. One was rained out; Cleveland played in the other. White led off the game with a double, was later doubled off second. If you want to consider the National Association a Major League, then White has the honor of registering the first at bat, the first hit, the first extra base hit, and be involved in the first double play. For what it’s worth, Cleveland lost 2-0. Cleveland finished 10-19 for the season, but White hit .322, had a home run, and led the team with 40 runs scored.  He did well again in 1872. That got him out of Cleveland and brought him a job with Boston, the premier Association team and 1872 champion. In 1873-1874, Boston won consecutive championships with White as the primary catcher.

In 1876, he joined the National League where he played through 1889. He won pennants with Chicago in 1876 and Boston in 1877.  Already a prime catcher, in 1882 he moved to third base becoming arguably the finest third baseman in the NL. After several years in Buffalo and Cincinnati, he ended up in Detroit in 1886. In 1887 the Wolverines won the NL pennant, then won the 19th Century version of the World Series against the American Association’s St. Louis Browns. 

During the latter part of his career, White was a staunch supporter of John Montgomery Ward’s Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players, the first sports union of any consequence. Although almost through with his career, he joined the 1891 player’s revolt and finished his career with the Player’s Association team in Buffalo. It made him well liked by other players despite his insistence on attending church on Sundays.

After retirement he managed a series of Minor League teams in the Southwest, then settled in Buffalo where he worked for an optical company, then ran a stable on Auburn Avenue which later became a garage. When he died in 1939 he was 91 and the oldest living ballplayer. He is buried in Illinois.

Let’s start the look at his career stats with an obvious caveat. He played a few years prior to the establishment of the National Association, so the numbers we have a slightly incomplete. He is already 23 when the Association is formed and something like reliable statistics are available. For his career White hits .312, slugs .393, with an OBP of .346 for an OPS of .740 (OPS+ of 127). He plays 1540 games, a lot for the era, has 2067 hits, 1140 runs, 988 RBIs, 2605 total bases, 24 home runs, 308 walks, and 221 strikeouts. He also is a major component on five pennant winners. For the pre-1893 era, those are good numbers. He leads both the Association and the NL in batting once (1875 and 1877), leads the NL in OPS, hits, triples, total bases and RBIs in 1877. He’s also a pretty good catcher for the era, but only a so-so third baseman.

If I had to pick one player and call him the most overlooked great player of the 19th Century, it would be White. He’s a heck of a hitter. At a position where the game is totally different today than in the 19th Century (catcher), he excels. It’s a weak enough position (along with second base) to make the argument that there are no truly great catchers in the 19th Century (Buck Ewing’s presence in the Hall of Fame not withstanding), but I think that misses the point that it was a very different job to be a catcher in 1880 than it was in 1980. There are no gloves to speak of, no catching equipment we’d recognize, and pitchers were much closer to home than today. To excel there in those conditions is worth comment (frankly, to be brave enough to play the postion in those circumstances is worth noting). Is White a Hall of Famer? In my opinion yes, although I won’t be surprised if he never gets invited inside.