Posts Tagged ‘Jim Mutrie’

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1905

July 1, 2014

It’s time for my monthly addition to My Own Little Hall of Fame. For those of you who’ve forgotten, this is my attempt to determine what the Hall of Fame would look like if it were formed in 1901 rather than in the 1930s. My primary contention is that a number of players who’ve gotten little consideration for the modern Hall would have been added if the Hall were created earlier. So here’s the Class of 1905.

Tommy Bond

Tommy Bond

Thomas “Tommy” Bond pitched from 1874 through 1884 winning 234 games leading his league in strikeouts wins, and ERA twice each. He also led the National League in shutouts on three occasions. His 1877 and 1878 Boston teams won pennants with him as their primary hurler. One of only a handful of players to work in four different leagues: National Association, National League, American Association, and Union Association.

Bid McPhee

Bid McPhee

John “Bid” McPhee was a star second baseman for Cincinnati in both the National League and the American Association. He holds many fielding records for second basemen. As a hitter he won both a home run and a triples title. Is second among all players with 189 total triples.

"Truthful" Jim Mutrie

“Truthful” Jim Mutrie

James “Truthful Jim” Mutrie managed both the New York Metropolitans of the American Association and the New York Gothams of the National League. Under his leadership the Metropolitans won the 1884 Association pennant and the Gothams won both the 1888 and 1889 National League pennants. The latter teams both won postseason tournaments against their Association rivals. Among managers with 200 or more wins his winning percentage is highest in Major League history. He is credited with coining the name “Giants” for the current New York National League team.

Tip O'Neill, well after his retirement

Tip O’Neill, well after his retirement

James “Tip” O’Neill played outfield for the St. Louis Browns between 1884 and 1889 inclusive and was the first great Canadian player. He led his team to four consecutive pennants (1885-1888) and two disputed postseason championships. He led the Association in hits twice and batting average twice. In 1887 he hit .435 and led the Association in average, home runs, RBIs, doubles, triples, hits, and runs.

Harry Stovey

Harry Stovey

Harry Stovey played both outfield and first base from 1880 through 1893. He led his league in booth runs scored and triples four times, in home runs five times, in stolen bases twice, and in doubles once. His 1888 Philadelphia Athletics team won the second American Association pennant, while his 1890 Boston team won the only Player’s League pennant. In the National League he won a pennant with the 1891 Beaneaters.

And now the commentary.

1. Tommy Bond? Really? Bond only has 180 wins in the National League but is the ace of the first great NL team. I felt that gave him a leg up on other pitchers still not elected and eligible (Mathews, McCormick, Mullane, and Deacon White’s brother Will). As with most pitchers of his era he has only a handful of great years then drops off quickly, perhaps too quickly for many voters. My guess is that if he were elected by the voters in 1905 he would just barely get invited to the Hall. Having said that, I think he’s the best available pitcher, but I am aware that Mullane and Mathews have a  lot more wins, the key pitching stat is 1905.

2. McPhee is now much further down the current list of triples, but in 1905 he was still second (to Anson). He is, by all accounts and by all stats available in 1905, the finest second baseman of the 19th Century.

3. I am absolutely certain that Mutrie should be in the Hall of Fame and, thus, am completely comfortable adding him to the Class of 1905. In 1876 William Hulbert tossed New York out of the National League. No NYC team played at the highest level again until the Metropolitans joined the American Association. Mutrie was a prime mover in creating the team and piloted it to its first successful season. Then he was instrumental in creating the Gothams (Giants) and putting a New York team back into the NL. In many ways he is the father of Major League baseball in New York. He was still alive in 1905, but lived in obscurity. In 1905 only one manager who managed more than one year had a higher winning percentage than Mutrie and he managed all the way back in the National Association (and to this day only Joe McCarthy has a higher winning percentage among managers with 200+ wins). BTW “Truthful Jim” is an ironic nickname (sort of like calling a 6’9″ 300 pound guy “Tiny”). He was known to make up a lot of stuff in order to get what he wanted when it came to his team and his own wealth. That means he’s a bit of a  rogue, but then the real Hall is full of those.

4. Aren’t O’Neill and Stovey a bit of a stretch? O’Neill and Stovey were, to me the best players in the Association (although McPhee also spent a lot of time in the AA, I think both were better than him). By 1905 the Association had been dead for almost 15 years and was already slipping in the public memory. The Reach Guide, newspapers, and other sources have very little on the Association and it was quickly fading from memory. Those new players eligible for a Hall of Fame in 1905 weren’t a particularly exciting lot, so I took the opportunity to add the best of the Association at this point, presuming that the longer I waited, the less likely they would get a call. I’m not at all sure that a real Hall existing in 1905 would have brought them inside. The current Hall certainly hasn’t.

5. OK, fine, but what happened to Pete Browning? I’ll admit that I considered long and hard about Browning. His average is tremendous, but there are three problems. First, he plays in the Association and for almost its entire existence it was considered much the weaker league. I felt that the perceived weakness of the Association would be held against him. Second, yeah he’s got a high average, but he’s got all of 1656 hits and 4820 at bats. Those just aren’t really big numbers, even for the era. He averages 371 at bats per season and 127 hits per season. That’s all. Finally he was universally considered a lousy fielder. Four times he’s in the top four in errors and no contemporary source I could find says anything good about him in the field. So I’m holding him until later. He may still get an invite, but not this time.

6. You seem somewhat unhappy with this list. Are you? Yeah, kinda. On a personal level I have no problem with who I added for 1905. But when trying to figure this out from the point of view of a voter in 1905, I’m not so sure that this is the list that would come out of a vote. As mentioned above, other pitchers have more wins than Bond (and wins is the key stat for pitchers in 1905) and O’Neill and Stovey play in what was almost universally conceded was a weaker league. Even McPhee is questionable because he didn’t hit .300 and in 1905 that mattered a lot. I’m simply concerned that viewing this list from 1905 I may have gotten it wrong.

7. Finally, it was a real problem putting five new members into this Hall of Fame. It’s becoming harder to get five each time because there are only a handful of worthy new candidates showing up each year and the backlog of quality players is quickly reaching the line that separates great players from really good players (and I may have crossed it already with Bond). It may be  a while before there are five new inductees again.

 

 

 

The Tragedy of Dave Orr

December 18, 2012
Dave Orr about 1888

Dave Orr about 1889

Baseball is full of heroic tales; Ruth and his called shot, Gibson’s ninth inning home run, Larsen’s perfect game. It is also full of tragic stories; Clemente’s death, Gehrig’s illness, Addie Joss’ collapse on the field and  subsequent death. Few, short of those leading to death, are more tragic than the tale of Dave Orr.

Orr was born in September 1859 in Richmond Hills, a section of Queens, New York. He got through elementary school then seems to have dropped out of  school to help his dad, a stone cutter. He played baseball locally, and by 1883 had established himself locally as a good hitting player who could pitch a little. He played for a series of Minor League and semi-pro teams and was spotted while playing for Hartford. There is some dispute whether Jim Mutrie (Gothams manager) saw him personally or if he signed Orr on the advice of scout (scouting was much less formal in 1883). Either way, the Gothams (now the Giants) picked up a giant player (for the era). Orr stood 5’11” and weighed  250 pounds. He played first base and was noted, despite his bulk, as a slick fielding first baseman (again for the era).

Orr played one game for the Gothams then was sent to the Metropolitans for the remainder of the season. The same man (John Day) owned both clubs and he frequently raided one team to prop up the other. In 14 games he managed to hit .302 with an OPS+ of 175. It was a harbinger of things to come. From 1884 through 1887 Orr was the regular Metropolitans first baseman. He continued to hit over .300 and led the American Association in hits, triples, total bases, and slugging percentage twice each. He picked up a batting title, and RBI title, and led the AA in OPS+ once. During his stay in New York, the Metropolitans won a pennant in 1884 and participated in the first primitive version of the World Series. Providence beat them three games to none with Orr getting a solo single in nine at bats.

During Orr’s period with the Metropolitans, the Gothams (now the Giants) became the premier New York team and the owner kept raiding the Mets to help the Gothams. With Roger Connor at first, Orr remained with the Mets and even managed eight games (he went 3-5) in late 1887. At the end of the season, the Mets folded. Orr ended up in Brooklyn.

He did well enough in Brooklyn, putting up a .305 average, but nagging injuries held him to 99 games. Feeling they could do better, Brooklyn traded him to Columbus. He hit .327 at Columbus with a .786 OPS. But Orr was one of  a number of players who was tired of being poorly treated by management, being underpaid, and having to face the reserve clause. In 1890 he joined many of the other players in bolting to John Montgomery Ward’s Player’s League. He ended up back in Brooklyn playing for Ward’s team. Orr hit .371, and established a career high with 124 RBIs. Although the Player’s League folded after just the one season, Orr was still much in demand. This is when tragedy struck him.

In October 1890, Dave Orr suffered a massive stroke while playing an exhibition game. He was 31 and his left side was paralyzed. His baseball career was over. He managed to rehabilitate his left side enough that he could walk with some difficulty, but he could not play baseball. He did some umpiring, served as a night watchman, worked with the maintenance crew at Ebbets Field, and was a press box attendant for the Brooklyn Federal League team in 1914. In 1915 his heart gave out. He was 55 and was buried in the Bronx.

For his career, Orr hit .342 (tied with Babe Ruth), had an on base percentage of .366, slugged .502, and had an OPS of .867 (OPS+ of 162). In 791 games he had 536 hits, , 198 doubles, 108 triples, 37 home runs, 637 RBIs, and 1650 total bases. He led the AA in putouts, assists, range factor, and fielding percentage during his time in baseball.

Orr only played eight seasons, so he is ineligible for the Hall of Fame, and what follows is not a plea to put him in, as I’m not sure he belongs. I am concerned that there are certain situations that make it possible to at least consider waiving the 10 year standard for Hall of Fame induction. They’ve already done it for Addie Joss (who only played nine seasons) who died before he could complete 10 years. Had either Clemente or Gehrig died short of 10 seasons would that diminish their contributions so much that they could not enter Cooperstown? It seems to me that in very specific circumstances that the Hall could take the ten-year rule and put it in its pocket. Those circumstances are very few, but surely death, a debilitating disease, a stroke, a war wound, are things that should be considered.

It was a great tragedy that Dave Orr only had eight seasons in the big leagues. Surely had he gotten just a few more, he would be considered a much greater player. As is, he was pretty good.

The Original Giant

October 26, 2012

Jim Mutrie

With the Giants up in the World Series, this seems like a good time to talk about the history of the team. It goes back to the 1880s, although almost no one knows anything that happened in Giants baseball prior to John McGraw. So let me introduce you to Jim Mutrie.

Mutrie was born in Massachusetts in 1851. He worked for his father, attended school, and played cricket. The latter got him interested in baseball. By 1867 he was catching for local clubs and making his name as a leading sportsman of the region. Besides proficiency in baseball and cricket he was known as a champion cycler (this is the old bicycle that had the giant wheel in the front and a small one at back) and won some distance races on the bicycle, including a 50 mile distance race in 1879. But baseball was where the money was and Mutrie was good enough to make it onto some minor league teams in the area. By 1880 he had quit as a player and was managing the Brockton team.

Baseball in New York City had fallen on bad times. One of the great cradles of Paleolithic baseball, New York hadn’t had a Major League team since just after the founding of the National League when the Mutuals were tossed out of the league for failing to make a late season Western (read Chicago) swing. Brooklyn, another hotbed of  early baseball also was  without a team, the Dodgers (originally called the Atlantics after a famous 1850s-60s team) weren’t formed until 1884. Mutrie saw the need and potential for a Major League team in New York. He got in contact with John B. Day, a successful tobacconist (the stories of how they met vary), convinced Day to invest in a baseball team, and found a suitable area to build a stadium, the initial Polo Grounds (not to be confused with the more famous one in Queens). He recruited players, named the team the New York Metropolitans (Mets) and joined the Eastern Championship Alliance (a minor league). They won championships in both 1881 and 1882, earning them an invitation to join the newly formed American Association (a new Major League). The team accepted and Major League baseball was back in New York in 1883.

And it was back in a big way. Not only did the Metropolitans join the Association, but Day formed a new team called the Gothams and managed to get them into the National League. So from having no teams between 1877 and 1882, New York now had a team in both Major Leagues.

The Mets won a pennant in 1884. That allowed them to participate in the first primitive World Series against the National League’s Providence Greys. It was a three game series with Providence winning all three games.  But the Gothams made more money, had more panache, and finished fourth. Day approached Mutrie about changing teams, Mutrie agreed, and in 1885 he became manager of the New York Gothams. He brought with him Tim Keefe, the Mets best pitcher. It began a steady rise for the Gothams. By the end of the 1885 season they had a second place finish and a new nickname, the Giants.

There is some debate about the origin of the name. We know that P.J. Donohue, a reporter for the New York World used the term “Giants” in an article on 14 April 1885. Later Mutrie claimed that he’d refered to his team as “My big fellas, my Giants” to Donohue and thus deserved credit for the name. Donohue never commented one way or the other as far as I can tell. This brings up an issue when dealing with Mutrie. His nickname was “Truthful James”, but it was meant in the same ironic way that a 6′ 6″ 250 pound linebacker is called “Tiny.” Apparently Mutrie liked to brag, to take credit for things whether he did them or not, and inflate his importance, and let his stories improve with age (He’d make a great “booster” in the town where I live). So you should take his assertion about the “Giants” nickname with something less than 100% confidence.

Whatever Mutrie’s veracity, his team was good. They won pennants in 1888 and 1889, then swept to “World Series” wins in both seasons. It was a great team, one of the best of the 19th Century. Hall of Famers Roger Connor, Monte Ward, Jim O’Rourke, and Buck Ewing played in the field. Keefe and Mickey Welch, both Hall of Fame members anchored the pitching staff.  Mike Tiernan and George Gore also played for the team and were household names in the era.

But all was not well with the team. The Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players was heavily represented on the team (Ward was the Brotherhood founder and leader). In 1890, fed up with low salaries and contract restrictions, the Brotherhood formed its own league (the Player’s League). It devastated the Giants. Of the 1889 starting fielders, only Tiernan remained with the team. Keefe also left the team, although Welch remained. The team finished in sixth at 63-68 (the only losing season in Mutrie’s career). They got back to third in 1891, but the team was in trouble. Day was broke and sold the team. Wanting a fresh start, the new ownership fired Mutrie.

For Mutrie it was the end. He never got back to the Major Leagues. He moved to Staten Island with his wife and daughter, survived doing odd jobs, and was largely forgotten. The Giants had an occasional reunion of the old teams and Mutrie was there. They eventually gave him a small pension, but he was never associated with the team again. He died on Staten Island in relative obscurity in 1938.

For his career, Mutrie won three pennants, two “World Series”, and finished with a losing record once. He managed nine years, won 658 games, lost 419, and ended with a winning percentage of .611. Know how many managers with 200 games have a better winning percentage? One, Joe McCarthy (.615) of the 1930s-1940s Yankees. You’d think that would get people’s attention, wouldn’t you? You’d be wrong. Mutrie has had almost no support for the Hall of Fame.

Jim Mutrie is one of those guys that early baseball seems to run across with frequency. Part showman, part genius, part fool. We’ve lost something with the modern ballplayer and manager. We’ve lost the Mutrie “character”. Ain’t that kind of a shame?