Posts Tagged ‘John Clarkson’

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1901

March 19, 2014

If I knew how to add ’em in I’d put all sorts of bells and whistles into this post  to announce the inaugural class of My Own Little Hall of Fame. But I don’t so you’re just going to have to put up with typed words on-screen. Knowing you just can’t wait, here’s the list first (alphabetically) followed by commentary. With only one vote, all winners are unanimous (ain’t that great?).

Ross Barnes

Ross Barnes

Ross Barnes is the finest hitter in the National Association. In the five years of its existence, Barnes hit .391, scored 459 runs in 265 games (1.73 a game), had 532 hits, 101 doubles and 30 triples. He won two batting titles, led the NA in runs scored and in hits three times, in doubles twice, and in triples once plus a lot of other stats that no one in 1901 would have known (I’m not even sure they would have known all the stats I just listed). With the formation of the National League he won the first batting title, and led the NL in runs, hits, doubles, triples, and walks (I could find no contemporary info that indicated anyone knew that Barnes led the NL in walks).

John Clarkson in the 1880s

John Clarkson in the 1880s

John Clarkson won more games in the National League than any other pitcher in the 19th Century. His 328 wins were mostly bunched between 1885 and 1892 when the pitching distance was fifty feet and there was no mound. He led the NL in wins three times, including the second highest total ever with 53 in 1885. A workhorse, he led the NL in innings pitched four times, peaking at 623 in 1885. He also won the strikeout title three times, including in 1889 when he won the pitching triple crown. In both 1885 and 1889 he led the NL in shutouts (I’m not sure they knew that in 1901). He led his team to three postseason clashes and retired soon after the move to a mound and 60’6″ for pitchers.

William Hulbert

William Hulbert

The driving force behind the founding of the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs in 1876, Hulbert was a grocery and coal magnate who owned the Chicago White Stockings (now the Cubs). With the folding of the National Association, Hulbert spearheaded the move to form a new league, this one headed by team owners rather than players. His team won the first NL pennant and in 1877 became President of the NL, a position he held until his death in 1882. During the 19th Century his league became the only professional league to survive more than 10 years. (And he gets this great grave site).

William Hulbert grave, four blocks from Wrigley Field

William Hulbert grave, four blocks from Wrigley Field

the teams listed on the ball in the picture above are those teams existing in the NL in 1882, the date of Hulbert’s death.

Tim Keefe

Tim Keefe

Keefe pitched from 1880 through 1893, winning 342 games. He spent time with both New York teams, the Mutual of the American Association and the Giants of the National League. In 1888 he won the pitching triple crown. He led his league in both wins and strikeouts twice, in ERA three times, and in shutouts once (again, not sure they would have known the shutout total in 1901). He participated in three postseason series helping his team to wins in the latter two, going 4-1 in them. He spent most of his career throwing sidearm from less than 60’6″.

George Wright

George Wright

Wright, younger brother of manager Harry Wright, was the first great shortstop in professional baseball. He played for the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings hitting .633 with 49 home runs. Later he anchored the infield of four pennant winning Boston teams in the National Association, then helped the Boston franchise of the National League win pennants in 1877 and 1878. In 1879, as manager of the Providence team he led it to its first NL pennant.

So there it is, the first class of My Own Little Hall of Fame. First a couple of comments, then I’d like to answer a few questions prior to them being asked. I initially, when I thought up this project, presumed my first class would be Anson, Brouthers, Connor, Ewing, and Clarkson. Then I discovered that only Clarkson was retired five years prior to 1901. That, frankly, surprised me a little. I guess I knew that, but as I almost always associate all four of the hitters with the 1880s, I’d forgotten they played as late as the mid-1890s. That meant I had to find four more candidates for the first class. There are a lot of decent candidates available and these are the five I picked.

Now to answer a few questions.

1. Why Hulbert over any of the Knickerbockers? Actually it was pretty easy to pick Hulbert. First he invented a system of control that made professional baseball both profitable and stable. Well, stable if a team could stay on his good side. In other words he came up with a formula that worked and in inventing the first modern professional league he set the format for not just baseball but for football and basketball also. But why not one of the Knickerbockers? First, it’s difficult to really accept that the Knickerbocker rules are the first rules, especially as William Wheaton, one of the members of the Knickerbocker rules committee, stated he had assisted in forming a set of rules for the Gothams in 1837, a decade before the Knickerbocker rules. Now I’ll admit that a voter in 1901 might not know that, but as neither the Alexander Cartwright story or the Abner Doubleday myth were current fodder for voters I don’t know that any Knickerbocker would be seen as the obvious candidate to represent the founding team. And I can’t see electing the “Knickerbocker Rules Committee” (5 members) as a whole. And as for Wheaton, he does not, in the interview I read, claim that his rules were the first.

2. Why Keefe over Pud Galvin? This is kind of complicated, but it seems from what I can find, that Keefe was a lot more well-known than Galvin in 1901. Among other things, Keefe was still alive and had done some coaching in college. Galvin was also still alive (he died in 1902) but appears to have fallen almost totally out of the public eye. Additionally, Keefe pitched for both New York teams while Galvin toiled in Pittsburgh and Buffalo for teams that never won a thing. As I’m trying to do this the way it might have been done in 1901, I’m actually quite comfortable guessing that Keefe would have made the Hall of Fame before Galvin (as he did in the real Hall).

3. Ross Barnes? When the decision was made to count playing time in the National Association as Major League time, Barnes became the obvious candidate. He was easily the finest hitter in the NA. the waiving of the 10 year rule also made it possible to insert him into my Hall (he played 9 years in both the NA and NL). The two rules were not designed especially for Barnes or guys like Cal McVey (who I’m not sure is going to get invited to my Hall) but was designed to help players from an era when careers were shorter, the NL was not the juggernaut it became, and some players (Lip Pike, Joe Start) were already established players prior to 1871 and thus older and prone to leave the game before having 10 years NL service.

4. George Wright over Harry Wright? Well, George was the better player and I’d already decided on Hulbert as my contributor for this group. Harry probably makes it next time (but don’t hold me to that).

5. Running into problems doing it this way? Yes, two in particular. First, it’s very hard to determine exactly what a prospective 1901 voter would know. What sort of stats are available and what newspapers are accessible are two questions that are proving difficult to answer. There are Reach Guides available but their stats vary and include such things as sacrifices and times reaching first, but some stats like RBIs are missing. That’s why in the summaries above I didn’t put in a player’s RBI total. The second problem is that I’m so aware of the new stats (WAR, Peace, JAWS, Paws, WHIP, Chains, OPS+, NOPES-, etc.) that it’s tough to ignore them when I’m looking over a player. I’m trying to ignore them, but I can’t help but notice.

A cursory look at the class of 1902 looks interesting with only one sure to be elected player. I have to be careful and avoid putting in five each time just to pump up the numbers. The class will show up here in April.


The White Stockings

July 17, 2013
1885 Chicago White Stockings (fourth of five pennant winners)

1885 Chicago White Stockings (fourth of five pennant winners)

All of you know the Cubs. They have a great reputation as losers. Wasn’t always so. They won, of course, in 1907 and 1908. But even before that the team won and they won a lot. There are arguably five great teams of the 19th Century professional leagues. The 1870s Red Stockings dominated the National Association. In the 1890s the Beaneaters and Orioles fought for dominance in the National League. In the 1880s the Browns ruled the American Association. The other team was the 1880s White Stockings. With a name change they are now the Cubs.

After winning the first ever National League pennant in 1876 (yes, team, the Cubs won the first pennant) Chicago slipped back into the pack for the rest of the 1870s. They were generally good, but someone else always walked away with the prize. That changed in 1880 when the White Stockings won the first of three consecutive pennants. After losses in 1883 and 1884, they picked up again winning championships in both 1885 and 1886. Although they didn’t win again for the rest of the 1880s, they remained a perennial power.

So what exactly happened in 1880 that set the Chicago team on the road to being one of the most dominant teams of the 19th Century? Well, a couple of things. Most notably, they picked up two new pitchers. In 1879 the team utilized two pitchers: Terry Larkin and Frank Hankinson. As with all of you, I asked myself, “who?”. Larkin was at the end of a career (his last season was 1880) that wasn’t bad, but also wasn’t particularly distinguished. Hankinson was essentially a third baseman that got a year in the box (no mound yet). In 1880, both men were replaced. The new guys were Larry Corcoran and Fred Goldsmith. Both were major upgrades as pitchers. The everyday players (and in that era pitchers were close to being everyday players too) were pretty much the same as in 1879, so the change in pitchers was critical. Having said that, the everyday players saw a few significant changes also.

Those everyday players included an infield of (from first to third) Cap Anson, Joe Quest, Tom Burns, and Ned Williamson. Only Burns was new and he was a significant upgrade  over departed shortstop John Peters. The outfield remained the same in both left and center with Abner Dalrymple and George Gore continuing to hold down both positions. Gone was Orator Shafer, a decent enough hitter, but his replacement was Hall of Famer King Kelly. Silver Flint stayed on as catcher.

One of the good things about studying this era is that the small rosters make for few changes in the lineup over the years. The 1880 starting eight remained intact through 1882, changing only the second baseman in 1883 (Quest was replaced by Fred Pfeffer). There were a couple of major additions to the bench in the period with Billy Sunday  taking over the fourth outfielder duties in 1883, and John Clarkson joining the pitching staff in 1884. As Cochrane and Goldsmith both faded after 1884, Jim McCormick and later Jocko Flynn joined Clarkson as the pitching mainstays.

Chicago dominated the period in the National League winning pennants by as many as 15 games in 1880 and by as few as two in 1885, In the 1885 and 1886 they faced the American Association champion St. Louis Browns (now the Cardinals) in the 1880s version of the World Series. In the first Series they played to a 3-3-1 tie with most newspapers indicating the White Stockings played better ball. In 1886, the Browns won the competition four games to two.

After 1886, the White Stockings never again won a pennant (by the next pennant they were the Cubs). They stayed close for a few years but as the players aged, were traded, or jumped to the Player’s League in 1890, Chicago fell back into the pack. But for the period of the 1880s they were a truly great team.

A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About Tim Keefe

June 6, 2012

Tim Keefe as a Giant

1. Tim Keefe was born New Year’s Day 1857 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the same town as his contemporary rival John Clarkson.

2. His Major League debut was in 1880 at Troy (New York). He pitched in 12 games, won six, and won the ERA title with a record low 0.86 and an ERA+ of 293.

3. When Troy folded after the 1882 season he moved to New York of the American Association where he pitched for two seasons, including the 1884 pennant winning campaign. In the first postseason play between Major League teams, he was 0-2 as his team lost to Providence in three games.

4. Between 1885 and 1889 he played for the New York Giants leading them to a pair of pennants and postseason triumphs in 1888 and 1889. He was 4-1 in the two postseasons.

5. He was the brother-in-law of John Montgomery Ward (they married sisters), head of the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players, the first sports union. Keefe supported the Brotherhood and took his services to the Player’s League in 1890.

6. With the folding of the Player’s League in 1891 he went back to the Giants, did poorly and was traded to Philadelphia.

7. He stayed in Philly through 1893 and the transition to a pitching distance of 60′ 6″. At was 36 and with a new set of pitching regulations, he finished 10-7 with a 4.40 ERA and retired at the end of the season.

8. His Triple Crown season was 1888. He went 35-12 (.745 winning percentage), had an ERA of 1.74 (ERA+156), and stuck out 335 men (while walking 90). He also led the National League with eight shutouts. And we should remember that the pitching distance at the time was 50′ and there was no mound.

9. For his career he was 342-225 with an ERA of 2.63 (ERA+126). He had 2564 strikeouts, 1233 walks, gave up 4438 hits, and 1474 earned runs in 5050 innings pitched. At his retirement the 342 wins was second only to Pud Galvin.

10. He is  credited with inventing the change-up in 1883. I’m not sure that’s true because it implies no one changed speeds prior to 1883. My guess is he figured out how to throw both his fastball and a slower pitch with the same arm motion. That’s strictly a guess.

11. After retirement he umped a little then coached at Harvard, at Princeton, and at Tufts University.

12. He died in 1933 in Cambridge and is buried in the same cemetery as Clarkson.

13. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1964, 31 years after his death.

An Ugly Story

June 4, 2012

John Clarkson in the 1880s

Sport is about heroes, not tragedy. At least that’s the way most of us want it. Unfortunately, this is not a pretty tale. It’s an awful ending to the life of a great ballplayer. You watch a man play, you read about his life, you root for him, but you want everything to end well. In the case of John Clarkson, it doesn’t.

John Clarkson was born in July 1861 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He grew up with two advantages. First, his father was a watchmaker and jeweller who made decent money for the era. Second, the father had a co-worker named Harry Wright (yep, that Harry Wright). There’s no direct evidence about the matter, but it’s likely that Wright made at least a small impression on Clarkson when it came to baseball. Whether Wright did or didn’t influence the kid, Clarkson played for his local high school team (both catcher and pitcher), then joined the family business while attending a local trade school. There’s a common rumor that Clarkson attended Harvard. Although the family lived in Cambridge and both brothers attended the university, John Clarkson didn’t.

He did play amateur baseball and played it well. In 1882 he pitched well enough against the Worcester Ruby Legs of the National League that the team offered him a contract. Don’t you just love both the nickname and the idea that Worcester, Massachusetts could have a Major League team in 1882? It shows you just how much Major League Baseball was in its infancy in the 1880s.

Now a professional, Clarkson was another of those players who wasn’t an instant success. He went 1-2 with an ERA of 4.50, but did hit .364 with two doubles in three games. He was released early in the season complaining of a sore arm. The next season he played in the Northwestern League. He did well enough to make it back to the National League in 1884, this time with Chicago.

This is as good a point as any to discuss the pitching changes that were to dominate Clarkson’s career. He began his career pitching at 45 feet and throwing underhand. The rules were changed to move him back to 50 feet and allow him to throw sidearm. Then came the change to throwing overhand. Finally the powers that be moved the pitcher back to 60′ 6″ and put in a mound. Clarkson pitched through all of those changes and did well until the final change. It’s something of a testament to his abilities that he managed to survive as many changes as he did before finally reaching a point where he was ineffective.

He did well enough in 1884, but his career took off in 1885. For the next five years he was utterly dominant. And for the following three seasons he was really good. He won 53 games in 1885 (second all time and  still the Cubs record), led the NL with 308 strikeouts (his career high) and 10 shutouts (also a career high).  Chicago finished first and participated in the postseason championship round against the winner of the American Association (St. Louis). He started two games, one ended in a tie and he lost the other. The Colts (now the Cubs) repeated in 1886 and Clarkson was 36-17, but this time Chicago won the postseason clash with Clarkson picking up two wins. He again led the NL in wins and strikeouts in 1887.

The next year was a watershed for Clarkson. Not only did he win 33 games in 1888,  but he changed teams. Dissatisfied with Chicago and an early member of the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players, the first sports union in the US, he jumped to Boston (now Atlanta) for the enormous sum (for the era) of $25,000 for three years and $10,000 up front. Boston finished fourth. Clarkson stayed with the team through 1891, meaning that although a member of the Brotherhood, he didn’t jump to the Player’s League in 1890. It cost him friends and worsened an already developing drinking problem.

He had one last great season with Boston. In 1889 Clarkson won 49 games and lost 19. He led the NL in wins, ERA (2.73), winning percentage, shutouts (8), walks (203), and had 284 strikeouts to give him the pitching Triple Crown. His modern numbers show a WHIP of 1.277 and an ERA+ of 150. Both also led the National League.  

In 1892 he was traded to Cleveland where he joined a new pitcher named Cy Young as the mainstays of the Spiders. It was the year of the split season and Cleveland won a part of the pennant. They faced Boston, Clarkson’s old team, in the postseason and lost. Clarkson pitched in two games, losing both.

In 1893 came the move to a mound for the pitcher. Clarkson didn’t adjust well. His record was mediocre (16-17) and his ERA soared to 4.45. His previous high in a season in which he pitched more than three games was 3.27. He was even worse in 1894 and was traded to Baltimore. He refused to report and was through at age 32.

So what have we got at this point? Clarkson retired with 328 wins (an NL record at the time), 178 losses (.648 winning percentage), 1978 strikeouts, 1191 walks, a 2.81 ERA (ERA+133), 4295 hits, and 1417 earned runs in 4536 innings pitched. Most people ignore his hitting, but he was also a very good hitter for a pitcher (you knew that caveat was coming, didn’t you?). He hit .219 but had 24 home runs (a record at the time), 232 RBIs, and never struck out 20 times in a season. He also played 27 games in the outfield (and a handful at both first and third) and was an adequate fielder.

So far not too bad, right? But now comes the ugly stuff. He ran a minor league club, opened a cigar store (actually a chain of them) and was moderately successful. In 1905 his mind snapped. Something was wrong and the sources can’t seem to agree on exactly what went wrong. Some say he suffered paranoia, others depression, others come up with different theories. Whatever it was there is universal agreement that Clarkson was a heavy drinker and this added to his problems and to his instability. One story indicates he killed his wife; however, she survived him by several years so this tale can be discounted. Other versions of the story say he stabbed her but there is no record of an arrest nor any statement from her saying it occurred. Whatever happened, Clarkson was institutionalized. He spent much of the rest of his life in the McLean Psychiatric Hospital in Massachusetts with occasional home visits allowed. By the end he was getting longer visits home, often lasting weeks, so apparently things were improving at least a little. In January 1909 he developed pneumonia and died in February. He is buried in Massachusetts in the same cemetery as longtime rival Tim Keefe. In 1963 the Hall of Fame enshrined Clarkson at Cooperstown.

I hate finding out things like this. You want your heroes to not only shine while playing, but also to have happy endings. Clarkson had a terrible end (except for the Hall of Fame, which he never knew about) and that’s a great shame. I prefer to dwell on the baseball hero, not the mental patient. Unfortunately, both are part of his legacy.

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 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.