Posts Tagged ‘Max Carey’

The Doctor’s Son

August 5, 2016
Vin Cambell

Vin Cambell

I’ve joined a fantasy league (don’t laugh too loud). It’s a new experience for me. I’ve never done anything like it before and I have no idea how good I’ll be or if the other “owners” will want to shoot me by the time we’re through. It’s a league that begins with the 1910 season and goes on for a while. Now I know a little about Deadball baseball, but I’m surprised at how much I’ve had to learn to be competitive in this kind of thing. I had to draft a team and that meant I had to study players I’d never heard of in all the years I’ve looked at baseball. One guy I drafted was particularly interesting and I thought I’d let you know a little about Vin Campbell.

Arthur Vincent “Vin” Campbell, Jr. was born in St. Louis in January 1888 to a prominent eye doctor and his wife. Education was important to the family so Vin went to an “academy” (we’d probably call them a “prep school” today) in St. Louis then took off for Vanderbilt in Nashville. He played both football and baseball, becoming the primary catcher for the baseball team. He was nicknamed “The Demon” for his ferocious style of play at football and the name slid over to baseball. After one season at Vanderbilt, he signed with the Cubs in 1908.

He made the big league team out of spring training, but didn’t play much (one at bat) and was sent down to Decatur for “seasoning.” Then he was sold to Atlanta. That got the attention of the National Commission (the ruling body of Major League Baseball). Under the rules of the day Chicago couldn’t be party to a sale between minor league clubs (remember the “farm” system of today didn’t exist in 1908) so it led to the Cubs paying a fine and losing Campbell as a free agent.

He signed with the Northwestern League in 1909, stole 72 bases, and ended up sold to the Pittsburgh Pirates. After a winter selling shoes (he was a traveling salesman not assigned to one store) he made the Pirates teams as a the fourth outfielder in 1910. Injuries put him into the lineup and by September he was the regular right fielder. He ended the season hitting .326, good for second in the National League, and fourth in the league in OPS.

In 1911 he notified the Pirates he was not planning to play baseball that season, having gotten a job with a brokerage firm in St. Louis (it paid better). That lasted until late in the season, when he applied for reinstatement, which was granted. There are a couple of versions of what was going on, but my favorite is that he’d found a girl in St. Louis and she didn’t want to move to Pittsburgh. Apparently he got the girl, but Max Carey got the outfield job and Campbell spent most of the season as a pinch hitter and fourth outfielder.

In 1912 he held out for more money. Pittsburgh cut him and Boston (the Braves, not the Red Sox) picked him up. He hit .296, led the NL in at bats, had 185 hits, scored 102 runs, and had what turned out to be his career year.

In 1913 he decided to retire. He took a job as President of the Keystone Motor Supply Company in Pittsburgh and announced he wasn’t going to play baseball unless he could join the Giants (pennant winners in 1912). That came to nothing, so he stayed away from the game until the arrival of the new Federal League in 1914.

The Feds were considered by the established leagues as an “Outlaw League.” They signed a lot of over-the-hill types, a bunch of “wannabes” and guys like Campbell who’d had a cup of coffee and a few good years. He ended up in Indianapolis where he helped lead the Hoosiers to the first Federal League title. He played again in 1915. Indianapolis had done poorly in attendance in 1914 and the franchise, along with Campbell, was transferred to Newark. He had one last good year. He was 27.

The Feds folded after the 1915 season and Campbell was offered contracts, all of which contained major pay cuts. He refused and retired, this time for good. He did, however, have one last dealing with baseball. He sued Newark for $8200, the size of his contract which he’d signed in September before the Feds folded. A jury gave him just under $6000.

He went into the tire business, was successful, and moved to New York. There he began managing a chain of tire stores, continuing to sell tires for the rest of his working life. He retired and died in 1969, a successful businessman, but a neglected ball player.

For his career Vin Campbell played in 546 games (both NL and Federal League) hitting .310 with 642 hits, 326 runs, 11 RBIs, 92 stolen bases, 85 doubles, 15 homes runs, a slugging percentage of .408, an OBP of .357, and an OPS of .765 (OPS+ of 114). All that got him 4.5 WAR. In 1912 he led the NL in at bats, outs made, and errors committed by an outfielder.

Campbell is part of my fantasy team. I’d never heard of him, but was fascinated by the shortness of a career that seemed to always verge on the very good. It seems he had outside interests, the skill to pursue them, and the finances (both his family and his in-laws had decent money for the era) to live a life without baseball. That set of factors alone makes him unusual for Deadball players and makes him interesting.


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.





The Middle Rung

September 18, 2012

This was supposed to be something like a standard baseball biography of Harry Hooper. As I delved deeper into Hooper I began to notice just how controversial his Hall of Fame selection is. And then I began to ask myself questions like “Self, do you think he should be there?” Finally the entire thing began to devolve into questions of the Hall.

I believe the Hall of  Fame has four categories of inductees: the obvious, the inspired, the “who?”, and the middle rung. I often subdivide these, but basically I always come back to four. You may choose more categories or less, but I can’t seem to get around four.

The Obvious: these are guys who we all know should be there. They have names like Ruth and Gehrig, Mays and Musial.

The Inspired: these are the guys who are in because of a moment of inspiration on the part of the voters or the Hall. They include putting in Clemente without having to wait five years, adding Addie Joss who died just before his tenth season, and every Negro League player who currently graces the Hall.

The “who?”: these are the guys who you’re fairly sure had a plaque made up, broke in one night, hung the thing up, and nobody noticed. I’m not putting names here; I’ll bet each of you has your own list of these guys.

The middle rung: These are the guys I want to talk about. Hooper is one of them.

The middle rung is my way of classifying those guys who are not terrible choices for the Hall of Fame, but are not the first names that jump instantly to mind. They are good players, even in their own era great players, but a quick look at their careers creates puzzlement rather than nods when the Hall of Fame is mentioned. Some of them are guys who made sense when they were elected, but whose plaques look a little out-of-place today. Two quick examples that I’ve used before are Eppa Rixey and Max Carey. When Rixey was elected to the Hall he was the second (to Warren Spahn) winningest left-hander in National League history. Sounds like a good reason to put a guys in, doesn’t it? Today, after Steve Carlton and Tom Glavine and others, Rixey is no longer second and his numbers pale in comparison to the men who went passed him in the last 50 years.  But, again, 50 years ago his numbers weren’t as bad as the sound today. Carey was the all-time leader in stolen bases in the National League (using the modern definition of stolen base) when he went into the Hall. Again, not a bad reason to put a man in the Hall. But today after Tim Raines and Vince Coleman and Lou Brock, Carey isn’t even close to number one. But 50 years ago no one knew that he was going to be sent sliding down the stolen base ladder.

It seems to me that you can’t exclude from the Hall those people who were among the finest players of their day just because their stats are now not as impressive as they were 50 or 75 or 100 years ago.  To stick with Hooper, he was one of the better outfielders of his day, a major factor in five World Series champions (although he did not play in the 1919 Series), and a decent hitter. Is that a Hall of Famer? Maybe. And Hooper is one of those maybe’s for me. He’s certainly not the best choice ever made, but he’s not a totally awful one either. That defines “middle rung” to me.

Feel free to disagree.

Making the Right Choices for Cooperstown

July 2, 2010

Sometimes I look at the list of Hall of Famers and wonder how a particular player got to Cooperstown. Some choices are obvious, some silly, some merely puzzling. Then I look at when he was elected and sometimes the choice doesn’t seem so bad in the context of the time the player was elected. Let me give you two examples.

Eppa Rixey

Left handed pitcher Eppa Rixey began his Major League career in 1912 and completed it in 1933. He won 266 games, had a .515 winning percentage, an ERA of 3.15, and struck out 1350 men. He also gave up more hits than he had innings pitched. He missed 1918 because of World War I, and took a loss in the 1915 World Series when he pitched the last six innings of game five for Philadelphia. He died in February 1963 and made the Hall of Fame the same year. Ignoring the fact that his death may have influenced the Veteran’s Committee to look at him more closely, his career isn’t bad, but doesn’t look all that special. As a Left-handed pitcher he did well, but here’s a list of all the left-handers who have more wins than Rixey: Spahn, Carlton, Plank, Johnson, Glavine, Grove, John, Kaat, and Moyer. Here’s that same list in 1963: Spahn, Plank, Grove. And note, further, that both Plank and Grove spent most of their big league career in the American League (Grove spent all of his). So in 1963, Eppa Rixey was the second winningest left-handed pitcher in National League history, with much more well-known Carl Hubbell 12 wins back in third. If you know that, then the Rixey choice doesn’t seem quite so bad. The Veteran’s Committee chose the winningest left-hander in National League history prior to about 1960 (didn’t bother to look up when Spahn won his 267th game), a period of 84 years, to enshrine in Cooperstown. So again, Rixey doesn’t look as odd to 1963 fans as he does to modern fans when it comes to the Hall of Fame (and remember that Spahn is still active in 1963 so he’s not yet 97 games up on Rixey).

Max Carey

Max Carey was a base stealing specialist, mostly for Pittsburgh, from 1910 to 1929. He hit .285, slugged .385, scored 1545 runs, had no power, and stole 738 bases. He was part of the 1925 World Series winning team. His best stolen base year was 1922 when he stole 51 and was caught only twice (He actually stole more bases a couple of times, but never with that success rate). He made the Hall of Fame in 1961. Currently Carey ranks seventh in stolen bases since 1898 (when they changed the stolen base run to its current form). OK, maybe that alone would get him a ticket to Cooperstown (although it hasn’t helped either Tim Raines or Vince Coleman, two of the players above him), but it was different in 1961. In that year he was third behind only Ty Cobb and Eddie Collins, both career American Leaguers. So again we find that the player in question is the all-time leader in a category (stolen bases) in the National League at the time he is chosen for the Hall of Fame. That makes the choice look better then than now, when Lou Brock is now the NL’s stolen base king.

This is not a plea for either man to be in the Hall of Fame. Maybe neither should be, or maybe only Carey should be.  Maybe being the all-time leader in something in one league isn’t a free pass to the Hall. But if you think neither looks overly qualified when you read over their stats, remember that both, particularly Rixey, looked a lot better in the early 1960s than they do in the 21st Century.