Posts Tagged ‘Mickey Welch’

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1904

June 2, 2014

Time for my monthly addition to My Own Little Hall of Fame. This time it’s the Class of 1904. Without further nonsense, here’s the list followed, as usual, by the commentary.

Henry Chadwick

Henry Chadwick

Henry Chadwick

One of the true “Fathers of Baseball.” New York sportswriter who popularized baseball through his columns and coverage in newspapers. He is credited with inventing the box score as well as a number of other statistics.

"Pud" Galvin

“Pud” Galvin

James “Pud” Galvin

Most wins of any pitcher. Most innings pitched of any pitcher. Had a long career with both Buffalo and Pittsburgh while playing in three different Major Leagues. Never pitched from a mound.

Jim O'Rourke

Jim O’Rourke

“Orator” Jim O’Rourke

Hit .310 over a 21 year career extending from 1872 through 1893. Member of three National Association champions and of the 1877 and 1978 Boston National League pennant winners. Won the 1884 National League batting title. Member of the 1888 and 1889 National League pennant winning New York Giants, hitting .306 with two home runs in postseason play.

Mickey Welch

Mickey Welch

Mickey Welch

Won over 300 games, most with the Giants. Had 40 wins once, 30 three times, with 345 strikeouts in 1884. Won pennants with the Giants in both 1888 and 1889.

Deacon White

Deacon White

James “Deacon” White

First great professional catcher. In 1871, he had the first hit in an all professional league. Later in his career he moved to third base. Won batting titles in both the National Association and the National League. His teams won three National Association pennants and an equal number of National League pennants.

And now the commentary.

1. How much did baseball writers know about Henry Chadwick’s work in 1904? I was surprised at how well he was known. Of course he was still alive in 1904, so that helped. But a lot of sports writer’s seemed to know about the box score. About the other stats I’m not as sure.

2. What took so long on Galvin? Well, as I’ve mentioned before, it seems that Galvin’s accomplishments had fallen off the face of the earth. Here’s a guy with more wins and innings pitched than any other 19th Century pitcher and he seems to be overlooked. Much as you find few people today who place Cy Young (who has more wins than any other pitcher) at the top of the pitching pecking order, preferring Walter Johnson or Lefty Grove or Rogers Clemens or someone else, Galvin (who has the most wins of a 19th Century pitcher) seems to find few writers who extolled his greatness. So I’m comfortable with holding him until 1904.

3. Deacon White lived until 1939 and was still active in 1904 as a manager and coach for a variety of minor league teams. I was surprised how much I found about him (although there was a lot more on other players). In various places he’s credited with catching innovations that are also credited to others. I decided to ignore those. Interestingly, the “first hit in an all professional league” honor didn’t seem to be all that well-known. As early as 1904 there seems to have been at least a bit of mixed feeling about calling the National Association a “Major League”.

4. So, who did you agonize over most? Well, I didn’t actually “agonize”, but I thought longest and hardest about O’Rourke and Welch. O’Rourke is one of those players that I’ve always felt was overrated, but when I looked at his hits, games, total bases, doubles, and membership on pennant winning teams, I decided he would probably have made it (possibly even earlier than 1904). He was still active in baseball in 1904 (he was a coach), even playing in a game for the Giants (the last one of the season). He hadn’t played in MLB since 1893 so I decided that if the election occurred in January (as it does presently) O’Rourke would remain retired when the election was held. As mentioned above, he was a coach for the Giants, but also had extensive ties to the minors, and was well enough known and liked that I could see him sliding into a 1904 version of the Hall of Fame. Besides, it gave me a chance to allow a living (as of 1904) member of the Hall of Fame to actually appear in a Big League game.

5. But Welch was different. He was distinctly the weaker of the two great Giants pitchers (Tim Keefe being the other). There were a lot of pitchers from the 19th Century that were probably as good but played for weaker teams. I looked at some of the more modern stats to see if I was just imagining it, but had to dismiss them as they were unavailable for 1904 era voters. Ultimately, I decided that era voters would probably be dazzled enough by the 300 wins that he’d get in without a lot a problem. I just wish I was more comfortable with his inclusion. BTW he was also still alive in 1904.

6. Where’s Delahanty? Ed Delahanty died in 1903 in a fall from the train bridge. Being dead there was no chance of him playing in 1904 (Is that the most obvious statement I ever made or what?) so he could be eligible for election. I thought about it seriously because I knew whatever I decided would impact what I do in 1910 with Addie Joss. The circumstances of Delahanty’s death were such that one could argue that the death was avoidable and thus he shouldn’t be given a waiver. On the other hand it was an era of sports reporting that tended to gloss over a player’s failings so I don’t know if the circumstances were universally known to regular fans. Realizing that most writers (the actual voters) would know the circumstances, I decided to hold him until he is otherwise eligible in 1909. Not sure it’s the right choice, but I have to make one. Without wanting to totally commit to it, my guess is that I’ll let Joss get in early since his death was of natural causes (he had tubercular meningitis), assuming he gets in at all let alone on the first try.

7. The 1905 class is going to be interesting. There are few just “have to” people left to put in and none of them come eligible in 1905. So I’m going to concentrate on the American Association (which doesn’t mean only Association players are getting in). For almost all their post-demise history, the two Associations (National and later American) were ignored by the later writers. To make it worse, the AA was considered much the weaker league so that hitting .320 in the AA didn’t mean quite the same thing to contemporaries as hitting .320 in the NL (this will greatly affect Pete Browning). I’m going to have to try to find out if there’s a way to figure out what the likely voters in 1905 thought of the players in the AA (by today, the only players with significant time in the AA enshrined in Cooperstown are Bid McPhee and Tommy McCarthy). By 1905 it had been over a  decade since the AA had played a game and I don’t know how much the writers who would have voted in 1905 knew about the Association. By something like 1915 it would have been 25 years since the Association played and many of the writers would never have seen an Association game. It seems to me that getting AA players in to a 1901 era Hall of Fame would have to come fairly quickly or time alone would dim the chances of the players. That convoluted enough for you?

 

Big League, Small Town

January 29, 2013
Troy, New York

Troy, New York

Did you ever notice how Major League teams gravitate toward big cities? There simply are no teams in middle-sized towns. Those towns are reserved for the farm teams. That wasn’t always so. Way back in the beginning of professional baseball, medium-sized cities also played Major League baseball. For instance, there was Troy, New York.

Troy was founded in the early 1700s, grew up during the 1830s and by 1860 was a prosperous industrial town just north of Albany. By 1860 it had a population of 39,000 (56,700 by 1880) and was becoming a hotbed for baseball.

In 1860 the Union club was established. It played at a high enough level that it soon gained the attention of the powerful teams that played in Brooklyn, New York City, and Philadelphia. They played games against the teams from the larger cities and held their own through most of the 1860s. By 1869 they were part of the National Association of Base Ball Players. They participated in 21 championship games going 12-8-1, good enough for fifth place (The Atlantic of Brooklyn won the pennant). In 1870, they were 11-13-1, again good for fifth place in a fifteen team league.

In 1871 the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was formed. Troy was one of the teams joining the first fully professional league. They managed a coup when they picked up perennial all-star Lip Pike to both play and manage the team. Pike led the National Association in home runs, extra base hits, and finished second in a number of other categories. Unfortunately for Troy, he wasn’t much of a manager and the Haymakers, as they were now called, finished 13-15, eight games out of first and good enough for sixth in the nine team league. The next season the Haymakers finished fifth (of 11 teams) with a 15-10 record. Pike, their best player was gone, and despite a winning record, the team wasn’t making money. At the end of the season the team folded.

Troy was without a Major League team until 1879 when a new team was formed. The National League had replaced the National Association and was looking to expand. It chose Troy for one of the teams. It might strike us odd today that Troy was getting a team while both New York and Philadelphia were shut out of the NL. It was personal. William Hulbert, founder of the NL, was angry at both cities for failing to complete a western swing in the inaugural NL season of 1876. He vowed never to allow either city back in “his” league. When expansion time came, Troy was close to New York City so it became a chosen team.

The new team was called the Trojans (although some news accounts still refered to them as the Haymakers). It played its home games at the Putnam Grounds, then moved to Haymakers Grounds in 1880. It remained there until making a final move to the Troy Ball Club Grounds (which was in Watervliet, not Troy) in 1882.

They finished dead last in 1879, going 19-56. They did, however, produce one good player. Future Hall of Fame first baseman Dan Brouthers made his Major League debut for the Trojans that season. He hit .274 with four home runs.

The 1880 season was better for Troy. They finished fourth at 41-42. Much of the increase in wins can be attributed to the rookie campaigns of Roger Connor, Buck Ewing, Mickey Welch, and Tim Keefe, all Hall of Fame players. In 1881, they were back to fifth and had lost Brouthers to Buffalo. The 1882 season saw the team continue to plunge, this time finished next to last.  Despite the record, the team drew moderately well.

But it wasn’t enough. By 1883, William Hulbert was dead, the American Association was flourishing and the National League needed teams in New York and Philadelphia in order to compete. The team in Worcester, Massachusetts (which finished last in 1882) was dropped. A new team was established in Philadelphia. Now only New York needed a team. Troy was closest, it was also falling in the standings, but it had a number of good players. The NL decided to drop Troy and set up a new team in New York. A number of Troy players, including Connor, Ewing, Keefe, and Welch, ended up with the new team (now the San Francisco Giants) and Troy was done as a Major League town.

The town continued to provide good quality Minor League teams and players. There is still a team around today. But the experiment of Troy as a Major League city was over.  

Buttercup Dickerson while a member of the Troy Trojans

Buttercup Dickerson while a member of the Troy Trojans

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?