Posts Tagged ‘Pete Browning’

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1906

August 4, 2014

Here’s the latest installment of My Own Little Hall of Fame:

Pete Browning

Pete Browning

Louis Rogers “Pete” Browning has the highest batting average in the 19th Century. He won three batting titles, two with Louisville and the other with Cleveland in the Player’s League. Meticulous about his bats, he became the original “Louisville Slugger” when he ordered bats from a local company.

Frank Selee

Frank Selee

Selee was a premier manager in the 1890s. Leading Boston from 1890 through 1901, his Beaneaters won five pennants, including the split season 1892 pennant. He later managed the Chicago National League team, retiring in 1905. His .598 winning percentage is among the highest in professional baseball history.

Joe Start

Joe Start

Premier first baseman for the Atlantic in their championship years of the 1860s, Joe Start made the transition to the National Association in 1871, playing for the New York Mutuals. He moved to the National League playing for the Mutuals, Hartford Dark Blues, and Chicago White Stockings. In 1879 he moved to the Providence Greys and helped them to pennants in both 1879 and 1884. He retired after the 1886 season at the age of 43.

And now the commentary you always expect.

1. What took so long on Browning? Pete Browning raises a number of questions. I’ve decided most of them are modern questions. In 1906 when baseball wasn’t very far from some really short seasons, the fact that Browning plays few games and get s few hits shouldn’t have been the problem to contemporaries as it is to us. It took a while to figure that out. Also Browning never plays for a winner, not even in the Player’s League. Further, he plays his truly best years in the American Association, by general consensus the weaker of the two leagues. BTW, it turns out (according to Baseball Reference.com) that Browning doesn’t have the highest average of 19th Century players. Both Billy Hamilton and Dave Orr are listed as higher. But in the period I’m researching (and in a lot of modern stuff too), Browning is listed higher, so I used what was received knowledge at the time in my initial comment above.

2. Selee was the manager of the best of the 1890s teams (sorry Baltimore fans) and his winning percentage is still fourth all time. BTW he would die only a couple of years later.

3. Joe Start? It seems to me that the pioneers of the game should be recognized, particularly in a year when there are no overwhelming candidates for a Hall of Fame. I looked at several candidates (Lip Pike, Bob Ferguson, etc.) and finally decided on Start. He had three things going for him. First, he was a member of the Atlantic, the best team of the pre-professional leagues and somebody from there had to be good enough to make it. Second, Start has a pretty good National Association and National League career. Easily the best of any of the old Atlantic players and arguably the finest of any of the 1860s era players. Finally, he’s a major contributor to two pennant winners in the NL. I simply couldn’t find anyone from the 1860s period with that kind of career. My guess is that Start would never receive 75% of the vote in the era (75% of the voters probably never heard of him), but I’m also presuming a Veteran’s Committee type organization that would be tasked with looking for people like Start.

4. No fourth or fifth inductee? As I said last time, the pickings are getting kind of thin. This is a list of the pitching candidates I haven’t put in who are eligible and who I consider worthy of consideration: Bob Caruthers, Dave Foutz, Bobby Mathews, Jim McCormick, Tony Mullane, Gus Weyhing, Will White. Not a bad list, right? But also not just a really first-rate list either, right? I’m beginning to see why Hall’s frequently put in a bunch of people quickly then start to slow down. Next year Amos Rusie shows up, but he’s not eligible until then. My guess is most of the Caruthers-White list is going to fail (although Mullane and Matthews might slide over the top in some year in which there aren’t a lot of really good candidates).

5. Same problem with everyday players? Yep.  Cupid Childs, Jack Glasscock, George Gore, Paul Hines, Charlie Jones, Bill Joyce, Bill Lange, Arlie Latham, Andy Leonard, Tommy McCarthy (who is actually in the Hall–and his name here should tell you what I think of that), Cal McVey, Dave Orr, Hardy Richardson, Mike Tiernan are the guys I’m looking at. Not a bad lot of players, but Hall of Fame quality? Maybe I’m viewing them from too far away in time, but they just don’t look as good as I thought they would. I’m beginning to see why it took so long for guys like Eppa Rixey and Max Carey to get elected to Cooperstown. Once they were initially overlooked, they were overrun by a later generation who looked at least superficially better (and maybe not so superficially either). If I do this right, I’ve discovered it’s a lot more difficult than I expected. I’m beginning to understand why “marginal” Hall of Famers get elected. I’m also noting a temptation to put in someone, anyone. That also helps me understand why that same group of “marginal” people are elected. I’m also learning a new respect for the writers who seriously look at the candidates before voting (and even less respect for those who just haphazardly fill out a ballot). It’s a lot harder than I thought. Next year I get lucky and Billy Hamilton shows up.

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The Hall of Fame is out to GET Me

December 9, 2012
Pete Browning about 1877. Is this the best 19th Century player not in Cooperstown?

Pete Browning about 1877. Is this the best 19th Century player not in Cooperstown?

Alright, I’ve had enough of this. I’ve decided the Hall of Fame is picking on me specifically. They chose Deacon White for the Hall of Fame. “But, wait,” I hear you say, “Didn’t you support White for the Hall? Didn’t you call him ‘The Best 19th Century Player not in the Hall’?”  That’s exactly the problem.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to pick a “Best 19th Century Player not in the Hall”? Do you? For 10 years I could wake up with the comfort of knowing I had White and the Hall didn’t. I wasn’t going to have to sweat over a big thick book of  stats or stare at long columns of numbers online. I wasn’t going to have to read florid journals written in 19th Century style about base ball (19th Century spelling). I was able to simply get up in the morning and go about my business.

But then the Hall of Fame struck. It aimed its barb directly at me and elected White. My God, Cooperstown, how fair was that? What were you thinking?

Now I have to go back to the books, the long columns of figures, the 19th Century journals, and start a new search for “The Best 19th Century Player not in the Hall.” Do you have any idea how hard that’s going to be? I’ve going to have to go over the career of the likes of  Tommy Bond and Bob Carruthers, of Mike Tiernan and Harry Stovey, of Pete Browning and Cal McVey. And that’s assuming I leave off guys like Bill Dahlen who spent about half their career in the 20th Century or guys like Joe Start who played for the Atlantic in the 1860s.

Curse you, Cooperstown, for complicating my world. I take it personally (there’s no paranoia in my family; I have it all).

The Brotherhood Revolts

March 26, 2010

Sometimes you’ve just had enough. You’ve had those days, right? It’s one damn stupid thing after another. It’s one thing too many, it’s…well, you know, it’s your Howard Beale moment, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” (See the movie Network). The same kind of thing happened in baseball way back in 1889. It was just one too many slaps at the players by the owners. They responded by forming a new league, the last league run by players.

During the late 1880s the leaders of both major leagues, the National League and the American Assoiciation, tried to control costs by setting the equivilent of the modern salary cap. They announced that no player could earn more than $2500 a season. It’s not a great salary in 1890, but not an awful one either.  Just prior to this announcement, John Montgomery Ward had formed the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players, the first sports union (love it or hate it). Many, but certainly not all, the players joined. Their anger at the salary cap was such that they decided to act.

The late 1880s is not a particularly good time for labor unions. They were seen as rabble rousers, as anarchists (The very idea of Monte Ward as an anarchist is laughable.), as not knowing their place, etc. There were no federal laws protecting them, no law granting a right to strike in certain circumstances, no binding arbitration. So many of the modern ways a union can attack what it perceives as an evil were not available or were illegal at the time. Ward came up with an alternative. They players would form their own league and would call it the Player’s League.

The Player’s League began operation in 1890 in the following cities: Boston, Brooklyn, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Buffalo. Every team except Buffalo was in direct competition with a National League team, and Brooklyn had three teams. With only a smattering of new players, the new league drew most of its players from the established Major Leagues. As an example of what happened here’s the starting eight for the 1889 winner of the “World Series,” the New York Giants: Jim O’Rourke, Mike Tiernan, and George Gore in the outfield; Roger Connor, Danny Richardson, Monte Ward, Art Whitney in the infield; and Buck Ewing catching. In 1890 only Tiernan was still with the Giants, who slipped all the way to sixth. Connor, Richardson, Whitney, O’Rourke, Gore, and Ewing were now all with the Player’s League team in New York, with Ewing as manager. Ward was the manager of the Player’s League Brooklyn entry.

The team from Boston, the Reds, won the pennant going 81-48 and winning by 6.5 games over Brooklyn. Hall of Fame players Dan Brouthers, King Kelly (who also managed), and Charles Radbourne played for Boston along with a number of stars of the day. Pete Browning won the batting title, Billy Shindle led in total bases, Connor in home runs, Harry Stovey in stolen bases, Mark Baldwin in pitching wins, and Silver King in ERA. King also threw the only no hitter in the league (besting Brooklyn).

In the stands, the new league did well, sort of. By June the Player’s League led in attendance by about 10,000 over the NL (and almost 20,000 over the Association). The gap, particularly with the Association continued to grow. But there was a problem developing. The United States of 1890 simply couldn’t sustain three Major Leagues. Most teams were hemorraging money, especially the bottom few teams in all three leagues. Salaries were up, especially among the Player’s League teams, and there just weren’t enough fans in the stands to pay for it. In the National League in particular, the owners had much larger sums of money to weather the storm than the players. When the season ended with a World Series between NL winner Brooklyn and Association winner Louisville, the Player’s League was shut out, thus losing another source of revenue.

The Player’s League went under 14 January 1891. The Brotherhood simply didn’t have the funds to keep going. They managed to get, everything considered, a reasonably good deal. Most of their players got back into the two established leagues (but more of the truly superior players ended up in the NL, to disastrous consequences for the Association). Brotherhood president Ward became the new manager of the NL team in Brooklyn (I guess that means he didn’t have to move). Two teams, Boston and Chicago, were not scrapped. They shifted into the Association. They were the final pieces of the Player’s League. They, like the American Association, lasted one more season.

The Player’s League was the second league formed by the players. It met the same fate as the 1870’s National Association. The  players, even with well educated men like Monte Ward leading them, simply lacked the expertise to make a league go. They also lacked financial backing to survive. Before we take too much time and criticize the players, it should be noted that there were five “Major” Leagues formed in the 19th Century: National Association, National League, American Association, Union Association, and the Player’s League. Only the National League survived. If both player organized leagues failed, so too did two of the three owner organized leagues. It was a tough business, owner or player.