Why Irv Waldron may have left the majors

It ranks as one of the more enduring mysteries in baseball history. The inaugural 1901 season of the American League also marked the debut in the majors of 29-year-old Irv Waldron. While not a star, the 5’5″, 155-pound outfielder hit .311 between the old Milwaukee Brewers [who became the St. Louis Browns in 1902] and Washington Senators, with a 106 OPS+ for the year. And that was it for Waldron. While he played another nine seasons for various minor league teams, he never returned to the majors after 1901.

I’ve written about one-season MLB careers before. What makes Waldron’s unusual is that it didn’t end for the typical reasons– injury or lack of ability. Granted, he finished third in errors by an outfielder, his defense suspect enough to inspire a derisive Chicago Inter Ocean cartoon, at right. But Waldron likely could have gotten more work playing in the majors. Late in the 1901 season, the Boston Beaneaters of the National League expressed interest in signing him for their depleted outfield. Tangentially, one of the Beaneaters stars of 1901 figured in where Waldron played in 1902. More on that in a moment.

To my knowledge, no one’s ever definitively stated the reason for Waldron’s exit from the American League. Seemingly, no one thought to interview him before his death in 1944, with his obituary making no mention of why he left the majors. Waldron has no SABR biography and scant details accompany his stats at Baseball-Reference.com. What’s been written is largely speculative, like this book noting, “His reputation for bone-headed playing must have stayed with him.” The Ultimate Baseball Book classes Waldron “among the most mysterious figures to wear major league uniforms.”

Waldron’s departure was mysterious even at the time. MLB historian and veteran baseball author John Thorn sent me an excerpt from a Febuary 1, 1902 article in Sporting Life that asked of new Washington manager Tom Loftus:

Why has he permitted Sam Dungan and Irving Waldron to slip away and fall into the minor leagues? They hit way over .300 last year why were they not good enough for 1902? The ways of managers are past all explanation, and what’s the use of trying to fathom their ideas?

Loftus’s presence in Washington could hint at why Waldron left. Loftus took over for Jim Manning, who served as both manager and co-owner for Washington in 1901 before selling his controlling shares in the team. The New York Times noted on October 30, 1901 that while several stockholders lobbied Manning to retain control, he sold because of his strained relationship with notoriously imperious American League president Ban Johnson. Instead, Manning and future Hall of Famer Kid Nichols, who anchored the Boston Beaneaters pitching staff in 1901 got joint control of a Western League team, the Kansas City Blue Stockings, with Nichols to serve as manager. In January 1902, Nichols signed a number of players including, on January 19, Waldron.

I mentioned Waldron and Manning’s simultaneous move from Washington to Kansas City to baseball historian David Nemec, who wrote much of the text in The Ultimate Baseball Book. Nemec replied:

I checked my notes after we talked.  They confirm everything you found and more.  Manning was very popular with many players he managed and Nichols was still at the top of his game.  He hated it in Boston and went to KC as part-owner.  Although salary figures are unavailable, I suspect Waldron made more in 02 than he did in 01 with Washington.  After Nichols left KC to come back to the majors, Waldron left too and went to SF in the fledgling PCL.  Probably he followed the money; the PCL even then paid fairly well.  Waldron I suspect was a lesser version of Willie Keeler, good contact hitter but one that didn’t walk much despite the small strike zone he presented.

I’ve mentioned before here– and I’m not the first person to say it– that generations ago in baseball, effective players with a glaring flaw or two like Waldron could often earn more in the minors than the majors, with the added bonus of being able to play in western states the majors didn’t extend to before 1958. Indeed, as a longtime reader pointed out to me when I emailed him about it, most of Waldron’s minor league career after 1901 is a series of sojourns through places like San Francisco, Denver and Lincoln, Nebraska.

There’s one other thing worth noting. Early in the 1902 season, with Waldron on his way to hitting .322 for Kansas City, he got an offer to jump to the Louisville Colonels of the American Assocation. George Tebeau who’d managed the previous Western League team in Kansas City in 1901 offered Waldron $350 a month, not far off of the National League maximum annual salary of $2,400. Waldron turned Tebeau down, giving his telegram to Nichols to keep as a memento. In an article on the incident in the April 30, 1902 Topeka Daily Capital, Nichols laughed, “Tebeau has always been anxious to sign Waldron. He was after him in the East at the time that I landed him.”

There may never be a definitive answer to why Waldron didn’t play in the majors after 1901. Short of tracking down one of his descendants through ancestry.com, which I don’t yet have access to, I’m not sure the historical record exists. But one thing is clear– for many years after 1901, Waldron remained in demand as a baseball player.

Tim Hudson, the Hall of Fame and the importance of Game 7

Someone asked me at work this morning who I see winning Game 7 of the World Series this evening. It’s a tough call. On one hand, I’ve been a Giants’ fan since first grade. Even my girlfriend, a devout A’s fan, hasn’t broken me of this. But I’ll admit my girlfriend and I didn’t make it through all of last night’s game. We’re big fans of the F/X series “Sons of Anarchy” and while the sixth season, which was just added to Netflix, has thus far been relentlessly downtrodden, it was a more appealing option than watching the Royals expand the 8-0 lead they took in the third inning last night.

Based on Tuesday’s game and the fact that no road team has won a World Series Game 7 since 1979, my gut says Kansas City will prevail this evening. And I don’t know if that bothers me too much. While the Giants have two titles from the past five seasons, “Back to the Future” was in theaters the last time the Royals won anything. I always like a good underdog story. But there’s a good thing that could happen if the Giants win tonight: Tim Hudson might cement his Hall of Fame candidacy.

In sabermetric circles, I suspect Hudson already seems destined for Cooperstown. According to the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool, Hudson’s lifetime 56.9 WAR is second-best among active pitchers, behind Mark Buehrle. Hudson bests Buehrle for FIP, 3.75 to 4.10 and ERA+ as well, 122 to 117. According to the Play Index tool, Hudson is also one of 13 pitchers who have at least 200 wins and a 120 ERA+ but aren’t enshrined. I suspect the majority of these pitchers will be inducted over the next 10-20 years. In alphabetical order, they are:

  • Kevin Brown, 211 wins, 127 ERA+
  • Bob Caruthers, 211 wins, 122 ERA+
  • Eddie Cicotte, 209 wins, 123 ERA+
  • Roger Clemens, 354 wins, 143 ERA+
  • Roy Halladay, 203 wins, 131 ERA+
  • Tim Hudson, 214 wins, 122 ERA+
  • Randy Johnson, 303 wins, 135 ERA+
  • Silver King, 203 wins, 121 ERA+
  • Pedro Martinez, 219 wins, 154 ERA+
  • Mike Mussina, 270 wins, 123 ERA+
  • Curt Schilling, 216 wins, 127 ERA+
  • John Smoltz, 213 wins, 125 ERA+
  • Will White, 229 wins, 121 ERA+

But sabermetrics has only recently entered into consideration for some Hall of Fame voters [with many other voters still rejecting it] and even by advanced metrics, Hudson doesn’t look anything like the lock Bert Blyleven was for Cooperstown. For WAR and ERA+, Hudson ranks as something like his generation’s version of Billy Pierce, maybe one of the more underrated pitchers in baseball history by sabermetrics but a distant Veterans Committee candidate today. Much as some of my friends in baseball research may protest, I fear Hudson is destined to be historically underrated as well. It’s why I didn’t recently predict Hudson being inducted in the next 20 years.

A memorable outing from Hudson tonight could change this. A memorable postseason performance can make a good but generally not great player a viable Hall of Fame candidate. Just ask Bill Mazeroski or Jack Morris. While much talk in the media today has centered around how much Madison Bumgarner may pitch in relief on three day’s rest, I’d like to think the 39-year-old Hudson has something special in store.

From the archive: Baseball’s eternal debate

Bill James has a recurring feature in at least a few of his books called “Old Ballplayers Never Die.” The idea is that for almost as long as baseball has existed, former players have lamented the decline in play. For instance, in his 2001 historical abstract, James included an excerpt from an article 1890s standout Bill Joyce wrote for the 1916 Spalding Base Ball Guide. Joyce concluded:

“It makes me weep to think of the men of the old days who played the game and the boys of today. It’s positively a shame, and they are getting big money for it, too.”

Conversely, James also notes that for almost as long as baseball has existed, there have been people who would say that the latest version of the game is the greatest. Today’s edition of this column concerns an example of this latter trend, from a 1908 article in the Oakland Tribune. It begins:

“No matter what they tell you about baseball going back and not being as spectacular, etc., as it used to be in the good old days, you just tell them that baseball, as a whole, is a mighty improved game over what it was ten, aye twenty years ago, and you’ll not be more than a mile wrong.”

The article and several accompanying pieces then highlight several stars of the late 19th century. It’s a neat series of articles.

I go back and forth on the question of whether today’s player’s are better or worse. To be blunt, I don’t know if it matters. Every generation of baseball has had players worth celebrating, ones who could perform astonishing feats. Near every generation of baseball has also been vastly different than the one that preceded it. I think that various individual statistical feats that seemingly point to declines or increases in quality of play are more evidence of whatever the current rules and trends are in baseball.

There is, of course, a far broader debate that could be had here. I’ll look into this more another time, though the comments are open.

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“From the archive” is a Friday series that highlights old baseball-related newspaper clippings.

Others in this series:

Predicting the next 20 years of Hall of Fame inductees

In his seminal 1994 book The Politics of Glory, later retitled Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?, Bill James memorably predicted 25 years worth of Hall of Fame inductees. It’s fun to go back now and see where James was spot-on and where he absolutely whiffed [Ruben Sierra, anyone?]

In the same spirit, I spent a few hours today coming up with some predictions of my own. The next 20 years of the Hall of Fame ballot, particularly the next decade look like a mess, but I figured someone ought to make sense of it looking forward.

I’ll preface this by saying I made my picks assuming the Veterans Committee will keep its current election structure, having three sub-committees for different eras that rotate with one sub-committee getting to vote each year. I wouldn’t be surprised if this voting structure is tweaked in the next decade, as Veterans Committee processes change often, though I have no idea what the new voting practice will be. I also think the players I suggested have a good shot of going in regardless of when the Veterans Committee allows them to be voted on.

One other thing– I didn’t mess around predicting managers, executives or Negro League selections [though I'd like to see Buck O'Neil and Double Duty Radcliffe enshrined at some point.] That’s for another post.

Anyhow, without further adieu, here is who I see going into the Hall of Fame over the next 20 years:

2015: Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson in their first year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Craig Biggio in his third year of eligibility

2016: Ken Griffey Jr. in his first year of eligibility with the BBWAA; John Smoltz in his second year of eligibility; Mike Piazza in his fourth year of eligibility; Bill Dahlen through the Veterans Committee

2017: Trevor Hoffman in his second year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Jeff Bagwell in his seventh year of eligibility; Jack Morris through the Veterans Committee

2018: Chipper Jones and Jim Thome in their first year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Minnie Minoso through the Veterans Committee

2019: Mariano Rivera in his first year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Curt Schilling in his seventh year of eligibility; Jack Glasscock through the Veterans Committee

2020: Derek Jeter in his first year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Mike Mussina in his seventh year of eligibility; Alan Trammell through the Veterans Committee

2021: Ichiro Suzuki in his first year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Omar Vizquel in his fourth year of eligibility; Dick Allen through the Veterans Committee

2022: Roy Halladay in his fourth year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Jim McCormick through the Veterans Committee

2023: Todd Helton in his fifth year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Tommy John through the Veterans Committee; a newly-appointed Steroid Era Committee will enshrine strongly-suspected or confirmed PED users whose eligibility with the BBWAA has expired, namely Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. It’s lame it might take another decade to begin to resolve the steroid mess on the Cooperstown ballot, but I don’t see it happening sooner. There isn’t huge incentive to take drastic action, for three reasons:
1. This year’s selections of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas showed that top-tier clean candidates can be enshrined their first year of eligibility even with suspected and admitted steroid users clogging the writers ballot.
2. I don’t see the Hall of Fame and Veterans Committee overstepping the authority it’s granted the BBWAA beyond the Hall’s recent move to shorten the window of eligibility for players on the writers ballot from 15 years to 10.
3. It’s not like players stop being eligible altogether for Cooperstown under current voting rules. It’s perfectly logical that the Hall of Fame will allow more time– as much as it deems necessary and then some– for emotions to settle from this period in baseball history before deciding how to honor it.

2024: Vlad Guerrero in his eighth year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Billy Wagner in his ninth year of eligibility; Jim Kaat through the Veterans Committee

2025: Jimmy Rollins in his second year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Andruw Jones in his eighth year of eligibility; Harry Stovey through the Veterans Committee

2026: Albert Pujols in his first year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Tim Raines through the Veterans Committee

2027: Yadier Molina in his first year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Adrian Beltre in his third year of eligibility

2028: Joe Mauer in his third year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Tony Mullane through the Veterans Committee

2029: Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander in their first year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Lee Smith through the Veterans Committee

2030: Robinson Cano in his second year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Dustin Pedroia in his third year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Luis Tiant through the Veterans Committee

2031: Jose Reyes and Jered Weaver in their third year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Pete Browning through the Veterans Committee; another meeting of the Steroid Era Committee will enshrine Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, Andy Pettitte, Ivan Rodriguez and David Ortiz

2032: Andrew McCutchen in his first year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Edgar Martinez through the Veterans Committee

2033: David Wright in his fifth year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Pete Rose, in a sympathy vote from the Veterans Committee shortly after his death

2034: Felix Hernandez in his first year of eligibility with the BBWAA; Paul Goldschmidt in his second year of eligibility

Did I miss anyone? Let me know…

Will get in sometime after 2034, but not too long: Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Craig Kimbrel

Wouldn’t mind seeing these guys go in, but it seems unlikely in this timeframe: Carlos Beltran, Ken Boyer, Will Clark, Jim Edmonds, Dwight Evans, Bobby Grich, Keith Hernandez, Gil Hodges, Tim Hudson, Jeff Kent, Kenny Lofton, Evan Longoria, Dale Murphy, Graig Nettles, Tony Oliva, Dave Parker, Scott Rolen, Bret Saberhagen, Johan Santana, Ted Simmons, Cecil Travis, Chase Utley, Larry Walker, Smoky Joe Wood

Ben Shields and the fight against fate

A longtime reader asked me recently which pitcher in baseball history had the most wins without any losses. In using the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool to research the answer to this question– Clay Rapada, who is 8-0 through seven seasons– I came across an obscure pitcher who seemingly wouldn’t rate a mention today.

Ben Shields’ career spanned just 41.1 innings between 1924 and 1931. While he went 4-0 lifetime, which is tied for the fourth-most wins without any losses of any pitcher in baseball history, the remainder of his stats are ghastly: an 8.27 ERA, 5.82 FIP and a projected -4.0 Wins Above Average for a full season’s work. At one point, however, Shields was a top Yankee prospect. If not for a disease that’s long since been eradicated in the western world, Shields might have pitched for the 1927 Murderers Row club.

Shields certainly looked like one of the few bright spots for an otherwise abysmal Yankee club when he joined the team in September 1925. The left-hander had gone 21-14 for Richmond of the Virginia League that season, setting a strikeout record for the circuit. And after pitching a scoreless inning in his season debut for the Bronx Bombers on September 22, Shields proceeded to win his next three appearances, pitching two complete games. But his illness during spring training the following year would forever alter his career.

After Shields came back to the majors with the Boston Red Sox in 1930, there were stories his career had been disrupted because he’d taken a Babe Ruth line drive to the chest during spring training in 1926, suffering internal injuries. I couldn’t find any record of this in perusing newspaper accounts from 1926. The truth appears to be less dramatic, as it often is, with the Yankees shelving Shields for the 1926 season after he contracted tuberculosis. He’s not the only ballplayer to battle the disease, with Christy Mathewson and Rube Waddell both dying from it. Shields overcame it and lived to old age, dying in 1982, though he didn’t pitch professionally in 1927, ’28 or ’29, working as a taxi driver in Richmond.

The Red Sox thought enough of Shields, however, to pay $150 to cover his travel expenses when they worked him out in the winter of 1930. Shields made just three appearances for Boston, allowing 16 hits and 10 earned runs in ten innings, though the Phillies brought him back the following year after he asked manager Burt Shotton for a tryout. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle noted on March 3, 1931:

Now the Phillies have him– a burly, healthy-looking fellow, whose weight is up to 213 pounds. But the health bug has bitten Ben for fair now. It’s more weight than he wants, and he’s the hardest worker on the Winter Haven lot to boot.

But that isn’t all. After Burt Shotton dismisses his baseball class every day, Shields hies himself to a lake in Winter Haven and rows around in circles for an hour or more. ‘I’m going to get as hard as steel,’ Ben promises.

I admire people like Ben Shields, folks who persevere, thumb their nose at bad fate and work to make their own better destiny. I want to believe the Ben Shieldses of the world can and will succeed with enough hard work. I want to believe because I see a bit of myself in him. But there was nothing Shields could do about the ’31 Phillies, a sixth-place team that allowed the most runs in the National League and played in the notoriously hitter-friendly Baker Bowl. Shields allowed nine runs over four appearances that totaled 5.1 innings and that was it for him as a baseball player.

From the archive: It will always be 2014 for Travis Ishikawa

This is it for Travis Ishikawa. As I watched replays last night of Ishikawa racing around the bases after his three-run homer to win the National League Championship Series, I found myself wondering if he understood that this was his high point, the greatest moment he’ll have as a baseball player, perhaps the greatest moment of his life. I mean this as no disrespect to a player who’s spent seven seasons in the majors and started for another pennant-winning Giants team. But whatever Travis Ishikawa does the rest of his life, this is what he will be remembered for.

Every baseball generation has one or two of these players, known for a game or instant of playoff glory, from Bill Wambsganss and his unassisted triple play in the 1920 World Series to Cookie Lavagetto’s double to break up a no-hitter in the ’47 Series to Francisco Cabrera’s bloop to win the 1992 NLCS. [I suspect Wambsganss might be somewhat forgotten; Baseball-Reference.com, which sets sponsorship rates for pages based on traffic, has Wambsganss's page available for $10. And for good reason. Wambsganss ranks among the worst regulars in baseball history. According to Baseball-Reference.com's Play Index tool, Wambsganss's -19.2 Wins Above Average is 10th worst all-time.]

Names like Wambsganss, Lavagetto and Cabrera would be lost to baseball history if not for their moments. Ishikawa is the latest to join this club. There will surely be more to follow.

Aside from Bill Mazeroski, Carlton Fisk, Kirk Gibson or Joe Carter, Bobby Thomson might be the best player defined by an instant of postseason heroics. While never destined for the Hall of Fame on playing merit, even before a career-altering injury in spring training in 1954, Thomson’s lifetime stats at least place him squarely in the Hall of Very Good: 264 homers, 33.1 WAR and three All Star appearances. But whenever Thomson’s name comes up today, it’s always about his Shot Heard Round the World to send the Giants to the 1951 World Series. Already on social media, people have been comparing Ishikawa’s shot to Thomson’s.

For the remaining six decades of his life, people never stopped talking to Bobby Thomson about his home run. The article I posted above offers a retrospective written by Murray Olderman of the Newspaper Enterprise Association 20 years after. And when Thomson died in 2010, the home run headlined his obituary in the New York Times. “I can remember feeling as if time was just frozen,” the Times quoted Thomson saying. “It was a delirious, delicious moment.”

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“From the archive” is a Friday series that highlights old baseball-related newspaper clippings.

Others in this series:

Rube Ehrhardt’s unique place in baseball history

Few baseball fans may know of Rube Ehrhardt. Seemingly, there’s no good reason. Ehrhardt pitched for Brooklyn Robins and Cincinnati Reds from 1924 to 1929, going 22-34 with a 4.15 ERA, sub-par even for the high-scoring age in baseball history. With the exception of 1924, when Ehrhardt’s stellar pitching after a mid-July purchase from a Class C team helped keep Brooklyn in the pennant race until the season’s final days, he had an unremarkable career. Half the battle for Ehrhardt was just getting to the majors, as he didn’t debut until age 29 due to multiple serious injuries and service in World War I. Perhaps it stunted his professional growth.

Ehrhardt has a niche in baseball history, though, as one of five pitchers who threw a shutout in their final game, according to this Baseball Research Journal article and a review of recent seasons I did with the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool.

Three of the other men who threw shutouts in their final game– Lew Krausse Sr. on September 2, 1932, Don Fisher on September 30, 1945 and Brian Denman on October 2, 1982– were young pitchers who barely made a dent in the majors and played in the minors for some time after. The fourth pitcher to hurl a shutout in his last game, one-time All Star Don Wilson on September 28, 1974, died months later at 29 of carbon monoxide poisoning. Ehrhardt is the only member of this group who voluntarily didn’t pitch another professional game after his shutout finale.

I’d like to think of Ehrhardt as the baseball equivalent of an entertainer dropping his mic and walking off stage after an epic performance; maybe it isn’t that simple. Ehrhardt was a few months from turning 35 when he blanked the World Series-bound Chicago Cubs on the last day of the 1929 season, triumphing over another journeyman pitching the last game of his big league career. Ehrhardt went to spring training training with Cincinnati in 1930, though the Reds released him in April after he declined to be sent to the minors. The Boston Braves signed Ehrhardt a few months later, though he never pitched for them, instead closing out the year playing semi-pro ball in his native Chicago.

Ehrhardt’s baseball career seemingly over after 1930, he pursued various other lines of work the remainder of his life, at different times a car salesman, taproom operator and, for 20 years, an employee in a Chicago-area steel mill. [Long before free agency or baseball's pension plan, former ballplayers usually had to work after their careers ended. I'll dive into this more in a future post.] By the time of Ehrhardt’s death at 85 in 1980, I imagine his baseball career was a distant memory for all but those closest to him.

The “One and Only” Club: Pitchers

On Monday, I looked at hitters who retired with one of a certain stat. I enjoyed researching and writing that enough that I decided to expand this to pitchers. Via the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool, here are six pitchers since 1901 who retired with the most innings pitched in the statistical category they represent:

Randy Hennis, one hit allowed in 9.2 IP: Quietly and without anyone knowing it at the time, Randy Hennis had one of the best final appearances in major league history. A 24-year-old September call-up for the Houston Astros in 1990, Hennis threw a one-hitter over 6.1 shutout innings against the Cincinnati Reds on the last day of the season. Hennis got rocked during 1991 spring training, however and that was it for him in the majors.

Juan Pena, one run allowed in 13 IP: Whenever someone talks about a great Boston Red Sox pitcher from 1999, it’s generally Pedro Martinez who had one of the best years ever for a pitcher that season. Seemingly no one ever talks about Juan Pena, who got sent to the disabled list twice in short succession after he went 2-0 with an 0.69 ERA in two starts. Pena never pitched again in the majors, though one can only wonder what might have been. Had Pena pitched 210 innings in 1999 [and not regressed], his stats project to a 742 ERA+ and 12.9 WAR.

Jack Nabors, one win in 269.2 IP: Poor Jack Nabors. There was no hope for the 1916 Philadelphia Athletics, who were in the middle of a long rebuilding stretch and went 36-117, boasting three pitchers with at least 20 losses. Nabors was one of them, going 1-20 with a 3.47 ERA, 82 ERA+ and 3.12 FIP. Playing on an A’s team that scored just 447 runs, Nabors received two runs or less of support in 18 of his 30 starts. His only win came April 22 when the A’s scored six runs. Connie Mack said late in the season that Nabors would be back in 1917, though he pitched just twice more in his career.

Rube Vickers, one homer allowed in 458 IP: Some context is in order here. Rube Vickers pitched 317 innings in 1908 without allowing a home run, but there were just 116 hit in all of the American League that year. One team, the Chicago White Sox managed three homers all season, with Hall of Fame pitcher Ed Walsh accounting for one of the bombs. In contrast, the average American League team in 2014 hit 144 home runs.

Kirk Rueter, one shutout in 1,918 IP: With just four complete games, a 4.27 ERA and a career spanning an era that strongly favored hitters, it’s a wonder Kirk Rueter lasted as long as he did. His only shutout is more unbelievable: a one-hit, seven strikeout gem on August 27, 1995. Ironically, it came against the San Francisco Giants, where Rueter would play the majority of his career. Or maybe that’s why the Giants traded for Rueter.

Tom Seaver, one save in 4,783 IP: Decades before relief specialists were common, staff aces pitched with some regularity out of the bullpen. Walter Johnson had 34 saves lifetime. Christy Mathewson, Dizzy Dean and Grover Cleveland Alexander all had at least 30 saves as well. Heck, Lefty Grove led the American League in saves the same season he won 28 games. By Seaver’s era, though, the trend had slowed. Tom Terrific made just nine relief appearances in his career, collecting his only save in the second game of a 1968 doubleheader.

Book review series delays

Faithful visitors to this site will notice that once again there is not a promised new book review posted.

I started a Friday book review series a month ago to clear a roughly 30-book backlog that had accumulated since I promised four years ago to review any book sent to me. When the series began, I promised to review a book a week. That quickly became once every two weeks when I couldn’t read the books quickly enough. Now, it’s been three weeks since my last review and I’m halfway through my latest book.

Suffice it to say, I don’t know when my next book review will be posted. It’s important to me to be a person of my word, and I’m tired of making promises I keep breaking. I don’t know if I need to stretch my book review schedule to once every month or abandon it entirely and post reviews as I finish reading these books, even if it’s one every six months. I’d rather post an infrequent but thorough review than rush up hastily-written screeds about books I’ve only skimmed. That said, I’m also concerned about having no incentive to read these books at a reasonable pace.

I’d welcome feedback on this from anyone who’d like to give it.

The “One and Only” Club

It takes some players awhile to collect certain stats. Ben Revere finally hit his first home run this year, five seasons into his big league career. Also in 2014, with less fanfare, Yonder Alonso got his first triple. And, after nearly 1,000 plate appearances, Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez stole his first base.

Revere hit his second homer before the regular season ended and other players have gone on to collect more stats in areas they were formerly without luck. I got to wondering, though, about players who retired with just one of a certain stat. With the help of the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool, here are eight players. Each has the most plate appearances for any position player since 1901 in the statistical category they represent:

Skeeter Shelton, one hit in 43 plate appearances: Shelton’s big league career barely spanned a week late in the 1915 season. He was perfect in 22 chances in the outfield, with Shelton’s SABR bio noting that he robbed Bobby Veach of a triple. But even in the Deadball Era on a New York Yankees team that hit just .233, there was nothing that could be done about Shelton’s .025 batting average. His SABR bio notes that he served in World War I, coached baseball at West Virginia University and sold insurance, among other things, after he left the majors.

Mike Schemer, one strikeout in 114 plate appearances:

Schemer hit .333 after the New York Giants made him a late-season replacement for Phil Weintraub in August 1945. But while he also won praise for his defense, his power– one home run and a .407 slugging percentage– left something to be desired for a first baseman. “Schemer isn’t an impressive batter,” the Associated Press noted two weeks into his career. “He looks husky enough to powder the ball but he doesn’t get much distance.” Johnny Mize returned from World War II the following season and that was it for Schemer.

Joe Cannon, one walk in 232 plate appearances: There were hints of the inept free-swinger Cannon would become as he progressed through the minors. The 1974 first round draft pick hit .299 with the Astros’ Triple-A affiliate 1976-78, but he averaged 95 strikeouts and 28 walks. Houston dealt Cannon to the Toronto Blue Jays in November 1978. Getting his most playing time in the majors the following season, Cannon’s issues came full surface. In 146 plate appearances, he managed just a .211/.217/.254 slash. His only walk came August 24, buttressed by 34 strikeouts.

George Twombly, one double in 477 plate appearances: Here’s an odd one. Deadball Era outfielder Twombly was by all accounts a hapless hitter, offering a .211/.289/.247 slash over parts of five seasons. That he managed just one double and had no home runs isn’t a surprise. It’s the seven career triples, including five in just 266 plate appearances as a rookie in 1914 that seem wholly out of place.

Duane Kuiper, one home run in 3,754 plate appearances: Maybe I’m biased as a San Francisco Bay Area sports fan, but I assume Giants announcer Kuiper’s one home run is the most well-known of any stat on this page. It even inspired a commemorative bobblehead from the Giants earlier this year. “The thing I always ask myself, and I’ll ask it about this function: If I would have hit two, would there be a bobblehead?” the San Jose Mercury News quoted Kuiper as saying. “No? Well, then this is fantastic!”

Rod Barajas, one triple in 3,784 plate appearances: Lumbering catchers often don’t have many triples or stolen bases in their careers, so it isn’t stunning that Barajas appears here. [He came close to making this list for steals as well, with two lifetime.] He had five triples in his first four seasons in the minors, though.

Gus Triandos, one stolen base in 4,424 plate appearances: I’ll give Triandos credit for knowing not to run. Russ Nixon, who went 2,715 appearances without a stolen base, was thrown out seven times trying to steal. Cecil Fielder was 2-for-8 stealing lifetime. Triandos’ only career stolen base and attempt came the last day of the 1958 season, in the second game of a doubleheader, in the ninth inning. “I went in standing up on that one, too,” Triandos told the Baltimore Sun in 2009. “[Opposing catcher Darrell] Johnson never got over that.”

Pete Rose, one grand slam in 15,890 plate appearances: Had Charlie Hustle played in a better hitter’s era or batted deeper in the order– 90 percent of his PAs came in the first or second spot in the lineup– this stat might be different. That being said, as Tim Kurkjian noted for ESPN.com in 2006, Rose’s sole slam came off his future manager Dallas Green. On a side note, Derek Jeter just retired with one career grand slam as well.

From the archive: Connie Mack’s farm system

[Editor's note: My latest book review will run next Friday. Going forward, this series will alternate Fridays with my book review series.]

In baseball lore, Branch Rickey is credited with creating the modern farm system, deducing while as general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals that it was cheaper to develop his own prospects than buy established players. It was a brilliant idea and Rickey’s largely responsible for the modern farm system, though he wasn’t the first person to develop cheap young players to save money. In the 20 years or so before Rickey began buying up minor league teams en masse, eventually controlling 800 players and 32 farm clubs, legendary Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack built a dynasty around youth.

Mack’s SABR bio notes:

In the early years of the Athletics, Mack skippered some of the Deadball Era’s best teams, winning six A.L. pennants and three World Series in the league’s first 14 years, primarily with players he discovered on school grounds and sandlots and developed into stars.

The A’s were a young team, with the average player on their 1914 club 25.7 years old, the second-youngest average in the American League. Their 1911, ’12 and ’13 teams were all youngest or second-youngest as well. [For reference, the 2014 A's were 29.5 years old on average, the fourth-oldest team in the majors. For a small market club with frequent turnover and a penchant for trading stars for prospects, Oakland was peculiarly old this year.]

Mack’s Deadball Era A’s teams featured a number of teenagers. He signed future Hall of Famer Eddie Collins out of Columbia University months before his 19th birthday in 1906. He got Stuffy McInnis, one of the greatest fielding first baseman of the Deadball Era, at 17 in August 1908. Mack also signed a trio of prominent pitchers before their 20th birthdays: Bullet Joe Bush at 19; future Hall of Famer Herb Pennock at 18; and Rube Bressler, whose pitching arm quickly went bust, at 18. All made valuable contributions to the A’s first dynasty that ran through 1914.

Mack dismantled his contender after a few prominent A’s jumped to the upstart Federal League in 1915. He went with a slightly different philosophy in building the A’s second and final great team a decade later. While Mack signed 16-year-old Jimmie Foxx in 1924 and brought in other young players as well, the great A’s teams of the late 1920s featured more veterans with 40-plus future Hall of Famers Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Eddie Collins all seeing playing time for the ’28 A’s.

Ever the skinflint– arguably the most famous one in baseball history next to Rickey, though that’s a debate for another time– Mack had discovered something that still holds true for the A’s today: aging players were affordable, too. Cobb played for $35,000 in 1928, getting a $15,000 pay cut after hitting .357 for the 1927 A’s. Speaker and Collins played for the ’28 A’s for $15,000 apiece. Such salaries boggle the mind today [with inflation, Cobb's $35,000 is about $480,000 in 2014 dollars] and were in-line, if economical for the era.

A slew of veterans on-hand, the A’s once again became a championship club, thriving until the Great Depression once more forced Mack to sell players off. This time, Philadelphia stayed in the cellar.

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“From the archive” is a Friday series that highlights old baseball-related newspaper clippings.

Others in this series:

How many homers did Babe Ruth lose bunting in 1927?

There’s an interesting Babe Ruth stat, one of many things that’s unique to the Sultan of Swat. The historical record shows Ruth with 14 sacrifice hits in 1927. Ruth, in fact, is the only player in baseball history with any sacrifice bunts in a season where he hit at least 60 homers.

It’s a bit of a misleading stat. My Twitter friend @aceballstats [who, by the way, is a superb follow] pointed out that sacrifice hits included both flies and bunts until 1954 after I started tweeting about this a little while ago. Looking through 1927 game logs on Retrosheet.org, I found that Ruth had 11 sacrifice flies and three sacrifice bunts in 1927.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if Ruth lost any homers with those three sacrifice bunts. If I’d been Ruth’s manager in 1927, I’d have fined Ruth for not swinging.

It’s of course impossible to know what Ruth might have done swinging the bat instead, but with the help of Retrosheet, I’ll present his three sacrifice bunts from 1927:

1. June 23, 1927: Ruth bunted in the first inning of an 11-4 win against the Red Sox. Boston’s starter Del Lundgren lasted just two innings, surrendering seven runs with just two earned runs. He allowed a homer to Lou Gehrig in the second inning.

2. August 1, 1927: Ruth bunted in the fourth inning of a 2-1 loss to visiting Cleveland. Opposing starter Jake Miller allowed just six hits and one run before the game was called in the sixth inning because of rain. It should be noted that Ruth otherwise owned Miller, hitting five homers in 32 at-bats against him lifetime with a .375/.412/.906 slash.

3. August 18, 1927: This Ruth bunt might be the most interesting, as it came in the 12th inning and the player that Ruth sacrificed over, Mark Koenig, subsequently scored the deciding run for the Yankees. Ruth’s bunt also came against Ted Lyons, who held the Great Bambino to just five homers in 113 at-bats lifetime with a .274/.383/.442 slash.

It’s a small sample size, granted and it’s perfectly possible Ruth did the right thing bunting. All the same, I can’t help but wonder.

How to play baseball, as told by the greats

On Friday, I said I’d highlight a seven-part series today that the Associated Press offered in 1954 with instructions on how to play baseball from Hall of Fame shortstop Honus Wagner. When I went to research this piece, I realized I’d goofed. In 1954, AP Newsfeatures produced a seven-part series of former big league stars offering playing tips. It’s the kind of thing that would be great to see today, if only anyone still read newspapers.

With the help of newspapers.com, I tracked down all seven parts of this series. They’re highlighted and linked to as follows:

Part I: “How to play the outfield,” by Joe DiMaggio

The caption for the photo above begins with a quote from DiMaggio saying, “Backing up a teammate should come by instinct.” It’s a curious choice of photo. It shows Mickey Mantle blowing out his ACL in the second game of the 1951 World Series, after the Yankee Clipper called for a ball Mantle was running down in right field. The caption praises DiMaggio for “making a difficult play look routine,” which he did often during his Hall of Fame career. But it was also the first of many serious injuries for Mantle.

DiMaggio noted in the article:

Had that ball gone through us I would have had to chase it since it was coming toward right center. It might have gone for two or three bases, and we might not have beaten the Giants by 3-1 that day.

Part II: “How to play third base,” by Pie Traynor

It’s odd to think that at the time this series ran, Traynor was considered by many to be the greatest third baseman in baseball history.

Mike Schmidt , Brooks Robinson, George Brett and others have long since eclipsed Traynor in the running for this honor. Sabermetrics also shows that Traynor might be one of the more, if not most overrated all-time greats. His 36.2 career Wins Above Replacement ranked 13th among third basemen up to 1954. But that stat was a long way off back then and Traynor’s .320 lifetime batting average was tops of any living third baseman in 1954. Traynor still has the third-best lifetime batting average among third basemen after Wade Boggs and John McGraw.

Traynor’s article for the second part of this series focused on the defensive aspects of his position. Aside from various pointers, Traynor wrote of a play he’d devised. He noted:

When the ball was hit to me at third base and with a runner on third I would fire the ball into the plate to get the man going home with one out or less.

The moment I threw the ball I would run as fast as I could and the moment the runner held up, the catcher would return the ball to me. It was easy to tag the runner. I would be standing next to him. But wait! As I tagged the runner, I’d be getting set to make a throw to first base to get the batter. And many times we’d get the batter because he had made the turn of first base toward second.

Part III: “Shortstop is key position– says Honus Wagner”

1954 was a good year for Honus Wagner. All throughout the year, the Pittsburgh Pirates took donations from fans to build a statue of their legend beside Forbes Field. Dwight Eisenhower, among others, called Wagner to wish him a happy 80th birthday on February 24. A few months later, AP Newsfeatures sports editor Frank Eck interviewed Wagner for the third part of this series. It’s the only installment, incidentally, where a player is not given byline credit.

Wagner, the eighth-oldest living Hall of Famer at the time, offered a number of gems in the piece, including:

I stayed at shortstop until the ball was hit or pitched out. I learned that from Hughie Jennings back in 1897 when I was playing right field for the Louisville Colonels in the National League. Jennings hit .397 for Baltimore in 1896 and when I came up as a 23-year-old rookie, I thought I’d see how Jennings did it. Jennings was a shortstop but how he could cover second base! He could take the throw while on the run.

Part IV: “How to play second base,” by Rogers Hornsby

It’s funny, I never think of Rogers Hornsby for his defensive contributions. I think of the lifetime .358 batting average or the .402 clip he managed from 1921-25 or the two Triple Crowns. Even with sabermetrics that mitigate for the superb offensive era and ballparks he played in, Hornsby’s batting feats are still astonishing. His 175 OPS+ is fifth best in baseball history and his 173 wRC+ is tied for third.

I’ve traditionally thought of Hornsby as a second baseman only in the respect that’s it where I’d tolerate playing him in exchange for having his bat in the lineup for my all-time dream team. But he knew enough about the position to write the fourth installment in this series. Hornsby wrote:

Some fellows say the second baseman should face partially toward first base when fielding ground balls. I disagree. A second baseman, or any fielder for that matter, definitely must get in front of all ground balls. Never play a ball off your side. Try to play the ball with both hands. There is too much of this one-handed stuff today. Use one hand only when forced to.

The article also included a quote from legendary New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel, who’d faced Hornsby as a player. Stengel said, “I never saw any other second baseman throw sidearm and get the speed on the ball that Hornsby did.”

Part V: “Bill Terry offers some tips on how to play initial sack,” by Bill Terry

Terry’s another player I know chiefly for his bat, the last man to hit .400 in the National League thanks to his .401 season in 1930. Sabermetrics suggests he was a decent fielder as well, with Terry saving 73 defensive runs during his career, 11th-best among first basemen all-time. Terry wrote in the fifth installment of this series:

I see all sorts of players, men who have come up as catchers, outfielders and infielders at other spots put on first base. It seems the popular trend is that if a man can’t play any place else, or is beaten out of his job they put him at first.

I have never considered it that simple. A good first baseman can save a team a lot of base hits by going after the close ones. He should stretch on every play, automatically. A good first baseman can save a team a lot of errors by fielding the bad ones.

Part VI: “Easy delivery aids control,” by Carl Hubbell

Aside from striking out five consecutive future Hall of Famers in the 1934 All Star Game, Hubbell was perhaps most famous for his screwball pitch. Interestingly, in the sixth installment of this series, Hubbell cautioned aspiring hurlers against throwing too many different pitches or getting excessively creative.

Hubbell wrote:

Tricky deliveries may succeed on the sandlots but as a pitcher moves into faster company he will find that the pitch that overpowers a good hitter will be his best weapon.

It’s interesting, by the way, to see Hubbell as an authority on power pitching. His 1,677 strikeouts rank 137th in baseball history as of this writing. In 1954, though, they were 26th-most ever and 15th-most by any pitcher since 1901. The times, how they’ve changed.

Part VII: “Good arm, quick reflexes make top catcher,” by Gus Mancuso

For the final installment of this series, the AP turned to Mancuso, the only player of the seven not in the Hall of Fame today. In fact, everyone else but DiMaggio– whose 1951 retirement and 1955 induction helped inspire the five-year waiting period for eligibility– had already been voted in by the time this series.

There weren’t a ton of legendary former catchers to approach in 1954 [though with some foresight, then-active catchers like Yogi Berra or Roy Campanella might have made great choices.] Bill Dickey and Mickey Cochrane were the only two living catchers who’d already been enshrined in 1954. Presumably, future honorees like Ray Schalk, Ernie Lombardi and Gabby Hartnett weren’t available.

Instead, readers got Mancuso, a 17-year National League veteran who made two All Star teams and twice finished in the top ten for MVP voting. Perhaps Mancuso had something to offer as an instructor as well, as he managed in the Texas League from 1946 through 1949.

Among Mancuso’s instructions in this piece he wrote:

The catcher must get his pitchers to respect his judgment because when a pitcher gets in a jam his catcher often can help him as much, and maybe more, than his manager or coach. The catcher is definitely the quarterback of his team.

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I wonder who might figure into a similar series today?

A new design here

Frequent visitors to this site may notice the design of this page has once again been updated.

I changed the theme a few weeks ago and I liked the clean, simple look, but I noticed that it didn’t display bylines for individual articles. I write most of the posts here myself these days but there was a stretch a few years ago where this site featured several different writers. Some of their articles still get traffic and this morning, someone commented thinking I’d written one of them.

I’m not comfortable passing anyone else’s writing off as my own, be it intentionally or unintentionally by using a theme that doesn’t automatically display bylines. I’ve thus switched temporarily to a theme that does this. I’ll work over the weeks to come to find a more lasting design solution.

From the archive: Honus Wagner spoke German to fool opponents

Baseball players and managers have long since spoken in signs and other secretive code to maintain a competitive edge. Some of this may date to the Deadball Era.

Legendary New York Giants manager John McGraw had his players learn sign language after the team acquired deaf pitcher Dummy Taylor, thus creating the modern sign system in baseball. There’s a famous story of Hall of Fame pitcher Chief Bender, repeated in “The Glory of Their Times” as well as his biography, figuring out how the Giants were tipping their pitches in the 1911 World Series and yelling “It’s all right” to signal that a fastball was coming.

Here’s another story from that era that’s a little more obscure. I certainly hadn’t heard of it.

In 1954, the Associated Press offered a seven-part instructional series from Hall of Fame shortstop Honus Wagner, who would die in December 1955, on how to play. I’ll give that series the longer look it deserves come Monday. For now, I’ll highlight a smaller sidebar from the day the third part of the series ran.

Wagner was the son of German immigrants, perhaps part of the reason he was so popular with fans in the early 20th century when America received a great influx of Europeans. [Many of the great stars in baseball history offered some kind of ethnic appeal from Babe Ruth to Jackie Robinson to Sandy Koufax and more.] Anyhow, Wagner used his parents’ native tongue to trip up McGraw.

The story’s a quick read so rather than rehash it here, I’ll suggest simply reading the original by clicking on the frame above. More to come regarding Wagner’s 1954 series on Monday.
__________________________________

“From the archives” is a Friday series that highlights old baseball-related newspaper clippings.

Others in this series: Satchel Paige’s shutout inning in 1969‘Is Babe Ruth hurting game?’ | When Mark Koenig pitched | 25 years after Pete Rose, Hal Chase’s story is bleaker | Outrage when the Yankees sold to CBS | Willie Mays’ forgotten last hurrah

Vote: The 25 most important people in baseball history

Organized baseball history dates more than 150 years, with more than 17,000 men having played in the majors and countless other individuals having helped in other capacities. Baseball history being what it is, a lot of people have made noteworthy contributions to the sport over the years.

Who then has been most important?

I wrote a post last week offering who I considered to be the 10 most important people in baseball history. My research for the post and subsequent reader response has led me to believe there might be something more worth looking at. In that spirit, I invite anyone interested to vote on the 25 important people in baseball history.

A ballot with 190 of baseball’s most memorable players, executives and other figures can be found here. Please VOTE HERE [anyone who has trouble with the Google Form I've created can email me their votes at thewomack@gmail.com.]

As always with these projects, there are few rules aside from the following:

1) Anyone is eligible to vote. Please feel free to share the link to the ballot with anyone who might be interested.

2) Any person in baseball history is eligible and I welcome write-ins. The ballot includes, but is certainly not limited to, anyone who I felt had a reasonable shot at the top 25.

3) Please use any voting criteria– “most important” is a deliberately subjective term and I’m interested to see what direction people go with it. I’ve included a broad enough range of candidates on the ballot for voters to go in any number of directions. On a related note, I do little to no active campaigning and encourage voters to work independently.

4) Please have all votes in by Sunday, October 26 NOVEMBER 2 at 8 p.m. Pacific Time. I’ll unveil results Monday, November 3  NOVEMBER 10.

On a different note, this project also has a charity component. Two years ago, I raised $1,600 for 826 Valencia, a non-profit that teaches journalism to middle schoolers. Now, I’d like to raise $2,000 for the American Brain Tumor Association to help fight glioblastoma multiforme, a malignant type of brain cancer that’s had a noticeable impact on baseball in recent years. For more information and to donate, click here.

Why Clayton Kershaw is doing historically well

Clayton Kershaw’s 7.4 WAR as of this writing belies the fact he might be having the best season by a pitcher since Pedro Martinez in 2000. Kershaw’s WAR doesn’t immediately stand out like his 1.87 FIP, 0.86 WHIP or 1.80 ERA, all best for a pitcher who qualified for the ERA title since Martinez in 2000. At this juncture, though, the fact that Kershaw has compiled 7.4 WAR in 190.1 innings places him in rare company. Kershaw is scheduled to make one more start this season and could become the seventh pitcher in baseball history with at least 7 WAR in under 200 innings.

Here are the six pitchers who’ve done this, according to Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index tool:

Lefty Grove, 7.0 WAR in 191 innings in 1939: In August, I wrote of Grove as the most underrated player of the 1930s. I based it off seasons like this when Grove was an aging junk ball pitcher, with traditional stats far less impressive than before he blew out his arm in 1934. Per inning, though, Grove might have had the best season ever by a 39-year-old pitcher in 1939. Only Phil Niekro and Dazzy Vance managed more WAR in their age 39 seasons, with Niekro needing 334.1 innings to compile 10.1 WAR in 1979 and Vance needing 258.2 innings for 7.1 WAR in 1930.

John Hiller, 8.1 WAR in 125.1 innings in 1973: Hiller’s celebrated in the sabermetric community, with my friend Adam Darowski rating him higher than Lee Smith, Trevor Hoffman or Dan Quisenberry. It’s partly due to Hiller’s 1973 season, which might be the most underrated one in baseball history. That said, Hiller’s work that year didn’t go unnoticed. He finished fourth in American League Cy Young and MVP voting after going 10-5 with a 1.44 ERA and 38 saves for an aging Tigers club.

Goose Gossage, 8.2 WAR in 141.2 innings in 1975: As the saying goes, those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it. Every few years in baseball, someone forgets about what happened with Gossage because of this season and unsuccessfully tries to turn another reliever into a starter. Gossage’s brilliance in 1975– 1.84 ERA and an AL-best 26 saves– was a distant memory as he stumbled to a 9-17 record and 3.94 ERA the following year as a starter. On the bright side for Goose, he returned to the bullpen for good thereafter, collecting another 280 saves over the rest of his Hall of Fame career.

Mark Eichhorn, 7.4 WAR in 157 innings in 1986: I run an annual project having people vote on the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame. The first year I did this project, someone gave Eichhorn a write-in vote because of his superb 1986 rookie season. I’d never given Eichhorn much thought before I saw the vote, though it strikes me that he posted a 200 ERA+ with three different teams. Looking at pitchers with at least 50 innings in a season, only Roger Clemens, Keith Foulke, Billy Wagner and Joaquin Benoit have matched that feat.

Pedro Martinez, 8.0 WAR in 186.2 innings in 2003: Martinez gets far more attention for his eye-popping stats from 1999 and 2000, though proportionally, this season wasn’t far off. Were Martinez to have pitched the same number of innings in 1999 and 2000 that he did in 2003, he’d scale to 8.5 WAR and 10.1 WAR, respectively.

Josh Johnson, 7.2 WAR in 183.2 innings in 2010: Johnson was 11-6 with a 2.30 ERA when the Marlins shut him down for the 2010 season after his September 4 start. While it was probably a wise move for the young right hander, who’s battled injuries much of his career, it helped keep him to a distant fifth in National League Cy Young voting. If he’d gotten the starts he missed thereafter, Johnson might have led the NL in WAR.

From the archive: Willie Mays’ forgotten last hurrah

There’s a famous final picture from Willie Mays’ career, included in the article above. It shows the aging superstar on his knees during Game 2 of the 1973 World Series after the 42-year-old future Hall of Famer stumbled on the base paths. That day, Mays also made two fielding errors, helping send the game into extra innings with a 6-6 tie.

That’s not all Mays did in Game 2 of the 1973 World Series, though. There was a better moment for him, perhaps the last great moment of his career that came a few innings later in his second-to-last at-bat ever. It doesn’t get talked about much anymore. Maybe it should.

Mays SABR bio notes:

The story of Mays misplaying two balls in center field in the second game of the World Series against the Oakland A’s is always used when the topic is a star athlete who plays too long past his prime. Exhibit B might be Mays’s ultimately harmless stumble on the basepaths in the same game. What is often forgotten is what happened in the 12th inning, when he duped A’s catcher Ray Fosse into calling for a fastball, telling him, “Ray, it’s tough to see the balls with that background. I hope he doesn’t throw me any fastballs.”65 He bounced a Rollie Fingers fastball over the pitcher’s head and into center to drive in the winning run.

“Those kids look up to me,” Mays told reporters after the game, which the Mets won 10-7. “I can’t let them down. They haven’t seen me when I was young. But they expect me to be an example to them. That’s why it makes me feel so great inside when I can come up with a clutch hit.”

Mays played just once more in the Series, grounding out the following day in a 10th inning pinch hit appearance against Paul Lindblad. The Mets would go on to lose in seven games to the A’s, who were in the middle of a three-year championship run.

“No I’m not disappointed I didn’t play,” Mays said after Game 7, with papers noting the end of his career. “I don’t think I’m very good at pinch hitting.”

Technically, Mays might have been right. He entered Game 2 in the ninth inning as a pinch runner for Rusty Staub. Otherwise, Mays was selling himself short, as so many others have done since.

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“From the archives” is a Friday series that highlights old baseball-related newspaper clippings.

Others in this series: Satchel Paige’s shutout inning in 1969‘Is Babe Ruth hurting game?’ | When Mark Koenig pitched | 25 years after Pete Rose, Hal Chase’s story is bleaker | Outrage when the Yankees sold to CBS

Book review: Tales from the Deadball Era, by Mark Halfon

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I recently was reading a book about writing that said all writers should read. Reading any book, the writing book claimed, would offer at least one anecdote a writer could use in their own work, with appropriate attribution of course.

Mark Halfon’s Tales from the Deadball Era, which I’m currently reading, is filled with these sort of anecdotes. I suspect it will be a reference point for future posts here.

Already, this book motivated me to update a recent post where I said disgraced Deadball Era first baseman Hal Chase was banned for life from baseball for throwing games. In fact, as Halfon explains in his first chapter, “Big League Cheating,” National League president John Heydler inexplicably cleared Chase of wrongdoing after a hearing and Chase voluntarily left the majors following the 1919 season, retiring in good standing.

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Earlier today, the book gave me something else. A person on Twitter shared the photo at right, saying it was Honus Wagner batting with Roger Bresnahan catching in 1908. This would be an unusual photo as the Dutchman generally hit right. Major League Baseball historian and one of my mentors John Thorn voiced his skepticism at the photo, saying it was likely of Claude Ritchey.

However, as Halfon pointed out, Bresnahan did not debut the catchers mask until 1908, a year after he introduced shin guards. And Ritchey last played for the Pirates in 1906. So while the photo might not be Wagner– his side profile isn’t convincing, for me at least– it’s not clear who it would be in his place. Thorn suggested that some people think it’s Owen Wilson.

I don’t know if the best thing I can say about a book is that it allows one to upstage their mentor. So I’ll add that what I’ve read so far of Halfon’s work has been both educational and entertaining. It’s a shame there wasn’t better technology 100 years ago to document this rollicking era of baseball history, which mostly gets forgotten today. [Just ask the average fan about Eddie Collins or Tris Speaker.] I’m glad that researchers and writers like Halfon, by day a philosophy professor at Nassau Community College in New York, are willing to offer a renewed look.

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Four years ago, I promised to review any book sent to me. I now have a 30-book backlog. This series will run every other Thursday until the backlog has cleared.

First review, two weeks ago: 1954, by Bill Madden

The 10 most important people in baseball history

1. Babe Ruth: When Ruth died in 1948, Grantland Rice wrote, “No game will ever see his like, his equal again. He was one in many, many lifetimes. One all alone.” That about sums it up. More than 75 years after his last game, the New York Yankees legend looms eternally large, forever baseball’s greatest slugger, icon and savior. No player before or since has dominated the rest of baseball like Ruth did. No one transformed the game so much.

2. Ban Johnson: Since the National League’s founding in 1876, many rival circuits have come and gone from the Players League to the Federal League to the Continental League to name a few. Johnson started the only rival to the National League that’s lasted, the American League in 1901. “He was the most brilliant baseball man the game has ever known,” Johnson’s successor Will Harridge said. “He was more responsible for making baseball the national game than anyone in the history of the sport.”

3. Kenesaw Mountain Landis: Baseball’s first commissioner and still, 70 years after his death, the standard by which all other commissioners are measured, Landis like Babe Ruth helped save baseball after the 1919 World Series. Where Ruth restored fan interest, Landis effectively rid the game of gambling, which had been endemic in the sport for at least 20 years before Landis took office. Imagine any commissioner today ruling so autocratically or effectively.

4. Branch Rickey: Rickey did at least three major things to change baseball. First, he created the farm system. Then he signed the first black player in the majors since the 1884. Then in the late 1950s, Rickey helped spur baseball to expand by heading up the Continental League, a circuit that would have operated in parts of the western United States where the majors had not yet reached. Though he doesn’t get much credit for it, Rickey’s part of the reason there are teams today in cities like Houston and Denver.

5. Jackie Robinson: Rickey knew before he signed Robinson in October 1945 that the wrong player would set back integration in baseball by 20 years. Without Robinson’s stoicism and unruffled playing ability, there’s no telling how many stars the majors would have lacked over the decades that followed.

6. Marvin Miller: The greatest travesty in baseball today is that this man isn’t in the Hall of Fame. No one in the past 50 years has had a greater effect on the game than Miller who, as executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, led the successful fight to abolish the Reserve Clause.

7. Hank Aaron: That many people still consider Aaron the true home run king is a testament to his legacy. That Aaron made his mark in the most trying of circumstances– reams of hate mail during the summer of 1973 and a bodyguard provided by the FBI– only adds to the mystique. He’s been a fine elder statesmen for the game in retirement, too.

8. Rube Foster: The father of black baseball and, with respect to everyone who came after, its most important figure, Foster founded the first successful black baseball circuit, the Negro National League in 1920.

9. Al Spalding: Nineteenth century baseball had a lot of pioneers. Spalding may have been the most multifaceted of them, making his mark as a player, executive and sporting goods distributor, among other things. Among his many contributions, Spalding wore the first glove during the 1870s and organized a world tour for the game during the 1880s.

10. Henry Chadwick: Things like the box score and many stats that modern fans take for granted were Chadwick’s creation in the late 1800s. That has to be good for something.