Any player/Any era: Bob Caruthers

What he did: During a Baseball Think Factory forum discussion about my piece on Shoeless Joe Jackson last week, a member referenced Caruthers. The member wrote:

I wish this guy would do Parisian Bob Caruthers. A modern World Series, before the expanded playoffs, would have suited him down to the ground; he could have been Reggie Jackson and Jack Morris in the same series. Obviously in a regular season he’d have to pace himself and so would be less spectacular, but in a short series he might well be uniquely responsible for his side’s victory.

In his career spanning 1884-1893, Caruthers went 218-99 as a pitcher, leading the American Association with 40 wins two times. He also hit .282 lifetime as a sometime outfielder, twice hitting better than .330 and even stealing 49 bases and hitting 11 triples in 1887. As I told the member, I’m happy to feature Caruthers.

Era he could have thrived in: One of my regular readers pointed out that at 5’7″ and 130 pounds, Caruthers might not make the majors today. But with the 2002 World Series champion Anaheim Angels, I think Caruthers could have been an outfield equivalent of another 5’7″ player, David Eckstein. Only Caruthers might add pitching ability to the mix.

Why: Offensively, Eckstein is everything Caruthers could hope to be, a little guy undrafted out of high school and a walk-on in college who’s put together a 10-season career with a .281 lifetime average. Eckstein’s proof ballplayers needn’t always be 6’2″ and 200 pounds, though I’m guessing Caruthers might bulk up to somewhere around Eckstein’s 175 pounds. Each man also boasts reasonable speed.

Pitching-wise, I figure Caruthers was good enough in his day to qualify for at least a bullpen spot or occasional start today. Granted, the 1880s offered vastly inferior talent, particularly in the American Association where Caruthers did best, so I don’t know if he would win 20 today or how his velocity would project. But it seems illogical a man could be an ace in one era and not even big league material in another (the forum member likened Caruthers to Eddie Plank in an email he sent me.) I’d venture the Nationals, Pirates, and Royals have done worse than Caruthers in recent years. If they had a time traveling phone booth, à la Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and plucked Caruthers off a latter day mound, they might improve.

The question remains: Would Caruthers provide World Series heroics? Eckstein did. After modest success in the 2002 divisional playoffs and American League Championship Series, Eckstein hit .310 in the series, scoring six runs as the Angels triumphed. Could Caruthers compare? While I don’t know much about Caruthers beyond his stats, his Baseball-Reference bio mentions he pitched the winning game in the 1886 equivalent of the World Series, after posting mixed results in earlier games. So who knows. I will say that I think clutch ability is one of the few things in baseball that projects no matter the era. If Caruthers had it then, he’d have it now.

There’s one other thing worth mentioning. John Thorn, a prolific baseball author and an expert on baseball’s early days, mentioned Caruthers in an email exchange we had in July about players who pitched and hit. In preparing for this post, I emailed Thorn on Monday, and he replied, “If you like Bob Caruthers, you’ll love Guy Hecker. Check him out.”

At 6’0″ and 190 pounds, Hecker had size, and at quick glance, he might be the only player besides Babe Ruth to lead the league in both ERA and batting average. In the modern era, I suppose Hecker might eclipse Eckstein and Caruthers.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.

Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Barry Bonds, Dom DiMaggio, Fritz Maisel, George Case, Harmon Killebrew, Home Run Baker, Johnny Frederick, Josh Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr., Nate Colbert, Pete Rose, Rickey Henderson, Sandy Koufax, Shoeless Joe Jackson, The Meusel Brothers, Ty Cobb

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