Category Archives: MLB

MLB salaries stayed low longer than people may think

Marvin Miller became executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association in 1966 because for 20 years prior, things got progressively worse for players.

Consider that in 1967, the minimum salary in the majors was $6,000. The first minimum salary in 1946 was $5,000, and, accounting for inflation, minimum-salaried MLB players got 29.8% less in 1967 than they did in 1946.

I think baseball began to change economically when television dollars first entered the game in the 1940s and that initially, team management kept a large share of the new revenue for itself. As Jim Bouton wrote in an update to Ball Four in 1980:

In baseball, the income is there, the only question is who’s going to get it. My position is that while the players don’t deserve all that money, the owners don’t deserve it even more.

The irony is that if the owners hadn’t abused the players so badly, we wouldn’t have gone out and hired Marvin Miller and the players wouldn’t be free agents today.

Interestingly, when Bouton wrote this, things still hadn’t gotten that much better for players, at least in one respect.

The minimum MLB salary this season is $507,500, an all-time high. Adjusting for inflation, that’s 743.2 percent better than the 1946 minimum which would be $60,185.13 today.

But it’s only been a recent development that minimum-salaried players get several multiples more than they would have in 1946. As late as 1979, adjusting for inflation, minimum-salaried players got just 12.7% more than they would have in 1946.

It took until the 1985 for the MLB minimum to be 100 percent higher than the 1946 minimum adjusted for inflation. The rest is history. I don’t know what changed things. Great advances for the players in collective bargaining strategies? More money from cable television? Lost ground for the owners between collusion in the mid-late ’80s and the ’94 strike? It’s hard to say.

I will say I find it interesting that multiple dramatic advances in minimum salary for players occurred after the same MLB minimum salaries were set out for multiple seasons and America experienced recessions, leading to inflation. I suspect the player’s union got galvanized at different points when MLB failed to keep pace with inflation.

For anyone who’s interested, I assembled a chart by looking at historic minimum salary figures on Cot’s Baseball Contracts [via Baseball Prospectus] and plugging the numbers I found into an online inflation calculator.

Year Minimum MLB salary 1946 MLB minimum adj. for inflation How much better or worse MLB minimum was than 1946 minimum adjusted for inflation
1946 $5,000 N/A N/A
1947 $5,000 $5,720 12.6% worse
1967 $6,000 $8,552.52 29.8% worse
1968 $10,000 $8,911.73 12.2% better
1969 $10,000 $9,392.96 6.5% better
1970 $12,000 $9,947.15 20.6% better
1971 $12,750 $10,374.88 22.9% better
1972 $13,500 $10,717.25 26% better
1973 $15,000 $11,381.72 31.8% better
1974 $15,000 $12,633.70 18.7% better
1975 $16,000 $13,783.37 16.1% better
1976 $19,000 $14,582.81 30.3% better
1977 $19,000 $15,530.69 22.3% better
1978 $21,000 $16,711.02 25.7% better
1979 $21,000 $18,632.79 12.7% better
1980 $30,000 $21,148.22 41.9% better
1981 $32,500 $23,326.48 39.3% better
1982 $33,500 $24,772.72 35.2% better
1983 $35,000 $25,565.45 36.9% better
1984 $40,000 $26,664.77 50% better
1985 $60,000 $27,624.70 117.2% better
1986 $60,000 $28,149.57 113.1% better
1987 $62,500 $29,162.95 114.3% better
1988 $62,500 $30,358.63 105.9% better
1989 $68,000 $31,815.85 113.7% better
1990 $100,000 $33,533.90 198.2% better
1991 $100,000 $34,942.33 186.2% better
1992 $109,000 $35,990.60 202.9% better
1993 $109,000 $37,070.31 194% better
1994 No agreement $38,034.14 N/A
1995 $109,000 $38,985 179.6% better
1996 – to 7/31/96 $109,000 $40,154.55 171.5% better
1996 – 7/31/96 to end of season $150,000 $40,154.55 273.6% better
1997 $150,000 $40,837.17 267.3% better
1998 $170,000 $41,490.57 309.7% better
1999 $200,000 $42,610.81 369.4% better
2000 $200,000 $44,059.58 353.9% better
2001 $200,000 $44,764.53 346.8% better
2002 $200,000 $45,838.88 336.3% better
2003 $300,000 $46,709.82 542.3% better
2004 $300,000 $48,251.25 521.7% better
2005 $316,000 $49,891.79 533.4% better
2006 $327,000 $51,139.08 539.4% better
2007 $380,000 $52,570.98 622.8% better
2008 $390,000 $54,568.67 614.7% better
2009 $400,000 $54,350.40 636% better
2010 $400,000 $55,220.01 624.4% better
2011 $414,000 $56,821.39 628.6% better
2012 $480,000 $58,014.64 727.4% better
2013 $490,000 $58,884.85 732.1% better
2014 $500,000 $59,827.01 735.7% better
2015 $507,500 $60,185.13 743.2% better


On a side note, if anyone knows the MLB minimum salaries for 1948 to 1965, don’t be shy. I assume it’s simply a matter of knowing when the MLB minimum salary went from $5,000 to $6,000.

Babe Ruth could have joined the White Sox in 1914

In the summer of 1914, 19-year-old Babe Ruth emerged as a star pitcher for Baltimore of the International League, and a bidding war quickly developed for his services. Robert Creamer wrote in his landmark 1974 Ruth biography of Baltimore owner Jack Dunn offering Ruth to Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack and failing to contact New York Giants manager John McGraw, who had interest.

There were other potential suitors as well, such as New York Yankees owner Frank Farrell who offered Dunn $25,000 for Ruth and three other players just prior to Ruth’s sale in July 1914. Dunn turned it down, hoping to get at least $30,000. The Baltimore owner was sometimes notorious for holding out on selling players, most notably perhaps with Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Grove a decade later.

Another offer Dunn received may have changed baseball history had it progressed. In reporting the sale to the Boston Red Sox of Ruth, Ernie Shore, and Ben Egan, the Allentown Democrat [Allentown, PA] noted July 11, 1914 that the Chicago White Sox had offered $18,000 for Ruth alone.

I tweeted a little while ago about finding this article, and my friend and editor Rich Mueller, whose website Sports Collector Daily I contribute to, showed me a piece he wrote in 2012. In uncovering correspondence from White Sox scout George Earl Mills, Mueller found that team owner Charlie Comiskey could have had Ruth and five other players for $18,000, but turned it down thinking the price too high.

Mueller wrote:

Had Comiskey been willing to open his checkbook a little more for the recent refugee from St. Mary’s Industrial School, baseball history would have been forever altered.  The White Sox may have become the dominant team in baseball during the 1920s.  The Black Sox scandal may never have happened–or Ruth could have been caught up in it.

I like to think Ruth could have turned the tide in the 1919 World Series on his own. It’s rare in baseball that a single position player has the power to change the course of events, but Ruth was more or less a one man show for Boston in 1919. It’s one of the more underrated seasons in baseball history, even if it paled in comparison to what came later for Ruth.

Ruth was so much better than the rest of his team and the rest of his league in 1919 it’s ridiculous. In just his first full season as a position player, Ruth offered a 217 OPS+ and shattered the home run record with 29. He hit all but four of Boston’s home runs, scoring or driving in about a third of Boston’s runs. Ruth hit 12 percent of all homers in the American League in 1919. For context, Barry Bonds’ 73 homers represented just 2.5 percent of all National League homers in 2001.

So I like to think Ruth could have beat the Cincinnati Reds and eight conspiring teammates on his own in 1919, but who knows. Then again, heroics by Ruth may never have brought to light the gambling problem in baseball, which was endemic over the first 20 years of the 20th century, maybe longer. In that respect, I’m glad things played out as they did. Still, one can only wonder what might have been.

True pioneers for MLB’s ‘Franchise Four’

Baseball Twitter is bustling today at early returns from Major League Baseball’s “Franchise Four” promotion, which has fans voting on the four most important members of each team. To vote, go here.

Within this project, there’s a category to select four pioneers before 1915, and as could be expected, the thing is a historical train wreck. I don’t blame the people voting; whoever put together the ballot for this thing needs a lesson in baseball history.

Here’s the eight-player ballot for the category, which seems haphazardly drawn from notable players of the Deadball Era and before: Grover Cleveland Alexander, Cap Anson, Buck Ewing, Wee Willie Keeler, King Kelly, Kid Nichols, George Sisler, George Wright

Leaving aside that numerous players aren’t mentioned here from Honus Wagner to Ty Cobb to Nap Lajoie, my biggest gripe is that baseball’s greatest pioneers before 1915 by and large weren’t players. If the pioneers were players, their greatest contributions came off the field.

Some of the people I list below were obscure even for their time and have only been rediscovered in recent years. I understand this isn’t the most marketable thing, but I assume anyone willing to look at the pioneer section of a project of this nature has an interest in learning baseball’s history. The ballot, as it stands, does them a disservice.

My friend Adam Darowski challenged me to name eight better candidates for the pioneer section of the ballot. Here goes:

  1. Al Spalding: Star 19th century player, turned sporting goods magnate. Most importantly, he pushed for the 1905 Mills Commission, which anointed Abner Doubleday baseball’s founder.
  2. Ban Johnson: Launched the American League in 1901, the only rival to the National League that’s lasted.
  3. Henry Chadwick: 19th century statistician, credited with popularizing the box score.
  4. Doc Adams: Perhaps Major League Baseball didn’t consult its historian John Thorn in creating a ballot for this project. Thorn wrote a piece in 1993 calling Adams, “The True Father of Baseball.” A tribute website for Adams lists a litany of pioneering accomplishments. Among other things, Adams headed the committee that set bases 90 feet apart and games at nine innings. Somehow, Alexander Cartwright got credit for these things.
  5. William Wheaton: Like Adams, Wheaton was involved with the New York Knickerbocker baseball club and was one of baseball’s first umpires. In Baseball in the Garden of Eden, Thorn cites Wheaton, Adams, William H. Tucker, and Louis Wadsworth as having a better claim to inventing baseball than Doubleday or Cartwright. I admit to not knowing as much about Tucker or Wadsworth. They may belong here as well.
  6. Monte Ward: A Hall of Fame position player and pitcher, though I included him for his role in establishing the upstart Players League in 1890, one of the first [unsuccessful] challenges to the National League’s monopoly.
  7. Harry Wright: Organized, managed and played for the Cincinnati Red Stockings. His brother George, who was star player of the team, got in the Hall of Fame more than 15 years before him by dying a few months prior to his induction in December 1937.
  8. William Hulbert: First president of the National League.

It’s probably too late to change the ballot, though write-in choices are allowed. If anyone from Major League Baseball is reading, please feel free to reach out to me for future projects. I’ll happily offer my services free of charge.

Remembering Ray Nemec

I doubt many people outside of the Society for American Baseball Research knew who Ray Nemec was, and I imagine he didn’t mind. In fact, I’d venture he preferred it that way. The Ray Nemecs of the baseball research world are a curious breed and one I admittedly don’t totally understand. When I research or write something, I do it with the end goal in mind, looking forward to sharing my findings. To do research simply for the sake of research seems a little strange to me.

Ray Nemec, who died April 17 at 85, may have done baseball research for the sake of research better than anyone. One of 16 founding members of SABR in 1971, Nemec’s specialty was the minor leagues. It’s getting rarer and rarer to find people to say this about, but at least for the minors, Nemec knew more than Baseball-Reference.com.

I spoke to Nemec a few times for stories over the past few years. When I first contacted him in 2012, for a feature on an obscure player with a lone season of Class C ball in 1939, Nemec sent me a file that included the player’s Social Security number and names of semi-pro teams he’d been on. Where Nemec got this information from, I don’t know. Minor league data on Baseball-Reference.com can be fractured, particularly regarding forgotten players who didn’t last long. For what it’s worth, Nemec wasn’t a huge fan of the site, saying he counted 250,000 errors on it.

To say the least, Nemec’s death is a big loss for the baseball research community. As his obituary on SABR.org noted, his stats were used to create the Minor League Baseball Database, which informs Baseball-Reference.com’s minor league stats. Nemec had an early goal to find “all records for all players.” While he may have fallen short in this regard, the end result wasn’t bad either: stats for more than 100,000 players and a well-deserved Henry Chadwick Award from SABR in 2012.

Jack Glasscock writes to The Sporting News

I have today off from work, which has found me at the computer, alternating between reading more of Cooperstown Confidential and putting down Zev Chafets’ fine book to do sporadic research. I got to wondering again just now if it might be possible to find the names of voters for the one-off Veterans Committee of 1936. Said names have seemingly never been made public, though I have a feeling something’s out there waiting to be rediscovered in an online archive.

In this spirit, I traipsed over to The Sporting News archives. I didn’t find any committee names, though I stumbled across a 1936 letter to the magazine from 19th century star Jack Glasscock. My friend and fellow baseball historian Adam Darowski loves any mention of Glasscock– and believes he should be in the Hall of Fame– so for Adam and anyone else interested, I thought I’d share the letter here. It ran January 2, 1936:

A VOICE OUT OF THE PAST

Editor of THE SPORTING NEWS:

I just can’t bear to read in THE SPORTING NEWS of Hugh Fullerton’s Pittsburgh All-Time selections. Of course, I expected him to name Hans Wagner at shortstop in place of myself, for he probably was a better player than myself. Fred Clarke was O.K. too, but I stop there. Here is the Pittsburgh team of 1893 and I feel certain it could have beaten any all-star outfit that could be selected: Beckley, first base; Bierbauer, second base; Glasscock, shortstop; Lyons, third base; Donovan, Stenzel and Smith, outfielders; Miller, catcher; Killian [sic], Ehret and Terry, pitchers.

Jack Glasscock

           9 Maryland Street, Wheeling, W. VA.

The minds of old ballplayers are funny sometimes, prone to selective and wistful thinking. This has gone on across generations, maybe all of baseball history. As Bill James wrote in Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame? in the mid-1990s, “Old baseball players today generally feel that the quality of play is not what it once was, and they are not shy about expressing the opinion. Old baseball players have said exactly the same kinds of things with the same frequency and force for at least a hundred years.”

Glasscock’s an early example of this, I think, though certainly not the first. James has a number of examples between a few of his books, with a running header, “Old Ballplayers Never Die.” Pete Palmer and John Thorn list a few in The Hidden Game of Baseball as well, and I like to note new undiscovered ones here as I find them.

Here, Glasscock celebrates a team that was special by franchise standards at the time, but otherwise nothing to be etched in bronze more than 40 years later. Bolstered by the mid-season acquisition of an aging Glasscock, who would hit .341 for the club, the 1893 Pirates finished 81-48, five games out of first place. Pittsburgh never placed higher than sixth any other year of the 1890s and didn’t begin winning pennants until the 20th century, after raiding the roster of another franchise. Truly, two teams in one created some Pittsburgh dream teams for the ages.

Making more of Jackie Robinson Day

As a general rule, I pay people who write articles for this site. Last year, one writer requested I donate his fee to Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities [R.B.I.] RBI is a good cause, dedicated to promoting baseball among minorities, who are represented in the majors today at some of their lowest levels since integration.

This morning, I finally got around to making my writer’s donation and I noticed an unusual coincidence in my timing. It was unintentional on my part, but it seems oddly apropos.

Today is Jackie Robinson Day, the day every player in the majors wears number 42 to honor the legend who broke baseball’s color barrier. I support Jackie Robinson Day, wholeheartedly. I believe in always acknowledging baseball’s exclusion of black players between 1884 and 1947. I’ll also always advocate honoring the sport’s greatest hero. Jackie Robinson is one of many reasons baseball has my favorite history of any sport.

But I’d like to see Jackie Robinson Day become something more than it is at the moment. If tweets like the following are any indication, the day is little more than a token gesture and an opportunity for self-congratulation and nice PR. Consider what Major League Baseball tweeted to its 4.4 million followers just a few hours ago:

First off, as many noted in reply to the tweet, Robinson has been dead since 1972, taken before his time by diabetes. His widow Rachel will be 93 in July, and while I imagine words of thanks to her are appreciated, it’s not enough.

If anyone from Major League is reading, I submit: Why not offer something more on Jackie Robinson Day? There’s so much that could be done, such as $1 to RBI for every retweet or a day of matching donations. I have to think MLB, which has upwards of $9 billion in annual revenue, last I heard, could afford the drop. I doubt it would be difficult to line up corporate sponsors either.

Baseball needs and will always need Jackie Robinson Day, at least in my book. But future minority players could use more than just a day of nice press.

New freelance piece

I have a new freelance piece out today for a website called The National Pastime Museum. In it, I take a long look at why Deadball Era catcher Hank Gowdy became a popular Hall of Fame candidate in the 1950s and then fell completely off the map. I hope it’s not interpreted as a push for Gowdy’s candidacy. To me, Gowdy’s more fit for the Shrine of the Eternals at the Baseball Reliquary, which honors interesting figures from baseball history. More than this, I’ve just long been interested in why he got so many Hall of Fame votes. Gowdy has one of the more unusual, if somewhat forgotten Cooperstown candidacies in baseball history.

To answer the question, I did a substantial amount of research– primarily through archives for The Sporting News and newspapers.com– more research than is probably reasonable for a freelance piece. I’m at the stage in my writing career, though, where research for one piece can build for three or four others. In fact, researching Gowdy’s Hall of Fame candidacy is what led me to recently find more than 900 Veterans Committee candidates. In general, I find it’s rare in life that hard work goes for naught even if I’m not sure what the payoff for my efforts will be going in. It’s part of what keeps me writing here.

I hope the end result of my efforts is well-received, and I had fun putting it together. I’m honored, by the way, to have written something for The National Pastime Museum. Many prominent people from the baseball research community have contributed there, including Rob Neyer, Paul Dickson, and Marty Appel. It feels a little surreal to be in their company to say the least.

Historic Locke Field to become apartment complex

Locke-Field-2012-300x224

Two years ago, Dave England wrote here about Locke Field, a former Class D ballpark in Gainesville, Texas in danger of being torn down. “There’s an apartment complex in Brooklyn where Ebbets Field once stood,” England wrote. “Here’s hoping a similar fate doesn’t befall Locke Field.”

On Tuesday, the Gainesville City Council voted 7-0 to approve a 52-year lease with Orison Holdings of Denton, Texas to build an apartment complex where Locke Field currently stands. Gainesville city manager Barry Sullivan said in a phone interview with this website that construction will begin within six months.

No demolition time for Locke Field has been scheduled. It’s uncertain if anything from the ballpark will be preserved.

Sullivan said this was the third time since May 2010 the council has considered plans for Locke Field, which the city owns. “This wasn’t a one-night, ‘Let’s vote on this’ thing,” Sullivan said. “It’s been coming since 2010.”

As England wrote, Locke Field opened in 1946 and has been identified by the Society for American Baseball Research as one of the final Class D ballparks standing. England wrote of it as “one of the last baseball fields in Texas with wooden dugouts and covered wooden stands.”

Over the years, the field has hosted minor league, college, and high school baseball. Elvis Presley gave a small concert there in 1955.

Sullivan said the city council vote came amid an economic boom for Gainesville and a shortage of local living accommodations. “We’d been receiving several complaints about people having to drive 30 miles for housing,” Sullivan said.

Meanwhile, Sullivan estimated the city was spending between $7,500 and $15,000 a year to maintain a field barely in use in recent years. Gainesville High’s baseball team stopped using it, Sullivan noted, after building a field closer to campus.

“It’s land that we’re having to spend a lot of time to maintain it, and it’s not being utilized,” Sullivan said.

The contract for the apartment complex calls for a minimum of 144 units and the developer spending $10 million. Sullivan said ideally there will be at least 225 units and $16 million in development expenses by Orison Holdings. The city will receive $7,500 a year during the lease.

Locke Field’s fate was sealed in part by its location. Sullivan said it’s close to downtown and near the intersection of Interstate 35.

There are no plans for any plaque or other commemoration at Locke Field. Sullivan said that Gainesville company Antique Lumber may handle the demolition.

Justin Pratt, general manger for Antique Lumber, said by phone that his company does demolition work free of charge in exchange for reselling wood to cover labor costs. Pratt said that if his company takes the job, Locke Field’s bleacher wood will be sent to a saw mill and re-planed, with metal from the ballpark being sold for scrap. Signs from Locke Field may be donated to a historical group.

Tuesday’s vote on Locke Field passed without much public discussion, though it’s been heated in years past. When there was talk in 2012 of building another apartment complex at Locke Field, local resident Duane Walterscheid told a CBS affiliate, “I like it a lot it’s very family oriented. I mean if they want to they can build an apartment complex, but not there.”

The only public discussion before Tuesday’s vote centered on Orison Holdings. The Gainesville Daily Register noted in March that the council tabled consideration of the lease proposal after a representative from another firm accused the city of making a backroom deal with Orison Holdings.

Incidentally, just two people gave public comment Tuesday prior to the vote, both from other firms.

_______________________

For more information about Locke Field, read Dave England’s November 2012 piece for this website.

10 essential books for any baseball historian

Interviewing Pete Palmer recently spurred me to finally get a copy of his and John Thorn’s classic 1984 book, The Hidden Game of Baseball.

I’ve started reading Thorn and Palmer’s masterpiece, and I already know it’s a book I’m going to cite here. From the early going, it reads like a book no baseball history researcher should be without, a central canon of the field.

I got to wondering how many of these books exist. I’m not talking fine baseball books, necessarily, such as Ball Four, The Boys of Summer or Summer of ’49, to name three of my favorites. What I mean is, I wonder which books one’s understanding of baseball history would be incomplete without reading.

Bill James wrote in one of his books that every writer has a stack of books they know they’ll never read. This seems apt, though as a baseball historian and writer, I aspire to at least read enough of the essential books to be taken seriously.

So what are the most essential books for a baseball researcher and historian? I think there are maybe 10 of them, which I’ll list in chronological order. I invite anyone who’s interested to add to the list in the comments below:

  1. The Glory of Their Times, Lawrence Ritter, first published by MacMillan and Company in 1966, revised edition with four new interviews in 1984
  2. Baseball’s Great Experiment, Jules Tygiel, Oxford University Press, 1983
  3. The Hidden Game of Baseball, John Thorn and Pete Palmer, 1984
  4. Baseball, Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, Knopf, 1994
  5. Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?, Bill James, Free Press, 1995
  6. The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James, Free Press, 2003
  7. Moneyball, Michael Lewis, W.W. Norton & Company, 2004
  8. The Book: Playing The Percentages In BaseballTom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman, and Andrew Dolphin, Potomac Books, 2007
  9. Cooperstown Confidential, Zev Chafets, Bloomsbury USA, 2009
  10. Baseball in the Garden of Eden, John Thorn, Simon & Schuster, 2011

I’m not sure if Dr. Harold Seymour and Dorothy Seymour-Mills three volume History of Baseball series, published between 1960 and 1990, belongs on here, too. I’ve yet to touch those books, and as a baseball historian, I’m probably long overdue. The same more or less goes for Thorn and Palmer’s long-running series, Total Baseball. Daniel Okrent’s Ultimate Baseball Book, with historical text by David Nemec, may deserve a spot as well.

Then there are any of the annual abstracts Bill James wrote between 1977 and 1988, though I don’t know if any of them stand out enough on their own to merit inclusion here; 1988, maybe, which has a valedictory feel to it, since a then-burnt-out James announced he was retiring from sabermetric research. We all know how that turned out.

In general, I shied away from including anthologies or chronologies without original research, save for the 592-page tome that accompanied Ken Burns’ 1994 PBS series. Burns’ book just has such an amazing bibliography. It’s like a Readers’ Digest of great baseball literature. While the book isn’t perfect and overlooks some important details, such as Bill James’ contributions to baseball, I would recommend it to any new fan of the game.

I’ll add that I don’t think all the great baseball books have been written, far from it in fact. Over the next 10-15 years, we’re going to see at least a few more with all of the old historic newspapers and magazines being made available online. I suspect in baseball writing, the best is yet to come.

A few more places to read my work

Hi everyone:

Once again, I must offer my apologies on the recent lull in posting here. I’m three days away from moving to Sacramento to be with my girlfriend, and life will hopefully be getting back to normal soon. The last few months have been a blur of work and hunting for an apartment and job in Sacramento while trying to get as much quality time in as I can with my girlfriend.

I apologize to anyone who’s been anxious for new content here. Believe me, I’ve been anxious to write more than I have, though my obligations have taken precedence.

That said, I’ve started contributing weekly at a memorabilia website called Sports Collectors Daily. I haven’t seriously collected sports cards since childhood, though there’s ample opportunity to discuss baseball history in writing about the hobby. I’ve written two pieces thus far, one on rookie cards of popular Hall of Fame candidates and one that went live tonight featuring cards of 15 players who met tragic ends. Please feel free to suggest ideas for future pieces– I’ll of course credit anyone who gives me an idea I use.

Aside from my new gig, I’m also working on a Hall of Fame-related research piece for a site that may be familiar to SABR members. I’ll hold off for now on saying the name of the site here, though I’m excited to write something for it.

Anyhow, my thanks to everyone who frequents this site. I look forward to having a steady supply of new content again soon.

Graham

Keith Olbermann mentioned me on ESPN

I had one of the more surreal moments of my life yesterday.

A few weeks ago, I tweeted a link to my recent piece on Herman Long to Keith Olbermann. Like me, Olbermann’s a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and he wrote something about Long a few years ago that caught my eye.

I originally hoped Olbermann might like my piece enough to retweet it or even just say he liked it. It’s gratifying to get a response from someone of Olbermann’s stature, a sign that perhaps all the work I do here isn’t in vain. There’s also a tangible benefit, as even a 0.1 percent click through rate on my story from Olbermann’s 500,000 Twitter followers would bring 500 visitors here, a good traffic day by this website’s standards.

It made my night when Olbermann retweeted my piece just before Christmas and told me great job via Twitter. Yesterday, Olbermann went one better and did something that, to my knowledge, no television personality has done for me before. In a segment Tuesday on Long’s forgotten Hall of Fame candidacy, Olbermann mentioned me and my piece during his show “Countdown” on ESPN2, even quoting what I wrote on the air.

The mention of me starts around the 4:30 mark of this.

I can’t say how flattered I was to see this. I’m 31 years old, haven’t sold a freelance piece in almost a year, and I question sometimes how much longer I can keep trying to write about baseball for a living. I love researching and writing about baseball history, and I think I’ll always do it at least as a hobby, but economically, it doesn’t make much sense to keep telling myself I can one day make a career of this. Days like Tuesday make me want to keep trying.

Joe Sewell and the art of not striking out

By various measures, Joe Sewell might rank as the hardest player to strike out in baseball history. The Hall of Famer fanned just 114 times in 8,333 plate appearances lifetime, famous for going full seasons with four or six strikeouts. Lefty Grove, who never struck Sewell out in 96 at-bats, per Retrosheet, called him the toughest batter he ever faced.

I got to wondering recently if Sewell went his entire career without striking out twice in a game. I checked game logs on Baseball-Reference.com, and it’s close: Sewell struck out twice on May 13, 1923 and again on May 26, 1930. Sewell being Sewell, he didn’t strike out the rest of the 1930 season after May 26, finishing the year with three strikeouts in 414 plate appearances.

At the time of the 1930 game, Sewell was getting over a recent end due to illness to an 1,103-game consecutive games streak, second-best in baseball history at the time after Everett Scott according to Sewell’s SABR biography. Interviewed in the 1970s by Society for American Baseball Research founder L. Robert Davids, Sewell said also he was thrown off in the 1930 game by white shirts in the center field bleachers.

One of Sewell’s secrets as a hitter, after all, was his ability to keep his eye on the ball. He also favored contact over power, with just 49 homers lifetime, and he kept a comfortable stance that allowed him to adjust to any pitch.

“I followed the ball all the way,” Sewell said in 1960, while hitting coach of the Cleveland Indians, where he played most of his career. “I could even see it hit the bat. Anyone can– if he concentrates on picking up the ball and not watching the pitcher’s motion.”

That might be a good lesson for today’s hitters. With major leaguers striking out a record 37,441 times in 2014, Sewell’s career strikeout rate looks untouchable. Since 1950, just five players according to the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool have struck out under 500 times with at least 8,000 plate appearances: Nellie Fox, Jim Gilliam, Bill Buckner, Tony Gwynn and Juan Pierre.

Sewell, who died in 1990, would likely be aghast at today’s strikeout rates. “There’s no excuse for a major league player striking out 100 times a season,” he said in 1960. “Unless, of course, he’s blind.”

A busy few weeks

Dear readers:

I apologize for the sporadic content lately. It’s been a busy past couple of months. I’ve been working longer hours at work and am also in the process of moving to Sacramento to be with the woman I love.

I enjoy maintaining this site and something feels off when I’m not writing regularly here. That said, supporting myself and being there for the people who matter most to me will always take precedence.

The regular posting schedule here is 3-5 articles per week. I will return to this as soon as I can.

I should have a new post up in the next couple of days.

Thanks for reading,
Graham

Jim Levey’s year in the sun

If Jim Levey isn’t the worst player in baseball history, he isn’t far off. My friend Adam Darowski ranks him 18,401st out of 18,405 players. But even bad players have their days. Alfredo Griffin, Doug Flynn and Neifi Perez all won Gold Glove awards. Ray Oyler had his own fan club in Seattle, having a good enough experience in the city that he lived there until his death. Levey, meanwhile, got an MVP vote in 1932. There’s a good story around how Levey got that vote.

I discovered Levey, a shortstop for the St. Louis Browns while researching Pete Rose and the worst seven-season stretches for players based on Wins Above Average. WAA’s an interesting stat, and Levey shows a side of it I hadn’t thought much about. As reader Marc Rettus has pointed out a few times in the comments here, WAA is a rate stat that rewards players like Roberto Clemente or Sandy Koufax whose careers ended at or near peak performance levels. WAA penalizes players like Rose, Lou Brock and Rabbit Maranville, to name a few who stuck around past their primes. Then there are the Jim Leveys of the baseball world who started their careers at the statistical bottom and scraped it for a few years before their inevitable quick departures from the majors.

Levey lasted just 440 games through four seasons with the Browns before being banished back to the minors, though it’s worth noting he accumulated his -13.7 WAA at a quicker clip than the all-time leader for this stat, Bill Bergen at -24.4 WAA. For the most part, Levey’s career was just wall-to-wall dreck. His -5.9 WAA in 1933 is worst in baseball history, and he also ranks fourth-worst all-time with -5 WAA in 1931. Levey wasn’t a bad athlete, necessarily, coaching semi-pro basketball during the 1932 offseason and playing in the NFL after his time in the majors. He just didn’t have much success with baseball.

But in 1932, however, things seemingly came together for Levey. Seizing on a suggestion in spring training from manager Bill Killefer to change his right-handed batting stance and hit left-handed against right-handed pitchers, Levey raised his batting average .280, up 71 points from 1931. While sabermetrics shows that Levey’s 1932 season wasn’t good, just relatively less bad than his other work at -2.6 WAA, it seemed like enough of an improvement at the time that he was written of as possibly baseball’s most improved player late in the season.

I couldn’t figure out who gave Levey his MVP vote and if it was meant seriously or as a token gesture. Votes like this sometimes go to veteran players who help traditionally bad teams to unexpected successes; Maranville got these sorts of MVP votes late in his career. But the ’32 Browns finished a distant sixth at 63-91. And even by the statistical measures of the day for voters, Levey looked nothing close to the best player in his league. Jimmie Foxx was American League MVP decisively, hitting .364 with 58 homers and 169 RBIs for an A’s team that won 94 games and finished second.

That being said, I can’t say that I mind coming upon votes like this. It’s nice to see the Jim Leveys of baseball win one every now and again.

Pete Rose’s historically bad final seasons

I was struck perusing Baseball-Reference.com on Saturday to see Pete Rose had -13.7 Wins Above Average over his final seven seasons, 1980 through 1986. It’s long been well-known Rose stuck around a few seasons longer than he maybe should have as he chased the all-time hits record. Rose got 884 hits those final seven seasons, passing Honus Wagner, Cap Anson, Tris Speaker, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron and finally Ty Cobb on the hits list. But those seasons cost Rose in other ways.

If Rose had retired at 38 after the 1979 season, he’d rank 49th all-time with 42.3 WAA; instead, he’s tied for 130th at 28.6. He’d also be two hits shy of averaging 200 hits a season for his career and likely would have been ushered into the Hall of Fame in 1985, four years before his lifetime ban for betting on baseball. In more ways than maybe any other player in baseball history, Rose’s career and life is a story of not knowing when to quit. Ironically, it’s the same compulsive drive that made him great.

By Wins Above Average, Rose’s final seven seasons rank 29th-worst among position players in modern baseball history. With the help of the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool, here are the 29 worst seven-season runs by position players since 1900:

  • Bill Bergen, -14.3 WAA, 1901-1907
  • Bill Bergen, -14 WAA, 1902-1908
  • Bill Bergen, -14.9 WAA, 1903-1909
  • Bill Bergen, -16 WAA, 1904-1910
  • Bill Bergen, -16.3 WAA, 1905-1911
  • Ralph Young, -14 WAA, 1916-1922
  • Walter Holke, -13.8 WAA, 1918-1924
  • Walter Holke, -14.7 WAA, 1919-1925
  • Chick Galloway, -15.3 WAA, 1920-1926
  • Tommy Thevenow, -13.8 WAA, 1928-1934
  • Tommy Thevenow, -15.6 WAA, 1929-1935
  • Tommy Thevenow, -14 WAA, 1930-1936
  • Doc Cramer, -15.8 WAA, 1936-1942
  • Doc Cramer, -13.8 WAA, 1937-1943
  • Ken Reitz, -15 WAA, 1973-1979
  • Ken Reitz, -16.2 WAA, 1974-1980
  • Jerry Morales, -15.3 WAA, 1974-1980
  • Dan Meyer, -14.3 WAA, 1974-1980
  • Ken Reitz, -15.7 WAA, 1975-1981
  • Dan Meyer, -15.4 WAA, 1975-1981
  • Jerry Morales, -14.9 WAA, 1975-1981
  • Doug Flynn, -15.9 WAA, 1976-1982
  • Dan Meyer, -14.1 WAA, 1976-1982
  • Doug Flynn, -17.6 WAA, 1977-1983
  • Dan Meyer, -14.7 WAA, 1977-1983
  • Doug Flynn, -17 WAA, 1978-1984
  • Doug Flynn, -14.7 WAA, 1979-1985
  • Pete Rose, -13.7 WAA, 1980-1986
  • Yuniesky Betancourt, -16.7 WAA, 2007-2013

There’s another side to this that I’d be remiss to not mention. For one thing, Rose’s WAA would be higher had he not played first base for the Phillies. According to this page of Baseball-Reference.com, which @LoveSportsFacts showed me on Twitter, WAR sets average offensive production for first basemen at .797 OPS. It’s set at .707 for third base, Rose’s position before he signed with the Phillies in December 1978. Assuming Rose had been able to keep playing the bulk of his innings at third, his .687 OPS from 1980 through 1986 would be close to average for the position. It seems a little unfair to penalize Rose, given that he switched positions to accommodate Mike Schmidt.

Rose’s greatest value may have come in the clubhouse, which makes me wonder why he didn’t manage Philadelphia, which had four skippers during his five seasons in town. Dan Mallon shared a few pages with me via Twitter from the 2013 book Almost a Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the 1980 Phillies, which describes Rose’s immediate impact in Philadelphia. This included Rose diverting attention away from Schmidt by grandstanding with the press, “a wonderful salesman for the team almost from the beginning of his tenure.” He also helped build Schmidt and other teammates’ confidence. The book includes a quote from Schmidt, who said of Rose:

In 1980, Pete provided the kind of dynamic leadership that took the pressure off the other players. He was the finest team player I had ever seen. He always had something to say to pump you up, to play harder every game. At the same time, he was the kind of athlete who was boastful and could go out on the field and back it up. That allowed the rest of us to raise our level of play and ultimately go on to win the World Series.

Mallon told me Rose that Schmidt, like Phillies teammates Larry Bowa and the late Tug McGraw and manager Dallas Green have all publicly credited Rose for getting Philadelphia over the hump to win its first World Series in 1980. After all when Rose joined the Phillies as a free agent in December 1978, the team was coming off three consecutive years losing the National League Championship Series. As a player, Rose was worth -2.8 WAA in 1980. Given the outcome that year, the point is moot.

It’s a different story for 1983, where 42-year-old Rose hit .245, was worth -4 Wins Above Average and struggled to keep his starting spot. Nicknamed “The Wheeze Kids” at an MLB-high 31.8 years average age that season, Philadelphia somehow made a pennant run. Rose hit .345 in the playoffs, but the Phillies lost to Baltimore 4-1 in the World Series and released Rose one week later. Roger Angell wrote of it, “It is painful for us to see old players go, and infinitely harder when they prolong the inevitable process.” Bill James wrote in his 1984 abstract, by which point Rose had signed with the Montreal Expos:

Pete’s selfishness in sacrificing the good of his team to forge on in sub-mediocrity after his own goals is, in its own way, what you would expect from a spoiled beauty. It’s a sad way to end a distinguished career, but you’ll do us both a favor if you’ll just pull the plug on it, and let him get his 4,000th hit two years from now in an empty parking garage in a dark corner of the nation, at a far remove from the pennant race.

Baseball, of course, did nothing of the sort with a seven-minute celebration and new Corvette presented on field when Rose got his record on September 11, 1985.

A nice story about Doug Glanville

I was pleasantly surprised the other day to see former baseball player, ESPN commentator and writer Doug Glanville announced as a candidate to manage the Tampa Bay Rays. I’ve admired Doug’s thoughtful, engaging writing for a long time, maybe a decade. I also have a personal connection to Doug that I haven’t shared here, though I thought the time might be right.

As an independent baseball blogger, I sometimes devise unusual methods to promote my work. In the past, I wrote a weekly column here called “Any player/Any era” where I projected players into different eras than the ones they played in. A couple of years ago, having interacted with Doug once or twice through Twitter, I thought he’d be interested to hear I’d be writing one of these columns on him. Doug was receptive, answering a few questions while I researched the piece. He had nice things to say about the end product, too and within a few months, we were following each other on Twitter.

Around this time, I went through a rough stretch with employment, being unable to consistently pay my bills. I sometimes will stay quiet during such stretches, as they’re embarrassing, though I decided to speak up this time on Twitter. Doug caught site of my tweet as follows:

The best was yet to come.

Shortly thereafter, Doug messaged me asking where I’d want to write, if I could do so anywhere. Would if every struggling writer could get one of these messages. I was so excited I called my parents at 6:30 a.m. to tell them. That probably wasn’t my best idea, as parents worry when they get calls from or about their kids so early in the morning. Still, I couldn’t hide how I was feeling.

After thinking about it briefly, I told Doug of a few places I might like to write, including the San Francisco Chronicle. Doug said he’d email the sports editor. While Doug wasn’t the only person who put in a good word for me, he’s part of the reason I wound up freelancing for the Chronicle for about a year. [A collection of my Chronicle stories can be found here, by the way.]

With sabermetrics staking more and more of a place in the baseball world, the job of a manager is changing. For some teams, managing is less these days about devising in-game strategies [front office employees and computers can do that] than it is about managing the various personalities that play for any given team. Managing is about offering encouragement to a collection of mostly 20- and 30-something-year-old players, getting the best out of them, helping them to believe they’re capable of more than they have been heretofore.

Doug did this for me and while I don’t know if that means he’d make a good big league manager, I like to think it does.

Project schedules

A quick update for a Tuesday afternoon:

First off, voting closed Sunday night for my project on the 25 most important people in baseball history. Thanks to the 262 people who voted! I’m excited to share the voting results and will unveil them next Monday. I want to take my time writing between now and then to do this project justice. I’ll try to get a couple regular posts up in the interim, though I’m not promising anything in-depth.

On a related note, as some may know, I do an annual project having people vote on the 50 best baseball players not in the Hall of Fame. I’ve done this project for four years now and it’s always been a December-January thing. I’ve done it at this time because interest in Cooperstown spikes between the time the Veterans Committee announces its inductees in December and when the Baseball Writers Association of America does likewise in January.

That being said, I’ve decided to do something different this year. Because I do not want to burden people who just voted in my project on the 25 most important people in baseball history by asking them to immediately fill out another ballot, I’m pushing my project on the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame out at least a few months. Ideally, I’d like it to run in late July, when interest in Cooperstown peaks during the annual induction weekend.

I may ask for votes a few months before July, though, as I’m interested in doing the next version of my Hall of Fame project as a book. That’s right. I’m 31, I’ve never written a book, and I know I have one in me. I also think I’ve maybe taken my Hall of Fame project as far as I want to in blog form. I’m eager to explore the creative possibilities that doing my project as a book may allow. I also believe in continuing to give myself challenges and growing. It’s an important part of life, not just for writers.

I’m posting all of this here as an explanation to anyone who was looking forward to voting in a month [eight people have voted all four years of my project; dozens of others have voted two or three years.] I also want to invite anyone interested in helping me plan a book. I know I’m going to need a lot of help for this thing to be a success.

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.

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.

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.