Category Archives: MLB

Predictions of baseball’s demise from 1866

I’ve mentioned here before that Bill James has a running feature through a couple of his books called “Old ballplayers never die.” The premise is that for almost all of baseball’s history, old-time players have been saying that the game was better in their day. There’s also long been talk that the game was in trouble. That talk, I learned today, goes back almost to the beginning of baseball history.

As others, most prominently John Thorn have noted, baseball has a murky and gradual story of origin, not founded by Abner Doubleday in 1839 or Alexander Cartwright in 1846, but slowly evolved over a period of a least several decades. I think it’s why John entitled his 2011 signature history of the early game Baseball in the Garden of Eden.

That said, I’d posit that baseball first became popular on a mass level in the 1860s. The game’s first great star, Jim Creighton played for Brooklyn in the early part of decade. The game became professionalized when Philadelphia star Lip Pike signed baseball’s first contract, for $20 in 1866. And the Brooklyn Daily Eagle noted 20,000 spectators showing up for the 1865 championship.

In this time, baseball also began to see some of its first problems, notably the entrance of gamblers into the game. The 1866 championship in Philadelphia– which is chronicled in greater detail in this National Pastime feature– witnessed open betting in the stands and prompted a series of attacks on the game from Pennsylvania papers. The Pittsburgh Daily Commercial carried a piece October 3 entitled “The Base Ball Epidemic.” which noted:

In 1854 the excitement over cricket first began to assume formidable dimensions, and in 1857 it was at its height. We all remember the way in which it took off small boys from school, and enlisted even men in its ranks as victims. The excitement rose in an hour, and utterly subsided; and instead of being a rational amount of healthy exercise, it was either a mania or none at all. Within two years after the visit of the English eleven, there was not a dozen cricket clubs in the whole country.

Two years ago, base ball commenced, and the course of the epidemic is the same as that of its predecessor. It is to-day being carried to such an excess, that unless there is something like reason in the exercise, the whole game will completely disappear. What was originally a healthy sport has grown to be a positive dissipation. We hear complaints from all our business men, because of the continual absence of young men in that they may engage in the game. If it were once a week, it would be an excellent thing… But when it is four times a week, and sometimes more, it becomes a decided nuisance…

This state of affairs cannot continue, and as lovers of the sport we call upon those who actively engage in it “to draw it a little more mild,” as the meek philosopher says, and “not run the thing into the ground.”

Of course, we all know what’s come since. While the general state of dissipation continued through the formation of baseball’s first drunken attempt at a league, the National Association in 1871 and arguably has gone on ever since, the national pastime has grown to a $9 billion annual industry and looks as healthy as ever this season. Baseball history being what it is, reports of its decline and impending demise will likely continue as long as the game is played. And writers like me will keep poking fun.

The need for oral history

I recently joined the newly-relaunched Oral History Committee of the Society for American Baseball Research. A slightly modified version of the following piece appears in the committee’s first newsletter.
______________________

I worked in an ice cream shop my senior year of high school, a few blocks from where Edmonds Field stood in Sacramento.

The home of the Sacramento Solons, Edmonds Field met the wrecking ball in 1964, but there are still remnants of its presence, still people who remember it as one of the nicer ballparks of the old Pacific Coast League.

One of the perks of working in food service is the chance to meet, or at least have brief interactions with a variety of interesting people. One day, an elderly customer told me she had lived beside Edmonds Field.

I was working at the time on a high school senior project about the Solons, and my interest piqued. I asked the woman if she would be up for an interview, handing her my phone number. One of my coworkers laughed, thinking I was trying to pick up on the old woman.

I didn’t get to interview the woman, but she went one better, getting me in contact with an 89-year-old man named Bud Beasley. A former pitcher for the Solons and a number of other minor league teams, Beasley had been opposing pitcher for the Seattle Rainers on a fateful night in Sacramento history, July 11, 1948.

On this night, hours after a game, old wooden, double-decked Edmonds Field caught fire, with the park being almost completely destroyed. The Solons played the rest of the 1948 season on the road.

No one was ever sure what caused the fire. Some speculated that a lit cigar had been left in the stands. Others suspected that the park was intentionally destroyed to collect insurance money. Whatever the case, the park was rebuilt, as a single-story concret structure the following year.

More than 50 years after the fire, Beasley told me of his train being stopped that night in nearby Davis while the blaze roared. Even 15 miles away, Beasley told me he could see the flames billowing from Edmonds Field.

Stories like Beasley’s motivate me to research and write about baseball history and to talk to old ballplayers. I’m of the belief as a writer that everyone has a story, and I’m always amazed at how many of them former players have.

There’s something of a historical imperative in talking to old players. Beasley died four years after our conversation, and while I’d imagine he told his stories to plenty of people, I fear that good stories often die or at least diminish in detail with the passing of old players.

I’m thankful for the times that someone publishes a brilliant interview with some old ballplayer 50 or 60 years after the fact, recounting some never-before-told story.

For instance, it’s been common knowledge for many years that the Boston Red Sox had a shot at Jackie Robinson before he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers, giving him a sham tryout in 1945 with Sam Jethroe and Marvin Williams. The Red Sox, of course, were the last team in the majors to integrate, with Pumpsie Green in 1959.

A few years ago, a former player spoke of being at the Robinson tryout and said it almost didn’t happen.

I wonder how many of these types of stories never get told. I don’t believe magic interviews with former players are predestined. I think it’s up to a good interviewer to seek out players, listen to what they have to say, and preserve their stories.

In that respect, I’m proud to be a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and its oral history committee. I think we can do for oral histories what SABR’s landmark BioProject has done for compiling life stories on 2,000 former players.

The Solons quit playing in Sacramento after 1960, and the old Pacific Coast League more or less died with the Giants and Dodgers moving to California. Fewer and fewer veterans of the old PCL remain, gathering for annual reunions that shrink by the year.

That said, I suspect there are still great stories that haven’t been told. I’ve spoken over the years to several of these players. With SABR’s help, I intend to reach out to all of the remaining players in the Sacramento area where I live. Hopefully, other members of this committee who live elsewhere will do likewise.

As a baseball historian and fan, I live for chance meetings with the Bud Beasley’s of the world. I’m never sure what they’re going to say, but more times than not, it’s worth listening to.

More than three baseball people attended Ty Cobb’s funeral

Al Stump’s True magazine feature on Ty Cobb from 1961 ends with the famous, oft-cited line:

From all of major-league baseball, three men and three only appeared for his funeral.

Like many readers, I suppose, I used to place a lot of stock in Stump’s iconic feature, which led to the 1994 film, Cobb. I believed some of the story’s more outlandish claims, such as that Cobb had killed a would-be mugger in the street in 1912, hours before a game. As a researcher, offering blind belief without further investigation is something akin to heresy, but I did it. I’d like to think I’ve gotten better in the past few years, but there’s always room for more growth.

In a 1996 piece for National Pastime, SABR member Doug Roberts debunked Stump’s claim that Cobb had killed a personNearly five years ago, the rest of Stump’s fable was ripped apart in a landmark National Pastime article. While the article primarily focused on large-scale Cobb-related memorabilia fraud that Stump perpetuated after collaborating on an autobiography near the end of Cobb’s life, it’s inspired baseball historians left to reshape the narrative on the Georgia Peach since.

In a certain respect, Stump’s article is a bit of a boon for intrepid researchers. There’s so much wrong with it that it doesn’t take much work to find a distortion or outright fabrication. Take Stump’s assertion that only three people from the baseball world attended Cobb’s funeral.

Charles Leerhsen writes in an ambitious new biography released today from Simon & Schuster, Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty:

Perhaps the single meanest lie told about Ty Cobb is that nobody came to his funeral– or even more heartbreaking, because it is more specific– that only three people did. This story started with Stump, who said that just three people from the world of professional baseball traveled to Royston for the service… In fact, there were very few baseball people there– just four– but that was because Charlie Cobb and her children had announced that it was a private service meant only for family and friends.

Leerhsen lists the four baseball people who attended Cobb’s funeral as Hall of Fame director Sid Keener and ex-players Ray Schalk, Mickey Cochrane and Nap Rucker.

There might have been others on-hand as well. A wire story from the day of Cobb’s funeral, July 19, 1961, noted, “Many of baseball’s biggest names are expected to be present for the funeral services which will be held here at 3 p.m. today.” The story listed 14 baseball notables to serve as honorary pallbearers. They were:

  • Cochrane
  • Keener
  • Home Run Baker
  • Sam Crawford
  • Joe Cronin
  • Charley Dressen
  • Ford Frick
  • Warren Giles
  • Fred Haney
  • Earl Mann
  • Muddy Ruel
  • J.G. Taylor Spink
  • Casey Stengel
  • Del Webb

While I don’t know if all of these pallbearers attended or observed their honors from afar– and at least one columnist wrote after Cobb’s funeral that only four MLB people were there– it’s clear that baseball and the rest of the world cared more about the Georgia Peach’s passing than Stump suggested.

The 1911 Tigers-Browns game that drew 66 fans

John Shea mentioned today in the San Francisco Chronicle that SABR’s Phil Lowry knew of a Major League Baseball game between the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Browns from 1911 that drew just 66 fans. This rates a mention, of course, following Wednesday’s Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox game that was closed to the public and officially played to zero fans, a record.

One of the beauties of the Internet is the ability to quickly find accounts of obscure, long-ago games. After using Wikipedia and Baseball-Reference.com to determine that the game that Shea spoke of took place October 7, 1911, I located a couple of contemporary accounts of it via newspapers.com.

It wasn’t much of a game really, a 1-0 victory by the visiting Tigers over the Browns. The game went just an hour and 35 minutes, with the two teams combining for 15 hits. Neither club had anything to play for with the Tigers in second place, far behind the future World Champion Philadelphia Athletics and the Browns putting the finishing touches on a 45-107, last-place season.

Official MLB historian John Thorn told multiple outlets this past week that the previous low attendance in big league history before Wednesday’s game was six fans for a contest between Troy and Worcester in 1882. The Baltimore Sun wrote more about that game a few days ago.

The Tigers-Browns game we speak of here may have had the American League record for low attendance prior to Wednesday. The Washington Post piece shown above reported the attendance as an AL record low and noted that “the day was raw.” It’s believed that inclement weather kept fans away.

The attendance figures weren’t conjecture, by the way. Both the Post and Chicago’s Inter Ocean reported that the numbers were “by actual count,” which I presume was possible for such a game. The figures came from an era of sports journalism, if it can be termed as such, where teams often either did not provide or grossly inflated their attendance, and reporters sometimes had to guess.

It’s worth noting that the game was without its marquee attraction. Ty Cobb, coming off one of his finest seasons with 248 hits and a .420 batting average, had the day off. [Cobb’s 1911 numbers put in historical context impress somewhat less; the American League used an enlivened ball in 1911, with average scoring per team jumping almost a full run from 1910.]

Cobb missed the following day’s season-ending doubleheader, too, when the Indianapolis Star reported, “Cold weather kept down the attendance [again] and the players most of whom were recruits, did not exert themselves.” That would’ve been a sight to see, but perhaps I’m in the minority here.

There’s maybe one other thing worth a mention. Jimmy Austin, who would be interviewed a half century later for The Glory of Their Times, was in St. Louis’s starting lineup on October 7. I glanced at Austin’s chapter in the book and found no mention of this game. If anyone knows of further accounts of this game elsewhere, don’t be shy.

Why I’m rooting for Josh Hamilton

Josh Hamilton is quickly becoming a historical footnote. Following Hamilton’s trade back to the Texas Rangers on Monday, Jayson Stark wrote yesterday that Hamilton’s $125 million free agent deal with the the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim might be worst in baseball history. That may be so. Certainly, the Angels’ $110 million in sunk costs for Hamilton’s 2.9 Wins Above Replacement with the team has to be among the most wasteful deals ever.

At this point, it seems unlikely Hamilton will return to All Star form, no sure thing he’ll even be an average outfielder again, and a fairly decent bet he’ll be out the majors altogether within a few years. Hamilton is aging, injury-riddled, and by now, his drug and alcohol problems are long since established. He lost three full seasons in the minors to drugs and has had multiple relapses since getting clean, including one just a few months ago.

As a writer and researcher, I’m often fairly detached with baseball, though I’ve rooted for Hamilton since he debuted in the majors in 2007. I like a good underdog story. More than this, I can relate to Hamilton, and I know a little about his struggle. It’s been nearly a decade since my last drink at age 22. I’m part of a small percentage who’s been able to stay sober since I quit drinking. For many, if not most people, relapse is a part of recovery.

I got lucky and got a second chance in life. Hamilton did as well, and that’s part of his story that sometimes irks me when I see others write about it. No matter what Hamilton does the rest of his career, the guy has been a miracle in my book. The greatest drug and alcohol tragedies in baseball history are the players we never hear of, whose careers implode long before they would ever reach the majors. God only knows how many of these players there have been.

I say this as someone who watched way more people than I can remember come in and out of recovery meetings. Relapse rates are abysmal, and we live in a country, a world really, where there aren’t many effective options for people battling substance abuse problems, particularly for anyone who’d prefer a secular approach to dealing with their issue. I side with addiction researcher and noted 12-step critic Stanton Peele who has written that many people will mature out of addictions and go on to more fruitful endeavors in life. All the same, many people will not.

Josh Hamilton may have had a Hall of Fame career without his personal issues, and that’s unfortunate. I’m still rooting for the guy. I don’t really expect much at this point, though I think the return to Texas may do Hamilton well, as he carries a .316/.374/.588 lifetime slash at the Rangers Ballpark and is leaving one of the starkest pitcher’s parks in baseball. Why any power hitter would sign with the Angels is beyond me, though that’s a story for another time.

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, which I primarily found on Cot’s Baseball Contracts [via Baseball Prospectus] and plugging the numbers into an online inflation calculator.

Year Minimum MLB salary 1946 MLB minimum adjusted for inflation to that year How much better or worse the MLB minimum that year was than the 1946 minimum adjusted for inflation
1946 $5,000 N/A N/A
1947 $5,000 $5,720 12.6% worse
1948 $5,000 $6,166.16 18.9% worse
1949 $5,000 $6,104.60 18.1% worse
1950 $5,000 $6,165.54 18.9% worse
1951 $5,000 $6,652.62 24.8% worse
1952 $5,000 $6,798.98 26.5% worse
1953 $5,000 $6,853.37 27% worse
1954 $6,000 $6,887.64 12.9% worse
1955 $6,000 $6,860.09 12.5% worse
1956 $6,000 $6,962.99 13.8% worse
1957 $6,000 $7,213.66 16.8% worse
1958 $6,000 $7,408.42 19% worse
1959 $6,000 $7,467.69 19.6% worse
1960 $6,000 $7,587.18 20.9% worse
1961 $6,000 $7,663.05 21.7% worse
1962 $6,000 $7,747.34 22.5% worse
1963 $6,000 $7,840.31 23.5% worse
1964 $6,000 $7,942.23 24.4% worse
1965 $6,000 $8,077.25 25.7% worse
1966 $6,000 $8,311.49 27.8% 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


[UPDATE, 4/29: This chart was adjusted to include the MLB minimum from 1948 to 1966. MLB raised minimum pay from $5,000 to $6,000 on December 9, 1953 and did not raise its minimum again until 1968.]

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.