Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Pete Browning

Claim to fame: Browning was one of the first great stars of the game with his career that spanned 1882 to 1894. Among his numerous accomplishments, Browning won three batting titles, hit .402 in 1887, and finished with a career batting average of .341. That lifetime clip is 13th best all-time, and his career OPS+ of 162 is 12th best. Browning even inspired the name for the Louisville Slugger.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Browning never appeared on the Cooperstown ballot for the Baseball Writers Association of America and can be inducted through a section of the Veterans Committee that considers players whose careers began before 1943.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? If this column has shown anything in the months since its June 1 debut, it’s that there are many outstanding baseball players not in the Hall of Fame. Pete Browning is one who should have been in 60 years ago.

A few weeks ago, I asked if it was time for the Hall of Fame to have another mass induction of old timers. In the early days of Cooperstown, the backlog of old stars was so apparent that an Old Timers Committee was created that enshrined 30 greats between 1939 and 1949, men who played primarily in the early 1900s. It’s hard to say if the committee members deliberately passed on Browning, a notorious hard drinker whose career was relatively short, though they declined to honor a number of 19th century standouts.

It could be argued that the skill level in baseball was sufficiently lower prior to the modern era that few players from those days deserve enshrinement. But 60 years on, there are things now understood in baseball research that I doubt entered the Hall of Fame conversation in the 1930s or ’40s.

Take Browning’s OPS+ ranking of 162, which is his OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) with his park and league factored in. The stat helps show how vastly superior Browning was to most of his contemporaries, at least offensively. Granted, his non-adjusted career OPS of .869 is nothing to write home about, but it’s not terrible either. In fact, it’s better than many Hall of Famers, including Honus Wagner, Roy Campanella, and George Brett.

OPS+ has been developed and embraced in the last 25 or so years, through John Thorn, Pete Palmer, and other members of the Bill James statistical revolution, and I admit I’m only just starting to grasp its importance. It’s one of many metrics today that make it far easier to rank and compare long-dead baseball greats. Were statistical analysis better understood when the Old Timers Committee was at work, I suspect Browning would be enshrined, though I also think his batting achievements should have been enough for a plaque.

All this being said, it’s not too late to honor a man who died in 1905. Browning is a darling of the baseball research community and was named the Overlooked 19th Century Baseball Legend for 2009 by the Society for American Baseball Research. I think it’s time Browning received broader recognition.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.

5 Replies to “Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Pete Browning”

  1. Maybe one of the reasons was that he was such a poor fielder that it inspired the writer of the book “Mitts”, to say, and I’m paraphrasing,..It would have been better to have had a cigar store indian in center field. At least there was the chance that the ball might have hit it. Ouch!

  2. I think he would have been a marvelous DH. He should be in the hall for his batting at least. I suspect there are several HOF members who are there more for their hitting than fielding, just as Ozzie Smith is there more for fielding than hitting. Browning is not the only forgotten 19th c. ball player. Sure some rules were different, but they all helped form, in one way or another, the game of baseball. Also, I feel there are a few players in the hall that that don’t quite have the stats to be there. Anyway, I agree that the veterans committee should have another mass induction as they did in ’46.

    1. Browning won the Player’s League batting crown in 1890. That showed he could prosper with the “Big Boys” in that 80% of the PL players came from the NL. He should be a slam dunk for the Hall. Bob Caruthers also belongs as he is the only pitcher to win more than 200 games and lose less than 100. Plus he was a productive hitter when not pitching.

  3. As a young boy 8 years of age in 1944 I was one of the original “latch key” kids of the mid- 1940s. To pass the time after school I spent hours at the city library, reading every book I could find about baseball, from John Tunis’ “The Kid From Tomkinsville” series and other fiction like “The Natural” to books and short stories by Damon Runyon and the other great New York sportswriters about real baseball legends – Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Christy Mathewson, Connie Mack, etc. i became fascinated by statistics and the Hall of fame, and spent many hours researching, memorizing and comparing players’ statistics. I even did a rudimentary analysis (I still have it) of Pete Browning’s stats, and always wondered if, like Joe Jackson and, perhaps, Hal Chase, he had somehow been blacklisted and thus, excluded from being elected to the Hall.
    When I look at some of those elected by the Writers (Willie Stargell’s rather ordinary career comes to mind), i wonder what could Browning have done wrong not to have been included in the Hall long before this. After all these years the Veteran’s Committee should say “yes” to Pete Browning!.

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