Out at Home, Part 2

1884 Bellaire Globes Base Ball Club, with Sol White

1884 Bellaire Globes Base Ball Club, with Sol White

Part 1 of Jerry Malloy’s masterful essay appeared yesterday and may be viewed here: http://goo.gl/nSfhX4.

In 1886 an attempt had been made to form the South­ern League of Colored Base Ballists, centered in Jack­sonville, Florida. Little is known about this circuit, since it was so short lived and received no national and very little local press coverage. Late in 1886, though, Walter S. Brown of Pittsburgh announced his plan of forming the National Colored Base Ball League. It, too, would have a brief existence. But unlike its Southern predecessor, Brown’s Colored League received wide publicity.

The November 18, 1886, issue of Sporting Life an­nounced that Brown already had lined up five teams. Despite the decision of the Cuban Giants not to join the league, Brown called an organizational meeting at Eureka Hall in Pittsburgh on December 9,1886. Delegates from Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Louisville attended. Representatives from Chicago and Cincinnati also were present as prospective investors, Cincinnati being represented by Bud Fowler.

Final details were ironed out at a meeting at the Doug­lass Institute in Baltimore in March 1887. The seven-team league consisted of the Keystones of Pittsburgh, Browns of Cincinnati, Capitol Citys of Washington, Resolutes of Boston, Falls City of Louisville, Lord Baltimores of Bal­timore, Gorhams of New York, and Pythians of Phil­adelphia. (The Pythians had been the first black nine to play a white team in history, beating the City Items 27-17 on September 18,1869.) [This finding since superseded–jt] Reach Sporting Goods agreed to provide gold medals for batting and fielding leaders in exchange for the league’s use of the Reach ball. Players’ salaries would range from $10 to $75 per month. In recognition of its questionable financial position, the league set up an “experimental” season, with a short schedule and many open dates.

“Experimental” or not, the Colored League received the protection of the National Agreement, which was the structure of Organized Baseball law that divided up mar­kets and gave teams the exclusive right to players’ con­tracts. Sporting Life doubted that the league would benefit from this protection “as there is little probability of a wholesale raid upon its ranks even should it live the season out—a highly improbable contingency.” Participation in the National Agreement was more a matter of prestige than of practical benefit. Under the headline “Do They Need Protection?” Sporting Life wrote:

The progress of the Colored League will be watched with con­siderable interest. There have been prominent colored base ball clubs throughout the country for many years past, but this is their initiative year in launching forth on a league scale by forming a league . . . representing . . . leading cities of the country. The League will attempt to secure the protection of the National Agreement. This can only be done with the consent of all the National Agreement clubs in whose territories the colored clubs are located. This consent should be obtainable, as these clubs can in no sense be considered rivals to the white clubs nor are they likely to hurt the latter in the least financially. Still the League can get along without protection. The value of the latter to the white clubs lies in that it guarantees a club undisturbed possession of its players. There is not likely to be much of a scramble for colored players. Only two [sic] such players are now employed in professional white clubs, and the number is not likely to be ever materially increased owing to the high standard of play required and to the popular prejudice against any considerable mixture of races.

Despite the gloomy—and accurate—forecasts, the Colored League opened its season with much fanfare at Recreation Park in Pittsburgh on May 6,1887. Following “a grand street parade and a brass band concert,” about 1200 spectators watched the visiting Gorhams of New York defeat the Keystones, 11-8.

May 10, 2014 Dedication of Sol White Gravestone

May 10, 2014 Dedication of Sol White Gravestone

Although Walter Brown did not officially acknowledge the demise of the Colored League for three more weeks, it was obvious within a matter of days that the circuit was in deep trouble. The Resolutes of Boston traveled to Louis­ville to play the Falls City club on May 8. While in Louis­ville, the Boston franchise collapsed, stranding its players. The league quickly dwindled to three teams, then expired. Weeks later, Boston’s players were still marooned in Louisville. “At last accounts,” reported The Sporting News, “most of the Colored Leaguers were working their way home doing little turns in barbershops and waiting on table in hotels.” One of the vagabonds was Sol White, then nineteen years old, who had played for the Keystones of Pittsburgh. He made his way to Wheeling, West Virginia, where he completed the season playing for that city’s entry in the Ohio State League. (Three other blacks in that league besides White were Welday Walker, catcher N. Higgins, and another catcher, Richard Johnson.) Twenty years later he wrote:

The [Colored] League, on the whole, was without substantial backing and consequently did not last a week. But the short time of its existence served to bring out the fact that colored ball players of ability were numerous.

Although independent black teams would enjoy vary­ing degrees of success throughout the years, thirty-three seasons would pass before Andrew “Rube” Foster would achieve Walter Brown’s ambitious dream of 1887: a stable all-Negro professional baseball league.


The International League season was getting under way. In preseason exhibitions against major league teams, Grant’s play was frequently described as “brilliant.” Sporting Life cited the “brilliant work of Grant,” his “num­ber of difficult one-handed catches,” and his “special fielding displays” in successive games in April. Even in an 18-4 loss to Philadelphia, “Grant, the colored second baseman, was the lion of the afternoon. His exhibition was unusually brilliant.”

Stovey got off to a shaky start, as Newark lost to Brooklyn 12-4 in the team’s exhibition opener. “Walker was clever—exceedingly clever behind the bat,” wrote the Newark Daily Journal, “yet threw wildly several times.” A few days later, though, Newark’s “colored battery” per­formed magnificently in a 3-2 loss at the Polo Grounds to the New York Giants, the favorite National League team of the Newark fans (hence the nickname “Little Giants”). Stovey was “remarkably effective,” and Walker threw out the Giants’ John Montgomery Ward at second base, “something that but few catchers have been able to accomplish.” The play of Stovey and Walker impressed the New York sportswriters, as well as New York Giants’ Captain Ward and manager Jim Mutrie who, according to White, “made an offer to buy the release of the ‘Spanish Battery,’ but [Newark] Manager Hackett informed him they were not on sale.”

Stovey and Walker were becoming very popular. The Binghamton Leader had this to say about the big southpaw:

Well, they put Stovey in the box again yesterday. You recollect Stovey, of course—the brunette fellow with the sinister fin and the demonic delivery. Well, he pitched yesterday, and, as of yore, he teased the Bingos. He has such a knack of tossing up balls that appear as large as an alderman’s opinion of himself, but you cannot hit ’em with a cellar door. There’s no use in talking, but that Stovey can do funny things with a ball. Once, we noticed, he aimed a ball right at a Bing’s commissary department, and when the Bingo spilled himself on the glebe to give that ball the right of way, it just turned a sharp corner and careened over the dish to the tune of “one strike.” What’s the use of bucking against a fellow that can throw at the flag-staff and make it curve into the water pail?

Walker, too, impressed fans and writers with his de­fensive skill and baserunning. In a game against Buffalo, “Walker was like a fence behind the home-plate . . . [T]here might have been a river ten feet behind him and not a ball would have gone into it.” Waxing poetic, one scribe wrote:

There is a catcher named Walker

Who behind the bat is a corker,

He throws to a base

With ease and with grace,

And steals ’round the bags like a stalker.

Who were the other black ballplayers in the IL? Os­wego, unsuccessful in signing George Williams away from the Cuban Giants, added Randolph Jackson, a second baseman from Ilion, New York, to their roster after a recommendation from Bud Fowler. (Ilion is near Cooperstown; Fowler’s real name was John Jackson— coincidence?) He played his first game on May 28. In a 5-4 loss to Newark he “played a remarkable game and hit for a double and a single, besides making the finest catch ever made on the grounds,” wrote Sporting Life. Jackson played only three more games before the Oswego franchise folded on May 31, 1887.

1887 Syracuse Stars with  Robert Higgins

1887 Syracuse Stars with Robert Higgins

Binghamton, which already had Bud Fowler, added a black pitcher named Renfroe (whose first name is un­known). Renfroe had pitched for the Memphis team in the Southern League of Colored Base Ballists in 1886, where “he won every game he pitched but one, averaging twelve strikeouts a game for nine games. In his first game against Chattanooga he struck out the first nine men who came to bat,” wrote the Memphis Appeal; “he has great speed and a very deceptive down-shoot.” Renfroe pitched his first game for Binghamton on May 30, a 14-9 victory over Utica, before several thousand fans.

“How far will this mania for engaging colored players go?” asked Sporting Life. “At the present rate of progress the International League may ere many moons change its title to ‘Colored League.’ ” During the last few days in May, seven blacks were playing in the league: Walker and Stovey for Newark, Fowler and Renfroe for Binghamton, Grant for Buffalo, Jackson for Oswego, and one player not yet mentioned: Robert Higgins. For his story, we back up and consider the state of the Syracuse Stars.


The 1887 season opened with Syracuse in a state, of disarray. Off the field, ownership was reorganized after a lengthy and costly court battle in which the Stars were held liable for injuries suffered by a fan, John A. Cole, when he fell from a grandstand in 1886. Another fall that disturbed management was that of its team’s standing, from first in 1885 to a dismal sixth in 1886. Determined to infuse new talent into the club, Syracuse signed seven players from the defunct Southern League after the 1886 season. Although these players were talented, the move appeared to be backfiring when, even before the season began, reports began circulating that the Southern League men had formed a “clique” to foist their opinions on management. The directors wanted to sign as manager Charley Hackett, who, as we have seen, subsequently signed with Newark. But the clique insisted that they would play for Syracuse only if Jim Gifford, who had hired them, was named manager. The directors felt that Gif­ford was too lax, yet acquiesced to the players’ demand. By the end of April, the Toronto World was reporting:

Already we hear talk of “cliqueism” in the Syracuse Club, and if there be any truth to the bushel of statement that team is certain to be doomed before the season is well under way. Their ability to play a winning game is unquestioned, but if the clique exists the club will lose when losing is the policy of the party element.

Another offseason acquisition for the Stars was a catcher named Dick Male, from Zanesville, Ohio. Soon after he was signed in November 1886, rumors surfaced that “Male” was actually a black named Dick Johnson. Male mounted his own public relations campaign to quell these rumors. The Syracuse correspondent to Sporting Life wrote:

Much has been said of late about Male, one of our catchers, being a colored man, whose correct name is said to be Johnson. I have seen a photo of Male, and he is not a colored man by a large majority. If he is he has sent some other fellow’s picture.

The Sporting News’ Syracuse writer informed his readers that “Male . . . writes that the man calling him a negro is himself a black liar.”

Male’s performance proved less than satisfactory and he was released by Syracuse shortly after a 20-3 drubbing at the hands of Pittsburgh in a preseason game, in which Male played right field, caught, and allowed tliree passed balls. Early in May he signed with Zanesville of the Ohio State League, where he once again became a black catcher named Johnson.

1887 Syracuse with Higgins

1887 Syracuse with Higgins

As the season began, the alarming specter of selective support by the Southern League players became increas­ingly apparent. They would do their best for deaf-mute pitcher Ed Dundon, who was a fellow refugee, but would go through the motions when Doug Crothers or Con Murphy pitched for the Stars. Jim Gifford, the Stars’ manager, not equal to the task of controlling his team, resigned on May 17. He was replaced by “Ice Water” Joe Simmons, who had managed Walker at Waterbury in 1886.

Simmons began his regime at Syracuse by signing a nineteen-year-old lefthanded black pitcher named Robert Higgins. Like Renfroe, Higgins was from Memphis, and it was reported that manager Sneed of Memphis “would have signed him long ago . . . but for the prejudice down there against colored men.” Besides his talents as a pitcher Higgins was so fast on the basepaths that Sporting Life claimed that he had even greater speed than Mike Slattery of Toronto, who himself was fast enough to steal 112 bases in 1887, an International League record to this day.

On May 23, two days after he signed with the Stars, Higgins pitched well in an exhibition game at Lockport, New York, winning 16-5. On May 25 the Stars made their first trip of the season to Toronto, where in the presence of 1,000 fans, Higgins pitched in his first International League game. The Toronto World accurately summed up the game with its simple headline: “DISGRACEFUL BASE­BALL.” The Star team “distinguished itself by a most disgusting exhibition.” In a blatant attempt to make Higgins look bad, the Stars lost 28-8. “Marr, Bittman, and Beard . . . seemed to want the Toronto team to knock Higgins out of the box, and time and again they fielded so badly that the home team were enabled to secure many hits after the side should have been retired. In several instances these players carried out their plans in the most glaring manner. Fumbles and muffs of easy fly balls were frequent occurrences, but Higgins retained control of his temper and smiled at every move of the clique . . . Marr, Bittman, Beard and Jantzen played like schoolboys.” Of Toronto’s 28 runs, 21 were unearned. Higgins’ catcher, Jantzen, had three passed balls, three wild throws, and three strikeouts, incurring his manager’s wrath to the degree that he was fined $50 and suspended. (On June 3 Jantzen was reinstated, only to be released on July 7.) The Sporting News reported the game prominently under the headlines: “THE SYRACUSE PLOTTERS; The Star Team Broken Up by a Multitude of Cliques; The Southern Boys Refuse to Support the Colored Pitcher.” The group of Southern League players was called the “Ku-Klux coterie” by the Syracuse correspondent, who hoped that player Harry Jacoby would dissociate himself from the group. “If it is true that he is a member of the Star Ku-Klux-Klan to kill off Higgins, the negro, he has made a mistake. His friends did not expect it.  .  . .”

According to the Newark Daily Journal, “Members of the Syracuse team make no secret of their boycott against Higgins. . . . They succeeded in running Male out of the club and they will do the same with Higgins.” Yet when the club returned to Syracuse, Higgins pitched his first game at Star Park on May 31, beating Oswego 11-4. Sporting Life assured its readers that “the Syracuse Stars supported [Higgins] in fine style.”

Doug Crothers, Syracuse

Doug Crothers, Syracuse

But Bob Higgins had not yet forded the troubled waters of integrated baseball. On the afternoon of Saturday, June 4, in a game featuring opposing Negro pitchers, Syracuse and Higgins defeated Binghamton and Renfroe 10-4 be­fore 1,500 fans at Star Park. Syracuse pilot Joe Simmons instructed his players to report the next morning to P. S. Ryder’s gallery to have the team portrait taken. Two players did not comply, left fielder Henry Simon and pitcher Doug Crothers. The Syracuse correspondent for The Sporting News reported:

The manager surmised at once that there was “a nigger in the fence” and that those players had not reported because; the colored pitcher, Higgins, was to be included in the club portrait. He went over to see Crothers and found that he was right. Crothers would not sit in a group for his picture with Higgins.

After an angry exchange, Simmons informed Crothers that he would be suspended for the remainder of the season. The volatile Crothers accused Simmons of leaving debts in every city he had managed, then punched him. The manager and his pitcher were quickly separated.

There may have been an economic motive that fanned the flames of Crothers’ temper, which was explosive even under the best of circumstances: he was having a disap­pointing season when Simmons hired a rival and potential replacement for him. According to The Sporting News’ man in Syracuse, Crothers was not above contriving to hinder the performance of another pitcher, Dundon, by getting him liquored-up on the night before he was scheduled to pitch.

Crothers, who was from St. Louis, later explained his refusal to sit in the team portrait:

I don’t know as people in the North can appreciate my feelings on the subject. I am a Southerner by birth, and I tell you I would have my heart cut out before I would consent to have my picture in the group. I could tell you a very sad story of injuries done my family, but it is personal history. My father would have kicked me out of the house had I allowed my picture to be taken in that group.

Crothers’ suspension lasted only until June 18, when he apologized to his manager and was reinstated. In the meantime he had earned $25 per game pitching for “amateur” clubs. On July 2, he was released by Syracuse. Before the season ended, he played for Hamilton of the International League, and in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, all the while threatening to sue the Syracuse directors for $125.

Harry Simon, a native of Utica, New York, was not punished in any way for his failure to appear for the team portrait; of course, he did not compound his insub­ordination by punching his manager. The Toronto World-was cynical, yet plausible, in commenting that Simon “is such a valuable player, his offense [against Higgins] seems to have been overlooked.” The sporting press emphasized that Crothers was punished for his failure to pose with Higgins more than his fisticuffs with Simmons.

Thus in a period of ten days did Bob Higgins become the unwilling focus of attention in the national press, as the International League grappled with the question of race. Neither of these incidents—the attempt to discredit him with intentionally bad play nor the reluctance of white players to be photographed with a black teammate—was unprecedented. The day before the Stars’ appointment with the photographer, the Toronto World reported that in 1886 the Buffalo players refused to have their team photographed because of the presence of Frank Grant, which made it seem unlikely that the Bisons would have a team portrait taken in 1887 (nonetheless, they did). That Canadian paper, ever vigilant lest the presence of black ballplayers besmirch the game, also reported, ominously, that “The recent trouble among the Buffalo players orig­inated from their dislike to [sic] Grant, the colored player. It is said that the latter’s effective use of a club alone saved him from a drubbing at the hands of other members of the team.”

1887 Buffalo with Frank Grant

1887 Buffalo with Frank Grant

Binghamton did not make a smooth, serene transition into integrated baseball. Renfroe took a tough 7-6 eleven-inning loss at the hands of Syracuse on June 2, eight days after Higgins’ 28-8 loss to Toronto. “The Bings did not support Renfroe yesterday,” said the Binghamton Daily Leader, “and many think the shabby work was inten­tional.”

On July 7, Fowler and Renfroe were released. In recogni­tion of his considerable talent, Fowler was released only upon the condition that he would not sign with any other team in the International League. Fowler joined the Cuban Giants briefly, by August was manager of the (Negro) Gorham Club of New York, and he finished the season playing in Montpelier, Vermont.

On August 8, the Newark Daily Journal reported, “The players of the Binghamton base ball club were . . . fined $50 each by the directors because six weeks ago they refused to go on the field unless Fowler, the colored second baseman, was removed.” In view of the fact that two weeks after these fines were imposed the Binghamton franchise folded, it may be that the club’s investors were motivated less by a tender regard for social justice than by a desire to cut their financial losses.

According to the Oswego Palladium, even an Inter­national League umpire fanned the flames of prejudice:

It is said that [Billy] Hoover, the umpire, stated in Binghamton that he would always decide against a team employing a colored player, on a close point. Why not dispense with Mr. Hoover’s services if this is true? It would be a good thing for Oswego if we had a few players like Fowler and Grant.

There were incidents that indicated support for a color-­blind policy in baseball. For example:

Buffalo Base Ball Grounds, ca. 1887

Buffalo Base Ball Grounds, ca. 1887

A citizen of Rochester has published a card in the Union and Advertiser of that city, in which he rebukes the Rochester Sunday Herald for abusing Stovey on account of his color. He says: “The young man simply discharged his duty to his club in white­washing the Rochesters if he could. Such comments certainly do not help the home team; neither are they creditable to a paper published in a Christian community. So far as I know, Mr. Stovey has been a gentleman in his club, and should be treated with the same respect as other players.

But the accumulation of events both on and off the field drew national attention to the International League’s growing controversy over the black players. The forces lining up against the blacks were formidable and deter­mined, and the most vociferous opposition to integrated baseball came from Toronto, where in a game with Buffalo on July 27, “The crowd confined itself to blowing their horns and shouting, ‘Kill the nigger’.” The Toronto World, under the headline “THE COLORED BALL PLAYERS DISTASTEFUL,” declared:

The World’s statement of the existence of a clique in the Syracuse team to “boy cott” Higgins, the colored pitcher, is certain to create considerable talk, if it does not amount to more, in baseball circles. A number of colored players are now in the International League, and to put it mildly their presence is distasteful to the other players. … So far none of the clubs, with the exception of Syracuse, have openly shown their dislike to play with those men, but the feeling is known to exist and may unexpectedly come to the front. The chief reason given for McGlone’s* refusal to sign with Buffalo this season is that he objected to playing with Grant.

* John McGlone’s scruples in this regard apparently were mal­leable enough to respond to changes in his career fortunes. In September 1888 he signed with Syracuse, thereby acquiring two black teammates—Fleet Walker and Bob Higgins.

A few weeks later the World averred, in a statement reprinted in Sporting Life:

There is a feeling, and a rather strong one too, that an effort be made to exclude colored players from the International League. Their presence on the teams has not been productive of satisfac­tory results, and good players as some of them have shown themselves, it would seem advisable to take action of some kind, looking either to their non-engagement or compelling the other element to play with them.

Action was about to be taken.

Conclusion tomorrow.








Out at Home

Jerry Malloy Negro League ConferenceWhen Jackie Robinson opened the 1947 season with the Brooklyn Dodgers, most base­ball fans and writers believed that he was the first black to play in the major leagues. (Robinson himself believed that at the time.) He was the fourth. William Edward White was the first, in 1879; the author died before this discovery. Who were the other two? Read on. For a few years in the 1880s, with slavery dead and Jim Crow not yet ascendant, a spirit of racial tolerance prevailed in America that permitted black and white to rub shoulders without strife. Many black players performed at all levels of Organized Baseball into the 1890s, but the color bar that Jackie Robinson broke was erected in the International League in 1887. How and why it happened makes com­pelling reading; from The National Pastime of 1983, which I had created in the previous year for the Society for American Baseball Research. Jerry Malloy (1946-2000) was a pioneer researcher who was honored in 1997 by the creation of an annual Negro League Conference named for him. He was also my friend. This is his monumentally important study of how baseball drew the color line.

Out at Home

Jerry Malloy

Baseball is the very symbol, the outward and visible expression of the drive and push and rush and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century.–MARK TWAIN

. . . social inequality means that in all the relations that exist between man and man he is to be measured and taken not according to his natural fitness and qual­ification, but that blind and relentless rule which accords certain pursuits and certain privileges to origin or birth.–MOSES F. WALKER

It was a dramatic and prophetic and prophetic performance by Jackie Robinson. The twenty-seven-year-old black second baseman opened the 1946 International League season by leading the Montreal Royals to a 14-1 victory over Jersey City. In five trips to the plate, he had four hits (including a home run) and four RBIs; he scored four runs, stole two bases, and rattled a pitcher into balking him home with a taunting danse macabre off third. Branch Rickey’s protégé  had punched a hole through Organized Baseball’s color barrier with the flair and talent that would eventually take him into the Hall of Fame. The color line that Jackie Robinson shattered, though unwritten, was very real in­deed. Baseball’s exclusion of the black man was so unre­mittingly thorough for such a long time that most of the press and public then, as now, thought that Robinson was making the first appearance of a man of his race in the history of Organized Baseball.

Jackie Robinson, Montreal at Jersey City, Opening Day 1946

Jackie Robinson, Montreal at Jersey City, Opening Day 1946

Actually, he represented a return of the Negro ball­player, not merely to Organized Baseball, but to the International League as well. At least eight elderly citizens would have been aware of this. Frederick Ely, Jud Smith, James Fields, Tom Lynch, Frank Olin, “Chief” Zimmer, Pat Gillman, and George Bausewine may have noted with interest Robinson’s initiation, for all of these men had been active players on teams that opened another Inter­national League season, that of 1887. And in that year they played with or against eight black players on six different teams.

The 1887 season was not the first in which Negroes played in the International League, nor would it be the last. But until Jackie Robinson stepped up to the plate on April 18,1946, it was the most significant. For 1887 was a watershed year for both the International League and Organized Baseball, as it marked the origin of the color line. As the season opened, the black player had plenty of reasons to hope that he would be able to ply his trade in an atmosphere of relative tolerance; by the middle of the season, however, he would watch helplessly as the IL drew up a written color ban designed to deprive him of his livelihood; and by the time the league held its offseason meetings, it became obvious that Jim Crow was closing in on a total victory.

Yet before baseball became the victim of its own preju­dice, there was a period of uncertainty and fluidity, however brief, during which it seemed by no means inevitable that men would be denied access to Organized Baseball due solely to skin pigmentation. It was not an interlude of total racial harmony, but a degree of tol­eration obtained that would become unimaginable in just a few short years. This is the story of a handful of black baseball players who, in the span of a single season, playing in a prestigious league, witnessed the abrupt conversion of hope and optimism into defeat and despair. These men, in the most direct and personal manner, would realize that the black American baseball player soon would be ruled “out at home.”


The International League (IL) is the oldest minor league in Organized Baseball. Founded in 1884 as the “Eastern” League, it would be realigned and renamed frequently during its early period. The IL was not immune to the shifting sands of financial support that plagued both minor and major leagues (not to mention individual franchises) during the nineteenth century. In 1887 the league took the risk of adding Newark and Jersey City to a circuit that was otherwise clustered in upstate New York and southern Ontario. This arrangement proved to be financially unworkable. Transportation costs alone would doom the experiment after one season. The New Jersey franchises were simply too far away from Binghamton, Buffalo, Oswego, Rochester, Syracuse, and Utica in New York, and Hamilton and Toronto in Ontario.

But, of course, no one knew this when the 1887 season opened. Fans in Newark were particularly excited, be­cause their “Little Giants” were a new team and an instant contender. A large measure of their eager anticipation was due to the unprecedented “colored battery” signed by the team. The pitcher was George Stovey and the catcher was Moses Fleetwood Walker.

Oberlin College 1881, Fleet Walker left, Weldy top

Oberlin College 1881, Fleet Walker left, Weldy top

“Fleet” Walker was born in Mt. Pleasant, Ohio, on the route of the Underground Railroad, on October 7, 1857. The son of a physician, he was raised in nearby Steubenville. At the age of twenty he entered the college pre­paratory program of Oberlin College, the first school in the United States to adopt an official admissions policy of nondiscrimination by sex, race, or creed. He was enrolled as a freshman in 1878, and attended Oberlin for the next three years. He was a good but not outstanding student in a rigorous liberal arts program. Walker also attended the University of Michigan for two years, although probably more for his athletic than his scholastic attainments. He did not obtain a degree from either institution, but his educational background was extremely sophisticated for a nineteenth century professional baseball player of whatever ethnic origin.

While at Oberlin, Walker attracted the attention of William Voltz, former sportswriter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, who had been enlisted to form a professional baseball team to be based in Toledo. Walker was the second player signed by the team, which entered the Northwestern League in 1883. Toledo captured the league championship in its first year.

The following year Toledo was invited to join the Amer­ican Association, a major league rival of the more estab­lished National League. Walker was one of the few players to be retained as Toledo made the jump to the big league. Thus did Moses Fleetwood Walker become the first black to play major league baseball, sixty-four years before Jackie Robinson. Walker played in 42 games that season, batting .263 in 152 at-bats. His brother, Welday Wilberforce Walker, who was two years younger than Fleet, also played outfield in five games, filling in for injured players. Welday was 4-for-18 at the plate.

While at Toledo, Fleet Walker was the batterymate of Hank O’Day, who later became a famous umpire, and Tony Mullane, who could pitch with either hand and became the winningest pitcher, with 285 victories, out­side the Hall of Fame. G. L. Mercereau, the team’s batboy, many years later recalled the sight of Walker catching barehanded, as was common in those days, with his fingers split open and bleeding. Catchers would welcome swelling in their hands to provide a cushion against the pain.

Walker with Toledo 1883

Walker with Toledo 1883

The color of Walker’s skin occasionally provoked an­other, more lasting, kind of pain. The Toledo Blade, on May 5, 1884, reported that Walker was “hissed . . . and insulted . . . because he was colored,” causing him to commit five errors in a game in Louisville. Late in the season the team travelled to Richmond, Virginia, where manager Charley Morton received a letter threatening bloodshed, according to Lee Allen, by “75 determined men [who] have sworn to mob Walker if he comes on the ground in a suit.” The letter, which Morton released to the press, was signed by four men who were “determined” not to sign their real names. Confrontation was avoided, for Walker had been released by the team due to his injuries before the trip to Richmond.

Such incidents, however, stand out because they were so exceptional. Robert Peterson, in Only the Ball Was White, points out that Walker was favorably received in cities such as Baltimore and Washington. As was the case throughout the catcher’s career, the press was supportive of him and consistently reported his popularity among fans. Upon his release, the Blade described him as “a conscientious player [who] was very popular with Toledo audiences,” and Sporting Life’s Toledo correspondent stated that “by his fine, gentlemanly deportment, he made hosts of friends who will regret to learn that he is no longer a member of the club.”

Walker started the 1885 season with Cleveland in the Western League, but the league folded in June. He played the remainder of 1885 and all of 1886 for the Waterbury, Connecticut, team in the Eastern League. While at Waterbury, he was referred to as “the people’s choice,” and was briefly managed by Charley Hackett, who later moved on to Newark. When Newark was accepted into the International League in 1887, Hackett signed Walker to play for him.

So in 1887 Walker was beginning his fifth season in integrated professional baseball. Tall, lean, and hand­some, the thirty-year-old catcher was an established vet­eran noted for his steady, dependable play and admired, literally, as a gentleman and a scholar. Later in the season, when the Hamilton Spectator printed a disparaging item about “the coon catcher of the Newarks,” The Sporting Nevus ran a typical response in defense of Walker: “It is a pretty small paper that will publish a paragraph of that kind about a member of a visiting club, and the man who wrote it is without doubt Walker’s inferior in education, refinement, and manliness.”

One of the reasons that Charley Hackett was so pleased to have signed Walker was that his catcher would assist in the development of one of his new pitchers, a Negro named George Washington Stovey. A 165-pound south­paw, Stovey had pitched for Jersey City in the Eastern League in 1886. Sol White, in his History of Colored Base Ball, stated that Stovey “struck out twenty-two of the Bridgeport [Connecticut] Eastern League team in 1886 and lost his game.” The Sporting News that year called Stovey “a good one, and if the team would support him they would make a far better showing. His manner of covering first from the box is wonderful.”

George Stovey headstone, Wildwood Cemetery, Williamstown, PA

George Stovey headstone, Wildwood Cemetery, Williamstown, PA

A dispute arose between the Jersey City and Newark clubs prior to the 1887 season concerning the rights to sign Stovey. One of the directors of the Jersey City team tried to use his leverage as the owner of Newark’s Wright Street grounds to force Newark into surrendering Stovey. But, as the Sporting Life Newark correspondent wrote, “. . . on sober second thought I presume he came to the conclusion that it was far better that the [Jersey City] club should lose Stovey than that he should lose the rent of the grounds.”

A new rule for 1887, which would exist only that one season, provided that walks were to be counted as hits. One of the criticisms of the rule was that, in an era in which one of the pitching statistics kept was the oppo­sition’s batting average, a pitcher might be tempted to hit a batter rather than be charged with a “hit” by walking him. George Stovey, with his blazing fastball, his volatile temper, and his inability to keep either under strict con­trol, was the type of pitcher these skeptics had in mind. He brought to the mound a wicked glare that intimidated hitters.

During the preseason contract dispute, Jersey City’s manager, Pat Powers, acknowledged Stovey’s talents, yet added:

Personally, I do not care for Stovey. I consider him one of the greatest pitchers in the country, but in many respects I think I have more desirable men. He is head-strong and obstinate, and, consequently, hard to manage. Were I alone concerned I would probably let Newark have him, but the directors of the Jersey City Club are not so peaceably disposed.

Newark planned to mute Stovey’s “head-strong obstinance” with the easy-going stability of Fleet Walker. That the strategy did not always work is indicated by an account in the Newark Daily Journal of a July game against Hamilton:

That Newark won the game [14-10] is a wonder, for Stovey was very wild at times, [and] Walker had several passed balls. . . . Whether it was that he did not think he was being properly supported, or did not like the umpire’s decisions on balls and strikes, the deponent saith not, but Stovey several times dis­played his temper in the box and fired the ball at the plate regardless of what was to become of everything that stood before him. Walker got tired of the business after awhile, and showed it plainly by his manner. Stovey should remember that the spec­tators do not like to see such exhibitions of temper, and it is hoped that he will not offend again.

Either despite or because of his surly disposition, George Stovey had a great season in 1887. His 35 wins is a single season record that still stands in the International League. George Stovey was well on his way to establishing his reputation as the greatest Negro pitcher of the nine­teenth century.

The promotional value of having the only all-Negro battery in Organized Baseball was not lost upon the press. Newspapers employed various euphemisms of the day for “Negro” to refer to Newark’s “colored,” “Cuban,” “Span­ish,” “mulatto,” “African,” and even “Arabian” battery. Sporting Life wrote:

There is not a club in the country who tries so hard to cater to all nationalities as does the Newark Club. There is the great African battery, Stovey and Walker; the Irish battery, Hughes and Derby; and the German battery, Miller and Cantz.

The Newark correspondent for Sporting Life asked, “By the way, what do you think of our ‘storm battery,’ Stovey and Walker? Verily they are dark horses, and ought to be a drawing card. No rainchecks given when they play.” Later he wrote that “Our ‘Spanish beauties,’ Stovey and Walker, will make the biggest kind of drawing card.” Drawing card they may have been, but Stovey and Walker were signed by Newark not for promotional gimmickry, but because they were talented athletes who could help their team win.

Nor were other teams reluctant to improve themselves by hiring black players. In Oswego, manager Wesley Cuny made a widely publicized, though unsuccessful, attempt to sign second baseman George Williams, cap­tain of the Cuban Giants. Had Curry succeeded, Williams would not have been the first, nor the best, black second baseman in the league. For Buffalo had retained the services of Frank Grant, the greatest black baseball player of the nineteenth century.

Frank Grant, Buffalo 1887

Frank Grant, Buffalo 1887

Frank Grant was beginning the second of a record three consecutive years on the same integrated baseball team. Born in 1867, he began his career in his hometown of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, then moved on to Plattsburg, New York. In 1886 he entered Organized Baseball, playing for Meriden, Connecticut, in the Eastern League until the team folded in July. Thereupon he and two white team­mates signed with the Buffalo Bisons, where he led the team in hitting. By the age of twenty Grant was already known as “the Black Dunlap,” a singularly flattering sobriquet referring to Fred “Sure Shot” Dunlap, the first player to sign for $10,000 a season, and acknowledged as the greatest second baseman of his era. Sol White called Frank Grant simply “the greatest ball player of his age,” without reference to race.

In 1887, Grant would lead the International League in hitting with a .366 average. Press accounts abound with comments about his fielding skill, especially his extra­ordinary range. After a series of preseason exhibition games against Pittsburgh’s National League team, “Hus­tling Horace” Phillips, the Pittsburgh manager, com­plained about Buffalo’s use of Grant as a “star.” The Rochester Union quoted Phillips as saying that “This accounts for the amount of ground [Grant] is allowed to cover . . . and no attention is paid to such a thing as running all over another man’s territory.” Criticizing an infielder for his excessive range smacks of praising with faint damns. Grant’s talent and flamboyance made him popular not only in Buffalo, but also throughout the IL.

In 1890 Grant would play his last season on an in­tegrated team for Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, of the East­ern Interstate League. His arrival was delayed by several weeks due to a court battle with another team over the rights to his services. The Harrisburg Patriot described Grant’s long awaited appearance:

Long before it was time for the game to begin, it was whispered around the crowd that Grant would arrive on the 3:20 train and play third base. Everybody was anxious to see him come and there was a general stretch of necks toward the new bridge, all being eager to get a sight at the most famous colored ball player in the business. At 3:45 o’clock an open carriage was seen coming over the bridge with two men in it. Jim Russ’ famous trotter was drawing it at a 2:20 speed and as it approached nearer, the face of Grant was recognized as being one of the men. “There he comes,” went through the crowd like magnetism and three cheers went up. Grant was soon in the players’ dressing room and in five minutes he appeared on the diamond in a Harrisburg uniform. A great shout went up from the immense crowd to receive him, in recognition of which he politely raised his cap.

Fred Dunlap should have been proud had he ever been called “the White Grant.” Yet Grant in his later years passed into such obscurity that no one knew where or when he died (last year an obituary in the New York Age was located, revealing that Grant had died in New York on June 5, 1937).

Bud Fowler with Findlay, Ohio club, 1894

Bud Fowler with Findlay, Ohio club, 1894

Meanwhile, in Binghamton, Bud Fowler, who had spent the winter working in a local barbershop, was preparing for the 1887 season. At age 33, Fowler was the elder statesman of Negro ballplayers. In 1872, only one year after the founding of the first professional baseball league, Bud Fowler was [said to be; no proof has yet emerged–jt] playing professionally for a white team in New Castle, Pennsylvania. Lee Allen, while his­torian of baseball’s Hall of Fame, discovered that Fowler, whose real name was John Jackson, was born in Cooperstown, New York, in about 1854, the son of itinerant hops-pickers. Thus, Fowler was the greatest baseball player to be born at the future site of the Hall of Fame.

As was the case with many minor league players of his time, Fowler’s career took him hopscotching across the country. In 1884 and 1885 he played for teams in Still­water, Minnesota; Keokuk, Iowa; and Pueblo, Colorado. He played the entire 1886 season in Topeka, Kansas, in the Western League, where he hit .309. A Negro newspaper in Chicago, the Observer, proudly described Fowler as “the best second baseman in the Western League.”

Binghamton signed Fowler for 1887. The Sportsman’s Referee wrote that Fowler “. . . has two joints where an ordinary person has one. Fowler is a great ball player.” According to Sporting Life’s Binghamton correspondent:

Fowler is a dandy in every respect. Some say that Fowler is a colored man, but we account for his dark complexion by the fact that … in chasing after balls [he] has become tanned from constant and careless exposure to the sun. This theory has the essential features of a chestnut, as it bears resemblance to Buffalo’s claim that Grant is of Spanish descent.

Fowler’s career in the International League would be brief. The financially troubled Bings would release him in July to cut their payroll. But during this half-season, a friendly rivalry existed between Fowler and Grant. Not so friendly were some of the tactics used by opposing base-runners and pitchers. In 1889, an unidentified International League player told The Sporting News:

While I myself am prejudiced against playing in a team with a colored player, still I could not help pitying some of the poor black fellows that played in the International League. Fowler used to play second base with the lower part of his legs encased in wooden guards. He knew that about every player that came down to second base on a steal had it in for him and would, if possible, throw the spikes into him. He was a good player, but left the base every time there was a close play in order to get away from the spikes.

I have seen him muff balls intentionally, so that he would not have to try to touch runners, fearing that they might injure him. Grant was the same way. Why, the runners chased him off second base. They went down so often trying to break his legs or injure them that he gave up his infield position the latter part of last season [i.e., 1888] and played right field. This is not all.

About half the pitchers try their best to hit these colored players when [they are] at the bat. . . One of the International League pitchers pitched for Grant’s head all the time. He never put a ball over the plate but sent them in straight and true right at Grant. Do what he would he could not hit the Buffalo man, and he [Grant] trotted down to first on called balls all the time.

Fowler’s ambitions in baseball extended beyond his career as a player. As early as 1885, while in between teams, he considered playing for and managing the Orions, a Negro team in Philadelphia. Early in July 1887, just prior to his being released by Binghamton, the sporting press reported that Fowler planned to organize a team of blacks who would tour the South and Far West during the winter between 1887 and 1888. “The strongest colored team that has ever appeared in the field,” according to Sporting Life, would consist of Stovey and Walker of Newark; Grant of Buffalo; five members of the Cuban Giants; and Fowler, who would play and manage. This tour, however, never materialized.

But this was not the only capitalistic venture for Fowler in 1887. The entrepreneurial drive that would lead White to describe him as “the celebrated promoter of colored ball clubs, and the sage of base ball” led him to investigate another ill-fated venture: The National Colored Base Ball League.

More tomorrow.



Pitching: Evolution and Revolution

Jim Creighton painted by Mark Rucker

Jim Creighton, painted by Mark Rucker

With the rise of pitching (or decline in batting) capturing everyone’s attention lately–as if it had not been inevitable–I think it worthwhile to take the long view. History may exist for its own sake but, unlike art, it may also be useful. Before we lower the pitching mound, increase the pitching distance or the length of the basepaths, permit aluminum bats, or move in the fences, let’s buck up for a moment and realize that we have been here many times before … since the very dawn of the game. Here, modified only slightly, is the opening chapter of The Pitcher, which John B. Holway and I wrote in 1987.


In the first survivng rules of baseball, drafted by William R. Wheaton and William H. Tucker for the Knicker­bocker Base Ball Club in 1845, Article 9 (the only one pertaining to the pitcher) read:

The ball must be pitched, not thrown, for the bat.

Only ten words, but how much they reveal about the humble origins of baseball’s pioneer players! First, we see that the pitcher came by his name from the underhand, stiff-armed, stiff-wristed pitch borrowed from cricket’s early days—a delivery much like that seen today at the bowling alley. Second, we see the disdain of the “gentlemanly” Knickerbockers of New York for the un­couth throw, which characterized the rival version of baseball that flourished in New England until the Civil War. (Indeed, the term pitcher has been a misnomer in baseball ever since the mid-1860s, when the wide­spread—though not yet legal—wrist snap transformed the respectable pitch into the lowly throw.) And third, we see that the pitcher was not required to throw strikes rather than balls (the former did not exist until 1858, the latter until 1863), but instead to pitch for the bat: In other words, he and the batter were not adversaries but very nearly allies, each doing his utmost to put the ball in play for the valiant barehand fielders. Of all the positions in the game’s original 1845 design, only right field was less demanding and less prestigious than pitcher.

That began to change in the game’s sec­ond decade, as pitchers realized that, de­spite the restrictions on their motions, they could muster considerable speed and, with no “called ball” system in place, could whiz fastballs wide of the bat for as long as fifteen minutes until the impatient batter finally fished for one. The former alliance of batter and pitcher was thus breached and the breach was soon to widen.

Knickebockers' First Recorded Game, at Hoboken, October 6, 1845

Knickebockers’ First Recorded Game, at Hoboken, October 6, 1845

Jim Creighton, a seventeen-year-old pitcher for the amateur Niagaras of Brook­lyn (all teams were amateur then), created a stir in 1858 with a pitch that was not only faster than any seen before but also sailed or tailed or climbed or dipped; the result was “fairly unhittable,” in the words of John “Death to Flying Things” Chapman, a contemporary star with the Brooklyn Atlantics. How did Creighton do it? By adding an imperceptible snap of the wrist to his swooping bowler’s delivery. The first base­ball pitcher to impart spin to the ball, he was soon wooed away from the Niagaras by the Star of Brooklyn club, with filthy lucre no doubt the bait. Now he was baseball’s first professional, and by the following year, when the Excelsiors of Brooklyn offered him a still more lucrative deal, he had become baseball’s first great pitcher and the idol of the fans. Even twenty years after his last per­formance, observers of such worthies as Hoss Radbourn and Tim Keefe would say, “They’re fine pitchers, to be sure, but they’re no Creighton.”

That last performance, alas, came against the Unions of Morrisania on October 14, 1862, when the twenty-one-year-old Creigh­ton sustained a rupture which a few days later proved fatal. He incurred the injury with heroic flair, after a mighty swing that produced one of his four doubles in the game. (Legend soon had him hitting a home run, like Roy Hobbs.)

The year after Creighton’s death brought the system of “called balls” to speed up the game, but inasmuch as the lone umpire stood in foul ground along the first base line, balls and strikes could not be accurately judged. Moreover, the batter could demand a pitch high in the strike zone (waist to top of shoulder) or low (waist to a foot or so above the ground) and the pitcher had to comply. The pitcher was therefore working with a batter-imposed strike zone that was theoretically half that of today (but in prac­tice much the same, since the strike zone of the last thirty-plus years has effectively shrunk to the “low strike” definition of the 1860s).

What advantages did a pitcher of the earliest days have? First, he worked behind a line, and after 1865 within a box, that was only 45 feet from home plate. An 80-mile-per-hour fastball thrown by George “Charmer” Zettlein would reach the plate in 0.38 seconds, precisely the time it takes Justin Verlander to hurl 100-m.p.h. heat past a batter today. Second, with the pitcher’s box—which until its abolition in 1893 varied in width from twelve feet to four and in length from seven feet to three—the hurler might move pretty much as he pleased, permitting him a wide-angle crossfire or even a running start, as in cricket bowling. Third, he could record outs on one-bounce catches until 1864, on one-bounce fouls until 1883, and on foul tips at any point in the count until 1888; uncaught fouls were not to register as strikes until the next century. Fourth, even though the bat­ter’s high-low option narrowed the strike zone and thus gave him an edge, a walk was awarded on nine misfires prior to 1876, and that number was not reduced to the cur­rent four until 1889. And fifth, once Creighton snapped his wrist, it was only a matter of time before the other spinning pitches—notably the curve, but also the drop (sinker), the rise, the in-shoot (screwball), and spitter—were in­vented.

Tommy Bond

Tommy Bond

The many claimants to creation of the curveball include Candy Cummings, Fred Goldsmith, Deacon White, Tommy Bond, Bobby Mathews, and college pitchers Charles Hammond Avery and Joseph McElroy Mann. The spitter is attributed to Bobby Mathews, but surely his version dropped less spectacularly than the reinvented wet one thrown most notably by Jack Chesbro and Ed Walsh.

The prohibition against the wrist snap and the throw (or bent-elbow delivery) was only rarely observed by the late 1860s, so in 1872 Henry Chadwick proposed that the wrist snap be legalized, and it was. At the same time, the requirement that the pitcher’s arm swing perpendicular to the ground was re­laxed so as to permit, in effect, a below-the-hips throw not unlike that of Joe McGinnity or Dan Quisenberry. By 1875, Hartford’s Tommy Bond was living at the edge of the rule by throwing low sidearm with tremen­dous speed, paving the way for the batting decline of the late 1870s and the frantic se­ries of rule changes in the 1880s.

Before these pitching innovations came about, the baseball games of the 1860s typ­ically featured 35 or more combined runs per game, with scores of 60-100 runs not unusual. Many of these were unearned be­cause of general ineptitude in the field, greatly abetted by a rock-hard ball of incred­ible resiliency. One player of the period re­called in later years that the ball was so lively that, if dropped from the top of a two-story building, it would rebound nearly all the way back up. Low-scoring games were such a rarity that the annual guides would feature a list of “model games,” defined as those in which the teams combined for fewer than ten runs.

Boston 1876 with Joe Borden

Boston 1876 with Joe Borden, at right, second from top (“Josephs”)

In addition to the different pitching tech­niques, the late 1860s brought the famous dead ball and with it a sudden rush of low-scoring contests characterized by com­paratively dazzling fielding. The fans and sportswriters were overjoyed with the new “artistic” game, at last a worthy rival to cricket. In a famous game of July 23, 1870, Rynie Wolters of the New York Mutuals shut out the “braggart” Chicago White Stockings; this whipping gave rise to the term Chicagoed, meaning shut out. (Prior to that game a few shutouts had been recorded—the first authenticated one, pitched by Creighton, on November 8, 1860—but never against so formidable a foe.)

On May 10, 1875, Chicago fell victim to Joe Blong of St. Louis in baseball’s first 1-0 game and to Boston’s Joe Borden in history’s first no-hitter on July 28 of the same year.

The opening season, 1871, of the Nation­al Association, baseball’s first professional league, produced six shutouts. Only five years later, the National League’s inaugural schedule of seventy games featured a whop­ping sixteen shutouts by St. Louis’ Grin Bradley alone.


Baseballs were now being manufactured in mass, with deplorable quality control: The dead ball was, by midgame, often the mush ball. The fans no longer considered low scores so remarkable. National League bat­ting averages declined every year from 1877 to 1880, falling from .271 to an alarming .245. The number of strikeouts nearly tri­pled as pitchers perfected the curves and slants introduced only a decade before. The league ERA was 2.37. The fledgling circuit, which in those years included franchises in such marginal sites as Troy, Syracuse, Worcester, and Providence, was losing money and in big trouble.

To the rescue came Harry Wright, the or­ganizer of the Cincinnati Red Stockings and “Father of Professional Baseball.” He per­ceived the threat as early as 1877 when, in the Boston Red Stockings’ final exhibition contest, he had the pitcher’s box moved back 5 feet. The following year, in a September exhibition contest against Indianapolis, he arranged for the game to be played with: a walk awarded on six balls rather than the nine that then prevailed; every pitch count­ing as either a strike or a ball, thus elimi­nating the “warning” call an umpire made when a batter watched a good pitch sail by; and complete elimination of restrictions on a pitcher’s delivery—he might throw any way he wished. In the winter prior to the 1880 season, Wright proposed a flat bat and a cork-centered lively ball. And in Decem­ber 1882, by which time most of the above proposals had been tried and some insti­tuted—the front of the pitcher’s box at 50 feet, the abolition of warning pitches, the walk awarded on seven balls, soon to be six—he proposed denying the batter the right to call for a high or low pitch and, most dramatically, a pitcher’s box of 56 feet—very much the pitching distance of today. (The pitching distance at that time was measured from home plate to the front of the box, or true point of delivery, while today’s distance is measured from the plate to the rubber, from which the pitcher’s front foot strides some 4 to 4.5 feet forward.)

Hitting revived briskly in 1881, the first year of the new 50-foot pitching distance, but soon slid back again. The rule makers continued their tinkering with the ball/strike count (raising the strike count to four for 1887–in effect raising it to former levels, since the old warning pitch had prevailed until 1880 and was granted with two strikes until 1881–and lowering the ball count to four by 1889); the length of the pitcher’s box (from 7 feet to 6 feet to, in the final adjustment before replacement by the rubber, 5.5 feet); the pitcher’s windup (banning the running start and, for 1885, the raised-leg windup); and, most important, the delivery itself.

Once Tommy Bond began to raise his sidearm delivery slightly above the waist in the mid-1870s, it was only a matter of time before “anything goes” became the stan­dard. Pitchers’ motions were creeping up to a three-quarters, “from the shoulder” style in the early 1880s, and despite a few warn­ings, many balks, and even a few forfeits, the practice was well in place before the rule that permitted it in 1883. In 1884 the National League removed all restrictions from pitchers, permitting a full overhand delivery that benefited primarily Charlie Sweeney of Providence, whose record of nineteen strike­outs in a game was not surpassed until Roger Clemens struck out twenty 102 years later. The American Association, the rival major league of the day, held to the from-the-shoulder rule until a June 7 meeting in 1885.

St. Louis Black Dimonds ("Maroons") of 1885 or 1886, Charles Sweeney at top, second from leftNo. 5

St. Louis Black Diamonds (“Maroons”) of 1886, Charlie Sweeney at top, second from left

In 1887 the rule makers granted the most controversial capitulation to the hitters: not only were four strikes allowed against only five balls (although, to be fair, the division of the strike zone into high and low regions was eliminated), but walks were to be counted as hits. The resulting proliferation of .400 batting averages was broadly ridiculed, and in 1888 an out was again based on three strikes, walks resumed their previous status—and batting averages resumed their decline, dropping a whopping thirty points in the National League and thirty-five in the American Association as strikeouts in­creased dramatically.

The slide in batting performance was fi­nally arrested in 1893 by adoption, one de­cade after its proposal by Harry Wright, of an effective pitching distance of 56 feet. The box was eliminated in favor of a slab placed 60 feet 6 inches from home (rejected was a proposal that the pitcher’s position be mid­way between home and first, or about 63 feet 7 inches from home). Writers ever since have attributed the explosion of hitting in the mid-1890s to the ten-foot increase in the pitching distance, but in fact it was only a five-foot increase: The box of 1892 was 5.5 feet long, and the distance to home plate of 50 feet was measured from the front of the box; moreover, since 1887 the pitcher had to have his back foot in contact with the back line of the box. The old chestnut about the 60-foot 6-inch pitching distance being the result of a surveyor’s error in reading a blueprint has no basis in fact: The rule mak­ers simply moved the pitching distance back five feet, just as they had done in 1881.

The hitting explosion produced, at its ze­nith in 1894, a league ERA of 5.32, a team batting average of .349 (for the fourth-place Phillies), and nearly twice as many walks as strikeouts. That such a boost could have been anticipated was demonstrated by a lit­tle-known experiment in the Players League of 1890. In its attempt to win fan favor through increased scoring, the rival major league moved its pitching box back 1.5 feet and, with the addition of a new lively ball, produced a batting average twenty points higher than those in the two established major leagues.

The 1890s were a hitter’s heyday. Pitch­ers throwing breaking pitches at the new distance tired more quickly than their pre­decessors of the 1880s had; staffs now typi­cally featured three and sometimes four starters where two had sufficed in the 1880s and one had been enough in the 1870s. The pitcher’s craft was advancing, but refine­ment created a new level of physical exer­tion. The curveball of the 1890s was no longer the roundhouse or schoolboy curve that featured only a lateral break, and the better pitchers had learned to throw a slow ball (change-up) with the same motion as the fast one, making it just as taxing on the arm. Hoss Radbourn threw for 679 innings in 1884, but he would not have been able to do it in 1894, when no pitcher exceeded 450 innings.

Clark Griffith Official Ball

Clark Griffith Official Ball

In 1895 the bat was widened to 2.75 inches in diameter, and the foul tip (nicked backwards) was for the first time ruled a strike.  As the former change benefited the batter and the latter the pitch­er, the balance between offense and defense was maintained. The other notable new wrinkle of the 1890s was pitcher Clark Grif­fith’s introduction of the scuffed, or cut, ball; his practice was to bang the ball brazenly against his spikes. (In the 1920s, oddly, Grif­fith’s voice was one of the loudest against the spitball.) Griffith’s cut ball was signifi­cant primarily as a harbinger of the dead ball era to come, which might as aptly be termed the doctored ball era.


Rule changes slowed in the 1890s—now was one of those anomalous times in major-league history when the battered pitchers needed a boost. And they drew considerable comfort from the ruling that the foul ball was a strike (NL, 1901; AL, 1903) and from the advent of such now illegal if not exactly defunct pitches as the spitball, shine ball, mud ball, emery ball, and cut ball as well as the legal knuckleball and forkball. In 1900, the National League batting average was .279, and walks exceeded strikeouts by 12 percent. One year later, the mark was .267, and strikeouts exceeded walks by 58 percent. Parallel figures mark the experience of the American League in the years sur­rounding its adoption of the foul strike.

A hitting famine took hold for the rest of the decade, with the grimmest year being 1908. Shutouts were common and extra-base hits scarce. Base stealing and the bunt were potent offensive weapons, but the home run was a freakish occurrence—more often than not, the league home run leader would have fewer than ten, and in 1908 the entire Chi­cago White Sox team, who contended for the pennant into the final week, had only three. The popularity of the game itself was not in jeopardy—indeed, 1908 may have provided baseball with its greatest pennant races in each league. Such pitchers as Christy Mathewson, Ed Walsh, Cy Young, and Walter Johnson had become heroes with stature equal to Ty Cobb, Nap Lajoie, and Honus Wagner. The game was fast, stra­tegic, and exciting, and fans were delighted with the rivalry between the American and National leagues after a decade of NL dom­ination. But the owners had long memories, and they worried what might happen if hit­ting did not pick up soon: the press had been grumbling about baseball becoming a dull duel between pitchers rather than a contest between teams.

So in midseason of 1910, the National League introduced the new cork-centered ball (developed for cricket in 1863, rejected by baseball in 1882). Both leagues agreed to its use in the World Series that year and during the regular 1911 season. The result was a mild boost in batting averages but a marked increase in extra-base hits—notably home runs—and run scoring. But was the cork-centered ball truly that much more lively than the rubber-centered ball of old? Did it have a higher coefficient of resiliency? In 1911, one oldtimer noted astutely:

Russ Ford

Russ Ford

It isn’t the cork center that makes the ball lively and causes so much hitting; it’s the fact that the pitch­ers find the ball too hard to curve with their former skill. You see, the cork center is so large that twine has to be wound more tightly than formerly and when the cover is sewed on the ball is like the one used in cricket. It is like wood and the pitchers in gripping it between the thumb and fingers find that the surface does not give. You can make a soft ball curve almost at will. Anybody who knows will admit that. But the hard ball, such as the big leagues are using now, is far different. The pitchers can’t get the old breaks and shoots, and as the ball necessarily cuts the plate straight and fast the good batsmen kill it. You’ll  find that all the best pitchers are having trouble this year and most of them will tell you that the old curves are impossible. The ball used two years ago was just soft enough near the surface to permit a tight grip, and that meant plenty of effectiveness.

This observation applies equally well to later, still more lively versions of the base­ball. The bane of pitchers is not the rabbit at the center of the ball, but the nature and tightness of the twine or wool that wraps around it, and the elevation of the stitching. The rest of the decade continued to be dom­inated by pitchers such as Russ Ford with his emery ball, Eddie Cicotte with his shine ball, and legions of pitchers with spitballs, Ed Walsh being paramount.

The cork-centered ball may have been more lively, but its joie de vivre was certainly diminished by the fifth inning or so, for in these days only two or three balls might carry the teams through an entire game.

By the mid-1920s—surely due in some measure to Ray Chapman’s fatal beaning—stained or mutilated balls were taken out of play; a batter could request a fresh baseball; and the teams no longer insisted upon the return of foul balls (sample figures: the NL of 1919 used 22,095 baseballs; in 1924 it used 54,030). And those foreign-substance pitches were banned. And Babe Ruth, who had sounded the death knell of the dead ball era when he hit 29 homers for the Red Sox in 1919, came to New York. And the lively ball, whose existence at any point in history is still denied by everyone connected with Organized Baseball, hit the American League. (What made the heart of the 1920 ball race was the use of Australian wool, unavailable during World War I, and the tighter winding made possible by new machinery. An official of the Reach Company, manufacturer of AL baseballs, later admitted that the winding would be periodically tightened or loosened as requested.)


Daring the dead ball era, the National League batted over .270 only once and the American League only in its first two years as a major circuit, when pitching quality was marginal. Beginning in 1920, NL batters hit over .270 every year until 1933, and AL batters did so every year until 1941. From 1919 to 1921 alone, home runs doubled; by 1930, they had nearly doubled again. In 1919 the National League’s leading slugger, Hi Myers, had a slugging average of .436; in 1930, the entire league slugged at a .448 clip. In 1919 the National League had no .350 batters, the American League four; in 1930 they had twenty. Perhaps most incredible, the top-hitting team in the NL of 1919 was the second-place New York Giants, who batted .269; in 1930 the Phillies hit .315 and finished last as their shellshocked hurlers permitted 7.7 runs per game.

The Dark Age for pitching had set in: Pitchers found themselves short on ammunition and ideas, as they had in 1893—but now it would take them a long time, far longer than ever before or since, to resume their historic advantage.

Was the batting truly so awesome or the pitching so awful? Probably neither. This was an extraordinary period during which several forces combined to give the offense the sort of overwhelming superiority it had enjoyed in the mid-1890s. A whole generation of strongboys, their path illuminated by Ruth, was learning the joys of fencebusting. The push-and-poke attack, advancing runners one base at a time, went the way of the dodo almost overnight. And the pitchers, shorn of much of their arsenal, were caught unprepared for the new offensive—they sim­ply fired those fastballs a bit faster and re­signedly watched them rocket by their ears.

A fastball and a curve (the latter almost never thrown when behind in the count, ex­cept by the great ones) used to be enough to get by when the ball was dead and the out­fielders could play shallow. Now the ball was, comparatively, a grenade, and every man in the lineup could hurt you—no more opportunities to pitch around strong batters and coast whenever you had a three-run lead. The plan of pacing oneself to go nine innings, a la Christy Mathewson, was be­coming passe; relief pitchers were becoming respectable. Indeed, the advent of such re­lief specialists as Firpo Marberry, Mace Brown, and Johnny Murphy was the prin­cipal strategic innovation of the Ruthian era.

Lefty Grove, Wheaties 1937

Lefty Grove, Wheaties 1937

The great pitchers of the dead ball era were gone or, like Walter Johnson and Grover Alexander, in decline. Stars like Lefty Grove, Dizzy Dean, Dazzy Vance, and Bob Feller came along, but most of the pitchers of the twenties and thirties were pretty straightforward chuckers, daring the big boys to hit their best. Their stuff was probably no worse than that of the bulk of dead ball pitchers, but the consequence of their mistakes was far greater. New pitches? The slider may have been created in the mid-1920s by George Blaeholder of the Browns or Tommy Thomas of the White Sox, but its era of impact was yet to come. The knuckler o[ Dutch Leonard was not new, and its glory too was in the distance. The screwball of Carl Hubbell had of course been used by Mathewson (the fadeaway) and with less celebrated effect by a handful of nineteenth-century pitchers. Paul Richards, a great student of pitching and architect of the daz­zling Orioles’ staffs of the 1950s and 1960s, once said:

Pitchers are much better than they used to be. The oldtimers only remember the outstanding ones. They forget about the soft touches who couldn’t hold a job today.  Let’s go back to the 1930s,  and that means we’re actually talking about the modem era. Most of the pitchers threw a fastball and a curve. That was it. There were some cute ones around, too, but they weren’t the stars. Even some of the stars had a curve that was nothing special and today they couldn’t make it with just the pitches they had.

When Richards spoke of cute ones, he may have had in mind Ted Lyons or Tommy Bridges. Some say Bridges had the best curve ever seen. And Richards’ curveless wonders might have included Red Ruffing, Dizzy Dean, and a bevy of other notables, includ­ing Hall of Famers.

Mickey Cochrane, Carl Hubbell, Charlie Gehringer, Tris Speaker, Ed Walsh, and Cy Young. at Cooperstown

(L-R) Mickey Cochrane, Carl Hubbell, Charlie Gehringer, Tris Speaker, Ed Walsh, and Cy Young. at Cooperstown

But the pitchers’ debacle of this period cannot be blamed entirely on their penchant for meeting power with power. The ball was livened and deadened, league by league, as the owners scrambled to attract the scarce dollars of Depression era fans. The NL ball was juiced in 1921, one year later than in the AL, when senior circuit officials saw how the fans liked the home-run heroics of Babe Ruth in the rival league. Certainly it was inflated further for the bruising 1930 season, then deflated the following year as homers declined mysteriously from 892 to 492. By 1933 the National League’s ERA had come down by 33 percent; Carl Hubbell managed one of 1.66, a level not seen in either league since . . .  1919.

From 1931 to 1942, the American League was the hitters’ circuit. Its ERA reached a high of 5.04 in 1936 (the only time a league ERA has ever exceeded five runs except for 1894) and stayed over 4.00 every year from 1921 to 1941, barring a 3.99 mark in 1923. Yankee fans may have loved the carnage their batters in particular wrought, but these were not classic years in baseball history.

Nor in truth were the next four, but they laid the groundwork for the period many observers feel was the game’s greatest, the 1950s.


Baseball during World War II (1942-45) may have been inferior to that played im­mediately before and after, but the reason was not just the manpower shortage, which was not severe until 1944-45. The shortage of wartime materials forced baseball manu­facturers to use an inferior grade of wool that produced a dramatically softer, dead­ened ball. Home runs in the American League, for example, plummeted from 883 in 1940 to 401 in 1946; league batting aver­ages dipped below .250 for the first time since 1917, when another war for America had just commenced.

The marathon batting orgy of the twen­ties and thirties was over, and pitching seemed poised to reassert the dominance it had enjoyed in the early years of the cen­tury; even the return of stars like Williams, Musial, and DiMaggio from the service for the 1946 season failed to boost overall bat­ting. But 1947 was a year of momentous change: Jackie Robinson broke the color line, television became a force. Of less ob­vious but more immediate impact, the ball was livened again. Home runs jumped by an incredible 62 percent, and, not surpris­ingly, complete games declined and saves increased (in the AL, by a whopping 45 per­cent). The fans loved it.

So the rule makers fanned the flame, low­ering the strike zone in 1950 from the top of the shoulder to the armpit and raising it from the bottom of the knee to the top—the first mandated change in this area since 1887. As a result, home runs soared again, to a new high—but oddly, so did strikeouts. The die was cast for the rest of the decade: batters would swing from the heels, forsak­ing batting average for power, and pitch­ers—many of them newly armed with the slider, or “nickel curve,” as Cy Young dis­paragingly termed it—would keep them off balance. The strikeout-to-walk ratio, which had been roughly 1:1 since the introduction of the lively ball in 1920, was nearing the 2:1 (and higher) ratio of the 1960s. Despite the plentiful home run (in 1954, National League teams averaged 158 homers, the game’s highwater mark until 1986 when American League teams averaged 164 four-baggers), batting averages and bases on balls declined, testifying to the advancing skill of the pitchers and the man­agers who discovered the bullpen. The scor­ing level in 1960 was lower than that in 1950, and batting was already on its down­hill slide to the vanishing point of 1968: the year of the pitcher.


Only Commissioner Ford Frick did not know it. He saw the prodigious slugging in the American League’s expansion year of 1961: Colavito, Gentile, Killebrew, Cash, Mantle, and Maris plus a Yankees’ team that hit 240 homers. He was particularly irked that a low-average hitter like Maris could break the cherished home run mark of Babe Ruth. After the National League’s expansion and increased run production in the following year, he said: “I would even like the spitball to come back. Take a look at the batting, home run, and slugging record for recent seasons, and you become convinced that the pitchers need help urgently.” He saw fit to rescue them by restoring the old strike zone that had been reduced in 1950.

Maris (to), Mantle, 1961

Maris (to), Mantle, 1961

Whoops! Strikeouts rose, walks declined; batting averages fell to the mid-.240s in both leagues, reaching the lowest combined level since 1908, and the woeful New York Mets batted .219, the lowest in NL annals since 1908. The batters were in disarray, and in the seasons that followed they would scurry into full retreat.  Young strikeout artists—Gibson, Marichal, Koufax, McDowell, Chance, McLain, and others—dominated. New stadiums favoring pitchers, such as Shea, Busch, and Dodger stadiums, re­placed older parks that were hitters’ ha­vens—the Polo Grounds, Sportsman’s Park, the Coliseum. The forkball and the knuckler, two pitches that had been around for generations, were revived with devastating effect; every kid pitcher seemed to hit the big time with a slider in addition to his curve and fastball, and such firemen as Larry Sherry, Roy Face, Ron Perranoski, Lindy McDaniel, and Dick Radatz had years when they seemed unhittable.

Baseball officials were becoming con­cerned that the grand old game appeared stodgy to fans of the sixties, that professional football was capturing the hearts and minds of America. The events of 1968 helped con­vince them. In the National League Bob Gibson had an ERA of 1.12, including thir­teen shutouts. The American League had a batting champion who hit .301, surpassing his nearest rival by eleven points; five pitch­ers with ERAs under 2.00, with one of them, Denny McLain, winning thirty-one games; a league batting average of .230, with the once proud Yankees hitting .214. Paul Richards recommended setting the pitching distance back another 5 feet, to 65 feet, 6 inches.

This was rejected, but the remedies of 1969 were almost as radical. The strike zone was reduced again, to the region of 1950-62. The mound was lowered to a maximum height of 10 inches from the 15 inches that had prevailed since 1903. In all likelihood, the ball was juiced again. Scoring was boosted by about 15 percent in each league, and homers (adjusted for the expansion to twelve-team circuits) jumped by about  30 percent. The lowered mound flattened out wicked curveballs and sliders and took the hop off all but the elite of fastballs. The strike zone change was of little significance in it­self, but at about this time, without an ex­plicit rule change, the top of the strike zone mysteriously came down not from the shoul­ders to the letters but to the midriff. By 1987 the high strike would become defined in practice as anything above the belt buckle.

These innovations resuscitated hitting for a while. Whereas in 1968 there had been only six .300 hitters, 1969 produced eigh­teen; where 1968 saw only three men with 100 RBIs, 1969 brought fourteen; the num­ber of forty-plus home-run hitters rose from one to seven. But by 1972 the pitchers had adjusted, and batting in both leagues slid back to near-1968 levels. In the American League particularly, the situation was grim: home runs (on a team-average basis) hit their lowest level since 1949 and batting av­erages dipped below .240 yet again.

The response this time was the designated hitter. It produced a tilt back toward the batters, inasmuch as pitchers now had to face nine true batters rather than eight. (How remarkable an achievement was No­lan Ryan’s strikeout record of 383 that sea­son. If he had faced pitchers in the nine-hole of the lineup, he might have added sixty more Ks.) Not only did the d.h. produce more scoring, it also produced more complete games, as managers no longer needed to pinch-hit for a starter who trailed in a low-scoring game. This tendency, however, was short-lived: AL pitchers completed 33.5 percent of their starts in 1974, but only 15.7 percent a decade later (although this was still higher than the 11.6 percent figure for the NL).

Strangely, hitting perked up in the Na­tional League at about the same time, with­out benefit of the d.h. Could the new cowhide ball, manufactured in Haiti, have had something to do with it? Or was it the incredible shrinking strike zone? (Consider how sharp today’s pitchers must be in com­parison to their mates of, say, the 1920s, when the strike zone printed in the rule book corresponded to the strike zone during the game.) In any event, the pitcher/batter war seemed a standoff in the late seventies and early eighties, as batters fattened up on the new flock of breaking-ball cuties while older hard-stuff stars like Seaver, Palmer, Carl­ton, and Ryan continued to shine. Some of the newcomers—Soto, Guidry, Richard, Morris, Valenzuela—threw hard and made their marks, but the general opinion in base­ball was that if the fastball was the pitch of the sixties and the slider the pitch of the sev­enties, the mixed bag of curve and change, cut fastball and split-finger fastball, would dominate the eighties. Then along came Dwight Gooden and Roger Clemens and Mark Langston, and we stopped hearing about the death of the fastball.

Sandy Koufax, 1959

Sandy Koufax, 1959

Nonetheless, the split-finger fastball was the sensation of the 1986 season. Popular­ized by relief pitcher Bruce Sutter in the early eighties, it had been invented back in 1908 by Bert Hall, who called it a forkball, and later was employed by Tiny Bonham, Roy Face, and Lindy McDaniel. For all of them it served as a dry spitter, an offspeed sinker that batters would beat into the ground or, in the case of Sutter, who threw it harder than the others, fan on. The gospel of the split-finger fastball was spread in the 1980s by Roger Craig when he was pitching coach of the Detroit Tigers, whose staff fell in love with the pitch.

It seems anyone whose fingers were long enough to throw the pitch added it to his repertoire. But one of Craig’s disciples, Mike Scott of the Houston Astros, threw it harder than anyone and transformed it, in 1986, from a freakish change-up to the greatest menace batters had faced since the hard sliders of Lyle, Guidry, and Carlton a decade earlier. The pitch thrown by Sutter had a bit of a screwball tail to it, but its primary trait was its drop; Scott’s split-finger pitch sailed and swooped unpredictably at some 85 m.p.h.—and sunk, too.

In the second half of 1986, carrying over to the National League Championship Series, Scott’s pitch was as nearly unhittable as any ever seen on a diamond—as discour­aging as Ryan’s fastball, Carlton’s slider, Koufax’s curve, Wilhelm’s knuckler, Walsh’s spitter, Creighton’s blue darter. Was this the end for the batter? Of course not; he would adjust, even if it would take a little help from his friends.

Offenses revived in the mid-1990s and home runs proliferated. And then the pitchers came up with something new.









The Day Goose Goslin Made It to the Hall of Fame

goslin, gooseThis is a stray, ephemeral piece by Lawrence S. Ritter that has been overlooked for three decades. Larry let me use it as a sidebar to fill out an article that ran short on its final page in the first issue of The National Pastime (1982). Larry contributed one of his unpublished oral-history transcripts from The Glory of Their Times, too. The success of that first issue may in no small measure be chalked up to him. Published by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), the  journal is now in its thirty-third year of continuous publication. This untold story of Goose Goslin’s strange experience in Cooperstown on the day of his induction into the Baseball Hal of Fame was finally published in a an updated edition of The Glory of Their Times. All the same, I believe it will be new to most readers.

The date was July 22, 1968: a hot summer day in Cooperstown, New York, the day lumbering, amiable Leon Allen “Goose” Goslin, age 68, finally made it into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Goose Goslin had begun his big-league career with the Washington Senators in 1921. He ended it with the same team 17 years later. In between he was one of baseball’s outstanding hitters, although his defensive skills in the outfield occasionally fell somewhat short of perfection. In January 1968, the Goose was unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame by the Committee on Veterans. The Cooperstown induction was scheduled for Monday morning, July 22, and the Goose joyously made plans for his big day.

“You be sure to be there,” he said to me on the phone. “We’ll have a wonderful time.”

Both of us arrived at Cooperstown on Sunday evening, the day before the ceremonies, the Goose accompanied by some relatives and close friends from home in southern New Jersey. He and his party happily established themselves in several beautiful rooms at the Otesaga Hotel, a few blocks from the Hall of Fame, and all of us enjoyed a bountiful meal, with many toasts, as we awaited the day of days. Joe Medwick, also to be inducted the next day, joined us as the evening progressed and the two former outfielders recalled, with some exaggeration, the many game-saving catches they had made and the home runs they had hit in the bottom of the ninth.

The long-awaited day dawned warm and beautiful. A large crowd was already on hand as we arrived at the Hall of Fame at 10:00 in the morning. General William D. Eckert, then the Commissioner of Baseball, introduced the Goose and presented him with a replica of the plaque that would stand forever in his honor, in close proximity to those of Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Walter Johnson. The Commissioner noted, in his introduction, that the Goose had once been hit on the head by a fly ball, but then had hit three home runs in that same game.

Larry Ritter

Larry Ritter

In response, the Goose, his eyes wet, tried to maintain his composure. “I want to thank God, who gave me the health and  strength to compete with those great players,” he said. Then he started to cry and couldn’t continue, until the gentle hand of the commissioner and the applause of the crowd restored his self-control. “I will never forget this day,” he concluded. “I will take the memory of this moment to my grave.”

For the next couple of hours the Goose was besieged by reporters and assorted admirers. Finally, we made our way back to the hotel, where a buffet luncheon had been prepared for the new inductees and their guests. Although the lunch was excellent, the Goose could hardly eat because of his exhilaration, not to mention the steady stream of interruptions by congratulatory old friends and autograph seekers.

After lunch we returned to the room and began to make plans for the afternoon and evening. “I think I’ll take a nap for an hour or so,” the Goose said. ”Then let’s all walk back to the Hall and take a good look at it.”

Before anyone could answer, however, the phone rang. It was the room clerk. ”You will have to vacate your rooms within the hour, Mr. Goslin,” he said. “We have a convention arriving and people are already waiting in the lobby for your rooms.”

“But I’m not leaving until tomorrow,” the Goose said. “It’s a long drive home and I’m tired. We expected to stay overnight.”

“I’m sorry,” said the clerk. “When we wrote you several months ago we told you that we had reserved your rooms for Sunday night only, and that if you or any of your party wanted to stay longer you’d have to let us know. Since we never heard from you, we assigned your rooms to someone else for tonight.”

The Goose was stunned. He was also enraged. He called Ken Smith, the Hall of Fame’s director, Paul Kerr, its president, and everyone else he could think of. But no one, not even Commissioner Eckert, could help. There simply were no vacancies in the Otesaga, or in any other hotel or motel within 20 miles. Like it or not, the Goose had no choice. He had to leave.

And so it happened that on his great day, July 22,1968, Leon Allen Goslin was honored, acclaimed, and applauded in the morning–and unceremoniously ejected from his hotel room that same afternoon.

Sic transit gloria mundi!

Major League Baseball Record Keeping, Part 2

Walter Johnson HOF plaque

Walter Johnson HOF plaque

As promised yesterday, here is a guide to variances between the Baseball Hall of Fame plaques and the official record of Major League Baseball. There is truly little controversy here, as the Hall has elegantly placed a rubric in the Gallery reading: “The information on these plaques was taken from sources believed to be reliable and accurate at the time it was written.” Fair enough, but there are errors galore.  As Alan Schwarz wrote nearly a decade ago in the New York Times, “many of these errors wound up on the best players’ Hall of Fame plaques. Walter Johnson was believed to have won 414 games when he was inducted in 1936, but several corrections later, he was left with 417. Eddie Collins’s plaque says he collected 3,313 hits from 1906 to 1930, but the record-keeper back then apparently switched one game of Collins’s statistics with those of his teammate Buck Weaver, so he actually had two more. In the mid-1970’s, when an addition error was discovered on Tris Speaker’s official stat sheets–which are preserved on microfilm–his official career average went up to .345 from its longtime .344, two decades after his death.” History is set in wet concrete. 

Major League Baseball Record Keeping, Part 2

John Thorn, Pete Palmer, and Joseph M. Wayman

Nineteenth Century Hall of Famers

Cap Anson       Plaque, four batting titles; Total Baseball (TB), three

In 1879, Anson appears to have been the beneficiary of 20 extra hits, either by error or, as is commonly believed, a civic-minded Chicago official scorer. This error was found by John Tattersall in his review of newspaper box scores. In addition he (and we) incorporated the player records of four Chicago tie games, of which Anson played in two. His traditional mark of .407 was really only .317, and was so recorded in Total Baseball; however, although a modern accounting would result in an 1879 batting title for Paul Hines, with .357, we credit the championship that year to Anson, as an instance of the official Major League Baseball policy cited in Part 1 of this article (records may change, titles/awards do not).

The singular season of 1887 presents a different case. Following the long-standing directive of the Special Baseball Records Committee, we did not count walks as hits, the  practice which had been the sole basis of Anson’s fourth batting championship. Note that only for this year, in which walks were aberrationally recorded as hits, and 1876, when they were aberrationally recorded as outs, didwe overturn the scoring practice of the time in favor of a modern reinterpretation of who was the batting leader. However, when Jerome Holtzman, MLB’s official historian, ruled to revers the Special Records Committee, we saw reason in his stance and went along. [His article on the subject is appended here at the conclusion.] Today Holtzman’s edict is observed largely in the breach.

Jake Beckley     Plaque, .309 lifetime, also for fielding at first base, 2368 games, 23696 putouts, 25000 chances; TB, .308, 2377, 23709, 25024

These are about as close as you can get when comparing several sources prior to 1900.

Dan Brouthers    Plaque, .419 average in 1887; TB, .338

This average is inflated by the aforementioned scoring practice of 1887; even if we elected to keep that practice in effect, Brouthers’ walks would have lifted him to .426.

John Clarkson    Plaque, 175 losses, 2013 strikeouts, 4514 innings; TB, 178, 1978, 4536

The major difference in strikeouts occurred in 1886, where the guide had 340 and we counted only 313. We recorded two additional losses in 1894, in accordance with the scoring rules of the day. Reviewing our sources, we counted 27 more innings in 1887. His plaque bore a clear error concerning his wins in 1888. He had 33 and did not lead the league, although the plaque says 49. This was a confusion with the 49 Clarkson did win in 1889, which was also listed.

Roger Connor     Plaque, hit .300 twelve times; TB, eleven

If we counted walks as hits in 1887, we would also have twelve times.

Ed Delahanty     Plaque, hit. 408 in 1899; TB, .410

The discrepancy is a product of newspaper research.

Hugh Duffy      Plaque, hit .438 in 1894; TB, .440

This was the highest average all-time. The 1895 guide has 236 hits while the newspaper count is 237; both had 539 at bats. Since no backup data has survived for the guide, there is no way to determine where the difference might be.

Jim Galvin      Plaque, 365-311 won-lost; TB, 360-308

The plaque data includes a 4-2 mark in the 1875 NA, which has been denied major league status by the Special Baseball Records Committee.  There are other smaller differences.

Billy Hamilton   Plaque, 196 runs in 1894, 115 stolen bases and .338 batting average in 1891, 937 stolen bases total, 1893-1895 batting averages of .395,.399 .393, ten times scoring 100 runs; TB, 192 runs in ‘94, 111 steals and .340 batting average in ‘91, 912 lifetime steals, 1893-1895 batting averages of .380, .404, .389, eleven times scoring 100 runs

Whether Hamilton scored 196 runs or 192, he still holds the all-time record. There were small differences in stolen bases in several years.  We speculate that when the folks at Cooperstown counted Hamilton’s seasons of scoring 100 or more runs, they overlooked his 1889 A.A.  accomplishment.

Hughie Jennings  Plaque, once hit .397; TB, .401 in 1896

The guide had 208 hits in 523 at bats, which actually computes to .398, although .397 was shown. The newspaper research showed 209 for 521.

Tim Keefe       Plaque, 346 wins; TB, 342

Daguerreotypes also has 342.

Joe Kelley      Plaque, .391 in 1894; TB, .393

Newspaper box score research pointed up discrepancies in the figures recorded in the guides.

King Kelly      Plaque, .394 average in 1887; TB, .322

If we count walks as hits Kelly would have a mark of .393.

Tommy McCarthy   Plaque, 1268 games, 109 stolen bases in 1888, 53 assists in 1893; TB, 1275 games, 93 steals, 28 assists

Newspaper research found the early stolen base figures to be inflated, especially for the American Association. His 53 assists in 1893 included many while playing at second base and shortstop. However, he did have 44 in the outfield in 1888, fourth best all-time.

Kid Nichols     Plaque, 360-202 won-lost, 30 wins in 1895; TB 361-208, 26

Daguerreotypes has 361-208 as we do, including 26 wins in 1895.  Nichols for years had been credited with winning 30 or more games from 1891 through 1897, but it has been conclusively shown that he had only 26 in 1895. The Spalding Guide showed games pitched (which was usually interpreted to be decisions) and percentage. They had 44 and .681 which would give a mark of 30-14. The 1942 Baseball Register showed him 30-15.  ICI’s Baseball Encyclopedia had him at 26-16 in 42 complete games and 0-0 in 5 relief appearances. Ironically, the corrected figures give him 30 wins in 1898, for seven seasons of 30 victories or more—total, but not consecutive.

Amos Rusie      Plaque, led in shutouts 5 times; TB, 4: Rusie pitched 7 innings of a 9-inning shutout on July 5, 1897.

Taking this shutout away, in accordance with current scoring rules (there were no official rules for crediting shutouts until 1951), gave him 2 instead of 3.

Sam Thompson     Plaque, .336 lifetime, hit .400 twice; TB, .331, once)

If walks counted as hits, we would have him at .407 in 1887 and .334 lifetime.

John Ward       Plaque, 158-102 won-lost, 2151 hits; TB, 164-102, 2105

Walks in 1887 accounted for 29 of Ward’s now “missing” hits. An additional 18 came from the 1890 Players League, for which newspaper research offered a lower total than the league figures. Other discrepancies were spread out over several years. We spotted 3 extra pitching wins in 1879 and again in 1883.

Twentieth Century Hall of Famers

Luke Appling     Plaque, 11,569 chances accepted at shortstop; TB, 11,616

There was an addition error for his putouts in 1940. He had 307, not 257. Daguerreotypes had 11,566, not 11,569.

Jack Chesbro     Plaque, 192-128 won-lost; TB, 198-132

Daguerreotypes now has 198-128. The 1947 Baseball Register—only one year after Jack’s election and the creation of his plaque—had 197-127.  Still under review are two other games for which it has been argued that Chesbro should have received wins.

Ty Cobb         Plaque, 4191 hits; TB, 4189

See Part 1 of this article for discussion of the doubly entered 2-for-3 game. But that is not the whole story of how Cobb’s lifetime hit total fell by two, nor of how he comes to retain his twelve batting titles. Modern research of the official day-by-day sheets revealed that Cobb had two games in 1906–on April 22 and 23–in which he went 1-for-8 that were not entered on his sheet. Finally, there was a game on July 12, 1912 (the first game of a doubleheader) in which Cobb had a run which was entered in his hit column. (If this had indeed been a hit, he would have had a 34-game hitting streak. It was really only 23 games.) Finally, under today’s rules, Cobb would not have won the batting title in 1914, because he didn’t have enough plate appearances (or at bats). However, he did win it under the rules of the day, as he won the 1910 title.

Eddie Collins    Plaque, 3313 hits; TB, 3312

Collins picked up two hits in 1920 in a game for which his stats were switched with those of Buck Weaver. But he lost a hit in 1907 in a mixup with Jimmy Collins, giving Eddie a net loss of one hit.

Stan Coveleski   Plaque, 214-141 won-lost, 2.88 ERA; TB, 215-142, 2.89

Daguerreotypes has 215-141. The 1942 Baseball Register has 216-142. Our ERA includes 1912, when Stan had a 3.43 era in 21 innings. The beginning of official status for ERA in the AL was 1913.

Sam Crawford     Plaque, 2505 games, 2964 hits, 312 triples; TB, 2517, 2961, 309

Red Faber            Plaque, 253-211 won-lost, 3.13 era; TB, 254-213, 3.15

Elmer Flick     Plaque, .378 in 1900; TB, .367

The guide had 207 hits in 547 at bats, while the newspaper research showed 200 in 545.

Harry Heilmann        Plaque, 2146 games; TB, 2148

Daguerreotypes has 2145 games. Heilmann appeared in 69 games in 1914, not 66. For 1912-14 the official AL averages did not count a game for any player who had all zeros in his entry. These would be pinch-runners or late-inning defensive replacements. There were a total of over 400 such uncounted appearances in this category altogether.

Walter Johnson   Plaque, 414 wins; TB, 417

This research was done by Frank Williams and detailed minutely in his previously cited essay in The National Pastime of 1982. Walter had a 16-game winning streak in 1912, but one of the games (August 5) was not marked as a win on his sheet. In 1911, wins were incorrectly marked as losses on June 27 and July 9. For the AL before 1920, there were about twenty or thirty errors in awarding wins and losses in the official statistics each year.

Heinie Manush    Plaque, 2009 games; TB, 2008

Joe McGinnity    Plaque, won 20 seven times; TB, eight

This looks like an error made by the Hall of Fame. He won 20 in 1902 between two leagues, as shown in the 1941 Baseball Register (McGinnity was elected in 1946).

Herb Pennock     Plaque, 161 losses; TB, 162

Daguerreotypes agrees with 162 losses. The 1941 Baseball Register had 161.

Eppa Rixey      Plaque, 4494 innings; TB, 4494-2/3

Official stats rounded innings pitched until 1982. Total Baseball recorded thirds of innings pitched in all seasons.

Red Ruffing     Plaque, led in shutouts 1938 and 1939; TB, 1939 only

Lefty Gomez had 4 shutouts in 1938, not 3. This included a rain-shortened complete game on July 15. Ruffing had 3. Also, the comment on the plaque about making the all-star team in 1937-38-39 applies to the Sporting News All-Star team, not the All-Star Game team.

Tris Speaker     Plaque, .344 lifetime; TB, .345

There was an addition error on his official sheet for 1911. He had 500 at bats, not 510.

Pie Traynor     Plaque, one of few players with 200 hits in a season; TB, of course, many players have had 200 or more hits in a season

Zack Wheat      Plaque, 2318 games for Brooklyn, 2406 total; TB, 2322 for Brooklyn, 2410 total

There were four unrecorded games in 1911 in which Wheat appeared only as a pinch hitter.

League Batting Leaders

Until the fourth edition of Total Baseball, Major League Baseball had established no official historical record, despite its product endorsement of several statistical compendiums over the years. As a result, writers, historians, statisticians, and fans were offered a choice amongst differing annual league batting leaders, depending on the major record book favored. Those most favored by recent chroniclers have been Total Baseball and The Baseball Encyclopedia because they featured all the player and club records. Today Baseball-Reference.com vies with mlb.com for the best online presentation.

There was no official batting championship rule until 1950. Total Baseball and The Baseball Encyclopedia remedied this oversight by formulating—independently—their own guidelines for the many years of omission, each based on their own concepts of fairness and equality.

In previous editions, Total Baseball established the following criteria for batting championships: 1876-1956, qualification by having plate appearances equal to 3.1 per game times the number of scheduled games, thus conforming to the Major League Baseball practice since 1957.  The batting championship criteria for The Baseball Encyclopedia over the years have been: 1876-1919, games played equal to at least 60 percent of games the team scheduled; 1920-1949, at least 100 games played, based on acceptance of the unofficial but universally assumed rule requiring appearance in at least 100 games; and 1950-present, the various changing official rule definitions.

The history of the official batting championship rule is as follows: (1) 1950-1951, 400 official times at bat; (2) 1952-1954, 400 official times at bat or, if less than 400 times at bat and by adding enough imaginary hitless at bats so as to total 400, “he still would have the highest batting average in his league, he shall be the champion batter”; (3) 1955-1956, 400 official times at bat; (4) 1957-1966, 3.1 plate appearances per game times number of scheduled games, equaling 477 in a 154-game schedule and 502 in a 162-game schedule; and (5) 1967-present, 3.1 plate appearances per scheduled game, except that “if there is any player whose average would be the highest if he were charged with the required number of plate appearances or official at bats, then that player shall be awarded the batting championship.”

In the strike-shortened season of 1972, a 156-game standard prevailed instead of the 162 scheduled games. In the strike seasons of 1981 and 1994, the rule of 3.1 plate appearances per game was applied to the number of games played by each team, rather than to those scheduled.

The early record tomes, the Spalding Record Book and the Sporting News Record Book, placed Jake Stenzel (NL) in the lead for 1893 and Nap Lajoie (AL) on top in 1905. Both Stenzel and Lajoie were the leaders during the life of the Spalding volumes, 1908-1924, and in the Sporting News volume from its debut in 1921 until 1929, when Hugh Duffy replaced Stenzel, and 1930, when Elmer Flick supplanted Lajoie. The reasoning behind the Sporting News switches was that both Stenzel and Lajoie failed to meet the unwritten criterion of a representative number of games—Stenzel had played in only 60 games and Lajoie in 65, not even half of their club’s scheduled games. Otherwise the early record books’ leaders were those endorsed by the leagues.

The Spalding Record Book in its 1917 edition made two important batting championship changes, both on the basis of mathematical errors which their editors had noted. To that time, Dan Brouthers had been tied with Cupid Childs for the highest batting average in 1892, but had been awarded the title based on his having played in more games, which was the tie-breaking guideline of the day. In 1917, however, Childs went to the front on the basis of extended batting average (calculating to extra decimal places beyond the thousandths that comprise conventional reporting of batting averages). Next, Lajoie’s average of .422 in 1901 was reduced in 1917, because of a Reach Guide typo in the hit column, to a .405 figure. The Spalding management (the once independent Reach company had long since been acquired by Spalding) should have known that in 1892, the criterion for awarding a batting championship was indeed games played, not extended batting average, and that in 1901 they would have found Lajoie’s correct (as then calculated) average in any number of newspapers. Lajoie’s .422 average was restored in 1954 in response to John Tattersall’s research, but Childs remained, until this writing, ahead of Brouthers in the NL’s Green Book. (In the fourth, official, edition of Total Baseball, Brouthers is credited as the champion because he played in more games, which was the criterion of the time—not because modern research has lowered Childs’ batting average from .335 to .317.)

During its formative years, 1876-1919, the National League omitted any mention of batting championship criteria in its published rules.  Certainly, this should have been addressed before 1920. Still, batting championships were tacitly acknowledged by the league, with guidelines drawn primarily from the comments of Henry Chadwick.

From 1876 to ca. 1888, the criterion was understood to be the best seasonal performance; as expressed by Chadwick in the Spalding Guide of 1887, “an average rating of a player should be on a season’s work.” Seasonal leadership may be deduced when the league’s recognized champion was not listed first in the official averages. His preeminence was based on a representative number of games played over the season in which he excelled, as opposed to the nominal leader’s handful of games.

The yardstick between 1889 and 1919 was playing in at least 100 games. In the 1890 Spalding Guide Chadwick wrote: “With the object in view of equalizing the averages and placing the names of the batsmen who have played in 100 games or over, are given the front rank, while those who have played in 50 games and over occupy second place, and those in 25 games and over third place, and so on.”

The American League rules in its early years, 1901-1919, omitted any batting championship language. In honoring Cobb as its 1914 bat champ, the AL was undoubtedly proceeding from the guideline of best seasonal performance.

For students of the game, Joe Wayman documented the variances among the record books and encyclopedias and highlighted particularly those traditional batting champions whom previous editions of Total Baseball had toppled from the pinnacle. Even though most of these champions have been rethroned, the following thumbnail account of the debatable batting leaders will serve to explain the seeming anomaly of a batting champion whose average is lower than that of a rival.record keeping[*] Thompson becomes the official batting champion with a .372 average in accordance with e decision of the Special Baseball Records Committee not to count walks as hits. Anson would be a .347 hitter without the benefit of his walks.

1878: Abner Dalrymple captured the NL’s batting title. Modern record tomes (The Baseball Encyclopedia and Total Baseball) list Paul Hines in the top spot. The NL in 1878 did not include tie games in its official averages, while today’s record tomes count them. Thus, by counting tie games, Hines emerges with the higher average, but does not take away Dalrymple’s championship.

1879: Cap Anson, the day’s recognized batting champion, has been challenged by the moderns (The Baseball Encyclopedia, Total Baseball, Sports Encyclopedia: Baseball, and The National League Story, by Lee Allen) as to whether his .407 average is legitimate. In fact, the average was disputed as early as the 1880 DeWitt Guide, the averages for which were compiled by William Stevens of the Boston Herald, and Balldom (1914), compiled by George Moreland. Total Baseball keeps the title with Anson in recognition of the league action at the time, but reports his batting average correctly in the Player Register and does not list him in the Annual Record’s listing of top five batting averages in the 1879 NL.

1884: The official batting champion remains Orator Jim O’Rourke. Newspaper box scores, game accounts, and the results of tie games elevate King Kelly to a higher average. Tie games were not included in the official averages at the time, and how to handle them today remains a matter of controversy. However, regardless of how we treat Kelly’s 2-for-4 in his only tie-game appearance (August 11), O’Rourke is the leader.

1887: In only this season, bases on balls counted as hits. One month into the season, the American Association wanted to scrap the rule, but the NL would not consent. Total Baseball gave the championship to Sam Thompson. Without his 60 walks registering as hits, Anson batted .347.

1892: Brouthers and Childs were honored as co-champions at .335, as discussed above. Childs had the higher extended average, .3351, against Brouthers’ .3350 mark. By the day’s reasoning, however, Brouthers is the leader. As Chadwick noted in the Spalding Guide, “the lead in all cases of tie scores in base hits belongs by right to the batsman who has played in the greatest number of games, and in this case Brouthers batted in 152 games to Child’s 144.” Childs’s statistics, as compiled by ICI from newspapers, yield a batting average of .317, placing him third.

1893: Billy Hamilton’s average was higher than Duffy’s, and he would have met modern criteria for plate appearances. The NL, however, honored Duffy because he appeared in at least 100 games, which was expected of the leading players of that day. The title is thus accorded to him.

1910: Cobb is the champion, for reasons discussed amply above.

1914: Cobb, due to his proven hitting excellence, was awarded the championship because, in all reasoned probability, he would have been the leader over the full season. Consider, also, that the batting championship for the Chalmers car in 1910 for position players was based on 350 at bats. Cobb would have easily captured the hit crown on a mythical 100 game requirement, even though he was three games shy.

1926: Bubbles Hargrave topped three other questionable contenders—those not credited with at least 400 at bats. All qualified for the title, though, based on the period’s acceptance of appearance in at least 100 games. In Hargrave’s favor was his position—catcher. Over the years, catchers were considered somewhat differently when it came to handing out awards, because of the demands of their position. In fact, in order for a catcher to qualify for the fielding championship at his position, he need only have appeared in at least 77 games. Hargrave caught in 93 games.

1932: Dale Alexander had the games and at bats to satisfy the AL as to his claim. If the 400 at bat rule had been on the books, Alexander no doubt would have been inserted into the lineup until he secured eight additional at bats. If Jimmie Foxx  were today recognized as champion, he would have the first of two consecutive Triple Crowns.

1938: Foxx was the AL leader—no ifs, ands, or buts about it. The AL had a rule in 1938 requiring the batting “…winner to be at least 400 times at bat.” (Reach Guide, 1939) Taffy Wright is the trivia-question champion, batting .350 in 100 games.

1940: Debs Garms raised a few eyebrows as a come-from-nowhere champion. If enough imaginary at bats to reach 400 were to be added to Garms’ total, his adjusted average would still be one point higher than that of Stan Hack, the runnerup.

1942: Ernie Lombardi was the recognized NL batting king. As a Sporting News headline advised, “Ernie’s 105 contests suffice to qualify him for a second title.” The announcement called attention to the “inquiries” which had been made regarding a Lombardi award since the AL had put in place a 400 at bat requirement. Bill James noted that the NL announced a “meritorious 400 at bat” requirement after the problematic Garms award two years earlier. NL President Frick, however, contended there was no specific bat rule and catchers, because of their demanding position, deserved special consideration. The catcher’s fielding championship by this time was based on 100 games, lessening the Frick contention. Frick may have had in mind the prior, 77-game catching requirement for fielding leadership. Thus, Frick’s reasoning could have been to create a proportion: 77 games for catchers is to 100 games for position players what 77 percent of 400 at bats (308) for catchers is to 400 at bats for position players.

1954: Ted Williams, the batter with the highest average in the AL, did not meet the official qualifications to claim the title. The 1954 official Rule 10.17 spelled out the champion as one who, with at least 400 at bats, or with fewer than 400 at bats plus enough imaginary ones to equal 400, has the higher average. Under the official rules definition, Bobby Avila is the batting leader. During the closing weeks of the campaign, Williams was aware of the rule but continued to be selective of pitches, rather than swing at those outside the strike zone simply to reach the required 400 at bats. Williams’ extended average based on adding imaginary at bats to his 386 is a .331 figure.

1981: Bill Madlock is the official batting champion by the rules of the day. Due to the strike-shortened season, the games a team played, rather than the scheduled games, were the basis for individual championships. Pittsburgh, Madlock’s club, played 103 games. Thus, 103 x 3.1 = 319 plate appearances to qualify for the batting championship. Madlock topped the required 319 PA’s by one, with 279 at bats, 4 sacrifice flies, 34 bases on balls, 3 hit by pitch, and no sacrifice hits or interference calls. Total Baseball awarded the title to Pete Rose in editions 1 and 2, based on average games played per team, then corrected the procedure in its third edition.

The record of the four defunct major leagues shows only the American Association had batting champions not agreeing with Total Baseball champions. This happened twice: in the 1884 AA, the official winner was Dude Esterbrook though his teammate Dave Orr actually batted 50 points higher; and in 1886 AA, the champ was officially Orr though Guy Hecker’s recomputed average nips him by a point. (Pete Browning also surpassed Orr and was listed as champion in earlier editions of Total Baseball, for which a guideline of 3.1 plate appearances per game was employed throughout.)


An Important Change to the Official Record of Major League Baseball

Jerome Holtzman

Major League Baseball’s Official Historian

Major League Baseball is pleased to announce that, beginning with this seventh edition of Total Baseball, all batting averages are recorded as they were at the time they were reported, and not in accordance with the decision of a 1968 Special Baseball Records Committee. For the sake of conformity, the committee ruled that the 1887 batting averages be recalculated and that walks not be counted as base hits (as they were that year) or as outs (as they were in 1876).

John Thorn, the eminent editor of Total Baseball, has described it as an attempt to normalize baseball’s “gloriously messy” statistical history and bring the abnormal 1887 season in line with modern statistics. It was the only season when walks were considered hits and hence skewed the averages upwards.

For example, there were eleven .400 hitters, all properly listed in the 1888 Spalding and Reach guides, the official statistical compendiums of the time. (An arithmetic check has revealed that Paul Radford, the eleventh and final such batsman, in fact batted “only” .397.) The acknowledged batting champions were Tip O’Neill, at .492, for the St. Louis Browns of the old American Association, and Cap Anson, .421, for the Chicago National League entry. (As with Radford, an arithmetic correction reduces O’Neill’s average to .485, still the all-time record).

The special committee, in deciding walks were not hits, took 50 hits away from O’Neill, dropping his average to .435. Anson, stripped of 60 hits, fell to .347 and lost his batting title, fairly won. Worse, he no longer qualified for the 3,000 Hit Club of which he was the first member.

Revisionist history is admirable when new and undisputed evidence is brought forth. But this was an abomination, an absolute falsehood and twisting of the known facts for the singular purpose of regulating history to conform to previous and subsequent standards. It was a grievous corruption. If a walk was a hit in 1887 it should stand as a hit forevermore.

The committee was formed by General William Eckert, baseball’s fourth commissioner. Eckert always had good intentions but was ill-equipped and didn’t have a schoolboy’s knowledge of the game. The day after he took office in 1965, during his first press unveiling, it was painfully apparent he was unaware the Los Angeles Dodgers had been transplanted from Brooklyn.

The committee was co-chaired by Dave Grote, public relations director of the National League and Robert Holbrook, his American League counterpart. Neither was qualified to rule on such matters. The other members were Jack Lang, secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers Association of America; Joseph Reichler, director of public relations of the Commissioner’s Office, and Lee Allen, the historian of the Hall of Fame.

Why the committee was formed remains a puzzle. The general belief is that it was at the request of the Macmillan Company, which was preparing a new encyclopedia, trumpeted as better and more complete than any of its predecessors. It went on sale the next year.

To heighten the launch, the committee mostly reviewed statistics accumulated in the period before 1920, “a time that was somewhat chaotic for record-keeping procedures.” Perhaps the encyclopedia’s editors were eager to find previously published errors; adjustments would strengthen the authenticity and value of the new enterprise.

The only established historians on the committee were Joe Reichler, who had been the national baseball writer for the Associated Press, subsequently elected to the writers wing [sic] of the Hall of Fame; and the distinguished Lee Allen, widely respected, the author of a half dozen noteworthy books, including delightful histories of the American and National Leagues.

Reichler knew his stuff. A stickler for accuracy at any cost, he had edited an earlier encyclopedia, published in 1962 by Ronald Press. Allen was a compulsive researcher and known for his fascinating player anecdotes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He also wrote a wonderful weekly column, “Cooperstown Corner,” for The Sporting News and was not concerned with current events. They agreed to the changes. However, a year before he died, Allen admitted to historian David Voigt that “past records ought not to be tampered with.”

The change in record-keeping procedure that commences with publication of this edition of Total Baseball should not be interpreted as a blanket damning of Macmillan’s The Baseball Encyclopedia. In mid-life, it became known, fondly, as the “Big Mac,” and was the final statistical authority, an enormous aid to sportswriters, book-writers, researchers, and super-fans. There were 10 editions. Sales may have approached a million copies.

Nor is this a total condemnation of Eckert’s Special Baseball Records Committee. The committee voted on 17 thorny issues and responded with good reason, with two exceptions: the 1876 scoring of walks as an at bat (if a player drew four walks he was 0 for 4), a practice that has also been restored in this edition; and the 1887 statistical butchery. A listing of the significant 1887 batting averages restored to their proper dimension follows.





Major League Baseball Record Keeping

New York Highlander logo 1903-04

New York Highlander logo 1903-04

This essay is adapted from one that appeared in many of the eight editions of Total Baseball from 1989 to 2004. My decision to publish is precipitated by a current dustup over Baseball-Reference.com’s decision to uncouple the records of the Baltimore Orioles of 1901-02 from those of the successor franchise, today’s New York Yankees (http://www.sports-reference.com/blog/2014/07/1901-02-orioles-removed-from-yankees-history/). It is delightful to see so much passion exhibited in the Comments section over a decision with little practical consequence, except that the Yanks’ 10,0000th win will now come sometime next year instead of next week. No individual or team seasonal records have been excised. Anyway, the entire matter of team records when there have been precedessor franchises becomes very murky and has been observed anecdotally by the clubs themselves.

The nascence of the Yankees is an interesting question and unsurprisingly arouses more passion than that of the Pittsburgh Pirates (see: http://goo.gl/QbIhZD). I gave a pretty full rendering of the riotous events of 1902 in this space: http://goo.gl/hL1fXP. In any event, I offered my opinion on the Oriole-Yankee issue as a rather well-informed fan, not as Major League’s Baseball official historian. To my knowledge MLB takes no stance regarding how clubs choose to observe their records. I have excavated the essay below (with cuts and modifications) to demonstrate that baseball’s record book has always been a mine field, which may offer comfort to those currently incensed. [*]

Major League Baseball Record Keeping

John Thorn, Pete Palmer, and Joseph M. Wayman

Despite the death of editors Hy Turkin in 1957 and S.C. Thompson ten years later, their Official Encyclopedia of Baseball (first issued in of 1951) remained the dominant book of baseball statistics, although many fans were frustrated with the fragmentary records it presented. As Frank V. Phelps wrote in the 1987 edition of The National Pastime, “Gaps and obvious errors in official averages, the lack of many early records, difficulty in securing the records of players who appeared in only a few games, and frustrating discrepancies among existing guides and registers had long since created a desire for an ultimate, complete, correct set of major league records. But it wasn’t until the mid-1960s that the development of sophisticated computers which could absorb, retain, order, and output huge amounts of data finally made a project feasible.”

Beginning in 1967, a battalion of researchers commanded by David S. Neft foraged through the official records and newspaper box scores to provide freshly compiled figures for those who had no ERAs, RBIs, slugging averages, saves, and all manner of wonderful things. The material which finally appeared in the tome was entered into a data bank, and the book was the first to be typeset entirely by computer, now a common practice. Published in 1969, The Baseball Encyclopedia was a milestone in computer technology, but as indispensable as the computer were the old-fashioned scrapbooks and files of Lee Allen and John Tattersall. The result was a mammoth ledger book of the major leagues more thorough than any that had appeared before.

The Baseball Encyclopedia, ICI/Macmillan, 1969

The Baseball Encyclopedia, ICI/Macmillan, 1969

The ICI group not only found new data to correct old inaccuracies but also applied new yardsticks to men who had gone to their graves never having heard of an RBI or a save. The ICI research that went into The Baseball Encyclopedia of 1969 created new stars, launching several previously underappreciated heroes of old into the Hall of Fame. Sam Thompson, Addie Joss, Roger Connor, Amos Rusie—their phenomenal level of play was hidden simply because statisticians back then were not recording the particular numbers which would show them off to best advantage. If sabermetrics consists of finding things in the existing data that were not seen before, or in collecting that data which makes possible the application of new statistics to old performances, the first edition of The Baseball Encyclopedia was a monument in the course of sabermetrics.

However, its subsequent editions declined from that standard, dropping valuable data, altering figures for star players in a misguided homage to tradition, and making a shambles of individual/team balance in the totals. As Phelps wrote of the second edition, supervised by the Macmillan Company after the ICI group broke up:

“Players’ batting statistics were changed without compensating for changes in the records of other players on the same teams or in the corresponding team and league totals. Later editions included even more unbalanced adjustments . . .

“Quite apart from the problem of record-balancing, the numerous changes in players’ totals and averages has caused serious misapprehensions and confusions for fans, writers, and researchers. The records of Fred Clarke and Cy Young differ in all six editions [to 1987] even without counting Clarke’s astronomical 1899 BA [in the third edition, Clarke was credited with a batting average of .986 that boosted his lifetime mark by 15 points]. The figures for Burkett, Chesbro, Duffy, Hornsby, Walter Johnson, Radbourn, Speaker, and Waddell differ in five of the six books. The same is so in four of six for at least twenty-three other Hall of Famers, and many more less gifted players.”

Jack Chesbro with New York

Jack Chesbro with New York

The seventh edition was issued in 1988 and, like the five that preceded it, was less accurate than the classic first issue. The eighth edition, published in 1990, corrected many of the errors in the seventh but retained many once-contested errors that historians had long since expunged from the record, while changing other statistics in a manner at variance with Major League Baseball’s standards and with a rationale that remains unclear. For the ninth edition, Major League Baseball distanced itself from the both the product and its database.

Even when The Baseball Encyclopedia had been launched back in 1969, the ICI findings raised the hackles of traditionalists, prompting the formation by Major League Baseball of a Special Baseball Records Committee. Its members ruled upon such matters as whether, for the historical record, bases on balls should be counted as hits (as they were in 1887), outs (as they were in 1876), or neither (as has been the practice in all other years); or whether “sudden-death” home runs—thirty-seven game-winning blows with men on base that they identified as having occurred in the bottom half of the ninth or an extra inning—would be credited as homers or, in the practice before 1920, would count for only as many bases as were needed to push across the winning run. In the latter controversy, committee members first decided to count the disputed blows as homers, but then, when complaints arose that Babe Ruth’s famous total of 714 would change to 715, they reversed themselves. They also decided that the National Association of 1871-1875 was not a major league, while the Federal League, Union Association, and Players League were; and they ruled on several other issues, all of which were published in the Appendix to The Baseball Encyclopedia.

Because earlier editions of Total Baseball enjoyed neither the privilege nor the responsibility of official Major League Baseball status, the editors committed themselves to the process of history—its research, reporting, and interpretation—more than to its product. History is not static and unchanging. Our course then as now seemed unassailable: publish the best-documented data and remain humbly amenable to subsequent revision in the light of new evidence. (This is not very different from the placard in the Baseball Hall of Fame, which states that although later studies have called into question the accuracy of information on the plaques, the facts as engraved were believed to be accurate at the time.)

However, it must be acknowledged that we paid little mind to the consequences of our findings and reasoned judgments, such as the stripping of a batting championship from Ty Cobb in 1910 or Bobby Avila in 1954. For the fourth edition of Total Baseball, the first to receive official MLB status, our challenge was to devise a more historically sensitive framework that would permit us to incorporate the best modern research while continuing to honor the judgments of the past. For example, Total Baseball abided by the Special Baseball Records Committee’s decision on game-ending homers—not to preserve Ruth’s total, but because there were many more such homers before 1920 than the thirty-seven the committee identified, and the disputes surrounding some of them are now beyond settling.

Like Turkin/Thompson and all previous record books, and in accordance with the view of most historians, we rejected the committee’s position that the National Association was not a major league. We committed to the creation of a full statistical record of that trailblazing circuit, and hoped one day to integrate the NA and NL records of such players as Al Spalding, Cap Anson, George Wright, and all the others who played in the professional league between 1871 and 1875.

Grover Alexander of the 373 wins

Grover Alexander of the 373 wins

We also differed from the committee’s ruling on awarding pitchers wins and losses in the years before 1920. Not finding any official scoring rule or practice for that time, they chose to apply 1950 guidelines to decisions awarded in 1876-1920. This well-intentioned decision produced substantial alterations in the records of such hurlers as Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Grover Alexander, and others. In the ensuing years, the notable research of Frank Williams (reported in “All the Record Books Are Wrong,” The National Pastime, 1982) revealed that there was indeed a pattern and a rationale for the way decisions were awarded in those days; the data in Total Baseball and today all other sources conforms with his meticulously substantiated findings.

More involved, and perhaps of most direct interest to fans and media, are the subjects of (a) statistical discrepancies between the record presented in Total Baseball or Baseball-Reference.com and the figures published in other reference works, or memorialized on Hall of Fame plaques, and (b) the implications of corrected data for the awarding of batting championships.

There are seven major sources for baseball statistical research. By far the most significant one is the official Major League Baseball records kept by the leagues, published in the baseball guides, and maintained on microfilm at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and in the league offices. These records cover the years since 1903 for the National League and 1905 for the American League. Any source data before these years were lost.

The second major source is the computer printouts prepared by ICI for The Baseball Encyclopedia in 1969. These cover the NL for 1891-1902, the AL for 1901-05, the Federal League for 1914-15, plus all the nineteenth-century leagues (1882-91 American Association, 1884 Union Association, and the 1890 Players League). These records, obtained from newspaper box scores, were turned over to the Hall of Fame and made public by agreement with historian Lee Allen, who permitted ICI to use his voluminous player demographic files.

John C. Tattersall

John C. Tattersall

The third source is John Tattersall’s newspaper box-score research for the NL of 1876-90. Since Tattersall had done such careful work, day-by-day computer printouts were never generated for this period. Any day-by-day records created by John have been lost, but what has survived is a batting and fielding summary and a pitching summary for each club each year listing many categories. This collection, now owned by SABR, also includes the home run log, which lists every home run ever hit from 1871 to date, the date, teams, game location, batter, pitcher, inning, men on base, and other notes.

The fourth source for baseball statistics is a box score collection accumulated by Michael Stagno, covering the National Association of 1871-1875, which was also purchased by SABR. Preliminary basic data was calculated by Stagno. Bob Richardson of Boston and Bob Tiemann of St. Louis worked to get complete totals in most categories from this data.

The fifth source is additional data done by the ICI researchers for the 1969 edition, covering data that were not kept officially during the years since 1903 for the NL and 1905 for the AL. Examples of this data are runs batted in before 1920, extra base hits in the AL for 1905 and 1906, double plays by fielders before 1920 NL and 1923 AL, pitching data except wins and losses for the AL for 1905-07, earned runs for pitchers before 1912 NL and 1913 AL, complete games before 1913 NL and 1926 AL, games started before 1926 AL and 1938 NL, and saves before 1969. Any day-by-day records from this source have been lost, but the season totals have survived.

The sixth source is newspaper box score research to pick up additional categories not covered by the first five sources. Examples of this are hit by pitch for batters before 1917 NL and 1920 AL (by Alex Haas, Tattersall, Palmer, and many others), triple plays by fielders before 1928 AL and 1930 NL (mainly by Jim Smith), home runs allowed by pitchers before 1950 AL and 1952 NL (again by Tattersall). Frank Williams carefully researched AL pitching records for 1901-1919, when the league records were particularly sloppy. Total Baseball gathered day-by-day sheets for most of this data, with the rest residing in the Tattersall collection.

The seventh and newest is the astoundingly voluminous play-by-play restoration at Retrosheet.org.


The data reported by the ICI group in the first edition of The Baseball Encyclopedia upset many people in baseball, for their numbers were different from those traditionally accepted; in subsequent editions, many of the prominent players’ statistics were fudged back to their traditional values. Yet 1969 had hardly been the first time corrections had been made to official data. In 1929 Grover Cleveland Alexander won his 373rd game, breaking Christy Mathewson’s National League record, then thought to be 372. He never won another game. A number of years later, Joseph Reichler found a game in which, by the rules of that time, Matty should have gotten the win, this game taking place on May 21, 1902. The official record was changed and Matty pulled into a tie with Alex. The problem was that no one checked all of Mathewson’s other games to see how many times he received a win under the old rules that wouldn’t have been credited that way today. When ICI did its original research in 1968, it found Matty had only 367 wins by today’s rules, while Alexander had 374. (Further research, notably by Frank Williams, has restored Alexander and Mathewson to a tie at 373 wins.)

In another celebrated example of record-book flip-flops, when the American League was formed in 1901, Nap Lajoie was credited with a .422 average, with 220 hits in 543 at bats. After a number of years, someone noticed that if you take these at bats and hits, the average comes out only to .405, so his average was changed. (Turkin/Thompson gave Nap a mark of .409 in its first edition.) Later in the 1950s, John Tattersall had his doubts and decided to go through his newspaper collection of box scores. He found 229 hits for Lajoie, not 220–the error had been in the figure for hits, not in the figure for batting average. Thus his average was restored to .422, which happened to be the highest in American League history. Then ICI research in this area came up with a .426 mark (232 for 544, based on newspaper accounts), which was published in the first edition, then trimmed back to .422 in subsequent editions.  Because the day-by-day source data for the American League of 1901 has been lost, one must make an informed choice between .422 and .426.

Nap Lajoie at League Park, Opening Day, 1908

Nap Lajoie at League Park, Opening Day, 1908

In 1910 there was a very close batting race between Cobb and Lajoie. At the end of the season, most people thought Nap had won, based on his getting seven hits in a doubleheader on the final day of the season. There was talk that the opposing Browns had let him get a number of bunts by playing back, so that the hated Cobb would lose. However, the AL office went over their figures and gave Cobb the title, .385 to .384. Nearly eighty years later, Palmer discovered a critical error: a game in which Cobb had two hits in three at bats had been entered twice. This was found because Sam Crawford had 14 games on his official sheet for the homestand yet the Tigers had only played 13. It turned out that Detroit played a doubleheader on September 24, but the second game inadvertently was inserted in the official sheets as being played on September 25. Later, this second game of the 24th, which appeared to have been missing, was put in the scoresheets again. The League Office discovered this mistake soon after its official announcement that Cobb had won the batting title, because the double entry was corrected for all the other Detroit players. However, Ban Johnson had made a big deal out of how carefully his people had checked the figures in order to settle the controversy, so the AL kept quiet about the gaffe, leaving Cobb the winner.

Appeals to Commissioner Kuhn in 1981 to set the matter straight officially were to no avail, because that would not only have changed the outcome of the 1910 batting race, it would also have altered Cobb’s lifetime hit total, then being pursued to massive media attention by Pete Rose. Kuhn’s statement read, in part, “The passage of seventy years, in our judgment . . . constitutes a certain statute of limitation as to recognizing any changes in the records with confidence of the accuracy of such changes. . . . Since a variety of questions have been raised through the years about the accuracy of the statistics of that period, the only way to make changes with confidence would be for a complete and thorough review of all team and individual statistics. That is not practical.” It may not have not been practical, but we embarked upon such a course, and brought it to conclusion.

Cobb with Chalmers Car 1910

Cobb with Chalmers Car 1910

Asked at the time how we would have resolved the dispute over the 1910 batting race, we responded in this way: remove Cobb’s two redundant hits and alter his batting average accordingly, effectively dropping it beneath Lajoie’s, and correct his lifetime hit total as well; however, retain Cobb’s batting championship, for two reasons—one, because Lajoie’s flurry of bunt hits were highly suspect, and two, because Cobb was awarded the title in his day, and awards should be permanent, not contingent. Furthermore, a reasonable case can be made that Ban Johnson, if he had believed that Lajoie’s tainted hits would have been sufficient to produce a batting championship, would have nullified them; after all, he did banish from baseball the Browns’ manager who had instructed his rookie third baseman to play exceptionally deep.

It is this singular event in baseball history that supplied a model for how Total Baseball and Major League Baseball developed a policy for incorporating new research finds into the historical record without revoking long-held personal championships. Player records may be changed upon the evidence of historical error, but league awards and titles are forever.

Honus Wagner by Kernan, 1914

Honus Wagner by Kernan, 1914

Here is what happened in the now celebrated Honus Wagner case in the 1990 Baseball Encyclopedia, over which Major League Baseball and the Macmillan publishing firm became estranged. The Macmillan editor noticed that previous edition figures for Wagner did not agree with the data presented in the first edition in 1969. He assumed that the data had been corrupted over the years, and thus returned the 1897-1900 data to the original figures, costing Wagner 12 hits. However, the editor did not restore the 1901-02 data, which would have resulted in Wagner losing three more hits. The outcome was that Wagner had a total of 3415 hits in the 1969 edition, 3430 in the 1988 edition (the traditional figure) and 3418 in the 1990 edition (also in 1993). One of the problems with the Macmillan newspaper research was that it did not count protested games in the player data. Although the games were thrown out of the standings, the player stats did count in the league compilations at the time, which should be the criterion for inclusion. (Protested games were included in the official records through 1909, then omitted 1910-1919, and were made once again part of the official records in 1920. When our review of these protested games prior to 1909 is completed, the individual stats will be added to our figures.)

Wagner was involved in three of these protested games. There were about twenty-five of them altogether in the nineteenth century. However, the newspaper research did show up additional differences in player stats beyond those from the protested games.

When checking the plaques for the Hall of Fame players, we found about forty players with differences from the Total Baseball data. Most were nineteenth century players with small differences due to discrepancies between the old guide figures and the later newspaper research. Some had to do with rule changes from the 1969 Special Baseball Records Committee, such as not counting walks as hits in 1887.  For the twentieth century, there were a number of differences due to official errors, mostly in the area of pitcher won-lost marks in the 1901-1919 American League period. There were only a few outright errors on the plaques (Anson, Clarkson, Hamilton, McCarthy, McGinnity, and Nichols). Exact differences can be found by comparing The Sporting News Daguerreotypes (which often agrees with the plaques) with Total Baseball.

[*] I focus here on the major league period and do not recount the rise of stats from 1845 to the twentieth century—a favorite topic but one which I have addressed of late. See, in this space, “Stats and  History,” as taken from The Hidden Game:





Tomorrow, a guide to variances between the plaques and the official record of Major League Baseball.


Runs and Wins

The National Pastime, debut number, 1982

The National Pastime debut, 1982

Two years before Pete Palmer and I published The Hidden Game of Baseball, I created a new journal for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) called The National Pastime and invited Pete to write for its first issue. His article, “Runs and Wins,” proved a cornerstone for The Hidden Game and for sabermetrics as a whole. Just last week, Paul Hagen wrote an article at mlb.com [http://goo.gl/xa5bsV] in which he stated that run differential “is a stat that has been around for years. And it is so simple and logical that at first glance, it hardly seems worth mentioning. And yet, run differential–the gap between how many runs a team scores and how many it gives up–has become more prominent than ever in recent years.” Below is an example of Palmer’s genius when sabermetrics was new. In The National Pastime he was surrounded by such baseball luminaries as Larry Ritter, Dr. Harold Seymour, G.H. Fleming, Bob Broeg, John B. Holway, Mark Rucker, and David Voigt, among others. The publication was big hit, selling out quickly. It has been unavailable for decades, except in the antiquarian book trade–until this fall, when SABR will reissue it as an ebook, free to SABR members as all its electronic publications are. Thirty-two years after its debut, and 25 years after I passed the baton as its editor, The National Pastime is still published annually. The Hidden Game will be reissued in Spring 2015 from the University of Chicago Press, with a new introduction by its authors and a foreword by Keith Law.

Runs and Wins

Pete Palmer

Most statistical analyses of baseball have been concerned with evaluating offensive performance, with pitching and fielding coming in for less attention. An important area that has been little studied is the relationship of runs scored and allowed to wins and losses: how many games a team ought to have won, how many it did win, and which teams’ actual won-lost records varied far from their probable won-lost records.

The initial published attempt on this subject was Earnshaw Cook’s Percentage Baseball, in 1964. Examining major-league results from 1950 through 1960 he found winning percentage equal to .484 times runs scored divided by runs allowed. (Example: in 1965 the American League champion Minnesota Twins scored 774 runs and allowed 600; 774 times .484 divided by 600 yields an expected winning percentage of .630. The Twins in fact finished at 102-60, a winning percentage of .624. Had they lost one of the games they won, their percentage would have been .623.)

Arnold Soolman, in an unpublished paper which received some media attention, looked at results from 1901 through 1970 and came up with winning percentage equal to .102 times runs scored per game minus .103 times runs allowed per game plus .505. (Using the ’65 Twins, Soolman’s method produces an expected won-lost percentage of .611.) Bill James, in his Baseball Abstract, developed winning percentage equal to runs scored raised to the power x, divided by the sum of runs scored and runs allowed each raised to the power x. Originally, x was equal to two but then better results were obtained when a value of 1.83 was used. (James’ original method shows the ’65 Twins at .625, his improved method at .614.)

Percentage Baseball, Earnshaw Cook

Percentage Baseball, Earnshaw Cook

My work showed that as a rough rule of thumb, each additional ten runs scored (or ten less runs allowed) produced one extra win, essentially the same as the Soolman study. However, breaking the teams into groups showed that high-scoring teams needed more runs to produce a win. This runs-per-win factor I determined to be equal to ten times the square root of the average number of runs scored per inning by both teams. Thus in normal play, when 4.5 runs per game are scored by each club, the factor comes out equal to ten on the button. (When 4.5 runs are scored by each club, each team scores .5 runs per inning–totaling one run, the square root of which is one, times ten.) In any given year, the value is usually in the nine to eleven range. James handled this situation by adjusting his exponent x to be equal to two minus one over the quantity of runs scored plus runs allowed per game minus three. Thus with 4.5 runs per game, x equals two minus one over the quantity nine minus three: two minus one-sixth equals 1.83.

Based on results from 1900 through 1981, my method or Bill’s (the refined model taking into account runs per game) work equally well, giving an average error of 2.75 wins per team. Using Soolman’s method, or a constant ten runs per win, results in an error about 4 percent higher, while Cook’s method is about 20 percent worse.

Probability theory defines standard deviation as the square root of the sum of the squares of the deviations divided by the number of samples. Average error is usually two-thirds of the standard deviation. If the distribution is normal, then two-thirds of all the deviations will be less than one standard deviation, one in twenty will be more than two away, and one in four hundred will be more than three away. If these conditions are met, then the variation is considered due to chance alone.

Bill James Baseball Abstract, 1982

Bill James Baseball Abstract, 1982

From 1900 through 1981 there were 1448 team seasons. Using the square root of runs per inning method, one standard deviation (or sigma) was 26 percentage points. Seventy teams were more than 52 points (two sigmas) away and only two were more than 78 points (three sigmas) off. The expected numbers here were 72 two-sigma team seasons and 4 three-sigma team seasons, so there is no reason to doubt that the distribution is normal and that differences are basically due to chance.

Still, it is interesting to look at the individual teams that had the largest differences in actual and expected won-lost percentage and try to figure out why they did not achieve normal results. By far the most unusual situation occurred in the American League in 1905. Here two teams had virtually identical figures for runs scored and allowed, yet one finished 25 games ahead of the other! It turns out that with one exception, these two teams had the largest differences in each direction in the entire period. Detroit that season scored 512 runs and allowed 602. The Tigers’ expected winning percentage was .435, but they actually had a 79-74 mark, worth a percentage of .517. St. Louis, on the other hand, had run data of 511-608 and an expected percentage of .430, yet went 54-99, a .353 percentage.

Looking at game scores, the difference can be traced to the performance in close contests. Detroit was 32-17 in one-run games and 13-10 in those decided by two runs. St. Louis had marks of 17 -34 and 10-25 in these categories. Detroit still finished 15 games out in third place, while St. Louis was dead last. Ty Cobb made his debut with the Tigers that year, but did little to help the team, batting .240 in 41 games.

The only team to have a larger difference between expected and actual percentage in either direction than these two teams was in the strike-shortened season last year [1981], when Cincinnati finished a record 88 points higher than expected. Their 23-10 record in one-run games was the major factor. The 1955 Kansas City Athletics, who played 76 points better than expected, had an incredible 30-15 mark in one-run games, while going 33-76 otherwise.

Listed below are all the teams with differences of 70 or more points.

Runs and Wins, Table 2

Runs and Wins, Table 1

The 1924 National League season affords an interesting contrast which is evident in the chart. St. Louis failed of its expected won-lost percentage by 72 points while Brooklyn exceeded its predicted won-lost mark by 70.

The two poor showings by the Pittsburgh club in 1911 and 1917 were part of an eight-year string ending in 1918 in which the Pirates played an average of 37 points below expectations, a difference of about six wins per year. This was the worst record over a long stretch in modern major-league history. Cincinnati was 40 points under in a shorter span, covering 1902 through 1907. No American League team ever played worse than 25 points below expectation over a period of six or more years.

On the plus side, the best mark is held by the current Baltimore Orioles under Earl Weaver. From 1976 through 1981 they have averaged 41 points better than expected. The best National League mark was achieved by the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers in 1954–63, 27 points higher than expectations over a ten-year period, or about four wins per year.

The three-sigma limit for ten-year performance is 25 points. The number of clubs which exceeded this limit over such a period is not more than would be expected by chance. So it would seem that the teams were just lucky or unlucky, and that there are no other reasons for their departure from expected performance.

Below are the actual results and differences for the four teams covered.

Runs and Wins, Table 2

Runs and Wins, Table 2

Phantom Ballplayers

Cliff Kachline

Cliff Kachline

While at the recent All-Star Game in Minneapolis I had the pleasure of meeting and hanging out with Ron Roth, longtime official scorer of the Cincinnati Reds. Swapping stories in the hotel lobby I recalled a couple that seemed particularly apt for a man of his calling. There was the one that Fred Lieb used to tell about how Ty Cobb achieved his third and final .400 batting average via an overturned call (read, if you have not already, his wonderful book, Baseball as I Have Known It: http://goo.gl/NqxZyH). And I recalled the story of “Proctor,” a Western Union telegrapher who inserted his own name into a 1912 box score and for eighty years thereafter was immortalized in the baseball encyclopedias. The man who told me that tale was Cliff Kachline, historian at the Baseball Hall of Fame and afterward executive director of the Society for American Baseball Research. Upon my return home I dug up the fascinating article on baseball’s phantoms, as they came to be called, that Cliff contributed to the first edition of Total Baseball in 1989 and was included in several subsequent editions. Here it is, through the 1993 season. It is a model of baseball research.

Phantom Ballplayers

Clifford S. Kachline

Garbage in, garbage out is an expression that gained currency with the advent of the computer age. The logic behind the catch phrase, however, prevailed long before the electronic marvels came into being. Baseball, in fact, has had its own version of the maxim almost since the game’s earliest days, largely as a consequence of record keepers who sometimes unwittingly entered erroneous data into the record books.

Numerous examples of the garbage in, garbage out principle have been discovered in baseball’s statistical archives through the years. But statistics aren’t the only area where the phenomenon has shown up. Another involves what researchers of the sport refer to as “phantoms”–players credited with having performed in the major leagues but who in reality never did appear in a big league game.

Phantoms are hardly a recent phenomenon. They have existed almost as long as box scores have been published. Some were the product of misunderstandings by–or misinformation given to–official scorers or the parties who compiled the boxscores. A few of these crept into the leagues’ official records. Others were created by mistakes on the part of telegraph operators or by typographical errors and appeared only in newspaper boxscores.

Little if any attention was paid to the situation until the 1950s. The original edition of The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball, published by A.S. Barnes and Co. in 1951, provided fans for the first time with a supposedly complete alphabetical tabulation of every man who ever played in the majors, together with his basic yearly big league stats. The publication stimulated the interest of the sport’s researchers. When editors Hy Turkin and S.C. Thompson deleted the names of some players–most of whom were previously shown as having a one-game career–from subsequent revised editions, the matter of phantoms started to become a source of fascination.

Who really were the “impostors” that were listed in earlier editions? What had prompted the editors to include them in the first place? And what evidence had been found to prove conclusively that they never played in the big leagues?

The introduction of The Baseball Encyclopedia by the Macmillan Publishing Company in 1969 focused additional attention on the subject. In compiling data for that publication, David Neft and his crew of Information Concepts, Inc. researchers continued the process of purging phantoms from the records. Since then, further investigation by Neft, Pete Palmer, Bill Haber, Al Kermisch, and others has led to the expunging of several more players.

In many instances confirming the status of a phantom was a complicated chore. The task sometimes was made more difficult because the player’s name was included in the official league statistics. In other cases, especially those involving nineteenth-century performers, the fact that official league records no longer exist compounded the problem because it made it impossible to determine who was credited by the official scorer and/or league statistician with appearing in the game or games in question. (The American League’s official game-by-game player sheets of 1901-1904 reportedly were destroyed by fire decades ago, while the official National League data also vanished for the pre-1902 period except for the 1899 season.)

An example of a phantom who appears in the league records is Albert W. Olsen. For thirty-five years he was carried in the encyclopedias and shown as participating in one game–as a pinch hitter–for the Boston Red Sox in 1943. Olsen did train with the Red Sox that spring, but he was shipped to San Diego of the Pacific Coast League before opening day and spent the entire season in the minors. In addition, it was his exploits as a lefthanded pitcher, not as a hitter, that originally attracted the Red Sox.

Leon Culberson

Leon Culberson

Nevertheless, American League records list Olsen as playing for Boston in a game in Chicago on May 16, 1943. Newspaper box scores credited him with drawing a walk while batting for pitcher Dick Newsome and subsequently stealing a base. However, research has confirmed that the Red Sox pinch-hitter on that occasion definitely was not Olsen. Instead, it may have been outfielder Leon Culberson, who had just been called up from Louisville of the American Association, or possibly another Boston rookie outfielder, Johnny Lazor.

And why is there still uncertainty as to who the pinch-hitter really was? How could this mistake have occurred? First off, the exchange of roster data among major league teams during that period was quite limited. Consequently scorecards often contained the same player names and uniform numbers for the visiting team, especially early in the season, as the team listed in spring training. For example, the scorecard for a Red Sox-Senators game in Washington approximately a week before the incident in question showed Olsen on Boston’s roster with uniform number 14, even though he was pitching for San Diego. Second, it’s unlikely there were phone lines from the press box to the dugouts in those days, and in the absence of being able to call down to check on the identity of a player, the media and official scorers relied on outdated roster information.

Several years ago researchers felt they had cleared up the Olsen mystery upon discovering that one Boston newspaper identified the pinch-hitter as “Culbeson.” This seemed to settle the matter. After all, Culberson had joined the team that day and was installed as the Red Sox’ leadoff batter in the second half of the afternoon doubleheader, collecting a single and triple in five at-bats. But the mystery was revived when Ed Walton, a Red Sox historian, discussed the situation with Culberson at a Red Sox Old Timers affair in 1986. According to Walton, Culberson contended he did not pinch-hit in the twin-bill opener, but rather made his debut in the second game. He added that manager Joe Cronin said he wanted the young newcomer to sit beside him (Cronin) through the first game to get a feel of the big leagues. However, the records reveal Cronin played third base during the entire first game. All of which raises the questions: Was Culberson’s memory playing tricks on him and was he indeed the pinch-hitter listed as Olsen? Or was it Lazor, who is shown as wearing uniform number 14 later in the year but who was batting a mere .136 (3 for 22) at the time? Because the passage of time makes memories hazy and also because the incident was of no particular significance, the mystery may never be solved. [Today, more than twenty years later, the game is credited to Lazor.]

A manager’s pique led to a phantom known as J.A. Costello getting into the early encyclopedias. Curiously, the incident also took place in Chicago  and likewise involved a player’s big league debut. It occurred in the morning half of a holiday bill between Cleveland and the White Sox on July 4, 1912. Late in the contest, Indians’ Manager Harry Davis, still burning over an umpire’s decision, sent the newcomer into the game to replace center fielder Joe Birmingham and instructed him to announce himself to umpire Gene Hart as “Costello.”

In reality, the player was Kenneth Nash, who had only recently joined Cleveland from Boston University law school. He subsequently appeared in ten additional games with Cleveland that season under his correct surname, mostly as a shortstop, and then played with the St. Louis Cardinals for part of 1914. Nash later became a prominent state representative, state senator, and judge in his home state of Massachusetts.

Reddy Grey, Rochester 1901

Reddy Grey, Rochester 1901

The 1903 official National League records contain a phantom who long baffled researchers. Among the Pittsburgh player sheets is one headed “George Gray” with entries for two games as an outfielder–on May 28 and May 31. Four years earlier the Pirates had a pitcher named George “Chummy” Gray, and it’s possible the scorer or league statistician remembered him while filling in the player’s first name. When the first official encyclopedia appeared in 1951, the player was identified as William (rather than George) Gray, a native of Pittsburgh.

It turns out that the two George (or William) Gray entries properly belonged to not one, but two different players. The Pirates’ left fielder in the May 28 game really was Romer Carl “Reddy” Grey, younger brother of novelist Zane Grey. He had been obtained on loan from the Worcester club of the Eastern League to fill in that afternoon in the final game of a series in Boston.

On the other hand, while box scores in Cincinnati newspapers listed the Pittsburgh left fielder for the May 31 game in Cincinnati as “Gray,” the player actually was Ernest Diehl, a Cincinnati sandlotter who had been recruited by the injury-riddled Pirates. The game represented Diehl’s first appearance in the major leagues and his only game that season, but he played twelve more games with Pittsburgh the following year. It should be noted that ever since the original Turkin/Thompson tome, the encyclopedias have credited Diehl with playing one game with Pittsburgh in 1903, but until recent years they also carried William Gray with two games.

A majority of baseball’s phantoms were the product of typographical errors–instances where a linotypist or a typesetter mistakenly included one or more incorrect letters in a name, or where a printer inserted a correction line in the wrong place. In compiling data for the encyclopedias, the authors/researchers relied not only on the so-called official league records but also combed box scores published in The Sporting News, Sporting Life, The New York Clipper, and various local newspapers. In the process they occasionally came upon what appeared to be a previously unlisted “new” player who, in the final analysis, proved to be someone else. Even today, misspellings of this type in newspapers can cause great befuddlement.

A classic illustration of a phantom who was created by a typographical error is the player carried in the early encyclopedias as John P. Morgan. He was listed as appearing in one game as a third baseman with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1916. A study of A’s box scores for the season disclosed the source of the mix-up: It was The Sporting News‘s box score of the August 3 game at Cleveland. (Sporting Life had dropped box scores by this time.) The Philadelphia half of TSN’s box has “Morgan, 2b,” while on the same line in Cleveland’s half is “Gandil, lb.”

Careful examination reveals the Morgan/Gandil type slug was a correction line that the printer inserted in the wrong place. It was intended for the Washington-at-Cleveland box score of the previous day (August 2) in which the Senators’ second baseman, Harry Morgan, appeared on the same line as Chick Gandil and contained the identical AB-H-PO-A-E figures given for each player in the misaligned August 2 line.

This explanation may well leave you, the reader, with several questions, to wit: (1) Who did play third for the A’s that day, and was he properly credited in the official records? (2) Why did the encyclopedia compilers show Morgan as a third baseman instead of a second baseman? (3) How did they come up with “John P.” for the impostor’s name?

The answers are: (1) Lee McElwee and, yes, he was credited with this game; (2) because veteran Nap Lajoie played the entire game at his usual second base position for the A’s, the researcher who made this “discovery” apparently assumed it should have read “Morgan, 3b” rather than “2b”; (3) an infielder named John P. Morgan was active in the minor leagues that season, and the encyclopedia editors probably figured the A’s had given him a trial. Numerous other phantoms were similarly tagged with the first names of then-current minor leaguers.

Fred Carisch

Fred Carisch

Typos involving misspelled names led to a number of one-game phantoms. Two examples will serve to demonstrate the point [see table below for a full listing]. They are John H. Carlock (1912, Cleveland) and a player listed simply as Deniens (no first name given) with the 1914 Chicago Federals. Sporting Life had “Carlock, ph” for Cleveland in an August 24, 1912, game at Boston, but Cleveland newspapers and The Sporting News reported the pinch-hitter was Fred Carisch, a reserve catcher with the Indians. Official AL records also credit Carisch with that appearance. “Deniens, c” turned out to be Clem Clemens, a catcher in thirteen games with the 1914 ChiFeds. One can readily visualize how handwritten names “Carisch” and “Clemens” could have been misinterpreted by a telegrapher or linotypist for “Carlock” and “Deniens.”

The origins of some other phantoms are more mysterious. Take the case of Lou Proctor. The encyclopedias credited him with one appearance with the 1912 St. Louis Browns. The Sporting News and Sporting Life, which may have obtained their box scores from the same source, show “Proctor, ph” and “Procter, pi,” respectively, in a May 13 game at Boston. However, a Boston newspaper referred to the pinch hitter as Albert “Pete” Compton, an outfielder with the Browns that season (whose real first name was, of all things, Anna). While AL records contain no reference to Proctor, they unfortunately also fail to include the May 13 appearance among Compton’s 103 games. Rumor has it that Proctor was a prankish Western Union telegrapher who inserted his own name as a pinch hitter.

The presence on one team of two players with the same or similar surname can lead to problems. The Washington Senators figured in three such mixups. Ironically, in one instance research by Kermisch has established that a player long labeled a phantom was, in fact, “the real McCoy.” The player in question was Charles C. Conway. In 1911 the Senators had both Conway, a rookie outfielder up from Youngstown (Ohio-Pennsylvania League), and William “Wid” Conroy, veteran infielder-outfielder, on their spring roster. When the season began, Conroy was idled by a stone bruise of the foot. Meantime, Conway appeared in two games during opening week, finishing up in right field on April 15 and starting at that position three days later, before the Senators returned him to Youngstown. Unfortunately, Sporting Life and The Sporting News each showed “Conroy” as the replacement in the first contest, but both had “Conway, rf” in their April 18 box score. Although the early encyclopedias listed Conway and credited him with playing two games, the Macmillan compilers dropped his name 20 years ago [in 1969] on the erroneous premise that it was the veteran Conroy who participated in the April 15-18 games. Actually, Conroy didn’t make the first of his 106 appearances that year until April 27.

An equally confusing puzzle centered on a 1914 Washington pitcher known as Barron or Barton. The early encyclopedias carried both John J. Barron (later changed to Frank John Barron) and Carroll R. “Buck” Barton and credited each with pitching in one game for the ’14 Senators. Actually only one pitcher was involved (and just one appearance), but which pitcher was it? Player contract data of the period reveal that Washington signed Carroll R. Barton in 1913 and retained rights to him while he pitched for Newport News (Virginia League) that season and again in 1914. During the same two years John J. Barron was pitching in the New England League. To complicate matters further, Washington signed Frank J. Barron in 1914 and shipped him to Newport News, where he became a teammate of Barton. While Barron posted a dismal 1-3 record, Barton was a 16-game winner that year.

Charles C. Conway, Washington 1911

Charles C. Conway, Washington 1911

So who was the 1914 Washington pitcher? The American League player records contain an entry headed “Barron” with data for an August 18 game, and box scores of the contest likewise have “Barron” pitching one inning–the ninth–for the Senators against the visiting St. Louis Browns. The player’s correct identity was confirmed when, shortly before his death in 1964, Frank Barron disclosed in an interview that while still studying for his law degree at West Virginia University he was signed by Clark Griffith in 1914, was assigned to Newport News and later pitched one inning for Washington before resuming his law studies.

The third Washington mix-up relates to a 1944 player identified in the encyclopedias as Armando Viera Valdes. Official AL records contain a sheet for Armand (without the final “o”) Valdes and note that he made a pinch-hitting appearance for the Senators in a May 3 game at Boston, but Richard Topp’s research has disclosed that the pinch hitter was Rogelio “Roy” Valdes, a fellow Cuban but no relative of Armando. With many major leaguers lost to military service in 1944, scout Joe Cambria lined up several Cubans to fill voids on the Senators’ roster. Early in the year he signed an outfielder who was listed in the 1944 American League Red Book as Armand (without the “o”) Valdes. Several weeks thereafter–too late for inclusion in the Red Book–Cambria signed Rogelio Valdes, a catcher. Both spent the early weeks of the season with Washington (each was later optioned to Williamsport of the Eastern League), and presumably the official scorer and/or league statistician picked up the incorrect first name from the Senator roster in the AL Red Book.

As in the case of Charles Conway, another player once regarded as a phantom has turned out to be a legitimate athlete after all. The Turkin-Thompson tomes listed him as William Krouse, a second baseman in one game with Cincinnati in 1901. Compilers of the Macmillan encyclopedia decided he was an impostor and dropped him, crediting his appearance to Bill Fox, the Reds’ regular keystoner. However, research has revealed that the “Krouse, 2b” for Cincinnati in the July 27, 1901 game at Chicago was a recently released minor leaguer whose correct name was Charles “Famous” Krause. Krause, who was on his way home to Detroit at the time, was given a chance with the Reds because Fox was sidelined with a split finger, but the newcomer performed so poorly that he was dumped after that one appearance.

Recent research has revealed that one player long listed as a phantom–Ivan Bigler, who was shown in one box score at first base with the 1917 St. Louis Browns when George Sisler actually played there that day–really did make an appearance with the Browns as a pinch runner on May 6 that season, and thus he’s been restored to the all-time list of major leaguers.

The accompanying table lists the phantoms who have been eliminated from the all-time roster of major league players since the first Turkin/Thompson Official Encyclopedia of 1951. In the absence of an official clearinghouse for such data, no claim is made that the list is complete. Where it is available, brief information on the reason for the deletion of the player is given. Unfortunately, documentation by Turkin/Thompson and the ICI group that
compiled the 1969 Baseball Encyclopedia disappeared years ago.

With today’s sophisticated technology and record-keeping procedures, the margin for error in the identification of players–and in the official statistics–has been reduced considerably. Still, a slipup that occurred in the 1984 official American League averages (Alvaro Espinoza was omitted completely, even though he appeared in one game with Minnesota) emphasizes that mistakes still are possible.

A factor that poses the potential for error is the increasing frequency in recent years of teams having two or more players with an identical surname–and who often perform at the same position. In 1992 and 1993, for instance, the Los Angeles pitching staff included brothers Ramon and Pedro J. Martinez as well as Kip and Kevin Gross, who are not related. Meantime, San Diego unveiled pitcher Pedro A. Martinez in ’93. Following that season, the Dodgers swapped Pedro J. Martinez to Montreal, where he succeeded another Martinez–Dennis–on the Expos’ pitching staff when the latter signed with Cleveland as a free agent. But lo and behold, the situation was further muddied in 1994 when San Diego added a second pitching Martinez–Jose. This meant there were five Martinezes pitching in the majors at the same time, including Pedro J. with Montreal and Pedro A. with San Diego.

Besides the Dodgers, four other teams had a pair of pitchers of the same surname in 1993. They were: Houston–Todd and Doug Jones; Philadelphia–Mitch and Mike Williams; Cleveland–Matt and Curt Young; and San Diego–Gene and Greg W. Harris (not to be confused with Boston pitcher Greg A. Harris). In addition, Philadelphia also had Tommy Greene and Tyler Green on its staff at one point.

To add to the confusion, the Phillies swapped relief ace Mitch Williams to Houston after the ’93 World Series, and he teamed on the Astros’ mound corps briefly in 1994 with Brian Williams. The ’94 season also found several other teams fielding players with the identical surname who played the same position. The most confusing situation involved Baltimore. At one time or another the Orioles had three outfielders named Smith–Lonnie, Mark, and Dwight–as well as relief ace Lee Smith. An early-season Atlanta-Cincinnati trade sent Roberto Kelly to the Braves, where he joined Mike Kelly, likewise an outfielder, while Deion Sanders went to the Reds and teamed in the outfield with Reggie Sanders. Other 1993-94 teammates sharing a common surname and position included Bernie and Gerald Williams, outfielders with the New York Yankees, and infielders Edgar and Tino Martinez of Seattle, who normally man third base and first base, respectively, but on occasion in the past performed at the opposite corner.

Couple these potential mixups with the typographical errors that still show up in newspaper box scores, and you can see that the days of “garbage in, garbage out” are likely to continue.

Tabulation of Phantoms

Allen, Robert. 1919 Philadelphia AL, 9 games as OF. Pseudonym used by Alvah C. “Rowdy” Elliott, long-time minor leaguer.

Baldwin, —-. 1907 Boston NL, 1 game as C. One of James C. Ball’s 10 games.

Barton, Carroll R. 1914 Washington AL, 1 game as P. Same as game credited to Frank J. Barron.

Boylan, —-. 1887 Philadelphia NL, 1 game as 2B. One of Charles J. Bastian’s 60 games.

Carlock, John H. 1912 Cleveland AL, 1 game as PH. Typographical error; one of Frederick B. Carisch’s 25 games.

Christman, H.B. 1888 Kansas City AA, 1 game as C. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

Collins, Frank. 1892 St. Louis NL, 1 game as OF. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

Costello, J.A. 1912 Cleveland AL, 1 game as OF. One of 11 games played by Kenneth L. Nash, who used pseudonym in debut.

Davis, Thomas J. 1890 Cleveland NL, 1 game as OF. One of George Stacey Davis’ 136 games.

Davis, —-. 1903 Chicago NL, 1 game as OF. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

Deniens, —-. 1914 Chicago FL, 1 game as C. Typographical error; one of Clement L. Clemens’ 13 games.

Drennan, K. John. 1904 Detroit AL, 1 game as 1B. Typographical error; one of
William “Wild Bill” Donovan’s 46 games.

Dresser, Edward. 1898 Brooklyn NL, 1 game as SS. Typographical error; one of Jack Dunn’s 51 games.

Dugan, E. 1884 Kansas City UA, 3 games as OF. Same player as William H. Dugan, who played 9 games with Richmond AA the same year.

Gray, William. 1903 Pittsburgh NL, 2 games as OF. One game belongs to Romer C. Grey; other game belongs to Ernest G. Diehl.

Kerns, Daniel P. 1920 Philadelphia AL, 1 game as PH. Pseudonym used by Edward “Ted” Kearns, later a 1B with 1924-25 Chicago NL.

King, Frederick. 1901 Milwaukee AL, 1 game as C. Game belongs to John A. Butler, later with St. Louis and Brooklyn NL, who used pseudonym in debut.

Lane, —-. 1901 Boston NL, 1 game as 3B. Typographical error; one of Bobby Lowe’s 129 games.

Mares, —-. 1894 Louisville NL, 1 games as OF. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

McCauley, William. 1884 St. Louis AA, 1 game as C. Game belongs to James A. McCauley, who also played in 1885-1886.

Meddlebrook, —-. 1884 Baltimore UA, 1 game as OF. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

Merson, —-. 1914 Brooklyn FL, 1 game as PH. Typographical error; one of George J. Anderson’s 98 games.

Miller, Bert. 1897 Philadelphia NL, 3 games as 2B. Games belong to Frank A. Miller, formerly listed as Frederick Miller, who also played one game each with Washington NL and St. Louis NL in 1892.

Miller, Henry D. 1892 Chicago NL, 4 games as P. Games belong to Harry DeMiller, who was erroneously listed for 1 game as 3B with 1892 St. Louis

Moore, Guy W. 1922 St. Louis NL, 1 game as OF. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

Morgan, John P. 1916 Philadelphia AL, 1 game as 3B. Typographical error; one of Leland S. McElwee’s 54 games.

Olsen, Albert W. 1943 Boston AL, 1 game as PH. Appearance apparently belongs to either Leon Culberson or Johnny Lazor.

Pratt, Thomas J. 1884 Baltimore AA, 1 game as OF. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

Proctor, Lou. 1912 St. Louis AL, 1 game as PH. Game belongs to Anna S. “Pete” Compton, who played in 103 games that season.

Ritchie, —-. 1910 St. Louis NL, 1 game as PH. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

Schauer, —-. 1890 Columbus AA, 1 game as 1B. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

Seymour, Thomas. 1882 Pittsburgh AA, 1 game as P. Player’s correct name was Jacob Semer.

Sheehan, Timothy. 1884 Washington UA, 1 game as OF. One of seven games belonging to player known as John A. Ryan, whose real name was Daniel Sheehan.

Smith, Charles H. “Pacer.” 1877 Chicago/Cincinnati NL, 34 games as 2B-OF-C. Record belongs to Harry W. Smith, who also played 1 game with 1889 Louisville AA.

Smith, E.J. 1890 Buffalo PL, 1 game as 1B. One of John Irwin’s 77 games.

Strands, Lewis. 1915 Chicago FL, 1 game as 2B. One of John J. Farrell’s 70 games.

Thayer, Edward L. 1876 New York NL, 1 game as 2B. Player’s correct name was George T. Fair.

Turbot, —-. 1902 St. Louis NL, 1 game as OF. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

Valdes, Armando V. 1944 Washington AL, 1 game as PH. Game belongs to a different player, Rogelio “Roy” Valdes.

Young, David. 1895 St. Louis NL, 1 game as 3B. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

A Level Playing Field

Billy Bean

Billy Bean

I am a true believer in the power of baseball to serve as a beacon to the nation and, increasingly, the world. Our game is about equal opportunity whatever the color of one’s skin; an open door for people of differing national origin, and an understanding that everyone, whatever their gender or sexual orientation, will play by the same set of rules. How different from the customs and practices of everyday life!

Today has been a big day for baseball and for America, marking one of those times when baseball has taken a position to lead the nation rather than belatedly follow it. Commissioner Bud Selig announced the creation of a new post, that of “ambassador for inclusion,” for Billy Bean, a former major league outfielder who struggled in his career because of the strain of keeping secret the fact that he was gay. In his new position Bean will provide guidance to support those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community throughout MLB, and will help MLB personnel to deal with this community sensitively and within the structure of the  joint MLB-MLBPA Workplace Code of Conduct.

“Major League Baseball is delighted that Billy, a member of the baseball family, will advise and represent our sport on a wide range of matters,” Selig said. “As a social institution, our game has important social responsibilities. To this day, the vibrant legacy of Jackie Robinson revolves around inclusion, respect and equal opportunity. I believe that Billy will help us proactively cultivate those fundamental principles, and he will serve as a significant resource to our clubs, current and future players and many others throughout our game.”

Selig and Bean were accompanied by Lutha Burke, the sister of the late former Major League outfielder Glenn Burke, whose homosexuality was acknowledged to his teammates on the Los Anglese Dodgers and Oakland As but was not widely own outside those clubhouses.

Jews who came to this country after the Holocaust—I was one, the child of survivors—understood being singled out for unequal treatment, but in this we were by no means alone. While Jews were admitted into Major League Baseball from its inception, African Americans were, with a handful of exceptions, institutionally barred at the door. For Jews, Jackie Robinson’s debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947 served as an indicator of changing American values toward difference. Coming after the horrors of World War II, we Jews embraced Robinson, the Dodgers, and hope for a level playing field for ourselves, too.

Playing baseball, attending games, trading baseball cards, and following the records of favorite players all served as outward affirmations of faith in the idea of America as a new home. My parents never took to baseball and lived their lives as strangers in a strange land, no matter that they were grateful, patriotic Americans for many more years than they had been embattled Europeans.

The parallel trials of Blacks and Jews illuminate the ongoing problem in American society: who is in, who is out, and who gets to decide? The Jewish experience in baseball was different from that of any other minority that sought to elevate its social and economic standing within the majority culture. But so have been the paths of African Americans, Italians, Slavs, Hispanics, and Asians.

Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson

Let me suggest that no path through baseball could have been as lonely, as isolated, as utterly without consensus, as that of gay players. They did not see the game as a way out and a way up; acceptance and inclusion, they may well have thought, were the primary goals. 

As our national game, baseball in no small measure defines us as Americans, connecting us with our countrymen across all barriers of generation, class, race, creed, gender, and sexual orientation. Meritocracy is what we are promised as Americans and—despite societal inequities of long standing, and a widening gap in real income between the top and middle and the bottom—that is more nearly, practically true of our nation than anywhere else in the world. And meritocracy is what characterizes our national game more perfectly than in our nation. Can you play?—today that is the only question asked.

With Branch Rickey, Jackie Robinson had forced America to confront the falsehood that baseball could truly be a national pastime while intentionally excluding anyone. America is a nation of nations, and its emblematic game is enriched by reflecting that truth. Today, baseball took another step toward leveling the field for all its citizens.

The Game within the Game

The Pitcher_cropIn 1987 John Holway and I  published a book titled The Pitcher. It was grandiosely and grotesquely subtitled “The Ultimate Compendium of Pitching Lore: Featuring Flakes and Fruitcakes, Wildmen and Control Artists, Strategies, Deliveries, Statistics, and More.” The book thus appeared to offer a rollicking ride through baseball history, a successor of sorts to my own execrable debut book from 1974, A Century of Baseball Lore. But the current ascendancy of pitching, highlighted wonderfully by Tyler Kepner last week in “Now Pitchers Have the Power,” [http://goo.gl/oklQe7] prompted me to take another look at this tattered old tome–much of it, gratifyingly to me, not half bad. Below, the introductory essay; remember this is from 1987 except for bracketed remarks.

“Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing.” —Warren Spahn

Viewed from the bleachers, baseball can seem child’s play, simple, clear, and sweetly pure of intent. Throw and catch, hit and run—these are things we can do (or once could) and, we may flatter ourselves, not so much worse than those fellows down there. The pitcher slings the ball toward the catcher; the batter swings to intercept it; the fielders, coiled, await the outcome. Broad expanses of green and brown frame the players as they spring into motion at the crack of the bat. The brilliantly white ball soars or bounds where it will, the batter takes his base or is denied it—and inning after inning, game after game, year after year, the ceremony is reenacted. Harmony. Grace. Justice.

Baseball is not really so routine of course, or we would not care about it as intensely as we do. Is there a single action in all of sport more difficult than hitting a pitched ball, or one more intricate than pitching to a batter? What can appear more natural yet be more practiced than catching a fly ball? The beauty of baseball, its sustaining satis­faction, is that it is both simple and com­plex, slow  and  sudden, predictable and surprising—a tangle of paradoxes that, like art, like life, reveals itself only by degrees. The astute fan may weigh the merits of a sacrifice bunt or a steal of third base; after much study he may even solve an age-old enigma; yet the essential mystery of base­ball—what goes on between pitcher and bat­ter—remains forever hidden in plain sight.

The eternal conflict in baseball, pitcher vs. striker. Muller & Deacon statuettes from 1868.

The eternal conflict in baseball, pitcher vs. striker. Muller & Deacon statuettes from 1868.

We enter the national pastime’s labyrinth of deception with the opening words of the official rules: “Baseball is a game between two teams of nine players….” While bas­ketball may be a game of five against five, and football, of eleven against eleven, no part of a baseball game pits nine men against nine. One might as well describe the sport as a free-for-all matching two rosters of twenty-five players each. In fact, baseball is a joint enterprise before the game’s first pitch and after its last one, and at precious few points in between.

As a team game, baseball is an aggregate of individual games played for individual goals. It may be seen as the lonely struggle of one man, the batter,  to overcome nine opponents. Or, if we consider the seven men in the field to be of no concern if the batter cannot first hit the ball, the conflict narrows to one against two, hitter against the bat­tery. But even in this game within the game, the catcher plays a passive role: his wisdom may direct the battery attack, but little that he does with the ball can set the larger game in motion. And so baseball’s conflict tele­scopes further, to the primal combat of pitcher and batter, one against one.

Locked in concentration, the antagonists devise their strategies, ready their weapons, and face each other across the odd distance of 60 feet, 6 inches. The batter is armed with a tapered club, ideally of white ash, up to 42 inches long and of unlimited weight (al­though approximately 2 pounds is the cur­rent standard), with a diameter of 2.75 inches at its widest point. The pitcher grips a cow­hide-covered sphere fashioned from layers of tightly wound woolen yarn, rubber, and at the center, composition cork; it weighs 5.25 ounces and is of a diameter slightly greater than that of the bat. He must apply speed, spin, and guile to the ball while di­recting it over (or tantalizingly close to) a plate 17 inches wide, within a vertical strike zone of 2 to 3.5 feet depending upon the height and stance of the batter and the pre­dilection of the umpire.pitcher with ball modeled on lefty grove_a

A good major-league fastball, traveling 90 miles per hour, will traverse the 55 to 56 feet between the pitcher’s point of release and the heart of home plate in 0.42 seconds. Within the first 0.22 seconds after the ball leaves the hand, the batter must pick up the flight of the pitch, identify it by its rotation, predict its location, and decide whether to swing or not. He will need the remaining 0.20 seconds to stride, rotate his hips, and apply torque to the bat through the muscles at the shoulder, elbow, and wrist. To drive the ball into fair territory, he must meet it within an arc of 15 degrees in front of or behind the point at which the bat is perpen­dicular to the path of the ball—a space of about 2 feet, through which the good major-league fastball will pass in 15 thousandths of a second.

Even if he connects squarely, however, he has little control over where his hit will go. Because both the ball and the bat are round at the point of impact, the batter cannot di­rect and manipulate the ball as golfers or tennis players, with their flat-surfaced clubs and racquets, can. Thus, there exists the phenomenon of the hard-hit out, which any batter will tell you is not compensated for by an equal number of scratch hits; and thus, we define the successful hitter as one who fails only seven times in ten. The major-league pitcher is a formidable foe, so for­midable that only four batters in the 20th century—Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Rogers Hornsby, and Babe Ruth—have ever been his equal, reaching base as often as they were retired, for even a single sea­son. [I will add here that in the 19th century, John McGraw, Hugh Duffy, Ed Delahanty, Joe Kelley, and Billy Hamilton did it; and in the 21st century  Barry Bonds did it four times, with an other-worldly peak of .609 in 2004.]

Pitcher and batter are constantly looking for some key to obtaining momentary ad­vantage. The batter will alter his stance, his location in the box, his grip; the pitcher will change his speeds, his selection of pitches, his delivery. Through this series of adjust­ments, the game within the game stays in traditional balance, with the average major-league hitter batting between .250 and .275 and the average major-league hurler yield­ing 3.50 to 4.00 runs per nine innings. (These norms are a matter of practice, not a product of physical law. The earned run average for all play from 1876-1986 is 3.66, and the batting average is .268.) [At this moment in 2014, the MLB ERA is 3.79 and the BA is .251.]

The Pitcher, by Douglas Tilden, San Francisco, Golden Gate Park

The Pitcher, by Douglas Tilden, San Francisco, Golden Gate Park

But sometimes the combatants’ adjust­ments are not enough to prevent the long struggle from tilting radically in favor of one or the other, as it did for the hitter in 1930 and for the pitcher in 1968. At such mo­ments, just as the fight seems a mortal mis­match and the public outcry is at its greatest, strings are pulled from above the fray and a deus ex machina—in the form of a designated hitter, a redefined strike zone, a livened or deadened ball—restores equilibrium. The owners and rules makers know that the ob­ject of the year-in, year-out competition be­tween pitcher and batter must be, not final victory, but eternal unresolved conflict if the fans are to maintain interest and profits are to be made. These handicappers will pro­vide the balance between offense and de­fense that they imagine the public demands. If the customer clamors for a bushel of .350 hitters, he may have them. More home runs? As many as he would like.

Providing the hitter with an advantage re­quires tinkering with the game, which can be and has been done. But if you want more low-scoring classics, no problem: Just leave the rules and the ball alone for a generation and the .300 hitter will go the way of the dinosaur. Left unfettered, pitching is an ir­resistible force and will prevail. The prog­ress of baseball from a boys’ game of the 1830s to the national pastime and passion of today is the product of, on the one hand, a steady rise in pitching skill, fueled by ad­vances in physiology, training, and tech­nique; and, on the other hand, the repeated restraints placed upon that rise. These shackles permit hitters, dependent as they are on reaction time and electrical impulses to the brain, the chance to reestablish their former efficiency, thus maintaining the soothing illusion that, of all things, baseball, at least, remains the same.

But baseball has changed, and the steady onslaught of pitching has changed it most.


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