When Eric and I decided to create our HoME, I have to admit to a certain level of naïveté about how difficult this process would be. We started with 778 players and made plans to narrow our list to the best 209 players in history.
In my own methodology article, I suggested that all I had to do was to find the top 27% of the original 778 guys. Sounds simple, right? What I failed to consider is how unwieldy our list would become after just a few elections. We’re looking at 136 players just through election number four. And since no player is ever permanently ineligible from the HoME, no matter how many players we elect, there will still be a ton to sift through each election cycle.
That’s why I feel the need to introduce the HoME obituaries. Each election there will be a number of players who we agree won’t ever receive our vote for the HoME. To pay tribute to them and to make our next round of voting easier, we’re going to remove them from intellectual consideration, though not actual consideration. They’ll receive a brief write-up in this column along with a little trivia about their careers or lives. And after each election, I’ll offer the following chart to keep you apprised of our progress.
The first player from our original list who we’re no longer considering is Mark Baldwin. Known as “Fido”, perhaps because players of his era had to have cool nicknames, and “Baldy” perhaps because nickname creativity started to stagnate as early as the 1880s, Baldwin pitched for five teams in three leagues over a seven-year career that included IP titles and more than 1000 innings 1889 and 1890 alone. A general practitioner after his playing days ended, Brian McKenna’s fascinating article at the SABR Bio Project offers a lot more information.
Larry Corcoran was a tiny man by today’s standards, 5’3” and 127 pounds, or about the size of the shortstop on your local girl’s high school softball team, the JV version. He was also the first man in baseball history to throw both more than one no-hitter and more than two. If you ever want to stump your friends with a trivia question they might find relatively simple at first, ask them to name the five men in baseball history with at least three no-hitters. Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax, Cy Young, and Bob Feller are relatively easy. Corcoran’s a bit tougher.
The curveball was invented by Candy Cummings, at least that’s what his plaque in Cooperstown says. Maybe it was him, or maybe it was Fred Goldsmith. I don’t know. I credit Cummings with making me care about physics while I was in high school. Well, a little.
Conspiring to throw baseball games is a no-no. But that didn’t stop a lot of players in the early days of the game from doing just that. Jim Devlin played only five seasons before he was suspended for life for being in cahoots with gamblers. Before he left the majors, he pitched all but 21 innings for the 1876 Louisville Grays. Though he appealed the suspension every year for the rest of his short life (he died at age 34), he never was reinstated.
If you think there are problems with health care in the United States these days, talk to Charlie Ferguson. In his four years with the Philadelphia Quakers from 1884-1887, he posted 99 wins. Then he fell off the map. Okay, he died. Of typhoid fever. At age 25.
Guy Hecker is half of the answer to one of my favorite questions of all time. Name the two pitchers in baseball history to homer three times in a game. (Jim Tobin is the other). For a bit more trivia, he also joins HoME inductee John Clarkson and ballot-mate Old Hoss Radbourne as the only pitchers in major league history to win 50 games in a season.
Known as “Wild Bill”, ooh, creative, Bill Hutchison (or Hutchinson), didn’t really get started in the bigs until he was 29, and he flamed out not long after throwing nearly 1800 innings over a three-year period from 1890−1892 when he led his Cubs and the NL in wins, games, starts, innings, complete games, and batters faced. Maybe he was the victim of overuse, maybe age, or maybe of the mound moving from 50 feet to 60’6”.
For the Civil War buffs out there, George Kirsch’s 2003 book, Baseball in Blue and Gray, says that Dick McBride was allowed a three-day furlough to play baseball while serving in the Union army in 1864. Is this the type of thing we’d allow today? For a little more perspective on the changing game, his 24 walks in 538 innings for the 1875 Philadelphia A’s led the National Association.
My absolute favorite player on this ballot is Ed Morris. At least he was for a time. Sure, I love the fact he was called “Cannonball”. And I think it’s cool that he played for the Pittsburgh Alleghenys of the American Association, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys of the National League, and the Pittsburgh Burghers of the Players League. But those aren’t the reasons he was my favorite player. A year ago, I’ll admit, I hadn’t heard of Ed Morris. Then he became my favorite player when I was researching someone else with the same surname and found that Ed, not the other guy, had the most career WAR for someone by that name. Of course, the great WAR peace of 2013 put an end to that. So I have a new favorite player…
Toad Ramsey isn’t an amphibian delicacy perfected by a blowhard British chef. Heck, the spelling isn’t even right for that. He’s the guy who invented the knuckleball. Or maybe he’s just the guy whose fingers, mangled by bricklaying, threw something like it. Either way, his seasonal wins might just show us something about 19th century hurlers – 3, 38, 37, 8, 4, 23. Then he was done by the time he was 26 years old.
Our final pitcher to miss the cut is Will White, brother of HoME inductee Deacon. Of note, White is the first major league player to wear eyeglasses while playing, about three-quarters of a century before Eddie Rommel became the first umpire to do so.
Moving on to our, um, dead hitters, we first reject John Clapp. Honest John was probably a better man than a player. As the story goes, he was approached by gamblers in May of 1881 when he was playing for the Cleveland Blues and encouraged by an offer of $5000 to help throw games. Rather than abet, he turned in the would-be fixer, James S. Woodruff, who was later arrested.
I often think of Charlie Comiskey, the cheap, one-time owner of the Chicago White Sox whose stinginess, as the story is told, motivated some of his 1919 “Black Sox” to get involved with gamblers and throw the World Series, as one of the scoundrels of the game. That’s not really fair. Irv Goldfarb’s piece at the SABR Bio Project is, I think. On a player-related note, Comiskey could be called the father of modern day first base defense. He’s credited with being the first player to play away from the bag to help cut down grounders between first and second base.
Bob Ferguson was one of my favorite players in history when I first learned about him. As the game’s first switch hitter, he’s the answer to a trivia question. And as a guy nicknamed “Death to Flying Things”, he’s also the answer to the question, “Who has the best nickname in the history of everything?” Little did I know at the time I first learned about him that he was a slick fielding third baseman, not a slick fielding center fielder, as his name suggested to me. In any case, they should have called him “The Conservationist” when he moved to second. He couldn’t field worth a lick there.
As the last position player who didn’t think a glove was so necessary, Jerry Denny may have been the Bob Montgomery of the 19th century. It’s also fun to note that he was a Gray, a Maroon, a Hoosier, a Spider, and a Colonel.
If there were no Davy Force, there may be no National League today. In The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, James explains that after the 1874 season, Force signed to play with both Chicago and Philadelphia of the National Association. That’s right. He signed contracts to play with both teams. He was first awarded to the White Stockings after a hearing with the NA’s Judiciary Committee. Later, that decision was reversed, and he was awarded to the Athletics. The financial backer of the Chicago team, William Hulbert, James explains, was livid. Hulbert wanted more protection for the owners, and in 1876, the National Association was gone, the National League was formed, and Davy became a force in the NL. Well, not really. He did hit the only home run of his career for the NL’s Buffalo Bisons in 1882 though.
It can be argued, I suppose, that Tip O’Neill had one of the best seasons in the history of baseball in 1887. Playing for the St. Louis Browns, he led the American Association that season in BA, OBP, SLG, R, H, 2B, 3B, HR, and RBI. Of course, he was seventh, behind six pitchers, in WAR. O’Neill’s name will always be remembered in his home of Canada where an annual award is presented in his name. The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum tells us that it is “presented annually to the Canadian player judged to have excelled in individual achievement and team contribution while adhering to baseball’s highest ideals.” Larry Walker won the award nine times.
Our final obit this year is written for Tom York, the first ever manager of the Providence Grays. An outstanding defender in left field according to Michael Humphries, York regressed as he aged. Don’t we all? Perhaps the Fred Lynn or Adam Dunn of his time, at least in terms of consecutive one-year totals, York hit exactly seven triples every year from 1873-1877 as well as three other times during his career. I know. As players go, York wasn’t too interesting.
That’s all for now. Please visit our Honorees page to see the plaques of those who have made it into the HoME, and check back here after the 1906 election for more obituaries.