Once again we’ve reached the time for the morbid among us to celebrate the passing of some of baseball’s not quite elite. After each election, once we realize that there are certain players who won’t ever receive our vote for the Hall of Miller and Eric, we pay tribute to them through these obituaries.
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.
There were 778 players we considered for the HoME as we began. Five elections in, we’ve elected 29 and put to rest 87 others, as you’ll note by looking over our RIP category and reading below. That leaves us with 662 players for our remaining 180 spots in the HoME. In other words, we can elect just a shade over 27% of the remaining players we’re considering.
And after each election, I’ll offer the following chart to keep you apprised of our progress.
Year Carried New Considered Elected Obituaries Continuing to Over Nominees this Election Next Election 1926 71 25 96 9 18 69 1921 66 27 93 4 18 71 1916 53 31 84 5 13 66 1911 47 20 67 5 9 53 1906 33 28 61 3 11 47 1901 1st election 54 54 3 18 33
Dead in 1926:
Red Ames pitched for 17 seasons and compiled 183 wins in his big league career. On a club that also boasted Christy Mathewson, Ames drew three consecutive Opening Day starts from 1909-1911, and he was masterful. Sort of. In all three, he held the opponent hitless for at least six innings and lost. The toughest of those losses came in 1909 when he went nine no-hit innings and a dozen shutout innings before losing in the thirteenth. What wasn’t tough luck was his wildness in 1905. That season Ames uncorked 30 wild pitches, the most in the game’s history with the mound 60’6” from home plate.
Hal Chase was involved in the game of baseball to make a buck, whether through playing the game, betting on it, or being paid to throw games. But rather than detail the many instances here, I’d rather talk about his defense. Though lauded throughout his career and after for his quickness, aggressiveness, and all-around defensive chops, later analysis of his work suggests otherwise. Both Bill James’ Fielding Win Shares and Michael Humphreys’ Defensive Regression Analysis find Chase to have been quite pedestrian at first. Maybe that’s because, at least according to writer Fred Lieb, “His neatest trick…was to arrive at first base for a throw from another infielder just a split second too late.”
At his best, Eddie Cicotte led the American League in wins in 1917 and 1919. The only pitchers in baseball better than Cicotte during his last four years in the game are all in the Hall of Fame. Cicotte isn’t, and he’s not going. Because he was starting the first game of the 1919 World Series, gamblers knew Eddie Cicotte needed to be part of the fix if it was going to work. And as an indication he was in, the righty hit Reds second baseman Morrie Rath to open the game. Cicotte was no longer an honest man in the game, and he is now on baseball’s permanently ineligible list.
Before there was Babe Ruth, there was Gavvy Cravath. The right fielder who spent most of his career with the Philadelphia Phillies set a 20th century record by hitting 24 home runs in 1915 – a total topped by only three of the other fifteen teams in the league that year. Of course, he wasn’t quite the Babe, as Cravath’s “power” came mostly at his home Baker Bowl in Philadelphia. He hit an astounding 78% of his career home runs there, aided by a fence in right that was just 272 feet away from the plate.
Larry Doyle was a fine player, mostly a second baseman for the New York Giants and a part of their consecutive World Series losers from 1911-1913. He might have had his best season in 1912 when he was the winner of the Chalmers Award, essentially the precursor to today’s Most Valuable Player. With the honor, the winning player was awarded a Chalmers automobile, something Dolye admitted not even knowing how to gas up.
In the first eight seasons of his career, Cy Falkenberg was nothing special. In fact, he was a below average starter, compiling a 68-77 record with just a 93 ERA+. Then for some reason, probably that he wasn’t very good, he was sent to Cleveland’s unofficial minor league team in Toledo for a season. He was pretty awesome in Toledo, perhaps because he learned an emery ball. Basically, this was just a scuffed ball that made a pitch do tricks. In 1913, at age 33, Cy, with his scuff ball, had his best season for the Indians. The next year he bolted to the Federal League where he posted the second best pitching performance in the league’s short, two-year history. After that, age topped scuffing, and Cy was essentially done after the 1915 season.
Noodles Hahn is the only player in baseball history aside from the immortal Lefty Grove to lead the league in strikeouts in each of his first three seasons, which he accomplished for the 1899-1901 Cincinnati Reds. He managed three more seasons with high innings totals, and then like so many other pitchers, his arm fell off. He threw just 119 more innings and was done by age 27. He’s one of over 80 men in the Reds Hall of Fame.
Best known as the long-time Yankee manager who led the 1927 Murderers Row team, Miller Huggins was also a fine player. But were it not for William Howard Taft, he may never have been. Huggins graduated from law school at the University of Cincinnati and was admitted to the bar, but he never practiced because Taft, one of his law professors, suggested that he play baseball instead. Clearly Huggins was a smart man – and a smart player. Before it was cool to draw a walk, he led the league four times and managed a .382 career on base percentage despite a batting average of only .265.
I’m not sure if calling Benny Kauff the “Ty Cobb of the Federal League” was more insulting to Cobb or more indicative that the level of play in the FL was clearly lower than it was in the AL or NL. Kauff was easily the best hitter in the league’s history, leading it in WAR among hitters in both of its seasons by wide margins. Kauff was banned from the game after the 1920 season when he was alleged to have been part of a car theft. He went to trial and was acquitted, but Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis upheld the ban, stating that the trial revealed character questions about Kauff that would hurt the game of baseball. Kauff never played again.
Bobby Mathews has the most wins of any player in baseball history who’s not in the Hall of Fame, 297. That total includes three consecutive seasons of exactly 30 wins for the American Association’s 1883-1885 Philadelphia A’s. It also includes 42 wins for the National Association’s New York Mutuals in 1874. Listed at just 5’5” and 140 pounds, Mathews didn’t look like much of an athlete. Perhaps because of his size he was creative on the mound and as such one of the earliest adopters of both the curveball and spitball.
Disrespectful nicknames continue in this obit installment as we review the times of Native American (Cahuilla) Chief Meyers. In another sign of the times, Meyers and superstar pitcher Christy Mathewson spent the 1910 off-season at Hammerstein’s Victoria Theatre presenting a sketch “Curves”, which basically explained how to play pitcher and catcher. The two later teamed up in a production where Mathewson played a cowboy who rescued a damsel from the Indian, Meyers, by hitting him in the head with a baseball.
Al Orth, like Tim Wakefield years later, took nine starts to reach his 200th victory. Orth finished with 204 to Wake’s 200. And like a bunch of early players, he became an umpire after his playing days ended. I’m not sure he was all that great at his second career. See, umpires are supposed to be objective. And they’re certainly not supposed to hold grudges. But it seems Orth did just that. Four times in three months in 1915 and six times overall, he ejected Brave second baseman Johnny Evers. Al, yooou’re out!
Though he played just 291 games in the majors, Dickey Pearce is one of the game’s most significant figures. He didn’t reach the majors until he was 35 – because the National Association didn’t exist until he was 35. He is credited with establishing the shortstop position and the precursor to the bunt, the fair-foul hit. It’s also possible that he was the first person to be paid to play the game, though that’s not so clear.
Known as “Wildfire” after seeing a play by the same name and giving that name to one of his race horses, Frank Schulte was one of the stars of the 1908 Chicago Cub, the last Cub team to win the World Series. In Chicago’s 4-1 victory over the Detroit Tigers, Schulte was second on the club to Frank Chance in both BA and OBP. In 1911 Schulte won the Chalmers Award, and he also became the first of only four players in the game’s history to compile 20 doubles, triples, homers, and steals in the seam season. Willie Mays, Curtis Granderson, and Jimmy Rollins have matched that feat since.
Jesse Tannehill was a tiny guy at only 5’8” and 150 pounds. In a story relayed by Nathaniel Staley in his Tannehill entry at the SABR Bio Project, we learn again that the truth is stranger than fiction. In 1903 Tannehill was thinking about jumping to the upstart American League, which obviously would have been frowned upon by Pirate management. After a tussle with a teammate during which he dislocated his pitching shoulder, he was taken to a local hospital. Given ether to make it easier to pop his arm back into place, Tannehill became high, I guess. Under anesthesia, he told Pirate owner Barney Dreyfuss of his plan and even outed some teammates who were planning the same. The lesson? Say no to ether.
Terry Turner was mainly a shortstop who couldn’t really hit. So he must have been a great fielder, right? Well, he had more defensive value at third. That’s a bad combo if you’re trying to get into the HoME. Based on his career arc and current discussion of such things, I’d have to say he was juicing in 1906. That season was twice as valuable as any other season he ever had and three times as valuable as all but three. Or maybe he just came into his own that year. And then Turner went on the Hooch.
Grasshopper Jim Whitney had an interesting career, my favorite nugget from which is his dichotomous 1883 season when he led the NL in both fewest BB/9 and in wild pitches. So he either had great control or he didn’t. And for one more statistic about Whitney that doesn’t completely compute, we look toward his rookie season of 1881 for the Boston Red Stockings. When he finished his rookie campaign at 31-33 that season he set a major league record for most wins in a season with a record below .500.
In 1919 Heinie Zimmerman and Hal Chase were banned from baseball for their years of corruption after being indicted on bribery charges. In the wake of the Black Sox scandal, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis was working to clean up the game, and Zimmerman had to go. Two years earlier, in the deciding game of the World Series, he was involved in the infamous Zimmerman’s Chase. In the fourth inning of the tied sixth game, Zimmerman essentially chased Eddie Collins to home plate in a rundown while neither Rube Benton nor Walter Holke covered home plate. This botch wasn’t Zimmerman’s fault.
Rest in peace, all. Please visit our Honorees page to see the plaques of those who have made it into the HoME, and check back here after the 1931 election for more obituaries.