After each election, once we realize that there are certain players who will never receive our vote for the Hall of Miller and Eric, we pay tribute to them through these obituaries. We remove them from intellectual consideration, though not actual consideration so that our process going forward is a bit easier. Their tribute is a brief write-up in this column along with a little trivia about their careers or lives.
There were 733 players we considered for the HoME as we began. With eleven elections complete, we’ve elected 61 and put to rest 161 others, as you’ll note by looking over our RIP category and reading below. That leaves us with 511 players for our remaining 157 spots in the HoME. In other words, we can elect a smidgen less than 29% 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 Over Nominees this to Next Election Election 1951 93 27 120 9 20 91 1946 94 26 120 8 19 93 1941 82 29 111 5 12 94 1936 75 29 104 8 14 82 1931 69 17 86 2 9 75 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 1951
For just one data point on how great scouts are or are not, Johnny Allen was a hotel bellhop who met New York Yankee scout Paul Krichell while at the hotel. Allen asked for a tryout and got one. The rest, as they say, is forgotten history. Allen pitched in the bigs from 1932-1944, won 20 games in 1936 and made his only All-Star team in 1938. His 15-1 mark in between those two seasons was a record of sorts that stood until Elroy Face went 18-1 in 1959.
Dick Bartell was a National League shortstop whose aggressive style of play sat well with few opponents. And he was a hated man in Brooklyn. Whether it was spiking Joe Judge and Lonny Frey or brawling with Van Lingle Mungo, Bartell gave them reason to hate him. The story of the Mungo fight, as it’s told, says a lot about the state of the game in 1936. Mungo knocked Bartell down. Bartell bunted down to first base hoping to start an altercation. Unfortunately, the first baseman handled the bunt unassisted. Fortunately, Mungo hip checked Bartell as he ran to first and the fight was on.
The only player in major league history to die after being hit by a pitch, Ray Chapman was a shortstop for the Indians from 1912 until the day that Carl Mays hit him with that fateful offering in 1920. The incident, of course, helped to bring about a critical rule change in the game. No, batting helmets weren’t adopted. It was a full quarter of a century before anything like that happened. Rather, baseball banned the spitball. Except for one guy on every team. You know, for safety. In terms of the record books, Chapman set the single-season mark with 67 sacrifice hits in 1917, and he is sixth on the all-time list.
As we move through our HoME elections, you’d like to think society progressed as well. About that progression, I have to wonder. Harlond Clift, a third baseman who played a dozen years for the Browns and Senators, was known as “Darkie,” possibly because teammate Alan Strange believed his first name to be “Harlem.” Clift might have been baseball’s best 3B from 1934-1941. But that was a down time for the hot corner – trailing him were Stan Hack, Billy Werber, and Red Rolfe. Also, Clift had the mumps, which was a more common thing than we might imagine today before 1967.
Curt Davis won 158 games over a 13-year career in the majors that didn’t start until he was 30. He made a couple of All-Star teams in his career, and his 22-16 performance in 1939 placed him fifth in the MVP race. He opened the 1941 World Series presumably as the Dodger ace, as the Dodgers hadn’t had a game they needed to win in the previous six days. Davis didn’t deliver. The Yankees got to him for single runs in the second, fourth, and sixth, including a Joe Gordon homer. Davis was pulled in the sixth and didn’t pitch to another batter in his postseason career.
Big brothers always win. Rick Ferrell was a catcher and is in the Hall of Fame for all of his greatness. Baby brother Wes was a pitcher, and a very good one. Plus, he was a better hitter than his big brother. Yet, Wes isn’t in the Hall. In Rick’s defense, he had caught more games than any catcher in AL history at the time he retired. Plus, he was named to eight All-Star teams, despite putting in a few years before the first such game was played. As testimony to how he was perceived in his time, he caught all nine innings of the first All-Star game, while Bill Dickey and Mickey Cochrane watched from the bench.
Everything is relative, right? Freddie Fitzsimmons, who won 217 for the Giants and Dodgers from 1925-1943, was known at “Fat Freddie.” Freddie is listed at 5’11” and 185 pounds. According to the CDC, the average height for an American male today is just over 5’9”, and the average weight is over 195 pounds. So “Fat Freddie” might be known as “Flaco Freddie” today.
Lefty Gomez has tremendous baseball credibility. He was basically a career Yankee who reached the Hall of Fame in 1972. His winning percentage of .649 ranks him #16 among retired starters who were regulars on the mound for at least a decade. Among lefties, he trails only Whitey Ford, Lefty Grove, Sandy Koufax, and Ron Guidry. Plus, he started the inaugural All-Star Game and garnered three wins in the mid-summer classic. But the truth is that he wasn’t that great. He was very much a product of his teams and teammates. In terms of career WAR, he’s tied with Lonnie Smith and just a shade ahead of Howard Ehmke.
Charley Jones was the National League’s all-time leader in home runs when the league opened the 1880s. And he was the first player ever to homer twice in an inning. Jones might have been able to build a better HoME case had he not been blacklisted during the 1881 and 1882 seasons for refusing to play. If Jones is to be believed, he refused to play because his Boston Red Stockings hadn’t paid him. The jury didn’t believe him, apparently.
If your name is Rabbit Maranville, I think you should be fast. Ranking #17 in career triples suggests that Maranville was. Ranking #170 in career steals suggests something else. What’s clear is that he was a below average hitter over the course of his career. His putrid ERA+ of 82 indicates that he was 18% below league average at the plate. Of course, he’s in the Hall of Fame because of a spectacular glove at shortstop, a glove so respected that he received MVP votes on six occasions, including second and third place finishes in 1914 and 1913 respectively.
Buddy Myer was a second baseman for the Senators and Red Sox from 1925-1941. In 1935, he and Ben Chapman, who was killed by a Carl Mays pitch more than a decade later, took part in one of the most incredible brawls baseball has ever seen. There are at least two reasons the brawl was unbelievable – the scope and part of its genesis. The brawl went on for 20 minutes, and it is said to have included 300 fans. If that weren’t enough, some say that part of the reason for the brawl is that anti-Semitic epithets were launched by Chapman at Myer. Of course, at least according to Bill James, Myer said that he wasn’t Jewish, but German.
Roger Peckinpaugh won the 1925 American League MVP Award. And as much as some of us complain about the state of MVP voting and the like today, it was far worse in 1925. Peckinpaugh totaled 2.54 WAR that season. Of the 29 men who received MVP votes, he was actually more valuable than only eight of them. If we just look at players on his Washington Senators team, he was less valuable than Goose Goslin, Stan Coveleski, Walter Johnson, Sam Rice, Dutch Ruether, Joe Harris, Joe Judge, and Muddy Ruel. The man who the writers called the best in the AL was probably only the ninth best on his own team.
I don’t know what would make someone choose to race a horse – not on one – against one. Apparently Lip Pike had such a desire. And in 1873, he beat a horse in a 100 yard race. What kind of horse are we talking about here? I don’t think Secretariat would go down easily. Glue Boy, on the other hand, would lose to Lip Pike or just about anyone else. In this case, Pike bested Clarence and was said to have earned $250 for the victory. Now I know why someone would race a horse.
Charlie Root will be forever remembered as the man who surrendered Babe Ruth’s called shot in the third game of the Yankee/Cub World Series of 1932. Root always objected to the assertion that Ruth called his shot, but let’s face it, the narrative that he did is just glorious. Root was actually a decent enough pitcher, winning 201 games for the Cubs, including an NL leading 26 in 1927. In fact, in the long and storied history of the franchise – one that included the likes of Three Finger Brown, Fergie Jenkins, and Greg Maddux – not a single Cubs pitcher has won as many as Root.
Better known for co-founding A.G. Spalding Sporting Goods, Al Spalding was also an outstanding player in baseball’s early days. He was the dominant pitcher in National Association history, leading the league in wins every year of its existence. For good measure, he also led the National League in its first season. Then he started just one more game before his retirement. One of the reasons his sporting goods company took off is that in the official rules of the game that he published, he mandated that only Spalding baseballs could be used.
When he started in the American Association Jack Stivetts was really good. Then he moved to the more challenging National League, and was less good. Then the mound moved on him, and he was even less good. For a pitcher, he was a heck of a hitter tough. The seven home runs he hit in 1890 remained the top mark in baseball history until Wes Ferrell smacked nine in 1931.
Just for some perspective, there have been only 18,174 players ever to make it to the majors. In this study, we’re looking at fewer than 800 of them. What I mean to say is that reaching the majors is really difficult and that getting onto our list is even harder than that. Does it matter that Lloyd Waner has been killed off in this process? Well, sure. But even though the Hall really messed up by electing him, Waner totaled 2459 major league hits and is still probably one of the 800 or so best players ever to suit ‘em up. That’s not bad.
Lon Warneke has one of my all-time favorite nicknames, “The Arkansas Hummingbird”. If you’re wondering, he was from Arkansas, and I’m guessing he threw hard. For fun trivia, he has the first triple in All-Star history, and he scored the NL’s first ever run in the mid-season classic. His best season was 1932, when he led the NL with 22 wins. His proudest and his most disappointing season may have been 1935. His Cubs went to the World Series, where he pitched them to two complete game wins, including a shutout in the opener. However, pitching in relief in the third game, Warneke gave up a couple of runs. Had he not, they would have won that game and perhaps the Series that the Tigers took in six games.
Earl Whitehill, at least according to Time magazine, might have had nearly as much to do with the aforementioned Myer/Chapman brawl as Myer or Chapman. They wrote that Whitehill called Myer a “bad name” helping to fan the flames. Also notably, he once knocked Lou Gehrig unconscious with a pitch as the Iron Horse approached Everett Scott’s consecutive games played streak. This event and others like it has led to speculation that concussions, perhaps, led to the ALS that killed Gehrig. Also, Whitehill was a decent pitcher – 218 wins and double figures every season from 1924 through 1936.
Before anyone knew what a 30/30 player was, Ken Williams became baseball’s first player with 30 homers and 30 steals in a season when he smacked 39 and stole 37 in 1922, a season when he led the AL in HR, RBI, TB, and less positively, CS. In fact, only Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and Alfonso Soriano have had individual seasons where they’ve topped Williams in both HR and SB. He was a powerful hitter whose full-time play didn’t begin until age 30, but from age 30-35, he was more valuable than any hitter in the game but Hornsby, Ruth, Speaker, Heilmann, Collins, and Cobb. Pretty good company. Had he been able to sustain that excellence, a place in the HoME might have been his.