We’re back with our latest Negro Leagues electoral news! This time around it’s our lone Negro Leagues manager slot. To be clear, it’s possible we’re actually electing the second best manager in Negro Leagues history. Rube Foster, whom we already snagged, has a strong argument as the top skipper. Of course, he’s also the best executive/pioneer candidate! But for today’s purpose we’re not going to worry about Foster since he’s already got his plaque.
So let’s set the table for today’s election. After Foster there are only three other realistic candidates who combine success, career length, and championships, the stuff that makes managers worth selecting. Those men are Vic Harris, Lazaro Salazar, and Candy Jim Taylor. Let’s run a table, as we’re wont to do. This chart represents the data we have through October of 2019. If you’re reading thereafter, the numbers might be a little different. In addition, some data comes from other published sources as well. We’ll toss Foster in there too just for comparison.
NAME G W L T PCT PENNANTS* WS APP WS WIN ----------------------------------------------------------------------- Rube Foster 1141 711 431 32 .623 3 0 0 Vic Harris 849 533 289 22 .647 5 2 1 Lazaro Salazar 2011 1126 885 0 .560 11 0 0 Candy Jim Taylor 1736 858 897 27 .489 0 3 2 *In many cases, these men managed in leagues that didn't have a World/Championship Series
Foster was the mastermind behind the Chicago American Giants. Like John McGraw and Frank Chance, he made his name by being a taskmaster who drilled his charges incessantly in fundamentals. Obviously it paid off. His career isn’t terribly long, but remember, he stopped managing in the 1920s to form and run the Negro National League. It’s a very strong record.
Next up Vic Harris. He steered the helm for the great Homestead Grays from 1936 through 1948. With stars Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard forming the heart of the order, Harris skippered the team to seven top finishes in the Negro National League with an otherworldly .647 percentage.
Lazaro Salazar is a little different ball of wax. He never managed in the Negro Leagues proper. Instead, he managed a lot of Negro Leagues players in Venezuela, Cuba, and Mexico in both winter and summer leagues. He led 29 teams in total from 1937 until his death in 1957 at 44 years old.
Finally, Candy Jim Taylor was a manager’s manager and often considered the finest baseball man in the game after Foster’s departure from the dugout. He lasted forever leading teams for thirty-seven years and nabbing two World Series wins. He managed his share of dogs, too, and we are missing his 1926 and 1927 teams from the database altogether. It’s possible his St Louis Stars could have been good enough in those years to draw him to or close to .500.
What’s a Hall of Miller and Eric elector to do?
Well, it’s time to welcome our newest member of the HoME. Put your hands together for Lazaro Salazar!
What led us to Salazar? Let’s first tell you what led us away from Harris and Taylor to put our decision into perspective.
The truth about Harris seems a bit elusive. Credit for the Grays’ dynasty is usually put at the feet of owner Cum Posey who wooed and ultimately signed (and retained) the great talents that drove his ball clubs. There’s little in the oral histories to support Harris’ role in guiding these teams. Gibson and Leonard were both on the team before he arrived, and it’s unknown what he did that helped retain their services. And, anyway, managing Gibson and Leonard to pennants doesn’t exactly sound like too difficult a task, does it?
In Taylor’s case, the many, many seasons of mediocrity weigh against Candy Jim’s candidacy. Actually he’s a little like Bruce Bochy when you look at it, though Bochy’s got more goodies than Taylor.
Then we looked at Salazar. Despite an OK winning percentage, we know from Jim Riley’s book and other sources that it was Salazar himself who lured the players to many if not all of his teams. And he won eleven freaking pennants! There simply were no World Series-type events for him to win in those leagues. But there’s another factor in play. Lazaro Salazar is a borderline HoME player. He’s an outstanding batter-fielder as well as a decent pitcher. Neither Harris nor Taylor’s playing careers could be described as better than good. So the combination of a strong managerial record and a strong player record felt irresistible to us.
Congratulations to Lazaro Salazar!
Keep watching this space in the future for our pioneer/executive Negro Leagues elections.
So we’ve elected our 29 Negro Leagues players, and there were a handful of surprises on the commission and omission side. We’ve already discussed fellows like Hurley McNair, Roosevelt Davis, Webster McDonald, and Marvin Williams. Today we’ll talk about some household names that we didn’t elect so that you understand our thinking.
Before we get to that, let’s remember that we’re still in the midst of the process of data reconstruction (thanks to the good folks behind the Negro Leagues Database). And we reserve the right to change our mind about any of our honorees should slip or another candidate roar into view as more information becomes available. With that disclaimer, let’s talk turkey, but not Turkey Stearnes. He’s in, and there’s no doubt about him.
Cool Papa Bell
Most of Bell’s career is documented. Everything but 1926 and 1927. We know what he was, and unfortunately for him, it’s not enough and even if the two missing seasons turned out really strong might not make have a shot. One problem: Bell played a below average centerfield. That doesn’t help. Another problem: Bell could hit and did rack up value with the bat, however, his batting was not elite. You might have heard from us that his legendary baserunning may not match up to the stats we have, but he still comes out as a strong runner. It’s just not enough. His case feels a little like Johnny Damon in that both had lengthy careers in centerfield and had the skills to nab three thousand hits if the dice had fallen right.
There’s a comparison to be made here between Brown and Early Wynn. Both of them threw a lot of innings with results a little above average. Both could really hit and picked up a lot of value that way. Both are borderline options to fill out a Hall. It wouldn’t destroy me if we decided to dump Early Wynn from the Hall of Miller and Eric (though there’s others to pick on first). Similarly, I don’t feel too bad about not including Brown. Brown’s statistics suggest that he rode his teammates and a rubber arm to stardom then pitched forever. Brown completed 142 of the 162 starts the NLDB has on file. Not bad. He pitched in the US through his age-37 season then tacked on several years in Mexico and the independent minors thereafter. A lot his value is in the bulk because he doesn’t have a strong peak at all, and that doesn’t inspire confidence. What does inspire confidence in our decision is that virtually all of Brown’s seasons are documented, and those that aren’t are very, very late in his career.
I suspect that if we ever get Brown’s winterball stats, our estimate of him may improve. He completely dominated the Puerto Rican Winter League, even setting the island’s home run record. But we don’t have it now, and Brown has too many mediocre years on the back side of 30 to stack up the kind of value he needs. His peak isn’t all that high anyway, so he really could use every win he can get. We are missing a couple seasons around 1950 when he played in the independent minors, but I find it hard to believe that we’ll ever get complete information on those seasons. Otherwise, there’s not much surprise left in his profile.
This one’s pretty easy. The Hall of Famer and longtime KC Monarchs lefty just doesn’t have the goods. Probably wouldn’t matter where and for whom he pitched, he’d be number two/three in the sense we understand modern rotations. Not an innings muncher by any means, Cooper was a good pitcher, and that’s where his case stops. The Hall of Merit got it right when they passed on him.
Dandridge’s Hall of Fame plaque gives him cache. His lack of a Hall of Merit plaque dims his star a bit. Ultimately, we came down on the HOM’s side. Oddly, the reason we did turned out to be his glove. Dandridge is a good hitter, and we think he likely had positive baserunning value, maybe more than a little. But his glove is a disappointment. Oh, it’s very good, but comparisons to Brooks Robinson seem overblown. So, like Willie Foster, below, Dandridge ends up as a tweener. His bat isn’t strong enough to carry the day, but his glove isn’t great enough to compensate for his bat. He probably needs another 50 or so runs of defense to be in the mix for a Hall of Miller and Eric bronzing. As things stand, however, we likely have all the defensive information about him that we’ll get. He’s very well documented overall, but we have no fielding data for his Mexican seasons (about half his career), and among his nine Negro Leagues seasons, we have fielding data for all but two. Right now, he’s a +12 fielder in the NLDB in 173 Negro Leagues games. That’s really good, but not quite good enough once we translate it into BBREF’s rField, which has a smaller spread than does DRA (which the NLDB is denominated in). So unless he has two otherworldly fielding seasons come to light, he won’t gain ground relative to the field.
As we’ve written before, Leon Day had a very short effective career. Also despite some glitzy seeming superficial numbers, he simply doesn’t have a big peak. Overall, he’s not a strong candidate at all, and his inclusion in the Hall of Fame makes little sense when Dick Redding is on the outside.
Probably the most surprising nay for us is legendary lefty Willie Foster. Unfortunately for Rube Foster’s half-brother, the facts don’t match the legend so far. That’s not to say that Foster’s numbers aren’t good or even very good, but rather that it wasn’t difficult to say no. True we are missing some of his prime seasons, but his 1929 NNL season dropped this week on the NLDB, and…nothing. It’s more of the same: Good not great. Foster appears to get dinged in a few unexpected places. For one, he pitched much of his career in one of the Negro Leagues’ most oppressive ballparks for batters. For another, he often pitched in front of strong defenses. These types of subtleties were lost on baseball men until the 2000s, and Foster hasn’t thrown a pitch in league play since before Lou Gehrig retired. For a third, he only lasted until age 33, so his career was somewhat short, so he didn’t have the chance to rack up the extra career value he’d need to compete with candidates whose peaks are similar to his. Ultimately, so far, he appears to be a tweener. Unlike Jose Mendez He doesn’t have enough peak to make up for his merely good career value. Similarly he doesn’t have enough career value to make up for his merely good peak. The book is still open, but it’s starting to close. With 1929 coming out as good, not great, only the 1926, 1927, 1930, and 1932 seasons remain undocumented in the NLDB. Unless he really went crazy in those years, he’s unlikely to gain any traction. By the way, his anemic bat doesn’t help much.
The Leon Day among batters. To be fair to Julius, his numbers have consistently improved as more of his career has become known in the NLDB. He’s still far from consideration for election.
Good news, bad news. Good news is that Oms’ career is almost completely documented, at least in terms of his play in the US Negro Leagues. Some seasons represent only a handful of games, but we have something for each year. Bad news is that his career is almost completely documented, so there’s probably not much opportunity for him to improve his standing as more data rolls out. He’s another tweener. Decent bulk, lowish peak, not enough of either.
Smith has some eye-popping ERA+es, and he has a few clinkers too. He pitched for the best franchise in the Negro American League, and his relatively low percentage of unearned runs demonstrates that his defenses were pretty good, relatively speaking. And the Monarchs played in a decent pitchers park. That’s the behind-the-scenes stuff. Maybe more important, we basically have no information about his work from 1932 through 1937 when he suddenly threw 150 innings in league competition with a 225 ERA+. I understand that the NLDB guys are working on the 1932 Negro Southern League, where Smith debuted. That’ll help a little bit. Probably not enough to push him a lot higher, but let’s wait and see. He could hit, and that helps, but even so, he looks a bit like Willie Foster in terms of peak and value.
Like most everyone else, his 1926 and 1927 seasons are out there, waiting to be added to the NLDB at some point in the future. In the meantime, Mule showed surprisingly good fielding for a slugger, but he gets crushed by the positional adjustment at first base and left field. His hitting is very good but not elite like Charleston or Stearnes who don’t also suffer the positional penalty. He’s a good enough candidate, however, that his 1926 and 1927 sesaons might tip the balance in his favor. If not, he stays on the outside.
The Eddie Murray of the Negro Leagues. He turned in good seasons like clockwork. But unlike Murray he rarely turned in a great season. That’s a problem when you have to fight off the first base positional penalty. If only he’d been a great manager, we might have a slot for him as a combo candidate for our single skipper slot. Well, not so much. He had a .411 winning percentage. Blech.
Got questions about a player we haven’t covered here? Ask away, and we’ll answer them in the comments section.
Meanwhile, keep watching this space. We’ll be electing a managerial candidate plus five pioneer/executives soon. And maybe we’ll end up reversing one of our electoral decisions and taking one of these guys or perhaps some else instead.
At last, we’ve made it. Our twenty-ninth and final election for Negro Leagues players at the Hall of Miller and Eric. Of course, we chose twenty-nine because that’s the number of Negro Leagues players in the Hall of Fame. We feel a mixture of confidence in how we arrived at these selections and a little unconfident because there’s so much still to learn about even the most well-documented players. So today, let’s welcome our final player selection, Hurley McNair.
Wait, who? Not that guy? Or that guy? Or that other guy with more name recognition?
We had a lot of guys we could have chosen here, both pitchers and hitters. We’ll probably talk more about them all another time. But Hurley McNair is another fellow who has snuck up on us. The more data that has gotten revealed, the better he’s looked.
To our eyes, McNair has three items going for him.
But like every candidate at this juncture in our elections, he’s not perfect. Namely, he’s not especially well documented with just an 86 DATA+ score. With information on the Negro National League of the late 1920s coming someday in the not too distant future (we hope), we suspect that our high ranking of him will be justified. And if not, we’ll vote him off the island and replace him with someone whose stats rise to the occasion as more data becomes available. We reserved that right, don’t forget.
So that’s it! All 29 guys are duly bronzed, and we have a few more installments to look forward to. We will elect a Negro Leagues manager to match Cooperstown’s tally, and we will similarly elect five non-playing contributors. We may not do that before the new year if we cover the Hall elections in our normal fashion. We also feel like we’d like to run a piece about the top tier of candidates for whom new data might turn out to be their ticket to the HoME and why.
Thanks for joining us along this journey. We’ve really enjoyed seeing how into it all of you are, and we are grateful for your questions, comments, and enthusiasm.
Almost there! Today we induct our 28th Negro Leagues player, leaving just one more mystery man to be announced next week. After several less well known honorees among our last handful of honorees, our penultimate selection has been honored by the Halls of Fame and Merit. Please welcome Frank Grant to the Hall of Miller and Eric!
Grant was probably the very best African American baseball player of the late 19th Century. He played in white, mixed-race, and Negro leagues, and he hit the ball hard against all competition. Reputed a brilliant fielder (compared with National League star Fred Dunlap) and swift afoot, Grant got his start in the minor leagues with Meriden, Connecticut of the Eastern League and was immediately their best player, finishing third in batting average. The next year, he led the league in homers and steals. Then he was drummed out a year later when the league’s color line was officially drawn. Grant hopped from minor league to minor league to independent team to Negro Leagues team, always with the same story: He was among the very best hitters in the league.
Grant’s case for indiction differs from every other top candidate for our Negro League elections in several important and interlocking ways:
So Grant is his own kind of unique candidate, and we have reached the stage of our elections where a predominantly lore-based candidate can succeed. At this juncture most candidates are either a) borderline or b) don’t have enough extant data to give us confidence in our analysis. That’s how a narrative-driven candidate like Grant can slip into a Hall driven by mathy analytics.
Next week, one final candidate’s name will be revealed and our Negro Leagues elections completed. Just in time to start thinking about our 2020 HoME election.
This week we honor a player that neither of us knew anything about until a third of the way through the process of sifting through Negro Leagues players. This goes to show the quickly evolving state of Negro Leagues information. What was once merely a biographical sketch of a player’s life has finally been surrounded by enough statistical information to render an electable picture of a player’s performance, not just his perceived performance. So we hope you’ll welcome our newest Negro Leagues honoree in the same spirit of discovery that we’ve enjoyed. Give a hand for Roosevelt Davis!
Davis was a classic spitballer whose chief aim was to disrupt the spatial and temporal rhythms of a hitter. He had an excellent spitter and could make batters look bad. He played for three championship teams, the St. Louis Giants of the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Pittsburgh Crawfords of the mid-1930s, and the Cleveland Buckeyes of 1945.
In our estimates, Davis, best combines peak and career value among our remaining pitchers. Most of who’s left are career-oriented fellows without impressive peak scores, and Davis comes out better than more heralded hurlers such as Willie Foster, Bill Byrd, and Ray Brown. Of course, we must stress again that our Major League Equivalents are based on currently available statistics. Some of these other fellows await fuller documentation that covers their peak seasons, but then again, Davis, himself, awaits several core seasons as well.
But it’s impressive nonetheless that, regardless of whose seasons are missing and in what number, Davis nonetheless manages to put enough distance between himself and these other well known pitchers to make the choice pretty easy for us.
Welcome to the Hall of Miller and Eric, Roosevelt Davis!
Our twenty-sixth Negro Leagues honoree came along about 25 years earlier than the great bluesman John Lee Hooker. Nonetheless, the Detroit legend’s hit “Boom Boom Boom Boom” rings in my ears when I think about our newest member of the Hall of Miller and Eric, John “Boom Boom” Beckwith.
Of course, my association of Beckwith to Hooker’s classic isn’t just the nickname. It’s the powerful, booming bat rocketing line drives and long flies all over the joint. However, the suggestion of violence in the song further reinforces the association. Beckwith is reputed to have killed a man in anger, and he was one of Blackball’s “Bad” men. Mean tempered, vicious, and prone to violent outbursts. I suspect he was a bit like Albert Belle but in a time and situation with fewer checks on his worst behavior.
But that’s not why we elected him.
In fact, we want to take some pains to describe our thinking here since Beckwith may appear to sit a little further back in the pack on an initial inspection. First, Beckwith’s got 379 MLE batting runs, second highest among our remaining candidates to Heavy Johnson, in fewer than 8,000 PAs. That’s important because we have more confidence in our batting translations than any other part of them. Why? First, on offense, because baserunning and double-play avoidance is estimated based on comps, whereas batting is a direct estimate based on the player’s performance. Second because our fielding estimates rely on, in many cases, fairly small samples (often fewer than a season’s worth of games). Third because fielding data bounces around a lot more than batting data.
This all works in Beckwith’s favor because his Achilles heel is fielding. He wasn’t good at it. At all. We suspect he’d have been shunted over to first base in the big leagues as quickly as possible. He’s, perhaps, the worst fielder among all our candidates. But we’re choosing him based on his offensive profile and downplaying his defensive profile. Maybe that seems strange given our usual stubbornness to follow the numbers. But we think we’ve followed them about as far as we can among Negro Leaguers, and these last several selections have among them any number of possible combinations of pros and cons. So we went with something we felt pretty sure about.
You might ask, well, why not Heavy Johnson if he had more batting runs? That’s a fairly simple matter: Because Johnson’s got a serious data gap that we don’t feel confident about yet, whereas Beckwith’s about average in terms of how much data we have on him. So Boom Boom gets the nod.
Check back next week for our next installment!
At the Hall of Miller and Eric, we try to do things by the numbers. We give the data the chance to do the talking so that we can make the most reasonable case we can for individuals. In the world of the Negro Leagues, this stance doesn’t always prove so simple. This is especially true because the data we rely on remains in a state of evolution. Gary Ashwill and his band of merry data scavengers continue to bring to light new and improved data season-by-season for the Negro Leagues, and with that data comes some surprises. Surprises that we would never have guessed from the lore or even from our previous explorations. Here, then, is our biggest surprise so far. Please welcome our newest HoME member, righty submariner, Webster McDonald.
McDonald had hung around the middle tier of pitchers for some time, but his career appeared too short and flat to notice him. That all changed with the latest data update at the Negro Leagues database. When Gary’s Cracker Jack team uncovered the data for McDonald’s 1922 season with the independent Richmond Giants, we suddenly had an earlier start to McDonald’s career, and a strong rookie season to boot. He also gained a little bit in other seasons as well where piecemeal updates to prior published stats gave him some little boosts. But tacking three more seasons onto a career that had appeared to start at age 25 is huge.
That 1922 season translates to an All-Star level year (5.0 WAR in our Major League Equivalent). Now we don’t yet have information on 1923 and 1924, but we already had 1925, and it looked good, translating to nearly 6.0 WAR. That means that the 1923 and 1924 seasons necessarily come to look like those two excellent bookend years in our MLE calculations. So now, McDonald has a peak cooking. The same effect comes into play for 1926 and 1927, which are surrounding by likewise strong seasons. Now we don’t foresee any data coming along for 1923 and 1924, but we do know that sometime soon, data for the 1926 and 1927 NNL, where McDonald’s American Giants played is high on the list of Gary’s priority projects. What might we expect that data to show? Jim Riley tells us that McDonald’s records those two years were 14-9 and 10-5 against league competition. In contrast BBREF’s data shows him at 13-8 for the two years with an ERA in the mid 4.00s. We don’t know yet how the data will tilt this story, but for right now, we’re MLEing him at 70 WAR. That’s Hall territory for any pitcher.
What we’re left with after all this is a pitcher with a nice, long career; a guy whose prime came early and who kept his stuff for a long time, once his salad years ended. It’s also a guy whom we have not yet closed the book on, and the picture of whose career might yet change dramatically. But our gig is that we go where the data take us, acknowledging possible flaws along the way, and fixing them as we march forward. So we’re following data that tells us that McDonald is the best pitcher left on the board. Simple as that.
Remember, before you heckle us too much, that we will be revisiting our selections each time new data rolls in to ensure that we’re honoring the best of the best according to the latest info. All of our selections are, therefore, provisional in nature. Should McDonald end up sagging to the finish line data-wise, we will find someone more suitable, but right now, he’s a strong career candidate and our 25th Negro Leagues selection.
Watch this space for more interesting and surprising elections as we round out our final four elections.
Some folks take the road less traveled, but our newest member of the Hall of Miller and Eric took to the road and traveled all over the place. And everywhere he went, he brought his bat with him. Now it’s time for him to settle down, so please help us welcome Marvin Williams back HoME.
We’ve told you a lot about Williams before, and to recap: The guy could hit, he was probably a little below average with the glove but stuck at second deep into his career, and he was pretty durable. Put it all together, and you’ve got the recipe for a valuable player. His MLEs come out as a dead ringer for Jeff Kent’s career, and we liked him well enough to elect him.
There’s some interesting trends that swirl around the relatively surprising selection of Moving Van Marvin.
Hardly anyone knows about him. This is a much bigger thing that it seems. Because of his itinerate career, very few people formed cohesive memories of Williams. Skillions saw him play, but few saw him play often. It’s only Negro Leagues obsessives who know about him at all, and even so, it’s hard for those of us who do know him to say much because the juicy lore doesn’t much exist for him after his ill-fated tryout in Boston. So, Williams will be a surprise to many.
His biggest asset is his bat. That’s a really important consider because it’s the thing that we can measure most accurately in our MLEs. Sabrmetrics has done a very good job at figuring out hitting, what really creates runs, and how to contextualize batting exploits. As a result, we can feel pretty good when we say that Williams could hit like Jeff Kent.
Fielding and running are far less accurate. We are making estimates of fielding and running on the basis of comps and/or small samples and/or home-brewed analysis. We won’t pretend we’ve got deadly accuracy. We have methods that spit out reasonable answers, but it doesn’t make them correct answers. As a result, fielding/running-first candidates necessarily have to take a backseat to bat-first candidates. Thus, we have picked Williams over someone like Sam Bankhead whose strong-looking MLE depends heavily on his glove and his feet. That’s not to say we wouldn’t later choose him, but rather that we’ve chosen Williams first, and Bankhead, despite a superior MLE stays in the pool.
So there you have it. Marvin Williams, Hall of Miller and Eric second baseman. Tune in next time when we will elect someone…but even we might know not whom by the time you read this.
A shortstop, a shortstop, my kingdom for a shortstop!
Yes, this week a the Hall of Miller and Eric we honor the man known as King Richard, Dick Lundy.
Lundy played his entire career for teams along the New York-Philadelphia-Baltimore corridor, and darn near all of it at shortstop. Known in his time as a great defender, he backed up his glovely reputation with a good bat. Entering the top tier of black baseball at seventeen, Lundy’s bat quickly matured into that of a player with good pop for a shortstop and the respectable walk rates that came with it. We see him as likely being worth nearly a 100 runs above average in the big leagues, and a glove worth about 70 runs. We could think of him as a middle-class-man’s Alan Trammell: We figure Lundy with about 35 fewer batting runs, a dozen fewer runs on the bases, but just a few runs below Tram on the field all in the same playing time. That’s plenty for two guys who had Trammell as an easy first-ballot addition.
Congratulations to Dick Lundy, who was considered strongly in the last round of Cooperstown elections, and who is a member of the Hall of Merit. Our next few elections may or may not feature players whose names are already in bronze somewhere else. We may be about to enter a period of somewhat eccentric selections. We’re following the data where it leads, but with some of it yet incomplete, we must work with what we have. We have in the past noted that we may end up un-inducting someone as new data comes along that corrects or resets our understanding of a player. Some of these final six might end up among that category, and we will mean no harm when we do so. Just trying to get it right.
There’s no one in baseball history quite like our latest addition to the Hall of Miller and Eric. Imagine if someone had the playing career of Clark Griffith, the managing career of Joe McCarthy, the team-building skills of Branch Rickey, and the executive vision and due authority of Ban Johnson? That would be quite a man. In fact, it would be Rube Foster.
We thought for quite a while that we would elect Rube Foster as an executive rather than as a player. But we both feel that making it as a player feels like the highest honor among players, managers, and execs. That’s just our way of thinking, and that’s in spite of the fact that Foster is the Negro Leagues’ greatest manager, one of its greatest talent aggregators, and its most important executive. Realistically, however, we’re electing him for doing everything. He’s a combination candidate for us, and he could easily have gone in any of the three electoral categories. Your mileage may vary.
As a player, Foster was known as a big-game pitcher and the man who had the most on the ball on any given playing field. The big, tough Texan had a brilliant first decade in the game playing for champion teams left and right, and using his murderous screwball to high advantage. A broken leg cost him much of 1909, and one wonders whether complications from it might have haunted him in his second decade. He began migrating to the skipper’s chair in 1911 when he took over the reins of the Leland Giants (renaming them the American Giants, a nickname that stuck into the 1950s). He pitched less and less, and, while often pitching well, he pitched poorly at times as well. His weight increased tremendously as well, limiting his ability afield. So it’s that first decade that built his case with some additional insurance tacked on in the second decade.
As a manager, Foster was likely the first in blackball to adopt what he saw his crosstown Cubs counterpart doing. Frank Chance was known for drilling sound baseball fundamentals into his major league charges. In other words, he actually coached them, not just managed them. This was part of John McGraw’s wizardry as well, and it conferred great success upon them both because the rest of the league did very little skills development at the big league level. Playing like a team was a novel expression of baseball smarts, and those who first adopted it won big. The same was true for Foster whose teams dominated the scene for a decade thanks to his careful coaching and his ability to create a team wide strategic plan, communicate it, coach to it, and execute it.
Of course, if anyone knows one thing about Rube Foster, it’s that he’s the architect of the first viable African American baseball league, the Negro National League. Like Ban Johnson in white baseball, he had the far-sighted vision to make it happen, the back-office shrewdness to pull the right strings, and absolute authority to make decisions he deemed best for business. The NNL flourished for a decade until the Great Depression fell it after 1931.
By that time Andrew “Rube” Foster had died at age 51, he’d done damn near everything a person can do in baseball and for baseball. Tragically, he died in a sanitarium where his mental health had forced his commitment in 1926. He never recovered his mentality and died there having never seen the outside again. There is little information in the usual online sources regarding his early death nor the reason for his breakdown. His SABR fleetingly mentions an exposure to gas preceding his decline into psychosis.
Regardless of the tragic end, the brilliant career deserves celebration and a plaque in the Hall of Miller and Eric.