Rube Foster

This tag is associated with 4 posts

Election Results: Negro Leagues #22

“You didn’t elect me already, you clowns?”

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.


Negro Leagues Legends Wrap Up

[This page is not being updated with the latest MLE information.]

So we’ve been taken a tour of the diamond, introducing all of the Negro Leaguers honored by the brick-and-mortar Baseball Hall of Fame and the online only Hall of Merit. In doing so, we created Major League Equivalencies (MLE), estimates of what a player’s achievements might reasonably look like in an MLB setting.

Today, we’re going to put these 36 players on the same page so that you can compare and contrast them all you want in one spot. This will also help you develop mental benchmarks for the players we’ll be translating going forward, the best of the rest among blackball stars. We’ll show you the career component stats we’ve presented in our previous posts, along with some commentary about how reliable our estimates might be given the information that’s missing and our confidence in the specifics underlying the numbers. And for the eagle-eyed out there, we’ll drop a couple hints about some players we haven’t talked about yet who might be challengers to these 36 players.

First we’ll recap by position, then we’ll run a table sorted by career MLE WAR. Italics indicate the player is already a member of the Hall of Miller and Eric.

Negro Leagues legends by position


NAME               PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA   WAR 
Roy Campanella   7315  218  - 3   -19    25    61  283  27.9  54.9
Josh Gibson      8010  577  - 7     0    26   - 6  591  61.3  88.7
Biz Mackey       7000  253  - 7     0    18    50  315  30.8  53.1
Louis Santop     6560  231  - 4     0     2    73  302  33.1  56.2
Quincy Trouppe   7140  248  - 8     1     0    49  290  28.8  52.0

Let’s remember that our MLE for Gibson has him transitioning to first base during his peak years. Aside from Josh, we could toss the other four catchers into a hat and pick any one at random to come up with pretty much the same player. Some of them hit more than the others. Some field better than the others. Some played at a time when runs were more plentiful or scarcer. One slight advantage accrues to Louis Santop whose 1918 and 1919 seasons are placed into the war-shortened MLB schedules of those years. For those who prorate up to 154 or 162 from there, he’ll pick up another 30 to 50 games. Also, let’s remember that much of Trouppe’s career remains to be updated once the Negro Leagues Database (NLDB) uploads data for the post-war seasons. As for our elections, initial research into the best of the rest at catcher suggests that however many catchers we choose, the four unitalicized names above will be the sole candidates to merit strong consideration.


NAME             PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA   WAR 
Buck Leonard   9830  537  -15     0    27   -95  453  47.1  80.5
Mule Suttles  10190  374    0     0    39   -98  315  31.1  63.9 
Ben Taylor    10130  344  - 8     0    67   -84  319  34.6  69.9

There’s a bit more separation here than at catcher. Buck Leonard wins in a walk, and Ben Taylor finishes a clear second. Like Santop above, his career includes those 1918 and 1919 seasons, giving him still another edge on Suttles. We should note, however, that several of Suttles’ and Leonard’s seasons remain outside the NLDB. Looking forward, a few candidates that dang near nobody has ever heard of could make some noise at first base and challenge for a ballot spot. Let’s just say, we’ll send you the bill.


NAME               PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA   WAR 
Frank Grant                      ?????
Jackie Robinson  6953  332   36     4    97    36  500  50.2  76.4

Jackie was awfully good, and Grant’s career totals so far consist of very, very few plate appearances, so we just can’t do too much with him just yet. But the pickings at second aren’t robust. Outside of Grant, candidates simply don’t fall out of trees as they do at shortstop and centerfield. One fellow appears like an outside shot to rise up in challenge, but we have some work to do before we decide whether he’s marvelous enough to make it.


NAME              PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA   WAR 
Ray. Dandridge  7690  212   18     1   144    10  385  41.0  68.0
Judy Johnson    5400    2    0     0    24    31   57   5.7  22.7
Jud Wilson      8400  456    0     0    43    24   24  51.2  77.9

There’s a clear winner and clear loser here. Then there’s Ray Dandridge. This is probably the maximum value Dandridge could end up with. But we’re still working through how to best evaluate the fielding contributions of players whose primary source of fielding data is the minor leagues. Stay tuned, but know that Dandridge’s value is more likely to decrease than increase. Among the unheralded players we’ll be looking at in the near future, at least one has a puncher’s chance of a candidacy, and maybe a couple depending on what data becomes available and when. More on that later.


NAME                PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA   WAR 
John Beckwith     7530  403  -17     0   -64    36  358  34.6  58.8 
Grant Johnson     9080  157  - 5     0    66   108  327  34.4  65.7
John Henry Lloyd  9490  410   40     0    39   112  601  67.7 102.5
Dick Lundy        9380  227   19     0    35   126  407  41.0  71.5
Dobie Moore       5380  239  - 1     0    99    75  412  43.8  62.2
Willie Wells     10780  229   20     0   100   149  497  50.6  85.9

Quite a melee here! Beckwith trails considerably due to his stone glove, while Lloyd and Wells are clear yesses. In between them is a very competitive trio. Dobie Moore lacks career length, but like Jackie, he packed a whale of a punch into his short tenure. He also would pick up some value due to the shortened war schedules of 1918 and 1919. But so would Dick Lundy! However, Grant “Home Run” Johnson gets even more with several turn of the century seasons that require proration. Once you account for all this, it’s a very close ranking. Well, lucky we get to pick 29 guys, because it’s possible that five of these six could end up with a plaque. Then again, two or three other, less well-known names are emerging in our research into the best of the rest. At a minimum, John Beckwith should be worried about losing his seat on the bus.


NAME             PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA   WAR 
Monte Irvin    7817  356   36   -13    76   -43  412  42.5  70.1
Minnie Minoso  9952  360   18     5    21   -75  325  32.4  62.7

We really see Irvin more as a centerfielder, but his MLB career in left field gets him plunked here. Both he and Minoso have several seasons of missing data that could provide a little more jet fuel for their candidacies. Then again, Minoso is so close to the borderline that not-so-hot performances in the missing years could also set him back. Which leads to the larger point that Minoso probably shouldn’t be considered a Negro Leagues at all candidate because he played just a handful of his seasons in them. However, because we ran the numbers, we felt it was important to show his totals. In the future, left field looks like it has some depth among the also rans with the possibility of a couple borderliners. We’re just starting to pick at these guys, and while it wouldn’t be surprising in the least if we don’t elect a single Negro Leagues left fielder (if we call Irvin a centerfielder), some names could bubble up high enough to make a play. Sometimes betting against heavy odds pays off.


NAME                  PA  Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA   WAR
Cool Papa Bell      10370  209   57     0   -13   -34  430  22.1  55.7
Willard Brown        9560  176    9   - 7    18   -41  155  15.6  49.4
Oscar Charleston     9910  626   37     0    31   -75  619  62.8  95.5
Larry Doby           7530  332   16    22    22   -19  375  38.5  62.4
Pete Hill           10330  419    5     0    26   -69  381  43.7  81.7
Alejandro Oms        9970  409    0     0   -12   -49  348  35.0  71.1
Turkey Stearnes     10500  600    6     0    35   -54  587  57.8  91.6
Cristobal Torriente  8380  486   20     0   -18   -57  432  46.8  76.1

Charleston and Stearnes, news at 11:00. But beyond them a bed vein of center field treasure. Pete Hill, Cristobal Torriente, and Alejandro Oms have compelling cases. Larry Doby and Cool Papa Bell are lagging behind, but in both their cases, some missing seasons could improve their odds. Then there’s Willard Brown. Need to reiterate here that his MLE is highly provisional. We have the missing seasons, and we have the fact that outfield defense is more difficult to figure than infield defense when most of the data comes from minor league seasons. Don’t count Brown out quite yet, but his case needs a lot of help. Again, this is a very deep position, and we have a ton of other quality candidates to check in on. We’ll give you pole to pole coverage, don’t worry.


NAME              PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA   WAR
Martin Dihigo*  10700 526    0     0    120  -65  581  59.0  94.1
Bullet Rogan*    9780 539   20     0     22  -99  481  50.1  83.0  
*Assumes the player did not have a pitching career

Again, we’re seeing Dihigo as more of a centerfielder than we are a right fielder, but that’s just the way his record fell out. With the exception of shortstop and catcher, you can put him at any old position you want, including on the mound, and he’s a Hall member in the making. That said, he’s probably a better hitter candidate than pitcher candidate, but he’s hardly a slouch on the mound. Rogan is more limited as a position player, really only a right fielder. But he sure could hit. He plays up better as a pitcher, but as you can see, he’s got some serious sting in that bat. Looking into the future, there are very few high quality right field candidates in general, so we think we’ll be lucky if even one strong candidate emerges.


                          PITCHING          |   BATTING  | TOTAL
NAME                  IP  RAA   WAA     WAR |  PA    WAR |  WAR 
Ray Brown            3940  160  18.0   57.9 | 1314   7.6 |  65.5 
Andy Cooper          3100  320  33.5   65.0 | 1034  -4.9 |  60.0
Leon Day             2860   68   8.2   37.2 |  954   5.3 |  42.5
Martin Dihigo-a*     4335  297  32.1   75.9 | 1446  12.4 |  88.2
Martin Dihigo-b*     3865  267  29.1   67.9 | 1289  10.4 |  78.3
Rube Foster          3420  159  20.9   54.6 | 1140   5.0 |  59.6
Willie Foster        3220  363  37.7   70.3 | 1075  -0.1 |  70.3
Jose Mendez          2420  317  39.7   62.3 |  807   1.3 |  63.9
Satchel Paige        4825  686  70.9  119.8 | 1584   1.5 | 121.4
Bullet Rogan*        4241  447  49.3   91.5 | 1414  12.6 | 104.1
Hilton Smith         3260  261  28.6   61.2 | 1088   5.5 |  66.7
Smokey Joe Williams  5210  545  63.7  114.6 | 1732   8.2 | 122.8
a: MLE created from scenario where Dihigo follows normal pitching career arc
b: MLE created more directly from Dihigo’s stats, which are heavily influenced by his two-way play
*Assumes the player did not have a position-player career

The only guy here whose case is on life support is Leon Day, but even has a ray of hope since one of his biggest seasons isn’t yet accounted for in the NLDB. As we’ve noted before, Andy Cooper’s MLE feels a little puffy. He’s missing a few tail-end seasons that we’ve had to fill in with league-average performance that may be making him look as though he finished stronger than he did. He’s also going to face a tough challenge and needs some good news to appear on the NLDB. Jose Mendez has a very short career, especially for his time, but man it’s a dandy. Pound for pound he might be the best guy on this list, but there’s just not enough bulk for him to get in the ring with Satchel or Smokey Joe.

Every one else is in the great middle until you reach Rogan, Williams and Paige. These three appear to be the cream. I’ve argued before that Paige is the clear choice as the #1 Negro Leagues pitchers, and quite possibly the best pitcher between the world wars. Joe Williams comes up behind him in overall value, but I would caution against getting too onto that bandwagon. The difference in pitching WAA is huge between them. Williams makes up some of the difference in bulk value that’s below average and above replacement, but a huge part of his run at Paige is from batting. Now if we only looked at this table, we’d think nearly every Negro Leagues pitcher was a star hitter too. They played the field and swung the bat a lot more than their more specialized MLB counterparts. It’s an open question whether their outstanding hitting bats would remain so potent in organized baseball. I’m guessing probably not, and that right there puts more separation between Paige (who wasn’t a great hitter anyway) and Williams who benefits more from his bat.

Most of the Negro Leagues pitchers we honor will come from this list. Maybe all of them. But there’s a whole lot of pitching talent that we haven’t begun to scratch the surface of understanding yet. Tons of talent, so much that we’re worried it will feel like a volley of cannonballs, so we’re going to alternate between pitchers and hitters. We don’t want to nuke you into a winter’s worth of pitching headaches.

We’re a zillion words into this post, so we’ll leave you with one final table. This time we’ll just list out all the guys above in order by their WAR, separating hitters and pitchers. By the way, in the hitters table, the position will reference the spot on the field where our MLE says they would have played the most, which doesn’t necessarily correspond to where we lumped them above.

Negro Leagues legends ranked by MLE WAR


RK  NAME           POS     PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos  RAA   WAA   WAR 
 1  J. H. Lloyd     SS   9490  410   40     0    39   112  601  67.7 102.5
 2  O. Charleston   CF   9910  626   37     0    31   -75  619  62.8  95.5
 3  M. Dihigo*      CF  10700  526    0     0   120   -65  581  59.0  94.1
 4  T. Stearnes     CF  10500  600    6     0    35   -54  587  57.8  91.6
 5  J. Gibson     C/1B   8010  577  - 7     0    26   - 6  582  60.4  87.8

 6  W. Wells        SS  10780  229   20     0   100   149  497  50.6  85.9 
 7  B. Rogan*       RF   9780  539   20     0    22   -99  481  50.1  83.0   
 8  P. Hill         CF  10330  419    5     0    26   -69  381  43.7  81.7
 9  B. Leonard      1B   9830  537  -15     0    27   -95  453  47.1  80.5
10  J. Wilson       3B   8400  456    0     0    43    24  523  51.2  77.9 

11  J. Robinson     2B   6953  332   36     4    97    36  500  50.2  76.4
12  C. Torriente    CF   8380  486   20     0   -18   -57  432  46.8  76.1
13  D. Lundy        SS   9380  227   19     0    35   126  407  41.0  71.5
14  A. Oms          CF   9970  409    0     0   -12   -49  348  35.0  71.1
15  M. Irvin        CF   7817  356   36   -13    76   -43  412  42.5  70.1

16  B. Taylor       1B  10130  344  - 8     0    67   -84  319  34.6  69.9
17  R. Dandridge    3B   7690  212   18     1   144    10  385  41.0  68.0
18  G. Johnson      SS   9080  157  - 5     0    66   108  327  34.4  65.7
19  M. Suttles      1B  10190  374    0     0    39   -98  315  31.1  63.9 
20  M. Minoso       LF   9952  360   18     5    21   -75  325  32.4  62.7

21  L. Doby         CF   7490  332   16    22    22   -19  375  38.5  62.4
22  D. Moore        SS   5380  239  - 1     0    99    75  412  43.8  62.2
23  J. Beckwith     3B   7530  403  -17     0   -64    36  358  34.6  58.8 
24  L. Santop        C   6560  231  - 4     0     2    73  302  33.1  56.2
25  C.P. Bell       CF  10370  209   57     0   -13   -34  430  22.1  55.7

26  Campanella       C   7315  218  - 3   -19    25    61  283  27.9  54.9
27  B. Mackey        C   7000  253  - 7     0    18    50  315  30.8  53.1
28  Q. Trouppe       C   7140  248  - 8     1     0    49  290  28.8  52.0
29  W. Brown        CF   9560  176    9   - 7    18   -41  155  15.6  49.4
30  J. Johnson      3B   5400    2    0     0    24    31   57   5.7  22.7


                          PITCHING        |  BATTING   | TOTAL
RK  NAME            IP   RAA  WAA   WAR   |  PA   WAR  |  WAR 
 1  J. Williams    5210  545  63.7 114.6  | 1732   8.2 | 122.8 
 2  Satchel Paige  4885  686  70.9 119.8  | 1584   1.5 | 121.4
 3  Bullet Rogan*  4241  447  49.3  91.5  | 1414  12.6 | 104.1
 4  M. Dihigo-a*   4335  297  32.1  75.9  | 1446  12.4 |  88.2
 5  M. Dihigo-b*   3865  267  29.1  67.9  | 1289  10.4 |  78.3

 6  Willie Foster  3220  363  37.7  70.3  | 1075  -0.1 |  70.3 
 7  H. Smith       3260  261  28.6  61.2  | 1088   5.5 |  66.7 
 8  Ray Brown      3940  160  18.0  57.9  | 1314   7.6 |  65.5 
 9  Jose Mendez    2420  317  39.7  62.3  |  807   1.3 |  63.9
10  Andy Cooper    3100  320  33.5  65.0  | 1034  -4.9 |  60.0 

11  Rube Foster    3420  159  20.9  54.6  | 1140   5.0 |  59.6
12  Leon Day       2860  368  8.2   37.2  |  954   5.3 |  42.5

See you next time when we get into the first five Negro Leagues pitchers who haven’t been elected to a Hall!

Evaluating Negro Leagues Pitchers, Part II: Foster, Foster, Mendéz, and Paige

[All MLEs updated 7/4/18 to include (a) new 1938 and 1947 data (b) new baserunning-runs estimates (c) new, more objective playing-time estimates]

[Note: All MLEs here updated 1/1/18 due to changes in approach to pitcher batting.]

[Note: All MLEs here updated 1/20/18 due to additional changes in approach to pitcher batting.]

Now that you’ve seen our Major League Equivalencies (MLEs) for Ray Brown, Andy Cooper, Leon Day, and Martín Dihigo, you’re hungry for more. Right? Well, this is your day, because we’re going to share our translations of Rube Foster, his half-brother Willie Foster, José Mendéz, and the great Satchel Paige.

Rube Foster

Andrew “Rube” Foster was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown as a manager. Well, that’s a bit like calling Leonardo Da Vinci a painter. Foster was Clark Griffith, John McGraw, and Ban Johnson, all rolled up into one stocky man. Yes, Foster managed the great Chicago American Giants teams, to the tune of 700-392-27 (.641) and three pennants. Yes, he was 308 games above .500. As a manager he was stern, innovative, and a shrewd judge of talent, probably a lot like two MLB’s most successful mangers of the 1900s, John McGraw and Frank Chance. But Rube Foster is also known as “The Father of Black Baseball” because he was the architect of the Negro National League, the first Negro League with any staying power. However, that’s still not the whole story because Rube Foster was also an excellent pitcher, and a pretty fair hitter to boot. He caught his nickname when he beat Rube Waddell in a black-on-white game, and his repertoire included a screwball that he allegedly taught Christy Mathewson. I don’t think it will spoil anyone to tell you that he’s a mortal lock for the Hall of Miller and Eric. The question is in what capacity: player, manager, or pioneer/executive?

Rube Foster
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 19021917
Into: NL 19021917
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit
               PITCHING          |   BATTING   |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |   PA   WAR  |   WAR
1902   22  150   17   2.0   3.5  |   50   0.2  |   3.7
1903   23  280   30   3.1   6.0  |   93   0.4  |   6.4
1904   24  360   12   1.4   5.0  |  120   0.4  |   5.5
1905   25  330   20   2.3   5.6  |  110   0.5  |   6.1
1906   26  320   19   2.4   5.4  |  107   0.4  |   5.9
1907   27  320   17   2.3   5.3  |  107   0.4  |   5.7
1908   28  320   39   5.5   8.4  |  107   0.4  |   8.9
1909   29  210   37   4.9   6.8  |   70   0.3  |   7.2
1910   30  220   26   3.0   5.2  |   73   0.3  |   5.5
1911   31  210  -23  -2.4  -0.1  |   70   0.3  |   0.2
1912   32  220  - 6  -0.6   1.7  |   73   0.3  |   2.1
1913   33  220  -16  -1.7   0.6  |   73   0.4  |   1.0
1914   34  150  - 7  -0.8   0.7  |   50   0.3  |   1.0
1915   35   60  - 4  -0.6   0.0  |   20   0.1  |   0.2
1916   36   20    0   0.0   0.2  |    7   0.0  |   0.2
1917   37   30    0  -0.1   0.2  |   10   0.0  |   0.3
TOTAL     3420  159  20.9  54.6  | 1140   5.0  |  59.6

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)
Innings pitched: 45th
Pitching Wins Above Average: 60th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 40th
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 33rd

In 1909, Rube Foster took the actor’s advice and broke a leg. We’ve taken down his innings to reflect that. We also adjust his RA9 that year because it translates to considerably lower than the qualified league leader in the NL. Our adjustment is 10% above the leader in the NL for reasonableness. The injury ruined an otherwise banner year, and it also appears to have permanently damaged his career. Although he came back successfully in 1910, his performance then declined drastically and never rebounded. If it wasn’t the broken leg, or compensation for its effects, then it could have been simple wear and tear. He also had a tendency toward putting on a lot of weight, which can’t have helped.

In general, however, Foster’s pitching career looks a bit like a couple of his MLB contemporaries and near contemporaries such as Ed Walsh (who pitched better and hit worse), Clark Griffith, and Ted Breitenstein. He’s got a really great peak, though it’s done in a bit at the career level by his weak finish.

Willie Foster

[Note: Updated 1/14/18. Presence of highly skewed league data caused z-score translations to be appear artificially low. Fixed.]

[4/3/18, updated to fix a minor park-factor issue.]

The younger half-brother of Rube, and a fine pitcher in his own right. The lefty was the main hurler for the Chicago American Giants in the latter half of the 1920s and beyond. Umpire Jocko Conlon said that Foster’s vast repertoire reminded him of Herb Pennock, only with a fastball that was actually fast. Foster was, like his brother, smart, and he attacked hitters weaknesses by throwing all of his many pitchers from the same motion. In all, his record in the Negro Leagues database includes a 149 ERA+ that ranks ninth of all pitchers with 200+ innings. His documented record currently stands at 67-39, for a .623 winning percentage that’s 21st all-time, but with ten pitchers ahead of him with considerably fewer decisions. The whole enchilada is worth 20.3 WAR in 963 innings, slotting in at 10th in the database despite only the 7th most innings among those ten.

Willie Foster
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 19231937
Destination: NL 19231937
Missing data: 1926, 1929–1930, 1932
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit
               PITCHING          |  BATTING    |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |   PA   WAR  |   WAR
1923   19   40    7   0.7   1.1  |   13   0.0  |   1.1
1924   20  150   23   2.5   3.9  |   50  -0.1  |   3.8
1925   21  150   37   3.7   5.1  |   50   0.0  |   5.1
1926   22  260   34   3.6   6.2  |   87  -0.1  |   6.2
1927   23  270   36   3.9   6.6  |   90   0.0  |   6.6
1928   24  270   28   2.9   5.7  |   90   0.0  |   5.7
1929   25  270   31   2.9   5.8  |   90   0.1  |   5.9
1930   26  270   30   2.7   5.6  |   90   0.0  |   5.6
1931   27  260   19   2.1   4.7  |   87   0.0  |   4.7
1932   28  270   30   3.2   5.9  |   90   0.0  |   6.0
1933   29  240   21   2.5   4.8  |   80  -0.1  |   4.7
1934   30  230   24   2.5   4.8  |   77   0.0  |   4.8
1935   31  170   21   2.1   3.8  |   57   0.0  |   3.8
1936   32  170   14   1.4   3.1  |   57   0.0  |   3.2
1937   33  200   10   1.1   3.0  |   67   0.0  |   3.0
TOTAL     3220  363  37.7  70.3  | 1075  -0.1  |  70.3

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)
Innings pitched: 54th
Pitching Wins Above Average: 14th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 15th
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 17th

Foster’s 1925 season comes in at a RA9 that’s considerably lower than the qualified league leader in the NL. So we adjust Willie to 10% above the leader for reasonableness, as we have elsewhere.

Better than Mordecai Brown. That’s a reasonable place to start talking up someone’s case for induction. Brown tossed 3171 innings with 32 WAA and 55.1 WAR in 14 seasons. Foster hit a tad better. Another guy in this neighborhood is Clark Griffith who checks in with 3386 innings, 28.7 WAA and 57.7 pitching WAR plus 4 hitting WAR to make about 62 total. Both Brown and Griffith also have reasonably similar peaks to our MLE for Foster.

José Mendéz

[Note: Updated 1/1/18 due to transcription errors.]
[Note: Updated 1/6/18 with improved STDEV information about the Cuban Winter Leagues of the mid-1910s. Had previously only included ERA qualifiers, now includes all pitchers as other seasons do, except for excluding pitchers whose VER low-innings/VERY high RA9 skews entire league.]

To put it mildly, José Mendéz was one hell of a pitcher who threw hard. Like so many pitchers, however, he shone brightly then flickered then flamed out. Mendéz is known in his home country of Cuba as “The Black Diamond” (El Diamante Negro), a nickname he gained in 1908 when, as a relatively unknown player, he tossed 25 consecutive shutout innings against the Cincinnati Reds who were touring the island. From 1907 to 1914, his seasonal ERA+ figures look like a list of area codes with 641, 323, 291, 271, 338, and 446 splashed among them. He was wiry, listed at 5’10” and 152 pounds. Perhaps his slight build couldn’t keep up with the demands of a major league workload, but in 1915, his arm gave out and didn’t revive for years. By the time it did, he was 34, and could only manage a partial season’s work. He played out the string, moundwise, taking most of his appearances at shortstop and outfield. He wasn’t a great hitter by any measure. But he had one last magical moment in him. In 1923, at age 38, he took the mound in the tenth and deciding game of the Negro World Series, pitted against the Hilldale Club from the Eastern Colored League. Hilldale’s lineup included Hall of Famers Louis Santop, Biz Mackey, and Judy Johnson, and hard-hitting regulars George “Tank” Carr and Clint Thomas. Mendéz appeared in four games in the series, the first three in relief. But in the rubber game, he started and went the distance, keeping the Hilldales at bay as the Monarchs captured the title. Four years later, José Mendéz died of tuberculosis. He was 43. Mendéz was in the first class of Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame honorees and was often thought of as the or among the greatest Cuban pitchers of all time.

José Mendéz
Negro Leagues Stats | Bio
Career: 19071925
Destination: NL 19071922
Missing Data: 1926/1927 Cuban League
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit, Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame
                PITCHING         |  BATTING    |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |   PA   WAR  |   WAR
1907   22  270   38   5.3   7.8  |   90   0.1  |    7.8
1908   23  270   39   5.5   7.9  |   90   0.1  |    8.0
1909   24  290   52   6.9   9.5  |   97   0.2  |    9.7
1910   25  300   46   5.6   8.4  |  100   0.1  |    8.5
1911   26  310   42   4.7   7.7  |  103   0.2  |    8.0
1912   27  260   26   2.8   5.4  |   87   0.2  |    5.5
1913   28  250   40   4.7   7.1  |   83   0.2  |    7.3
1914   29  170   21   2.6   4.2  |   57   0.1  |    4.3
1915   30   50    2   0.3   0.7  |   17   0.0  |    0.8
1916   31    0    0   0.0   0.0  |    0   0.0  |    0.0
1917   32    1  - 1  -0.1  -0.1  |    0   0.0  |  - 0.1
1918   33    9    0   0.0   0.0  |    3   0.0  |    0.0
1919   34  140   18   2.3   3.6  |   47   0.1  |    3.7
1920   35   65  - 3  -0.4   0.3  |   22   0.0  |    0.3
1921   36   16  - 1  -0.1   0.0  |    5   0.0  |    0.0
1922   37   19  - 2  -0.2   0.0  |    6   0.0  |    0.0
TOTAL     2420  317  39.7  62.6  |  807   1.3  |   63.9

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)
Innings pitched: 141st
Pitching Wins Above Average: 11th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: t-20th
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 22nd

Mendéz was so dominant in 1908–1910, that we had to use the manual adjustment to keep him in line with MLB league norms. [Note: We had to do the same in 1911 and 1914 after some of our updates.]

I strongly suspect that he would have thrown more innings in the majors at his peak than we show in our MLE, but I’m sticking to the protocol. Here’s a couple of similar players, pitching only for WAA and WAR:

NAME         YEARS   INN   WAA   WAR
Ed Walsh        14  2964  36.3  63.2
José Mendéz     16  2420  39.7  62.6
Rube Waddell    13  2961  34.9  61.0
Johan Santaña   12  2026  32.3  50.7
Mordecai Brown  14  3171  32.0  55.1
Sandy Koufax    12  2324  30.7  53.2
Nap Rucker      10  2375  29.7  47.9
Noodles Hahn     8  2029  29.6  45.9
Dizzy Dean      12  1969  26.8  42.7
Addie Joss       9  2327  25.2  45.9

If our MLE protocol is close to “accurate,” at least in the aggregate, Mendéz probably resembles other high-quality peak-oriented candidates who we’ve either elected, kept on a while, or are likely to have strong consideration for on a future ballot.

The story behind these numbers is exactly what you might think. Mendéz was amazing, then he got hurt, he slowly regained some arm strength, and had one more partial season of effective pitching, then trailed away. I’ve eliminated three seasons on the back end of his career that look similar to the three from 1920 onward. As I said before, I suspect that in MLB he would have thrown 300 innings annually during his prime, as Walsh and all the other highest-quality hurlers did. Between his summer and winter seasons, Mendéz twice threw 200+ documented league innings in addition to whatever other non-league innings he threw.

If you had to name one MLB pitcher whose career is reminiscent in its shape to Mendéz’s it might be Jose Rijo. Knock out his age 18–22 years. From 23–29, Rijo dominated the league with a 147 ERA+ peak from 1988–1994 (1315 innings, 35.6 WAR). Then came the endless string of surgeries and rehabs before his brief return in 2001 and 2002. The record suggests that Mendéz’s peak lasted a season longer. Rijo with more innings is a great candidate. But Mendéz is showing more innings by dint of his era and was more productive overall than Rijo. Still the trajectories they took look very similar.

He might have a little bit of a combo case. As manager of the KC Monarchs from 1920 to the late 1926, he helmed a dynasty. His managerial record in all high-quality competition (including postseason and versus white MLB squads) was .571, and he finished 3rd, 2nd, 2nd, 1st, 1st, 1st, and 2nd. He won one of the two Negro World Series he managed. Information on his 1926 team is not yet available.

Please note that the 1/14/18 update gave Mendez a big boost in 1913 due to one pitcher whose numbers in less than two innings were so bad that the entire league was thrown way out of whack, leaving Mendez’s season pedestrian. Now it resembles the rest of his peak, as it should have from the start.

Satchel Paige

[Note: Updated 1/13/18 to include just-released 1946 data, which ends up in a 30 inning decrease; also required using the manual RA9 lever on a couple seasons. Overall, very minimal career-level movement.]

Thousands of players appeared in the Negro Leagues. Excluding those who only got their starts there (such as Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, or Willie Mays), the one single player that virtually anyone with a little bit of baseball history in their noggins has heard of is Leroy Robert Paige, better known as Satchel. It’s difficult to describe Paige in a paragraph or two. There’s a slightly clownish showman side to him, the guy who in his forties entered the majors and threw the puff ball and the hesitation pitch. There’s a magical-mystery side to him, an image he honed in his autobiography and his seven rules for living. Then there’s the mythological aspect, much of which has some basis in facts, much of which Satchel encouraged with his many stories oft retold and oft amended. And these all bleed into his showman persona—sitting down his fielders and striking out the side, for example. There’s also a little bit of sly trickster to him, for he was well known for his nights on the town. The least recognized part of the great Satchel Paige is probably his important impact on integration by becoming the first black baseball player to draw integrated crowds to see him pitch. Lastly, comes his actual play. Of course, everything else depended on his ability to throw that fastball and command it so effectively. Without that fastball and without honing it everything that followed was impossible. As you’ll see below, his performance record, and, therefore, his MLEs more than measure up to the hype. There’s good reason that everyone knows Satchel Paige. He has a defensible argument for being the best pitcher ever, and he most certainly has a fantastic argument as the best pitcher between the wars. The question isn’t whether he was as good as his legend says, instead the question is just how high up the list of all-time greats he can go.

Satchel Paige
Negro Leagues Stats | Major Leagues Stats | Bio 
Career: 19281953
Destination: AL 19281953
Missing Data: 1929, 1937, 1939, 1940, 1947, 1950
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, Hall of Merit
               PITCHING          |  BATTING     |  TOTAL
YEAR  AGE   IP  RAA   WAA   WAR  |    PA   WAR  |   WAR
1928   21  180   25   2.6   4.5  |    60   0.1  |   4.5
1929   22  200   31   3.1   5.1  |    67   0.1  |   5.2
1930   23  200   23   2.1   4.2  |    67   0.1  |   4.3
1931   24  220   40   3.9   6.2  |    73   0.1  |   6.2
1932   25  270   65   6.5   9.3  |    90   0.1  |   9.3
1933   26  280   30   3.0   5.9  |    93   0.0  |   5.9
1934   27  270   66   6.5   9.2  |    90   0.1  |   9.4
1935   28  270   52   5.2   7.9  |    90   0.1  |   8.0
1936   29  270   27   2.4   5.4  |    90   0.1  |   5.5
1937   30  260   34   3.2   6.0  |    87   0.1  |   6.1
1938   31  190   18   1.7   3.7  |    63   0.1  |   3.8
1939   32   10    2   0.2   0.3  |     3   0.0  |   0.3
1940   33  190   28   2.8   4.8  |    63   0.1  |   4.8
1941   34  250   26   2.7   5.3  |    83   0.1  |   5.4
1942   35  250   35   4.0   6.5  |    83   0.1  |   6.5
1943   36  260   25   3.1   5.6  |    87  -0.1  |   5.5
1944   37  240   35   4.2   6.5  |    80   0.0  |   6.5
1945   38  180   27   3.3   5.0  |    60   0.0  |   5.0
1946   39  150   25   2.9   4.3  |    50   0.0  |   4.3
1947   40  140   15   1.7   3.0  |    47   0.1  |   3.1
1948   41   73   10   1.0   1.6  |    25   0.1  |   1.7
1949   42   83    9   0.9   1.7  |    18   0.0  |   1.7
1950   43   89   12   0.9   1.8  |    30   0.1  |   1.8
1951   44   62    0  -0.1   0.4  |    17   0.0  |   0.4
1952   45  138   17   1.9   3.4  |    44   0.1  |   3.5
1953   46  117   15   1.6   3.0  |    30   0.0  |   3.0
1965   58    3    1   0.2   0.2  |     1   0.0  |   0.2
TOTAL     4845  695  71.7 120.7  | 1591    1.4  | 122.1

Hypothetical MLB career rankings (1871–1960)
Innings pitched: 8th
Pitching Wins Above Average: 6th
Pitching Wins Above Replacement: 3rd
Total Wins Above Replacement (pitchers only): 3rd

For the record, we used the manual adjustment on Satch’s 1933, 1934, 1944, 1946, and 1947  seasons.

Our MLE shows Satchel as just a smidgen ahead of Pete Alexander for third on the total WAR list. Turns out that Old Pete could hit and Satchel wasn’t great.

This might look at first like a very aggressive MLE. Probably you’re asking why Paige is so far ahead of his closest temporal peers and how much confidence we have in saying that he was the 3rd most valuable pitcher prior to expansion. The reason is pretty simple actually, and it’s easiest to see if we digress for a moment for a mini-essay on Lefty Grove and Satchel Paige.

Robert Moses Grove pitched in the AL from age 25–41. Taking the ages they had in common in MLB (per our MLE), Grove tossed 3940 innings in his entire career. We’ve pegged Paige at 3563 during the same span. Lefty was done after age 41. Paige, however, had five years left in the tank and 489 innings. Those frames get him to 4055 innings. But Satch was in the Negro National League at age 21, blowing batters away. From age 21 to age 24, we’ve estimated him at 800 more innings, slowly inching up from 180 to 220 innings before becoming a number one starter at age 25.

But what was Grove up to from age 21 to 24? Pitching for the best team in the minors, the Baltimore Orioles. Lefty was sold to the A’s after four years dominating in Charm City. Jack Dunn waited and waited for his price and eventually Connie Mack met it. Grove went 96-34 (.738) in 1061 innings in those four seasons. He was always younger than the league, and in the first three years, he was three full years younger than the average player in the IL. Despite that, he saved roughly 180 runs more than the average IL pitcher during that time. That’s an average of 45 runs a year. In 1921–1924 in MLB, nine pitchers reached or exceeded 45 RAA in one season (keep in mind RAA is park and defense adjusted, we’re not including that info for Lefty). The O’s were a dynasty and probably played great defense, and we don’t have park factors, so let’s say that it’s really 40 a year for Lefty. Now let’s knock it down by 20% since the O’s were a AAA club. That’s still 32 RAA a year. A total of 25 pitchers in all of MLB from 1921–1924 did that well in a given season, or eight per year. In a league with 16 teams, that means that only half the aces in the league reached that level of run prevention. Lefty Grove was an MLB pitcher who was kept down by the way talent was acquired and developed at the time.

So if we think that Grove was MLB ready, how many innings might he have thrown in the AL in 1921–1924. We’ve already said that the IL was a AAA-level league with an 80% discount on runs, and MLB innings are more pressure packed. Let’s simply apply that same percentage to his innings. Right, so he goes from 1061 to 850, or basically the same that we’ve estimated Satchel throwing. Add those 850 to Grove’s 3940, and you get 4790, which is just 65 fewer than we’re calling for Paige.

Folks, these are the two best pitchers between the world wars. In the Negro Leagues database, Satchel Paige is the Leagues’ best pitcher by ERA+. Not just by a little, but by a lot. His ERA+ of 191 in documented games totaling 973 innings is 27 points higher than the second-best ERA+. The nearest ERA+ for a pitcher within 100 innings of him is Dave Brown (1008) at 150. You know who’s the best MLB pitcher with a substantial career by ERA+ from 1893–1960? Lefty Grove, edging out Walter Johnson 148 to 147. Narrowing down to 1915–1953 (a span that gives the pre-war debutants a chance and that ranges to the end of Paige’s career, Grove’s 148 ERA+ is seven points better than Pete Alexander’s 139. You want to narrow it down to between the wars and Integration (1920–1945)? Grove completely dominates. That 148 ERA+ is 18 points higher than anyone within 500 innings of Grove (Carl Hubbell, 130). Everyone between them is a partial career except Dizzy Dean, who trails Grove by 18 in ERA+ and 2000 in innings pitched. When we go into the shape of their respective careers, there’s even a similar mid-career transformation from thrower to pitcher due to injury.

So do we think that putting forth the idea that Paige would have finished around 8th in innings from 1893–1960 is buying into the hype? Not likely, because the hype is real, and a pitcher of Paige’s ilk is very difficult to find a comp for. We didn’t try to pattern Paige’s career after Grove’s. It just worked out that way, but it is very telling. The fact that Paige continued to tack on value after Grove was a goner is telling too. Here’s an interesting table:

Starting pitchers, ages 40+
NAME              AGES    IP  ERA+  WAR
Jack Quinn       40-49  1428  122  25.9
Phil Niekro      40-48  1977  103  25.6
Cy Young         40-44  1226  124  23.6
Nolan Ryan       40-46  1271  116  22.7
Roger Clemens    40-44   850  146  22.3
Randy Johnson    40-45  1013  116  20.8
Warren Spahn     40-44  1163  104  12.5
Red Faber        40-44   779  112  12.2
Pete Alexander   40-33   665  128  11.5
Satchel Paige    41-46   476  124  10.3
Dennis Martinez  40-44   616  115   9.8
Dutch Leonard    40-44   465  114   8.9
Kenny Rogers     40-43   636  106   8.5
Connie Marrero   40-43   583  111   8.0
Ted Lyons        40-45   410  134   7.7
Tom Seaver       40-41   415  122   7.6
Sad Sam Jones    40-42   500  107   6.7
Early Wynn       40-43   571  106   6.6
Eddie Plank      40-41   367  125   6.5
Johnny Niggling  40-42   479  113   5.9
Jesse Haines     40-43   370  107   5.2
John Smoltz      40-42   312  113   5.0

Paige is the only pitcher of the bunch who didn’t pitch in his age-40 season. That’s because Jackie Robinson broke the color line when Satch was 40. In fact, Bill Veeck didn’t even sign Paige until July 7th of 1948. Paige was also out of the majors at age 43. Not for lack of performance either. He was coming off a 3.04 ERA in 83 innings of 132 ERA+ relief for Cleveland. Paige’s 4–7 record may have been the impetus to release him after the season, baseball wasn’t so smart about stats back then, or perhaps the culprit was that Veeck had sold the Indians, and Paige had no advocates among the new ownership. Satchel barnstormed throughout 1950, and when Veeck returned to the majors in 1951 with the Brownies, he once again signed Paige halfway through the season. Satch spent three more productive years in the bigs. The fact that Veeck acted as Paige’s patron belies the bigger point: Other teams ignored him despite the fact that he still had above-average MLB stuff. They likely did so in large part because of the race climate during baseball’s Integration period. Most teams hadn’t really integrated yet, and those that had (like the Giants, Dodgers, and Indians) won a whole lot of pennants before the rest of the league caught up. So Paige lost about three season’s worth of playing time compared to the other old pitchers in our table (1947, half of 1948, 1950, plus half of 1951).

So is 4855 innings and third in WAR reasonable for Satchel Paige? It’s up to you to decide for yourself. But even if you knock him down some, you’ll find that he’s still Grove’s only competition for the best pitcher between the wars, and that his MLE career overall has more bulk to push him well above Lefty.

That’s it for part two of our look at Hall-honored Negro Leagues pitchers. Next time we’ll wrap them up with Bullet Rogan, Hilton Smith, and Smokey Joe Williams.

Eric’s 25 Most Important People in Baseball History

branch rickeyGraham Womack of Baseball: Past and Present has a cool project going on: The 25 Most Important People in Baseball History. I thought I’d share my ballot as a way to encourage others to vote.

Well, there’s 18,000+ players, several hundred managers, all kinds of execs, writers, even fans to choose from, and I needed to choose twenty-five. Graham doesn’t define “Most Important” for us:

Babe Ruth“most important” is a deliberately subjective term and I’m interested to see what direction people go with it.

For me, it’s about impact. Lasting impact. For me, there are three names that stand above all others, and that any baseball fan should know: Babe Ruth, Branch Rickey, and Jackie Robinson. Without them, major league baseball as we know it today simply would not exist or would be limping toward its death. Ruth who ushered in the modern mode of play, an offensive-minded game with greater mass appeal. Rickey who is the pivot man in at least three of modern baseball’s most important innovations—the farm system, the use of analytical statistics, and equal opportunity for all races—and who played a role in expansion by his attempt to organize the Continental League. And, of course, Robinson, whose success cemented the status of African Americans (and all other peoples of color) in sports, transcending the game and pointing us toward the civil rights era.

jackie robinsonAfter that to understand the lasting impact a person has on the game, we can look at some of the major themes of baseball’s history. These are the major story arcs since the 1840s. They continue to unwind themselves today. The flashpoints among them constitute game-changing moments. So as we sift through the games’ most important people, they should have some kind of prominent role in short- or long-term movements that have brought us to the present day.

  • Team-building/managing strategies
    Harry Wright was the first manager and was the first great team architect. These roles would eventually split apart in the 1930s and 1940s and have continued to speed away from each other since then.
  • Capital vs. labor
    Monte Ward
    did more than fashion a HoME-worthy career. A smart, smart man, he obtained a legal degree in 1885 from Yale and become an organizer of the Brotherhood of Baseball Players. As its president, he led the player revolt against the reserve clause that resulted in the formation of the Player’s League. That league’s brief existence hastened the downfall of the American Association and left the NL weakened to the degree that a decade later Ban Johnson could form the AL. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.’s moment was brief but profound. In 1921, he wrote the opinion that granted baseball its legal monopoly. Its antitrust exemption has proven an excellent tool in reaping profits in all kinds of ways and is a lynchpin in MLB’s operations. Of course, the exemption also paved the way for fifty more years of indentured servitude for players. Marvin Miller led the players out of that and into the free agent era. In so doing, he turned baseball’s salary structure and competitive landscape over, leading to the game’s most profitable decades. But first came the courageous stand of Curt Flood. The Flood case ultimately allowed Miller to devise the strategy that led to Peter Seitz’s decision to overturn the reserve clause. That decision is similar to Holmes’ in its far-reaching impact on how the game is operated today.
  • Race and ethnicity
    Rube Foster
    was the Negro Leagues. The brains behind its success and its acknowledged national leader. The Negro Leagues are vitally important to the story of race in baseball, but as a pipeline of talent, they also fed the likes of Robinson, Mays, Aaron, Banks, Doby, Paige, and many others into the league. Foster’s leadership led the way.
  • Equipment, safety, and injury prevention
    Roger Bresnahan
    invented shin guards, improved the catcher’s mask, and introduced other equipment innovations. The ability of catchers today to play as much as they do is a direct result of his inventiveness. We get to see more of them, and they have longer, more productive careers thanks to the Duke of Tralee. When you think about it, his ideas, mocked in his day but quickly adopted, have had a positive effect on 13 percent of all big league players (probably 2,000 or more men), and at the end of their careers, his catching brethren don’t have to have hands that look like your 90 year-old grampa’s. In terms of seeing more of our most talented players, Frank Jobe’s Tommy John surgery has given us the chance to witness hundreds of thousands more innings from players whose careers would have been over in yesteryear.
  • Organization and professionalization
    William Hulbert
    reorganized baseball from a chaotic, player-partnership into an effective, corporately owned, and stable financial structure. This is one of baseball’s and sports’ most important innovations. When Hulbert died shortly thereafter, Al Spalding saw to the game’s care and feeding, held it together after the Brotherhood revolt, and was the power behind the league for decades—and, of course, a publisher of annual baseball guides and the most important producer of baseball equipment in the game’s early decades. Finally, Ban Johnson is the man responsible for our modern two-league structure, and whose insistence on a clean and family-friendly product helped clean out hooliganism from the game.
  • Rules of play
    You probably don’t know Doc Adams’ name, but John Thorn’s book Baseball in the Garden of Eden can tell you all about him. Big takeaway: Adams was there at the beginning, working out the rules, helping to organize the Knickerbocker Club, then leading the National Association of Base Ball Players—the first national-scope league-like entity.
  • The influence of gambling
    Kennesaw Mountain Landis
    —you might not like his position on race, but he got rid of the corruption that threatened to topple the sport and created a clean backdrop for Ruth’s meteoric rise. He actually did restore faith and hope to the game.
  • Coverage, analysis, and documentation of the game
    Henry Chadwick
    created the box score, popularized the game with his Beadle Dime Base-Ball guides, and derived ERA and batting average. Not bad. The Hall of Fame’s J.G. Taylor Spink award signals Spink’s importance to the game. The owner-editor of the Sporting News (“Baseball’s Bible”) from 1914–1962, he was a mover and shaker in his own right who figured in numerous important episodes in the game’s history, including the settling of the Federal League war. Bill James, of course, ignited the sabermetric revolution that has changed the game both on and off the field. Sean Forman has gone far beyond anyone’s dreams in making the source of stats, enabling all kinds of research to be done in minutes that was impossible as recently as the 1990s or that would take years to accomplish. That level of access has ultimately allowed non-baseball people to enter the game’s front offices and make sweeping changes in the way the industry operates.
  • Growth and Expansion
    Walter O’Malley
    led the move to sunny California. His decision decentralized baseball as a primarily Eastern Time Zone phenomenon and allowed the game to grow in other regions. The move has ultimately led to several expansions and booming popularity. I hate to say it, but the man who canceled the World Series, Bud Selig, belongs on this list. This is not a vote for whom I like or respect the most; it’s a vote for who has had the most impact. Revenue sharing, sports-drug testing, playoff expansion, instant replay, and interleague play—like ‘em or hate ‘em they are here to stay and represent important facets of today’s game.

That’s another twenty to add to Ruth, Rickey, and Robinson for twenty-three total. Two more.

A lesser theme in baseball’s history is the ascendency of the Yankees. While Ruth accounts for much of it on the field, much of the rest can probably be laid at Ed Barrow’s feet. Barrow first built the twice-champion Red Sox of the late 1910s. Then, moving to the Bronx after the 1920 season, he took advantage of Sox owner Harry Frazee’s debt problems to build the Yankee roster into a perennial winner, thus starting The Evil Empire. Barrow continued on into the 1940s, overseeing the DiMaggio/Gehrig era as well, so this wasn’t a one-time thing. The Yankees are the game’s most loved and most hated team, and they occupy a special place in history thanks to Barrow.

Another team builder had a different kind of perennial influence. Ned Hanlon built the 1890s Baltimore Orioles and Brooklyn Superbas into a two-part syndicate dynasty. But as Bill James points out in his Guide to Baseball Managers the players on those teams went on to influence the game like no other team. John McGraw managed 33 years in the majors, Wilbert Robinson nineteen, and Hughie Jennings sixteen. Fielder Jones skippered for ten seasons, Joe Kelley for five seasons, and Bad Bill Dahlen for four. Jack Dunn became famous as the manager of the minor league Baltimore Orioles of the teens and twenties…the team that sold Lefty Grove and numerous other players to the majors. Hanlon also managed Miller Huggins for two years. All those guys exerted influence over subsequent generations of outstanding managers, including Stengel, Lopez, and Durocher. You can trace Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa, and virtually any great contemporary manager’s lineage back to Ned Hanlon’s Orioles.

Here’s my final ballot. After the big three, there’s any number of orders we could settle on. I’m looking for far-reaching, long-lasting, high-impact contributions. Your mileage may vary.

1. Branch Rickey
2. Babe Ruth
3. Jackie Robinson

I could have put Ruth first for creating interest at a time when the game’s gambling problems came to light. But the sheer number and breadth of Rickey’s innovations tipped the scales in his direction.

4. Kennesaw Mountain Landis
5. Walter O’Malley
6. Henry Chadwick

I’m pretty sure these are the next three. I put Landis first because rooting out gambling’s influence and restoring the integrity of any given game was far more important to the survival of the game than anything anyone below him could have accomplished. O’Malley is next because of the extreme importance of his vision and its affect on expansion. Chadwick was “Father Baseball” for a reason.

7. Doc Adams
8. William Hulbert
9. Ban Johnson
10. Marvin Miller
11. Bill James

Another tough group. As a founder of the game, I give Adams precedence and Hulbert’s corporate-ownership innovation is absolutely huge. Johnson and Miller could be swapped, but Johnson’s impact is still felt more than 100 years later, while Miller’s is more recent. James’ is more recent yet and just as widespread as Miller’s.

12. J.G. Taylor Spink
13. Rube Foster
14. Harry Wright

We’re getting into a place where everyone’s slot is up for debate. The Sporting News was almost an arm of Major League Baseball and affected its fanbase deeply. Foster’s role as a league architect trumps Wright’s as a team architect.

15. Peter Seitz
16. Al Spalding
17. Monte Ward

Ward turned the game upside down for a year, Spalding held it together for a decade, but Seitz has had the greatest total impact of the three. I ding him a little for being a one-trick pony, but it’s one hell of a trick.

18. Ed Barrow
19. Bud Selig
20. Roger Bresnahan
21. Ned Hanlon
22. Sean Forman
23. Curt Flood
24. Frank Jobe
25. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Among this final group of eight, we really are drawing straws. Barrow’s success laid the groundwork for almost 100 years of Yankee success. Selig has made numerous, though dubious, innovations…and helped to rob a lot of taxpayers of their money. I thought about putting him last simply because of his friendships with Jeffrey Loria and the Wilpons. Bresnahan has helped catchers for more than 100 years. Hanlon’s reach has been incredibly deep, though of course diluted over time. Forman’s reach is still growing. Flood and Jobe could be anywhere in this group, but Holmes I’m solid on for #25 because of the one-trick thing but also because I’m skeptical about the positive value of the anti-trust exemption.

There are some notable omissions. For example, I only have two men on this list for their playing careers. No Dickey Pearce nor Hank Aaron. I don’t have John McGraw or Connie Mack or Joe McCarthy or Joe Torre or Tony LaRussa on this list. No Bill Veeck or Billy Beane. Maybe I could have considered HOK architects or Hillerich & Bradsby. Negatory on George Wright, Al Reach, Everett Mills. Nor Fred Lieb or Ring Larnder.

There’s one other guy I didn’t touch on that I thought a lot about and is worth a mention.

I’m not entirely sure who had the most impact on bullpens, but their evolution is also a key theme in baseball history. Bill James suggests that McGraw rolled out the first relief specialist, Doc Crandall, but McGraw didn’t really follow up that innovation. Joe McCarthy was the first manager to split his moundsmen into starters and relievers. Herman Franks in 1979 announced that Bruce Sutter would only pitch in save situations. Although the Cubs canned Franks a year later, this innovation has had startling implications. Before this, relief aces could enter in any inning with any score when the manager felt it necessary. Other bullpen roles were therefore only vaguely defined. The sharp redefinition of the ace into the closer created a cascading effect. As closers threw fewer innings in save situations, managers needed a set-up man for the eighth inning. Since most late-inning relievers were righties, skippers soon found they also needed a lefty specialist to get that one big out in the seventh or eighth, enter the LOOGY (lefty one-out guy). Since then bullpens have become increasingly hierarchical, and include seventh-inning specialists and even the ROOGY. All of this spilled out of Franks’ decision to limit Sutter to save situations. Franks was not great, he wasn’t even a good manager. But his impact is still reverberating through baseball today as we see twelve, thirteen, and even fourteen-man pitching staffs.

This has been a fun exercise. Make your own ballot and vote!


Institutional History

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