According to the CANA Cremation Statistics Report of 2011, more than two in five people who die in the United States are cremated, a number that’s rising. We crossed 30% for the first time in 2004, 20% for the first time in 1994, 10% for the first time in 1981, and 5% for the first time in 1973. I bring this up because today’s inductee into the Hall of Miller and Eric, Al Spalding, a man who died in 1915, was cremated.
How rare was that? First, it’s rare enough that CANA doesn’t have great numbers on it. But extrapolating what they have, Spalding was one of about 13,000 Americans in 1915 to choose cremation. And he is one of ten men in the Baseball Hall of Fame to choose cremation. They are Al Barlick (1995), Roy Campanella (1993), Mickey Cochrane (1962), Larry Doby (2003), Bob Lemon (2000), Phil Rizzuto (2007), Bill Veeck (1986), and Early Wynn (1999). I bring this up for no reason other than I find it fascinating.
Al Spalding was a pretty great pitcher in the game’s early days. In fact, he led the National Association in wins in every year of their existence, and he was the NL’s win leader in their first year. To help put in perspective how great he was, for pitchers with a fifth best season as great as Spalding’s, only he and Hippo Vaughn are outside the HoME. Until now. Of course, it’s not Spalding’s pitching prowess that gets him enshrined into the Hall of Miller and Eric.
When William Hulbert conceived of the National League, he knew he needed players, and Spalding, who was like Hulbert and against drinking and gambling, was one of the first. Additionally, Spalding became White Stockings President in 1882, deserves tremendous credit for starting spring training in 1886, and sponsored a world barnstorming tour in 1888. He also fought against history, calling together the Mills Commission, the group who determined that Union general Abner Doubleday invented baseball. And he helped to take down one of the first player unions when he used strong-arm tactics to help bring Monte Ward’s Players’ League to a close after just one year.
However, these accomplishments, such as they were, were only part of the story. Spalding opened a sporting goods store with his brother as his professional career developed, something they grew and grew. Showing the acumen of many great business leaders, he diversified, founding a “Baseball Guide” and publishing the first ever baseball rules. The Guide became widely read; the rules said only his baseballs could be used. He was one of the first great pitchers to wear a glove, a Spalding glove. Today, 140 years after its opening, the company is still thriving.
Overall, Spalding was a force of nature. As a player, owner, sporting goods magnate, promoter of the game, or a man looking to create baseball mythology. It’s his overall and varied contribution to the game that makes Albert Goodwill Spalding the tenth man to enter the Pioneer and Executive wing of the Hall of Miller and Eric.
Next week, we’ll reveal out eleventh inductee.
Salary caps have always struck me as odd, dare I say un-American. At their best, they seem to help undisciplined owners make fewer mistakes; at their worst they suppress what workers can earn in a very artificial way. One might argue that they help to improve competitive balance, but I’m not so sure. What a team pays in salary is one factor among many that helps them to succeed. And teams that fail tend to find lots of ways to do so.
In our last two elections, we paid homage to William Hulbert and Charlie Comiskey, two of the men integral in the formation of the National and American leagues, respectively. Today we honor a third man, Ban Johnson, who probably deserves even more credit than Comiskey for the existence of the American League.
Why? Other “major” leagues had come and gone, none up until 1901 with any success. That’s when Ban Johnson’s Western League became the major league we know today as the Junior Circuit, the American League. In order to compete, one of the main tactics the AL used was to remove the salary cap. Cy Young, Nap Lajoie, Ed Delahanty, Jesse Burkett, and over 100 more jumped to the AL., and by 1902 the fledgling organization outdrew its NL competition by half a million. And the rest, as they say…
I don’t want to share an entire history lesson here. I’m happy to let Joe Santry and Cindy Thompson at SABR do that. I want to point out what a critical element to baseball’s success salary is. Generally speaking, the talented go where the money is. Again, I say that only generally. And in order for great athletes to choose baseball, there has to be a financial incentive. Michael Haupert’s SABR article on salary progression is fascinating for people who like numbers.
Here are a few of the highlights:
To say that Ban Johnson is responsible for Ryan or what we see today would be ridiculous. Dozens, maybe hundreds, of people have more to do with Peter Bourjos, for example, making $2 million this season than he does, but I don’t think we’d see a game much like today’s without Ban Johnson helping to get the American League off the ground by poaching players from a more financially-constrained NL.
As we get deeper into this project, those we elect will be more and more stage-sharers, people to whom we’ll attribute something, something that is more likely the work of a number of people. We’re not quite there yet. We can say that without Ban Johnson, we wouldn’t have had a competitive major league in the form we had one, when we had one. And who knows what would have happened later.
Overall, we’ve elected nine greats into the Hall of Miller and Eric’s Pioneer/Executive wing. Here they are:
Number ten is just a week away.
As we’ve gone through this process at the Hall of Miller and Eric, we’ve offered an occasional series on “How the Hall Failed.” Until researching a decision on William Hulbert, I was so confident that Tommy McCarthy, Lloyd Waner, and Jesse Haines were about the worst selections the Hall has made. I’m not a fan of Candy Cummings, Rollie Fingers, or Wilbert Robinson either, but I understand how those debates may have gone.
Today I may have to consider that the worst Hall of Fame selection might have been Morgan Bulkeley. He was a Connecticut governor, a Hartford mayor, and the man who put together the Hartford Dark Blues of the National Association. Those are his good qualities as a candidate. Less strong qualities include sitting on the Mills Commission, the group that found Abner Doubleday invented baseball, and running the National League for its first season only, stepping down to pursue other interests. To be fair, he started cracking down on gambling, which is good, but he’s in the Hall pretty much just because he was the first President of the National League. He didn’t start the league, he didn’t seek the office, he didn’t perform particularly well, and he got out of the job as soon as he possibly could.
The first important President of the National League was the eighth person inducted into the Pioneer/Executive wing of the Hall of Miller and Eric, William Hulbert. If I were to mistakenly give exactly one person credit for the formation of the Senior Circuit, it would be him.
Hulbert was from Chicago, and he didn’t like the decidedly eastern bent of the National Association. He also didn’t care for the disorderliness of the league. And he really, really didn’t like teams who refused to complete their schedules. Under Hulbert’s watch, teams from the nation’s two largest cities, New York and Philadelphia, were thrown out of the league for doing just that. Hulbert saw that the fledgling league needed order and a centralized authority. He also predated Kenesaw Landis as someone who cracked down on illegal gambling, banning the group known as the “Louisville Four” for life after evidence was found showing three threw games for money and a fourth failed to comply with the investigation.
Hulbert wasn’t the first, but he was likely the most important President of the National League. Here’s why I think so. Just imagine what would become of the game if, say, the Braves and Twins decided in mid-August that it wasn’t fiscally wise to play the remainder of their games. If anything like that were tolerated, I don’t imagine the game would look remotely like it does today.
You know, I’ve asked you to imagine that situation. And I can’t. I can’t even imagine what would happen. William Hulbert was quite possibly a visionary. And at worst, he laid the groundwork for the first successful professional baseball league. That makes him very much deserving of recognition in the Hall of Miller and Eric. The Hall of Fame finally got it right in 1995; we were quicker.
Here are the eight current members of the Hall of Miller and Eric.
Stop by next week when we reveal number nine.
And the Pope wears a pointy hat. And the sun rises in the east. And a bear drops a deuce in the woods. What I’m saying is, it’s yet another installment in the Coop Poops the Bed. Usually Miller covers this beat, but today you’re stuck with me, and I’m on something of a rant.
See I’m a word guy. Here’s how the word pioneer is defined at Merriam-Webster.com:
When we look at the Hall of Fame’s pioneers, it’s not entirely clear which use of the word the electorate has made its decisions by. The Homestead Act of 1862 ushered in one of America’s greatest periods of westward expansion and pioneering, and just happened to coincide with baseball’s great Civil-War period expansion and eventual professionalization. I went to baseballhall.org and looked at the actual plaques of the 28 me enshrined under the label pioneer/executive. Things are awfully hazy, especially because the Hall’s site considers everyone in this category an executive.
So eight of the 28 fellows in this wing of the Hall (about 30%) are people from the Pioneer Era in American history. But as our first definition above indicates, pioneering is about ideas, not just settling open spaces (or taking them from the natives). Heck, on Roger Bresnahan’s plaque, no mention at all is made of his equipment innovations, which have saved countless games of wear and tear across time.
This is not well reflected in the Hall’s Era Committee voting rules. Here’s what they say about this group of potential honorees:
Executives retired for at least five years. Active executives 65 years or older are eligible for consideration.
So, nothing about pioneers at all.
Now, we should probably interpret Larry MacPhail’s plaque as bearing some pioneer status (“originated” appears in it) and Branch Rickey’s (“brought Jackie Robinson to Brooklyn”). And if we do, we might be led to believe that all innovation in baseball stopped in 1947. An idea that seems as foolish to write as it is for you to read.
The truth, of course, is that baseball is constantly evolving, and that many evolutions and revolutions have shaped its path. If you don’t like today’s high-strikeout, pitching-dominated brand of the game, you won’t have to wait long. The competitive nature of the game demands that individuals and teams find ways to beat the prevailing conditions, and when they do, everyone else adopts their idea or method (in time). Just look at the sabrmetric revolution. No front office now, not even the Phillies, lack a statistical analyst. On the field, pioneers exist in equipment, tactics, styles of play. Off the field in safety and injury prevention or intervention. Around the field in things like stadium building, lighting, and more. Innovations occur frequently and with lasting results.
Consider something as subtle as the webbed glove. Its introduction in the early 1920s coincides with a rise in double play rates and the resultant swapping of second and third basemen on the defensive spectrum. It also helped cut down error rates, driving down unearned runs. One might argue that it allowed more athletic players to get at more balls because they no longer required two hands to corral the ball. Error avoidance becomes less important when webbing provides extra insurance against fumbles. Cardinals pitcher Bill Doak is widely credited with introducing the idea of the webbed glove, and we’ll be considering him. Whether we elect him or not, this kind of seemingly small innovation leads to changes in the very engine of the game. Imagine what baseball would look like today if we still used those old-fashioned puffy gloves with no pocket and webbing!
The Hall of Fame has failed repeatedly with pioneers. It has failed primarily by not defining what pioneer means and by defaulting to a definition that appears in most cases time bound. It reserves the idea of pioneering for baseball’s primordial era and strangely avoids seeking those whose changed things for the better. When suggestions about people like scouts or Frank Jobe come up, they are quickly brushed aside with “there’s no defined path for them.” Rubbish. They may very well fit under the pioneers rubric, if the Hall would simply start using it again.
So that’s where we’re coming from. We see pioneering not as a thing done at a certain time but a certain thing done that has an effect for all time. We want to identify and honor those people whose ingenuity has led to the best game on Earth being what it is today. We hope you’ll agree that by doing so, we make the category of pioneers a more exciting, living document of what’s important in baseball.
I haven’t even addressed the quality of the Hall’s selections. In the interest of brevity, let us simply say that of the eight men bulleted out above, two (the Wrights) are already HoME members and can’t be elected to this wing by our decree, and three of the remainder are complete wastes of bronze. We think Spalding, Hulbert, and Chadwick are all reasonable selections. Well, 38% ain’t that bad, I guess….
Graham 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:
“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.
After 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.
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!