Half-Baked Hall Profile: Joe McGinnity

February 16, 2015

A boy named Tommy was born in 1870 in Manchester, England, where he and his family lived until he was 14 years old. Like most boys in Manchester his age, Tommy played cricket. When Tommy’s family immigrated to the United States in 1884, he had to learn a new game, so he naturally chose the one that looked most like his beloved cricket. Tommy’s interest in baseball, however, was less with the playing the game itself and more with the study of the rules. He read editions of Sporting Life and watched many organized games, usually as a bat boy.

By the time Tommy was 24, he had no experience playing organized baseball, but was already an umpire in the New England League. Four years later he was discovered by National League umpire Tim Hurst, who recommended Tommy as an umpire in the National League. His first few years of umpiring were tough, particularly as Tommy discovered that most of his rulings were not backed by the league president.

Enter Ban Johnson, who wanted to end “rowdyism” in his new American League in 1901, and promised umpires who would join his league that he would back them in that endeavor. Tommy Connolly signed on for the inaugural season of American League baseball and became a Hall of Fame umpire with more than a quarter century of service.

The first test of Connolly, and Ban Johnson’s promise to back him, came from 30-year-old star pitcher Joe McGinnity of the Baltimore Orioles. McGinnity had a late start to his career, but had established himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball in two seasons in the National League. For reasons that remain unclear, the 5’11 bigger than his 207 lb listing McGinnity became upset with the 5’7 140 lb Connolly. The disagreement escalated quickly when McGinnity kicked Connolly and spit tobacco juice in the Englishman’s face. The skirmish quickly became a full-scale riot, including cleared benches, brawls throughout the field, and police with batons. McGinnity was arrested and brought before a judge following the melee.

Johnson, eager to make a statement, banned the instigator, McGinnity, for life.

In one of sport’s oldest and most enduring of story lines*, McGinnity’s suspension was reduced to 12 games on appeal.

*The Black Sox and Pete Rose are the exceptions that prove the rule.

Though Connolly didn’t get the backing he desired from the league president, some action ended up being all that was required. For the rest of his career, Connolly had the respect of the players, and rarely had to resort to ejection (though he did famously run Babe Ruth).

As for McGinnity, he continued his career by joining the New York Giants and becoming the rowdy counterpart to the refined Christy Mathewson. National League President Harry Pulliam once fined McGinnity for “attempting to make the ballpark a slaughterhouse” when the pitcher mounted an opposing catcher in order to throw a series of punches after a game-long verbal dispute.

Joe_McGinnity_Baseball

McGinnity was also a key player in both the original “Merkle boner” game and the replay. In the first game, McGinnity was the guy who found the ball and threw it out of the Polo Grounds in order to prevent the Cubs from recovering it and tagging second base. Johnny Evers, of course, found a ringer creating the controversy that necessitated a replay.

Prior to that replay, McGinnity was the key player in a more sinister plot. With Christy Mathewson scheduled to pitch, the team’s other ace pitcher was expendable. So it was plotted that McGinnity would bait Frank Chance, traditional Mathewson killer, into a fight that would get both ejected. Joe hurled insults at the Cubs’ star player, stepped on his toes,  even spit at him, but Chance wouldn’t bite. Frank Chance went on to get a key hit in the Chicago Cubs win over the Giants.

The Giants released McGinnity prior to the 1909 season, but it was not the end for the “Iron Man” who pitched at least 14 more seasons in the minor leagues, primarily as a player-manager.

Joe McGinnity, of course, wouldn’t have made it into the Hall of Fame (either the Half-Baked variety or the real deal), had he not been a great pitcher. Though his major league career was on the short side, he was dominant once he found the strike zone*, thanks in part to an underhand curve he called “Old Sal”. He ended with 60.4 rWAR and 120 ERA+ in 10 seasons. In addition, he distinguished himself by being the brawler that kick-started (and perhaps spit-started) the career of one of the most respected umpires in baseball history.

*In 1900 McGinnity led the league in both walks (113) and hit batsmen (40 – 3rd most in a season all time).


Half-Baked Hall Profile: Eddie Plank

February 15, 2015

Edward Stewart Plank 1875-1926

“Not the fastest. Not the trickiest, and not the possessor of the most stuff, but just the greatest,” -Eddie Collins

Eddie Plank was the kind of pitcher I would hate. If he played today, he would probably play for the Yankees or the Red Sox.

eddieplank1909pic

The lefty took his time on the mound before it was cool to take your time on the mound. He fidgeted. He fixed his cap. He fussed with his jersey. He adjusted his sleeves. He hiked up his pants. He asked the umpire for a new ball. He rubbed the new ball in his hands. He pulled his belt down closer to his hips. He adjusted his sleeves again. He asked for a new sign….

This routine, or something like it, happened every time Plank threw a pitch.

Not only did he fidget, but Plank talked to himself and the baseball. Long before “The Bird” there was “Gettysburg” Eddie.

P is for Plank,
the arm of the A’s;
When he tangled with Matty
Games lasted for days

-from “Lineup For Yesterday” by Ogden Nash

Fans would avoid Plank’s outings if they had a schedule to keep. Writers found him annoying, primarily because the length of the games he pitched made deadlines difficult to meet.

Despite all of this, Plank managed to be one of the best, if slightly overshadowed, pitchers of his era. Pitching for Connie Mack’s A’s of the early part of the 20th century meant Plank was rarely considered the “star” pitcher of his team. Even with his eccentricities on the mound, teammates such as Rube Waddell and Chief Bender tended to overshadow Plank in the popular imagination. Those who played with him tell a different story:

“Eddie Plank was one of the smartest left-hand pitchers it has been my pleasure to have on my club. He was short and light, as pitchers go, but he made up for the physical defects, if such they were, by his study of the game and his smartness when he was on the pitching peak,” – Connie Mack

Off the field, Plank was a quiet man, who rarely spoke. When he did open his mouth, however, teammates tended to listen. Plank and his teammate Bender were considered two great resources for young players. Both of them had reputations for listening and answering questions with great patience and care.

“I have always been thankful that I was thrown into such intimate contact with so inspiring a man in the days when the majority of ballplayers were of a much lower type than at the present time.” – Jack Coombs

Plank’s numbers, both the traditional counting stats and newer SABR stats, indicate that he is an inner circle Hall of Fame pitcher; probably among the top southpaws to ever take the mound. Perhaps his on the mound antics can be forgiven – after all, he never actually played for the Yankees or the Red Sox.

SABR Bio

 


Half-Baked Hall Profile: Honus Wagner

February 7, 2015

Johannes Peter Wagner 1874-1955

Honus Wagner if one of my favorite players of all time. He may not be the best ever, but he is on the short list. He had an 11.5 win season (*rWAR) in 1908, one of only five players not named Ruth or Bonds to reach that number in a single season. By all accounts Wagner was the very definition of “strapping” in appearance, and in his 21 seasons he was one of the most respected a feared players in baseball.*

*When Ty Cobb was asked about the legend of a World Series incident in which he challenged Wagner on a stolen base and got stitches in his mouth as a result, his response was there was no way that story could be true – it would be foolhardy to anger Wagner.

Much has been written about Wagner (his SABR bio is here), and there is not much more in the way of words to add to the record. For me, however, there are two pictures of Wagner that have captured the imagination of many (myself included) that help to tell his Hall of Fame Story.

t106

The first is the famous T206 baseball card bearing his image. It makes headlines every so often when it sells for an increasingly absurd amount of money (most recently for $2.1 million in 2013). As with anything that involves this much money, there is a little bit of intrigue and controversy surrounding the cards, particularly when it comes to questions of authenticity.

There is little controversy, however, surrounding the circumstances that led to the shortage of Wagner T206 baseball cards. The card was produced as part of a 1909 baseball series by the American Tobacco Company (ATC) that wanted to use the images to help sell tobacco products in a newly competitive market following Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting. When ATC sought permission of the players, Wagner denied it.

While it is impossible to know his true motives, the most likely explanation seems to be that Wagner, a regular user of chewing tobacco, did not want his image used to sell tobacco products to kids.

ATC honored Wagner’s wishes by halting production of the card, but there were already a handful printed. Thus the shortage, and thus the million-dollar-plus price tag those that are confirmed authentic fetch when auctioned.

wagner

The second photo (bigger version here) is estimated to have been taken around 1915, which would make Wagner at least 40 years old. The image of Wagner’s hulking frame, including his legendary large hands, crouched in the dugout pondering the line of bat options has become iconic. It captures a seemingly pensive man at the tail-end of his Hall of Fame career. You can almost listen in to his thoughts as he  reflects on all that he has seen in the game that was his life’s work for 21 seasons.

Honus Wagner, like all of us, was far from perfect. He was accused of overly-rough play, and when Ty Cobb takes pains to avoid angering somebody there is some evidence of a temper. Still, there is something about The Flying Dutchman that makes him stand out from other baseball stars. Perhaps it was his frame, odd even for a deadball era player. Maybe it was his unflinching loyalty to Pittsburgh when it would have been easy (and more lucrative) to jump to a different league. It may be that his workman-like qualities and longevity commanded almost unanimous respect among his peers. Whatever the reason, Wagner’s legacy holds a special place in baseball – enough to make him only the second player elected into the Half-baked Hall of Fame unanimously.

 


Half-Baked Hall Profile: Christy Mathewson

January 18, 2015

Christy Mathewson 1880-1925

Matty

 

Pitcher
New York Giants 1900-1916
Cincinnati Reds 1916

Career WAR: 95.3

Best Season: 1908 37-11 1.43 ERA (168 ERA+) 1.29 FIP 0.827 WHIP 34 CG 11 ShO 6.17 K/BB 11.1 WAR** (1905 is very close)

Known For: Baseball’s gentleman star of the first decade of the deadball era, Mathewson is very closely tied in history to John McGraw, though the two were polar opposites in terms of lifestyle. Mathewson was also known for his “fadeaway” pitch. Also, the 1905 World Series (see below).

Quote:

“He gripped the imagination of a country that held a hundred million people and held this grip with a firmer hold than any man of his day or time” – Grantland Rice

 

Rough Start: As a 19 year old rookie in 1900, Mathewson was 0-3 with a 71 ERA+. He primarily was used as a batting practice pitcher that year, and wrote to a friend “I don’t give a rip whether they keep me or not.”

1905 World Series: Three games against Philadelphia, three complete game shutouts. Mathewson allowed only 13 hits in 27 innings pitched. He struck out 18 to only one walk.

After the 1905 World Series: About a week after his clinching shut out, Mathewson lost a semi-pro game he pitched in Michigan 5-0 after a friend convinced him to play during a hunting trip. About a year later, Mathewson almost died due to a case of diphtheria.

After his outstanding 1908 season: Mathewson pitched to a no-decision in the team’s loss in the Merkle replay. He also felt responsible for the deaths that occurred in the stands that day, believing that he should have convinced the team not to play. Later that offseason, he found the body of his younger brother, Nicholas, who had committed suicide, perhaps in part due to the fact that Christy had advised the Tigers not to bring him directly to the majors.

Farewell Game: In his only appearance on the mound for a major league team other than the Giants, Mathewson pitched against fellow Half-baked HOF’er Three-Finger Brown on Three-Finger Brown day in Chicago. Mathewson allowed 8 runs but still outdueled Brown as the Reds beat the Cubs 10-8.

Black Sox: Christy was a central figure in exposing the Black Sox scandal as he was covering the series for the New York Times.

The Great War: Mathewson enlisted as a Captain in the Chemical Warfare Division. He was accidentally exposed to mustard gas during a training exercise, and was also among those who contracted the flu while in France.

WGOM Voter Comments:

Mathewson won the 1905 World Series with three complete game shutouts. It was the heart of the dead ball era, but still. Just one walk in 27 innings.

He also led the league in K/BB ratio 8 consecutive seasons. – Beau

A friendly reminder that both Mathewson and Lajoie are pretty much definitive, inner-circle Hall of Famers. – Nibbish

 


Half-Baked Hall Profile: Nap Lajoie

January 14, 2015

Napoleon Lajoie (1874-1959)

Nap

2B, 1B
Philadelphia Phillies 1896-1900
Philadelphia Athletics 1901-1902; 1915-1916
Cleveland Naps 1902-1914

Career WAR: 107.4

Best Season: 1904 .376/.413/.546/.959 203 OPS+ 49 2B 15 3B 102 RBI 8.6 WAR

Known For: One of the best all-around players of his era, and on the short list of best second basemen of all time. He was the American League’s first triple crown winner. The active only player in baseball history to have a team named after him.

The Bad: From his SABR Bio:

During his career, Lajoie also had some famous run-ins with umpires. In 1904 he was suspended for throwing chewing tobacco into umpire Frank Dwyer’s eye. After one ejection, Lajoie, who stubbornly refused to leave the bench, had to be escorted from the park by police. And in 1903, Nap became so infuriated by an umpire’s decision to use a blackened ball that he picked up the sphere and threw it over the grandstand, resulting in a forfeit.

Quote:

“He plays so naturally and so easily it looks like lack of effort. Larry’s reach is so long and he’s fast as lightning, and to throw to at second base he is ideal. All the catchers who’ve played with him say he is the easiest man to throw to in the game today. High, low, wide — he is sure of everything.” – Connie Mack

Importance beyond numbers: It is said that Lajoie may have single-handedly brought legitimacy to the new American League when he jumped from the Phillies to the A’s in 1901. The reason he jumped: after being assured that he and teammate (and fellow H-B HOF’er) Ed Delahanty were making the same salary, Lajoie saw one of Big Ed’s checks and discovered he was making about $400 less. The Phillies ultimately obtained an injunction that stated the only team Nap could play for in Pennsylvania. He responded by signing with Cleveland.

Innovator of baseball uniforms: Lajoie broke from the norm of his fellow players and purchased a new mitt prior to each season. His most important contribution to the aesthetic of the game, however, was the league rule enacted when Nap almost had to have his leg amputated due to an infection caused by the blue dye in his socks. So began use of white sanitary socks under the team-colored socks.

WGOM Voter Comments:

In 1912, Nap Lajoie batted .368 and finished in fourth place., 41 points behind Ty Cobb. Crazy   – davidwatts

A friendly reminder that both Mathewson and Lajoie are pretty much definitive, inner-circle Hall of Famers. – nibbish

And Lajoie a younger Kenneth Brannaugh -Rhubarb_Runner

 

 

 


Half-Baked Hall Profile: Willie Keeler

January 5, 2015

William Henry Keeler (1872-1923)

Keeler

Outfield
New York Giants 1892-1893; 1910
Brooklyn Grooms/Superbas 1893; 1899-1902
Baltimore Orioles 1894-1898
New York Highlanders 1903-1909

Career WAR: 54.0

Best Season: 1897 .424/.464/.539/1.003 164 OPS+ 27 2B 19 3B 5 K 7.1 WAR

Quote: “Keep your eye clear and hit ‘em where they ain’t; that’s all.”

Nickname: Wee Willie due to his 5’4″ height

Known For: Aside from his height, Keeler was known for “hitting ‘em where they ain’t” – he was a prolific singles hitter, bunter, and speedster in the 1890’s and the first decade of the deadball era.

The Bad: Started his career at third base and was awful. In 1893 he made 10 errors in 12 games at the hot corner.

Wee Bat: Keeler used a 30-inch bat during his early years, considered the shortest bat in major league history.

Naked Brawl: So rough were Keeler’s defensive lapses, that they drew significant needling from teammates, including John McGraw who played with Keeler during his Baltimore years. It came to blows one day in 1897 while the two were showering after a game. It was reported that Keeler made McGraw “squeal” first.

$10,000 Man: Keeler became the first ballplayer to make more than $10,000 in a year when he signed with the New York Highlanders for the 1903 season. He may also have the distinction of being the first big money free agent signed by the team that would later be known as the Yankees. When Keeler retired he was known as the “Brooklyn Millionaire” – an exaggeration given that he was worth about $200,000 at the time.

WGOM Voter Comments:

C’mon, people. get John McGraw and Wee Willie Keeler in there. What more did you want them to do? – The Dread Pirate

Willie Keeler: Struck out only TWO times in 1899 with 633 plate appearances. I’d like to see him face Phil Hughes. – Beau

SABR Bio

Actual HOF Page

Election Results Page

 


Half-Baked Hall Profile: Three Finger Brown

January 2, 2015

Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown (1876-1948)

Brown1

Pitcher
St. Louis Cardinals 1903
Chicago Cubs 1904-1912; 1916
Cincinnati Reds 1913
St. Louis Terriers 1914
Brooklyn Tip-Tops 1915
Chicago Whales 1915

Career WAR: 55.1

Best Season: 1906 26-6 1.04 ERA (253 ERA+) 2.08 FIP 0.934 WHIP 9 ShO 144 K

Known For: The staff ace of an exceptional Chicago pitching staff during the first decade of the 20th century, Brown led the very talented Cubs to World Series wins in 1907 and 1908. His deformed hand allowed him to throw a “bewildering” curveball.

Quote: Brown’s sign off in his instructional manual How to Pitch Curves:

“I would like to meet every one of you personally if such a thing were possible. But as it isn’t possible, I want you to believe right now that Mordecai Brown’s hand is reaching out to you in the distance and he is wishing you–good luck.”

Nickname: Though he was (and is) commonly referred to as “Three Finger”, Brown technically had four and a half fingers on his right hand. From his SABR Bio:

Mordecai’s most familiar nickname was Three Finger, although he actually had four and a half fingers on his pitching hand. Because of childhood curiosity, Mordecai lost most of his right index finger in a piece of farming equipment. Not long after, he fell while chasing a rabbit and broke his other fingers. The result was a bent middle finger, a paralyzed little finger, and a stump where the index finger used to be.

Brown

Rival: Brown had a career-long rivalry with contemporary (and fellow Half-Baked HOF’er) Christy Mathewson. After Mathewson beat Brown and the Cubs with a no-hitter in June of 1905, Brown won the next nine duels between the two, including the playoff replay of the “Merkle Boner” game in 1909; a game in which Brown entered as a relief pitcher in the first inning and later said he was as good as he had ever been.

The More Talented Brother: According to Brown family lore, Mordecai’s brother John may have been better at baseball than his famous sibling, but did not apply himself to the sport.

Actual HOF Page

Election Results Page


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