WGOM Half-Baked Hall: Baseball’s First Twenty Years (1871-1890)

1871

Welcome to the inaugural induction session for the WGOM Hall of Fame! I truly hope this experiment can be fun, educational, and most importantly, half-baked.  As I write this, we have 33 Citizens who have requested a ballot.  If your name is not on the following list, and you would like a ballot, please e-mail me at WGOMHallOfFame at the google.

AMR, Beau, Ben, BrianS, CanOfCorn, CarterHayes, ccRob, cheaptoy, Daneeka's Ghost, Davidwatts, Dread Pirate, Eric B.B., FirstTimeLongTime, Geoff, Greekhouse, hungryjoe, JeffA, kg2005, MagUidhir, New Britain Bo, nibbish, Philosofer, Punmanbowler, Rowsdower, rpz, Scot, Sean, spookymilk, strategery, UncleWalt, yickit, Zack.

Instructions And Other Miscellany

1, We are not voting in this post. When discussion is over, I will send each of you a private ballot (with further instructions). Even if you don't plan on voting, feel free to join the conversation. I don't have an end date for discussion. We'll just see how it goes. When the discussion tires, we'll have the vote.

2. Not everyone on the ballot are people I believe belong in the Hall of Fame, or sometimes, even in the Hall of Very Good. I list players that could conceivably get some type of argument or had otherwise influential careers that could be fun to discuss.

3. I will not be listing stats, real Hall of Fame status, or any other indicators on the main post, as I don't want to influence the voters in this way. All influencing (including by me) will be done in the comments section.

4. There are no rules to the discussion other than being WGOM friendly. Stats are welcome, as are passionate pleas about how the guy should belong in the Hall because he brewed beer in his basement.

5. We will be doing plaques for those elected. Feel free to offer stuff to put on the plaques. I'd like to make them fun, like the Butters plaque from last week.

6. If you would like to add someone to the ballot that I missed, please put their name in the comments section. If at least one other voter seconds the motion, I'll add them to the ballot.

7. I will be adopting the ideas of Sean and Dread Pirate regarding long-term ballot status for players. When you vote, you'll be able to vote YES, NO, or MAYBE (i.e. No, but keep them on the ballot).

8. With 33 voters, players would require 25 out of 33 votes (75.8%) for election. I'm not sure yet when we'll kick people off the ballot, as I'd like to get a good feel for the voting patterns. Right now, I'm thinking if a player gets 20% of the electorate (7 out of 33) to say YES or MAYBE, I'll keep them on. If this proves to make the ballots too big, we can raise that percentage. Feel free to discuss below.

The Ballot

I have placed 23 people on our first ballot. These are players whose careers ended by 1890. You'll notice there are considerably more pitchers on this list than hitters. I think there are two reasons for this. One is that the best pitchers of the time were often also pretty good hitters, so they helped their teams on both sides of the ball. Second, pitchers in these days pitched a boatload of innings. The "Win" statistic almost made sense back then, as the starting pitcher was often responsible for a large portion of why the team won or lost.

Pitchers

Lady Baldwin
Tommy Bond
Larry Corcoran
Candy Cummings
Jim Devlin
Charlie Ferguson
Guy Hecker
Bobby Mathews
Dick McBride
Jim McCormick
Ed Morris
Al Spalding
Will White
Jim Whitney
George Zettlein

Hitters

Ross Barnes
Charley Jones
Dave Orr
Jack Rowe
Joe Start
Ezra Sutton
Deacon White
Ned Williamson
George Wright

 

113 thoughts on “WGOM Half-Baked Hall: Baseball’s First Twenty Years (1871-1890)”

  1. I'll begin the conversation by pointing out how awesome Charlie Ferguson was before DYING OF TYPHOID. In four years, he had an ERA+ of 120 and an OPS+ of 124 (with over 1,000 PA).

  2. Pursuant to point 4 above, I will be voting in favor of anyone with an awesome nickname. To me, that's one of my favorite parts of baseball culture.

  3. Whatever we do, we can NOT say "goodbye" to Mr. Spalding!

    Vaguely apropos of this post, I was screwing around last night, researching family tree information, when I ran across an article in the Columbus Neb. Journal for May 28, 1884. Check out the paragraph at the top of the middle column.

  4. John Dickson "Dick" McBride's 149 wins and 74 losses not so bad. Awesome facial hair. And a soldier to boot.

    1. He fought in the Civil War, which is pretty bad ass. In adition, he fought in the Revolutionary War, which is bad ass, but also made up by me.

        1. Don't forget his other son, Shake. Together, Shake and Bake McBride made a devastating duo in 2-on-2 basketball.

  5. Beau, you're a brave man for leaving Old Hoss off the ballot with that 1890 cutoff. Better hope he doesn't put down his fruit jar of Satan's own 'shine to come fight you.

    Also, I'd love to watch a contest between Lady Baldwin and Old Hoss.

    1. In the limited reading I've done so far, a fair number of these guys had their careers cut short by pretty crazy circumstances. Jim Devlin, one of the Louisville Four banned for life by the National League for throwing games, became a cop in Philadelphia, where he caught TB and died at 34. Charlie Ferguson caught typhoid fever and died before the 1888 season at 25 years old. Jim Whitney died of TB at 33, less than a year after he suddenly retired in the middle of the 1890 season. Ross Barnes got some kind of mysterious "fever" when he was 27 that forced him to miss more than a season and a half and ended his career by 31. Ned Williamson, who held the single-season home run record from 1884-1919, tore his kneecap while playing in Paris as part of Al Spaulding's 1888-89 baseball world tour, cutting his career short. Williamson died of dropsy when he was 36. Dave Orr had a stroke during a game during his age 30 season. He survived, but it ended his career.

      Part of what I guess I'm saying there is because the careers were short, and because the game itself was so wildly different then, that neither counting stats nor WAR are going to be particularly helpful. The three best players on this list were probably Jim McCormick, Al Spaulding, and Deacon White. Ross Barnes has a ton of black ink, but his career was basically over when he got sick at 27.

      And then there's this tidbit from the Repository's article on Larry Corcoran, an early switch pitcher (I have no idea if this is actually true):

      He is credited with creating the first method of signaling pitches to his catcher, which consisted of moving a wad of chewing tobacco in his mouth to indicate what pitch would be thrown.

      If Candy Cummings merits induction for "inventing" the curveball, then I'm voting for Corcoran based on his contribution to the game.

      1. Yeah, it's really hard to evaluate these players. Williamson hit 25 out of his 27 homers at home, where the right field porch was just 196 feet away. I'm not sure b-ref adjusts well for park factors back then, though I say that not knowing how crazy the other parks were.

        1. so, what does WAR even mean for this era, particularly for pitchers?

          In 1874-1896, the league leaders in pitching innings consistently were in the 400+ range, often 500+ and sometimes topping 600 innings.

          I'm thinking you should expand the eligibility for this first tranche right up to 1896 inclusive. There seems to be some sort of break in at least the innings pitched data at 1896/97.

      2. If Devlin was banned for life, then I think I'm of the opinion that he shouldn't be on the ballot. And I'll maintain that position with everyone banned.

        1. I'm more interested in having an open discussion than being the arbiter of such decisions, especially since I enjoy the history lessons and debate.

          1. It makes sense for us to have the debate. It probably doesn't make sense for us to have the debate with regard to each player. And it makes even less sense if we're gonna admit, say, Shoeless Joe but not Pete Rose, or vice versa, because of our personal feelings about the players.

            If such players are eligible, I'll vote on 'em without weighting that consideration. But I'm firmly in the "they shouldn't be eligible" camp. I'll write up a fuller position later, precisely because of the history and debate.

            1. If the majority of voters don't want banned people eligible, then we can ban them to save time, otherwise I'd be basing this decision off of people who got caught at the time, and were punished by somebody else. I'd certainly want it to be a group decision as I'm not commissioner. But my other concern is that I don't want to get too moralistic, especially since we have voters who plan on voting for people because of their awesome facial-hair or nicknames. It's the WGOM HOF. Are we bound to discount players like Jackson and Rose automatically?

              As for those two players, I can't imagine voting in one without the other, if I were going to vote for them. I guess the one discrepancy I can see is that Jackson threw games while as a player, while Rose threw games after his playing career was over.

              1. By the time Rose was playing, there was a sign on every clubhouse door warning that gambling would result in a lifetime ban. Not the case in 1919.

            2. I'm inclined to be a large ballot person. If someone is on that ballot that a voter doesn't want to vote for, for any reason, they're still able to not view for them. Whereas the reverse is not true.

              1. I also tend to be a large ballot person. And I'm not much into moralizing about other topics. But gambling almost killed baseball, and I feel differently about it. The fact that the reverse is not true is exactly the point behind the lifetime bans.

                1. I'm concerned that if we base these sorts of decisions starting with your strong feelings on gambling, then we've set precedence where we could ban racists or steroid users or any other group someone else strongly objects to.

                  I appreciate that you feel very strongly, but I also feel that by preemptively banning nominees from ballots unduly affects others' ability to express their opinions.

  6. Another cool tidbit from looking at b-ref:

    Jamie Moyer's career spanned 25 seasons, while Jim McCormick's spanned 10 seasons. When Moyer reached 30, the age McCormick was in his last season, it was 1993 and Moyer was pitching for the Orioles. Nevertheless, Jim McCormick faced 346 more batters over his career than Jamie Moyer (17,702 vs 17.356).

  7. I have never heard the name Tommy Bond before reading up on these guys, but he seems interesting. He piled up big numbers and the Irish Baseball League thinks highly of him because they hand out the "Tommy Bond Best Pitcher Award" in his honor.

  8. I want to know more about those 1871 ChiSox pictured.
    They lost their uniforms in the fire? Is that why they were called the White Stockings, because their stirrups were burnt?
    Did Marshall King and Ed. Pinkham really wear sportcoats for the game?

    1. The first game they played after the fire was October 21 in Troy, New York. Perhaps it was really cold? And, perhaps they couldn't get those two guys uniforms in time, so they brought suits from home?

  9. I don't know what to think here. People that jump out to me are...

    * Will White (680 IP in 1879!! 75 games started!!!) Even throwing at an amateur level (think the speeds you or I might throw), you would think that your arm would be halfway destroyed pitching that much in a single season, but he was pretty effective for a number of years after that. Just shy of 40 rWAR

    * Tommy Bond holds the all time record for K/BB. He breaks 60 rWAR, for whatever that's worth.

    * Lady Baldwin's nickname was 'Lady'. He also threw left and batted right (weird).

    * Candy Cummings "invented" the curve ball, he also played six seasons of pretty decent professional baseball.

    * Jim Creighton was (anecdotally) one of the game's first star pitchers.

    * Nate Berkenstock was the firstborn professional baseball player.

    * Bobby Matthews had an abnormally long early-era pitching career, which -- on the back of a crazy three season stretch -- allowed him to accrue just over 60 rWAR and juuussst under 300 wins (297, most by any non-HoFer, Clemens excepted).

    * Jim McCormick was another compiler, though it should be noted that one of his more impressive seasons came in the slightly inferior Union Association.

    * Al Spalding won nearly 80% of the decisions he played in. One season, he went 54-5. Wins and whatnot aside, that's crazy. The best pitcher in the National Association era, almost certainly.

    * Jim Whitney's nickname was "Grasshopper Jim". I was obsessed with grasshoppers as a child. He was also a decent pitcher for a longer period than most pitchers from this era were.

    * Ross Barnes seems to be the best hitter in the National Association era, but did mostly nothing once the competition refined itself for the beginning of the National League era.

    * Deacon White doesn't seem to have much m ore than "hall of very good" credentials, but he played in every single year of eligibility (1871-1890) and was a star for a number of those years. If he doesn't make the cut, I don't think any of the hitters in this bunch do.

    * Ned Williamson played in a ridiculous park a little better than else did that one year, and held the single season home run record until Babe Ruth said "eff that noise" and turned baseball into the morally debauched home run derby that it is today.

    These are the players that I'm considering. Now, am I a "large hall" guy, or an "absurdly large hall" guy?

    1. I echo your thoughts about Deacon White. The hitters of the era just don't seem to have the career longevity or impressive, consistent numbers. I'm debating how many of these pitchers with ridiculous career warrant a mention. Spalding has those impressive win totals, but he never led the league in any of the rate statistics. The year he went 54-5, his team average over 10 runs per game and led the league in every offensive category. The team as a whole went 71-8.

    2. everything about the pre-modern era is hard to parse. From the Repository article on baseball rules:

      The game as we know it today really only began to take shape in the late 1880s, and even after that, many significant rule changes were made during the rest of that century.

      In 1857, under the "Knickerbocker" rules which governed until 1872, the current 9-inning format was adopted, replacing the previous rule that the first team to score 21 runs won. The next year called strikes were recognized, and a batter was out if a ball, fair or foul, was caught on the fly or after one bounce. In 1867, the batter was given the right to call for a high or low pitch.

      The National League was formed in 1876. Its rules changed almost yearly for the next quarter century. In 1880, a batter was out if the catcher caught the third strike; otherwise the batter got four strikes. Before 1883, pitchers were required to deliver pitches with their hand below their hips; in that year, the rule was changed to allow shoulder-high deliveries. Until 1887, batters could call for either a high or low pitch, and the strike zone was either above or below the waist. In 1885, the rules changed, until 1893, to allow bats to be flat on one side; beginning in 1893, they had to be round. In 1887, the rules were changed so that batters could no longer call for a pitch; and the strike zone was defined as from the shoulders to the knees. During this period, the pitcher's mound was much closer to home plate, foul balls were not counted as strikes, batters got four strikes, and the number of "called balls" resulting in a walk—which initially included strikes and foul balls- went from 9 to 8 to 7 to 6 to 5 and, in 1889, to 4. In that same year, the number of strikes went from 4 to 3. In 1887, a rule was adopted for that year only counting walks as hits, which played havoc with statistics. In 1892, the 154 game schedule was adopted. In 1893, the pitcher's mound was moved from 50 to 60.5 feet from home plate. In 1894, foul bunts were made strikes, and the infield fly rule was adopted with one out. In 1895, foul tips were made strikes, but not foul balls. In 1898, the first modern balk rule was adopted, as well as the modern rule for recognizing stolen bases. In 1901, the infield fly rule was extended to apply when there were no outs.

      Because of the frequent and often radical rule changes during this early period, the "modern era" is generally considered to have begun in 1901, when the American League was also formed.

      1. 1901 was the first year for our favorite franchise.

        Not only are these guys hard to judge against players from 1901 on, but I have no rooting interest. There isn't even an evil team to root against.

    3. In 1877 Barnes got sick with some kind of "fever" that essentially ended his effectiveness as a player. Considering he had only played for one full season in the National League before that, I don't think we have enough information to make a judgment about how significant changing leagues was for his ability as a player. He was still pretty darn good in that season, however:

      Barnes' new team finished first in the NL's first season with a 55–12 record, while Boston fell to fourth. Ross led the National League batting (.429), on-base percentage (.462), slugging (.562), runs (126), hits (138), bases (190), doubles (21), triples (14), and walks (20). In the 1876 season, Barnes also established the single-season record for runs per game (1.91), a mark which still stands.

      Barnes' OPS+ in that first NL season was 235.

      I'm not sure it's fair to describe McCormick as a "compiler." He and Bond both played 10 seasons, but McCormick's peak was apparently 5.5 rWAR better.

      1. It's not at all fair to call McCormick a "compiler", as he has more rWAR than anybody on this list. Then again, I was running out of interesting narratives at that point.

        Huh. Interesting tidbit about Barnes. I guess I didn't see that. So many people flamed out for various reasons like Typhoid/Malaria/Opium addiction that I just sort of assumed the worst.

    4. I'll probably vote for Al Spalding, but he gets points docked for legitimizing Abner Doubleday as the inventor of baseball.

      1. I haven't checked any of this out yet, but personally, I'd consider that a point to his credit. "Eh, it was a composite of lots of different stick and ball games, and just sort of homogenized into this thing we've got" is way less cool than "a Union General named friggin' Abner invented this s[tuff]!"

  10. Need to mention Nat Hicks here. Candy Cummings wasn't able to throw a curveball in a game before Hicks came on as his catcher. At the time, Hicks was one of the few catchers who stood directly behind the plate. The popular 20-feet-behind-the-batter catcher stance would not have worked.

    1. so maybe Fred Thayer needs to be mentioned. George Wright apparently pioneered the use of a mouthguard at catcher, but it was Thayer (according to that piece) who innovated the mask, in response to the development of the curveball.

  11. Do people want to add George Wright to the ballot? I just noticed that he is a Hall of Famer who retired prior to 1890, though he was admitted as an executive/pioneer, not a player. If one person says sure, I'll add him.

    1. Sure, add him. But I'm not voting for any owners or executives or coaches unless they made material contributions (came up with an equipment innovation or rules innovation or strategy innovation).

      1. I'm kind of in your camp. I'm going back and forth on Spalding. I don't think his playing career is enough to get him in, but it was a pretty good career. Add in some of his non-playing contributions...

  12. I posted a whole new thread with my thoughts on gambling bans, so we can have that fun conversation.

  13. I like the candidacy of Ross Barnes. He's got a lot of black ink, which I think is the easiest measure to use when looking at these players. He was clearly the best hitter in the league for three of the first six years baseball was organized, and was well above-average in his other few seasons before he got sick. He also, if the stats are to be believed, stole 103 bases at a 79% success rate.

    I'm also a fan of Deacon White for his longevity (20 years) and consistently above-average play with all the changes of leagues and rules. He was also the league's best hitter once.

    1. I agree for exactly the points you've made. Those guys are the position players whose credentials I feel most comfortable with, too.

  14. I said in the other thread that I liked around 2 players per year. That does not, however, mean I'll be voting for 40 people from this list. In fact, there aren't 40 people on this list and I won't be voting for most of them. Part of it is that they were playing a different game, but there were also relatively few people who played at all. There are probably many people who would have been better than almost everybody on this list but never even had the chance to play. By comparison, most people have a chance to play in modern times which makes it more likely for the cream to rise to the top.

    It was also an era where nobody really knew what they were doing, which makes it hard to judge. It's like the first game of werewolf over on spooky's site or the first season of Survivor. If you went back, you probably would see a lot of ridiculous strategy and goofy mechanics, but probably not great play.

          1. You're the Fydrich of werewolf. A freak show who was great for one go-round and then disappeared. Sorry!

        1. Right. Nobody's getting in based on that one. You're getting in based on Star Trek. I remember pulling my hair out from the sidelines during that one.

  15. I have sent out ballots. If you did not get one, please let me know, though I think I got everybody.

    Please feel free to continue conversation here until the results are posted.

    1. I was thinking on this morning's bus ride that we should assign people to give summaries of each of the players. Here's mine:

      Ezra Sutton.
      Middle name: Ballou
      Played 3B, OF, and SS.
      Height: 5'8", Weight 153
      Played 1871-1888
      Hit the first homerun in professional baseball, and so was the first career Homerun leader. Take that Lip Pike, Fred Treacey, and Levy Meyerle!
      Pitched in two games in relief in 1875, putting up a 10.50 ERA in 6 IP. (and a 9.00 UERA)
      Nice Mustache:

      Did not get any MVP votes, did not win any Gold Gloves, did not play in any postseason games.
      Baseball Reference puts him at 32.6 WAR (not counting his negative pitching WAR),

      Edited wikipedia entry:

      Sutton collected 1,574 hits during this time period; he had a lifetime batting average of .294. Like many players in an era when walks were more rare, Sutton did not walk a lot, only drawing 169 walks in more than 5,500 plate appearances. By almost all measures, Sutton had his 2 best seasons in 1883 and 1884 - he collected 203 runs and 296 hits during those 2 seasons. On May 8, 1871, Sutton hit the first home run in professional baseball history for the Cleveland Forest Citys against the Chicago White Stockings. He would go on to hit another home run later in the game but Cleveland still lost the game 14–12.

      Sutton came to the Cleveland Forest Citys in 1870 from the Alert club of Rochester, New York (who had played the Forest Citys twice in 1869), and then joined the Philadelphia Athletics in 1873 after the Cleveland club failed. As third baseman for each he had the unique distinction of playing in both the first National Association game on May 4, 1871 and the first National League game on April 22, 1876. But his main team was the Boston Red Caps (later redubbed the "Beaneaters") where he won pennants in 1877, 1878, and 1883. He was one of the first several players to collect 1,000 hits in the major leagues.

      I'm leaning "No"

  16. Okay, so someone in this era has to deserve to be called "really, really awesome", right?

    Let's figure out who we figure to be the best player from this era. It's as good a place to start as any.

    1. One thing I just noticed is that Guy Hecker 11.1 WAR as a hitter in addition to his 27.8 as a pitcher and won a batting title one year.

    2. I'm leaning toward Ross Barnes. He was Bonds-ian at the plate from 1871 to 1876 (398/424/532, 196 OPS+) then got the "ague", pretty much ending his career. A clear case of PEDs if you ask me!

  17. I have no idea how to evaluate these players except against each other. I'm wary of using modern statistical analysis as so many have pointed out it's a vastly different game today than what these men played. It seems unfair to the players to judge them by modern standards. It's not their fault the game has changed. They played the game they had, and I have my reservations about the ability of things like WAR to describe their world.

    1. yeah, WAR I think is limited in this context. I'm looking a lot at black ink and historical depictions. For example, McBride was a star pitcher long before 1871, and was granted time off from the Civil War so he could pitch. Don't know if that's going to make me vote for him, but it's cool.

    2. WAR would work, except you can't compare across eras. That still applies. You can compare Ruth's and Bonds' WAR, but you have to realize they played in vastly different environments. Pre-modern era the environment just becomes even more different. Same thing comparing OBP between players in the 60s and 90s.

      tl;dr: It's hard and I have no clue about guidelines.

    1. I had a cutoff for WAR. I did add a few other notable players as well. If other people want to vote on Lip Pike, we can add him to the next ballot.

        1. Rationale? I'd like to be convinced is all.

          If another person seconds it, we'll add it to the next ballot. I'll repeat this again later, but I'm likely only to do this for subsequent ballots. In other words, if we're in 1950 and someone wants someone from 1895 on the ballot, we'll save it for a special election rather than tacking them on.

  18. I've created a Google spreadsheet with basic stats for the nominees. Beau may have sent out an email to everyone on the list with the link for editing.

    1. Done. Thanks for this bS. Hopefully that can help those who don't have time to look at every player's b-r page and wiki entries.

  19. Update about the electorate: Ben (not CanofCorn, the other Ben) had decided to bow out from the voting.

    20 ballots are in. Waiting for 13 more. If people need more time, it's no problem.

      1. The weather messed with my plans (in a good way), so I'll do mine over breakfast in the morning.

        1. I just got up, and this is my first meal of the day, so technically I am filling out my bracket over breakfast. Be done momentarily.

    1. Just got home from meeting my new niece (also my first niece/nephew). I'll have it in tonight.

  20. We have 7 stray voters out there. If they get there votes in today, I hope to have an enshrinement (if any) post up late Monday or Tuesday.

  21. The voting period has officially ended.

    There's a small chance of a results post today. More likely it will be tomorrow sometime.

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