50,000 days since the birth of Hall of Famer Elmer Flickby Chris Jaffe
December 03, 2012
50,000 days ago, a Hall of Fame outfielder was born: Elmer Flick.
No, he isn’t an especially well-known name, but he could play.
Born Jan. 11, 1876 (yep, that’s how far back you have to go to make it to 50,000 days), Flick made it to the majors in 1898 and immediately became an everyday starter for the Phillies. As a rookie, Flick finished fifth in the league in on-base percentage with a .430 mark. He could hit, he drew walks, he had speed, and he had some power.
Fick kept that pace up for a decade. Three times he led the league in triples, twice in stolen bases, once in RBIs, and once in runs. In 1905, he topped the league in batting average, on-base percentage, OPS, and OPS+.
From 1898-1907, he likely was the best outfielder in all baseball. WAR credits him with 49.8 wins in that span, trailing only shortstop Honus Wagner and second baseman Nap Lajoie. Both Wagner and Lajoie were among the first men elected into Cooperstown in the 1930s. In that span, Flick was third in hits, third in extra-base hits, eighth in walks, and fourth in stolen bases. Yeah, that’s doing it all at the plate.
Flick’s tremendous achievements led to the most famous story of his career. Around the end of his tremendous first decade, the Tigers tried to get him in a trade. At that time, Flick played for the Cleveland Indians, and the Tigers made quite an offer: they’d send young star Ty Cobb to Cleveland straight up for Flick. The Indians turned down Cobb, preferring to stick with Flick.
When that story is told, it’s often told as an example of how Cobb’s personality and abrasive nature hurt his standing among his peers. At least that’s how it often is retold in the accounts I’ve seen.
Perhaps. But there’s another way of looking at it. Now we hear the names Elmer Flick and Ty Cobb, and it’s not even a question who the bigger star was. Yeah, but that’s looking back 105 years later. Flick was the established hero, while Cobb was just emerging in 1907.
Branch Rickey once famously said it’s better to unload a player one year too early than a year too late. Flick was over a decade older than Cobb and heading out of his prime, while Cobb still hadn’t entered into his. While it’s always dangerous to trade the star away, looking back, Detroit was quite lucky that Cleveland turned the deal down.
All this is another way of saying that the story I’ve heard about the trade isn’t a very good story. The real story is that the Indians made a bad move, preferring to cling to past production instead of go for future production.
And sure enough, Flick cratered. Well, that isn’t fair to Flick. That makes it sound like he just couldn’t hit or got old fast. Actually his problems were much worse and more serious than that. Flick developed serious stomach problems. He played in just nine games in 1908. (Meanwhile, Cobb led the league in hits, doubles, triples, RBIs, and batting average, all that at age 21, younger than Flick was when he debuted).
Flick never really recovered and soon was out of baseball. That’s why someone as great as he was for 10 years is so obscure now.
If Cleveland had accepted that trade, it would’ve been one of the all-time great heists in big league history. They’d have Cobb, perhaps the greatest pure hitter in baseball history, and all they’d have given up was a former star who played in fewer than 100 games from 1908 to 1910 before retiring.
Flick still had two thirds of his life ahead of him when he left the big leagues, dying in 1971, two days before his 95th birthday. But it all began for him in 1876, 50,000 days ago.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their “day-versary” or anniversary. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim through things.
2,000 days since the Rockies release Steve Finley.
3,000 days since Aramis Ramirez hits three homers in one game. It’s the third time he’s done it, including the second time in seven weeks.
3,000 days since Jamie Moyer drops his 10th straight decision. He’s allowed 77 runs in 97 innings in that time.
4,000 days since the Dodgers sign free agent Hideo Nomo for his second go-around with the team.
4,000 days since the Red Sox sign free agent outfielder Johnny Damon.
6,000 days since the Rockies top the Dodgers in a wild, 16-15 game. The Dodgers blew leads of 5-1, 6-5, 10-8, 11-9 and 15-14. Colorado was 10-for-10 in steal opportunities, including 6-for-6 by Eric Young.
7,000 days since baseball owners approve the sale of the Orioles to Peter Angelos’ investment group for $173 million.
9,000 days since Rick Honeycutt commits four balks in one outing.
9,000 days since Jose Canseco becomes the first person to hit a ball to the second deck façade at the Kingdome.
10,000 days since Rick "Big Daddy" Reuschel’s 13th straight Quality Start. He’s 6-2 with a 2.22 ERA in 89.1 innings.
1901 The American League officially replaces Milwaukee with St. Louis. They won’t return to Milwaukee until 1970.
1937 The Yankees trade backup catcher Willard Hershberger to the Reds. While on the Reds, Hershberger will become the only player to commit an in-season suicide.
1938 Guy Hecker, pitcher who won 52 games in 1884, dies at age 82
1939 Frank Killen, pitcher who led the league in wins in 1893 (36) and 1896 (30), dies at age 69.
1940 The Browns purchase pitchers Denny Galehouse and Fritz Ostermueller from the Red Sox for $30,000.
1951 The Yankees take Ruben Gomez in the minor league draft from St. Jean of the Provincial League.
1956 The Reds claim Maury Wills from Brooklyn in the minor league draft.
1958 Longtime AL president Will Harridge announces his retirement.
1960 Cleveland trades Harvey Kuenn to the Giants for Johnny Antonelli and Willie Kirkland.
1960 Milwaukee purchases Billy Martin from the Reds.
1962 Frankie Crosetti and Johnny Schulte file a suit to halt any increased pension benefits that don’t include old time players.
1963 The Giants trade Felipe Alou and three others to the Braves for Del Crandall and two others players.
1964 The Phillies trade Rudy May to California for Bo Belinsky.
1966 The Twins trade former ace Camilo Pascual and another player to Washington for Ron Kline.
1968 Bob Short buys majority interest in the Washington Senators. A few years later, he'll move the team to Texas.
1968 Baseball’s lords decree that the mound will be lowered from 15 to 10 inches and the size of the strike zone will be decreased. The goal is to help offense.
1968 Padres trades Dave Giusti to the Cardinals for four players.
1969 Atlanta trades Felipe Alou to the A’s for Jim Nash.
1969 The Mets trade Amos Otis and another player to the Royals for Joe Foy. Wow, the Royals sure win this trade.
1970 Paul Byrd is born.
1971 The Cubs trade three players to Milwaukee for outfielder Jose Cardenal.
1971 The Padres trade starting pitcher Dave Roberts to Houston for three guys.
1973 The Reds sign amateur free agent Mario Soto.
1974 The White Sox trade star slugger Dick Allen to Braves for cash and a player to be named later (Jim Essian).
1974 Houston trades Lee May to the Orioles for Enos Cabell in a four-player trade (two for two). May was the centerpiece of the Reds-Astros trade that sent Joe Morgan to Cincinnati. So in two trades, Houston went from Joe Morgan to Enos Cabell.
1974 The Mets and Phillies trade a half-dozen players (three going each way) where Tug McGraw goes to Philadelphia and Del Unser and John Stearns go to New York.
1974 Philadelphia trades Ed Farmer to the Brewers.
1976 Baltimore trades slugging third baseman Bill Melton to the Indians.
1977 Chad Durbin, pitcher, is born.
1979 The White Sox select first baseman Greg Walker from the Phillies in the Rule 5 draft.
1979 Detroit trades Rusty Staub back to the Expos, where he was the most popular player in franchise history during his first stint with the team.
1984 Seattle gets Mike Morgan from Toronto as a Rule 5 guy. In that same Rule 5 draft, Texas gets reliever Mitch Williams from the Padres.
1988 Cleveland signs free agent lefty reliever Jesse Orosco.
1989 Milwaukee signs free agent slugger Dave Parker.
1990 The Braves sign free agent third baseman Terry Pendleton, who will help turn their franchise around.
1990 Oakland signs free agent outfielder Willie Wilson, who is well past his prime.
1990 The Tigers signs free agent pitcher Bill Gullickson, who will win 20 games for them in 1991.
1990 The Dodgers sign free agent Kevin Gross.
1991 The Cubs sign free agent pitcher Mike Morgan.
1991 The Dodgers sign free agent knuckleball pitcher Tom Candiotti.
1993 San Francisco signs former NL MVP Willie McGee as a free agent.
1997 Tampa Bay signs free agent starting pitcher Wilson Alvarez.
1997 Vic Lombardi, NL pitcher right after World War II, dies at age 75.
2001 Enron, though in bankruptcy court, says it will continue to make payments to maintain naming rights for the Astros stadium and want it to remain Enron Field. Eventually, they’ll be paid off to keep their now-ruined name off the Astros franchise's ballpark.
2003 Oakland trades relief ace Billy Koch to the White Sox for closer Keith Foulke.
2003 The Cubs sign middle reliever LaTroy Hawkins.
2003 Minnesota trades Eric Milton to the Phillies for Nick Punto and Carlos Silva.
2004 The Yankees trade veteran centerfielder Kenny Lofton to the Phillies.
2007 Arizona trades outfielder Carlos Quentin to the White Sox for minor leaguer Chris Carter.
2007 Tampa Bay trades Elijah Dukes to the Nationals.
2008 San Francisco signs free agent relief pitcher Bob Howry.
2010 The White Sox sign free agent slugger Adam Dunn.
2011 The Angels trade Jeff Mathis to Toronto for Brad Mills.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.