Wednesday, February 29, 2012
10,000 days since the death of George KellyPosted by Chris Jaffe
10,000 days ago, Hall of Fame first baseman George Kelly died. His claim to fame, as far as Hall of Famers go, is that he might be the worst player in Cooperstown. Bill James, in his Hall of Fame book The Politics of Glory, creates a stat to determine a player’s Hall of Fame credentials, with 50 serving as an average score for an immortal. Kelly scored at 21, tied for the lowest mark of any of the enshrined.
To be sure, George “High Pockets” Kelly was a fine ballplayer. He twice led the league in RBIs, once in homers, and had a good batting average in his prime (though it was inflated by the era in which he played). But he was never really a great player, and he had a fairly short career. Kelly played in 16 seasons, but that includes four in which he had fewer than 100 plate appearances. In an additional three seasons, he played in fewer than 100 games.
Similarity scores say that Kelly’s most similar player is Bob Watson, who is a fine player but no one’s idea of a Hall of Famer. Watson was actually a better player, though, as he played in a much tougher run environment, and similarity scores don’t take that into account.
Going by more sabermetric stats like OPS+ and career WAR, Kelly’s best comp is probably Chris Chambliss. Both are first basemen with a career OPS+ of 109. Kelly had 24.3 WAR, Chambliss 24.4. Yes, Chambliss was a nice player, but he’s also no one’s idea of a Hall of Famer.
Kelly got into Cooperstown for one reason, and that’s because he was a friend and former teammate of Frankie Frisch. For years, Frisch served on and dominated the Hall of Fame’s veterans committee, and its picks during his lifetime were a great example of cronyism.
During Frisch’s tenure, the Hall inducted his old Giants teammate, Kelly, who is likely the worst first baseman in the Hall. They also inducted Frisch’s old St. Louis teammate Jesse Haines, who may very well be the Hall’s worst pitcher. They also inducted Chick Hafey. You can make a credible argument that Hafey is the least deserving outfielder. They also inducted several others of dubious merit.
Kelly did have his moment in the sun, however. For a while in 1921, he was battling Babe Ruth for a chance to set a new all-time home run record. The year before, Ruth swatted 54 homers, shattering the old record of 27 dingers in a season.
In 1921, Ruth tried to best his own mark, ripping five homers in the first two weeks of the season. Kelly, improbably, kept on the pace. While Ruth was the first man to five, reaching that level on April 25, Kelly joined him there two days later, and on April 30 Kelly moved ahead with six home runs. On May 2, Ruth hit his sixth, but Kelly blasted his seventh long ball.
At that point, Ruth blazed ahead. Kelly didn’t hit his eighth home run until May 12, by which time Ruth was comfortably ahead, and he then pulled further ahead. Ruth ended the year with 59 homers, a record that would stand for a half-dozen campaigns until he famously belted 60 in 1927. Kelly was left far back in the dust with 23 homers.
While that number seems pitiably feeble compare to Ruth’s gargantuan total, 23 was still the second-most homers hit by an NL batter in the 20th century up to that point. Gavvy Cravath conked 24 in 1915 for the Phillies in the Baker Bowl, the most home run-friendly park in all of baseball.
Yes, Kelly could play and had his moment in the sun, but overall he is far more similar to guys not in Cooperstown than those who are in it.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their “day-versary” or anniversary. Here they are – and with the better ones in bold if you’d prefer to just skim the list.
1,000 days since Randy Johnson wins his 300th game.
1,000 days since Gordon Beckham makes his big-league debut. The intervening thousand days haven’t gone according to plan for him, though.
3,000 days since Atlanta trades Adam Wainwright, Jason Marquis, and Ray King to the Cardinals for J.D. Drew and Eli Marrero.
3,000 days since the Cardinals sign Chris Carpenter as a free agent. So in one day St. Louis gets Wainwright and Carpenter. Not bad.
3,000 days since the Yankees trade Jeff Weaver and friends to the Dodgers for Kevin Brown.
4,000 days since the Padres sign Rickey Henderson as a free agent.
5,000 days since the Cubs overcome an eight-run deficit to beat the Rockies, 13-12.
6,000 days since Paul Molitor bops his 500th double.
8,000 days since former minor league umpire Pam Postema files a federal sex discrimination suit against the AL and NL.
9,000 days since One Dog Lance Johnson makes his big-league debut.
15,000 days since baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn says the Negro Leaguers will have a separate section at Cooperstown.
20,000 days since Herb Score is released from the hospital following a three-week stay after catching a line drive in his eye socket. He’s still prohibited form working out, though.
20,000 days since Kirk Gibson is born.
20,000 day since baseball owners vote to allow the Dodgers and Giants move to the West Coast.
25,000 days since the birth of Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan.
40,000 days since Jimmy Williams gets six hits in a game.
40,000 days since the American League announces there will be an AL team in New York next year. The current Baltimore team will move to the Big Apple.
1836 Dickey Pearce, the first real shortstop, is born. Until he came around, it was the least-important defensive position. He made it the most important glove on the field.
1888 Reds catcher Kid Baldwin slugs the umpire in a spring training argument and is nearly arrested for it.
1904 Pepper Martin is born.
1924 Al Rosen is born.
1940 A federal district judge clears the way for Grace Comiskey to retain the White Sox in a legal battle with Bank of Chicago.
1956 Majority shares in Cleveland Indians ownership are sold to GM Hank Greenberg and two other individuals.
1972 Hank Aaron becomes the first player in baseball history to sign a $200,000 contract.
2008 The judge in the BALCO case says that Barry Bonds’ testimony should be made public.
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.