Players worth remembering, 1901-1924

As we continue our journey backward through history, we find more great names to go along with the ones revealed in previous installments from 1969-1989, 1947-1968 and 1925-1946. As a reminder, we’re using a crude methodology here — basically the top OPS+ and ERA+ of players whose entire careers fall within the time frame and who aren’t in the Hall of Fame.

The point isn’t so much to rank these players as it is to highlight their accomplishments. Sit back, relax and appreciate those who came before us.

Catcher

Chief Meyers
Career: 3226 PA, .291/.367/.378, 117 OPS+
’12 NYN: 435 PA, .358/.441/.477, 147 OPS+

Wally Schang was the best catcher during this period, but his career didn’t end until 1931, so we’ll go with Meyers. His best season looks eerily familiar to me:

Player        Year  PA   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
Chief Meyers  1912 435 .358 .441 .477 147
Jason Kendall 1998 627 .327 .411 .473 131
Joe Mauer     2006 608 .347 .429 .507 144

Meyers was much older (31) when he posted those numbers than were Kendall (24) or Mauer (23). Meyers was the best hitter on a New York Giants club that went 103-48 during the regular season before losing to the Red Sox in eight in the World Series (Meyers played in all eight games, hitting .357/.419/.429). He also caught Christy Mathewson and Rube Marquard that year.

Meyers’ main drawback as a player was not arriving in the big leagues until age 28. His peak was incredibly bright (.334/.407/.439, 134 OPS+), but also incredibly brief (1911-1913, 1,302 PA).

The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract ranks Meyers as the No. 60 catcher in big-league history. It also notes that long after his playing days, Meyers would recite Casey at the Bat on the Today show in the ’60s, and that “he had a marvelous voice and great dignity, great carriage.”

Performing apparently came naturally to Meyers: According to a wonderful piece by R.J. Lesch at SABR’s Baseball Biography Project, Meyers and Mathewson toured the vaudeville circuit for several weeks in 1910. Their act involved a “forlorn maiden [who] overcomes the ‘bad Indian’ [Meyers] by hitting him in the head with a baseball.” Not the sort of thing that would fly nowadays, but it was well received a century ago.

Meyers’ most similar player according to B-R is Billy Sullivan, but that’s not a good comp (Sullivan’s OPS+ checks in at 91). There really aren’t any good comps in the B-R list. In terms of overall offensive production, Meyers is sort of like Gene Richards, although comparing a catcher from the early 20th Century to a (relatively) modern day fleet-footed outfielder feels all kinds of wrong to me.

Honorable mentions: Johnny Kling (TNBJHBA No. 48; technical note: He played 15 games in 1900)

First base

Ed Konetchy
Career: 8,664 PA, .281/.346/.403, 122 OPS+
’10 SLN: 613 PA, .302/.397/.425, 144 OPS+

Jack Fournier‘s career extends well past 1924, while Harry Davis‘ starts a few years too early, which leaves us with Konetchy. The pride of LaCrosse, Wis., enjoyed a fruitful stay in the big leagues, collecting 2,150 hits along the way.

I’ve listed Konetchy’s 1910 season as his best, but he actually posted better numbers (.314/.363/.483, 149 OPS+) in 1915. That line came while playing for the Pittsburgh Rebels of the short-lived Federal League, though, and I’m inclined — without being terribly well-versed in the matter — to place greater weight on Konetchy’s performance in the better established National League.

Konetchy checks in at No. 48 according to TNBJHBA. James notes that Konetchy “was probably the best defensive first baseman of his time” and also points to his outstanding 1925 campaign at Fort Worth of the Texas League. Yep, Konetchy played a few more years in the minors late in his career, and in ’25, at age 39, he hit .345 with 41 homers.

B-R lists Wally Pipp as Konetchy’s most similar player, although the aforementioned Davis (who is No. 4 on the list) might be a better comp. The only modern player on the list is Willie McGee, but Konetchy was a better hitter. Maybe Mark Grace with less batting average and more speed (Konetchy stole 255 bases)… kinda, sorta.

Honorable mentions: Jake Stahl, Vic Saier, Jake Daubert (No. 61), Fred Luderus (No. 88), Hal Chase (No. 76), Dick Hoblitzel, Chick Gandil

Second base

Larry Doyle
Career: 7,382 PA, .290/.357/.408, 126 OPS+
’11 NYN: 622 PA, .310/.397/.527, 154 OPS+

Doyle led the NL with 25 triples in 1911; that is the fifth highest single-season total since 1901. He won the NL MVP the following year, finishing just ahead of teammate Meyers. As my esteemed colleague Steve Treder notes, Doyle’s 1911 campaign marked one of the best power showings ever by a middle infielder.

Doyle’s most similar player at B-R is Del Pratt, but Doyle was a much better hitter. Chuck Knoblauch, Jason Kendall and Mark Grudzielanek are more recent comps, but again, Doyle outshone them by plenty. Think more along the lines of Bobby Grich and Jeff Kent:

Player        PA   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
Larry Doyle 7,382 .290 .357 .408 126
Bobby Grich 8,220 .266 .371 .424 125
Jeff Kent   8,498 .290 .356 .500 123

Doyle’s numbers are muted by his era, and he didn’t last as long as Grich or Kent, but that’s one heckuva career. TNBJHBA ranks Doyle No. 20 all time at second base, behind Tony Lazzeri and ahead of Knoblauch.

Honorable mentions: Danny Murphy (No. 51; technical note: He played 22 games in 1900), Frank LaPorte, Del Pratt (No. 35), Bill Sweeney, Germany Schaefer, George Cutshaw (No. 95), Otto Knabe

Third base

Heinie Zimmerman
Career: 5740 PA, .295/.331/.419, 121 OPS+
’12 ChN: 619 PA, .372/.418/.571, 169 OPS+

This was a good time to be a third baseman named Heinie, as Heinie Groh just missed our criteria (he played 51 games from 1925 to 1927).

Zimmerman’s 1912 campaign was epic. He led the NL in hits, doubles, home runs, batting average and slugging percentage … probably should have placed higher than sixth in MVP voting.

Zimmerman’s top comp at B-R is Danny Murphy. Almost all of Zimmerman’s 10 most similar players retired before 1950, except Thurman Munson… who seems like a weird fit at first, but I can kind of see it.

In August 1916, Zimmerman was traded from the Giants to the Cubs as part of a deal for the aforementioned Doyle. SABR’s David Jones notes that Zimmerman wasn’t too good with money and became involved in throwing games later in his career.

According to TNBJHBA, Zimmerman is the No. 51 third baseman in big-league history, which puts him in the same general area as Bill Madlock and Larry Parrish.

Honorable mentions: Red Smith (No. 67), Larry Gardner (No. 29), Hans Lobert (No. 68), Art Devlin (No. 58), Harry Lord, Mike Mowrey, Bobby Byrne, Jimmy Austin (No. 85; technical note: He played one game each in ’25, ’26 and ’29)

Shortstop

Art Fletcher
Career: 6,039 PA, .277/.319/.365, 100 OPS+
’16 NYN: 542 PA, .286/.323/.382, 121 OPS+

Before we delve into Fletcher’s accomplishments, I need to say a word about Ray Chapman. Chapman was the best non-Hall of Fame shortstop of his era (No. 47 overall according to TNBJHBA) and, of course, died after being hit in the head by a pitch from Carl Mays on Aug. 16, 1920. Chapman clearly deserves to be remembered, and because of the tragic way his life ended, there is little doubt that he will be. This is why I have chosen to focus on Fletcher instead.

Fletcher never led the league in anything … except hit by pitches, which he routinely topped. (He led the NL every year from 1913 to 1918, except 1915, when he finished second.)

Fletcher’s most similar player according to B-R is George Cutshaw. Among more recent players, Tom Herr and Dave Cash are somewhat similar; Fletcher didn’t get on base as often as Herr or Cash, but he had more power. TNBJHBA cites Fletcher as the No. 41 shortstop all time, behind Travis Jackson and Garry Templeton.

Honorable mentions: Freddy Parent (No. 63; technical note: He played two games in 1899), Heinie Wagner, Buck Weaver (No. 78; like Chapman, he is remembered for other reasons), Donie Bush (No. 51), Al Bridwell (No. 81), Jack Barry (No. 90)

Left field

Sherry Magee
Career: 8,546 PA, .291/.364/.427, 136 OPS+
’10 PhN: 647 PA, .331/.445/.507, 174 OPS+

Magee burst onto the scene in 1904, batting .277/.308/.409 (121 OPS+) as a 19-year-old rookie for the Phillies. He remained an offensive force throughout his entire career, until 1919, when his game deteriorated at age 34. Magee hit .215/.337/.264 (83 OPS+) for the Reds that year, and then retired from the big leagues (after winning a World Championship as a reserve on the club that beat the Black Sox). Magee continued to play in the minors, hitting .326 with 53 homers over parts of seven seasons.

Magee collected more than 2,000 hits, 1,000 runs, 1,000 RBI and 400 stolen bases in his career. Twelve men have done that in big-league history; eight are in the Hall of Fame (Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Eddie Collins, Frankie Frisch, Joe Morgan, Paul Molitor, Rickey Henderson), four are not, three of which may soon be (Magee, Roberto Alomar, Craig Biggio, and Barry Bonds). Dave Studeman has made a compelling case for Magee’s enshrinement, and I find it hard to disagree.

Among other things, Magee had the misfortune of having his best season the year before MVP awards were introduced. He led the NL in runs, RBI, batting average OBP, and SLG in 1910.

TNBJHBA ranks Magee No. 21 among left fielders, behind Albert Belle and ahead of Fred Clarke. Magee’s most similar player at B-R is Wally Moses, but that’s not right (Magee’s OPS+ of 136 trumps Moses’ of 109). Further down the list, Hall of Famers Edd Roush and Joe Kelley are better comps; among more recent players, Ken Griffey Sr. is a decent fit, although Magee was a superior hitter.

Magee apparently had a nasty temper. SABR’s Tom Simon recounts an incident that occurred on July 10, 1911:

With the Phils leading, 2-1, Magee came to bat with one out and Dode Paskert on second and Hans Lobert on first. With two strikes, rookie umpire Bill Finneran called Magee out on what appeared to be a high pitch, prompting Magee to turn away in disgust and throw his bat high in the air. Finneran yanked off his mask and threw him out of the game. Sherry, who had been heading to the bench, suddenly turned and attacked the umpire, clutching him for a second before hitting him with a quick left just above the jaw. With blood spurting from his face, Finneran fell to the ground on his back, apparently unconscious.

Honorable mentions: Patsy Dougherty (No. 72), Tilly Walker, Pat Duncan, Matty McIntyre, Duffy Lewis (No. 85)

Center field

Johnny Bates
Career: 4,597 PA, .278/.367/.377, 122 OPS+
’10 PhN: 582 PA, .305/.385/.420, 132 OPS+

Bates had a brief yet effective career. He didn’t have much of a peak, but neither did he have many valleys. Here are his single-season OPS+ listed in descending order: 132, 129, 127, 126, 124, 122, 118, 110, 106. That is pretty darned consistent.

Bates’ most similar player at B-R is Mike Mitchell, which seems reasonable if not terribly helpful to those of us who weren’t around in 1914. Guys who don’t show up on Bates’ list of similar player but who might make for decent comps include Don Buford, Gene Richards and Lee Mazzilli — useful enough players, but the type that are easily forgotten within a generation or two.

TNBJHBA doesn’t rank Bates among the top 100 at his position.

Clyde Milan
Career: 8,312 PA, .285/.353/.353, 109 OPS+
’11 WsA: 705 PA, .315/.395/.394, 122 OPS+

Milan, who spent his entire career with the Washington Senators, was a vastly inferior hitter to Bates but enjoyed a much longer run. He knocked more than 2000 hits and stole nearly 500 bases in his career, twice leading the AL in steals (88 in 1912, 75 in 1913). He received serious AL MVP consideration in 1912, finishing fourth behind Walter Johnson, Ed Walsh and winner Tris Speaker.

B-R lists Fielder Jones as Milan’s most similar player. Among more recent players, Milan was sort of a better hitting Willie Wilson. TNBJHBA rates Milan as the No. 35 center fielder in history.

Honorable mentions: Benny Kauff (No. 94), Happy Felsch (No. 67), Amos Strunk (No. 100), Fred Snodgrass, Ping Bodie, Dode Paskert (No. 62)

Right field

Gavvy Cravath
Career: 4,645 PA, .287/.380/.478, 151 OPS+
’13 PhN: 594 PA, .341/.407/.568, 172 OPS+

Cravath might be too well-known for our purposes (primarily as the man whose career home run record Babe Ruth broke), but he’s still worth a look. He made his big-league debut with the Red Sox in 1908, at age 28, but didn’t firmly establish himself until after he’d bounced around a bit and ended up in Philadelphia; by then he was 31 years old.

Cravath proceeded to embark on an eight-year rampage (aided in part by his home park, Baker Bowl; according to TNBJHBA, all 19 of his home runs in 1914 came there, and Bill Swank observes that nearly 80 percent of his career homers occurred at that venue) in which he became baseball’s first great power hitter. Cravath led the NL in homers every year from 1913 to 1919 (except 1916, when he finished one behind co-leaders Dave Robertson and Cy Williams). He finished second to Daubert in MVP voting in 1913.

Among his list of 10 most comparable players at B-R, none does Cravath’s career justice. Rusty Greer, a fine hitter in his own right, occupies the top spot, but his OPS+ of 119 pales in comparison to that of Cravath (151). He’s more in the class of players like Al Kaline, Jack Clark and Pedro Guerrero. Favorable home park or no, Cravath was a beast.

After his playing days, Cravath served for 36 years as a judge in Laguna Beach, Calif. TNBJHBA ranks Cravath No. 29 among all right fielders, behind Roger Maris (and Clark, at No. 27) and ahead of Dixie Walker. No word on where Cravath ranks among judges.

Honorable mentions: Socks Seybold (No. 91; technical note: He played 22 games in 1899), Doc Gessler, Steve Evans, John Titus (No. 76)

Right-handed pitcher

Eddie Cicotte
Career: 3,223.1 IP, 208-149, 2.38 ERA, 123 ERA+
’19 ChA: 306.2 IP, 29-7, 3.26 ERA, 175 ERA+

Cicotte worked 18 innings for the Detroit Tigers in 1905, at age 21. He didn’t return to the big leagues until 1908, when he went 11-12 for the Red Sox. Cicotte won 10 or more games in each of his 13 full big-league seasons. He won 15 or more games six times, including three 20-win campaigns.

I’ve identified Cicotte’s 1919 season as his best, but it’s a toss-up between that and 1917 (28-12, 1.53 ERA, 174 ERA+). His most similar player at B-R is Stan Coveleski; four of Cicotte’s top 10 comps are in Cooperstown. It’s kind of hard to spot the Hall of Famers just from looking at the numbers:

Player           IP     W-L   ERA  ERA+ TNBJHBA
Eddie Cicotte  3,223.1 208-149 2.38 123  50
Stan Coveleski 3,082   215-142 2.89 127  58
Chief Bender   3,017   212-127 2.46 111  --
Jack Chesbro   2,896.2 198-132 2.68 110  --
Dazzy Vance    2,966.2 197-140 3.24 124  35

Of course, there is the matter of Cicotte’s involvement in the Black Sox Scandal, which renders him ineligible for enshrinement.

Speaking of comps, amidst some fascinating discussion of Cicotte over at Hall of Merit, the name Don Drysdale surfaces:

Player          IP     W-L   ERA  ERA+ TNBJHBA
Eddie Cicotte 3,223.1 208-149 2.38 123  50
Don Drysdale  3,432   209-166 2.95 121  33

Looks like shouting distance to me.

Honorable mentions: Ed Reulbach, Bob Ewing, Jeff Pfeffer, Fred Toney, Claude Hendrix, Earl Moore, Red Ames

Left-handed pitcher

Hippo Vaughn
Career: 2,730 IP, 178-137, 2.49 ERA, 120 ERA+
’18 ChN: 290.1 IP, 22-10, 1.74 ERA, 161 ERA+

They just don’t make nicknames like that anymore. Hippo’s given name was James, and he could pitch a little. It took Vaughn a while to establish himself, but once he did, he went on a serious tear, averaging 20 wins a season for the Cubs from 1914 to 1920. His 1918 and 1919 (21-14, 1.79 ERA, 161 ERA+) seasons are virtually indistinguishable.

Vaughn’s most similar pitcher at B-R is Doc White, a contemporary of his who shows up among the honorable mentions. Vaughn’s career also bears some resemblance to those of Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally, a couple of southpaws most known for being a part of the ’69 Orioles rotation that featured four 20-game winners.

TNBJHBA rates Vaughn the No. 96 pitcher in big-league history. It also notes that Vaughn once tossed a 17-inning no-hitter in the minors and, on May 2, 1917, locked horns with Toney in a double no-hitter (described in further detail in Jan Finkel’s biographical sketch of Vaughn).

Honorable mentions: Doc White, Nap Rucker, Dutch Leonard, Slim Sallee, Hooks Wiltse

* * *

The usual disclaimer applies. If you notice anyone I may have omitted, please speak up in the comments so that we can acknowledge other players from the era that deserve to be remembered.

References & Resources
Baseball-Reference, The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, The Baseball Biography Project.

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Comments

  1. Gilbert said...

    “Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally, a couple of southpaws most known for being a part of the ‘69 Orioles rotation that featured four 20-game winners”<br>
    They had “just” 2 20-gamers in 69, added Palmer to the group for 3 in ‘70, and Pat Dobson as the 4th in ‘71.  Considering they had none in ‘67 (Tom Phoebus led with 14) and one (McNally) in ‘68, maybe Weaver should have pioneered the 5 man rotation in ‘72 to try to get 5 20-game winners.

  2. Paul said...

    Gavvy Cravath did not hold the career home run record before Babe Ruth.  As of 1920, Cravath had 119 career homers which put him fourth after Roger Connor (138), Sam Thompson (127), and Harry Stovey (122).  If you are counting homers from the modern era only (starting in 1900), then Cravath was the leader followed by Ruth (103 at that point) and Sam Crawford (96).

  3. Dave said...

    I thought we might see George Stone show up on this list.  Brief career masked by playing in a pitcher-friendly park during a pitcher-friendly era, but a monster with the bat.  Not sure why he started his career so late, he was dominant immediately at age 28.

  4. Geoff Young said...

    @Steve: Thanks, glad you’re enjoying it!

    @Gilbert and Paul: Thank you for the corrections. That’s what I get for cranking this out right before going on vacation.

    @Dave: I looked at Stone but decided against him due to the extreme brevity of his career. That ‘06 season was epic.

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