After today, we will have reviewed every rookie in the 20th century in our continuing series of the top rookies of each decade. It has been a fun ride, so let’s finish this century off with a bang. (You can find all the previous installments in this series here.)
The first decade of the 1900s saw Einstein develop his theory of special relativity. L. Frank Baum published “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” Marie Curie won the Nobel Prize. The home phonograph became popular. Jack London heard “The Call of the Wild.” The Brownie camera was invented. The Wright Brothers flew.
They played a little baseball in that decade, as well. Baseball legends like Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker made their debuts, but weren’t good enough to make our top ten. Other future Hall of Famers like Eddie Plank, Chief Bender, Addie Joss, Walter Johnson, and Mordecai Brown were good as rookies, but not quite good enough.
So let’s look at the best of the best from 1900 to 1909. Without further ado, from the home office in Toad Suck, Arkansas, I humbly present the top ten rookies of the first decade of the twentieth century:
1. Ed Reulbach, Cubs (1905). As a 22-year-old, Reulbach was simply magnificent: 18-14, 1.42 ERA, 209 adjusted ERA+. He pitched in 34 games, completing 28 of them, with five shutouts. His most impressive performance probably came in late August, when Reulbach pitched 20 innings to take the victory, 2-1, over Philadelphia.
Reulbach compiled 8.3 wins above replacement in his first season, and by the age of 26, he was 97-39 with a 1.72 ERA and a 151 ERA+. His career sputtered somewhat after leaving Chicago in 1913, but you can hardly argue with 182 lifetime wins and a 2.28 ERA.
2. Harry Krause, Philadelphia Athletics (1909). Krause was just 20 years old when he burst upon the scene for the A’s by going 18-8 while leading the league with a 1.39 ERA and a 174 ERA+. The pride of St. Mary’s College pitched in 32 games, sixteen of which were complete game efforts, and he tossed seven shutouts along the way. That dazzling ERA and ERA+ were the best of the decade for any qualified rookie.
By the age of 23, Krause’s big league career was over, the result of arm problems and poor results. However, he did pitch in the minor leagues for sixteen more years, mostly with Oakland, and was ultimately inducted into the Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame. So he has that going for him, which is nice.
3. George McQuillan, Phillies (1908). One year before Krause helped open Shibe Park with a bang, McQuillan put together a brilliant season at the Baker Bowl, several blocks away, for the Phillies. At age 23, McQuillian won 23, lost 17, and posted a 1.53 ERA to go along with his 157 ERA+ and 9.4 bWAR. He threw 32 complete games, with seven shutouts. Not bad, eh?
McQuillan was 85-89 with a 2.35 ERA over ten years with the Phillies, Reds, Pirates, and Indians. His major league career ended prematurely thanks to the trifecta: “alcoholism, sexual escapades, and financial troubles.” McQuillan did pitch in the minor leagues until he was 39, but he never again reached the heights of that first campaign.
4. Home Run Baker, Philadelphia Athletics (1909). He should have been named Triple Baker, am I right? Ol’ John Franklin Baker was only the second-best rookie on the 1909 A’s, but he was pretty good in his own right: .305/.343/.447, 27 doubles, a league-leading 19 triples, and four home runs.
Baker actually did lead the American League in homers four times from 1911 to 1914 (including a career high 12 in 1913), but he picked up that memorable nickname after hitting two important long balls in the 1911 World Series. He’s the first Hall of Famer on this list. Here comes the second…
5. Christy Mathewson, Giants (1901). You may have heard of Mathewson. As it turns out, he’s one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, and he was excellent from the beginning. In his first full season, Mathewson went 20-17 with a 2.41 ERA, 138 ERA+, 36 complete games, and five shutouts. He struck out 221, and compiled 9.1 wins above replacement.
Over a 17-year career (all but one of which was spent in New York Giants uniform), Mathewson won 373 games with a 2.13 ERA. He was a member of the inaugural class of the baseball Hall of Fame in 1936, along with Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, and Walter Johnson.
6. Ed Summers, Tigers (1908). Kickapoo Ed not only had the best nickname in this group, but he also had perhaps the most memorable rookie season of any of these guys. Summers went 24-12 with a 1.64 ERA, 23 complete games in 32 starts, and five shutouts in 1908. In late September, with the Tigers fighting for the AL pennant, Summers pitched complete games in both ends of a doubleheader against first-place Cleveland; the second game was a ten-inning, 1-0 shutout victory.
Summers also pitched twice in the World Series that year, but rheumatism ended his career at the age of 27.
7. Donie Bush, Tigers (1909). A 5-foot-6 shortstop who posted the best WAR (6.5) of any rookie hitter in the decade, Bush hit .273/.380/.314 with 18 doubles, 114 runs, and 53 stolen bases for the Tigers. Considered to be one of the top defensive players in the league, Bush led the majors with 88 walks in 1909, the first of five times he would lead the league in bases on balls.
8. Irv Young, Boston Beaneaters (1905). He didn’t debut in the big leagues until age 27, but Young didn’t waste any time once he arrived. In his first season, Young won 20 (and lost 21 for a Beaneaters team that went 51-103) with a 2.90 ERA. He led the league in games started (42), complete games (41), innings pitched (378). Young also tossed seven shutouts, and posted a nifty 9.2 WAR (which also led the league).
No rookie pitcher threw more shutouts than Young’s total until 1981, when Fernando Valenzuela had eight.
9. Freddy Parent, Boston Americans (1901). Another slick-fielding shortstop, Parent hit .306/.367/.408 with 23 doubles and nine triples as a rookie. Fifty-nine years later, he appeared on “I’ve Got a Secret;” Parent’s secret was that he played in the very first World Series.
10. George Stone, Browns (1905). The oldest rookie on this list, Stone hit .296/.347/.410 with 25 doubles, 13 triples, and 7 homers as a 28-year-old in 1905. His 187 hits not only led the American League, it was the highest total for any rookie in the decade. The following season, Stone led the AL with a .358 batting average; it was the only American League batting title between 1901 and 1928 that wasn’t won by a future Hall of Famer.
So there you have it, the top ten rookie seasons of the nineteen-aughts. The only players whose exclusion from this list gave me a bit of heartburn were Roscoe Miller and Jake Weimer, but I think I will recover. Otherwise, this top ten is perfect, right?
Okay, maybe not. Have at it, friends.