Sunday, December 10, 2017

Jack Morris and Other Decade Wins Leaders

What pitcher totaled the most wins in the major leagues during the decade of the 1980s? The answer is Jack Morris with 162 victories during that 10-year span.

But, of course you already knew that, right? After all, that factoid has been brought up time and again, most especially ever since Jack Morris became a Hall of Fame candidate back in 2000. That’s because every other pitcher who notched the most wins over a decade and who is eligible for Hall of Fame consideration already has a bronze plaque hanging in the Cooperstown shrine. With today’s Hall of Fame election announcement, Morris is no longer the exception to this rule.

Jack Morris

Here is the list of pitchers with most major league wins in each decade. I’ve brought the list up to date, through the current, incomplete decade of the 2010s.

1870s: Al Spalding (233 wins)
1880s: Tim Keefe (291 wins)
1890s: Kid Nichols (297 wins)
1900s: Christy Mathewson (236 wins)
1910s: Walter Johnson (265 wins)
1920s: Burleigh Grimes (190 wins)
1930s: Lefty Grove (199 wins)
1940s: Hal Newhouser (170 wins)
1950s: Warren Spahn (202 wins)
1960s: Juan Marichal (191 wins)
1970s: Jim Palmer (186 wins)
1980s: Jack Morris (162 wins)
1990s: Greg Maddux (176 wins)
2000s: Andy Pettitte (148 wins)
2010s: Max Scherzer (132 wins)

Note that Al Spalding’s 233 wins during the 1870s covers a nine-year, rather than 10-year, span, because big league baseball began in 1871, the first season of the National Association. Also note that Andy Pettitte, the wins leader over the decade of the 2000s, is not yet eligible to be considered for election to the Hall of Fame, and Max Scherzer is still an active pitcher.

I am not going to argue about the statistical significance of the win. Its merits and shortcomings have been debated for decades. It is, no doubt, a flawed statistic, but that is not the point of this blog post.

Furthermore, there is an inherent unfairness in considering only those spans of 10 straight seasons that happen to start with years ending with the number “0.” Why is it worth celebrating a pitcher who earned the most big league victories from 1970 through 1979 (Jim Palmer), but it is not worth taking a look at a pitcher who posted the most wins from 1971 through 1980 (Steve Carlton)?

To take a broader view of “Decade Wins Leaders” (DWLs), I decided to compile a list of the winningest major league pitchers over every 10-year span in major league history, not just those spans that happen to neatly coincide with an easily named decade like “the 1910s” or the “1920s.”

Of course, one might also argue that a 10-year span is a rather arbitrary length of time. Why not look at pitchers with the most wins over seven straight seasons? Or a span of a dozen years? Sounds good to me, though I’ll leave that exercise for other researchers to tackle.

As you might imagine, many pitchers led in total victories over more than just one 10-year span. For example, not only was Al Spalding the DWL from 1871 through 1880, but he also was the DWL over the very next 10-year span: 1872 through 1881. Rather than naming the DWL for every 10-year span, I’ve kept the list to a reasonable length by just including the starting and ending spans for each pitcher’s run. I have also included the number of consecutive 10-year spans, which helps reveal the string of dominance by each pitcher on the list.

Span(s)as DWLs
No. of spans
1871-80 through 1872-81
Al Spalding
1873-82 through 1875-84
Tommy Bond
Will White
Jim McCormick
1878-87 through 1879-90
Pud Galvin
1880-89 through 1882-91
Tim Keefe
1883-92 through 1887-96
John Clarkson
1888-97 through 1891-1900
Kid Nichols
1892-1901 through 1898-1907
Cy Young
Joe McGinnity
1900-09 through 1906-15
Christy Mathewson
1907-16 through 1913-22
Walter Johnson
1914-23 through 1915-24
Grover C. Alexander
1916-25 through 1917-26
Stan Coveleski
1918-27 through 1922-31
Burleigh Grimes
1923-32 through 1930-39
Lefty Grove
1931-40 through 1933-42
Carl Hubbell
Paul Derringer
1935-44 through 1938-47
Bucky Walters
1939-48 through 1944-53
Hal Newhouser
1945-54 through 1946-55
Warren Spahn
Bob Lemon
1948-57 through 1956-65
Warren Spahn
1957-66 through 1959-68
Don Drysdale
1960-69 through 1962-71
Juan Marichal
1963-72 through 1964-73
Bob Gibson
1965-74 through 1966-75
Gaylord Perry
Fergie Jenkins
Tom Seaver
1969-78 through 1970-79
Jim Palmer
1971-80 through 1976-85
Steve Carlton
Ron Guidry
1978-87 through 1983-92
Jack Morris
1984-93 through 1986-95
Roger Clemens
1987-96 through 1996-2005
Greg Maddux
Randy Johnson
1998-2007 through 1999-2008
Greg Maddux
Andy Pettitte
CC Sabathia
2002-11 through 2003-12
Roy Halladay
2004-13 through 2005-14
CC Sabathia
2006-15 through 2008-17
Justin Verlander

Now that Jack Morris has been elected to the Hall of Fame, when we look at the list of DWLs over every 10-year span in major league history, Tommy Bond, Will White, Jim McCormick, Paul Derringer, Bucky Walters, Ron Guidry, and Roger Clemens are the only eligible Hall of Fame candidates who are not enshrined in Cooperstown.

Tommy Bond

Will White

Jim McCormick

Paul Derringer

Bucky Walters

Ron Guidry

Roger Clemens

A few final notes:

  • Andy Pettitte was a DWL just once, but it happened to be 2000-2009, so he appears on the first list presented at the top of this blog posting.
  • For ten years running, Greg Maddux could boast of being the winningest pitcher over the previous 10 seasons, a remarkable feat that remains unmatched in major league history. Maddux’s streak would have been 13 straight years, but it was interrupted by Randy Johnson’s DWL for the years from 1997 through 2006.
  • Will White, the DWL for the 10-year span from 1876 through 1885, is not in the Hall of Fame, but his older brother, James “Deacon” White, is.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Dear Santa Claus ...

On December 13, 1887, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch lamented that ...

an Eastern magazine is making some very ugly flings at that dear old saint of Christmastide, Santa Claus. ... The magazine in question says it is not good to bring children up in a belief in Santa Claus [and] therefore dear old Santa Claus must be banished. ... The Post-Dispatch thinks not. The Post-Dispatch has written to Santa Claus about the matter and he has written back. His letter is as follows:

The paper urged all “the little folk” to write to Santa Claus care of the Post-Dispatch, and for many days afterwards they published those letters. One such letter appeared in the December 17 issue of the newspaper:

There’s little doubt that the Hogg brothers, seven-year-old Andy and six-year-old Willie, were fans of the American Association St. Louis Browns. Just months earlier, the club had captured its third straight American Association pennant and the boys lived just three miles south of Sportsman’s Park.

But Willie Hogg was much more than just a fan. He was quite an accomplished baseball player. In fact, Willie eventually became a major league pitcher, tossing for the New York Yankees from 1905 through 1908. Fittingly, the very boy who had asked Santa for “base ball pictures” in 1887 posed for this photograph as a rookie major leaguer in 1905:

But on December 8, 1909, nearly 21 years after the Hogg brothers wrote to Santa Claus, the baseball world was shocked by the news of Willie’s death, the 28-year-old succumbing to the ravages of Bright’s disease.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Henry Sandham's Painting of the 1894 Temple Cup Series

On February 27, 1902, the New York Times ran a short article about the “first evening’s sale of the collection of water-colors and oil paintings from the New York shop of the French firm of Boussod, Valadon & Co., dealers in works of art, who have decided to discontinue their branch in this city.” Over the thee-day auction, 267 paintings sold for a total of $267,885. “La Ferte” by French artist Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot sold for $11,500, while $9,500 took home a painting by Théodore Rousseau. Works by Jules Dupré, Alexandre-Georges-Henri Regnault, and Constant Troyon also sold for thousands of dollars. But, according to the article, “a truthful representation of the national game of baseball, by H. Sandham, was not much in demand, and was knocked down for $55.”

Photograph of Henry Sandham from The True Story of “Ramona,” Its Facts and Fictions, Inspirations and Purpose 

The whereabouts of the original 1894 painting by Henry “Hy” Sandham are unknown today, but in 1896 an engraving based on his work was published by Boussod, Valadon & Company, as noted in this article in the May 16, 1896, issue of Sporting Life:

One of these rare engravings can be found at the Library of Congress’s web site:

The illustration, sometimes known as “A Base Ball Match“ and other times “A Base Ball Game,” may be Sandham’s best-known work, but the prolific Canadian artist painted other wonderful works, as well. In particular, he created a series of sports-themed watercolors (bicycling, ice skating, tennis, and tobogganing) published by Louis Prang & Company in the mid-1880s, as well as another painting depicting baseball.

But back to Sandham’s 1894 baseball painting ...

Many historians believe the picture represents not simply a generic baseball scene, but a game of the 1894 Temple Cup series, a post-season best-of-seven championship series between the top two clubs in the National League: the second-place New York Giants and the pennant-winning Baltimore Orioles. But can this be substantiated?

Indeed it can.


There’s no question that the park seen in the illustration is the famed Polo Grounds in New York. Compare it with this panoramic photograph taken after the turn of the century.

The photograph was taken from a very different angle than that drawn by Sandham, but the grandstand and left field bleachers clearly match. The park in the illustration is definitely the Polo Grounds.


Take a close look at the runner on third base. Across the chest of his jersey are the words “NEW YORK”:

Indeed, the player’s entire uniform is consistent with that worn by the Giants in 1894, as can be seen in this team photo from that season:

What about New York’s opponent? What club wore dark caps, dark jerseys, dark pants, and dark stockings with two lighter-colored stripes? As it turns out, during the 1894 Temple Cup series against the Giants, the Orioles wore specially-ordered uniforms that are remarkably similar to the above description. According to the October 3, 1894, issue of the Charlotte (NC) Observer:

The Orioles are to meet the Giants in the Temple cup series in new uniforms. The shirt and pants will be black. Across the breast of the shirt will be "Baltimore" or "Champions" in orange. A narrow orange strip will ornament the breeches down the side. Black and orange striped stockings and black Eton caps with either an oriole or monogram in orange just above the visor, and black sweaters will complete the outfit.
While the illustration fails to show any wording across the chest of the black jerseys or an orange decoration on the front of the cap, the other features of the uniform match perfectly. For example, in this detail from the illustration the Baltimore first baseman is shown wearing a black cap, jersey, and pants (featuring an “orange strip ... down the side”), and “black and orange striped stockings.”

The teams are assuredly the New York Giants and the Baltimore Orioles playing during the 1894 Temple Cup series.


The Giants swept the Orioles in four straight games during that first Temple Cup series, the first two games taking place at Baltimore’s Union Park and the next two at the Polo Grounds. Thus, Sandham’s painting:

  • depicts a particular moment from Game Three (October 6, 1894), or
  • depicts a particular moment from Game Four (October 8, 1894), or
  • depicts a fictional scene from one of those two games.

If we assume the action depicted is not fictional, what clues does the illustration present? There are many, but the following four stand out as most significant:

  • The Orioles pitcher throws right-handed and is about to deliver a pitch
  • The Giants have runners on first and third base
  • The Giants runner on first is breaking for second base
  • The member of the Giants awaiting the pitch bats right-handed
As it turns out, the handedness of the Orioles pitcher doesn’t help us, as the Orioles did not put a southpaw on the mound in either of the two games played at the Polo Grounds.

Careful examination of Game Three play-by-play reveals that at no time did the Giants have men on first and third at the same time. Thus, Sandham is not showing a particular moment from Game Three.

A similar review of play-by-play from Game Four offers just one promising possibility. According to the New York Sun of October 9, 1894, in the bottom of the seventh inning the Giants “got at [Orioles pitcher Kid] Gleason again. After [Shorty] Fuller had flied out, [Duke] Farrell singled and [Orioles center fielder Steve] Brodie made a fine catch of [Jouett] Meekin's long fly. [Eddie] Burke’s single put Farrell on third, and Eddie stole second himself.”

This description matches the situation in the painting perfectly. The Giants put men on first (Eddie Burke) and third (Duke Farrell), at which point Burke stole second. Alas, there is one problem: the Giants batter when Burke took off for second was Mike Tiernan, who batted left-handed, not right-handed as seen in the illustration. Here’s a baseball card showing Tiernan batting left-handed:

Perhaps Sandham intended to show this particular moment from the seventh inning of Game Four, but chose to use artistic license in placing Tiernan in the right-handed box, thus making for a better view showing the front of the batter? Or maybe it is simply a coincidence that the situation in the illustration is tantalizingly close to that seventh-inning scenario.

No matter what Sandham’s intentions may have been, there’s little question his artwork was meant to show the Giants and Orioles battling for the Temple Cup at the Polo Grounds in October of 1894. But the artist also intended to show something else: Himself!

Take a close look at the bearded gentleman in the front row of the grandstand just below and to the left of home plate:

Now compare this likeness with a reversed version of the photo of Henry Sandham I shared at the beginning of this post:

There is little doubt that the artist painted himself into the Polo Grounds crowd.

I am left with one lingering question. To the left of Sandham in the grandstand is an individual who is facing away from the action and staring straight at the viewer of the illustration:

Certainly this man is an actual person. But, I haven’t a clue just who this person is. Perhaps a reader of this blog can solve this final little mystery?