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
Pitcher
1871-80 through 1872-81
2
Al Spalding
1873-82 through 1875-84
3
Tommy Bond
1876-85
1
Will White
1877-86
1
Jim McCormick
1878-87 through 1879-90
2
Pud Galvin
1880-89 through 1882-91
3
Tim Keefe
1883-92 through 1887-96
5
John Clarkson
1888-97 through 1891-1900
4
Kid Nichols
1892-1901 through 1898-1907
7
Cy Young
1899-1908
1
Joe McGinnity
1900-09 through 1906-15
7
Christy Mathewson
1907-16 through 1913-22
7
Walter Johnson
1914-23 through 1915-24
2
Grover C. Alexander
1916-25 through 1917-26
2
Stan Coveleski
1918-27 through 1922-31
5
Burleigh Grimes
1923-32 through 1930-39
8
Lefty Grove
1931-40 through 1933-42
3
Carl Hubbell
1934-43
1
Paul Derringer
1935-44 through 1938-47
4
Bucky Walters
1939-48 through 1944-53
6
Hal Newhouser
1945-54 through 1946-55
2
Warren Spahn
1947-56
1
Bob Lemon
1948-57 through 1956-65
9
Warren Spahn
1957-66 through 1959-68
3
Don Drysdale
1960-69 through 1962-71
3
Juan Marichal
1963-72 through 1964-73
2
Bob Gibson
1965-74 through 1966-75
2
Gaylord Perry
1967-76
1
Fergie Jenkins
1968-77
1
Tom Seaver
1969-78 through 1970-79
2
Jim Palmer
1971-80 through 1976-85
6
Steve Carlton
1977-86
1
Ron Guidry
1978-87 through 1983-92
6
Jack Morris
1984-93 through 1986-95
3
Roger Clemens
1987-96 through 1996-2005
10
Greg Maddux
1997-2006
1
Randy Johnson
1998-2007 through 1999-2008
2
Greg Maddux
2000-09
1
Andy Pettitte
2001-10
1
CC Sabathia
2002-11 through 2003-12
2
Roy Halladay
2004-13 through 2005-14
2
CC Sabathia
2006-15 through 2008-17
3
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.

THE BALLPARK

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.

THE TEAMS

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 SITUATION

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?

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Lillie Langtry at the Ball Game


In the summer of 2010, I had the pleasure of traveling to London to attend the opening of an exhibit at the Marylebone Cricket Club Museum. In touring the prestigious club, I entered a room dominated by a magnificent painting of a cricket match. It absolutely bowled me over (pun very much intended). What stunned me was not so much the image itself, but the feeling that I had seen it before, and yet I knew that I had not. After a brief moment, however, I realized why it looked so familiar. Let me start at the beginning. Or, rather, two-and-a-half years after the beginning ...

On a two-page spread in the August 31, 1889, issue of Harper’s Weekly you’ll find this gorgeous woodcut titled “A Collegiate Game of Base-Ball”:


"A Collegiate Game of Base-Ball"

Illustrated by Willard Poinsette Snyder, better known as W.P. Snyder, the image has been reproduced numerous times. But while the picture is a favorite of many baseball fans and historians (including myself), it has apparently never been researched to any extent.

Harper’s Weekly accompanied the illustration with an article by Charles Pike Sawyer, the sporting editor of the New York Evening Post. Titled “The Base-Ball Situation,” the article gave a brief synopsis of the baseball season through early August of 1889. Besides covering the major leagues and various minor leagues (but not college baseball), Sawyer devoted a paragraph to an organization known as the Amateur Athletic League (sometimes shortened to Amateur League), a mostly-forgotten association of four New York-area clubs: the Crescent Athletic Club, Orange Athletic Club, Staten Island Athletic Club, and Staten Island Cricket Club. (Yes, the Staten Island Cricket Club fielded a baseball nine.)

It should be noted that “amateur” did not mean that the players in the league weren’t talented athletes. Many were college athletes who could not accept remuneration lest they lose their amateur status. For example, the Orange Athletic Club featured a Yale pitcher named Amos Alonzo Stagg. Yes, the very same Amos Alonzo Stagg whose versatile and stellar career as both an athlete and a coach led him to enshrinement in the College Football Hall of Fame (both as a player and a coach) and the Basketball Hall of Fame. By the way, he also coached baseball at the University of Chicago for 19 years.


Amos Alonzo Stagg

According to Sawyer’s article, the Amateur Athletic League ...

is having a great battle for the championship, and the last game of the season will probably be played before a decision is reached. The two Staten Island clubs are having a contest for supremacy which is close and exciting, and as yet the winner is doubtful. That amateurs can play base-ball well was clearly shown when the two clubs met in a well-played game a short time ago. The day was clear and cool, and each man of the opposing nines was fit to do battle for his life. The grand stand was well crowded with people, and the cool bright dresses of the pretty girls, mingled with the light costumes of the cricket and tennis players, who had stopped their own play to watch the game, and here and there a bright blazer, and again dresses of a more sombre hue, all added to the beauty of the scene. Friends greeted friends as rivals on the ball field, and the merits of the players were discussed by both young men and maidens in a knowing way. For three hours the two nines struggled for supremacy, and when dark came neither side had been able to secure a run. The players fought well, and although neither team gained a victory, all had the satisfaction of knowing that they had taken in part in one of the best games of base-ball on record, amateur or professional.
This is the only paragraph in the article in which a particular game is discussed, and with Sawyer’s detailed descriptions of “the pretty girls,” the “blazers” and “dresses,” and the “beauty of the scene,” it seems safe to assume that Snyder’s woodcut was intended to depict this all-Staten Island contest. As such, it becomes clear that the word “Collegiate” in the title of the illustration was not meant to suggest that the scene portrayed a college baseball game, but rather a “collegial” match between amateur clubs. This particular baseball game between “the two Staten Island clubs” took place on July 20, 1889, with the Staten Island Cricket Club (SICC) hosting the Staten Island Athletic Club (SIAC).

An article in the November 1889 issue of Outing, a monthly sporting magazine, featured this photograph of members of the SICC:



Take a close look at the individual standing at top right. Now look at the young men in Snyder’s illustration who are standing near the grandstand, just below home plate. The cricket caps and blazers are remarkably similar. Could these be “the cricket and tennis players ... [who] had stopped their own play to watch the game?”

The September 1889 issue of Outing magazine covered the remarkable game between the SICC and the SIAC:

The most noteworthy event in the amateur arena up to August 1 was the remarkable game played at West New Brighton, Staten Island, on July 20, between the nines of the Staten Island Athletic Club and the Staten Island Cricket Club. The former had held a winning lead from the beginning of the season in the Amateur League pennant race, and they were regarded as sure victors on this occasion. To the delight of the Cricketers, however, after a battle lasting fifteen innings, the game had to be called on account of darkness, and during the contest not a run was scored on either side. We append the full score of this remarkable game, as it ranks among the best ever played by amateur nines, if not the best on record.

The 15-inning contest lasted just under three hours and both starting pitchers went the distance. Interestingly, both of these pitchers were Harvard men. James Alexander Tyng pitched for the SICC. A dozen years earlier, as a member of the Harvard nine, Tyng made his mark on the game by becoming the first player to wear a catcher’s mask. After making the switch to pitching, Tyng ultimately played a handful of games for the Boston and Philadelphia National League clubs. Pitching for SIAC club that day, Harry Wakefield Bates also twirled for Harvard, graduating in 1892.


James Alexander Tyng

Additionally, Henry Warner Slocum Jr., a Yale alum who played shortstop for the SICC, was a stellar tennis player, winning back-to-back titles at the U.S. National Men’s Singles Championships in 1888 and 1889. He is enshrined in the International Tennis Hall of Fame at Newport, Rhode Island.


Henry Warner Slocum Jr.

The All-Staten Island game took place at the grounds of the SICC, located between Bard and Davis Avenues, Delafield Place and Livingston Court in northeast Staten Island. The location is now called Walker Park and still serves as the home grounds of the club. This park should not be confused with the more familiar St. George Grounds on Staten Island where the American Association New York Metropolitans played their home games in 1886 and 1887.



As there are limited contemporary descriptions of the SICC grounds, it is difficult to determine how accurate Snyder’s representation of the July 20, 1889, scene might be.  However, while it is known that the SICC grounds featured a grandstand, it seems unlikely that it was as substantial as that seen in the illustration.

In fact, the grandstand pictured has more in common with one located over 3,400 miles east of Staten Island ... at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London! That is because Snyder’s illustration is clearly a “baseballized” version of the painting I saw back in 2010. It hangs in the Writing Room at the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) at Lord’s.


Writing Room at the MCC

Painted by artists Sir Robert Ponsonby Staples and George Hamilton Barrable in 1887 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the MCC, the approximately 5½ foot by 10 foot picture is known by several names. According to the MCC Museum, it is titled “Imaginary Cricket Match: England v. Australia.” But most contemporary sources referred to it as “An Ideal Cricket Match.” No matter the name, the painting depicts a fictional match between elevens from England and Australia, along with numerous spectators of note.



According to the Melbourne (Victoria, Australia) Leader of February 12, 1887, the painting was described as follows:

The Englishmen are in. W. G. Grace and W.W. Read are at the wickets, and the former has hit one of Spofforth’s to the off. The ball having been saved at the boundary by Garrett, cover point, the batsmen are evidently in doubt about the practicability of a third run. The field has been carefully placed for the purposes of the picture by Spofforth himself, and while he has chosen the Australian team in conjunction with Scott and others, the English Eleven has been selected on the advice of Lord Harris, Messrs. V. E. Walker, L. D. Walker and other competent English judges. Half life sized portraits of the two elevens are introduced at the base of the picture in the pridella [sic], a method adopted by the early Italian Masters. The idea of the picture is due to Sir Coutts Lindsay, Bart., who proposes to hold a series of exhibitions in the chief capitals of Australia and New Zealand, for which purpose the ideal match has been painted. The artists, in a comprehensive view of Lord’s—giving full prominence, of course, to the pavilion—have introduced among the numerous spectators H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, with most of the principal representatives of the colonies in England, as well as a number of the chief notabilities of the cricket world, including the Earl of Bessborough, Sir Ponsonby Fane, treasurer of the Marylebone Club, Mr. V. E. Walker and others. The animation of the scene is increased by the charming toilettes of the ladies, among whom will be easily recognised some of our most popular English beauties. The picture is a graphic representation of our national game.
The Prince and Princess of Wales (later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) can be seen standing on the field at far right, the Princess carrying a white parasol. W.G. Grace, arguably the greatest cricketer of all time, is the bearded batsman at the wicket, looking on as his ball heads to cover point and is about to be fielded by Australia’s T.W. Garrett. All told, well over five dozen individuals, both on the field and in the stands, are identifiable. A key to the painting is in the collection at the MCC Museum.

Just when and how Snyder came to see the painting is a mystery. As noted in the story above, it originally toured Australia and New Zealand. Its whereabouts afterwards are a bit cloudy, but it was not until 1927 that the painting came to reside at the MCC. However, as a photogravure of the painting was produced by the international art dealer Goupil & Cie as early as March of 1887 (perhaps earlier), it seems likely that it was this version (titled simply "Australia v. England) that acted as the model for Snyder's work.


"Australia v. England" photogravure by Goupil & Cie

Clearly there are major differences between the Staples-Barrable painting and Snyder's illustration. Most significantly, Snyder has replaced the cricket pitch with a baseball diamond, he has eliminated Lord’s original pavilion (the large brick building seen at right), and he has removed the various buildings and stands in the background. However, the crowd in the foreground still contains many of the same individuals as seen in the cricket painting.



For example, in the original painting the woman at left who holds a note in her hand is Constance Gwladys Robinson, also known as Lady de Grey, close friend of the celebrated Australian opera singer Nellie Melba and the famous Irish writer Oscar Wilde. She is essentially identical to the woman in the Harper’s Weekly woodcut, though Snyder has added a pen to her hand, suggesting that perhaps she was keeping score.


Lady de Grey

Snyder also retained the woman in the extreme foreground at far right, Lady Hermione Wilhelmina Fitzgerald, the Duchess of Leinster. Note that her likeness in the cricket painting was almost assuredly based on a photograph taken at the studio of W. and D. Downey, who billed themselves as “Photographers by Special Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen.”


Lady Hermione Wilhelmina Fitzgerald

Of the dozen or so individuals who appear in both pictures, my favorite is the especially conspicuous woman wearing a yellow dress and red bonnet. Note that her attentions are far from the field of play, as she is practically facing the opposite direction.


Lillie Langtry

This woman is none other than Lillie Langtry, the celebrated beauty who went on to a successful career in the theater. She also happened to have had a three-year affair with Prince Albert ... the very top-hatted prince seen above and to the right of her in the Staples-Barrable painting. Perhaps she is deliberately looking away from him. Understandable, and yet it's too bad, because in either picture, she’s missing a heck of a ball game.