New Podcast - Building the Ballot: Early Baseball Era Committee

Sep 4, 2021 by Adam Darowski

I just wrapped up season one of my new podcast, Building the Ballot. This first season focused on the Hall of Fame’s Early Baseball Era Committee.

The Early Baseball Era Committee meets this winter to consider a ballot of ten candidates for the Baseball Hall of Fame. This committee only meets once every ten years, so each election is incredibly important. This is the first time the Committee has met with these timing rules. The last time a committee that covers a similar era (the Pre-Integration Era Committee) met was December 2015 (for 2016 induction). Nobody was selected.

This committee covers baseball prior to 1950… so essentially 100+ years of baseball. There are an incredible number of names that could make up this ballot, from pioneers like Doc Adams to early stars like Jack Glasscock to turn of the century candidateslike Bill Dahlen to Ruth-era standouts like Wes Ferrell to Negro League legends like John Beckwith. There are players, managers, umpires, and executives, but also the pioneers who helped define our game. Whittling this pool of candidates down to ten names feels impossible.

When thinking about this ballot, I just started writing down names. Once my list hit 70 candidates, I knew I needed help. I called upon the expertise of a few friends and decided to record this journey as a podcast. I had each guest pick five names at the end of their episode (though one ended up picking six and one four) to generate a list of 20 of the most compelling candidates.

The Episode List

Episode 1: Introduction to the Veterans Committee and Era Committees with Graham Womack (August 4): This episode is an introduction to the podcast with baseball historian Graham Womack of Baseball Past and Present. Graham and I discuss the history of the Veterans Committee and Era Committees, how these ballots are constructed, and why this committee will only meet once per decade. We tossed around a few names you could expect to hear in the forthcoming episodes.

Episode 2: Candidates from the White Major Leagues with Jay Jaffe (August 11): This episode covers the White major leagues from 1871 to 1949. We cover 19th century players like Bill Dahlen, Harry Stovey, Jim McCormick, and Charlie Bennett along with 20th century stars Wes Ferrell, Sherry Magee, Bob Johnson, and Wally Schang. Jay Jaffe, Senior Writer for Fangraphs and author of The Cooperstown Casebook joins the podcast.

Episode 3: Candidates from the Negro Major Leagues with Scott Simkus (August 19): This episode covers the Negro major leagues as well as top Black players and pioneers before the establishment of the Negro National League in 1920. Scott Simkus from the Seamheads Negro League Database (and author of Outsider Baseball: The Weird World of Hardball on the Fringe, 1876–1950) joins the podcast. We started with how box scores are added to the Seamheads Negro Leagues Database and moved on to a history of Negro League players in the Hall of Fame. We then covered dozens of candidates, from Buck O’Neil to Dobie Moore to Grant “Home Run” Johnson.

Episode 4: Pioneers of Base Ball with Joe Williams (August 30): This episode covers the pioneers of the game, from its origins into the 20th century. SABR member Joe Williams joins the podcast. We talk about baseball’s origins (candidates like Doc Adams and Will Wheaton), Black Baseball (Bud Fowler, Grant Johnson, George Stovey, Octavius Catto, etc.), Amateur Era players (Jim Creighton, Joe Leggett, Joe Sprague, etc.), National Association Era players (Ross Barnes, Dickey Pearce, Joe Start, etc.), and more (Al Reach, Chris Von der Ahe, John Gaffney, Lefty O’Doul, etc.).

Episode 5: Non-Players (Managers, Executives, Umpires, and Contributors) and Wrap-Up with Graham Womack (September 4): Graham Womack joins the podcast again to discuss non-players—managers, executives, umpires, and contributors. Names like Charlie Grimm, Sam Breadon, Cy Rigler, and Lefty O’Doul come up. We also discuss Buck O’Neil as Graham makes his list from the candidates not chosen yet. Then we build a 10-man ballot, one pick at a time.

Guest Picks

At the end of Episode 2, I asked Jay Jaffe for his top five candidates among players from the White major leagues. His choices were:

  1. Bill Dahlen
  2. Wes Ferrell
  3. Sherry Magee
  4. Harry Stovey
  5. Jack Glasscock

I’m 100% on board with all of these picks. Going into this exercise, this is the group of candidates I was most familiar with (thanks to my work with SABR’s 19th Century Overlooked Base Ball Legend committee).

At the end of an enthralling Episode 3, Scott Simkus reluctantly trimmed his list of Black major league candidates to five.

  1. John Beckwith
  2. Dick Lundy
  3. Dobie Moore
  4. “Candy Jim” Taylor
  5. George “Tubby” Scales

In retrospect, I probably should have saved Candy Jim for episode five and let Scott stick to players. But all five of his selections are great.

In Episode 4, I let Joe Williams pick six. It was partly because he had a clear Top 6, but also that his list had a lot of overlap with the Negro League list. Joe’s choices were:

  1. Doc Adams
  2. Bud Fowler
  3. Grant “Home Run” Johnson
  4. George Stovey
  5. Dickey Pearce
  6. Al Reach

With fewer statistics to go by, pioneers are much more difficult for me to assess. But Adams and Fowler have very clear cases and we do actually have stats on Johnson and Stovey that help confirm their cases for me. Pearce and Reach are a little more difficult for me to quantify, though I’m sure they are Hall-worthy as pioneers.

In Episode 5, Graham Womack picked four candidates from those not yet chosen, starting with an obvious one.

  1. Buck O’Neil
  2. John Donaldson
  3. Gus Greenlee
  4. Lefty O’Doul

Now, Buck O’Neil I’m certainly on board with. The others are a bit more difficult for me. Donaldson was legendary, but there’s something about his lack of success in the Negro National League that doesn’t sit will with me (and certainly didn’t sit well with Scott in Episode 3, either). I’m not saying he’s not a Hall of Famer. I just need more time with it. Greenlee is similar. He made some massive contributions, but was out of the league rather quickly and not allowed back in. O’Doul has a complicated case that requires inclusion of his work bringing baseball to Japan. Again, I’m not saying he’s not worthy. It’s just one I need to think about more.

So that’s 17 of 20 that I’m on board with. There were also several candidates who did not find their way on these lists that, in my opinion, belong in this discussion:

  1. Ross Barnes
  2. Oscar “Heavy” Johnson
  3. “Cannonball” Dick Redding
  4. Alejandro Oms
  5. Vic Harris
  6. Charlie Bennett
  7. Pete Browning

And that brings me to my Top 24. I wanted to give you a Top 10. I wanted to give you a Top 20. But I couldn’t do it. There are way too many superb candidates. You get my 24.

My Top 24

  1. Doc Adams: Adams has as good a claim as any to the title of “Father of Baseball.” He joined the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club in 1845 and served as their president for years. He invented the shortstop position in 1849 or 1850. In 1857, Adams was president of the first baseball convention that set the rules between clubs. Adams played a key role in establishing nine players per team, ninety feet between bases, catching the ball on the fly, and more.
  2. Ross Barnes: While there is some concern he may not be eligible with just nine seasons between the National Association and National League, he played five seasons with the Rockford Forest Citys in the late 1860s. Simply the best position player of the 1870s—.360/.389/.468, 147 Rbat+, 9.1 WAR per 162 games.
  3. John Beckwith: A .349/.403/.583 slash line across 12 Negro major league seasons, he had a 155 Rbat+ and 6.9 WAR per 162 games. A huge bat that spent time at third base, shortstop, and even catcher.
  4. Charlie Bennett: His low batting average (.256) hides the fact that his OBP (.340) and SLG (.387) were well above average. He had a 113 Rbat+ while providing brilliant defense. Was a pioneer of the chest protector and had a ballpark named after him when a tragic accident cut his career short.
  5. Pete Browning: The first Louisville Slugger bat was made for this literal Louisville slugger. He had three batting titles and a .341/.403/.467 line for a 151 Rbat+ across 13 seasons.
  6. Bill Dahlen: A sabermetric favorite, the only eligible position players outside the Hall with 75 WAR are Barry Bonds and Dahlen. He had nearly 2500 hits and a 110 Rbat+ while providing stellar defense at shortstop for 21 years.
  7. Wes Ferrell: Among 20th century pitchers outside the Hall of Fame, by JAWS it’s Clemens first and then Farrell. He was an ace pitcher with six 20-win seasons and also one of the best hitting pitchers of all time. Combining his pitching and hitting contributions leads to amazing context-adjusted numbers and a brilliant peak.
  8. Bud Fowler: Fowler was a pioneering black baseball player, manager, organizer and promoter. He played in the integrated minor leagues before the color line was drawn, but was never given a shot at the majors despite his obvious skill. After trying to form a league in 1883, he formed the first successful pioneering Black barnstorming team, the New York Gorhams. He was also a co-founder of the Page Fence Giants.
  9. Jack Glasscock: The best shortstop of the 19th century, Glasscock was a defensive wizard and a solid hitter in the 19th century, hitting .290 with a 114 Rbat+. Had over 2,000 hits despite the shorter schedules of the 1880s.
  10. Vic Harris: His .663 winning percentage as a manager is the highest of any manager in history with ten or more seasons. His seven pennants are the most of any manager outside of the Hall. As a player, he was also a 7-time All Star who hit .305 in 18 major league seasons with a 113 Rbat+.
  11. Oscar “Heavy” Johnson: Video game numbers. Heavy Johnson spent several seasons with the 25th Infantry Wreckers before joining the Negro National League at age 27. In his first season, he won the batting title by hitting over .400. The second year, he hit over .400 again and won the Triple Crown. Overall in 11 seasons, he hit .370/.428/.592 for a 166 Rbat+ while spending several seasons in the military.
  12. Grant “Home Run” Johnson: Players from 19th century Black baseball are very under-represented in Cooperstown. Johnson was a big hitter over a long career at shortstop. Seamheads has him with a 158 OPS+… again, as a shortstop.
  13. Dick Lundy: One of the most highly regarded Negro League players outside the Hall, he hit .331/.394/.477 in 12 Negro League seasons while playing shortstop. He also had an 11-year managerial career in the majors, winning two pennants and winning at a .539 clip.
  14. Sherry Magee: With the Deadball Era so picked over, it’s a wonder how Magee isn’t in the Hall of Fame. A true five-tool player, he had a 139 Rbat+ with over 400 stole bases while playing excellent defense in left field.
  15. Dobie Moore: Like Heavy Johnson, he spent several years with the 25th Infantry Wreckers. And like Johnson, he took the Negro National League by storm when he joined it. In just 6+ seasons with the Monarchs, he hit .350/.393/.524. He had a 145 Rbat+ and earned 8.8 WAR per 162 games (the highest mark ever for a shortstop). If he was a white ballplayer, he would have been in the major leagues instead of playing in the military.
  16. Buck O’Neil: What is there to say about Buck? The ultimate ambassador for Negro League baseball, his career began as an All-Star player, continued as a Negro League manager, and then led to an extensive coaching and scouting career in the integrated major leagues. He was a treasure and should be properly enshrined.
  17. Alejandro Oms: While he is only credited with seven seasons in the Negro major leagues, he played many more seasons in independent leagues and in Cuba. The numbers we have are impressive—.329/.404/.520 for a 142 Rbat+ in the majors (and similar stats across other competitions).
  18. Dickey Pearce: A top player beginning in the 1850s, he revolutionized the shortstop position by adjusting his positioning depending on the hitter. He was also a star player, contributing into the late 1870s. He is also credited with inventing the bunt, the fair-foul hit, and possibly the sacrifice bunt and squeeze play.
  19. Al Reach: Also a top player from the late 1850s into the 1870s, Reach also got into the sporting good business. His Reach ball was the official baseball and Reach’s Official Base Ball Guide was published until 1939. He was the founder and owner of the Philadelphia Phillies.
  20. “Cannonball” Dick Redding: A top pitcher in Black baseball before the formation of the Negro National League, Redding had some monster seasons over a 22-year career. His Negro league totals on Seamheads are a 109-80 record with a 2.91 ERA (129 ERA+).
  21. George Scales: Scales played mostly 2B and 3B in 26 seasons, 20 of them in the Negro major leagues. There, he hit .319/.421/.509 for a 146 Rbat+. He earned 5.4 WAR per 162 games—again, this is from age 20 to age 45.
  22. Harry Stovey: A five-tool 19th century star, Stovey was a Black Ink machine. He led his league in HR 5x, 3B 4x, R 4x, SLG 3x, TB 3x, and SB 2x. He hit .288/.361/.462 for a 132 Rbat+. His 500+ steals and great defense helped him to 4.9 WAR per 162 games.
  23. George Stovey: The top Black pitcher of the 19th century, Stovey pitched in the integrated minor leagues in the 1880s. Before the color line was drawn he went 60–40 with a 2.17 ERA in 102 games in the top minor leagues. He then went on to play for the top Black clubs of the 19th century.
  24. “Candy Jim” Taylor: Candy Jim played in parts of 33 seasons in the Negro Leagues, 19 in the majors. He won a home run title at age 39 in 1923. But he is best known for managing 30 years (27 in the majors). No Negro League manager won more than his 955 games.

It’s up to you, dear reader, to trim this list down to 10 candidates. But I feel like these 24 are a great place to start.

Perhaps unbelievably, there are still several candidates besides these 24 that I think are clearly Hall-worthy. Wally Schang was a top catcher in the first half of the 20th century. Joe Start had a 27-year career that began in 1859. William Bell is the top Negro League pitcher outside the Hall in several categories. Newt Allen played 23 seasons for the Kansas City Monarchs, providing excellent defense and solid offense. Cal McVey played for the 1869 Red Stockings and had a 136 Rbat+ in the National Association and National League before heading West. Lip Pike had four home run titles and a 136 Rbat+. Jim McCormick is maybe the Bill Dahlen of pitchers (he and Roger Clemens are the only pitchers outside the Hall with 75+ WAR). The list literally goes on and on. There are at least 30 candidates from this era I would have no problem enshrining today. There may be a dozen or two beyond that I’d consider as well.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a list of 100 candidates that we discussed over the course of nearly 6½ hours of podcast conversation. Again, there may be candidates we touched upon that are not listed here. But 100 seemed like a good number to stop at.

  1. Babe Adams
  2. Doc Adams
  3. Newt Allen
  4. Ross Barnes
  5. John Beckwith
  6. William Bell
  7. Charlie Bennett
  8. Tommy Bond
  9. Sam Breadon
  10. Chet Brewer
  11. Pete Browning
  12. Charlie Buffinton
  13. Bill Byrd
  14. Bob Caruthers
  15. Octavius Catto
  16. Pedro Cepeda
  17. Wilbur Cooper
  18. Gavvy Cravath
  19. Jim Creighton
  20. Bill Dahlen
  21. Bingo DeMoss
  22. Rap Dixon
  23. John Donaldson
  24. Jimmy Dykes
  25. Bob Elliott
  26. Wes Ferrell
  27. Bud Fowler
  28. John Gaffney
  29. Jack Glasscock
  30. Gus Greenlee
  31. Charlie Grimm
  32. Heinie Groh
  33. Stan Hack
  34. Vic Harris
  35. Nat Hicks
  36. Paul Hines
  37. Billy Hoy
  38. Sammy Hughes
  39. Fats Jenkins
  40. Bob Johnson
  41. Oscar “Heavy” Johnson
  42. Grant “Home Run” Johnson
  43. Charlie Keller
  44. Joe Leggett
  45. Dick Lundy
  46. Sherry Magee
  47. Dave Malarcher
  48. Oliver Marcell
  49. Marty Marion
  50. Bobby Mathews
  51. Dick McBride
  52. Frank McCormick
  53. Jim McCormick
  54. Hurley McNair
  55. Cal McVey
  56. Dobie Moore
  57. Tony Mullane
  58. Jim Mutrie
  59. Lefty O’Doul
  60. Buck O’Neil
  61. Steve O’Neill
  62. Alejandro Oms
  63. Roy “Red” Parnell
  64. Dickey Pearce
  65. Johnny Pesky
  66. Lip Pike
  67. Spottswood Poles
  68. Alex Radcliff
  69. Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe
  70. Al Reach
  71. “Cannonball” Dick Redding
  72. Cy Rigler
  73. Nap Rucker
  74. Jimmy Ryan
  75. George Scales
  76. Wally Schang
  77. Ben Shibe
  78. Urban Shocker
  79. Joe Sprague
  80. Joe Start
  81. Vern Stephens
  82. Harry Stevens
  83. Harry Stovey
  84. George Stovey
  85. C.I. Taylor
  86. “Candy Jim” Taylor
  87. Quincy Trouppe
  88. George Van Haltren
  89. Chris Von der Ahe
  90. Lew Wadsworth
  91. Fleet Walker
  92. Bucky Walters
  93. Edgar Wesley
  94. William Wheaton
  95. Will White
  96. Jim Whitney
  97. Clarence Williams
  98. Nip Winters
  99. Wild Bill Wright
  100. George Zettlein

Thank you to Graham Womack, Jay Jaffe, Scott Simkus, and Joe Williams for helping me with this project. And thank you to the listeners. There were far more of you than I expected. I’d love to hear your ten favorite names from this era.

Update

(September 6, 2021) Since publishing this piece, it has bothered my that I didn’t accomplish one of the goals that I set out to accomplish at the beginning of this project. I wanted to come up with my 10-candidate Early Baseball Era ballot. I didn’t do that. I couldn’t do that. I listed 24 candidates.

How can I possibly get to ten? I have a solution.

It has become abundantly clear while researching this podcast that there is an enormous number of Negro League candidates that are worthy of Cooperstown. The Hall of Fame hasn’t considered these candidates in fifteen years. To me, it is absurd that we’re going to immediately close the book for another decade. There is finally some momentum thanks to the Seamheads Negro Leagues Database crew, Major League Baseball’s announcement, and the expansion of Negro League stats on Baseball Reference. As a result, my recommendation is that in addition to the Early Baseball Era, Golden Days Era, Modern Baseball Era, and Today’s Game Era Committees, there needs to be a Black Baseball Era Committee. This Black Baseball Era needs to consider candidates far more often than once per decade—either every two or five years.

And with that recommendation, here are my 10-candidate ballots:

Black Baseball Era Committee

  1. John Beckwith
  2. Bud Fowler
  3. Vic Harris
  4. Oscar “Heavy” Johnson
  5. Grant “Home Run” Johnson
  6. Dick Lundy
  7. Dobie Moore
  8. Buck O’Neil
  9. “Cannonball” Dick Redding
  10. “Candy Jim” Taylor

Early Baseball Era Committee

  1. Doc Adams
  2. Ross Barnes
  3. Charlie Bennett
  4. Pete Browning
  5. Bill Dahlen
  6. Wes Ferrell
  7. Jack Glasscock
  8. Sherry Magee
  9. Al Reach
  10. Harry Stovey
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