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Thread: What Happened?

  1. #1
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    What Happened?

    I have been looking over some stats from early 1900s and 1800s and I see so mnay players who would play 2 or 3 really good games, and then never play ever agin. While looking at this, I can only ask myself "What Happened?" Anyone know why?
    "I don't like to sound egotistical, but every time I stepped up to the plate with a bat in my hands, I couldn't help but feel sorry for the pitcher."
    -Rogers Hornsby-

    "People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring."
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  2. You could make more money doing something besides baseball. Jeff Tesreau was a very good pitcher who had 5-6 good years with the New York Giants and he decided after an argument with John McGraw to hang up the spikes and go into the steel industry.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by slidekellyslide
    You could make more money doing something besides baseball. Jeff Tesreau was a very good pitcher who had 5-6 good years with the New York Giants and he decided after an argument with John McGraw to hang up the spikes and go into the steel industry.
    i'm not sure if that's true. in the 1870's, an average skilled worker's income was somewhere between $500-$700. professional ballplayers, in the same years, were making more than that for only eight months work. george wright made $1400 for the red stockings in 1869. the lowest paid members of the red stockings were making $800. total team payrolls in 1870's ran somewhere between $15,000 and $20,000 for teams that usually only carried a dozen players. while there were later pressures that helped to curb salary inflation and the advantages that players had when negotiating their salary, i think it's safe to assume that major league ballplayers of the era where making a good living.

    while i don't have an answer to the original question (and if i had a few names or examples, i could probably come up with a more specific answer), i'd say that the main reason you have so many players from the 19th cent who only played in a handful of games is because of the nature of the game at the time. the game was still developing and being organized. you had teams coming into leagues, playing a few games, and dropping out. so those players only got into a handful of "major league" games. you had massive player revolving. a guy might bolt a team from the na to go and play with a team in an unorganized professional circuit. the team will then fill that hole with a guy from a local amatuer team and he'll only get into a few games in the "major leagues". players from out west might not enjoy living in the east so after some time in the aa or nl, they might go home and play in california or texas or whatnot. the teams in the majors where still developing a system to recognize the best players and funnel them onto their teams so, as the system developed, players who really don't belong in the "major leagues" are being replaced by better players. so these guys would also have truncated careers.

    add all that up and you have a lot of guys with short careers.
    check out This Game of Games, my blog on the history of 19th century baseball in St. Louis

  4. #4
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    The average ML ballplayer has always made more than the average American employee. Those who were in a special position to find a top-notch job may have chosen that job over ML baseball but that was not very common.

    Others who dipped into the game had lifelong plans to practice medicine or dentistry or enter the family's business.

    The game was much harder in the 19th century:
    No health insurance
    Injuries meant being replaced without pay
    Little to no hope of employment at career's end

    As noted, the urban movement was in its infancy. Many country boys, southerners or westerners just didn't take to the east or city life. Many had families that were pulling them away as well.

    Importantly, baseball players were not viewed as society's elite gentlemen. They were viewed, treated and developed their own sense of self for what they were - itinerant young males with a host of habits and characteristics which were not wholly embraced.

    All this is just from the supply side. They were hired, used and disposed of at the capitalist's whim. Baseball in the 19th century was in perpetual flux - whole minor league clubs rising to the ML level, leagues coming and going, cities coming and going, teams coming and going, expansion, contraction and a host of other instabilities.

    Having a few good games is not enough. A ballplayer must have someone who believes in him and is in his corner. First, an individual must be hired by another. Then, he must show something to someone or have an important someone in his corner. Lacking a combination of this, mixed with the day to day requirements of fielding the best team it was easy to dispose of new faces, whether that proved fortuitous or not.

    There was no disabled list for decades in baseball. If a solid ballplayer was hurt, they had to be replaced on the roster for a short time. Many managers were there own GM well into the 1930s. They had to have tentacles out throughout the country looking for young talent. These men and/or local talent would be brought in fill temporary gaps. In some instances they might latch on to a job, in others they may not.

  5. #5
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    Some players made very good money by getting "hired" by a town as a means to get the player onto the town team. In Walter Johnson's biography Baseball's Big Train (written by Johnson's grandson, incidentally), it mentions that Johnson was hired by a town and was paid well by them for basically doing nothing except pitching for the town team on weekends. This was out west, far from any major league cities. Almost every town or city of any size at all had a team, and weekends were set aside for the baseball game against a neighboring town. These games were heavily attended (and bet on) and were the weekly entertainment for many of these places. As mentioned previously, many of these players, even when offered a professional contract, didn't wish to leave. Perhaps they tried it for a few games, then decided it was better back home. Although major league players were paid more than the average worked, many large minor league teams paid as much, so a lot of decent players may have tried it in the bigs but decided to return home, where they could be close to family and still earn as much, or close to it, playing ball.
    You see, you spend a good deal of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time. J. Bouton

  6. #6
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    bkmckenna's answer was great and covered all of the possiblities.

    Here's a player example for you:

    FRED KETCHUM 1899 Louisville CF 15 games .295 Average

    Now for the rest of his story.

    He was the heir apparent to replace CFer Dummy Hoy who was in his mid-30's. He played all of these games on the road too due to a fire at Louisville's ballpark. What happened was the NL contracted from 12 teams to 8 teams in 1900. Louisville was dumped so this rookie now had to compete with 5 outfield veterans on the Pittsburgh team (including Honus Wagner) and was released.

    Connie Mack "borrowed" him from Pittsburgh and sent him to Wilkes-Barre of the Atlantic League. That team folded with Ketchum leading the league in hitting. Mack did give him a trial in 1901 with his Philadelphia-AL team. After only his fifth game, Connie Mack released him because his team was playing poorly and changes had to be made.

    Ketchum moved on to Kansas City of the Western League where he starred for several years. He earned good money, didn't have to fight every day for his job, and even planned on retiring in Montana to become a minister. One spring morning he was found dead in his hotel room. He had a heart attack while working out to get ready for spring training. He was only 32.

    I'm sure there are hundreds of other stories of players who struggled in the early days of ML baseball just like this one.
    "He's tougher than a railroad sandwich."
    "You'se Got The Eye Of An Eagle."

  7. #7
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    As a side note to TonyK's comments - the Western League and hence the American League's rosters in 1901 are littered with men who were downsized from the NL in the 1899 contraction.

    Catcher24 - the book also talks about Clark Griffith who made a ton of cash as a hired gun for Missoula, Montana one winter, taking the mound against the local rival.

  8. #8
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    I don't recall that particular section about Griffith, but I did find the sections on Johnson's early years in pitching (before his professional status) very interesting. I had known that just about every town had a team, but I didn't realize until reading the book how important it was to the population to field a good team. I also found it intriguing that even after Johnson had become a top star (THE top star?) in the majors, he still went home every fall and pitched in the town game versus the big rival.
    You see, you spend a good deal of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time. J. Bouton

  9. #9
    Henry Schmidt

    Schmidt was 29 years old when Brooklyn manager Ned Hanlon discovered him pitching in the Pacific Coast League. In his only ML season, he went 21-13 for Brooklyn in 1903. The Texan returned his 1904 contract unsigned, with a note that simply said, "I do not like living in the East and will not report." Adamant in his refusal to continue in the majors, he returned to the West Coast, where the lifestyle better suited him.
    www.baseballlibrary.com
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  10. #10
    Lee Richmond is a good example of this. He pitched from age 22-26, with three games in 1886 when he was 29 with the Red Stockings of the AA. He quit baseball to become a doctor (Field of Dreams, anyone? ) Sure, his career record was 75-100, but the Ruby Legs stunk from 1881-1882, and were half decent in 1880 when he went 32-32. Neutralize his stats on B-R.com, and he goes 258-87 with a 2.33 ERA before he hits 27. He was also the "hurler" of the first perfect game in the history of pro ball.

  11. #11
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    I don't have much to add here, just wanted to say that this is one of the best threads I've read on BBF in a long time.
    Thanks very much for the info!

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    Quote Originally Posted by hellborn
    I don't have much to add here, just wanted to say that this is one of the best threads I've read on BBF in a long time.
    Thanks very much for the info!
    Same here, I actually thought that I should PM each member who offered info on this topic, then I saw your reply.

    So as a mod, (not that my opinion has more impact that yours hellborn... because it doesn't!) I just wanted to simply say, "Thank you!"

    It is threads like this that remind me when some other members claim "this site is going down the drains".. Simply put, they are wrong. We have a very nice group of members who share information beyond anything that I could contribute!

    Great questions DEMAND great answers!

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    How about Perry Werden, professional ball's single season home run king prior to 1920? A St. Louis boy who broke in as a pitcher with the Maroons in 1884- went 12-1 with a 1.97 ERA and never pitched another game in the majors. He DID come back as a slugging first baseman for a very short career in the early 1890s peaking in 1893 when he hit 29 triples, still third all time, and then disappeared after that season, popping up for one last season in 1897 with Louisville when he hit .302, second only to Fred Clarke among the regulars (part time rookie Honus Wagner hit .338). Werden was a great talent and one of the most powerful men of his era, capable of playing a long and productive major league career, had he wanted to.

    What happened to him? He fell in love with Minneapolis, pure and simple, moved there, lived the rest of his life there, and became one of the pillars of the community. He played for the Minneapolis Millers in 1894 to 1896, the first two years in old Athletic Park which featured 250 foot foul lines, Werden hit .417 with 42 homers in '94 and topped that by hitting .428 with 45 homers and 179 runs scored in '95. That year the Millers hit 219 homers as a team-think how long that mark lasted!

    After his 97 major league campaign in Louisville, he went right back to Minneapolis and played with the Millers (along with Roger Bresnahan, Deacon Phillippe, Germany Smith, and Bill Hutchison) in mostly second division clubs until his retirement. The Western League changed its name to the American League in 1900 and guess who led the league in homers? Perry Werden with nine. When the AL became major in 1901, Minneapolis was left out and played a season with the remnants of the Western League before becoming a founding member of the American Association in 1902. That season was Werden's last as far as I can figure out.

    I think it very cool that a player would sacrifice his big league career and near stardom because he'd rather play in a smaller town that he liked better. Three cheers for Perry- great arm, great bat- a lifetime major league winning percentage of over .900 and a lifetime slugging average over .400, who else can say that?

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