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Thread: Quality of Play in the American Association

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    Quality of Play in the American Association

    This topic got started in the "Tip" O'Neill thread (in the Hall of Fame section and took on a life of its own there. The following few initial posts are from there - at the beginning of each post I'll identify the speaker since it will fall under my signature.

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    From Fuzzy Bear:

    The question becomes this: Was the AA a major league or not?

    If it was not, then we need to designate as such; a minor league, and stop crediting AA ballplayers with major league service.

    If the AA was PERMANENTLY below the NL and the Players League (for as long as it lasted), that's an argument against O'Neill, but it's also an argument against a whole lot of guys. If we stop calling the AA a Major League, how can we say that O'Neill has 10 years of major league service? How many other 19th century candidates would lose credit for 10 years if this designation were retroactively applied?

    How did the AA of the 19th century compare to the National League, in terms of talent? What's the modern analogy?

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    From leecemark:

    --I don't suggest calling the AA a minor league. I do believe that it was the weaker of the 2 major leagues - and that is going to represent pretty poor quality at such an early stage in the evolution of MLB. It was perhaps somewhere along the same qualitative standards of the NA or FL? Even if O'Neil had played his entire career in the NL and out up the same numbers he would be a questionable case at best though. He only had 5 years where he was an above average player.

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    From jjpm74 responding to leecemark:

    In terms of quality of players, I'd put the AA statistically similar to the MLB during WWII. Not quite minor league, a handful of stars, but not much above it either.

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    From Paul Wendt:

    The institutional answer is that after 1882 the American Association and National League were major leagues like the AL and NL after 1902, perhaps until the abolition of the League offices by Bud Selig. At least like the AL and NL under Frick, Eckert, and Kuhn, when then were partners in sometimes unfriendly competition

    The AA and NL with the Northwestern League created organized baseball in 1883. They drafted and signed an agreement to cooperate against other professional ballclubs (in leagues or otherwise) and not to compete much among themselves. They did it with rules that only hint at one practical reality: AA and NL major, NWL minor. In this the analogy breaks down but by 1886(?) they had torn it up and re-started with the AA and NL sharply distinguished from all other parties (ballclub leagues) who would sign up.

    The AA-NL agreements (or organized baseball) did not establish a unified champion, so the World Series of 1884-1890 were arranged by the two pennant-winning clubs. That analogy is perfect but it matches only 1903-1904, when Pittsburgh played Boston and New York avoided the same. The AL and NL agreed on arrangements for a postseason championship series in 1905 and the central organization gained strong control of that quickly.

    What happened in 1890-1892 is akin to the National League going out of business during the late teens, after taking a heavier hit from the Federal League. That episode would have covered 1914 to something like 1917 or 1919, probably involving the Players' Fraternity, general economic pessimism, and WWI. Imagine government order shutting down pro baseball in summer 1917 instead of 1918. In 1919 the AL resumes business with Cubs, Reds, Pirates, and Giants incorporated in a 12-club "monopoly".

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    What is the basis for arguing that the American Association was weaker?

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    From Paul Wendt:

    AA discount, supposed to be conservative

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    I'm not sure what leecemark means by the NA and FL reference points here, but I guess it is a comparison across one or three decades of baseball history much more eventful than in our times. Can that be useful when there is no agreement about the AA's contemporary NL in relation to those leagues? We need to know what those reference points mean to him.

    The stipulated discounted is zero.

    Here IMO is a conservative discount for assessment of ballplayers, such as a discount on AA win shares against contemporary NL win shares@, rounding to the nearest 10%.
    (minus, percent) 1882 = 30 20 20* 0 0 0 0 0 20# 20 = 1891
    Ten percent greater would be a liberal discount for most seasons, I think.

    *1884, the Union Association season. That is 20% against NL1884, itself weakened by UA competition. The AA took the heavier hit by expanding from 8 to 12 teams. I guess the discount might be 10% for the established clubs and 40% for the expansion clubs.

    #1890, the Players League season. That is 20% against NL1890, itself weakened by PL competition (and close to the PL) but strengthened by the admission of the two strongest AA clubs. The NL took the heavier hit, losing most of its star players and many others, while the remaining AA clubs lost only a few players to the PL. But the AA lost four clubs and almost all of their players.

    @This discount might be appropriate against pitcher wins(?) but not against batting average, runs scored, triples, or strikeouts. The scales for those more basic records would all be different, potentially.

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    From leecemark:

    -The league only lasted 10 years and was nothing to brag about on the front or back end. Even if it had been, a player would have had to have been excellent from day 1 to the end to make it just in the AA. Otherwise he would have to have some NL years added to build a HoF career. Of course 19th century players in general have not found the doors of the Hall thrown wide open for them.

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    From Buzzaldrin:

    I can't stand reading some of this.

    The AA was NOT a weak sister, a minor league, or a "barely major" league. Although there were several seasons when the NL was superior, it is not the case that it always was, and there were several seasons when the AA was the superior league- 1886 being the most prominent. From its inception until 1889 the AA outdrew the NL in attendance each and every year with the Browns most often being the biggest baseball draw in the country. At its peak (again-1886) before the Sam Barkley disaster started turning things around, the AA won the series (and do not tell me the 86 series was an exhibition- the Chicago/St. Louis rivalry was the biggest in the nation in the 19th c.), AA runner up Pittsburgh (second in the country in attendance after St. Loo) beat NL runner up Detroit in their series, AA third place Brooklyn beat NL number three New York in their series, and even last place AA Baltimore beat last place NL Washington in their series. In fact, by that point at the end of five seasons, the AA won well over half its matches against the NL (albeit they were called exhibitons, but pride is pride). If a league is more popular at the box office than another league for a given period and also outperforms it on the field during that period, i don't think it's fair to look at those league 120 years later and say that the losing league in both respects was clearly better.

    After the 86 series, Spalding and Anson sent a public telegram stating that they knew when they were beat and the best baseball team in the USA was from St. Louis. This, mind you, coming from the team of Anson, King Kelly, and John Clarkson at their peaks (.371, .388, and 150 ERA+ respectively). The Browns beat them well- handing Chicago the worst loss in its history in game two 12-0 on a Bob Caruthers one-hitter.

    It's very easy to say nowadays that the AA was weaker and its players were second tier, but it's not that simple. It's especially revisionist to simply dismiss the AA because...other people do.

    AA players got as much respect from the fans as their NL counterparts did, and here's a hint- one of the best ways to judge a sports team from any era in any sport is to follow the bookies. 120 years later on, we may not be the best judges of quality, no matter what numers and stats we have, but contemporary bookmakers don't eat if they don't judge teams well overall.

    Cut to the end of the 89 season. Boston- with King Kelly, Dan Brouthers, John Clarkson, and Hoss Radbourn- finishes second in the NL. They are beaten by New York- who feature Buck Ewing, Roger Connor, Monte Ward, Jim O'Rourke, George Gore, Mike Tiernan, Tim Keefe, and Mickey Welch. After the pennant race, the Giants have a week to rest and train before the series.

    Brooklyn- featuring Bob Caruthers and nobody else you've ever heard of (except maybe Oyster Burns)- squeaked out their league title and had exactly one day free between season finale and series opener. They were exhausted and played the opener against the New York Hall of Fame All-Stars in Manhattan. What were the bookmakers' odds for the series?

    Even money.

    (Having said that it's a bit of an anti-climax that New York won.)

    In 1890- it's questionable whether the NATIONAL league was a major league (there's a great thread on it in the 19th c. section), and the AA was certainly a cut above it- although the PL was better than both.

    The AA and its stars deserve soooo much more credit than they've been getting here. People dismiss the AA without backing it up; just sort of assuming that it was weaker because it "failed", but here's the thing- it DIDN'T fail. It didn't fold or become "absorbed" by the NL- that's easy to assume because the consolidated name, "the National League and American Association of Baseball" was so unwieldy that it got shortened to the National League pretty quickly (did you know that the original choice for consolidated name was the American league?). Consolidation was a pure economic move to stop spiralling player salaries after the National Agreement was broken and followed by a frenzy of player raids in late 1891. Again, there are very good discussions of all this in the 19th c. section.

    Heck, I'm ranting. I do agree, however, with whoever wrote that Charley Jones deserves to be in the hall. And I disagree with anyone who says that a ten year career is too short for consideration- if it was too short the Hall would have made the minimum eleven years (I don't have too much respect for the Hall anyhow, though, since they're the lead culprits in the "the AA was crap" game).

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    From leecemark:

    --Even if your point about the AA being as good or better than the NL at its peak we are only talking about a very short period here. It didn't start out as the NL's equal and it did not recover from the Player's League sucking most of its best talent away. So for at least half of its brief existence it was markedly inferior. And it DID fail. The league itself went out of existence and the teams that did join the National League were extremely non-competitive in their first season after making the move.

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    From Buzzaldrin:

    I shouldn't post when I'm hungover, I get edgy. I'll try to be less so.

    The teams that merged with the NL (not joined- the league/association in 92 was actually referred to as such in the sports pages) were expected to be non-competetive in 1892. Louisville and Washington finished last and second to last in the AA in 1891- who expected them to be better? However, they WERE actually better in 92- they raised their winning percentages from .394 and .326 to .414 and .384 respectively. During the player raids at the end of the 91 season, St. Louis was the hardest hit team in the country, losing pretty much its entire starting lineup and pitching AND its manager. That's not something you recover from in one off-season. The 92 Browns had five managers and did not field a single starter or starting pitcher from the 91 squad; they had been decimated.

    Baltimore actually had a good hitting club in '92- finishing 4th in the league, but their pitching was absolutely atrocious. Charlie Buffinton, who had been 29-9 with Boston in 91, was expected to be the staff ace, with McMahon number two. Sounds good, except Buffinton retired after 13 starts and they literally had nobody to replace him. Once Baltimore had some arms to back up McMahon, they won the pennant and became the most famous pre-1900 dynasty of all.

    My point, which I've digressed from, is that from 1885 to 1890 the AA was either equal, slightly inferior, or slightly superior to the NL- we'll never know for certain at this point, BUT this thread is about Tip O'Neill and those seasons were his heyday. It's unfair to dismiss them because of league quality (it took me forever to say that).

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    From Jalbright:

    Buzz,

    Your point that the best of the AA stands up with the best of the NL is well taken. I'm not at all convinced that top-to-bottom the AA stacks up, though. Certainly, your argument doesn't address this aspect of the comparison.

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    From leecemark:

    --I think the AA attendance was based as much on their lower ticket prices, the fact they sold beer at their games and that they played on Sundays - the only day off for many working men at that time - than because the baseball was better. I am not saying they didn't play some good ball or even that there weren't a few years when they achieved parity with the NL. I am saying that it was a weak league at the beginning and end of its brief history. That doesn't leave too many good years. It is also a fact that MOST of the AA teams folded while NONE of the NL teams did and while the NL may have briefly tacked a reference to the AA onto its name it was quickly dropped.

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    From Fuzz Bear responding to leecemark:

    If it was a weaker league, then there comes a point where the weaker league is no longer a "major" league.

    To my knowledge, that formal distinction has never been made

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    From Gee Walker:

    In brief, is there any significant difference between the AA and the American Basketball Association (ABA) which had ten years of existence from 1967 to 1976? It was weaker than the NBA, without a doubt, but it featured one of the best players of its time (Julius Erving) as well as other stars like George Gervin, Moses Malone, and Artis Gilmore. All except Gilmore are in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

    The World Hockey Association (WHA) had an even better cast of players during its brief (1972-79) existence. Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, and JC Tremblay, are just some of the Hall of Famers that played in this league. The biggest coup was signing Wayne Gretzky, age 17.

    Interestingly, both leagues merged their best franchises into the more established leagues of the time. The NHL has never acknowledged the records of the players in the WHA, depriving Howe, Hull, Gretzky and others of some career totals - if you include their stats in the WHA these three guys would rank as the top three goal scorers of all time. The Hockey Hall of Fame has followed the NHL party line, ignoring the careers of Anders Hedberg and Andre Lacroix over some clearly lesser players.

    Hey, the AFL was inferior to the NFL. It only lasted ten years. But there are AFL players in the Football Hall of Fame.

    The Negro Leagues were inferior to the Majors. Needless to say, they had lots of Hall of Fame players.

    And we're back to the point that NOBODY whose peak was spent in the AA is in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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    From Paul Wendt responding to Buzzaldrin:

    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Buzzaldrin
    During the player raids at the end of the 91 season, St. Louis was the hardest hit team in the country, losing pretty much its entire starting lineup and pitching AND its manager.


    From a perspective that every team deserves to keep its players until it chooses to relinquish them (the reserve clause before 1976), St Louis was poorly treated in 1891-92, like the ABA New York Nets in 1976-77. It wasn't any way to extend a partnership, and I suppose many NL magnates had no intention of extending a partnership to Von der Ahe or to St Louis under his leadership.

    The St Louis owner was sometimes difficult for employees, too, so St Louis players were more likely to move elsewhere. Conventional interpretation is that manager Comiskey abandoned Von der Ahe, no "raid" required. He was up to here with Von der Ahe *and* a hot property.


    Quote:
    My point, which I've digressed from, is that from 1885 to 1890 the AA was either equal, slightly inferior, or slightly superior to the NL- we'll never know for certain at this point, BUT this thread is about Tip O'Neill and those seasons were his heyday. It's unfair to dismiss them because of league quality (it took me forever to say that).


    The AA in 1890 was woefully weak but yes it was strong in 1885-89 and those were O'Neil's 5 or 4-1/2 big seasons.

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    From Paul Wendt:

    The Sporting News did not recognize the Federal League 1914-15 seasons until a few years ago when their own annual record book was in crisis. Quality of play may have been a factor but maybe not. The Feds had been baseball outlaws. During WWI the majors had subsidized TSN but let Sporting Life expire, probably because of their respective hard line and welcoming positions on the Federal League. Maybe TSN simply retained its hard line with little or no reexamination while its annual was prosperous.

    Beside that uncertain case, no league has been declared major or minor based on its quality of play, afaik. I mean declared by recordkeepers including print and web encyclopedists whose judgments do not always coincide.

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    From Fuzz Bear responding to Gee Walker:

    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Gee Walker
    In brief, is there any significant difference between the AA and the American Basketball Association (ABA) which had ten years of existence from 1967 to 1976? It was weaker than the NBA, without a doubt, but it featured one of the best players of its time (Julius Erving) as well as other stars like George Gervin, Moses Malone, and Artis Gilmore. All except Gilmore are in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

    If that's the analogy you are using, I would make certain points:

    The ABA was clearly an inferior league to the NBA for one reason; it did not have the quality of centers that the NBA had, in a time where the big man made the difference. Jim McDaniels was the second best center in the draft the year Artis Gilmore graduated. He signed with the ABA Carolina Cougars, but was able to jump to the Seattle Supersonics in mid-season in 1971-72 (the 5th year of the ABA). In his book, Caught In The Pivot, his coach said of McDaniels, at the time he jumped: "Wait until Dale Schleuter runs up his back a few times, let alone Chamberlain, Jabbar, and Thurmond." Jim McDaniels was the MVP of the ABA All-Star game that year, but he was a total flop in the NBA, and the Sonics actually tried to get Carolina to take him back after signing him (through backchannels).

    The ABA had stars, but not teams. The top 2 or 3 ABA teams might have made the NBA playoffs, but the only time I MIGHT have given the ABA champion a shot at knocking off the NBA champion was the 1974-75 Kentucky Colonels upsetting the Golden State Warriors, and only because it was the only possible matchup of league champions (with the POSSIBLE exception of 1972-73 with Mel Daniels going up against a past-prime and hurting Willis Reed).

    I would also suggest that while Artis Gilmore played significant portions of his career in both leagues, Gervin and Malone were in the ABA for two years only.


    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Gee Walker
    The World Hockey Association (WHA) had an even better cast of players during its brief (1972-79) existence. Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, and JC Tremblay, are just some of the Hall of Famers that played in this league. The biggest coup was signing Wayne Gretzky, age 17.


    Interestingly, both leagues merged their best franchises into the more established leagues of the time. The NHL has never acknowledged the records of the players in the WHA, depriving Howe, Hull, Gretzky and others of some career totals - if you include their stats in the WHA these three guys would rank as the top three goal scorers of all time. The Hockey Hall of Fame has followed the NHL party line, ignoring the careers of Anders Hedberg and Andre Lacroix over some clearly lesser players.

    The WHA had the biggest names in hockey, but they were all past their prime. Howe, Hull, Tremblay, Frank Mahovlich, Derek Sanderson, some others, all were in the back end of their careers. The WHA was closer to the NHL in quality, however; part of that was due to the WHA's willingness to sign European hockey stars. Still, while the top 2-3 teams in the WHA MIGHT have contended for the last 1-2 playoff berths in the NHL most years, there's no way that the WHA champion would EVER have seriously contended for the Stanley Cup.

    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Gee Walker
    Hey, the AFL was inferior to the NFL. It only lasted ten years. But there are AFL players in the Football Hall of Fame.


    The AFL was the most successful major league to challenge an established major league, in that (A) at the time the merger was completed, the teams in each league were pretty much at parity, and (B) the entire league was included in the merger; teams were not combined to make a silk purse team out of a sow's ear team.

    The AFL and NFL were the only rival sports leagues to play a World Championship game outside of baseball. That the AFL won the last two of those games gave creedence to the AFL as the equal of the NFL. The AFL raided NFL rosters successfully in the mid-sixties, accelerating merger talks. From the 1966 season onward, there was a common draft of collegians. The merger actually occurred 4 years before the AFL ceased to exist as a "league".


    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Gee Walker
    The Negro Leagues were inferior to the Majors. Needless to say, they had lots of Hall of Fame players.


    This, of course, is a different issue.


    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Gee Walker
    And we're back to the point that NOBODY whose peak was spent in the AA is in the Baseball Hall of Fame.


    If the AA was a major league on the par of the AFL, then there should be more of a one-to-one match of AA to NL players in the HOF. If the AA was to the NL what the ABA was to the NBA, or the WHA was to the NHL, well, I would accept only the very top core of players as legitimate HOF candidates.

    I'm going to assume that the AA was a "major" league. It was better than AAA ball, and probably better than "AAAA" ball that Japanese baseball is described as.
    Last edited by Brian McKenna; 03-03-2008 at 08:34 AM.

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    From Buzzaldrin:

    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Calif_Eagle
    Barnes is a flashpoint for a lot of people here, with many being opposed to him due to his use of the fair-foul rule. The way I see that is, it was legal in his day, so why not ruthlessly exploit it if possible?


    Exactly, or else we should expel Ed Walsh, Jack Chesbro, Burleigh Grimes, Red Faber, Stan Coveleski, and co. from the Hall for using spitballs.

    I don't have time to write the rather long post I'd like unfortunately addressing AA issues, but I'll pose a question. Now, there's loads of arguments about AA quality all over this and other forums but here's something I wonder about the 1880s that no one ever seems to address:

    Why do people think the NL was that good?

    I mean, it was only 6 years older than the AA, hardly a venerable institution. It never once managed to field the same teams two seasons in a row until 1882. Other than Boston and Chicago, it featured none of its original lineup. It broke its own rule against having teams in population centers under 75,000 three times by 1881. Hulbert died in the 81-82 off season. It's no secret that a number of the country's best players did NOT play in the NL in the late 70s and early 80s, playing instead in the Northwestern league or the International league. Only one season in its existence had the NL featured teams in the nation's two largest markets (New York and Philly).

    What was so great about this league anyway?

    The AA came along and instantly was more popular than the NL. As someone wrote, this has largely to do with Sunday games, cheaper admission, and alcohol sales. So what? The point is that every single team in the AA turned a profit in 1882- few NL teams had ever done so. Guess what you can do with a lot of money? You can buy a lot of players. Why then should AA players be inferior to NL players? I mean, the AA owners had the cash to pay large salaries. Caruthers and Comiskey earned as much as Kelly and Anson. The players certainly had no special loyalty to their leagues and were happy to follow the money wherever it led.

    Why do people believe that the NL was so strong or dominant or whatever? I never quite go that. It wasn't that much more established, and the AA only took a few years to pretty much achieve parity. We don't say that Lajoie, McGinnity, Cy Young, and co. should have their early AL seasons discounted because it was a weaker league than the NL, why should the entire AA suffer that fate? There are a number of AA stars who belong in Cooperstown as much as their NL counterparts do. The bias against them is ridiculous.

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    From Jalbright:

    Well, Buzz, my own take is that the NL wasn't all that great in the 1880's, but it was better than the AA overall. The game was still largely a northeastern US game at the time, and the leagues were definitely going through the painful process of trying to grow to maturity. The NL made it while the AA did not.

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    From leecemark:

    --I'm with Jim on this one. If the early and late seasons of the AA grade out as a D- on the big league scale the NL of the same years is only a D or D+. Also, I think people DO discount the first years of the AL - do you see Nap Lajoie's 1901 campaign being discussed as amoung the best of all time? The first year(s?) of the AL were near the boundries of what consititutes a major lague and the Nl fell close to that same boundry when the Al signed quickly signed away so many of its best players. The Federal League gets the same D- and so does the WWII years of the AL/NL. This isn't some great campagn to discriminate against the AA.

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    From Buzzaldrin:

    I wouldn't call it a "campaign" to discriminate; but if you look at some of the early posts in this thread, and indeed most posts that refer to the AA in most threads on this site, you will see that the AA is dismissed as completely inferior and even degraded occasionally as not being major league quality.

    To be honest, two or three yeasr ago I would've agreed (generally) with most of those posters. I had always heard and read that the AA was never on a par with the NL, and had never doubted what I'd heard. I didn't start looking into the AA until I heard of Caruthers and was very surprised by what I found. I tried to find books on the AA but there weren't any until David Nemec's masterpiece "The Beer and Whiskey League" came out (which I recommend not just for the subject, but because it's possibly the best written and best thought out baseball book in general I've ever read).

    I think the AA gets a bad rap. Big style.

    As a side note, I don't really see what your problem is with the final seasons of the AA. I don't think it was particular bad in either 89 or 91, and in 91 if you go through the team rosters it had at at least as much prime and young talent as the NL. The AA does indeed deserve a D-- for 1890, but the NL probably deserves an F for that season.

    And there ARE discussions here where early AL seasons are mentioned when discussing the best all time, particularly Cy Young's 1901 (more so than Lajoie). I don't agree with them, but that's alright. I don't have a problem with well thought out differences of opinion; I do have a problem with people simply reinforcing traditional assumptions that may very well be completely mistaken without taking the time to look back and see how well founded they really are. I'm more than willing to argue issues with Leecemark and Jim and Brian and the gang till the cows come home, but I don't like general statements that casually dismiss some of the finest players to play the game.

    And as to Jim's comment on how the top to bottom quality of the AA stacks up against the top to bottom of the NL, and not just the elite...well, that is extremely interesting, and I can honestly say that I don't know.

    But I'm going to find out, so stay tuned.

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    This covers all related posts through #39 of the Tip O'Neill tread.

    http://baseball-fever.com/showthread...=1#post1127918

    PLEASE CONTINUE DISCUSSION
    Last edited by Brian McKenna; 03-03-2008 at 08:31 AM.

  24. #24

    19th century Hall of Fame players

    Does everyone here know the 19th century players whom the Hall of Fame honors? (No.)
    There are 27 now classified as Players who arrived before Fred Clarke and Bobby Wallace (1894). They made their debuts 1871-1892 and neither of the two old-timers played professionally before 1871.

    Of the 27 players who arrived by 1892/93,
    - 12 debuted 1888-92, essentially players of the 1890s and 1900s.
    - 4 debuted 1882-85 --or 1881-87 for another perspective.
    - 8 debuted 1878-80
    - 3 debuted in the professional NA, 1871-75
    Note that is only 15 debuts before 1888: the first six AA years, six more years of early NL, five NA years, the first two professional seasons (1869-70), and the amateur era.

    Of the 27,
    8 were essentially pitchers: seven 300-game winners plus Amos Rusie. If Tony Mullane (mainly AA) had 300 wins he would be in the Hall of Fame; if Mickey Welch had not, he would be out.

    Of the 19 non-pitchers who arrived by 1892, hence before 60'6",
    - 9 debuted 1888-92
    - 3 debuted 1882-85 (or 1881-87)
    - 5 debuted 1878-80
    - 2 debuted 1871-72
    Note that is only 10 debuts before 1888: the first six AA years, six more years of early NL, five NA years, the first two professional seasons (1869-70), and the amateur era.

    Who are they?

    Anson and O'Rourke played 27 and 22 seasons almost full-time.
    The five with 1878-80 debuts all played in parts of 16 to 18 seasons, until at least 1893 (Kelly): Ward, Kelly, Brouthers, Connor, and Ewing. Meanwhile there were only 10 AA seasons.

    None of those seven played in the AA until 1891 (Kelly and Brouthers). They were greater players than everyone in the AA and they played longer than almost everyone in the AA. (Which long-time AA players worked 16 seasons in the majors? Bid McPhee. Pop Snyder. Tom Brown. Who else?)

    Who are the three honored players with debuts between 1880 and 1888?
    - Bid McPhee, AA 82-90, joined the NL when his team joined, elected recently
    - Tommy McCarthy, debut UA 1884, regular player 88-96, AA 88-91, joined the NL when his team joined, elected long ago. His election is universally decried as a mistake and/or attributed partly to innovations.
    - Sam Thompson, NL 85-96. Some call Thompson a mistake.

    Complaint that Cooperstown has treated AA stars poorly, compared to their similar colleagues who played in the NL, seems to come down to whether Harry Stovey, 80-93 including AA 83-89, does or does not match up well with Sam Thompson. I think so. Stovey should be a member.

    Note that Stovey played only 7 of 13.5 seasons in the AA, 5.5 NL, one PL. That is little more than 50%, but it was a long AA career, with AA teams trickling to the NL beginning in '87; especially for a big star, thanks to the PL opportunity in '90. Given that instability of the "league roster" a star player with career more than 70% AA would probably be one with career too short for routine candidacy. The Hall of Fame analogy to Pete Browning or O'Neill would be Hack Wilson from the 1930s rather than any contemporary NL star.

    What positions did they field?

    The ten non-pitchers from before 1888 are
    - three 1Bmen, Anson, Brouthers, Connor
    - two versatile outfielders, O'Rourke and Kelly
    - one versatile catcher, Ewing
    - John M Ward, pitcher, shortstop, 2Bman, leader of the Brotherhood and president of the Players' League, player-manager in Brooklyn and New York
    - Bid McPhee, AA, pure 2Bman

    Extending that account to include the 1888-92 cohort,
    Ewing, Ward, and McPhee are joined only by George Davis and Hugh Jennings at fielding positions C-3B-SS-2B.
    The other 22 of 27 Hall of Fame "players" were pitchers, outfielders, and 1Bmen.

    Bid McPhee is the only primary secondbaseman.
    The AA is doing OK for its time.

  25. #25
    We see these "was [X] League *really* a major league in [insert year here]" discussions pretty frequently. What they usually lack is any discussion of how we define "major league", making the whole discussion pretty much content-free.

    At best, we have an implied assumption that quality of play is the basis for judging. This begs the question. Arguments can be made that "major league" is an organizational category: that "major" and "minor" describe things like rules about territorial and player rights, as well as geographic scope.

    But even if we stipulate that we are talking about quality of play, we need something more than the argument that one league was weaker than the other. It is unlikely that two leagues will be exactly equal, so it is trite to observe that one of them is weaker than the other.

    Fortunately, we do have something to compare the league in question with: contemporary minor leagues. Suppose we had some way to assign a number between 1 and 100 for the quality of play in a given league for a given season, with the worst (minor) league in existence that year being 1 and the best (major) being 100. If we were to note for some given year that the NL was 100, a clump of strong minor leagues was, say, 75-85, and the AA was 87, then it seems to me that you could make a coherent argument that the AA that year was more like a strong minor league than like a major league. But just talking about whether the AA was as good as the NL isn't terribly useful.

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