On his MLB Network program Studio 42, Bob Costas tonight referenced a blog post here from 2009, and asked Tom Seaver if he was aware that I’d found a game-action photograph of Christy Mathewson from the 1911 World Series that showed Mathewson using the exact of drop-and-drive delivery Seaver brought to perfection in the early years of his career in the late ’60s.
Seaver said he’d seen the photo – I was pretty sure he had, since I’d sent a copy to him via a friend shortly after I found it in Cooperstown.
In blog years, a long time has passed since I posted the shots, so here they are again:
That’s Seaver – coincidentally in action against at Shea Stadium the San Francisco Giants in 1975 – showing the “drop and drive” that usually left the front of his right knee dirty. There had been a lot of anecdotal evidence that Mathewson, who retired in 1916, had used a similar delivery. But until the kind curators at the Hall photo archive let me look at their collection of glass images from the 1911 World Series, I don’t think anybody had actually seen a game-action image of Mathewson.
The resemblance, as you’ll see, is startling:
It’s the same delivery. In 1911.
Needless to say, I geeked out completely when I saw that photo. I literally thought “Why is there a picture of Tom Seaver pitching in the 1911 World Series?” After I posted the shot in August, 2009, I ran into Bob at Yankee Stadium and he had seen the post and he geeked out completely over it.
Just for the record, there are precious few game-action photos, particularly of pitchers, particularly in post-season action, from before the first World War. This was part of a series of 30 or 40 transparent glass slides, above three by five inches, that had been taken with a special camera for presentation as a slide show at the earlier movie theaters of the time. The Hall has what appears to be a complete set, and it constitutes a treasure trove for historians. You’ve heard of “Home Run” Baker? He got his name not for volume of homers, but for consecutive game-winning blasts off Mathewson and his fellow future Hall of Famer Rube Marquard in the ’11 Series. The slides include images of Baker rounding third on one of the homers.
I’m not going to say there isn’t another game-action photo of Mathewson anywhere else (and I’m not counting all the posed and/or warm-up shots that show Matty fully upright or just soft tossing). I’m just saying I’d never seen one before this image, and I don’t recall anybody reporting having seen another.
The 1911 photo series had been lost to historians because when it was donated to the hall in the mid 1960’s, the individual slides were divvied up and put, one by one, into the individual files of the players depicted. Only around 2009 was a search made for the whole set (you can imagine how long that took). This is what the Mathewson photo looked like – exactly as movie-goers would have seen it in October or November, 1911:
This is magnificent for several reasons – not the least of which is the extraordinarily low mound (which makes you appreciate Mathewson’s 373 career wins (plus five more in World Series action). But principally because that which historians thought really hadn’t become the standard for the “power pitcher” until the ’40s or ’50s, was in Mathewson’s repertoire a century ago.
A year too late for him to enjoy it, 30 years past the day he should’ve been selected, the Baseball Hall of Fame Veterans’ Committee has finally elected the most deserving candidate not in Cooperstown, Ron Santo.
For those who doubt, here is my statistical analysis of the five leading playing candidates:
The simplest tool for judging a player against his contemporaries is, I think, the most overlooked one – exact comparisons, from a guy’s debut season through his final year.
Awards are useful, especially as an indicator of greatness – in Ron Santo’s case, the five straight NL Gold Gloves 1964-68 pretty much confirm his defensive prowess – consider the one from 1964, when Cardinals’ third baseman and defensive hero Ken Boyer was MVP, but Santo still won the Glove.
The hardware is nice. But statistics are better.
In short, in his era, from when he came up with the Cubs in 1960 through his last year with the White Sox in 1964, Ron Santo was one of the top ten hitters in all of baseball.
Santo was fifth in RBI in his era.
Santo was ninth in Runs in his era.
Santo was tenth in Homers in his era.
Santo was tenth in Hits in his era.
There are 17 players besides Santo on these four lists of the top ten offensive producers of the 1960’s. Only four men on all four lists: Aaron, Frank Robinson, Billy Williams – and Santo. Even the three men who are only on three lists, compared to Santo’s four, are all in Cooperstown already.
Needless to say, only one other full-time Third Baseman (Brooks Robinson) shows up on any of the four lists – and he, only twice. Part-timer Killebrew is on three of them: handily ahead of Santo in one (HR), behind Santo in another (R), and just two spots and only 74 RBI ahead of him in the third.
You can’t ask more of a man than to produce those kinds of numbers against his direct contemporaries: what he did while he played, compared to what everybody else did while he played, is all that he can be judged on. But it focuses exactly where a player stood against his peers.
By the way, if you want to be more generous to Santo, and judge him from his first full year as a regular (1961) through his last year as an everyday player (1973) he looks better still: he holds at fifth in RBI, but moves up one spot each in Runs (eighth), Homers (ninth), and Hits (9th).
I had Gil Hodges second.
Again, what he did in his time tells me what I need to know. Here is a list, updated through May 5, 1963 – the date Gil Hodges played his last game in the major leagues.
All-Time MLB Home Run Leaders (RH Batters):
1. Jimmie Foxx 534
2. Willie Mays 373
3. Gil Hodges 370
4. Ralph Kiner 369
5. Joe DiMaggio 361
6. Ernie Banks 340
7. Hank Greenberg 331
8. Hank Aaron 307
8. Al Simmons 307
10. Rogers Hornsby 301
By the way, on the all-time homer list, lefties and righties both, Hodges had just been knocked out of 10th place, by Mays (373 to 370). The game changes. Still, it is extraordinary that Hodges’ home run performance measured against all his contemporaries and predecessors, is pretty much ignored.
Hodges’ career spanned 20 calendar years, but he only played regularly from 1948 to 1959. In “his” era, Hodges was second in MLB in homers (344, to Duke Snider’s 354), second in RBI (tied with Berra at 1136, behind Musial’s 1226), fourth in Runs, and seventh in Hits. Hodges is often dismissed as a “Home Park Homer Hitter.” In fact in his ten years at Ebbets Field he averaged only 4.60 homers a year more in Brooklyn than on the road. For comparison, Duke Snider, in the Hall since 1980, averaged 4.56 homers a year more in Brooklyn than on the road.
It is also of note that Hodges hit 27 or more homers in eight consecutive seasons, drove in 102 or more runs seven years in a row, and the first baseman on two World’s Champions and four more NL champs.
Haven’t even mentioned Hodges the manager (1969 Miracle Mets) nor Hodges the Man (I have never, ever talked to anyone who knew him who didn’t revere him.
Third on my list? Luis Tiant. Bill James hit the nail on the head: Luis Tiant is Catfish Hunter with poorer marketing.
Statistical doppelgangers are often either coincidental, superficial, or irrelevant because the players are of different historical eras. Not Hunter and Tiant. They pitched side-by-side in the same league for fifteen seasons, in the same division for six, and were teammates for a year. And they look like twins in a dozen key stats:
Statistic Hunter Tiant
Starts 476 489
Complete Games 181 187
Shutouts 42 49
Innings 3449.1 3486.1
Home Runs 374 346
Wins 224 229
Losses 166 172
ERA 3.26 3.30
Run Support 4.30 4.46
20-Win Seasons 5 4
Sub 3.00 ERA Seasons 5 6
‘Wins Above Team’ 20.2 20.6
That’s right: Tiant made 13 more starts, won five and lost six more games, threw seven more shutouts, and finished with an ERA 0.04 higher, than Hunter. Otherwise, they share a virtually identical statistics.
Where they deviate leaves open the question of which was the better pitcher. Tiant had 404 more strikeouts, but 150 more walks. Hunter twice led the AL in wins, which Tiant never did. Tiant twice led it in shutouts, which Hunter never did. Tiant twice led it in ERA, which Hunter did once.
Hunter’s big advantage? He made 22 ALCS and World Series starts to Tiant’s five. He was seen on the biggest stage, by fans and reporters alike, for seven of eight Octobers. Tiant had only one shot at such impact.
Beyond the Hunter comparisons, in the match-him-against his era numbers, Tiant was ninth in wins, tenth in K’s, twelfth in ERA, 1964-80 (even though in five of those seasons he did not make even 20 starts).
And there is one more remarkable and overlooked statistic. Two of Tiant’s six sub-3.00 ERA seasons were actually sub-2.00 ERA seasons. Since 1920, only 29 pitchers have had a seasonal ERA under 2.00. Koufax did it three times, and the other four did it twice: Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez – and Tiant.
Fourth – and he’s right below Tiant – is Minnie Minoso. He’s kind of damned by the overall quality of his play: superb at a lot of contradictory things, not extraordinary at any one of them:
Who were the top five hitters during Minnie Minoso’s 13 seasons as a Major League regular, 1951-63? Keep it to the guys who averaged at least 475 at bats a year and here’s the headline: one of them was Minnie Minoso.
Highest Batting Average 1951-1963 (Minimum 6175 AB)
1. Stan Musial .319
2. Willie Mays .315
3. Richie Ashburn .309
4. Harvey Kuenn .307
5. Minnie Minoso .299
Note please, that performance included eight .300 seasons. It’s impressive stuff, but below is my favorite Minoso stat:
Highest Slugging Percentage 1951-1963 (Minimum 6175 AB)
1. Willie Mays .588
2. Stan Musial .543
3. Eddie Mathews .535
4. Minnie Minoso .461
5. Harvey Kuenn .417
The slugging number is especially astounding given that Minoso only hit 184 homers in those 13 years (28th in the era). Without being a real longball threat, he still places 8th in total bases in the span, and 9th in RBI.
Most Runs Scored, 1951-1963
1. Mickey Mantle 1381
2. Willie Mays 1258
3. Eddie Mathews 1220
4. Nellie Fox 1142
5. Minnie Minoso 1130
Seeing my point here? Pick a category, and Minoso shows up on it:
Most Stolen Bases, 1951-1963
1. Luis Aparicio 309
2. Willie Mays 248
3. Maury Wills 236
4. Minnie Minoso 205
5. Billy Bruton 193
Minoso is also fifth in hits in the era, second in doubles (behind Musial, ahead of Mays), fourth in triples, led the A.L. in hit-by-pitch ten times, won three Gold Gloves – and all this even the color line and circumstance kept him from becoming a major league regular until he was at least 28 years old.
My fifth guy out of the group is just a notch below. I love Jim Kaat and I think he belongs (as does Tommy John). I mentioned contemporaries Hunter and Tiant looking separated-at-birth. Jim Kaat and Robin Roberts are unlikely statistical twins who overlapped by only seven full seasons:
Statistic Kaat Roberts
Starts 625 609
Innings 4530.1 4688.2
Wins 283 286
Losses 237 245
Strikeouts 2461 2357
Walks 1083 902
ERA 3.45 3.41
10+ Win Season Streak 15/15 16/17
Roberts got to Cooperstown quickly because of the fact he reeled off six consecutive brilliant seasons, and despite of the fact that after the age of 28, only once did he finish more than three games above .500 in his final eleven seasons.
By contrast, Kaat won 18 as a 22-year old, slumped for a year, then starting in 1964 reeled off 17, 18, and then 25. Eight and nine years later he would produce consecutive seasons of 20 and 21 wins. As Bill James pointed out, if like Roberts, Kaat had bunched his great years instead of scattering them, he might’ve been elected in the ‘90s. As it is, he is still 31st all-time in victories — eighth all-time among lefties:
Wins, Lefthanded Pitchers:
1. Warren Spahn 363
2. Steve Carlton 329
3. Eddie Plank 326
4. Tom Glavine 305
5. Randy Johnson 303
6. Lefty Grove 300
7. Tommy John 288
8. Jim Kaat 283
9. Jamie Moyer 267
10. Eppa Rixey 266
11. Carl Hubbell 253
12. Herb Pennock 241
There are only eight active lefties with more than 100 wins, and of them, only CC Sabathia (176) is younger than 32. Kaat is also 10th in strikeouts by lefties. Kaat’s victory total has been criticized as “padded” by his five years as a reliever and spot starter. But subtract those seasons and his career won-lost improves to 261-217, he remains in the top 10 among lefties, and still has better won-losts than Ted Lyons and Eppa Rixey (and is just behind Red Faber).
Lastly, the 16 consecutive Gold Gloves are almost a cliché. We don’t stop to think that the first of them was won when Kitty was 23, and the last when he was 38 – and that the streak stretched through five presidential administrations and three expansion drafts.
Just to show my math, here are the Homer, Runs Scored, RBI, and Hit lists from ’60-’74 that back-up Santo’s greatness:
Most RBI, Majors, 1960-74:
1 Hank Aaron, 1585
2 Frank Robinson, 1412
3 Harmon Killebrew, 1405
4 Billy Williams, 1351
5 Ron Santo, 1331
6 Brooks Robinson, 1217
7 Willie Mays, 1194
8 Willie McCovey, 1190
9 Carl Yastrzemski, 1181
10 Orlando Cepeda, 1164
Most Runs Scored, Majors, 1960-74:
1 Hank Aaron, 1495
2 Frank Robinson, 1390
3 Billy Williams, 1306
4 Lou Brock, 1303
5 Willie Mays, 1285
6 Carl Yastrzemski, 1240
7 Pete Rose, 1217
8 Vada Pinson, 1177
9 Ron Santo, 1138
10 Harmon Killebrew, 1131
Most Homers, Majors, 1960-74:
1 Hank Aaron, 554
2 Harmon Killebrew, 506
3 Frank Robinson, 440
4 Willie McCovey, 422
5 Willie Mays, 410
6 Billy Williams, 392
7 Frank Howard, 380
8 Norm Cash, 373
9 Willie Stargell, 346
10 Ron Santo, 342
(Note: 11th was Orlando Cepeda, 327)
Most Hits, Majors, 1960-74:
1 Billy Williams, 2505
2 Hank Aaron, 2463
3 Brooks Robinson, 2459
4 Vada Pinson, 2455
5 Lou Brock, 2388
6 Pete Rose, 2337
7 Roberto Clemente, 2318
8 Willie Davis, 2271
9 Carl Yastrzemski, 2267
10 Ron Santo, 2254
(Note: 11th was Frank Robinson, 2220)