Had the pleasure of joining Brian Kenny on MLB Network’s Clubhouse Confidential yesterday (more on that below) and as we batted back and forth the necessity of electing Gil Hodges to the Hall of Fame, Brian mentioned that if he gave me a chance I could drop a lot of 19th Century Cooperstown-worthy players. I had time to say only “look up Herman Long.”
I’ll detail his Hall credentials in a moment. But first: for all of the weird HOF elections of the first 75 years, he is in the middle of the weirdest. Take a look at the results from the first-ever Veterans’ Committee vote, conducted in 1936:
- Buck Ewing 39.5 Votes, Elected 1939
- Cap Anson 39.5 Votes, Elected 1939
- Wee Willie Keeler 33 Votes, Elected 1939
- Cy Young 32.5 Votes, Elected 1937
- Ed Delahanty 21.5 Votes, Elected 1945
- John McGraw 17 Votes, Elected 1937
- Old Hoss Radbourn 16 Votes, Elected 1939
- Herman Long 15.5 Votes
- King Kelly 15 Votes, Elected 1945
- Amos Rusie 11.5 Votes, Elected 1977
- Hughie Jennings 11 Votes, Elected 1945
- Fred Clarke 9 Votes, Elected 1945
- Jimmy Collins 8 Votes, Elected 1945
- Charles Comiskey 6 Votes, Elected 1939
- George Wright 6 Votes, Elected 1937
So there were 78 ballots, 60 different players got votes, half of them eventually wound up in the Hall, but the guy who got the eighth most, who finished ahead of 23 future Hall of Famers, not only never made it but never again got significant support? I mean, in the 1937 Veterans’ Committee ballot, Long got one vote.
Something is very, very strange here. I mean, while we think of the stars of the 19th Century and the early 20th as having played in some kind of baseball version of the Pleistocene era, consider who the 1936 voters were. If this were January, 1936, Bob Costas would’ve made his NBC baseball debut in 1907, I would’ve covered my first World Series in 1900, Peter Gammons would’ve broken in with The Boston Globe in 1893, and Tim McCarver would’ve started with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1883.
In short, the 78 members of the Veterans Committee of 1936 saw most of the antediluvian names on that ballot play either professionally or as kids (let’s just play with that again: if this were 1936 I’d have seen my first MLB game in 1891 and I believe Peter’s first would’ve been in 1882). These guys thought of Herman Long in the same breath with the most famous player of the 19th Century (King Kelly), the man who won 59 games in one season (Hoss Radbourn), and the man who played or managed 14 pennant winners (John McGraw). For further context, there were six players to whom the first Veterans voters gave exactly one vote each, who wound up in Cooperstown and to some degree in the baseball public’s awareness, like 342-game winner Tim Keefe and the inventor of the curveball Candy Cummings. And Herman Long got 15 times as many votes.
So who was this guy?
Herman Long was the great shortstop of the Boston Beaneaters’ dynasty of the 1890’s. He produced four consecutive years of an OPS of .800 or higher, had two 100-RBI seasons, six 100-Run seasons, and in a time without home runs, he hit 91 of them over 13 seasons including a dozen in each of two years. He stole 537 bases (that’s still 30th all-time) and scored 1,456 runs (77th all-time). In that measure of what an individual player’s offense and defense was “worth” to his team, “WAR,” Long finished with 44.6 (his Hall of Fame teammate, third baseman Jimmy Collins, finished at 53, and his Hall of Fame teammate, centerfielder Tommy McCarthy, finished at just 19). And despite having made more errors than anybody else in history, he has the 122nd best Defensive WAR+ among all position players ever. Boston’s two spurts – at the beginning and end of the 1890’s – produced five pennants and Long was the shortstop on all of the teams.
His nickname was “The Flying Dutchman.” When they began to use it late in the 1890’s for a kid named Honus Wagner, it was a tribute to Herman Long. More trivially, he would later play only 22 games there, but he was the first shortstop of the New York Yankees (then the Highlanders).
Is Long a Hall of Famer? I’m not sure. But he was considered the 8th best player among the “Old Timers” in 1936, and then fell into a black hole. It wasn’t even a matter of public scandal or diminished rotation – Long had been dead since 1909. He certainly merits consideration.
Remind me to tell you later about Bobby Mathews.
SPEAKING OF OLD TIMERS
Returning to the topic of my visit to MLB Network, if you didn’t know, that’s where my erstwhile employers MSNBC were headquartered from 1996 until October, 2007. I worked in this very building from September of ’97 through December of ’98, and then again from February of ’03 until we moved out. Yesterday was my first day back and it was mind-blowing. Baseball invested a reported $54,000,000 to upgrade the facility with rebuilt studios and state-of-the-art technology.
But they changed almost nothing else.
Not the carpets. Not the desks. Not the chairs. Not the make-up rooms. Not the cubicles. Not where the large clusters of desks are. Not the cafeteria. Not the offices. Not the office door plates. Not the “Employees Must Wash Hands” signs in the bathrooms.
Going into it was like one of those dreams you’ve probably had where you walk into some place totally familiar to you – your childhood home, or where you live now, or go to work, or school – and in the middle of it your unconscious has placed a nuclear reactor or a jungle or something else utterly incongruous, without changing even one other thing.
You think I’m kidding? My old offices, the one from 2003 and the one from 1997, are still offices, with the same doors, windows, nameplates, and televisions. The newer of them is occupied by an old colleague of mine from Fox Sports named Mike Konner, and to my amazement I found that on what is now his wall was a poster from MSNBC’s 2004 Campaign Coverage. I remembered this one distinctly, because there was controversy over some of the people shown in the back row (somebody wasn’t under contract, or somebody was left out, or something), and the thing was immediately replaced by a revised version with somebody else’s body swapped in. As I saw it hanging on Mike’s wall I remembered I had left the rare “uncorrected” version in a pile of junk when I left.
So why was it on Konner’s wall? I asked Mike where he found it. “It was here when we moved in. In a pile of junk.”
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.
Frankly, MLB Network’s special 25th Anniversary commemoration of the 1986 World Series which premiered last night, could have been 7 long highlight “packages” with only my friend Bob Costas merely introducing them, and I would’ve enjoyed it.
But something unexpected happened. The players who joined Costas and Tom Verducci were Mookie Wilson of the Mets, and Bruce Hurst and Calvin Schiraldi of the Red Sox. Wilson has long been a source of reflective information on the dramatic series between the Mets and Red Sox.
Hurst proved himself erudite and frank – just as he was as a player, who was never an “easy” interview but always an insightful one. Several times he responded – reluctantly but bluntly – to particularly outlandish and unsupported comments about his teammates from 1986 Red Sox manager John McNamara, who seems to have settled in to an emeritus stage devoted to blaming the players for his erratic managing, especially during Game 6.
Costas, Wilson, Hurst, and Verducci were fine. But Schiraldi was a revelation.
He, of course, was the star-crossed Boston closer, former college teammate of Roger Clemens, and an ex-Met prospect all too familiar to his old teammates, who had struggled in the ’86 A.L. Championship Series and managed to help give back a World Series win though he retired the first two men, and had two strikes on the third, in the bottom of the final inning. It is nearly almost literally true that the last time Schiraldi was heard from publicly, he was staggering off the field at Shea Stadium, a 24-year old with his future behind him. He had seemed, at best, far from confident, and, at worst, shattered. Schiraldi would be exiled to the Cubs in 1988 and would be out of the majors in 1991.
For the first hour or so of the program Schiraldi, his once-boyish face now covered in a graying beard, wearing a strange sweatshirt and clashing with the impeccably dressed Hurst, seemed terse to the point of embarrassment. There was a kind of cringe factor growing as the game-by-game recollection of the Series moved inevitably towards his nightmare in Game 6.
But this time, Calvin Schiraldi starred.
He revealed that before Dave Henderson’s homer gave the Red Sox the lead in the top of the 10th Inning, he had been told that he had pitched to his last batter, that somebody else would throw the bottom of the presumably still-tied frame. He didn’t say it until provoked, but anybody who has ever played sports, or covered them closely, or just experienced a high-adrenaline environment, suddenly understood what happened. Having thrown two innings in the tensest environment possible, Schiraldi had been told to gear down, that he was “done.”
This is, of course, the moment during the horror film where you the viewer think the carnage is over and you’ve survived – the “placing the flowers on Carrie’s grave” moment, just before her hand shoots out of the ground to claim you. Physiologists will tell you it is not a purely psychological phenomenon. The energy and the adrenaline abate. And when it turns out Carrie is reaching out – or the manager says “Calvin, now we’ve got a two-run lead, go back out there and wrap this up” – when you reach for that energy, it’s not there – and you are on your own, and on your own against Carrie.
The show’s insight could’ve ended there with Schiraldi giving an explanation (but not an excuse) for what happened during the last 0.2 of the 2.2 innings he pitched that night. But then came something transcendent. He was asked how he felt now about the game and the series and he, presumably unknowingly, defined the true value of sports.
Schiraldi said he was obviously unhappy at the outcome of the game and the series, but he would not change the experience if it meant changing who that night made him become. That’s when Schiraldi revealed the meaning of his unusual sweatshirt. For more than a decade he’s been the baseball coach – and a teacher – at St Michael’s Catholic Academy in Austin. And the things he learned in the majors, particularly in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, have formed the core of his value and coaching systems.
He’s used that inning to teach kids about sports – and life.
You have to hear him say it, to truly appreciate it. The MLB retrospective on the ’86 Series runs again tomorrow and Sunday afternoons at 1 PM ET. Find a way to watch, because 25 years later, Schiraldi has had an impact that merely getting the last out could never have afforded him.
In The New York Times, my friend Rich Sandomir has an extraordinary piece on the arranging of the Costas/McGwire interview, and the rest of yesterday’s ‘limited hang-out,’ as a component of the Mark McGwire Contrition Tour.
The question from Bob Costas, paraphrased: Could you have had those homer-to-at bats ratios, and could you have hit 70 homers in 1998, without steroids:
The Hall of Fame induction speeches are always heartfelt and always noteworthy, but rarely do they have such emotional impact as this year’s.