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.”