Tagged: Ty Cobb

Underappreciated Baseball Great Tris Speaker

Tris Speaker was one of the most prolific and underappreciated players in Red Sox history.  Playing in the shadows of Ty Cobb during baseball’s “Dead Ball Era”, Speaker led the Red Sox to World Series championships in 1912 and 1915 and the Indians in 1920 as a player/manager.  The “Grey Eagle” hit for high average, power, and production while establishing the standard for center field defense.   

From deep in the batter’s box, the crouching Speaker held the bat at the hip to ensure greater contact.  He struck out just 220 times during his 22-year career that included 3,514 career hits.  Speaker displayed the strength to hit line drives into the gaps and down both lines, accounting for his still-standing major league record of 792 career doubles.  Speaker batted higher than .350 nine times and higher than .380 five times en route to a .345 career batting average.

Despite the lofty batting statistics, Speaker won just one batting title courtesy of playing in the same era as Cobb, who won 12 batting titles and compiled a .366 career batting average.  Like his career accomplishments, Speaker’s baseball cards pale in comparison to Cobb’s, but are quite impressive in their own right.  Most baseball historians and vintage card collectors consider the 1909-1911 T206 card to be Speaker’s rookie.  The card displays Speaker on the verge of making contact from his unique batting stance.  Decent graded versions sell for as much as $7,500.

The original T206 baseball cards were issued in cigarette and loose tobacco packs through 16 different brands owned by the American Tobacco Co., including the “Ty Cobb” brand.  The set includes the T206 Honus Wagner card, the most valuable and coveted card ever produced.  One of the largest pre-World War I sets ever produced, the series also includes Hall of Famers Speaker, Cobb, Nap Lajoie, Cy Young, Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson.

Speed and defense also contributed to Speaker’s Hall of Fame career.  He stole 436 bases and hit 222 triples (fifth on the all-time list) during his career.  Speaker is considered the best center fielder of his time and one of the best ever.  Playing in an era when long drives were rare, Speaker played extremely shallow — practically positioned as a fifth infielder — to cut down would be singles and bloop hits.  His trademark play was racing to second base behind a confused or unsuspecting runner for a pick off play.  Speaker is still the all-time leader in putouts and double plays for his position.  He also recorded a record-tying 35 assists for the Red Sox in 1909 and 1912.

The majority of Speaker baseball cards display portrait or batting stance photos.  However, the 1927 Exhibits card is one of the few that feature Speaker in action defensively.  The photo shows Speaker as he awaits a throw, perhaps playing first base.  The 63-card 1927 Exhibit Baseball Set featured a green hue of the black and white images on each card front — a relatively new and unique printing method for the time.  Ungraded versions sell in the $125-$175 range.

Speaker’s unconventional path to centerfield started at a young age. After suffering two broken arms as a teenager, he taught himself to throw right handed.  Despite throwing with his non-dominant arm, Speaker tried to break into professional baseball as a  pitcher.  After being turned down by New York Giants manager John McGraw for a tryout as a pitcher, Speaker went to the Texas League to learn centerfield with the Cleburne Railroaders in his native Texas.

A year later, he was purchased by the Boston Americans (later Red Sox) and became the regular centerfielder, playing alongside Hall of Famer Harry Hooper and defensive whiz Duffy Lewis to form the “Golden Outfield,” which was widely considered one of the best outfields in baseball history.

One of Speaker’s earliest cards with the Red Sox is from the 1910-1911 M116 Sporting Life series.  A four cent investment would get readers of the Sporting Life newspaper a dozen sports cards.  Speaker’s card features a colorized portrait displaying his Red Sox baseball jersey.  Highly graded versions sell in excess of $5,900.

 

 

Tim Raines’s Last Chance For the Hall of Fame

There are two outs in the bottom of the ninth with the side of righteousness trailing by a run.  The Baseball Writers Association of America has one more chance to right one of the biggest wrongs in the Hall of Fame by electing Tim Raines.

Raines has steadily gained support, but is in his 10th and final year of eligibility. In his first five years on the ballot, the former Expos great, was nominated by 22-49% of the voters, with 75% needed for election.  Last year he jumped from 55% to 69.8%.  This year Raines is looking to become just the fourth  player to be elected in his final year of eligibility, joining Red Ruffing (1967), Joe Medwick (1968), Ralph Kiner (1975), and Jim Rice (2009).

Placed in a historical context, Raines’s resume is HOF worthy.  He was one of the game’s great leadoff hitters, top base stealers, and — believe it or not — an extra-base-hitting-machine during his 23-year major league career.  Raines wRainesas often lost in the shadow cast by Rickey Henderson, arguably the greatest leadoff hitter ever. But digging deeper into the numbers, Raines was every bit the player as Henderson and even rivaled the great Ty Cobb, arguably the best hitter in baseball history.

We all know Raines was one of the game’s great base stealers, but his consistency on the base paths was unparalleled.  He ranks fifth on the career stolen base list with 808 and is the career leader in stolen base percentage (84.7) among players with 400 attempts. Raines is the only player in baseball history to steal at least 70 bases in seven consecutive  seasons (1981-1986).  He stole 40 consecutive bases between July 1993 – August 1995, a major league record later broken by Ichiro Suzuki with 45 consecutive swipes.

Like Cobb, Raines will never be considered a home run hitter, but the former speedy outfielder combined extra base hits with stolen bases at an historic rate.  He was the only player in baseball
history with at least 100, triples, 150 homers and 600 stolen bases.  Raines finished his career with 113 triples and 170 homers.

Raines finished with 2,605 career hits — well below the imaginary 3,000-hit Hall of Fame threshold. But looking deeper, only nine of the 27 players with 3,000 hits can match Raines’s .385 career on-base percentage.  Raines reached base more times than three HOFers with 3,000 hits: Tony Gwynn, Lou Brock, and Roberto Clemente as well as the ageless and  still playing Ichiro.

Need more convincing?  Raines was the only player ever with four seasons of 50-plus extra base hits and 70-plus stolen bases.  Henderson and Cobb combined for four such seasons; every other HOFer combined for an additional four.

Raines is seldom mentioned with the all-time greats such as Cobb, but he should be and the evidence is in the numbers:  He is the only player in MLB history with five consecutive seasons with at least 30 doubles and 70 stolen bases, which he did from 1982-1986.  Before 1982, the last player to record 30 doubles
and 70 stolen bases in a season was Cobb in 1915.

For more head-spinning stats, be sure to check out the Ace of MLB Stats Twitter account.  Its creator, Ryan Spaeder, seems to be on a personal crusade to get Raines into the Hall of Fame.  Raines did the work and Spaeder has aligned the numbers in convincing fashion.

Just under 70 percent of the HOF electorate voted for Raines last January.  He’s on course to receive the 75 percent of the vote needed for enshrinement this year. Raines is looking to become the third player to go into the Hall of Fame as a Montreal Expo, joining Gary Carter and Andre Dawson.  Raines won two World Series rings (1996 and 1998) in New York as a role player with the Yankees.  Here’s hoping one of baseball’s great injustices is rectified.

The Raines Topps rookie card is one of the top rookies from the 1981 series.  Issued just before the mass-produced sets of the ‘80s, the Expos “Future Prospect” card also includes Roberto Ramos and Bobby Pate, two “future stars” that never panned out.  Be careful if you’re buying:  The “Future Prospect” cards are notorious for having gum-stained backs.  

Tim Raines Belongs in the Hall of Fame

Great to see Tim Raines — one of my all-time favorite non-Red Sox players — throw out the first pitch in tonight’s Red Sox – Blue Jays exhibition game in Montreal.

What’s not to like about Tim Raines? He was one of the game’s great leadoff hitters, top base stealers, and — believe it or not — an extra-base-hitting-machine during his 23-year major league career. Lost in the shadow of Rickey Henderson — though I’m not sure why — Raines has yet to garner enough Hall of Fame votes. But digging deeper into the numbers, Raines was every bit the player as Henderson and even rivaled the great Ty Cobb, arguably the best hitter in baseball history.

We all knowRaines Raines was one of the game’s great base stealers, but his consistency on the base paths was unparalleled. The career leader in stolen base percentage (84.7) among players with 400 attempts, Raines is the only player in baseball history to steal at least 70 bases in seven consecutive seasons (1981-1986). He stole 40 consecutive bases between July 1993 – August 1995, a major league record later broken by Ichiro Suzuki with 45 consecutive swipes.

Like Cobb, Raines will never be considered a home run hitter, but the former Montreal Expos outfielder combined extra base hits with stolen bases at an historic rate. He was the only player in baseball history with at least 100, triples, 150 homers and 600 stolen bases. Raines finished his career with 113 triples, 170 homers, and 808 stolen bases.

Need more convincing? Raines was the only player ever with four seasons of 50-plus extra base hits and 70-plus stolen bases. Henderson and Cobb combined for four such seasons; every other HOFer combined for an additional four.

Raines is seldom mentioned with the all-time greats such as Cobb, but the evidence is in the numbers: Raines is the only player in MLB history with five consecutive seasons with at least 30 doubles and 70 stolen bases, which he did in five consecutive seasons from 1982-1986. Before 1982, the last player to record 30 doubles and 70 stolen bases in a season was Cobb in 1915.

For more head-spinning stats, be sure to check out the Ace of MLB Stats Twitter account. Its creator, Ryan Spaeder, seems to be on a personal crusade to get Raines into the Hall of Fame. Raines did the work and Spaeder has aligned the numbers in convincing fashion.

Just under 70 percent of the HOF electorate voted for Raines in January. He’s on course to receive the 75 percent of the vote needed for enshrinement next year. Here’s hoping one of baseball’s great injustices is rectified.

The Raines Topps rookie card is one of the top rookies from the 1981 series. Issued just before the mass-produced sets of the ‘80s, the Expos “Future Prospect” card also includes Roberto Ramos and Bobby Pate, two “future stars” that never panned out. Be careful if you’re buying: The “Future Prospect” cards are notorious for having gum-stained backs.

Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty (Book Review)

Whether you fancy yourself a baseball historian or a baseball fan with at least a remote interest in the game’s glorious history, Charles Leerhsen’s Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty is an absolute must read.

Leerhsen’s wide-ranging reporting and storytelling skills are on full display as he debunks the myths and sheds light on the complicated but brilliant career of TyTy Cobb. Most of what we knew about Cobb was written in 1961 by biographer Al Stump, a man who seemed to have a personal grudge against the highly toxic Cobb. Looking for a quick profit and instant fame, Stump did not allow a the truth to interfere with a sensational story. Many of Cobb’s digressions — and there were many — were greatly exaggerated to make for a better read.

Leerhsen looked deeper into the myths and embellished stories surrounding Cobb. His account of the Georgia Peach is based on information derived from tireless research and interviews. What he found was a flawed, complicated man with unfathomable determination who happened to be one of the greatest baseball players to ever live.

What Leerhsen does best is put Cobb’s life story in perspective with baseball and American life during the rough and tumble times of the early 1900s. Cobb was a smart, young upstart athlete from the south, a fierce competitor who rubbed many the wrong way. He found rookie hazing unacceptable, which did not sit well with veteran teammates. His aggressive, hard-nosed approach to the game threatened teammates who feared losing their jobs and opponents who were being tested in new ways

During a time when disputes were often settled with fists both on and off the playing field, Cobb had his share of fisticuffs with teammates, opponents, umpires, groundskeepers, hotel staff and even fans — or “cranks” as they were called back in the day. Leerhsen explains how some of these stories were true, others greatly exaggerated, and some completely false. He sheds light on how Cobb struggled with being the first celebrity athlete; the most famous athlete beyond his hometown; the athlete the President wanted to meet.

We may never know all the facts surrounding Cobb’s life, but Leerhsen’s meticulously researched account gives baseball fans much to think about regarding the first player elected to the Hall of Fame and how he helped to shape baseball’s “Deadball Era.”

The Great Tris Speaker: Baseball’s Unbreakable Records (Almost)

The second part of a semi-regular series on “Baseball’s Most Unbreakable Records”.

Sometimes baseball’s most unbreakable records need to be framed in the proper context.  Sometimes luck or fate has more affect on the baseball record book than we realize.

Tris Speaker never actually came close to Joe DiMaggio’s “unbreakable” 56-game hitting streak established decades after Speaker’s Hall of Fame career. But the Red TrisSox Hall of Fame outfielder from the deadball era did something nearly as remarkable — some might say even more remarkable.

In 1912, Speaker had hitting streaks of 20 games or more three different times — “a feat not even the great DiMaggio could ever duplicate”, wrote Timothy Gray, author of the fascinating and meticulously researched book Tris Speaker: A Rough and Tumble Life of a Baseball Legend. Gay cited research done by dead-ball era historian Dan Holmes, who maintains Speaker came within an “eyelash or two” of a 70-game (or more) hitting streak. From May 27 – August 14, Speaker played in 78 games and collected a hit in all but four of them.  A scratch hit here, a wind-blown double there and we may be looking at the baseball record book from a different perspective.

1912 was a great season for Speaker and the Red Sox. Celebrating the opening of Fenway Park, Speaker earned the American League MVP award and led the Red Sox to a World Series title over the Christy Mathewson and the New York Giants. Speaker, an exceptional contact hitter who could drive the ball to the gaps, flirted with .400 for much of the season before finishing with .383 batting average. He led the league in doubles with 53 and home runs with 10.

Running neck and neck with Ty Cobb as the greatest fielder of the time period, the man they called “Spoke” established a record for outfield assist that season with 35 — an amazing accomplishment that has never been equalled. Speaker, renowned for playing a shallow centerfield — and by shallow, historians say he positioned himself just behind second base — also led the league “by engineering nine catch-and-throw double plays” that season, according to Gay’s book.