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50 stolen bases and .500 slugging

Posted by John Autin on July 29, 2011

Since 1901, there have been 30 seasons of at least 50 stolen bases and a .500 slugging average, by 17 different players. (That total includes 2 seasons by Benny Kauff in the Federal League, a dubious "major league.")

Every player who ever did this was a long-time star in the big leagues -- even Benny Kauff:

1 Hanley Ramirez 2007 51 .562 23 FLA NL 154 706 639 125 212 48 6 29 81 52 3 95 7 4 4 10 14 .332 .386 .948 *6/D
2 Craig Biggio 1998 50 .503 32 HOU NL 160 738 646 123 210 51 2 20 88 64 6 113 23 1 4 10 8 .325 .403 .906 *4/D
3 Kenny Lofton 1994 60 .536 27 CLE AL 112 523 459 105 160 32 9 12 57 52 5 56 2 4 6 5 12 .349 .412 .948 *8
4 Rickey Henderson 1990 65 .577 31 OAK AL 136 594 489 119 159 33 3 28 61 97 2 60 4 2 2 13 10 .325 .439 1.016 *7D
5 Barry Bonds 1990 52 .565 25 PIT NL 151 621 519 104 156 32 3 33 114 93 15 83 3 0 6 8 13 .301 .406 .970 *7/8
6 Eric Davis 1987 50 .593 25 CIN NL 129 562 474 120 139 23 4 37 100 84 8 134 1 0 3 6 6 .293 .399 .991 *8/7
7 Tony Gwynn 1987 56 .511 27 SDP NL 157 680 589 119 218 36 13 7 54 82 26 35 3 2 4 13 12 .370 .447 .958 *9
8 Tim Raines 1987 50 .526 27 MON NL 139 627 530 123 175 34 8 18 68 90 26 52 4 0 3 9 5 .330 .429 .955 *7
9 Eric Davis 1986 80 .523 24 CIN NL 132 487 415 97 115 15 3 27 71 68 5 100 1 0 3 6 11 .277 .378 .901 *7*89
10 Ryne Sandberg 1985 54 .504 25 CHC NL 153 673 609 113 186 31 6 26 83 57 5 97 1 2 4 10 11 .305 .364 .868 *4/6
11 Willie McGee 1985 56 .503 26 STL NL 152 652 612 114 216 26 18 10 82 34 2 86 0 1 5 3 16 .353 .384 .887 *8/7
12 Rickey Henderson 1985 80 .516 26 NYY AL 143 654 547 146 172 28 5 24 72 99 1 65 3 0 5 8 10 .314 .419 .934 *8/7D
13 Joe Morgan 1976 60 .576 32 CIN NL 141 599 472 113 151 30 5 27 111 114 8 41 1 0 12 2 9 .320 .444 1.020 *4
14 Joe Morgan 1975 67 .508 31 CIN NL 146 639 498 107 163 27 6 17 94 132 3 52 3 0 6 3 10 .327 .466 .974 *4
15 Cesar Cedeno 1973 56 .537 22 HOU NL 139 576 525 86 168 35 2 25 70 41 7 79 7 1 2 19 15 .320 .376 .913 *8
16 Cesar Cedeno 1972 55 .537 21 HOU NL 139 625 559 103 179 39 8 22 82 56 5 62 5 1 4 11 21 .320 .385 .921 *8
17 George Sisler 1922 51 .594 29 SLB AL 142 654 586 134 246 42 18 8 105 49 0 14 3 16 0 0 19 .420 .467 1.061 *3
18 Ty Cobb 1917 55 .570 30 DET AL 152 669 588 107 225 44 24 6 102 61 0 34 4 16 0 0 0 .383 .444 1.014 *89
19 Benny Kauff 1915 55 .509 25 BTT FL 136 581 483 92 165 23 11 12 83 85 0 50 6 7 0 0 0 .342 .446 .955 *8
20 Benny Kauff 1914 75 .534 24 IND FL 154 667 571 120 211 44 13 8 95 72 0 55 8 16 0 0 0 .370 .447 .981 987
21 Ty Cobb 1913 51 .535 26 DET AL 122 501 428 70 167 18 16 4 67 58 0 31 4 11 0 0 0 .390 .467 1.002 *8/94
22 Ty Cobb 1912 61 .584 25 DET AL 140 609 553 120 226 30 23 7 83 43 0 0 5 8 0 0 34 .409 .456 1.040 *8
23 Tris Speaker 1912 52 .567 24 BOS AL 153 675 580 136 222 53 12 10 90 82 0 0 6 7 0 0 28 .383 .464 1.031 *8
24 Ty Cobb 1911 83 .621 24 DET AL 146 654 591 147 248 47 24 8 127 44 0 0 8 11 0 0 0 .420 .467 1.088 *8
25 Ty Cobb 1910 65 .551 23 DET AL 140 590 506 106 194 35 13 8 91 64 0 0 4 16 0 0 0 .383 .456 1.008 *89
26 Ty Cobb 1909 76 .517 22 DET AL 156 651 573 116 216 33 10 9 107 48 0 45 6 24 0 0 0 .377 .431 .947 *9
27 Honus Wagner 1908 53 .542 34 PIT NL 151 641 568 100 201 39 19 10 109 54 0 22 5 14 0 0 0 .354 .415 .957 *6
28 Honus Wagner 1907 61 .513 33 PIT NL 142 580 515 98 180 38 14 6 82 46 0 37 5 14 0 0 0 .350 .408 .921 *6/3
29 Honus Wagner 1905 57 .505 31 PIT NL 147 616 548 114 199 32 14 6 101 54 0 54 7 7 0 0 0 .363 .427 .932 *6/7
30 Honus Wagner 1904 53 .520 30 PIT NL 132 558 490 97 171 44 14 4 75 59 0 43 4 5 0 0 0 .349 .423 .944 *6/7384
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/29/2011.
  • Of the 30 seasons, 14 came between 1904 and 1922 (mostly by Cobb and Wagner). Then there was a 50-year gap to 1972, when Cesar Cedeno kicked off another run of 13 such seasons in 19 years. In the past 20 years, there have been just three 50/.500 seasons.
  • A number of these were MVP seasons, including both 1990 MVPs; both of Joe Morgan's MVP campaigns; Cobb in 1911, Speaker in '12, Sisler in '22, McGee in '85. A few others probably should have won the MVP. (Cobb and Wagner surely would have won multiple MVPs in these years, but the NL award had not yet been instituted and the AL allowed only 1 win to a customer.)

In case you haven't guessed already, this is my latest "historic" angle on Jose Reyes. His 2-week DL stint basically killed any chance of reaching previously projected historic combinations. But he's still slugging .519, and his 32 steals puts him on pace for 49.4; if pressed, I'd predict he doesn't get 50 SB, since he's been a bit more cautious since the hamstring pull. But it's not out of the question.

Of all the seasons on this list, I think Jose's 2011 looks most like one of Honus Wagner's years, perhaps 1904.

P.S. A search for players who slugged .500 but fell just short of the 50-SB mark turned up someone I'd never heard of: Birdie Cree, of the 1911 Highlanders (Yankees). It wasn't exactly a fluke year -- he was a legitimately good hitter -- but Cree played just 742 games in the majors, and topped 100 games just 4 times.

55 Responses to “50 stolen bases and .500 slugging”

  1. Bill Says:

    That Eric Davis season in 1987 is pretty unbelievable. I was looking up the earliest in a season someone could have joined the 20/20 club after Matt Kemp did it in fewer than 80 games this year, and I discovered that Davis did it in his team's 53rd game, which was more than 20 games ahead of anyone else I could find. He was actually just a HR shy of going 20/20 before the end of May.

  2. Luis Says:

    Doesn't Jacoby Ellsbury have a pretty solid chance too?

  3. jim Says:

    davis also owns the only seasons on this list with a sub-.300 BA, with an almost stunningly low (given the context of this post and the other people to achieve it) .277 mark in 86. wow.

    then there's kenny lofton in 94, doing it in only 112 games. wow again.

    also, cobb's 1911 season saw him score 147 runs in 654 PA, a ratio of just under .25R/PA... what are the best marks for full seasons in R/PA?

  4. John Says:

    Ellsbury only has 29 steals to this point, and will probably run less (and just be benched more) as the Red Sox coast through August and September.

  5. Voomo Zanzibar Says:

    Oh my, Cobb did it five years in a row.
    If i could travel back in time to watch any player from the first half of the 20th century, I think it would have to be 1911 Ty Cobb.

  6. Joel Speyer Says:

    There are no caught stealing stats collected before 1912 and for several years after 1912, but in 1912 they tracked it? I have a hard time believing that Ty Cobb had all those seasons with 0 CS but in 1912 he was caught 34 times!

  7. Jeff Says:

    Lofton's 112 games may be the fewest, but Davis did it in the fewest PA - 487

  8. Gerry Says:

    If you order the list by steals, Cobb 1911 comes out on top. And if you order the list by SLG, Cobb 1911 comes out on top. If you order the list by runs, hits, triples, RBI, batting average, or on-base percentage, Cobb 1911 comes out on top.

    Guess we can say Cobb had a pretty good year in 1911.

  9. Rich Says:

    I'm sure this has been touched upon on other posts because I've seen it mentioned before, but how is the Federal League any more dubious than the Nl and AL in 1914/1915?
    The Federal League had loads of players who played before and after the league's existence. If anything, all three leagues were watered down for those two seasons.

  10. Hartvig Says:

    I'd say every player listed has reasonable HOF credentials except for Kauff (for reasons already stated), McGee (good player but that season he was playing way over his head) and Ramirez (too soon). Cedeno's career kind of ran off the tracks but his first few years were equal to Mays or Mantle or almost anyone you care to mention. Davis didn't get started quite as early but put up some monster years before injuries (and possibly drugs) took their toll. Lofton never had the power of Cedeno or Davis but was more consistent over a longer period of time. I doubt he'll ever get elected to the HOF (Raines, who is a better player, still hasn't) but I'd say he's more deserving than about a third of the outfielders already elected.

  11. Tristram Says:

    In May of '87, Eric Davis seemed like the best player ever. That first weekend against the Phils is something I will always remember. 9 for 13 with 1 double and 5 home runs, 7 runs and 11 RBI. 1 BB and 1 SB to boot. He was unbelievable.

  12. Dukeofflatbush Says:

    Can anyone explain the '22 - '72 drought.

  13. jiffy Says:

    Nice to see some love for Eric Davis. The guy was legitimately great and it's really too bad about his injuries (and later cancer) which put a damper on what could have been an astounding career.

  14. donburgh Says:

    @12 Duke,

    Once Ruth started hitting homers in the 20's up until Aparicio and Wills in the late 50's/early 60's it was rare for anyone to 50 bases in a season. I guess it took about 10 years for guys with more power to realize that they could run also.

  15. donburgh Says: 'steal' 50 bases in a season. Ugh.

  16. John Q Says:

    @12 Duke,

    The stolen base went out of fashion in the live ball era (post 1921) so you would have seasons where the league leader led the league with something like 20 stolen bases.

    The stolen base came back into fashion in the 60's and even then league leaders would get around 50 so it's not like people were attempting 80-120 attempts like they would in the '70-80's. Also the 60's was low offensive period so you might only have 5-8 players with + .500%.

  17. John Q Says:

    Kenny Lofton's 1994 season is an overlooked season because of the strike. He was on pace to have a 80 sb/.500 slg% 140 run scoring season. He should have been the MVP that year when you consider he was a GG caliber CF as well.

    I look at this list and look at Gwynn & Raines in 1987 and just shake by head that they gave the MVP award to Andre Dawson? Raines might have had a 60sb, .500 slg%, 140 run scoring season had he not missed the month of that season because of collusion.

    Cedeno was a great player but was stuck in the Astrodome all those years. I'll always remember him during September of '85 hitting .434/.463/.750 with the Cardinals.

  18. Russell Says:

    This list contains 9 of the 10 answers to my favorite trivia question. Who are the only players to hit 20 HRs and have 50 SBs in a season? Raines came within 2 HRs on this list. Reyes came within 1 HR in 2006.

  19. RobMer Says:

    @10, Hartvig -- Regarding Kauff, he also had HOF ability and if a few things happened differently in his life and career, he might very well have made the HOF. Outside of the Federal League, he barely had five seasons in the majors, but generated an OPS+ of 135 during the deadball era.

    So if I may, a few words on Kauff, who many fans today may not be too familiar with, which is touch ironic considering how well-known Kauff was during his limited playing years:

    Kauff was originally a NY Highlander, and could have made the team as early as 1911. He probably should have stuck by 1912, especially considering the Highlanders were not a good team in those days, but he was sent back to the minors. The Cardinals picked him up, but also planned to send him to the minors as insurance against an injury on their MLB club. This ultimately led to Kauff accepting an offer to play for the renegade Federal League in 1914, where his talent could no longer be hidden. The NY Giants dealt for him and intended to make him their CFer in 1915, but he had to be shipped back to the Federal League because opposing MLB clubs refused to take the field and play the Giants as long as Kauff was on the team. They oddly seemed to view the Federal Leaguers as some form of scabs, when in reality they were just the opposite, although my guess is the boycott might have been driven by the ownership of those other teams as opposed to the players. Does anyone know?

    After the Federal League folded, the Giants once again signed Kauff, who finally made the "real" major leagues for good in 1916 at the age of 26, probably a good five years later than he should have. He wasn't a star that first season, but his 137 OPS+ during his rookie campaign spoke more of his ability than his .264 batting average during one one of baseball's deadball era years. He went on to hit over .300 the next two seasons, but his MLB career was once again interrupted for half a year in 1918 as he served in WWI, cutting short what would have been his best MLB season at the age of 28.

    He returned in 1919, and led the NL in extra base hits, was 2nd in home runs, was fourth in RBIs and doubles, and seventh in SLG, numbers that were once again masked as baseball's deadball era was in twilight and the Babe Ruth era was dawning.

    His career was once again interrupted the following season in 1920 in what would turn out to be a fatal blow when he was accused of auto theft. Viewing the publicity around the case as a distraction, the Giants sent him to the minors until after the trial was completed. Kauff was eventually acquitted by a jury, at which time the Giants announced plans to reinstall him as their CFer in 1921, but Judge Landis stepped in and banished Kauff from baseball, questioning the jury's decision and citing what he viewed as Kauff's “undesirable reputation and character." Kauff appealed, ultimately to the Supreme Court, which ruled they could not overturn Landis' decision, although they did write that it appears an injustice had been done to Kauff, who to this day remains the only player banished from baseball for non-gambling reasons.

    Kauff was only 30 in 1920 when his career, which had been delayed and interrupted several times during his 20s, came to a sudden and seemingly unfair end. One has to wonder if the Highlanders had recognized his ability one hundred years back in 1911 or so and installed him as their regular CFer what might have been, what different course his life and career might have taken. The Highlanders weren't very good in those days, so he would have been one of their best players for a number of years. The Highlanders eventually turned into the NY Yankees, and it's quite possible Benny Kauff might still have been roaming CF by the time Babe Ruth showed up and the higher offensive days of the 1920s arrived, days Kauff never was to see as a professional baseball player. If so, my guess is most baseball fans today would associate Benny Kauff's with that of a very good baseball player, if not a HOFer.

  20. oneblankspace Says:

    Kauff also had two homers in a World Series game against the White Sox in 1917. His Giants lost the series, however.

  21. topper009 Says:

    Starting in 1911 they switched to a cork center in the ball from a rubber center which caused the ball to be much livelier, and it took a few years for the pitchers to adjust and offense in 1911-1912 are extremely high compared to previous years. This lasted until 1931 when they added some rubber in there around the cork to slow the ball down; 1930 was the highest offensive time in the modern era (1901-).

  22. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    @1, 3, 10, 11, 13 - Eric Davis: A lot of people in the late 80's wondered how great a season Davis could put together, if he remained healthy for an entire year. Problem was, like JD Drew nowadays, and Fred Lynn in the mid-70s/ 80's, he _never_ played an entire season.

    Davis never had more than 135 Games are 542 Plate Appearances in any one season. Both Lynn and Drew exceeded those yearly totals a number of times. Bob Horner was also like that, but at a lower level.

    @11/ Tristam - yes, I vividly remember how great Davis was after the first two months of 1987 - it looked like we were witnessing the emergence of another Willie Mays, and it was lots of fun to extrapolate his numbers over the entire year. Too bad he never came close...

    @12/ the 50-year gap in the 50 SB/.500 SLG% club - in the 60s there were several prolific base stealers who had decent power, but the lower offensive levels suppressed their numbers. For example, Lou Brock in 1967 hit 21 HR and had a .472 SA; that might have been over .500 in today's game.

  23. JDV Says:

    @18 - My favorite answer to that question is Brady Anderson, who had both a 20/50 season and a 50/20 season.

  24. Voomo Zanzibar Says:

    Hey, speaking of power and speed, anyone know when was the last time a team led the league in both Homers and Steals?

    Because this year the Eduardo Nunez Yankees are in line to do it.
    Just gotta hold off Melky Cabrera and those runnin' Royals.

  25. Artie Z Says:

    @24 - The 1976 Reds did it. 141 HRs (the next closest is 110 by the Pirates and Phillies) and 210 SBs (next closest is 150 by the Astros). I don't know if there is a more recent team.

  26. Tmckelv Says:

    Many of Cesar Cedeno's stats from 1972 and 1973 are remarkably close.

    Along with the subjects of this post (SB and .SLG), GP and AVG are the same.

    "Just let the kids play."

  27. Voomo Zanzibar Says:

    Yeah, '76 Reds were pretty good.
    7-0 in the playoffs.
    Completed a sweep for the title in the new yankee stadium.

    And 4 HOFers in the lineup.
    (yes, Pete Rose. And interesting, everybody in the starting lineup stole at least 10 bases Except for Rose. Maybe he wasn't that good after all. Just a 'counting' stats guy)

  28. Tristram Says:

    @19 RobMer - Thank you. I soaked up every word and learned quite a bit.

  29. Artie Z Says:

    @27 - I found a more recent team than the 1976 Reds. The 1995 Indians led the AL with 207 HRs (Angels were second best with 186 HRs) and 132 SBs (Royals were second best with 120). That team had a few quality players on it as well.

  30. John Autin Says:

    @9, Rich: "How is the Federal League any more dubious than the NL and AL in 1914/1915?
    The Federal League had loads of players who played before and after the league's existence. If anything, all three leagues were watered down for those two seasons."

    Reasonable question. But:

    1. While the FL did have quite a few players who played in the NL or AL before playing in the FL, the numbers of players who returned from the FL to the NL/AL were lower than those who jumped. In other words, while the FL did poach some real stars, a lot of those stars were on their way out of the majors.

    2. Few of the players who made their "major league" debut with the Feds went on to significant careers in the NL/AL.

    3. Many players who were not stars in the established majors had big years in the FL.

    Take a look at the Federal League leaders for either season. For those who also played in the NL/AL, almost all put up much bigger numbers in the FL.

    As to the NL/AL being watered down -- well, yes, somewhat. But compare any group of Federal League leaders to the corresponding group of NL or AL leaders -- no contest.

  31. Tmckelv Says:

    @19 RobMer,

    Very nice and interesting post. I learned a lot.

    I liked your point about the "What could have been?" if the Highlanders had inserted Benny Kauff into their lineup in 1911. H probably would have been the CF until Earl Combs came around in the mid-20's. The Highlanders/Yankees seemed to have a hard time filling that position during that time-period.

    I guess Landis kind of threw out Benny with the 1919 Black Sox bathwater.

  32. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    @30/ John Autin - while the Federal League in 1914-15 was probably not quite at the overall level of the AL and NL, I do not think anyone has considered it at the level of the minor leagues at the time. So the pertinent question for considering the Federal League a major league, is not:

    - was the FL clearly as good as the AL or NL?
    - was the FL clearly _not_ a minor league at the time?

    I don't see clear evidence that the FL was not a major league.

  33. Neil L. Says:


    Voomo, it has nothing to do with his baseball statistics, but if Ty Cobb played in 2011, based on what we know of his personality, could he have been able to withstand the media portiature of him as a "jerk", even worse than Barry Bonds, without affecting his performance?

    RobMer, echoing Tristam, great post. Nice research and good writing. Do you think Landis's harshness toward Kauff in 1921 was partly a over-reaction to trying to "clean up" baseball after the Black-Sox scandal?

    JA, most surprising seasons on the list, in my opinion are Ryan Sandberg's 1985 and Tony Gwynn's 1987 in the context of the blog.

  34. Neil L. Says:

    @31 @33
    I guess Landis kind of threw out Benny with the 1919 Black Sox bathwater."
    Tmckelv, you beat me to the thought. We are joined at the (baseball) mind. 🙂

  35. John Autin Says:

    @23, JDV -- Darn! I thought I had that "20/50 - 50/20" nugget all to myself!

  36. John Autin Says:

    @32, Lawrence -- I still cling to the old-fashioned notion that "the burden of proof is in the affirmative."

    Also, I don't think that contemporary opinion of the Federal League's "major or minor" status is very helpful, largely because that distinction was not nearly so concrete then as it is today. "Major" / "minor" mainly referred to the size of the cities; it was not yet a given that all or nearly all of the best baseball players were to be found in the "major" leagues, nor that someone who was at the top of his "minor" league would soon be "moving up" to the majors.

    The Federal League clearly meant to be a major league; they competed head-on with the NL/AL clubs for fans and attention in many of the same cities; they paid salaries that were, on average, at least as good as what the established clubs were paying; and they competed to sign star players.

    But wishing doesn't make it so. They simply didn't land enough high-quality players to be considered major-league caliber, from our vantage point. Just look at their league champions. Just a few examples:

    1914, Indianapolis:
    -- 1B Charlie Carr was 37 years old and had been out of the established majors for 7 years, because he wasn't good enough. In his prime, he hit .244 in the majors; at 37, he hit .293 in the FL. He never made it back to the majors.
    -- SS Jimmy Esmond had batted .231 in parts of 2 years with the Reds. With the Feds in '14, he hit .295 and led the league with 15 triples. He was only 24 that year, and played another full year in the FL, but never got back to the majors.

  37. Voomo Zanzibar Says:

    Oh but wouldn't it we great to see Cobb kick Jeter in the face sliding into 2nd with those razor spikes?

  38. Joe Garrison Says:

    If you sort by age you see one more case of "what could have been". Cesar Cedeno is up there with Ty Cobb among those players who got off to terrific starts.

  39. SocraticGadfly Says:

    We all talk about the "dead ball" era. But, it was just a "dead home run" era, really. Cobb, Wagner, Kauff, etc were regularly poking 35 or more doubles and 10 or more triples.

  40. Neil L. Says:

    JA, is it helpful, to consider The World Hockey Association compared to the National Hockey League? Gretzky started in the WHL but I don't think his goals there counted toward his NHL totals! Or did they?

    And that league lasted for seven years, from 1972-1979, before it folded.

    My point is, that there is a lot of angst about what constitutes a baseball major league in terms of American history. I don't have a definitive answer, but what are the criteria for a (historical) major league

  41. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    @36/ John Autin - I think that we have different ideas of what "major league' is - what you wrote below is good enough for me:

    "The Federal League clearly meant to be a major league; they competed head-on with the NL/AL clubs for fans and attention in many of the same cities; they paid salaries that were, on average, at least as good as what the established clubs were paying; and they competed to sign star players."

    ..but not for you, then. What about the American Association from 1882 to 1891 - you could make the same arguments against the AA (or at least its early years), as you just did against the FL. How about the Players League in 1890 - it may have been better than the NL or AL that year?

    I might remove the UA of 1884, but otherwise I would leave the "major league" designations where they are now.

  42. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    @39/ SocraticGadfly Says: "We all talk about the "dead ball" era. But, it was just a "dead home run" era, really..."

    I think that the "dead ball" terminology refers to not only to the lack of over-the-fence HRs, but also the pronounced downturn in scoring. In the AL from 1904 to 1918, runs/game were under 4.00, except for the upturn in 1911/ 1912. This has seldom happened since 1918 (1943/45; 1965-68; 1971/72).

    With the legality of the spitball and many other manners of darkening and defacing the ball, and keeping it in play for many pitches, the ball really was much "deader" back in the first two decades of the 20th century. The "live ball era" starting in 1920 was as much about banning the spitball and keeping clean and fresh balls in play, as it was about batters deliberately swinging for the fences.

  43. John Autin Says:

    Lawrence -- I definitely would make the same argument (even stronger) against the Union Association. I haven't looked at the AA or the PL enough to have formed an opinion. In practical terms, all those leagues predate modern baseball, and thus just don't come up very often in my discussions.

    In terms of caliber of play, the same case that can be made for the Federal League could be made just as well for the Pacific Coast League in its pre-WWII heyday. Maybe they didn't overtly try to define themselves as a major league, but the PCL was a big-time operation.

    What about the USFL? They meant to be a major league; they paid competitive salaries; they lured away several major stars; they played in many of the same cities as the NFL. But the USFL stats and records are not recognized by the NFL.

  44. Neil L. Says:

    Lawrence, very interesting point. So I should think of the "dead ball" era as a bit of a misnomer.

    I should think of 1900-1919 as the "defaced-ball" era or the "spitball" era rather than focussing on the construction of the ball. But did hitter/manager mindset and current strategy not also play a role for batters in those decades?

  45. Rich Says:

    @ 36
    Well yeah you can find players that kinda stunk previously in ALL 3 leagues. 16 teams jumped to 24 in one season. They needed to fill a roster. They're not all gonna be good.
    As someone else said, if the FL wasn't quite as good as the AL and NL, that doesn't make it not a Major League esp since Major League Baseball considers it a major league. That right there should be the be all end all.

  46. SocraticGadfly Says:

    @41, and at JA and all: The NBA refused to count ABA stats.

  47. John Autin Says:

    @45, Rich -- Why should I mindlessly accept MLB's long-ago decision to recognize the Federal League as a major league, given that they gave the same blessing to the 1884 Union Association? Go read Bill James's dismantling of the UA's caliber of play in the Historical Baseball Abstract. Those decisions were not made on the basis of a rational assessment of the quality of play.

    I found the following player breakdown informative re: the Federal League:

    Out of 286 players who played at all in the FL:
    -- 35% were ex-MLers whose careers ended in the FL.
    -- 31% never played in the NL/AL.
    -- 25% were ex-MLers who went back to ML after the FL.
    -- 9% were newbies who went on to ML careers.

    Only 1/3 of those who played in the FL played in the majors after the league's demise. If the FL really was ML-caliber, when the total "major league" jobs shrunk by 1/3, shouldn't the proportion of FL players who got jobs in the NL/AL have been closer to 2/3?

    When the league dissolved after 1915, 59 FL players were selected by ML clubs. Almost half were taken by 2 clubs, the Cubs (17) and the Browns (12).
    -- The Cubs declined by 6 games in 1916, from 73-80 to 67-86. They went 74-80 in 1917.
    -- The Browns improved by 16 games in 1916, from 63-91 to 79-75, but fell back to 57-97 in 1917.

    (Source for player breakdown:

  48. RobMer Says:

    @33, Neil L -- I'd say yes to that. Benny Kauff got caught up in Landis' great purge. If his trial had happened a couple years earlier, or perhaps even a couple years later, then Kauff might have survived. Unfortunately for him, it happened during 1920 and early 1921 when the whole Black Sox scandal was unfolding in the news every day. Landis, as we know, was brought in to "clean up" the game, but even more so, he had to make it appear he was cleaning up the game. The more high profile the player banished the better. Landis was willing to sacrifice an innocent man for what he viewed as the greater good of the game.

    In Kauff, he had a very high profile player, which as I alluded to earlier might be surprising to some fans today who don't know Benny Kauff. He was in the media spotlight from the time he signed to play in the Federal League, then his dynamic play in the Federal League, to his signing by the Giants, only to be returned to the Federal League when MLB teams refused to play the Giants as long as Kauff was on the team, then his eventual debut as the Giants' CFer the following year, along with the trial around the auto theft, and his ultimate banishment from the game. He was a man whose off-the-field activities kept him in the spotlight. He compounded this with a very cocky personality. He did not lack for confidence. He boasted when he came to the Giants that he was every bit the player as Ty Cobb, maybe even better. He also was a bit of a dandy, known for dressing flashy and wearing the best clothes. The media ate up every thing about him.

    He was exactly the type of symbolic player that Landis wanted to banish. Kauff was known to the baseball public. Landis had him killed.

  49. Neil L. Says:

    Robmer, you are remarkably well informed about Benny Kauff. Is the biography project at SABR the source of your information? Their bio pages are incredibly detailed.

  50. Thomas Court Says:

    The "If only Eric Davis stayed healthy" idea is one that will never die I guess. Instead of admiring what he DID do, people want to focus on what he would have done if he stayed healthy. What he actually DID was impressive. The "what if" game is wasted time in my opinion.

    What if he had stayed healthy? My answer is: he didn't.

    and Mantle didn't stay sober...or tear his knee up...
    Bonds didn't choose to take the high road...
    Bo Jackson didn't choose baseball only...

    When the answer is: "Whatever I want the answer to be." then it is time to stop asking the question.

  51. Neil L. Says:

    With respect, Thomas, I feel you may be a little harsh on those who like to speculate about "what if".

    "What if?" is a way of mourning lost or misused potential for what ever reason. After all, Eric Davis did turn up legitimately on this list and it does cause one to think that he is off the baseball radar in a career sense compared to the quality of some of his individual seasons. Nothing wrong with that regret for him, in my opinion.

    I think "What if?" statistical projections are a fun exercise as long as they don't cloud "What was".

  52. John Autin Says:

    I think both sides of the "what-if-Eric-Davis..." discussion are understandable.

    -- On one hand, he did have a long and productive career, in spite of all the injuries, playing 1,626 games,

    -- On the other hand, the 25-year period from 1980-2004 that brackets his career was unusually rich in long-career players; 105 position players topped Davis in games played.

    Also, there are several different kinds of "what-ifs". With Mantle and Bonds, speculation may be interesting, but none is necessary to recognize their brilliant, HOF-caliber careers. With Bo and other short-career players (Bo had just 5 seasons playing more than 1/2 the schedule), speculation may be fun, but too much of it is required in order to see them as HOF talents.

    The "what-if" game is most tantalizing with a guy like Davis, who clearly had both the talent and the longevity to make the HOF, but just couldn't stay on the field quite enough to get there. It's amazing that in the 15 seasons after he made the majors to stay, he never topped 132 games. He had just 8 seasons of 100+ games, but in those 8 he averaged a 138 OPS+, and played at least 127 games in all 8. In 3 of the 6 years that he qualified for the batting title, his OPS+ was in the 150s.

    Also, I think his value pattern is pretty unusual. Through age 28, he had a 140 OPS+. From 29-33, he had a 92 OPS+ and averaged just 67 games. But from 34-36, his OPS+ was 143, and 2 of those 3 years were among his fullest seasons.

    None of this affects the bottom-line assessment of his value, because of course the ability to stay on the field is an enormous component of value, and a player who misses 30 games a year in his prime due to nagging injuries has to be downgraded for it. At the same time, a big chunk of his lost time (and effectiveness) was due to the kidney laceration he suffered in 1990 and the cancer that cost him all of the '95 season. Without those two setbacks, even if he had continued to miss 30 games a year with whatnot, I think he makes the HOF.

    Even though it's pointless speculation.

  53. RobMer Says:

    @49, Neil L, perhaps I'm his biographer? 🙂 A good way to go broke. Pick a player few care about!

    Seriously, every one here has an interest in baseball, and there's probably some aspect of the game that appeals to each of us perhaps more than another. In my case, it's a very strong interest in the game's early history. It was originally driven by my first viewing of Ken Burns' Baseball in 1994. I loved the first few episodes about the very early years of the game. It led me to reading the Glory of Their Times, and I've kept reading every think I can find about the game's early years ever since, just finishing, for example, John Thorn's "Baseball in the Garden of Eden," (Thorn was recently named Official Baseball Historian for MLB.)

    I am a member of SABR and they have excellent resources. Like all of us, I'm in to numbers, but I find the personal stories behind the early players most interesting. It makes the game more interesting to me.

  54. Neil L. Says:

    Robmer, I think I need to become a SABR member as well as continuing my BBRef subscription.

    I agree with you that the beauty of the game we follow is the humanity behind the cold, hard numbers.

    The statistics, or lack of good ones, have a human being behind them, a story that begs looking into. I, for one, don't always have the will or knowledge of how to bring that information to light.

  55. Thursday Links (4 Aug 11) | Ducksnorts Says:

    [...] 50 stolen bases and .500 slugging (Baseball-Reference). Former Padres Tony Gwynn and Rickey Henderson appear on this list, as does arguably the most talented baseball player I’ve ever seen, Eric Davis. Also, how great was Cesar Cedeno, doing it at age 21 and 22… in the Astrodome! [...]