March 30, 2017

All Phillies… All the Time –Three’s Company, 18’s a Crowd

July 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Trying to narrow the Phillies field of outfielders down to the top three all time is like trying to pick out Steve Carlton’s three best wins, or Mike Schmidt’s three most memorable home runs (OK; the pennant clincher against the Expos in 1980, and number 500 against the Pirates… now choose a third… the game winner in the 23-22 game… the fourth home run in the 10 inning game at Wrigley… one of his World Series home runs… you get the picture), it’s not an easy task. If three in the outfield is a company, then 18 — the number of viable candidates for this honor, give or take a few — is most certainly a crowd.

And what a crowd it is. Five Hall of Famers. Three of the best glovemen of all time. The stars of the Whiz Kids and the 1964 team. A guy who was traded for five players. Two behemoth home run hitters. A Triple Crown winner. At least a three more possible Hall candidates. Possibly the most underrated and underappreciated player in team history. The offensive spark of the 1993 team and the other half of the team’s top home run duo of all time (along with Schmidt). The list goes on and on, so much so that it’s hard to know where to start. Perhaps, in this case, it’s best to give a shaky nod to the top three, and then work backwards. Although this is a subject that can be debated forever, and on which a consensus would be a miracle, it says here that the three greatest outfielders in Phillies history all played the outfield in Philadelphia at the same time! We speak, not of Bobby Del Greco, Tony Curry (who wasn’t even the best former cricket player to play baseball in Philly) and Ken Walters, but of Ed Delahanty, Sliding Billy Hamilton, and Sam Thompson, the Phillies all-Hall of Fame outfield from 1891 to 1895 (when Colonel John Rogers stupidly traded Hamilton to Boston, because he wanted more money.)

Unless you know 19th Century baseball, you may not be familiar with this trio. Suffice it to say they were so good that, for a start, they keep two other Hall of Famers on the virtual bench; Chuck Klein and Richie Ashburn. They were so good that Sherry Magee, Gavvy Cravath and Cy Williams — all of whom have HOF arguments — fall short as well. They were so good that Del Ennis, Johnny Callison, Lenny Dykstra and Greg Luzinski don’t even get close. That’s how good they were. Let’s take a step back and rank the 18 candidates (or rather, the 18 candidates we’re looking at) by their OPS+ with the Phillies…

Ed Delahanty

“Big Ed” Delahanty

Player OPS+
Ed Delahanty 153
Billy Hamilton 153
Gavvy Cravath 152
Sam Thompson 143
Sherry Magee 142
Chuck Klein 139
Bobby Abreu 139
Greg Luzinski 133
Cy Williams 131
Roy Thomas 124
Johnny Callison 122
Lenny Dykstra 122
Del Ennis 120
Pat Burrell 119
Von Hayes 118
Richie Ashburn 111
Garry Maddox 99
Jim Fogarty 99

The first question this list, presented in this fashion, brings to mind is… what are Maddox and Fogarty doing here? Well, maybe the first question is, who was Jim Fogarty anyway? Let’s say he was the Garry Maddox of the 1880s… a superb outfielder, one of the best, and an average hitter with a lot of speed. They both deserve to be mentioned for the same reason; their incredible D. If you saw the Secretary of Defense play, you can appreciate Fogarty and why both of them deserve at least a mention.

Ashburn is a somewhat similar case, except he drew a ton of walks and hit for a higher average; thus his inclusion in the Hall of Fame as well. Some misguided soul, writing earlier this year for Bleacher Report, put Ashburn on his list of the 100 Most Overrated Players in History. Wrong! Wrong! And wrong! Ashburn was an on-base, walk and singles machine; picture Ichiro Suzuki if he was willing to not just take a walk, but be among the league leaders in walks every year. That’ll give you an idea. Moreso though, even more than his two batting titles and other offensive accomplishments (the only thing he didn’t do was hit for power), Ashburn belongs because he was one of the most remarkable defensive players of any era. The telling stat isn’t his fielding percentage, but his range. Suzuki, for instance, may have a better arm then Ashburn, but no one, no one, could go get them like Whitey. He still has, I believe, six of the top 10 seasonal outfield putout totals of all time. He is one of only two players to record 500 outfield putouts in a season (and the other guy only did it once). He may not have been Willie, Mickey or the Duke (none of whom got to 500 POs in a season), but he was some player.

It’s tempting, in fact, to say that Ashburn was a unique player. But, he wasn’t. Defying the odds, Ashburn was the second outfielder of his type to play for the Phillies. The first was Roy Thomas back around the turn of the last century. Thomas may not have been the defensive player Ashburn was (but then, nobody was), but he was actually a better offensive player (even though he literally had no power), taking his numbers into the context of his era, that is, the Deadball Era. Compare the two players’ offensive slash lines with the Phillies…

Player AVG OBA SLG
Thomas .295 .421 .334
Ashburn .311 .394 .388

Although Thomas’ OPS+ is higher, his raw OPS is lower, and he had even less power than Ashburn, although he really got a lot of walks. Both of them were also famous for fouling off pitches, so maybe it’s just as well they played 50 years apart — they would have driven opposing pitchers nuts. (Sort of like the time the Dodgers Mad Monk Meyer deliberately hit Ashburn with a 3-2 pitch, because Whitey kept fouling off his best stuff.)

Moving up the list, that brings in two more players who share something in common — neither one could ever seem to, at least in most people’s eyes, meet their expectations. Of course, when you’re traded for five other players, like Von Hayes, or when you’re the number one choice in the entire draft, like Pat Burrell, well, there are some expectations. As it turned out, Pete Rose did Hayes no favors when he dubbed him “Five for One.” And it’s a shame, for two reasons, that Hayes will always be so-remembered. The two reasons? It wasn’t that bad a trade, and Hayes was a very good ballplayer, admittedly for a bunch of mostly mediocre Phillies team. Do you even remember who Hayes was traded for? Call them off; Julio Franco, Manny Trillo, George Vuckovich, Jay Baller and Jerry Willard. The last three were marginal major leaguers, and Trillo was over the hill (and frankly, overrated). Only Franco went on after the trade to a (very) long career. But, you want to know something? His career OPS+ after leaving Philadelphia was 112, and Hayes’ with the Phillies was 118. Franco was a high-average hitter without much power who didn’t walk a great deal and who wasn’t much of a fielder wherever they put him. Hayes didn’t hit for as high an average, but he walked a lot and had more power, AND he was a good fielder in both the outfield and at first. So who was the better player?

Burrell and Luzinski can also be paired, even more easily than Burrell/Hayes. While Burrell may have been perceived, as was Hayes, as not living up to his hype (and that may have been because Pat the Bat could look awful at the plate on occasion), in reality Pat and the Bull were very similar players… big home run hitters who got a lot of walks and who typically looked sort of lost in left field. In fact, you have to wonder why the Phillies didn’t leave both of them at first — recall that Luzinski came up through the minors at first and Burrell played first in his rookie season. Their slash lines with the Phillies are also pretty close, except the Luzinski hit for a higher average… Luzinski .281/.363/.489; Burrell .257/.367/.485. Luzinski having played in a lower-scoring era, and Burrell having played half his games for five years in CBP do add up to a significant difference in OPS+ in favor of Luzinski, 133 to 119. But, they really were similar-type players.

Next on the list is Del Ennis, the local boy (Olney High School) who made good and was unmercifully booed in Philadelphia. Ennis himself claimed that it was the fans from South Philly who were booing the North Philly guy, but that sounds like something of a rationalization, maybe because Ennis sure didn’t deserve to be booed. He was a hot enough prospect when he was still in the minors during the war he became the object of a tug of, not McGraw, but war between the Phillies and Bill Veeck. In 1943, while he was running the then-minor league Milwaukee Brewers, Veeck took advantage of the Phillies running out of catchers (a rare commodity during the war) to swing a deal with Bill Cox that involved, among others, Ennis AND Andy Seminick, who were, in effect, traded for each other.

Wait a minute… Seminick and Ennis played the balance of their careers together on the Phillies. Well, that’s because Cox got himself thrown out of baseball (for betting ON the Phillies) before the deal could be finalized and, according to Veeck, Phillies GM Herb Pennock re-nigged on the deal after the Carpenters took over. The trade was Seminick (who Veeck had just bought from Knoxville for exactly this purpose) to the Phillies for outfielder Coaker Triplett (one of the great names in baseball history), pitcher Newt Kimball, Ennis and $30,000. Veeck could demand that much because Seminick was almost as good a prospect as Ennis, and the Phillies were down to their bullpen catcher at the time. Sadly for Veeck, but fortuitously for a generation of Phillies fans, 1) Casey Stengel (then with the Braves) put in a claim for Ennis, 2) who went into the military (and you couldn’t transfer a serviceman), 3) and Cox was thrown out of baseball. When Ennis came out of the military, Pennock (again, according to Veeck) didn’t honor the deal that had been made under Cox’ regime, and the young outfielder stayed with the Phillies, posting a 120 OPS+ during his years in Philadelphia, and later opening a popular bowling alley in Huntingdon Valley. Hopefully, no one booed him there.

The next two players on the list, both with a 122 OPS+ with the Phillies, share almost nothing in common, except maybe size, on or off the field. Little Johnny Callison, although he had huge forearms, didn’t look like he could hit the ball out of the infield, yet he was a power hitter who also owned a gun for an arm in right field. He was also one of the fine gentlemen to play in Philadelphia, and a tremendous favorite in town long after he retired. Lenny Dykstra, on the other hand, was a leadoff hitter who drew a lot of walks (somewhat like Ashburn, although he had more power) and who had a terrible arm, and who, it is alleged, bulked up via PEDs and has lived a train wreck (or maybe a car wreck, recalling his famous accident in 1991) of a life after baseball; now being one jump ahead of the wolf and the sheriff at his door. An odd juxtaposition for two players, both of whom could easily have been National League MVPs (and who, in fact, may have deserved same), Dykstra in 1993 and Callison in 1964.

Before we get into the really heavy hitters, there’s Cy Williams, an early power hitter who was overshadowed during his own time, and forgotten shortly thereafter. Williams played for the Phillies from 1918 to 1930, winning three home run titles, including a whopping 41 in 1923. That would have been a sensation, if the Babe hadn’t hit 54 and 59 in 1921 and 1922, because no one hit that many home runs in that era. Williams was quite a hitter, and a centerfielder to boot. Although, as left-handed hitter he took advantage of the short wall in Baker Bowl (as would Klein at the end of Williams career), he still posted a 131 OPS+ with the Phillies, and was still good enough to be playing when he was 42 years old, posting a .471/.571/.588 slash line in 21 plate appearances in 1930.

Having brought Hall of Famer Klein into the discussion… the issue here is, how much were his stats inflated by Baker Bowl? Recall that we’re just judging Klein on his contributions for the Phillies. After the aforementioned William Baker traded him the first time, to the Cubs after the 1933 season, he never was the same player again. He injured a hamstring before his first season in Chicago, and, attempting to justify his status as the Cubs’ savior, tried to play through it, to the point where it was said his leg turned black before he would rest it. He went on to a mediocre rest of his career, returning two more times to the Phillies. If he had played for his entire career at anywhere near the level he played from 1928 to 1933, well, he wouldn’t have been considered a marginal Hall of Famer, and this discussion would be much different. (And, if a frog had wings… you get the picture.) During his first tour of duty in Philly, Klein’s average OPS+ (recalling this takes into account the Baker Bowl Effect and the high scoring era he played in) was 158, and he was traded after his best year, winning the 1933 Triple Crown with a .368/.422/.602 slash line and a 176 OPS+, his highest. Baker built an additional fence on top of the already towering Baker Bowl right field wall, specifically to keep Klein’s stats down, so he wouldn’t have to raise his salary too much. Perhaps no additional comment on Klein or the Phillies of the 1930 era is needed, except to say, as was the case with a few others in baseball history (Peter Reiser comes to mind), he could have been one of the greatest of all time.

Overall, Klein’s OPS+ in Philadelphia was still a sterling 139. So what then are we to make of Bobby Abreu… who’s OPS+ is Philly was also 139? At least he didn’t get booed like Del Ennis, but, he also didn’t get much love in Philly, the consensus being he was overrated both defensively and offensively, and that the Phillies made a good move in giving him away to the Yankees at the trade deadline in 2006. Right, and the main result of trading Chuck Klein was saving money. The lack of respect Abreu still commands in Philly is unfathomable. Look at it this way… how good would the Phillies have been from 2006 to 2010 if they’d gotten rid of Burrell (a somewhat lesser offensive force and most certainly not as good an outfielder or base runner) instead of Abreu? What sort of numbers might an Abreu (moving him to left, which is easier to play anyway), Victorino, Werth outfield might have put up? We’ll never know, will we? At 37, he’s still playing regularly for the Angels (albeit as a DH and with much less power) and still has a .390 OBA. Sorry, this trade was major mistake, and Abreu, who has spent most of his career as a high average hitter with some power who takes a lot of walks and steals a lot of bases (Ashburn with much more power, though not nearly as good a defensive player), is certainly within the top 10 all-time for Phillies outfielders.

Teammates (from 1912 to 1914) Sherry Magee and Gavvy Cravath both deserve close scrutiny in regards to this discussion. Magee had a longer career with the Phillies (11 years, as opposed to Cravath’s seven full years and part of two more) and was a better fielder, and Cravath had slightly better hitting stats, and both were tremendous players. Oddly, Magee seems to be largely forgotten at this point, possibly because he died young and missed out on the 1915 World Series team by a year. Cravath, on the other hand, became a well-known judge in California after his playing days, and is still sometimes mentioned among the Deadball Era stars who are deserving of Hall of Fame consideration. Their slash lines in Philadelphia show the same batting average, as well as Cravath’s superior power and plate discipline (although, in fairness, Magee played seven years before 1911 when the ball was really dead.)

Player AVG OBA SLG
Cravath .291 .381 .489
Magee .291 .364 .427

Both were dominant hitters in the National League in their times, Cravath taking six home run titles with the Phillies and also leading in OPS (3), RBIs (2), OBA (2), slugging (2) and runs, hits and walks once each. Magee, on his part, led the NL in RBIs for the Phillies three times and in slugging twice, while picking up single titles in runs, hits, doubles, on base average, OPS, and he threw in a batting title for good measure. So which one was a better player? It’s a tough call. Let’s compare some more statistics, again only with the Phillies, for whom Cravath played the equivalent of eight full seasons, and Magee roughly about 10.5 seasons.

Player Seasons G OPS+ oWAR dWAR AveWAR Black Ink
Cravath 8 1103 152 31.8 -1.2 3,825 46
Magee 10.5 1521 142 45.5 2.1 4.533 31

Cravath has an advantage in both OPS+ and Black Ink, so it would see to be true that he was the more dominant offensive player. In Magee’s favor, he played longer for the Phillies, was a better defensive player, and comes out better in Wins Above Replacement. If there ever was a draw in comparing the value of two players, this is it.

Having come to that tentative non-conclusion, how do both Magee and Cravath stack up against Delahanty, Hamilton and Thompson? Especially Big Sam, since it would seem that the first two Hall of Famers, even after all these years, still stand out.

Take Sliding Billy, all 5-6, 165 pounds of him. Some of his stats are almost beyond belief; 198 runs scored in just 132 games in 1894 (a record for a season of any length), 166 runs scored in 123 games the next year, 914 career stolen bases, including four years in triple figures (yes, the stolen base rules were different in the 1890s, but no one else ran up numbers like that), league leadership in walks five times and on base percentage five times, an on base percentage with the Phillies of .468 (his career mark of .455 is fourth all-time). Before Rickey Henderson came along, this was the best leadoff hitter in history.

Delahanty is now better-remembered for his drunk and disorderly end, taking a header off the Niagara Falls bridge while on a journey attempting the jump (figuratively, that is) the Washington Senators to join the New York Giants. However, long before his end on July 2, 1903, Big Ed swung a big bat for the Phillies. He played 13 of his 16 seasons in the Huntington Street Grounds (aka Baker Bowl) and was the pre-eminent power hitter of the 1890s, even beyond his teammate, Sam Thompson. He led the NL in slugging four times, and in hits, doubles, triples, home runs (he was the second player to hit four in one game), RBIs, stolen bases, batting average, on base percentage, OPS, OPS+, offensive winning percentage, runs created, extra base hits, and total bases at various (and usually multiple) times. He walked far more than he struck out, he hit over .400 three times, and he was still good enough at 35 (when he died) to post a 145 OPS+. He may not have put up the outrageous numbers that Hamilton did in some categories, but Ed Delahanty was the best outfielder in Phillies history.

That leaves just the third outfielder slot. Big (6-2, 207) Sam’s slash line with the Phillies was .334/.388/.509 for 1034 games. His OPS+ was 143. And… this is significant, so make note… he still holds the career RBIs per game record, just ahead of Lou Gehrig. Big Sam drove in 1305 runs in 1414 games. The only reason he didn’t set the single season RBI mark in 1895 for the Phillies, when he drove in 165, was because he’d already set it with the Detroit Wolverines in 1887, with 166. He also managed to hit .415 in 1894 and not win the batting title. With the Phillies, he did lead the NL in hits, doubles, home runs, RBIs, slugging, OPS+, total bases, runs created and extra base hits (he missed tying the NL single season record by one). Away from the plate, he was a league leader in outfield assists (AKA baserunner kills), fielding percentage and double plays.

While it’s true that Magee’s OPS+ with the Phillies was virtually the same as Thompson’s, and they were both good fielders, Thompson gets the nod on a slightly higher Black Ink count with Philadephia (34 to 31), and his record RBI rate. Again, the 1890s were a much different era than the Deadball Era, but no one else in those years did what Big Sam accomplished with men on base.

Cravath, although an equal player to Magee, probably has a stronger argument against Thompson, since his OPS+ in Philadelphia is just one point behind Hamilton and Delahanty, and nine ahead of Thompson. In Thompson’s favor is that RBI mark again, the fact that, by all accounts, he was a better fielder than Cravath, and the Hall of Fame vote. Make no mistake about it, the Hall of Fame has made a lot of mistakes in its voting. Even so, it is worthwhile to note that Cravath, who lived until 1963 as a high-profile judge, and whose career was far more recent than Thompson’s (who died in 1922), has never gotten the call from Cooperstown, and probably never will. Thompson, maybe due in part to the RBI record (which first came to light with the publication of the “Baseball Encyclopedia”) was elected in 1974, some 80 years after his heyday… a fairly rare feat, usually reserved for the Billy Hamiltons of baseball. Maybe the voters got it right this time.

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