Friday, November 30, 2007

Tommy McCarthy

"Thomas McCarthy is now the regular scout for the Cincinnati Club and when not at work for that organization spends his time in Boston."

"McCarthy in the days of the old and decidedly famous St. Louis Browns, was one of the star outfielders of that organization. 'Little Mack' was the 'Kid' who took the place in the Browns outfield of dear old Hughie Nichol. McCarthy was as fast as lightning in the outfield, a pretty man standing up at the plate and taking him all in all he might be termed one of the wonderful outfielders of the early eighties."

From The National Game

Tommy McCarthy was described by Jon David Cash, in Before They Were Cardinals, as "the best of the players the 1888 Browns recruited to replace their former stars" and was, along with Hugh Duffy, one of Boston's "Heavenly Twins". Bill James writes in the Historical Baseball Abstract that "(among) all major league outfielders playing 1000 games at the position, the highest rate of baserunner kills (assists) per game is by...Tommy McCarthy, who had 268 kills in 1,189 games, which is 36.5 kills per 162 games..." James also wrote that McCarthy is one of the few pure leadoff men in the Hall of Fame.

Why McCarthy is in the Hall of Fame is unclear to me. It's certainly not because of his stats. Certainly he was a smart, heady player and had one heck of an arm in the outfield but that lifetime OPS+ of 102 doesn't do much for me. In 1890, he lead the AA in stolen bases and a year later led the league in singles. That's about it for black ink. James makes the argument, based on the testimony of John M. Ward, that McCarthy invented the hit and run (or at the very least perfected and popularized the play). That's certainly significant, if true, but is that enough to get somebody in the Hall of Fame? Maybe it has something to do with his playing on the great Boston teams of the 1890's. I must be missing something here.

Okay, I went to the Hall of Fame forum over at Baseball Fever and found a great post from Fuzzy Bear explaining McCarthy's HoF selection. Fuzzy, whose opinion I respect, wrote this:

McCarthy actually gives George Kelly competition as the worst HOFer there is.

McCarthy's selection, from various sources I have read, was a result of the Old-Timers Committee of the 1940s making large numbers of inductions, in part because the writers of that period didn't seem to want to induct ANYBODY. This is how the gray area of the HOF started. McCarthy was elected by guys who were his pals and peers who were still alive. I guarantee you that if the writers were inducting worthy candidates at that time, the Old-Timers Committee would have made fewer inductions, and McCarthy would NOT be a HOFer.

McCarthy is a guy who MIGHT have a case if he (A) played CENTER field, (B) won MULTIPLE GOLD GLOVES, (C) had a longer career, and (D) posted the same numbers in a tighter offensive context. McCarthy was a good player, but nothing more.

I understand that McCarthy had some "fame" in his day. This may have played a role in his selection, but I'm not sure as to the extent of his "fame" while active.

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