Saturday, December 8, 2007

Tommy Tucker

Tommy Tucker, who played in 72 games for the Browns in 1898, was, according to David Nemec, "instrumental in transforming the (Baltimore) Orioles in the space of one year from the worst-hitting team of all time into one of the best in the Association." While that may be a bit of an overstatement, Tucker did have three fine seasons with the bat after joining the Orioles as a 23 year old rookie in 1887. After posting a respectable OPS+ of 105 in his rookie campaign, Tucker put up two very good seasons back to back with an OPS+ of 135 and 168. His 1898 season was his best year in the big leagues. That season, Tucker led the league in batting, on base percentage, hits and OPS. He was also third in total bases and eighth in RBI.

Nemec went on to write in The Beer & Whiskey League that "Tucker was a real rarity in his day, a switch-hitter. One of the first of note, Tucker confounded Tony Mullane, who was even more of a rarity-a switch-pitcher. Although normally a righthander, Mullane could throw effectively with either arm. Since many players in the mid-1880's still did not use gloves in the field, Mullane would sometimes hide his hands behind his back as he began his delivery, keeping a batter guessing until the last instant as to which arm would launch the ball. But Tucker had the weapon to thwart Mullane. Inasmuch as the rules in 1887 permitted a hitter to jump from one batter's box to another at will, Tucker was free to leap to the opposite side of the plate as soon as he saw which arm Mullane would pitch."

I'm not sure if it has anything to do with the switch-hitting but Tucker finished in the top ten in hit by pitches every year he was in the majors except for 1899, his final season. He finished first in HBP five times and four straight years from 1889-1892. From 1887 to 1895, Tucker never finished worse than fourth in HBP. He is third on the all-time list behind Hughie Jennings and Craig Biggio.

In The National Game, Al Spink wrote:

Tom Tucker of the Baltimore team was one of the finest fielders of the first basemen who flourished in the early nineties.

Tom was also an excellent batsman and base runner.

He was a left-handed hitter and often came to the rescue of his side with a good stroke.

Tucker is now living in retirement at Holyoke, Mass., where also are "Smiling" Mickey Welch of the old New York champions, "Jack" Doyle and Jack Hanifin of the Boston Nationals.

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