Year Inducted: 1962
The Cincinnati Reds are considered to be the first official Major League Baseball Team, having roots all the way back to the 1860’s. Despite being the first team, however, it took them until 1919 to win the World Series (and that one had its fair share of controversy). It might seem strange for the first team to wait that long to take home a championship (the first official World Series was in 1903, was not held in 1904, and then held yearly starting in 1905), but their fortunes didn’t really turn around until they made what is now known as the Hall of Fame trade. In 1916, John McGraw of the Giants traded Christy Mathewson, Bill McKechnie and an outfielder to the Reds and all three went on to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. However, Mathewson was literally at the end of his career (the trade was primarily to send him somewhere to be a manager) and McKechnie was a below average hitting infielder and was inducted for his work as a manager. The centerpiece of the trade was a center fielder named Edd Roush that would change the direction of the franchise of the Reds and would become one of their best players of all-time.
Roush was a great hitter, posting a batting line of .323/.369/.446 for a wRC+ of 127 in his career. Preferring to be a place hitter (would focus more on singles than extra base hits) rather than a power hitter, Roush only hit 68 home runs in his career with a career high of 8. His line drive style of hitting led to 338 doubles and 182 triples among his 2376 hits. From 1917 (his first full season with the Reds) until 1926, he never had a batting average lower than .321 and twice led the league in batting average. Roush was also a good runner, stealing 268 bases and scoring 1099 runs in his career.
One of the things that he wasn’t great at was fielding. Advanced metrics have him rating as a mostly average to slightly below average outfielder, but he did end his career with over 200 outfield assists.
On the surface, Roush looks like a great candidate for the Hall of Fame. Part of his low ranking comes from lack of playing time. Despite playing in parts of 18 seasons, Roush played in less than 2000 games. Unlike other players that score low on this ranking (such as Frank Chance, Chick Hafey and Ross Youngs), a lot of the time he missed can’t be credited to injuries, despite having surgery in 1928 to have muscles in his stomach repaired. Roush would frequently not only miss part of Spring Training (he felt like he kept himself in shape during the offseason by hunting), but would also hold out in contract talks with management. Sometimes, this would trickle into the season. In 1922, he didn’t play until July due to contract disagreements. No matter how great a player is, if he isn’t on the field he isn’t producing value.
Another issue with Roush, who used a very thick 48-ounce bat, is his lack of home runs. He played in an era where offense was abundant and power was the new norm, yet never hit more than 8 home runs in a season. Ty Cobb, who finished his career during the 1920s but also played a good deal in the deadball era, hit 117 home runs. Tris Speaker, who played similarly to Cobb, also hit 117 home runs. Roush, who played more frequently in a high power era, didn’t hit for as much power as players from an earlier, more pitcher friendly era. This really causes him to suffer in comparison to his contemporaries.
The final issue with Roush is similar to players like Lloyd Waner who also had high batting averages spurring their inductions. The average center fielder in Roush’s career hit .292 and had a wRC+ of 109, while the average major leaguer would have hit .280. While a .323 average is ahead of what the average player hit in his career, the fact that a lot of players were hitting for a high average take some of the luster off of his career numbers. Roush was a very good hitter who didn’t play many games, didn’t hit for power, and hit for average at a time when high batting averages were the norm.
Stay tuned for the next review, covering the first pitcher in the rankings.
On deck: 7/13/16 this starting pitcher threw lots of innings and was one of the first to win 300 games as well as lose over 300 games.