Year Inducted: 1964 (Veterans Committee)
Most players have very simple careers-they play only offensive or pitching positions for their entire careers. Not everyone falls into that category. Babe Ruth, as an example, is famous for starting his career as a left-handed pitcher for the Red Sox. As a more contemporary example, Rick Ankiel started as a pitcher and then became an outfielder. Ankiel and Ruth are the only players to have won 10 games as a pitcher and hit 10 homeruns as a position player in a season. However, there was one man who pulled off the switch in the 1800s, before the Bambino was an actual bambino. That man was John Montgomery Ward.
To analyze Ward’s career in a study like this is tricky. He spent 7 years as a starting pitcher, tossing almost 2500 innings of 2.10 ERA ball. He also spent time in the field when he wasn’t pitching, and in 1880 (after throwing 921 innings in 2 (!) seasons), he began to feel arm soreness and started a slow switch to position player. In 1884, while sliding into a base, he damaged his arm enough to end his pitching career entirely and should have missed the rest of the season. However, he taught himself how to hit and throw left handed, and became his team’s everyday centerfielder for the remainder of the year before becoming the primary shortstop the next season.
The Hall of Fame’s register goes by the position where a player played the most games in his career. For the purposes of this study, players were put where they were historically known. That’s why, when they come up, Ernie Banks will be listed as a shortstop and Rod Carew as a second baseman despite both players primarily playing first base. Ward was a tough decision to make, but due to some very small totals as a pitcher (which would happen in only 2500 innings), it made the most sense to view him as a shortstop.
Offensively, Ward was not much to write home about. In his career, he hit .275/.314/.341 for a wRC+ of only 97. Despite the seemingly low average, Ward was able to rack up over 2000 hits in his career, including 231 doubles, 96 triples and 26 home runs. He was also a major threat on the bases. Stolen bases weren’t an officially kept stat during most of Ward’s career (being counted officially beginning with the 1886 season), and Ward was still able to officially steal over 500 bases. Fangraphs has him rated as a +48 runs on the basepaths, an incredible number given how few years he played where stats like that could be calculated.
Defensively, Ward scores well too. He was worth +75 fielding runs according to Fangraphs. This makes sense, seeing how as a former pitcher he had a strong arm (once fully rehabbed) and his speed gave him excellent range. So overall, he was a very good player. He ranks lowly due to the fact that he didn’t play the field very much due to his odd career arc and arm injuries that caused him to hit for below league average production.
However, Ward became a very important person to the early part of the game. It’d be difficult to address everything he did in this space, but the highlights are thus: He became a full-fledged lawyer with a degree from Columbia University and used his skills to form the first players’ union (ever for any sport) and fought hard for players’ rights. This included challenging the Reserve Clause, which was what tied players to one team even after a contract was up. Ward fought hard, though admittedly unsuccessfully, to remove the Reserve Clause, even setting up the Player’s League as a way for players to take part in revenue sharing (it lasted a year as the owners of the teams didn’t get enough money). Ward’s bravery, intelligence and skill as a lawyer helped him become someone that is deserving of a place in the Hall of Fame.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 7/22/16 this second baseman is still coaching for the Cardinals.