Year Inducted: 1970 (Veterans Committee)
Branch Rickey is a legendary figure in baseball history. He not only is credited for creating the first successful farm system, but was responsible for bringing Jackie Robinson to the bigs and integrating the game. In 1919, while with the Cardinals as a manager, he convinced the ownership group to borrow $10,000¹ from a bank to purchase the contract of a guy who was going to be in his age 26 season. That player was Jesse Haines. The signing of Haines didn’t pay dividends for the Cardinals right away. The team was languishing in the second division for most of the early 1920s. In his first few years with the team Haines had an ERA close to league average, and was only one game above .500 in those years. After a breakout season in 1923, Haines slipped down to sub-league average production the next two seasons, before bouncing back to being a much more solid and dependable pitcher for most of his career.
Upon retiring in 1937, he had logged over 3200 innings with a record of 210-158 and an ERA of 3.64. Haines’ advanced age at his debut (most rookies debut in their early 20s) meant that he would lose velocity on his fastball sooner than most players. To compensate, he learned how to throw and control a knuckle ball which helped extend his career into his mid 40s. However, instead of gripping the pitch with his fingertips, he would literally use his knuckles. This led to some cutting of his knuckles, but never cost him serious time.
Haines ranks lowly for a few reasons. First is his ERA. A 3.64 ERA on its own isn’t great for a Hall of Fame pitcher. The only pitchers with higher ERAs in the Hall of Fame are Ted Lyons and Red Ruffing, and his ERA- of 91 means that he was only slightly better than league average in his career. The second is his late start. By starting at age 26, he missed a lot of younger, prime years that could have helped him be looked at as a great starter. The main reason is, like with so many people below him, injuries. Haines was a solid starter until the early 1930s when he severely damaged his shoulder and couldn’t pitch as much. Although he turned himself into an effective reliever, his last few seasons (from 1933-1937) saw his stuff dwindle and his legs start aching, making it difficult for him to pitch very often.
Haines was a solid, occasionally dominant starting pitcher, but wouldn’t have been inducted if it weren’t for two guys: Bill Terry and Frankie Frisch. Haines was the first of their decisions that were derided and it isn’t hard to see why.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 7/28/16 this Hall of Fame shortstop was famous for braying like a donkey at opposing players to try and get them riled.
¹-Two things to touch on here. First, the equivalent of $10,000 in 1919 would be almost $140,000 today. Second, this was from the guy (Rickey) who was an infamous penny pincher. Check out what one of his own great players once said about him.