Year Inducted: 1945 (Veterans Committee)
It’s amazing that there are quite a few players in the Hall of Fame that suffered from career-altering injuries by getting hit by a pitch. Frank Chance nearly died from blood clots in his brain. Chick Hafey’s sinuses got destroyed even after the first and only on-field casualty occurred in baseball. Even after that, it took baseball over 30 years to make it a rule that batting helmets had to be worn. Another such example would be today’s entry, Hughie Jennings.
Jennings hit .311/.390/.406 over parts of 18 seasons. To be fair to him, he really played 13 seasons, the last 5 he had cameo at bats as a player-manager with the Tigers. In those 13 seasons, he collected over 1500 hits including 232 doubles, 88 triples and 18 home runs. Jennings prided himself on being able to reach base by any means and holds the record for career hit-by-pitches with 287.
Jennings was obviously one of the top hitting shortstops in the early game. Defensively, he was well regarded and modern analytics have him listed as a strong defender at a key position. This is remarkable considering he had a season where he committed 90 errors and 5 consecutive years with more than 50. His fielding percentage each of those years was league average or higher, however, which proves how tough it was to field in the early seasons of baseball.
Jennings didn’t lack for talent. Unfortunately, he was one of the unluckiest human beings on the planet. In his lifetime he suffered three blows to the head, one from being hit by a pitch. He also dove into an empty swimming pool at night, nearly drowned in a river while driving a car given to him by some fans, and lost his high school sweetheart after 13 months following complications due to giving birth. This contributed not only to a short career (he played in less than 1300 games in his career), but also too short of a life. Jennings passed away at age 58 due to meningitis following a bout of tuberculosis.
Unfortunately, his injuries derailed a Hall of Fame career as a player. But, like Frank Chance before him, Jennings had a lot of contributions as a manager. He managed for 16 seasons and won nearly 1200 games for the Tigers and Giants. He didn’t win any championships, but he won 3 AL Pennants (all with the Tigers) and had to do all of that while managing one of the least popular players of the era in Ty Cobb. Jennings was the one that tried to orchestrate the trade for Elmer Flick with the Indians. He was known for his antics on the field to both distract opposing players and confuse the opposition when trying to signal his players. He was also one of the first managers to platoon players.
Jennings accomplishments in his short career as a player alone wouldn’t be enough to warrant induction. However, along with his managing career, he is definitely deserving.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 7/29/16 the “Mad Dash”