Year Inducted: 1945 (Veterans Committee)
Sometimes the older players are too hard to judge. King Kelly, for an example, was by all accounts a fantastic and dynamic player, but scores in the 200s on this ranking. Why do players like him rank so low? Well, mostly it’s due to the length of the seasons back then. Baseball used to have less than 100 games in a season, and while there were certainly a lot of great and talented players back then, it’s hard to say they had better careers than players like Ted Williams or Rod Carew or Tony Gwynn or a lot of the more modern players. The length of the seasons wasn’t standardized at 154 games until 1904, meaning a lot of players from years before that don’t get the benefit of more games. At the same time, they don’t have as long of a schedule and could be fresher at the end of a season. So, it’s tough to accurately and fairly judge some of these players, and one that suffers the most is Jim O’Rourke.
O’Rourke was, at the time, a dynamic person. Race relations have always been a problem, but Irish immigrants weren’t always welcomed with open arms. And, many players of the time (Kelly and Tommy McCarthy, for example) lived up to common stereotypes. They were loud, boisterous and hard drinkers. Jim O’Rourke, on the other hand, was a sober, well-educated, calm person. His nickname came from how he would use polysyllabic words when shorter ones would have sufficed.
On the field, O’Rourke was an incredible hitter. He posted a line of .311/.352/.423 with a wRC+ of 127. He collected 2643 hits with 62 home runs, 151 triples and 465 doubles. He drove in over 1200 runs and scored over 1700, so he got a lot out of his hits as well.
As mentioned earlier, a big part of O’Rourke’s score is due to the fact that the seasons were shorter during a lot of his career. However, it isn’t the whole reason. By the time he laced up for one farewell game in 1904, baseball was in a period of low-scoring offense. But before that, there was a decent amount of great hitting going on, and O’Rourke, while doing well, was still far behind a lot of great hitters of the day (e.g., Cap Anson, Billy Hamilton, Roger Connor) who either contributed a lot of hits, steals or home runs along with the rest of their game that O’Rourke just couldn’t keep up with.
However, O’Rourke’s achievements as a baseball lifer definitely merit induction. Along with Monte Ward, he not only challenged the Reserve Clause, he would always negotiate it out of his contracts. He also helped Ward form the first Player’s Union, and helped form a solid Minor League in his home state of Connecticut. O’Rourke kept on playing for that system as well, by the way, not retiring from the field as a player until he was in his 60s.
O’Rourke is too important a person in the history of the game to ignore, and he was rightly one of the first players of the pre-1900s to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1945.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 8/5/16 This “Smiling” pitcher won 30 or more games in 4 different seasons.