Year Inducted: 1971 (Veterans Committee)
There are some players that always stand the best of time. If the names of Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb or Tris Speaker were dropped in most baseball circles, everyone involved would know who they are and why they are important. Some players don’t have that staying power, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are themselves great players. Some, like today’s player Jake Beckley, get inducted into the Hall of Fame long after their deaths, and the common thought when they get inducted is “Who was this guy?” Thankfully that gets lessened some in this age of information, but back when Beckley finally gained induction, many people didn’t have that luxury and his selection was initially met with confusion. However, when people actually looked at the information, they saw someone that was truly worthy of induction.
Old Eagle Eye (somewhat a misnomer, he didn’t walk a lot so it referred more to his batting ability than pitch recognition) played for parts of 20 seasons in the bigs, mostly in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. He hit .308/.361/.435 for a wRC+ of 119 in his career. Beckley played in the transition from the fairly lively early era to the more pitching dominant Dead Ball Era, as such many of his counting numbers don’t look great upon first inspection. However, a player in that period with 86 homers and over 1500 RBI and 1600 runs scored must be considered great. He also collected nearly 500 doubles and held the career record for triples upon his retirement with 243. He also was tied for 5th in homers, 3rd in doubles, 10th in runs scored and 2nd in RBI. It was evident that Beckley was one of the top hitters in the early era.
The one thing that Beckley had the most trouble with was base running. He was a fairly well built player, being 200 pounds and less than 6 feet tall, so speed wasn’t his element. He did manage to steal over 300 bases, but Fangraphs has him pegged at -25 base running runs.
Defensively, Beckley was a top tier fielder at first base. At the end of his career, he led all first basemen in putouts, assists and double plays, while being 4th in fielding runs. Beckley was renowned in his career for his quick reflexes and smooth looking fielding. He also was known for trying to bend the rules. He would sometimes try to pull tricks on opposing runners to get them out, like throwing an extra ball into the outfield while the pitcher has the game ball in his glove.
Beckley was a star of the early era, combining some great hitting with great defense for 20 seasons. Why did he fade into obscurity, even with the colorful antics? Part of it is that he never finished higher than second place any season. It’s rare that players like Ernie Banks become well-loved outside of their home city without a pennant, and Beckley doesn’t have the synergy with one team that Banks did. Beckley also died fairly young, at least by today’s standards, at age 50 due to a weak heart in 1918, nearly 20 years before the Hall of Fame opened its doors.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 9/30/16 lets Hit ‘Em Where They Ain’t.