Welcome to the first part of a long series where I go back in time and take a look at the best professional baseball players of all time, giving each the credit they deserve, one-by-one, year-by-year. First up this week, the inaugural Hall of Fame class of 1936. You want to talk about starting off with a bang? Listen to this inaugural class: Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth, and Honus Wagner. That is star-studded to the max! Now, let’s look at each one individually.
Ty Cobb- Center Fielder, Detroit Tigers:
.367 Batting Avg., 2,245 Runs Scored, 4,191 hits, 117 Home Runs, 727 RBI, 892 Stolen Bases.
This man was legendary during his playing career, which spanned from 1905-1928 (21 season with the Tigers, 2 with the Philadelphia A’s). Out of the four categories listed above, Cobb ranks in the top-ten all-time in four of them (batting average, runs scored, hits, and stolen bases). Considering the fact that it’s been 83 years since he’s played and countless professional baseball players have had a chance to challenge his career totals, it’s quite impressive how high he is still ranked in multiple aspects of the game.
George Sisler, a great ballplayer himself, said it best about Cobb: “The greatness of Ty Cobb was something that had to be seen, and to see him was to remember him forever.” If I had a chance to go back in a time machine and watch a handful of people play the game, Ty Cobb would be on the top of my list.
Walter Johnson- Pitcher, Washington Senators:
417 Wins, 279 Losses, 2.36 ERA, 5,917 Innings Pitched, 3,508 Strikeouts.
During his 21-year career, all spent with the Washington Senators, Walter Johnson didn’t have the luxury of being on many successful teams. However, he was still able to put together an extremely impressive career, joining only Cy Young as the sole two members of the 400-win club, he is also top-ten all-time in career ERA, enjoyed 10-straight 20-win seasons, and holds the MLB record for most career shutouts, with 110. Word of mouth around the league was the Johnson was all by himself when it came to velocity on his fastball. There were no radar guns back then, but he brought the heat, with a unique delivery, described by Fred Lindstrom:
“He had a slingshot delivery with nice, easy movement, which didn’t seem to be putting any strain on his arm. But he could propel that ball like a bullet.”
Christy Mathewson- Pitcher, New York Giants:
373 Wins, 188 Losses, 2.62 ERA, 4,783 Innings Pitched, 2,502 Strikeouts.
Christy Mathewson is a little unique from his fellow inductees because he didn’t play for nearly as long as everyone else, and was still able to amass some ridiculous statistics. He pitched in the Majors from 1900-1916, with all but one year not with the New York Giants (he played for the Cincinnati Reds). In 1908, he set a record for most wins in a season with 37, and surpassed the 30-win plateau four times in his career. He was also able to win 22 or more games 12 years in a row- now that’s consistency. He helped the Giants win the World Series in 1905 when he pitched three shutouts in six days against the A’s. It’s a big deal now when we ask starters to pitch on three-days rest, let alone pitching three times in six days.
Mathewson’s dominance was summed up by writer Damon Runyon: “Mathewson pitched against Cincinnati yesterday. Another way of putting it is that Cincinnati lost a game of baseball. The first statement means the same as the second.”
Babe Ruth- Right Fielder, New York Yankees:
.342 Batting Avg., 2,174 Runs Scored, 2,873 Hits, 714 Home Runs, 1,983 RBI, 123 Stolen Bases.
Babe Ruth was the man that transformed the game with the swing of his bat. After being a successful pitcher for the Boston Red Sox for six seasons, winning 89 games, he was sold to the Yankees in 1920, made a switch to the outfield, and the rest is history, literally. Ruth is most known for his home run power, leading the league in homers 12 times, while becoming the first to hit 60 in a single-season in 1927. What impresses me more about Ruth are his other batting statistics. If any normal baseball fan had to guess where Ruth ranked in career batting average, I doubt many people would say eighth, mostly because no one ever talks about his batting average. Even his 123 stolen bases are impressive for a man who was known to eat multiple hot dogs before each game.
Sportswriter Tommy Holmes put Ruth’s larger than life skills into perspective: “Some 20 years ago, I stopped talking about Babe for the simple reason that I realized that those who had never seen him didn’t believe me.”
Honus Wagner- Shortstop, Pittsburgh Pirates:
.329 Batting Average, 1,740 Runs Scored, 3,430 Hits, 101 Home Runs, 1,812 RBI, 722 Stolen Bases.
Rounding out the inaugural MLB Hall of Fame Class of 1936 is one of the best all-around Shortstops to ever grace a baseball diamond. While working towards his lifetime batting average of .329, he hit over .300 for 17 consecutive seasons, winning the batting title eight times. Wagner had an uncanny ability to show a very balanced mix of speed (top-ten all time in stolen bases), productivity at the plate (top-25 all time in RBI), and defense in his game. One of my favorite parts about Honus Wagner is his quotability. He was a self-proclaimed quiet man, but every time I read something about him, I love it; one of my favorite quotes of all time:
“There ain’t much to being a ballplayer, if you’re a ballplayer.”
I can saw with confidence that no truer words have ever been spoken.
*These quotes and statistics were found on http://www.baseballhall.org*