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  • Writer's picturePaul Semendinger

A Forgotten Great

Forgotten Great? 19th Century Pitcher Was True Workhorse

By Paul Semendinger, Ed.D.

February 19, 2023

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NOTE - This article appeared in the IBWAA newsletter Here's The Pitch on January 21, 2023

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Can you imagine being a pitcher and winning 20 games in a season?


How about 30?


Let's stretch the realms of reality. Think of a pitcher winning 40 games in a season!


Let's make it even crazier... Imagine LOSING 40 games in a season.


It happened. It absolutely did. But it was a long long time ago.


As baseball fans are sometimes apt to do, I found myself looking at the lifetime statistics of various players. As I did this, I started to think of the Hall of Fame and the borderline candidates. I then began to wonder which player has the highest baseball-reference WAR who is eligible but not in the Hall of Fame and who also does not have a bit of controversy around him. That search led me to a forgotten star from the 1800s.


First, the following is a list of the players with the highest bWAR who are not in the Hall of Fame:

  • Barry Bonds (162.8)

  • Roger Clemens (139.2)

  • Alex Rodriguez (117.6)

  • Albert Pujols (101.6) - not yet eligible

  • Adrian Beltre (93.5) - not yet eligible

  • Mike Trout (82.4) - still playing

  • Pete Rose (79.6)

  • Curt Schilling (79.5)

  • Justin Verlander (77.6) - still playing

  • Zack Greinke (76.5) - still playing

All of those names were, of course, very familiar to me and (i would assume) all baseball fans. We know the reasons why they are not in the Hall of Fame. We've probably debated this time and again — for decades.


But then I came to the next name on the list:


Jim McCormick


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Jim McCormick pitched for the Chicago White Stockings and other clubs during the 19th century. A workhorse, he finished what he started.


In my extensive reading about baseball over a lifetime, I had probably seen this name, but I didn't remember it and, as such, I determined that I needed to learn more about him.


Jim McCormick, born in Scotland but then from Paterson, New Jersey, pitched from 1878 to 1887. He pitched for such teams as the Indianapolis Blues, the Cleveland Blues, the Cincinnati Outlaw Reds, the Providence Grays, the Chicago White Stockings, and the Pittsburgh Alleghenys.


Over his 10-year career, he won 265 games while losing 214. His ERA was 2.43. Of course, this was a different time, but still, McCormick led the league in wins in 1880 and 1882 and in earned run average in 1883. He also twice led the league in innings pitched.


Those innings pitched totals marvel. In 1880, to lead the league, McCormick threw 657.2 innings. In 1882, he led the league by throwing a more modest 595.2 innings.


During that 1880 season, Jim McCormick won 45 games. That's amazing. But even more amazing is the fact that the season before that, in 1879, he lost 40 games. He went 20-40, 2.42 that season. He started 60 games and finished 59 of them.


I started to wonder about the one game he didn't finish ("You're taking me out, Coach? Me?") and then learned that he was the player/manager that season. He probably took himself out. The next year, he led all of professional baseball with 72 complete games.


McCormick won 20 or more games (a seemingly modest total, for sure) for eight consecutive years. In two of those years, he won over 30 games. And in another two, he won 40 or more games.


Yes, it was a different time and a different era, but still, I wondered, "Why isn't Jim McCormick in the Hall of Fame?" I wondered if there was controversy around him, like the players today who also aren't in, but I found none. In fact, he was a beloved player and the "idol of fans everywhere."


According to his SABR biography, McCormick was one of baseball's earliest throwers of the curve ball. But, then again, maybe the reasons are that they didn't just use pitchers back then differently, the game itself was different. For about half his career, McCormick didn't pitch from the standard distance of today — nor did he throw overhand. Yes, baseball was a lot different back then.


Still, other players from that era, including Cap Anson and King Kelly from the 1880 White Stockings, are in the Hall of Fame. If their records count, why not McCormick's?

According to Baseball-Reference.com, the players most similar to McCormick, Vic Willis and Old Hoss Radbourn, are both in the Hall of Fame.


Radbourn is a particularly similar pitcher as his career was in the same time period as McCormick’s (1881-1891). Furthermore, McCormick's lifetime WAR ranks slightly above Radbourne's all-time (76.2 to 75.4). In addition, when one looks at the other Hall of Fame measures on his baseball-reference page (Black Ink, Grey Ink, Hall of Fame Monitor and Hall of Fame Standards), McCormick ranks as a worthy enshrinee.


Jim McCormick passed away in 1918, more than 100 years ago. But, even though so much time has passed, it is still time to give him the honor he deserves and to open the doors to Cooperstown to this forgotten great from the past.


***

Dr. Paul Semendinger is a retired school principal who is now an Adjunct Professor at Ramapo College. Paul runs the Yankees site Start Spreading the News. His wonderful book, co-authored with Yankees great Roy White, From Compton to the Bronx, comes out on April 11, 2023.

2 Comments


Robert Malchman
Robert Malchman
Feb 20, 2023

I was thinking maybe Radbourne had a higher peak success, but McCormick's JAWS score is also slightly better than Radbourne's, 72.5 to 71.4, so I have no idea why Hoss is in and Mac is out.

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yankeesblog
Feb 19, 2023

Hear, hear!

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