A Century of O.B. Leaders

This article was written by L. Robert Davids

This article was published in 1972 Baseball Research Journal

After 100 years of organized baseball, dating from the start of the National Association in 1871, it is about time for a brief summing up. This study is concerned with the all-time leaders in the various batting, fielding, and pitching categories in O.B.., including both major and minor league play. While we are generally familiar with the marks compiled by major league stars, putting together career records of minor league players is much more difficult.After 100 years of organized baseball, dating from the start of the National Association in 1871, it is about time for a brief summing up. Many changes have taken place in these 100 years, but the basic features have remained intact in the minors as well as the majors. Some people feel that the NA was a major league and some a minor league. Actually, it was the only organized circuit at that time. The National League took its place in 1876. The International Association was started in 1877 and some call it the first “minor league”.

This study is concerned with the all-time leaders in the various batting, fielding, and pitching categories in O.B.., including both major and minor league play. While we are generally familiar with the marks compiled by major league stars, putting together career records of minor league players is much more difficult. Minor league averages were compiled with a certain casualness over the years, much to the consternation of modern baseball researchers. Many averages are still lacking for some leagues recognized as playing organized ball. Enough information is available, however, to determine who most of the all-time minor league leaders are. The one player who dominated career records in the lower classifications was Spencer Harris, the little outfielder who started on the West Coast with Tacoma in 1921 and wound up there with Marysville in 1948. He led in games played with 3258, hits with 3617, runs with 2287, and doubles with 742.

So much for the minor leagues as such. This is a study of O.B. leaders, which lumps minors and majors. The player who was active the most years was Hall of Famer James O’Rourke with 34 years. He started with Mansfield in the National Association in 1872, switching to Boston the next year. He closed out his major league career with Washington in 1893. Actually, he did go back to the majors at the end of the 1904 season to catch the pennant winning game for the New York Giants. He was 52, the oldest player to play a full game in the Big Time. In the period of 1896-1907, O’Rourke was playing manager of Bridgeport in the Connecticut League.

Another oldtimer, Tom “Lefty” George, pitched from 1909 to 1944, mostly in the minors, but he was active “only” 29 of those years. Jim Poole also had a long career from 1914 to 1946, but he recently related from his home in North Carolina that a few of his active seasons were spent playing ball not recognized as O.B.. He did mention that late in his career, in 1941 in the Florida-East Coast League, he had two sons playing on the same Pt. Pierce team with him.

There have been more than a dozen players who took part in more than 3000 games in O.B.. The all-time leader was Arnold “Jigger” Stats, who played in 3473 tilts, mostly in the Pacific Coast League. A great singles hitter, he batted high in the lineup and went to bat a record 13,242 times. He also scored the most runs, 2372, edging out Spencer Harris with 2340. Statz was also one of only two players to collect over 4000 hits. However, the other was Ty Cobb, who had the top mark of 4357.

In the extra-base departments we have those familiar names of Tris Speaker in doubles, San Crawford in triples, Babe Ruth in homers, and Stan Musial in total bases. All are major league leaders and, in addition, have some supplementary figures from the minors. Speaker has a comfortable margin in doubles over Harris and Musial. Crawford has no close rivals in triples. In fact, the minors never had a sustained leader in threebaggers.

Although the minors have had some great one-season homer hitters, no one put together enough good seasons to approach even remotely the Ruthian career total. Buzz Arlett hit 432 in the minors and was followed closely by Nick Cullop and Merv Connors. But the three produced only a handful in the majors. Ruth’s greatest challenge comes from the active major league contenders. While the Babe hit only one minor league homer, Willie Nays hit 12, Henry Aaron hit 31, and Harmon Killebrew 63. Their total homers, therefore, are Ruth 715, Aaron 670, Nays 658, and Killebrew 578.

Aaron also is next to Musial in total bases, not only in the majors, hut in O.B.. Stan totaled 6735 bases, but Hank is hammering at the door with 6449.

In runs batted in, the minor leaguers like Bunny Brief, Joe Hauser, Smead Jolley, and Nick Cullop again failed to attain the totals of Ruth, who had only 15 in the minors but 2209 in the majors. Ironically, his closest challenger was teammate Lou Gehrig, who never played a game after 35, but still knocked across more than 2150 runs. But the man to look out for is Hank Aaron, who already has 1960 in the Big Time, plus 186 in the minors, for a total of 2146.

Ruth edged out Ted Williams in major league bases on balls 2056 to 2018, but Williams, with his more extensive minor league experience, ran his total to 2274 for the all-time mark.

As most schoolboys know, Ty Cobb batted for an average of .367 in his 24 years in the majors. This ought to be good enough to top any all-time list. Unfortunately, Cobb hit only .300 in his brief minor league trial, and this lowered his over-all mark to .365. This is just enough to drop him below a great minor league hitter, Oscar “Ox” Eckhardt. The latter failed badly in two major league tryouts, but his experience there was so short that he reduced his grand minor league average only one point to .366. This leaves him just a notch above Cobb and Ike Boone, another minor league superstar who batted over .370 in the minors but who had his average pulled down by a .319 figure over several major league seasons.

Ox Eckhardt had awkward form at the plate, which probably contributed to his nickname, but he had some fantastic batting marks in the Texas League and the PCL. He hit .414 in 189 games for the Missions in 1933, and two years later edged out Joe DiMaggio .399 to .398 by bunting safely twice on the final day. A one-time halfback for the NFL New York Giants, Eckhardt started late in baseball. He played only 13 seasons, collecting 2783 hits in 7608 at bats.

In stolen bases, there was no one to approach Billy Hamilton. He not only led in the majors with 892 steals, but also recorded at least 309 thefts in the minors based on available averages. In the lively ball era the leader has been Maury Wills with 585 in the majors and 281 in the minors for a total of 866.

In the fielding department, little can be stated of O.B leaders which is statistically significant. However, just for the record, we can state that Jake Beckley, a first baseman, made the most putouts, 29,803, in more than 3000 games; Rabbit Maranville, primarily a shortstop, had 10,512 assists in more than 3000 games; and Herman Long, almost exclusively a shortstop in a somewhat shorter career, had the moat errors, 1191. Bad Bill Dahlen, a contemporary shortstop, had the moat errors in the majors, 1064.

Further elaboration is needed on errors, which is a category that has changed almost as much as home runs in a century of play. At least twice as many errors were made in 1900 as in present day play. A comparison of fielding “gloves” for the two periods shows the primary reason for this disparity. The player with the moat errors among those now active in the majors is Luis Aparicio with 329. This compares to 1064 for Dahlen at the turn of the century in essentially the same number of games.

Cy Young, whose landmark achievements for pitchers resulted in an award in his name, topped two important categories of mound work. First, he won the most games, 526, all but 15 in the majors. And with all his complete games, he racked up a record 7637 innings pitched. Trailing in both categories are Joe McGinnity and Charles “Kid” Nichols. McCinnity, who had a long minor league career to go with his 10 big years in the majors, lost the most games, 357, to lead oldtimer Jim Galvin.

McGinnity also set the old standard with 1060 games pitched in O.B.. However, Hoyt Wilhelm has now far surpassed that figure with 1288. This figure includes 234 in the minors, where Hoyt started 30 years ago, and where he spent part of the 1971 season to prove he could still pitch in the Big Time.

The other hurlers who pitched in more than 1000 O.B.. games were Earl Caldwell, who had his son Earl Jr. as a batterymate for Lafayette in the Evangeline League in 1953, Art Fowler, now a coach with Detroit, ElRoy Face, recently retired, Don McMahon, still active with the Giants, and Jim Brillheart who holds the minor league record with 928 games (in the l920s and l930s), plus 86 in the majors.

The surprise pitching leader is in strikeouts. The top man is not Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, or Dazzy Vance; it is Jim Bunning with 3643. He had some good years in the minors which moved him ahead of Johnson, who pitched to only one batter while managing Newark. On the other hand, Johnson did not need any minor league help to add to his record 113 major league shutouts.

Who gave up the most bases on balls? In 26 years of pitching, Hobo Newsom issued 2630 free passes.

Who had the highest pitching percentage? It was a close race between two lefties — Robert Grove and Whitey Ford. Grove had a .742 mark in the minors which raised his over-all mark to .697, based on 412 wins and only 179 losses. Ford’s total record was 287 wins and 126 losses for .695.

Here they are, the first century of O.B. leaders from 1871-1971:


Category Player Years Majors Minors Total
Years Played Jim O’Rourke 1872-1907 19 16 34
Games Played Arnold Statz 1919-1942 683 2790 3473
Runs Scored Arnold Statz 1919-1942 376 1996 2372
Hits Ty Cobb 1904-1928 4191 166 4357
Doubles Tris Speaker 1906-1930 793 43 836
Triples Sam Crawford 1899-1921 312 66 378
Home Runs Babe Ruth 1914-1935 714 1 715
Total Bases Stan Musial 1938-1963 6134 581 6735
RBI Babe Ruth 1914-1935 2209 15 2224
BB Ted Williams 1936-1960 2018 256 2274
Steals Billy Hamilton 1888-1910 937 309 1246
Bat. Ave. Oscar Eckhardt 1928-1940 0.192 0.367 0.366
Errors Herman Long 1887-1906 1045 146 1191
Assists W. Maranville 1911-1939 8959 1553 10512
Putouts Jake Beckley 1886-1911 23696 6107 29803
ins. Pitched Hoyt Wilhelm 1942-1971 1054 234 1288
Games Won Cy Young 1890-1911 511 15 526
Games Lost Joe McGinnity 1893-1925 145 212 357
Ins. Pitched Cy Young 1890-1911 7377 260 7637
Strikeouts Jim Bunning 1950-1971 2855 788 3643
Walks Bobo Newsom 1928-1953 1732 898 2630
Shutouts Walter Johnson 1907-1928 113 0 113
Percentage Lefty Grove 1920-1941 0.682 0.742 0.697


Assisted by Ray Nemec, Al Kermisch, and Mil Chipp.